Thursday, April 27, 2017

100 Questions to Ask Your Kids

It is one of many little gems I've stumbled onto and tucked away for a rainy day (though we all know it actually never rains in Iquique!) The list entitled "100 Questions to Ask Your Kids" presents itself in the format of a non-threatening game which allows for introspection, uninterrupted answers, optional participation - and at least in our family's case - a lot of silliness and laughter! In the midst of stressful days, lighthearted moments are worth recording and tonight was one of those times.

Our first question was simple: If you could tell me never to serve two vegetables again, which two would choose? It was followed by: Are you afraid when we fly? And then: What was your favorite toy when you were little? Regarding the latter, the boys were intrigued by Daddy's description of his 1980's Stompers Rough Riders vehicles that could survive any terrain. And perhaps even more so, by the 1970's unnamed car whose gas tank absorbed drops of water and somehow miraculously drove on the power of H2O! Our second-to-last question received a unanimous "yes" response: Do you think it's important to get physical education in school? Why or why not? Isabel felt the need to clarify, "Especially in the United States where there is a McDonald's on every corner!" (Perhaps because we have only one McDonald's for about 200,000 people in Iquique!)

But it was the final inquiry which elicited the most unusual responses. 
"If you could trade places with somebody you know, who would it be?"

Isabel quickly determined she'd like to change places with her new acquaintance Melissa Heiland because "she gets to travel all over the world!" Eva mentioned an author she reads who "rode her first horse at three years old, and has had horses her entire life." Owen said Tony Hawke, because he knows a lot of cool skateboarding tricks. (Sadly, his answer was likely influenced by his disappointment at having his own skateboard stolen at our neighborhood park just an hour before.) Ian made everyone laugh when he announced the star of a favorite family show as his pick. Ian loves cars and it turned out he wanted to change places to access the fast and fancy vehicles the actor drives onscreen!

Alec's answer, however, was truly unique. He wanted to change places with "Meemie," his great-grandmother who died five years ago, so that he could see God and Heaven and everything she gets to see. When a sibling argued that he had to choose someone living, he continued down a similar line of reasoning. "Then I want to change places with someone about to die," he insisted, so that he could still get the chance to see what he wanted to see!

As morbid as it might possibly sound to someone who doesn't witness this child's mind at work daily, to me Alec's desire was pure and sweet and true. The apostle Paul himself wrote, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain ... I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far ..." (Philippians 1:21,23 NIV) After all, shouldn't every Christian want to be where Jesus is? In fact, that might make a great Question #101.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Day the Census Came to Town

The last time the census came to town, we were out of town. In 2012 we were stateside and blissfully unaware of the squabbles that accompanied a national Chilean census accused of irregularities and later rejected, replaced instead by the one we encountered this week. To be honest we were not entirely plugged into the one this year, either, so it was a pleasant surprise for us to learn that April 19 was a federally-mandated holiday and under penalty of fine we "must" stay home together as a family that day until our interview was completed!

Grocery stores closed at 7 p.m. the night before, so my wonderful husband planned ahead and organized all the necessary shopping while I completed my shift at FLORECE. This included running to the supermarket and the Agro (fruits and vegetable market) so that we would have all the ingredients for taco salad, a family favorite. There was an air of festivity at home knowing we had no other responsibilities to fulfill. It just felt rather fun to be jolted out of our routine for a day.

We learned that the individuals volunteering as "censistas" (those going house to house for interviews) would meet at 8:00 a.m. and begin their rounds, so we had to be ready for our visit any time after that. There was no guarantee whether it would be morning, afternoon, or evening. We were hoping for morning but guessed it might be just as we sat down to lunch! In the end, however, our censista arrived before lunch and during Silas' naptime. We were taking advantage of the quiet time without a toddler to play a game with the older ones and had been enjoying a few rounds of Guesstures. The boys' team was lagging behind and they were "saved by the bell" (or more accurately, by our neighbor Jacqueline walking the young interviewer to our front gate.) 

Apparently Jacqueline had already warned him of our large family. (As a side note, she and her husband have only one college-aged daughter, so our passel of kiddos is a source of amusement and astonishment to them. That's okay, because they also take pity on us and give us lots of free fresh bread from their neighborhood store, ha!) Anyway, we invited the young man to sit down at the dining room table and offered him a cold soda as he lined up his pencil, eraser and booklet and prepared to work his way through the required questionnaire. He was friendly, perhaps slightly nervous, and appeared to be in his early twenties. It may not have helped his nervousness to have our five children hovering around the table and over his shoulder with intense curiosity, but he later assured us it was fine and that he had a five-year old child of his own.

The questionnaire itself consisted of twenty-one questions, primarily concerning age, gender, education, employment, family makeup, type of dwelling. Beginning with Pedro as jefe de hogar (head of household) and continuing with me and each of the children, we took turns answering the questions pertinent to us. Our girls found it "awkward" that anyone over fifteen years old had to answer questions about pregnancy and/or children born to them! Eva, at sixteen, received those additional inquiries. And I think all of the kids giggled at one particular question, unaware that it actually represented a much heavier subject than superficially appeared. At the outset of the interview, our censista somewhat uncomfortably explained that he was required to ask each personal individually how he or she "identified" his or her gender - whether male or female. As our boys chuckled and said "boy!" and our girls blushed and said "girl!" we quietly wondered how a census could even be accurate when the option is given to choose anything other than what God has already biologically determined. It was a sobering reminder of the direction in which Chile as a nation is headed under its current leadership, and of the confusion which is only increasing among the young people to whom we seek to minister through the local church and also FLORECE's ministry.

All in all, however, our experience with the census was a pleasant one and we were impressed as we learned throughout the course of the day of several friends and acquaintances who chose to volunteer as censistas and invest their free day in patriotic service. We were also reminded why Chile is such a fun country in which to live, as amusing stories and memes reflecting a uniquely Chilean sense of humor circulated the internet. One of the first accounts to create waves was that of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's initial house visit as an active interviewer for the census. Apparently the homeowner was alerted by his brother-in-law that "the president" was at his door but never imagined he meant "The President." He greeted her and was subsequently interviewed in his favorite pair of pajamas! Though by and large it appears the census was successful, apparently there were a few neighborhoods that fell through the cracks and did not get visited by interviewers. Those poor souls who waited an entire day needlessly were recipients of "supportive" messages such as this skeletal photograph which says: "Here I am waiting for them to come interview me for the census!"

Thankfully, we ourselves were not left to wait and wonder and were able to continue with our normal routines once we had bid farewell to our interviewer and affixed the sticker to our front door which proclaimed that "this dwelling has been interviewed!" Our family enjoyed a leisurely lunch of yummy taco salad and shortly thereafter headed to the beach to take advantage of the day's remaining sunshine. Our time is quickly winding down in Iquique as furlough fast approaches, and our little beach baby will not have his sandy playground close by for much longer! Only Owen did not join us, eager to head off instead to the local soccer court and hang out with his buddies for a couple of hours. And thus it was that "the day the census came to town" drew to a close, and we were left with pleasant memories of a new and unique experience.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Two Big Weeks at FLORECE, Part Two

Proverbs 24:11-12 (NIV) 
11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. 
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? 
Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?

Pastor Cristian and FLORECE volunteers in Iquique

Many years ago I heard this word picture for the first time. Crisis pregnancy centers, I was told, were places where the pieces were compassionately put back together when people's lives fell apart. But there was another option - one that just might succeed in holding a young person back before he or she tumbled off that precipice in the first place. That option was abstinence training in local schools. It still makes a great deal of sense to me. So often we use the verses above supporting pro-life ministry in the context of saving the unborn. But what about saving those who might otherwise become the broken men and women battling heartbreaking consequences of having launched themselves off the cliff of sexual promiscuity or abortion?

Corona School, Iquique

Entering our local schools in Iquique was always an "eventual" goal of FLORECE's ministry. We already had excellent materials in hand, thanks to our ABWE missionary colleague Evelyn Stone in Lima, Peru. However, we lacked the time and personnel to carry it out just yet, or so we thought. It took a visit with our friend Pastor Cristian Ormeño in Santiago this summer (January in Chile) for God to reveal His amazing way of bringing things full circle yet again!

Nine years ago, our family was newly arrived to Chile and participating alongside Pastor Cristian in the Iglesia Bautista Esperanza Viva church in San Bernardo. It was around this time that we first invited Evelyn Stone to Chile with the goal to host a pro-life conference for pastors and to enter area schools with a pro-life message. Pastor Cristian was then bi-vocational, working both as a local church pastor and also as a religion teacher in an at-risk public school. His school allowed Evelyn to come in and speak to six different classes of 100-120 students each (an experience recounted in more detail in this post from 2008.) The picture below is from that day in September 2008 as Pastor Cristian introduced Evelyn to the students in his classroom:

Santiago, Chile (2008)

It was an incredible opportunity, and over the years Pastor Cristian continued to share the pro-life message with each group of students that came into his classroom. But there was something else. For Cristian, the message he shared was intensely personal because of his own life story. He and his sweetheart Betsy married when they were both just 20 years old. To their surprise and delight, a year and a half later they learned that they were expecting twins! Their doctor asked about a family history of multiples, yet to their knowledge there was none. A short while after announcing the pregnancy to Cristian's parents, however, a long-kept secret was shared. 

At 21 years old, his mother was married and expecting her third child when she learned that her husband had been unfaithful and impregnated another woman. Hurt and angry, without knowing the Lord, she insisted on having an abortion and her husband agreed. Together they went to the woman known in the neighborhood for offering clandestine abortions, and when it was all over she placed a tiny baby into their hands. They made a pact to never speak of what they had done. Yet as time went by her belly continued to grow and another child, a twin, was born. That child was Cristian. 

North College, Iquique

When Cristian and Betsy shared the news of their own twin pregnancy, his parents emotionally wept and days later shared this story. By then his mother was a believer in Jesus Christ and knew God had forgiven all of her sins, including her abortion. But she told him, not a day went by when she did not grieve the decision she had made. Her twin granddaughters were an expression to her of God's amazing grace and forgiveness.

This personal aspect of Pastor Cristian's presentation is very powerful as he speaks to young people. As we observed time and again in the groups of teens we visited, their arguments in favor or against abortion are largely predicated on personal experience. In our second school, one girl was staunchly pro-abortion. The situation she described involved someone close to her who had a 1 1/2 year old baby and found herself pregnant again after being diagnosed with a serious heart disorder. Unwilling to risk her life and the possibility of leaving her born child without a mother, she chose to abort her unborn child. Pastor Cristian directed her to me when she asked a pointed question, and I first clarified that I was not a medical professional. However, I was a woman who had a high-risk pregnancy that resulted in the doctor taking the baby early through cesarean section to protect my life and his. And next to me was Maria, a FLORECE volunteer who nearly lost her life in pregnancy yet both she and her son were saved when he was delivered at just 26 weeks' gestation. While I could not speak specifically to the situation the student mentioned, I could testify to the fact that doctors can go to great lengths to protect the lives of both mother and unborn child.

Academia Tarapaca, Iquique

At one point in the presentation, we handed out fetal models at 12 weeks' gestation. It was obvious that holding the tiny model in their hands made an impression on the young people. Most held the model carefully, as if it might break. Only the aforementioned girl reacted differently, tossing the model up and down in the air callously. Multiple times she interrupted the presentation to give her opinion, and only when the presentation ended and her classmates broke into applause did we realize they felt the tension as much as we did. (It was the only session in which the students clapped, as if to wordlessly indicate their support.) 

Lest I give the wrong impression, I must clarify that overwhelmingly the students were respectful and positive in each of the seven sessions we presented in four different schools. It was interesting to note that in every group similar questions were asked, indicative of the Chilean government's success in indoctrinating this generation as to the proposed legalization of abortion. Yet it was encouraging to hear from others who have given serious thought to the issue and who have chosen to stand for life regardless. By far the greatest blessing of the week of presentations was hearing from two different men - one a high school student and the other an adult father of college-aged sons - who said their position had changed as a result of what they heard. Both said they no longer could agree with abortion for any reason. Praise the Lord!

Colegio Adventista, Iquique

We also praise God for throwing the doors open for us at the Adventist school in Iquique. When one of our original sessions was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict, two more were offered in its place! There is great potential for ongoing ministry in this particular school which is large and has a waiting list each year. Time will tell the reaction of the other three schools, as we plan to put an evaluation form in their hands this coming week. The spiritual tension at one of these schools was felt by all of us - a reminder yet again that the battle is raging for the hearts and minds of teenagers today.

However, we were also reminded yet again that God is sovereign and His timing is perfect! The presentation given to the students not only addressed abortion but also encouraged responsible sexual choices and protecting their hearts as God designed through abstinence before marriage. Pastor Cristian introduced a long list of sexual transmitted diseases and indentified the risks in the Chilean government's current campaign which encourages people to just "Live how we want to live. Use a condom." Unbelievably, two days into our school presentations the local newspaper in Iquique ran the following front-page article:

The startling report confirmed that our region has the second-highest number of confirmed cases of HIV and that the number has increased by 58% in just five years. In full color, the same government campaign poster that Pastor Cristian mentioned to the students was ironically displayed alongside the troubling statistics proving its failure.

It is our prayer that God will multiply our efforts of this past week. We placed into each student's hand a FLORECE flyer and an eye-catching brochure entitled "Sex: It Never Meant to Kill You." The services FLORECE offers were shared at the end of each presentation, and we hope that God will allow searching students to come to us and hear the hope of the Gospel. We trust that the truth of God's Word never comes back void, and we continue to prepare ourselves to serve each person He sends our way!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Two Big Weeks at FLORECE, Part One

It feels like a race to the finish line. Prior to our family departing to the United States for a one-year furlough, we sought to squeeze in some important events on the FLORECE calendar. I am so grateful for God's goodness in allowing each detail to come together! 

Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1 were dates long highlighted on the FLORECE calendar. We were looking forward to a visit from Melissa Heiland, founder and president of the Florida-based ministry Beautiful Feet International. Accompanying Melissa was Andrea Krazeise, a veteran pregnancy center director.  Melissa and I had met very briefly a few years prior at a conference in Peru. I had yet to meet Andrea, but over the course of the weekend her story blessed and encouraged us. It was truly a "shot in the arm" to have these lovely ladies teach our first "Conferencia de Capacitación" in Iquique!

As is typical for Chile, it was last minute when some final arrangements shot into high gear but resulted in a beautiful transformation of our conference room for the weekend's events. Four rectangular tables were loaned by our newest volunteer, Ilse, while Catalina whipped out tablecloths and runners in the FLORECE colors. Maria shopped for Friday's teatime and prepared her own signature creamy chicken with red pepper for delicious sandwiches accompanied by Kim's chocolate brownies. No one went away hungry from the conference on either day, as Saturday we purchased homemade meals in support of a Christian friend whose husband is currently unemployed. The fellowship around the table proved to be a sweet side blessing of the conference, since not all of our volunteers serve on the same shifts nor have the chance to spend time regularly with one another.

On Friday night, we had three visitors from a new church who were interested in learning about the pregnancy center ministry. An ongoing prayer request is always the recruitment of new volunteers, so we were thankful for their presence! The first session of our time together focused on the parable of the Good Samaritan and how it serves as an example for us as we seek to minister to the hurting women who enter FLORECE.

Saturday's sessions were practical and motivational, as we learned two different ways of sharing the Gospel with others. One focused on our own personal testimonies of salvation, while the other provided a small evangelistic booklet to guide the conversation step by step. The volunteers divided into pairs to practice the latter and I believe each was encouraged through this hands-on application of what we were learning. 

As this picture demonstrates, an unexpected blessing of having Melissa and Andrea fly down to Iquique was their willingness to transport nearly 200 pounds of printed materials to us! Many were gifts from Melissa and the Beautiful Feet ministry, including devotional booklets for the nine months of pregnancy and the first year of a baby's life, and a colorful children's board book with a Biblical message (all three authored by Melissa.) In addition, they kindly brought us 2,500 booklets we purchased online in anticipation of our upcoming ministry in local schools! And even more gifts were poured out on FLORECE in the form of fetal models, earrings for each volunteer in the shape of tiny unborn baby feet, reproducible pamphlets and multiple evangelistic tracts to use with our clients. Because the country of Chile taxes printed materials by nearly 20% and the cost of shipping to our "stringbean" nation is high, anytime someone can transport materials personally to us it is a tremendous encouragement. Thank you, Melissa and Andrea, for your sacrifice!

Interestingly, rather than running short on time during the conference we found ourselves with time to spare. This allowed us the privilege of having Andrea share firsthand stories of lives she has seen changed during her years as a pregnancy center director. She also revealed her own testimony as a child born from an unplanned pregnancy and rescued by two sisters willing to do the work of a crisis pregnancy center before such a ministry existed! Because FLORECE is the first ministry of its kind that we know of in Chile, hearing about other women with the same calling and passion around the world was a special blessing for our ladies to know we are not alone in this.

The final session of our conference was entitled, "Human trafficking and the prenatal center." While not a comfortable topic, it was an important one in light of the world in which we live. Every day in Iquique, the local newspaper carries multiple pages of personal prostitution ads. It is not a stretch to consider that human trafficking could take place in our small city. Iquique is in a constant state of immigration and a complicated struggle against illicit substances and activities. There are tremendous needs all around us!

The weekend of our conference was a time of learning, growing, applying, and sharing what it means to a be a woman of conscience and compassion in the area of pro-life ministry. It was a testimony to the Body of Christ which is worldwide and reaches across country limits and communication barriers. There was rejoicing over what our Heavenly Father has done and growing expectation for what He will do. All glory and praise to GOD!

(And so ended Week One ... with Week Two yet to come!)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Happy 12th Birthday, Owen Santiago

Dear Owen,

Incredibly, you are now twelve years old! It is thrilling and overwhelming to watch you grow into this man-child with hands and feet bigger than Daddy's and shooting up past your sisters in height. You are in this fascinating stage between childhood and "teenager-hood" in which we alternately catch glimpses of the little boy that was and the young man that will be.

This year in particular, we have watched you test your wings and maturity as you joined the youth group; began a weekly discipleship with Josh; and took part in some Biblical training classes on your own time. There is no greater joy for believing parents than to see a child growing in his or her walk with Jesus and relationship with other Christians and the church. We are very happy and proud as we observe the growth in your heart and life. Keep following God's leading in every stage of life and you will be blessed beyond measure by His greatness and goodness!

Although your birthday did not start out as planned amidst a busy week of ministry outreach into local schools, I hope that it ended on the right note making it sweet for your heart. With your friend Cristobal and his little brother Tomy celebrating with us; eating oatmeal bake and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting; receiving Legos and a new NBA game for the PlayStation; and playing the latter in fierce competition with visiting Pastor Cristian just for fun! Once again your choice of birthday cake did not fully cooperate and we had a near-repeat of the "earthquake cake" - but Eva's gummy worm design suited your fancy and saved the day! :)

We love you, Owen, and thank God for you! Happy 12th Birthday, sweet son! (I had to add this second picture of you because no matter how much you grow, you will always be my fun-loving little boy!)

All my love,

Previous birthday posts:

11th Birthday - Owen
10th Birthday - Owen
9th Birthday - Owen
8th Birthday - Owen
7th Birthday - Owen
6th Birthday - Owen
5th Birthday - Owen
4th Birthday - Owen
3rd Birthday - Owen
2nd Birthday - Owen

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Happy 9th Birthday, Alec Stephen

Dear Alec,

It is cute and fun to observe your growing excitement as your birthday draws near! Different ideas bubble forth and it's not possible to do them all, but visiting the Lego store was at the top of your list this year. You are normally the child that hangs on to his money the longest, spending some but not all until the time is right. You had a plan and although the circles we walked around the store seemed endless (and the 50% off section didn't resonate with you like it did with Mommy!) finally you found what you were looking for. Superheroes and Legos, apparently your perfect combination.

Nine years into your life and you are still a fascinating mystery to us, Alec! Daddy and I enjoy hearing your thoughts and observing your choices which give us a glimpse into the way your mind works. You are and always have been a blend of rambunctious boy and serious "old soul" (that is a term adults use to describe a young person whose words and actions are often quieter and more thoughtful than his peers.) Like at this very moment as I write, your two older brothers are riotously wrestling while you studiously examine your toes. What are you thinking? As usual, I don't know! ;)

Being a deep thinker can be a wonderful way to learn more about God as you grow. Our greatest hope and prayer for you, Alec, is to become a  man of courage, integrity and compassion who passionately pursues Jesus! We want to encourage you to discover who God made you to be and what He has planned for your life. This year will be full of changes as our family returns to the States for furlough and you are introduced to many new people and places. I am so glad we get to experience life with you and look forward to lots of great memories with our new 9-year old!

Daddy and I love you, Alec Stephen! Happy 9th Birthday!

All my love,

Previous birthday posts:

8th Birthday - Alec
7th Birthday - Alec
6th Birthday - Alec
5th Birthday - Alec
4th Birthday - Alec
3rd Birthday - Alec
2nd Birthday - Alec
1st Birthday - Alec

Friday, April 07, 2017

Staying Together Wherever We Go

the kids at our "home away from home" - Huayquique beach

It is a rare moment of silence in our house as I write. The little red metal fan is rhythmically sending cool air into a living room scattered with baby wipes, changing pads, rubber-gripped Kindles, toys, shoes and haphazard piles of papers and books galore. This is us, I admit at a glance. Pedro is on one of his weekly delivery routes of teenaged human beings headed to youth group, with a squawky Silas in tow. (Baby #6 recently discovered the ability to scream and the delight in his siblings' reaction overtakes any concern at Daddy's disapproval!) Owen chose to stay home to nurse a cold in an attempt to be well for his brother's birthday outing tomorrow. He, Alec and Ian are contentedly playing Legos in their small bedroom upstairs, somehow tucked between laundry loads and bulging dressers and the triple bunkbed they share.

The weather has suddenly changed in Iquique, and the nights are now cool enough for Eva to don a sweatshirt before leaving while Isabel still wears capris to highlight her newest pair of shoes (a great two-for-one deal on golden and turquoise Egyptian-style sandals, to be precise!) It is not cool enough to warrant closing the windows just yet, and sounds of passing cars swish in through the open door. Multiple new stoplights on our corner and just up the street make for different patterns of stopping and starting, pealing and squealing - especially on the sharp incline paved into place just across from our front gate. The sounds are oddly soothing with comforting familiarity and the accompanying feeling of belonging in this house where our family has spent seven of the past eight years.

Yet change is coming like the next cool breeze waiting to gust inside. 

Amidst great busyness we have managed to hold it at bay, but time is running out and commitments here are winding down. After next week's highly-anticipated ministry in local schools with our friend Pastor Cristian representing FLORECE, we have no more excuses to keep from staring packing in the face. Perhaps that is why I want to bottle this moment up now, another memory of hundreds we have made in this place. This is the home where we settled our then seven, six, and four year old trio of children; where they first donned school uniforms for Chilean schools and learned Spanish; where two little brothers arrived from Haiti to turn our world upside down and rightside up again; and most recently, a baby boy sweetened each new day with his smiles.

It is the home that has seen many changes, including those lately which have taken Mommy away more days than not. Yet it is the home that greets me with toddling legs and big smiles at the gate and warm hugs from growing boys pulling their gazes from little monitors to welcome me back. It is where the enjoyment of a shared show gathers the "Fab Five" and I snugly together around couches and laughter and imagination many evenings. And where the table erupts with clapping when Daddy brings forth his famous barbecued meats and chicken, treating us to his love language of service. It is where the whole world stops when little brother does something new and everyone is in agreement that he is the smartest, cutest, funniest baby we've ever seen.

This is the home where questions are asked, difficult discussions are had, tears are sometimes shed, and prayers are prayed - with love and care, but room to do so much better. Now we will gather our stories and sadness and expectation and trust in God's bigger plan as we prepare to say goodbye for a year's furlough and the new memories He has in store for us. Pretty soon another living room will be scattered with our stuff and the reminder that a family lives and learns and loves here together. This is us, I will admit at a glance.

Yes, change is coming ... but by God's grace, this family is staying together wherever we go.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

FLORECE Means "to Blossom"

Hot. Hushed. Hollow. These three words could well describe the days at FLORECE during the summer months of January and February in Iquique. While we *thought* we knew the reason - tourists arrive, locals leave for vacation - it nonetheless tested the edges of faith at times with worrisome "what ifs" about the effectiveness and future of the ministry.

And then came March. With still a week to spare before month's end, the thirteen new clients who have arrived equal over half of our total number of clients in the first five months of operation! It has been nothing short of breathtaking ... exciting ... overwhelming.

It is hard to keep track as the number seems to grow daily, but we currently have at least seven ongoing studies taking place with clients on a weekly basis. A good number are prenatal classes, as we have found this to be a "niche" where there is a felt need among the women we service. We are happy to provide information that gives them confidence and preparedness for delivery, while also having regular opportunities to introduce God's personal involvement and care for their baby's health and their own lives also.

In the month of February, our first "FLORECE baby" was born. This was a special boost of encouragement to our team of volunteers during the slow months, a reminder of 1 Corinthians 15:58 to "... stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always gives yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (NIV) Our client gave birth at 5:45 AM and by noon was sending us a text and a picture of her beautiful baby boy. What a blessing!

In addition to prenatal classes, we have Bible studies and individual counseling. Each situation is unique and much wisdom is needed. Often we feel inadequate and must cling to the confidence that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV) It is God's Word and His Holy Spirit who do the work in hearts. We are just privileged to be His vessels!

In the past weeks, God has reminded us of so many truths both positive and negative. The latter: What tremendous needs and painful stories are hidden in the souls around us. How many people have been hurt by those they perceive as representing the Church, leaving us to hear "I believe in God, but not the church" in multiple client interviews. Yet the positive: Individuals who wouldn't dream of darkening the doors of a church are walking through FLORECE's doors. Volunteer counselors who thought they "couldn't possibly" are finding that they positively can, by God's grace and through His Spirit! What seems hopeless one day is made reality the next. Only GOD!

FLORECE means "to blossom." As we witness this brand-new ministry bud and unfurl, we are awed at God's faithfulness. We have yet to fully see what this bloom will finally be, but left in the hands of the Creator it can only become more beautiful. To God be all the glory.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Summer Beach Mornings

In the summertime, Iquique beaches are awash with tourists. It is good for the economy of our city, which over the past couple of years has been uncomfortably jarred by a sharp downturn in the mining industry. But it creates a different dynamic to beach outings! It is a struggle to simply find parking or a sandy corner to call one's own. 

In an effort to avoid the crowds and the crushing heat of midday, this summer Pedro devised a new schedule for trips to the beach with our kids. Sometimes he, Isabel and the older boys would jump in the waves for just an hour or two at the end of the day. Other times, we would slather Silas in sunscreen and all hit the beach in the early hours of a Saturday morning. With comfortable beach chairs and a coffee thermos in hand, these were the only times Mommy ventured to join! Eva is not a beach bum but she enjoyed a Saturday morning or two of model horse photography on the beach as well.

On one occasion just before school started, Pedro set a new record by taking the boys and their friend Christopher to the Cavancha beach extra-early. It was still dark when they dove into the waves at 7:30 AM. Crazy to the rest of the world (except the occasional surfer in full-body wetsuit) but it made a very special memory for this young crew! 

In addition to these quick trips with family, our beach-loving kiddos were treated to multiple outings with other friends and their families. Living in Iquique, it is not unusual to hear: "Mom, so-and-so invited me to the beach this afternoon. Can I go?" Since there are few other healthy options for free time, we are usually glad that they have the opportunity to do so.

But for Mommy, summer beach mornings and these kind of memories will always be most special:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Present in Pisagua

What was your favorite part of camping in Pisagua with Daddy this year? Alec's reply: "That we could watch the stars." Ian wasn't sure, but definitely liked the beach ... and the hike ... (and frankly was too engrossed in an electronic car game to coherently answer the question at the time I asked!)

Well, I didn't go on the camping trip to Pisagua with Pedro and our three older boys. But what I liked best about it was that my wonderful husband took care to photograph their adventures and pose this terrific trio multiple times for Mommy's benefit! Although we have been to Pisagua on numerous occasions, camping there was a first. Despite being a small and somewhat forgotten town, Pisagua's beach is pleasant and there is an area for camping complete with (rustic) showers and toilet facilities. And as the picture below will verify, Pedro made sure to consider all eventualities when packing our van for two nights away!

When it was all said and done, the boys set up a campsite complete with two tents, a toldo for shade, chairs, coolers, and even a grill to top it all off. They eventually had neighbors at the campsite and one evening even shared choripanes with a retired couple from France who were touring South America in a vehicle they had shipped over from Europe! That same couple introduced them to strawberries dipped in lemon juice and rolled in sugar, which our boys raved was absolutely amazing.

When asked about his favorite memories of the father/sons trip to Pisagua, Pedro said he had always wanted to do a camping trip there and had also wanted to do a camping trip of more than one night. Admittedly camping is a test of his organizational skills, so he described making a "huuuuge" list of all the things they needed. Because the boys were "super pumped" about leaving, they were a big help and the only thing their crew forgot was dish soap! (Which they later bought in Pisagua. Never fear, somewhat germaphobic Mom!)

A couple of unknowns were how to go about reserving a camping spot and what the camping spot might cost. They had been told to ask in the municipality of the small town of Huara which oversees the even smaller town of Pisagua, but tried a couple of different places to no avail. Finally they decided to do it a lo chileno and just showed up at the site. It turned out to be a good decision. The caretaker enjoyed their company and conversation and the grilled food Pedro shared with him at dinnertime. In the end, he charged them only 2.000 pesos (the equivalent of $4 USD) for the entire three days, two nights!

Pedro confessed to being "super tired" after those two days, but they had a great time. One day they hiked to a point which overlooked a colony of sea lions. They saw a lot of beautiful things. The boys loved the beach and spent long hours playing in the water. They tried out a number of different beaches and determined that "all beaches are not created equal!" The caretaker told Pedro about one isolated beach which cannot be reached by car and where people can be dropped off by a local fisherman to be picked up later at a predetermined time. The boys didn't try it this time - but maybe next time! 

Conversations with several inhabitants of Pisagua also directed them to some local treasures, such as a swimming hole carved out of the rock which they boys enjoyed after a day of hiking. They visited a location where boys were jumping off a cliff into an ocean cove. Owen was keen to try it but to his chagrin, Daddy decided that it was better to be safe than sorry because the ocean currents were still rather strong. (Thank you, Daddy!) Another local treat they uncovered were homemade ice pops with flavors like coconut, strawberry, chocolate and plum. The latter turned out to be the boys' favorite, and they indulged in this treat 4-5 times (buying double for the long, hot trip home through the desert!) Of course at only 250 pesos or 38 cents USD each, they could afford to enjoy all they wanted.

One afternoon they went up over the mountain to go exploring and discovered that a dry riverbed we had seen on previous visits was now flowing with fresh water! It was kind of a crazy adventure getting there because to go up over the mountain they had to drive our big minivan on a small dirt road. It reminded Pedro of a Michigan winter because just like with snow, there were parts of the path drifted over - but with sand! He knew he would have to speed up at points so that his tires would not get stuck in the drifts, but any slide to one side could be potentially dangerous. Coming back was even worse because they ran into other vehicles headed in the opposite direction which forced them to hug the side of the mountain. All in a day's adventures!

Pedro posted several sunset pictures on Facebook during their time away, and each one was more beautiful than the next. Every evening they were provided with three hours of solar lighting from 9 pm to midnight, and afterwards the stars were brilliant. "And then when it got dark, it was dark!"

I may say this every year, but I am deeply grateful for the memories that Pedro creates with our sons on these trips which began when Owen was around 4 years old. The adventure, laughter, new experiences, and shared stories are treasures of their boyhood that I hope they will carry with them all through life. Exploring God's incredible creation on the Pacific coast of the world's driest desert is a gift not everyone can experience - nor is finding the flowing "streams in the desert" that bring the Bible literally to life. 

Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of fathers, families and sons!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Setting Off for Santiago

It was a different summer for our family this year, especially when the time came for our annual trek to Santiago for medical appointments. Knowing that "the cousins" (our affectionate title for my sister's family who lives in Santiago) would not be there due to their furlough in the United States, we were lacking our usual landing pad while visiting the capital. But thankfully, we were able to reconnect with some special friends in their stead. This was a girls + baby Silas visit only (more on the big boys' adventures in another post!)

We actually arrived and departed to/from the home of our dear Chilean friends Cristian and Betsy. To my chagrin, I later realized we took no pictures together on this visit! (But pictures from their 2013 visit to Iquique can be found here.) Our greatest entertainment came from seeing their son Santi and our Silas getting to know one another. Santi, like Silas, was a happy surprise baby and his twin sisters are college-aged. So sharing space and toys with a toddler was a bit of a stretch at first, but in the end Santi did quite well. He has trouble pronouncing the letter "S" so it was sweet to hear him calling for "Tee-lah!" However, most of the time he couldn't even remember Silas' name and just constantly inquired, "Como se llama el amigo?" ("What is the friend's name?") Too cute.

One highlight of our time with the Ormeño Oyarce family was the opportunity to visit their church's Spanish school for Haitian immigrants. There has recently been a tremendous increase of Haitian immigration to Chile, and many have arrived to the community in which the church is located. What is special about this is the fact that we attended this church while commencing the process to adopt from Haiti. Our friends accompanied us in prayer and support through the ups and downs of nearly two years of waiting, with Cristian and Betsy even investigating the possibility of adopting from Haiti themselves. So the seed of concern and care for the Haitian people was planted long ago, yet now God allowed it to blossom into a ministry which grew to 60+ students (they had to close registrations!) What a blessing to see it first-hand!

After a couple of nights in San Bernardo, our medical appointments began and led us to stay with Australian friends in Lo Barnechea (another suburb of Santiago on the other side of the city, close to the hospital we regularly visit.) It was a joy to reconnect with Paul and Vikki Kay, with whom we shared many special memories during their time living in Iquique. We were so sad to see them go when Paul's work transferred them to Santiago! Our only disappointment on this visit was not having our boys along to catch up with theirs, but Toby and Karl seemed to enjoy our girls' company nonetheless. They introduced Isabel and Eva to berry picking outside the parcela where they live, to new games and many books!

Our appointments took us away for much of each day, but we enjoyed returning to the lush green grass and beautiful flowers around their home in the evenings. Vikki graciously provided healthy, yummy meals for us and even babysat Silas during one morning of doctors' visits. Our visit would not have been complete without a competitive round or two of Ticket to Ride, so we made sure to include that as well!

Having paid our dues to multiple medical professionals over several days, we returned once again to San Bernardo where we enjoyed two fabulous experiences. The first was eating Betsy's amazing pastel de choclo, a meal which has become a traditional gift she generously bestows on us when we are together (she even brought her own corn in a suitcase to Iquique once just to prepare this favorite dish!) And the second was an invitation to the amazing man-made lagoon and beach in these pictures. It still boggles my mind that someone built this beautiful paradise in the midst of clustered cookie cutter homes in something like suburbia!

I should give honorable mention to other enjoyable aspects of this visit to Santiago such as: frappuccinos at Starbucks and sweet honey biscuits and spicy fried chicken at Popeye's (neither establishment exists in Iquique); a lovely evening with missionary colleagues Dave and Ruth Ann Rogers and their daughter Andrea; and meeting Austin and Kayleigh, a young couple serving at the missionary school short-term. Santiago is never lacking for things to do and we always make good memories, but we were happy to return home to Daddy and the boys after a week away!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 7, 2017 (Eva's Sweet 16)

Dearest Eva,
As your 16th birthday approached, it carried with it the weight and wonder of how the years have flown by since you were our tender, squeezable toddler girl and our kind, inquisitive little girl and now you are our deep thinking, always dreaming teenage girl whom we love very much. I am honored that you entrust me with so many of your words, thoughts, hopes and fears. I hope that no matter how old you grow or how far apart we may someday be, you will always know the love and concern and dreams of our own that Daddy and I have for you. Our greatest dream is that you will fall in love with Jesus, in other words that He will be your Champion, your Confidence, your Confidante, the Fulfiller and the Fulfillment of your deepest desires.
It has been a joy to watch you discover hidden talents this past year or so, especially that of writing. You have a special voice that transmits through the written word and I look forward to how God will speak through you as you learn to hear from His Word and apply it to the situations of your own life and that of the characters you create.
It has also been a wonderful blessing to observe your personal study of the Bible and a growing sensitivity to applying what you’ve learned to your relationships with others. I know it is always hardest to do so in our own family with whom we rub shoulders day by day, but I see in you an increasing willingness to accept responsibility and seek reconciliation and I pray to that end for your heart and sibling relationships.
       Recently I read this quote and it resonated with me as a mother: “To my children … if I had to choose between loving you and breathing, I would use my last breath to tell you … I love you.” I have made so many mistakes as a mom in your 16 years, and I know I will still make more. But I hope you will always know how much I love you. Happy 16th Birthday, Eva Grace!
All my love, Mommy

Birthday Posts by Year:

15th Birthday - Eva
14th Birthday - Eva
13th Birthday - Eva
12th Birthday - Eva
11th Birthday - Eva