Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Excursion #1

Every Saturday our team gets together to go on an excursion together. Josh and Vicki are the SI staff who accompany us and they are becoming great friends of the entire team. Last Saturday we were able to go "creeking" in a river to Los Higos. This involved a half hour hike through a river, complete with rapids and sharp rocks. We all arrived at our destination safely, though some were a little wetter than others.
Some of you may know that I enjoy outdoorsey activities such as hiking and camping and I sometimes pride myself a little too much on the experience and skill that I've acquired over the years. I did not fall at all on the way to our destination, characterizing my progress with incredible balance and discernment of foot-placement despite the rushing waters. Upon arrival I decided I did not need my shoes anymore and took them off before joining a group of people climbing over rocks in order to let the current carry them through the rapids again downstream. I must admit, I chose the sharpest rock to step on and promptly slipped off the side and landed on top of the point...on my shin. Allow me to regress...when I was five or so, I was playing on a landscape wall and slipped off the edge resulting in the corner of a block becoming embedded in my right shin. Memories of that moment came flooding back as I looked at the puncture wound in my left shin that was too deep to bleed. All is well, there is no infection (cuz I'm tough), but I am convinced that my previous OCD tendencies were subconsciously acting as I will now have matching scars on both my legs :-) Sorry I have no pictures to share because my camera is out of commission due to massive water intake on the way back. Enjoy these few saved from the way out!

What Am I Doing Here?

Something has felt funny to me since I arrived in the Dominican Republic a week and a half ago. I recognized this morning that this is the first time in a long while that I haven't had a built-in ministry focus to what I do every day. Even during preparation for this trip, it was stressed so much to our team that we are here for academic reasons and "to learn Spanish!" especially for these first 5 weeks. My life has been almost hectic at times during the last three years due to my involvement in ministry and at first this week seemed like a welcome break from that. However, I feel more every day that I miss that feeling of purpose in God's Kingdom. Something I will have to learn this semester is what it means to live in God's Kingdom daily regardless of my role in ministry. I have yet to have a conversation regarding God or anything spiritual with my host family - mainly due to my lack of vocabulary, but I really haven't tried. I have yet to intentionally encourage other students on the trip or my roommate. I have yet to identify someone older than me that I can learn from these few months. These things need to change.
I've been challenged over the last few months to have a relationship with God for His purposes, not for my own. As a student majoring in youth ministry, interning at a church, and mentoring high school girls there was a pressure I put on myself to gain knowledge from the Bible and prayer in order to apply it straight to those three situations. I've learned though, that no matter how much wisdom and knowledge I feel I am passing on to others, it will never be as effective as it could be had I first applied it in my own life. God teaches us things so we can learn for ourselves how to worship Him more AND to help others learn the same things. When I pass information straight from the Bible to another person, it has no chance to pass through and take root in my heart.
So these next few months will give me a chance to do two things: 1) Establish God's Word on my heart and 2) Learn to recognize opportunities to glorify His name through my day to day interactions with circumstances around me.
"The days are just packed" (to quote good ol' Calvin and Hobbes) with running early in the morning and literally filling my day with 5 hours of studying until class at 3. It's hard to carve out the time that needs to be set aside for God and others, but the early mornings are good for quiet time and the evenings become a great time to hang out with our family and get to know people from the church who come over to visit. Barbara and I receive our fair share of confused looks and laughs when we try to put together a sentence, but it's all in good fun, and our mama is very proud of what we have learned so far!
God bless, thanks for your support, I miss you all!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Take a Look Around

Since being here, I've seen a lot of things I'm not used to seeing. I thought I'd share with you some of the things you may see during a typical day in the Dominican Republic.

More than half the vehicles you will see on the roads here are "motos" - they can be anything from a nice motorcycle to a glorified dirtbike. This lady is about to get on the back of the bike with those two large green boxes under her arms and drive away like she does it every day (she probably does). It's very common to see whole families piled on the motos that go past our house.

Stray dogs are EVERYWHERE, and this one decided to join our group for a walk after sleeping under our table at dinner!

The yard at our house is full of roosters and chickens - one even has three little chicklets! This is the pretty rooster...the other one is a big bully.

The chickens will scrounge around all day eating leftover food from the garbage cans, bugs, and spiders like this one we found on the wall of our dorm last week.

After a long day, you're ready to fall into bed only to remember that the mosquito net must be hung if you don't want to wake up in the morning to polka dot legs! We get to hang the corners, wiggle our way underneath and then tuck the edges under our mattress to ward off the really persistent ones!

Allow me to introduce...Mi Familia!

On Wednesday morning, also the first day of my Spanish classes, I moved into my new home for the next 5 weeks. It took a bit to figure out who actually lived in our house with us because we were immediately bombarded with friends and family, all who were introduced as "mi hermano" or "me hermana" or "mi hijos" - my brother, my sister, or my kids. Problem being - they call everyone that here! Really, in our house, we have a mama and a papa (Paula and Claudio) and two brothers in their early twenties (Alberto and Marcos). Our sister (Claudia) lives in another house behind her parents with her two children (Asley and Alan) and a friend (Jermania), who helps take care of the kids. We just call her our sister too!

My and my roommate, Barbara. Our mama, Paula, is the pastor of a Pentacostal church that is literally connected to our house - if you open the blinds in our bedroom, you're looking inside the church.

Our little sister Asley and her friend, Paola, doing their nails with us.

It doesn't get any better than this...homework on the back porch with the cutest member of the household :-P

Monday, September 7, 2009

La Republica Dominicana

I have now been in the DR for a little over 24 hours. There are many things to get used to here and funny stories developing every hour. Unfortunately, the internet is not what it is in the States and the hour I just spent trying to upload pictures for you has resulted in much tiredness and frustration :-) but still able to smile! It's hard to get used to a lot things such as: having a siesta expected and almost ordered each day after lunch, "rudely" ignoring people on the street in order to preserve dignity and reputation, not having a clue what people are saying when they're looking straight at me, and last but not least, putting all toilet paper (yes, used) into the garbage can rather than the toilet.
Our orientation in the States has stretched into orientation in the DR where we have already learned some of the history of the island, and been into the city of Jarabacoa to participate in a photo scavenger hunt. Tomorrow we meet our host families before we move into their homes with them on Wednesday morning. Wednesday afternoon we begin Spanish classes. Due to my lack of education in the language of Spanish I will be in the lowest level enjoying the luxury of only one classmate and basically a private tutor. I plan to come home speaking better Spanish than I've ever spoken before...I know, I have big goals.
I love this country and can't wait to share this time with all of you. I love the green plants, I love the mountains, I love the language, and yes I even love the heat, humidity, and lizards that crawl in the windows.

We were told before we came that "you know you're comfortable in the DR when you look out your bathroom door to see chickens walking through your hallway and think nothing of it."
I wonder...How about cats in the Supermarket???

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Up Next...

I've been back in the States now for about a month, missing Africa, but gearing up for 3 and a half months in the Dominican Republic to study abroad for the last 15 weeks of my college career!!!
I've had many opportunities to share the work that God did in my life during my 2 months in South Africa. I was privileged to take part in an evening service at my church back home in Illinois, where I showed pictures and did my best to convey all my experiences in a mere 20 minutes. I will continue to share pictures and stories from those months on The Journey, and even the ways that the trip has continued to impact me since my return to the States.
For now, I am continuing preparation for the next stage of my journey, where I fully expect God to teach me even more and bring more lifelong friends across my path. For the first five weeks of my time in the DR I will be taking intense Spanish classes, covering two semester's worth of material at the Students International base in Jarabacoa. These days will be full of 3-hour classes, studying, getting to know the other students in the program, and spending time in my host home with my Dominican family. The last 8 weeks of my time there will be spent at a ministry site set up by Students International where I will be interacting every day with the local people and experiencing daily immersion in the culture. My ministry site could involve anything from construction projects to physical therapy for handicapped children depending on which site I'm placed at.
Please pray for our team to continue bonding, as well as for the local missionaries and people preparing for us to come. We are truly going as students ready to learn a new language, culture, and way of life. Some of our team are freaked out by the unknown, some are ready to go with no worries, and some, like me, are still waiting for the reality of the upcoming semester to hit. In 4 days I will suddenly find myself in a place I've never been before, but I can hardly contain the excitement that thought brings me!