Lugares

With a heavy heart I write this 😦

The Dominican Republic- Some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and nice resorts… But that’s not where you’ll find me.

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Where can you find me? Places where kids’ stories start like this.

…A rigid body abandoned in a shack, the child was barely alive and covered in bugs.

…I can’t bring my three daughters to the event tonight because well, they haven’t eaten in a day. I can’t ask them to sit through a program on hungry bellies.

…Anna my cousin just fell off the second story of our house and onto the street. She is in a lot of pain; will you go and check on her?

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In my old tennies, my hat and the infamous lime green t-shirt (You’re all thinking it…Does she own any other clothes?? Haha) walking down the coral, that’s where you’ll find me. The places where I should feel most uncomfortable, that’s where I find my home. It is time to go home, but I feel as if I am leaving a family behind and I am already looking for opportunities to pay my next visit.

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So if you can’t understand why I am wired the way I am, why gratitude is my favorite word in the dictionary, why I have chosen to live my life differently…let me tell you where I left a piece of my heart.

It’s a place where disabled children live. Literally the dumping grounds of children, I witnessed it with my own eyes. It is a place where a mother left her own child with nothing more than a napkin that said her name. It’s a place where together, kids can celebrate their differences and bond in their loneliness. She can color with her mouth because her hands don’t work. He can bounce up and down on his bed to express his excitement because he can’t talk. He can shake back and forth to show us he’s alive because he is blind, deaf and unable to walk. Some people feel scared, some people feel uncomfortable, some people feel guilty; but for me, I feel God’s presence. I know that these kids may have been left by their own family, but that doesn’t mean they are alone. God has a very special place in His heart for the orphans.

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You’ll find me where the road ends and the hungriest kids live. A place where if you just got a pedicure I can guarantee you will need a touch up. You’ll find me walking in the hottest tropical sun just to pay a child a visit. A place where if you bring a delicacy such as chocolate, you WILL get trampled to the ground by 100’s of kids. You’ll find me worshipping God alongside the Haitians as were all dripping sweat in a 3 hour church service. It’s where kids who have nothing find it fun to walk miles with you to see you surprise a kid in the community. Some might think it’s too hard to be near that type of poverty, some see the dangers and question their safety; but for me, I feel God’s grace. I see kids who literally according to science should not be alive. But every week, they’re there to greet me. God has a place for the poor in His heart. He doesn’t forget them.

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You’ll find me in the Dominican hood. Showing off my Dominican tigeraje and “flow”. It’s the place where danger prevails and you know which streets and corners not to go near. You’ll find me upstairs with Felix. A man who was hit and his car slammed into a brick wall. Literally, Felix should not be alive. But he is, and he is the most peaceful man living among the chaos. It’s a place where everyone will do just about anything to earn a peso. A place where girls start their lives way too early and boys become fathers to kids all over. Some think, it is way too dangerous, it’s a type of people I prefer not to associate with, it’s dirty and scary. Not me, it is the place where I see what faith is. I meet people who don’t just pray to say sweet things. No, they pray boldly and they believe in God that if it is His will, He can do anything. It is a place where you walk into a home for the first time and so quickly the conversation turns to Jesus. God has a place for those who love him in his heart.

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And if you can’t find me in any of these places, then check my bed. I probably worked myself to the bone or caught yet another Dominican virus, or just really needed some beauty sleep. Turning 25 wasn’t easy. Haha God has a special place for Anna in his heart.

So even though it is almost time to go home, some of my heart will still be here, whether it’s physically or in spirit. Now you’ll always know where to find me.

So get off the beaten path, find your place. You just might learn a thing or two 😉

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Help us Make a Change

The first time I visited this school in August the director sat me down and told me one thing: Sadly, the reality these students face is that many from the community grow up to earn money as prostitutes and thieves. I am glad you are here!

Hearing a statistic like that meant that there was no turning away. Honestly, I am so glad I didn’t. These students have proved to me that they are much more than the expectations held for them. They are willing to work hard and want to be successful. All they need is people who believe in them, people who are willing to give them a hand.

Growing up in the countryside of Guayacanes can be difficult. It means that you live a humble lifestyle. Your needs are met, but most desires that kids and high school students want are far out of reach. Kids pretend sticks are horses and run around barefoot on the muddy ground. High schoolers walk two or more miles just to get to school each day. There is no incentive to graduate, just the knowledge of knowing you did it. Most do not have the finances to go to college and scholarships are pretty much nonexistent. Those who will go on to college have worked and saved however possible to make it there someday!

I have put these kids to work this year. Each week they are getting fed spiritually as we challenge these kids to believe in themselves and to grow in God’s grace. They are working on projects to help give back to their community. All with the simple thought that no one is too poor to give. I could sit and tell you how great these teenagers are, or I could let them tell you themselves.

Meet Melina.

She is 19 years old. She looks like a nice young girl who enjoys school. But you don’t know her story. 5 months ago she gave birth to a sweet baby girl. Of course, her parents weren’t ecstatic about her situation but she decided to keep Maite and raise her. She never stopped school and even with sleepless nights of studying for final exams and caring for a five month old. Her struggle is a daily one but her drive keeps her going. She did it and next year her goal is to start college.

Meet Cristina.

She is 17 years old who spends most of her time living with her sister. She cried as she wrote the following, “When I was a girl, my dream was to have a graduation and now I have that opportunity. My mom passed away when I was 7 years old. She told me to never stop studying because she knew I was capable of graduating. Today, I dedicate my graduation to her.”

Meet Maria Cristina.

At 18 years old she says, “My family is humble and we don’t have much. My parents are separated and I live with my mom and siblings. I want to be able to give everything to them. More importantly, I want to give this example to them: Poverty should not impede on us being able to move forward!

Meet Yeremi.

At age 18 she is graduating after almost assuming a role as a mother. She says, “When I turned 15, my mom had to move to Santiago to take care of my grandma. I stayed with my brother and didn’t have the possibility to study for a period of time. Finally, I have made it to my senior year, even when all odds were against me.”

Meet Maria.

She tells reality as it is. She writes, “When I was younger I wanted to be this big doctor, but in our country it isn’t possible to study what we want without a big scholarship or grant. So for now, I want to work with kids and be a science teacher who is good and makes a difference. Whenever I look back, I will always remember the day of my graduation.”

Meet Carmen.

She made her dream come true! “I want this graduation as a gift for my mom. We have never had a working professional in my family. I want to do this for her!”

Meet Hanley.

“When I was a freshman, I suffered very low self-esteem and I was insecure with the person I was. Since then, I have developed confidence and raised my self-esteem. I have learned to believe in myself. That is something I am proud of. This graduation shows me that I was able to rise against one of life’s hardest challenges.

Meet Yanna.

She sums it up perfectly with, “I thank God for the privilege of being able to take a step in this road that we call life.”

The public schools don’t do anything to acknowledge these 44 students’ accomplishments, but we can! These kids have put effort in and worked hard, they have been shown God’s love and have learned to walk in Him. Let’s give them one day to be kings and queens. Let’s give them one day to dress up and feel special knowing that they did it. These are opportunities these kids would never get otherwise.

All support will go to renting the facility, graduation gowns and food. All donations are tax-deductible as well. I want to overwhelm these kids with God’s love as this is my last big project here in the DR. Please consider helping us make a difference. These kids will grow up to make the change that is needed in their community!

Graduation is in 20 days! The clock is ticking!

www.grouprev.com/Graduation2016

 

So You Want to Speak Spanish?

So you want to speak Spanish?
Don’t worry I’ll help you out. But let me warn you, Dominican Spanish is it’s own language. 

  
Que lo que- que pasa, or what’s up? 
Pana ful- like a really good friend, or someone that you really enjoy

  
Un chin- un poco or a little bit. And if you want to get real Dominican say you want “Un chin chin” of something. That’ll wow them! 
Ya tu sabes- you already know (just think Pitbull, the rapper who amazingly has a part in every pop song made) it’s a good way to end a phone convo. I feel really cool when I find ways to incorporate this one in a conversation 
Muy heavy or Chulo- ways to say cool

  
Aplatanado- being fully accustomed to life on the island. It comes from platano (plantain) so like literally you’ve eaten enough plantains that you got this whole DR thing down. 
Finally, take every word you know and cut it in half and say it at the fastest speed possible. And maybe just maybe you’ll sound like a dominicana! 
pa’ na’–which is short for para nada, for nothing. See what I’m saying about cutting words apart?

  
I have had a lot of visitors to the communities lately, and not everyone has mastered the street slang like this girl here. I’ve had luck with making friends of all the people from the calle. Mario the old man who runs the street fruit stand (we have our own handshake!) Felix the old shoe repair guy who insists he can fix any of my shoes. I mean I’ve never actually consulted a cobbler before, but next time a shoe breaks he’s the guy to call. Needless to say, I’ve learned the ways of the land down here on this wild island.

  
For all of us though, communication barriers can be rough. But I tell everyone the same simple advice- play with the kids, show them you care and give them love. They won’t even realize you have no idea what they’re saying.
Lately I’m realizing just how much can be said without saying anything. With people in such desperate situations a little help or a little love goes a long way.

  
Whether that is giving a bag of popcorn and a thumbs up to the sweetest child who is unable to speak or hear. As we know that living in that community he will never have a chance of learning sign language.

  
Whether it’s smiling at a 14 year old girl with a baby bump after sharing the gospel to her class. Giving her that look that says, you’re gonna get through this! 
 Whether it is hugging your favorite mother of the community and recognizing her needs. Knowing that her children’s father is ready to sell the home they live in, leaving her and the three girls homeless. It’s only metal scrap, but it still beats being homeless.
Gods love for us came in the form of giving His life. My form of showing this love is just a bag of popcorn or a hug, it will never add up to His sacrifice, but it’s something and it’s what we are called to do. Love is meant to be spread, people are meant to be valued. It doesn’t matter what you speak, because your actions will always be louder. Get out there and do something.
Ya tu sabes! 

   
  
Ps look at this super stinking cute smile! We assisted Angels mother in washing the babies. She told me that her current job is selling gum and candies on the highway. We prayed with her, left Bibles and many other goodies and showed her what love is all about. I thin Angel enjoyed it! 😉

Happiness Now has it’s next fundraiser kicked off please consider helping at http://www.Happiness-now.org/donate

The Power of the Poor and Papayas

The power of the poor and papayas
Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us. –When Helping Hurts


Lots of sweaty church services, hikes on dried coral and moments on stage acting like a fool and dancing to silly Spanish songs–all of this to prove to these people that I am here to help.
I feel as if I received my acceptance letter last week as one of the girls gave me a fresh papaya from her tree outback. When food is scarce and money is almost nonexistent, a papaya says a lot.


It says that after seven months they see that I’m not here to dump a pile of goodies at their doorstep and leave. They see that I am committed to them on a much deeper level.


It says that once arriving in the community I’m expecting to get smushed in a Haitian hug. These hugs are tighter than bear hugs with sweet little hands holding you tight everywhere.


It means kids begging for you to come visit their one room shack that they call home. They want you to meet mom and their 7 other siblings.

With that Papaya I abandoned my thought of thinking I’m going to solve every issue of poverty in this community and turned it into one simple idea. I am going to love these people so unconditionally. The way God loves us.
The best thing is to show these people that I am equally broken. I am no more special or better because I was born in a different country. I am not the best because I own a car or have more than a dollar each day. I am a human being and we’re all missing pieces.


My brokenness comes when I don’t try and experience faith on a daily basis the way many do.
Where by prayer and faith alone they trust God will keep their 6 month old baby dry while the rain pours into the metal scrap roof.


They trust that even with a dollar and four mouths to feed that they will eat. Not to mention no possible chance of getting a job since dad abandoned mom. By faith, she knows they will eat each day.
Trust is getting in a motorcycle crash without health insurance or 500 pesos to your name. Faith is knowing that while fighting on your knees, God will restore health.
I’ve never experienced that type of trust. Where I am on my knees praying for lunch today. It’s an incredible sight. And these people humble me time and time again.
We all have weaknesses, we all have setbacks but we can all give and when there’s nothing to give, love is enough.


As for the papaya…

Those of you who have been tracking my story with Angel. I met him a week after his bad burn. I’ve seen his little hand and belly heal and have been visiting at every opportunity. Angel is the most serious little two year old. I worry that lack of love and attention has started to sink in. I brought Angel a little ball today and we played catch. And my little man was smiling and laughing! The first time that’s ever happened! It’s baby steps, but it’s progress. We’re planning a blessing for these five kids. Stay tuned!

Angel’s Eyes

Angels eyes  

  

I can’t wait until this little boy can speak. I can only imagine the stories he will tell. Maybe, he will tell me about all the pain that shines through his glossy eyes.
This weekend was powerful. It all started with taking a public bus at the busiest hour of the day. And my brilliant self decided to pack a book bag and suitcase. 

  
Most people find public transportation to be dreadful. As for myself, I look forward to the adventure of making a scene as no one can pass because of my bulky suitcase. Of course, I can’t do anything to help because there’s so many people I can’t move and my short self is stuffed into someone’s armpit. Like I said, always an adventure. 

  I finally scored a seat (prob because no one wanted to put up with me anymore) next to a maid. She has been cleaning houses all her life. It’s all she knows. I have no idea why she felt compelled to talk to me but next thing I knew I had learned her entire life story. She is too busy raising other kids to raise her own; that’s the life of a maid. She cleans house for 12 hours straight and makes it home in time to tuck her own children into bed and call it a night. The most frightening part was her salary. In Minera’s eyes, I felt her pain, I saw the wear on her body, I saw how her eyes longed for something better.

Saturday we took our girls to the park. Every other month I try to take them to do something out of the ordinary. Get them out of their neighborhood which is all too sad. The girls showed up in their finest clothes because going to the park is a big deal. They admired the tall buildings as we drove into town and they were amazed at the rickety old swings that swung so high, it’s like their feet almost touched the sky. In these girls eyes I saw the crime and situations they encounter living in such a dangerous neighborhood. I see their hope for a better life. I see their sadness as they wish they didn’t have to walk miles to school, take care of siblings and work jobs at such young ages.    
Sunday was spent in the village of Boca Chica. It was another amazing Bible School with about 60 kids. The kids learned about loving their neighbors, they got some spaghetti and they all walked away with a new toothbrush.    
We then visited Angel’s house. There’s no such place like Angels. It is ground that challenges me and compels me to be different.   
We all know Angel. He is the sweet baby who broke my heart after witnessing his burnt hand. 
Here’s the situation we walked into on Sunday afternoon. 5 children all being looked after by the oldest sister who is only 8 years old. The house is covered with trash. Outside, 2 year old Angel was sitting naked in a lawn chair as dried up urine stuck to his leg. Inside, sweet Angela was crying on the mud floor begging to be held. Sonya the 8 year old was cooking rice for all her siblings. And mom was out for a few hours not sure when she was coming home.     
We prayed over the house and bought them food. Then we served water to the four babies. I’ve run many miles in the hot summer, but I have never seen thirst like this.   
Before leaving, I held my hand out to Angel and he stuck his healing little hand in mine. In that moment, I promised him that I am here to help and I will do my part to make it better. I have no idea if he understood, but after I gave him a little hug, I knew that all Angel was trying to tell me was…shed some love on me.   
As Christians and humans we cannot stand to be lukewarm anymore. We can’t keep living a life of complacency where we ignore the Angels we meet and push their needs to the back of our mind. Being lukewarm will not make our world a better place. God is calling us to be the light and be the change. So turn your heater on! I’m sure there is an Angel near you.

Watching Watchmen

I wish sometimes we didn’t have to go it alone. Let’s just put it out there, I was home for a few great weeks. And I got spoiled…and comfortable.

  So getting back at it hasn’t been easy. 
I always wish God would’ve sent me along with a friend or someone who could be here to laugh at all the strange daily encounters. 
Someone to also get yelled at when We don’t wear earrings. In Dominican world, if you left the house without earrings, you are incomplete. You might as well go home and start the day over. And they are not scared to call you out.

Someone to find the humor in the way your dinner was left for you. 

  All that, just to avoid some ants making it to your rice. I have already decided that if they take the challenge and reach the food, it’s theirs. Haha
Someone to relate to when your Spanish isn’t on point. Anni told me it was going to rain and all our clothes were outside drying. Instead of being kind (which was my intention) and offering to go get them. I asked her to bring the clothes in for me before it rains. Look at me accidentally barking orders to my host mom. Haha trust me she got a rise out of that and I’ve had to live through the horrific retelling of this story to anyone who visits. 
So yeah it would be good to have someone to relate to, but I think God has a plan in all of that though.

  

 
I was eating lunch watching our watch man. Kind of ironic. He’s here alone from Haiti. His best friend is a guy who sells ice cream from his bike. But this time he was just sitting under the tree playing with a piece of grass. 
Now this man doesn’t make much money being a watch man. And the little he does make, he sends back home to Haiti where all Of his family is. My host mom gives him a big plate of food for lunch each day. She serves God through her food. We are all blessed with a talent, and hers is certainly cooking. But if he sees too many people in the house he won’t come because he feels embarrassed.
I can only imagine how lonely he feels. No family, no money, a job where you do nothing but watch the world pass and people coming and going. But faithfully he comes to work each and everyday. And our apartment is certainly well watched. 
So as I sit and hope for a friend here in the DR to go on the long bus rides and kill cockroaches together. I think God is teaching me I already have a friend. Gods there every moment of the day, I’m never truly alone. And I’m sure He enjoys a good laugh now and then.

So here are the bathrooms and a water tank to provide clean water to the kids and church. Coolest Christmas present ever 

    
    
 

New Year, New Goals

Home sweet home. It has been an amazing couple of weeks.
Binge watching Gilmore girls with mom. Oh Netflix, how you were missed.

Showers with high intensity water pressure, I can wash my shampoo out in less than a minute! Mind blowing! 
Niece time. Any aunt or uncle without their own children can attest that it’s the best job in town.
  
  I even cleaned my room👼, and I dug up my New Years Resolutions from last year. Here’s what I found–

  
Refrain from talking negatively of others: I never liked that about myself. And there’s always room for improvement. But when you consciously know to bite your tongue. That’s nice! 
Eat healthier: Well chicken claw, fruit juices, and a whole lot of rice. That really outdoes last year with pizza rolls, pizza, pizza bagels, chocolate and taste testing pretzels at every restaurant. Even if I failed at all other tasks, my stomach thanks the DR for teaching me to step out of my core three food groups (pizza, pretzels and chocolate).
Pray more: My first Monday in the DR my host mom Anni told me we were going to church. Little did I know she had signed me up for intercession: 2 hours of uninterrupted prayer with three old ladies. I told people to pray for me as I survived this thinking of the kinks in my neck and avoiding the terrible sleepy head bob. …the crazy thing is, I loved it! And never in my life have I understood the value of prayer. Quiet time with God has become so personal and the most refreshing part to my day. Not to mention I’m becoming a champ at praying in Spanish! I look forward to Mondays now. 
Reconsider my future: well I left my job and decided to move to a tropical island. I guess you could say I reconsidered it.
Pursue Spanish: in Santiago, gringas are rare, and English is a delicacy. Just to rip out a sentence in English and to be understood, is priceless. It started with Anni speaking to me in Spanish like were playing a game charades and yelling at me because maybe I will understand if it’s at a volume that makes my ears ring. I ended with giving speeches in Spanish to 200 people in my last month. Spanish has definitely been pursued.
Do more random acts of kindness: I guess spending my weekends with those who have less than I do and loving on them qualifies for this one.   
I’m going to make 2016 a much simpler year. 3 goals. 

  Value Water.☔️

Live Simply.☀️

Love more.❤️
Water. The thing that kills the most children. The thing that keeps hospitals running. The most refreshing drink available. I want to respect water. Maybe give up on water pressure and learn to use a dime size of shampoo (as instructed on most bottles) instead of my typical handful squirt. Finish the glass of clean water instead of throwing half of it down the sink. Our biggest goals once my feet hit the DR, water filters and water tanks. No more children drinking contaminated water where people urinate where the well is. No more sick bellies. No more skin covered in spots. We’re taking water on this year! Everyone should experience clean, clear water. 
Live simply. Well I always dreamed of my wedding being this big spectacle. people I’ve even talked to once may have made the guest list. My parents called me crazy and asked who was paying for all that. But now, life should be simple. I can’t justify 195388 dollars on flowers and djs when kids are hungry. I want to live simply, not go shopping just because I can. Not spoil myself just because I want to. Simple, it has a good ring to it. 
Love more. Our world is scary, the news is traumatizing and hatred runs wild. I want to focus on love and spread it. God calls us to be the light of the world, and that’s my mission. I want love to be contagious, I hope in 2016 more people catch on! Hatred, envy, anger and jealousy are out the door. This year, it’s about love. The way God loved us, I’m going to work on passing that on! 
Here’s to 2016, God bless!