Friday, February 28, 2014

A departure

We have tickets.  We leave on Monday.  The other day, we met as a team to let everyone know the news of having to leave.  Cru has made the call for us to leave for our own safety.  There were many tears.  There have been many tears amongst the team over the past few days.  The Americans, the Venezuelans, tears.  There's no point in fighting them.

It's sad.  It's heartbreaking.  We're all packing our things, trying to figure out how to say goodbye in a matter of days.  For many of the students, it might be hard to come and say goodbye.  Many live far away.  We're having a goodbye party tomorrow, so hopefully many can come.  This is not what we wanted for closure, but it will have to do.

As I read this I have to pause.  In tears, Leah is trying to console me.  "Mama, why are you crying?  I need to know why you're crying.  Oh don't cry.  I want to make it better.  I love you soooo much."  It's heartbreaking that my three year old is comforting me right now.  I appreciate it.  Don't get me wrong.  However it is sad that she doesn't understand the impact that this makes on us, on our family, on our hearts.  But we trust the people in leadership over us and we respect them.

The following Psalm has become so much more real to us this week, as we mourn, as we pack, as we say goodbye.  We have to trust the Lord, even when it's hard, even when we don't understand.  We have no other choice.  We are heartbroken, but we choose to trust in the One who brought us here in the first place.

The Lord Is My Shepherd
23 A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I've been thinking about our kids and how they're doing a lot lately.  One of the hard things about living in this culture is that they have to deal with leaving home and going to some random place every three months.  Or going to other cities.  Or dealing with not being able to have certain foods because we can't find them.  They know to keep a fan on to help with mosquitos.  They don't think much of it if the power or the water or the internet goes out.

They just go with the flow.  And I really appreciate that.  One of the things I was worried about when we decided to go out with them this past weekend was them (or mostly Noah) noticing all of the trash and debris everywhere.  I didn't want it to scare him.  But what was sad was that he didn't think much of it because he's used to seeing trash and we had talked about people doing silly things like blocking the road and burning things.

Overall they are just unfazed.  Rightfully so because we've tried not to have them pay attention to it and we've tried not to make a big deal out of it.  But I've just been so grateful for how they're doing so well considering everything.  I mean, Bart and I are for sure more of a mess since we got back from being deported.  And now all of this and so tensions are definitely higher.  This is an example of something that happened the other day:
Bart: Babe why do keep yelling at me?  I feel like you've been yelling a lot lately.
Me: You've just been around way too much.
Bart (with a light chuckle): Now I know how you really feel.
Me: I didn't think before I said that.  I'm sorry.  Or am I?  (insert smile)

So yes, tensions are much higher right now.  I'm a yeller in general but you put me in this situation where we're all at home and we don't have many outlets, and I get a little annoyed.  I don't think it's ideal for Bart to be around as much either, but it's hard for him to go anywhere right now.  So we both need to be a little more proactive about getting out within our complex and still meeting with people.

Anyways, I digress.  I'm just really proud of our kids.  They love the team and they love Venezuela and they are doing the best they can given the circumstances.  It's really fun to see their personalities grow and change and adapt to whatever is going on.  Sometimes I wonder if coming here was bad for my kids, for social reasons, for development reasons, or just my own paranoia.  But I'm also really glad that they've been able to have this experience and see a different life and know that there's more out there, even though it might be difficult.

Would you pray for our kids?  Would you pray for us as we try to parent them and be consistent and love them well even when we're a hot mess?  We for sure need prayer in this area, maybe more than any other!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


It's rarely quiet here.  Sometimes in the middle of the night it's quiet, but other than that, there's always something going on.  People dropping trash down the trash chute.  Traffic, horns, people talking or moving around, there's always something.  But this morning it was quiet.  A little eerily quiet.  I suppose the quiet is better than the noise.

Last night was uneventful.  Yes, there were people in the street.  I believe they were standing there "on guard" but not to cause trouble.  Perhaps last night everyone was just exhausted from the sheer ridiculousness of the day.  You see, the 4:00 am thing went on for most of the day.  It's hard to even know when it stopped because it was so inconsistent.  My guess is that the national guard either backed down or left all together.  We don't know though.

We can fill you in on what happened yesterday, but let me first say that we did not feel like we were in danger during any of this.  Yes, it could've escalated, but it would've had to escalate a lot for us to feel like we were in danger.  We could watch a lot of what was going on, but we're far enough away from the street and there's enough security within our apartment complex that we have not lived in fear during this whole process (although there for sure have been moments outside of our complex).

Our neighborhood has taken a stance.  Many of the men (and some women) are fed up and have decided to "take" our street.  For the most part it has consisted of creating barricades (sometimes they're burning) and the presence of people.  Yesterday the national guard tried to remove the barricades and it turned into chaos.  What happened is that the people on our street are shooting fireworks at the national guard, throwing rocks, sometimes there were molotov cocktails or something similar.

The national guard responded with tear gas and sometimes even throwing rocks back at the protestors.  In the midst of this, the people on the street are trying to throw that tear gas back at the national guard and keep them from advancing.  At a couple of points, the armored vehicle came through shooting knee knockers, to which everyone would retreat into their apartment complexes.  Shortly after that, everyone would come back out.  The armored car only drove through twice so the majority of the day consisted of fireworks and tear gas.  That's how we would always know when something was happening.

At this point, we're having a lot of conversations with people in the States regarding what our next steps are.  We want to be wise about leaving.  Obviously it wouldn't be wise to leave in the middle of that because there would be no where to go but into that mess.  But we also want to see if this will die down.  It's really hard to know.  We're hopeful, but very hesitant.  We've been packing suitcases in case we do have to leave.  There doesn't seem to be a right or wrong decision at this point, mostly because we know we have what we need and we are safe in our apartments.

Would you pray for our emotional health?  At this point, it's become emotionally draining living in this state.  Would you pray for the Venezuelans who have no alternative but to stay?  We may have the option of leaving this country, but most of them do not.  This is their life and they didn't ask for any of this, even if they feel one way or another.  Through all of this, we are very grateful for your prayers and support.  They very much mean the world to us.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Yeah, that just happened

It's Monday morning.  Things appeared to be normal last night.  It was the first night in at least 5 nights that there were no fires lit in our neighborhood (at least from what we could tell).  Last night felt relatively normal.  There were the occasional horns and pots banging, but it was mild compared to this past week.
This was painted in the street a few nights ago
Venezuela S.O.S. Paz (peace)

And then 4:00 am came.  And apparently chaos ensued (I say this because that's when we both woke up to noise).  You see, we live in a neighborhood where a lot of people are really worked up and that means setting up roadblocks, tearing down poles, burning things.  Well the national guard apparently came this morning, I'm assuming to clean up and dispel any protestors.  It's now after 6:30 and it hasn't really died down.

I was able to get some nice cuddle time with Leah during this.  She wakes up to all of the sounds of banging pots and pans and fireworks.  She hates it.  Rightfully so.  But we talked about the Frozen movie and Strawberry Shortcake and then she proceeded to sing all of the Frozen songs.  It was really precious and I couldn't help but smile during it.  And be completely sad and heart-broken that we were even in the situation.

Leah: Why are they making all the noise?
Me: I don't know babe.  Some people are just being a little bit silly.
Leah: They're being really silly.
Me: Yeah.
What else can I say to my three year old?

What does this mean?  Honestly we don't really know.  On both Saturday and yesterday we went out for lunch because some places were open.  We felt so trapped during this whole thing, so it was great to be able to get out and feel like things were getting back to normal.  Some stores were only staying open until 1:00 or so while others (like the mall nearby) had movies showing and closed after 6:00.  So this still isn't normal.
This is a picture from Twitter.  There is an armored
vehicle driving around, which we did see.  But this
picture is from the intersection a block away that
keeps getting blocked by protestors (you can
see a bunch of the stuff in the streets)
Yesterday we heard there was a human chain out on a main street near us.  We did see a lot of people wearing the "opposition" hats going in that direction.  We've seen pictures online of this, but we've avoided those things just for safety reasons.  We also heard that our neighborhood was one of the last areas in Valencia to still be protesting at night. Obviously we can't verify this.

So for now we just wait.  Wait and see what happens next.  Some of the different parts of the university are closed during the next two weeks for a holiday and semester change, so the timing is pretty unfortunate.  We are anxious to see what the coming days and weeks look like.  It's heartbreaking to see this country tearing itself apart.  Broken glass, trash everywhere, debris in the streets, roads still blocked.  It's sad.
This is around 6:30 this morning.  Many more
men are gathered on the street to defend this area
We continue to pray.  To pray that the unrest would lead to a peaceful solution.  That this country, these two groups, would find a way to work together because in many ways they want the same things.  Would you pray for our team and everyone's hearts as we all try to sort through the madness of all of this?  This isn't really what our team needed right now, but this is the hand we've been dealt.  Would you pray for patience and grace for each of us?

Friday, February 21, 2014

What's all the fuss about?

I'm not going to lie.  I feel like things got a little crazy.  Crazy, as in dramatic.  Yes, the things that are occurring in our neighborhood are not normal.  Nor are they good.  But I don't feel like we're in danger.  Sometimes I'm not sure if I live in reality or some sort of fantasy land.  Bart and I like to switch between those I think.  We balance each other out.  But that leads to feeling a little bipolar at times.

So let me just give a little update.  To let you know that we're not in danger.  Or at least that's our perception.  Yes, yesterday was a little ridiculous.  There were a lot of people setting up "road blocks." These road blocks consisted of anything from trash to tvs to mattresses to hot water heaters.  And then they set them on fire.
This is a view from our living room

Here's the thing.  It was peaceful.  Not normal.  But peaceful.  I can say that it was strange.  Creepy.  Wasteful.  Unproductive.  I'm not sure what the goal is.  I'm not involved honestly.  Thankfully.  What we could gather is that the opposition and the government (these seem to be the two opposing sides) want to "claim" territory.  So the opposition was claiming our neighborhood.  In the form of blocking the roads and burning things.

The goal is not to hurt anyone.  It's not to strike fear into the hearts of the people.  I think.  They are trying to make a point.  Businesses are closed.  Restaurants are closed.  It's all a form of protest.  The people are rallying.  Rallying behind the only thing they know, and that's to protest.  I can't blame them.  In the year and a half we've lived here, inflation has gone up by probably 300% (don't quote me on this though).  Basic goods like milk, flour, sugar, toilet paper and butter are hard to come by.  And when you do find them, you stock up because you don't know when you'll see them again.
This is a view from the girls' apartment

The people are hurting.  And they feel like they have no other choice but to protest.  Our hearts break for the state of the economy and the lack of joy that people have here.  Honestly though, what else can bring them to their knees in recognition of Who can save them from their circumstances?  I'm not saying Jesus is a quick fix or a fix all.  He doesn't magically go around waving his wand fixing our problems (not that I wouldn't be ok with that sometimes, or most of the time, or actually all of the time).  But he is what and who gives us hope.

So this morning, by faith, I went to the grocery store with two other people on the team.  We felt fine and safe and we were surprisingly in and out within 20 minutes.  It was packed and a little chaotic, but that's normal at 7:00 pm at the store anyways.  But it was 8:00 am.  Whatever.  People need food and it's hard telling when the grocery would close.  So you go when it's open and you get what you can.  There were police out.  They had reclaimed what was a chaotic mess of an intersection the day before.  Traffic was flowing.  People were out and about.  Some breakfast places were even open.  It felt normal.  Sort of.
This is a view from the stairwell
But the reality is that Venezuelans are hurting.  They don't know where to go or what to do.  We've heard of numerous people who are leaving the country, who just can't live here and deal with what is going on anymore.  And that breaks our hearts.  Our end goal is that people here would love Jesus and want to stay here to share with others about Jesus.  So don't go.  We need you here.  Jesus wants you here.

I feel like a hypocrite saying that.  I'm not staying.  I'm leaving.  I'm selfish.  I have boundaries.  I'm not justifying it.  People here need Jesus.  How can I hold them to a standard I myself will not even hold to?  But my honest desire is that they would would want to see their own country reached.  In their own language.  In their own way, in their own culture.

So the healthy middle ground is probably somewhere in between this post and the previous post.  It's not entirely safe.  We're not really free to roam as we please.  But we are in our apartments and there isn't the threat of danger inside our apartment complex.  This is real.  It's messy and complicated and not cut and dry.  Oh we wish it were.  Reality is our friend.  It may be painful.  It may be messy.  It may involve physical harm or fear or unrest or any other number of things.  But isn't walking with Jesus worth it?

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.  Philippians 3:8

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What does fear look like?

This week has been anything but ordinary.  Protests have been going on for the past week.  Seemingly with no end.  What has been considered peaceful has caused injuries and even deaths.  What should be safe and comforting, no longer is.

What does safety look like?  And for that matter, what does fear look like?  You see, yesterday our safety was questioned.  And fear was brought into play.  Well, more fear than existed before.  There was always a small part of me that wondered what life would look like returning after being deported.  Would something happen?  We had 4 months, surely it would be fine.

But now there is something real and tangible to lead to fear.  Yesterday Bart was out meeting with one of the guys on the team.  Everything was closed.  Bart sent me a text telling me not to go out because he knew I was planning on going out to run errands.  He failed to mention the reason why.  Ultimately it was a good choice because I wouldn't have been able to accomplish anything.

What has lead to questions since yesterday, well Bart was told that where he was meeting Stephen wasn't safe and they needed to leave.  Shortly after they saw a bunch of people running.  Their first instinct was to run with them, thinking that they were running from danger.  They didn't.  They waited. And they found out that those people were actually running toward danger.  Then they ran into one of our students and her mother.  They kept asking why these two gringos were out.  The assumption was, you shouldn't be out here because it's not safe for you.

Ok.  So we'll stay in our apartment.  That's safe.  Then later, some teammates get texts saying not to leave the apartment because people are breaking into our apartment complex.  Really?  I mean, let's be honest, I don't know how true this is.  And I don't know how real the danger was yesterday.  I just know that when these things happen, fear creeps in.

And what do I do with fear?  I can become paralyzed.  Worry about what's going to happen.  Doubt the decision to be here.  Question God.  Be angry.  This is affecting me.  Not Bart so much, but I was already in a shaky place.

Am I trusting in the sovereignty of God?  No.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  Living here isn't rainbows and unicorns.  I never anticipated it to be, but I also knew I couldn't live in fear.  What's changed.  A lot of time, a lot of cultural stress, a lot of turmoil going on in the country.  Sure, it might be legitimate, but what is God asking of me right now?  He's asking me to trust him.  The question is, is he trustworthy?  My logic tells me no.  My faith tells me yes.  The world around me tells me no.  My past experiences tell me yes.  My doubt tells me no.  My eternal perspective tells me yes.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.

So what do I do with all of this?  I pray.  We pray.  We carry on with our team Bible study.  We go to sleep trusting that the Lord is good.  We plan a prayer time today with students.  We go on with meeting with people.  We go on loving and trusting and yearning for a place that's not our home.  Heaven waits.  Would you pray with us?  Would you pray for our hearts, that we would trust in the ultimate sovereignty of God and his grace?  Would you pray for Venezuela and the civil unrest that is going on right now?  There are so many things that are out of our control and all we can do is pray.  Would you join us?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Another week already

I've tried.  Multiple times.  To sit down and blog this week.  No such luck.  This week was crazy.  And exhausting.  Unproductive in many ways, yet productive in very different ways.
Leah had to sit with Bart during part of the service

Sunday was the start of the exhaustion.  Our team went to a church to be part of the service.  That meant getting on a bus at 7:30 for the hour plus ride.  We were there super early and just hung out until the service was ready.  Something about church services in Venezuela, they're long.  I think it lasted 2.5 hours.  And then we had lunch with the church staff.
They LOVED the fact that they had assigned seats at lunch

After that, some of the staff from the church took us to a monastery, which is a local tourist attraction.  It was fun to get to tour the grounds and speak with one of the monks.  He took us around and spoke really good English, considering he's German and hadn't spoken English in years.  The team thought it would be a lot of fun to have a silent retreat there since they book rooms for people to stay.  It was a little too quiet for our kids' liking though!  We were home sometime around 5:30.
Bart and Tony at the monastery

That was the busiest day of the week for sure.  The rest of the week consisted of team meetings, conflict resolution meetings, helping plan spring break, one-on-one times, working on our annual student conference and the usual school stuff.  Surprisingly we did great this week with school.  I'm not sure how that happened, but it did.  I'm grateful.
The view from the monastery

Classes were cancelled Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week, which ended up being a huge blessing with everything going on this week.  Things in the country seem to be getting tense with a lot of protests.  At this point, it hasn't been crazy here, but in other cities it seems like things are getting out of hand.  Some of the guys on the team (and I was not even remotely supportive of this) marched in a peaceful protest on Wednesday.

At this point, we're just really enjoying the weekend and the down time.  We're pretty emotionally and physically exhausted.  Hopefully this coming week will be a little more calm.

Tony having a time of confession 
Noah, as priest, taking in Tony's confession.
"Don't worry, I got this."

Sunday, February 09, 2014

A week in review

This past week was different from the typical week.  The weekend was pretty chill, just the way we like it.  On Monday we left for the mountains.  We decided that we needed to have a strategic planning meeting to figure out how to finish the year well, how to close out the partnership well, how to pass the torch to the Venezuelans for next year.  Of course, going to the mountains made it more enjoyable and relaxing.  Most of the team had never been there before, so I think everyone enjoyed it.
Part of the team while we visited the
church in Colonia Tovar

After hours of meetings, lots of time for the kids to play and a lot of sausage and potato salad, we were ready to head out.  We were only there for 2 nights so people wouldn't miss as much time from campus.  Thursday meant back to the normalcy of campus and the weekly meeting.  We attempted to do school while we were gone, but it was somewhat of a fail.  Luckily we were able to catch up.  These are the little battles I'm just choosing not to fight so much.  I have to hold things like school pretty loosely when it comes to living in Venezuela and being flexible.

It's good to be back home but hard to feel like we're in a routine.  With planning different outreaches on campus, different events going on on the weekends, it's hard to feel like there is ever a norm.  The norm is there isn't a norm.  Bart has felt overwhelmed with the sheer amount of things he has to do with trying to help walk the team through closing up this year well, amongst a lot of other things.  We try to take it all in stride, but sometimes there's just a lot to do.

At this point, we still don't know much about our future.  We're leaning toward taking a year to be in Orlando doing a program called Lake Hart Stint.  It's basically a year for staff to work in the headquarters (of Cru) office and have specific times designed for rest, rejuvenation and personal growth.  After living in Venezuela for this long and for Bart specifically, we feel like this could be a good next step before jumping into campus ministry again.
The morning view from the patio in the mountians

Of course, none of this is final.  We still want to have some conversations and make sure this would be a good fit, but it's the direction we think we're headed.  Would you pray for us that we would be wise in making these decisions?  Would you pray that we would make decisions out of health and not out of desires or our sin?  We want to be in a healthy place no matter where we go.

Until then, we trust in where God has us right now.  For Bart, leading the team through strategic planning was fun and life giving for him.  For me, I just try to find the things that I need at the grocery store.  I do the best that I can with school.  And we're both just trying to walk with the Lord and not beat each other up when life gets hard.  The beauty of marriage, right?
This is our stash that we brought with us from the States (have I
posted this yet?).  It's so nice to have little things like Pop Tarts
and Cheez-its.  And I have to say that we have wonderful family
that takes care of us since we got some of what's in this picture as
Christmas presents & were even able to enjoy some Skyline chili
last night for dinner (thanks Deb)!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

A new month

It's February.  How did this happen?  In 1 month, we'll have the spring break group visiting.  A month from that, we'll have our annual national conference.  And a month from that, we'll be in our final month here.  Time just doesn't allow us to sit idly by.

There are so many things that don't allow us to sit, pause and reflect.  But sometimes we need to.  As I think about what has happened, what we've lost as a result of the deportation and re-entry, I have to grieve.  Something was taken away.  Maybe it was something small for some on the team, like my plans were simply messed up.  Maybe for others it was something bigger, like this was my home and I lost my vacation time and it was expensive, stressful, annoying (and on and on the list could go).  So how do we as a team figure out how to create a safe, healthy environment for everyone who is somewhere on this spectrum?

The answer is, we don't know.  What we do know is that God is good.  God is faithful and he provides.  Sometimes that means we don't have an answer.  Sometimes that means we don't have closure.  So we choose to rest in the truth that God is sovereign over all things.

That doesn't make team life any easier or community needs any less.  To be honest, we feel the weight of the team's struggle and we're doing what we can.  It has been rough for the team to know how to reconnect and know how to function well together.  Even jumping back in to ministry has been hard for some people.  It's transition.  And transition can often be hard.

Would you pray for our team?  Would you pray that through all of this that each person on the team would choose to move toward someone else on the team?  That intentionality would happen.  That vulnerability would happen.  That people would feel safe with one another.  We hope, we pray, that the last few months of the year together would be encouraging, challenging and that each person would be able to look back on all this Stint year with thankfulness.  And many other things.  But our desire is that this would be a year that changed people's lives, both on our team and with those we encounter.