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Last minute thoughts

And just like that, two months have passed. We are excited to see our friends and family, but are sad to leave this place that now feels like home. Just the other day we were talking about how we finally feel adjusted to living here. We are going to miss the people we have become friends with and the community-based culture.

As we are wrapping up the two months, we have been processing through what we’ve learned and how God has been working in our lives. Megan, the country liaison, and Courtney, her intern, have been here the last two weeks. We know them from home and it was refreshing to spend time with people we were comfortable with. They have helped us to process through our time here and give us a different perspective of the work COTN does. They asked us these questions which we feel like have been central as we process the summer.

What’s one of the most prominent lessons you have learned this summer? 

Throughout the summer, God has been teaching me to let go of things. As I’ve learned to give God control of the little things, I’ve been able to trust Him with the bigger things. Going into our summer school classes, I had a lot of hopes and expectations for the kids and what they would learn. After some disappointing days teaching, I realized my goals for teaching were unrealistic and God had bigger plans. Rather than teaching the kids specific new topics, we were there to encourage and make sure the kids knew that they were loved, smart, and capable. Handing over my time in the classroom to God proved that he could be trusted to exceed expectations. As I learned to trust God during the summer, I was able to also hand over things I had been so tightly holding onto at home. I have been able to let go of career plans that have been controlling my life and decisions for years. Allowing God to retake his place as the center of life has brought peace and freedom. Despite not knowing what life will look like after graduation, I know He will exceed my expectations, just like He did this summer while teaching. – Bekah

While I was reading the book, The Alchemist, I felt God really speak to me through one line in the book. The alchemist tells the boy “you’re in the desert, so immerse yourself in it”. When I read that line, I was reminded that I am exactly where God has placed me and that I need to soak up the time that I have here in this place. It can be hard to let yourself be in the season you are in. We are always looking to the next season, always thinking how much better it will be to get out of the one we are in. But I think God calls us to immerse ourselves in the place he has us in. It’s not always easy, but if we are always looking to the next, how can we see God working in the now? There have definitely been times where I want to be home and have the normality and comfort of life in the US, but I have learned during this trip that it’s so important to immerse yourself in the place that you are. Whether that is a short-term place or a long-term place, God has you where He wants you. I have learned to focus my mind on being present and focus on the place and the people that I am with. – Kadyn  

One huge thing that I’ve learned through out this experience is what rest truly is. To be okay with stillness, and with silence. At times I would be living alone, at times I couldn’t understand anyone talking around me, and at times we just did nothing the entire day. This was frustrating because we would feel unproductive, bored and lonely. But having these times of stillness gave me time to think and turn these questions to God. To lean deeper into him when I felt lost even with people all around me. I was reminded that I should stop and slow down my life. To remember what gives me life and to refocus it on God. At home I’m constantly busy and don’t give myself enough time to rest, but this summer he has given me that space to grow and learn to love rest. – Kristina

 

Would you encourage others to serve with COTN? What has this experience brought you that other internships could not provide?

Living in another country brings you to a place of vulnerability that you can’t find in the states. It allows God to shape you and impact your life in ways you had never considered. It is definitely difficult and testing but the rewards are far worth it. I was also reminded while I was here how life-giving it is to serve others. Giving your summer up to God and allowing Him to use you creates possibilities that you can’t find in any other posture.

COTN’s goal is for the countries we serve to become sustainable. For their schools, clinics, and ministries to be completely run by in country staff. My global health classes constantly stress the importance of building sustainable projects that can be supported long-term by local staff, that will not crumble when American funding and organizations begin to pull out. COTN was the perfect fit for me because of their commitment to build up and support the work already occurring in communities in Barahona. – Bekah

I think that at some point in everyone’s life, it is so valuable to experience another culture and be able to see things through a different perspective. To understand that your way isn’t always the only way, that listening can be very powerful and if you never ask questions you wont gain anything. I think that COTN is a great opportunity to experience this, and a place where you have a platform to start. This is a place where you are able to build relationships with a staff that consistently serves their community. Being able to have an internship this summer where I could not just work with COTN but experience the daily life in the Dominican Republic was something I couldn’t gain from sitting in just an office in the states.  It provided me an opportunity to critically think of issues and challenge myself in new ways. – Kristina

What I’ve found is that it’s a transition of mindset. In America, we like to compartmentalize. We separate our work and school, our school and ministry, and our work and ministry. But what this internship has taught me is that it doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it be. I’m finding that the more I can connect the three, the more beneficial and life giving the experiences are. With COTN I have found a place where I can take what I learn in the class room, and apply it to the real world of work and business. This business also happens to be a ministry where I am able to work for the benefit of God’s Kingdom, serving and caring for others. It all goes together.

Internships are meant to shape guide you in your career, and what this internship with COTN has taught me is that career and mission can go hand in hand. Before this summer, I wasn’t sure this was possible, at least not in a tangible way. Interning with COTN was and is a incredible experience that has given me so much more excitement going into my senior year. This internship has brought purpose to my education. I would encourage anyone interested in missions, public health, education, finance, or any other major to consider looking into serving with COTN. There are countless ways to bring what you learn in the classroom to this ministry. – Courtney 

Courtney has been an intern in the US at COTN this summer. We wanted her perspective as an intern in the States to compare to our experience as in-country interns.

 

What are the greatest difference you’ve found between a week long mission trip and this 8 week long trip?

Week long mission trips have always been a “mountain top” experience for me, much like many people experience at summer camp. Going into the our trip I was expecting a somewhat similar experience, to be constantly overjoyed and having incredible God moments all the time. A few weeks into our trip, I found myself disappointed and wondering where God was in our day to day life here. Living in the DR has not been 8 weeks of camp high, but rather he has been teaching and shaping me slowly in a lasting way. After week long trips, it is easy to drift back into your normal routine, but I truly believe God has created a lasting change in me that I am only beginning to understand. – Bekah

The biggest difference that I have seen from coming on a week long mission trip here to eight weeks over the summer is starting to really see and understand the mission behind everything we do in a one week trip. Over the summer we were able build relationships, understand each of the villages education system and how the clinic operates a little bit more. In a week long trip it can be sometimes frustrating when you can’t tangibly see what difference you are making, granted in eight weeks its hard to see this as well.  But also over the eight weeks you see the trust start to form with the kids you’ve been teaching, the smiles on the nurses faces when you finish counting all their inventory, and the light bulbs clicking in the kids head when they remember something from English class. Progress isn’t fast and it isn’t easy but overtime change WILL happen if you are persistently present. There isn’t a constant high when you are here for eight weeks like it may be after one week. You face frustrations, challenges and joys and it’s a slower, deeper change. – Kristina

“The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there … if you go through with it, the first thrill will be compensated for by a more quiet and lasting kind of interest” – CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

I feel like this quote is so applicable to my experience with the different trips I have been on here in the Dominican. During a short term mission, you feel the thrill. That feeling of love for a place and a people that is overwhelming and fills your entire being. I felt that love for the DR in my two, week-long trips here. The people you are with, the constant excitement and new things, the mission trip romances… all add to this thrill and infatuation with the place. You constantly see and feel God’s presence and know His plan is so much bigger than you could imagine. It’s incredible and life-giving and I would definitely recommend.

But, when the time came to actually live in the Dominican Republic, the thrill faded away. It’s unfamiliar, there’s frustrations that arise, and a language you don’t quite fully understand. As we have lived here and experienced the culture, people, and lifestyle of Barahona, I have begun to feel this interest that Lewis describes. We have a commitment to the people we have lived with, served, and been served by. A longer term mission trip creates deeper roots in the place and with the people there. I love this place and the people who I’ve become friends with and I have a stronger commitment to this place. Being on a longer term mission allows you to experience daily life and truly get to know the people you are with. This quiet and lasting interest in this place is something I will have with me for a long time.

I do believe that in the spectrum of missions, each trip is crucial to God’s plan and each person has a purpose no matter the length of their stay. But, what is necessary, is for there to be a long term mission in the place and lasting relationships being made in the community. The short term trips help support the long term mission. They’re the quick bursts of energy, labor, excitement, and encouragement for those living in the community every day. The long term people are the ones who are there daily and have committed their lives to God’s mission in their community.

This summer I questioned mission trips altogether and wondered if they were good for the people in the community being served. God has been showing me that each type of mission is important to Him. He can use any type of commitment someone has given up for His work. He has helped me to change my perspective on why missions are important and how they further the kingdom and His plan. – Kadyn 

 

 


Live laugh life

We’ve seen a bit of everything in the past two weeks, and we’re still able to “live laugh life” about it. We’ve had fifty kids in class in one community and four in the next, we broke up a fist fight, we have created pencil dependency, and we have lost every pencil sharpener the day we got it. But, we have also seen the excitement and self-confidence that comes with getting a math question right, remembering a phrase in English, and sharing about their dreams and goals for the future.

Throughout the chaos and uncertainty, we have been learning a lot both from our kids and each other. We have been seeing the differences between the week-long trip and this trip, especially in building relationships with the kids. Coming in as summer school teachers, we’ve had to earn respect and trust from the kids. They didn’t automatically love us because we were making them do schoolwork. In the summer. But over the past week we have felt more welcomed, loved, and appreciated by our kids.

These relationships have taken time, effort, and persistence.

During our training meetings, we learned about the relationship cycle. The first step is infatuation. Infatuation is the illusion of love. It often comes with excitement and unrealistic expectations for the relationship. Most relationships in a week-long mission trip do not get past this stage.

The next step that every relationship must go through in order to become deep and meaningful is called disorientation. This is the hard part of a relationship where expectations are not met, faults are realized, and we become disappointed. This happens with friends, significant others, and even with God. This step is what refines the relationship. God uses this step to test and strengthen our faith.

“For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver” Psalm 66:10

It kind of felt like we started out in the disorientation stage with the kids. The kids are used to the Americanas playing with them and doing whatever they want. Because of this, the kids had expectations for us that we did not fulfill. As their teachers, our goal was to help them learn and make them feel capable, not just to play. It definitely took effort and perseverance to get the kids to respect and listen to us in the classroom.

If you are able to push through the disappointment and redefine your expectations for the relationship you move into resolution and love. This is the final step in the cycle.

Going into our last week of teaching we are still working on moving into resolution and strengthening our relationships with the kids. We have felt a major shift in the atmosphere of the classrooms (minus the fight) and have been connecting better with our students. If we hadn’t persisted through the hard days we wouldn’t have the relationships we now have with the kids. We would have been distant, uncomfortable, and unwelcome. Now we are welcomed and loved, even when the class doesn’t go well.

 

The process of building relationships with the kids has been similar to building a relationship with God. It has taken persistence, it’s been slow, and at times it is frustrating. Throughout our lives, we encounter difficult times and may not feel God’s presence. But ultimately God is using these seasons to develop our faith and character.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” Romans 5:3-4

He has been growing something so much deeper and more meaningful in our time in the classroom, as well as in our hearts. We have only gotten a glimpse of the joy that these relationships can bring and are looking forward to our final three weeks here in Barahona.

Here are some pictures of what we’ve been up to for the past two weeks!

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Relaxing with banana masks, this was both the first time and the last time.

More personal updates:

Kristina has 25 more bug bites, Bekah had a 101 degree fever, and Kadyn rubbed a banana peel on her foot.

We all learned how to make no bake cookies, the generator broke (means no AC), and we started bringing chairs into the pool.

(PS Arik and Bilen, the kids were asking about where you were this week. Miss you guys!)

 

 


Volim Te

Chao Seattle (or whoever else from other places reads this)!

Wow we were really not good about posting blogs from Montenegro so I guess we will have to catch you all up on the highlights of this trip!

Whether or not we wanted to, each of us had our own ideas and perceptions about how we thought this trip might play out, and I’m pretty sure it turned out differently than we all thought. We arrived in Podgorica, Montenegro on June 22nd exhausted from about 24 hours of traveling. Sinisa took us to a burger place that we would soon come to love a lot as it had the most “American” type of chicken sandwiches.

Sinisa holds church every Sunday and Wednesday night at 7pm, so we got in the routine of going to that twice a week. We can always look forward to seeing the people who regularly attend and giving them a bro handshake and hug and saying “chao!” (which means hey! and goodbye!). Service usually starts out with Sinisa leading worship, with some intermittent prayer from anyone who feels lead, in-between songs. Then Sinisa will speak on whatever topic he has prepared for that week, and then prayer afterwards.

The first week or two was pretty slow, but we soon got a team from Georgia. Lots of memories were made while they were here. Most of them were between the age of 18 and 22, so we all got along really well. There were many dinners full of laughs and trying mystery meats filled with different kinds of cheeses. We also discovered that Montenegro definitely has the best French fries. While the team was here, one of their team members, Chase, turned 21, so of course we HAD to celebrate! We had a night that included a private dinner on a river and ended with all of us in the river somehow.

While the Georgia team was also here, we got to dive into getting to know the Roma community even mor20294356_10212219910845466_8468619654170944512_ne through a type of church conference. For a few days, we went to a hotel conference room for about 6 hours a day and got to spend the whole time in worship and scripture and small group and relationship. This was the beginning of some amazing relationships that would continue to grow even stronger as the weeks continued. John (the leader of the Georgia team) and Chase spoke on the ten commandments during those days, while Sinisa led some rad worship. We also learned about some awesome secret talents. One of the Roma guys, Suda, can rap like no other, and he should definitely be famous. Baskim has some awesome dance moves, Ismajl is really good at helping people who are sore, and during this week, Egzon got his high school diploma!! Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

We had a few more short term teams in the weeks in between from a variety of different places, but now we are going to skip forward a few weeks…

A team from Virginia came and we all headed up to the top of the mountains (and when I say top of the mountains, I mean the top. Like it dropped a good 20-30 degrees, and we could actually wear a light jacket for the only time during this trip). We had an exhausting but amazing week up there as we all hosted a camp20264838_1188011411304111_7461890798513828491_n for the Roma community. Each day we would have morning and night service with a variety of games, crafts, sports, and free time in between. This was the week that we got to hear the majority of the testimonies from the Roma community. Along with all of the fun we had, I’m pretty sure every person from an American team managed to get sick in some capacity.

The next week, one team from Virginia left, and switched out with another group from their church. This next team lead a VBS at the church for an hour and a half a day for the next week. We saw more kids than we had ever seen during this week! It’s crazy how quickly news gets around through word of mouth in the community. During this week, there were a lot of skits, bracelet making, games involving balls and hula hoops, and coloring. IMG_3890.JPG

 

Now we are basically done! There is nothing else concrete planned for the remainder of the trip. In about a week, Taylor will be headed out to Italy, Sydney will be heading back to Seattle, and Kevin will be traveling around the different cities and possibly headed up to Croatia until the 17th when Taylor and Kevin will head back to Seattle.

 

Here are some more totally random but interesting facts you might want to hear about during are time here:

  • Peanut butter is like not a thing here
    • (So neither are Reeses)
  • Taylor and I don’t have a toaster, so we have learned how to make toast by setting it directly onto the stove
  • Taxi drivers like it if you dance to their music
  • The frozen pizza here is made of a very very VERY soft dough on the bottom, and we have yet to figure out how to make it
  • Ice cream is just not the same… 😦
  • When painting a house, the paint is very watered down, so be ready to get splattered
  • There is a Hard Rock Café here (and it still isn’t good, and still overpriced)
  • Everyone here is amazed by Taylor’s black hair and they all just want to touch it all day long
  • Sydney seriously sweats a lot when it’s this hot here (it’s supposed to be over 100 this whole next week)
  • Sinisa was very caught off guard by Kevin’s asian glow
  • Montenegro has the most rad sunsets19424436_1161295273975725_593917880651297436_n

So there you go! All of us will be home at some point within the next two and a half weeks, and we all will have plenty more stories to share.

Volim Te Montenegro! (I love you Montenegro!)

Chao!

-Sydney, Kevin, and Taylor

 


Que lo que

We have been in Barahona for three weeks now. Our friends from SPU just left for home on Saturday, so we are getting into the groove of teaching without them. We loved having them around to help us teach, hang out, and play nertz (lots of nertz). We miss them already! S/O to Bilen and Arik. It was sad to see them go, but it was a good reminder of how fast time is flying by. It makes us appreciate the time we have to make stronger relationships with the COTN staff, our host families, and the kids.

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Waterfall day with our SPU peeps!

Since our last blog, we started summer school and lived with host families for two weeks.

Bekah and Kadyn headed off to Paula’s house and Kristina went to Magnolia’s. Both women work in the COTN office. It was an adjustment living away from the Casa (the COTN guest house), but we quickly grew to love our new families!

Bekah and Kadyn’s host brothers (Paul, 4 & Jeremy, 1) kept them entertained, Bekah even got peed on by Jeremy (LOL). Every evening they sat out on the porch and hung out with Paula, her husband Wellington, her sister Perla, and the boys. As they sat there and talked (both in Spanish and English!), tons of family and friends would stop by on their motorbikes and chat for a bit. They experienced the value that community and relationships hold here in the DR.

Kristina lived with Magnolia, her husband Fran, and her sister Pamela (14). Over the two weeks, Pamela and Kristina became close because Pamela was quite good at English. She ate chichurones (pig skins), learned meringue, and realized her love for empanadas. She had a lot of alone time to rest and reflect on the days. This school year she had a busy schedule and during her time at the host family she had to learn to be okay with taking time to rest.

Last week we also got to go to Zumba at the local park! It was great to get outside and to be back together for an hour each night. We learned some new dance moves, too! We hope to make this a weekly outing for the rest of our time here.

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Gotta pray before Zumba!

 

Here’s what day in the life of Kad, Beks, and Kristina looks like:

8:30 – Breakfast

9:30-11:30 – Class

12-2 – Lunch

2:30-4:30 – Class

5-11 – Dinner, pool time, chillin out, & if we’re lucky, Zumba!

Throughout each week we teach English, reading, and math in the five bateyes. We have run into a few roadblocks: some schools don’t have books for reading class, kids don’t bring their notebook and pencil every day, and the different types of classrooms we have in each community. We have also realized the breadth of grades, ages, and skill levels in each class and have learned how to teach each group of kids.

The most challenging subject is reading. Some kids don’t know their letters while some kids should be reading chapter books. It is also a challenge to have enough books each day at each school. We have learned how to create new activities with reading and adjusted to the different learning styles of each class.

We love teaching English and math! It is really exciting to see when students understand what they are learning and when they realize they are capable of learning these subjects. Their looks of joy and confidence are what we look forward to every day. We have also started to personalize the subject matter of the English classes to what each group wants to learn. We only have a few more classes of English left and want to teach them what they want to learn. We also taught them the Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling” to teach them the days of the week in English. It was a hit!

Originally it was daunting to think about how much subject matter we felt we needed to teach each kid, but we have realized the real reason we are here. We want to make each kid feel capable, confident, and cared about in our classes. It’s less about them learning a certain amount of math and more about them seeing their ability to learn. We love our kids and look forward to the little successes during the day!

 

Through everything we have done here, the language barrier has been the most difficult aspect. God has been teaching us so many things through us not fully understanding what is being said.

Church services are lively, loud, and long. We love seeing how other people worship the same God and the passion and excitement that He brings to them every Sunday (and Thursday!). Although it’s next to impossible for us to get the message of the sermon each week, it’s incredible to hear people worship and talk about God in another language. You can definitely feel His presence in the room.

We have a newfound respect for people moving to a new country and being faced with learning a new language. We definitely feel lost a good portion of the time but we always figure it out in the end!

We would love prayer for energy, patience, and that God would continue to show us why we are here. We hope to be stretched in new ways and see God working all around us.

Here’s some personal updates from the past two weeks.

Kristina: has 21 bug bites, hair has been cornrowed for like five days, scooped a dead bird out of the pool.

Bekah: all the kids think her name is cow, shaved her legs for the first time, was traumatized by two wasps on her back today.

Kadyn: according to Franklin she has a boy name, didn’t shower for five days, loses it whenever she sees a puppy.

 


Bienvenidos a Barahona

Hola amigos!

Time has flown by and we are already done with our first week. We flew into Santo Domingo late Sunday night and toured the city the next day.

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Touring the monuments in Santo Domingo!

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Peep Beks

In the afternoon, we picked up two other interns from SPU and headed to Barahona (bara-OWN-ah), our new home.

We went to the COTN office to meet all of the staff members and then went over to the medical clinic to meet the nurses there. After that, we went to the I Love Baseball field and Kristina showed up all the boys with her skillz.

Over the next few days we visited the bateyes, communities where we will be teaching at the COTN schools. We met with the principals of the schools and met some new friends. In Los Robles, we met a guy named Robinson who was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident a few months ago. As we visited with him and his family we were amazed by his faith in God and his confidence that he will walk again. In Don Bosco, we met two girls while we walked around the neighborhood. We quickly got comfortable with each other and were laughing and joking around together and singing Despacito.

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The five interns with our friends from Don Bosco, Ana Carina and Deyanira!

We also helped with the COTN kids camp on Thursday and Friday. It was for kids ages 8-12 who behaved and did well in school. We sang and danced with the kids for the whole morning and in the afternoon we played with them on the playground and watched them swim. It was a cool opportunity for the kids to meet and play with kids from other communities.

Finally, we were able to tour the two universities in Barahona. At the public university, we got to sit in on an English immersion class and talk with the students. We have been having a lot of fun seeing the city and being immersed in Dominican life.

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So far we have been learning to go with the flow, adapt to change (there’s a lot of change), and how to rest. The culture is very laid-back and relationship-based, so we get a lot of free time to just build relationships and reflect on our experiences.

Tomorrow we head off to our host families for two weeks and Monday we start teaching. Keep us in your prayers and feel free to reach out, we don’t get snail mail here but we do have wifi at certain times of the day! Keep an eye out for our next blog post!

Hasta luego,

Kadyn, Kristina, and Bekah

 


How Do You Prepare for Deputation?

Hello! My name is Taylor Johnson, and I am one of the 2017 deputees. In less than 12 hours, I will be at the airport with my team to spend the next 8-weeks of my summer in Montenegro. Throughout the entire deputation process I’ve been continuously asked: “How are you preparing for this?” “Aren’t you scared?” “What if it’s not everything that you’re expecting?” and that’s why I’m writing this blog post, to address these questions, and to specifically focus on how I have been preparing for deputation.

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Me holding the Montenegro flag.

Truthfully, I love when people ask me the questions I stated above, because not even a year ago, I thought exactly the same way they did. I felt this constant need to have control and order, and I needed to always know what was going to happen and when. Well, I have discovered this need for control and order comes from not fully trusting God in all aspects of my life. Making the decision to go on Deputation, was also me making the decision to give all trust to God in all aspects of my life.

So, how have I been preparing for this trip? By trusting in God every step of the way. By trusting in God, I see that as me having complete faith in God. My favorite verse in the Bible is Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (NIV). Deputation is giving me the opportunity to finally live out the truth of this verse. I may not have all the answers to everything as I get ready to board this plane in a short, twelve hours, but I have faith that God has me going on this trip for a reason. I may not know what the reason is yet, but I feel Him calling me to this, and hearing Him calling me to serve this summer is all I need to know this is the right choice for me.

So, am I scared? No, because I have faith that God has a plan in store for me greater than anything I could ever imagine. Am I scared my expectations aren’t going to be met? No, because I don’t have any expectations. The only thing I expect to do is go and serve the Lord for the next 8-weeks, other than that, I am leaving the adventure and experience to God. The only way to truly prepare for this trip is to understand that you don’t have control. God has the control. When I understood this, a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders, and I have been able to grow in relationship with God and to hear His voice more clearly. As I finish typing this post, and add last-minute items to my suitcase I feel an overwhelming sense of peace. I am finally walking by faith, and it is such a beautiful thing, indeed.

 


Deputation 2017!!

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Taylor, Kevin and Sydney will be serving in Montenegro this summer!

 

While Kadyn, Kristina and Bekah will be in the Dominican Republic!

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Bye Bye Ayiti

It’s our last morning in Haiti. We are all packing up and getting ready to say goodbye to the people that we have been working beside all summer. We spent our last few days here at a beautiful resort where we got to swim in the ocean and relax in the sun. It was like paradise and the perfect way to end an amazing mission trip. We are all sad to be leaving Haiti, but all plan on coming back at some point in our lives. Haiti has left such a huge impact on our hearts and it’s hard to say goodbye. We just want to give a huge Thank You to the Tlucek family for hosting us this summer, the other interns that we worked with for an awesome community, and the World Deputation program for giving us the opportunity to serve in Haiti this summer. It has been a blessing.


Lo siento Madre – it´s a little late

The past month and a half has been crazy busy and also crazy amazing. We started our trip by almost immediately leaving Lima for Iquitos, a city surrounded by rainforest. We went to prepare for the YMI explorer team that we´d be working with just a few days later. The six-member team (Lynn, Cindy, Max, Katie, Cobi, and Emily) was a ton of fun. We also had a few English/Spanish translators there: Marveli, Daniel, Jonatan, Elizabeth, and Liz. During the week-and-a-half trip, we worked in kids programs and aided ministry lessons in order to provide support for the YMI team. We both grew very attached to some of those we left in Iquitos and were very sad to return to Lima. We don’t think we’ll ever be able to fully describe the impact Iquitos had on us.

We got a few days in Lima to rest and help serve food to a Chinese team that was with Julio’s church at the time. During these few days we also met our English/Spanish translators for our Amazonas trip: Anthony and Leyla. After the weekend was over, we met the next team we’d be working alongside. This seven-person team (Carl, Robin, Tim, Beth, Ben, Zach, and Kevin) was from Maryland. They’re pretty awesome, and also pretty tall. We felt like dwarves. Then we boarded a flight to Chiclayo, where we stayed in a hotel for a night. The next day, we got on an eight-hour bus ride to a city called Bagua where we again spent the night in a hotel. The final day of travel was a six-hour ride in trucks to the side of a river where we were picked up in peque-peques (motorized dugout canoes) for a short ride to Hope Mountain, the seminary/church/whatever-else-it-was where we’d be staying. For the next five days, we worked with churches up and down the river to minister to youth, which involved a lot more trips in peque-peques. Of course, lots of other fun things happened too. We ate zuri (grubs), achuni (monkey), armadillo, and some sort of hawk. We played frisbee, had water fights during boat rides, and grew very close as a team. Amazonas had some peculiar challenges as well. The largest was probably the double-translation. Everything was translated first to Spanish, then to Awajun (a local language of the region), so messages had to be short. Overall though, Amazonas was also amazing, and we were sad to leave there too.

Now, we’re back in Lima for the remainder of the time. We can’t believe that we have only a little over a week left! For right now we are preparing to teach a Sunday school class at Julio’s church and mostly just hanging out. We’ve also gotten to see Leyla and Anthony a few times, which we really enjoy. Rosario’s cooking should be a national treasure, and we’ve lost count of how many desserts they’ve brought home for us. We’ve also tried cau-cau and cuy in the last week! We are a bit like helpless puppies, staying where we are told and eating everything, but we are certainly enjoying it!

Our question for our last week is this: what’s next? What changes when we get home, and what doesn’t? We have to ask ourselves what God has in store next and how our experiences have been preparing us for that. We will be continuing to ask these questions in the coming weeks and months, and we would love it if you would pray with us about this.

That’s all for now, but we’ll probably be updating one more time at the end of our trip!

~Jenna and Ashley (Team Peru)


Nou Renmen Ayiti

It is week 5 of English Camp and we have been here for 6 weeks so far! Time is flying by and it is incredible to reflect on all of the things that we have done here. Stephanie has been teaching Older Science, which is boys and girls ages 10-14 and Alessia has been teaching Younger PE, which is boys and girls ages 5-10. I have been a Group Leader for a group of girls ages 10-12. We have all been enjoying our positions a ton and love all of the kids here! There are super cute and it is going to be SO hard to say goodbye to them at the end of next week.

When we arrived in Haiti, we soon discovered that we would not be the only people volunteering at English camp. There are 11 interns in total and they are all amazing people. It was a bit overwhelming at first to learn everyone’s name and remember where they were all from, but now we have grown close to all of them and  become a close knit community. Some of the interns will be staying here for a whole year, which definitely puts our 8 week mission trip in perspective. There have also been teams and individuals that have come down to serve for a couple of weeks at a time. It has been great to meet and interact with so many amazing people. Everyone serving here loves Jesus so much and it is inspiring to listen to their stories and testimonies. IMG_1666FullSizeRenderIMG_1615

On the weekends we have been taking day trips to other parts of the country. We have been to the beach twice so far and have heard rumors that we will be going again this weekend. The beach is beautiful and the water is so clear that you can see the bottom even when it’s 15-20 feet deep! We also get to eat Haitian food at the beach, which we all love because Haitian food is the best food on the planet!! We have also gone into the mountains once and that was gorgeous. The mountains are extremely green, which I did not expect when I heard that I would be going to Haiti. I imagined everything to be dry but the country side is very lush and we have had several thunder storms during our time here. They are really intense, but also pretty cool to watch because the lightning is so bright. When we don’t take trips outside of Port-au-Prince, we have gone to some little boutiques and street vendors. We savor every moment that we get to explore because we don’t get to leave the property during the week due to the high crime rate in Haiti right now. So far we have loved every part of Haiti that we have seen and are looking forward to seeing more of the country before we leaving in a couple weeks!

The heat here is intense and mixed with the humidity, we are all sweating more than we ever thought possible and that any human ever should (“so be thankful” -Alessia). Also, the mosquitos have been horrible. We are all getting eaten alive, but it is worth it when we get to see the kids’ smiling faces everyday. Camp has been really fun so far and has tested all of our comfort zones. We did not know that we would have required tasks to complete when we got here, but that quickly changed. We have to lead stretching in the morning at assembly, lead English songs during morning assembly, tell a Bible story during morning assembly, and give a devotion at the morning meeting or after dinner. These things definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but were also a great opportunity for growth. We are now preparing for the end of camp, which involves teaching the kids songs and verses to memorize for the ceremony on the last day of camp. It is kind of stressful right now, but I think that the end result will be really amazing. So that’s a quick summary of everything we have done so far because we have failed to post anything thus far…I hope you enjoyed reading it!

XOXO,

Haley, Alessia, and Stephanie


The Final Hoorah!

What a weekend it has been! On Friday, Aubrey and I hopped on a plane and flew north to Delhi. We had big plans to see the Taj Mahal and experience a new part of India.

Upon arrival, we had to get ourselves a taxi, which proved to be quite a struggle. No one spoke English or understood where we needed to go. We went in a few circles but finally found ourselves in a cab. We had paid extra to have a car with air conditioning, but to our surprise the cab we got in had no a/c and it was about 100 degrees out. We were both very sweaty and very hot by the time we made it to the hostel. We checked in and were very happy to discover a bug free air-conditioned room. Our hostel is very close to a major shopping area in Delhi, so we decided to check it out. One side of the street was filled with street vendors selling everything from clothes, to toys, to tourist souvenirs. The other side of the street was like a strip mall, packed with stores such as; Adidas, Lacoste (which we forgot existed still) and Levis, and about every restaurant you can imagine. Aubrey and I got slightly overwhelmed by it all and ended up having dinner at the most American restaurant in the entire place, Johnny Rockets. We felt a little silly about eating there, but the food was good so we were happy. We were both exhausted from traveling all day, and we had to be ready by 6:00 am the next morning so we fell asleep pretty early.

The next morning a driver came to pick us up to take us to Agra, a city about 3 hours away from Delhi where the Taj Mahal is. Our driver was very nice, and spoke enough English to have a conversation which made the drive much more enjoyable. We discovered a coffee shop along the way that only served purified ice, which meant the first iced lattes in over a month for us! Our driver hired a guide to show us around the Taj and give us some information during our visit. Thankfully, we got to the Taj early enough before it was super busy. We bought our tickets, which cost 25 times more for tourists than locals, and got in line to have our bags checked. To our surprise, the security guards told us that we weren’t allowed to bring our backpacks in. Apparently, as of a few months ago, only purses are allowed inside the grounds now. There was a moment of panic before our guide came to the rescue. He had a friend who owned a shop right outside the entrance gate. We got our cameras out of our bags and he took them to his friends shop for safe keeping until we left. The Taj and its entire surrounding area is absolutely beautiful. We were immediately in awe of the size and pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.

Here’s a mini history lesson on the Taj Mahal for all of you: a very long time ago, one of the Indian kings had 3 wives. The first and second wife couldn’t have children, so he married the third and had 14 (be careful what you wish for people). Unfortunately, his 3rd wife died during childbirth with their 14th child. Because she was so special to the king due to her fertility, he decided to honor her. He had the Taj Majal built so that she could be buried properly. It took 22 years to construct and is made entirely of white marble and precious stones. All of the colorful flower designs in the building are stones hand placed into the marble. If someone wanted to build a Taj Mahal today, it would cost them multiple billions of dollars, so basically it’s a super expensive building. Not only was the king so obsessed with his third wife, but he had a serious case of OCD as well. The Taj itself, as well as all the buildings surrounding it are perfectly symmetrical. There is an identical mosque and guest house on either side of the Taj, the tombs of both his first and second wives on either side of the courtyard area (which might I add are very simple plain buildings, clearly this guy played favorites), and 4 pillars one on each corner of the Taj. Each of these pillars stand at a 94 angle so that if there was an earthquake, they wouldn’t fall on the building and ruin it. There is a fountain that runs in front of the building, perfectly down the center. The wife’s grave is placed right on the center line in the very middle of the inside. The only thing that is off center is the grave of the king himself. It is placed just slightly to the left of his wife.

Aubrey and I spent quite a bit of time taking in the beauty of this wonder as well as taking lots of pictures. Our guide was so kind and basically became our photographer while we were there. We got to sit on the same bench that Princess Diana sat on when she visited the Taj, which may or may not have been my favorite part of the day (Aubrey would probably roll her eyes at me if she was watching me write this). We never thought we would be able to get so close to a famous building, let alone go inside. We had to put these funny shoe covers on that made us look like elves in order to protect the floor of the inside. The only thing that’s on the inside is the graves of the king and his wife. The real ones are on the basement floor, but closed permanently to visitors. However, they built replica graves directly above the real ones for tourists to see. Despite being hotter and sweatier than we ever have been, it was one of the coolest experiences of our lives. The building was more beautiful than we could have ever imagined and it was incredible to get to see a piece of history like that.

After exploring the Taj and its surrounding courtyard, we went to a few shops. The first one we got to see how they made the marble and stone designs in the Taj. It is all done by hand and an extremely tedious process. Next, we got to see a jewelry shop where one man was making hanging rugs entirely by hand. His family is one of the last Persian families in India to still do this work, so the government pays for the work to be done. The owner of the shop also showed us some gems called, Star of India, which can only be found in Agra. They are used in the Taj and when the sun or moon light hits just right the entire building sparkles with tiny stars. I got very distracted by all of the gemstones and ended up buying a very expensive ring made of a black Star of India stone. Aubrey had much more self control than I did and didn’t spend any money. We had an incredible day exploring the Taj Mahal and it is definitely a memory we won’t ever forget.

We tried to be adventurous at dinner and order Indian food without Prem and Rita, which ended up being a huge mistake. We told our waiter that we didn’t want our food spicy at all, however the first bite Aubrey took had a ghost pepper in it and she almost died. 3 pieces of bread and a lot of water later Aubrey survived and we decided that were gonna stick to Johnny Rockets when we go out on our own.


Cao iz Srbije

We have now been in Serbia for 3 weeks, and have met so many wonderful people who have blessed our lives. We have been working with a student ministry here called EUS which caters to students attending university/high school in 2 cities: Belgrade and Novi Sad. We worked the first week in Belgrade and met with students living here in the city for the summer. We also prepared for the camp which took place in a town in the mountains of Croatia called Fuzine.

The camp was an amazing opportunity to invest in students further and to take in the beauty of the region. Casie and I usually spent each morning either running or walking around the lake the town surrounded, and then would have breakfast with students at the hostel. We at 9 am would then have chapel service and then English lessons. The lessons were actually not taught by us, but by the British team that came along with us to the camp. We had free time in the afternoon or would go on beach excursions after, which was great for getting to know the students and the Brits. There is so much resilience and strength in this community, their stories are inspiring and have touched us in many ways. A lot of the students at EUS are already christian and are interested in learning more about faith, apologetics and evangelism. Their love for Jesus is contagious and we are so happy to have worshipped and lived with them for a week.

This week we have gotten to visit Parliament because of Samuil’s endless connections (our missionary makes friends with everyone, he’s pretty cool), and the Royal Palace. We also visited the Hram Sv. Svetog Save which is the largest Orthodox Temple in Serbia. It was all very beautiful. We are headed to Leskovac to visit Danijel, one of the students we met at camp, along with a few others. We will head to Nis, which is rich in history surrounding Serbian slavery under Turkish power.

 

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It’s India. Deal with it.

Good morning from Bangalore!  We’ve recently realized that we have less than a month left here (what?!), and in honor of that halfway mark have decided to do our best to send out another update.

The last time we posted was about a week in, and our feelings then were very different than they are now.  We tried to stay positive that first week but honestly, it was rough.  It’s not so much the distance as it is that everything is just so different here.  The food and the smells and the bathrooms and the gestures…the streets and the schools and the language and the ecosystems.  There is so much to be aware of as we tackle our days and also so much we still have yet to learn.  And with that, the first week and a half or so was very hard.  We did a lot of standing around and awaiting instruction from the teachers.  We ate a lot of new things.  We met a lot of new people.  For Aubrey, the hardest part was figuring out where there was a need, because often times it felt there wasn’t any.  After all, Asha Kiran Special Needs School is ranked #1 in Karnataka and #3 in all of India.  In many ways, we have much more to learn from them than they do from us.  For Sarah, the difficulty was in working with the children.  She had a ton of experience in this area coming in, but her techniques were seemingly falling short, and she had a lot to learn about working with the kids in this culture and with these specific and unique needs.  That being said, we made it. It was challenging and not without doubt, but we learned how to work well here.  Today, it feels like home.  We have made relationships with many of the kids, found our places and our own individual niches where we can contribute, and have grown to like, and actually love, Southern Indian food.  Our weekday schedule is more regular now, and consists of…

  • 6:30 am wake up
  • 7:30 am breakfast
  • 8:15 am school morning assembly
  • 10:15 am tea break with our fellow teachers
  • 1:15 pm school gets out; lunch with the hostel kids
  • 2:00 pm tutor four pre-school boys
  • 3:00 pm rest/break
  • 4:00 pm play outside with hostel kids / tea time
  • 5:30 pm rest/break
  • 7:00 pm devotional (twice a week)
  • 7:30 pm dinner

And shortly after dinner and conversation with Prem and Rita (our host “parents”) we are very ready to shower and hit the hay.  Our Saturdays tend to vary more, but Sundays consist of church in the morning and sometimes some sort of outing.  Our days are full, but in the best possible way, and are often filled with various surprises and changes to the schedule.  For instance, we took a day trip to Mysore (where we rode an elephant!), got to take part in the Last Working Day of June, and visited an indoor recreational center with some of the older kids — practicing our hand at “football”.

 

This week, however, was quite different.  Sarah and I boarded a 16 hour train on Tuesday and arrived around 6 am Wednesday morning in Goa!  We spent 3 days touring North Goa and enjoying conversation with some of the locals of South Goa–which, by the way, is gorgeous (pictures below).  It was an adventure with some of our biggest highs of the trip (meeting locals, walking the beaches, ordering the freshest crab of our lives…) and some of our lowest lows (being harassed for pictures, having our hairbrushes melt from the unreal heat, and ending up on a very strange tour bus…), and it was an experience of a lifetime.  That’s what we have honestly found here in India: so many contradicting experiences of love and laughter and kindness, and discomfort and fatigue and frustration.  Rita told us about a friend she had stay with her a couple months back, who in times of discomfort would write poems of her feelings and experiences–always ending with the line: It’s India. Deal with it.  Needless to say, we have come to steal and copyright this line from said friend.  And it has worked beautifully.  We are here, in India, and with that comes the highs–and the lows, the flying ants–and the adorable baby pigs, the excruciating humidity–and the melt-in-your-mouth crab. This is India, and this is even more importantly God working both through us and in us.  Of that much, we are sure.

 

We have another week of school coming up here, and then are headed to New Delhi for the weekend with plans to visit the Taj Mahal!  Other than that, our weeks should be pretty much school-based from here on out.  That means lesson plans, time tables, art classes, and dance parties.  And a whole lot of Jesus.

 

Thank you for keeping up with us, and prayers for the ability and willingness to go even deeper (both with the people and with our faith) are more than appreciated.  Sending love from 8,000 miles away!

 

Truly,

Auntie Aubrey and Auntie Sarah

 


A week later and we finally are posting here! We aren’t very good at this but were trying. We have been in India for a week now and every single day here is filled with new experiences, sights, smells, emotions, laughter, and good food (yes its spicy. yes we are struggling).

We are working with the kids and learning their daily routine, as well as how to adjust to teaching children with special needs. It hasn’t been the easiest transition but each day gets more comfortable. Aubrey is working in whats called “The Office” which is where the older kids, who aren’t working on academics, go to learn different skills to go out and live on their own in the working world. They are learning computer skills, paper bag making, laundry, and teamwork. Sarah is working in the art class 3 days a week with the older kids helping them learn about shapes, colors and shading, art history, and painting techniques. The other 2 days she is helping in the preschool with Class B. Most of the kids are non-verbal but they are able to recognize their shapes, numbers, and body parts. They also love snack time, painting/coloring, and getting to sing songs and dance.

After school we are tutoring 4 of the preschool boys. Tutoring is a term we use lightly because most of the time it ends up being lots of coloring and taking silly pictures. It is tons of fun though and usually our favorite part of the day.

Although this week hasn’t been the easiest one of our lives we are learning a lot and very grateful to have this experience.

Lots of love,

Auntie Sarah and Auntie Aubrey

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Freedom Cannot Be Manacled

Hello everyone!

Sorry for posting so late, it’s been real whirlwind of a time here. It’s only been 10 days since we arrived but it feels like we’ve been here a month with all stuff we are doing. We as a team have been incredibly blessed while we are here. God provided a very nice house on a beautiful farm for us to live in, enough time to learn about and fully experience the culture of South Africa, wise and engaging leaders, but above all it has been an absolute gift from God to be able to work in prison ministry.

The title of this post is the first thing you see when you get to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for 18 years. We went there on our second full day in South Africa to gain some context of the history of apartheid in South Africa, to understand prison as it was, and to gain some cultural perspective. The reason many of the people we meet are in prison is because they feel they have no other option because of the situation that the apartheid and segregation left them or their families in. The tide we are fighting against in prison, the infamous Number Gang, arose amid the disorder allowed by apartheid. Thus it was a sobering and inspirational place to begin our time.

Freedom cannot be manacled was a true then as it is today. We are seeing everyday that even though these men are walled off from society, behind bars, they are free and being freed. Our first week we were able to observe 2 days of a 6 day program called Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is designed to make the offender see the consequences of their crime. A prisoner begins with a recognition of himself as a person, not a criminal, and sees how their crime affected themselves as a person. They are then challenged to see the affect of crime on society, their community, those in relation to the victim and then victim themselves. The final day we saw was a public discussion between the prisoners and their families about their crime, their sentence, and about who they are. This was extremely emotional for everyone. Forgiveness and repentance are integral to the program. We were able to see the burdens of sin and shame and the pain and sorrow that falls of these men’s shoulders. It is amazing seeing the transformation that some of these guys experience.

The other evening we were able to sit in on the first follow-up meeting for a Restorative Justice program that was done at a Juvenile center a few weeks ago. There we met a young man named Fredrick. Upon talking with him, we learned that he is serving time for shooting and killing his cousin and that as soon as he got into prison, he joined up with the Numbers Gang and continued his life of gangsterism. During the week of Restorative Justice he was able to face the repercussions of his actions, tell his mother the truth about his crime, and most importantly, hear about the forgiveness and love that God has for him. The program shook him to his core. After many tears of repentance, Fredrick decided to give his heart to the Lord. He is now on the path towards change and new life. Fredrick is just one of the many incredible individuals that we have heard these past 10 days. God is doing big things down here and we are eager to see what these next 7 weeks will bring!Dep1


We Made It!

Hey everyone! We’ve made it safely to Lima and the lovely home of Julio Serrano, the missionary we’ll be working with while we’re here. It’s been a long, but good, day. On our flight to Houston, we sat next to a very kind man from Southern Louisiana who told us about his own mission work in Mexico and how he hopes to go back into ministry in a few years. Thankfully, we only got ourselves lost in an airport once, and Jenna was only mistaken for a minor twice! We’re so excited to be here and to meet the rest of the Serrano family tomorrow!

~Jenna and Ashley AKA Team Peru


Day 1 Done

We arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti this afternoon after stopping in New York along the way. Byron and some of his kids greeted us at the airport and soon after arriving at the Tlucek’s house in Tabarre, we were introduced to the other interns that will be working at the camp with us. We got to see some of the Haitian culture on the drive back from the airport and the heat is incredible. Andrew (the oldest son of Byron and Shelley) showed us around the property and gave us a brief explanation of what camp will look like on a day-to-day basis. We ate homemade pizza for dinner and enjoyed refreshing mango smoothies for dessert. The day was long and hot and exhausting, but we made it!! We are all excited to see what tomorrow holds and start doing the Lord’s work.


Team India

Team India w flagYay! We are leaving in a week! We are sitting here looking at the painting next to this computer because we don’t know what to say. But here we are, our first blog post. Lower your expectations now folks it isn’t gonna get much better.

Okay bye!

Sarah and Aubrey and also sorta Ryan


Team Haiti!

Hey, here we go! We will be embarking on our journey June 18th and we are super excited to see what is in store for us. We are all a little nervous, but know the experience will be amazing. We can’t wait to share our memories on this blog and share our journey with you all! Thanks for your support, it is much appreciated 🙂Team Haiti w flag


Team Peru

Hey guys! Team Peru here! We’re so excited to be heading out on the 23rd. We’ve been working hard to prepare for this trip and meeting with Lucero, the daughter of the missionary we’re working with and employee of Youth Missions International. Our biggest concern thus far is getting accidentally engaged while in the Amazon. Be on the lookout for more blog posts as we’ll be checking in a few times during this process!

~Ashley Michel and Jenna Hayes


Team Ubuntu- 11 Days Out!

Hey everybody, it’s Will, Zach, Sophia, and Kiesha here! We are 11 days out and are super stoked!!!

 

To explain our name, Ubuntu, is a Nguni Bantu term from the Southern African region translating to “human kindness.” Its cultural connotation more specifically translates to “I am what I am because of who we all are.” We find this very fitting with the work we will be doing within the prison community.


World Deputation 2016

 


Spread Sheets and Horror Films

Now I wrote this last week and wanted to upload it then but wordpress for some reason has been having some issues with me. For some reason or another it doesn’t want to upload any of my pictures, I’m not sure why it is, maybe I forgot its birthday or something I don’t know. However I decided now to upload the blog again without pictures so please forgive me for this being rather late and with a lack of photos.

We just wrapped up a fantastic week at camp in Zlatibor. I can’t believe how much happened in just a week, and how many relationships we were able to make. We were interviewed on local television, saw about four people come to faith, watched some soccer, hiked up a mountain, taught some Serbians how to play American football, and much, much more. It will probably take at least another week to process all of it.

We’ve arrived here in Croatia to prepare for the upcoming ROM conference (Renewing Our Minds). After spending a little more than six hours of traveling from Belgrade we’ve arrived in Fužine, Croatia (pronounced Fu-zhin-ay). ROM will be one part leadership training, one part reconciliation and one part Christian camp trying to show young adults who Jesus is, what he said, and how that affects our lives especially when it comes to reconciliation and leadership.

Before we arrived we were warned that we were going to work like dogs from Samuil Petrovski (our local contact in Belgrade), which was something I’ve been really looking forward to. So far each day, while busy (and I’m not sure if we could technically add anything to our days), they have always felt like they’ve been missing something, specifically, the element of hard labor. Whether that hard work is either physical or mental labor, it has been missing from the camps we’ve been working at. So this opportunity to actually “work” and not just do relational work/ministry, where at the end of the day you can pat yourself on the back and say, “good job, we worked hard and got a lot done today,” is really exciting for me.

After a good night’s sleep, two good meals, and a solid devotional, we jumped right into our work. I was handed another spreadsheet for camp attendance and meals. It was also a good day for my other spreadsheet as well, seeing as I got to add another currency to our expense spreadsheet: the Croatian Kuna. So I’m now tracking expenses in four different currencies, technically four languages (though lets be honest, they’re really all the same language), two alphabets, and a partridge in a pear tree.

It wasn’t until after our first day of hard work that things got really funny and at the same a little unsettling. When we came into town the prior night, we made note of how relatively isolated Fužine is. I joked that it could be the perfect location for a horror film. I didn’t exactly realize how right I was until the next day. After spending the better part of the morning working on spreadsheet, which for some is already a horror film in its own right, we took a short walk around town to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings and to exchange some money into the Croatian Kuna.

We walked down to the center of town we saw a few old abandoned houses. The windows were shattered or completely missing, and nature was already starting to reclaim the land the property sat on. I walked up closer to get a better look and to take a few pictures, because how cool is that? We never have creepy old abandoned houses in Seattle. However, just being close to them gave me this deep unsettling feeling. It wasn’t until then I actually started to count all of the horror film tropes we’ve been apart of.

So lets see: we had creepy abandoned houses, a camp overlooking a lake, small (but cute) town isolated from most of the outside world, we are in the mountains of Eastern Europe, and we are relatively young and naïve college kids, and we have some less than ideal weather coming in so there might be more to come. Well at least I am neither blond nor pretty, and have basic common sense so I stand a fighting chance at surviving this horror flick. I’ll just have to pay close attention to the soundtrack and the audience for any other helpful insights.

The remaining week is devoted to preparing for everyone’s arrival, making welcome cards, posters and administrative paperwork. Now of all the camps so far between Montenegro, Zlatibor or just our time in Belgrade I think we were all the most excited for ROM. Mostly cause we knew the most about it going in, as well as it is the climax of our Deputation. But we were all excited for what it meant at what it represents. UPC (the church that sent us) has been involved with ROM since its inception and has been sending us Deputees here for the last 10 years.

Now as a side note, we already knew that there are a lot of tensions here in the Balkans between most of the former Yugoslav Republics, but we didn’t really know what those looked like until after we got here. Just listening to everyone’s stories so far just has given us a glimpse at what those tensions actually look like. In my own research prior to the trip I did my own research on the Balkan war, what happened, what caused it, and what was the final outcome. Though it was all technically correct, it’s nowhere nearly as black and white as my research presented.


On the Coast – Serbia 2015

(Post from July 14th, 2015)

So for those of you keeping score at home: I was right. As soon as we got to the coast and saw all of the beautiful cliffs, all of the small towns, the fjords (as a slight aside, “fjord” is easily becoming one of my favorite words), and meeting some of the people here, I didn’t want to leave. I was honestly surprised about how many adventures we were able to pack into our brief three days along the coast.

On the Coast, Day 1: Saying “Goodbye”

Tuesday morning we woke up in Niksic and said our goodbyes to Pastor Stan and Vicki. They graciously let us stay in their home for three days in between working at camp and traveling to the coast. I could easily have spent another month there (at least) working with the ministry, doing follow-ups with the people we worked with at camp, helping Pastor Stan try to create sustainable business practices for the people in Niksic, or just helping Stan and Vicki with the renovations around their home. I really hope I get to come back in the relatively near future.

We departed around 8:30am for the coast. Most of us (The English, Americans, Danish, and Montenegrins) packed into a small bus as well as an overfull car and headed southwest. Our first view of the coast came from the top of a cliff overlooking one of the small towns. The view was breathtaking and nothing less than what we have now come to expect as “normal” for Montenegro (seriously, this country is gorgeous). After taking a couple of pictures, we piled back into the bus and traveled down the mountainside. After another hour of travel with a couple more stops to get out and walk and take pictures, we finally arrived in the coastal city of Kotor.

Upon arrival, we all piled out and jumped off a pier to cool off before exploring the town (the AC on the bus either didn’t work or was non existent). Half of us decided to climb up to the fortress, which I felt like I was tricked into doing. I was told the view was fantastic (which to be fair, it was, don’t get me wrong), but to get to said view we had to climb about a million and a half steps, and when we weren’t even near half way up we all looked like we’d just escaped a POW camp. We all were all soaked in sweat; our faces were brighter than the tomato I ate for lunch, probably dehydrated; and the top layer became optional. Once we got to the top I cared more about just being done and resting than the spectacular view that was sitting in front of me. There is probably a metaphor about faith, works, and our walks with Jesus in there somewhere, but I’ll let you sort that one out. After we rested for a bit and took an adequate amount of pictures we headed down the side of the mountain to meet up with the rest of the group so we can go to the beach.

Once we got to the beach and after we spent a good amount of time throwing around a volleyball, sharing a few drinks, playing a card game, and just hanging out with some good friends, it was time to say a second hard goodbye to our English, Danish, and Montenegrin friends. Our local contact Nina then took us to the small coastal city of Herceg Novi. After dinner we decided that tomorrow we would try to hunt for our lunch and go with Nina to go octopus hunting in the bay. We all got incredibly excited by the opportunity.

We then explored a bit more of town as well as the waterfront. I was able to talk to Nina a bit more about the culture and the people. She talked about how the big sport along the coast is water polo, which makes sense, but what surprised me was that just like how everyone has their favorite soccer or “football” club, everyone here as their favorite water polo club. And they are just as passionate for their water polo team as they are with their favorite soccer club. We also got to talk about Montenegro as a country, and what I found interesting is that there is no bad blood between Montenegro and Serbia, which would seem to be the exact opposite case of most of the political between Serbia and other Balkan states. In fact, what I’ve noticed is that a lot of people who live in Montenegro don’t call themselves Montenegrin rather they call themselves Serbian. She also mentioned that when she travels to Croatia she doesn’t feel safe to be alone. Which is makes me feel both disheartened that someone could feel that way, but excited for ROM (the big reconciliation/leadership conference that will be the last 2 ½ weeks of Deputation).

On the Coast, Day 2: On Holiday

We all woke up at the incredibly early hour about 5:30am in the morning to go meet up with Nina for the hunt. We slowly made our way over to Nina’s and once we got there we were showered with some wonderful Montenegrin hospitality before we headed down to the dock. Once we got down to the dock, we had to wait for some advice from someone she knew about where would be good spots to go hunting. After receiving a bit of advice from one of the locals, we hopped into the boat and began what looked like a mile-ish paddle out.

It was about halfway through the journey to the other side when I asked, “So what technique will we be using to catch the octopus?” I was thinking some form of nets, maybe a fishing rod, fake crabs, or some man-made invention to give us some form of edge over the illusive octopus. However, Nina replied with, “our hands”. I was a little surprised, but it looked like it was going to be an epic showdown. Predator vs. prey, man against beast, an epic showdown to see who is truly the most evolved, hunter or hunted.

We eventually arrived at the other side of the bay. We tied our boat off on an old post near one of the old submarine bays that the military used to use (I believe during WWII) but has since been abandoned. Nina spotted an octopus underneath the boat. We waded into the water slowly so as to not to disturb our still very much alive lunch. Nina slowly ducked her head into the water to try to get a better view of the future stew. After a couple times of trying to open her eyes underneath the water, she gave up. And the rest of us were like, “nah, we’re good,” so we all decided to call it quits and go back to the shore to lie down and enjoy the sun. Sure, it was disappointing not to get an octopus, but we were on the coast of Montenegro – it’s pretty hard not to remain disappointed when you’re here.

On the Coast, Day 3: More Goodbyes

We spent most of the morning hanging out on the beach. While in the water, Fredrik and I both stepped on a sea urchin. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would. For a while I thought I just stepped on a sharp rock. It wasn’t until about fifteen minutes later when Fredrik said, “Hey, I think I stepped on a sea urchin,” that I thought to reassess whether or not that rock I stepped on was truly a rock. So when we walked up on land the answer was yep, I had three spines stuck in my foot. After lying around in the sun for some time longer, we made our way back to Nina’s grandparents house to get those spines removed. As a bit of a side note: Nina and her grandparents are amazing. They were nothing but hospitable to us, and it was an honor to meet them and spend time with them.

After lunch we just hung out near the shore, grabbed some absolutely fantastic gelato, and made the most of the time we had left. These past few days were absolutely amazing, and while some of the group was ready to go back to Belgrade, I really fell in love with Montenegro: the mountains, the coast, the food, and all of the people we’ve gotten to meet have been absolutely amazing and not something I will soon forget, and I hope I get the chance to come back in the near future.

We said another goodbye to Nina and boarded the bus at 8:00pm to make the twelve-hour drive back to Belgrade. This, I think, was the hardest goodbye for me. This was not only because Nina was an awesome host, but because this was us leaving Montenegro for good, at least for this trip it would be. I could have easily been here for another month at least, whether working at more camps, working with Stan and Vicki, or actually catching an octopus. But who knows? I just pray that I get to come back soon.

Brian Wipfler