The first leg of the trip: Columbus to Cochabamba.

Here’s the break-down:

Columbus to Fort Lauderdale

2 hour lay-over

Fort Lauderdale to Santa Cruz, with 2 hour layover in Bogota. (You know we took advantage of that layover and saw family!)

After a yummy lunch/dinner, it was off for our last flight of the day to Santa Cruz. We got in late, but our dear friends picked us up and took us to their house. Because there were no flights to Cochabamba on Wednesday, we were able to spend over 24 hours in the heat and humidity, with our dear friends, Heber, Karen and Isa.

We talked a LOT about church and ministry, what it’s like to minister with your kids, what Latino ministry is like, how their ministry is doing, and songwriting! We talked for hours while the kids played, hugged, sang, ate, and laughed with each other. Isa and Elias are BUDDIES!

Leo even got to spend a few hours with Heber at the La Viña Santa Cruz recording some of Heber’s songs.

While the guys did their thing, the moms and kids went to the mall to get their nails done. I LOVE pedicures that only cost $5! The nail salon was so clean, and the women were mostly Venezuelan, super proud of their work.

That evening, we flew to Cochabamba. We got in at night, and as soon as we arrived to our house, I was totally at peace. We had a whole floor of a house to ourselves! Bathroom, kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom… all of it. All to ourselves! When the pastors built their house, they dedicated the 3rd floor to house visiting teams and pastors. You can just sense the peace in that place!

And, in our bedroom, we found 2 beds (of which we ended up only using one for the entire 3 weeks. Little man just refused to sleep on his own… lol!).

But the best part? The pastors had found all these precious stuffed animals. Elias always slept with a bear, elephant and a big puppy, but we had to leave those at home. And what did we find sitting on the twin bed (that he should’ve slept in)? A bear, elephant and a puppy. As well as an entire laundry basket FILLED with other little stuffed animals. Elias ran from the room to the table where we were sitting, thrilled to show us all the animals he found.

I could tell the pastors were relieved to see that he was happy. I know they truly set out to bless us, and even in the smallest details, we all felt taken care of by our Father.

We went to bed at peace about spending the next 3 weeks with this beautiful family, and couldn’t wait to see the church the next day.

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Our time in Bolivia

I’ve been sitting here, looking at those 4 words and wondering where to even start.

Do I start with the first time I met Pastor Remberto and his wife Esther 3 years ago? When they first asked us to come help them? Do I start with the trip down, and how exhausted we already felt (Leo had pulled an all-nighter the night before we left) and how relieved we were to finally get there?

I will start with something that happened this morning, in Ecuador, while I was taking a nature walk with Elias.

There are fruit trees everywhere here, and Elias has discovered the low-hanging, fruit-bearing branches. He is just now learning to say his colors, and I thought that by telling him that we CAN pick the ripe orange fruits, but we CANNOT pick the un-ripe green fruits, he would be ok.

He was not ok. He wanted to pick every single fruit he could reach. When the tree wasn’t giving up it’s unripe fruit very easily, he pulled harder and harder, with no luck. I tried to explain to him that it wouldn’t work, but he is a very determined toddler.

When he couldn’t pick them on his own, he got frustrated, came over to me, took my hand and asked “please!??” He got even more frustrated when I said “no, I’m not going to help you”.

He eventually got so mad that he got some kind of super toddler strength and plucked all 3 of the unripe oranges he could reach.

His tantrum was over and he was happy. Lol!

As I was watching all this unfold, I felt the Lord say “I make all things perfect in my time”.

The timing of our visit to Bolivia was absolutely perfect. For so many reasons.

At first I wasn’t thrilled about not being with family for Elias’ birthday, but as it turns out, celebrating his birthday in Bolivia opened up some much-needed doors between the pastors and a brand-new family to the church.

And, this year, the national conference just happened to be in Cochabamba, so we were not only able to serve at the conference, but help with the worship planning and practices leading up to it.

There were also some brand new musicians that had come to the church just 6 months before, who needed poured into by other musicians.

The timing of everything was perfect.

The church needed sound help. Badly. Leo was able to design exactly what they needed for sound absorption treatments and a volunteer from the church made the frames out of aluminum. I went with the pastor’s wife and the missionary to pick out the perfect color for the walls, and we spent a day at the church stuffing the foam into the frames, hot-gluing the fabric to it and hanging the treatments on the walls.

Then, it was fairly easy to hang the speakers and re-wire the system so that the singers could actually hear themselves over the instruments.

Our nightly worship practices produced a new song that Remberto was able to translate into Quechua! He has been asked more and more to go preach in the “campo”- mountain farms- and the majority of the people there speak Quechua. There isn’t a Vineyard present in those lands yet, but there is hope that even more songs can be written or translated so that the musicians can go with him on outreaches.

We were asked to help with harvesting some food out in the campo, and watching Remberto in that environment was inspiring. He was a whole different person. He was cracking jokes, captivating the farmers there. You could tell that he was truly speaking his heart language, and that the Lord has favor on his relationships on the farms.

Timing is everything on these kinds of trips, and we see God’s faithfulness in EVERY blessed detail.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wow! We took a look at our account and couldn’t believe it!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

To give, please click here: First Love International.

It’s been a month since we first announced the trip, and we couldn’t be more grateful for those of you who have chosen to partner with us!

Over this past month, we’ve been working hard on the different materials we will be using. One aspect we’ve been really focusing on is the devotions we will be leading with the church in Ecuador.

Here’s what Kim, the Co-Pastor there, wrote to us a few weeks ago:

As I am doing devotions this morning God has shown me a great truth about the worship in Pallatanga. AW Tozer points out that it’s one’s idea of WHO God is that drives how we worship. (Not a new thought, just one that clicked in my heart today). The people of Pallatanga have been taught that God is judging, punishing, damning God who hates sin. But they are only recently being taught that God is all loving, merciful and fully Good.

When they begin to understand who God really is, they will understand how to worship Him. Pray that Pallatanga will experience who God really is.

We are so excited to partner with these pastors and create space where the people of Pallatanga can experience the Father’s heart for them.

Forgiveness

Mercy

Unconditional love

Goodness

Grace

In Ecuador, our “plan” is to spend time with both the youth and the adults, teaching on different aspects of the Father’s heart, and then creating space to experience it.

We aren’t going with songs that are already written, but we are expecting the Lord to write new songs… melodies, chords and lyrics that come from a fresh experience with Him, grounded in the Word. Songs that will flow from our times together. Songs that will remind us of who He is when we’re tempted to doubt.

This will be new for the people of Pallatanga, as they haven’t really been able to connect the Lord through current worship music. The old style songs that were taught by missionaries of the past are sung out of tradition, but not with any meaning. And the majority of music that is available to them is either translated or seems copied after current styles that just don’t connect.

Our prayer is that the new songs will be birthed with THEIR melodies, chord structures and patterns… the words sing the way THEY would pour their hearts out to the Lord.

We will also be teaching piano and ukelele classes so that they have some kind of musical knowledge to continue writing after we leave.

Our last weekend with them, we will host a “worship on the square”, partnering with the Quito Vineyard. In addition to Leo and I and the Quito Vineyard leading some original songs, it will be beautiful for them to worship Jesus with their brand-new songs!

I know that our 3 weeks there will fly, but we are so excited to have this extended time with this brand-new church plant. We are praying that all of our moments are marked with the Father’s heart.

Praise:

Leo’s elbow surgery went better than we could’ve expected. We were expecting that the surgeon would have to scrape away scar tissue and clear the nerve that was causing Leo so much pain; but in reality, Leo had an anomaly of a weird muscle that was sitting on top of his Ulnar nerve. The surgeon simply cut the muscle and the nerve was no longer compressed. Leo immediately felt better than he has in years! We are so grateful!!!

I was looking up requirements for our (Elias and I) Bolivian visas and realized that I need to get my passport renewed (it expires in October) before I can apply for the visa. I am so grateful I figured that out now, while we still have time!

We are almost done with our bilingual worship album! 4 songs are done, 3 more to finish up!

Prayer:

We are meeting with some folk this week to plan out some fundraising events.

Quality time to work on the different materials we’re going to take with us: a family devotional, kid’s Bible reading devotional, and the songwriting journal.

Our church is sending a team to Ecuador about a month before we arrive. I know the pastors are so happy to have all the different voices joining with theirs in speaking the message of the Father’s heart. Please pray for their time together.

We are still looking for people to house sit/dog sit while we are gone.

Summer plans

We have been invited to partner with Vineyard churches in Bolivia and Ecuador for the summer. We are heading out mid-June, and will get back just in time for Leo to do a training weekend in Atlanta in mid-August. Whew!

Watch the following video for a little more info:

We are so excited!

But, like we said in the video, we need a LOT of help. We need $11,000 total for the whole trip. That includes plane tickets (Elias will only be able to fly free for the first portion), Visas for Elias and I for Bolivia, costs in-country, costs for supplies and materials, covering things here while we are gone, etc.

If you can donate, please give at First Love International.

Bolivia:

We will be training up leaders in Cochabamba. The first week, we’ll be doing worship and kids ministry workshops for the church there, and then the following weeks we will be helping with a conference for Bolivian La Viña pastors and leaders.

From there, we will head to Pallatanga, Ecuador. You can find out more about the ministry Here.

In Ecuador, we will be doing nightly classes about worship, creating space for them to really connect with the Lord and express their hearts back to him.

A trip like this also needs a LOT of prayer.

These next few weeks, please pray specifically for the following:

Space and time for us to get the training materials together.

Leo has another surgery on his arm coming up in a few weeks. Please pray for complete restoration.

Finding someone (or a few different folk) to dog sit/ house sit for us.

Time to finish our EP

Booking the space for the fundraising concert

Health (we’ve all been knocked down by a cold the last week).

Thanks so much for following along with us! 🙂

Our immigration story: from Colombia to the US (part one)

When Leo and I met in 2007, we had no idea the up-hill battle that was waiting for us in regards to immigration.

As a US citizen, I didn’t realize how much I took traveling to other countries for granted.

By the time I went to live in Colombia as a 28 year-old, I had already been to over 15 countries: Haiti, Hungary and Austria when I was in high-school, Greece, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Russia and Puerto Rico (although its part of the US, it seemed like a different country!) in college… and then Russia again, Australia, Mexico, El Salvador, the Philippines, Kenya, Tanzania and India in the years between college and leaving for Colombia.

My family valued traveling and knowing other cultures, and I thought that everyone in the world would have those opportunities.

I was wrong.

The first petition: Summer 2008

Leo first applied for his tourist visa the summer after we met. We were hoping that he could just come the the US with me to meet my parents and family and get to know a little more about where I came from. It was such a fun idea!

The fee for the visa application was $225, which, when minimum wage back then was the equivalent of $150/month, was a chunk of money.

He waited in a long line that wrapped around the outside of the embassy for about 5 hours, only to be denied. They said that he didn’t have enough ties to Colombia to ensure that he wouldn’t out-stay his visa and become illegal. He didn’t own a home, a car, have a job at a lucrative company, have enough money in the bank, etc.

So, I stayed in Colombia for the summer as well, and we had a blast! We even travelled to the coast to help lead worship for a conference together, and I was even more convinced that this was the man for me!

The second petition: Winter 2008

He applied at Christmastime again for a different type of tourist visa, where our church would sponsor him to come. We had to get letters from 5 different Pastors, all explaining that they were asking him to come to speak for specific dates about the work we were doing in Colombia.

The same $225, the same long wait in a line that wrapped around the Embassy, the same answer: no.

We were crushed.

At this point, we knew we wanted to get married, and he was looking forward to asking my father for my hand in marriage in person (he wasn’t so good on the phone).

I went to the US for Christmas with a promise ring on my finger, and had a long conversation with my parents about how to move forward with what we felt like God was calling us to: marriage.

Even though they hadn’t met Leo, he sent a gift of a Bible to me and a letter to my parents. I decided to go ahead and buy my wedding dress and take it back with me to Colombia after Christmas.

We were going to try again for a tourist visa for Spring Break, but my parents said it would be better to just save our money and try for the tourist visa after we were married.

Here’s the deal:

In Colombia, there are only 2 types of marriages that are recognized by the State: a courthouse wedding, or a Catholic wedding. ALL of the Protestants who want to marry in their churches need to FIRST get married “legally”, and then have their church ceremony.

There are NO Pastors who will marry you in a church unless you are already legally married. And, we couldn’t file for a Fiancé visa if we were legally married in Colombia.

So, we took our chances and got legally married almost 2 months before our official wedding. We were not only planning the wedding in Colombia but also a wedding a month later in the US.

Yes, that is 3 weddings total… lol!

The third petition: April 2009

We got everything together and applied for a tourist visa. The same $225, for again the same answer: no.

We were outraged and so sad at the same time. When Leo presented himself the 3rd time in a year, the Consule said “it just looks like you are doing anything in your power to get the the US. If your marriage is real, you need to wait 2 years before even trying to apply again”.

What we didn’t realize is that there is an entire industry of US Citizens getting paid thousands of dollars to marry internationals for the sole purpose of coming to the US. I also heard stories when I lived in Kenya of US citizens falling in love with locals, only to bring them to the US and find out it was all a trick, and that the local only ever wanted to get to the US.

We were advised by other friends at the Embassy to wait 2 years and then apply for a resident visa… that it was extremely rare for the Embassy to grant tourist visas to married couples.

So, we cancelled the wedding in the US, and for reasons completely out of our control, none of my family could come to our Colombian wedding, and they still hadn’t met Leo.

My parents were able to travel to Colombia 6 months after we were married, and we had an incredible time together!

The fourth petition: Summer 2010

A year after we were married, we decided to give the resident visa a try. We knew it was a long process, and we figured that by the time all the steps were accomplished, it would probably be 2 years.

There were 3 basic steps:

1) filling out and paying for the I-130. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/family-immigration/immigrant-visa-for-a-spouse-or-fiance-of-a-us-citizen.html

You had to, again, pay to even start the process. $535 for just turning in the I-130, then an additional $325 filing fee.

2) After his form was received, he was given a case number and a date to appear at the embassy. He received a list of things he had to compile and bring with him:

Medical records (for which, he had to go to one of the US-approved doctors for a complete physical exam, full x-rays and blood work. That cost $100 ( I know… cheap compared to the US, but expensive in pesos!)

Paperwork from our sponsor

Civil documents: police reports (or paper stating that he has no record), birth certificate, marriage certificate, Colombian passport

Passport pictures

He appeared at the Embassy with all of the documentation, and they asked him a few clarifying questions.

3) They gave him another date with another list of items to provide to verify our marriage.

Anyone who has ever married a non-citizen has “The Book”. Some are more organized than others, but ALL contain:

-Pictures together. We chose pictures where also had different hairstyles to show the progression of time of our 3 years together

-proof of joint bills (which was really hard for us, because there was only 1 bill in our name… all the rest were in our landlord’s name)

-proof of residency (we had to get a letter from the school where I worked who had a contract with the landlord, stating that we had been living together and paying rent since we were married in May of 2009)

-proof of marriage (we had to compile letters from friends and family who had known us from dating to marriage to verify that we were indeed a couple. The Embassy asks for 2-3 letters, and we had over 20)

-proof of joint bank accounts (which was super tricky because Colombian banks didn’t allow for joint accounts then… we had to open one at a bank with ties to the US, and even then, we barely had enough money for the minimum amount to open the account)

We also chose to include our ministry letters from when we were dating to the current time, sharing with our supporters about the work we were doing together in Colombia.

We arrived for our joint interview at 7am. It was a beautifully sunny day, and we were told to sit in a nice patio area with benches and a clear roof, in front of some darkened windows. There was a coffee and bread station nearby where you could spend $5 on bread that cost $.50 out on the street.

There were 3 other couples also sitting nervously with their “books” in hand, waiting.

I honestly think that we were being watched for the entire 6 hours we were made to wait.

I had brought a book, and we passed the time talking, eating expensive bread and trying to be patient.

One window slid open, and a man called out a number. Then another. Two couples were called up. It was obvious what was going on. One was given their visa, and the other was denied.

We looked at each other and knew that this was it. Either way, this was the day we would know, for sure, whether we would be able to go to the US together.

Our numbers were called, and we stepped up to the window.

We handed over our book.

The man leafed through it, and stopped on one of our support letters. He asked about the kind of work we do, and shared that his parents had been missionaries in Thailand.

I honestly can’t remember all the specifics, besides the fact that he spoke to us together and separately, and then gave Leo his passport, saying that his visa was approved. We had 6 months to get to the US for the next steps of the process.

We waited in another line for about an hour for them to put the official visa in his passport, and walked away from the Embassy crying… but this time, happy tears!

Guitar Center

When we first moved back to the US 3 1/2 years ago, we had absolutely no idea what the next steps were.  We just knew that we needed to be here.

So, we moved into my parent’s basement, and watched God provide everything we needed in His timing.

One of the most important things was for Leo to find a job.  Unfortunately, his degree in Jazz Composition and Improvisation doesn’t really count for much here, so his desire to teach music wasn’t going to be an option.

He decided to fast.  He knew that God had brought us here, and that He had a plan for us that we couldn’t see.

Through those days of job-searching and prayer, the Lord kept bringing him back to Guitar Center’s website; but there were never any job postings listed.  So, Leo decided to just go to the store and check out the situation.  As he walked around the store he realized that they didn’t have anyone who spoke Spanish, let alone any other international diversity on their staff.

So, he found the manager and introduced himself.

The manager posted a job opening that day, just so Leo could apply.

And, just like that, my kind, humble, ESL, pastor’s heart man was thrown into the world of retail.

I suppose there were some good days thrown in those first few months, but most days were grueling.

In Colombia, it is terribly rude to not introduce yourself and say hello before starting a conversation.  In the US, it’s common.

It’s also, apparently, common to say  “No, I want to talk to someone who speaks English” when someone with an accent answers the phone.

There were so many times Leo would come home absolutely mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.

And that was before winter hit, and he had to drive 30 minutes from my parent’s farm to the store in the freezing cold, snowy and icy roads.  (something he had never done before).

But, every once in a while he’d come home with a story from the day that didn’t include people being rude, and those were precious.

There was one day when a widow came in and wanted something that would help her read music, as she was almost blind.  Leo took his time showing her different things, talking with her and making her laugh.  By the time they were done, she had tears in her eyes and told him that he reminded her of her husband who had passed.  She was so grateful that he had taken time with her.

There was another day that a man came in and started talking with Leo about all different kinds of things related to sound, and then the man just paused, put his hand on Leo’s shoulder and said “Brother, are you a Christ-follower?”.  Leo lit up, so grateful that the man noticed!  As it turns out, that man was a pastor, and Leo has continued to help their church out with sound over the years.

Eventually, the Lord provided a place for us to live, just 2 miles from the store.  And, it seemed like every time we went out for a date around the area, there were people who knew Leo.

Then, as we built our recording studio, people he had made a good connection with in the store started coming over to the house and recording beautiful music. In the last 2 years, he has recorded and produced songs and albums for people from the Bahamas, Kenya, Peru, Colombia, the Congo, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and good ole’ USA.

He started finding purpose beyond just selling stuff and making commission (2%, if you were wondering).  He started connecting with immigrant pastors, and offered his help to install their sound systems and train up their media teams.

I think he has been to every immigrant church in the city… African, Asian, Latino… and even one of the new Lesbian churches downtown.  That is a story for another post. 🙂

He has taken such good care of people, that now, even on Sundays, he’ll facetime with a church or two when they are in crisis, in-between his own worship practice.

He is one of the hardest workers I know, taking advantage of all the different opportunities that the Lord has given him.

And now, we are stepping out on a new adventure:  He quit Guitar Center on Friday.  It is time for him to start doing more of what he loves, and the time he was putting in at the store just didn’t allow for him to do that.

So, spread the word!  Leo is available for installing sound and training up media teams, recording projects, latin jazz gigs; guitar, bass or recording lessons, etc.  We are so excited to see what the Lord is going to do!

We will always be grateful for the 3 1/2 years that Leo spent at Guitar Center.  It is where he learned how to communicate not only with Anglos, but with all different races and economic levels.  It’s where he put to use his amazing people skills, and built lasting friendships with other musicians here in the city.  It’s where he spoke value to Spanish-speaking pastors and worship leaders, hearing what their struggles are beyond just a sound system.

The employee prices on sound equipment and instruments didn’t hurt either. 🙂

On to the next season!

 

Everyday is Woman’s day in the Morales house

We met

Me in my torn jeans and you in your striped ones

With hand signals, broken language and laughter

I wasn’t looking for anything, because I’d been told that I

Was too strong, too independent, too opinionated…

Too much.

I wasn’t soft enough, quiet enough, didn’t dress up enough.

Not enough.

But in the quiet of your soul you heard the words “Open your heart to her”.

You, who had made a promise when young to “not arouse or awaken love”

You, who continued to ask the Lord when someone would catch your eye

You, who obeyed when He said

“Wait”

 

As our language grew stronger, so did our hearts grow together

Up one side of a mountain and down another

Loving on the least of these, guitars in our hands

And for the first time I was free to express all of me.

 

 

In the sea of men who continued to tell me to be quiet and sit down,

You spoke life into those words that were spoken to tear me down

You said that I was created strong

so I could carry the weight of

the pain that I’d seen

You said that I was loud

so I could shout truth

to water the ground the lies had dried up

You said that I was opinionated

so that those whose thoughts and ideas were discredited

could finally be heard

 

You took my hands, looked into my eyes and said

“Your being doesn’t intimidate me or make me feel less.

Your being makes me a better being.”

 

You call me by names that have been withheld from me

because some look to them as titles and not as how they were created to be.

 

Pastor, counselor, teacher, spiritual mother

 

You, who grew up with amazing examples of strong women in your life

You, who have such an incredible sense of worth,

because you know you are created in God’s image, for God’s purposes

You, who uncovers value in everyone you meet

because you know that we are ALL created in God’s image, for God’s purposes

 

You, who patiently waited for me to trade in my independence for your name

 

I am proud to be a woman, because You are my man.