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.

 

Year Four Begins/April Update

In the blink of an eye our third year at CMA came and went.  This milestone day of April 19th has come without much anticipation, reflection, or hoopla.  Which is unusual for me, but also, there isn’t as much new.  In so many ways, we are just living our lives and trying to serve Jesus.  When we arrived here three years ago, we had committed to three years.  It seemed like such a long time.  I remember calculating the ages of our kids and thinking how I just couldn’t imagine my little ones being a steady 7, and just shy of 9, 6, and 4.  We are no longer parenting toddlers.  Bottles, cribs, pacifiers, sippy cups and diapers are a memory.

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When we lived in Indiana, I remember thinking that we were living the good life.  And we were!  A good, blessed, obedient life.  But as I sit in a locked down campus, with a community of people during a worldwide quarantine, I can’t help but be thankful.

My kids childhood memories will be much consumed by lizards, palm trees, sunshine, and exploring tropical forests around our home with other campus kids, and our golden retriever.  A childhood so different from my own.  They know the taste and wonders of a salty ocean.  They are fearless of language barriers, and cultural and racial diversity.  They know what it is to be a minority.  They know what true need looks like.  They know what a good mango and pineapple should taste like, and they know that avocados should be the size of your head.  They can talk to anyone, of any age, without reservation because of the sea of new faces that, not during a pandemic, flows through our campus.  They are confused and fascinated by the cold.  They are delighted by American normals like Culvers, root beer, and playgrounds.

As we begin our fourth year, the life we have made here feels normal.  Sure, there are reminders that we are not in our home country, and we certainly don’t always feel like we “belong” here.  Our hearts ache for those we left behind when we came here, but in all of that, returning back to the U.S. increasingly feels less like comfort and familiar.

So if I was to summarize the last three years, I would say we have made a home here.  I would say ministry is hard and beautiful no matter where on the globe you find yourself.  I would say that I wouldn’t change a thing, and that I am more confident today than ever that God has called us to serve here.  That we know what it is to be aliens on this earth, and that we wouldn’t change the lesson that belonging and “home” are found in Him alone.

It is on this little island, we have learned what love is.  That it knows no boundaries within blood, language, likeness of mind, or denomination.

That our chief aim must be unity within the body of Christ at whatever cost.  Cost of comfort.  Cost of reputation.  Cost of pride.

We have learned that if you ask God to make you like Him, at whatever cost, He will.  It will be excruciating.  Like a drunken fool, you will ask Him for more, plead with Him for more.  Whatever it takes to reflect Him.  Because you have found a life source that is the greatest high you could ever know.  This process of dying will devastate you.  You will find wicked nooks in your heart that you never knew existed.  Some days, you will wonder if you have changed at all.  Your whole self will ache, your blisters will be tender, but He will help you to keep running.

We have learned that if you ask God to instruct you, and reveal Himself to you… brace yourself, because He is more than willing to lean in.  But in that, He is an incredible refuge.  Like a chick, you will nestle in under His warm wings, and find comfort in the middle of a hurricane.  He will show you such kindness in the hustle, you will never want to leave, and you won’t want to slow the pace and risk sitting on the sidelines.  Like Gollum with a ring, you will obsess over how precious He has become– the supernatural, all consuming draw will trap you.

As we begin year four, we marvel at how far God has brought us.  We keenly know how far we have to go.  We are astounded at His faithful work in the ministry He has entrusted to our hands.  Clay pots, entrusted with a treasure beyond words.

2 Corinthians 4:7-9

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

What a joy to serve Him, to partner with so many of you in the specific mission for the Kingdom of Christ.

May year four be a year that is a sweet aroma to our Papa.

Ministry Update

Covid-19 at CMA:

On March  the campus locked it’s gates and any staff not able to move onto campus was asked to shelter in place at their homes.  We made last minute grocery runs, and prepared to hunker down.  The decision was then made to keep the gates closed after another quick restocking run.  We are now closed until April 30th.

The unique environment of CMA has allowed us the ability to be all together as a staff and student body.  We still hold chapel, we still eat meals together, and we try and curb the boredom by hiking the mountain behind us, and having pick up games of ping pong, volleyball, corn hole, basketball, or whatever else sounds fun in the moment.

Summer Preparations:

During our last brief opening, Andrew and I welcomed a summer intern into our home.  She works for another ministry during the school year, but all of her room mates have transitioned back to the United States in order to avoid not being able to go at their scheduled time at the beginning of June.  She has added much life and joy to our family, and we are excited to have her be a part of our chaotic life of highs and lows.

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We are in a weird suspended period of time wondering what summer program might hold for us this year.  Most missions teams have cancelled their trips through June.  We have five student applications accepted, with deposits made, but we don’t know what the months ahead hold for us.

School Wrap-Up

The kids and I continue to plod our way through the school year, basically unaffected by the events around us.  In five short weeks Malachi will wrap up second grade, Levi will finish 1st grade, Selah will finish Kindergarten, and Naomi will have her siblings back to play all day.  We found some tadpoles, and did some research on how to raise them and when to release.  It has been so much fun to watch them grow!  Only one escapee so far, and four released back to the stream.

Because of some of the financial impacts of Covid-19 as well as the inability to have her come, we have made the decision to pay Clara, our house-helper through July, but will unfortunately not be able to afford having her return to work for us.  There were a lot of tears when she came to pick up her pay, and give the kids some “goodbye for now” hugs.  So that has been a significant change in our family life.

Business as Usual:

Much of our life has remained the same as it was prior.  We do miss being able to go out to eat or order in food occasionally, and we certainly miss going to the river, especially as the temperature continues creeping upwards.  We also cancelled an anticipation “end of school” beach trip, which was a disappointment to the kids.  But, overall, we are thankful for so much more than we can grumble about.  We have a full freezer, and a stocked fridge.  We have people to be around during a time when most of the world lives in isolation.  We have beautiful, sunny days to enjoy.

If anything, I believe that student ministries are continuing and in some ways have been benefitted by all of the extra activities with staff and families.  Relationships are growing, and most of life continues as though nothing is happening in the world.

Highs and Lows:

Andrew

High – Covid-19 has forced us to learn how to stream services from CMA Chapel.  Due to confidentiality, only those who attend CMA Chapel can join at this point.  But we hope to be able to record in the front in order to give supporters, missions teams, and families of students, the opportunity to attend digitally occasionally if they want to.

Low – Not being able to accept new students right now– We exist to help families, and it is hard to not be able to take new students that I am confident we could help.

Erin

High – I still have coffee and a porch to enjoy it on.

Low – I have no cream for said coffee. 🙂

Malachi 

High – Learning how to paint with watercolors.

Low – Clara leaving.

Levi

High – Climbing a pine tree SUPER high (this was probably both a high and a low, pride he could do it fearlessly, terror that he did it fearlessly).  He was about six feet from the top of the evergreen tree on the right.

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Low – I’m not allowed to have any screen time for a week!

Selah

High – Going to Grady’s birthday party.

Low – When Mom makes me walk up the mountain.

Naomi

High – Eating food (said without hesitation)!

Low – Not eating food (also said without hesitation)!

March Update

We have a newsletter coming your way in the near future, so I won’t bore you too much with material that will soon be repeated.

Family Update

At the end of February we went on a beach trip with our friends from Guatemala who also serve in the Dominican Republic.  We went up to the Samana Peninsula and were able to spend one of our mornings whale watching, which was so cool!  They breed in the Caribbean Sea every year in January-March, and then go North for the rest of the year due to lack of food.  We also visited the beach a couple times, and just enjoyed time away.  During our time our boys learned to swim well enough to dive for rings and swim back up in 6 feet of water.  This was exciting for a couple boys who would barely take off their floaties when we arrived at the pool.IMG_0701.JPG

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We are nine weeks out from wrapping up our formal school year.

Selah is wrapping up Kindergarten, Levi is finishing 1st Grade, and Malachi is knocking second grade out of the park.  Selah learned to read this year which is a far cry from the tears and gnashing of teeth that was the beginning of our phonics journey.  Levi’s big win this year is gaining confidence and speed in his reading– and the memorization of all kinds of facts about sea creatures he has discovered in his reading (the kid is a sea encyclopedia!).  Malachi is beginning to write his own stories about dragons (who he KNOWS are real), and journaling about his nature encounters– for a kid who used to stall out for thirty minutes every time he had to write more than his name, I would say he has improved.

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Naomi is a sharp little thing, and although we don’t do any formal school with her, she has picked up a ton this year.  She is so READY to do school with the big kids!

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Another fun school activity, is watching some tadpoles that the kids recently found in the stream near our house.  Once they begin to develop legs, we will release them and watch them grow in their own environment.  There are hundreds of them in the stream, so it shouldn’t be hard to observe them there.

Andrew and I are also doing well.  We have grown so much in our relationship with one another as an overflow of the ministry forcing dependency on the Lord, and requiring that we lean on one another.  God has also just blown our hearts wide open.  With His many revelations of Who He is, by requiring our full attention by the challenges He put in front of us, and by exposing us to people and ideas that were very different than what we had ever known.  In a lot of ways, we grew up here.  We are such a far cry from having our ducks in a row, ask anyone who lives on this campus, but we are not who we were when we landed almost three years ago, and for that, I am thankful.  We are teary eyed, tender, and expecting God’s involvement in us, our family, and this work.

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(Look at the Golden Goob in the background!)

Ministry Update:

As I look back even on just the last two weeks, it has just been so full, I am not really sure where to begin.  There are so many ups and downs that one second we feel like we are moving along really well, and then out of no where a tires blows, and we are stuck on the side of the road for a little bit.

We lost the first of the two big transitions of 2020 so far as the Gerent family packed up, and flew out on Sunday morning.  It was an expected change, and they were ready and excited for their next chapter, but the void is felt just the same.  As I cleaned up the play room last night with the kids, I couldn’t help but think of Chase (their toddler) as I packed up the trucks back in the “toddler toys”, and put up Selah’s baby dolls that Amelia (their 1 year old) so affectionately carried around with her.  I still hear her sweet little voice squealing “Baaaaaaby” in delight.  I think sometimes it’s easy for me to glaze over the losses I feel when people move back to the United States, but I am trying to sit with this one, and allow myself to experience fully the gaps left.  It’s a wonder missionaries who stay on the field any length of time have hearts left at all… that alone is the work of the Holy Spirit, to heal and mend, and continue His faithful work.  I also pray that heart healing over my kids who are feeling the loss of campus buddies.  Even today when they were enjoying watching a dump truck bringing top soil for the new soccer field, they mentioned how much Chase would have enjoyed watching it too.

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In that week, we also hosted a team from our organization for a partial week (they headed out early to avoid any travel restrictions).  On that team were some folks we have grown to appreciate so much.  Amy Shepherd, whom many of you have interacted with if you have ever donated any sum of money.  Deb Johnson, who Andrew and I worked with for years at Pierceton Woods Academy.  Kent and Nancy from the home office, who Andrew regularly meets with, and then Mark and Colleen Terrell, the CEO and his wife who works in Business Development in the home office.   It’s also a joy to meet staff from across the state of Indiana who come down on the trips.  There is just so much encouragement in seeing familiar faces, putting faces to names you see via email, and remembering that the mission is bigger than just what we are doing at CMA.

We also began that week with two representatives from WBCL– one of them was Scott the afternoon host, whom I’m sure you have heard on the radio.  We used to support the radio ministry of WBCL, and listened pretty regularly, and so it was fun to recognize his voice, and then introduce him to our world here.  As you know, WBCL will be raising funds this Summer in support of CMA.  Scott will be one of the main communicators on the radio, so it was important that he see the campus.  You will probably also hear some blurbs of Andrew here and there too, potentially including a live interview.  We are so excited for the opportunity to have them partner with us in this way!

Please keep on praying for Andrew and I.  For clarity in communication.  For wisdom in day to day interactions.  For soft hearts, dependence on the Father, and deep wells of humility.

Pray for the team here too.  For clarity in communication, for wisdom in day-to-day interactions, and for soft hearts, dependence on the father, and deep wells of humility.  😉

God is moving and working in our midst– pray protection over that work, protection over seeds being planted every day in our students, and protection as we continue to learn how to work as a united team for God’s glory.

December-February

Hello Friends!

I’m sorry it has been awhile since we have updated on ministry and life happenings as we spent the month of December in the United States, and then have been settling back in to our life here in the Dominican Republic.

Life and Ministry Update

This last month, we have been trying to intentionally host a few people on Sunday’s for lunch.  It has been a really good way to connect with people, and intentionally eat good food at home. We also hosted a Superbowl party, which was fun– it had been awhile since I had invited the staff up for anything like that.

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We welcomed a new staff to campus, and his transition in has gone well.  The new staff are kind of guinea pigs for a new system, so I am encouraged that the last few arrivals seem to be integrating into the campus life and DR life well.

We had a big hog roast hosted by Majaguita, the community where we just completed another house at the end of January.  It was a lot of fun to get off campus, and practice our Spanish some more.  The campus kids had an especially fun time swimming in the river, and enjoying one another.  The people in Majaguita are beautiful.  They love the Lord, and steward their resources with so much wisdom.  They come to our campus to help us with their horticulture knowledge, and willing hearts to serve us too.

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Time on Furlough

What a whirlwind our time in the United States was.  It was so good to see many of you, to hug on you, to hear some of your life happenings for the last few years.  This trip was just, complicated.

Leaving the D.R. I personally, was in a rough spot.  The last year and a half really beat me up.  We lost some really dear friends abruptly, and without having the opportunity to say goodbye.  We lost a lot of staff who finished out terms, but who also left feeling hurt, or undervalued.  We felt defeated around every corner.  Our campus church that had been so alive and growing, slowly dwindled down due to inconsistency in who was pastoring (we went without a chaplain for several months).  The situation with our neighbor and our water access intensified, but we had two separate well companies come… it was a whole saga, and we still don’t have a well yet.  We could not get staff in for no logical reason other than God was not allowing it.  When we hopped on the plane, we had just learned that week that both Andrew’s right hand guy, and our facilities managers, who had both been here for six+ years were resigning, but it wasn’t public knowledge yet.  In addition, one of our staff was headed out within the same week because he had received word that his Dad had cancer, and that it was in a late stage.  There was just a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of hurt.  There was a large part of me that wanted to run home, and forget all about things like minding my shower length, or saying goodbye and being the ones left behind again, or the potential of losing a sweet staff who was rushing home to a situation and a sorrow, that I personally know intimately.

Then we got back to Indiana, and it was so heavy there too.  In general, when we are on furlough, we view it as a time to serve all of you who so faithfully serve and support us.  It’s a different, and refreshing service, and we can always recuperate here later.  This time, the weight of burdens being carried, and the exhaustion in the eyes of so many that we love really hurt.  I sensed so deeply, the reality that we have been absent, and things are not the same.

When we got back to campus, I spent the first two weeks angry, because, anger is my processing emotion.  The feelings I felt were complicated.  I couldn’t sit down and write it out.  I couldn’t pray it away.  It was deep rooted, and heavy.

As I have sat with the Lord, He has whispered so many encouragements to my spirit.  As Andrew and I have talked about it, we both feel as though we were up against a wall.  It would not budge no matter what we did.  No matter how much we begged God to move it.

Since we have been back, God has obliterated it.

The well truck is here, and as I write I can hear it pounding away.

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We have a steady trickle of new staff from now until May– and they are breathing new life into a hurting body.

We are looking up and around, with gratitude for those who are here, ready to dig in alongside us for the next few years.

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We are hit with gratitude for the folks transitioning away in a healthy spot in the next few months.

We have a fresh hope, and expectancy of all that lies ahead for 2020.

I am happy to be at CMA.  Grateful to get to love and serve these amazing staff who I frankly just couldn’t even see through my own hurt.

The highlights of our furlough were staying for a couple weeks with Greg and Joan Harden.  The kids enjoyed forgetting to close the chicken coop door, and then catching the poor chickens.  As well as mauling the farm cats.  A sweet treat was Levi waking up to snow on his birthday.  It was the only day there was snow, and he immediately stated “I know why God didn’t give us snow sooner, he was waiting for my birthday!”.  Sweet.

We also enjoyed seeing some CMA folks who have moved home.  It was fun to catch up on where they are, and what God is teaching them where He has them now.  It also brought some closure to relationships that seemed to end so abruptly.  We also spent time with the Stuck family, who were on furlough during the same month.  It was so fun for our kids to play together in Indiana!

After that we headed to Goshen on Christmas Eve to spend the night with a couple, Pat and Jeryl who has been leading and coming down on missions trips for close to 30 years!  They were a part of the building of many of the facilities that we use and enjoy at CMA.  My kids also thoroughly enjoyed Pat’s donkeys. 🙂

Christmas day was spent with Andrew’s grandmother, Mom and Dad and Sister/My brother and their kids.

We then spent a week with Erin’s family at Brookpointe Inn, owned by a friend of ours.  It was crazy, because there are a lot of us, but the love between the cousins is precious.

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Our final week was spent in Pennsylvania where Andrew’s parents and sister/my brother live.  It was a good spot to end the trip, although, Andrew contracted Influenza B, which knocked him out for the first two or three days of that visit.  Not ideal, but no one else seemed to get it.

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So there you have it.  Almost three months of Stroup life wrapped in one, long post.

Highs and Lows

Andrew

High – The well truck is such a huge answer to prayer!

Low – Let’s keep it positive.

Erin

High – Breakthroughs

Low – Loss

Malachi

High – One of my new friends is moving to campus soon!

Low – That people keep leaving the campus.  Even the kids!

Levi

High – “That God gave me snow for my birthday.”

Low – “Learning Spanish.  I hate it! (but he uses it… SO….)”

Selah

High – “Being back with Pedo, Gerard, and Charlie and BoBo.”

Low – *Shrugs*

Naomi

High – “Me play outside!”

Low – “I not go with Richard.”

Just for fun:

 

 

 

 

 

What does Thanksgiving look like at CMA?

I thought it would be fun to try and document with pictures what some of our new Thanksgiving traditions look like.

On Thanksgiving, all of our Dominican staff work as usual, because here, there is no significance to the day.  In fact, my nanny this week asked me why Americans had a holiday dedicated to Turkeys.  ¿Cuál es el significado de los pavos?  Haha!  I think she frequently thinks that we are nuts.  So, I was able to give her an education on what Thanksgiving is, in the same way that she teaches me about Constitution Day, and many of the Catholic holidays.

It is nice to be able to run to the grocery store if you need a last minute ingredient, because nothing is closed.  However, much to my sad green bean casserole loving heart, there are not French’s fried onions to be found… even in the bigger city.  At least not with any consistency.

Our morning this morning really started with the lawn care guys coming.  Which is quite an event at our house.  The kids lose their minds as they remember all of the treasured toys they have left strewn about.  They swear each time that they will never forget their toys outside… only to repeat the ordeal every time… 🙂

While the lawn care guys are at the house, we always bring the dogs in.  Charlie noticed the mirror in our room, and began to growl and bark at herself.  She’s such a goob.

Once we were all up and around, we celebrated the start of Thankgiving with donuts, and spiced coffee (the kids only complaint was being limited on their coffee consumption), and then made our way down to the pavilion to help Maribel the business manager, set up all the decorations for our carry in Thanksgiving meal.  We have many of the traditional foods (Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and even swiped the last two pumpkin pies yesterday when we went to the city (Santiago).  Pumpkin is not a thing here at all, so this was a win! 🙂 . The decorating, and coffee drinking are becoming a regular occurrence on Thanksgiving.

After wrapping up the decorating, our family headed up the hill, and watched a recording of the Macy’s Day Parade, while Dad watched the Bears vs. Lions game.  It was even a little bit chilly in our house, so we cracked out a couple blankets. 😉 .

Our house looks, and smells like fall (thanks to Thieves essential oil in our diffuser) and some painted pumpkins, and our “thankful tree” (a new tradition this year, but one we will likely continue).  We also decked out Gertrude in her thanksgiving best.

 

I’ll post some more pictures once the festivities have concluded.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Ashes

I can count on one hand times that God has nearly audibly spoken to me.  Usually, after seasons of angst, and pleading with him to bring me clarity.

The first was one I previously have held very tightly to my chest, but one that released me from a very difficult season of grieving.  It was several months after my Mom had passed away.  I felt my family slowly drifting apart a bit.  Our main anchoring, the person who kept us all up to date on each others lives, and gave us all a reason to be together was gone.  My marriage was in it’s hardest season (turns out husbands don’t make very good Mom replacements).  There were a lot of moving pieces, and different grieving paths for each person in my immediate family.  Our childhood home was likely going to be put up for sale.  My little brother was young, and we were all concerned about him.  It was just yucky.  I began to really cry out for God to keep my family together.  Then as my Dad began to date again, I began praying for God to bless my Dad’s pursuit of marriage with someone who could help bind us.  I remember falling asleep crying for God to bring peace.  I had a dream, where we were driving around with my Mom in the car.  We knew she was on her way to heaven in the dream.  She had already died, but wasn’t gone yet.  I remember us reaching a point where she needed to get out of the car and leave.  I looked back at her, and very plainly, with the calmest voice, one that had calmed me my whole life, she said “Everything is going to be ok.”  Then that was it.  I can’t explain it to you, but I knew there was a deeper meaning to those words, and it was at that moment that I claimed that it was indeed going to be ok.  My grief never looked the same after that.

The second time was a couple years ago, Valentine’s Day 2018.  I had determined that year to pursue him in His word.  I vowed to read through the Bible, and I was faithful, but I was frustrated with him for not talking to me!  Why was I still such a lonely, lost mess?  I felt incredibly unworthy of love, and unloved by others, and by God too.  It was that day that day, while reading the account of Jesus’ death on the cross in Mark, that he shone through the branches of the tree, a giant, clearly defined heart.  It was just so blatantly obvious.  No tangible word, but a whisper to my heart, that he was near, and he was tender.  Not a tyrant.  Not an angry disciplinarian.  He was a tender, Papa to me.  It’s when I started to call him Papa in my conversations with Him.

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I already told you about the green valley and mango tree.  I also told you about my avocado tree lesson. 🙂

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Then Tuesday.

As I said previously, all of these instances have come after long periods of angst and prayer.  Those period of time usually impact my sleep greatly, and so I spend those nights praying about whatever is burdening me.  Recently, I have been sleepless again.  So, I have been praying for each person who lives on this campus, or works on it.  Usually, he gives me a lot of clarity or insight into my own heart during those nights.  Last night, however, he wasn’t giving me anything.  So, admittedly, I was frustrated.  Why would he not let me sleep?  He just would not relent with the restlessness.

I prayed, for the first time in my life, for him to give me a dream (I’m a Baptist ya’ll, we don’t pray for that!).  He didn’t.  Haha.

However, on Tuesday, as I was driving up the hill after lunch, I was talking to him, and saw Richard, one of the maintenance men burning the grass.  I got one word, again, almost in a tangible voice.  “Ashes”.  I was kind of irritated, again… like… what the heck?  Ashes?  So, I came home and began to pray, read and listen to worship music.  Trying to use all the avenues for God to bring some clarity.  The song, “Raise a Hallelujah” came on.  “Up from the ashes, hope will arise”

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I have a lot of feels in this season God has us in.  Disappointment in the staffing God isn’t bringing.  Sadness and compassion for the weariness I see around me. Disappointment that relationships are hard.  Disappointments with student setbacks.  Fundraising stressors.

So, I looked up the word ashes in a concordance that afternoon.  You can google it yourself if you’re interested, but essentially it has two main meanings in scripture.

  • Dust/ashes – a reference to our humanity, our physical dying bodies.
  • Ashes – repentance, grief (maybe mixed with repentance in scripture as hardship was often considered to be correlated to being in sin).

Interesting.

Then I came across in my “ashes search” Hebrews 9:11-14

“But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of creation.  He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

I think very tangibly, God has put it on my heart to communicate this idea.  I’m not sure who it’s for.  Earlier this week, I sent a variation of this same story to our staff team here.  I think it could be applied to me.  To you.  To this ministry.  To my church at home.  To the broader church in America… shoot, to the world.

As a staff body at Caribbean Mountain Academy,

We all want fruit.

We want breakthroughs for the students.

We want victory over sin personally.

We want new staff to serve here.

We want growth.

We want missions teams.

We want the joy of the Lord.

We want peace.

We want hope.

BUT

Is it God’s fruit, or do we take the glory?

Is it God’s breakthrough, or was it our wisdom and words?

Is it God’s victory?  Do we even think victory is possible?

Do we want new staff for God’s glory, or our comfort?

Do we want to grow in relationship with our Papa, or because we want to feel SOMETHING?

Do we want joy so it can be passed to others, or for our own contentment?

Do we want hope… but only if it’s tangible?

Ashes= repentance…

Repentance = fertile soil

Fertile soil = growth… fruit… hope… peace… joy… God’s kingdom here.

What you are talking to God about likely looks different.  But what are your motives in those desires?  Is it to benefit your relationship with Him?  With Others?  Is it motivated by a desire to make Him known?  Or is it comfort driven, fear driven, anger driven… what are your motives in prayer?  If you are frustrated because he isn’t answering… why isn’t he answering?  Why isn’t he answering the way you want?

Do you believe if he is saying no, that he has better plans for you?  That He really is sovereign and out for your GOOD (not necessarily your happiness?).

Take from this what you will.  If you’re not even sure where to begin with repentance, spent time just sitting with the Lord, asking for him to bring clarity in your own heart (not in others).  Find someone to walk with you who is a little further in their faith journey than you are (there is no shame in being discipled).

Let’s return to the Lord – together.  You.  Me.  Your family.  My family.  Your ministry, and mine.  As a church.  As a nation.

Hosea 6:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord.  He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.”

Lessons from an Avocado

I have probably shared some of this before, but God is bringing some very real closure to a season that has felt like it lasted a lifetime.

I remember one morning, early in 2019, looking out across the valley from my porch.  I had been praying for God to move in a big way at CMA, but felt my prayers were going to deaf ears.  However, as I looked across, I observed that for the first time in months, what once was brown and dead, was turning to a rich shade of green.  In addition, the mango tree in front of our house was producing mangos for the first time since we had moved to CMA.  That mango tree faithfully dropped its fruit in excess all summer.  I heard God whisper that He was going to bring fruit.  I sat encouraged, expectant at what was to come.  It was nothing like I had hoped.

8 months later… the summer program wrapped up.  I said goodbye to many ministry partners here.  I heard murmurs around me incessantly.  From people within the ministry, from people outside.  My personal losses were heavy.  I prayed for new staff, but my heart wasn’t ready to welcome them.  I prayed for new students, but I didn’t want to engage them.  I prayed for the ministry, but I couldn’t see God really answering.  God was doing things, sure, but I was disappointed.  I wrote blogs that sounded positive.  I wrote newsletters with all the highs, and whispers of the lows… Lows so deep that I didn’t know how to verbalize them.  Highs that existed, but I was blind to the beauty.  I found myself in a place where I was walking a line between all the joys of new believers (almost our entire girls house, with so many more asking questions) and complete despair (why did it have to be SO HARD).

So I went to the mat with the Lord.  I began to really pray for Him to show me what He was doing.  I needed to see fruit!  I needed to lay eyes on something tangible.  I prayed for unity.  I prayed for joy that was unexplainable in our staff.  I prayed for those who had left heavy to find joy again.  I prayed for the students by name, and with more ferver.  I prayed for my husband to seek the Lord, and lead with peace and confidence.  Through that wrestling, I learned how to really pray.  To pray like God is actually answering.  I have also noticed some things about myself.  My back is stronger.  My knees are steady.  My heart is pumping, my lungs are burning– I’m alive.  I’m fighting, dare I say a GOOD fight.  My eyes are open.  The same voices that used to me cause me to hide, and turn inward, are pushing me forward.  Negativity doesn’t impact my confidence, because it isn’t set on MY success anymore.  It is set on a faithful God, who can produce avocados on barren trees.

A few weeks ago, I noticed an avocado tree that has never produced fruit, covered in baby avocados.  And I was reminded.  Reminded of that hope and expectation, and reminded of my faith, no bigger than a mustard seed at the beginning of 2019.  The growth in my heart is the fruit.  The growth in my man as a leader in the fruit.  A group of staff who are learning to pray are the fruit.  I have seen massive answers to prayer.

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My kids are growing in their faith, knowledge, and physical stature.  Fruit.

My husband is growing in His faith and leading out of an overflow of how He is being led.  Fruit.

The students are searching and finding answers.  Fruit.

We have three bilingual staff who are working with the students, bringing in a new mix of culture for our students.  Fruit.

We hired a chaplain who was handpicked for CMA by the Lord– he is a Dominican man, educated in the United States, and uniquely qualified to minister to ALL of the staff at CMA.  He has already attended a funeral, and spends time talking with a part of the staff body that was never ministered to well.  FRUIT.

We have a new family who know how to pray, and are quietly encouraging and praying this campus through a war.  Fruit.

We were selected to receive a HUGE fundraising grant with a major radio network in Fort Wayne.  Fruit.

Through the staff losses, he is bringing in new leaders.  Flexing their muscles in new ways.  Our new lead counselor is uniquely qualified, and I am SO excited to watch him make it his own.  Fruit.

I have felt hopeless about the United States, a continual cultural shift has discouraged me.  Then you see things like Kanye West proclaiming Jesus, and I see an avocado… fruit.

I prayed for three different situations where physical healing needed to happen… and God answered.  He answered!  Fruit.

In the individual lives of our staff, God is stretching and growing, and revealing in ways I have not seen Him work before.  Fruit.

There is fruit everywhere.  It took an avocado tree to prompt me to look with fresh eyes.

How about you?

What would it take for you to look for fruit?

Where do your eyes need redirecting?

What joys are you missing in your grumbling?

August 2019 Update

Ministry Update

I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures in the post.  Our internet is currently working on a very bare bones level as the process to get fiber in on campus continues, and so I am unable to get them to upload.  I will try to make up for the lack of pictures soon!

The month of August proved to be a busy one.  We had our closing program for the summer students, and during the same weekend said goodbye to Erin’s Dad and Step-Mom Vicky who were interning in the program, and living with us for the summer.  We were thankful to quickly have another round of visitors when Erin’s brother and Andrew’s sister, Ryan and Rachel came to visit along with their three girls.  Our kids were very excited to have KID visitors, and be able to show them their world from a kids perspective.  It was interesting to me to listen to them explain language barriers, cultural differences, and their favorite parts of living in the Dominican Republic.  Malachi seems to be convinced that he is now “Dominican”.  Oh brother.

Our week with them included the arrival of much needed school supplies that their church lovingly provided for all of the school aged kids on campus, as well as some needed winter clothing for our kids.

Why do we need winter clothing?  Because we will be making a trip stateside during the month of December, and into January.  This trip was scheduled to be an intentional rest time, so we will not be making the giant circuit that we did during our last trip, but we do hope to spend some time in Indiana, and then Pennsylvania.  More on that to come.  I will say I am concerned with Naomi who daily says, in the heat of summer that she is “frio”.  The girl doesn’t know what’s about to hit her.  Also, all of my kids hate pants and socks, so that should be fun…

After Ryan and Rachel’s visit, I officially dove into a development role to assist staff with their transition into both the work, and community life at CMA.  I had my first “guinea pigs” this week when we welcomed a new family to campus on Wednesday night/Thursday morning.  The process is still a work in progress, with many hiccups along the way, but we are really hopeful for good things ahead.

During the same week, we had our first week of Young Life on campus.  During this waiting season of figuring out church life, and what we need in a chaplain candidate, Jerry and Vini (our missions staff) have been covering the weekly “youth group” needs.  During this time, Vini decided to reach out to the local Young Life reps, and see if there would be any possibility of getting a club going on campus.  If you have never heard of Young Life, you are not alone.  None of us had either, but it has been such a perfect fit, and Andrew and I along with 4 other staff (two of whom are currently connected to CMA, but are staff at a school in town), and a Young Life staff who provides training, support and resources.  We are pretty excited about the ways God is already using this to build relationships and a different tone on Wednesday nights.

On that same note, God is doing some huge things in our students.  Although it has been a hard season for staff, as we are gap filling for a lot of losses in staff, all of the girls, and several of the boys are very interested in learning more about the Lord, or have recently trusted Him as their Lord and Savior.  The girls are working through a Bible study on the book of Joshua, and four of them are actively participating, with two always being within earshot of the study, and on their own expressing interest in the whole “Jesus thing”.

Prayer Requests

Please continue to be in prayer for our staff as they pour in to the students.  Pray for them, to be growing, and be drawn closer to Jesus.  It’s so easy to count the wins as our own if our focus is off, and just as easy to count the losses as our own. Our Papa is doing this work, in His timing, and it is such good work.  Pray for the many baby Christians being ministered to right now too.

We had a job fair yesterday, where we had a promising applicant.  Please continue to pray for staff for the campus.  We are getting a lot of structure implemented in the quiet season, but we really need additional co-laborers.

Family Update

The kids just completed week 5 of their homeschool year.  We started early, because of the anticipated furlough, and to allow for breaks as needed throughout the year.  Malachi is in 2nd grade, Levi is in 1st, and Selah is in Kindergarten.  Naomi is also all about school, but in a much less official capacity. 🙂

Andrew

High – I have enjoyed flexing my house staff muscles a little bit this month.

Low – Not really a low, but the slow progress in some areas has been forcing me to flex my patience muscles, which has been uncomfortable.

Erin

High – Seeing so much fruit condensed into such a short period of time.  It’s reassuring during a time when God’s working in the staff situation makes less sense.

Low – There have been a lot of goodbyes in the last couple months, with another one this week.  Those are never fun.

Malachi

High – Having our cousins come visit, I love them.

Low – The whole month was pretty much good.

Levi

High – When we went to the beach

Low – When we went to the movie theater to see Toy Story 4 and it was only Spanish.

Selah

High – Playing sorry with Vicky.  I am really good now!

Low – When I was sick.

Naomi

High – Coloring picture.

Low – My foot.

June/July Update – Call to Prayer

I am hoping to get back into a monthly groove with our blog posts (I promise, with lots of fun family updates, and ridiculous pictures and shenanigans) now that life has somewhat returned to “normal”.  Although, I don’t really know what that is at this period of time in the ministry here.

At the beginning of June, my Dad, Step-Mom, and brother all came to the Dominican Republic for internships.  My Dad and Step-Mom are serving as house staff during our summer program and will be here until August 11th.  My brother came for a digital marketing internship, not really through Crosswinds or CMA, but with Alyssa, the campus chaplain’s wife.  This was only a six week internship, and so he flew back to Iowa today.

In addition to the internship, Michael was also a huge part of what allowed Andrew and I to go to language school.  We left for Guatemala on June 16th for a four week chunk of time studying Spanish.  Michael cared for my kids in the evenings and on the weekends (with help from Dad and Vicky as they were able), while Clara (our house help) cared for them during the day.  It was encouraging to call in and see four small happy people, when we were so many miles away.  The kids say a lot of good things about Michael jumping on the trampoline, having movie campouts in the living room, and just in general making an effort to ensure that they were ok.

The language learning was also a really rich time of filling in a lot of blanks, adding a ton of vocabulary, and I believe steadily moving towards the ability to communicate well in Spanish.  We’re not there yet!  I have had so many people ask me “So… how’s your Spanish?!”  The truth?  We both understand a lot more of what is being said around us.  We are also both painfully slow at communicating and conjugating when it’s our turn to speak.  We did come home with additional books for continued study, and are trying to be intentional spending time reading, writing, speaking, and listening to things in Spanish to hopefully retain, and continue building on what we learned.

We are so thankful for everyone who played a part in us getting to spend intentional time learning.  It was invaluable for our learning, and also for our relationship, and our morale as we have returned to CMA.  It’s been a good, but testing two years of service at CMA for both of us.  Living life at the pace that is required in this ministry (and really probably in ALL ministry) is really trying, and it’s not sunshine and rainbows on this beautiful caribbean island.

In addition to language skills, we gained a friendship (with a family also serving in the DR) that served as a great encouragement to us during our time in Guatemala.  It also served as a loving kick in the pants for us in taking this fight seriously, and not allowing our hands to continue drooping, or our knees continue to shake (Hebrews 12:12-13).

We have returned, literally, ready for battle.  To be fully transparent, we had grown discouraged and were not bringing this before the Lord faithfully.  Since we have returned, we are both intentionally spending time in prayer, and will be spending time fasting as we ask the Lord to miraculously fill all of our staffing needs for this fall (a chaplain, a clinical director, a therapist, and 6-8 house staff… that’s basically a whole new staff body, in case you miss the intensity of this need).  Will you please join us in prayer?

We want the right people, in the right time, and we need help for our unbelief, and patience, and confidence as we wait.

We believe that God is doing an incredible work here, but we also almost tangibly observe attacks from all sides.  I am not a dramatic person, but the attacks on unity, wrestlings with discouragement, depression, anxiety, physical health struggles, sicknesses, financial hardships, water struggles (yup, still going on), accidents, God’s transitioning of people, and the car troubles experienced by the staff on campus are very real distractions.  The spiritual forces that are against us would like nothing more than to make the U.S. look really alluring, to keep us from having the energy to do one-on-one mentoring, to go to church on Sunday morning, to attend Bible study, to spend time in prayer or personal reading time.  To forget why we are here.  To forget the privilege and calling that we have to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Please pray against these attempts to distract.  Pray for eyes that can see the real battle, and not the mirage that is cast before us.  Pray for renewed passion for sharing Christ’s work, and for opened ears to hear and understand.

For every discouraging thing, I have even more positives of all the things God is doing!  Our family is doing well.  CMA is doing well.  Our staff, are incredible, resilient warriors for the gospel.

Please, pray with us for God to complete a work that is undeniably His, and His alone.  So that the glory cannot possibly be shared with any human being on this earth.

He is worthy of every breath, even those hard to draw in, being taken for His honor and glory.

James 1:5-6 “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let Him ask of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach and it will be given him.  But let him ask with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the see, driven and tossed by the wind.”

1 John 5:14 “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us,  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.”

Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Ephesians 6:18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert, and always be in prayer for the Lord’s people.”

 

 

April/May 2019

I just recently wrote our newsletter in preparation for it to be sent out in June so I will do my best not to cross-over content a lot, but it might still happen a little bit.

We went to the beach shortly after our last post, to soak in some rays, and mostly to get away and have some family time.  The kids swam all day, pool and ocean, we ate lots of food, and we spent a lot of time thinking and praying.  It was good.

When we got back we kind of hit the ground running again.  I have started a small role of doing phone screens.  A lot of people apply to be house staff.  Very few realize that will mean moving to the Dominican Republic, and even fewer read the posts long enough to realize that they have to raise support.  This rules out a lot of potential staff, and is a frustrating, albeit sanctifying process.  Andrew and I have also started helping in the house.  Not a lot, just enough to try and help alleviate some of the pressure the staff are feeling when they are single staffed in a house.  Ratio allows this, it’s not outrageous, but it’s frustrating as a staff, and as a student to be dependent on what the whole house wants to do all the time.  It has been good for us to remember our roots, and has certainly been good for a lot of relationships with both staff and students.

In other news, there have been a lot of wins on the campus.  A painted coaster (our big bus that hauls around large groups of missions teams), new upholstery in the chapel, a new training room, radios, and a finished lower campus have been some encouraging steps of progress.

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Andrew just got back from Chicago for a 3 day Education Consultant conference.  This involved a lot of networking in order to build more sources for student referrals.  Ironically, Andrew booked this many months ago, at a point when our staffing was a bit better.  He felt a bit discouraged climbing on a plane to recruit students, when we really need to be recruiting staff.  However, the timing was the Lord’s, and I think it was encouraging for him to get away, and even have a little bit of fun with Kevin, his supervisor.

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Staff wise, we are just in a rough spot again.  Many are reaching the end of their terms here, and are preparing to transition home over the summer or in the fall.  This adds to a staffing deficit, but more than that, it’s personally really difficult to say goodbye.  We know God is sovereign, and He is working all of these things for our good, but it is easy to look at the dwindling numbers and feel discouraged.

This month God put one concept in particular very heavily on my heart.  In April, I had finished up a Bible reading plan, and when I read through 1 John, I was very deeply challenged, but also felt the need to keep moving in order to wrap up the remaining few books.  Once I did that, I have moved back to 1 John and am currently parked there.  It packs a wallop for a lot of reasons.  Specifically, I was really challenged by the reality that if we know Jesus, we should have fellowship with other believers in the same way the Father and Son have fellowship.  In addition, if that love is lacking, if we cannot have fellowship, John very pointedly tells believers to check themselves to discern whether they truly know Jesus.  It’s not just a challenge, but he communicates that those two realities (relationship with the Son, and fellowship, partnership, intimacy, with other believers) is inseparable.  Ouch.

As a general principle, Andrew and I seek to maintain short accounts with others, and with each other.  We desire that love be genuine, and that pursuit be a part of loving others well.  We don’t sit around holding grudges, and forgive with full hearts.  What challenged me, and then as a result, us, was that in the process of being hurt by other people, we had retreated.  Not in an intentional, “we don’t love you”, OR “you’re not worth our time”, but in a very self-focused, “everything we do bites us in the butt”, “relationships are hard and we keep screwing them up”, and “it’s probably better to just hide in our house” kind of way.  It sounds so stupid, talking about it now, but in a very real way, Satan had tied us down with our fear of man and discouragement.

In the last two weeks we have had a lot of conversations.  Some together with staff.  Some separate with staff.  Many with each other.  Processing, and in turn repenting and submitting to this reality that we must love people in the same way that we have known love.  That means, full heart, willing to be hurt, pursuing love.  In the most simple of ways, it just means spending time with people again.

It hasn’t been pretty.  It’s been painful.  It’s hard to hear people pour out misunderstandings, wounds, and frustrations, that you contributed to.  However, with a lot of grace and love, God has been restoring relationships, and opening doors of communication that had long ago been shut.  We are encouraged by this!

We have direction as we move forward.  We know what to communicate better, and what to communicate less.  As much as we want to move things along in our timing, we also recognize anew that His ways really are higher.  We just have to trust His plan, and His process.  No matter what that looks like.

Highs and Lows:

Andrew

High – Being invited to play in an official soccer game with a soccer club that I have been playing with for fun for about a year.  It was a high honor!

Low – Discouragement that comes during transitions, and growing as a leader.  Wondering if there are things that I could have done to prevent some of the turnover we are facing now.

Erin

High – The small wins of good changes, good conversations that are fruitful, and experiencing community within and outside of CMA.  It’s a double edged sword.

Low – Trying to figure out how to support and encourage Andrew has been really difficult, and stretching.  Figuring out how to encourage discouraged people, when I am also discouraged.

Malachi –

High – We are done with school for the summer!

Low – Selah is always mean to me, like she ripped up my plant, and she let my lizard go, and she always wins when we play memory….

Levi

High – Winning.  I win all the games. (?)

Low – I don’t really have a bad part. (Kids man!)

Selah

High – Playing with my baby dolls, and when Clara lets me play with buckets of soap and water.

Low – When the brothers are always mean to me.

Naomi

High – Digging with the puppy outside and making sure I get as dirty as possible.  I also like to steal Selah’s buckets of water and dump them in my dirt piles.  It makes her mad, but it makes my day so much better.

Low – Mommy doesn’t let me get my own food at the pavilion.

Prayer Requests

As you pray for CMA, please pray for our staff who are remaining.  Pray for their hurting hearts.  Goodbyes are hard, and we share deep love for one another here.

Also pray for the staff who are transitioning out.  That’s certainly not easy either, and the adjustment back to life in the United States will be challenging.

Also pray for our hiring processes.  Pray for clarity and wisdom.  Pray for the right people, not just willing bodies, and for patience as we discern that.

Finally, pray for Andrew and I.  We are still growing and figuring out how to lead well.  Pray for Spirit led eyes that can see through the muddy waters of ministry, and people.

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Year Three Begins

Well, as of yesterday (April 19th), our family has officially been “on the ground” in the Dominican Republic for two years.  What a life changing time these years have been.

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Our first year was full of new things.  Lots of ministry learning (how much ground beef do you need for a group of 30-50-60?; how do you convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius in your head, while also remembering that your oven is old, inaccurate, and off balance).

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“There are some things worth fighting for. I have worked to master using my oven, have converted Fahrenheit to celsius in my head, and have learned how to pasteurize raw milk to make this moment possible.” – October 23, 2017

Lots of people learning.  Expectation of culture shock to hit. Expectation of discouragement, and rather, what we experienced was a whole lot of encouragement and energy in the ministry.  Blogs came easily.  The new culture and language were exciting.  Each stomach bug, rash, or broken foot, taken with grace and patience.

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We were told, year one was hard.  That we should anticipate culture shock to hit at month 3, month 6, month 9.  Everyone told us stories about their experiences that left us bracing for impact.  Then nothing.  Each new day felt fresh.  Our personal time with the Lord was impactful, at times painful, but he was speaking, drawing us nearer, and stretching us.

Then year two began.

Oh year two.

I (Erin) began year two with counseling sessions with a biblical counselor via Skype.  Things that I had put off for ten years (probably longer) came rushing back in, and were distorting my view of others.  All with one spiritual root.  Andrew began year two rushing, with a lot of weight on his shoulders.

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The ministry felt heavy.  Everyone around us voiced discouragement and discontentment that my already heavy heart didn’t know how to lean into.  Andrew faced new challenges in leadership that left him discouraged, and begging God for guidance.  The culture felt extra exhausting (who knew month 15 would be when culture weariness would set in?!), people felt extra exhausting.  What was eager anticipation of hearing new stories from missions teams, became sheer exhaustion from the effort it took emotionally to engage with my whole heart.  Relationships suffered, and so did we.

For the first time, our house in Indiana started looking really good, and everything in Jarabacoa felt really awful (probably more to me- Erin- than to Andrew).  I wanted to run back to “Egypt”.  To it’s familiarity, it’s predictability, it’s freaking English.  I missed carpet.  I missed air conditioning.  I missed the library, and Meijer, and good mexican food.  Creature comforts.  Predictability.  But God had us in the wilderness to teach us who He was, to run back would be to forsake all He wanted to do IN us, and somehow THROUGH us.

Here we are.  Year two.  He faithfully called us in 2016, and His call remains.  He has been faithful to keep us going, though many days on little sleep, and even less emotional gusto.  He has used these discouragements and wrestlings to remind us that His strength is made perfect in weakness.  He has shown us new angles of our selfish, arrogant hearts of stone.  With that, He has also shown us such depths of love, and patience.  His rod and staff, they comfort me.  He is day by day making us more into the image of His Son… and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Tomorrow morning, Andrew and I, along with a few other staff, are leading worship for the Easter service on campus.  One of my favorite songs, is “All I Have Is Christ”, and as we practiced tonight, I was amazed again at the beauty of verse 3.

“Now, Lord, I would be yours alone and live so all might see,

The strength to follow Your commands could never come from me.

O Father, use this ransomed life in any way you choose.

And let my song forever be, my only boast is You.

Hallelujah!  All I Have is Christ!  Hallelujah!  Jesus is my life!”

May year three be a year that we more brightly reflect His image!

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