Faithful is he in 2016–and in 2017

January is gone, and I still haven’t sat down. February has started, and I still haven’t sat down.

To write. To speak. To cry. To laugh. To reminiscence.

2016. Many people on social media and around me kept saying it was such a “weird year”, a “terrible year”, a year no-one will want to remember. But no. I sit, and I remember. I document this, because it turned me around in many ways–both in good and bad ways.

I don’t expect anyone to read this. But I know I need to do it.

January, of the new year, I began to consider going to Haiti. I was terrified of the thought in one way, resistant in another. Then, God changed my heart on it. He told me He had great things for me to learn, experience, and take in about Him and His power in me. I went, knowing I was broken and imperfect, but knowing that He could do a work in all of this, no matter what. He did.

February, I continued to trust God had something great for the year–but at the same time kept thinking of reasons why it wouldn’t be. I slowly turned further away from the thought, however, with half of me kicking and screaming, and the other timidly thinking, knowing God could do it.

March of 2016 was rough. I wrote of it being one of the hard months that I’d had in the new year already–the end of my junior year. I was feeling the weight of it all–but still wrote of God’s faithfulness, in my remembrances of years past, and of how He continued. I wrote of the blessings to our church God gave in that time–more ministry help, new members. It was beautiful, it was fruitful.

April and May are a bit of a blur to my memory, but we were getting ready for our choir concerts, which were intense days. We had both Easter presentations and our Spring concert–full of much laughter, of goodbyes to good friends who left for college, and a moment of pause as I realized I was graduating next. I was determined to make the best of my last months in this season of being a junior in high-school.

June came so quickly. I took my first SAT, which brought stress when I later found how badly I’d done–and considered where I’d need to go in view of this. I prepared anew, my heart confused about God’s plan.

With it, came the realization that I was, after all, able to make it to Haiti–and even the Dominican Republic! God was working it all together beautifully…And even threw in a trip to Maryland, back home, just my sister Abi and my dad. We went for our missionary convention. It was a time that was refreshing because of how different it was–but also had some really power-packed messages that powered me for my trip and into the rest of the year. Some spoke of spiritual tattoos, of procrastination, and other great subjects. Looking back on it, I know I needed it even more than I’d even admitted at the time. I still had some classes I had needed to catch up last bits on–and these were so, so important. The procrastination messages applied to both some areas of my normal life, and even to my attitude on going on a missionary trip. I was glad for the reminder, and for the thought that God had brought me through so much. I was learning so much about trusting him…even just the fact that I’d asked him to just do it was amazing. It was faith at its finest, dare I say that.
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I pause here—I didn’t realize, until now, how much my trip really affected me until I wrote this all down…It’s amazing.
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As we landed in Haiti at the end of July, I had so many mixed thoughts…however, some stuck out more than others…There I was, my hands, my soul, initially with “manos vacias”, (From Broken Vessels in Spanish) or “empty hands”, but Jesus has, and continues, to fill them. I am nothing more than an open, available vessel. I realized this as I landed…Yes, I had come here to minister, to pour out, but I still would need to be poured into. I did not come perfect and completely ready. There is no way to fully do that–no matter where you are.

Some called me “The Brave One”, a name I liked at first, one I thought suited my fancy–until I checked myself and remembered it was God that brought me there. God who covered me…and God who would lead…

I wrote extensively on this in my blog here, so I won’t expound any more than to say God did it. I let go of my big fears, let him do what he needed to.

July–I left the orphanage and stayed with a family in the Dominican Republic after crossing the border with my friend and her dad. What an experience. I saw much that made me realize things about race, about the similarities between the three countries I’ve been in besides the United States. The family I stayed with is living there as missionaries. Their lives both humbled me and encouraged me for the things God could do in me–even when I initially argued that I was too unprepared. Maybe, one day, I’ll return there, either for a short time or longer–I would love to help them a bit. We stay in contact often, and I feel my heart being tugged on to return again.
I came home, heart renewed, mind sharp and focused, and ready for a challenge. I felt like I was on top of the world. I’d been so charged up–and had stories to last hours.

August was a hard month as my school kicked in again, and it was already my senior year. What a scary and exciting thought that was. I got ready for yet another SAT, and started looking into colleges–a task I hated at first…until I learned the ropes and became excited with Christian fellowship and a new challenge of possibly living elsewhere.
September continued the round, a month of such uncertainty as I struggled with some subjects and wondered if I’d get out alright. I continued to study the SAT, feeling slowly a bit more confident.

October 1st was my second SAT ever, and I went in confident. I had just turned 18, a monument in my mind. I was determined to “act adult”, to stand up for myself more. And that I did, when my SAT ended badly because of incorrect directions from my exam instructor. This lead to canceling my scores after a long disagreement and much speculation from my mom and I on the issue. It was a hard decision, as I’d felt better about that test than I’d expected.

November came, my heart torn on what to do next with my SATs. I took a new one, my heart rebelling internally, thinking God wouldn’t be able to do it this time because of how badly I felt about the whole issue. I was wrong when I found that I’d done hundreds of points better than expected or even hoped for. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was then also accepted to so many colleges–from this month to January–I got accepted into (thus far) 11 colleges out of my 14 that I’d applied to.

I was appalled. God had done it again.

We got ready for, and were already doing some choir concerts. These were the last of my Christmas concerts with my choir (which continued into December).
With unexpected travel from my parents and siblings, my second sister and I wound up staying with an 82-year old for Thanksgiving, bringing her much cheer, resting up a bit, and getting to eat at fancy restaurants and going to see The Nutcracker–a personal request I’d had for years. It was phenomenal.

December came so quickly. My sister visited for two weeks, and we had a good, “chill” time with her during it. Our new youth group had a play and did it for our church and another. It was sweet. We had many more concerts, and had our last ones much past the normal date for Christmas concerts. But, all in all, a good month full of joy and hope for the future, in view of all I’d surpassed and been victorious in over the month and the one before.

New Years came with a blast–as I look and see that God has much for me in this year, also. I look forward to making my decision in a college, in summer travels and perhaps a “real” job. I also must, must finally get my license.

If God was able to do all of that in one year–why not even more in this one? I still have my downs, and in this January month I learned a lot more about God I thought impossible. I also learned that god has a lot of work to do in my heart…but I think I’m ready. Let’s do this, Lord!

More later.

1 Thessalonians 5:24
“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”

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Haiti quickly concluded and pt.1 of my year in Review

I sit here at 4:30 pm on New Year’s Eve, my favorite music on, favorite people hanging out nearby, and a smile on my face. This is not how I’d expected to start this post. But all three of those things do have a significance–Or so I argue.

I started this year hoping for the best, but in all honesty, did not expect much from God. I was broken, so unsure of the future and what my senior year would hold, of where I’d be at the end of the year. I knew not what difficulties lay ahead in my academics, and it wasn’t looking too exciting. I knew not what major I’d be thinking to pursue in college. I didn’t even, despite my hopes of denying this, trust that I could make it to the end of the year with any college to go to. Doubts galore.

I kept feeling like things were incomplete. Like they’d been left without a good resolve. And I was squirmish. Sick of my own doubts and faithless outlook, I looked out, beyond my great island of Puerto Rico, to opportunity, to escape. I yearned for adventure…but wasn’t ready to hear that many people thought I should’ve gone with my dad to Haiti for a visit. I had layers of emotions about the whole idea…first came fear for the uncertainty in the trip. Next, indifference because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go see a place that had taken my dear father from me for so many months. And third, a helpless feeling of insufficiency.

So, I played it like I didn’t hear the idea. I played it like God wasn’t tugging at my heart. I listened to my music. The mix of Christian music soothed my thoughts, if only for a while. Until, that is, a recurring theme kept coming up.

They told of Trusting and believing Him. Letting Him lead. Letting my fears go, for His strength does not diminish when mine does; and when I am at my lowest point, that is a place where He can raise me highest and let Himself be glorified most beautifully. Philippians 4:6-8 and Romans 8:31 both stuck out to me as some important verses.

These songs, filled with truth, burned in my heart. If anyone ever tells you that music isn’t all that important, know they are wrong, and I am an avid believer in that. Kari Jobe’s songs resonated, particularly, in just breathing out and giving it away. So, that’s what I did.

My doubts weren’t completely subsided, but I slowly began to pray about going to Haiti, and planned it out. I then told God that if He really wanted me to go, He’d make a way, He’d lead, He’d move. He did.

As I reflect in my past blogs, each piece just pulled together, and rather quickly–within around 3-4 months all the finances were there, which was my largest hurdle. One part of me couldn’t believe it, and the other part said that God had just done it again, as always. He was showing off a bit, letting me see His power. I was able to go for our stateside missionary convention in Maryland, where our original church is, and be filled up with His word and promises, and was even able to pour out as a testimony. From there, I flew directly to Haiti and was able to have a remarkable experience there. I visited the churches my dad has helped maintain and grow, and stayed with a pastor’s family. I learned much about the people’s way of life, and of their despite their tough living circumstances. Every time I look back on it, I think I can learn and remember another thing to take from the experience.

When we finally, after the months of planning, prayer and fundraising were driven by my dad to the orphanage, called Ruuska Village, I was both ecstatic and wary at the opportunity. I was going with three other girls, two sisters from the pastoral family I’d stayed with, and another from a missionary family who ministers in the Dominican Republic. To try to quickly sum it up, we were at first greeted with yelling from the famous Barbara Walker because she hadn’t remembered or prepared four four girls–only two. The woman she’d had prepare rooms for us quit on the spot because she wasn’t into the surprize of more work for these girls. However, after her frustration blew off, she joked with us wittingly and sarcastically and we slowly relaxed. My dad, along with the other fathers of us girls left us to stay at the orphanage for two weeks.

There, we were “enlisted” to many tasks in serving the remaining 12 or so children there, like giving out cold medicine and food, substituting as teachers for kindergarten, painting houses, fixing potholes with cement, weeding the front yard, and packing school backpacks for the back-to-school season. We also gave out Miss Barbara’s version of welfare food to deserving single mothers. We worked almost non-stop from about 8 am to around 12 or 1 in the afternoon, then had a two hour or so rest time, and then continued for a bit until the sun set. During our rest times, we often had long, deep talks on doctrine, along with the two more sisters who had come separately to visit, also. These girls had been adopted from the orphanage 10 or 15 years prior. It was a joy to get to know all of these girls, and with my friend from the DR whom I’d known for some years, to grow even closer to throughout it all. I left having grown closer to her than I’d expected, and we were able to speak about so many things dear to our hearts, especially concerning ministry and being missionary kids.

Two weeks later, we left and parted with the sisters. Only the friend from the DR i had was to travel with me for this part. Her father came to pick us up, and we rode a bus across the island to the border of the Dominican Republic.

This was my second country within two weeks! I stayed with the missionary family for 5 days, getting a glimpse into their life and the people around them; it made me wonder if I’d be once again called to the mission feild in a few years, after college…and whether this could be it, if called to work with them. It made me wonder about what God could do with my life because I was available–even though I am not fully proficient in Spanish.

Their life, their work and sacrifie, humbled me. They were blessed by my presence, and so now I only want to bless them more, in any way God leads. Perhaps I will return there some day, either to visit, or to help with their church planting and whatever else God has for them. I would love to see something like that happen.

From there, I returned home, blessed at my time away, newly greatful for my loving family, the plenty God has given, and…the newness and gifts of experience and testimony I’d been given. God is good.

I leave off this post here, to be continued in another–this is only to break it up logically. Stay tuned.

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Haiti Travels, Continued! –Days 1 & 2

After that first ride from the airport, seeing my first views of Haiti, we were brought into a very busy part where we switched to another vehicle. However, it was not that simple. As we came in, people identified us as strangers, probably in part because of my lighter appearance, and encircled the vehicle. Men and women pushed through with their wares, trying to sell us simple vending-machine like snacks. I looked away, trying not to make eye contact–which usually indicates interest. For most, that was an easy indicator to move on. For two or three men, though, it was not enough, and they stayed by our window, still trying to get to us. I was glad to be in the middle of the front seat with my dad to the side, who was able to ward them off. One man was clearly mentally disabled and grasped for the window, doors and yelled things at the driver. The driver yelled back. The mentally disabled man practically held onto the side-window until the driver yanked the car backwards in attempt to shake him off and get into the place he was trying to park.

That was a bit surprising, but I suppose I understand the frustration and quick moves that need to be made because there were just…hundreds of people around us–in every direction, and traffic still continued in every direction, too. This means cars, taxis, animals like goats and pigs, and “motos”, or taxi-motorcycles. It is constant commotion. The atmosphere just feels like a rush–and the dust hung in the air to line your lungs with all along.

Soon, my dad and one of the assistant pastors, Pastor Police, jumped out and moved the luggage to the new car we’d be riding. My dad instructed me to stay where I was–though I wouldn’t have done otherwise, for I was a bit fearful of just how many people there were. It was incredible. But, he quickly retrieved me and we went to the next vehicle.

We rode in a type of taxi from Port Au Prince, where the airport is, to St Marc, the town we would be staying in. This was not your typical “tap-tap” taxi, as many ride in Haiti–the type of taxi you “tap” on to be given a ride and “tap” on to be let off, one of which man, woman, child and animal may ride so long as they can find space enough for their two feet. We rode on something slightly different.

It is a taxi made from some sort of 15-passenger from the 1980’s, painted a dusty sky blue and already containing a few over the amount of people intended to ride. WE jumped on, putting all 7 or so of our bags at the back of the car in one or two seats. We were given the ‘better’ claustrophobic front seats side-by-side the driver. I was sitting in so tight that I often had to move my short legs aside for our driver to change the radio station…and OH, how he needed to change that station!

Throughout the hour ½, or two hour ride, the men who took up most of the car haggled and haggled about the price. It was such a racket! So, the driver repetitively turned on the radio to try to drown them out and make them calm down (though it was heavy rap music).

My dad chuckled and leaned over to my ear to inform me that they were bickering about whether they needed to pay (in US dollars) $1.50 or $2.00 for their ride. This continued on, rising and falling in intensity as they did so–and my dad leaned in to also let me know that though nearly everyone there was talking up a storm, they were also hearing everything each one was saying. Now, that was laugh-worthy. The bickering was hardly comprehensible, let alone did it sound like a conversation!

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We got to St Marc at around 6 pm that night. There are no “taxi stops” on this line–we simply indicated to the driver that this is where we wanted to get off. My dad, Pastor Police and I got off and retrieved our baggage. The driver stepped out to get his pay, a wide smile on his face as he considered how much space we’d taken up…which equals money. However, this was because he had slyly spread out things out lot so that we would have to pay more–and claimed that was a necessity. He opened his hand for a lot more money than we’d originally bargained. My dad argued that we could’ve taken less space up if he’d allowed us to put the bags in as we’d planned. The man quickly lost his smile and started to claim we’d basically ripped him off. My dad payed him what we’d originally been told it cost before he moved our things, and the man probably cussed him off quite a bit–all words I didn’t understand.

The whole scene was in Creole, and I don’t speak nor understand it, but I could see with all the angry waving of hands what it all meant. I simply stood there, luggage in hand, somewhat glad that the anger was not directed to me because I couldn’t speak it. Pastor Police stood there, interjecting into the conversation here and there, but also just making sure the man didn’t lash out on my dad. Even if he had, he still had a bus with plenty of customers left. He drove off in a huff after a bit, and I was glad it was over. We then crossed the street and walked for a bit until we reached the Jacques family’s home.

They greeted us joyfully, as if I’d always known them–especially the two sisters, Mashlie and Ruthmanie. We hugged and were immediately excited to know that we’d be spending the next 13 or 14 days together. They led us inside and we ate a hearty dinner their mother had prepared. Then, I left my dad and Pastor Police downstairs and the sisters led me up some cement stairs to their roof to hang out. We talked and got to know eachother up to three hours or so before we went to bed. We got to stay in the same room with two beds–and I’d never slept on such a big bed before! It was a funny feeling, to be the American who hadn’t experienced something like that.

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The next day, we got up and had to think of something to do. My dad had gone to stay at the church building so that he could fix up some things there–so I was “stuck” with the sisters.

The family set the table with yet another of their delicious Haitian meals–delighted that I liked their type of food. And it is true! Haitian food is so good! …Just a side-note. Ha, ha.

We then dressed and went walking to the market nearby. The sisters were a bit surprized that I didn’t want to try riding one of the taxi-motorcycles. I just couldn’t get past my fear of motorcycles…but, thankfully, that was the only thing I was really afraid of in going to Haiti. Not such a bad fear! Because, There are so many things a person could make up to be afraid of in Haiti–the heat, mosquitoes, disease, bad/dangerous traffic, language barriers, drug trafficking, abduction, the strong voodoo presence…But somehow, I picked motorcles!

As we walked, some people pointed and murmured about me being a foreigner, a “white” person (though I am half-black)– I believe “blan” or “blehn” is the word for it. I looked around at the people, not bothered by their commentary. I was more interested in the bustle around me–so many different people, selling countless things everywhere–not just in the general “market-place’’ as the girls called it. Buildings of cement, sometimes of just cinderblock, spotted the town and grew in number as we walked into the middle of town. Soon, we were surrounded by hundreds of little makeshift tents of sticks and sheets, or sewn-together rags to cover the vendors and their customers. There were also countless beach umbrellas of many colors for selling things under–but most common was orange umbrellas! I don’t know why.

We walked through the huddled tents and umbrellas in single file, with me in the middle so that I wouldn’t get lost. Trash lined the streets, where we could see the street. Other places were so entangled with tents we had to move their wares aside so that we could walk between them. Women were almost 100% the owners of these huge stocks of food, clothing and accessories. I looked about and saw women with big curly hair, but soon the sisters picked up on this and noted to me that they are almost always wearing a wig with curly hair. I realized that my locks were envied as people peered at them–and this was only what came out of my head! What a funny thing. Most women have very short, dry hair because they do not usually have the money to invest in their own hair–nor the proper products to take care of it. I passed by many a tent with wigs strewn out on the ground to be sold.

The sisters filed through, looking for shirts and pants, and were very careful to only get the best of clothes for a good price. They quickly put down clothing that women tried to sell for too much money, if they were unwilling to bargain. It was an interesting thing to observe. You have to be a smart, quick shopper in these places–both for safety and so that you are not nagged on to buy something too expensive.

After about two hours of this hustling from one tent or umbrella to the next, we returned home to their shady, clean house and ate lunch happily. We rested and talked more there.

Then, the sisters called up their friends in the compound nearby called Youth With A Mission, or YWAM, to bring me over to visit. They also remembered that the mission compound had a pool–so we walked on over and met up with some of the young adults and swam there. That was such a sweet time. I got to meet about four people–three of which are missionary kids who have stayed on the mission field after high-school. We talked about language barrier problems and laughed a whole lot.
Then, late afternoon, we ran home because the clouds started to pour! That was fun. We got home, ate a small snack, and then the whole house sat down in the living room and sang the rest of the afternoon out, despite deafening rain. It was such a sweet thing to see–and it included three languages: English, Creole, and even Spanish! Amazing.

That’s all for this post…to be continued soon. Much more to talk about!

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Reflecting my trip…

Our flights went pretty well. We woke up at 4 am to be there for our flight at 7 am at the BWI airport. Leaving Maryland was a bit surreal; I couldn’t believe the time had gone so quickly.

After we landed, my dad and I were in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida airport for 2 ½ hours, awaiting the plane that would bring us to Haiti. We found our terminal, sat down, and put what bags we had not checked around our legs and in front of us to relax. I finished my latest blog in this time, as well as I also called and texted my aunt, eldest sister, and my mom. It was good to hear their voices once again before I might not hear them for about two weeks and a few days. Each checked on me in their own ways, encouraged me, and prayed for me. I was very blessed by that.

Soon, the time came to load. We went on without any trouble. I noted the passengers– about 90, 95% Haitian, and the other 10% were Americans–both as small missions groups, and a family or two of Amish people. On the way to boarding, and once on the plane, everything was translated into creole.

That was quite something to realize. I’d been in Puerto Rico for so long, trying to learn Spanish in completion–and yet there was still this other language somehow related to me that I hadn’t learned. My dad speaks creole–the language of the Haitians–and he hasn’t taught us it…yet. I’m now feeling a bit upset that I don’t know the language. I can identify some words, here and there, from what little I was told, and also from the Spanish connections that I know. They are both Romance languages. Thus, creole is the next language I am learning after I complete Spanish. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Because I know fully well that a language is such an important key to a culture, to a people, to their personal hearts. To really fully know someone, you must try to meet them in their language, or in one they know incredibly well. Much can be lost without it.

Anyway–to continue…

We got on, and promptly realized that our plane was not going to be on time, as they kept finding reasons they needed to delay. The engine, the supplies, this person, that person did this and that…ugh. But my dad and I slept through most of it. When we lifted off, we rustled a bit, but slept for a good portion of the hour ½ long flight. I awoke here and there to look out the window and see what I think was the Bahama islands–encircled with their ever so clear waters that faded out into the truest and most beautiful of blues. It was quite a sight. I couldn’t wait to see the island I would be on, however.

First impressions. A large, long island came into view, finally, after all these hours, days, months of waiting to see where God has wanted me to be. It was just so, so big looking. It was somewhat very yellow in areas, and then there was some greenery–but it just looked so faded, like it had been painted with watercolor and the artist didn’t have deep greens to paint with. In comparison to Puerto Rico’s deep, emerald greens, this was somewhat drab. This only lasted for a bit, the parts of just land and some trees…Because then came the many, many black and brown dots…so, so many of them.

They were houses–or, rather, little shack-like frames, made for the shelter of millions. There were just so many! So many. It was a bit overwhelming, as I couldn’t help but think, wonder, how God planned on reaching all of these people with His truth–there were just so many. I prayed in my heart again that God would use me in the most effective ways he needed me in, for the only way they will know is if we all go telling. I sat there, my mouth ever so slightly agape as I considered this. My dad slept on, used to these sights…used to the devastation. Somehow.

I only awoke my dad here and there for the free drinks the airline offered, or to just let him know we were close. It was a curious thing to me, still, that he was seemingly so much not phased by the sight of everything.

As we got closer, however, my dad played the song Abi and I had sung for convention, and we shared headphones as we listened to it. I thought of the words. Broken Vessels, it was called…and so true. Each one of us, whether it seems obvious, are a broken piece of art that God has made…but by His grace we are somehow still able to be used, as we are broken, and as we are being made new.

And here I was, my hands, my soul, initially with “manos vacias”, or “empty hands”, but Jesus has, and continues, to fill them. I am nothing more than an open, available vessel. I realized this as I landed…Yes, I had come here to minister, to pour out, but I still would need to be poured into. I did not come perfect and completely ready. There is no way to fully do that–no matter where you are.

As we landed, and the little black and brown dots became clearly the shelters these peoples call their homes, and the faded trees became level, I had a clear thought in mind:
“I am crazy! What am I doing here? But why not? But, this is ridiculous…I have inherited the crazy heart of a faith-abiding missionary… I am definitely crazy. I am here finally! I made it. God did it. He brought me here! This is real? It is!”

My dad rustled a bit as we landed. In his low, calm voice, he hugged me and said, “This is it, Liia. We’ve made it. You’re the first of my kids to make it here! The brave one…we’ve made it. Welcome to Haiti.” I peered out the window.

“So, THIS is Haiti,” I thought… This is this land that has kept my father returning, returning, to be filled and to fill others with God’s grace and love. And my dad is now somewhat used to it. Incredible.

My dad and I exited the plane slowly, in no rush…I was somewhat glad for that… I was trying not to rush my understanding and realization of what I was about to come into… I told myself to only expect the worst. To expect the worst was to prepare myself; and if I saw anything better, I could be excited and happy for that.

When we exited the plane, I was slowly enveloped with the realization that I was in a foreign country. That was something. But God answered my prayer. We didn’t come out into the open for about two hours…Because it took about that long to retrieve all of our bags. We bought about 5-7 bags or so.

When we got to the check for our passports, my dad told me to nod at him speaking creole, to pretend I was Haitian. I chuckled inside, thinking that they would know by my appearance I was not really Hatian–if anything, they’d think me Dominican. However, when we reached the check for our passports, the lady at the desk, upon talking to my dad and perhaps even recognizing him, went quickly through our papers. As we walked away, my dad told me that although my passport and papers said I was from the United States, the entrance papers to Haiti didn’t have to say that–she frivolously crossed out “US” on that. I was tickled by that. Perhaps I wouldn’t be profiled as automatically a foreigner the whole time?! Or my acting like I understood the creole was just SO well done? What a joke!

After that, I was surrounded by the many Haitians retrieving their luggage: some, with clearly new luggage– and others with more beat-up ones. My dad pointed out that Haitians bring lots of extra luggage, especially if they are coming from the states. When we got to the last check, where they quickly scanned our bags yet again, I saw an older couple closing their bag that clearly had large, animal-feed sized bags of corn-flakes with them. Reality check. I would later see these same kinds of bags and food sold at market. Wow.

Many baggage-holders surrounded us at our every step, but my dad refused each as they approached us. He was used to pushing a cart-like bag holder through the small airport. But, he did happily greet many of these men with a hearty handshake-hug, clearly ‘chummy’ with each. That was sweet to see. And I could only expect that. My dad has been here so much. It is cool to be in his shadow.

When we stepped outside, finally, the heat was familiar, the flamboyant trees welcome, but the clear, gray dust in the air was thick and strange. I could see and feel it. And lined throughout the path outside were preying, almost hungry-looking eyes as they noted our many bags and our nice clothing. I was especially observed for my much lighter skin and super curly hair…Some whispered the familiar “blanc”, meaning white person and foreigner. I did not let my face betray me in this, but I know that to be fully accepted into a culture like this, or even in Puerto Rico, appearances help a lot. I had a fleeting wish to look just like them–only to realize, again, that my two cultures make me who I am…And that if God knew i should be different…He would’ve made me that way. Keeping it real.

We were soon met by a few pastors from the church here in Greater Grace, and they had a taxi-car ready for us. I jumped in, my large backpack on my lap, luggage on one side, and my dad on the other. I tried to catch my breath. I was half excited, half nervous. I’d tried to keep my composure till then, but I wasn’t sure if I could keep it the rest of the time.

End for now. Continue later.

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Charging up before Haiti: My time in Baltimore

The last few days have been…Incredible.

We started out on Friday the 17th of June on our trip, just Abigail and me, to Baltimore, Maryland. I’d packed late into the night, and yet we still had to wake up and adjust things around. Abi started and finished her packing the day of our trip. We left in reasonable timing, with mom in the driver’s’ seat, Abi in the passenger, and Julian and I in the back.

Our old, gold-colored van started off with a bit of energy, but we all knew the old car had its limits. It’s deflated, low ceiling touched our heads just slightly and blew in the breeze as we drove along. We raised an eyebrow at some new rickety sounds in the machine. But, we were used to it, so we kept on.

–About halfway through the ride, I realized I’d left my glasses. That was not good.–

Usually, the trip to the main airport takes about 2 ½, 3 hours to drive to. We talked and laughed a lot throughout the ride, (and occasionally blasted) sometimes blasting some music and(while) singing to it at the top of our lungs. Soon, though, we realized we were starting to get close (to the time our plane would leave)on time. We had two hours to get to the airport and had about an hour before we’d be in San Juan, where the airport was. We also noted that we needed gas soon. But we did not see one for this exit…or this one…or that one. That was surprising. But we kept on, in faith we had enough for a couple miles.

Then we hit traffic! Lots, and lots of traffic. We were nearing the city. And still–no gas. We started to get a bit nervous when our gas meter malfunctioned–again. It had been happening repetitively over the last few weeks, just off and on. But at the moment, this was not good. We had no idea when our gas would be gone. So then our adrenaline kicked in. Simultaneously, the traffic got worse. We then had an hour before we needed to be at the airport. Not fun. More traffic. We nearly went off onto a few exits that would have brought us hours away from our destination and hardly an easy way to return.

Finally, however, we arrived at the airport…With about a half hour to take-off. Abi and I rushed our goodbyes. Grabbing our backpacks and carry-ons, we made a quick decision to not take our checked bag for fear it would not be accepted and we’d have to return it–time we didn’t have. We rushed through the checks–three in all. TSA, etc–I went through quickly and was waiting a moment for Abi when suddenly she turns to me and says, “They think I have a camera in my bag. I’m gonna have to let them go through it. Get on the plane–even if I don’t make it, just get on the plane. If you can delay them a moment, try…but get on.” I glanced at her a moment, shocked that I could possibly be going on this plane alone. We had about 10 minutes to board!

I rushed through the airport, backpack and carry-on on my back and in my hand. I heard them calling our names as I rushed through maybe 12 terminals. Out of breath, I arrived at the desk. I told who I was and explained my sister was just about to come–and pleaded she would wait a moment. She then told me: “She has two minutes. Then we board.” I breathed in and out and searched the crowd. I called Abi. Texted. Called again. Waited.

Then, within probably 30 seconds, or a minute from when the lady said they would close the doors and board, I see a rather disheveled, heavily-breathing Abi pull up. Pointing and yelling that was her, that was my sister, they soon saw that the last passenger would, after all, get on this flight.

We checked in, they took our bags well, and we were off. We took a layover in Dulles for about two hours, eating a Mcdonald’s salad together, just the two of us, because it was so big. It was good! We took a while to leave, however, once we are in the plane, as they needed to do some extra repairs. We were delayed quite a bit. But we landed safely, had all baggage but our checked bag, and loaded into the car with Miss Lana Rafferty.

From there, we were dropped over to the Andersons to stay for the week. They were so welcoming, kind and giving while we were there. We were there the Friday before Convention (our church mission’s conference of missionaries worldwide), and Abi had to leave back to college on the Thursday of Convention week, early morning.

I stayed throughout the whole week. It was a sweet time of many messages, fellowship with many–both with those I know and those I don’t know very well. I was particularly blessed by the Davis’s, who covered us with some more finances for the week, who encouraged us in all we are doing, and made us laugh a lot.

While in the Teen program from Greater Grace, I heard many messages both for just the teens and also when we joined the adults in their sessions. I was blessed by the music chosen, which was good for me to just sit and remember the great things God has done and is doing in my life. Particularly, in the last few weeks, the song “Good Good Father” has been, as I say, “following me around”. The song speaks of our Father and His loyal, caring, everlasting character. It speaks of how He is there for us no matter what; it reminds me again and again that He has a plan for me. I am not alone.

My two favorite messages while at Convention were one that Pastor John Love preached about spiritual tattoos and one that Pastor Pete Westera preached for the teens on procrastination. For me, the one on procrastination was applicable in some areas of my life that I hadn’t wanted to admit before… Places where I hadn’t wanted to work hard on what I needed to do and at the same time let God work through me. For me, Haiti, the travel, even the THOUGHT of traveling to Haiti, involved some form of procrastination in my mind.

I’ve known that God wants me to be in mission work–that our family being on the mission field is some sort of prep for missions at some point in my own personal life too. But I was scared. I was doubtful. I felt unprepared. And I suppose, I was. I hadn’t given my heart, my selfish thoughts way to God. And yes, being afraid, staying in that state of fear, is and was some form or selfishness. It is a way that we decide we must stay in this box, this place where we are hidden, because we cannot, and will not believe God to keep us, protect us, mold us and shape us. It was a process for me to realize this was true. A process for me to become aware that God wanted, and continues to want me to step out of that–to step out of myself. To stop procrastinating, because that could actually stall His own will.

But once a person does give it away to God–though it may take time to do–there is such freedom. There is a lightweight feeling in your mind and body that you have given your worries away. This does not mean we have no fear. It just means we have learned to fear and trust God more than we fear and revere our current situation and its giants. Our God is omnipotent.

The Tatoo message, as funny as it sounds, was also incredibly impactful. Pastor Love spoke of how we often give ourselves, or receive, the world’s tatoos. And these are not the cute, funny ones you see with their hearts and flowers and animated characters. These are the kinds that are dark, ugly ones with horns and dark holes. They are the names and boxes we have given ourselves. Especially in light of being a missionary, sometimes we feel alone, misunderstood, even forgotten. We may then tatoo these thoughts and feelings to our hearts, secretly.
I’ve had to grapple with these thoughts numerous times, and this message brought it all back again. Had I given myself these labels? Did I remember that only Christ can remove these tattoos, these labels I have engraved upon myself? This is what this message spoke of. And it revived my memory that yes, Jesus can take these away. He can discolor them and remove them from my heart. He could make the place they were new. He could, in a new, beautiful way, rename me and engrave my name upon his heart. He could make me the beauty He has planned…so long as I let Him. These thoughts, the depth behind them, could go on and on. So I will continue to think on them. But, to finish summarizing my week…

We had many an amazing message like the ones I described above. I had many times of reflection with my friends, family, and body members I did not know very well. And all of it, each word, is appreciated. As I sit in this airport on my way to Haiti, I reflect all of it. IT was so beautiful…and it helped me remember that I am not alone. I am not forgotten… I have yet to see the great things God has for me and to realize the amounts of people who think of our family and pray for us often.

Convention ended with a grand drumroll. Thursday was mission’s night, where our church parades all of its returning missionaries that make it back to Maryland. There, too, I saw and was able to pray for the hundreds, thousands represented in the march. and, also, I remembered their children–these strange people called missionary kids.

Along with my friend Amy and Daniel, we rounded up, on that very same night, all the former or current missionary kids we could find, pastor’s kids, and those who have traveled so much that they, too, can relate to our struggles and joys in this place. We had four kids/young people from Finland, about 7 from Canada, two from China, one from Albania, and one from Austria (if I remember clearly)–besides Amy who is from Azerbaijan and Daniel who was from Kyrgyzstan. We had some who had traveled worldwide in Senior trips, also–perhaps one or two, that is. In this ‘roundup’, we got to speak of the joys, sorrows and struggles of our missions-minded lives, and it was a time that we all cherished. Each left so excited and happy we had gotten together to do this. Each was blessed to realize, yet again, that they are not alone.

Convention ended, and yesterday, the day before I would leave for Haiti, while staying with one of my best friends of years, I was treated to such a sweet day. My friend Zoe told me she was going to surprize me for the day–but I didn’t realize it would be this sweet. We drove up to the Art museum in Baltimore, where I’d hardly, or never been. We spent about two, maybe two and a half hours there, carousing the many cultures and times’ art. It was incredible. And I got to do it with my best friend, which was so cool. THereafter, she treated me to Red Robin, a restaurant the States have and I don’t and thereafter we went to Target. I was able to help her find dorm room things, as she is off to college soon–and we also got much-needed sunscreen and bugspray for my time in Haiti. Finally, her younger sister joined us and we went to Starbucks–also a rarity that I learned to enjoy. It was such a joyful time. I joked that they got to “Americanize” this missionary kid who can relate to two cultures, but not evenly. That was such a funny thing to realize.

And now, as I finish this long post of my adventures thus far, I am blessed for all that has already happened… And I can’t believe I get to experience something else, something new in these next few weeks. God is so, so good.

I will try my best to chronicle my times in Haiti, as I will be there for two weeks, and then will also visit the Dominican Republic for about 4 or 5 days. Stay tuned, and God bless.

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Sound Bite

Here I go. I am stepping up to the podium. I am straightening my hand-me-down suit, I am pushing back some rebellious curls from my forehead. I clear my throat nervously.

Testing, one, two three? Can you hear me? Yes. Okay. I think to myself about what my first words should be. “I’m here to share my heart?” No, maybe that is too mushy. Be realistic? “I don’t expect many of you two hear me out, and I don’t expect you will all think this to be the greatest thing you’ve ever heard…” –No, no–I look too nervous…but… Let’s start with this. “This page is empty, this room is silent, and on the contrast, my brain is busy and my cup is full. Here it goes. This has been brewing within me for a while now.

Broken fridge, toilets, doornobs, door-frames, computers, ripped wall-paper, disabled cars, lost phones–these are only a few of the major articles and necessities of life that we’ve broken over the last few months. It has been the hardest couple of months of school for me than I’ve ever had. We’ve come to points where there were only a couple of bucks in the bank. Hard times like this have followed us everywhere as we’ve been here in Puerto Rico these eight, almost nine years.

This road has not been a black-tar, perfectly cut and smooth one. It has not been bloody and dark, but it has certainly been like one of the back-roads on this island: red, rocky dirt, twig-tree lined, with rusty barb-wire to keep us from falling off the edge. Many a gaudy SUV has blazed past us, leaving dirt in our faces and causing us to bare our teeth and pray we don’t fall off as they pass. Many a small, bent-in Toyota has inched slowly past us, asking if we know the way to town and asking if we have a spare dollar to give…Only to rudely huff past as we attempt our broken Spanish and as we point to the back filled with kids and not a bit of change on us for gas. We shrug as each goes their way, hurt that our help was not appreciated much for some and grieved that others could not see the beauty in humbling themselves.

I straighten, feeling more comfortable as the hardest words seem to have already passed my lips. I glare into the faces of my audience, whom at this time were expecting a drawn-out sob story. I realize this may be the time to shock them. “…And yet, despite these bruises, bumps and scratches, I can sit back and realize something profound…that it is a privilege to be on the mission field! To experience all of these things! A privilege to lay down my family’s life! I admit that at first, I was aghast at this.

Then, I think again…God chose us to represent Himself to thousands, perhaps millions, wherever we are? That He gave us each, despite our ages and weaknesses, individual gifts to be used wherever we are (mission-field, or not)!?

I think back to the dusty roads on one side, and then to the abundant blessings and lessons I have gained and learned on the other side: wisdom in circumstances and in the spiritual, for the most part, due to the deep Bible teaching from the three pastors I get to hear from in our church regularly, the stunning faith-lives of our church-members–and for myself very personally, a heart for people like never before. These are just a VERY FEW of the blessings.

Do I really understand this call to be an ambassador for Christ? What beauty lies herein? And what do I know of holy? Of being set apart for this mission? I pause here. This went deep very quickly.

“I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.” Philipians 4:12

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

We are only called here for a short time, on this earth, whether on black-tar roads or rocky dirt ones. Our influence may be only seen by a few; our hardship misunderstood by most; our words may only be remembered in short sound-bites. But despite this, in view of this Great Commission, in view of this beautiful ‘burden’ of people and the discipling of them, I hope I see many more dirt roads, for my God Gave all, Loved all, and Died sacrificially… and He gave my family, he gave ME this responsibility of getting out the word of His greatness. I can’t repay HIs sacrifice, but I can at least try to understand His holiness.

If this is the one sound-bite I get, I hope it was a good one… And I hope that my life on the mission field is one worthy of, and glorifying of God.

I step off stage and turn the lights to the next speaker. I hope I was not praised for such a talk, for the next Speaker, the Leader is most important of all. And I won’t let God be restrained to one sound-bite.

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“…Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8

We focus on the fact that we can’t find a way to give ourselves over to God’s plan because we don’t want to, or because we’re busy. We focus on the fact that we don’t think we’re qualified.

And yet, why don’t we focus on the fact that we have been called! Are we worthy? Are we able to comprehend what this means? We’ve been called by the God of the Universe, the God of all things, the God of Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Abraham, and all of those faith-giants of the beginning? I am? Me, in my sin and weakness, have been called, and will be used by this same God? I am worthy?

But God has deemed me worthy! He has made me His ambassador! He has, therefore, equipped me with the time, the will, the way, and some qualification, if not all, to complete the work.

See this verse: “And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.” Isaiah 6:9…..

These are just some of my thoughts on this, and on Isaiah 6…Amazing.

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