Monday, December 31, 2012

2012...A Year in Review

Ellie and her cousin Charis
Only a few more hours of 2012...a good time to reflect on where God has brought us in the last 365 days.

Last year at this time, we were patiently waiting on the luggage embargo to be lifted on travel to Mexico so that we could bring our 17 checked items with us. We were blessed to be staying at the Mission House at Parson's Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. That allowed us to be close to my family and to enjoy spending time with my Mom and brother.

Levi, loving on Uncle Charles

Uncle Charles playing with Matthew

Enjoying the snow...

On January 16 we loaded all of our stuff up and headed to the airport at 3am! The TSA agent had the nerve to ask me if I always travel with so many carry-ons. We had 10 for 6 people. Is that really too much? I kindly responded to him, "Only when I'm moving to another country."

We (and all 17 checked items) arrived in Puebla, Mexico around 9pm that night. We were all in fairly good moods too, considering the long day we had. The customs agents there were very happy we got the green light and not the red. (In Mexico, when you go through customs, you push a button and if the red light comes on, they check all of your luggage.)

Our front yard
We spent 2 weeks in Puebla before our move to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. There's nothing like transitional living to make you appreciate finding your own house! In San Cris, we were able to find a small 3 bedroom house with a yard. Beautiful!

A view of our house from the street

From January to about May is all really a blur. We were setting up our house, acquiring furniture, getting acquainted with our new city, etc. Clay went to language school for 3 months. Ryan and Ellie went to a local elementary school for 3 months. What was I doing?!? I still had 2 little ones at home, and we stayed busy!
Ryan and Ellie, at their school program

Easter at Arcotete

In June we went to Suriname, a small country in northern South America. We spent a month in the Interior, or the Amazon jungle. We lived in a cabin, swam in the piranha infested river, killed pink-footed tarantulas...oh, and participated in jungle training! The kids LOVED it because they got to swim almost every day and they were in kids' camp for 4 weeks with other missionary kids.

Ellie, playing tag in Suriname with a local girl
Ryan had a blast with the baby cayman...
and a variety of other creepy crawlies!
Matthew learned to walk in the jungle!

In August, my Mom came to visit for 2 weeks. We took vacation and travelled to the Pacific Coast to enjoy the beach. It was so good to show her where we live and also Pine Hill, where we are planning to eventually live.

Mom and I, at Huatulco

Ellie and Granny, on the Sumidero

Granny and Matthew

Starting in the fall, we have been visiting our People Group every other week. It's a 4 hour drive to the town of Pine Hill from where we live. We've been very blessed to meet people who have welcomed us into their homes. Our children are making friends, too! It's been a wonderful experience and we are excited to see what else the Lord has in store for this community.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

How It All Began...

September 2011
How does a girl from Ohio meet the man of her dreams from Idaho, 2100 miles away? She goes to Mexico, of course! Well, at least that's our story...

It all began in the summer of 1998 when I went on a 2 month mission trip to Mexico City with the Spearhead program of the Latin America Mission. I loved the experience so much that I wanted to stay longer. At that point, I was only 4 months away from graduating from it really seemed silly not to finish. So after graduating, and teaching high school Spanish for a semester, I came back to Mexico City in the summer of 1999. After the initial 2 months, I decided to stay for the year.

In the summer of 2000, I was serving as a team leader for the summer program when I met this guy. He had just arrived to Mexico City from Idaho for 2 months...he made an amazing first impression. After knowing him for a day, I told him he was "latoso" which means "pesky" or "pain in the neck." And you guessed it, it was Clay!

Six months later, in January of 2001, Clay and I were headed to Chiapas for our winter assignment. At that point, we weren't allowed to date, so the idea never really crossed our minds. I just thought Clay was an amazing guy.  He loved God. He had a servant's heart. He was so amazing...he'd never be interested in a girl like me.

Baby #3, Levi Benjamin
January 2010
In May of 2001 I headed back to Mexico City to work in our mission's office while Clay finished up his winter term in Chiapas. At that time I was trying to determine what the next year of my life would look like. Should I stay in Mexico another year? (Like I really wanted) Or should I return to the States and look for a job? If I went back to the States, could I find a teaching job? If I wanted a teaching job, I couldn't wait until August. So I went back to the States in May and began sending out my resume. To my surprise, a school in Iowa called me 5 days later and offered me a job...a little crazy. No interview. No face-to-face talk. Just a phone call. But I knew it was a God-ordained call, so I accepted the job.

Disney World with Matthew
September 2011
I went back to Mexico to continue working in our mission's office for the summer. And on June 4, 2001 I went to lunch at the market with Clay. It was his birthday, and we had planned a friendly lunch together. I have to admit, I had been praying about this guy since I left Chiapas because I just couldn't stop thinking about him. I had so many feelings for him, but I really didn't want to ruin a good friendship by dating. I prayed so specifically that if God intended something more for us, Clay would initiate the conversation and it would lead to marriage.

That day, as we walked to the market, Clay opened his heart and told me how much he cared for me...and had cared for me since he met me. Here was this guy who I respected so much...and I really was in love with him...and he was declaring his love for me. Just like I had asked God. I was speechless! It was only FOUR days later that we talked about marriage...again, just like I had asked God. It was an amazing moment to see God put together details, and to know beyond a doubt that this was right. And those around us agreed it was right.

January 2012
One of many reasons that I love him
...he makes me laugh!
See how pesky he is!
In August I left Mexico and headed to my new career in Iowa as a high school Spanish teacher. And in September Clay headed to New Zealand for 2 months to hike with his buddy, Trevor. There were many late night (2am) phone calls from NZ, and flowers delivered to my home or classroom.

In December, Clay was back in Idaho. We were planning to get married in June, one year after "the talk" at the market. But one evening we were talking on the phone and Clay's Mom asked why we were waiting until June to get married. Clay was going to move to Iowa in February and we wouldn't have any accountability. We were about to set ourselves up for a potentially difficult situation in the area of purity.

So we began talking about moving the wedding up. Maybe February? March? Why not Christmas?

What?!? That was only 2 weeks away! I already had my dress...the spaghetti strap dress for the June wedding on the shores of Lake Erie...

August 2012
As we talked it over, we got more and more excited about the idea. It really made much more sense. I was already planning on flying to Idaho for Christmas to meet his family. Why not? The deciding factor was if my parents could fly out to Idaho too. I remember getting the call from my mom during school...yes, they would be there. I have to admit, I was a bit absent-minded at that point. Semester exams? Who cares! (I'm sure my students didn't mind too much that I was so flaky!) I'm getting married!

I flew to Idaho as soon as Christmas vacation began. I had a week to get to know Clay's family! On Christmas Eve, Clay took me to Locomotive Park and proposed to me...officially. He had designed my wedding ring and used the diamonds from his mom's engagement ring. And his step-dad had made the ring. Nothing could be more special! (And that's the reason why we officially got engaged 5 days before our wedding.)

On December 29, 2001 I walked down the aisle, surrounded by a crowd of people that I hardly knew...or didn't even know! But they all loved me because of their love for Clay.

Eleven years...the adventures, the babies, the vacations, the friends, the countries, the laughter and the tears...and today I can say that I love Clay William Richardson more than I ever thought possible. That pesky guy...he's still a little pesky. And his kids are even more pesky! And I am thankful for each day that I have Clay by my side.

My Best Friend...My Love...and a Wonderful Daddy for our Four Babies!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Traditions

Definition of TRADITION


1. a: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)
b: a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
2.: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
As of last year, we began redefining our family Christmas traditions. Before that, we knew that Christmas Eve would be spent at Clay's Mom's house. We would open gifts from the grandparents, then we would go to church for the Christmas Eve service.
On Christmas morning, we would open gifts from us. Then we would head to Clay's Dad's house for brunch...and more gifts. In the afternoon, we would go back to Clay's Mom's for dinner with the whole family. It was two days filled with family, fun, and food.
Last year, we were in Ohio, staying at the Mission House in Columbus. It was still a time filled with food, family, and fun because we were near my mom and brother.
This year however, there was no extended family...but there were LOTS of friends, or we could call them brothers and sisters in Christ. And there was definitely lots of food and fun. We are very blessed to have a community of fellow missionaries with whom we could celebrate the birth of our Savior. (Actually, we'll take any excuse to get together for food and fellowship.)
Levi, sound asleep
by the tree
On Christmas Eve, our family has the tradition of sleeping on the floor in the living room. It's amazing how much our kids look forward to this simple tradition! And in all honesty, this was the first year that I participated. In years past I was either nursing or pregnant, and opted to sleep in my own bed. But this year, the kids said I could have the those kids! So, we all snuggled down in front of the fireplace and the kids were fast asleep. And so were Mommy and Daddy...until the fireworks began at midnight! Never in my life had I experienced fireworks to this degree. I've been told by missionary kids who grew up in Latin America that Christmas just isn't the same if it doesn't smell like gunpowder. Maybe someday I'll agree...for now, it was just stressful. (Add to that a little girl with an earache, a little boy who just didn't feel good, and a Mommy with a head cold.)
All in all, we know it doesn't matter where we are, as long as we are together with our children. And as long as we remember the reason for the celebration. The gifts, the food, the fellowship...all of that is fun. But without the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, it would all be meaningless.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas in the Village?

A few days ago I explained the history behind the Virgin of Guadalupe because I wanted to share an interesting insight into the culture here in Southern Mexico. It was something that I really wasn't expecting.

We were in Pine Hill, visiting our people group when I asked about how they celebrate Christmas. My friend shared with me that they go to mass on Christmas Eve, and some people may go on Christmas Day too. That's it. No tree. No presents. No special meal.

It caught me off guard because I expected there to be some significance to them. And it saddened me that they place so much emphasis on the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the birth of Jesus is just another day.

Next question to ask, do they celebrate 3 Kings Day (epiphany)?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Virgin of Guadalupe

Every year, millions of pilgrims travel to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to pay their respects or to earn favor from the Virgin. Some spend days walking or even crawling on their knees in hopes of finding healing, peace, or a better life.

Our Lady of Guadalupe--according to Roman Catholic tradition, the Virgin of Guadalupe, or the Virgin Mary, made her appearance before Juan Diego in a vision in 1531.  The Virgin of Guadalupe holds a special place in the religious life of Mexico and is one of the most popular religious devotions. Her image has played an important role as a national symbol of Mexico.

Juan Diego was an Aztec who had converted to Catholocism, and tradition says that Mary appeared to Juan Diego on December 9, 1531 and again on December 12, 1531. She asked him to build a shrine on that very hill where she appeared to him. On her second appearance to him, she told him to collect the roses that were growing there on the hill and take them to the Bishop tas proof of her request. So, Juan Diego collected the roses in his cloak and took them to the Bishop. As he opened his cloak to present the roses, he discovered that the image of the virgin was miraculously imprinted on his cloak. (That cloak is on display today at the Basilica.)
Interestingly, there is no evidence documenting this appearance until 1648. The bishop who met Juan Diego never mentions the Virgin of Guadalupe or Juan Diego in any of his writings, something that should have been very important to report.

In 1737, the Virgin of Guadalupe was named as the patroness of  Mexico City and 9 years later she was accepted as the patron saint for all of New Spain (which included parts of California as well as Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador). In 1754, Pope Benedict XIV granted her a feast and mass for December 12.

In our area of Chiapas, it was interesting to observe how the December 12 holiday is celebrated. It began days earlier when we noticed fireworks. Lots and lots of loud fireworks. (Fireworks here are rarely pretty like in the U.S. Usually, just loud bangs.) Then we began to see pilgrimages to the Guadalupe Church. In one evening we watched 4 mini-parades of people walking, singing, and lighting fireworks. Then we realized that people were walking from as far away as Tuxtla, if not farther. We saw groups of 30 people walking over the mountain, carrying candles (because it was after dark), next to a very dangerous highway. There were masses held frequently at the Guadalupe Church. And of course, on the 12th, there were fireworks every hour of the day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Prayer Retreat

Recently we had the opportunity to take a trip to Puebla for a prayer retreat with some of our colleagues who also work with indigenous people in Mexico. To get an idea of geography, we live close to the Guatemala border and Puebla is about a 10 hour trip by car. It's a beautiful drive, taking us from humid, chilly San Cristobal, through sweltering Veracruz, and then up to chilly, dry Puebla. You can imagine dressing 4 kids for the cool morning, then stopping for lunch and stripping off the long sleeves while they "complain" about how hot it is! And then, at dinner time, you stop again and have to bundle back up.

Our time in Puebla was enjoyable. When we first got to Mexico in January, we spent a week or two in Puebla, so it was a familiar place to be. The prayer retreat was near a lake at a Christian retreat center. It was a blessing to us in so many ways.

Ellie loves to swing, especially with her new friend!

First, we got to meet many of our colleagues face to face. Until this time, we were facebook friends with many of them, or had skyped once. But now we can put a personality with that face. And there were kids everywhere! And they spoke English! (Yes, that made my kids happy.)

Second, of course the time of prayer and reflection was a blessing. Sometimes we get so busy "doing" that we don't stop and spend time in directed prayer. It was a great reminder to me that the battle is fought on my knees.

One of Ellie's new outfits! Isn't it adorable?
Third it was a blessing to hear the testimonies of the other missionaries and the work they are doing among the indigenous. Although geographically we are far away, we are not alone. We have a network of laborers who can offer wisdom, advice, encouragement, and prayer.

Fourth, we were blessed by a team of volunteers from Tennessee who came to serve us. They left their families during Thanksgiving week to serve in Mexico! They provided childcare and led our devotions and worship. They also brought suitcases full of goodies that we can't get here. And a new outfit or two for the kids!

Another favorite of mine was the beautiful flowers this time of year in Puebla. Did you know that pointsettia flowers actually grow to be a tree in the right climate?

Pointsettia tree

Monday, December 10, 2012


I've been in a bit of a writing slump lately. I realized today that I hadn't written a blog post in over a month. I really try to write at least twice a month. I want to keep everyone back home informed on what we're doing. I want to stay connected. I want my readers to feel connected.

Christmas can be a real lonely time of year for anyone, but especially when you're in a foreign country. We're doing our best to make it fun for our kids, but also maintaining the correct focus for the Holiday. And we are extremely blessed with our friends here in San Cristobal de las Casas.

So why haven't I written? Why this slump?

I guess because I feel like what I'm doing isn't any different than what you are doing. Who am I? I'm no different than any other follower of Christ. I just happen to live in a country where they speak many different languages. I am blessed to have arrived already speaking Spanish, therefore making our first year on the field much easier. Typically the first year is spent struggling to learn the culture and language. For us, our second year will most likely be a struggle to learn our third language.

So when people ask us what we're doing, it's sometimes hard to answer. We're not in language school. We don't have our own full-time ministry. We are in transition, fullfilling requirements that are in place to help us adjust to our "new" home, culture, and language. So nothing has changed. There's nothing exciting to write home about.

Yet I know that every day is an important step in our training.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cultural Struggle or Just Plain Sin?

Tonight I'm struggling with how to react to a situation that has arisen. Maybe "react" isn't the right I said I'm struggling. Stuggling with what to think, what to feel, and how to act. I come from an American Christian Culture, or more precisely a Southern Baptist Culture of the United States, which has engrained in me certain Truths. And I'm surrounded by Mexican Indigenous Culture...which although some have heard the Gospel and responded to it, their Indigenous Culture runs deep.

Let me try to explain...

I've known "L" practically since we arrived in Chiapas in February. I feel that I know her somewhat. She is a single mom who works hard to provide for her daughter. "L" is active in her local church and often attends Prayer Meetings or "Youth" meetings. ("Youth" is defined here as anyone who is not married, so although she's a young 20-something, she fits this category.) 

We once asked her the story of how she came to be a single mom. She explained that she was studying for a career in medicine when she met a guy. She found out she was pregnant, and while she was doing her internship in another town, the father of her child married another woman. He is aware of their child, but has nothing to do with either one of them.

She went on to explain that this had all happened during a rebellious stage of her life. She had grown up in a Christian home, and when she realized she was pregnant, it prodded her to return to her faith. That was 5 years ago...

And this week "L" shared that she is 3 months pregnant. I was shell-shocked. I didn't congratulate her. I didn't know what to say. I didn't even know that there was a man in her life. "L" shared that they have been seeing each other for awhile. He's a Christian and goes to her church. They have talked about getting married, but they don't know when.

Wow...well, that got me to thinking about the Gospel as it has been shared here in Mexico, specifically. And the impact, or lack of impact, that it's had on the lives of Believers.

From my Southern Baptist background, I see a problem with this scenario. Here we have a man and woman who are not married, and they are expecting a child. A man and woman who go to church together. But in Indigenous culture, does a man and a woman get married? Or do they simply begin living together, in the same sense as a "common law" marriage? They are seen as married by those around them, but without the ceremony?

Is this a sin issue? Or just a cultural difference? Or is it a cultural issue that God would deem sinful? Is there a point where the Gospel was reaching the Indigenous people of Mexico, but all they really hear is the Salvation message? Are they only being told the hellfire and brimstone message, to repent and turn to Christ?  Are we failing to give them the meat? Are we teaching them how to live according to God's plan?

I do believe that God's plan is for one man and one woman. Jesus' own words from Matthew 19:4-5 state, “Have you not read,” says Jesus, “that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’” (quoting from Genesis 1:27, 2:24). The Bible does not say "Do not have premarital sex," but it does say to leave your family, and to cleave to your spouse, and become ONE flesh. And 1 Corinthians 7:2 says, "But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband."

I'm not trying to throw sticks at anyone who doesn't believe the same. That's between you and God. (And I believe He loves each of us, inspite of our sins.) My thoughts (which are rambling wildly tonight), are on the Indigenous people of Mexico, specifically the ZK people who we yearn to reach with the Gospel. Are we prepared to take the whole message to them? The message is more than just repent so that you don't burn in's about His Word. His Plan. His Love. His Forgiveness.

So my response toward "L" will be one of love and support. I want to make sure that if it's money that is keeping her from marrying the father of her baby, that I can give her a wedding present. (Cost is often a huge factor. Weddings are expensive.) I want to make sure that if she needs medical care, we help her acquire it. I want to encourage her to seek the Lord. And I want to offer to walk with her through the ups and downs. I want to love her like the Lord loves her.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sea Turtles on the Beach

A few months ago, Clay went fishing on the coast. While he was there, they told him that he should plan to come back in October, during the full moon to see the sea turtles laying their eggs. How cool is that, right? So we made plans...and invited friends. Unfortunately, I didn't think about getting a picture of all SEVEN kids. We made quite a sight...2 men, myself and 7 mostly blonde kids.

Anyway, we were there to see turtles...even if the kids thought our purpose for the trip was to go swimming! We never did see a momma turtle. Turns out that this is the end of the egg laying season and we should have gone in September. Clay and I did see momma tracks leading from the ocean up to the beach and then back again. And we were able to see lots of babies at the turtle reserves. They collect the eggs, and protect them until they hatch. Then they release the babies back in to the ocean.

We had a great time, although I'm ready to admit that I really don't like sand. When we first got to the beach, Clay said something about living there for a month would be sufficient to enjoy the beach, but then he'd be ready to go back home. I realized that a day was sufficient to live directly on the beach. Especially this beach with it's ultra-fine sand that sticks to everything. Don't get me is beautiful. Especially the sunsets and all the little creatures...but it's HOT even in November!

Isn't this the cutest little thing?

Ryan thought the baby turtles
were pretty cool!
Matthew wasn't too sure what that thing was at first!

These little crabs were everywhere!
And they were quick too!

We spent the night on an island, so we had to cross the
bay in a boat. The kids loved riding up front!

This is the cabin that we rented!


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dr. Seuss in Mexico?

Fire is hooktuk
Chair is ooktuk
Fan is sooktuk

Ever feel like you live in a Sr. Seuss book?

Yep, that's what we're speaking these days...or at least, we're trying to speak it! The ZK language has no similarities to Spanish because it was a language that was spoken by an indigenous group long before Christopher Columbus ever sailed the ocean blue. It's still spoken in "Pine Hill," especially by the older generation. And the women and children.

I can't wait to have some level of fluency in this language. Or at least a level of comprehension! I've made a friend in "Pine Hill." Her name is Guadalupe, a common name for men and women in Mexico. She's very helpful, very friendly. At least when it's just the two of us chatting. But when she's around the other women, they speak primarily in ZK...leaving me to smile and nod. I'm sure that most of the time they are not talking about me...but then again, I know that they sometimes are. Like when I hear the word "catolica," and they all turn to look at me.

Yep, my friend Guadalupe just told all the women that I'm not Catholic. And now, they're looking at me suspiciously.

"Oh, so you're Adventist."
"No, I'm not Adventist. I'm a Christian. A follower of Jesus Christ."
"Well, if you're not Catholic, you're Adventist."

Oh how I long to speak their language so that I can share what the Good Book says. Many of them, although they declare themselves to Catholic, really have no idea what the Bible says. The freedom from vices, promises of eternal life, hope,'s all in there. And someday, I'll get beyond "hooktuk and ooktuk" to "God's love."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stepping Out

I've been considering writing this post for about a month now, but haven't done it because it's a little too personal. I mean, it points out my own weaknesses. And who really likes to admit where they need to improve, or do things differently?

I tend to be an introvert. I really am content to hide in my room, with a good book and a cup of coffee. Maybe some quiet music. I don't need to interact with anyone. That's how God created me.

But God wants me to step out of that comfort zone...
                                                                  and sometimes I fight that command.

Recently, we were visiting Pine Hill. There are very few foreigners who enter this small community because it's basically the end of the road. You don't just happen by it. You don't drive through it. You go there because you plan to go there. Consequently, when we're there, we attract a lot of attention. People are curious. Why are we there?

And then they want to look at our children, or touch them. Even the children from the town are curious. They follow us around. Some times, I feel like the Pied Piper, leading the crowd down the street. One time, we had at least 20 children walking with us.

With four children, sometimes the kids and I sit in the car while Clay goes in to the store to buy a snack. And if you know my very non-introverted husband, it is not a quick stop! It doesn't matter if the windows are up or down. People stop and stare through the windows at the kids. If the windows are open, they reach through and touch the kids. Sometimes they give them candy or a toy.

I often find myself annoyed while I sit there. Can't these people just leave us alone?! I mean, really! We're inside our car. In the States, you would never walk up to a car full of strangers and reach in and touch their children! And you certainly wouldn't hand a child candy without asking the parent if it was okay!

But what I realized is that when the kids and I get out of the car and talk to the people crowding around, we start to build a relationship. We're no longer the latest zoo exhibit. We're people who like to talk, play and laugh. And that's exactly where God wants me to be! He doesn't want me to hide. He wants me to get out and share BOLDLY about HIS love. I also realize that I'm not annoyed. I enjoy being with the people!

Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth,
to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,
for which I am an ambassador in chains;
that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Ephesians 6:19-20

His people...

Often, as I'm drifting off to sleep, I think of the great blog that I want to write. Last night I was doing just that, but this morning I can't for the life of me remember what it was! So much has happened since I last posted. So much that I want to share, but how do I put it all into words?

This week we made another trip into "Pine Hill." It's always a beautiful drive, and usually cloudy. This time, however, it was sunny and bright. And I didn't have my camera to capture the beauty. But it gives me hope that when we do eventually move to that area, it won't be cloudy everyday.

On our previous trip, my kids quickly
made friends!
I continue to be amazed at how open the people are. I realize that my four children are a natural draw. People are curious, and we attract a crowd. Most of the time, I'm ok with being stared at. Or my children being carried away by members of the family we're visiting. And my kids seem to be okay with it most of the time too. Of course, for them it usually means someone to play with them or to give them candy.

On this trip, we visited Don J's family. Don J has three adult sons and one daughter. We're still learning who is who and how they all relate. That may take a few years! This visit, Clay chatted with Don J, asking him questions about life in Pine Hill and how to say a few phrases in ZK. While they chatted, Don J shared that July is the time of year that many people get sick. He shared that the reason is that it rains over the cemetary, then the sun comes out. As the sun heats things up, the steam rises from the cemetary, then the wind blows that steam over the town. The people get sick. For him, there is a connection between the spiritual world and sickness here on earth.

The next morning, I was talking with Don J's daughter in law, G. We were standing outside, and the sun was getting warm, so I took off Matthew's sweatshirt. At that time, G asked me if my kids get sick alot. I assumed she was referring to the weather and my kids not being bundled up tightly. She said, "Here, the beautiful babies get sick because the people are always looking at them."

"Oh, the Evil Eye," I said. "We believe that Jesus Christ guards us and protects us. He is more powerful." G shook her head in agreement, but didn't comment.

Sometimes, I wonder why we are entering Pine Hill. They all claim to love the Lord. Or at least they claim allegiance to the Church. But most of them have no knowledge of what the Bible says, or the freedom that Christ offers. They don't know the beautiful love story that God has given us. They don't understand what a relationship with Jesus means. And once again, I am reminded why God has called us to these people. His people.

Pine Hill
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
2 Chronicles 7:14

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Toilet seats? Think about it...

There are so many things that we take for granted on a daily basis. Have you stopped to think about it?
  • electricity--When you flip the light switch, do you wonder if the light really will come on?
  • laundry--Do you have to make sure it's not raining so that your clothes get dry?
  • vehicle--Do you wonder if there's a gas station in the next hour drive?
  • groceries-- How do you plan your meal menu? Do you think about what's going to be available this week at the market?
  • kitchen--Do you have enough gas to cook your meal? Do you have to cook over fire? Did you collect enough firewood?

Many of these things we don't think about either, honestly. We've only lost electricity once, but in some areas it seems common. We are blessed to have a washing machine and dryer, but in the area that we will move to, they wash by hand and hang things to dry. It rains about 10 months out of the year, and when it's not raining, it's humid. The closest gas station will be an hour away. We need to make sure we're thinking ahead!

As for groceries...we will be planning on taking most of what we need/want in from the city. "Pine Hill" has market day once a week and this last week we went on market day to see what they have to offer. It really wasn't much. There were just a few vendors selling a very small variety of produce. There are a few small grocery stores, but their variety is limited also.

In the homes, most women cook over a fire. Some have a basic stove top, but no oven. How would not having an oven affect how you cook?  The bread "stores" have brick ovens. They look like igloos made out of bricks. Our plan is to take a stove/oven with us so that I can continue cooking comfortably, but I still need to think about the supplies that I'll need.

Another interesting thought...when you go to a public restroom, do you assume that toilet paper will be supplied? This is one that often catches me off guard! Sometimes they have a large roll on the wall when you walk in and you have to remember to grab what you'll need.  Other times, there's a person sitting there and their job is to sell you toilet paper. And of course, there are other places where you just have to make sure you brought your own.

The one that I'm still adapting to though is the lack of a toilet seat! Most toilets in this area don't have one...we learn to adjust, but I never thought about how it affected my children until we went to Home Depot after spending a night in the village. Clay needed to find a specific item, so I said we'd wander until he was ready.

As we walked away, Ryan said, "Can we look at toilet seats?"

I stifled a laugh as I contemplated the things we take for granted...and added another thing to my growing list.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


So often peope wonder how we can "do it." You know, live without the comforts of home...or so far from family and friends. I mean, I haven't been to Starbucks since December of 2011. (Yes, there is one only an hour away.) And I haven't seen our friends and family from Idaho in a year and 2 days, but who's really counting?

We're missing the beautiful fall colors this year. And we'll miss the snow this winter. We'll miss weddings and funerals...and birthdays and just plain ol' days where we hang out with loved ones.

But today the sacrifice that's on my mind isn't the kind that only missionaries "suffer." Christ calls us to live differently and to make daily sacrifices. You know, "take up your cross and follow me."

Recently we were out in a village and as I watched my daughter play with two other little girls, at first I was thrilled. Ellie really can play with anyone. She's such a people person. Then I realized these little girls weren't playing nice. They kept taking away the toy she was playing with. At first, I tried to encourage the little girls to "be nice." But that really wasn't working.

There has to be a better answer...right? So I pulled Ellie over to me. We had a little heart to heart about the importance of being able to share the Gospel with this family. I mean, we both knew that Ellie had the toy first and she had every "right" to play with it. But I asked my 4-year old to sacrifice her "right" to the toy, and give it to the little girls. To my daughter's credit, she willingly handed it over with a good attitude. Yes, it took her a few minutes to come to grips with that request, but she did it.

The end of that story...well, those girls soon lost interest in that toy and threw it (literally, they threw it) on the floor. But we maintained peace in a home where we are trying to share God's love.

Since then, I've pondered the question, "what is God asking me to sacrifice?" There are many things in my life that I feel I have a "right" to have or to do. I have a right to privacy...but what if I move in to a small village? God will be asking me to give up some of that privacy and willingly invite strangers into my life. To observe us. To judge us. To judge our way of life. How we eat. How we rear our children.

Are there other "rights" that I need to be willing to sacrifice? I have no doubt. I only hope that I can act as bravely as my 4-year old daughter.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Walking in the Clouds

     Sometimes I wonder if I'm ready to move in to a small village where we will likely be the main event every day.  Recently we were driving through "Pine Hill" and Clay stopped to go into a small store to buy a coke. (A great reason to stop and chat.) I stayed in the car with the kids, trying to be inconspicuous. It didn't take long for people to walk by, stop, and peer in to the windows to catch a glimpse of the FOUR white kids. The people were not shy about looking, either.
     Later, Clay stopped at another store. This time he left the windows open.  There were at least 9 kids peeking in to look at us at one time. The peeking is one thing...then I heard Ryan say, "I don't want anyone else to touch me!" I realized we were all beginning to feel like an exhibit at the local zoo. How will I ever handle this constant observation? How will my kids handle the people constantly reaching to touch their hair? Or hug them? And then there's the kisses...I realized that Ellie has developed an amazing "duck and run" escape technique!
     The next day we went back to visit. I'll admit that I was feeling a bit apprehensive...overwhelmed.  We began the visit in the town square where we ran into a man who works for the state police. (A good friend to have!) We've seen this man on every trip to "Pine Hill," and every time he has welcomed us. This time he invited us to a cup of coffee at the local restaurant. Since the restaurant is right on the square, we let the big kids run and play with the kids who were playing soccer while we visited.
     I continue to be amazed by the people of this community. They are so kind, so open. I spent most of the morning visiting with Isabela who owns the restaurant. She's the mother of two girls who are now married. She has a three year old granddaughter. And she has opened her home to her 13 year-old neice and her 6 month-old baby. Isabela's husband has diabetes and is very sick. He's already had one leg amputated, and no longer can get out of bed.
     We watched the clouds blow down the hill that afternoon. It was amazing to walk in a cloud! The kids ran and jumped, and were surprised that they got wet when it wasn't even raining. We pray for this community of "Pine Hill."  They are so full of needs. Most women still cook over wood fires. Their teeth are rotting from malnutrition. And many are lulled into a sense of eternal security, thinking that they're good enough to go to Heaven. But too few have a relationship with the Father and Son.
     It's during these moments, that I am reminded why the Lord has brought me here, to these people.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Blessings of "Pine Hill"

Recently I was able to make my first trip to ZK land, home of our people group. I do believe I fell in love...with the people and the community. It was a four-hour drive through winding mountain roads. I'd like to say it was a beautiful drive, but I spent most of the time nodding off thanks to my new friend Dramamine.

Once we got to "Pine Hill," Clay and I headed out to explore and look for the medical clinic. Our main purpose was to meet people and see what it might be like to live in this town eventually. As we walked along, we entered a grocery store to check prices of was comparable. Then we saw a young guy in a furniture store, so we stopped to see what kind of furniture and appliances are available. We talked to Misael for awhile, asking him how to say "thank you" in ZK.

When we finally got to the clinic, we talked to the nurse and learned so much more about the people. She told us that many people in the community are very poor and suffer from malnutrition. The women (or girls) often start having babies at 13 years old. The mother and baby are both malnourished. And the more babies they have, the more the whole family is affected. Later as we walked through town, we saw the affects of the poverty in the rotten teeth of small children. Many are given sweet coffee to drink from a young age.

After we left the clinic, we entered a papelería, or a small store that sells stationery, school/office supplies, etc. Again, we were looking to see what was available and the prices...and hoping to meet people who would be open to chat with us. God amazed us by taking us to Don J, the owner of the store. After a few minutes, he invited us to see his house which is attached to the store. Then he brought out stools for us to sit and sent his daughter to buy some Coca-Cola so we could visit. We spent close to an hour visiting with Don J that day. He was very kind and offered us lots of information about the community and the people.

The next week we went back to "Pine Hill" and took the whole family. We stopped at a small store near a basketball court. We bought a Coke and sat while the kids ran around. Of course we attracted a crowd. I wish I had a camera to capture all that was happening, but we had deliberately left it behind.

At one point, we were sitting on the sidewalk with about 20 people crowding around. We were asking them how to say words or phrases in ZK and they were eager to teach us, and to laugh at our poor pronunciation. There were also kids gathering close to see the gringo kids. Suddenly I realized that our little Ellie was teaching the kids a game...the "hand stack" game where everyone stacks their hands and then the hand on the bottom is put on the top of the stack. She was speaking Spanish fluently enough to explain what to do! I was thrilled to see her interacting with these little girls.

When it was time to leave, we headed back down hill to where we had parked our car. I felt a bit like the Pied Piper. We were leading a gang of the kids...and Ellie and Levi were in the lead, holding hands with three of their new friends. Again, I wish I had a camera, but I will hold that image in my mind's eye forever!

We were able to snap this picture of the streets of "Pine Hill"

Monday, August 20, 2012

El Puerto

A friend of ours invited us to his home the other day. That didn't mean the house he currently lives in, but the house where he grew up. He wanted us to meet his grandpa, who has been a Christian for 22 years. Our friend recently re-committed his life to Christ, and his grandfather is grateful.

So, we went yesterday (Sunday). The plan was to leave town around 9am which would give us a couple hours to visit before church started at 1pm. It was an hour and a half trip, with the last 5 kilometers being the roughest part due to the rough road.

When we arrived at El Puerto, we of course caused quite a stir! There are few foreigners who venture that far off the beaten path. And then there were the four white kids...we were constantly being watched by someone peeking through the fence, or hiding behind a tree.

Our friends family wasn't there...they had gone into the city because the Grandpa had been feeling sick. After a phone call to verify, we learned they were on their way home. So, we decided to walk through the village to see the people, and take some pictures.

While walking through town, we discovered that there was a guest preacher at church...and the service started early. We were bummed that we didn't get to attend church, but it allowed us to spend more time visiting with our friend's family. They even took us out to their cornfield and Clay and the guys picked a few dozen ears of corn. It was an amazing adventure for to the kids to wander through the cornfield.

They have to haul water from the well, so they
carry it in this pot, and hang it from their head.

The water pot
Levi liked the pozol,
a drink made from corn.

The fireplace
One of the smiling neighbor girls

With all of the mud, rubber boots are a must.

I love this little girl's smile...and her bigger sister right
behind her.

It was such a beautiful day! The clouds were amazing.