Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Children of the King

We have spent the last 2 days at an orphanage for children with disabilities. This orphanage began when an ambitious woman named Juliet found a hospital room where children with disabilities were being starved to death. I'm not sure how she found them, but she asked the hospital if she could take the children instead. Then this beautiful orphanage was born where 22 children are fed 2 meals a day, bathed, and changed regularly (none of them are potty trained. Therefore, I was peed on twice in the first 30 minutes of being there. But I interpret that to mean that kids feel very comfortable around me, and that's a good thing, right? )
This is Sophanie. She is always smiling and likes to play tricks on her friends by refusing to hug them. It's entertaining.

Day 1 was emotionally and spiritually difficult as I saw the several children who were completely dependent and helpless lying on a mat when we returned from lunch. These kids were kept in a separate room during the morning. One of the girls was lying in her urine for about an hour before she was changed because there is a staff of only 5 caregivers for these 22 children who need individual attention throughout the day. I spent the afternoon loving these kids by holding them upright and singing my favorite worship songs to them, while praying and voicing my concerns for these kids to God. It is hard for me to understand that they spend every day like this.

 When I sang "Grace Alone," (look it up, the lyrics are beautiful) with the first line being "I was an orphan, lost at the fall," I broke down, realizing this is a picture of our helplessness before God. We bring nothing to the table but He chooses to love us and have compassion on us regardless of our sin. I was blessed to be able to love these kids, to learn how to best love them like Jesus loves me. I was praying that these kids would know Jesus and enter into his kingdom. But I was discouraged because of the language barrier. I was singing to them about Jesus in English and they couldn't understand me.
This girl, Najim, is all smiles 95% of the time. She is perfectly content just sitting and holding my hand.

However, I was so thankful for the interactions and opportunities I had with my buddy, James, today (day 2) at this orphanage. After lunch, we sat together on the mat and I tried to make him laugh. He was in a happy mood but it was still difficult to get a smile from him-- I was even excited just to see him grin with one side of his mouth. But Jimmy, one of our sweet translators, came and sat by me with a bible. I saw this as an awesome opportunity to communicate the gospel to James on creole. I asked Jimmy to read John 3:16 to James. Jimmy was skeptical as to James' level of understanding but I asked him to read it anyway. James kept eye contact with Jimmy as he recited the verse from memory in creole, and when he finished, James looked away. I knew he was listening but still was unsure if he could understand who Jesus really was from that one verse. Then Jimmy was inspired to teach the kids a small lesson on John 3:16. He engaged with the kids and asked them questions about Jesus and salvation. Our lesson gal from the intern team, Anna, followed the show with her lesson in Mark where Jesus welcomes the little children and says the kingdom of heaven is theirs. James was farther away than the other kids because we were sitting on a mat behind the table, but he fixed his eyes on the skit that the kids did with the story. Afterwards, he had this big smile on his face. He looked up, pointed up (gesturing towards heaven maybe? Jimmy did that during his lesson, I'm assuming James picked it up from that), and started laughing! I said I him, "Jesus? Yes? Jesus?" And he laughed and smiled even more. These smiles were ten times greater than the small ones earlier. We gave each child a crown that said "child of the king" in creole, so I also would point to him and say those words to prompt a smile and remind him of his relationship to Jesus. Now I am confident that James understands who Jesus is. God answered my prayer and I was so blessed by James' laughter this afternoon. The hope of the gospel is powerful, especially for people like James, whose days are simple and mundane at best. Jesus is so faithful to us.
This is my buddy James with his award winning smile I waited for all day. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

It's Not About the Wheels

Wheels for the world is an international evangelical outreach that gives wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and crutches to individuals in need around the world. Within the past few months, they distributed their 100,000th wheelchair. But talk to anyone involved in this ministry and they will tell you that it's not about the wheels. Instead, the purpose of Wheels for the World is to create opportunities to share the gospel and good news of salvation to these people. I learned firsthand from the team leader how this concept comes in to play.

Our little friend from the church, Richard, (previously unnamed boy from another post) can't walk by himself and we thought that if he had a walker he could most likely walk independently. So when I met up with the wheels team, I mentioned Richard and his need. Turns out, he was already given a wheelchair six months ago. The leader said, " it's probably destroyed by now." They understand these wheelchairs, especially in a place as remote as Haiti, will break quickly. The rocky roads paired with the lack of knowledge of how to take care of nicer things cause these chairs to quickly disappear. The team knows that. Yet they still continue to do outreach in the same communities year after year because of the gospel ministry.  With each wheelchair/walker/etc., a bible is given and the gospel is presented to the patient. The wheelchairs present the opportunity to have that conversation. 

Yesterday, we did a wheels mission in the poorest town in Haiti- City du Soleil. The drive there was a picture of close houses composed of canvas, metal, or even big sticks, horrid smells as the "sewer" system runs close to the town, and people scattered in the streets trying to make a living by selling whatever they can. Wheels is in this town for two days and we were there day one. We entered the church and it was packed with people. Somehow we had to transport 35 wheelchairs in to this room full of 100 people. Eventually, we were able to set up 4 different stations where people were fitted for wheelchairs. It was interesting to see the heart and strategy of the ministry. They wanted to give out wheelchairs only when it was necessary-- not because we didn't have enough, but because the team cares for the best of these people. The idea is that young kids or adults who are able to walk with assistance of crutches or canes should walk with that assistance so they can keep and develop that muscle, rather than sitting all day in a wheelchair. 

A 6 year old boy with one burned and deformed foot came in wanting a wheelchair. He sat in the wheelchair and his eyes lit up. But he was able to walk fine with crutches. He already had crutches that were 6 inches too short so he hunched over when he used them. 

(His old crutches shown above)
We ended up giving him new crutches that fit him. He enjoyed using them, but when he realized he wasn't leaving with the wheelchair, he started crying and stomped out of the church building, walking and dragging his crutches behind him. This was sad to observe but ultimately the physical therapist was concerned about his good. In reflection, I've realized that is a parallel of how God responds to his children. We don't get what we want and we have a limited perspective of the world so we get angry, upset, and frustrated. In our discontentment, we even question God. But God is all knowing and wise, and is concerned for our good in the bigger picture. I'm so thankful for a father like that who I can trust no matter what the world looks like. 

Being confronted with such brokenness and poverty has been difficult for our team throughout the week. What do we do with all this experience when we return home? How do we live each day knowing what the day to day life in Haiti looks like? Why has God been merciful to me in blessing me with life in the US when I am a sinner just like the people of Haiti? But in our devotionals, we remind ourselves of the eternal promises of God. Ephesians 2 talks about how we look forward to the "coming ages (where) he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (v 7). This hope is what we are sharing with the Haitians. Wanting to give them their part in the kingdom that cannot be shaken. So, I've learned that in this trip, it's not about the wheels.

To the left you can faintly see a rainbow from last night as well as a great view I the beautiful mountains in Haiti. God faithfully reminded us of His promises while we had our devotional last night.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Bench Dwellers

Day 2 at the church

This is a view from the back of the church. Open windows keep it relatively cool. The kids are holding up papers with the words to a bible verse we taught in English today: "greater love has no one than this, that he give his life for his friend." 

Praise God that I was able to talk with the teachers! Two teachers came to talk with me. I had a few questions prepared to get to know what school is like here before giving "training"/ advice. After we started talking, I kept getting vague, general answers from them about their classroom management, teaching style, and lesson development. What really began conversation was when I asked the question, "why do you teach? What motivates you?" They responded with the joy of seeing student progress. Then, I opened it up for them to ask me questions about teaching. They asked why I came to Haiti, how we had such generosity to the kids, and why did I choose disability education. This became an awesome opportunity to share with them a biblical perspective of disability (disability is not a word in creole, it seems) and the power of the gospel. I shared that I started studying disabilities when I realized if I didn't know much about these kids with special needs that would be in my class, then they won't be helped at all. That these kids have the same value and worth as all kids and I needed to learn how to best love and help them through school. I shared that only through Jesus do we all have the strength and love for this ministry/job and that we are all tired after our day working with the kids. From what I heard from the teachers and their response to me, it is possible that they have a heart disconnect with their profession. I will be praying for their motivation to be gospel centered with their students. I loved seeing the connection with the translator, Jimmy, to the content. When I shared my stories with him to translate, he'd smile and nod in response. As far as communication struggles go, I was thankful for this positive discussion with the teachers.

The rest of the day, I hung out on the benches with a few little girls who either couldn't run or didn't want to while the rest of the kids went crazy running around with games. One girl, Rebekah, has cerebral palsy and can't walk so I sat by her and she grabbed my hand. Later, she put my arm around her and grabbed my face for a beautiful embrace. I learned quickly that she loved being loved on. I became content with just sitting and showing love and affection to these kids. Yesterday, I tried to grab some balloons or bubbles for entertainment with these lovely bench dwellers but today we were all content just being together (I say this because they all had smiles on their face. Proof). I realize that I am blessed at this point with the novelty of being a white skinned American, because all they do for entertainment is touch my face, play with my hair, or look into my eyes and they laugh and smile. Even today some of the girls were wiping sweat off my face for me..."Merci," I replied. 

Logistically, we did break up the kids into two groups based on age, with 2 different lessons and activities. It worked beautifully. After the first 2 hours of music, skit , craft, chaos officially began as the beach ball and bubbles came out. But we still loved the chaos. And I loved my bench dwellers.
Also spent some time having fun with the camera. My friend Stephanie is to the right.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Gift of Laughter

Loving kids but having a language barrier is difficult. In Peru this past January, I loved being able to communicate in Spanish with relative ease . Creole is a different story, and all I know is "hello," "how are you," "my name is Melody," "what is your name," "red," "croissant," and the numbers 1-5. It has been an interesting first day to say the least. 

That being said, I'm thankful that God has blessed us with laughter as the universal language. When all else fails, tickling kids produces a positive response and develops a connection between you and the child. Science. Not so much, but it was fun to interact in that way without language.

Well, today we had day one of our vacation bible school- type program at a church in Haiti. The drive there was rough and bumpy-- it has been eye opening to see the huge cracks in pavement (remnants of the earthquake). Even devastating stories of several people that are directly involved in our mission work here makes me more aware of the brokenness forever caused by natural disasters but can ultimately only be healed by Jesus. For example, the pastor of the church we helped today is a modern day Job. He lost his wife and house in the earthquake , as well as the church he was pastoring. Our leader told us that the transformation of the gospel has been evident in his life in the past year or so. It is humbling to hear and see the joy and hope that the gospel brings despite horrible circumstances and suffering. 

A good portion of my day was spent one on one with a little friend whose name I cannot pronounce or remember. (When we ask their names in creole, they usually respond with their first , middle , and last names which makes it difficult to understand and remember). He has he biggest smile ever, struggles with walking and is non-verbal. So when most of the kids were running around playing games, I held both of his hands and followed him around the room, wherever he wanted to go. Even though he wasn't playing beach ball soccer with the other kids, he loved watching and would clap his hands and laugh along with them. When we first entered the church, he kept his bright smile and wide eyes the entire time-- the greatest welcome of all. One of our missions at Joni and Friends family retreat last week was to find the gift that our camper had, because focusing on the disability becomes easy in isolating situations. This little guy's gift is definitely his all-encompassing joy and contagious smile.

The rest of the morning, we tried to teach a counting math lesson (to a group of 50 kids ages 6 mths- 14 years) which was difficult. Live and learn-- tomorrow we will divide them into 2 groups up by ages. I keep comparing these crazy situations to ideal classroom settings in the US, and I need to stop. It's a pride issue I struggle with of "it shouldn't be this way, it won't work this way," instead of "alright, this is how it is ,how can we make this work for everyone?" Our team spent the afternoon revamping our lesson plans, crafts, games--we are still expecting chaos tomorrow, but hopefully more organized chaos. :)

Tomorrow we will do a skit about friendship based around David and Jonathon's friendship. I will actually (planning on) be meeting with the two teachers that came yesterday and will get to know what schools are like in Haiti and try to give them some advice for inclusion. We will see what ends up actually happening!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


A year has past since my Spainish adventures and I am headed with a team of 11 girls to Port Au Prince, Haiti for disability ministry missions through the Cause 4 Life internship program (via Joni & Friends). I am so excited for this experience because it is the last destination in this month long internship and serves as the culmination of all we have learned these past 2 weeks.

The ( flexible) plan for the 9 days we are there is a vacation bible school program for the kids involved in a church and orphanage. Many of these kids have disabilities and struggle with society's harsh, negative views of their disability. In Haiti, disability has been viewed as a curse, something to be embarrassed of and hide, or something deserved. As a result of the increased number of physical disabilities from the earthquake a few years ago , the culture has slowly been changing their views and Haiti has made steps toward accessibility and assistance for individuals with disabilities.

Our aim is to model what disability ministry looks like through our service and relationships with the kids and community members. I was partially responsible for developing teacher training materials. I focused my content on developing an inclusive classroom community where all students belong, can access the classroom, and feel loved and valued. I am so excited to see what God does through this ministry. I have no idea what to expect from the teachers in regards to how they teach and manage the classroom at this point. We will have times of sharing, question/answers, devotions, prayer, and training with adults (caregivers, teachers, parents) throughout the week which is a blessing.

In spiritual preparation for this trip, I focused on Psalm 67:

"May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, your saving power among the nations. Let the peoples praise You, o God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy because you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth...our God shall bless us.

From this Psalm, I love that all peoples, from all nations, regardless of race, age, language, or disability, are welcomed into God's kingdom and are praising Him together. The unity that God has created through the gospel is so beautiful, strong, and something we can not obtain apart from Him. I am so thankful for His grace as He shows us His plans over time through suffering and times of joy. 

Here is our beautiful intern team:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hasta Luego

alright. I am in Paris now, but still processing everything that has happened these past six weeks in Spain. So here goes:
God has taught me a bunch about how to respond to differences, how to enjoy being alone and appreciate beauty by myself/with God, and how God provides and is incredibly faithful to His children with even the littlest things.

First, our little Christian study abroad group was made up of six wonderful girls of different faith backgrounds. We had some Baptist, non-denominational, and catholic faiths in the mix and it was interesting to listen to the different beliefs and traditions of other faiths. I also was taking a class on Comparative Religions where I learned a ton about different religions and how they differ from Christianity. Throughout all this, I learned how to listen, be respectful, and tried to understand when it was my place to speak out about my personal beliefs in the midst of differences. Still haven't figured it all out, but I got a lot of practice with these new friends and the course which helped with everything. Also, I was in Spain, living with a Spanish family who knew no English, speaking a foreign language with locals, and all that--lots of differences all around. I embraced the Spanish culture, trying everything once such as breaded/fried squid, Pudi's flavorless dietary cheese, and other deliciousness that I would not necessarily want to chow down on again. I respected the culture, trying to speak the language as much as I can, even when the natives switch to English, I would respond in Spanish.

Second, my time in Sevilla--going abroad alone, knowing absolutely no one. I even lost my camera so I was not able to share my pictures with friends and family back home..It sounds crazy, but my mind wants to call that a waste. If I can't do something such as watching a movie, traveling to a foreign city, eating dessert, with someone, I feel that I shouldn't be doing it yet..But God taught me that I am spending all of this time here with Him. On my solo walks to and from school, I would process my time here by talking to God and appreciating all the beauty and new sights on my walk. It was such a beautiful walk even though it was lengthy. So thankful that I was able to learn this from my journey here because that mindset is unhealthy.

Third, this one is my favorite..God provided for all my needs and fulfilled all my goals, even the little silly ones. Here are some of my goals: make at least one native friend and one deeper friend from the program, hang out with local kids, safe/smooth travel--no delays or cancelled flights, Spanish improves, balancing Spanish culture/studying/communicating back home/Bible&journaling, and getting used to the sleeping/eating schedule. My flight to Spain was a little stressful but I knew that God was testing me from the very beginning. I ran to my flight to Madrid out of Chicago since my plane to Chicago was delayed over 2 hours for tornadoes...but I made it. Then, after arriving and spending a few days in Spain, I realized that meeting locals would be harder than I thought and I started to not think it was possible. But, the second to last week, I met a sweet, local woman, Maria, at English Club who introduced me to her amazing daughter, Cecilia, who is now a close friend. We hung out basically every night after we met for the last week I was there. The last week, God met my desire and I was blown away..especially since she might end up living with my family this upcoming year to learn English. Sleeping/eating schedule took a week to get used to, but was not a big barrier to experiencing the culture. I would, however, get hungry between bfast and lunch most days, but the last 2 weeks, I was sick and did not have as much as an appetite, so God provided there, as I was not struggling with the hunger gap. (God's strange way of provision, but I love it)  As far as new American friends, I got close to a few individual girls including my roommate, and we even were able to do a bible study together once a week. I love them so much and it was great to connect on a deeper, spiritual level so fast since we only knew each other for a week or so when we started the study. Communicating back home worked out and was not something stressful that preoccupied my thoughts at all. Studying, thankfully, did not really need to happen until the last I did not waste time on studies outside of actual class time. And most afternoons, I had my room to myself and I sat outside on our little balcony and read the Bible/journaled..listened to the kids playing down in the courtyard. Lastly, the way God provided my happy time with kids was wildly awesome and unexpected. The time spent for service at the Christian campsite (see "ma-ri-po-sa" blog) was not time I was expecting to spend with kids at all..I thought I was going to paint (which I did also...) Then, after meeting Maria, she took me to a preschool by her apartment where I was able to spend the day hanging out with amazing experience I was not expecting. God sees the desires of His children, and He provides tenfold.

Saying goodbye to Pudi and the family was hard since I know it will be a while until I see them again. But I helped Pudi get an email address and taught her how to use the internet (!) so we can keep in touch still. My last moments with Pudi were spent on a little afternoon at the doctor and then Plaza de Espana, where we ate chocolate and had some conversation. It was a lovely afternoon and a great way to remember Sevilla and Pudi. She insisted that I not say "Adios" (goodbye) but say "hasta luego" (see you later). I love that idea and thus, I have said my "Hasta Luego" to Spain and all of it's beauty and happiness.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

bronchitis and the beach

This past week has been full of adventure and new friends. However, for an entire week now I have had a fever of 102-103 on and off, everyday. But I went to the doctor yesterday and the results just came back. Guess I have bronchitis. But the cough syrup is sweet like childhood and the antibiotics are working with only 2 days left so I am thankful and moving forward! Somehow I had the energy to do everything I wanted to last week which is such a blessing.

Last week, we went to an English Club at a park where we paired up with adults wanting to learn English. My friend, Diana, and I paired up with a woman, Maria, and her sister who did not know any English but were only waiting for a friend at the club. So we talked with them, got to know them..they are Christians, originally from Brazil. Maria invited both me and Diana over to her house almost immediately after we met. Turns out she's got a daughter who is 22 years old and loves to travel, and wants to learn English. Long story short, her daughter, Cecilia, is a fun, adventurous little lady and has traveling dreams that may or may not line up with my plans one day..haha. She has roots in Brazil so I might meet her there sometime...also, she is trying to move to the U.S. for a year starting next February or March...I may have mentioned that my house has an empty room or two but have to talk to my parents first.. ;) We hung out all day Friday when I first met her and then all day on Sunday. I went to her church and gave a short testimony and sang a song for worship with Cecilia. So thankful to be part of a church service in Spain! We went to the beach after church for a nice, relaxing time. Here is a picture of us with her mom's friend who is spunky like no other and made the trip extra spicy and fun with her bromas (jokes) and imitations of people who we asked for directions. (bad quality picture.)

 This past Tuesday, we went to see "Gran Gatsby" in Spanish. The theater was inside a shopping center, similar to many theaters in America. It was so cool to see it in Spanish. Wanted to hear DiCaprio and McGuire's real voices but Spanish made it more elegant, classy, and formal, to me at least. I also had background information from High School English class which helped.
We were able to spend an afternoon at a beach with the group from our school. Here is a few of us in front of the ocean blue. We toured a winery before and did the whole wine tasting gross--well, the wine was "Sherry" wine which I guess is normally used for cooking in the U.S. since it is 19% alcohol (and tastes disgusting). But it was cool to see what the big sources of income are for Spain, second to tourism.