Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gone for the weekend

We've been out of town for the weekend, so thus the lack of blogging. Currently I'm sitting on the floor of our Econolodge hotel room while the kids begin to stir.

A few random tidbits:

-Noah was the cutest ring-bearer ever yesterday. I (Bart) sat up front with my arms open and he ran down the aisle to me and jumped in my arms. The cutest part might've been that he stuck the ring pillow in his mouth while he ran. It was a pretty cool moment for me.

-I bowled a 212 on Thursday night. I didn't leave a single pin up, all spares and strikes. I was pretty pumped.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We're back (part 3)

Our Monday and Thursday Project Meeting

Just a few minutes ago, I read a little book from the apocrypha called "Bel and the Dragon." The gist of it is that Daniel (the same Daniel from the OT) is with Cyrus, the Persian King. Much in the same way Daniel is tested with Nebuchanezer (sp?) to worship other gods, Daniel is entreated to worship Bel (a persian idol/god) and then the dragon. Of course he refuses to do either and is vindicated by God. After refusing to worship the dragon Daniel is thrown into the lions den (again?) and fed by Habbakuk. He is then freed after 7 days while the pagan worshippers are tossed in and devoured by the lions.

What's the point? Why am I bringing this up?

Well, at quite a few times this summer, I (Bart) was at the end of my rope. I am no super-introvert (though I lean that way) but perhaps the most difficult thing about the summer was having absolutely zero time to myself. See, we had, for most of the summer, the only washer and dryer; so even during the times in which we had no project agenda students would come over to do their laundry. Often in pairs. And most often they would want to talk.

At first we loved this. It gave us such a great opportunity to get to know our students better, and really pour our lives into them. It gave us extra time to love on them and just be there for them. But after a few weeks--mind you, a few weeks with a kid going through his terrible twos and a fussy 1 year old because she's out of her comfort zome--we really just needed time alone. I began to miss time with my wife dearly, and I began to miss the extra time with the Lord that our job often affords; so I began to run on empty.

One Thursday the food team was coming over early. Thursdays was my day with the kids. This was at a particular point in the summer in which the kids were just really tired; they had not been napping well and were waking each other up early every morning. So they really, really needed their naps. Well a couple people from the food team decided to ring the doorbell to announce their arrival. This woke up Leah, who proceeded to scream for 15 minutes or so. Finally, I thought, She can get some sleep and maybe I could get a breather as well. Well, as those thoughts entered my head another member of the food team arrived, again ringing the doorbell. This woke Leah up again. She was losing it. This woke Noah up, who came out've his room to see what was the matter. It is not good when two tired kids cannot take good naps--not good at all. Well 30 minutes later Leah is finally asleep, and Noah is back in his room when the last member of the food team came home, again ringing the doorbell. Leah and Noah both woke up again.

I was going to lose it. Not because I was mad at the food team for now knowing better than to ring the doorbell (who would even think of that unless you already have babies?), I was more frustrated that nobody in our family could get a break. I laid Leah down and she fussed and cried for 20 minutes. I sat outside her door and cried. I thought, God is this really why you wanted us to come to Venezuela? Is this really necessary at all?

Like Daniel from Bel and the Dragon we felt tested and strained. I often felt like bowing down and worshipping the gods of this age (comfort, money etc) and that frankly seemed a much better option than following Christ around the world.

Again, just to balance this post, this is a series of 4 (or more) posts about our entire summer. Please don't read this post and think we had a terrible time--the good stuff is coming. One thing we definitely learned from this though, is that following Christ does often involve a cross of sorts. If we were to truly care for Venezuela, and our project, we needed to make some sacrifices. This was one that in hindsight we would gleefully give up again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We're Back, part 2

Venezuela was pretty tough for us. Thinking through even how to process the summer is a bit frightening for me because it means I'll have to conjure up those thoughts and feeling that were not so pleasant.

Henri Nouwen said this, which struck me this morning:
"To go back to that place is hard, because you are confronted there with your wounds as well as with your powerlessness to heal yourself.... Your instinct for survival makes you run away and go looking for something else that can give you a sense of at-homeness, even though you know full well that it can't be found out in the world."

We're tired. Emotionally, spiritually, and even physcially we are drained. So we've spent the last couple days trying to recover and process what just happened the last two months. We're finding a struggle (well, I am finding a struggle maybe I shouldn't invite my wife into this) to rest well because resting well means processing and being with Jesus amidst our fatigue. It's so much easier just to go into a quasi-vegetable state and watch movie and movie or catch up on tv show after tv show. But we know that ultimately that won't help. What our soul longs for, above all, is to find peace and rest and comfort in God's embrace.

So, to that I go now.

Before that, one quick disclosure: over the next four posts I think I'll use the first two to discuss what was difficult for us on project. Then the final two will be all the breathtaking ways we felt God showed up and did some awesome things both in ourselves and through our project. So keep an eye out for that.

Monday, July 25, 2011

We've returned

I'm thinking this'll probably be a series of blogs as we sort've try to recap and review how were doing and what the last couple weeks were like. It'll be random, and it'll probably be a bit of out-loud processing with disjointed thoughts and stories. You've been warned.

I've made the 200 meter trek to the Mcdonalds by our house twice already since we've been back. Seeing as how we've only been back for maybe 4 meals that isn't a very good ratio if we want to live past 35. Needless to say, we missed American food--yes, even the greasy stuff that Mcdonalds tries to pass off as "food."
Our first meal back home was Bob Evans' Wildfire Chicken Salad. We're both nutso for that salad and started talking about it a few weeks ago.

Leah is into this pointing thing now. She just points at everything, it's super cute. Just in the last week she also decided to start talking! Her vocab is up to "Mama, Papa, Bye-Bye, and Baby."

We took our project pictures on the beach at debrief. We all wore white T-shirts but I didn't have one so I borrowed one from one of the girls. I was also in a bit of a silly mood so a series of Yoga-poses entailed. You can't see it, but the shirt showed off my belly, it was quite attractive.

In the last 8 days we have slept in 6 different places. In our pre-kid days that actually sounds like a whirlwind adventure of fun-ness, but now not so much--it sounds rather like torture. Our kiddos have been pretty remarkable with the rotating sleep location though.

Which brings to mind one thing we have been utterly grateful for and has been becoming ever more evident in our lives--God's provision. Often we talk about God being the provider and taking care of us, but we really feel as though we have and are experiencing a summer of special grace. God has just been really good to us. Our kids could've went completely bonkers but for the most part they have been just great. Either one of Melissa or I were susceptible to a complete breakdown being overseas and leading a group this big, but again God was truly our rock and our guide. We really needed God to show up at various times and in various places this summer, and he truly has. He has provided rest when we needed the rest, he has given us the will, energy, and drive to continue to be faithful when all around us seemed to be going awry, he has been the light and truly the desires of our hearts when often it felt like all we could do just to keep the boat afloat, and he has allowed us to minister to others well throughout the entire process.

Some people thought we were a bit crazy for taking our kids to Venezuela for the summer. I can see where they are coming from. But let's just suffice it to say that because of God's provision and grace on us these last two months our heart and desire to take our entire family overseas for multiple years has grown tremendously.

Monday, July 11, 2011

So much to be thankful for

As we look back over our time in Venezuela, it's hard to believe our time is almost over. We leave around 2:30 am on Sunday morning to fly to Margarita Island where we will have our team debrief. Although it's been a whole month, it feels so much longer. We've experienced so much. It has definitely been hard. There is no doubt about that. Yet at times it has been almost easy to be here with 2 young children. There have been times where we've said we want to go home. There are times that we wouldn't mind staying longer. It's been such an emotional roller coaster.

One of the hardest things has been that we as a couple haven't been able to experience a ton of project together. Sure we get dinner with the team and Melissa sometimes goes to the nightly meetings. But we never get to go on campus together, or go to the orphanage together, or even go to church together (unless we assign someone to "nursery" duty). But somehow in the midst of that, this summer project has gone really well. We haven't been able to touch base on a heart level much, but we're in it together. Our marriage has grown as a result of this experience. Our kids have learned how to be more flexible. They've had to. We've learned how to be more flexible. We've had to.

We've really enjoyed getting to know people on this project. In fact, I think we're going to be sad that we can't see all of these students on a more regular basis all the time. Luckily a lot of the students go to OSU, so we can track them down and make them hang out with us. Or just cook, and invite the guys over. That always works for college men. At the same time, our hearts ache that we haven't had more opportunities to be more involved in the lives of Vida (the movement here) students. We've realized that is just a reality to having a family. We can't do everything. Yet, we feel so blessed by them. Everyone here loves gringo kids, so they have loved on Noah and Leah so well. And for that, we are grateful.

We've been stretched in so many directions this summer. It is so reassuring that the Lord knows what he's doing. He wants to refine our character and shape us into people like Jesus. Even yesterday, the men decided to bless the women by getting them all a rose and a chocolate bar and handing a personal encouragement note. Oh how these men have grown, especially in the face of adversity. What, you ask? Well, the women have been on a pranking rampage. And for all of you men out there, you know how competitive men can be. But they've chosen to love the women well, by even walking the ladies home after dark. By the way, none of the ladies can go anywhere unless they are in pairs. The women have been so gracious in respecting these rules for everyone's safety. And the men have served them well.

This video is pretty dark, but we can give you the gist of it. We told everyone that we were going to have a water balloon toss game. We said to make it fair, we would have guy girl teams. The guys fell for it. They tossed the balloons to the girls and then the girls wailed on them with the balloons. One more reason why these guys are especially incredible.....they were stoked to win the competition and were pretty mad that they "lost." They ended up laughing in the end, but it was a challenge at first. But this sums up parts of this summer. We've just really enjoyed each other well!

We want to make the last week on campus a good one. We want people to really go after it hard and rest a bit at debrief. It's important that we follow up people, get contact information and just love Venezuelans this last week. Would you pray that we can close up our week on campus well? Would you pray that students would have energy this last week? We're excited to share more stories of what God has done this summer at the Universidad de Carabobo!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

What happened to the past week?

It's been a blur. Even though we've had a couple extra days off this week, it hasn't really felt that way. It almost feels as though it's been busier. We've had a couple of play dates with Julieta and Lucas. They were giving each other hugs the other night and this was the best picture I could get. Standards are pretty low when it comes to taking pictures of 2 year olds.We're still not used to the fact that it rains every day here. It sometimes rains 2 or 3 times every day. The other day we needed to go somewhere and had to wing it on keeping the kids dry. This was our solution. Noah was fine with it. E.T. phone home.
On Sunday we had a bowling outreach where we invited students to come bowling. It was a little strange though because we were all spread out so it made it hard to talk to people. I, of course, didn't do well....but I actually didn't bowl. Noah and Lucas took turns bowling as me. Unfortunately they didn't have the bumpers, so there were quite a few gutter balls. But I think they enjoyed it regardless.
Last night, we had our own little fireworks show. Monday evening we had our weekly meeting, so we didn't really have time to do it but last night we had pizza and a pool party as a team for our family fun night, so it was perfect to do it then. The students were all pretty excited. The staff had kept it a surprise that we had fireworks for them. When Clay and I went to buy them, it was pretty fun. They had tons of stuff and Clay was like a kid in a candy store. We got some sparklers and roman candles and then actual legitimate fireworks. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised to be able to experience fireworks in Venezuela.
Leah still isn't walking. She's not at all in a hurry to when she knows she can crawl pretty quickly wherever she needs to go. Her newest thing is climbing on everything. She's figured out that she can climb the chairs, couch and the coffee table. She hasn't mastered getting down yet, but she sure does enjoy just being up on things. One of the guys made a bet with me that she's going to start walking in the 2 weeks after we return home. If that's true, I have to buy an ice cream cake to split with him. If it's after 2 weeks that she starts walking, then he'll split it with us. I'm not sure how either way we end up buying an ice cream cake, but I'm not going to be too disappointed in that purchase!
I'm posting pictures to facebook, so there will be more on there of other things. It's been really fun to see the kids get more and more comfortable here. I think they consider this home now. Noah thinks our apartment is Venezuela, so I've been trying to explain to him that it's the whole place. Ahh, he's 2 so I'm not getting too worked up about it.

It's pretty crazy to see what God has been doing on our project. We've all been stretched in different ways. Some of the staff are having a hard time being here. Some of the students are getting to the point of wanting to go home. Everyone is being faithful in sharing their faith on campus. There hasn't been a ton of sickness in the group, which has been a huge answer to prayer. It's hard to believe that we only have a week and a half left on campus and then next Sunday we leave for debrief.

Will you pray for our group as we slowly begin the transition of going back to the States? Even as we have conversations with students, it's apparent that some people will have a hard time going back. Will you also pray that Venezuelan students that we've had conversations with will stick around and be a part of the movement here? Often it's easy for students to fall through the cracks after the summer project people leave, and we don't want that to happen. We want everyone to get plugged in and we want to build the movement that already exists. Would you please pray for the students who are already involved, that they would grab these other students and take them under their wing?