St. Croix – Hurricane Help

Hurricane Maria swept through the US Virgin Islands in late September leaving a trail of destruction in its path. I remember vacillating between praying for our friends and the people on the islands, and anxiously reading the latest news reports for a glimpse of what was happening thousands of miles away.

As the winds died down and we were eventually able to communicate with our friends on St. Croix, we found that everyone was safe, but there was quite a bit of damage sustained. And so, Cory and I made arrangements to go and help in whatever ways we could. We were able to convince our friends Mike and Suzi to join us on our trip and they were valuable assets. Not only in the work that they were able to do while there, but also as cookie eating buddies and great friends!

 

We got to fly in a tiny plane from San Juan to St. Croix and it was quite the experience! Mike was chosen to sit next to the pilot in the co-pilot’s seat and I sat directly behind the pilot. Watching out the front window while flying is a completely different experience than I’m used to. I do have to admit that I was pretty nervous during the flight, and when the pilot pulled out directions on how to land the plane as we were approaching the island, my nervousness was only enhanced!

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Prior to the hurricane, this was a completely sandy beach. All of the sand was washed away and all that is left now is rock.

This trip was quite different than the previous times we had gone. I don’t like to label it a “mission trip” because my heart’s desire was to just go to help and to love my friends.

And so, our first full day that we were there, instead of getting straight to work, we accepted an invitation to go to the beach with two of our friends from St. Croix. To me, it was an example of making sure we aren’t always being “Marthas” in the world and that we take time out to spend time with others and deepen relationships just like Mary did with Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42)

Needless to say, we had a great day snorkeling, exploring Fredriksted, and finishing the day off with dinner from the Chicken Shack.

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Sunday morning we attended church at Church on the Beach. There is just something so refreshing about making things simple. Bring your own chairs, wear sunblock, and worship God in His creation!

 

After church, we went back to the YWAM base and dove into our work! One of our projects was the Poolside Room. The storm had blown debris, water, and mud into all of the rooms, and the kitchen was in a sorry state. We would need to demolish the kitchen, haul off all furniture that was ruined from water damage, wash the walls and ceilings, wash all of the furniture, and repaint where needed.

 

The Crucian room was another area that needed a thorough washing, painting, and general clean up.

 

 

Cory was of course tasked with fixing the internet and all that involved. We were able to bring most of the supplies necessary for that task, but that didn’t stop Mike and Cory from scavenging for network gear in broken houses that I can only imagine was filled with rats and centipedes!

We also needed to make a trip to Home Depot to (hopefully) purchase what was necessary to build the new kitchenette in the Poolside Room. The shelves were bare, but we managed to find cabinets that would work. Many of them had some damage, but they were all we had to work with and Mike was confident he could fix them up. (And we got them at a discounted price!)

 

We spent hours and hours and hours toiling away. Climbing up and down ladders, hanging wires, scrubbing wall after wall after wall, constantly dumping and refilling muddy buckets of water to wash with, and attempting to build a kitchen in a land where NOTHING is straight, square, or level. And most of all, sweating like crazy and being devoured by mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

And yet, I found the work very satisfying. I knew that every minute I spent washing walls was time that I was giving to the YWAM staff to be able to focus on ministry and other areas on the YWAM base.

 

After a week of hard work, the Crucian Room was waiting for its new bed and was ready to host others who will be coming to serve in the near future.

 

The Poolside Room is waiting on a plumber to come and finish the sink in the kitchenette, and just needs a new bed and the couches to be moved in before it’s ready to go! The internet was also wired and fixed as much as possible (there was still no power on the base while we were there, so there was an extra level of difficulty).

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In the midst of all the work, we made sure to take time to join the YWAM staff in their weekly outreaches that they do. We visited Paradise Mills (one of the housing projects on the island) one afternoon to play with the kids. Suzi made a new friend who challenged her to step outside of her comfort zone and try new things (including balancing on fence rails and doing cartwheels).

Suzi and I were also able to visit the Lighthouse ministry to help hang clothing donations and give clothes and toiletries to the needy.

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We reconnected with old friends, made a few new friends, and missed a few friends who weren’t there at the time. Sometimes it’s difficult to form relationships with missionaries in YWAM because you never know if you will see them again. I’m slowly learning that even if people are only in your life for short amounts of time, it’s worth that time to invest yourself in the relationship. We have met some amazing people and built some life-long friendships.

 

***And just as a little side note… The transportation while we were there was dicey. Most of the cars and trucks were either broke down when we arrived, or developed problems while we were there. We were thankful to be able to cram ourselves into trucks to get where we needed at different times throughout the week, but they could really use a generous donor who could get them some reliable transportation!***

 

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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/

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Traveling to St. Croix

We started our journey to St. Croix Sunday evening by driving away from the house, and then returning two separate times as I remembered items that we forgot to grab. On our way to the airport, we stopped to enjoy dinner with my parents and I was really challenged in being able to trust God. I’m a worrier by nature, and not super fond of flying. But more than that, as we were eating, I was continually checking the news for updates on the protest that was happening at the airport. I continued seeing posts stating that protesters were blocking all entrances to the airport, things were getting violent, and at one point, “cops are shooting with rubber bullets”. I was certain our trip would be off to a rough start. So, I prayed, and I sent out a request for prayer on our Facebook page. Roughly twenty minutes later, there was a post that the protesters were leaving and when we arrived, we were met with a calm, quiet little airport.

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We went to check in the four bags that we brought with us, and I discovered the credit card I needed to be able to check them in for free was not in my wallet! On top of it all, there was some mix up with my airline flyer code and I was certain I was going to have to fork over $100 (each way) to get our bags checked. The airline employee was diligent in helping me and we were finally able to get it worked out! We went through security with no problem, and our gate just happened to be right next to the indoor playground.

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We were just starting our journey, but already so many prayers had been answered. We flew from Portland, OR to Charlotte, NC. Had a bit of breakfast during our layover and sampled some of Bojangles’ chicken and dirty rice. Then we flew into St. Thomas in the USVI.

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We had plenty of time to eat some extremely overpriced lunch and look for coconuts in the palm trees before catching our last flight to St. Croix.

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Our last flight was only 15 minutes long, and after roughly 20 hours of travelling, we finally made it to St. Croix! The kids were excellent travelers, and everything worked out perfectly for us.  

God’s Provision

It was almost a year ago now, but I can still clearly remember the night Cory and I sat in the living room of our little house in St. Croix, talking about how we knew we needed to come back again. The kids were fast asleep in their beds, we were munching on coconut biscuits and lemon cookies, and a cockroach skittered across the floor completely creeping me out. Honestly, we were both a bit surprised that God was calling us back to the same place. We thought our trip to St. Croix would serve as a “jumping off” point into other missions in other places, but we were wrong.

I also knew that our next time going back would be different financially. When we went the first time (February 2016), we thought it was important to finance the trip ourselves, so we used money from savings and sold items online and in garage sales to pay for our trip. I knew with certainty however, that our next trip would require us to swallow our pride and find money outside of our own means.

This summer I started brainstorming different ideas for ways to raise money…

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Some friends of ours let us put up a table to sell baked goods and my hand-painted signs during our town’s GIGANTIC neighborhood garage sale. I learned that bake sales are A LOT of work and not a lot of profit. I did sell out though!

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My other adventure in fundraising was painting parties. Painting parties are where I provide all of the supplies and teach a group of people how to paint a picture step by step.

When God gave me the idea for doing this, I felt completely unqualified, but ran with it anyway. I spent the first month painting canvas after canvas to see what paintings would be good for beginners to do. Then I enlisted the help of several friends, and even Cory, to see if I could teach non-artists how to paint. It was a success and so I started to book parties!

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This was after my first “official” painting party.

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I was fortunate to find a local business who let me do public parties after hours. The owner of the coffee shop went above and beyond helping me with everything.

I had many people ask me if I love doing the painting parties, and if I’m being completely honest, the answer is no. I was a complete nervous, stressed out wreck before each and every party I had. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that God gave me this idea, He provided me with the talent I needed, and all I could do was rely on Him to do it.

I taught about ten parties total, and we made about 2/3 of the money needed for our trip!

In addition to bake sales, painting parties, a generous donor, and garage sales, we also flat-out begged for finances. We spoke to our church and asked for financial support and also to help us with two projects we have planned. We are collecting toiletries and clothes to take with us to donate to the Lighthouse ministry, which is a homeless ministry on the island. We also asked for funds so we can purchase the needed supplies to re-do the YWAM base’s network as it was melted by a lightning strike several months ago.

For us, asking people for money is hard. We have had to swallow our pride, be uncomfortable, and trust that God will provide for us.

And He has. When it came time to purchase our plane tickets, we found a really good price on flights ($500 less than we budgeted for!), and we were only $2 short from our fundraising at the time we needed to buy them.

We are only two weeks away from leaving, and God has provided EVERYTHING we needed financially!

Through it all, I cried a lot, worried a lot, and even went to the doctor for chest pains from the stress at one point. I am a continual work in progress when it comes to worry, but I was always confident that God would provide.

 

 

 

St Croix – Time Off!

I just realized I neglected to write about our free days while we were in St. Croix!

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The two Sundays that we were on the island, one of the YWAM families were gracious enough to take us to church with them. It is such an adventure to visit new churches and it seems like it never fails… The first time you ever visit a church, there is bound to be a guest speaker that day!

We were able to witness a couple of baptisms, visit Sunday school classes, and met new people. We also got to see a scuffle when a centipede happened to crawl on a gal a couple of rows up from us during worship. After that, I made sure to sit on the edge of my seat and was VERY aware of my surroundings!

Friends and fish tacos… A great way to spend your Sunday! The first week we stopped by the grocery store on the way home from church and discovered our new favorite snacks… Lemon cookies and coconut biscuits. The second week after church we joined friends and went out to eat lunch. Then we spent the rest of our day relaxing at the base.

One evening we were able to go to a festival called “Jump Up” that is held in the streets of Christiansted only four times a year. We listened to steel drum bands, ate snow-cones, watched the Mocko Jumbies dance, and just enjoyed the festivities.

We were also able to attend their annual Agriculture Fair. We were only there a couple of hours which was barely enough time to eat lunch and let the kids choose one activity to do. They chose the bouncy slide which was a complete disaster. They are both somewhat afraid of heights and they were scared to go down the slide… And they had waited in line for almost a half an hour to do it! It made for a great but painful learning experience.

There were plenty of delicious and unique food to sample at the fair. We had our fill of Johnny cakes, benye, meat pies, and fried chicken. My favorite part of visiting new places is trying new foods! The interesting thing at the fair was the gigantic amount of cake being sold. Apparently it must be a favorite fair food because there were cake booths everywhere!

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Our last Saturday on the island was a completely free day for us. After calling every single rental car place and finding no available cars, we were starting to despair, but in an answer to prayer, one of the staff offered to let us use his truck for the day!

Cory had his first experience of driving on the left hand side of the road. My job was to be the navigator and to yell at him if he forgot to stay left. I only had one moment of panic and yelling “left left left left left!” and as it turns out, I am a horrendous navigator. Cory was very patient with me as I had to keep telling him to make u-turns because we went the wrong way!

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We started the morning out at Protestant Cay because the water is very gentle and perfect for kids. Jenna had her first experience snorkeling and loved it. She was swimming like crazy trying to catch a sea turtle but it was just too fast for her.

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After about half of our day spent on the beach and then we took the little ferry boat back to town for some delicious lunch. (Jenna was super excited about something she saw on the wall.)

After lunch we did touristy things like shopping, eating snow cones, and feeding pizza to the wild roosters (the pizza was donated to the kids for that purpose by a local Crucian).

We drove to another beach so we could go snorkeling some more, but the surf happened to be really rough. So, Cory risked his life and attempted to snorkel in the giant waves while I stayed behind and built sandcastles with the kids.

We ended the evening with dinner at a little restaurant that was right on the beach. The food was decent, but the location was spectacular.

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So there is a small snapshot of our free time that we had while in St. Croix. It’s always important to take a little time off for family time and to enjoy the culture and the country you are visiting.