Sunday, May 21, 2017

Fifteen Days

This week, my husband spent three days painstakingly scraping, filling and repainting two bathroom ceilings as well an entire bedroom. I spent three days walking circles around my own bedroom trying to figure out where to start. (This is only a slight exaggeration.) The truth is that if it weren't for Pedro's packing and directing the "troops" (aka, our children) we would not be able to depart this house, ever. However, over twenty years of marriage we have worked out a fairly equitable system of labor division that plays to our individual strengths. So while he hoists the heavy stuff, I plow through the paperwork required to get eight people legally out of one country and into another (and into schools and summer activities and soccer programs and family vacations and twenty-three churches and maybe even into the Ark itself!)

Today, for instance, Pedro and the boys broke apart our bed and stored the bigger pieces while moving our mattress to the floor of the former girls' room which will be where we rest our heads until leaving. They emptied one storage area of our stuff and helped our friends who are moving in after us to refill it with their stuff. They took down the futon and stored its wooden pieces while leaving the mattress as additional seating in the living room (so that we subsequently had no less than half of our children asking to sleep there tonight! Novelty is everything.)

Meanwhile, I needed to catch up with client files at FLORECE since my colleague Pam is still on furlough and my colleague Kim is in the States meeting her brand-new, beautiful first grandbaby (congratulations, Kim!) So I spent the morning reading, making more to-do lists of things I must organize before leaving the ministry, calling volunteers to clarify questions I encountered and making sure shifts were covered for the week. Then I stopped at the grocery store for a few items including rotisserie chickens so that we could warm up yesterday's rice and Mexican beans and enjoy them with homemade tortillas our girls made with Grandma Garcia's recipe (yum!) I returned home to tortillas on the comales and a clean table waiting to be set. Can I just say that our kiddos have been such great troopers through all this?

While lunch prep was going on, I began a Whatsapp conversation with our former pediatrician who now lives in Santiago. I needed her expertise in order to address a nasty scrape Owen got while skateboarding yesterday, which today was oozing yellow goop. (Oh, the joys of boys!) Thankfully she didn't think it was serious (it seems to look worse than it really is) and hopefully it heals before we head "home."

So after a wonderful and wild lunch with six very wound-up children, I settled on my project of the afternoon which was designing our new prayer cards. Since we are hitting the ground running with church visits, we felt these should be ready and waiting when we arrive stateside and that was my goal today. It was time-consuming and I think I drove my husband a little crazy requesting his constant feedback on the process, but it is with a happy sigh that I can now check one more thing off our furlough to-do list. And with fifteen days to go, every check mark counts!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

We Were Going to Run Away (A Mother's Day Post)

It was the season of school and seminary and second-shift work weeks. It was the chapter of late-night date nights and grocery shopping at the 24-hour Walmart in the wee hours of morning. It was the crunch time before moving far away to a year of unknowns and saying goodbye to the good friends we had made in our newlywed years of marriage.

And it was the countdown to crying through one of the hardest weekends of the year. 

Even now, Mother's Day is still a weekend of mixed emotions. By far and large it is one of joy and gratitude. But I still remember. And my heart aches for so many, including ones I dearly love, for whom it is a weekend of overwhelming sadness.

As I was considering the words I would share in this post, I ran across the picture below. I was surprised by how my emotions still connected, completely understanding even after so many years and experiences apart. Wounds heal, but scars remain. Truthfully, I do not want to forget because forgetting endangers my compassion, appreciation and my gratitude.

Sixteen years ago, we were going to run away. We even had running away buddies, good friends eager for a change from the hectic pace of life we shared juggling school and work and future plans. Their reasons for going were not the same as ours, but we equally anticipated farm fresh breakfasts and clean air hiking and great conversations and memories made. For us, it would replace the still sadness of sitting alone as hugs and flowers flowed to the mothers around us at church on Sunday morning. It meant taking control of a day that in years previous had taken control of us. It was, as I said, running away.

But GOD! He came running toward us instead.

With one phone call, every plan changed and hopes deemed impossible hovered close enough for our hearts to touch. And then touch them we did in the form of a soft, sweet bundle of baby girl. Sixteen years ago, we'd never heard of cocooning and so we did what seemed only natural and headed to the one place we'd been out of place every Mother's Day weekend for several years before. We walked into church four days after learning of our daughter's existence and less than 48 hours after having her placed into our arms. Most people did not even know she had arrived. It was surreal and feels, to this day, like a dream.

Why did our dream come true while so many others still wait? I cannot and do not and never will know the answer. This I do know, that in our fallen world joy and sorrow are inextricably mixed. My joy at becoming a first-time mother through adoption was through the sorrow of a birth mother who made the most profound and sacrificial choice for her child. Mother's Day for me is a reminder of saying hello; for her it is of saying goodbye. This Mother's Day, some moms will enjoy lunches with their daughters and phone calls from their sons and yet other sons and daughters will spend the day with only a memory of a beloved mother who has gone Home. There will be missionary moms who FaceTime with children at colleges far away, and moms of missionaries who cannot recall the last time their child's furlough coincided with this special holiday. There will be mothers at hospitals whose babies have yet to come home; and others at gravesides of little lives cut short. There will be mothers estranged by no choice of their own and others as a result of choices they have yet to own.

And there will be those outside looking in who wait and hope and long to one day join the ranks of those called Mom. 

I know, because I was one of them.

Joy and sorrow. Sorrow and joy. How do we celebrate in light of this? I believe the answer is found in Solomon's wisdom: "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." If our season is joy, we should rejoice. If sorrow, we must sorrow well. But we should not stop there. We should also enter into each other's season, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

This Mother's Day, I give thanks for my precious Mom whose sacrificial parenting and selfless love shaped my understanding of motherhood. I give thanks for my beloved Mother-in-Law whose consistent training and loving discipline developed the man whom I am privileged to parent alongside. I think of our Grandmothers who were and are strong, brave, sweet and faithful women of God. I honor five amazing women whose love first held and carried the children I will be blessed to hold in my embrace on Mother's Day. And I carry in my heart and prayers the women whose arms may feel so empty this Sunday morning. May the God of all comfort be their comfort on this hardest of days.

To each and every Mother in our life:

You are seen.

You are loved.

May God bless you on this Mother's Day.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Pitchin' In for Furlough Prep

Today was a furlough prep kind of day. Lots of leftover tasks from daily living, like painting over the graffiti from months ago. (Good thing we had some of the "Orange You Happy" left over from remodeling after the earthquake!) Plenty of prep work for bigger projects, like taping up the bedroom before the painting begins (eight years in this house and third color for this particular room!) Odds and ends of mundane to-do's such as washing, drying and folding laundry and making a home cooked meal for the first time in three days. (I was pleasantly surprised by my 12-year old son volunteering to be kitchen helper by grating carrots, slicing tomatoes and washing lettuce for me!) Miscellaneous moments to organize clothing for our upcoming family photo shoot. (We need new prayer cards with 18-month old Silas added to the crew.)

My husband is a master at organizing the troops and though he pushes them hard, he rewards them amply as well. (He bought the boys doughnuts on the way home from prayer meeting tonight, a rare but favorite treat!) We think it's funny that the kids are all calling tomorrow a "free day." In other words, no furlough prep - only school. (Considering that any other time the phrase "free day" and "school" would never share a sentence!) We do make an effort to balance work and play. They will be having friends our tomorrow as well, after a week of diligent effort.

This evening my teenaged daughter lamented, "This morning I wanted to go to the States. Tonight I don't want to leave. Why is my brain so messed up?" To which I could only reply honestly (and tongue in cheek), "Welcome to the roller coaster. You are an MK. MKs have messed up brains. I should know!"

Furlough prep, this crew is gonna take you down! (At least after we all have a good cry. And maybe curl up in the fetal position or play some mindless video games to ease the stress. You know, the mature and spiritual way of handling things, ha!)

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Today with My Loves

We got no packing done today. Not a box. And that is enough to send my stomach into knots except that regardless, today was a good day. It was a full day. And it was a day spent with my loves.

Pedro headed out very bright and early to arrive a vehicle body shop by 8:00 A.M. The windshield on our minivan has a long crack 3/4 of the way across, and we cannot pass inspection without it being replaced. However, the metal frame around the windshield is rusting and we cannot replace the windshield without first repairing the frame. (What comes first, the chicken or the egg? I digress.) Last week, he was given a quote of 160,000 pesos (close to $250 USD) for the frame repair without counting the cost of the windshield. 

Today's body shop was our last resort for a better price, and thankfully they offered to do the frame job for only 50,000 pesos (around $75 USD.) Ministry opportunities come at unique times, and this morning the family who runs the business asked Pedro to come into their office and pray for them. As a result, he also was able to ask some questions about their spiritual background and encourage them to renew their commitment. Always expect the unexpected!

By 9:00 A.M. he returned home only to depart again, this time taking me, Owen, Silas and Isabel. On Mondays and Fridays our friend Elisa comes to do homeschool with Ian and Alec, so we left them studying hard and Eva preparing to tackle algebra. The purpose of our trip was a 9:30 A.M. doctor's appointment for Isabel. It was a marvelous example of a TII (This Is Iquique) moment when Isabel and I hurried into the building, rode the elevator to the 10th floor, stepped out the sliding doors five minutes past our appointment time ... into a completely dark waiting room. We beat both the receptionist and the doctor into the office!

Eventually we did see the doctor and upon conclusion returned to the street corner where Pedro had dropped us off and where we regularly purchase homemade chicken salad sandwiches on fresh marraquetas for the equivalent of $1.50 USD. We discovered these during my all-too-frequent visits to the doctor's office and blood lab during my pregnancy with Silas, and have been faithful customers ever since! With belated breakfast in hand, Isabel and I walked several blocks to the park where via Whatsapp we managed to uncross wires of confusion regarding our pick up location, with Owen happily acting as Daddy's mouthpiece. (I chuckle when I write "managed to uncross wires" because that park is yet another TII poster child with an astonishing tangle of electric coils just dangling over the sidewalk waiting for an accident to happen!)

Crossing town for a second time this morning, Pedro dropped off the kids, picked up his computer, and the two of us again headed downtown. After multiple circles looking for parking, he dropped me off at FLORECE while he continued the search. Since it was not a workday at the center, the plan was for me to catch up on paperwork and Pedro to prepare his Sunday School lesson in the quiet office. Unfortunately, despite driving several times through the nearby intersection without a working streetlight it didn't dawn on me that the electricity might be cut at FLORECE as well. Another TII moment - thankfully, the computers were charged!

An hour or so later, the power did return and it was just in time for the first of two FaceTime calls I would receive from my sister Jennifer in Pennsylvania. Today, along with my mom and a realtor, she was scheduled to visit two houses for sale. The long story short is that Pedro and I are praying about purchasing a multi-family property near my parents, one which will allow us to rent out a part of it to cover mortgage and reserve another part for our family or either of my two sisters' families to use while on our furloughs. It is a big, scary, exciting decision and we appreciate our family stateside investing time and energy into this search on our behalf! The second house today was a great possibility but we need wisdom as we carefully consider all ramifications and financial considerations. The most urgent need for this house currently relates to my oldest sister Terri and her family who are on pre-field ministry and recently had to relinquish their rental home due to the owner's son returning. In August, they will need a place to stay and we are hoping that somehow we can have a property in place to receive them.

Just an interesting tidbit. In Chile, there is a saying that when you take a spill or a fall somewhere, you "bought the terrain" or "bought the house." My darling mother unfortunately did fall at the second and preferred property while climbing up the steep cellar steps. We all concluded that it would be oh-so-nice if this particular Chilean saying would really come true!

Our long-distance tour ended just in time to transfer Elisa from our house to her next job and Owen from our house to his weekly discipleship with his MK "cousin" Josh Spink. Then, having been gone all morning and with no lunch prepared, we piled the rest of the gang in the van and headed to the food court in the mall. Much to the surprise and delight of Ian and Alec, their parents actually caved to their pleas and purchased a few minutes of playing time on a Happyland card. Silas was happy to join in the entertainment, and Mommy and the girls were glad to escape on a shopping expedition meanwhile. The goal was to find the boys matching shirts for Saturday's upcoming prayer card pictures shoot, but sadly we were unsuccessful. (We did find a pair of sandals at 70% off for Silas to wear in the States in summertime, so all was not completely lost!)

And again we went home. Our kids then turned around and promptly left, walking to the neighborhood park and participating in an after-school exercise class with a PE teacher and a group of students they had happened to see walk by our front gate. Stretching out on the couch for a little rest turned into a full-fledged nap for me when they took their time returning (which could be why it is 2:00 A.M. and I am up writing this post!)

Quickly the evening progressed and kids returned, showers were taken, once was eaten, Silas was successfully entertained through bathtime by brother Ian and rocked to sleep by sister Eva, and family devotions were held. On Sunday a visiting preacher spoke about the testimony of Apollos in Acts chapter 18, and we returned to those verses to discuss how qualities of Apollos' life could also be applicable and important to our own. Knowing the Scriptures, having a bold witness, being teachable, seeking to bless and encourage others, and remaining humble were among the topics we discussed and I hope were a challenge to each of us. The kids were attentive listeners and we closed our time in prayer for the house decision and especially for Aunt Terri and Uncle Dave at this transition time.

Finally, we cuddled on the two couches and watched a favorite family show together. It is one that alternately has us on the edge of our seats and/or cackling with laughter, and tonight I just soaked in the giggles and gasps and enjoyment of sharing the drama with one another. Among six children it can sometimes be difficult to find common ground, so it is extra sweet when everyone is on the same page and drawn into the emotion together. When it was over, there were hugs and kisses for Mom and Dad and a happy half a dozen sleepyheads drifted off into dreamland. Nostalgia nudged me as the house grew quiet, and on Facebook I wrote:
"If late at night while your children sleep you find yourself teary and dipping into the very last handful of your very last bag of chocolate chips imported from the States, it might means that four weeks from today you are leaving on a jet plane. Just saying."
I am thankful for today with my loves. In the midst of the crazy, a day of constant movement but also close companionship was precious. Thank You, Lord, for the gift of today and the hope of tomorrow. Thank You, Lord, for family!

Monday, May 08, 2017

Learning Something New (LSCh)

It's interesting how life sometimes circles around.

When I was a young girl, the church my parents planted began to have its services interpreted via Chilean sign language (known in Spanish as LSCh, or Lengua de Señas Chilenas.) The story as I recall is pretty great, how the whole thing came about by my parents' vivacious teammate venturing in hot pursuit of a couple she saw speaking sign language and begging them to teach her! They eventually came to Christ and to our church, as did an entire Deaf congregation. I still remember one song that the whole church (hearing and Deaf) learned to sign so that we could all "sing" together. I can't recall if I specifically attended any classes to learn LSCh when I was younger, but one or two signs of greeting lingered with me over the years.

What I most appreciate about my memories of those early years is that for me, our church was completely comfortable and natural despite our differences. Fast forward close to ten years, and Pedro's pastoral internship returned us to his home church in Michigan which also just happened to also have a Deaf congregation. Once again, I admired the ministry mostly from afar. I often thought that I would like to learn sign language, but with two toddlers then in tow the time did not seem right.

We have a cousin by marriage who is a sign language interpreter in the States and missionary colleagues in Chile who pour themselves wholeheartedly into ministry with the Deaf community via LSCh in the capital city of Santiago. But it wasn't until our daughter began to express continued interest in sign language that it came full circle back onto my radar. This summer a friend handed me a flier advertising a two-month LSCh course here in Iquique and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was an intense, challenging, yet rewarding experience. It was fulfilling to learn to communicate in what is truly another unique language. It was fascinating to learn about the Deaf community in Chile, yet troubling to see how far the country has yet to come in meeting the needs of this group of people. It certainly raised my awareness and appreciation for those ministering among the Deaf, and helped me understand how something as simple as translating for a job interview can be at tremendous blessing and bridge to sharing God's love (we were told that hiring an interpreter is very expensive and something most people cannot afford.)

Learning alongside my 14-year old daughter was a unique opportunity to create a bond of shared memories. She earned an award for "Best Memory" at the end of the class, and inspired me with her ability to retain the meaning and use of the signs when I had long since forgotten them. I hopefully made her proud by applying myself and performing well in tests and presentations, culminating in our final assignment of a sign language play for a hearing and Deaf audience. Our group of four women presented an abbreviated version of Cinderella, with Isabel playing the title character and me the mean stepmother. Needless to say, we had more than few chuckles along the way!

Prior to our last presentation, a more meaningful assignment was spending an evening with our classmates, teachers and several members of the Deaf community. We gathered in a small hotel dining room, seated in a circle and attempting to communicate with the signs we had learned. We alternated between relief when we could understand and/or be understood, and confusion when we could not. Though it was not comfortable, I appreciated the men and women of the Deaf community who were willing to place themselves in the situation of patiently helping us fumble our way through the night. I enjoyed witnessing the camaraderie between them as well, and the laughter they often shared. It was obvious how important and encouraging their community was to them as a haven in a world where they are easily overlooked or misunderstood. 

In Iquique, there are no schools for the deaf. One of the young women shared that as a deaf student in a local college, she simply takes copious notes and receives the Powerpoint slides from the professor, studying on her own and unable to communicate with anyone around her. What a lonely path to walk through learning! Through the LSCh class, my eyes were certainly opened to my own innate privilege and the courage of those who are forced to climb uphill to accomplish their goals. 

While I do not know if Isabel and I will be able to continue the classes in the future (there are seven levels in all), I do hope that the empathy and awareness we discovered stays alive in our hearts and enables us to somehow reach out to others. Because it's never too late to learn something new, and never too soon to apply it.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Garcias2Chile: About Us

At the time of this writing, our furlough countdown says that in 1 month and 1 day we will be stepping onto an airplane (actually a total of three airplanes) and heading back to the United States of America. It will be here before we know it! We have been gone from the States for nearly 4 1/2 years this term. 

In preparation for re-introductions upon returning stateside, this post is a simple overview of us - who we are, where we are, what we do. The idea for this post is not original to me but I recently admired it on another missionary blog and thought it would be fun to imitate. I also hope it might be a helpful refresher for anyone interested!

Where do we live? 

Continent: South America
Country: Chile
City: Iquique (pronounced EE-KEY-KAY)

We live in the Chilean city of Iquique which has approximately 200,000 inhabitants. Added to the neighboring "bedroom community" of Alto Hospicio and several smaller towns, our immediate vicinity numbers close to 350,000 people. Iquique is culturally diverse, home to many immigrants from nearby Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Colombia but also to numerous Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese business owners. Due to its desert surroundings, the weather in Iquique is dry and temperate but the city rests on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The primary language spoken throughout Chile is Spanish.

Personally, we live in a three-storey duplex home. Most houses in Chile are made of concrete to withstand the regular seismic activity. Our house is the bright orange one on the far left of the picture below. It has three bedrooms and like most houses in Chile, is protected from theft by a large metal gate and metal bars on the first-floor windows. We have rented our home in Iquique for eight years and are thankful for the stability God has graciously allowed us to enjoy as a family in one place for all this time.

What do we do?

It might be easier to explain what we "did" and now what we "do." Over the course of the past 4 1/2 years, so much has changed! From January 2009 until last year, we were part of the leadership team of the Iglesia Bautista Misionera where Pedro functioned in a pastoral role. Ministries included preaching, teaching across all ages, individual Bible studies, monthly men's/women's/married couples' meetings, counseling, etc. In January of last year, however, our church "graduated" to independence and called a full-time Chilean pastor. We rejoice at this step and our desire upon returning to Iquique after furlough is to participate in planting a sister church in another part of the city that does not have a Gospel witness.

Meanwhile, God has us fully invested in the ministry of the FLORECE Prenatal & Family Counseling Center which opened its doors on October 1, 2016. After many years of praying, preparing and pursuing the dream of a pregnancy center in Iquique, God allowed this desire to come to fruition last year. Already many lives have been touched by the hope of the Gospel through this ministry and we look forward to continued involvement and growth in the years to come!

Who are we?

Long story short, once upon a time a boy from Michigan (Pedro) met an MK girl from Chile (Stephanie) while both were living in Pennsylvania. Twenty years of marriage and six children later, this August marks a decade from our initial arrival in Chile as missionaries. However, more interesting than us and those who have changed the most during recent years are our children, so they rightly deserve a more detailed introduction.

Eva is 16 years old and in 10th grade. Her hobbies include writing, photography and research (mainly related to animals!) She loves horses and dogs. Recently a neighbor admired her training of our dog, Whittaker, and this landed her a job walking and training our neighbor's puppy. She's only sad it came just before leaving for furlough!

Isabel is in 9th grade and will turn 15 years old less than a week after we arrive in the States. She loves to read (mysteries are her favorite) and listen to music. She has enjoyed guitar lessons and recently excelled in a Chilean sign language class. She is very social and is a dedicated "junior volunteer" at FLORECE.

Owen is 12 years old and in 6th grade. He has done almost all of his schooling in Spanish in Chilean schools. Sports are his favorite thing: soccer, track, handball, basketball among just about every other variety! He is fun-loving and keeps our family laughing.

Ian will be a 3rd grader in the fall and is 9 years old. He is creative and dramatic. He is an exuberant big brother to Silas and can always make him smile! He loves to ride bikes and he loves the beach. He is also an avid Hess toy truck fan.

Alec is also 9 years old (four months younger than Ian) and entering 3rd grade. He dreams of being an American football player and enjoys wrestling with his brothers. He is smart and tough, but also sensitive and deep thinker. He likes Legos and electronics.

Silas is 1 1/2 years old. He is smart, observant and adores his older brothers and sisters. He loves clapping and dancing to Hi-5 songs and figuring out how to outwit baby gates. He enjoys long walks and beach days!

See you soon!

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.