Friday, November 23, 2012

Off to Aruba

Well, tomorrow we leave around 5:00am for Aruba.  One of the things we have to do here is take visa trips every 90 days.  Technically we're not allowed to be in the country for more than 90 days at a time unless we figure out a way to get a longer-term visa.  It is something our family is looking into though so we don't have to kill our bank account every 3 months.  But there is something refreshing about getting to leave for a bit and reconnect with each other (and in this case, be in a culture where more people speak English).

The best thing about Aruba though is that my (Melissa) parents are coming to visit us there.  And we were able to use a timeshare in which we will have a 3 bedroom place.  One room for the kids, one for my parents and one for us.  It will be great to get to actually live with them for a few days and they get the extra time with the kids.  We've been counting down the days until we get to see Grandma and Grandpa and the kids are really excited.

It has been somewhat of a challenge to help Noah understand that when we see them, we're not going to be at their house in the U.S.  So we could use prayer for that.  And that we all would have excited hearts to come back to Venezuela.  We've never been to Aruba, but our guess is it's the type of place that would make you not want to go home to the U.S., let alone Venezuela!  But I think we're trying to prepare for that and not get our expectations too high.  We just want to enjoy time with the family.

This will be such a nice break after a long weekend and long week.  Our national staff conference was the past 3ish days.  All of the staff and stinters in the country met together and talked about life, ministry, planned some things and even celebrated Thanksgiving together.  So we're all pretty tired from lots of meetings (and Thanksgiving can be tiring as well).  But we are hopeful to come back and jump right back into the swing of things.

Thanksgiving was a lot of fun.  I did a decent job delegating to the team so that I didn't have to cook for 19 adults and 5 kids.  That was a good decision, especially since we have what I call a mini oven.  The turkey barely fit.  The $65 turkey.  Yup, you read that right.  Turkey is expensive here, but divided amongst everyone, made it not incredibly terrible.  But all in all, everything tasted pretty similar and the food was really good.  We even were able to find some type of sweet potatoes to throw together sweet potato casserole the morning of.  I think almost everyone was grateful for that!

So as I sit here and wait for the washer to get done (sometimes I wonder why I do clothe diapers), I figured I might as well get on here and write a little update on our lives.  I hope you feel connected and enjoy my ramblings.  One day I'll figure out how to get Bart back on day.  Until then, I must go kill some mosquitos.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We did it!

We're not sure how, but we survived our first ever fall retreat here for the students in Valencia!  It was not without it's random issues.  Where to start?

Well, we tried to leave early.  There were 2 cars leaving at 10:00am (we didn't leave until almost 11:00...Venezuelan time).  We were in the car with 2 Venezuelans and our kids.  It was a little tight and a somewhat rough ride.  Motion sickness galore for both of us, but the kids seemed fine and did really well.  It took us nearly 7 hours to get there with stopping for lunch.  Yes, you read that right.  Nearly 7 hours.  We were anticipating 3.  Whoops!  So we weren't in the best of spirits when we arrived and didn't have very much time to set up.  Luckily there wasn't much set-up to do.

So we set up a bit, ate dinner, set up some more, put the kids to bed and the bus full of students arrived. The students were a bit cranky, also not anticipating the longer drive (it actually only took them about 5.5 hours to get there on the bus).  But they pushed through.  The first meeting was still ago even though everything was already behind schedule.  That's ok.  We're in Venezuela.  The key word here is flexibility.

Bart did a great job giving talks.  Christian, one of the Venezuelan staff guys, translated for him for each of the 4 talks.  There were seminars for students to attend and lots of free time for people to swim and do other activities.  There were supposed to be horses to ride, but that never happened for some reason.  Leah was pretty bummed about that.

The retreat center was pretty interesting.  It was not a 5 star hotel or anything.  Bugs galore, really stinking hot (but sweet deal, all of the bedrooms were air conditioned), frogs wandering around the pool, dirty bug-infested pool, lots of areas for our kids to injure themselves.  Oh well.  But they loved wandering around.  They even had a little zoo area with a bunch of random animals.  Chickens, ducks, turtles, pig-type things, monkeys, some sort of little cheetah type cat, parrots.  It was pretty cool for the kids to get to see the animals and have something to entertain them.

 The kids had a good time, but got pretty restless.  Once they had done everything once or twice, they got a little bored.  You can only go down the slide so many times in the blinding sunlight before you don't want to do it anymore.  They loved the pool though.  Small downside to that was that it was right next to the meeting area so we could only swim during certain times so we didn't distract people.  That was a bummer, but worth it for the students to be able to focus.

One student, Alejandra, came and honestly no one knew if she had ever made a decision about Jesus before.  After this weekend, she came up to Bart and gave him a hug and thanked him for what he shared and said he presented things in a way she had never heard of or thought of before.  It was really cool to see God working in her life.  I think she is definitely wrestling through some hard stuff in her life, but I'm excited to see what happens as a result of the talks, community and just overall excitement from this weekend.

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 Students seemed to have a really good time.  So much so that they were going crazy on the bus drive home.  We decided to take the bus home to have more space and not have the motion sickness issue.  Boy was that a good decision, minus the chaos!  They were playing games, standing up, singing, dancing, you name it.  Ridiculous!  They wanted to have fun, and boy did they ever.  The kids were able to sleep for a little bit which was nice, but they really enjoyed getting to have more space and even sit with other people.  The bus only took a little over 4 hours to get home, so we were pretty darn excited about that.  We were so tired.

Speaking of tired....I went to bed at 8:15 last night.  Sooooo tired.  And I woke up when Noah woke me up this morning at 6:30.  It was glorious and I don't for a second regret that decision.  Sleep was hard at retreat.  Loud students, restless kids, crickets in bed with us, you name it.  At least I didn't come in contact with a cockroach.  Others, yes.  Not me, so I'm grateful.

How do I end this?  I'm not really sure.  I haven't done a very good job summing up this weekend, but overall it was really good.  We're really glad we started this tradition of having a retreat around this time every year.  Next year, we'll look into a place a little closer to home.  :)  And the support that our team raised for the retreat is almost all in, so that's exciting!  God has totally provided and we can't help but feel blessed! 
This picture has the sun setting and the moon in the middle left of the picture.  One of the guys that it was so cool that you could see the moon and the sun at the same time.  It was a really gorgeous sunset.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

First ever "fall" retreat

This weekend is going to be huge for the movement here in Valencia.  Tomorrow we will have the first ever "fall" retreat.  We say fall because, well, it's fall in the U.S. and they just don't really have seasons here.  But it's the first one.  Ever.  This is exciting for many reasons.
1.  Because students get to get away together and connect with the Lord and each other.
2.  This is setting the norm to have this retreat for years to come.
3.  Retreats are always great for building momentum and getting students excited about going back to campus and doing ministry.
4.  We get to see first hand what God is doing in students lives and connect on a much deeper level.
5.  Our entire staff team is working together to raise support as a team to allow this retreat to happen.
6.  We've already seen God do awesome things (like provide a location when all hope was lost, seeing funds come in to pay for the retreat, students are really excited).

It has certainly been a lot of work to plan this retreat with no previous tracks to run on, but our team is being awesome and faithfully working together to make it happen.

Would you please pray for retreat this weekend?  Would you pray that students would come, that they would bring their friends (that we'd have a bus big enough to take everyone)?  Would you pray for Bart as he's giving 4 talks this weekend (with translation, they will probably last 50 minutes)?  Would you pray for our family to be able to enjoy the time there (we'll be 3 hours away)?  Leah threw up twice yesterday and we're not sure why.  She seemed fine all day even after she threw up, once in the morning and then right before bed.  Would you pray that Bart (and Noah and I) wouldn't get whatever she might have?

We'll need energy and patience.  The keyword here in Venezuela is flexibility.  When we say the students are leaving at 1:00 tomorrow it will probably be 2:00 or 2:30.  When we have a schedule for retreat, we just go with the flow and try to stick to it.  No one has ever been to the retreat place so we don't know much about it.  But we're praying that it is a time of experiencing the Lord and just being ok with chaos.  :)  If nothing else, there's a pool and horses that we can pay extra for.  Maybe the kids and I can swim and ride horses all weekend?

All in all, we're looking forward to seeing what God does this weekend.  It will end up being almost 3 days with travel time, and we're praying God allows us to have significant conversations with students and staff.  Would you join us in praying for these things?

We'll try to update again next week with pictures!  But for now.......

Monday, November 12, 2012

Who needs water?

So the past few days have been interesting.  On Wednesday evening last week, someone on our team mentioned the water being out.  Of course, the response on the team was, WHAT?!?!  We all needed to be filled in (there are major benefits to having Venezuelans on the team because they can actually read the signs posted).  :)  Basically, long story short we might not have water for 4 days, but we would probably have it intermittently.  Ok.  What does that mean?  We'll just go with it and fill as many bottles with water as we can.  Let's hope for the best.

So Thursday and Friday are relatively painless.  We have water from 6-7am, 12-1pm and again from 8-9pm.  Every time the water would come on, we'd jump up, fill water bottles, flush toilets, wash dishes, do laundry, ect.  We had a decent system going.  This isn't so bad.

Well, then Saturday rolls around.  6:30 in the morning.  No water.  Hmmm.  Maybe they're turning it on later in the morning because it's Saturday.  Right?  Seems logical.  Nope.  It never came on. At. All.  On. Saturday.  That was a little bit painful.  And smelly.  So we were starting to get a little tight on water by Sunday morning.

Sunday morning comes and I immediately jump out of bed when I hear the sound of our toilet running. We have water!  This is great!  So we shower, wash dishes, refill water bottles, you get the idea.  And the water never goes off on Sunday.  Sure.  Great.  I'll take it.  This is the end of the weirdness.  And quite frankly I don't enjoy trying to figure out how to wash cloth diapers without water.  Not cool people who are in charge of the water system, not cool.

And today comes.  Water on.  We're doing good.  A little after 8:00am I'm working on breakfast and no water.  What?!?!  Who decided this was a good idea to mess with my emotions?  I thought we had this unspoken rule that things were back to normal now.  I was wrong.  We ended up getting water in about 2 hour increments throughout the day (6-8, 12-2, 6-8 again).  Ok, I can work with this.

Who knows how long this is going to last.  We are entering the dry season so this will become a little bit more of a norm here, but this wasn't anticipated quite yet.  Oh Venezuela.  It's amazing how much you don't realize how much you depend on something until it's taken away.

We haven't done a very good job of updating this blog.  Partially because we're busy.  Partially because we're tired.  Partially because we're running on fumes.  But we want to continue to update people on our lives.  And we'll try to do better.  But honestly we'll fail.  That's the beauty of grace.

Thank you for your prayers.  And for even reading this and inviting yourself into our lives.  We are grateful.