Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Semester's End and Christmas Festivities

The end of the semester is always a busy time. Furthermore, holidays add to the busyness of the days. There is much to write about from the last few weeks, so this will be a brief overview.

December 7th is a very important Catholic holiday which is celebrated with many candles, music and fireworks- the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. That evening, Steve was at the school Christmas program (which was amazing to see all the different grades singing and the skits preformed) while Marlayna and Elleazah stayed at home due to the nature of the event and the late evening. In our conjunto (or gated neighborhood), people started to light a line of candles to light the way for Mary. Elleazah and Marlayna went out to walk around some and watch the lighting the candles, children excitedly running around, and load music playing in the background. The administration of our conjunto provided drinks and snacks for the festivities.  

Steve had the opportunity to go to another part of Bogota before Christmas break, to a school that is a ministry outreach for ECA elementary students, to give a presentation on working with students who demonstrate behaviors often related with ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). He identified different causes to the behaviors, different strategies with working with the students who do and do not actually have ADHD, and ways to reach out to the families (considering this school is also a Christian school in a very high risk area). However, this school is Spanish speaking so Steve had an interpreter. The meeting was very productive and helpful for the teachers and appreciated his insight. They even asked that he return with a follow up meeting after some implementation time to answer further questions.

Marlayna was able to meet with the 11th grade girls and other small group leaders after the student’s last final of the semester to make soup, cornbread, and ‘gingerbread’ houses.  We taught the students how to make these simple dishes because most of the students do not ever cook since their families have maids who do the cooking (a very common practice here because labor is really cheap).  Marlayna had a bit of a cultural lesson as she was preparing the devotional about the symbols of Christmas that point back to Christ. Some of the examples of symbols were the star, angel, and the candy cane.  But when she went to find some candy canes as a visual aid that they students could also use on their houses, Marlayna learned that candy canes are not sold here.  Mint just doesn’t seem to be a common flavor, not even for ice cream.

Another activity we participated in with some of the other staff at ECA one evening was to go on a tour of Bogota to see the Christmas lights at some of the parks.  This was a fun way to see different parts of Bogota that we have not ventured out to but like to return for some more exploring.

Pictures from some of these events are limited due to our camera breaking at the high school retreat, so please be patient as we wait to take some pictures from other staff members who also went to the events.

Friday, December 9, 2011

December Prayer Update Letter

HOLIDAYS:  These past 3 months have been jammed pack with Colombian holidays; so much so that in the month of November, we only had 1 full week of school and the rest were partial weeks. For the first main “holiday” of Halloween, we went to serve at the ministry called “the Jungle”. The Jungle is a haven for children to play and learn about God (very similar to Inner City Impact) in a neighborhood ravaged by poverty, drug use, and prostitution. Halloween was a critical day for the ministry because the area has a strong connection with death, since the main source of income is a local cemetery. As such, satanic worship is big in the area and has historically led to child kidnappings, which some suspect to be for sacrificing. Please be in prayer for these children and the community, that they might experience freedom from the bondage of sin and poverty. Some of the Juniors will be going to the Jungle for some of their ministry hours next semester.

11TH GRADE CLASS:  We have recently begun getting to the heart of why students have been struggling with going to the orphanage. We have found that one main reason is that they don’t “feel” like they accomplish anything when they went in the past. With Mark, the other class advisor, we talked about having a servant’s heart and the responsibility of fulfilling a commitment. In future weeks we plan to directly address ways we serve with sinful attitudes and what a Christ-like attitude looks like. In the last 4 months, we have only gone to the orphanage twice because we have not been able to get enough juniors to sign up to go. This past month we enjoyed the company of some recent graduates who joined us in ministering to the orphans for Christmas. Unfortunately, two of our 11th graders got phones taken from them as they were mugged in broad daylight soon after we dropped them off outside a McDonalds. Please pray for Andrea and Santiago as they recover from the experience and that it may deepen their dependence on Christ.

SMALL GROUP: The Junior boys went on their first outing to do indoor go-karting. Steve was able to build relationships with the guys, and the six of them had a fun opportunity spending time with each other outside of school, which doesn’t happen very often due to the fact that they all live in different parts of Bogotá. During Chapel, the guys have been focusing on what it looks like to hold one another accountable. The girls have been continuing through Every Young Woman’s Battle. With the 5th grade boys, Steve has been going through the life of Joseph with them, talking about what to do when we engage in the sins of jealousy, bitterness, and boasting: Repent and Believe!

1-on-1 DISCIPLESHIP: Marlayna is now discipling 2 students, who happen to be close friends and in her small group. She has been focusing with them on staying accountable with their spiritual disciplines and discussing various relationship issues that arise. Steve is going through 2 books with his students: Samson Syndrome with a 12th grader talking about the susceptibility “strong men” have to different failures and Spiritual Leadership an 11th grader, talking about being a spiritual leader and what steps we can take, with God’s intervention, to be a godly influence on others.

SERVICE UPDATE: Marlayna is now coming to school 4 afternoons per week. In addition to leading a small group, discipling the 2 Juniors, going to Spanish classes, she teaches English 2 days per week to people from ECA and the community. She believes that at least 1 of her students is not a Christian, so please be in prayer for God’s Spirit to come upon him. Furthermore, she is tutoring a potential student in math 2 days per week.

Steve has finished designing the framework of the Learning Center and is overseeing staff provide small group study skills instruction for grades 2-12, and administering the instruction for middle school and  high school. He has also been running an anti-bullying group for some 4th grade boys, and providing 1-on-1 counseling for 2 middle school boys who have been struggling with motivational and emotional difficulties. His 1-on-1 math instruction with the 10th grader has been quite the learning experience, as the student also has difficulties with motivation to learn. He has very much enjoyed teaching his self-defense class to 8 high school students. Beginning this month, Steve will be providing monthly parent workshops, with the first one on dealing with stress and how to develop and sustain a homework routine.

Prayer Request Summary:

1.       That we can have joyful hearts emanate to those around us, particularly our neighbors and other staff and through the parenting workshops.
2.       The Junior class: to have the love of Christ as they minister to the orphans with special needs; a heart of unity and accountability among the class.
3.       Our meetings with our disciplees. Pray that we will be able to build them up in love.
4.       Salvation of students
5.       Our fellow supporters: that the Lord will continue to bless them and the ministries He has called them to advance His kingdom.

We are very thankful for your partnership and encouragement. God has truly blessed us through YOU! If there is anything we can do to encourage you or lift you up to the Lord, please let us know!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

High School Retreat!

As eleventh grade small group leaders we were able to participate in a wonderful weekend with the high school student with challenging spiritual devotionals and small group sessions. The sessions were 30 minute devotionals followed by 20 minutes of meditating on a single verse and ending with small group discussion. The devotional topics included: God’s holiness, importance of repentance to someone as an accountability partner, unity and love of the body of Christ, and confession/ reconciliation with each other.  These topics really challenged the students to reflect on their attitude and relationships with their classmates, family members, and other relationships.

The time of meditation was also a great experience for the students because the students have heard for years that they should be meditating on the Word, but they really didn’t know how to meditate on the Word until this retreat. So often it is easier to talk and pray to God but never take the time to listen and reflect on the words in the Bible. We had exciting conversations during small group about some of the observations they made during the time of meditation on the single verse and how the verse applied to their life.

Another significant highlight from the small group times were the activities that went along with the discussion. During one of the small group sessions, the students were partnered up and then asked to share a struggle, or a sin that they are dealing with.  Fortunately, the students know each other rather well, which allowed for them to trust another classmate enough to be an accountability partner, so they can pray for each other in that area of struggle in their life.

A second small group activity was the “confession caterpillar” in which each student had just a couple minutes to talk with each one of their classmates and ask the partner: How have I offended you?  By asking this question, it allowed students to bring up ways in which they have been hurt by the other person. This was a significant activity for our 11th graders because many of the students have gone to ECA since early elementary school and have been offended by a classmate, but rather than confronting that classmate, they shove those feeling and hurts deep down and become bitter toward their classmate. One student said, “I didn’t realize that some of my facial expressions can be offensive because they think I am judging them and that I am better than them!” Another student said, “I didn’t realize that my jokes are so offensive.”  Lastly, one student said, “I didn’t realize how proud I was and how arrogant I am toward my classmates!”  The students had deep wounds from each other while the offender had no idea! Some students were bitter toward each other and through this weekend, they are able to start the healing process through reconciliation and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Holidays in Bogota

For Halloween last week, decorations were commonly put up in windows of the apartments and at the gates of the apartment ‘complexes.’ We went to the mall for our monthly "end- of- the- month" treat: an ice cream cone. The mall was packed with dressed up parents taking their dressed up kids to go trick- or - treating from store to store!  Wow! It was crazy to see some of the outfits, some cute, but most of them scary... even the adults! I can see why many Christians here stay sooooo far from the Halloween scene as possible. 

 Looking onward to this month , according the school calendar, we have multiple days off of school we have a day off for “All Saint’s day,” “Independence of Cartagena,” and two days off for Thanksgiving (thanks ECA being an  American school). We are thankful for the days off of school to relax a little bit at home and visit with others. We are not sure what we will be doing for Thanksgiving.  We decided not to go on a get- away trip for three days with a number of other staff from the school. We intend to keep it low key, maybe get together with another family or two.  One thing we made sure we packed to bring down with us for our tradition was: Thanksgiving, a Time to Remember by Barbara Rainey. Last year, we read this book for the first time, which is about the Pilgrim’s sacrifices and God’s provision for them.  The book is arranged in such a way that it can be a short read or a longer more detailed account of history, which will be nice to alter the story/ devotional as the our family grows. Plus, it comes with a CD of worship music… wonderful!

Christmas season is in full swing! It is a bit weird to see the Christmas season without seeing Thanksgiving or fall seasonal items out. Considering they don’t have fall and Thanksgiving as we do in the States, it makes sense that the Christmas items are out now since Christmas is the next major holiday.  The mall has a big Christmas tree, snow- flake lights up on light posts,  ‘snow drifts’ made of plastic hanging over the side of the mall to look like icicles, and oversized presents that decorate the outside walking areas.  Seeing the snow decorations makes us chuckle because Bogota never sees snow, yet they associate Christmas with snow. Infact, most of the world does not have snow at Christmas time. The Christmas music we have heard thus far in the mall has been the same Christmas music we would hear in the States.   The decorations are not yet finished but we have been told that once all the lights are up, there are multiple power outages in our area due to the energy being used for the decorations! Guess we will get to have a cheaper electric bill with all the blackouts! 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Jungle of Bogota

“The Jungle” is a safe place for youth to go to in a very deprived neighborhood. This neighborhood could be considered the slums of Bogotá, with multiple families living in one house in a neighborhood ravaged by drugs, prostitution, poverty, and satanic activity. During time of the year… the end of October (Halloween), The Jungle , provides longer hours, while proactively reaching out to the community, keeping  their doors open to the youth of the neighborhood.  Due to the intentional outreach and inviting more kids to The Jungle for Halloween weekend, more help and hands were needed for the day.

While serving at The Jungle, we spent the first hour praying for the neighborhood, the kids, safety for this Halloween season, and a spiritual breakthrough in the neighborhood. Then we interacted with the kids, playing with them for the couple hours of free time.  The jungle is well equipped with activities: coloring, playing in the playhouse, swinging them in hammocks, foosball, put-put golf, jump rope, basketball, a climbing wall, table tennis, board games, tub rides, sliding into a pit, and a roped bridge with a fireman’s pole.

After free time was a time of songs and worship, a skit of Daniel and the lion’s den, followed by a craft in small groups.  This was a fabulous time to share about the awesome, faithful, loving God we serve with the children.   The small groups allowed the children to start talking and opening up about the truth of the Bible.

The Jungle is a place of retreat for many of the children, a place to get away from the struggles and abuse of their daily life. It allows them to forget about the pain they endure outside the walls of The Jungle and build positive relationships with those who work as full time staff and the regular volunteers at The Jungle. Please be in prayer for this neighborhood, the only way this neighborhood will change will be through God’s intervention. You can find some pictures of the Jungle under our Ministry Page.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A week off.

Yes, it has been a couple weeks since the last post.  The delay has been for good reason, we hosted our first visitor from the States… Marlayna’s mom! She was here for a little over a week and spent some quality time with her grand- daughter!

During the month of October, the Colombian government made a law that required schools to take a one week recess.  Though the students have the week off, the teachers have professional development days the front half of the week.  While Marlayna’s mom was in town, she was able to get a good taste of life here in Bogota and some of the routines we are in: going to church, grocery shopping at local vender, taking public transportation to school, and house hold routines. It was wonderful to have an extra set of hands to play with our daughter.  During the back half of the week, we were able to take an overnight trip just out of the city to a small town with cobble stone streets, artisans selling their product, and local activities and foods to try. It was a wonderful week together and at the end of the time it was hard to say good-bye. Wonderful memories.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October Outreach

This morning, we went with some of the 11th graders to their outreach ministry. The hour and a half car ride gave us a chance to get to know the students better and to start the day off with a devotional from the Gospel of John. We read about Jesus healing the man that was sick for many years, he tried get into the pool once it had been stirred but was never able to reach the pool in time.  So, why did Jesus heal the this man of all the lame, blind, and sick that were the pool?  Jesus wanted to demonstrate that healing, salvation/ redemption is only through Him. The man at the pool was helpless and could give nothing back, just as so many of the children we saw today at the orphanage were so physically helpless or unresponsive.  Yet Jesus showed love and compassion to these type of people, just like at the pool with this man.  With that mindset, we went into the orphanage to love on the children.  We would touch them, rub their arms/ legs, talk to them, hold them (if we could), and read them the Elleazah's children books. The kids loved the attention of the student as they read the books and loved to hear new voices and see a baby (Elleazah).  Though Steve and I are limited in our Spanish communication, we too were able to show love without speaking much Spanish. This experience gave me a flashback to 10 years ago while serving in an orphanage in Ukraine for a month with Little Lambs Ministry. Again, though I did not speak any Russian/ Ukrainian, I was still able to build relationships with the kids and show them God love. I hope we will be able to do the same with these forgotten and abandoned children, that they may experience God's love through our time with them. Please continue to pray for our students as they struggle with the heartache of seeing such low functioning kids and to have a compassionate heart to reach out and love these children.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sharing the Gospel at a Spanish speech tournament

ECA had the opportunity to send a couple students from each grade to a Spanish speech tournament held at a local k-12 school. Marlayna (and Elleazah) had the opportunity to go with the students to the school to compete. Many of the students had a sermon or devotional prepared to share with the other students in the room which they were competing against, as well as the judges who were ranking the presentations.  It was very encouraging to see the boldness in which the students presented, not only with public speaking, asking the group to pray prior to presenting, and then speaking God’s word without wavering.  These students used a speech completion as a platform in which to share God’s truth to their community. Praise God for such an opportunity to scatter the seeds of truth in this city.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Staff Retreat

This past weekend, we went on the all staff retreat to a ‘resort’ about an hour outside the city.  It was a wonderful time of fellowship, encouragement from the different speakers, and relaxation. Plus it was nice to just get out of the city, the noise, pollution, and daily grind of Bogota for just a couple days. We thank God for the opportunity to go on the retreat.

While on the retreat, we had taken a personality test and then discussed with some the people we work with about our tendencies (strengths, weaknesses) in hopes to improve unity and communication among the staff. Often times in a close, multi- cultural community such as ours (a Christian, American school culture within another culture) feelings are often hurt unintentionally. This was the first time the school board decided that everyone who worked at the school needed to go on this retreat together. With everyone present, the speakers spoke about Biblical methods of reconciliation to prevent disunity amongst the staff and for reconciliation to take place between staff members whose relationships have been fractured.  We also heard about the importance of encouragement rather than having a critical attitude, which was a great reminder for us. We often find it easier to point out what WE think is wrong rather than finding the good in others.
During the couple hours of free time we had, we walked the campus, played a little volleyball with some of the ECA staff and went swimming in the pool.  At first, Elleazah didn’t like the cold pool water, but once we sat still and let the shallow water around us heat up (due to our body heat), she enjoyed the water, which is a praise! Elleazah doesn’t have many opportunities to sit in water, we have a small shower at our apartment and her “tub” is the equivalent of a shallow sink.

The weekend was wonderful and relaxing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ministry Outreach

As we work with the Junior class, we have been able to talk with some of the students about the outreach ministry they had chosen to minister to throughout their high school years.  We have found that some of the students are excited about the ministry, and other are less than excited.  The ministry involves serving and loving on children in an orphanage with significant special health needs (as in some are unable to move, eat, or care for themselves without assistance.)
Two weeks ago, we were scheduled to serve at the orphanage but due to a miscommunication regarding transportation, we were unable to make it out to the orphanage.  So, we rescheduled for two weeks later (this weekend), only for the time to be canceled again.  I find it a little disappointing that we have yet to have a service project day and we are 6 weeks into the school year but realize God already knew the scheduling, it is not a surprise to Him, and His plan is perfect. Maybe God knew that we have had some rather busy weeks and now that we are not going to the orphanage this weekend, we may have a more relaxing weekend to be refreshed. Or, maybe He is giving us leaders an opportunity to have intentional conversations with those that are less enthusiastic about serving “those kids.” Sadly, some of the students are not wanting to go to the orphanage because it is too sad to see “those kids” who are not only unwanted but are outcasts due to their medical needs.  Some students say that they never have to interact with such needy and unresponsive kids during regular day because they are not out in society.  Such reasons to not go to the orphanage break my heart.  After all, Jesus spent significant time with those who were considered outcasts.

Please be praying for us as we continue to prepare to go to the orphanage and talk with the students, so that they will have ears to hear and hearts sensitive to the Holy Spirit and God’s love for “those kids.”

Friday, September 9, 2011

Progressive Dinner

As mentioned in a previous post, we have had some busy weekends.  The next two weekends are no exception.  But first,  I will go back share a little about last weekend.

The progressive dinner went well, praise God!  For appetizers, I had three girls help me prepare a starter food.  We took green platanos (plantines), shredded them, packed the shredded fruit into a golf ball sized sphere (flattened some of them) and then fried them.  We added a little salt and they were ready to eat, either dipping it into ketchup, mayo, or sprinkle with cheese.  They taste similar to hash browns. It was a simple but yummy treat.  Another great aspect of preparing this appetizer is that it gave us time to talk. As we shredded, packed and fried the fruit, I was able to talk with each of the girls, Laura, Natalie, and Camie. I learned a bit about their home life, school life, things they are excited about with the school year, and some of the struggles of being a junior.  From past experience, I have found some of the sweetest times of fellowship and discipleship have come in the kitchen.  I thank God for those times of encouragement and growth in my life and I pray that I may be used in a similar way (as Titus 2 explains).

After the rest of the Junior girls came over and inhaled our starter, we headed off to the main meal (pasta) with some amazing local fruit made into juice.  I love all the fruit here and variety of juice that can be made.  While talking with one of the girls about all the fruit for juice, she seemed rather impartial about the variety. I suppose it is something she has grown up with and doesn’t know much different compared to the idea of ‘seasonal fruit’ I am used to from the States.

Then we were off to dessert, we had a layered cake with pudding, ‘cool whip’,  ‘gram crackers’, and chocolate… very tasty.  I learned that Colombians have a sweet  tooth, but it is not for sweet, sweet things, only a soft, or mild sweet treat (sweet intensity of jell-o, or pudding). Plus, they always eat their dessert with a spoon.  We also started to discuss our end of the year service project, which is a long weekend we will take in May to “high- need” community to work in a school or orphanage.

Over all, the evening was a sweet time of fellowship as we kicked off the new school year!  Please continue to pray for us as we interact with this class and that discipleship will be fruitful.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Meeting Discipleship Students

We have met the students we will be discipling this year! We have had our first small group with the 11th graders (Steve with the boys, Marlayna with the girls). It was more of an introduction and an overview of the year.  The students were receptive to the book study and prayer meetings we have proposed.  The girls even have their first out- of- school activity planned: a progressive dinner! Yummm!  What student doesn’t like food and fellowship! If you make food, they will come, right?! However, I do not plan on making any food, in fact, my plan is to learn from the girls on how to make Colombian appetizers. So, the plan for the evening is to have the 11th grade girls split into three groups, each group lead by a different leader. Each group is responsible for a different part of the meal: appetizer, main entre, and dessert! Once the meal is to begin, the girls will all come to my home where my group will serve the appetizer, then we will walk to the next leader’s home (across the street) for the main entre and more fellowship, lastly, we walk a few blocks to the third home for the dessert!  So stay tuned to hear how the evening turned out! 
We also had our first Student Spiritual Leadership Team meeting (SSLT), which is the group of high school students who are systematically and experientially learning how to develop disciple-makers. Again, it was very introductory, setting a base of expectations for the year.  We also set up times in with our student, who we will be meeting one- on- one to pray and discuss matters of need.  The students we meet with are going to be, in turn, meeting with and discipling an underclassman. Please be praying for us and these relationships, specifically that we will connect with the students and spur each other on toward love and good deeds!

Living in a Cultural Catholic country.

We just finished reading a book called Holy Ground by Chris Castaldo, which explains the Catholic faith, different “types” of Catholics (cultural, traditional, and evangelical), and how to talk with Catholics about Jesus and our faith. Building relationships is a key point in this book. The book was an excellent read and very applicable to us in this culture because there are many cultural Catholics.  In fact, it was so relevant to us that in one of our morning meeting, for spiritual / professional development, the Chaplin at the school led a meeting on cultural sensitivity. It was interesting to hear how some of the Colombian believers (whom some are former Catholics) choose to live their life in this cultural Catholic country.  For instance, is it acceptable during worship to bless yourself with the cross symbol (touching the forehead, chest, shoulder, shoulder), or to raise your hands while singing? How about during free time, what types of movies are acceptable to watch, music to listen to, or drink any/ certain types of alcohol? What types of clothes are appropriate for swimming? How about body piercing or tattoo? The Colombian Christians are very conservative.  We, personally, are rather conservative as well, though the American staff here has a broad spectrum.  These issues caused us to really consider how we, as Americans, will be viewed and judged by the local people based on our outward appearance or actions. We are called to live in the world, but not of the world; we are to be a light to the lost. We are also called to be respectful of our brothers and sisters in Christ and their convictions as we interact with them and not do anything that would cause them to stumble. So this also leads us consider all the more our choices in our daily life. Our desire is to live above reproach, which is a challenge we received from the meeting, so that the light of Christ will be made evident through our relationships with students, staff, and the community at large.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Building Relationships and Routines.

Building Relationships.

While we were in Prado with a family from the school, the two students indicated the desire to learn to swing dance.  We mentioned that we had learned to swing dance during our college years and would be open to teach them some of the basics steps.  We set up a time for them to invite their friends over to our place to learn the basic steps.  Six students came, some were graduates of ECA, and the others were current students at ECA. We spent two and a half hours with them, teaching the basic steps with some turns.  In between the dance instruction, we also sat and talked as we ate popcorn and drank Kool-Aid (which we had brought with us from the states- a treat for the students!). It was fun evening getting to know some of the students outside the school setting. They enjoyed their time as well and asked to come back and continue to practice. We said, “Sure!” We are looking for every opportunity in which we can build natural relationships with the youth in hopes to encourage and foster spiritual growth with our heavenly Father.

Getting into a routine
The school year has started for El Camino, and we are trying to get into a routine: Steve wakes up at 5:30am, out the door at 6:12 to catch the school van at 6:25am (also true for Marlayna and Elleazah if they need to be at the school early in the morning).  Steve arrives at school at about 6:40 and begins his days… he will share more about his days in a future post. Meanwhile, Elleazah and Marlayna begin their day at home, which is a bit different every day. But two days a week, they need to shop for produce at the local market where there is a different store front for the different types of product.  On one particular day, Marlayna was planning on making tacos for dinner. So, it is off to the market for ingredients, plus a few additional items. Marlayna and Elleazah have their shopping routine. First they stop and buy fruits and vegetables.  We also like to try a new fruit with each shopping day. The workers are starting to recognize Marlayna and Elleazah, after all how many “gringos” (Americans) come with a baby strapped in a Bjorn carrier to shop?  The workers love to see Elleazah and give her special attention as they coo at her. Communication can be difficult due to the language barrier, but Marlayna tries her best at Spanish to hopefully build a relationship with the employees. After the fruits and veggies, they head to the panadaria for some fresh bread rolls that are often eaten for breakfast (something to quickly grab and go) as well as for dinner. Next is meat from the butcher, and then to bargain a price for some avocados from a guy selling them from a cart on the street (always interesting with such little Spanish knowledge).  With the shopping routine complete, the tortillas were missing for the meal that night.  Not knowing where to purchase the tortillas, Marlayna and Elleazah started to window shop. When a store looked like it could have tortillas, they would poke their head in, look around for a moment, and with as much confidence that could be mustered, Marlayna would ask in her broken Spanish, while using hand movements as if playing a game of charades, to ask if they had tortillas.   Responses ranged from a confused look to one lady pulling out lady’s razor for shaving, thinking that was what was needed. Ohhhh… eventually Marlayna spotted a bag of tortillas hanging in a store. Later Marlayna learned the correct pronunciation for “tortillas.” First problem was that the first “T” sound was not hard and clear, plus the “ll” makes more of a “j” sound here in Colombia, not a “ya” sound that we have learned.  Lost in pronunciation. It was our first good giggle (being offered the razors), and I’m sure it will not be our last laugh as we learn and grow in this new culture.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Orientation week

This week has been packed with training and orientation at the school. After all, school starts this Saturday, yes, I said Saturday. The students will primarily come to pick up their books and meet their teachers. Nevertheless, the summer is at its end. Ready or not, here the new school year comes- and we are excited!

Steve is actively learning the current methodology for the learning center where students go for extra help or accountability. He is starting to make contact with some of the students that will need extra help and reach out to some of the families. He has a lot to do, but is excited this year.

Marlayna’s role is still rather undefined at the school. She will likely help in the library a couple days a week for part of the day. She may help an hour or so in the middle school science class helping with lab set up, since that is a very time consuming task for the teacher, who is also the middle school principal!  She may even help tutor some of the Colombians with some English lessons… but still not sure how everything will work out with having Elleazah with her throughout the days at school.

Together, it looks like we will be working with the Junior class for discipleship in small groups. The class has about 6 boys, and 16 girls, therefore, Marlayna will be working with another lady in the discipleship small groups in order to actually have a small group. We have also been paired up for our one- on-one discipleship; Steve is with a senior guy, Marlayna is with a junior girl.

Over all, we are excited about this school year and meeting with student to build relationships and invest in their lives as we make disciples.

Please be praying for us, and for the students of ECA as we begin this new school year. Pray that we rely on God’s strength and not our own strength as build a routine and relationships in the school.

Monday, August 1, 2011

An Excursion!

Our second weekend in the country, we finally finished all our government paperwork, our shipped boxes have come in and we are nearing the end of getting our apartment organized; life seems to be coming together. The director of the school called us and invited us to go with them on an excursion to “hot country” (down the mountain) to some property that a family from the school owns and allows missionaries to spend the night, relax, swim in the lake and go boating/ skiing surrounded by mountains. We joyfully accepted the invite before life would become crazy with school work.
Destination: Prado, Colombia

We left early in the morning to avoid traffic and so we could have two full days on the lake.  We made it to the property and were settled in by lunch time. The other wonderful aspect of this weekend was the Colombian cook! She made fresh juice from different fruit like Mora (similar to a blackberry), Lulo (tastes similar to kiwi), and passion fruit. We learned that most Colombians do not eat the fruit but make it into a juice.  Soups are very popular, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Usually, the soup will contain a meat (chicken or beef), potato, yucca, and cilantro. Other ingredients may include: corn on the cob, rice, avocado, and beans. The food is not spicy, but more “bland” due to the food being seasoned with the ingredients of the dish.

After lunch, we went for a swim in the warm, almost bath-like water, then lay in a hammock to read or take a nap- it was wonderful. By later afternoon, we were out on the water cruising around the lake and exploring different areas. But on the way back, we were in a bay and the full length of the lake away from where we were staying when the battery of the boat died!  The expression- “ up a creek without a paddle” was practically true, because we were so far from our location and we did not have a paddle! Instead, we used the skiis as paddles to get to a “nearby” home.  It took about an hour to row the distance and get battery a jump start!  Oh boy! What and adventure!  Needless to say, we had worked up an appetite for dinner (which was another amazing Colombian soup)!  We ate dinner in the dark so the mosquitos and other bugs would not be attracted to the light and as we gazed up at the clear sky, we could see so many stars twinkling in the sky.  Amazing, God’s handiwork- we realized it had been a long time since we had seen the stars like this due to the light pollution of the city or suburbs that prevented us from viewing the stars so clearly. While we sat under the star, we had such sweet fellowship with the director’s daughter and her friend (both college students), about discerned God’s will for our lives. I hope that we were an encouragement to these young adults as then try to discern career choices.

The next morning, after breakfast, a little reading in hammocks, the boat went out for the first round of skiing. It had been several years since we had gone skiing. The boat returned for lunch and a short break. We went for a quick swim and we were back out on the boat for round two of skiing.  By the time we came back in, we had to pack up, we ate a quick snack and were on our way. We stopped to see a small waterfall from a creek that feed into the lake. We climbed up and jumped off a big boulder into the lagoon. We were not able to stay long because it was getting dark and we needed to return before the mosquitoes would be out to feed on us.
Though we were only in Prado for 36 hours, it felt like we had rested for 3-4 days; it was wonderful. We came home with wonderful memories, and Marlayna and Elleazah came home with bed bug bites! We thank God for the generosity of this school family to provide a rest haven to ministry workers.

And the adventure continues!

Government paper work, gotta love it in the time of transition!  So, one thing we learned we needed to do when we arrived was to go to the “ministry” (aka. Consulate) in order to get our visas fixed, because when it was issued to us in the States, there was some sort of error. We do not know what the error is, just that there was an error. The second important piece of government work we needed complete was getting our ID card.
So early in the afternoon, we head to the downtown area of Bogota to go to the government buildings, which apparently close at 4pm. We arrive at the ministry only to find out that the hours are from 9am-noon!  What?! Go figure, only a government official would have such nice work hours! So we go to the next place, kind of like a DMV to get our ID cards. When we arrive, we see a long line, but quickly find out that we do not have all the paper work.   Urg.  By the time we would have all the paperwork, the office would be closed. So, this concludes the major portion of the day without getting anything really accomplished other than rounding up loose ends for our ID card. 

After running around, getting little accomplished we get on the bus to take us home. Because we have Elleazah with us, we have priority seating. As soon as I sit down with Elleazah, she realizes how hungry she is and begins to cry. I knew we were on “borrowed time” before the next feeding and she begins to wail drawing lots of attention! What am I to do but nurse her on a nice crowded bus. Hmmmm, not something I’m comfortable with, but I realize I have to do what I have to do! I am at least thankful for a cover to help with some modesty.  So, that was day one of attempting to get our paperwork completed.

Day two- We head out early because the ministry opens up at 9, and we want to get done before the crowds come. We arrive at the ministry at 9:10am to find a very full room because the ministry actually opened at 7:30!!! What?! It all worked out though because we had a baby, Elleazah. In the culture here those who are considered “senior citizens” and those with babies have priorities, which means that we were allowed to cut to the front of lines. So, a very long wait turned into a 10 minute wait! Originally, the first worker with whom we spoke told us that there was not a problem with our visas, but our translator did an amazing job at convincing him that we needed to talk with a supervisor to help fix our visa issues!?! After multiple explanations, emails were exchanged between the ministry, the US consulate and our school in order to clarify the issue.  We hope and pray that everything truly was sorted out and set straight.

Then it was time to head to the next government office to apply for our ID cards. By the time we arrived, there was a nice long line, as to be expected at a government office! Only this time, we were not allowed to have our translator with us, maybe because it was so crowded.  But we had all the documents ready, in order so that there hopefully wouldn’t be any confusion, we went to the end of the line and began to wait.  But within three minutes, an official worker ushered us to the front of the line because we had a baby.  By now, Elleazah was also starting to get a bit fussy due to a much needed diaper change and nearing her feeding time. When we it was our turn, we stepped up and handed all our paper work to the lady at the desk. She looked through the paperwork, put a paper clip on it and told us to sit and wait to be called.  Praise God, no problems so far!

We turned to look for a seat, only to find all the seats were taken. Bummer.  But then, about five people offered us their seat because of our Elleazah.  We accepted one of the seats so we could change her diaper and hopefully start feeding her. But in the middle of the diaper change, our names were called! Wow, that was fast! They took us to the back for some final paperwork, and a final picture to be put into the system saying that we had registered in the country. We were working with this wonderful lady who was entering our information who spoke about as much English as we spoke Spanish. She encouraged me to nurse Elleazah there in her office as she entered our paper.  It was a little awkward, but she seemed like a mother who understood… or maybe it is just the very understanding culture toward babies. When she came to the part where the documentation asked about religion and she saw we were Christians, she was very excited and seemed encouraged.
As soon as we adults were entered, we asked if Elleazah needed an ID card because we had heard mixed answers. She asked to see the same paperwork we needed to be issued an ID, we had everything but the printed picture and the money order (because we were hoping that she wouldn’t need an ID). Since we didn’t have those two items, she just took information about Elleazah we had filled out, then took her passport, and stamped it with a “registered” stamp!  Yea!  Praise God it was more simple than original anticipated.  This second day was so much more encouraging than the first! All government work was completed in time for us to get home for lunch! Praise God!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

First Day Out and on Our Own!

Today was a light day of activities.  We decided to “venture out” to the Americanized mall that is about 3 blocks from our temporary apartment. We put Elleazah in her stroller and started walking. We quickly realized that the sidewalks here are not very stroller friendly let alone handicap/ wheelchair friendly. Many of the curbs can be 8- 12 inches high at the cross walk. I didn’t realize that I had taken such a simple thing as sloped sidewalks for granted while taking a walk with Elleazah around a neighborhood in the States.

Another thing I quickly realized was that strollers draw attention, not because strollers are rare, but because everyone is curious as to what is INSIDE the stroller. We received so many Uhhhh’s and Ahhhh’s, especially once she had fallen asleep.  As we were waiting to cross a street, for a car to make the turn, the driver nearly came to a complete stop to look into the stroller to see Elleazah.  Then the driver looked up at us and continued on her way! Wow. We had to chuckle at the attention a stroller/ baby can draw.   

While we were in the mall, it quickly became apparent that malls are not just for shopping, but for watching soccer games. Colombia was playing Peru and there were many TVs hanging from the ceiling, scattered throughout the mall with several couches lined up. The couches were always full and often had a couple rows of people standing behind the seated prospectors. Even by the food court, they had set up a hug screen and projecting the game on the screen. They set up an area for people to sit on the floor and watch the game. There were at least a hundred people in this section alone, many of whom were dressed in the yellow Colombian jersey. We didn’t need to sit and watch the game to know how Colombia was doing, someone who is blind could have been following the game based on the cheers and the Ohhh’s.

We also browsed a grocery store, I did some price comparisons from what I remembered from the states. A bag of baby wipes in the states I was able to buy a bag of 75 wipes for $1.50-$2.00, depending on the brand. Here, a bag of 100 wipes, costs just over $5.00. Wow! I am glad a friend from church invited me over one afternoon and we made a bundle of cloth wipes. Detergent (Tide) here costs about $7 for a bottle that is for 24 loads of laundry. Yeow! Lastly, I was excited to see my favorite fast food restaurant in the mall- a Subway. For my favorite sandwich, it costs $5 for a 6inch sub… twice the price from the States where it is a $5 footlong sub. Sad, I will probably have to wait until we return to the States to get a sandwich from there.  Even at the Burger King, a whopper value meal was over $7.  But, on the other side of things, you can buy potatoes for about $.25-$.75/ lb. depending on the type of potato because there are about 40 different types of potatoes here in Colombia. Bread rolls are about 25-35 cents. Broccoli, yellow squash and carrots were about 70 cents per pound.  Needless to say, we will be eating the fresh fruits and veggies. So, there you have it. Our first day out with many observations, though it was the first set of observations, I’m sure it will not be the last.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The start of the new chapter: travels

The next chapter has begun. Wednesday  July 13th, with a peace that passes all understanding. The day is in God’s hands. He knows what lies before us in this Great  Journey. He  knows our flight schedule, where each of our bags are located, the weather in each of the cities we will have a layover at, and he knows whom we will sit next to and try to communicate to at customs after a long day of flying. He is sovereign and knows the details and I (Marlayna) am unusually calm with all the potential for frustration that lies ahead in such a long day of traveling with a baby. Normally, I carry enough anxiety for the family, but not today, which is truly God’s hand at work and an answer to prayer. 

We will  we arrive at the airport 2 hours before our flight scheduled to take off at 7:15am. We zip through security, not too many people there at 5:15am, which is good because not only do we have a lot of carry on items but we also are figuring out how to travel with a baby.  We get to the gate to find that the flight has been canceled! Hmmmm… what happens next, this has never happened to me.  They looked at our tickets and said that they put us on the next flight.  On the up side, our seats were upgraded for free, but that also means that we now have a 30 minute layover at JFK in New York! I’ve heard horror stories of the craziness there.  The realistic side of me knows that there is great potential for a delay in the flight to take off and land which can easily cause us to miss our flight, which would mean that we would probably spend the night in NY because the airline only sends one flight per day to Bogota. Yet, I was still rather calm.  God knows the situation; He is in control. During this long wait, we were thankful for the hot breakfast my mom had sent with us, which should hold us for most of the day.

Soon after boarding the plane, I start feeding Elleazah which lasted through take off… Yea, no fussing!  The first leg of the trip went smooth as we landed ON TIME, but now with a sleeping child… Yea, still no fussing. Wow, God is at work, so far so good. Due to being upgraded, we were one of the first ones off the plane and our connecting flight is only a few gates away. Praise God! I had time to make a run to the bathroom and change Elleazah’s diaper and add another layer of cloths to her to keep her warm.  A few minutes later, we started boarding our second flight. Yea!  Sadly, for this flight, Steve and I were separated, him in the front, me in the back, so he had to privilege of holding Elleazah throughout the flight. And fortunately we had discovered the previous day that Elleazah likes to chew on orange peels.  So during take off, she chewed on a part of a peel, since she refuses to take a pacifier, and not too long after take off, she, and Steve, had fallen asleep.  What a great picture! She woke up just before landing, which meant another feeding during a critical time for potential fussing. Yes, there was a bit of fussiness, but not too much, which I was thankful.

We exited the plane for an hour lay over, just to re-board the same plane (they needed to check passports this time) so we had enough time to grab some real food to carry us through the last leg of trip and the stressful customs.  Again, Steve and I were to be separated and he got to board early with Elleazah. While I was patiently waiting for the chaos  of the Spanish speaking crowd among the English instructions to calm down and for me to board I heard an attendant shout out… “Is anyone willing to receive a free upgrade to an exit row with more leg room?” Without hesitation, another girl and I raise our hands. So, I get to move up from the next to last row to the front! Which will bring me closer to Steve and Elleazah and allow us to get off the plane sooner, which will be key because you literally trot from gate to jockey for a position in a very long line to go through customs. We learned this from our visit to Colombia last year, because we were taking our time from the gate as people were nearly running us over; we asked each other why they were in such a hurry, until we reached the end of a very long line that took almost an hour and a half to get to the customs men.  However, this time, we were ready for the race, with our jogging stroller out, Elleazah in her car seat on the stroller, we were in trotting readiness and we were keeping up with the fastest of them (ah, yes, the competitive side coming out, but at least we were on the same team!) And as we were approaching the line, which was not as long as the last because we were nearer the front of the crowd, a man directed us to the right, because we had a baby…. Yea! An even shorter line! Now we only waited about 20-30 minutes to get through customs.  We reached the front and a man waved for us to come to him. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he spoke little to no English, and we speak, little to no Spanish, so it was rather quick, looking at our paperwork and bunching stamps.  Yea! Elleazah has her first stamp in her passport! So, we find our baggage claim area, grab a cart to load our four bags, go look for the bags because they have workers that pull all the bags off the carousel only to realize a bag is missing.  Urggg. I find a lady that speaks enough English for us to complete the report, Steve takes out the paperwork  so they know where to deliver the bag and how to contact us when it is located. We were hoping that the bag just didn’t catch the second flight considering we had such a short lay over  rather than the bag being stolen.  As we begin to leave the airport, we are realizing all that the bag contained, like Elleazah’s pack and play, which is her bed, most of the toilet tree,  a few of the cloth diapers and the accessories …urg, I hope they find it. And yet, there is a peace, which only comes from God trusting and knowing that He knows exactly where the bag is located.  If it is stolen, He knows who has it and I am fine with that (sounds crazy, right!) because the items are just things and we will learn to make due with what we have.  However, that was going to be the case, because the next day the airport called to let us know that received the bag the next day. Praise God, we were getting our last bag.

God has been so good to us as we have started this new chapter, what a blessing.
Please pray
1. For the transition. I am already feeling overwhelmed and lost by not understanding enough Spanish. They seem to speak soooo fast.
2. We get settled into an apartment we will have for the year.
3. Wisdom as we start making decisions here at the beginning of the with living situations, schedule, and helping at the school.

4.  100% support: we have not yet reached 100%. Prayer support is much needed, as we have felt God's hand on us the last few days in our new chapter, but we also need financial support.  Pray that the faithfulness of those who have said they would commit to help as well as pray for new supporters to come along side us to join us in this journey God has laid before us as we come to witness and disciple.

Friday, June 10, 2011

June update... preparing for our Great Adventure

June 2011
As the school year has come to an end, the last 3 months have been very busy. Fortunately, in addition to finishing the Parenting class, the Perspectives class, teaching Sunday school, and helping with the youth group, we were able to take a week during Spring Break to be refreshed by traveling and visiting family. During these past months, one of the more challenging leaps of faith for us was for Steven to resign from the stable, secure, and soon to be tenured position and for us to place our trust in God’s calling.
We are in the final stages of preparing to head to El Camino Academy in Bogotá, Colombia. It never ceases to amaze us how confusing and tedious it is working with bureaucracies as we attempt to obtain work visas. We think bureaucracies exist to help us grow in our attention to detail and patience. We are at the point now where we are investigating plane tickets, shipping options, and sorting through what we take, what we store, and what we purge.
During the middle of June, Steve will be helping with New Covenant Bible’s weeklong youth group Summer Camp in Lake Geneva, WI. He will be discipling a group of high school boys by leading them in Bible study, group discussions, team games and other activities. While Steve is at camp, Marlayna will be with Elleazah, working on packing and preparing to move our belongings.
Our final preparation before heading south will be at a pre-field orientation training provided by the Association for Christian Schools International. The two week training is held in Houghton, New York. We will receive training in cultural sensitivity, dynamics of working in international Christian schools, and building ministry relationships, specifically with kids who are trying to navigate between their home culture and their community culture, such as missionary kids. After this training, we will tie up loose ends here in the States for a few days before we make our transition to Colombia.
This last month and a half seems like it will be a whirl- wind of preparations, which is both exciting and overwhelming.
Please join us by praying for us as we transition to the mission field in Bogotá, Colombia:
1.      Our Spanish training was neglected amongst all the other classes & ministries. Pray that we can pick back up this very important skill so we can connect more effectively with the local people. (1 Corinth 9:20-22)
2.      Pray that we can “stay the course” and complete all the procedural tasks so we can get to Colombia successfully and in a timely manner. (Prov 23:19; Heb 12:1)
3.      Pray that in this time of stress, we may caste our cares upon the Lord and love each other by being patient and encouraging one another. (1 Peter 5:7; 1 Corinth 13:4-5)
4.      Pray that we trust and rely on Christ as we continue building a support network. We are currently at 75% of our needed amount for the first year. (Psalm 119:116)
5.      Pray that we will quickly become acculturated to the new surroundings and develop new relationships with the other missionaries and local people.
We are in need of more people who are interested in partnering with us in this mission. We would like to have you consider furthering your partnership with us by having us share with your local church, small group, or close friends about what we believe God has called us to do. Please let us know if you are able to do this.

We are very thankful for your partnership and encouragement. God has truly blessed us through YOU! If there is anything we can do to encourage you or lift you up to the Lord, please let us know!

March update... preparing for the Great Adventure

March 2011
The winter season is coming to a close and we eagerly anticipate the next season of our lives. This past season, has brought about our first major transition of the year. We are parents to a healthy girl, Elleazah Grace. We praise God for her healthy arrival with a rather uncomplicated delivery. 
We have also started preparing to head to the mission field, to El Camino Academy in Bogotá, the capitol city of Colombia. As part of Steve’s preparation, he has been meeting with our pastor and other men of the church on a weekly basis memorizing scripture, praying together, and discussing passages and articles as it applies to areas of ministry. From this group, Steve was given the opportunity to recite some of Ephesians during an evening service. It was a unique blessing to be given that opportunity to minister to others in our church. During the spring semester, he is taking a missions class called Persectives on the World Christian Movement (for more info, visit  This class has been beneficial as he learns about the means God has used to establish and grow His Church throughout history and how we can participate in global missions and the advancement of God’s kingdom.
In preparation of advising a grade level at ECA, we have been youth group leaders at our church for our junior high and high school group.  We are also teaching the junior high Sunday school every other month, and we meet with a small group of junior highers each week. In Februrary, we and Elleazah enjoyed our 1st winter retreat with the youth group. The theme of the retreat was “All for God’s Glory”, which stimulated many deep conversations. In addition, we have been preparing for our transition to Bogotá by learning Spanish through the Rosetta Stone software. It has been a challenge committing the time to the program as much as we have wanted, but we have seen some fruit from our labor! Poco a poco estamos apriendiendo español!*
A current 5th grade teacher at ECA shares her experience as a grade-level advisor:
This past Friday I got the opportunity to go and serve alongside with my 5th grade class to their ministry. The ministry involves working with a church in a poorer neighborhood that offers a morning and afternoon children’s program that provides a meal and other various activities. The ministry shows the children genuine love, for most of them it is the only environment they’ll find this kind of attention.
As I sat at the back of the crowd, watching these 10 year olds share such a huge message that has been shared for thousands of years over millions of miles to billions of hearts, I caught a glimpse of the big picture: To witness these young students sharing with such passion and courage and with a huge future in front of them…reminded me of the great privilege I have to be teaching here at ECA. I’m serving and raising up what could be some of tomorrow’s ministry leaders, and from what I can tell, they’re already way ahead of some of us adults. To imagine what these kids will be like in 10 or 15 years, the lives they will affect; the change they could create.
Please join us by praying for us as we continue to prepare to head to the mission field in Bogota, Colombia:
1.      Please pray with Paul’s request in Ephesians 6:19-20 that as we share openly with friends, family, and co-workers about our intent to serve the Church in Bogotá, “words may be given [us] to boldly make known the mystery of the gospel… Pray that [we] declare it fearlessly, as [we] should.”
2.      Pray that we will “be very careful how we live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” ~Ephesians 5:15-16. Specifically, pray for wisdom with the use of our time, as we balance work, evening classes (Perspectives class & a parenting class), learning Spanish, helping with our youth group, strengthening our marriage as we celebrate our 4th year, loving & caring for Elleazah, and building partnerships for our service at ECA.
3.      Pray that we will apply what we are learning in the parenting class and “not exasperate our child, but bring her up in the training and instruction of the Lord” ~Ephesians 6:4.
4.      Pray that we trust and rely on Christ as we continue building a support network. We are currently at 44% of our needed amount.
We are in need of more people who might be interested in partnering with us in this mission. We would like to have you consider furthering your partnership with us by having us share with your local church, small group, or close friends about what we believe God has called us to do. Please let us know if you are able to do this and partner with us in this great adventure.