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.

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

St. Croix – Kids and Missions

Cory and I have gone on a variety of short-term mission trips throughout the years, but this was our first trip as a family with small children. I know not everyone’s experiences will be the same, but I want to share a little of what it was like for us.

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This is a picture of the kids in the Puerto Rico airport on our way to St Croix. We left our house around 6:30pm and had been travelling for almost 12 hours already. They had slept for about 4 hours on the first flight and I was attempting to get them to take a nap. It didn’t happen. They were in really good spirits and having great attitudes though, so it was okay. After they rested for a bit we let them watch a cartoon and attempted to power-nap on the super uncomfortable airport chairs.

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One thing you need to realize before travelling with children outside of the safety of the US, is that other countries (and territories) don’t quite have the same safety guidelines. Connor rode in a car seat ONE time while we were gone. (and yes, I did move the chest clip up to the appropriate height before driving)

The rest of the time we were on the island we rode around in giant 15 passenger vans. Sometimes the kids had seatbelts, and there were several times they didn’t. While that isn’t ideal, and my safety-conscious mind kept playing disaster reels through my head, it’s just something you should expect.

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Before travelling to St. Croix, I showed the kids pictures from the YWAM website and facebook page to try and familiarize them with where we would be going. Of course the one thing that stood out the most to them was the pool! The minute we arrived at the base they were begging to swim, but they had to wait until the next day as it was almost dark.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to food, but I knew if all else failed, they could eat PB&J every day! There were only two meals that Jenna wasn’t very fond of (chicken enchiladas and sheep stew) and as for Connor… Well, let’s just say he ate better than I expected.

When travelling with picky eaters (Connor), you have to decide if you want to pack food you know they’ll eat, or just hope they’ll eat something and not starve. We did a little of both. Mostly because we knew groceries on the island are quite spendy, so we brought extra granola bars, fruit strips, applesauce, and peanut butter.

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One of the great things about homeschooling, is that it’s easy to bring school with you. All of the kids that live on base are home schooled as well, so it fit perfectly in the schedule for our kids to do school in the mornings. We only did school for the first week though, and took a break the second week.

On Friday mornings, other home school kids from the island come to the base and they all get together to do PE classes. Our kids had a blast joining in with them! There are also dance classes once a week at the base and Jenna was invited to join. They did ballet for the first half and hip hop for the second.

It was really refreshing for me to be surrounded by so many home school families. Not only is it fun to explore the different curriculum and styles everyone uses, but it was refreshing for the kids to fit in and not have to answer so many questions about their schooling.

We prepared the kids before leaving as much as possible, by explaining that we were all going to St. Croix to help others. That meant that they would be helping wherever possible. One of their favorite “jobs” was getting to take care of the chickens every day with Miss Vanessa. She taught them how to care for the chickens, feed them, and collect their eggs.

Jenna washed A LOT of dishes while we were gone. I was really proud of her willingness to help, and not just when we asked her to. She volunteered to help with different tasks all throughout the week.

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Of course the kids had plenty of time to play with their new friends. The base is 5 acres, but is fully fenced so it was safe to let the kids run around and explore. Their favorite places to play were the rubble pile (a giant pile of rocks behind our house), the jungle (an area with some trees, and unfortunately some termites), and the tree-fort (a deck underneath a tree).

They were grubby and stinky the entire time we were there, but they had so much fun!

They played hard and were rewarded with skinned knees (over and over), scraped up backs, bumps on heads, and plenty of bruises. Miss Vanessa was always there ready to clean and bandage them up. She was a lifesaver for all of us while we were in St. Croix and the kids absolutely adore her.

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Of course we made time for fun adventures while we were gone too. The kids go to go to an event called Jump-Up in Christiansted. They especially loved the snowcones and mocko jumbies.

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They had a couple beach days and Connor actually went into the water (overcoming his fear of oceans) and Jenna learned how to snorkel.

There is so much value in letting your children explore the world. In the past two weeks the kids learned about new cultures, thankfulness for our living situations, wildlife (including “lizard friend” who lived in Connor’s room), geography, and so much more.

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Most importantly, I hope that my kids can grow up knowing how important it is to serve others.

I am so incredibly proud of these two kids!

 

**Also, in an attempt to not make this the longest blog post ever, I omitted several topics such as “how to travel with kids and maintain your sanity” and “the importance of flexibility” and “you don’t have to be rich to travel the world”. If you want any advice, feel free to send me a message 🙂

 

 

 

St. Croix – Ministry (Part 2)

The YWAM base has an ongoing ministry with a housing project on the island called Paradise Mills. Tuesday is the fun day and it’s spent playing with the kids, singing silly songs, and just showing them love and speaking encouragement and life to them. The staff also visit on Wednesdays to provide tutoring to the kids.

Jenna and Connor were able to come with us during this ministry time and played with the kids. Connor was pretty confused most of the time because the kids had very thick island accents and were hard to understand. Jenna was a little timid around the kids, but she met a little girl she liked right before we had to leave.

A lot of these kids come from rough and even abusive homes. This is such an important ministry that the YWAM base does here, and they have forged great relationships with these kids. They really need a church group to come down in the summer to run a VBS for the kids. *hint hint*

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We had prayer and worship time in the city of Christiansted. This week we went to an area right off of the water where people pass by often. It was a beautiful setting and gave opportunities to talk to curious passerbys about the reason we are here.

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I was able to work with a group from the base to help local people from Clean Up St. Croix. They are a volunteer group that is trying to clean up the city. The heavy rains cause a lot of dirt to flow down into the streets, so we were tasked with cleaning all of the debris from the street around a city block.

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We started with an empty dumpster and had it filled before we left! The volunteer group was amazed because they had expected around 5 people to come help, and we brought close to 30 people! It was hard work in the sun and heat, but so completely rewarding.

The kids have been busy helping as well. They love getting to go down to the chickens to help “Miss Vanessa” feed them and gather eggs.

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They have been helping in other ways too. The other day I came in after finishing a job outside, only to find Jenna had taken it upon herself to wash the dishes from lunch. They have learned the routines here at the base and are eager to help whenever they can.

All in all we ended up having quite a full week!

 

 

 

St. Croix – Ministry (Part 1)

We spent this last week working at the base, and joining in with different ministries they run here in St. Croix.

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Cory helped the staff clean up all of the supplies from NIKO. There was quite a bit to do, but with so many people helping out it was finished rather quickly.

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Another job on the base was cleaning the sugar mill. We washed all of the cushions from the furniture and then hosed everything down and Cory powerwashed the floors.

We also shared kitchen duties helping with lunch and dinner prep when we didn’t have other chores to do.

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Somehow the fact that Cory has technology skills was originally overlooked on our applications, so when Vanessa found out he could help, he was put to work immediately! He’s been fixing computers, installing projectors, fixing networks and doing this and that all around the base. They are in need of an IT guy on staff and are attempting to recruit us to stay for good.

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Tuesday morning I woke up bright and early and went to a homeless ministry called Lighthouse Mission with a couple other people from the base and Cory had a turn to go on Friday.

On Tuesday I helped in the clothing “shop” where the homeless can choose clothes. After sorting clothes for a bit, I joined the group that was beginning to gather on the corner of the street. Everyone gathers for prayer here before breakfast is served. While sitting there, I met a very interesting man who had come to partake in breakfast. His life was the classic story of being ruined by drug addiction, but he was now clean. He held nothing but contempt for everyone who was still living like he used to, and informed me that everyone who comes to the Lighthouse is just “playing a game” for a few hours in order to receive the benefits (free clothes and food in exchange for listening to a sermon during mealtime).

Matthew 25:35-40 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

It doesn’t matter the attitude of those who are receiving the services. Of course, it would be nice if everyone was genuine and really appreciated what was being done, but what matters is our heart to help others in need. What matters is that we do our best to show God’s love through our own lives, words, and actions.

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Cory had a different experience the morning he went to Lighthouse… Before breakfast was served, everyone was outside picking up trash and an angry lady who had been banned from coming was outside yelling and swearing at everyone. Thankfully Cory’s observation skills were at work and he noticed she was not just an angry lady, but she was an angry lady with a knife and headed towards the women on the outreach team who were oblivious to the danger. He made them go inside to safety and then advised the pastor to call the police to handle the situation.

After the police got her calmed down and on her way, Cory settled in to helping with the ministry.  He served food and spoke with some of the men about their relationships with God and their need for drug rehab.

We have been keeping quite busy and we are really loving our time here! I’ll post the second ministry post soon with the other things we did this week.

St. Croix – Mr. Mom

What follows is a blog post by Cory regarding his time while I was away at NIKO

Arrival – As our family arrived in St Croix we were met by one of the YWAM staff Raymond, we arrived at the base and Raymond showed us to our living quarters.  We were in shock, this was one of those times where we were expecting to make some sacrifices and got blessed.  Now, it’s not the Taj Mahal but 3 bedrooms, running water, and hot showers?  This is awesome!  

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That first night was a bit of a whirlwind, there was just enough time for Cherilyn and Jason (Niko Directors) to come in and whisk Jayme away for the week.  And so with that it began, it was just me and the kids serving by surviving 🙂

Figuring it all out – At dinner the night before, we met Vanessa who is from Puerto Rico,  she manages the kitchen and pretty much makes the base work from day to day.  She turned out to be my lifeline for the next few days by teaching us all of the day to day necessities and keeping us involved.  She is a genuinely caring person who seems to know just about every person on the island.

We then met the rest of the staff and families.  All of the staff here are both kind and genuine, many times it is easy to find one of those two qualities but having both can be rare.  These men and women have traded “things of this world” to serve the savior in humility.  I have been blessed to get to know them.

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Why YWAM St Croix is great for families – One of the reasons we chose this base was that they really understand what it takes to do mission builders with kids. Many of the staff here have children of their own so they understand that to accomplish this, one parent works while the other manages the children. The staff made sure I knew this and told me that my job for the week was to be a dad and raise the kids while Jayme staffed NIKO.

There are several children of staff members who live at or spend much of their time at the base. The staff kids hit it off well  with Connor and Jenna and they spent much of their time running around the base looking at bats, chickens, gardens, swinging under a giant tree etc.  Pretty much kid paradise here.

 

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The base here has a pool! The kids have been excited about it since we first showed them a picture on the internet.  They spent as much time in the pool as I would allow them to.  

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The base here is beautiful and safe.  It is situated on an old plantation site with grand structures and a great island feel.  It’s fenced so kids can play and there is no worry about them wandering too far.  It’s no wonder I have run into several staff members who said they came here for mission builders and came back.  What a great place to call home for the next couple of weeks.

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Adjustments – Sleeping has been perfect!  Flying through the night on our way here turned out to be the ticket as the kids went down at 7:00pm and slept until 7:00am.  They have adjusted to the time difference without a hitch.

With everyone at NIKO we were responsible for our own breakfast and lunch and the base would make dinner. Vanessa graciously took us shopping so we could empty our savings and buy a few days worth of food (everything on the island costs more.)  Overall, the kids are being very adventurous with the food here and trying everything.  Connor has to eat PBJ sometimes but Jenna is really eating most anything she is given.  I am proud of them for trying to assimilate into the base living and being flexible.

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Chickens and Garden –  Here at the base they have a few ways they grow their own food.  It does not fully sustain the base of course, but it provides a good amount of food for them to use in meals and share with staff members.  The kids have gotten to help out with feeding chickens, collecting eggs, and cutting some herbs in the garden and they love it.

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School – Even though we are away, it is still important that we continue with school.  So it was up to me to make this happen. Jayme did an excellent job organizing everything.  Connor was more engaged than I thought and really is starting to do well. Jenna is starting to get used to the fact that her school is more intense but is sometimes easily frustrated.  It is a fun challenge to try and motivate and teach them.  There has also been a lot of opportunity for them to observe things here.  Tropical Plants, lizards, bugs, bats, even some animals that were being prepared for a meal.

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What do I do when not taking care of the kids? – I was able to be mildly helpful fixing a few odds and ends and helping out in the kitchen a couple times.

One benefit of taking care of the kids is during naptime I have an opportunity to read.  I have been reading both my bible and a book called Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias.  If you haven’t read anything by Ravi Zachairas, I highly recommend it.

One of the things I haven’t mentioned to this point was a “fast” I am doing on this trip. For this two weeks it is fasting from Facebook.  I must look at that thing 12 times a day and waste more time than anyone should, so this will be a good chance to step away.  I haven’t really missed it at all and I wonder why we get ourselves so caught up in meaninglessness?  Sometimes I wonder if trips like this are meant for my growth and not so much for the people I’m supposed to be here to help.  But, I do know God works in multiple facets and that many goals can be achieved by him at the same time.

What does the routine mean? – As things got into more of a routine, I briefly wondered why I was just existing here at the base not being much help.  That quickly passed as I remembered Jayme at NIKO and how I know how life changing that program can be.  Somehow in a small way I am doing what she does for me everyday.  Taking care of the everyday while I go play Detective and SWAT Cop.  But in this case there are actual things that matter going on. How can I not have a joyful attitude about it?  This also fostered in us a need to pray for Jayme.  We prayed for her whenever we were praying. I also realized just how much I love my children and how good a job Jayme has done with them.  I honestly thought it would be really tough over these days and I would be on my knees five times a day praying for patience, but it hasn’t.  God has really answered my prayer in this area and we have been just content in our situation, loving each other, and making the best out of it.  I’m blown away by how well the kids are doing here and this time with us here together living a simple life has been a blessing.  

Beach Trip – After a couple of days of routine base living we decided to venture out to the beach and experience the island.  So I made some inquires, did some research, and made a packing list.  With no chores until the next afternoon, it was beach day.  I was told by Vanessa that I needed to take a Taxi, it was inexpensive and was a way to “really experience the island.”  It was recommended we go to the Pier beach in Fredriksted as it is closest and there was a good sandwich shop there.  So we flag down our “taxi”, blaring out of the speakers was what I later determined to be island Jesus music.  Yes, it sounds exactly like it is described.  The driver was in his best button up island shirt and it reeked of incense.  He was a jovial man named “Jerry.”

So we arrived at the pier. The waterfront was a beautiful mix of old island structures and beach front.  The kids discovered a clock tower with stairs around it and declared it their stage to perform their grand performances on.  I wrangled them and prepared them for the beach.  We spent the next two hours playing in the sand and braving the ocean.

Pretty soon it was lunch time and we hit the recommended sandwich shop, Turtle Deli.  It was right on the beach and we ate some great sandwiches.

We then waved down our second Taxi which was less of a good experience than the first, but it got us home.  One thing I realized on this beach trip was taking opportunities when possible. I gave each Taxi driver a substantial tip and said “God bless you.”  One seemed thankful and the other seemed unimpressed, but hopefully God works even in the smallest of gestures.

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What did I learn this week? – Now it sounds all fun and rosy but it wasn’t without it’s challenges.  The kids took several spills and needed their boo boo’s and psychological health tended to.  There was also one time where Jenna couldn’t find me and just figured I just left her on the island all the while crying like a lost puppy.  Mix all that in with some general disobedience and there was plenty of opportunity for me to have a bad attitude. In the end though I have greatly appreciated this time to bond with the kids. It has been a greater blessing than I could have anticipated.  Rather than a survival time this has been a growing time for us and I really thank God for the answered prayer of patience.  I looked forward to Jayme’s return and the unfolding of the rest of our trip.

Family Mission Trip – We made it!

We flew out of Portland Sunday night (January 30th) and traveled through the night catching glimpses of sleep when possible. We arrived in St. Croix about 17 hours later (4:30pm February 1st)

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We had a layover in Puerto Rico and an adventure down an escalator that led outside resulting in a fun trip back through the security gates!

When we arrived in St. Croix we were met by one of the YWAM staff and made the long six minute drive back to the base. It’s such an odd experience driving here because everyone owns American cars (with the steering wheel on the left) but they drive on the left hand side of the road! I panic every time oncoming traffic comes towards us because I keep thinking they’re in our lane.

We arrived at the base and dropped off our luggage in our new home. I feel spoiled because we ended up in a single-wide trailer that has a kitchen, bathroom, and three rooms to sleep in!

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The base had 5 acres for the kids to explore, and it’s completely fenced in. Their favorite place to play is the sugar mill.

As soon as our luggage hit the floor, I was off and running. I met with the leaders for the NIKO program and jumped right in. Jet-lagged and sleep deprived made an interesting start to my trip, but God gave me an extra amount of grace and I powered through!

NIKO ran from Monday through Saturday. So, while I was serving as staff on the NIKO, Cory and the kids stayed on the base. I have only been back a few hours now and haven’t quite had time to fully catch up on their adventures here. As time allows, I will post more about this week later.

The island is beautiful and the weather is amazing. We have all been settling in quite well and our first week went better than we had hoped. Please continue to pray for us while we are here. I injured my hip during NIKO and have a rash on all of my skin that was exposed to the sun this week that is quite itchy and bothersome, so prayers for healing would be especially appreciated!