A Week in Review

Hola amigos!

I got back from my trip to Mexico a few short days ago and already people are asking the question: “Well, how WAS it?”

Fantastic, is the short answer. Here’s a bit of a longer one:

Our team was comprised of couples in their 50s, myself and a 22 year old guy. Half of us were from Ontario and the other half from British Columbia. I’ve been on trips with most of these people before, so it felt like a reunion of sorts. We all bonded quickly and had an amazing week. We worked hard all day in the Mexican heat, and collapsed with exhaustion every evening. Every night before bed, we gathered as a team to pray and to share our testimonies. These are the times that really glue a team together. My life has been drastically changed just from hearing the stories of other people in previous years. I’m so thankful for our team and our supporters back home. If you prayed for us – thank you. We prayed for you, too. Thank you for partnering with us on this adventure!

If you’re interested in the nitty gritty of my itinerary details, here are some. I could basically ramble on for hours about each day, but I’ll give you a quick recap: Continue reading

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And We’re Back!

Hola amigos!

The JCray and I are back from Mexico and after almost a full week, we’re starting to feel rested and recovered. Since a lot of you have asked how our trip was, and what we did, I’ll provide you with a play-by-play to fill you in. Continue reading

Ready, set…

Tomorrow the Joseph Craven and I start our summer adventures.

Early in the morning we’ll drive to Toronto (thanks, Dad!). Then we’ll board a plane to Mexico City. After that five hour flight, we’ll get frisked, video taped and frisked again before boarding a bus headed north to Querétaro. Three hours later we’ll arrive at the bus station and hand a map with Spanish directions to a taxi driver who will take us the 15 minutes or so to Pan de Vida. We’ll arrive around dinner time (tacos?).

It’s all terribly exciting. Continue reading

I’m Going Back!

I have some exciting news! It doesn’t involve marriage or pregnancy! Or magically being able to eat gluten again! It’s more better than that!

I am headed back to Pan de Vida this summer! This will be my sixth trip, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m headed down with a team mostly comprised of people from British Columbia, as well as a certain Mississippian (!!!!).

If you know what Pan de Vida is and what it means to me, you can understand my excitement. For those of you that don’t know, Pan de Vida is an orphanage in Queretaro, Mexico, just three hours north of Mexico City. It’s a place that has stolen a piece of my heart and changed my life for a number of reasons.

Since starting a real life adult job, I wasn’t sure if or when I’d ever get to visit. But the opportunity arose, and I jumped at the chance. While in Mexico, we could be painting, pouring concrete, laying interlock brick, tiling floors, or general maintenance work. We’ll do whatever needs to be done. Along with Pan de Vida (where we’ll be staying), we have the opportunity to visit a sister orphanage down the road (Esperenza Para Ti), another sister orphanage (Dulce Refugio) 4 hours away in Aguascalientes. We will also visit Otimi House, a community centre for the indigenous people in the mountains of Mexico. If that sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about it once.

I’m letting you know this for a few reasons.

1. We need prayer.

2. We need financial support.

3. We need more prayer.

The biggest and easiest thing you can do is pray for us and our team. Pray for safety, protection, team unity, for our hearts to be changed and broken, and for our health. I’ve been five times already, but the trip always challenges and breaks me in a new way each time I go. Pray that we’ll be prepared for what we encounter.

If you’ve got a bunch of extra money you don’t know what to do with, consider donating to us. Even if you don’t have money falling out of your butt, consider supporting us. Follow the steps below to donate online. We’d very much appreciate anything you can give.

Please, support us during our adventure! If this blog post doesn’t convince you, here is an adorable picture:

mexxx
If you do donate online you’ll get a (Canadian) tax receipt. Just go here, choose “July 2013 Team” in the drop down menu and follow the steps. Then somehow let me know you donated and I’ll get your information and everything will be peachy.

And here’s another adorable picture. I’m so pasty.

mex

Bonita

Four years ago, our missions team took a day trip to Amealco, a small town in the state of Querétaro. We drove in sweaty, crowded vans, to a place up in the mountains. The air was thin and stifling hot. There was no breeze. Everything looked as though it hadn’t seen water in years. Every bit of vegetation was brown and scrubby. The mountains in my dreams are lush and majestic. But these mountains? They were dried out and forgotten, with little sign of life. As we drove up the mountain, I saw some brown houses scattered alongside the road. They were small, shabby and did not have any electricity. Where in the world were we headed?

A sign emblazoned with the words “Casa Otomi” told us that we had reached our destination. Before us stood a building made of dirt blocks and a tin roof. We were met by a smiling man, who introduced himself as Pastor Lalo. As Pastor Lalo began telling us the story of the Otomi House, I could feel my stomach churning. The sun was getting hotter, and I could feel it burning my skin.

He explained that Otomi House is a community center that serves the indigenous people of Mexico. The community center is built on high ground, over looking a deep canyon.


On either side of the canyon, there is a community. These two communities opposed each other. No one interacted or would have anything to do with the other community. They speculated that in the past, there was an argument, and grudges were held until there was a divide that no one could explain. Two broken communities separated by a canyon. But a community center built on neutral ground.

This is what hope looks like.

At least that’s what we were told.

What we saw instead? A dirt floor. A lack of plumbing. Filth. Stench. Poverty. Brokenness. Darkness. Unspeakable sadness. We found ourselves deep in the middle of something we never anticipated. As we stood in the community center, a line of children filed by us and shook our hands. They did not smile. They did not laugh. They did not look us in the eye. We spent the whole day with these children, and despite our valiant efforts, we made little progress. We could not undo the hurt that they had experienced.

A child by nature is full of joy. These children were not. They were sapped of any delight or hopefulness. They did not play. They did not giggle. They were children who had been broken by abuse, poverty, incest, alcoholism and countless other things that a no child should ever endure. My heart was not ready to be snapped in half. My spirit could not handle it. I was also rather sick, so I split my time between overflowing toilets and the hot van. The only response I could muster was to sit and cry. All day.

That was easily the worst day of my life. That was the day that I saw overwhelming brokenness, and very little hope for change. How do you change deep rooted destructive patterns of an entire community? That question plagued me the rest of the trip and when I returned to Canada. I had difficulties talking about that day. To put that in to words to do it justice is difficult.

Fast forward four years. Another trip to Mexico. Another visit scheduled to Otomi House. I cried when I found out we were going back. I prayed that my heart would be prepared this time. I prayed that the team would be prepared for what we were about to encounter.

The drive up the mountain was long and I think my heart pounded the whole time. When we arrived, we found that the place looked about the same.

A few more structures on the playground, but for the most part, the same.

Again, my heart was not prepared for what it was about to encounter.

We filed to the front of the room and were introduced to the 40 or so children. I looked at the floor. When it came my turn to introduce myself, I looked up and I saw a child smiling. And then another, and another. These kids were looking at us and smiling. It was all at once that I realized, with relief and joy and excitement that I was in a very different place than I was four years ago. Those children sang for us. They shook our hands. They giggled. They put on a play. They recited scripture from memory. They were excited to meet us.


We sat at the back of the room for the rest of the kids’ presentation, and I shook the whole time. What had happened here? This is not the same. As my brain tried to sort out my disbelief, a girl and her little sister came in the back and looked for a spot to sit. My heart stopped. This girl was filthy. Her shoes were barely intact. Her clothes didn’t fit and were stained. The skin over her entire body was cracked and looked like a desert. Her hands and feet were bleeding. My stomach lurched, and I began to look for an exit. God, I can’t do this. I thought it was different this time. For a brief moment, that place looked no different than it did four years ago. This isn’t fair. I need to leave. Please don’t do this to my heart again.

Later, we were given bags of candy and a carnival station to run. The kids moved from station to station and we showered them with candy and praises, even if they missed the target. I had my camera on hand and through candy, pictures, giggles and some games, I forgot about the place from four years ago. Things were indeed different. There was laughter and joy. There were children being children again.


The little girl with the cracked skin and worn out shoes came to my station. I took a deep breath, fought back tears and made a giant fuss over her. I cheered her on. I gave her candy. I took her picture. My heart barely stayed in one piece. I showed her the picture and told her it was beautiful. She broke out into a huge smile.

I have never seen a more beautiful, authentic and healing smile ever in my life. The heartache that I felt at that same place four years ago was completely wiped away with just that smile.


One little girl with worn out shoes and bleeding hands restored my heart.

God is working in that place. It is undeniable. There is no other possible explanation for the changes that have taken place other than the healing power of God, and the people he has placed there. There is literally no other explanation.

The two communities that were once opposed? They are reunited. They interact. They are starting to marry people from the other communities. The kids play together. There are 400 people attending Christian churches in the area. The incidence of alcoholism in children, teens and adults has reduced drastically. Cases of incest and abuse  have also gone down. The adults that used to only drop off their children and leave, are now staying around to hear the gospel. Children are being fed and clothed and educated. God is restoring lives. He is bringing His people to Him.

As I explained my encounter with the little girl to my team later that night, I cried. I’m not talking a few tears streaming down my face, I’m talking gut wrenching, painful, give me a minute because I can’t talk right now, sobs. This little girl had shown me the opposite of what I expected to find at that place. She showed me Jesus. She showed me incredible beauty in the midst of brokenness. She changed my heart and I don’t even know her name.

As a team, we discussed using some of the funds we raised to go towards medical expenses so that this little girl could get treatment for her skin. Some of you donated money to our team to make this possible. That money allowed us to help her, which in turn showed us something that we would have never expected. Thank you for being a part of this restoration. You are now part of the story of a little girl with cracked skin who lives in the mountains in Mexico. Crazy, isn’t it? Thank you for your part in this.

Since we still don’t know her name, one of our team members suggested we call her “Bonita”, which means beautiful in Spanish.

This little girl, and that moment, so perfectly and simply captured what God sees in the lives of His people. What we call filthy and broken and hopeless, He calls beautiful.

Pictures That Need Not Be Explained

On Wednesdays, I post a picture or two (maybe more) from my family’s photo archives that need not be explained. Why won’t they be explained?

Because it’s better that way.

A few from this year’s trip to Mexico.

Pictured: Kate, Marta, Jamie.

 

Pictured: Myself, Barbie

Pictured: Pitchfork, Bootsy, Myself

Pictured: Alex, Leah, Jamie, Scotty

Pictures That Need Not Be Explained

On Wednesdays, I post a picture or two (maybe more) from my family’s photo archives that need not be explained. Why won’t they be explained? Because it’s better that way.

I will be in Mexico next week! Continuing on that theme…

Pictured: Yours truly, cheesies

Pictured: Heather and the man behind her

Pictured: Brad

Pictured: a sign

Pictured: Team Jacob

Monday Mishmash

Mondays are for mishmash.

This Monday, I have an overwhelming amount of mishmash. I made a list.

List of Mishmash

– By the end of the week, I will be in Mexico! Eating tacos! I have not yet starting packing, but I have written a list. Close enough.

– Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Tomorrow I will be guest posting over at Rob Shep Dot Com. It’s a good one. And Valentine’s Day themed. Check that out tomorrow.

– Our team has reached our fundraising goal! Actually, we have gone beyond our fundraising goal! Thanking God for $42K! It’s going to go far. Watch here for updates to see how the money will be used. BIG thank you to all of you who have helped support us financially.

– I found myself feeling out of place (but still welcome) at a meeting this past week. I was the only non-mom. I resisted the urge to brag about the large amount of sleep I get on weekends because they were all so nice to me. If they weren’t nice mommies, I would have likely started a conversation about my lack of stretch marks.

– I worked more last week than I did in the month of February! Hooray for work!

– Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. To celebrate, I encourage you to read Leigh’s This Is How We Met series on her blog. It’s good and sweet and perfectly wonderful.

– Thanks to Dropbox and some wonderful friends, I have approximately 15.3 hours of new music. I am very much looking forward to travel time.

– Mister Stanton Martin is moving across the country. I had a moment of “aw, I’ll miss that guy” until I realized that he’s still an internet friend, regardless of his place of residence. We’ll still have Twitter. Welcome to closer to Canada.

– I taught a fellow shorty my go-to comeback I used in elementary school. When someone calls you short, respond with, “You’re ugly, and I can grow” until you are no longer able to grow, then the last part can get changed to, “and I can wear heels.”

– I never know where the period is supposed to go. Before or after the quotation marks? I know it goes before if someone is talking, but since this is a phrase, I feel like the period should come after. Before or after? I do not know.

– This weekend, while wearing an oddly coloured (but wonderfully designed!) mission team t-shirt, I thought, “Man, I have a lot of ugly team t-shirts.” I would one day like to be a part of a team of any sort that prides itself on really nice t-shirts. Even if it’s a Team Nice T-Shirt team. I’d be on board.

– Can I be serious for just a second here? No? Okay. I wanted to start this list off with I FEEL LIKE I’M DYING but I held back (you’re welcome). I do feel rather awful. In fact, I’ve felt awful since midsummer. YES. It’s been a long time. Today I’m having a “if I feel like this in a week, I have no idea how I am going to get out of bed and eat Mexican food with a smile on my face, let alone mix and pour concrete in the hot sun all day” day. I am frustrated. This type of stuff often happens right before missions trips and often during trips and can get in the way. I’m praying that it won’t. Your prayers are greatly appreciated as well. I’ll give you a high five the next time I see you.

– This just in: there are talks of a possible Air Canada strike at the end of this week. When we’re planning to fly. On an Air Canada flight. So. If you could pray for that, too. We’d appreciate it.

– I doubt that I’ll have [much] internet access while I am in Mexicola, but there might be little tidbits of something posted along the way.

-This is the end of the Mishmash.

Any mishmash to add to my list?

Pictures That Need Not Be Explained

On Wednesdays, I post a picture or two (maybe more) from my family’s photo archives that need not be explained. Why won’t they be explained? Because it’s better that way.

This week and next week, I will continue with my Mexico/Pan de Vida theme.

Pictured: Sleeping Bampa, lots of garbage

Pictured: Sammy, Canadian Capo

Pictured:Ken

Pictured: Marco and the FUJ (the disposable camera, straight from Japan)