NIKO Salem 2017

 

Sometimes God calls us far away to serve in missions serving other cultures and nations… And sometimes God sends us a bit closer to home.

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Last week, the kids and I packed our bags and headed two hours south to the YWAM Salem, OR base to help serve as staff on a NIKO. (pronounced knee-coe)

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My First Time Staffing a NIKO – Summer of 1999 (Yellow bandana)

Niko is very difficult to describe, because there are few programs similar to it.  Niko is not a ‘camping trip’ but neither is it a ‘survival camp.’   It has the elements of both, but its purpose is not sheer enjoyment or to teach survival tactics.  By challenging participants physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, they are pushed beyond their personal, self-imposed limits- but not for the purpose of survival or pride.  The purpose is to see them discover God in new ways through their experiences.

                In a Niko, there are three main components developed as a result of pushing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits.  These are: Servanthood, Team Building, and Leadership Development. (borrowed from the NIKO website)

In short, NIKO is a program that I have been passionate about since experiencing it for the first time many years ago (19 to be exact). So, when I found out the NIKO team was short-staffed and looking for help, I prayed about it, and volunteered to come.

Now, that might sound simple enough, but in reality, it was a big decision. Cory was unable to take time off of work, and that meant it would be just me and the kids. For five days. Sleeping in the wilderness. Late nights, early mornings, and far from the comforts of home. A recipe for bad attitudes and disaster… So we packed our bags and got ready to go!

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One of the easiest parts of the trip, was that NIKO provides a very simple packing list that you follow. I am a classic over-packer, but sticking to a very simple list made it possible to pack everything the three of us needed for the week in just a few bags. The sleeping bags took most of the room!

The YWAM base in Salem has an AMAZING ropes course, and during a lull in our work duties on the first day, the kids got a chance to explore a little bit.

I was worried about how well the kids would do on NIKO. I was worried I wouldn’t have the patience needed to take care of them, AND get all of my duties done while running on very little sleep throughout the week.

As the week progressed, I knew for certain we were being covered in prayer. All of my worries were for nothing.

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The kids thrived at NIKO. They spent all day working hard and playing hard. They never complained about the food they had to eat, not having any technology, and not once did they say they were bored and needed something to do.

Imaginations ran wild as they spent their days building habitats for caterpillars and worms, playing on bucket drums, and making “recipes” while playing in the creek.

We served in the position of “camp mom” and “camp kids” while we were at NIKO. That meant that we didn’t join the participants on any hikes, but worked on all of the “behind the scenes” duties. Filling water jugs, making dinner, keeping camp clean, transporting people and supplies, running errands, and so much more.

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One of the kids’ favorite adventures was getting to ride around in the back of the truck on our many trips to and fro. (only on the private roads)

The participants that came to NIKO was a group of Korean Americans from the Los Angeles area. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend the week with. Jenna and Connor made many new friends, and it was hard to say goodbye. In the words of Jenna, it was a very “sour-sweet” ending.

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At the end of NIKO, the participants share about what they learned and what lessons they are taking home with them. Listening to their stories about how God worked in their life through the past few days, and how He has changed them, is why I keep coming back (This was my 12th NIKO).

Like many mission trips, I leave feeling physically exhausted, but my soul is refreshed.

**If NIKO is something you’re interested in for yourself or a group, check out their website! (or search for a NIKO program closer to you, they have them in many locations)

NIKO Salem: http://www.ywamsalem.org/niko/

 

 

 

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Vacation Days

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While we were in St. Croix, we worked all day Monday through Friday, and Saturday and Sunday were days off to spend with our family.

We went to church on Sunday mornings, and our last weekend there, we were fortunate to be able to borrow a car for the day.

After church we grabbed some lunch and then relaxed on the beach for several hours that afternoon.

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After the beach, we drove up to Point Udall. It is the easternmost point of the United States!

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One evening we needed to borrow a car for a Home Depot supply trip, and decided to grab some dinner from the Chicken Shack and catch the sunset at the Pier while we were out.

We happened to be in St Croix during Jump Up again this year, so Friday night we hit the town of Christensted for some yummy food, fracos (snow cones), and a conch pate (pronounced: conk pat-ae). Of course we also got to watch the Mocko Jumbies dance through the streets – Connor’s favorite part of St. Croix.

We took the boat taxi out to the Cay. The surf is so calm it’s the prefect spot for the kids to play and practice their snorkeling. Afterwards we toured Fort Christiansted.

We managed to squeeze in our fair share of eating, swimming, and yummy treats in the few days of leisure that we had on the island.

This year for Christmas, my parents gave us money so we could take a sailing/snorkeling half-day trip out to Buck Island National Monument! Snorkeling is one of our favorite things and this is the best snorkeling on the island, such a blessing.

We worked hard while we were in St. Croix, but we made sure we took every opportunity to play hard as well. We built amazing family memories that will hopefully not be the last!

Number Crunching

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As a family, we always try to be good stewards of our money. In our personal life, we do a monthly budget and keep track of our spending. When it comes to missions work, and spending other people’s money (donations), we want to make sure that not only are we spending our money wisely, but that we are keeping a good record of how it was spent.

I devised a very simple method to keep track of our money while we were on our mission trip. Basically, I kept an envelope to store all of my receipts, and at the end of the day, I would record all of our purchases into a google sheets document. By using Google sheets, I could access it from my phone or any device that was connected to the internet.

We also tracked two budgets while we were away. Our mission budget served to cover the costs of anything that was related to our trip, whether it be food, supplies, or transportation. Our personal budget was used on days where we had some time off and went to explore the island or have a little fun.

A quick breakdown of what our trip looked like financially is as follows:
(I have grouped costs here for simplicity, this does NOT include personal budget for leisure time)

Total Amount Raised: $4113.05 (Fundraising, Private Donations, Church Donations)

Airfare: $2297.04
YWAM room/board: $500.00
Project Wireless purchases for base: $339.29
Airport Meals: $186.59
Gas Money: $32.40
Support for Missionaries: $294.29
Supplies for apartment: $72.67
Groceries: $279.31

Total money remaining: $111.46 (given back to the church mission fund)

A few notes on the budget… We ate most of our lunch and dinners at the YWAM base (price included in room/board), but groceries were needed for breakfast, snacks, and a few weekend meals when we were not at the base during mealtimes. If you have ever been to a small island, you know that the prices are MUCH higher than buying groceries at home. For example, at home I can buy a 1 lb. package of butter for around $2.50 and in St. Croix, the cheapest brand was $5 a package! I packed quite a bit of groceries in our luggage (pancake mix, snacks, etc.) to help offset the costs some.

I COMPLETELY underestimated how expensive it would be for a family of four to eat in airports for two full days of traveling. We tried to find sensibly priced meals, and had the kids share food whenever possible, but there is no avoiding the fact that it costs quite a bit.

We decided to purchase a few items that were needed in the apartment we stayed in, such as frying pans, a dish rack, and a few other necessary items. And the “support for missionaries” was money we used to try and bless the full-time missionaries while we were there. Whether it was a flat out donation to someone, or simply inviting them out to breakfast or dinner. It gave us a chance to lighten their burden somewhat and hopefully bless them a little.

We are thankful and humbled that God would lead people to give us their hard earned money and our hope is that we were good stewards of that trust.  Our time there was fruitful and necessary and we just can’t thank God enough for his provision and his investment in our little family.

 

 

 

Weekly Ministries

During our time at St Croix we had the opportunity to join in with a few of the ministries that the YWAM base does on a weekly basis.

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On Monday mornings, all of the staff, students, and families at the YWAM base meet together for a time of worship. It’s a great way to come together and start each week off focusing on why we are there.

Tuesday and Friday mornings are spent at the Lighthouse Mission. There is a clothes closet where the homeless are able to come once a week to pick out clothes, shoes, and toiletries that they are in need of. They are also served breakfast while they listen to a short devotional.

Tuesday afternoons are spent with the kids at Paradise Mills. Paradise Mills is a housing project on the island, and the YWAM base spends time playing with the kids and just simply loving them. At the end of their playtime, they circle around to listen to a short Bible lesson.

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One of the temporary ministries that the visiting Kona DTS team has provided to the St. Croix base is “date night”. Every Tuesday night they babysit all of the kids that live on base allowing the missionary moms and dads to get a night off. They do all sorts of fun activities with the kids like playing games and having movie nights.

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Every other week, homeschool families on the island get together at the YWAM base for PE classes. The kids divide up between the older kids and younger and do activities together.

On Friday afternoon, they bus in the kids from Paradise Mills to the YWAM base to do skate and dance. They have skateboards and ramps outside and have dance class inside. It’s another great opportunity to work towards building strong relationships with the kids and providing a good influence.

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And my favorite ministry that the base provides daily… The kitchen ministry. The food at this YWAM base is amazing and delicious. They take the extra time and effort to make sure kitchen duties aren’t just a chore, but a ministry, and it shows. Everybody helps out through the week to either prepare meals or clean up afterwards.

Missions in Paradise

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When telling others we are going to serve in the Caribbean as missionaries, we often hear the same sentiment… “Oh, that must be rough!”

I know that most people are good-heartedly joking, and I have even made the same remark myself at times. But the reality of it all is that yes, it is actually quite difficult at times.

The picture above, of the kids at the beach on our day off, is such a great representation of our experience with missions here. At first glance, it looks perfect, and dare I say, easy. Sparkling blue waters, children gazing off at the sailboat on the horizon while playing together. Meanwhile, mom and dad are relaxing beneath the shade of the trees while a pleasant breeze whispers through the leaves.

Here is what you don’t see… When we first arrived at the beach, it took forever to lather the kids in sunscreen, and then Connor was afraid to even put his toes in the water. We quickly found out that the beautiful water was filled with chunks of coral and shells that would crash into your legs and feet causing quite the annoyance and sometimes even a bit of pain. I was laying in the shade of the trees with a wounded foot from walking without shoes and stepping on a spiky round plant that stuck in my foot in several places. Children who had just eaten were suddenly hungry again, and the exhausted parents who were just trying to rest for a minute were needed once again. And the day was concluded with tired, thirsty, and sand-coated children needing dinner and a shower.

Through it all, these minor inconveniences weren’t enough to ruin our beach trip. We had a great time and would do it again in a heartbeat. And in some odd way, even though there is so much more going on behind the scenes, it doesn’t make the picture above any less real.

Missions in the Caribbean feels the same way.

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We are a family of four flying thousands of miles to serve God in the Caribbean. Our journey is filled with adventures and memories that not many get to experience. We work hard and we take time to play as well. We meet amazing people and build new friendships. Most often it feels like we benefit more from missions than the people we are there serving. Our marriage, family, and faith in God all grow stronger through our time spent as missionaries.

The things you don’t always see though…

It’s hard. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, we are constantly being stretched. We function on exhaustion for a large part of our trip and even after returning home. Travelling for 20+ hours in a day to get to your destination and crossing several time zones isn’t easy on your body.

Kids are flexible and though they can be wary of new things at times, they do exceptionally well overall. There were moments when they couldn’t take any more though, and I carried a kicking and screaming child to our apartment… a block away from the YWAM base. I refused to make eye contact as I walked past several people on the street and wondered what they thought of us at that moment.

There were times when I sat and cried, wondering why I was there at all. Certain the small amount of help I was offering wasn’t even worthwhile.

Centipedes that sting and make their way into your house, cockroaches that skitter around and creep us out, stifling heat from lack of air conditioning, toilets that you can’t flush toilet paper in, water that suddenly stops flowing mid-shower, evidence from rats and mice everywhere…

And the worst part of all.

Having to say goodbye to a place you love, and friends you love even more. Not knowing if, or when, you will return.

 

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So yes, I would have to say that going on a mission trip to the Caribbean is rough. And yet, every minute we spent there was worth it, and we would do it again in a heartbeat.

Philippians 4:12-13 
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

 

 

Everyday Life – Short Term Missions

You can never quite know what to expect any time you travel as missionaries, and doing it with kids just enhances all of the adventures.

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The new wildlife is always a fun adventure for everyone. This is “Coconut” our pet iguana that the kids found hiding beside our house. Thankfully he’s stayed on the other side of the fence, and if he knows what’s best for him, he’ll continue to do so. Sometimes I wonder if I should warn him that all of our recent pets (several fish) die within days of us adopting them…

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We are staying in an apartment that is about a block off of the base. It’s not a five-star resort that some may be used to, but it is nice and spacious, and has some adventure along with it.

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As in many areas of the world, you can’t flush your toilet paper in our apartment, and have to dispose of it in the trash can. The kids try to remember to do this each time by chanting “toilet paper, garbage can” over and over until they are finished. They try really hard, but I’ve already had to fish it out several times. (Ew…)

Connor is obsessed with the bidet in our bathroom and loves every chance he gets to use it. We also have a padded toilet seat, which is a huge novelty for them. So our bathroom is getting quite a bit of use as they complain that the regular toilet seat in their bathroom is “just too uncomfortable”.

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This is what our front door looks like. I was somewhat apprehensive staying somewhere that required five locks on the door, but we seem to be in a somewhat quiet neighborhood. Well, except for the few cars that insist on driving through with their bass up as loud as possible in the middle of the night. And the wild roosters that loudly announce morning is here.

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The apartment we are staying in is luxuriously spacious, but pretty sparsely furnished. We stopped at the store to pick up a frying pan, spatula, and a couple of other items, and it’s no wonder there isn’t much here. It cost a pretty penny for just a few items!

There are fans throughout the house, but no AC, so it is pretty warm in here, but not unbearable.

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We mentioned this on our last trip, but the driving here is insane. They drive on the left hand side of the road, but in regular cars with the steering wheels on the left. Every time Cory drives, I try to navigate for him but we end up missing turns because I’m worried we’ll end up in the wrong lane 🙂 The kids are helpful by chanting “drive in the ditch” the entire time we drive to make sure we stay on the correct side of the road.

Those are just a few of our “adventures” and I’m sure we’ll face many more before we’re done.  They always teach us to be thankful for what we have and to live life “in someone else’s shoes” so to speak.  Perspective can be everything and it is always humbling how even though you go to serve, God ends up teaching you so many things at the same time.

 

A Typical Day

Most of our days follow the same structure, and depending on the day of the week, will have some different ministry opportunities added in.

The kids slept in the very first morning we were here… and now they’re up with the roosters.

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We eat breakfast at our house each day and rotate through granola with yogurt, pancakes, and french toast. I wouldn’t mind some bacon once and a while, but sometimes you just have to sacrifice. Ha ha!

As you can see, the kitchen is somewhat lacking in supplies, so we make do without measuring cups, mixing bowls, etc.

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After breakfast, Cory goes up to the YWAM base and spends the day working on the Network. Running wires, mounting hardware, and doing computer-y things.

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The kids spend time each morning working on their schoolwork. They are learning about fish and oceans this week. The kids that live here at the YWAM base are also homeschooled, so mornings are devoted to school for everyone.

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After school is done, we take our daily walk up to the YWAM base. There is very little traffic on the road and it’s a nice little walk.

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We eat lunch and dinner at the YWAM base and every meal is DELICIOUS! As you can see, there isn’t a shortage of kids to play with at the base right now!

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When the meal is finished, each person is responsible for cleaning their plates and putting them in the racks to be taken to the kitchen. The kids are really good about making sure they wash their plates when they are done eating.

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After lunch, if there isn’t anything the kids can help with, they get to run off and play with their friends. The sugar mill is one of their favorite spots, and they also love the tree swings, tree fort, and chickens. The base is completely fenced in, and they know they aren’t allowed to leave without us, so they are able to play independently while Cory and I help out with other projects.

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When families come to the base to help as Mission Builders, the base only assigns jobs to one parent at a time because they understand that someone needs to care for the kids as well. Since Cory is tasked with the networking job while we’re here, my primary job is taking care of our family. Since our kids are fairly independent now, I have been picking up odd jobs to help out with in the afternoons. I try to help him with re-wiring as much as possible.

When Cory doesn’t need my help, I search for other things to do to be helpful. Many of the jobs I get are the odds and ends that don’t take long, but always get pushed to the side in the day to day workings. I moved a giant pile of broken up boxes filled with trash bags. Connor helped me smash some of the boxes. I re-numbered the doors of some apartments that were out of order, and marked keys.

In the midst of our manual labor, we also have scheduled opportunities to join in with the various ministries the base runs on the island each week. But we’ll save that for another post!