Fellowship of the Unashamed

Sometimes I come across things I wish I’d written because they capture my hopes and desires and perspective perfectly. I don’t know who wrote this, but I’d like to know them- they seem like my kind of person! Be blessed:

I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed.

I have Holy Spirit power. I’ve stepped over the line.

The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His.

I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.

My past redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.

I’m finished and done with low living, side-walking, small planning, smooth-knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, worldly-talking, cheap giving and dwarf goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, position, promotion, applause or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience. I am uplifted by prayer and labor by power. My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is Heaven. My road is narrow. My way is rough. My companions are few. My God reliable. My mission is clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of my adversaries, negotiate at the table of my enemy or ponder at the pool of popularity. I won’t give up, shut up, let up – until I’ve stayed up, stored up, prayed up, preached up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus.


Today I Choose

Today I am choosing to LIVE on PURPOSE.

Today, I will focus my energy, desire and hope on what the Spirit is willing to do through me instead of what the flesh is weak enough to do to me. 

Today, I choose to silence regret, defeat, grief, disappointment, lack, uncertainty. I choose to silence the voice of anyone who chooses to speak those things to me or those whose life physically, thoughtfully or prayerfully touches mine.

Today, I am humbled at the feet of my Mighty Servant King. Not because I am weak or a beggar. But because that is my God appointed Position of Power. From there, I go where He wants me to go, I stay where He is and I am held mercifully below the schemes of the enemy by the Presence of His Love.

Today, I choose to Live ON purpose. To be ABOUT purpose. Even if I don’t know what my purpose is in the big picture, I trust God to have placed me in the perfect environment to bring His purposes to bear upon every moment of time.

And today, I choose to allow myself to stand restfully still and be loved by Him, because I can’t make time stand still for the ones I love, but I belong to the One Who Can.


(Isn’t God just so crazy amazing?) ❤

The Lamb of Judah

You can only walk so far with the limp of independance- because the good leg is in Jesus and the injured leg keeps dragging you back to the belief that you can be self sufficient in all things.  It’s easier to do it yourself than trust or surrender. But there comes a point in every believers life when we have to trust God with our greatest failings, deepest hurts and the desires of our heart. THAT is just not easy if you’ve ever been wounded by anyone or even self-inflicted some pain along the way.

My journey in trust began when I visited a place in the mountains of Colorado a few years back.  It’s a beautiful place called The Upper Room and as many times as I’ve been there since, God has ALWAYS met me in remarkable ways.  This particular visit happened to be my first however, so I had no idea what to expect.  I was told the Lion of Judah tended to find His way to the den, so that’s where I decided to wait and see if I could spot Him.

On my second morning, coffee in hand, quiet music playing, a breeze blowing gently off of a cool mountain lake through the screened window, I closed my eyes and began to rock in the chair.   With the image of the Lion of Judah showing up to pounce on me as His prey, I was uneasy and yet, at peace. So I just blurted out a question to start the conversation because obviously lions can’t talk- “You know what I don’t get Jesus? I don’t get how you are BOTH the Lion and the Lamb”  and He said, “go on…”   I began to explain to Him how I fully believed that He is the Lion.  He is mighty and powerful and fierce.  He is the God who created the universe and the God of Job who did and does all of those wonderfully powerful things like telling the waves to stop and go no farther.  I get His power, and frankly it scares me A-LOT.  But, I also see how He’s the Lamb. How He is gentle and a comforter. How He was sacrificed and meek and all of those lamby things He is and does.  But I DID NOT get how He could be BOTH at the same time.

And then it came to the surface. See, I had scars that came about in unspeakable ways.   For years, I never told anyone, except maybe a handful of people – if that handful was a closed fist with only 2  fingers showing. I certainly never reached out for help.  This is the extent of what I’ll say about it here, except to say, the wounds underneath those scars were NOT healed, and were festering and infecting my life.  With tear filled eyes and an exposed and failing aorta, I confessed to my Christ that I didn’t know how or if I could trust Him.  Because honestly, there had never been ANYONE in my life who had been both strong and powerful and also meek and tender; NO ONE I could trust with being my protector and to love me deep enough to know where my brokenness lived.

That is when He showed me Himself, as The Lion of Judah.  He was this majestic Lion.  Absolutely the most powerful, magnificent creature I have ever seen.  So strong and so stunning.  He was King and there was no doubt about it.  He was laying down in an easy, restful manner with His head upright.  And then I saw me- in my brokenness.  Curled up in the fetal position between His front paws, tucked safely in next to His chest.  What I saw next rocked my life.  He began licking my wounds.

All I can say is that I have never felt so safe.  His tenderness as my Healer, seemed to wash His comfort to my core.  He cared for me with gentle ease.  He knew EXACTLY where I hurt, where I was broken, where and how I desperately needed to be redeemed. All the while, He remained the Lion, He became the Lamb, and He was BOTH, at the same time.  He did not compromise the strength of who He was as Lion to become the meekness of the Lamb.   It was breathtaking and I was healed as I surrendered and trusted and was known by Him.

A few more years went by and many things changed in my life. Time after time He asked me to trust Him with things He wanted me to surrender.  I’ve written about those in earlier posts.  Some things He healed and gave back, other things He removed from my life. I grew in Him and learned to trust and love Him and I let Him continue to heal and love me back.  I returned to the Upper Room where I again, met my Lamb of Judah.  I asked Him to show me where I was in my healing.  He is faithful.  What He showed me this time was Himself as the Lion, again in that same position (He NEVER changes).  But I had changed.  I was no longer in the fetal position.  This time I was more upright.  Like a child when they are sitting on their daddy’s lap.  I was still between His front paws, but I was leaning back against Him with my ear to His chest.  I could hear His heartbeat and I was timing my breathing to His, like I used to do when I was a little girl and would sit in the chair with my own Daddy and lay my head on his chest.

This is where the story ends, except for the glimpse of my future self. I don’t have the details, but I was riding bareback on the Lion as He was running full force and I had my hands in the air and I was FREE.  I cannot wait for that great day.  His promises are true.

Well, it almost ends there… sometimes when my ear is to His chest and I’m breathing with Him, I hear a call to prayer for certain people straight from His heart.  I respond in obedience to that heartbeat by calling or texting or writing a prayer for them and letting them know God called me to pray for them.  On one recent occasion, I helped a friend through a bit of a rough time that He showed me was coming her way, and He called me to love her through it.  In response, I shared a bit of my story with her, and in His grace through her gift, she returned His love to me by painting my healing.  I don’t have too many treasures on earth, but this one, I count as worthy.   It’s called “The Lion of Judah will never let her go”.  I stare at it and get lost in Him and His endless depth.  When I find myself restless or sad or compromising, I return to the Lion/Lamb and lay my head on His chest, and I listen to His heartbeat and time my breathing to I AM-Who I AM.  I AM BOTH- Lion and Lamb- and I will NEVER let you go. Amen.

Lord? Is that you?

I went to our women’s ministry monthly dinner event the other night and something profound happened to me.  It may seem obvious to others, but it was like a breath of fresh air to me.  Usually our “Essential Connections” is a fun evening of dinner and a skit and a chance to visit with other women in our church and sort of just chill out for a couple of hours- one night a month.  That’s not a whole lot of chill, I know, but you take what you can get right?  This month was different. The program included the first lesson in a Bible study on Phillipians. The Joy book! The Peace with chains book! The Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in the sewer under the jail book.  Yay. That goes great with chill?

Our discussion led to the topic of Joy. And how Paul’s focus was on something other than his circumstances. It’s not about happiness. It’s not about how we feel. It comes from a different place.  I’ve done several studies in Phillipians prior, so this was not news to me as a theme or something we need to do. But there was a question that our sister asked us that broke through that barrier of “I already know this”, and started me thinking.

It seems Paul’s secret to keeping his Joy in the midst of such terrible circumstances came from his ability to keep Christ as his Lord. Jesus was seated on the throne and Paul’s eyes were on Him, and Him alone.  He had made Him his Lord.  So then Debby explained to us how in her daily world, sometimes, she makes other things her lord.  It might not be the obvious things like money or job or status seeking.  Sometimes, it might be anything that takes the place of time that you would/should spend with Him.  Maybe you are an interior decorator wanna be and you look at magazines and become absorbed with dreaming and wishing of rooms you’d like to have.  You make that magazine your lord. (Her example).

She then asked us this question: What have you made your Lord?  As I stopped to think about my circumstances, and where my eyes are, and who is on the throne, it dawned on me what I have done.  Some people seek money or status and serve it as master. I on the other hand, have no money or status, and don’t want it in excess, but that hasn’t stopped me from making it my lord.  I have made my “lack” my Lord.  I have made my “struggle” my Lord.  I have taken my eyes off of the One Who Can end my struggle and fill my lack with provision.  I will even go so far to say that I have made faith my lord and the good I hope to do, as well. I have made serving my lord. When it takes me away from the walk in the garden I should be having with Him, the works have become my lord. Ouch.

So what now? Contrary to how I might have reacted in the past, I feel the Holy Spirit gently leading me with a non dramatic nudge to get back in the Word. To give Him my time and attention regardless of the sewer I’m standing in.   What I don’t want to have happen is for Jesus to come back and I cry out to my struggle “lord! lord!”.  I don’t want Him to turn to me and say, “I’m sorry. Do I know you? You look familiar, but I think you must be talking to your lack.”  That is a different kind of chill.

So here we go, into the book of Phillipians.  Read the whole book and then come back and study line by line chapter one.  Acquaint yourself with Him. Put Him back on the throne. And most of all, make Him Lord of your day. Every day.

It’s been a while

Some months are harder than others and I think 2011’s hard months all got together and joined forces.  I’ve been evaluating a lot of things. Contemplating my approach to life, family, ministry, work, joy and just about everything else. All I have come up with is, well, frankly, that I just don’t have any answers! And that’s okay.

I started a new job in July. It’s my first outward commitment to being in full-time ministry. Seems sort of crazy from the outside looking in. I took a part-time job for just a little above minimum wage as the Executive Director of a crisis pregnancy center.  It’s a faith-based center that offers the hope and healing of Christ to those women and families facing unplanned pregnancies.  And you know what? It feels completely right.

There are all of the normal challenges of trying to live life as a single income, single parent household on a part-time salary. And those challenges are so overwhelming. Yet, in being overwhelmed, I am completely dependent on Jesus to stand in the gap for me. And He has and He does and He will continue to do just that. He’s always been my bridge.

There are things I’m learning by working with people in crisis that I simply could not begin to fathom, had I not been in crisis a time or two myself.   My circumstances may look different from theirs, but feeling like you are facing overwhelming odds and burdened to the point of breaking because of your lack of options, is quite frankly, familiar territory.

Once again, God proves Himself sovereign.  How He uses these melting pot experiences to boil off the impurities and equip me/us for the work He has ahead.  There are going to be some new posts coming. About making decisions in the face of life’s biggest obstacles. About grieving and healing. About other things too. God seems to be reviving my etching business too, so we’ll talk sandblasting and other fun rock  and small business stuff.

I’ll let you go now, just wanted to check in and say thanks for following along and get ready for the winds of change to blow in a little different direction for a while.


Dominican Republic: The honeymoon I never had! Stage 7… bringing it home!

Here I am Lord! Lead me!

Day 7: Saturday, March 26, 2011

I hoped to see a sunrise on the water. That was not to be. I didn’t even see an egg, sunny side up. Today is the last day and it is bitter-sweet. For breakfast today will be cheese and ham sandwiches. Yesterday was ham and cheese. Thanks Erin for clearing that up.

Vicki helped the sun to rise upon us though, with her message on servanthood. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” Mark 10:43 She helped us to consider and answer what we learned from this trip about God’s calling on our lives as a servant and to define our next steps for our ministry as child ambassadors.  We are to remember that Christ chose us and has called us to a life of servanthood. To be a servant we must take our light and take pride in His work and  humbly do his bidding, as we put others first and sacrifice. Serving means to humbly give of our money or our gift of encouragement. We serve by going out and speaking to others about what we’ve experienced, by telling people about the work Jesus is doing in us and through us. She reminded us that we must share this story with other Child Ambassadors to bring them along. We must not bury our light. We need to remember the faces of the children, the moms and dads, the abuelitas and the staff.  Everyday we need to give to these children and be praying for their hearts, praying for Kingdom living for every child and obey our calling.

It’s casual day, beginning with a walking tour, shopping and later the beach.  Our friend and translator Erin has gone on strike because she’s been translating non stop for days. She never got a break. She helped in the day and then she’d help us through meals and then I’m sure she was still helping us in her dreams. So we gave her the day off and I volunteered to take over.  I know only enough Spanish to get me into trouble. I thought I understood more than I actually did apparently, as evidenced by the little tidbit of info that I learned yesterday.

Our first day on the bus, we were talking about Spanish and listening to tapes or taking Spanish classes. Jere accidentally calls Rosetta Stone, Loretta Stone and we had great fun with this throughout the trip. It seems that only Erin and Claudia were Rosetta worthy and the rest of us were definitely from the Loretta Stone school of Spanish!  Well, from the very first visit with kids when I’d see a beautiful girl, I would say, que linda, how beautiful.  Or if we saw a handsome boy, I would say he was muy guapo, he is very handsome. I got a few looks from the moms and I thought it was merely my accent so I just kept on jumping and didn’t give it much of a second thought. Yesterday during lunch, our friend Kristy, who is working with her hubby in the DR for the Peace Corps, joined us and we were discussing how her Spanish was coming along. She explained how it was improving, but is still confused by some words that mean one thing at home but something totally different in the DR.  She said, “take guapo for example. At home it means handsome, but here it means angry”.  Flashes of insulted mothers returned to mind as I realized that for a week, I had been telling people that their little boys “were very angry”.  This would have been
good to know upfront. In light of this, I felt very qualified to give completely false information about the city we were seeing. I also feel I was doing my part as a servant.

In addition to me, we had the world’s fastest talking tour guide and what I got out of it is that just about every building in the seaport area is really old with some dating back to the 1500’s.  This is the place that Christopher Columbus was buried until 1992. Then he went somewhere else, but there is disagreement as to where that is.  There is so much history here and the architecture is stunning.  We visited a chapel that is the oldest building in North America. We visited their national building and that is where their great freedom fighters are buried.  The main shopping corridor is called Calle el Condo. Trujillo was a fierce and unscrupulous dictator and tyrant that oppressed the people for a very long time. He was proud and vain and even changed the name of certain places to his own for a while. When he was killed in the 1960’s they had a big party and now people take it upon themselves to step on his name if it is imprinted on anything within reach. My birthday, September 24 is a national holiday in the DR! Thank you.  And, I learned that Haiti, means big mountain. The Dominican people are a blend of the native Indian, the Spanish, and the African people who were brought to the island as slaves. The DR was a major stopping place in the slave trade market because of its location in relation to the US and other countries. They are having a huge celebration this year to celebrate their 500th birthday (1511-2011).  Today it is a stopping place for some cruise ships and still is a major hub in shipping channels.  Ok. The tour is over, now lets jump and shop.

There were lots of great artists with works painted on canvas. Maryellen was in charge of bartering. We enjoyed our leisure time and purchased a few gifts to take home to our families and friends.

We grabbed some lunch and some of us headed to the beach and others chose to stay behind and do whatever they did. There was an air show happening right over the harbor outside of our hotel and apparently it was amazing.  We had to drive about 45 minutes to get to the beach. I don’t know what it was called or where it was located and my attention to detail is slipping by the second.  I vaguely remember something about guacamole beach and free range flamingos but I can’t be sure.

The beach was stunningly beautiful. The water at a distance was various shades of blue. My favorite! Up close, the water was clear and in some areas you could see lots of life underneath it. We relaxed and enjoyed the water and resting on the beach and photographing the tropical scenery that will forever mark the near end of our journey.

Dinner that night included great food and  Lori, Maryellen & Jere presenting some gifts to our faithful servants Claudia, Erin, Johno and Dionicio the bus driver. Everyone is a little

I would be the first one out in the morning as we all would fly almost mirror images of our trips upon arrival.  I would have to get up about 4 and be ready to go. I would leave alone. The last set of instructions were given and we had a some sweet goodbyes. And of course I cried at the thought of leaving these people who had become my family and very good friends in a mere 7 days.

Numbers 33 Journal entry: We stayed in Santo Domingo for one last night.

Day 8: Sunday, March 27, 2011

I’m up early and am ready to go. While packing my bag I heard something hit the floor with a plink! but couldn’t identify the source. I didn’t give it a second thought and hurried down 3 flights of stairs with my big bags. Sweet Lori must have drawn the short straw and had to get up to make sure I got off okay. My driver never showed up! A cab was waiting for some other guests so we make an executive decision to see if I can hitch a ride. A
very kind man says it will be no problem and he pays for my cab ride to the airport. As we were pulling away from the hotel, my driver showed up.

On the way to the airport the man in the back seat asks me about my visit. I tell him why I was there and ask if he is familiar with World Vision. Small world that it is, he is a child sponsor! He lives in Costa Rica! He tells me what great work World Vision does and how grateful he is for them and the sovereignty of God shines through as I marvel at His hand in all things.

We say our goodbyes and I get through the airport checkpoints etc., I forget my painting on the other side of the scanner where I had sat to take my shoes off. They reluctantly get it for me thanks to the help of what appeared to be a German tourist who spoke really good Spanish. Thank you Jesus. After reclaiming my prized possession, I notice that my very
sentimental ring, that I NEVER take off, is missing the pearl. Hence, the plink in my room this morning. I am heartbroken. My dad gave this ring to my mom 52 years ago. But, I decide that the thief will not steal my joy so I just want to get home as quietly as possible.

I fly into Miami where there has been some type of explosion and things are being rerouted and I find the gate to sit for a minute as I wait for my plane. I look for my pearl and turn on my phone and try to catch up on a few things with my family. Wrapped up in my details, I miss my flight. I was sitting at the wrong gate. I’m rerouted on the next plane which is my last chance to make a Dallas to El Paso  connection today.  I say so long to the plane taxiing down the runway with what I imagine to be my luggage on board.

The rest of my flights were uneventful and I arrived back in El Paso a few hours later than originally planned, but almost home none the less. I go to check on my bags to see if they were in storage and the agent tells me that they had been on the same flight as me. Apparently they missed the plane as well. If I had arrived when I should have I would not have had my luggage!  God is good.

My jumping friend Lindy picks me up and we discuss the trip during the 40 mile drive back to my town.  I unpack my bag and what do I see in the bottom of my bag? My pearl. It
had fallen off of my ring, bounced onto the floor, and into my suitcase. God is really good.

I wont see my kids until the following day, but I go to sleep with peace and assurance that all that I have seen and done will make me a better mother, a better servant and a better human being.

I expect the next few months to be very hard. I already find myself rethinking how I spend money, what I do with my litter, how grateful I am for an airport bathroom where we could easily drink the water from the faucet. I’m rethinking my job and culture, my priorities and my disappointments. I’m looking around me and missing the warm and accepting smiles of strangers and resenting the political correctness of our culture that
hinders me in openly sharing with others my gratefulness for what Jesus Christ has done in my life. I am disgusted with waste. I am saddened by the unreasonable attention that is given to animals while children suffer.

I saw people with nothing who had everything and now I see people with everything who have nothing. Spiritual poverty is fatal.  I see myself with a greater love for my children. I see myself motivated to focus my energy and attention to changing my own community for the better. I see myself looking at teachers and healthcare workers and policemen and garbage men with a whole new respect. I love the freedom of our country and the blessings that have been bestowed on us for generations and I am committed to knowing about and participating in as much of that process as I need to in order that we might remain free.

I see myself ordering picture folders and spending more time looking into the eyes of the children, one by one and reading their information and praying for them with my whole heart because I know that they are real.

I know that I am more in love with Jesus Christ for who He is and what He has done and I see myself humble at His feet, ready to serve and ready to say, Here I am Lord! Send me!

Ask Yourself  This Question (AYTQ): What is the very best way for me to help?

Numbers 33 Journal entry: We camped in Las Cruces, NM for…

Dominican Republic: The honeymoon I never had! Stage 6, Day 6 Family ties

Stage 6:  Here I am Lord! Make us all one family! 

Day 6: Friday, March 25, 2011

Yvonne started our day with a commanding look at right attitudes about the things that we treasure. From Matthew 6:20-21 she read: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  We were encouraged to think about where we store our treasures, and to store them in heaven and not on earth.  We should enjoy the blessings that God is giving us. Our treasures are tools to use for His glory and we should pick them up and use them for His Kingdom work. She said we shouldn’t chase our money around, worrying about coming up short, but we should get our heart in the right place, repent for wrong thinking and action, and then move into doing things right.  Wow.  I had just seen this come to be with my cable and phone bills!  Now it is time to go
about our day and consider what our treasures are and whether we are storing them up for ourselves or using them for His glory.

Friday is a day that we have all been anticipating. It is the day that we will have a party for the kids in the Palmera ADP.  For some on the trip, it will be a second chance to see their sponsored children. But first we have the opportunity to go out into the field and visit the
homes of some women who have started their own hair styling businesses.  The first home we visit is Zuleika. She has a diversified business of hair styling and jewelry making. She received her Cosmetology certificate in 2002. Her husband is a taxi driver, and she has a son in the university, so this business helps to supplement her income and cover the expenses for her son.  Her youngest son is a sponsored child and she has been able to buy food, medicine etc. because of the sponsorship.  She is an example of someone who didn’t have a credit history so she wasn’t able to borrow money.  World Vision allows her to build micro credit so that she can establish a history. When she buys supplies, she buys half outright and half on credit and when she can, she pays it off. This has helped her to establish a baseline of credit.  She told us there are definite economic benefits to this, but for her, working with her hands in styling hair is also therapeutic.  I hear ya sister! I bought my daughter a bracelet from her and will think of her each time I see it.

We visited the home of another hairstylist and then Dolores Isabelle, mom of 2 sponsored children and home based business owner for 3 years.  Her husband also works, but having this business has supplemented their income to the point that they have been able to build onto their house. It was in progress as we were there.  I liked her because she has dreams. They used to live in a wooden house, which is not very safe. If someone wants in they just remove a plank. But now, due to the success of the business, they have built a brick home. She dreams of someday having her home on the ground floor and her parlor upstairs. She has received and paid off 2 micro loans. The first was about $300. She bought a mirror, a blow dryer and a chair. World vision has helped her to get more advanced training in hair styling techniques and this gives her encouragement. She needs about 25 people a week in order to succeed and she’s doing it! I wish I knew who sponsors her two kids, because I’d write them and tell them what a great mom their kids have.

In between beauty business we stopped by an early stimulation center and a model healthy school. The rehab of this building was done by world vision.  In this school they teach kids ages 5-14 or preschool to 7th grade. There were 4 classrooms so they split the day up into shifts. I liked that they are getting parents involved in the classroom. 2 parents are selected for each day of the week to come in and volunteer. There were about 127 children in the afternoon, 80 boys/47 girls. This school happens to be one of the schools I mentioned earlier that is one of the top 5 sponsored kid schools. Thus, they were benefitting from additional support and training. That additional training is paid for by sponsorship dollars!!!! Yay Sponsors!

Here is a thought about the cost of things in the DR.  It costs about $15 to buy a school uniform which is khaki pants and a light blue polo.   A gallon of gas costs between $7-8.
If you wanted to buy a cart with sides on it, like a little truck with rails on the back to haul your goods around, it would cost you about $25,000.  Things are not cheap and if you
are poor already it is really a tough place to be.

Escolarte is the music and art school. Being an artist I was hoping to visit the Art side of the school but it didn’t work out that way. That was a little disappointing. But we were able to visit the music school.  What an encouraging place.  The main purpose of this school is to have qualified musicians to play in churches! Escolarte is an example of how WV is making cultural contributions to the community.  They have about 200 students who study bass guitar, piano, violin, guitar, vocal and recorder.  They perform at concerts, festivals  and competitions between the different schools. The fee is a nominal fee, $10/12 per month.  50% of the cost of running the school is covered by sponsorship dollars!  The teachers are all trained musicians and the quality of the training has resulted in 6 students being accepted into the DR’s National Music Academy. This is unheard of as the academy has traditionally been only for the wealthy and elite.

John Robert Ramirez is a student who had always wanted to learn guitar, but knew he could never afford a lesson, or a guitar. One day he sees a guy walking down the street with a guitar and found out he was going to the World Vision music school. He followed him.  He said this happened in his life just at the point he had lost all hope. He signs up at the school, then becomes a sponsored child. His sponsor is named Anita. He begins lessons because his costs are now covered and the rest of the story is fantastic. Because they play praise and worship music in the school, he plays and sings these songs about Jesus over and over and they begin to fill a void in his life. He told us that “it’s not just great to have the music, but the greatest thing in my life is to have Jesus as my Savior”. None of that would have been possible without World Vision.  He played and sang a song for us. John Robert is now a youth leader in his church and in charge of music.  We went downstairs and heard some of the other students play some selections on the piano.

The school is about 50/50 girls and boys. There are four different bands and they are hoping by years end to have pre band with flute and violin. The director dreams of a baby grand piano to enable them to better prepare students for the National Music academy.  This neighborhood,  where the school and the ADP office are located, is not an easy place to work. There are many, many bad influences. They covet our prayers.

We headed back to the main office for the party with all of the sponsored kids from the Palmera  ADP.  I had noticed on a list that this is the ADP where the little girl Steisi that I loved so much and considered for sponsoring lives. My friend Lori had sponsored her and had sent me a backpack to give her at the party, if I saw her. If I didn’t see her, I would have just left it there and the staff would have made sure she received it.  It is an experience to meet your own sponsored child, but it can be really moving to see someone you know with your child too. I had that experience last year when my friend Tiffany who works for WV was travelling to Bolivia. She happened to be visiting the ADP where my child lived and it turned out that her school was right next to the ADP office. Tiffany took pictures of Leticia for me and took her some gifts. When I saw those pictures of Tiffany and Leticia together I cried for hours. Again, it just made her more real.

When we arrived back at the office, Claudia told me that Steisi and her mom were there and had arrived early! Wait, for real? I’m about to meet Steisi!  I got very excited. Even though I knew there was a possibility, the reality was much better.  I gathered the backpack and went into the office and there she was! How adorable is she! She couldn’t stop smiling and was very smart and attentive and full of life. With Erin by my side I found out that they live a near the ADP office but had taken a taxi to get there. Her mother
works in a house as a maid, I’m so proud of her for working. Steisi has one sister that is 12 years old and her favorite color is yellow. She loves to color. Lori had packed a little doll in the backpack and Steisi loved it and we asked her what she was going to name it and without blinking an eye she said, “Lola!”  She is in preschool and loves school.
Then she did something that amazed us all, she counted to 10 in English!  Her mom gave me a picture of Steisi to give to Lori, which is a very big deal because they don’t have many pictures of themselves. What a treasure.

I had seen this in some of the other visits, but I was reminded of it during this meeting when I watched the pride in the mother’s face as her child interacted with us. You can tell they love them so much and are so happy to see their child happy and outgoing, and it seems they find their hope in their children. I know that feeling too. It touches somewhere deep inside my heart to be bound with common love for a child. It is that same experience of value. That someone would value your child, is very humbling and a true blessing.   We took lots of pictures of me and Steisi and her mom and I hope to bless Lori with them as I have been blessed myself.

While in the office after our visit, I look over to the place where the annual reports are stacked and there is a little girl and her mom who have just received their first letter from their sponsor. This was truly a sight to behold. They received the letter and wrote one back immediately. It was a chance again to see it come full circle. To see their faces at the joy of
receiving a letter with a picture of the sponsor enclosed moved me to tears. We took a picture of them holding the picture! Again, I wish I knew who the sponsor in that picture was so she could know about this event.

Wow. It’s just one fun thing after another at this point. But now its time to get ready for the party and we’re hauling things in and setting up and the children are arriving. I think I needed to sit for a second and talk to my new best friend Coca Cola, so I did. My heart is so full with all that I have seen and experienced and adrenaline and caffeine are a really good mix right now. I grabbed the list of children that I was going to try to find and stuck it in my pocket.  I went inside the room where the children were gathering and it was filled with balloons and music. Kids were jumping and laughing and genuinely enjoying themselves. I see Steisi and her mom and Howard’s little boy, Tom’s young man who will someday be president and then I see someone I was not expecting to see.

Across the room in my favorite color blue, is Edwin, the other child I loved. I know it is him. I look at him and I walked up to him, and asked him what his name was. He said Eduardo.  I second guessed myself because I hadn’t seen Edwins name on the list. But I would know this boy anywhere because I have stared and him and prayed for him for months.  I wanted to tell him, Eduardo’s not your name, your name is Edwin. Sometimes things get a little lost in translation on the profile cards so I trusted that he knew his own name and rolled with it.  He was quiet and gentle and looked exactly like his picture and he still didn’t look like he felt very good. We played with a balloon, hitting it back and forth and his mother sat silently by and watched me. Then she asked me, “ What is your name?” And I told her Deana. Her name was Cruz Maria. A staff member who spoke a little English was there by me and heard this conversation beginning. The mom told her some things to tell me. She said, “you know he’s not well, don’t you”. And I said, “yes, I know. But I love him a lot”. I told her that “I was not his sponsor, but I was the one who received his picture and helped to find him a sponsor. I wanted to sponsor him, but God had someone else in mind. “  I said how much he has been on my heart and she looked at me and she said, “you know he loves you too”.  And I said, “yes. I can feel it”. So she told me what his condition was and that the medicine is very expensive. But now, since he is sponsored, he will be getting the medications he needs.  Marleena, you have changed this child’s life. And whatever it was that moved you to say yes will resonate throughout all of eternity.

It’s pretty hard to get past this at this point. I have to escape and process what has just happened. In the course of 4 days I have met and interacted with all three children that I wanted to sponsor. I didn’t just visit one child, I visited 3 children that I loved from the moment I first saw their pictures. What I experienced in this moment was the overwhelming sensation that I am no longer a World Vision Child Ambassador.  I am simply a Child’s Ambassador. The importance of changing one child’s life is just as monumental as changing 15 or 50 or 500. The child and their family are first. World Vision is second and quietly supporting without glorifying itself. I think that is what Bob Pierce intended.

The party’s over. We turned out the lights and got back on the bus and headed back home. We had a nice dinner and I felt close to everyone and more and more in love with Jesus.

Today I found out where my treasures lie.

Numbers 33 Journal Entry: We are still in Santo Domingo

To be continued…

Dominican Republic: The honeymoon I never had! Stage 5; day 5

Day 5: Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today, Tom speaks to us of endurance and patience. Thursday must have the reputation as the hard day. You kind of know you only have a few days left and it’s been so great so far that you just don’t want it to end. Either that or you miss your family so much that you are just ready to go now. Here is what Tom had to say about it in his devotional focused on prayer:

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. Col 1:10-12 Tom taught us how to pray today as he gave us 9 steps to being present and intentional in our day as we pray. We should 1. Understand God 2. Gain Wisdom 3. Please and Honor God 4. Bear good fruit 5. Grow in Knowledge 6. Be filled with the Spirit 7. Endure and be patient 8. Stay filled with joy and finally 9. Give thanks always. Good advice for a Thursday.

Today we journey to the Palmera ADP. It is located in Northern Santo Domingo. In order to get to the ADP office, we drive through what is called “The Misery Belt”. It is an area of town along the river and outskirts of town where the poorest of the poor live. There is no water and no sanitation. The poor people who cant afford to live in the city live here in makeshift houses of tin or rotting wood. It makes Juarez look like a palace. Poverty is no longer poverty.

The ADP office is located in a little section of town beyond the misery belt. It is a busy place that looks like a congested, old small town. The streets are busy. There is a substantially high rate of domestic violence in this area. We heard of one visit to a sponsored child that had to be postponed because the child was missing as the father had tried to kill the mother and she had to escape. Hearing this again changed everything about my preconceived ideas of sponsored kids. It is important to understand that these are real kids. Living in real circumstances. Their families deal with real stuff. Somehow I think we want to believe that our sponsored children are somehow sheltered from such atrocities once we choose them. I don’t think we can save them from everything, but now I see clearly how having a place to go or someone to turn to in crisis or services that lessen the burden – it gives people options that they wouldn’t have had if World Vision wasn’t there doing what they do and if we weren’t sponsoring these kids. Its like the children became real to me just now.

We enter a conference room of sorts at the ADP office and we are met by the loving and really fun staff of the Palmera ADP. I would like to have this group of women in my house every morning. The main objectives of the ADP work is to teach the people, to “give them a tool” to make a living. There are not many opportunities and there is no farming. They have a large number of HIV Positive people and they give necessary support to those who are dealing with that. There is also a really good music and art program that we will see later.

I liked what they were doing with their teachers. Teachers received training and certification through the WV facility and a teacher with a certification can work anywhere. Every year WV chooses the 5 schools with the most sponsored children and the entire staff will receive advanced training and additional support for an entire year. They teach them things like behavior change, hygiene, how to teach without violent methods, Health, and HIV/AIDS education.

There is also a Family Therapy Unit for moms and families. The crime rate and youth involved in crime rate is very high, so needless to say, youth programs are very important in this community. Boys in Action is the boys/girls/youth led program that promotes justice and focuses on youth. They lead sports/rec camps, classes on environmental issues, health and Christian commitment. These youth are very empowered and they plan their own program of action, best practices, music, lessons etc.

This is also a place with a Skills for Life program where they learn to care for themselves, increase their self esteem and begin to think about the future. Because of the high rate of domestic violence, there are many women who leave their husbands and live with friends or family. Micro is very important throughout this ADP because of the ways in which it encourages self-sufficiency.

Did you know that a maid in the Dominican Republic may make about $12/month???

There are about 25 communities in the Palmera ADP. Programs are offered to almost 4,470 children with 3,550 of those being sponsored children. We happened to be in the office in the days after finishing their data collection for the Annual Progress Reports. They were piled high. Neat and organized, but high! It takes 2-3 months to go out and visit each child and community to collect the information and photos to be included in that report. You have to see it to believe it.

We had a fun young couple dance a traditional dance for us. One of the most important strengths of these people is that in spite of the lack of resources, they are happy. I was trying to decide what my happy dance would be????

For a couple of days now, I have been basically at rest. We have continued to see things that rocked my world, but I’ve been able to maintain some sense of forward motion. That is all about to change. We leave the main office and walk a few blocks away to the technical school. There is an art and music building nearby which we’ll hopefully visit later, but for now we will see the place where they teach wood working and upholstery, sewing, hair styling, baking and jewelry making.

Lets just remember that I’m the girl who bought a hammer, screwdriver and pliers for a grandmother. Let’s think back to all of the ways God has worked in my life through His gift of my trade. Let’s bring all of the emotion of how God has used working with my hands to bring freedom to my life and how that very work has allowed me to experience His miracles. Let’s think about all those and the thousands of other things He has done in my life and let’s bring them all to my tear ducts and heart -Right NOW!

We enter the room of the wood shop where several women and maybe one or two men are learning to build furniture. A mom and her son are working together at building a chair. Others are using drills and other tools while they work on their own projects. They teach basic skills to people so that after about 7 months they can go set up their own businesses in their homes because their major goal is to provide a means of income to the women that will allow them to stay home with their children. This is all too familiar. I began to cry and I’m not exactly sure when I stopped.

Materials are provided by WV and they can come to class M-F 8am-noon. While they are working they can earn micro credit to buy their tools. Without WV these people would have no money to afford a school like this. Their philosophy is to learn in small spaces first then go on to bigger spaces. To me, this is a picture of hope being born. Am I crying because God has used micro enterprise as a tool for changing my life? As a means for giving me tools and blessing me with hope in a new thing? Yes. Do I cry for the fellowship of sufferings? For the mom being able to be with her kids and still do what God has called her to do? Yes. Do I cry for the boy, who while we were there stepped forward and told us HE was proud of US for caring, because most people don’t care about them? Yes, I especially cry for him.

I’m transported to Numbers 33 and I’m witnessing this woman and her son who are building this chair and all of the other risk takers in this room, marching out boldly before all of Egypt with their tools and their future and their freedom ahead of them. I cant breathe and my heart is racing and I am so thankful to be called a child of the Living God. And right now I see that He is living through World Vision Micro.

I funded a loan about a year ago for a lady named Nellie who lives in Mexico. She was a single mom of 2 kids about the same age as mine. She wanted to raise some pigs so she needed money to buy babies and build a pen. She also wanted to sell items in a catalog. She needed money to buy the items to sell. I funded her entire loan with money that I had saved from cutting my own expenses. Karina was my cable bill. Nellie is my unlimited internet and smart-phone bill. I liked Nellie’s entrepreneurial ideas. She had spunk. She seemed strong. And she needed my help. Being in this shop, even though I’m in the DR and not Mexico, was like standing there and watching Nellie work.

I LOVE WORLD VISION MICRO!!!!! It’s so easy to make a difference in a person’s life. Did you know you can contribute as little as $25 to help change a life and give birth to someone’s hope? That is 5 venti cups of coffee at that place that shall remain nameless. The World Vision website has a section called Micro and you can go to that page and look at the details of all the people who are applying for loans. You can search by all kinds of criteria. You can contribute as little as $25 for a portion of a loan, then others will pool their money with yours until the loan is fully funded. Or, you can do the whole thing all by yourself.

Who even falls apart at Micro? I do.

We go upstairs in this building and there are purses and jewelry that have been made by students and we are allowed to purchase some if we’d like.  Several of the team buy things.  We walk throughout the top floor and see the hair salon. There are girls in class at this time. We learn that once they get their certification they can apply for a loan on their own or they can apply for an “association” loan in which 3 people can go in together. It is a very competitive market so they are learning about marketing, quality and the value of a dollar. Most loans are used to buy the basic equipment such as rollers, brushes, hair dryer and a chair. This is a very good business for a woman to run out of her home.

We left for a few visits with sponsored children. Alicia had 2, back to back. Then Tom had a visit that was a bit unique because his child lived in a very dangerous place. We had to pull all of the curtains on the windows of the bus and we were definitely not allowed off of the bus. But you know what was great? Tom’s little guy wants to be president! Next we visited the children sponsored by April’s church and Howard and again we witnessed Gods sovereign hand and divine wisdom in His match making. All of these visits have been beauty from ashes.  We’d think we had a plan and then at the last minute something would require our flexibility, and it would work out better than we had originally planned. Amazing to watch.

We left for lunch and then the afternoon brought us back to the bakery! Yay! The students who were primarily women study 9 different modules. They will finish the basics first and then they’ll move on to 2nd part which is to decorate bread and wedding cakes. Many had already moved into the phase of cooking and selling from home. Of course all of their families love that they cook for them. Each level is 3 months of training. They are taught how baking relates to their life, and it was evident how it increases their self esteem. They learn cost control and other management tools. A license is required and they have a very long waiting list to get into this program.  And we had a very long line for the donuts.

We went upstairs again in the technical building and saw a sewing class in action. It is possible for someone to be in furniture and upholstery in the morning and sewing in the afternoon to broaden their skill base. It costs about $700 to start a sewing business. This endeavor is a way to overcome their difficult situations. World Vision believes that the one of the best ways to overcome poverty is with education. As we were about to leave the sewing area, a young girl in the back of the room stood up and you could tell she was overcome by emotion. She had something to say. She began to explain, as she was on the verge of tears, that when we visited earlier in the day, one of our group had bought a purse that she had made! The pride in this girls voice and demeanor was the same humble joy and amazement at God that comes when someone finds value in you and the work of your hands. Vicki had bought a black bag that morning, and Vicki is the queen of cool bags, so they took their picture together! It was something to see. Then another girl spoke up that Virginia had bought her bag. There was great joy in this exchange and you guessed it, I’m crying again. In hindsight I’m not sure I ever really stopped.

Today was a really great day. As Lori told me, “when you are exposed to this level of poverty for the first time it is really heart breaking. When you experience the power of your gift, your potential to make a difference, there is a deep, deep break in your heart.” To realize that you may never meet again but for at least for a moment, you have been exactly where you were supposed to be, it is life changing. I have watched my team exemplify “come to me as a little child”, I heard them say,” what I do is not special, it is simply what I am commanded to do”. I also heard them say, “if I die tomorrow, I will have lived long enough”.

This was a day of small spaces. I’m reminded of what Andrea told me a day before, taken from a book she was reading. The idea is that what we as humans, see and think and process delays and skews our perception of how things are by milliseconds. But an amoeba (the simplest form of life in existence) is the only creature that doesn’t do this. What it sees, it processes in real time. So the simplest form is the only form that sees life exactly as it is, without any distorted perceptions based on conditioning. Lord, thank you for small spaces and the ability to see life from the position of what breaks your heart, to see it as it really is.

Numbers 33 Journal Entry: We camped in Santo Domingo again.

To be continued…

Dominican Republic: The honeymoon I never had! Stage 5; day 4

Stage 5:  Here I am Lord! Let me rest!

Day 4: Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nothing like a full 40 seconds of hot water to help you get your day started with a jolt. Especially after a day like yesterday. The week seemed to be going so slowly. I caught myself more than once being thankful that time wasn’t flying by too quickly. I am awake this day with peace on my agenda. I really don’t have a thing in the world to worry about except just having a good time and soaking up every ounce of Republica Dominica that I can. Johno tries to do the follow up video to my visit but I really have no brain capacity. I had this really cool thought after the visit, this line I was going to say, “People ask, “what does it cost to sponsor a child?” Then I say, “The real question is-  What does it cost the child to NOT be sponsored?” “ Good huh? Totally didn’t say it in the interview when I was finally on tape. Oh well, I’m saying it now. Feel free to use it.

The morning devotional was brought by Johno. Or Johno as I like to call him. He had just sat down to his breakfast after filming the video when our clocks all struck time for devotion. One of the things he would be talking about is having hearts of compassion. The scripture Col 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Right away the timing became obvious to me. The fact that he’d be asked to speak on patience and then interrupted before he could take a bite to eat was so God! I thought about how we never know when our opportunity to minister is going to come or what circumstances will bring it to bear fruit. But if we follow what he was telling us about, and we are clothed in these things, we’ll be ready when the time comes, just as he was, when put on the spot. There were other people in the restaurant that morning and a TV rather loudly distracting everyone. It has become almost comical to me to see what distraction will try and steal the Word of God from our ears. But Johno didn’t give in to it. He brought us a beautiful message that was also about the 20 different people Jesus encountered in Matthew 9. It opened my eyes to the people that I might encounter in the day ahead and how I might not be able to help them all personally, but I can pray to the One who is able to help them all. I will do my best to be dressed with the garments He’s given me.

We are headed out to visit a child and we have some time on the bus. Thank you God. It gave me time to sit and visit, listen to music, journal lots of feelings about yesterday. Sometime ago, before Christmas, I discovered the music of JJ Heller. I couldn’t find her music anywhere locally so I got on her website and ordered all of her cd’s. For months, I have listened to nothing else. I love all of her music, but there are 4 songs that go round and round in my head. I have been thinking about what music I will use as the soundtrack for all of the pictures I’ll take on this trip. I recently viewed a beautiful video made by Theresa, a fellow child ambassador about her trip to Senegal, West Africa, and she had perfect music. I know I’ll use a JJ Heller song, just don’t know which one. To my great surprise, I found out she is a World Vision Artist Associate! When we were in San Antonio and we had joined the artists for devotional one morning, I got to meet her. I say all that to say this, as I’m driving and journaling, I’m listening to JJ Heller and the words of her songs are playing like a movie in my head with the faces and places of the things I’ve just seen. It is so beautiful. I wonder what she was looking at when she wrote those songs that are now the beautiful melody for my beautiful experience? Maybe someday I’ll ask her.  “It’s not my fault that she is hungry, it’s my joy to make sure she’s fed” (Little Things, JJ Heller). That’s it in a nutshell.

We arrive at the home of a child to be visited today and when I step off of the bus I realize that I am on a quiet country road. Yes quiet. With huge trees overhanging the road. Fields of crops on the left; clean, well-kept grounds and a house on the right, plastic lawn chairs in a circle in preparation for the visit, and animals grazing freely under some trees. I soak it in. I just want to stay here for a while. The blue sky and fluffy white clouds look exactly like a New Mexico sky. The farm girl in me is then transported back to my childhood where we didn’t wear shoes all summer. There is no one in the bus. Everyone is out walking and looking and soaking up peace and the slice of heavenly silence we have been served. The huge trees are mint trees so there is a moist, inviting aroma. I watch everybody. What I saw was my team clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. I saw the living Word.

Back on the bus and on our way to a farm where we will meet a farmer who is being supported by WV with training, seeds and supplies. As we are driving, Claudia is telling us about the lake in the area. We are headed to a place called Tierra Nueva. The elevation is 30 meters below sea level! The lake, Lake Enriquillo, is the biggest lake in the Caribbean. On the Haiti side of the border it is called Lake Saumatre. (It’s a really interesting lake. It’s salt water on the Haiti end, fresh water on the Dominican end. On the west side its saline. Google it!) The problem with the area we are driving in is that it used to all be productive farmland. But due to earthquakes and other natural causes, seawater is infiltrating the fresh water lake from underground. It is causing the lake to rise, and as it does it floods out farmland, then people can no longer farm so they cut down the trees, then the issues associated with deforestation take over. It’s a really bad scenario, one that I personally have put at the top of the agenda! It’s also one that the best thing I can do is PRAY. The water is not very far at all from the road. Soon, it will cover the road we are driving on. You can’t water crops with salt water. Fresh water fish, cant live in salt water. Can’t grow good crops and eat healthy foods with no land to grow them. Dilemma.

We are asked to stop along the way because there is a World Vision Library in the town of Postrerro that want us to see what they are doing. This is a joyful stop. This library was built by World Vision and they have many 14 & 15 year old volunteers that come in and tutor in math and reading. I think they said there are 54 children involved in the extra tutoring programs. There are classes happening here in early childhood development, theatre & computers to name but a few. We met a lady named Sonya who had only worked for WV for 4 months but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone who loved her job as much as she did! Turns out the kids of the farmer we were going to visit were at that library so we let them hitch a ride with us to their farm. Being a working parent with kids in school, I know what a help it is to have someone pick up your kids for you! I was really glad we did that.

We are now out at the farm of Rafael. It’s a bumpy dirt road that our driver, Dionicio, mastered with our big bus and trailer like the pro he is! The landscape looks lush with big tropical looking trees and green ground cover. We have to jump over his irrigation stream in order to meet him where he’s standing. We find that he is growing beans, and has plantain trees and límon trees. It takes us a minute, but we finally get it, that they are limes, and, we are standing on his beans. Rafael is so much like many of the farmers I know. He is smart and has a progressive attitude. He is in tune with the land and the science and faith involved with making things grow. He is knowledgeable about farming practices in other parts of the world and uses that knowledge for a competitive edge. He is not a micro finance loan recipient, but instead, he is what is called a lead farmer. Someone who is really good at farming that WV partners with to help teach others to farm as well. WV has supported him with training and tools, also providing the seeds and trees that he now farms.

His innovative spirit is evident. He has taken a risk and it has paid off. He planted limon trees to supplement his plantain trees (like banana) and other crops. It may take as long as 4 years to establish the tree before it begins producing fruit. But once it does, it produces a crop every 3 months and is very hearty and hurricane resistant. He farms about 5 acres of land. It requires almost constant irrigation and the river is 7 miles away. Luckily, water runs downhill to him so distance is not a factor.

Onto the bus and headed to the Enriquillo ADP office for some more visits with sponsored kids and lunch. It was a sweet reunion for Erin as she was able to see her sponsored child for a second time. She had visited him a few years ago and it was great to see how he had matured.  Johno met a friends child and we met Jere’s mini-me. Talk about a divine match!

We are back on the bus and begin the almost 5 hour drive back to Santo Domingo. We mix it up and sit by different people and talk in clusters, and some people sleep. We see trucks loaded with Haitian immigrants, a beautiful tomato truck, some goats up close and personal and lots of changing landscape. As we transition from rural to more urban, we see kids in their khakis and blue shirt school uniforms walking home from school at about 6 pm. I see people cleaning house, kids watering potted plants and people gathered in circles and talking. I saw kids playing full court basketball, dirt roads, irrigation ditches, the most beautiful bouganvilla plants everywhere, growing along the roadside like weeds.

Virginia, Joy, Vicki and others begin to sing and Claudia teaches us “Jesus loves me” in Spanish. “Si, Cristo me ama. Si Cristo me ama. Si Cristo me ama- la Biblia dice asi”. I have come to love these people on the bus. Each in their own way, bringing their own brand of fun. Each shining their own light into the dark places. I am humbled to be among them.

Numbers 33 Journal Entry: We camped in Santo Domingo at Hotel Maison Gautreaux and I texted my kids for the first time all week.

To be continued…

Dominican Republic- The honeymoon I never had! Stage 4: Meeting sponsored children

Stage 4:  Here I am Lord! Show me your face!

Day 3: Tuesday, March 22, 2011: Meeting our sponsored children.

This stage of our journey is more about the people than about the place. The people on the bus and the people outside of the bus. Most of us were meeting a sponsored child at some point during this trip, but all of us would have the opportunity to witness a visit because we were asked to either video or photograph the visit for someone else. If we were visiting our child we were asked to submit to a video interrogation by Johno. Our day begins at Hotel Caribe with video tapings and breakfast. We attempted to go into a quaint little courtyard for a quiet devotional time. Right. The cars and the horns and the generator were ever-present. Once again we all focus our attention and block the distraction so that we could hear the Word the Lord had for us today.

Andrea brought us into the presence of the Lord. Her message was one of unity: “May the God who gives you endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ” Romans 15:5 What will remain forever imprinted on my heart is the passion with which she spoke about how Christ emptied Himself every where He went. He gave all. But he didn’t empty Himself into nothing, He emptied himself into our hope. Unity is an identity that God has already given us, and today we should empty ourselves into encouraging & bringing hope to one another.

There is protocol around visiting a sponsored child. Rules designed to keep the child and the sponsor safe and to eliminate any potential misunderstandings. It was comforting to know that these rules are in place. We boarded the bus for the 1.5 hour drive west to Jimani. As we travelled we learned more about the countryside and people from Claudia, who has faithfully been informing us and translating for us the entire trip, she is definitely the hostess with the mostest. In addition to Claudia, we were blessed with Erin. She’s a child ambassador from Kentucky and has travelled in the DR several times prior and is fluent in Spanish. Besides that, she is just very, very cool. When the plan for our upcoming visits was presented I was glad to hear that Claudia and Erin would be with me. Moses has his Aaron, but we have our Erin on this journey!

It’s at this point on our trip that I realize that I have been wrong about what exactly an ADP is. Well, sort of wrong. I thought all ADP’s were like the Swiss ADP in Canaan. One facility with several buildings and different services all in one basic area. But Enriquillo, is more like what I would call a US county. It is a huge area made up of 25 or 26 different communities, all differing in size and need, and it covers miles and miles of land. There are 4,200 sponsored kids in the Enriquillo ADP. That blows my mind. It really very clearly showed me that an ADP is a community first and then World Vision helps. Being community based just took on whole new meaning. For example, we don’t just go in and build a clinic when they need a school. When a need is identified they work with each individual community to empower the people to take ownership and participate in building the resources themselves. It really makes sense now. That’s why it may take 12-15 years or more because it’s not our timetable, it’s theirs. LOVE THAT!

We will make a stop in a little place in between Barahona and Jimani to visit a sponsored child. While the visit was happening the rest of us were just hanging out with the kids and neighbors who showed up. They loved our cameras and for us to take a picture and show it to them on the screen. It was fun. I jumped with some kids and took some pictures with loving families.

As we drove into the community, everyone was pretty quiet. That was our first real interaction with children. We were all processing it in our own ways. What I saw was that the people were so loving and welcoming. We looked around at the landscape and though it was somewhat barren there was great life in eyes and smiles of the people in spite of their hardship. I was very drawn to the faces of these people and captivated by their dark, strong eyes. I saw Jesus today. I tried to empty my joy into their hope.

Next we visited a World Vision sponsored computer and tutoring center in Limón. This is a community within the Enriquillo ADP and it has about 682 sponsored children participating. A few of the boys were studying environmental science with simple chemical equations. Some children were playing toy instruments and a few of the girls were sewing on small machines. One boy was standing at a globe and I showed him where I lived. He thought that was pretty far away. And he was right.

We’re on the bus and headed to my visit with Karina. I’m on deck and I have absolutely no expectations. We pull into the community of La Cú and they tell me that Karina’s house is at the end of the street and we’ll walk down there to meet her. I gathered the backpack for her and the bag for her grandmother and pray that the Lord would make me gentle.

Before leaving home, we were told we could bring a backpack full of things to our child. We could and should also bring things for the other family members. Karina was fun and easy to shop for. Hair clips, ponytails, silly bands, bubbles, stickers, stuffed animals, clothes, paper and pencils, markers, toothbrushes, Bible in Spanish, umbrella… all fun kid stuff. They are Dora the Explorer crazy so that makes it fun too. And it was great that it didn’t have to fit in a 6×9 envelope! But the grandmother -not so easy. I had hoped to have more information about the family situation and community before coming because I wanted to bring her something she could use, something she needed but couldn’t afford to buy. Something that I would want if I was in her situation. I didn’t even know her name, if she was in good health, if she can read or if she has a job. Yet, when I had initially read Karina’s profile, I was drawn to the grandmother too. I thought here is a woman who is stepping up to the plate to raise this little girl in the absence of her parents for reasons unbeknownst to me. What is a suitable gift for a woman like that? A hammer, screwdriver and some really good pliers. That’s what I came up with because that’s what I would want. Actually an entire tool kit in a very stylish, pink canvas bag to be exact. And a first aid kit and some cooking utensils and kitchen towels, a sewing kit and fabric. I’ll bet she is a woman of many talents and if she isn’t, well now she can be.

I’m walking up the path and see a cinder brick home on the left. Outside there is this big sign that says Welcome Sponsor! And then I see them – all gathered around in a circle! Plastic lawn chairs! Outside under a tree! My FAVORITE!!!! I used to sit with my grandparents outside under their tree and it is very comforting and peaceful to me. “This is Karina’s grandmother, Margarita”. Wow. She’s young. There are a lot of other people around who I’m not exactly sure who they are, it is a bit hectic, but it’s really okay. Apparently Karina won’t come out of the house! Someone finally brings her out and my world stopped. This little girl is the sweetest little thing on the entire planet. Her little eyes no longer say, “Here I am! Help me!” Now they say, “ there is no possible way on Earth that I am going to smile- but I like you”, Maybe it was because we were wearing exactly the same colors that day. Black pants, blue shirt. We planned that. My daughter Reagan had made her a stuffed bear and I showed her pictures of my son Garrett and my family. I gave her the blanket the women in my church had made for her. I showed her the backpack and she liked the pencil with the flower and I almost heard her sweet voice when she laughed at a cute green and yellow turtle that I pulled out of the bag. I have that smile etched in my brain. We colored a few pictures and put stickers on them. I will cherish them forever.

She was silent, although they say she is a parrot! Erin encouraged she me to sing her a song. I didn’t feel the need to scare her further so I asked her if she likes to sing and asked her to sing me a song instead. She wouldn’t -but at that moment her grandmother burst into song, and all of the women around that whole circle started singing & clapping to this great song in Spanish! Mi Dio es bueno! My God is Good! Her grandmother’s voice still resonates in my ears and if I had had any doubt about the presence of the Lord in Karina’s home, I am no longer worried. Way too soon it was time to go and I had to say goodbye. I prayed for them and gave them big hugs , because that’s what I do, and took a few more pictures and then had to walk away. I have no idea how long our visit lasted.

We went down to the end of the street where the bus was parked and the rest of my team was there playing with kids. There is a Child Friendly Space in this community. And a church. Some houses. And that’s it. It is dry and desert and not much vegetation at all. I began to try to engage with some kids so I wouldn’t fall apart and we began to jump and run. It was great to empty myself again and fill their hope with joy. We were boarding the bus when someone said, “Deana, Karina is coming down the road and has something for you.” I looked up and that sweet little girl had drawn me a picture and couldn’t stand not giving it to me. I got off of the bus and went and went to meet her and gave her another hug. Now her eyes say, “Please don’t leave”. I am a total wreck. My heart is so broken with love.

I missed most of the presentation about Karina’s community because I was visiting with her, but I’ll have to do some research and it gives me lots of ideas and questions to ask Margarita when I write to them. I do know that my mind finally processed the reasoning behind something that I never truly understood before.

I have always sent “gift notifications” to my sponsored kids. It’s an amount of money above and beyond the regular sponsorship amount. You notify World Vision of the donation, they notify the family and then they get to go shopping for necessary items that World Vision supplies. It might be a bed or a goat or who knows what, but it is useful. You, as the sponsor can decide if you want that money to benefit only your child or you can choose to give it to a purpose that will benefit the entire community. I think I saw clearly for the first time how it would be better to support something that would benefit everyone rather than just benefiting one household, because of what I saw, or didn’t see, in this community.

Something really neat happened as we were walking up the house before I met the family. We had some staff ladies from the Enriquillo ADP office with us and as we were walking up to the house, the one walking beside me laughed a little out loud and said, “I took Karina’s picture”. She was the lady that visited the home initially, took the picture that was then put in the picture folder! The same picture that captured my heart. We both saw the cycle coming full circle and what a blessing it was for her to see that work she had done had paid off and changed the life of this child. That is a moment I’ll never forget. The look in her eyes and the sound of her laugh when she realized what was unfolding. It was the look and sound of encouragement being emptied into work.

I’m lost in reliving what I just experienced. And then it dawns on me. The money that I had saved from disconnecting my TV is what I used to pay for Karina’s sponsorship. I have just met my cable bill and her grandmother. It appears to be a better use of God’s money. I’m paying attention to others only because I need to take notes to be able to tell you what we saw! But my mind is etching the details of Karina and Margarita’s faces, and the faces of all of the children I have seen today onto the palm of His hand. My broken heart is pleading with God to show me how and where these people find hope on a daily basis if not in Him? I have questions on my mind now. The main one is: What do I do now? Do I go home and motivate my church to sponsor some project like building a learning center? What is the very best way for me to make a difference there in light of what I’ve seen? What is the best way to help?

I am empty. As we wait for another visit to take place, I can’t even get off of the bus. I’m just sitting there when a teenage boy knocks on my window. I think he wants me to take his picture. So I do. But then, he asks me if I will take him with me. We had been told that this might happen; that some will want to go with us or parents might even ask you to take their child. I was not prepared for this in this moment. I told him that I couldn’t but tried to encourage him to stay in school and study. He told me he couldn’t go to school, he is a Haitian immigrant. If you don’t have papers, you can’t go to school. As I’m struggling to even grasp what I should say next, he says, “I will just pray to God”. Me too buddy, me too. What do you even do with that?

From there we are surprised with a visit to the Haiti border. We are able to meet with a World Vision Emergency Management team member. The border is a major market place. What we might consider a major flea market. Both sides of the dirt and littered road are filled with booth after booth of people selling things. It is dirty and hot and noisy. Two things grab my attention upon entering this place. One is a little boy sitting at water’s edge, rinsing out plastic soda bottles. He appears to be mixing something. I would later discover that it is soap so he can bathe right there in the lake. The second thing I noticed was about the market itself. It is filled on the front row with people selling the aid provisions they’ve received. Drinks and huge bags of American rice. I had two, very different reactions to those two scenarios.

First, the rice reaction. My first response when seeing the bags of rice for sale was to think black market, how dare they. I thought this was a very good example of why we give to organizations like World Vision so that you know the aid is going where it is supposed to go and not ending up here. And this is true. But then, our emergency man opened my mind with a new possibility. What if this aid is aid that was legitimately given to this family? Should they not be able to sell excess rice in order to have money to buy other things they need? Should they not be able to barter rice for beans and coffee? I feel totally convicted. How quickly my mind went to the negative, to serving my own interests. I generally have conservative view points on most of these topics, but today, my heart opened a little wider to accept more of the human need viewpoint. It changed everything.

The boy by the sea reaction. The boy is rinsing out bottles and I can’t figure out why. Soon we discover that he stands in calf deep water to bathe. He exits the water and a few minutes later, one of the men who had been sitting at a bar behind us, gets up and walks to the very same place that the child had bathed, and urinates in that water. I feel ill. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not. I wouldn’t even begin to guess his motives. All I know is that the picture that entered my mind was a reversal of timing. What if those two events had happened in reverse? It was a picture of the sanitation conditions that are contaminating the water. It was cholera and e-coli at its root. You know that spot is a convenient place for children to bathe, and I just wanted to warn all of the kids, Do NOT bathe in this place! My heart is broken with sadness, I have no joy to empty into hope.

We traveled back to the ADP office for lunch and some other presentations. We heard from youth workers who volunteer with World Vision on the streets of communities near the Haiti border. Their goal is to identify children who are being trafficked or brought in as child labor. These young people risk everything to reunite families. Most kids cross the border in search of food or money. Some are runaways because there is a great deal of child abuse in Haiti. The sad reality is that they really aren’t better off in the DR in many cases as they are still poor, and still need money and food. These youth workers ranged in age from 14 to 26 years old. There are about 20 volunteers working and more than 5,000 children at risk. The odds aren’t good, but they continue to work to reunite these children with their families in Haiti. If a child can not be reunited they are taken to a shelter. The success rate is only about 50%. But the good news is the kids trust World Vision, so it makes it easier to get them help if they are willing. I have hope in these young people and the difference they are making.

Dr. Gabrielle, spoke to us about his work as the Coordinator of Health for the Enriquillo ADP. His primary focus is working with PLWA (People living with AIDS) assessing kids height and weight through regular checkups. Recently they have also been focusing on the prevention and treatment of cholera since there has been an outbreak in 3 communities. Getting information on prevention, hygiene and treatment to the people is critical. Malnutrition is also an obstacle for them so they are working with mothers to teach them how to feed infants and children properly and how to supplement. It was astounding to me that only 27% of mothers breastfeed their babies. Additionally, they really need essential proteins. He discussed malaria, infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, domestic abuse and the effect that rising lake water is having on their ability to produce healthy foods. He had a great testimony about how God told him he would make him a doctor for His glory! He is using his gifts to help so many people by being a good male role model. He said that our sponsorship dollars that are used in the health care arena are helping the people to not feel “impotent” but instead to feel hope! That is a powerful statement in this culture.

It has been a long and life-altering day on just about every level that exists. I want to tell you now about something quiet and beautiful that I witnessed today. I watched everybody on this trip. I watched for emotions, I watched for reactions, I watched for joy and sadness. I watched for people missing home and craving bigger cups of coffee. One of the most loving things I witnessed was what our leadership team was doing to prepare each of us for our visits and cope after the fact. They were ministers of tenderness and it was oil on my head. They had it planned, they helped you get ready, they asked you a few questions, they gave you a few tips, they assured you everything would be okay and when we were done, they watch us. They saw in our eyes and the distant look on our faces the exact time to come sit beside us and talk it through. I am in awe of the gifts He’s given these ladies. I saw Jesus in their face and felt Him in their loving touch.

Here’s a little video I made of the meeting with Karina.

Meeting Karina

Numbers 33 Journal Entry: Spending our second night in Barahona.

To be continued…