Monday, April 2nd in Zaragoza and Puerto Alegre

After another un-eventful nights’ sleep, we awoke early to a cloudy morning.  The smell of our home-made bug spray quickly filled the air, and with boots and long-sleeved shirts on, we traipsed over to eat breakfast and talk about the day.  Hector was going to return to Puerto Alegre and attend to the rest of the dental needs, while the rest of us set up for ministry and medical brigade in Zaragoza.  The kids, as always, crowded around the house where we ate… peeking in the wooden slits and pushing through the doors.  It continues to be hard for me to eat in front of them.  I always wonder what they think about us… gluttons who “need” to eat 3 times a day.  We always give them leftovers, but today it seems as though Monica made sure we cooked enough oatmeal for them to eat as well.  She told them to go get their cups, and they were back in a flash, steaming oatmeal in their cups… smiles on their faces.

As we were walking back to the house to get our supplies for the day, it started to pour.  With ponchos on, we started walking down the muddy slope to the sidewalk that led through the village.  With so many kids around, we decided to let them walk with us, under our ponchos.  I felt like a giant… my big rubber boots trying to not step on their tiny bare feet.  I learned quickly that the best way to do it was not with my head poking through the hole blindly feeling the little ones next to me, but to put my head under the tarp with them.  They were speaking in Tikuna (probably something about the giant with rubber boots), and I loved it!  When we arrived to the end of the sidewalk, I told them that it would be better for them to run up the hill to the church instead of slipping and sliding with me up the muddy hill.  They screamed and ran through the rain.  So cute!

While getting set up, I took the kids aside and taught them “Open the eyes of my heart” in Spanish. The first story of the day was about blind Bartimaeus, and we were making masks to symbolize that before we know Jesus our eyes are closed to who God really is… but after we meet Him, He opens our eyes.

Masks are almost a taboo topic here, especially with the practice of the Pelazo,  but we did this activity anyway.  The kids had a blast!

While the little ones were working away, there was a group of older boys sitting in the corner.  I had no idea how to get them involved with what we were doing, but I saw that they had a large string tied in a circle that they were doing tons of tricks with.  I asked them to teach me one, and I think they taught me the easiest one.  I went around to the different benches and showed the little ones, and they laughed.  The older boys were just watching and smiling.  Then, they tried to teach me one where you wrap the string around your neck and then pull but it comes loose.  I couldn’t get that one at all! I think my head is a little bigger than theirs! Pravaas and Daniel came around and knew a few tricks of their own, so a connection was made (an answer to prayer for Pravaas).  I left the boys to their tricks and walked around.

Our students were incredible!  Lily was painting the nails of the older girls, Laura, Sara, Mafe, Andrew and Diana were helping the kids color, Zach was taking pictures… all of us were busy either helping or talking.  The kids were SO into the craft!  They were so funny as we tied the masks on, too. Their beautiful little eyes were poking out of the slits of the mask with the most hilarious faces!

While the first activity was wrapping up, Leider and some other boys sat next to me and we started talking about the Pelazo.  Leider thinks it’s a fun tradition… even saying that his dad has made masks (which made me sick to think about) but the older boy shook his head to say “no” when I asked him if he liked it.  I encouraged him to change the tradition when he’s older.  I told him about other villages that don’t practice it anymore.  He seemed surprised to hear that.  I encouraged him again that change is possible.  We’ll see.

After the mask activity, Sara got up to teach the kids John 3:16.  They loved doing the hand motions with the verse!  Kylie and I helped out, too.  Then, Andrew got up and explained the colors for the salvation bracelets.  With great eloquence and confidence, he did it in a way that I had never heard before. He started with the gold bead, explaining what Heaven is like… the beauty, the angels, etc.  Then, he explained the dark bead that represents our sin and how that prohibits us from entering into Heaven.  He went on and carefully explained every color and then we gathered the kids in groups of 10-12 to help them with the bracelets.

I had made the mistake of not making a sample bracelet with the stretchy nylon to see how well it worked.  It was really hard.  I could get it to work, but a lot of the students had a difficult time.  But, by the end, all the kids had their gospel bracelets, and could tell the story.

Right around this time, someone came with the oatmeal and cookies for our refreshment.  The kids loved it!  They were so happy!

We got out the long balloons and pumps and started giving the balloons out to the kids.  It was hard to make the animals we had learned because the humidity made everything sticky.  But, the kids found fun things to do even with the popped balloons.  They would take the rubber and make their own popping sounds.  And, at the end of the activity, we had just enough for each kid to have their own balloon (praise the Lord!).  They went home happy!

I was burning up hot and really wanted to cool off in the river.  Batman, our boat driver, said that there was a spot on the sidewalk bridge leading to the school where there was a current making it safe to swim.  I was so excited!  After lunch, I told the kids that we were going to swim.  They were so excited!!!  I went to the river with about 30 of them, and we all jumped in together!  Not wanting to get bit, I stayed in the water while they kept jumping in and out, flipping off of anything they could.  I was amazed at how high the river had gotten! 2 years ago, we walked on the ground between the village and the school.  This year, as I jumped off the newly-constructed sidewalk bridge, I couldn’t touch the bottom of the river.

We had a blast playing in the water!  Leo came out just to take pictures and be with us.  John, one of the missionaries, and Andrew also came out and just threw the kids into the river.  They loved it!!! At first, Andrew was hesitant… but I told the kids to push him in, and about 10 kids surrounded him and he was completely defenseless!

As I was trying to keep submerged in the river, I felt a fish rub across my back, shocking me with little electric shocks.  It freaked me out so much that I jumped straight out onto the sidewalk!  So, since I was out, I thought it would be a good time to wash my hair.  I had bought a HUGE shampoo bottle for the team, and it took about 5 seconds for all the kids to surround me, holding out their little brown hands for a dab of shampoo.  They were hilarious!!!  Some kids covered their entire bodies with the shampoo suds, sculpting their hair into horns or mohawks.  They would jump and dance around on the sidewalk, making sure they had my attention, and then jump right into the river coming back to the surface squeaky clean.  Amazing how much fun they have with something so simple!

Leo decided that it would also be a good time to have them wash their hair with the lice shampoo.  We had to be very clear that it was poison so they wouldn’t get it in their eyes.  Some older boys came up to ask for the lice shampoo, saying that they had a bad lice problem.  As the kids were helping each other lather up, they started picking through each others’ heads, watching the lice die.  They got in lines about 3-4 kids deep, all picking through the infected hair.  It was really cute.  Then, after waiting 5 minutes, they all jumped in together.

We had so much fun!

We cleaned up and then loaded up the boat for our time in Puerto Alegre.  Zach and the medical team stayed behind to help with all the needs in the village.  There were many babies with fevers and people who needed attention!

The pastoral couple in Puerto Alegre asked us to have our service with them at 3:00pm so that the people wouldn’t need to be out on the river when the mosquitoes were at their worst.  So, we arrived and picked up Hector at the school. He told us he had a great day, and that the villagers had cooked him a HUGE fish for lunch.  We went to the church, unloaded the generator and speakers and realized that we were missing a cable.  So, Leo crossed back over to Zaragoza in the boat and took Hector with him so he could rest for the evening.  While we were waiting for them to get back, the villagers slowly started arriving in their little canoes.  There was no dry land to be seen, and the families were piled in together, dressed in their finest for the church service.  The pastor’s wife even showed up!

The students made more jump-ropes and they came in handy!  The kids had a blast playing the “limbo” and other games!  Kylie even connected with 4 little ones doing a miming activity.

Leo got back, and we were ready to start!  The church service went really well… the worship was beautiful, the drama and dance that the team did was well-received, and Pastor Burgos gave a great Word about love and respect in the family.  I think that even the Pastor’s wife (who was a little put-off that we weren’t wearing skirts) was encouraged.

We left with full hearts and exhausted bodies!  The women of the village, before we left, made sure that I had a gift of the local fruit, copoacu (that I love) and the dried yucca that they eat, farinya.  I was so blessed that they would give those things to me!  We really feel as though we have made friends in Puerto Alegre, and we can’t wait to go back!

We crossed the river as the sun was setting.  It was beautiful!  Again, we saw dolphins.

I could tell that most of the team was tired, so we made the decision to let them rest for the evening.  We had dinner together, and then Lauren, Liz, Kylie and I took 30 or so kids to the main community house to play and sing.  We had so much fun!  We gave them jump-ropes, they taught us their games, and we had a good time together.  After a little while, I got the guitar out and we sang and sang!  Then, they asked me to tell them a story, and I told the story of David and Goliath.  They had never heard that story before.  I told them that they are going to face many things in their lives that seem impossible to conquer… but with God everything is possible, no matter how small they feel.

Then, we said good-night.

Sunday, April 1st in Zaragoza and Puerto Alegre

For pictures from our time in Puerto Alegre, go to:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151471677220215.840637.741380214&type=3&l=bad6b5f0cf

As we arrived in Zaragoza yesterday, we found out that the floating medical team sent out by the Colombian government was also in Zaragoza… actually, the 3 traveling doctors were the drunks outside our house last night.  Good times!

So, we decided to go to Puerto Alegre with our medical brigade after breakfast.

Because a majority of the students were in the kitchen during the evening last night, I decided that I would cook breakfast… at least try!  Andrew came with me, and we tried to get the fire started on wet wood… crazy hard!  I used candle wax, plastic, anything I could to get the wood to catch, and it took at least an hour!  We had to boil water to make coffee (we’re in Colombia, so coffee is a MUST),  boil water to make hard-boiled eggs, and cook the sausage.  Honestly, I was just fanning smoke and small flames hoping that it would work!

The kids came around and were just watching me, talking to each other in Tikuna.  One kid decided to cut wood with a machete to help us out.  Another helped me fan the flames.  Slowly but surely, the team started waking up and coming over to help.  So, I decided that I would just hang out with the kids.  They wanted to sing, hear stories, play games, etc.  I couldn’t believe how they absorbed EVERYTHING we had to say!   It was so much fun to have a completely captive audience!

After breakfast, we loaded up and headed across the river to Puerto Alegre.  Once again, arriving there was a complete shock.  Last year, there was a huge field in front of the school where we played with the kids.  We walked from hut to hut to invite people to the brigade.  This year, everything was covered with 3 feet of water!    The only way to get around safely was in the little wooden canoes.

There was a little girl in front of the school in her canoe, and we asked her to go tell people that we were here.  Leo thought that he could get in the canoe with her, and he did a good job for a little while.  I totally thought he would sink the canoe!  Ha!

The school teacher lives in the school with her family, and was more than willing to have us set up in the classrooms!  She even helped us invite people.   As soon as we were set up, families were arriving in their little wooden canoes.  One family arrived with a baby sloth that got passed around from one person to the next.  It was absolutely adorable!

The parents registered their families and then waited outside the classrooms while our pastors, German and Rocio split up the women and men to share the gospel with them.  We took the kids into a classroom and started playing games, telling Bible stories, and doing crafts.  The students were incredible!  They stepped up and lead with such confidence!  Last year, it took us all day to get the kids to open up to us, and it seemed like this year they were open from the very first minute!  What a blessing!

I went to the kitchen to cook the oatmeal for the kids, and someone brought a quarter of a cayman (Amazonian crocodile) to be heated up as well.  I didn’t touch it! Leo gave me a little piece of it to taste, though… and it tasted like a mix of fish and chicken.  Good times!

After handing out the oatmeal and cookies to the kids, I went into the boat to “rest” for a little bit.  I was totally beat after not sleeping for 2 nights, but instead of taking a nap, I got in a great conversation with Betmen (Batman!) about malaria.  He had malaria 2 years ago and also almost died from it!  He has an incredible testimony, and I was all caught up talking to him and forgot how tired I was!

We spent the rest of the daylight hours there at Puerto Alegre… playing, singing, praying, talking, etc.  They were SO open!  I praise God for the diversity of our team.  While some students were helping with the brigade, others were leading the children’s ministry.  One of the moms on the team, Sandra, is a pastor’s wife, and she spent time counseling some of the young girls.  Two girls went through the line of the brigade and shared that they had tried to commit suicide by eating rat poison.  Sandra had a very special time of prayer with both the girls, and we pray that the things she shared with them from the Word will help them stay strong.

We also met a new pastor and wife that arrived to Puerto Alegre just a month ago.  They were from a “different” denomination whose seemingly only doctrine is that women need to wear skirts.  We were talking to them about the possibility of doing a service tomorrow, and the pastor’s wife was a little put-off by that idea.  She spent over an hour talking with our pastors about her doctrine of “proper clothing”, and then finally let us invite people to our service tomorrow.  We were also hoping to do a marriage ceremony, as there was at least 1 couple who wanted to get married… but she asked if we leave that stuff up to her and her husband.

While we were packing up to leave, one man asked us for a Bible.  We were so happy to give him the first of the 18 waterproof Bibles that we brought with us!   There was a crowd gathered around as we demonstrated that even dunking the Bible in the river wouldn’t harm it!  Praise the Lord for Voice of the Martyrs and their donation of these very special Bibles!

As we crossed the river back to Zaragoza, the sun was setting in the most beautiful colors!  We even saw the famous river dolphins! It was a refreshing, beautiful time together in the boat!

As soon as we got back, we had to get set up for our evenings’ session.  The kids were waiting for us and were more than eager to help invite everyone again!

As I was walking and talking with some of the kids, I started asking them what they wanted to be when they grow up.  One little one said that he wants to be a soldier; a little girl says she wants to be a health promoter; another said he wanted to be a policeman; then there were 2 responses that hit me:  2 little boys said they want to be pastors.  Pastors!  They know this at 8 years of age!

The crazy part is that the pastor in the village is a drunk, and the church is tired of him stealing the churchs’ money to drink.  So, to know that these 2 little ones feel called to be pastors was amazing.  They had been stuck to us the entire time we were ministering so far and absorbing everything.  I could see a hunger in them for the things of the Lord.  As we walked and invited people, I just prayed for them to continue to have hearts that are soft for the Lord!  We passed the kitchen where Monica was getting the fire started for dinner, and I told her that the dream of those 2 little ones was to be a pastor.  She looked at them, held their heads in her hands, knelt down and said:  “O.K. then… you need to go where the drunks are and invite them to church tonight so they can be changed by Jesus”.    They excitedly ran out in the direction of the bars.

Beautiful.

As we were playing with the kids in the church before the service, I saw the pastor, Humberto, sitting on one of the benches and I asked Leo to spend some time talking with him.  As their conversation progressed, Leo’s arm went around Humberto’s shoulders and they cried together while they were praying.   After German and Rocio preached and incredible sermon about repentance and forgiveness, Leo called Humberto up to the front so the church could pray for him.  He confessed his sin to the congregation and they surrounded him in a circle of prayer.

Beautiful.

During the sermon, I heard the kids running and screaming around the church so I decided to go out and see if I could do something with them.  As soon as I got out there, they surrounded me and asked me to tell them stories.  So, we found a “dry” place on the hill outside the church, and I told them the story of the Prodigal Son.  I asked them what they thought it meant, and they said that the Father’s love is big even when we sin a lot.  I think they got the point!

Then, we played and played farther up the hill, away from the church.  We had so much fun!

It was time for dinner and sleep.  We were all praying for an un-eventful rest, and the Lord was so good to give that to us!

May 31st: Zaragoza

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To see pictures from this village, go to:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151471511235215.840611.741380214&type=3&l=0093e49b4b

The day started off great!  We had a delicious breakfast of pancakes and syrup (!) at the base, and then split up again to go to the orphanage and shopping.  Leo and I had a lot of last-minute things to get, and Hector (our dentist) needed boots.  So, we walked down to the port to buy the various things we needed and couldn’t believe what we saw. There was about a foot of water covering the main road, and the people had built raised sidewalks with wood planks that we had to carefully walk on, especially if there was 2-way traffic!   We watched as cars carefully drove through the water to get to the boats, hoping that our truck bringing all the luggage and supplies would also make it.

We got back to the base, and saw everyone.  I guess Lucy at the orphanage was only expecting us yesterday, not today as well, and she already had other people visiting with different activities.  So, everyone just walked back and rested while they were waiting for us.

The theme of a lot of group trips is “Hurry up… and wait”.  This was no exception!  As soon as the truck arrived, we were strategic in how we had to pack it so that it would be easier to unload at the dock.  Then, it was time to put our boots on, lather ourselves with insect repellent, and walk the 5 blocks to the dock.

We got there a little before Monica did, so we thought we should wait for her… but the truck driver didn’t want to wait.  So we found a dry spot to put the luggage and we waited.  When Monica go there,  we hurried to load the boat up with all the heavy stuff… and then the police came and gave us some problems so we had to wait again.

I’m always wary about the police… you can never really trust them here.  Sometimes they make you wait for hours, expecting you to pay them a bribe.  Luckily, we only waited about 1 hour for them to tell us that we could leave.   Supposedly, they were worried about our boat being too heavy and over-packed.  So, when we got on, we squished together, smiled and waved as we pulled out.

Besides some random stops along the way, we finally got out on the river… just in time for a HUGE rainstorm.  Last year, the storm went completely around us and we didn’t get wet.  This year, however, we weren’t that lucky.  We went right through it, only able to see about 15 feet in front of the boat!   Most of us forgot to pack our ponchos in an accessible place, so we just got wet… at least the people that were sitting on the side where the rain was coming in.

About halfway through the 3-hour trip, we got pulled over by the river police.  As the boat had to turn around, the people on the other side got wet.  Good times! J  As it turns out, the police just wanted to let us know that they were there for us if we needed anything.  They gave us their number and some pamphlets about dengue fever, and we were off!

As we pulled up to Zaragoza, those of us who had been there in years past were in shock.  The village had become a lake!  Everything was mud, and whereas in years past we’d stayed at the school on higher ground, we decided that it would be better to stay in the village this time to allow the villagers easier access to us and the medicine.  Between the village and the school was an impassable lake.  I’m so glad we made that decision!

We un-packed the boat and set up camp in a newly built building.  It was right next to a Christian family’s house where some of the doctors were able to stay.  We could use their rain water reserve to bathe, and they had a latrine as well.  It was a really nice set-up!

The kids were waiting for us, excited that we were with them!  A few of us went to the sidewalk in front of our “house” to sing with them and tell them Bible stories.  They were little sponges, and they’d remembered everything we’d taught them from the other trips… even the songs that we’d written!  That was so cool!

After a little while, it was time to set up the movie and start inviting people; so Zach, Andrew and I took the group of kids (each fighting over who could hold our hands… or just grasp a finger), and we invited everyone to the church for the movie.  Two boys, Daivy Andres and Esteban were stuck to me like glue!  They listened to everything I said, took me to the different houses, and helped me invite people.  The sidewalks and paths we were walking on were crazy slippery and muddy, especially walking up and down the hills, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to safely go to the farthest part of the village (through some more hills) to invite people… so I sent the boys.  They LOVED doing it!  They ran up and down the hills with their little bare feet and stopped in every single house to invite people.  It was great to watch them!

We got back to the church and played some games while people arrived and the movie got set up.

The church quickly filled up with kids!  It was so good to see familiar faces!  While we were worshiping together and getting the movie started, the students were in the kitchen struggling to light a fire to cook the popcorn.  Everything was wet, and they had to use a machete to cut off the outer parts of the wood, hoping that the inner parts were dry enough to light.  It was pretty much impossible!  But, about halfway through the movie, the popcorn got delivered, and the kids loved it!

I made the mistake of under-estimating how much popcorn we would need in that particular village.  I’d bought 10 bags, but only got 3 out of the bin.  The students didn’t know that there was more popcorn, and one student in particular started to stress out a little.  I was in the church and had no idea of the crisis the students thought we were in… but Leo was helping them.  Daniel, and 11th grader, was not happy about the situation and Leo told him to pray to see what the Lord would tell him.  Daniel came back after about 5 minutes and said that he needed to get the candy he’d brought to give out.  He didn’t want the people to watch the movie without eating something.   Leo was really proud of him!

During the movie, I was able to sit on the floor in front of the girl’s section.  In these churches, most of the boys/men sit on the right hand side, while the girls/women sit on the left.  I sat right in front of 6 beautiful girls who were obsessed with the movie… and my hair!  They played with my hair, braided it, twisted it, etc. during the entire movie.  It was so much fun!

The movie we showed was “Courageous”, and it was absolutely captivating!  You know the villagers are into a movie when they talk the entire time… and they were talking!  The girls were asking me question after question… and talking amongst themselves.

Some of the boys figured out that sitting right next to my computer gave them a better view, so they crowded around it.

It was so fun to watch the villagers watch the movie.  As babies would fall asleep, the mothers would lay them on the floor, fanning them with whatever piece of cloth they had.  Kids were asleep on the benches, some even left because it was late.  We ended the movie a little early because we could tell that people were tired.  Usually, they go to bed around 6pm, and it was already 8:30pm!

When the service ended, we went back to our eating hut and had a delicious dinner.  Most of the students stayed in the kitchen for a majority of the evening… helping with the wood or fire, or just enjoying each other’s company.  I think being in the village was a shock for some of them and they just needed some time to adjust.

We all headed back to the main house to use the bathroom (peeing outside is one of my favorite things to do!), clean up (can you say baby wipes?), and rest.   I was looking forward to getting some sleep, since I didn’t get much the night before.  But, those plans were put on hold as soon as we started hearing people outside our house.

At first, I didn’t understand what was going on.  I heard 2 men and a woman talking to each other.  I woke Leo up, and we were just listening.  They were obviously drunk.  One man said something like “we’re here helping them, and they treat us like dogs.  They won’t let us into their house.  It’s not like we’re going to rob them or anything!”.  I didn’t know who these people were, or if they wanted to get into OUR house… I was a little freaked out to say the least.  I wanted Leo to get up and tell them to go away, but he had no desire to talk to a few drunk people, so we just waited and prayed.

Some of us were tempted to get out of our tents to actually see what was going on, but Leo kept whispering to us to not make any noise or draw attention to ourselves.  The people eventually left… and then came back.   3 different times I woke up to hear drunk people swearing and talking about horrible things.

It didn’t help that off in the distance we could hear the drums of the witch doctor.  Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep that night!

Friday, May 30th: Leticia and Brazil

Leticia and Brazil:  Friday, May 30th

For pictures from this day, go to:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151471447135215.840603.741380214&type=3&l=1695c28162

We were planning to leave ECA at 10:00am, however, we heard news of horrible traffic and an accident on our route to the airport,  not much unlike our trip last year.  So, we got permission to leave at 9:30am.  Praise the Lord!

We got to the airport just fine, no traffic, and check-in was a breeze!  The people at COPA airlines were amazing; and even if our bags were a few pounds over, they didn’t make us pay.  They even counted 2 smaller bags that totaled 45lbs as one bag so we didn’t have to pay for an extra check-in bag!  I don’t know if this is normally what they do, or if they saw that we were a HUGE group with tons of medicine and donations, but we were SO grateful!!!   I think we will fly with COPA whenever we can!

We got through our check-in and still had plenty of time to get some lunch before the flight.  We also had time in the airport to meet our non-ECA team members.

Only one of our bins had to go through a separate inspection… the one with all the toothpaste!  It was a great chance to talk to the COPA people about what we were going to be doing in the Amazon, and they were really intrigued.  We never know who’s heart is fertile soil to plant seeds in, right?

We got to Leticia just fine, and got a discount on the tourist tax that we normally pay because we weren’t coming in as tourists, but as servants.

At the base, they already had lunch waiting for us!  It was SO good to be back! Our cook from last year, Agusta, even came from Brazil to visit with us!

After lunch, I sent the team to the orphanage to play with the kids while Leo and I stayed behind to organize the medicine with the doctors.    There was so much to organize! (there’s that word again!)

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They got back just in time for dinner, and then we all headed out to find 24 motorcycles to take us to Brazil.  It was so much fun!  This year, Diana took us to an amazing ice-cream place “Los Gordos”.  They had delicious copoacu ice cream and everything!  I got peanut and brownie ice cream.

After only about half the people had gotten their yummy treats, the power went out in the whole town.  So, Kylie went back to the counter with her head-lamp and helped them see what they were doing so that the rest of us could get ours.  We had a blast laughing and taking pictures!  The flash from the camera was the only way we could see each other!  It was so much fun!

We took another motorcycle ride back, and some of us had a nice swim in the pool at the base.  It was a little dirty, but in comparison to the water I knew we’d be swimming in the rest of the week, I took advantage of it! 🙂

We had a great time of worship and prayer together, and then the team headed off to bed.

Leo and I stayed up for a long time talking with the different missionaries at the base.  Monica looked really tired, and when I asked her if she had slept, she just laughed.  After her 2-week trip to Peru, she hadn’t gotten a single day off.  I don’t know how she does it!  All the missionaries at the base are incredible, with amazing stories of living by faith!  They inspire us with their passion for the Lord and their willingness to serve Him, no matter the cost.  I wanted to keep listening, but I was honestly falling asleep. Ha!

I got back to the girls’ room really late, and there weren’t any beds left.  At least there was a small mattress and a space on the floor.  It was going pretty well until Lili had to get up to use the bathroom and almost stepped on my head!  Good times! J

I praise God for the team we have… doctors, teachers, pastors, students… I pray that we work together in unity for the purpose of the villages growing in their knowledge of Christ.

Malaria and other bad news

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Leo talked to Monica today.  Monica is the YWAM missionary we work with in the Amazon.  She’s an incredible woman, and we love her passion for the villages!  She just got back from a 2-week trip farther into Peru than we go, and let us know of some really big challenges the villages are facing.

Rainy season started 6 weeks early.  That means that everything is flooded, and the villages where we are going can only go from place to place by canoe.  They’ve lost most of their crops already, and the fishing is sparce.  Also, as the river gets higher and higher, it creates lakes or inlets where the water doesn’t flow… so the water becomes a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Where Monica was, the people were in absolute misery.  Most of them didn’t have any more food, and everyone was getting sick.  There were people dying left and right from different water and mosquito-borne illnesses.  She assured us that it wouldn’t be that bad where we were going, but to prepare ourselves.  She recommended that we start taking anti-malarial medication as well.

I will be honest… that report has knocked me down a little bit today.  I don’t know what to think.  I had an “emergency” meeting with my team to let them know.  We prayed and cried together.  Part of me is scared, but the other part of me is sad that our brothers and sisters are going through things like this!  I know what it is to suffer, but not in comparison to what they are suffering!  Last year we found out that every mother had lost at least one child to sickness.  It was a part of their lives.

And, as far as malaria goes…. it’s been almost 7 years since I had it.  Malaria.  My doctor recommended that I wait 5 years to go to an area that has malaria, so technically I’m o.k.  However, my body is still suffering from the damage that was done 7 years ago, and I don’t think I can handle getting it again.  So, this is my internal struggle.  I trust the Lord with my life or death… with blessing or suffering.  I have been trusting Him for the last 4 years with all the different health issues I’ve been going through… but I am honestly ready for a break from it all.  The thought of possibly facing another bout with malaria doesn’t excite me, but it doesn’t hinder me, either.  I think it’s interesting that we bought the tickets on Friday, and today, Monday, is when we get this news.  God is sovereign and in complete control.  We, as a team, are trusting Him whether He protects us or not, and we feel honored to be able to partner with our brothers and sisters in their suffering.  We are going to face a lot of “inconveniences”, like pooping in a bag among other things, but we will experience what our friends experience, and that means the world to us!

The flooding also means that we will not be able to put in the latrine toilets like we thought, because there is no ground to build on.  God has a plan with this, however, and we will trust Him.  The money that we had raised for this project will now go to help buy the medicine.  We didn’t have enough money to do everything, anyway.  God is good!

Drowning in Details

amazon_forest_trees-wide.jpgI am a person who can’t see the trees for the forest; so organizing a trip for 24 people is a little overwhelming… let alone the fact that 14 of the people on the trip couldn’t pay for the majority of the costs.  On top of the individual trip costs, we had to raise money for the medicine, supplies, and toilet project… a total of $4000 additional.   I’m also not good at coming up with crazy ideas for fundraising, especially here in Colombia, where missions and mission trips are a relatively “new” idea to most churches.

We had our annual “Celebrate Colombia” day at school, and I was able to tell all the parents about the upcoming Amazon trip and ask for their prayers and financial support.  I like talking about the trip and getting people excited about what the Lord is doing in the Amazon; but what put me out of my comfort zone was walking up to the parents after the main celebration and asking them to donate towards the trip.  I had an offering bag, and just walked up to everyone.  It made me feel so uncomfortable, but I knew that if I didn’t ask, they wouldn’t give.  We raised enough money that day to pay for 1 ½ trips! So, it was worth it… but it was hard for me!

That same day, I was talking to a mother about putting together a worship event/fundraiser for the trip.  I think I looked at her with a blank stare, wondering how in the world it could happen.  I knew we would be able to use my church, but I didn’t have time to work on getting a whole concert together!  The mom told me that if I organized it all, she would get her dance team together to help out.  There was that word again…. Organize.  As if I didn’t already have enough to organize!

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But, we did it!  The following weekend, my middle-school worship team put together a great bi-lingual worship concert, and we had an amazing time of prayer for the Amazon, Bogota, Colombia, South America and the Nations.  The community also surrounded the team and prayed specifically for us and what the Lord had for us in the Amazon.  We felt so empowered!!!  The dance team was also a great addition to everything, as they danced while we worshiped with song!  I can honestly say that the entire evening was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of for a very long time!  And, we raised enough money for 3 more people’s trips!

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During the months of planning and preparing, the Lord was so faithful in my weaknesses!  He would continually bring people alongside to help me, as well as allow me to push myself to get better.   However, I don’t know if planning and organizing is something I should keep pushing myself to get better at, or if I should find one person who thrives on details and organization to be a part of our team.  This is my struggle now.  I can honestly say that I drown in details.  I am so much more of a big-picture person that I get lost in the tiniest of details, and it really affects me.   The tricky part is finding a person who is going to stay around for a while.  Most of the teachers at ECA stay 1-2 years… if they stay for 3, that’s a blessing!  So, I am praying that I find a Colombian who will come alongside me and commit to these trips as much as Leo and I have… for the long-haul!

Amazon update! :)

IMG_3680Hello friends,

I am so sorry that I haven’t communicated very well the last few months.

I was doing a good job with our blog until around November, and if you’re interested in what was going on during the fall, you can check it out here:

We had a GREAT Christmas break! We went on a week-long vacation with Leo’s family, and I got to experience Christmas eve in a whole new way… dancing and celebrating all night. It was a change from my family’s yearly (more somber) Christmas concert and candle-light service!

The most important part of our break was that it was really a break! I had a lot of work to do at the school, but Leo forbade me from going in (in a loving way, of course!). So, we had 3 weeks of rest and relaxation. It was the first time in a year that we weren’t leading a trip or traveling during our vacation time.

This semester has started off well! We took the 8th grade girls on an extreme overnight camping trip, and had a blast! One of my girls even proudly exclaimed “Mrs. Morales!!! I just peed in the wilderness for the first time!”. Hilarious! I’m so blessed to be able to mentor and disciple this group of girls this year. They were my 5th grade class just a few years back, and it’s been a joy to watch them grow into incredible young women as the years have passed!

You can see pictures from our trip here:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151234670150215.809103.741380214&type=3&l=ffedfc725b

Last weekend, we were able to take some of our kids from Ciudad Bolivar on an overnight retreat out of the city. These are the kids we’ve been working with the last 4 years, and when we started with them they were 9-13 years old, and there were thirteen of them. Now the youngest is 13, the oldest is 16, and there are only 7 of them that have continued coming to the ministry. It was the first time some of them had ever left the city, and they loved it! One of the kids had never even been in a pool before! We had great conversations about what it is for us to live out our faith daily, and how to trust the Lord in all circumstances. If you’ve been following the blog where I mention these kids from time to time, you know that they are all on our hearts, and it was great to just bless them and spend quality time together! We loved it!

You can see pictures from our time together here:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151283012775215.814510.741380214&type=3&l=c2a9a486db

And, it’s time for us to head back to the Amazon! We have just a little over a month and a half before we set out for our 3rd time to partner with YWAM in the work that they are doing in various villages along the river.

We have some financial and physical needs for this year’s trip, if you are interested in helping out. 🙂
1) We will be taking 4 doctors, and 4 dentists with us to do a medical brigade, and we need an additional portable dental chair. We can buy one here in Colombia for about $1,200.

2) Out of 8 members of my ministry team, 5 need some serious financial help. 2 of our doctors also need some help with the trip cost. The total cost of the trip, per person, is $400.

3) We are partnering with a middle-school group out in Portland, Oregon to help raise the funds for putting in latrine toilets in one of the villages, Puerto Alegre. Last year, when we got to this village, 4 babies had died in 2 weeks because of lack of sanitation and fresh water. We are involving another village that is a lot better off to come help put in the latrines and share the Gospel with this tribe… in their own language. We are really excited about this portion of our trip! We are paying for the gas for the boats of the visiting village, and the gas for the chainsaws to cut down the wood for the latrines, in addition to the purchase of around 40 latrine toilets. The total for this project is around $1,000. We are hoping that the group from Portland can raise this for us!

4) We will be taking much-needed medicine and toothbrushes and toothpaste with us as well. Last year, we bought around $1,000 worth of medicines here in Colombia and were able to serve around 800 families… most of which had around 4-5 kids at least. It was amazing! We had anti-parasite meds, children’s tylenol for their fevers, vitamins, anti-fungal cream, eye-drops, cough medicine, and a whole host of other medicines that are specific to the needs there in the jungle. We are still in need of donations for the purchase of medicine and toothbrushes and toothpaste this year.

4) Leo will be going to the States in March to collect donations and buy whatever else we need that we can’t get here in Colombia. We are looking for people who would be willing to donate boxes of Clif bars, crystal light, insect repellent and powdered gatorade. We also need Nalgene bottles and old or used long-sleeve button-down shirts to layer over our tank-tops to help keep the bugs off of us! 🙂

5) PRAY! Last year, I had 8 seniors graduate off of my ministry team, and this year my team is basically new. They are amazing students, but it is definitely a growing year. Please pray for team unity and for their continued trust in the Lord while we are planning and preparing.

Pray for the families to be blessed. This year, we are taking 2 pastoral couples with us who will be doing marriage and family seminars. There are many issues in the family dynamic in the Jungle, and we are praying that these seminars will be a step in encouraging the families to truly love each other. Obviously, true love can’t be found unless Jesus is Lord of their hearts, so we are praying that He will be known by the families.

Pray for the people from the village that will be coming with us, as they will be on their first mission trip! We are so excited to come alongside them as they learn what it is to serve the Lord and love their fellow tribe members. This village can be a huge example on the river, as they’ve basically outlawed the sexual abuse practices that are so prevalent in their culture, and they are raising a generation of children who will arrive to their wedding day untouched. The pastor is doing a great job discipling his people, and we hope that they will pass on a little of what they’ve learned to bless the villages around them!

Pray for wisdom for the doctors and dentists as they meet a variety of needs. 2 of our doctors were with us last year, and they have been looking forward to returning!

Pray for Leo and I as we are leading this team. In the past we’ve had a great team of leaders take charge of different areas, and this year, it’s all us. Pray for our unity as a couple, common vision, and patience with each other.

If you would like to partner with this trip financially, you can send donations to:
First Love International
PO Box 15836
Loves Park, IL 61132

You can also donate on-line at www.firstloveinternational.org
Please make sure you put Morales- Amazon in the donation line.

We need to have the full amount of money in by March 5th, which only gives us a few weeks. So, we’re praying for miracles! 🙂

If you would like to donate any physical things, you can send them to:
Leo Morales
C/O Randall Hicks
2222 Enterprise Drive
Westchester, IL 60154

If you are sending donations, they need to arrive by March 14th so Leo can bring them back down with him.

Thanks for continuing to love and encourage us! We know we are not alone in the work here!

Continuing the journey,

Lilia (and Leo)