Community amidst the chaos

If the last 5 weeks since we decided to move to the US have been chaotic, then these past 8 days have been a complete whirlwind.

2 Saturdays ago, I went to Ciudad Bolivar for the very last time, bringing my girls back up North with me for our very last sleep-over.  We had a blast, as usual, and it was a very bitter-sweet time.  I was faced with the reality that these beautiful girls that I’ve known since they were 9-13, are now beautiful teenage girls living in a world where teen pregnancy and boyfriends that are 10+ years older than them is a constant reality…. whether I like it or not.  Instead of our usual running around and playing games, they were glued to cell-phones and opted for more one-on-one time with each of their “profe’s”.  Conversations about dreams, goals, how to get out of Ciudad Bolivar and whether it was really o.k. to allow men of 25-28 years old call them and give them gifts abounded.

(They are not MY girls… they are the Lords.  He is with them, as He always has been.  Please, Lord, let them continue to hunger and thirst for you.)

We had a laid-back Sunday morning, as the girls all took turns taking nice, hot showers and eating breakfast.  The living room was filled with all our extra mattresses, and there was plenty of popcorn and kernels from the night before all over the place!  We cleaned the best we could before trying to head out the door.

As soon as the door opened for us to leave, the phone rang and it was our land-lord.  He was asking if we would be at the apartment later on, because he wanted to show it to someone who was interested in buying it.  At this very moment, around 20 different questions entered my mind: Can I tell him to wait until we get the place cleaned up a little bit?  Is the person buying it going to keep the contract with ECA?  What the heck are we going to do?  etc….

Leo stayed behind to clean the apartment, and I set off with the girls for church.  It was youth Sunday, and I really didn’t want them to miss it.

I wasn’t disappointed. The youth were in charge of EVERYTHING, including being ushers, leading worship, dancing and preaching.  Worship was energy-filled and even as we walked in the building, the atmosphere was different.  My girls observed at first, and then later participated; and as I looked down the row at them singing their hearts out to Jesus, my heart was full.  We pulled into a little circle and as their teachers, we took turns praying for them… for their hearts to continue to fall more and more in love with Jesus.   We were all in tears, and I know that one of my girls who has had the most resistant and rebellious heart truly gave her brokenness, dreams, and life to Jesus that morning.

I knew I made the right decision to not wear make-up that morning!

Upon getting to the apartment, Leo told me that the land-lord did indeed stop by with someone to look at the apartment, and that they were critiquing every single carpet stain.  I found out later that the contracts here can only be broken with 3 month anticipation or else the land-lord has to pay a fine.  The only way out of it is if they prove that the apartment isn’t being taken care of the way they would like it to be, and then they have every right to break the contract.  Good times.

So, at school on Monday, I was processing with the elementary principal, who happens to be a very dear friend, about the idea of just selling everything.  The idea of our impending fresh start in the States, only to come back to Colombia and start fresh down here again in a few years didn’t really excite me.  She shared with me her own similar story of when her family had to move to Mexico for a few years so her husband could further his studies, and how the Lord worked things out to the very last detail on both ends for her family of 5.  She encouraged me to let it all go.

So, Tuesday and Wednesday we started packing up some things and getting ready for our huge sale.  Thursday morning, Vicky McCollum came by and helped bring order and display to the crazy piles that I had started, and then brought lunch.  Beth let her maid come to our place to clean… and clean she did!  She spent all morning just deep-cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen, while I was emptying out everything and putting it in the living room to be sold… dishes, baking goods, appliances, etc.  Leo told the guards, gardeners and cleaning ladies in our apartment complex to stop by to look, and it began.

Beth stopped by later on that afternoon to see how everything was going, and she just stood there, in shock and disbelief.  It would take a miracle for this to happen in 5 days.

Praise the Lord that He is the God of the impossible.

We sold everything that mattered, and still got to say good-bye to people, and serve for one last time here together.  These last 5 days have been the most emotionally, physically, and mentally draining days of my life so far, but the Lord was so faithful to put people in our path to encourage us, lift us up, and even feed us! 🙂

Yesterday afternoon, 3 of the cleaning ladies from ECA stopped by to check out what we had left… it wasn’t much, but they were happy.  Our conversation went like this:

“Profe, how much for this?” holding up a pillowcase.

“Please, just take it… take anything and everything you want.”

“No, profe… how much?”

“Seriously, just take it.”

“Profe, we want to help you, too.  Please let us pay you something so we can help you.”

“O.k.  Each item is 500 pesos.” (the equivalent of .25)

“Thank you, profe!”

They proceeded to fill up bags of anything and everything, and between them they bought the equivalent of $8.50, but then took so much of our “free stuff”, that they just gave me back the rest of the $1.50 in change that I’d just given them.

We are so grateful that the Lord used this apartment to bless people one last time, even in the midst of the craziness.

We now have money to start over with in the States.

And, stuff is just stuff.

We love our ECA and church communities, and yesterday was a beautiful picture of how we really take care of each other and hold each other up.

At 4:00 pm, we still had a TON to do… finish packing, weigh the suitcases and re-arrange them, tear down Leo’s studio, clean, throw stuff away, etc.  Between 4:15-5:15, an army of 10 people came by to help.  They weren’t emotionally attached to our stuff, so they had no problem throwing things away.  Where Leo and I were exhausted and overwhelmed, they came alongside us and finished the job.  They worked until 7:30 and left us with nothing more than our packed bags and air mattress, and a few things that others were going to pick up either later that night, or today after we leave.

There is no way that would have happened without them.

Watching all of them work yesterday reminded me of the story in Exodus 17 where the Israelites were fighting against the Amalekites.

“8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

These last few days, with everything from selling our blankets on Saturday and having people from our church loan us theirs so we could sleep well, to Beth loaning us her air mattress on Monday night when we sold our last mattress at 10pm and didn’t know where we would sleep, to Lauren packing our socks and underwear that I’d kept out so that the students didn’t have to touch them, to the rest of the army who came and did things that we would NEVER had been able to do on our own, to the McCollums who let me crash their place at random times with random requests, to new parents at ECA today who shared with me similar stories of having to leave a place they love only to start all over again in a new country…

We are so grateful to all of you.

You held our arms up when we were weak so that the task before us could be accomplished.

A dear friend once said that God’s Word and presence in our lives should be enough for us.  He is totally enough.  But, the fact that He allows us to share life with others is such a gift, and we should always be grateful.

Our time with you, no matter how short, has been a gift – and we will always be grateful.

We love you.

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)