Death and Orchids

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After breaking up with a long-time college relationship, I was talking with my best friend Jill about how I just don’t seem to be able to pick “the right guy”.  She agreed that she also struggled with this!

During our conversation, we talked about a friend of ours who made a plan with her dad.  They agreed on a specific gift that the father would give a guy when he asked for her hand in marriage.  If the father approved of the guy, he would give him this gift to give to his daughter when he proposed.  Jill and I both loved that story, but the reality that both of our dads were out of state, and not really around to give counsel/see the guy in more than just a “dad-pleasing” mode made us think of another way it could work.

We both prayed about it, and asked our Heavenly Dad to put an idea in our heads of something that He would impress on the heart of the “right guy” to give us when he proposed.  For her, the image of purple roses came to mind.  For me, it was orchids.

Now, neither of us really thought that it could really be the Father putting this on our minds, so we didn’t really put much stock in the images, but we definitely held onto those ideas!

And, it even turned out that when Jill’s now-husband proposed to her, he gave her purple roses, not knowing anything about the simple prayer that she had prayed years before!

Fast forward a few years to when I was in full-time ministry… When I lived out of my car traveling the US, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a youth pastor in Springfield, MO.  He had just gotten back from a mission trip to China that had changed his life.  He talked about how passionate the Chinese Christians were to share Jesus… and how they were willing to pay a price for the Gospel.  I remember the drive from Springfield to Tulsa, and asking God what MY price was…. and I remember that the first word that came to my mind was “marriage”.

I had had a rough time in relationships… desperately wanting to be in one, but feeling like I was settling whenever one would present itself.  It was during that 3-hour drive that I surrendered that part of my heart to Jesus and truly died to the idea of ever getting married.  I went from bitter whenever I would see my friends find the love of their lives, to content knowing that I was enough as I was, and that Jesus was enough for me.

I can honestly say that I loved being single and serving Jesus.  I had such an authentic, intimate relationship with Him at that time… so many miles on the road with just the Word, worship cds (yes, before ipods), and my own songs sung out the car window.  It was a really sacred time.

Fast forward to a month before I went to Colombia.  My friends Jake and Bridget organized a prayer/worship night for me as I was about to head out to Colombia.  It was such a great time being with old college friends!  After everyone left, it was just the 3 of us on their couch, and Jake said “Lilia, I feel like the Lord is going to awaken something that He called you to put to death.  I feel strongly that you are going to find your husband in Colombia.”  I laughed out loud!  I honestly hadn’t even been thinking about it… but made some kind of comment about finding a Jesus-loving, dark-haired hippie musician.

Fast forward to the week after I got to Colombia.  The pastor’s family had a kind of death of their own in the family, and people started bringing over beautiful bouquets of flowers, many of them containing orchids.

I asked the pastor’s wife about it, and she said “oh, you didn’t know?  The national flower of Colombia is the orchid”.

In that moment, the Lord confirmed the word that my friend Jake had spoken…

And He answered a prayer that a silly 20-something broken-hearted girl had prayed years before.

Because of immigration issues, Leo wasn’t able to meet my family to officially ask for my hand in marriage, but the day that we were legally married Leo presented me with

a bouquet of orchids.

 

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Our Story! :)

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When people meet us, they are always curious about how we met, where we met, etc.  After living in the States for so long now, people just assume that we met here.  But here’s the real story…

I moved to Bogota, Colombia right before New Years in 2007.  I was invited to teach music at an international school, and knowing that a lot of my world would be in English, I asked if it would be possible to live with a Colombian family instead of with the other teachers.  I was placed with a bi-cultural pastor’s family.  We didn’t know anything about each other until I arrived, but we quickly found out that the Lord had indeed put us together!

They invited me to go on a retreat they were leading with a different church my first weekend in country. It was during that trip they discovered that I was a worship leader/speaker, and we had a BLAST ministering together. I learned a TON of songs in Spanish, and was on my way to becoming bilingual (although I had a LOOOOOOONG way to go).

The following weekend, I had been spending time with the English teachers when I got a call from the pastor asking if I would be willing to play the drums for the services the following day.  He said that their worship team had a few different drummers, but that none of them were available.  I immediately agreed and rushed back to their place so he could take me to the church.

I showed up without makeup, in a t-shirt, baggy torn jeans and crocs.  Lol!  (if you know anything about Colombian women, they would NEVER dress like that…).

None of the guys on the worship team spoke English, and, as Leo later told me, upon seeing me they decided to change the set list to translated Hillsong songs instead of their typical latino-flavored songs.

I had a blast!

I think the guys were a little surprised that I could do it.

After the rehearsal, the electric guitarist (Leo) stuck around to wait for the pastor to pick me up.  I literally had no idea how to say anything about music or life at that point… and he didn’t really know how to say anything about life and music to me, either… but somehow, after sharing our names, how old we were and how many siblings we had (thank you Spanish 1), I communicated that I write music.

Leo immediately turned on the keyboard and asked me to sit and play him something.  I started playing “We will praise You” from my Captivated:Live cd, and just as I got to the 2nd verse, Leo stopped me.  He said…

“No. No. No…. Jazz…. colors!” and then proceeded to hum the melody of the song and completely changed the chords to sounds I would never know how to make in a million years.  I cracked up!  I remember thinking “I think this guy and I are going to be good friends!”

The pastor came right about then to walk me home (he lived only a block away from the church).

The following weekend, and the ones that proceeded it, I was a part of the worship team. We had rehearsal on Saturday afternoons, and then 3 services on Sundays.  In between the services, we would all go to the cafe across the street to get something to eat and I would try my best to communicate what I’d been learning.  In addition to the Sunday services, I started helping out with the youth services on Friday nights, and teaching lessons at the worship academy on Saturdays. I LOVED it!

Leo also happened to be involved with all of those church events, so it gave us a good deal of time together, sharing life and ministry.  He was hilarious, and an incredible guitarist/worship leader.  It was so much fun to find someone with similar interests and passions!

He started walking me home more, and the pastor would always invite him to eat dinner with us.  When Leo would get home, he’d sign on to Skype and we would chat (all written) while the pastor’s daughter sat next to me to translate and help me learn what to say back.  It was hilarious.  We were NEVER without a bilingual dictionary!

One day, I was walking with the pastor and asked him what he thought about Leo.  He said “Wow!  What a guy!  He loves Jesus, loves people and is always here serving at the church!  You really can’t find anyone better!”.  But then he went on to say… “But I recommend you wait 2 years before you start to date.  Get to know him better, get to know the language and the culture better… Here, Colombian christians take dating VERY seriously.  You first start out in groups, and then the moment you go out just the 2 of you, it means that you’re serious about each other.  Dating in our church culture means that you’re seriously contemplating marriage.”

I think 2 weeks later, Leo and I were sitting on the steps out in front of the pastor’s house talking about what we really felt called to do. And, it was exactly the same!  It was at that moment when I had the feeling “I think I’m gonna marry this guy!”.

It was during that conversation where Leo said that he wanted to be my “novio”… and out of respect for the pastor, I told Leo that he would have to ask permission from the pastor if he wanted to date me.

Sidenote: it had always been an agreement between my dad and I when I was in high-school that if a guy wanted to date me, he HAD to ask my dad first.  It was a safety-net for me and to this day I am so grateful!  If a guy called the house (you know… in the ancient days before there were cell-phones), my dad would ask me “do you want to go out with this guy?”  If I said “no”, then so did my dad.  I have always encouraged young girls who are starting to date to have this same arrangement with their fathers.  It is SO important for their safety and health to have their dads involved with any boys who have interest in them.

So, Leo and the pastor met and talked one evening.  They were in the living room, and I was in the kitchen cooking (the pastor’s wife was out of town).   I was SO nervous, especially after the pastor had said that it would be better to wait 2 years, and it had only been 2 1/2 months!

But both he and Leo came into the kitchen beaming… the pastor hugged us both and said “you have our prayers, our counsel, and our best wishes!”.

A year and a half after Leo and I met, we were married in Bogota!  We just celebrated our 9th anniversary.

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What in the world are the Morales’ doing?!?!

This past summer our church hosted the Vineyard Global Conference. For the first time in the Vineyard’s history, pastors and church leaders from all over the world came together in ONE place to worship and learn from each other.  There were many powerful moments throughout the week.  Leo and I were honored to lead the kids in worship and in a mission experience as the week went on.

We were also honored to host 6 pastors from Peru and Chile for the week.

We would come home absolutely exhausted from working 12 hour days, to sit around our living room sharing invigorating stories of ministry until the early morning hours.

Honestly, the months leading up to this conference weren’t our best as a couple.  We were both so immersed in our own separate worlds that we hadn’t truly served together in a long time.  Yes, Leo supported me in the things I did at church, and I would come alongside him, but we hadn’t felt like we had done anything that was “ours” in a very long time.

Leo would come home with amazing stories of conversations and moments he would have while installing sound and training up media teams in a variety of churches and mosques around the city.  I would beam about all the things the Lord was doing in the kids’ hearts and lives… but we deeply missed walking alongside each other, taking part in each others’ moments.

That all changed at the conference.

We were finally together, for an entire week, serving alongside each other.  Watching the other come alive as we were “in our element”.

We started to dream again.

Our conversations with these amazing, church-planting pastors ended with “you need to come down and partner with us… train up our people in what you’re doing. Come serve alongside us for a few weeks!”.

So, we started planning.

We intentionally started saving.

Then, about 2 months ago, we hosted a Spanish worship night with La Viña.  Leo finally found all the members of the band who understood how to play all styles of music, and who deeply desired to honor Jesus with their musical talents and lead others into worship… and we put together an incredible set infused with some of our original tunes.

That night, something powerful happened inside of us.  We trusted the band to follow us, and we intently listened to Jesus.  There was absolute freedom.  New words and melodies poured out of us.  Leo and I led together like a tree-climbing rope being woven together… I would play something and he would wrap his own style and words around it.  He would sing just a few words, and I would come around with more.  We had never truly experienced anything like it before.  No competition, no tug of war, just pure unity as we truly led together for the very first time.

We came home and songs continued to spill out of us.  OUR songs… not Leo changing or translating my songs, or me putting words to his melodies… we were writing together for the first time in our lives.

Which gave us an idea: is it time to finally finish the Spanish worship album we’ve been working on (ie frustrated with, fighting about, giving up on yet hoping for)?

We started working on it. We invited all the musicians from the worship night over to record together… our studio was filled with beautiful music!  The best part about it was that every single member of the band was from a different country… Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Portugal, Colombia, Mexico.  There was great excitement as they heard these new songs for the first time and put all their hearts into recording their best.  My heart was soaring as I heard what was being made in our humble basement.

This week, we are ending the recording stage with just a few more things to go, and Leo is already working hard on mixing.

We hope to have a digital release in December, with an official “release concert” sometime in February/March.

We leave for Peru, Chile and Argentina in January for a 5-6 week trip (yes… this is still the Morales’ we’re talking about… we don’t nail down specifics until last minute! lol!).

We will be partnering with church planters and leaders to train in Children’s ministry, Worship ministry and recording.  We are even going to be doing a kids and youth camp alongside the leaders so that they can put into practice the ideas we will be working on together.

To say we are pumped is an understatement.

To say we are overwhelmed is also an understatement.

Please pray for us.  There are a lot of things that need to come through for us to be able to follow what we feel like the Lord has laid out.

Pray for these last weeks of finalizing our cd.

Pray for the details to come together for the trip.

Pray for all the things we already had on our plate before we took on these 2 huge projects… Worship club, Christmas activities, Leo’s retail work, family visiting from Colombia, etc.

We want to savor each day, and not get caught up in “getting somewhere”… but also keep the balance of needing to plan and dream. It is a fun tight-rope to walk on.

Thanks!

The blessing of receiving part 1

When Leo and I were dreaming about our wedding in Colombia, we deeply desired for as many people to attend as possible – including the kids from Ciudad Bolivar.  Every 2 weeks we would make the 2-hour bus trek across the city, through traffic, up the steep mountainside and windy roads to the top of the mountain to share life and Jesus with a group of 15 pre-teens.  Many of them came from broken families… and almost none of them had ever attended a wedding before.

We asked the director of the foundation where the group met how we could make this possible… what would we need to provide so that they didn’t feel like “less” in the sea of wealthier Colombians and foreigners.  He advised us to find dresses and suits, dress shoes, and a van for transportation.  He and the other volunteers would be able to pick the kids up, get them all fancy (make-up and nail polish was a MUST for the girls).  I was able to find enough pearl-beaded headbands for all of the girls coming from different worlds so that they all matched.

Leo and I spent weeks scouring the city for the best deals on dresses and suits.  People from the school willingly donated clothing and shoes for the cause, and the week before our wedding we were able to take everything up the mountain to the kids.

I had never seen girls light up and twirl so much in my life!

Before we gave them these gifts, however, we wanted to make it clear:

“We are giving you these things now because we deeply want you to be involved in our wedding, but it doesn’t mean that you will always just be recipients of good things.  There will come a day when you will be able to give as well.  That is what the body of Christ is… a group of people committed to giving and receiving from each other.”

We looked into each of their eyes as we gave them their new outfits, and we knew that they understood.

Fast-forward to our wedding day…

Leo had just arrived to the venue in a taxi, dressed to the 9’s, and with his suitcase for the honeymoon.  Just as he got out and turned back to pay the fee, the driver sped off, stealing Leo’s suitcase.

Now, living with 3 brothers has its advantages… one being that you can all share clothes.  When I realized that Leo moving out would mean taking some of the family wardrobe, I decided that he might need his own, new clothes.  Also, he didn’t have much of a “warm weather” wardrobe… so all of the clothes in the suitcase were brand-new.  Praise the LORD the only items in the suitcase were clothes and shoes, and not money or our tickets for the honeymoon!

When word of this got around (and word spread very quickly amongst our 200 guests!), they decided to take up an offering for us so that we could buy Leo some new clothes.

I will never forget when Jhan walked up to Leo during the reception:

Jhan: Profe, I want you to have this (pulls out a bill that is now the equivalent of $.30)

Leo: What is this for?

Jhan: Profe, I want to help you buy new clothes.  You gave me this suit, it is my turn to give back

Leo and I both hugged him, looked into each other’s eyes and teared up.

He understood!

We have had many people give us things over the years, but that gift is one of the most treasured!

We “drive” by faith and not by sight

It was around 8:30pm last Thursday night.  We had already pulled over once because the torrential downpour didn’t leave much space for seeing out the front windshield.  Leo thought he could try to drive because I was absolutely exhausted, but alas, I have much more experience driving in this kind of weather.  Lightning striking all around us, lighting up the beautiful Kentucky mountains, my mother-in-law and brother-in-law in the backseat stating “Nunca, nunca hemos tenido una tormenta asi!” over and over again… they’d never seen a storm like this before.  Inside my head I argued that they had, but just had never attempted to drive 300 miles in one.  I mean, who does that?

Wind-shield wipers at full blast did nothing.  I sat way up in my seat, focusing on the rear lights of the car a ways ahead of us, praying that we would just get to Nashville.  We had already been delayed enough.  I just wanted a bed that I didn’t have to pay for.

Then, Leo said it, amongst spoken prayers:  we drive by faith and not by sight.  Nervous laughs filled the car, and we prayed that we would just get there.

Our adventure started out long before we even knew.

My parents have a history of driving high-mileage cars.  It is common for us to have cars with over 250,000 miles, even to 300,000.  Dad knows a few great mechanics who just try to keep us running.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever driven a car with less that 100,000.  Good times!  So, it was no surprise when, just the week before we were to get to the US, two of the family’s 4 cars officially died.  Mom and dad were in the process of getting a 3rd, so, although we knew it would be tough, we could juggle schedules enough to make something work for a little bit.

We were given leads here and there, but nothing worked out in the timing that we needed it… except for a friends’ dads’ Jeep Liberty that he was selling for more money than we’d ever had at one time in our account during our married life.  Welcome to the US, right?

A friend was really concerned about us getting a car, and when I told him about the Jeep, he said that he might be able to help us out with a no-interest loan.  That sounded do-able.  But, we wouldn’t be able to do anything until we got back from a trip to Nashville to visit dear friends and pick up some stuff that people brought up for us from Colombia.

After post-poning the trip 2 days, we decided to just go for it.  The night before I left, I asked the parents one more time if it would be good for us to just rent a car, and they said that it would be better to just save our money and plan on being back on Sunday evening so that they would have 2 cars when my dad needed to start teaching.

We left Wednesday morning very hopeful and excited about our road-trip!

That is, until about 60 miles south of Cincinnati (only about 3 1/5 hours into the trip), when my dad’s car suddenly started over-heating.  I pulled over at the closest exit and when we opened the lid, there was an odd smell and the engine was steaming.  The coolant tank was empty, so we bought some, poured it in… and it poured right out the bottom.

It was 6:30pm, and all the garages were closed.  We asked the cashier at the gas station where the nearest hotel was, and she smiled and pointed “just up the hill here”.  It was the only hotel on the highway for 40 miles!  And, it had a pool.  And, everyone but me had something to swim in. 🙂

The next day, we slowly drove into town, aided by the rolling hills that we were able to coast down.  No over-heating.  We showed up at Scott’s Garage in Warsaw, KY and were met by some really nice people.  Right away, Scott was honest with us:  it could be simple, and it could be complicated.  Within 20 minutes, we knew it would be complicated so we took a walk to the Dollar General and then down-town.

I must admit, the 4 of us were quite a team.  Patty, Leo’s mom, doesn’t speak much English besides “coffee, please”, and “thank-you”.   So, when she walked into the Dollar store and saw all the treasures, she just kept talking and talking in Spanish about everything!  Then, there’s Santi, Leo’s brother.  He is convinced that for Latinos, speaking with a British accent is much easier than with an American one… so he has mastered the British way of speaking English… even vocabulary.  He had something he needed to throw away, so while Patty is walking up and down every aisle while the workers watch her in wonder, Santi walks up to one of them and asks “Do you have a rubbish bin?”  Remember, we are in Warsaw, KY, and they had no idea what he was saying.  One girl said “you mean, a trashcan?”.  oh my.  Then, there’s Leo who gets nervous every time he starts talking, only made worse by his Colombian accent.  (He says he has a true “southern” accent. ha!).   I tried to smooth things over by explaining that we were not from around here… as if that wasn’t obvious enough.

I just kept laughing.

We walked all around the town, and it was absolutely adorable.  Set right on the Ohio river, there were boats passing by, beautiful gardens, and houses that dated back to the 1800’s.  We picked apples right off the tree, and found cute little antique shops to escape from the heat in.

Patty kept commenting that the town seemed empty.  I explained that the US doesn’t have the culture of “walking around”, especially during the summer.  But we found the town when we walked into a cute bistro for lunch.  It was loud and packed with a line basically out the door.  There was a huge birthday party for a nice little old lady, as well as people eating by themselves.  It was small-town America at its finest.

We had a great conversation with the people in line in front of us.  They were excited that we had come to their little town, even if it was by accident.  When it was our turn, we sat down to classic dishes:  meatloaf and potatoes, shrimp and grits, and chicken fingers.  It was delicious!

After walking around town for 6 hours, we called the garage and he said that they were taking the car on a test-drive, so we could head on back.

Upon getting there, we found out that the root of the problem was a blown head-gasket.  They tried everything they could… and our bill would be $600 to have an un-fixable car.  However, Scott flashed his Tom Hanks look-alike smile, and held up a receipt for $100.  One of the people in the group we talked to in the restaurant dropped by the garage and put $100 towards our repair.  He told Scott all about us, and Scott decided to take an additional $100 off the cost… so we only owed them $400 to fix the car.  “only”.

I called my friend who said he could help with buying the Jeep, and when I asked for $2500, he said “well, you haven’t checked your account then, have you.  I put $4000 in it for you on Tuesday.”  I couldn’t believe it!

I called the owner of the Jeep and he said he could meet us half-way.  It was 5:15 pm, and we found a bank that was open until 6.  The garage owner’s wife was willing to take us and our luggage to the meeting point and drop us off.   We got everything transferred and arrived at the bank with 5 minutes to spare.  She dropped us off where we were going to meet our Jeep, and when I offered her $5, she said “No way.  You’re gonna need that!”.   Scott and Laura are the best!

When our friends got there, we did the exchange and loaded up the Jeep and got back on the road for Nashville.

Unreal.

The $4000 that my friend put in our account paid for the Jeep, the “repairs” on my dad’s car, and the hotel room… almost to the dollar.

Would it have been a lot easier to have rented a car? Yes.  Of course.  Do I sometimes wish that our journey didn’t always have to include stories like this?  Yep.  But, now we have a few more people involved in this story of ours, in the bigger story of God’s grace in our lives, and we have another stone to throw on our alter to God’s faithfulness.

We don’t deserve any of it, but He is gracious to take care of every need.  Santi and Patty got to witness first-hand God’s provision for us, and we know that no matter what these next few months/years hold, the Lord will provide above and beyond what we need.

We walk by faith and not by sight.

And, we have a Jeep!!! 🙂  WOOT!

US bound

Sunday, as Leo was going through immigration, he got a very stern talking-to by the immigration officer about the amount of times he’s gone in and out of the US on his resident visa.  We knew this would happen eventually, but we didn’t realize the gravity of it until the immigration officer explained that Leo only has a “conditional” resident visa, not a permanent one; and that when he has to get it renewed in December, Immigration will take a look at his activities to see whether he should be granted a permanent resident visa.  The officer was blunt in saying “I don’t think they’ll renew it if you don’t actually LIVE here.”

Needless to say, Leo was pretty shaken up, and called me right away.  He also wrote to a friend of ours who is an immigration lawyer in Florida to ask for some advice.  Our friend confirmed what the immigration officer said.  We need to live in the States, asap.

It’s not even been 36 hours since we’ve been praying and getting counsel from dear friends and family, and we feel at peace that the Lord has directed this sudden move.  A year ago, our plan was to come to the States this summer so that Leo could go to grad school.  Things kept changing, and it got harder for us to decide when we were going to head to the States.  We’re in deep in many different ministries and wanted 1 more year to transition out well.  But, it seems like whether or not Leo is in grad school this Fall, the Lord wants us in the States.

We have a little bit of an idea of what we’re going to do, and how we’re going to “transition”.  The plan is that Leo is going to come back down to Colombia on July 13th to help finish packing and saying goodbye to our church, friends and family.  Right now, we’re looking at him going back on July 20th to follow-up on job applications we’ll be turning in this week.  I am going to stay a little longer to help with orientation and setting up things for whomever is going to replace me at ECA, and say goodbye to the students and teachers.  I hope to be back in the States on August 8th.

For the time-being, we’re going to live with my parents.  We have a HUGE basement apartment, and they have a car we can borrow.  The idea is that we’ll hopefully either rent or buy something in the Columbus area by September to prove that we’re sticking around a little bit.  We are both going to be looking for jobs as well.  Leo is looking for teaching Spanish or Music lessons in nearby community colleges or Universities.  I’m probably going to get a part-time job at the local Christian bookstore.  We’ll see.  I’m still not completely healthy, so I shouldn’t do more than part-time so I can continue to rest and hopefully get better.

Leo will apply for his visa renewal, and they could deny it.  If they deny it, we’ll be back down in Colombia and have to start the resident process all over again. We’re hoping that by taking these drastic measures in moving to the US, they won’t deny it.   If they renew it, we will need to be in the States for a solid year, without leaving.

As you can probably imagine, this is not going to be easy.  We have 3 weeks to pack-up and move, and a lot of decisions need to be made.

You can join us in praying for the following:

1) That we make the most of the remaining 9 days until Leo comes back down.  That I can be focused and do everything possible to pack and organize.

2) That God gives peace to all the people we are leaving behind: our dear friends, the worship team and our church, the indians Leo has been heavily investing in, ECA, Leo’s family, and the ministries that I have been involved in (especially my ECA students).

3) That if God wants the ministries we’ve been running to continue, that He will provide the people to step in.

4) Wisdom with what to pack and what to leave behind

5) Provision when we get to the States.  We know for sure that we will need a car, and that Leo will need a job that provides insurance.  Also, pray for our housing situation.

Right now, our plan is to live in the states until Leo can get his citizenship… anywhere from 1 1/2-3 years.  After that goal is met, we’ll re-evaluate where the Lord would have us.  Obviously, we’re hoping that He will bring us back to Colombia; but, especially after something like this, we realize that we have no idea what the Lord has for us, and our only prayer is that He would continue to be the lamp to our feet and light to our path… revealing just the very next step we should take.

There are so many things we have been looking forward to about our “eventual” time in the States… our church, the community of friends we have through our church, possibly going to seminary, learning how to minister together in the States, being close to my family for a while, living out the 4 seasons… the list goes on and on.  We’re so grateful that we have these things to be excited about!

So, please join us in praying for this next adventure.

Colombia to the US!  Ha!