Category Archives: Adventure

Moldova 2019 – Days 5 & 6

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Day 5

Our last two days in Moldova were marked with changes of plans. On Wednesday we had planned to take a day trip to Romania with Kathryn, Brian, Ellie, & Tim. We had hired a driver and were loaded up in his van with our passports, but on our way there our driver got a phone call when we stopped for coffee.

Missionaries in Moldova (and other countries like it) have a short-hand way of explaining why things go wrong or take too long – later when asked why our plans changed Kathryn simply would say “Moldova.”

The level of corruption in Moldova’s government is pretty intense. Bribes are seen as part of the political process, so occasionally a low-level political official will do things just to get bribes. On this particular day the politician in charge of the boarder crossing was requiring a particular form for all passenger vans leaving the country – except this form actually is unobtainable.

So the many professional drivers who shuttle people in and out of the country are left with a choice; bribe someone or pay an enormous fine. Our driver was actually trying to figure out how to get us on a bus that wouldn’t have the same restrictions, but after he explained the situation we opted to return to Chisinau (Quishe’Now.) Our driver insisted that he show us something interesting in Moldova so on our way back into town we stopped by a convent with a beautiful church.

A painting in the church explaining the punishment that awaits sinners with no mention of grace; helps explain the shame-ridden culture.
one of the ubiquitous crucifixes found at crossroads

While we were there, a nun gave us a tour. She couldn’t have been taller that 4’9″ and had several gold teeth and a lot of spunk. She explained about a tradition that none of us had ever heard of the Easter Orthodox church – one that I’m fairly certain no other Christian denomination believes in – the Holy Fire of Jerusalem. You can read the linked article if you’re curious about it, but it’s safe to say that it is very different from any Christian belief we have in the west. This is part of the Orthodox tradition that feels largely influenced by culture and history – it’s these kinds of beliefs that often make discussions with the nominal Christians that much more challenging.

I personally enjoyed this time as it allowed me to get to know Ellie and Tim even more. Tim and I had a nice discussion on the state of the institutional church – or should I say I rambled on about it and Tim patiently listened and chimed in. In the realm of more trivial things we talked about various accents in the U.S. and asked them if they could identify the differences between various accents. We also spent a fair amount of time discussing various U.S. and U.K. idioms. Though my favorite came up when Tim saw the church we visited and exclaimed. “Flippin’ Doodah”

You might say “Flippin’ Doodah” if you saw this too.

The primary purpose of this trip is to show love to Kathryn and Brian – spend time with them, hear their stories, and give them a mental/spiritual health boost. Since we could do that in Chisinau (Quiche’Now) just as well as we could’ve visiting Romania, it actually made little difference to us and worked out all the same. When we got back to the city we visited the “Mall Dova.” No joke. That’s the name of the mall in Chisinau (Quiche’Now) which is really as nice, if not nicer than Lennox Square in Atlanta.

Proof that I’m not making this up

After lunch at “Lord of the Wings,” we bumped into a missionary couple that Kathryn had introduced us to at her church on Sunday. They’re from the US, specifically Athens Georgia. This is particularly amusing since our whole team is from Georgia originally. Of all the people in Moldova we could’ve run into it’s probably the only other people from Georgia. We decided that this was all part of God’s plan for the day.

When we got to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment I took the opportunity to grab a video interview with Brian and Kathryn – updating everyone on their ministry here in Moldova – you can look for it on Frazer’s site in a few weeks. It’s always great to get them to sit down and talk about what’s been happening in their ministry. I realized that we’ve done it two or three times before this, so I actually pulled up the oldest video I could find of them to show to the girls.

A frame from the video shoot this week (not color graded, sorry)
A frame from a video Brian and Kathryn did about seven years ago

The extra time in the afternoon also allowed the others to get some rest and gave Mandy an opportunity to spend time with N. They baked brownies together – or more accurately N demanded that Mandy teach her how to bake brownies step-by-step and Mandy obliged. Thanks to Mandy bringing some flour from the U.S. (Kathryn says the flour here doesn’t make for good brownies) they turned out quite tasty.

God blessed us with this extra time with the Girls. We played more games and just enjoyed spending that much more time with them. Later in the evening after dinner the girls showed us several dances including this traditional wedding dance:

During this time Brian took some of the extra money that we had donated to help one of the girls that used to be in their care purchase some things for her home. This young woman is transitioning to independent living. Those of us from stable families in the U.S. don’t even notice how much we have and how easy it is to get basic things – need an iron? Mom will buy one. Need kitchen utensils? Here are some that belonged to grandma. These girls don’t have that luxury. Once again, I have to say thank you to our many generous supporters who are now part of this young woman’s support system.

The young woman we assisted gave us these bracelets she makes as a thank you

Day 6

Our sixth day was another one that required an adjustment to plans. We had planned to visit an outlying village and a ministry there, but due to some scheduling confusion on their part, their staff wasn’t going to be there on that day. Instead we when to Streshen (approximate spelling) and visited one of the families mentioned in my last post who are very unusual in that they are native Moldovans who are dedicated to foster care. They’re still building their home and currently have two girls, but have room for four. Since the orphanage in their town had closed they’ve been trying to find homes for the children in that area.

They recently lost support from one of the organizations they’d been relying on so we were able to bring them some supplies; cleaning and hygiene products. We got to talk with them and were blessed to see their passion for the orphans of their country. Because orphans aren’t valued, foster care is very uncommon. These people love Jesus and they’ve built their life around showing love to the least of these.

We stopped by the Orphanage in Streshen where many of the girls that Brian and Kathryn have cared for came from. It was shut down recently which is why the family we visited has been working hard to make sure the orphans in their area are cared for.

The facility didn’t look small until we heard that it had held 600 children. One of the girls that is living with them now came from there and apparently earned a reputation for getting into fights – which is both hard to imagine seeing her now, but easy to imagine seeing the close-quarters that she had to share.

In the afternoon we stopped for lunch and coffee. One of the girls, O, called to talk to Brian and Kathryn about having an especially hard day at work. I couldn’t help but realize how big my network of support is. If I have a bad day, there’s a long list of friends and family I can call and talk to, but these girls have Brian and Kathryn – Mamasha and Papasha – and not many others who they can lean on during difficult days.

I was chatting with my mom on facebook and told her about the day O was having and my mother happened to be in her morning prayer time – she said she would pray for O, so I took a screen shot of that message and sent it to O and explained that my Mamasha was also praying for her. That evening she was in a remarkably positive mood despite having had a terrible day – she expressed thanks for the prayers. It is amazing how the family of Christ can support each other around the world.

I was honored to have two of the girls actually sit down for interviews on camera. M, and N. M sat with Kathryn and let her interpret. Listening to her talk about who Jesus is to her is so moving. And I’m excited to share a few clips from her story with the Frazer family soon. N insisted on doing her interview in English, it was precious and very sweet to hear this distilled use of language – perhaps the most meaningful bit was her answer to the question “Who are Brian and Kathryn to you?” She struggled for a moment and finally just said “Love.”

N during her Interview

It is extremely important to me to be respectful of people’s stories. Whenever I do interviews with people who have experienced trauma, I never want for them to feel used, or coerced in anyway. This was part of the reason why it worked out well for these interviews to take place on the last day after I’d gotten to know them.

I was especially glad when Kathryn asked M after her interview how she felt, asking if she felt used, and she smiled and said that it felt good to tell her story. While Kathryn knew the whole story, this was the first time that M had shared the story in full all at once. What was even more amazing to me was her talking about her desire to go into missions in Africa.

Kathryn and M between interview questions.

Afterwards Mandy died M’s hair – something she’d been looking forward to all week. She actually came in this morning and shouted look at my hair! It’s now bright pink.

One of the girls, A, fixed us a traditional dish that was somewhere between grits and cornbread.

A, cutting this dish with thread.

Later Matt regaled us with one of his favorite children’s books – the girls laughed and made “awwww” sounds as he read the sweet story.

Also note the bright pink hair

After that Brian helped me give M a photography tutorial. She’s got a really good eye for photos, so I mainly went over the camera functions. We left her with a lens – used one donated by a Frazer member – and an inexpensive tripod that I bought for the trip.

Gotta hand it to Brian – he really did a great job of explaining some technical photography terms in Romanian

I had several people donate older digital cameras to us and Kathryn will be delivering those to the kids at the Cupcui orphanage on her next visit. She says that the kids there will be really excited to use them.

After that none of us wanted to leave for the night. “A” even offered to call all of our bosses to ask them to let us stay longer. All of the girls expressed that they wanted us to stay. We visited a while longer and headed back to our apartment with Kathryn and Brian where we stayed up late hearing from them enough crazy, funny, and heartbreaking stories to fill several books. I hope someday they do. Finally at 1am we called it a night.

I’m currently sitting our apartment. We’re waiting on the owner of the Air BnB to stop by for us to give him the keys. M and A came with Brian and Kathryn to drive us to the airport. Tonight we fly to Frankfurt where we’ll stay the night before flying back to Atlanta in the morning.

I want to emphasize how grateful Brian and Kathryn have been for us being there. They’ve been here for over five years now and this is the first trip that we – as in Frazer – have been able to do. I hope that we’ll soon be able to make it a yearly trip. In addition to offering Brian and Kathryn support, having these girls know that there is a whole family of people who are praying for them back home really means a great deal to them.

So one last time, thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who gave to make this trip possible. We got to participate in a substantial amount of ministry, but it also was a great encouragement to Kathryn and Brian to finally have friends from their home church see all that they’re doing here. Thank you everyone who helped make this trip happen. And thank you for reading my typo-laden blog.

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Moldova 2019 – Days 3&4

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Day 3

We started the day traveling to a village to visit a fascinating historical site. The area has archeological finds that date back to when this region was part of the Roman Empire. As well as evidence from the kingdom that followed that era which at one time encompassed part of Moldova and Romania. The most fascinating thing was this cave that has been used for different purposes by different groups through the centuries and is currently a small monastery. You can see how it would’ve made for a good hiding place or military outpost as it has a outlet onto a ledge overlooking the surrounding valley. More recently it was used by the church as a place for prayer and meditation. The place is filled with museum pieces of importance to the Orthodox church. Many Icons, carvings, and different things used during worship and meditation.

Today, this cave still has an occupant: a solitary monk who studies there all day and is available to answer questions. This monk looked like he stepped out of a time machine that came from the 1200s. He eagerly explained (in Romanian) about the history of the cave as well as the history of the languages in this region. These history lessons are helpful in understanding the challenges that Brian and Kathryn face in their work. As I’m sure anyone who would read my blog can probably recognize, the culture and history of a country (or city) has a great deal to do with the roadblocks that missionaries (and pastors) face when following their calling to be the hands and feet of Christ to people in that place.

Just like in the States – in any country really – there are preexisting assumptions and prejudices about faith here in Moldova and this comes from years of cultural Christianity – again, not unlike the U.S. – only instead of mainline Protestantism, the primary influence is Eastern Orthodoxy. And instead of American materialism throwing things off, it’s deep-seeded historic influences that often manifest in what appears as superstition. One small but very ubiquitous example is the placement of large crucifixes at every crossroad outside of the city – a carryover from an old superstition about evil spirits being present where roads meet.

To be fair, the Orthodox Church is like any other Christian sect – it has many faithful, sincere Christians, while also having a large number of nominal participants who partake in the ritual out of duty. I have been moved each time we’ve walked into one of these churches. There is no doubt the God is at work in and through the Orthodox Church even though it looks very different from Church where we’re from. Though they face similar challenges to the church in the US.

The Orthodox Church up the hill from the cave

When we got back to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment we spent the afternoon and evening hanging out with the girls. We played games and ate dinner. These young women are all working toward independent living – going to university and preparing for life. Their day-to-day lives are very similar to any college student in the U.S. and what I’ve heard repeatedly from Brian and Kathryn on their visits back home is that all their girls would want us to know that they are just like us.

They wouldn’t want to be seen as charity cases or just as someone with a tragic backstory. They’re all vibrant, energetic, creative, talkative, people with opinions, hopes, and dreams. They like music and movies and at at least one restaurant we visited they were scoping out the cute guys. It seems like they’ve been laughing at least half the time that we’ve been here as they’re constantly joking around. They each have enough personality to fill a room by themselves. Only God truly knows how different things would be for them without this ministry.

I know this will sound obvious, but I’m just struck by how these young women could be my niece or younger sister – or the daughter, sister, or cousin of anyone reading this back home. Meeting them in person, it becomes harder and harder for me to stomach the reality of the orphan crisis here and what the kids in this country experience all the time. I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to solicit some kind of emotional response, I’m just trying to be honest about my own epiphany. When I took Spanish in high school I learned the difference between the verbs for knowing something because you have knowledge and knowing something or someone because you have personal experience with them. Knowing them makes the reality of what is happening here all so much more personal.

M & A – That’s a tube of Ice Cream, by the way.

It was after dinner that night that we came to what probably will be the highlight of the trip for me personally. If you’re reading my blog for the first time then you won’t know that I recently finished my MFA in film and television directing. As a part of that I produced a faith-based short film about foster care. It tells the story of a teenage girl with an abusive mother who comes to live with a foster mom.

Kathryn had requested that I send them a subtitled version of the film a while ago, but due to the cost of having it done I hadn’t been able to make it happen up to this point. Thanks to the generosity of the many people who supported us, we paid to have my film, Refuge, subtitled in Russian. While Romanian is the language here, pretty much everyone speaks Russian as well as it is more of a trade language in this part of the world. I burned several copies onto DVD and brought them with me. You can see the trailer here:

Honestly, after I got here I was nervous to show the girls the movie. I even said to Kathryn and Brian that I wasn’t sure they’d like it, but Kathryn assured me they would. Only M and A could be there to watch it. I was surprised that they leaned in throughout the whole thing, at one point saying that the character of Claire reminded them of one of the other girls that Brian and Kathryn had cared for. They laughed at the humorous moments and they demanded more after the story was over. It was a huge personal compliment to have them enjoy the story as much as they did and a big treat to watch how engaged they were.

Day 4

We started the day by splitting into two groups. Kathryn, Matt, and I all went to QSI, an international school here in Chisinau (pronounced like Quiche-Now; I’m going to keep writing that until I remember to say it correctly.) This school is all English speaking and apparently has a substantial tuition, so it mostly is made up of children of people who work in the embassies and wealthy locals. Ergo these are not impoverished orphaned children. They are, however, a long way from their home and live pretty isolated lives. For many of these kids their family might be the only people from their home country throughout all of Moldova. Kathryn has gotten to know the principal of the school and has been able to form relationships with some of the kids in the school, once again showing the reach of their ministry exceeding what is expected.

Story time with Mister Matt

At both QSI and the international preschool which we visited afterwards (where Kathryn also volunteers), Matt “Mister Matt” Williams provided his services as story reader extraordinaire. Matt works in the Pike Road branch of the Montgomery Public Library and as a part of his responsibilities he reads stories to over 700 kids a month. Needless to say that the kids really enjoyed Mister Matt’s interpretation of several fun children’s books. The teachers were actually pretty engaged too and expressed thanks to us for stopping by for the morning.

At the preschool Kathryn had to translate one of the books into Romanian

Meanwhile, Mandy and Karen went with Brian to pick up supplies for kits that we’re giving to three different ministry groups. Once again, thanks to the generous support of our partners we were able to spend over 5000 Lei on donations. That’s a little under $350, but the 5000 number is much more reflective of the amount of supplies they were able to purchase. They then sorted everything into kits for the different groups.

The kits included shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste deodorant, feminine hygiene products, toothpaste, tooth brushes, razors, shaving cream, dish soap, laundry detergent, cleaning products, trash bags, baby wipes, baby lotion, hand sanitizer, and some candy to top it all off.

These kits are for:

  • CTI, an organization that looks to provide shelter and care for single mothers and their children
  • The Ciabanu family, a Moldovan family who took it upon themselves to help foster and find homes for all the kids being forced into homelessness when an orphanage was closed in their village.
  • The Vitalie family, who in addition to having four kids of their own have taken on four more boys to care for.

We got to make a delivery to CTI, a home for single mothers and their children. Single motherhood is almost impossible here as the culture shames unwed pregnancy, while also creating the conditions for single-motherhood to occur. This is one reason why children are so often abandoned, so CTI is as much an orphan prevention ministry as it is a ministry to single mothers.

The clothesline outside of CTI

While we dropped off those supplies Karen and Brian did the lion’s share of dinner prep for us and the girls. We sat and watched a movie and wrapped up our evening, heading back to our apartment. The girls all turned in early as they all have exams coming up.

By the way, while we ate dinner M was meeting with a Moldovan who has been doing mission work in Africa. She’s curious about it. Me: speechless.

Thanks for reading thus far, and thanks everyone for the continued prayers as well as the financial support that made all this possible.

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Moldova 2019 – Day 1 & 2

Day 1

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Waiting to check in at the Atlanta airport

Our first day was mostly spent traveling, first from Montgomery to Atlanta then to Frankfurt Germany (at which point it felt like 1AM to us) then onward to Chisinau, Moldova, which I was only a little surprised to discover is properly pronounced more like “Quiche-Now.” Our trip was blessedly smooth and all of our many bags made it! This was especially exciting as most of our baggage was actually gifts for orphans or resources for Kathryn and Brian and the four young women they have living with them.

Waiting right across from the baggage claim were Kathryn and Brian along with one of their girls, who we’ll call “M” for the sake of my blog. Also present were UK missionaries Tim and Ellie who, Kathryn has told us are awesome musicians. Specifically, Kathryn said that Ellie has a voice like an angel. I like to make decisions for myself about who is and isn’t tonally angelic, so this evening I took a moment to listen to their music and, well, ok, Kathryn is totally right. They’re working on an album and doing some cool stuff. You can read about it here.

We went to Brian and Kathryn’s apartment where they and their four girls live. M, O, N, & A. All the girls speak English pretty well, but they’re more comfortable speaking in Romanian and it has the added benefit of allowing them to talk about us without us knowing. Teasing – to the point that might seem harsh in the states – is kind of part of the culture. Despite this, the girls are very sweet and expressed appreciation for us. They’re full of energy and laughter even though we pretty fatigued at that moment because of being awake for over 24 hours.

Sorry, not the best picture, but you get an Idea of this apartment

Kathryn and Brian had made gift bags for all of us and we were able to deliver some of our gifts to the girls. Crest toothpaste is especially beloved. To be clear, they have perfectly good toothpaste here, but they don’t have “Crest”, so it is pretty special to get it. The power of branding is amazing.

After gifts were exchanged and Christmas gifts were stowed away, we went on a walk around the surrounding area. We saw some beautiful parks, a few government buildings, Moldova’s take on the Arc de Triomphe, and finished the walk with a visit to an Orthodox church.

The church was especially beautiful inside and we happened to be there during their All Souls Day observance. Being that it is a place of worship photography is discouraged, but I did record this audio of their stunning chorale.

All of this without microphones

Our dinner was a pilaf dish prepared by N, who really did a fabulous job. Several of us has seconds. Despite being very tired it was fun to share a meal. Kathryn and Brian have worked very hard to create a real family environment for these young women and it shows in the way they relate to one another. While much of the time the girls simply refer to them as “Brian” and “Kathryn.” They’re often referred to as “Papasha” and “Mamasha” and Kathryn tells us that when one of the girls does something similar to her, they’ll say “Well, you are my Mamasha.”

After dinner we checked into our Air B&B which is clean and roomy. Brian picked up some breakfast foods for us and Kathryn helped us get our luggage up to our room. After putting it off as long as we could, we called it a night.

Day 2

Blessedly, we all slept pretty well. After breakfast Kathryn picked us up to take us to Cupcui, a village that’s about an hour drive from Chisinau (Remember, it’s pronounced Quiche-Now.) I have to brag on the team for handling the drive, crammed into the Jones’ Honda Element and crossing some pretty bumpy roads. Everyone handled the trip like champs with only the aid of some ginger chews to settle stomachs. . . and Dramamine.

The structure of the villages is pretty different from what we’re used to in the US. Chisinau is the only “city” and many of these villages really wouldn’t fit your picture of the word “town.” They’re more like large neighborhoods, each with farms, stores, churches, and varying houses. We even passed through Moldova’s wine country.

A small taste of the farm country.

At Cupcui we went to a children’s home there with which Brian and Kathryn have had a long-standing relationship. We helped put on a fall festival of sorts. M came and helped as well – the kids there LOVE her – and we met a few more missionaries from the Assemblies of God church. The team dove in and related to the kids the best they call could – this in spite of the language barrier. These kids would soften anyone’s heart. The moment I walked in I was met with a hug around the waist from a little boy.

It’s hard to accurately explain the poignant nature of moments like this without sounding trite. Kathryn pointed to one of the older girls living in the orphanage and showed me a picture of her from when they had first started visiting Moldova years ago. There are many mission workers who are pouring into these kids, but it would be difficult to exaggerate the impact that Brian and Kathryn are having in these kids’ lives. At the end of the many games, crafts, and other activities Kathryn offered a Bible lesson where she had kids read scripture verses and used a pumpkin as an object lesson. What kind of object lesson, you ask? Well I don’t speak Romanian, but the Kids paid attention quite well, so I’m guessing it worked.

After the festival activities were concluded, we took a walk around Cupcui village and right at that time a funeral March came passing by. This is a part of the Moldovan tradition as much as it is part of the Orthodox church in this region. There was an open casket on the back of a flatbed truck that moved slowly down the road. Ahead of it were people scattering flowers, dropping bread and drink offerings, and carrying wreaths. Directly behind the truck there was a woman leaning over the body of what was likely her elderly mother. She had tears in her eyes and we were instructed to make the sign of the cross when they passed. There was a larger crowd of mourners walking behind them. I didn’t get a photo of this because it wouldn’t have been appropriate, but it was a moving thing to experience.

We stopped and ate lunch and drove back into Chisinau. On the way we did get stopped by police, which is a regular occurrence here. He was cordial and once Kathryn showed him her credentials he let us on our way. More eventful, however was when Kathryn saw a gentleman that she’s gotten to know just from seeing him on the street. She quickly pulled over and grabbed some of the extra food from our lunch, went across the street, and gave him some food. I caught a photo of it. Though, Kathryn probably wouldn’t want me broadcasting it to the world. I just have to brag on my friends for loving people – even when they’re not directly in their sphere of ministry.

That evening, back in Chisinau we were treated to attend a service at the International Fellowship Church where Kathryn and Brian are active members. We got there in time for sound check, so I got a little of the praise band practicing. One of the songs they played had a very eastern European feel and even ended with “HEY!”

I was struck by how integral Brian and Kathryn are to this community. In the above video you can see Brian training a volunteer to run lyrics during the music. In the photo below Kathryn was called up to make an announcement because she’s organizing a thanksgiving meal later this month. There are enough US Americains (including the US Ambassador) who attend there that they decided to have a potluck meal where all the different countries represented are going to bring a traditional dish from their country. The gentlemen who gave the message was from Norway so he promised to bring some rotten fish.

The music and message were both a blessing – but the community it self is what impacted me the most, especially seeing all the races and languages represented in the congregation. After the service they invited people to pray with their prayer volunteers – and Brian and Kathryn stood up and shuffled to the side to be available for people to pray with anyone who needed prayer.

I’m just amazed at how despite the fact that their whole life here is volunteering in ministry – they’re also fully integrated into their church as volunteers in ministry. At Frazer, the church we’re all from, we have agreat emphasis on every member being a minister. They’ve really lived that DNA out in their approach to life in Moldova.

After the service we went to dinner at a new restaurant with lots of fine Moldovan cuisine. I don’t say that sarcastically. I’ve been to eastern Europe before and Moldova’s food is much better than my previous experience. One of the standard dishes in this part of the world is called plăcinte. And it is not at all what it sounds like. Pronounced “pla-chin-ta” it’s a light pastry – kind of like a large croissant – with some kind of filling. We had it with cheese, potato, meats, and pumpkin. We also had sausage and a few vegetable dishes, one of which was called “mother-in-laws-tongue” though I’m fairly certain no tongues – or mothers – were involved in the making of the dish.

After we got back to the apartment where the team is staying Brian and Kathryn sat and talked some and we got to hear about some of the recent struggles in their ministry. Needless to say ministry anywhere is hard, but in a place like Moldova there are many unique challenges and they have had some truly difficult circumstances over the years. We sat and listened and assured them that we, their church, are here and ready to listen and pray and do whatever we can when these situations arise.

These first couple of days have already been a blessing, and we’re excited to kick off another day here. Thank you all for your prayers and support. We have had a great trip thus far and we’re grateful for the many people who have partnered with us through financial contribution as well as intersession – please keep those prayers up as we head into another day this morning!

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Moldova 2019 – Day 0

Tomorrow our team departs for a trip to Moldova, a small country between Ukraine and Romania. A former Soviet block country, Moldova is so unknown that when we first started partnering with mission organizations there, spell check still didn’t recognize the name of the country.

The only thing to come out of Moldova that you might’ve heard of is the pop Song, Dragostea Din Tei by O-Zone. It was a internet viral hit in the early 2000’s because of this guy’s dance. That has nothing to do with our trip, I just thought you’d enjoy a fun fact because things are about to get sobering really quick.

There it is, if you’re curious.

According to last year’s statistics, the GDP per capita of Moldova is less than 5% of the US’s, making it the poorest country in Europe. Given that, it’s not terribly surprising that among its many struggles the orphan crisis at epidemic levels there. Children are often abandoned and Moldovan orphanages have children aging out in their early teens, leaving them susceptible to human trafficking.

Brian and Kathryn Jones are missionaries in Moldova who are members of Frazer, my church here in Montgomery, AL. The Jones were living and working in Montgomery when they started to feel the call to move to Moldova full time after a few short-term mission trips. Since then they’ve been learning Romanian and have filled several roles while working there including being over a house full of orphan girls. They now are working with a smaller group of girls, helping them finish school and transition to independent living. You can read all about them and partner with them financially by clicking here.

I’m leading a small team to visit Brian and Kathryn and we’ll be getting to do a lot of different things; visiting with orphans, packing meals, reading aloud to kids, teaching photography lessons, and helping with a fall festival are all on the itinerary. These are all the more typical “mission trip” things we’ll be doing, but as I’ve been telling everyone the primary purpose of this trip is to be a support to our missionaries on the ground.

Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.

Proverbs 25:25

This will be my 14th mission trip, and my 10th international mission trip. Over the years I have come to the belief that the best thing a short-term trip can do is be supportive of the local long-term missionaries. I’ve been friends with several mission families and I know that the isolation of living overseas can be soul-crushing at times. I say this to encourage anyone reading: visit your church’s supported missionaries, and ask them ahead of time what you can do to be an encouragement to them.

I’ll be giving updates as I’m able, but please be praying in the meantime for an easy trip and for our team to be able to adjust our sleep schedule quickly.

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Haiti Trip days 5&6

There’s a story in Haiti – we’re not sure it’s true, but it seems likely – that in 1804 the Voodoo leaders of the Haitian people sold Haiti to the Devil for 200 years. They were at war with France for their independence and it seemed like they had no way of winning since they were a tiny country in the Caribbean and France was a large military force, so the only way that their leaders knew to help was to make a deal with the Devil – to sell their nation to him to 200 years in exchange for victory against the French. Well, it worked. The French agreed to make a settlement and sell their financial interest in the land to the nation of Haiti.

If you’re not familiar with what happened in Haiti from 1804-2004 it is a bloody and horrific history. Scanning the wikipedia article on Haiti’s history will tell you there were multiple coups – resulting in the death of thousands of Haitians in pointless political power grabs. It ended in 2004 as the US assisted the Haitian president Aristide escape the country. By that time the Haitian people had been in a cycle characterized by a Miami School of Law Study as ‘a disturbing pattern.’ At that time the UN, with all it’s faults, came in and began to keep the peace in Haiti. A rumor began at this time that the Voodoo leaders were meeting again. They they were thinking about renewing their lease with the Devil – to save their nation from it’s unrest. Christian missionaries gathered and prayed – praying that they would not do this again and somehow they never did. Weather it was the obvious fact that they had been no better off with the Devil’s help or it was truly just the influence of the Holy Spirit, they did not hand Haiti back over to the Evil One. So for the first time in 200 years Haiti had the option of freeing itself from the tyranny of Satan.

However, men love darkness because their deeds are evil. The violence continued essentially until the infamous earthquake in 2010. The death toll is impossible to ascertain; numbers range from 50,000 – 300,000. In Haiti’s checkered history never has one event effected the nation to it’s core like this event did. As terrible as it was, it served as a wakeup call to the remaining Haitian people. Since then, they have elected a new president and over the past year he seems to have been working toward improving the living conditions of his people. It seems the healing of the Haitian people can finally begin. I see the earthquake as a natural evil that Satan would have used for ill, but God is using it for good. It is awesome, encouraging and humbling to think that we’re on the leading edge of an effort to take back the nation of Haiti for the glory of God.

Now, to return you to this trip to Haiti.

Friday morning we headed out to the Leveque deaf community one last time. The whole day was bittersweet since we knew we all had to leave the following morning. After meeting up with Mackenson, Kyle had some phone calls to make and we still had a few small details to finish on the house we were painting. DC and Woody worked on the house while Keri and Elizabeth met and talked with Bertheed, one of the deaf leaders, the only woman on the leadership council in the community.

I took the opportunity to walk around the new community taking pictures and video and relating to the members of the deaf community. Everyone I met recognized me from past trips and smiled and hugged me, asking if I was well. In turn I greeted them warmly and asked them if they knew that Jesus loved them. Many of them said “Thank you.” or a simple “Yes.”

After a few moments I realized I had no idea where the girls had gotten to, but it didn’t take long to find them. I just had to listen for the only house where there was talking – it was easy to find. When I got there, Keri and Elizabeth were talking to Bertheed about the Earthquake. She was expressing how much she didn’t understand the earthquake. She asked if God was angry with Haiti. Elizabeth and Keri assured her that God wasn’t angry at them, but that he was able to use the tragedy of the earthquake to bring them closer. She seemed relieved that we didn’t think God was angry with Haiti.

After the girls spent some time discussing life with Bertheed we walked over to where DC and woody were putting the final touches on the house we had been painting that week. Once they were finished we came back and spent the rest of the day fellowshipping in Mackenson’s house.

As we sat and talked, one of the deaf leaders commented that Kyle looked like he was sitting on throne. We looked over and Kyle laughed. He was sitting in a plastic deck chair. He instantly sat up and made a funny face. I signed “King Kyle” He signed “I am King Kyle! I am now in change Mackenson is out!” The deaf leaders were laughing really hard as he went on this comedic rant for a few moments. Kyle continued “I will make new rules!” Mackenson laughed and said “Just make those rules fair!” It wasn’t until Kyle said that he was going to take Mackenson’s dog, Luke, that Mackenson said “Woah – hold on there. You don’t get my dog.” apparently taking the Dog was just too far.

It’s funny to note that Mackenson’s Dog, Luke was not responsive to us whenever we tried to call him. He just sat there. Once when we were leaving the community and Mackenson was in the back of the truck with us luke came running after the truck. Mackenson simply held out his hand and after a moment Luke stopped and sat. The dog didn’t understand us because his master signs to him. I couldn’t help but have an ‘awww’ moment when I realized that the dog did recognize his master’s voice, it was just his hands through which that voice spoke.

We stopped at the same restaurant where we’d eaten all week. As we were trying to figure out who would pray (always a bit of a discussion before a meal on a mission trip) I just started signing a prayer. “God, thanks for this food. Amen.” Everybody signed ‘Amen.’ And kyle congratulated me on my first sign language prayer.

In the afternoon we walked up the hill to where the new church is going to be built soon. On the way there we got stopped by Kyle’s Haitian ‘mom.’ If you ever visit our Haitian deaf community – she is one that you’ll have to be sure to meet, she has such a sweet spirit and she vocalizes everything she says so loudly. She’s older, especially for a Haitian woman and spends much of her time giggling gleefully. Kyle told us that she was recently reunited with her sister who lives in the house next door. Her sister can hear and doesn’t know ASL, but they manage to communicate using home signs and lip reading. They’re both older and it was very sweet to hear that they are getting to spend their golden years together in such a beautiful community.

As we climbed the hill overlooking Leveque the team was filled with mixed emotion. None of us wanted the day to end, but when we reached the top it was time for one last prayer with the deaf leaders.

We had one more awesome time of prayer. Where we all prayed silently – those who knew sign language prayed ‘aloud.’ It’s so moving to see the expressive nature with which these deaf leaders pray. Seeing their fervor is stirring.

After the prayer there was a long period where we took photos. Photos of everyone with everyone else. Each deaf leader with each member of the team and then the deaf leaders and then the team and then the team with a few of the deaf leaders. Then the girls with Mackenson and William. Then the girls with just William. And a partridge in a pear tree. But it became evident we couldn’t put it off any longer; it was time to leave.

We headed back into Port Au Prince and arrived at New Life just before dark. Dinner was waiting for us – a delicious sort of meatballs and pasta. A few other teams were arriving to begin their trips even as we were preparing to leave. It was fun exchanging pleasantries and finding out what kind of work they were doing.

I had a conversation with a man named David who’s been working with an organization in Haiti for several decades. He was really impressed with the work we were doing. He affirmed the importance of moving the Haitian people toward sustainability. Moving them toward self-sufficience. He was impressed with how we were adamant that our ministry be to the leaders who in tern would minister to the rest of the community. It was encouraging to hear how impressed he was. David mentioned that there were many organizations who didn’t understand this principle. These NGOs do more harm than good as they just give handouts rather than woking to equip the people with the knowledge to elevate themselves for a lifetime. The affirmation was very encouraging.

Our team time in the evening was brief as we were all very tired, but we all were up and ready to go by 6:30 the next morning. As we waited for the truck to come and pick us up one last time Kyle went around the table and affirmed every member of the team – encouraging each one of us and talking about the areas in which he had seen us all grow during the week. We hopped on the truck and took our final ride to the airport. The ride was full of laughter. We were remembering all the good times we’d had that week.

When we got to the airport I had to separate from the group for most of the day as I was flying back by American Airlines while they flew back via Spirit Airlines. I’m told that they had some pretty fun times traversing the Caribbean, connecting in Ft. Lauderdale and finally landing in Atlanta. I had a few adventures of my own. My Miami layover was only an hour and a half long – which meant I had to go through passport control, baggage claim, customs, rechecking, security, and find my gate in a very short time. Remarkably I made it with time to spare. Ironically, despite my efforts to get to my connecting flight, the plane had a mechanical issue that took over an hour to resolve, so we didn’t end up flying out until almost 3:00.

On my flight from Miami I sat next to a Spanish woman. Not a Hispanic woman, but a woman who was actually from Spain. She only spoke spanish so naturally after being in Haiti all week I was delighted to finally have someone to talk to who I could really understand. I made conversation with her as best I could. She was very friendly and I even help the flight attendants understand what she wanted. When I got to Atlanta I originally had planned on picking up dinner, gassing up the car and picking up the others, but by the time I got out to the car I got a text from DC that they had just landed. So I locked the car and just walked back inside where I met the others as they entered the terminal.

Keri honored us with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem as we stepped outside. I’ve never been a part of a team that didn’t immediately all fall asleep as soon as they hit the car on the way back from the airport. No one fell asleep. We stopped for dinner and were undoubtedly the most obnoxiously loud group there. The last leg of the trip was spent singing, joking and laughing all the way back home to Montgomery. When we pulled up to the back parking lot of Frazer there was a group waiting for us and we were still laughing and singing and enjoying the camaraderie. DC closed us out with one last prayer and we called it a night. The trip was done.I’ve never been a part of a mission team that got as close as this one. It was nothing short of awesome.

I want to close with this: If you are a part of the Frazer family and if you are at all capable, you need to visit Haiti. I ran into someone this morning who I told needed to visit Haiti. He told me he wasn’t called there. I told him he needed to go regardless. I didn’t feel ‘called’ the first time I went. But that trip was enough to give the Holy Spirit a vocabulary in my life such that I was back three more times in less than a year. If I hadn’t gone that first time the help-portrait trip would never have happened in November and neither would the december trip where we brought them the photos.

If you have the desire and it feels impossible, God will make it possible. If you know you can do it and you’re not sure if you’re called. This is the call. You didn’t read this on accident. We have trips almost every month this year. In the meantime be praying. Pray for the deaf leaders. Pray for Kyle, our Missionary on the ground there. Pray for God’s will to be done in the nation of Haiti. Pray that what we’re doing today will have a ripple effect that will effect the whole world.

Mackenson in his house in the new Deaf Community.

 

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Haiti Trip Days 3&4

On wonderful wednesday morning after our devotional and breakfast at new life. Breakfast was an especially awesome rendition of french toast. I guess it was actually Creole toast. Creole toast is like french toast except you don’t conjugate the eggs. There was also an oatmeal that was easily the best tasting oatmeal I’ve ever had. I’d try to describe it, but it’s indescribable.

 

After breakfast we headed out to Leveque. The whole day was spent finishing painting the house that we started on our second day. We had to paint the first coat on one room and put the 2nd coat on the others. DC Cole, the trip’s leader was especially eager to finish the job we started. We not only put the first coat on the room we hadn’t started but at the end of the day we managed to put a second coat. As with the previous day we got to interact a great deal with the community.

One of the things that we’re seeing is that living among Haitians who can hear will be an adjustment for the deaf community. DC spoke with one of the Leveque residents who was baffled that we were talking with Mackenson and Alexis. This unfortunately is a common attitude, we’re hoping that we can help the members of the deaf community at Leveque elevate themselves in their society such that the others realize that they are equally capable. If they can do it there, we’re hopeful that they can do it across the entire nation of Haiti.

 

For lunch we headed to the same creole restaurant we went to in Cabaret the day before. This time as we walked in I noticed a chicken was walking around under our table. Later I would comment that I supposed he must be for lunch tomorrow. At least we know its fresh. I made the mistake of trying the hot sauce this time. It was as if my sinuses were a crowded theater and someone shouted ‘fire!’  But I accomplished what I wanted and that was to make my meal more of a challenge than it was the day before.

 

Wednesday I also tried put together a few sign phrases that I hadn’t before. After lunch when we were riding back to Leveque, Mackinson was asking some of us if we new deaf people before we got involved with the community in Haiti. We admitted that none of us had grown up around people who are deaf. I managed to sign to him, “But now, we have a big deaf family in Haiti.” And he smiled and signed ‘cool.’ When we got back later on William, the guy who sang-signed for us yesterday, showed up I told him that I want him to come to Frazer one day and sign for everyone there. He told me that I should learn to sing.

We painted until we ran out of paint. We had to stop for the day when they told us that they wouldn’t have more paint for us until friday. We had to leave one room half finished and stop for the day. We headed back to New Life for the evening.

 

After dinner, we engaged in a lengthy discussion on some future developments in the community. One of the recent changes was that the design of the church at Leveque has been adjusted by a leading architect who specializes in optimizing spaces for the people who are deaf. This means that the sight lines will be improved such that the members of the deaf community should be able to see their interpreter from almost anywhere in their new church home. The discussion was a great opportunity for the members of the team to get clarification on Frazer’s role and the hope that one day we’ll no longer be involved with the deaf community in Leveque, but rather we’ll be able to expand our scope here in Haiti and move onto other projects. After many great conversations we all headed to bed.

I should mention that Woody apparently talks in his sleep at that night DC caught him shouting angrily, “But I’m trying to serve God!” to someone in his dreams. Woody doesn’t remember what he was dreaming so we have no clue with whom he was arguing. But it was a funny event.

Thursday was a really cool day. We started off by visiting our friends at Rebuild Globally – an organization that is working to employ Haitians through creative means. They pay Haitians fair wages to make sandals out of trash – old tires and clothes. The sandals are actually excellent and we were able to see their efforts regarding planting a garden and starting a tilapia farm. It’s always cool and encouraging to see other groups and organizations succeeding at helping people move toward sustainability. It also is great because it gives us ideas as to ways we can help move our community (and future communities) toward sustainability as well.

Panoramic view from atop the MOH guest house

After that we headed to Mission of Hope’s compound for a bit to drop some things off at Kyle’s new apartment. It gave us a chance to see their campus – not all of the team has yet and it’s a pretty cool place. Frazer hopes to learn as much as we can from MOH and organizations like them so that one day we might be able to do something similar. Kyle got to have a chat with a few MOH leaders while the rest of us looked around. In the afternoon we stopped by Wahoo bay partially to take a little break partially to celebrate Kyle’s birthday. Wahoo is a resort which has a restaurant and beach access. We all took a few moments to hop in the water which was as clear as if it had come out of the tap. The scene was absolutely stunning. Clear water, mountains and a beautiful afternoon sun setting just above us.

We headed back to town before the sun set and came back to New Life. The truck ride back was the longest contiguous ride yet. I took some footage of us riding back as we came into town.

We gave kyle a few more gifts and had some cupcakes (which I had managed to bring in my suitcase all the way from Montgomery’s Publix.) We made our plans for the next day – which were mainly to try and make an effort to just relate to the community members and really speak the gospel into their lives.

So as we go out today, I ask for prayers – prayers that we will be bold, clear and have the Holy Spirit’s words. I pray that the language barriers would not be a problem even as we speak to the hearing people in the community. Please pray that our last day with them would be mightily effective.

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Haiti Trip Day 1&2 (and -1&0)

Bonju everyone! It is a beautiful morning here in Port Au Prince at the New Life Children’s home. I’m taking a pause to write a little bit about the jounry thus far.

 

This team’s trip actually started on saturday with a drive to Ft. Lauderdale to deliver a Land Rover and Frazer’s eldest church van to the port to be shipped over here via – well, ship – arriving later on next month. I was not with them during that leg of the journey which is unfortunate because it was by far one of the most interesting pre-trip trips so far. The key to the land rover included (as many modern keys do) a chip to inform the car that it was not being stolen when the ignition is cranked. Unfortunately this part of the key fell apart halfway down to their destination. The assembly broke off along with two tiny parts of said chip. Between the engineering genius of Woody Parramore and the mechanical expertise of DC Cole, after 40 minutes – and the generous donation of tinfoil from a local Dunkin Donuts – they were able to get the car up and running again.

 

In addition they had trouble finding a hotel to stay for the night on saturday and when they finally found a place with a vacancy it was truly only a single vacancy so Keri Ward and Elizabeth Beaird slept in the room while the guys slept in the church Van. Because of the broken key they had to first visit a Land Rover dealership before they could call it a night on sunday. Finally they made their way to Haiti on Monday morning where they met up with Kyle and visited the old deal camp first thing in the morning. I joined them that afternoon.

 

I had a very different Monday morning. Like the others I awoke at Dark:30 in the morning only my drive was to Atlanta to drop off the car that we would be riding home in on saturday from the airport. The day of travel was pretty smooth and I was very happy to find that everything I was bringing to Kyle indeed arrived safely in Port Au prince. This included about 10 books, two packages of coffee, three packages of coffee creamer, two drink cozies from the tipping point, several smaller odds and ends and (dah,dah, dah-dah) a laser printer with extra toner. Yes ladies and gentlemen Kyle can now print. You don’t realize how big a deal it is to have something as simple as a decent printer down here until you don’t have one.

 

I was expecting to ride to new life with Naz, the orphanage’s hired chauffeur, but as I battled my way through the crowd of haitians begging to take my luggage I was met by Keri and Kyle who brought me over to a small pickup truck – our chariot for the week. Woody, DC and Elizabeth were  standing in the back ‘shouting’ my name sign as I approached. For those of you just joining our program my name sign, given to me by the deaf community in November is a ‘W’ signed over the stomach, I wish I could disagree with their assessment but every time I see a picture of myself I have to admit that it is my best feature ;-)

 

We rode back to New Life – the orphanage in whose guest house we’re staying this week and had dinner before discussing how tuesday would go.

 

Yesterday morning started with a devotional from Elizabeth – which naturally included scripture reminding us that ‘The deaf will hear and the blind will see.’ There is little doubt in the minds of those involved with this ministry that this scripture is being fulfilled right before our eyes. No, I’m not talking about deaf miraculously regaining their ability to hear. But without a doubt, this community of deaf people has heard the Gospel more clearly than many people with all five senses.

 

After breakfast here at New Life we hopped in the back of the truck for a ride out to the new community at Leveque. The ride takes about an hour total, but would take half that in the states. Traffic is terrible around Port Au Prince and the roads are worse, though half the Journey is made on one of the nicest roads in the country. The trunk we’re riding in isn’t exactly what we would consider a ‘full size’ in the states. Six people in the truck bed makes for a constant game of human Tetris as one person’s leg falls asleep and another person gets tired of standing. We get lots of interesting looks from the Haitians many of whom have no love of ‘Blanc’ or white people. But we arrived at the deaf community to cheers from our community members.

 

As we pulled up I was immediately greeted by several familiar faces who hugged me several times over. I was especially glad to see the community’s leader, Mackenson St. Louis. Right off the bat Kyle gathered up the interns from Mission of Hope who were facilitating another mission group from Minnesota. When we were all circled up Kyle prayed in sign language and Elizabeth interpreted while a Mission of Hope employee interpreted into Creole. Praying in three languages is always cool, but sign language is an especially beautiful language for prayer and praise. I have to mention to anyone who is reading – if you’re running camera for another church group and you see that another guy is taking video, it’s just common courtesy to stay out of each other’s shot. I’m talking to you, guy from Minnesota who thought the best vantage point was in-between the pray-er and interpreters. . . .anyway  . . .

 

Embedding the video didn’t work but please click here to check out a video of Mackenson praying. 

 

After we finished the prayer the group from Frazer followed Mackenson up the hill to the location where the new church is soon to start construction. We prayed over that location – Keri prayed in english and Mackenson prayed in sign. I neglected to mention that when I arrived at the Atlanta airport on Monday Virginia Thompson, our pastor’s wife, called me. She had just gotten back from Haiti for a weekend trip and told me that she had tried to take a large stone from the future location of the church on the hilltop, but because her luggage was all carry-on, she wasn’t allowed to bring the rock aboard the plane. She called to ask me make sure and bring her a stone back in my check luggage for her. So I took this moment to find a large rock for Virginia. So, Virginia – your rock is on it’s way.

One of the coolest parts of the day was when William, one of the deaf leaders who one day hopes to be one of Haiti’s first deaf pastors, invited us into his new house. For me it was special because I got to see where he had hung the photo that we had taken on him in November with the Help-Portrait group and delivered in December. Before we left he shared a song with us. He writes songs and performs them in such a powerfully expressive way you could almost swear you hear the way the music sounds in his head. It was nothing short of awesome in the true sense of the word.

 

 

After looking around the new community at Leveque we got to painting one of the houses in the new community. The houses are all painted on the outside already, but the inside is still gray concrete. Painting may not sound terribly practical, after all you can live without paint, but when you’re light source is entirely based on sunlight coming through window vents, it’s pretty amazing how much different light colored paint makes in making a room brighter. When we walked in the room seemed so dark, even with mid-morning light beaming straight into the room, but when we finished the first coat by the end of the day it was sup rising how much more light there was in the room simply created by paint that reflected the light around the room.

 

Our first few hours painting were pretty chaotic as the children in the community wanted to help paint too. In addition to the kids there were the six of us, several deaf adults and a few pieces of ‘furniture’ to work around. After we got most of the coat done we decided it was best to get the kids out and make sure we were actually providing them with a decent paint Job.

 

Our lunch was back in the town of Cabaret (which isn’t far away from Chicago – again, musical theater joke) The food in Haiti is always enjoyable – rice and beans, chicken and Coke with real cane sugar – that may not sound like a big deal, but to those who have had it – they know what I mean.

 

Back at the community we finished up the first coat of paint. The team began to sing praise songs together and them moved on to disney songs. Alexis, one of the guys in the deaf community, had his hearing aid in so he could hear us well enough to laugh at us and sign to Mackenson “They’re singing crazy.” We finished up with what paint we had and at the end of what felt like a too-short day we headed back to New-life. On the trip back Kyle bought us some sugar cane while we were stopped in traffic. Most of us enjoyed it as we continued our game of human tetris – standing up when we could no longer feel our backsides, sitting down when we got tired of getting hit in the face by bugs. I have to say, I love riding in the back of the truck it’s a bit of a rush when our driver pulls out to pass a big truck only to miss a head-on collision by ales than ten feet. This is normal driving in Haiti and somehow they don’t seem to have accidents. It’s pretty remarkable.

 

I’ve even included a video via my GoPro of riding on the back of the truck in Haiti – click here to see it.

 

When we got back to New Life, a delicious dinner was waiting for us. The evening was restful and included some good time to process the day. Keri Ward is the only member of the team to not have been here before and both Kyle and I remarked on how quiet she had been on our way back that evening. She said she was just trying to process it all. One by one we all went to bed.

 

That catches you up to this morning! I thank you all for your continued prayers. It is truly awesome to see the progress as the community has moved out to Leveque and continues to develop together. Even yesterday as we were talking one of the deaf people kept saying ‘We must be patient. We must trust god to protect us.’ Their faith is always inspiring.