How did we get here?

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As many of you know, Andrew and I made the decision to move our family to the Dominican Republic at the end of October 2016.  Then in early November, Andrew officially accepted a position as the director at Caribbean Mountain Academy in the Dominican Republic.

Prior to getting married in 2008, Andrew and I had a very frank conversation about where we felt that God was leading us.  We both had a heart for people, and knew we wanted to serve in a ministry capacity but we weren’t entirely sure what that would look like.  Both of us felt that we wanted to work with youth, and I specifically wanted to pursue counseling.  I remember very distinctly having a conversation with Andrew that went something like this,

Andrew: “Do you feel called to foreign missions at all?”

Erin: “No, I never have.  There are too many hurting people here! Do you?”

Andrew: “No, not at all.”

Erin: “Okay, that’s good.”

Shortly after this conversation Andrew began working at Lifeline Youth and Family Services at a residential boys home.  He loved it!  After we got married, I worked for a year at a crisis pregnancy center while I waited to turn 21.  Once I was 21 I applied, and soon after began working at Lifeline as well.  There we have remained until now.

For about a year prior to the Dominican Republic opportunity coming up, I had begun feeling a great deal of unrest where we were.  Some of that had to do with having divided interests with family rearing and continuing at Lifeline, but I really believe God was beginning to transition my heart away from Lifeline.  In May of 2016, Andrew forwarded me a job posting for the directors position.  I emailed back and said, “Nah, I don’t want to move to the Dominican Republic”.  A few weeks later he emailed me again and told me he talked to the hiring VP, and really wanted to apply.  We talked about it that night, and  I was hesitant on the timing because I was at that point 7 months pregnant with our fourth baby, and feeling a bit overwhelmed already.  I told him if he felt strongly about it, he should apply.  He did.  He felt the interview went really well.  We started really talking about what the move would mean for our family, and what we would need to do to get there.  I even felt a little bit of excitement, and then…. Nothing.

We assumed that the hiring VP had chosen someone else, and so we moved on in every way.  Naomi was born, I began a Masters program, Malachi was enrolled in preschool, and things were moving along smoothly.  Then Andrew called and told me he was asked if he was still interested in the position.  We both sat through a second interview, and were scheduled for a trip down to see the ministry in action.  The trip was a whole six weeks away, and it seemed like an eternity.  As we prayed about it, we knew that this was likely our next step, but meeting the staff and the clients and experiencing the impact being made really confirmed it.

So, here we are.

On the way home from Pennsylvania (where our kids had stayed with family while we were gone), we listened to a few songs on repeat that repeat this concept of walking on waves, like Peter did when Jesus was approaching the boat.  Peter asked if he could walk out to Jesus, but once his feet touched the water he took his eyes off of Jesus, and looked instead at the waves.  He was immediately terrified, and cried out to Jesus in fear because he was beginning to sink.  This concept has been powerful imagery for me as I consider all of the ramifications of moving not only myself, but my four small kiddos to a country that I do not know.  Where Andrew and I will need to learn a language that we do not understand.  And seek to understand and appreciate a culture that is not our own.  I won’t say that every day is awesome, and I only feel excited because that is far from the truth.  There have been many growing pains in the process.  However, in the last few years I have been challenged and stretched in some hugely impactful ways and I have learned some very important preparatory things.

 

1.) We do not want to waste our lives.  In 2014, I lost my Mom to cancer and she was only 56.  That was (and is) hard, but through her life and death, she taught me an important thing:  lives lived faithfully for Jesus make an eternal impact.  I want my legacy to be one that points others to my Savior.

2.) Home isn’t found in places or things, but in people, and ultimately in Jesus.  As we consider what things to keep or sell/give away I am learning that those things are not home!  I love my house, but it’s not my home.

3.)  Even if.  Habakkuk 3 talks about a list of terrible things happening, and through each of those things over and over it says, “even if”… “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in my God, my Savior.  The Sovereign LORD is my strength…”

So, Andrew and I will lift our eyes above those waves, and look to the author and perfecter of our faith.  Because these short lives we have been given, will be lived for Jesus alone.

 

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February 17, 2019 Update

Funding Update

First things first.  We are fully funded for language school and then some!  Any remaining funding we have received has been set aside to cover our monthly expenses for 2019, so we are also fully funded for the remainder of this year through one-time gifts!  Meaning, we still need your monthly gifts, but the $200 per month we were UNDER Budget is now covered.  Any funding we receive, over and above our regular monthly giving, will be applied towards our flights to Guatemala, which will spare our flight credit from Crosswinds for a potential furlough towards the end of 2019.  We are so encouraged, and so thankful for God’s provision through you!  We have made arrangements with the school (Christian Spanish Academy) in Guatemala to begin classes on June 17th, and complete classes July 12th.

Personal Update:

January 23rd-27th, I was able to sneak away for a few days, and attend a biblical counseling conference.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as God usually does more to wreck me than He does as far as equipping… although, I will say that His best methods of equipping are those very experiences that wreck us.  This conference proved no different.  One of the richest blessings of that conference was the fact that three dear friends from Indiana hopped on a plane to attend a two day long conference with me.  Tears still come to my eyes as I consider the pure love, and intentionality of those women.  It was also an encouragement to have Alyssa, the campus pastor’s wife, with me.  Very early into their time on the campus, I felt very strongly that I was supposed to attend this conference and I threw out an invite to Alyssa to tag along.  The free-spirited soul that she is took me up on it almost immediately, because she had also felt that she needed a similar conference.  I barely knew her at the time, but since then our relationship grew and I was so thankful to have her with me for that week.  We both walked away incredibly encouraged.  I also felt like God gave me a much needed kick in the pants to stop feeling sorry for myself, and get my hiney back to work.  There’s always so many layers to every experience with the Lord, but He reset my heart in some very specific ways.

Upon arriving back at CMA He has let up on the correction a bit, and has given so much rich encouragement.  I am so thankful He allows us to struggle so specifically and doesn’t just alleviate our discomfort.  We need His discipline.  We need discomfort to grow!  In the last year, He has been so intense, but also so very tender with me.  He needed to weed out a lot of junk.  Finally, I feel like he has finally set me in an open place (2 Samuel 22:20).  I am confident many things lie ahead, but the Shepherd is nearer, and sweeter than ever before.  So my encouragement to you, if you are in the middle of that intense weeding process, no matter what that looks like, stick with Him.  Keep praying for spiritual eyes to see through the flying dirt.  He does beautiful things, and who are we, as the lump of clay, to question his methods?  He knows what He is doing.  Be patient.  Trust Him.  He loves you, He delights in you, and your ultimate good motivates everything He allows you to experience.

Also, the growth in Andrew.  I told you that I was sick and tired of feeling like I had to cover because of “leadership”.  I understand the whole wisdom thing, but I also understand the benefit of a leader who is willing to be vulnerable.  My husband is a great example of this.  He led music this morning, and as he prayed before our practice this morning, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the growth I have seen in him.  He prays real prayers.  He patiently deals with an unending number of difficult situations with boldness.  He tenderly loves me and his kids.  He leads the ministry with vulnerability ,and probably over shares, but the amount of transparency he has in his interactions is amazing to me.  As we were wrapping up lunch today, he was wiping down tables, and washing dishes quietly, off by himself.  He didn’t call attention to it, it’s just who he is.  I’m so grateful.

Ministry Update: 

Ok, now, I’ll move on from personal stuff to CMA Stuff. 🙂  God is doing so much.   So, so much.  The staff have pushed through the funk we were all sitting in.  There is more passion in our prayers.  More intentional time spent in prayer.  There are still struggles, and I beg that you pray on our behalf, for growth, for discernment, and for encouragement, but God is so clearly working.

There is growth in the students.  Several students are asking good spiritual questions.  Baby Christians are being discipled.  God is doing good things.  Recently, a student who has been especially difficult expressed, “I have never felt safe before.  I feel safe here.”  Baby steps.

We had our first missions team of 2019.  What an encouragement they were.  We were sad to see them load into the van to go back to the airport, because some of them had grown near to my kids, and to us.

Our second team is here, and they are doing so much good on this campus.  With such tender hearts of service to the Lord.

Today, we had our first “family Sunday”, well technically, our second, but this one was so rich.  No preaching, just prayer, singing, and communion, and it was rich.  As I listened to the prayers around me there were Spanish and English prayers inter-mingled.  Genuine tears, and even the students shared openly where they were as far as prayer is concerned, but offered what they had from where they sit with the Lord.  It was beautiful.  Then we enjoyed fellowship over lunch.  Our little CMA Church is growing, and some Sunday’s, bursting at the seams.  Our unity under the gospel of Jesus Christ, in many different ministries in the surrounding communities is beautiful.

Our hearts are full, and we are just in awe of what the Holy Spirit is doing with His church here.

Highs and Lows:

Andrew

High – The landscaping in lower campus is finally making rapid progress thanks to the current missions team!  It’s nice when your vision comes to fruition… and it looks good! 🙂

Low – My wife makes cookies, and so I get excited, and then informs me that they are for our kids snacks during the week.  What is this non-sense?

Erin

High – I was able to buy all of the kids homeschool curriculum for the coming school year for half of what I usually pay using various buy sell trade pages, and ebay.

Low – There is an obnoxious, potentially demon-possessed cat that wanders up to our house at night, and loudly announces it’s presence wherever it goes.  It’s making sleep difficult, and my only way to scare it off is shooting it with an airsoft gun.  I wish I had something bigger.

Malachi

High – I finally caught Gerard (one of our cats who is not a big fan of the children), and he let me snuggle with him.

Low – I dropped my toy frog in the toilet when I was helping Naomi go potty.

Levi

High – Pizza Pep has a new playground (one of the restaurants in town) and we got to go there this week!

Low – I had to clean my room last night and it took forever.

Selah

High – I got a new notebook to draw in!

Low – I painted Pedo’s nose (the cat), but then I couldn’t get the paint off and so I got in trouble.  I was trying to make him beautiful.

Naomi

High – Cookies.

Low – When Mommy doesn’t let me play “Bimble” (Kindle).

Prayer Requests:

Please, pray for the water situation on campus.  The property next to us is where our cisterns are.  Recently the land transitioned ownership, and the current owner is pretty hostile towards us.  We have legal rights to the water, but because of his hostility we are seeking other options for water sourcing.

Pray for continued growth on campus spiritually.

Pray for us to find the right renters for our home in Warsaw.  We have had a lot of interest, but haven’t found the right person just yet.  We are hoping to have it rented by March 1st.

January 15, 2019 Update

As I write this, there is music drifting from the music room, and calming tones remind me of the joys of serving Jesus, even when it’s hard.  Sounds that make me thankful that I have a husband, and a director of this ministry who seeks Jesus, even when things aren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows.

I think sometimes when I write these blog posts, I hesitate to be fully transparent, or to request funds, or to share that we are discouraged.  I hesitate to share not because of our people back home, who will prayerfully lift us up, or even people back home who won’t understand at all.  I hesitate because I know that many of the people on this campus will read these posts.  It’s not that I mind if people on this campus know we’re human, believe me, they do!  It’s that when you are in a position of leadership it feels like you need to be able to see silver linings, because when your troops are discouraged, it doesn’t benefit anyone for the leader to sit around in the camps sharing every human thought that enters his mind.  We hide our cards because I fear that sharing the true lows will be harmful in some way to these dear souls who Andrew and I would take a bullet for.  But the real deal is, life has been riddled with wrestlings for several months now, and we’re tired, and feeling the full weight of what God has called us to do.

Not wrestling as in marriage struggles, health problems, loneliness, culture stuff, or kid struggles.  Wrestling as in constant misunderstandings.  Questioning how to lead discouraged people.  Questioning how to lead through your own discouragement.  Figuring out how to love people who don’t want you too close.  Discerning what is warfare, and what is humanity, and how in the world those two things overlap.  All the normal, human things that complicate serving with and loving human beings.

I often share with you that I want to throw back the curtain on the realities that missionary life is just life.  Because it is.  Sure, there are language barriers, and culture barriers, and complications in just going to the dentist.  It’s annoying, isolating, and even maddening at times, but it’s just life.  Frankly, I love that it brings my ugly heart to the surface so much more often.  And really, you just figure it out, one step at a time, and in my opinion, we Jarabacoan missionaries have a pretty easy gig (mountains, waterfalls, an ocean, warm weather, a warm culture, washers and dryers, running water, nice homes, easily accessible groceries…).

What I never pull back the curtain on, is leadership life, or ministry leadership wife life.  With Andrew’s blessing, I want that to change.

Ministry leadership is really lonely sometimes.  It doesn’t matter if you are a pastor, a director, a CEO, or a chairman of a deacon board, you will have any number of things you spend sleepless nights praying about, and wrestling through that no one will ever know about.  You will hear complaints about things you are already working on, but can’t talk about yet because you don’t want to get anyones hopes up.  You will take misunderstandings and misrepresentations like a bullet in the chest in the name of protecting unity, and protecting your people at all costs.

Ministry leadership is sanctifying.  Although, I don’t know that we have ever gone to battle in prayer more than we do now, I also don’t know that we have ever allowed ourselves to be uncomfortable like we have been here.  We see our ugly pride come out in insensitive platitudes, in frustration with staff who don’t see things the same way as we do, and just in stupid things like not being able to control whether we have enough staff when we need them, or enough students to run the campus the way we want, or missions teams that fit molds that we want them to… you know.. not being in control… of anything.  God has a way of humbling us through those experiences.  Andrew and I are totally different people today than we were even six months ago… because we are becoming more like Jesus Christ, through fire.

Ministry leadership makes Jesus feel nearer.  When you wrestle, when you suffer, you experience the loving discipline of a Faithful Creator, and you fall back into His arms because you have experienced His love, and you realize that you have nothing else.  That’s not a bad thing.  In our folly we start to believe that we are self-sufficient, and He uses His rod and his staff and gets us back.  It hurts, but I want as much of it as it takes to make me like Him.  Because He is all I have.

Obviously, this is not an all-inclusive list, and even posting these general things makes me cringe, because honestly, I don’t know how this will be received.  But in the name of unity.  In the name of, I love you.  In the name of poker faces help no one.  I’m giving a glimpse into the bea-ugl-iful side of ministry, because I hope it will encourage you to pray for people in ministry leadership around you, who probably aren’t going to say any of this, but likely feel all of it and more.  And I hope that it will help you know how to more effectively pray for us as we serve this beautiful, challenging, heart-wrenching, hopeful, delightful, incredible ministry.

We are honored to be here, and have high hopes for all God will do, correct, and grow in 2019.

Highs and Lows

Andrew

High – We were able to sneak in a day trip up to the northern part of the island to explore 12 of the 27 waterfalls with a group of staff we used to work with at Lifeline.  It was a good day, and encouraging to see friendly faces.

Low – It’s been really cold at night!  I know… I know… “you’re in the caribbean”, but it is legitimately cold when it drops down into the 50’s and you have no indoor heat.

Erin

High – I get to see three of my Indiana peeps at a training conference for ministry wives next week alongside the pastors wife from CMA.  I am so looking forward to a little time away to refocus, and to learn from some brilliant minds.

Low – We’re all sick, which has included some poor nights of sleep in addition to an already full schedule.

Malachi

High – I started a brand new book in history and in reading today!

Low – Mom won’t let me chase the baby chickens anymore (Erin here… I never “let” him chase the baby chickens).

Levi

High – Today was our 101st day of school, and we got to watch the 101 Dalmations as a part of school!

Low – I don’t have one of these.

Selah

High – Tonight we got to get a treat from the Colmado.

Low – My nose is stuffy… I hate my nose being stuffy.

Naomi

High – I have been wearing underwear for three days with only a few accidents!

Low – I pooped in the potty, but Mommy won’t count it because it was the size of a fly.

Prayer Requests

  • Pray for the many decisions to be made as we head into summer program preparation season.  Pray for the students and staff who will be here during those busy months.
  • Pray for us as we finalize our language school details.
  • Pray for an additional $125 per month to be raised (we are praising the Lord for the additional $75 per month we have raised so far).
  • Pray for the leadership and staff at CMA.  For wisdom, for gobs of love and grace, and for Jesus eyes as we interact with one another.

 

Support Needs

Hey Friends,

Erin here, (for both of us).

I wanted to communicate with you how we are doing in all the ways.

How we are doing in ministry, in life, and what are needs are financially, because we have some need there.

It’s easy to get on here and talk about the CMA ministry.  It’s easy to talk about the highs (student graduations, spiritual growth, staffing changes and development, missions accomplishments), and it’s not difficult to talk about the lows (refusal to progress, early discharges because families grow impatient, the low census despite marketing efforts, staff conflicts and growing pains of living life so closely).

It’s easy to get on here and talk about our personal life.  The highs (Spanish learning, soccer opportunities for our kids, piano, homeschooling, music ministry, Sunday school teaching, learning Spanish, sharing the gospel with people) and the lows (discouragement, culture shock, missing family and friends, car troubles, language struggles, figuring out friendships within a ministry that Andrew leads).

I don’t struggle with transparency.  In fact, I am such an introverted nerd, that I love it.  I love telling you guys that missionaries are just people.  I love communicating, that we are messy people who screw up in this ministry just as much as we experience wins.  We yell at our kids.  We forget to walk our dog.  We have car problems.  We get flat tires on our motorcycle.  We forget things at the grocery store and have to go back later in the week.  We’re just living life, and serving Jesus where we are.

Here’s the deal, this is where we struggle to communicate well.  When we are doing our budget for the month, and we are making decisions about “is this a need or a want?”, we struggle to know when to formally ask people for money.  First of all, nobody likes asking for money.  We’re Americans.  We like thinking we’re independent and stuff…  It’s super difficult to humble ourselves and say, I know ya’ll are already giving of yourselves financially, and that you pray for us regularly, but we need… more.  When we can make it month-to-month, and only take a few hundred dollars from our savings… do we need people to give more?  Should we just trust God to give one time donations?  Should we just….

Ya’ll.  I. Don’t. Know.  I haven’t done this whole, rely on other people for every dollar that hits your bank account thing before.  So here’s what I am going to say:

In the last two years, there have been life changes in our lives and equally as much change in many of your lives as well.  Life has brought about job loss, babies, new medical expenses and concerns, new businesses, death, ALL. THE. THINGS, and inevitably, our support ebbs and flows with those things.

So here it is, drumroll please……..

We are in need of about $200 in recurring support to cover our monthly expenses. 

We would be so grateful if you would prayerfully consider if God is prompting you to join us financially for the first time, join us again, or maybe join us financially a little bit more.

I can’t answer that for you.  I certainly don’t sit here judging.  All I know to do is prayerfully present the need, and allow God to meet it how He sees fit.

LANGUAGE SCHOOL:

Separately, we recently asked for funding for language school this summer.  An exciting update, we are FULLY FUNDED for the language school portion ($4,000).  Any gifts above and beyond this will be put towards our flights (Roughly $1000, give or take).

THANK YOU!  For allowing God to use you in this way.  We are so incredibly encouraged.

Link to Give

November 11, 2018 Update

I’m sorry in advance for the lack of photos documenting this month of life here.  I am notorious for not having a camera nearby, mostly because that usually means having my phone with me… something that I avoid as much as possible.

Prayer Requests

I’m going to start with prayer requests this time, because there are a few significant ones:

  • Pray for us as we share Christ in a few various settings.  God is opening some doors that have been closed and locked tight for over a year.  We are encouraged by this!
  • Pray for us as we consider options for further language training.  We have been looking into an academy in Antigua, Guatemala.  The potential of a month of intensive learning is very intriguing as we are still (almost 2 years in) very limited in our language skills.  This trip would be in place of our trip back to the United States, and we would need to raise funding, and find a good childcare option for Naomi who would be the only Stroup too young to attend classes.  Please pray with us about this, as we look into all the different components.

Ministry Update:

The month of October was a continued slow pace.  We continue to pray for student referrals, and there is presently a campaign being run to bring additional referrals in.  Please pray with us for God to bless the efforts being put into getting more referrals.  That we would get the right students, at the right time, and that we would resist the temptation to short cut a waiting process that God has ordained for us.

Please also pray as we head into the holidays.  They bring additional strain in family relationships, and homesickness for the students.  For the staff too, who are all far away from family, and trying to lean in with one another to grow in our relationships with each other and with the students.

Last weekend, we hosted our first staff get together that we have had in a while.  It was fun!  We had Chili, and carved whatever gourds (or pineapples!) that we could find.  We also played corn hole thanks to a few staff that brought a set with them.  It almost felt like a normal fall night back in Indiana, minus the need for a sweatshirt!

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We also just got done hosting our first CMA Chapel Carry-In.  We have several families from other ministries in town who worship with us, and so this is an effort to hopefully grow those relationships.  It’s hard to be pass-by friends on Sunday morning.

Last weekend, I also had the honor of co-hosting a baby shower for our Missions Manager who is expecting a baby girl later this month!  It was a good, sweet time with good food, silly games, and a time to put together a time capsule for the baby.  With missionary life changing so frequently, and so much coming and going, I hope that this will be a sweet memento for that family looking back.

On Wednesday, we also dedicated another completed house to the Lord.  Several of you had a personal hand in this house for Frankelly, a handicapped man who has been discipled by another ministry in town.  It was so cool to move his personal belongings in, and enjoy officially handing him the “keys” so to speak. 🙂

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Family Update:

This month has brought on some fun things for our kids. Malachi, Levi and Selah began playing soccer with the other campus kids, and have two practices and a game each week. It’s not quite like anything we have ever participated in in the States, but it’s fun for them to have an opportunity to learn the basics of a sport, and all the life lessons that come along with it. I am not sure which sport is next, but the plan is rotate through a few different sports in order to mix things up a bit.

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Malachi and Levi are also able to take piano lessons with a staff member on campus, and are about 2 months in at this point. On more than one occasion I have found one or even both of them tinking out a song, or putting together a praise band complete with sisters to sing, or bang on a drum. What a blessing to have a safe context to try so many different things!

I have also observed the kids using more Spanish this month. No complete sentences or anything like that, but just simple words to communicate a need, or a want. They are also gaining a great deal of confidence in using what little they know to communicate with Clara. It’s cool to watch!  In addition to Clara being in our home, we have begun making an effort to attend a Dominican service on Sunday’s.  Last Sunday was the first of many, and it was simple since we had a missions team visiting who was going anyway.  That service was in Mata Gorda, with pastor André who I know I have mentioned before, because we do a lot of missions work with his church.  This afternoon we will attend a different church in Los Hijos, with Pastor Jesús which was a church plant of the church we attended last week.  We are excited to continue to learn, both Spanish and culture.

Highs and Lows:

Andrew

High – Doing a midnight hike with Jon Rex, one of the counselors here.

Low – I have begun experiencing my first waves of culture shock recently.  I feel more intensely how much more complicated it is to do things here, and have missed some of the simplicity of doing things mindlessly in your first language.  I am also a lot more tired than usual.

Erin

High – I have enjoyed flexing my hostess muscles again… it had been a while!

Low – I am having some health issues that are causing some significant hormone fluctuations that make me pretty unstable emotionally at times.  I am pretty open about this, and all of the things that come with it, but prayer for balance would be greatly appreciated as I tackle a few approaches to find the root cause in the coming months.

Malachi

High – I got coins from the “tooth fairy” aka, Daddy.

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Low – I had to get two teeth pulled at the dentist.  It hurt really bad!

Levi

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High – Playing Mario on Dad’s Nintendo 64 and scoring a goal at the soccer game!

Low – Selah broke all of my twisty crayons.

Selah

High – Playing soccer!  Wait… no… nothing.  I hate soccer.

Low – When you forget the water at my soccer practice.

Naomi

High – Brushing my teeth!

Low – When I tried Mama’s toothpaste… it’s spiiiicyyyyyy.

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They all love coffee, so every once in awhile they have a “coffee party”.

 

September Update 2018

Hello!

I wanted to check in for a brief September update on our family and Caribbean Mountain Academy from the Stroup perspective.

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September was a much needed restful month following the closure of the summer program, and the many goodbyes that the month of August inevitably holds for us.  Several of our summer staff have made the decision to commit long-term, and so those staff have taken this brief pause to go home and raise support.  Exciting stuff!  In the next couple weeks, several additional long-term staff families will travel home for some rest and to connect with their support system in the States.

As we have previously mentioned, Andrew has been busy with finalizing two accreditation needs for CMA.  Everything for the CONANI accreditation (think DCS for Indiana) is now officially submitted, and we are waiting for the directors of CONANI to review and officially give their approval.  He also plans to travel next week to attend a conference held by that same department in anticipation of our partnership with them.

The second is our re-accreditation with Christian Schools International.  This process takes place every five years, so it’s quite a process.  He is almost done submitting all the necessary documentation and paperwork associated with that accreditation and will then host a representative from CSI in December who will more thoroughly review the school, and give recommendations for improvements, as needed.

While we are low on students currently, this is giving us excellent opportunity to find both strengths and weaknesses in our current programming.  We are also enjoying the gift of being well staffed, and being able to really lean in and pour our hearts and souls into the students, not out of weariness, but out of full and overflowing hearts.  The fruit from this is evident in the depth of relationships that the staff and students are experiencing.

Every month, we genuinely request your prayers for consistent growth in unity among our staff body.  This month was the first significant challenge in this area that Andrew and I have experienced during our leadership at CMA.  There were several quiet underlying issues that came to a head this month, requiring much humility and vulnerability for us as a staff family.  I am so pleased to report that God is doing significant work here, both in Andrew and I, as well as in the leadership and direct care staff on the campus.  In addition to some of those issues, that brought us back, as a community, to asking, “Why are we here?”, there was a significant moto accident that two of our staff were involved in (both were protected very evidently by the Lord).  God gave tangible examples in the midst of more subtle ones, that the choices we make individually impact the whole body.  Do I love my brother and sister enough to sacrifice personal liberties?  Do I love my brother and sister enough to lay aside my personal preferences?  Am I truly willing to give up anything for the gospel?  In that one paragraph, some of the most impactful events of our time at CMA are contained, and lessons learned that we will never forget.

Family Life:

Everything on the home front is going well (I mean can you see the pure JOY on Malachi’s face?!).  School is good.  Clara, our nanny is a huge gift.  Relationships are growing.

Andrew High and Low: My high is that my parents are going to visit in November.  I’m very much looking forward to their visit.  I don’t really have a low?

Erin High and low:  My high was getting away to the beach for a few days for my birthday, and to process life.  I got a few extra days without kiddos to spend with our pastor’s wife, who is a delight to know.  My low was that my coffee carafe is broken…

Malachi High and Low:  Going to Emory’s house.  When I lost my water bottle squirt gun.

Levi High and Low: When we watched a movie on the wall (we used a projector).  I don’t know a thing I don’t like.

Selah High and Low:  I love doing school when I get to do crafts.  When I have to wait for bocadillo (snack).

Naomi High and Low:  My best part is that I can play with Selah more now that I am getting older.  My low is that Selah doesn’t let me be the boss.

Can I be real?  This month has been a heavy one.  God is doing a lot of heavy lifting in our souls, and we’re tired from being bumped against truth over and over again.  But we wouldn’t trade a single bruise for smooth sailing.

Personally, Andrew and I have been dramatically reproved and humbled by the Lord this month.  Convicted of cynicism, critical spirits, arrogance, and self-dependency.  Left raw, open, honest and humble.  I frequently encourage you all to lean into the hard stuff.  Here’s the deal… the hard stuff isn’t necessarily hopping on a plane and moving to a new country.  Sometimes that’s the easiest thing (you would not believe the number of church burned missionaries we have met down here). Sometimes the hard stuff is staying right where you are and living in peace with others.

  • It’s recognizing and OWNING ways that you have contributed to family conflicts that have lasted for generations.  Or are starting in your generation.
  • It’s pursuing your spouse who has refused to apologize for an offense.  Or, pursuing your spouse and apologizing for your offense.
  • It’s choosing to go on a coffee date with a co-laborer in your church who you haven’t spoken to in over a decade because… do you even remember?
  • It’s letting go of your opinion, no matter how right you think it is, for the sake of unity.
  • It’s inviting your estranged child to Christmas dinner, at any cost.
  • It’s realizing that bitterness and resentment ultimately find their root in a lack of trust in a faithful, loving God who sanctifies us through relationships with other people.
  • It’s recognizing how incredibly dependent we are, and how foolish we are to believe we were even self-sufficient.

I will leave you with this: “Our willingness to gossip, to live in anger, and trim the truth reveals something deeper than a lack of love for people.  It exposes a lack of love for God.” – Paul David Tripp “Instruments in the Redeemers Hands”.

Pursue peace, dear ones.  At all costs.  He’s worth it.

For a little levity:

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Our conflict resolution as adults often doesn’t graduate much beyond this level… on a positive note, Malachi is growing significantly in his writing abilities. 😉

August 26, 2018 Update

Ministry Update:

It has been a few months since our last update, partially because it’s been so busy, and partially because this summer was kind of strange here at CMA and frankly, I didn’t really know HOW to summarize it for you.  Last summer was full of excitement as Andrew supervised the preparation and execution of a very successful, and encouraging summer program.  Which was a much needed spiritual, emotional, and mental win for the body of staff here at the time.  It was incredibly unifying as we welcomed six students who left the program with clear, positive steps as they transitioned back home.

This summer was just different, from the opening program, until the final closing ceremony words were uttered.  I suppose, it was good in a different way.  The dynamics in the long-term student houses were much different.  The higher level students this Summer lacked the maturity of those who led the previous Summer vibe.  We accepted eight summer program students, and welcomed several new staff and summer interns in the span of two weeks.  This changed the “doing life” feel, and the “house life” feel all at the same time.  In the period of a few weeks, the staff excitement at the beginning of the summer began to transition to exhaustion as they grew together as a staff body, and learned together how to engage a difficult student body with love and grace.

I will pause this synopsis, to admit that one of my greater challenges as the directors wife, and as someone with a great deal of residential treatment experience, was that it was really difficult to lean into my family, while I watched my friends here wrestle through things so familiar to my own ups in downs in caregiving.  I could offer daily prayer, a listening ear, and words of encouragement, but I wasn’t on the “front lines”, and in many ways felt “helpless”.  This is where God taught me the most.  With all of my concern for the spiritual health of the campus, all of my desire for continued unity, all of my longing for growth, I was left feeling helpless, when in fact, God had a very important role for me to play.  I felt side-lined, but really, I was given the role that I so frequently call on those of you back home to play.  I could pray, and I learned a lot about prayer in the process. This summer, because I wasn’t working, I was given time.  Time to seek the Lord, who gave me the right words to say.  Time to listen and watch, to know what to pray for.  At dinner, whose body language was off? Which student was mumbling things under their breath? Which students were refusing to stand during worship at church?  Which staff didn’t bother showing up to church because they couldn’t work up the energy to get out of bed?  Whose comments were full of negativity?  Listen.  Watch.  Pray.  I learned what it means to be completely helpless to “do anything”.  What was encouraging  was watching some of the staff not only discern that the struggle was largely spiritual, but to then watch many of them actively pursue Christ together.  There were several spontaneous prayer meetings planned, for the sole purpose of calling on the Holy Spirit to refresh our perspectives, and to give us the energy, love, and vision that He had for each of the students we were serving.  Instead of falling victim to weariness, many accurately identified the struggles and leaned in.  Regardless of how weary they were feeling.  Prayer warriors from literally around the world were called upon to pray for us to have spiritual eyes and discernment.  To know what to say, to know when to say it, and to KEEP GOING.

All of that sounds exhausting, and to be honest, it was.  When the van door was finally closed as we said goodbye at the end of the closing ceremony, there was a sense of relief.  As well as confusion.  Why was this summer so different?  Did we make an impact?  There are many objective reasons one could point to as to why the summer program was more difficult.  Ultimately, I think God took us all through a spiritual, and emotional low.  We were weary.  But we were dependent.

Somehow, it is when we are weary, and in need of help, that we most earnestly lift our eyes to the hills, with expectation of help.  So, why, as human beings do we want to be relieved of that discipline as quickly as possible?  It is then that we learn how to push through the burning lungs, and aching muscles, so that we can run our race well.  May we not be people who turn back to camp, rather than pushing to finish the race.

Family Update:

This summer brought some new challenges for our family.  We aren’t the new kids on the block anymore, and with that came a lot of serving through taking people to the grocery store, setting up new apartments, setting up “bank accounts”, and so on and so forth.  How in the world, am I the one who is supposed to know what I am doing here?

In addition to the summer pace, as we entered year two we noticed that the Dominican Republic has begun to lose it’s new, shiny, excitement.  It has felt like home, but now it feels like HOME.  The honeymoon is over, and we have welcomed relational challenges, work/life balancing, figuring out a budget, and how to do life in such a small community of believers.  Real life stuff.  Not, sweet, perfect new ministry stuff. 🙂

To bring in additional language help, and to help maintain my sanity as I am now homeschooling three, we hired a house helper from a local community who comes in Monday-Friday and helps me keep up with the house, and watches the children when I have other things going on.  We also hired her in hopes that the children and I would begin to pick up additional Spanish, and it has helped me a great deal!  However, I would say that I still waffle between feeling like I am making great strides, and feeling like I. know. absolutely. nothing.  Thankfully, Clara is very gracious with me, and having to practice has been beneficial to our whole family.

We also continue our Spanish lessons with Pilar, while Daniel plays with the kids.  They have become dear friends, and although they still don’t know Christ, we have conversations with them regularly about our faith and ministry.  Daniel’s English is improving as our Spanish improves.  This Summer we were able to go to the beach with them, which was a blast.  Please, continue to pray for them to come to a saving relationship with Christ.

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Our family with Daniel and Pilar

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The beach with Daniel and Pilar

Andrew has done a good job digging in and finding healthy things to clear his head as he is currently hard at work digging in to prepare us for three separate accreditations.  He regularly goes mountain biking, and will soon begin his weekly soccer night.  I don’t understand, but he is in a much better place when he takes the time to get out.  It also offers him time to build relationships with some of the other men on campus.  I’ve also seen a great deal of growth as we learn together how to parent our crew.  He has been intentional in taking the kids on hikes, playing soccer in the front yard, and including them in projects around the house.

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Andrew’s biker gang

Malachi, Levi and Selah began school in the middle of July.  Malachi is in 1st Grade, Levi is in Kindergarten, and Selah is in Pre-school.  The beginning weeks were difficult, but I think we have finally figured out a good school-work groove.  Clara playing with Naomi has been phenomenal!  Naomi surprises me all the time with random Spanish words. 🙂  The other day, she waved me outside to show me something well yelling loudly, “Vamanos, Mama!”.

This coming week I will have my first meeting for a ladies Bible study going through the book, “Finding the Love of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation” by Elysa Fitzpatrick.   I felt that the Lord was impressing on my heart that I do this specific study, as it rocked my world this summer when I went through it by myself.  I was really encouraged by the interest, and even more encouraged by conversations with the ladies who will be involved, as many of them have voiced struggling in the same areas that this study speak towards.  I am so humbled that our Papa meets us each where we are, and I am praying that God will do personalized work as these women commit themselves to learning more about Him.

Overall, we have been really stretched, and tired this summer, but the discipline of the Lord is a gift (Hebrews 12), and I can say with all my heart that we wouldn’t trade the growth for the ability to kick back, and have smooth sailing.  What is kicking back, anyhow?

Highs and Lows:

Andrew 

High – Having Michael and Alyssa Lopez (our interim chaplain and his wife)!  It was an answer to prayer to have the Chaplain position so quickly, and smoothly filled by the Lord.

Low – Andrew took the kids to Upper Jimenoa, a large waterfall about 30 minutes from campus.  While there, he and the other Andrew (Stuck) were climbing under a large rock in order to find a good jumping spot at which time they were ambushed by a few hundred wasps.  Andrew walked away with about 10 stings.  Not his favorite day.

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I’m sorry about this one…

Erin

High – Hiking the mountain behind our house, and watching the meteor shower with a group of staff.

Low – That I cannot find cottage cheese in this country anymore!  It’s the small things folks!

Malachi

High – Going to Upper Jimenoa (a waterfall) with the Stuck’s, and building a giant castle.

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Low – Not getting to go to “girl parties” this Summer (There were two little girl birthday parties that Selah was invited to, but not the boys).

Levi

High – Poppy sent us cars and jelly beans with Daddy!  (Andrew spent this last week in New York at a Therapeutic Crisis Intervention recertification training.

Low – That I got in trouble yesterday.

Selah

High – Getting invited to the girls student house, and getting to eat lunch with them with Naomi!

Low – That Layla isn’t here anymore.

Naomi

High – I am learning new words every day in both English and Spanish!

Low – Mom and Dad still don’t understand what I am saying most of the time.

 

Prayer Requests:

Spiritual growth on the campus – this is a heavy burden on my heart.

Unity of staff – there are a lot of staffing changes happening.

For our family to stay encouraged, and faithful in serving.

For the students –  many of them are really wrestling against spiritual and personal growth.

For several new staff members as they continue transitioning in, and moving down here permanently.

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This summer we enjoyed sharing our ministry with the Pulley family from our home church in Indiana.  Matt came down to fill in for Andrew, the head teacher in the school.  You will notice some pictures of them throughout this post.  It was fun to have someone here with a full context of where we have come from and where we are, and the kids LOVED being together.  If you ever want to encourage a missionary you support.  Seeing their world and ministry is significant.

June 2018

Hello!

Last time I updated our blog, we were anticipating our trip back to the United States, and now we have been back in the Dominican Republic for a little over 3 weeks.  Our time in the U.S. was good.  Almost everything went according to plan.  Our flight into Miami went perfectly, and we got through the airport and to our rental car with our kids and our luggage pretty well.  We drove to Missionary Flights International to pick up our personal van, and our brakes locked up, and almost caught on fire.  Thankfully, I grew up with a Dad who taught me to drive and ride in vehicles while paying attention to weird smells, sounds, and sights coming from the car.  I smelled the burning brakes about 2 blocks before I was able to discern if the smell was coming from me, or an old beater pick up in front of me.  I pulled over, and sure enough, the brake was smoking.  This little hiccup, delayed our travels a little bit, but overall, God just used it as one more way to show us His tender care and concern for our lives.  He provided us housing, and a mechanic through his people at Missionary Flights, and we were on the road by 2 PM the next day.  After that, our van drove well, and we made the remaining 60 hours of driving without so much as a hiccup.  Our flights home also went smoothly, and we were so excited to sleep in our own beds and be with our people here.

During our time in the States, we were able to spend time with many of our friends and family and catch up on their lives, as well as share about what God has done in the last year (albeit a very brief narrative).  We also got to pass out some goodies to share just a little bit of the Dominican Republic with many of you who stand behind us in many different ways.  We enjoyed our time in each place that we stayed, and flew home encouraged and ready for year two.  🙂

Since we have been back, we have watched many summer and long term staff arrive who we have been praying for for the last six months (or more!).  It’s always exciting to welcome new people to campus, in this case there are 11 new faces, just since we got back at the end of May!  That brings in a LOT of change, and in some ways we (Erin especially) are still trying to figure out where to dive in on a campus that looks very different.

In addition to new staff, we have welcomed 8 new summer program students into our program.  We are so excited to see what God has in store for the rest of this Summer!

We will also say goodbye to Jon and Angie Leyse, who fly home on Sunday.  Jon has been serving as the campus chaplain for two years.  Please pray for this family as they transition home, and figure out all of the obvious things like work, and housing, as well as all the less obvious things like counter-culture shock, and readjusting to life in the States.  They will be dearly missed!

Andrew and I were also able to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary at the beginning of June.  What a crazy 10 years it has been!  It was good to take a few days to remember all the ways that God has moved in our lives both individually, and as a couple.  We never would have guessed that we would be living on a caribbean island, or trying to learn a new language, but here we are.  🙂

This is obviously a very abbreviated summary of the last few months, but we are excited to be back, and eager to see what this year will hold.  Thank you for being a part of the journey with us!