My sister-in-law Nina is so gracious that she times the major events of her life to coordinate with our furloughs. In 2012, she was kind enough to get married while we were stateside. And in 2017, she gave birth to her first daughter Chloe just weeks after our return to the USA! Needless to say, this adorable first cousin on the Garcia side was welcomed with open arms by all of us. Unfortunately, Nina and her husband Kyle live in Iowa and distance did not allow for a great deal of time together. We first met Chloe for a short while during New Year's week when our Garcia family gathered in Pennsylvania.
Thankfully, Eva, Isabel and I had one extra opportunity to spend time with Kyle, Nina and Chloe at the end of April. With the additional objective of visiting Faith Baptist Bible College as a future schooling option, we flew out over a long weekend for a campus tour. Uncle Kyle and Aunt Nina are both graduates and live close to the school, also hosting a college Sunday School class in their home each week, so they were definitely rooting for the girls to choose Faith!
It was great to see some familiar faces from our sending church in Lapeer at FBBC. Jeff and Julie Shepard provided the rental house we enjoyed for the first half of our home assignment in 2012, and our kids have fond memories of their family. Several of their daughters have attended this college with very positive experiences. Two were on campus the day of our visit, so it was neat to interact with them and see how God is leading them to areas of future ministry! It was also fun to run into a former Chile MK who is in his first year at the school. While our girls didn't make any decisions that day (and we didn't expect them to) it was encouraging to consider a positive option that would be close to family.
Another highlight of our trip to Iowa was visiting with veteran Chile missionary (now retired) Bonnie Abbas, and her sister Sharon. "Miss Bonnie" was my wonderful English teacher in junior high and high school. She truly encouraged me as a writer and student, and her lessons in both school and Christian life have stayed with me. In fact, it was largely due to her example that I chose to study secondary education English in college. Her long, faithful years as a single missionary were also an inspiration! It had been many years since I saw Miss Bonnie last and it was my first opportunity to meet Sharon. We enjoyed a delicious Mexican meal together at a restaurant halfway between their home and Nina's. It was a joy to reconnect, albeit for a brief while.
Even the travel on our "girls' trip" was fairly enjoyable despite multiple airplanes and layovers along the way, as we experienced the Chicago airport for the first time and tried some new flavors of pizza and fresh fruit juices while we waited. Being just three of us, we had some good conversations and relaxing times reading side by side and listening to music. At Aunt Nina's we watched multiple episodes of our favorite mystery show together, and on the night Uncle Kyle had off work we had a family movie night. It was sweet to spend time with Nina and see her home and church and the life God has given her in Iowa. On Sunday we attended her church and that evening we participated in an after-church college social at the pastor's house. They live in a very small community so we were able to stroll Chloe from one house to the the other on a lovely evening with a beautiful full moon.
Of course, Chloe was a highlight of our visit and we spent lots of time cuddling and coaxing and enjoying her happy heart and beautiful smile! We even got to "babysit" and took Chloe on a trip to Dairy Queen (with careful instructions from her mommy that she was not to get any bites of ice cream!) and Walmart. She is such a sweetheart and we will miss seeing her grow up in person but love all the updates Nina posts on Whatsapp and Facebook. We are so happy for their little family and appreciated the time with them so much!