Heroes of Faith

We met the most extraordinary couple last week. Pastor Antonio, and his wife, Gregoria, stand at just about 5 feet tall. They smile a lot, and their hands are roughened by hard work and sacrificial labors. He is a bricklayer by trade. They met and married when he was 20 and she 15. As a young man, he managed to enter the U.S. and began working, and that was when Christians began to share the Gospel with him.

Pastor Antonio and Gregoria are from two very small villages in the Mountain range of Queretaro state in Mexico. He is from a village called “Jabalí,” and she is from a village called “Florida.” (Not resembling in any way the state of Florida in the U.S.A.!) Their villages are literally built on the sides, ridges, and summits of this arid mountain range.

We met them by “happenstance.” We had been looking for a way to access the villages and people who live in the mountains that surround the valley where we live. No one we knew here had any contacts for us. Our team of volunteers arrived December 27. On January 15, we still had no pastor or contact for the mountain ministry and I had exhausted every lead I knew.

Then, my phone rang, and Pastor Antonio (“Tonio”), was on the other end of the line. He had originally said they were busy the weekend of our dates and couldn’t host us, but he called back to say that we could go ahead and come. He assured me he had a church building we could sleep in, a bathroom (with no running water), and he could even provide us with a gas stove-top to cook meals on!

We set out with our first YWAM team to explore the mountains of Querétaro with my family of seven, 3 Australians, 4 YWAMers from the base in Bocas, Panama, and one Mexican volunteer. I drove my minivan, and Rob drove his big, white truck. His truck was loaded with 5-gallon bottles of water, food, and provisions for the next three days. In addition to food, we had ministry supplies like puppets, speakers, and instruments. Bedding was also an important commodity, and we packed stacks of blankets. The temperatures in the mountains during this time of year dip into the low 30’s at night, and there would be no heating to keep us warm.

This was a camping trip on steroids!

We met the pastor in a town called “Cadereyta” and followed him up the winding pass into the mountains. The paved road gave way to dirt and ruts, and I was glad it was the dry season and the dirt road was not muddy.

I steered my weighted-down van carefully over the rocky, rutted road, and tried to avoid scraping the underside on the rough terrain.

My time playing “MarioKarts” with the kids came in handy during this driving challenge! After a slow, forty-minute drive on the dirt road, we arrived at the village of Jabalí. We were amazed by what we saw. This village is nestled on the side of the mountain, and wherever you stand in the village, you have the ability to see for miles as the valley below the mountains stretches out before you.

Pastor Tonio began to point out to us the villages in the distance, telling us how far it takes to walk, and which ones still have no church. It reminded me of the quote that David Livingstone heard that impacted his life’s work in Africa:

“In the vast plain to the north, I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages, where no missionary has ever been.” -Robert Moffat

As the valley stretched before us, broken up by the occasional village, my heart burned for the people who live so far away from our modern civilization who may have never heard the Gospel, or have gone their entire lives without ever experiencing the tangible love and presence of God.

Our team of YWAM volunteers was incredible! They carried all of our supplies down a winding dirt path to where the church stood. The path was a bit steep, and you had to take care to dodge the sharp cactus needles and animal droppings. We found out later the most common animal to use this path was a herd of wild donkeys that traverse the narrow mountain paths at night!

The little church was built on a flat terrace of land on the side of the mountain. It was tucked up next to a wall of dirt that led upwards, with the other side of the church built on the edge of the terrace before it drops away down the hill. You can stand in front of this church and see for miles into the valley. In the distance, more mountains rise up, layer after layer, representing other villages and people who are even harder to reach.

We stayed there for three days, ministering to the villagers and their children. We shared a bathroom with one toilet, which wasn’t bolted down, so, at one point, a team member accidentally knocked it over while using it! She simply picked it back up, positioned it over the drainage hole, and proceeded to finish. We slept under layers of blankets and struggled in the morning to leave our warm “nests” to dress in the cold morning air.

My favorite part of the week was the first morning we were there. Rob and I sat outside in the early morning mists with Pastor Tonio while he continued telling us his story:

Upon receiving Jesus, he returned to his village, and began telling everyone he knew about Jesus. The villagers were angry; they wanted nothing to do with Jesus or anyone who talked about Him. He began receiving death threats. Six times, people attempted to kill him. Two of the attempts were made by his own family members. Once, when he was preaching in the town square, a man came up to him with his machete drawn and said,

“I’m going to kill you right now. We won’t have any more of this Jesus talk.”

Tonio began to weep as he shared:

“I didn’t feel fear in that moment. I only felt mercy for him. I cried out, ‘Father, forgive him, he doesn’t realize what he’s doing!’’  As he prayed this powerful prayer, following Jesus’ own example, the man was literally thrust backwards onto the ground! Tonio saw no one, and as he watched, the man scrambled up and ran off. God miraculously spared his life numerous times, and he continues to preach in his village and in the ones nearby. Slowly, people began to listen to his message, and began giving their lives to the Lord.

They needed a place to meet, so Pastor Tonio began building a church. They didn’t have enough money to build the entire church, but they decided to start anyway. The first thing that needed to be established was a foundation. Now, that was something they could begin right away, because it didn’t cost any money to dig. The new believers arrived with shovels and pickaxes, and began to excavate a place to lay the foundation of the church. As money came in, they purchased materials. They had to carry, by hand, the construction block, bags of concrete, and even water, up the mountain to the terrace where the church was being built. It took them five years.

Tears moistened my eyes as I realized our team was sleeping, eating, and ministering in a little building whose foundation was dug by hand; whose walls were built, one slow stone at a time, by a small group of believers in a mountain village. Believers who wanted a special place to honor and worship God. Who wanted a building that was not a shrine to the virgin of Guadalupe, or to a dead patron saint. They wanted to worship a living God, whose name is Jesus!

The stray dogs traipse in and out of the building, sniffing about for something to eat. The neighboorhood drunks come and sit in the chairs, and hold their head in their hands as they blink away their drunken stupor. Families wander in, holding their bundled babies, searching for meaning in life. More importantly, Pastor Tonio and his wife are there, talking with people, loving them, praying for them, sharing truth with them.

Until just a few years ago, Pastor Tonio and his wife would walk five hours one way EVERY WEEKEND to minister to their church people. He lives and works in a town about an hour’s drive away. He and his wife and his five children would walk five hours, minister in the church, and walk the five hours back home. They have been faithful to what God has called them for 16 years.

As we further got to know them, we found out that he has a fifth-grade education, and she was only able to study until the third grade. He has another church in a village that is about a 2-hour walk from Jabalí. Sometimes he drives there. Other days, he walks.

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Pastor Tonio with some of the children from the villages.

He is still passionate about the communities and people who are unreached. He has invited us to come with him deeper into the mountains in order share the Gospel with them. Pastor Tonio and his wife, Gregoria, and their family, are heroes of the faith. Life hasn’t been easy for them, but they remain faithful to the Lord and to His call.

Hebrews 11:1-2 speaks about a great cloud of witnesses. Those who have gone before us: men and women of faith, who, having passed into glory, are urging us on as we run our race of life. I have always imagined the “greats:” men like Father Abraham; Moses, who divided the Red Sea with his rod; Stephen, who was martyred by stoning.

But, the more I meet people like Tonio and Gregoria, the more I am certain that there are so many who are cheering us on whom we have never heard about. Men and women of great prayer, sacrifice, and love for Jesus who never got to graduate high school, who never owned a car, who never wrote a book. People who poured out their lives, year after year, for the cause of Christ. Who, after witnessing for years, maybe only saw one convert; who, after traveling miles and visiting many, died in poverty and obscurity. Who, through sacrifice and hard work, built the a little church for believers far from modern conveniences. Though they may have been poor, they loved richly. They lived their lives driven by eternity, as this quote states so well:

“We shall have all eternity in which to celebrate our victories, but we have only one swift hour before the sun sets in which to win them.”

They were passionate, reaching just one more life for Jesus; they were faithful, ignoring society’s definition of success; they were genuine, loving even the least of these.

What an amazing place Heaven will be, as we spend eternity meeting such incredible people! As I think about men and women such as these, unnamed heroes who watch our progress through the veil of eternity and cheer us on, I find myself wanting to “run” all the more harder.

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Praying for Pastor’s wife, Gregoriana. Such a precious woman!

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My Grandmother’s Stethoscope

Two years ago, my Grandma’s stethoscope saved a little boy’s life.

The boy’s name was “José,” and he lived on the island of Bastimentos in Bocas, Panama. My family of seven was on the outreach phase of our YWAM (Youth With a Mission) Training.

On that trip I kept thinking, “I can’t believe we are doing this!”

We arrived at a rickety boat dock to take a water taxi to the island. We had an incredible pile of luggage, 11 adults, 5 children: and only one boat available to take us across the ocean channel to the island. My prayer life grew in intensity that day as our boat floated about 8 inches above the water and we thrummed through the waves to the island. I realized during that ride how desperately I wanted us all to live to see another day!

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The blue boat behind us was our ride: 11 adults, 5 children, and all our luggage!

Once arriving, we stepped off the boat and began a trek up the hill to the house where we would be staying. Suddenly, invisible needles began poking me from every direction. I began frantically slapping my arms and legs and wondering if I was losing my mind. One of the volunteers on the island laughed and said,

“Welcome to Bocas. Those are chitras.”(pronounced: chee-trahs)

Chitras are tiny insects, like miniature mosquitos, which are barely visible, and they strike in large numbers. Literally, you will feel yourself being bitten/stung by 10-20 insects at a time. It is maddening, because you just can’t seem to make them stop.

They would be a very useful tool to employ in terrorist interrogations: A few minutes with a “herd” of chitras and you would be willing to betray National Security in order to be left alone!

In addition to the boat ride and the evil chitras, Bocas islands boast a humidity not of this world. In our short two-week stay, with our sheets and clothes in a state of constant moisture, my family’s skin began to itch due to fungal infections. This “island paradise” looks amazing in photos, but it is no easy place to do missions!

Meeting José and his mom, Lorena, was my favorite memory of our trip to Bocas. One night, we shared a time of worship with the nearby indigenous community. A small boy, about 6 months old, was coughing and struggling to breathe. Holly, the director’s wife at the base, approached the mother and we began trying to investigate how long the boy had been sick. He had contracted a cold and it was getting worse. His mother faithfully banked a fire to create smoke at night, in order to keep the chitras (bugs) away from her little family. The smoke was irritating José’s airway, and his symptoms were worsening. She told us he had been awake the entire night before, coughing and running a fever.

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I examined José in a wooden hut; the homes are built on stilts so families’ homes stay dry even when there is flooding from frequent rain.

We gave the boy a breathing treatment, and his wheezing eased. We prayed for him and his mother took him home. I slept fitfully that night, worried for baby José and praying every time I thought of him.

Babies will battle sickness and lung/airway challenges bravely, but once they run out of steam, their condition can deteriorate quickly and death comes quickly.

It was a long, dark night and I was anxious to find out if he was alright the following morning.

What I saw the next day made my stomach clench. He was limp, lying in his mother’s arms. The boy who had struggled the night before in not letting the white women get near him now no longer cared who touched and held him. His mom, Lorena, told us that he had slept “better” the night before. That also worried me: He was getting sicker, not better.

As an afterthought, before setting out on our two-month outreach, I had packed my Grandma’s 30 year-old Littman stethoscope in my bags. I went to get it, and listened to José’s lung sounds. As much as I wanted to, I could hear no air moving in the lower lobes of his left lung. The upper lobes were full of crackles. I am no doctor, but I was concerned he had pneumonia, and told his mother she needed to get him medical treatment immediately.

Every minute that went by, José’s lung infection was causing his body to fight for oxygen and he couldn’t keep this up indefinitely.

Lorena called José’s father, who told me there was no reason for his son to go the doctor. I found out that many of the indigenous go to clinic to be seen and the doctors often don’t even physically examine their patients; if they do, they prescribe medicines the indigenous are unable to buy. I argued with José’s father, emphasizing the danger his little baby boy was in. I assured him that we would help his son get the medicines he needed as long as he would give Lorena permission to take José to the doctor. He finally gave his consent, and I was relieved. Lorena would not have taken her baby to the doctor without her husband’s approval.

Once we had permission, Holly (the YWAM missionary at Bocas island) moved heaven and earth in order to find a good doctor who would agree to examine José.  Once she located a doctor, she then had to arrange to transport Lorena and José to the main island by water taxi. Several hours and many phone calls later, we had everything arranged and José was going to see a doctor.

Lorena and José returned that afternoon, loaded down with five different medications. José did indeed have pneumonia, and the doctor agreed that his condition had been serious. Because of everyone’s efforts, José was able to get the care he needed.

The best part of my trip was taking my battered grey stethoscope that had belonged to my grandmother, and hiking to the village every day to listen to José’s improving lung sounds.

The last day before I left Bocas, his tiny brown hands grabbed the stethoscope and held it as his big, dark eyes gazed up at me. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about how close this precious baby had been to death.

A few weeks ago, I returned to Bocas island. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to hike over to the village and check on José and his family. He is a happy, thriving, almost three-year-old. He now has a baby brother named “Tom,” who was named after Holly’s husband. I gave some snack bars to the children, and José happily munched on one, oblivious to the fact that 2 years ago he was fighting for his life. Before I left, I prayed with them and thanked God for His love and protection over this little family. I know he probably didn’t understand me, but I hugged José and told him that he is special and that God has a big plan for his life.

José is alive because of God’s amazing grace, the untiring efforts of willing missionaries, and my Grandma’s battered 30 year-old stethoscope.

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December, 2017: José and his family. He is the little guy in the orange shorts and teddy bear shirt.

Little Ones: Big Purpose

I’d like for you to meet Monica. She is a school-teacher in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Her day-job teaching at a Christian school isn’t enough for her. She has a burden for children, and she has decided to do something about it! On Saturdays, instead of enjoying her day off from the noise and chaos of working with children, she hosts a Bible club for the kids in her neighborhood.

Our family got to spend a day with her, and we have nicknamed her the “Pied Piper.” She goes around the neighborhood, knocking on doors for one hour, extending invitations for the children to come to Bible Club. Over the course of the hour walk (and about two miles of terrain), she has a group of about 30 children trailing after her, following her to Bible Club. Upon arriving, she teaches them a Bible lesson, sings songs, plays games, and feeds the children a snack.

Monica spends her evenings baking cookies, banana bread, zucchini bread, carrot bread, etc, to feed “her kids,” as she likes to call them. She also makes them “juice:” water, sugar, and whatever fruit she has on hand, blended, with the pulp strained out, all mixed together. Monica is not wealthy, but she radically gives what she has. No one pays her to do this; she supports her little children’s ministry with her personal income. Monica has a passion for children: she ministers to them, and she personally sacrifices in order to share Jesus with them.

People like Monica bring to the forefront God’s heart for our young generations.

It’s so easy to overlook the importance of children’s ministry, or even to rank it as “second place” to adult ministry. 

This brings me to my second introduction: Pastor Bruno. He has been pastoring for over 25 years in the most dangerous neighborhoods of San Salvador, El Salvador. This city has been distinguished as the “death capital of the world” because of gang violence. Pastor Bruno’s church has about 35 people. Of those 35, 25-30 of these church members are children. He has literally pastored a church of children for 25 years. Children make up the largest population of his church for several reasons:

1. Adults are afraid to go where his church is located. It is just too dangerous.

2. The majority of his church attendees are the children of the gang members and prostitutes where he lives.

3. Children love to go to Bruno’s church, because he values them, he teaches them, and he patiently disciples them.

4. All his ministry teams are made up of children: Prayer Team, Praise & Worship Team, Ushers/Greeters, Evangelism Team, etc.  Kids know that when they go to Bruno’s church, he will teach them to lead, and he will hand them a microphone and LET them lead!

Rob and I met with Bruno and his family three weeks ago. We treated their entire family to a pizza party at the Pizza Hut in El Salvador. My kids had to coach their three-year-old grandson on how to play on the indoor playground. He had never been in a place like that, and wasn’t sure what to do.

We ordered too much food, in order to send them home with leftovers. Bruno, his wife, and his four children are modern-day heroes of the faith. Two years ago, gang members surrounded Bruno’s house, threatening to rape his daughters and kill them all. Bruno and his family knelt on the floor in their home that night, placing their lives into Jesus’ hands, and committed to staying and ministering there, no matter what happened. God supernaturally intervened, and they weren’t harmed. In fact, the local gang leader found out what happened, and the person threatening them disappeared.

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A visit with Bruno’s family

In the last six months, Bruno’s family has been working in Tonacatepeque (say that three times really fast without stuttering, lol). They drive 1 1/2 hours to hold a children’s program at a church where the church’s own pastor refuses to go because it has become too dangerous. They have had more than 100 children attend their “training,” and have graduated 62 students. These children can “graduate” if they don’t miss one session for 12 weeks, and they can recite 20 Bible passages. Pastor Bruno awards these children with a certificate of completion, a small toy, a children’s devotional, and their very own Bible.

Bruno does all of this by faith. The children he ministers to don’t have money. The churches he visits can’t afford to give him an offering. He has been driving the same beat-up van he had when we met him sixteen years ago.

He is not living for this world’s definition of success or accomplishment.

He is being faithful to Jesus’ entreaty in John 21:15, “[if] you love me… then feed my lambs.” 

In the past six months, our outreach teams have seen more than 600 people pray to commit their lives to Jesus. Over half of these people are children. In a recent study, The Barna Group pointed out that what a person believes by the age of 13 will carry into the rest of their lives. Ministering to children isn’t “mini-ministry,” or a “stepping-stone to REAL ministry.” It has the potential to literally transform entire communities and cultures.

Just the other day, we were readying our family to go do a children’s program. I caught myself thinking, “This is the LAST thing I want to do today!” I had a list a mile long of things to get done, like laundry, prepping for a Bible-school class, translating audio-visuals, and preparing for another children’s ministry on Sunday. To top it all off, I simply wanted a “day-off.” I was immediately convicted when I felt Holy Spirit reply to my attitude:

But this is what I want to do today.”

Once we arrived at the location, we spent an hour inviting kids. This actually means we spent an hour knocking on doors, waking people up, and inciting all the local dogs into a barking frenzy. People in Panama drink into the night on Fridays, and don’t like to rise much before 10:30 or 11 am on Saturday mornings. We really stirred up the pot knocking on their doors at 9am!

We gathered a crowd of about 35 kids, and then began our program. We had songs, games, dramas, and a Bible lesson. At the end, I was sitting on the ground, coloring in the midst of a group of Panamanian children.

Suddenly, God’s heart for them began to overwhelm me. I had been chatting with a boy and girl, and as they began to describe their home life in matter-of-fact tones, I realized that THIS was the most important thing I would do all week. Today may be the only day that little Carlos would have someone look him in the eye and tell him “Jesus loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” This may be the only time this week that 10 year-old Aurelia will feel safe and not fearful of what an adult may do to her. My heart melted as I took in the sight of chubby, brown hands gripping a crayon for the first time, uncertainty replaced by confidence as we assured him that he was doing a good job.

So many children, all over the world, wake up in the morning and then go to bed later that night without ever being hugged, encouraged, shown affection, or given value. As my legs went numb from sitting on the dirty concrete, I realized that this was a holy mission. I was a living extension of the Father’s heart. Who will love His children? Who will kneel in the dirt and show them value? Who will give of themselves and embrace the chaos and joy of spending time with Father’s little ones? Who will feed His lambs?

Children aren’t an afterthought to God. They are His first passion.

My prayer is that my life would reflect this truth.

As we left the children’s program that day, we were mobbed by the children hugging us goodbye. Aurelia shyly told me, “I can’t wait for you to come back.” As I hugged her, fervently praying for her future safety, I felt Father God’s love for her break my heart.

I can’t wait to go back, either.

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Jesus loves the little children!

Shockwave: Our Arrival to Panama

A year ago today we arrived with our five children, seven large suitcases, and seven carry-ons to the nation of Panama.

I will never forget that day.

After spending 16 hours of my 37th birthday packing and re-packing, panicking that I was forgetting something THAT MUST NOT BE FORGOTTEN and then traveling for 30 hours, we finally arrived at our house that was to be “home.”

In my rush to pack and have everything ready for our new life in Panama, I had brushed aside a brief comment in an email from the YWAM base. They had written, telling me, “We have rented a local Panamanian home for your family. But, it is VERY simple.” Being an “experienced missionary,” I allowed myself to feel no concern. I have lived in simple housing before, and it’s no big deal. “As long as there is a place for us to sleep, and an indoor toilet with running water, I can do anything,” I assured myself as I mentally dismissed the kind letter from Panama.  I’ve spent weeks sleeping on an air mattress on the floor, and taking bucket baths. This ain’t no hill to climb.

All my bravado dissipated as I stood, sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, at the entrance to our new “home.” My children and husband were likewise subdued to silence. I felt defeated. I don’t give up easily, and so it surprised me when the thought came to my mind, “I don’t think I can do this.”

This was a defining moment for me. I had been told I would go through a “fantasy period” in missions, akin to the honeymoon for newlyweds. This fantasy period lasted a brief 4 seconds. It melted into thin air as I gazed at the place we would be living. Looking back now, it seems so dramatic. The house really wasn’t that bad. It certainly wasn’t a grass hut with mud floors.

I don’t know what made that moment so hard for us, other than it was just completely foreign to us, and stark, and lonely.

An ache rose in my chest as I realized that I had packed up my small children and brought them to this. No friends, no grandparents, and a house that seemed to reject us from the moment we arrived.

A brief tour revealed a simple block-structured house, with a concrete floor and a tin roof; a white drop-down ceiling had just been installed before we arrived. The walls appeared dirty, and when I tried to rub them clean, I realized they were discolored from the people who had lived here prior to us. Up until this point, whenever we had moved into a house, I had always had a slight consciousness that people had lived there before us. But, this house felt like SOMEONE ELSE’S house that we had invaded. Dirty walls and all.

The house measures 550 square feet. and divides into 6 rooms: 3 small bedrooms, a room that holds the 8-foot table and chairs, the kitchen, and a bathroom. Each room had a single, lonely lightbulb bravely trying to dispel the feeling of gloom and neglect. The boys’ room was the starkest. The prior family had apparently run out of paint, and so left half the room unfinished. Part of the room was white-washed and the other half of the room was unfriendly concrete block walls. Paired with metal bunkbeds, it strongly resembled a prison cell.

Our new little house

Our new little house

 

The other challenge was that Panamanians don’t worry much about storage. So, this house literally had NO shelves, closets, or anywhere to put things. It also didn’t have any mirrrors, towel hooks, toilet paper holders, etc. My “so what” attitude before coming slammed me in the face as I realized I had been completely unprepared for this.

I went into my 12-year-old son’s room and found him silently crying. “I really miss Joplin, mom,” was all I could get him to tell me. As much as we didn’t want to be there, we had to be there.

So, I began to throw a little Pollyanna at the thing. We began to count our blessings.

We had received a nice welcome basket from the YWAM base, with cookies and candies and drinks. It was later, as I went to pick up a bag of chips that I discovered the 5 cockroaches milling about in the basket that the held the goodies. I felt I handled it pretty well until a cockroach ran up my arm and tried to enter my shirt. I decided to scream then. But, that’s a story for another blog.

Back to the “glad game:” I rejoiced that we had our own refrigerator! This was a precious item, because we hadn’t had one at the other YWAM base in Mexico. I made a mental note to buy ice trays. We would have ICE to cool our drinks!

We also had been given a two-burner gas stove top and a tank of gas. We didn’t know how to assemble it, but figured, “How hard could it be???” After ten more cockroaches (lurking in the box that held the gas burner stovetop), holding our tongues just right, and a lot of trial and error, we assembled our very own gas stovetop! I didn’t have any food to cook on it, but was determined to remedy that quickly.

We sent our somber boys to the neighborhood “tienda,” (little shop that carries snack foods and some basic grocery items) and they came back with glass bottles of pop and big smiles. They’d had their first adventure in Panama, and that was a happy beginning for them.

We didn’t have a vehicle, and a missionary named “Ezra” offered to take us shopping in David (a city) the next day. What Ezra and his wife did for us that day will never be forgotten. They had us over for lunch, and while she watched 8 children, he took us shopping. That meant he literally spent the next 4 hours standing in stores, waiting, while I scoured aisle after aisle, trying to learn what items can be bought in David, Panama.

This is a learning curve that missionaries don’t tell you about when they are sharing their stories of adventure and incredible testimonies.

For about 2 months, they are new-born babies in an strange, new world.

They are surrounded by people who don’t know them, don’t understand their culture, and don’t really care if they “make it” in this new country. These missionaries don’t know where to buy dental floss, a bottle of Tylenol, or yogurt. They don’t know where to find the hardware store, the post office, or the supermarket. They don’t know the best place to buy vegetables or meat. They don’t know if they can even find all the necessary ingredients to make their favorite recipes. All of the convenience of knowing where to go that we take for granted as adults is stripped away when you move to a new country. As a result, shopping trips tend to last for hours, especially in the first couple of months in a new location.

Every time I apologized to Ezra for shopping too long, he said, “It’s o.k., we had to do the same thing when we got here. Take all the time you need.” So, though we were in a strange country with no family or close friends, we found ourselves belonging to a brotherhood of others who understood what it meant to be displaced.

The shopping trip that day was epic. I bought enough plastic storage tubs to fill the back of the fifteen-passenger van we were driving. I bought storage hooks, wood planks to make shelving, mirrors, trashcans, COCKROACH-proof containers for storing food, and PAINT.

We spent the next two weekends painting, installing shelves, borrowing tools, asking questions, asking questions, and asking questions. We learned that in order to hang a curtain rod, you needed a hammer drill that would pre-drill four holes, then you had to sink a wall anchor in the holes, and then you had to drill screws into the bracket to hold the curtain rods. Nothing in Panama can be done quickly.

As we painted, built shelves and assembled RTA furniture, a grace that had always been there for us began to permeate our daily lives. We filled the concrete walls with laughter. We grew closer as a family. We became thankful for the small things:

After a week of cold showers, a missionary friend explained how our shower water heater worked, and we began taking warm showers! We also began to meet our neighbors. They learned to stop by when we were cooking meals, and enjoyed sampling our strange, “gringo” food. Our trees in the yard yielded fresh bananas, guava fruit, and oranges. We didn’t have a car of our own, so as we walked several miles a day to/from the base, we would tell stories and jokes and talk about the Lord.

And I made a beautiful discovery: I found that His Word is always true. “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) “My grace is sufficient for you; for MY STRENGTH is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Cor. 12:9) I learned to take my weakness, my disappointment, and my impossible situation and surrender it into His capable hands.

He, in turn, gave my entire family a supernatural grace to not only live here, but to THRIVE here.

Fast-forward to a year later. We returned to Panama on February 18, 2017, after a visit to Missouri. As we unlocked the rough-hewn wooden front door to our little house, we gazed at the concrete floors, and the dimly-lit rooms. And in that quiet moment, my son said, “Mom and dad, it’s so great to be home.”

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Painting the boys’ room. I have a great helper!

 

Beauty & Glamour Tips: Missions Edition

Have you ever wondered how to be beautiful and glamorous, even on a mission trip? Probably the thought has never even entered your mind. But, just in case you should ever need to know, I have compiled a brief list of necessary info in order to look your best while traveling (specifically, in Northern Chile):
1. Dry shampoo is a girl’s best friend! 
(And if you are an investor, you might consider buying stock in it. Hands down, the most overlooked essential item on a mission trip!) I met dry shampoo over 5 years ago, and I don’t know how I managed before. A girl from College Heights Christian School sprayed it in her hair, and… voila!… her greasy, slept-in hair transformed into fresh, clean locks. I was instantly a believer, and now obsessively keep an over-stock of cans of this product wherever I go. We are currently on a 7 week trip in South America and I have 5 outfits and THREE cans of dry shampoo! You just can’t have enough. (By the way, it is also handy when you AREN’T on a mission trip, and you just don’t want to have to wash your hair every morning….)

2. The “hervidor” and large bucket are key to luxury bathing. 
First, I must explain the hervidor. (Spanish for “the boiler.”) It is a carafe that holds about a liter of water and can boil it in two minutes. No lie. It is the most amazing contraption for heating water. It sits on a hot plate that plugs into a wall outlet. When someone first told me to heat water in it, I expected it to boil in about 20 minutes. But, South America has a special feature: 220 volt outlets! Double the power we use in North and Central America. The water goes from room temp to boiling in 2 minutes! I have coupled the quick-heating feature of the “hervidor” with a two foot diameter plastic bucket in order to defy the phenomenon of the cold shower! My perfected recipe: 4 liters of boiling water. This is done in increments of a liter at a time that takes 2-3 minutes to heat each batch. I pour the boiling water into a cooking pot, hoping it helps retain the heat. Once my 4 liters are heated, I carefully mix the heated water with room temp water, getting it to the correct temp in the white bucket. Then, with a small plastic bucket, scoop the water over my head and enjoy a deliciously hot “shower.” If you are ever in South America, I hope you don’t miss the opportunity to see an hervidor in action! (Question to those reading from Europe: do you have these there? What do you call them???) Even if you aren’t heating water for bathing, you can have a hot cup of tea ready to drink in 2 minutes. Sorry I’m sounding like a product tester, it’s obvious I’m in love. The sad part is, they won’t work in 110 v outlets. The time will come when I will have to say goodbye. 

The perfect combo: an hervidor with a bucket. Result: hot showers. This Momma is happy!

3. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Everything. Literally. 

We are in the desert of Northern Chile (I need cousin Jake to tell me the exact name of the desert…?). In case you wondered, deserts are extremely dry. I always thought the Grand Canyon was the driest place I had ever been. Well, there is a drier place in the Americas: The desert of Northern Chile. We began driving here from Bolivia, and I felt my face literally tighten with the dry-ness of the air. My lips began to crack, my hair started emitting crackles of static electricity. It was absolutely phenomenal how dry it became! The benefit of being so dry is that you can conduct wrinkle-projection studies. When your skin dries, it cracks and settles, and actually allows you to see how many wrinkles you will have in a few years. More than once, I have looked into the mirror and saw my Grandma looking back at me. The best part is, once I get back to humid Panama, I will look 10 years younger! So, if you ever come to the desert of Northern Chile, bring the strongest moisturizers you have, to treat your skin, your lips, even your nose. Which is where point #4 comes in:

 4. Never underestimate the power of menthol.

Let me share this dislaimer: I come from the generation whose grandmothers used Vicks Vaporub to cure all things. A dab of menthol could chase away a cold, the pain of sore muscles, AND your love life. One whiff of that stuff and you were destined to spend the night alone. So, this bit of advice comes from a life-long skeptic. I have laughed at my grandmother’s obsession with menthol for 30 plus years. But, as my nose began to dry in the desert climate, I began suffering from repeat nose bleeds. The air whistled through my nose, and it was actually painful. One of my DTS students convinced me she held the cure: Menthol ointment. You just rub a finger-full in each nostril, and your dry nose symptoms were over. I have to say, it worked. Besides feeling like a huge dork putting menthol in my nose, my eyes watering over the smell, the magical effects were wrought: my nose instantly began to run. No more dry nose. The somewhat undesirable side-effect was the ol’ love life clause. Rob refused to kiss me. I can’t say I blamed him.

5. Spritz your water with lemon. 

Here, the water is extremely alkaline. The desert here is salty. You can pick up a shiny chunk of rock and lick it, and it will taste like salt! As a result, the water tastes really strange. Kind of like there is a dry powder in it. We have learned to squeeze lemon into it. It sweetens the water. If you can, chill the water overnight. You will have a cool, refreshing treat!
6. Don’t forget your sunscreen, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed jungle hat (for Joey.) EVER. 

We walk about 7 minutes across the desert to go to the lunch room. The sun at high noon is blistering! So, we prep the kids like they are spending a day at the beach for a ten minute walk to go eat lunch. The extraordinary thing is, the temps can be 90-100 degrees in the sun, and in the shade, a comfortable 70 degrees!

My family walks through the desert landscape to go eat lunch! This is a hike we make at least four times daily.

7. Dry your hair, unplugged. 

The ability to dry here is amazing. Our clothes dry on the clothesline in 30 minutes. If you don’t take them off the line by 1 hour, they will start to fade from the sun. My hair dries in 20 minutes. 10-15 minutes, if sitting in full sun. When mopping, the floor you have started to mop will be dry before you are finished mopping the entire room! I have discovered the dumbest thing I packed for this trip was my hair-dryer.

8. My final beauty tip is to smile and laugh a lot! 

Your smile lines may settle into dry cracks and wrinkles, but preserving a sense of humor is essential to true beauty! (And your family prefers a happy momma to a grumpy one.)

This list of beauty tips is NOT comprehensive. I welcome comments and tips from others to add to my repertoire! In conclusion, for all those ladies out there who will see me in December sporting a sweet tan and solar highlights, don’t be jealous. If you get too close to me, you might catch a whiff of menthol. That should be enough to convince you that nothing about this girl is even remotely glamorous. 

New Beginnings in Bolivia

Well, we are officially on outreach! We arrived in Bolivia after 22 hours of traveling. We have only been here for two days, but already, God has been at work. Little did I know how much it would involve my own family.

Yesterday, we did a program for children. Isaac volunteered to share his personal testimony. He told a room of 30 children how he had grown up in church, but he realized that he was sinful, and needed Jesus to forgive him and make him new.

Hearing Isaac share his testimony was an interesting moment for me. From time to time, I have those realizations that my children are separate people from me. As life goes on, they are learning to choose for themselves, and are making decisions that will affect their futures. Isaac very calmly shared how he had decided that following Jesus is what he wants in this life.

After sharing his testimony, Isaac invited the kids to make a decision to follow Jesus, just as he had. Three children came forward to pray and to give their lives to Jesus. What a beautiful moment, seeing my child leading others to Jesus.

Today, I was surprised by another touching moment with my children. JonDavid approached me saying, “Mom, I think Emma needs to talk to you. She is crying and talking about how much sin she has and she needs to change.”

Apparantly, my young evangelist son, JonDavid, had been talking with Emma about sin. She realized the weight of her “6 year old sin,” and  began tellling JonDavid that she needed to get rid of it. Here is a brief transcript of their conversation:

JonDavid: “Emma, we all have to ask Jesus to wash us of our sin. He´s the only One who can give you a new heart.”

Emma: “I have a lot of sin, and my heart is bad. Can I get rid of it?”

JonDavid: “You probably need to go talk to mom, she can pray with you, just like she did with me.”

Emma: “(Crying) I can´t tell mom! She will be mad at me because I have so much sin!”

JonDavid: “No, it´s ok. She will be proud of you that you are trusting Jesus. We all have to do this, even mom and dad!   Come on, I will go talk to mom for you……”

This is the moment when JonDavid approached me. Apparantly, he sent Emma the “all clear” sign, because she showed up after his explanation, tears running down her cheeks. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me,

“Momma, I want to have a heart clean of sin. I don´t want it any more. It makes me mad, and makes everybody else mad too!” Then, she put her face in her hands and cried.

What is interesting about this is that Emma usually only expresses regret for wrong-doing when she gets caught. She is the typical kid who is care-free and happy and doesn´t get hung up on feeling remorse or regret. She makes mistakes; we, as her parents, point them out, and she apologizes and moves on. Today was the first time I saw her with a genuine awareness and regret for having made mistakes and committed sin outside of “getting caught.”

As she sobbed into her hands, I gathered her in my arms, sat her in my lap, and prayed with her for Jesus to give her a brand-new heart. How many times does Jesus want to do this with us? In the midst of our sin, shame and regret, He gathers us into His arms and gives us a new beginning.

So, here we are in Bolivia, and I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “Let the little children come unto Me.” In the midst of the heat and unfamiliar surroundings, the children are running to Jesus. The beautiful thing for this Momma is seeing the first children running to Him are my own.

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The Harryman family traveling to Bolivia!

 

 

Castles in the Sand

 

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Yesterday, I was building a sand castle with my eight year old son. It was exciting to see the castle emerge: walls, towers, ramparts, all set off by the castle moat. Only one thing kept daunting our task. From time to time, a rogue wave would move up the beach, and wash our castle into a state of ruins. It was fun to watch my son frantically move about, trying to prevent the decay of his dream. He would clutch the towers in order to better support them, and try to dig out space for the water to flow past without harming the castle. In the end, we both walked away, our lofty imaginings of a beautiful castle giving way to the reality of our failed efforts.

As we left, our ruined castle forgotten, his smile radiant and his laughter contagious, I realized something:

It was never about the castle. It was about us.

If I had been consumed with the success of our efforts, if I had become obsessed with results, I would have missed everything. His smile; our teamwork; his joy at having me sit beside him in the sticky sand and while away the hours together: These were what gave value to our endeavors.

Our human existence is a bigger picture of that sunny day on the beach. We are constantly working to build something wonderful: to create, to pull our dreams from an idea to its reality. In the Christian world, the drive to build and succeed doesn’t lessen.

But, in my own life, I see moments when I am frantically trying to keep the “towers” from crumbling, while Jesus is simply trying to get me to see HIM.

Days and weeks of effort can crumble in a moment. I can work for years trying to gain influence, improve my efficiency, and try to convince others to follow me as I follow Him. In the midst of my fervor to build the castle of my ministry, I must ask myself, “Is this still about Him, or has it become more about the castle?”

The longer I am at this, the more I am realizing that it’s my tendency to focus on the castle-building and to miss the real prize. In my desire to have something to “show for,” I leave Him to the side. I feel sure He will still be there sitting beside me once my castle has been reinforced with steel and replaced with concrete. And that’s the moment I look up, sweat dripping from my brow, my cheeks flushed with pent-up frustration, and realize He is no longer there. Sometime during my obsessed efforts to create something memorable, He walked away.

My castle has now become a prison. Cold, sterile, and well-built. It is complete, but it will never be whole.

It is missing the One who gave it any purpose.

As has happened to so many Godly men who end up wrong: My ministry is empty. A ship without a sea. A poem without a lover. A mother without a son.

The more we accomplish in Christendom and the more we can show for our efforts, the easier it is to pull away from Him. Our “success” in the ministry can ultimately result in our failure in relationship. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7-9a,

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him….”

Paul understood the competition between accomplishment and relationship. He made it very clear that when the two clashed, he would always abandon results for Jesus. In vs. 4-6 of the same passage, Paul lists his qualifications and successes in the ministry. He wasn’t considering sin or vice as the “garbage” to be cast away. He was denouncing his ambition, efforts, even his own ministry accomplishments. These were worthless to him, in order for him to know Christ!

Paul was willing to walk away from the sand castle if it was going to keep him from Jesus.

I look to Paul’s example, and I am challenged. I can still build this castle of ministry, but I must remember two things: 1. It is only made of sand. It was never intended to last forever. 2. It’s not about the castle. It’s about US. The castle is simply a way for Jesus and I to build together.

This is life-changing for me.

As a missionary walking dusty streets in Panamanian villages, I hold His hand. I let His heart capture mine as I look into the eyes of people who have gone their entire lives without Him. It thrills my heart to realize I’m not doing this alone. I need His help; we are building something together.

As a worship leader, my voice and instrument no longer matter. Can He see my heart? Does He know I’m weeping because I’m so honored to be here with Him, because this song will never fully express how much He means to me?

As a public speaker, looking at the crowd before me, I realize I don’t need to be influential. I just want Him to be proud of me; I just want to make Him smile. This is another day with Him, building a ministry like I built a sand castle with my son. At the end of the day, I want to walk away from the castle, still holding to His hand. At the end of my life, I want to leave behind the ministry, more in love with Him than when I began.

Despite how faithfully we attend to our ministries, the waves of life will wash over us all. In the sandy ruins of my human effort and ambition, I long for this to be what remains:

Jesus, the lover of my soul

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The end of the sand castle; but NOT the end of a beautiful friendship.

 

Traveling Trials

I’m writing this blog for those of you who think that since I am a missionary, I have been granted supernatural patience. Unfortunately, I practice patience the same way we all have to: under trial.

The date is March 24th, 2016.  Our family, (Rob and I, and our five children), had finally crammed the last possible item into our luggage and were at the airport to catch our flight to Panama. We were checking 7 items: 5 suitcases, one carry-on bag, a stuffed hiking pack and a guitar. In addition, each child had a back pack of their own with excess items I couldn’t seem to find room to pack in the suitcases. Two of our checked bags were holding the curriculum for our kids’ school-work for the next nine months. My 37 years of life had brought me to this point:

Seven bags, one guitar, five children, one husband.

Sobering thought.

It is our turn in the queue, and I get our passports ready for check-in. Ready or not, Panama, here we come!

….Except there is a little snag. Our five suitcases were overweight by 5 pounds each. Rob had bought a handy luggage scale where you hook the bag and suspend it. It gives you an “accurate” read-out of your luggage weight. Except it must have been off by 5 pounds. Verdict: Luggage scale: NOT so handy.

So, I start pulling out enough stacks of socks and shirts and PACE’s (the kids’ school books) to get the weight reduced. By the fifth bag, I think I’m getting pretty good at gauging how much weight is in an adult pair of socks or stack of t-shirts. I congratulate myself on my success at getting five bags under the weight limit. Only now I must face the fact that I have to re-allocate this weight to a guitar, an already stuffed hiking pack, and a small suitcase.

Desperation makes you creative. Under the watchful eye of other travelers waiting to check in for their flights, we take on the challenge of re-distributing our travel weight. There is nothing more humbling than this particular moment: Hours of deliberate planning and organized packing dissolve into a hasty panic of trying to stuff personal items back out of the sight of complete strangers. Rob and I no longer look like cool, collected travelers. We’re frantically stuffing socks into the cavity of his guitar. Hiding our panic, we call our kids over and start cramming books and clothes into their airplane carry-ons. Rivulets of sweat drip between my eyebrows.

While tossing items to Rob, I catch a glimpse of another passenger. He appears polished and svelte; I spot a manicured hand resting on the upraised handle of an infinitesimal Samsonite suitcase. I am torn between the twin sins of wanting to sue the “handy” luggage scale inventors, and envying my cosmopolitan fellow passenger. In a moment he will push his slick little suitcase onto the luggage scale with a victorious 15 pounds under weight. I want to verbally challenge him,

“Oh yeah? Are you living out of THAT for the next nine months???? I didn’t THINK so!”

I catch myself, realizing I am fantasizing about an argument instead of finishing this deplorable duty. Soon, the task is complete. I say a little prayer over the bulging zippers of the back-packs, and walk away satisfied. Maybe the zippers will burst and everything will fly out. At this point, I couldn’t care less. I’m a missionary, for goodness sake: If my kids don’t have extra underwear, I’ll just remind them that their next-door neighbors have been living without extra changes of clothes for their entire lives. How hard can it be?!

The next step is even tougher. We say goodbye to our parents and our kids hug their grandparents for the last time for nine months. It’s moments like these that are much harder than luggage weight re-allocation. Our hearts ache for the moments we will miss and the memories we will only share through Skype calls.

People often ask me, “What is it like to do what you do?”

This question is not easy to answer. Honestly, I am no super-hero. I am just a busy mom who is willing to live wherever God sends us. Those hectic moments of packing and re-packing and those poignant moments of heartache and goodbyes all culminate into one truth:

The Lamb is worthy.

Everything He has freely given me, I freely give back.

As we walk the breezeway to board our plane, I take a deep breath. I don’t know how my luggage will end up, but this I do know: I will proudly stand beside my husband and my 5 beautiful children as we follow God’s leading. We are living an incredible adventure that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

….But I DO have a luggage scale back home I am happy to give away to anyone who is interested…..

Family pic airport March 2016

My family at the airport. We took this photo BEFORE we realized we would be re-packing all our luggage. Hence, the nice smiles.

Furlough in Missouri

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My Large (but beautiful) Family

For the past two weeks, I’ve been driving my minivan around town and faithfully performing the following duties:

  • Dr. Appointments
  • Dental Visits (all 5 kids need their teeth cleaned and ISAAC has cavities….)
  • Orthodontic appointments (Isaac again)
  • New Driver’s license
  • Homeschooling
  • Walmart (to buy a fresh supply of underwear and socks for the next 9 months…)
  • Laundry
  • Laundry
  • Laundry

 

Actually, looking at the final three items, I’ve been ignoring some of the above mentioned duties…oops.

This list can probably be found in every suburban mother’s home, complete with children and the minivan with the sticky seats. Unfortunately, my official job description is not “stay-at-home Missouri Mom,” but “international missionary mom home on furlough.” The key word in both descriptions is “Mom,” and there’s no escaping the fact that motherhood trumps fancy job descriptions and reduces you to that lady who never has enough hours in her day….

Our furlough home has been interesting. I had this secret wish list of things to do upon arriving in Missouri:

  • Visit family
  • Hang out with friends (show them I’m learning to drink coffee…. Actually, I don’t think “official” coffee drinkers consider a “Latte” to be true coffee, but I’m breaking a non-coffee habit of 36 years…)
  • Indulge in the following hard-to-find foods in Latin America:
    • DR. PEPPER
    • Steaks cooked Medium Rare with no fear of food poisoning
    • Sour Cream. On everything… Except the Lattes.
    • American Candy, especially Reese’s Pieces.
  • Catch up on some needed rest
  • Take long soaks in the bathtub with very hot water
  • And, hey, maybe asking too much, but it’d be nice to see some snow. (Just the pretty kind that falls and doesn’t stick or make the roads dangerous.)

 

My actual time home has been much, much busier. Our crazy schedule has made the above list a bit challenging to accomplish. On the bright side, my list looks like a solid plan for “How to Gain Weight Effortlessly,” so it’s probably for the best.

To give you a little idea of what a five-week furlough can look like, in the last 5 weeks, we:

  • Drove 2,500 miles (not counting Rob’s 1,500 mile drive to Juarez, Mexico, & back)
  • Changed time zones 3 times (4 if you count going onto daylight savings time)
  • Traveled through the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri
  • Visited 6 different churches and one para-church ministry
  • Went to 10 office appointments
  • celebrated 3 birthdays and an adoption
  • Unpacked/Re-packed/Unpacked (again!) a total of 8 suitcases
  • recorded a radio/podcast interview (here’s my plug for NextGen Worship, you should take a listen sometime)

 

I don’t know if you’ve picked up on the trend yet, but I’m become very proficient at making lists. (Maybe I should’ve used the word obsessive instead of proficient…?)

Where am I heading with all of this?

Please know, first of all, I’m really not complaining. It’s so great to see our dear friends, family and supporters!

I’m blogging about this because it’s such a contrast of roles:

One minute, I’m sharing my great passion for the beautiful people in Mexico and Panama, and the next moment I’m sitting in the car singing “On the Road Again” with the kids. The slide shows, highlight videos, and RKMissions T-shirts morph into another round of suitcases, our trusty GPS unit, and another pile of laundry.

Hold on a sec. I WILL complain about that! Do any of you ever feel like that pile of laundry should really be called “Mt. NEVEREST?” As in, it will NEVER get done, EVER(est)? I have been stepping around it, my kind husband has been stepping over it, and my 5 children just run over the top of it. What’s with that anyway? I know it wouldn’t look as cute as the pink Energizer bunny marching around and around and never stopping, but, seriously, my laundry pile WILL EXIST into Infinity and Beyond!!!

Which brings me to another pile that seems to keep growing: the un-matched sock pile. Every few months, I throw away a gallon-bucket-sized pile of socks that have no mates. Only to turn around and find the “Un-matched” pile has appeared again, daring me to believe the other sock will turn up as I do the laundry.

No matter where I go, what I do, or how much I check items off my to-do list, the laundry never goes away. It patiently sits there, awaiting my next energy spurt.

But, for all my complaining, I’m still having the time of my life. (With a little less sleep than originally hoped…)

Nothing replaces our excitement to visit with our families. Nothing compares to seeing people weep as we share about loving the Ngobe Indians in Panama. Nothing erases the effects of hearing our loved ones pray for us and encourage us.

Not even the laundry pile can steal the simple joys of enjoying the fickle Missouri weather, talking with friends, and laughing with family.

We are blessed. We are loved. And whether I can see it or not, we are advancing the Kingdom,

…..one dirty sock at a time.

Kathryn Laundry

CLEAN Laundry!  (Special thanks to Matt Nickel for the Photo Bomb.)