Monday, November 12, 2018

Thankful for Transitions

I was going to call this post "Transitions" and leave it at that, but as I looked back at my last post and realized how smoothly God has orchestrated each step of this process since then, I have to praise Him for His goodness.  Transition is always difficult and stressful, but as we settle into a new routine and "home," I again see how blessed we truly are.

My Grammar Analysis class went very well. I taught it as a module this year -- we spent 5 weeks doing 12 class hours per week instead of spreading it out over the course of an entire semester.  This gave us much more consistency with the material, which helped the students stay on track as we built one concept upon another.  It was a much higher workload for me during that time, but I also had a couple of "free" weeks beforehand to front-load most of the prep work.

With 11 students, there was no way I was going to be able to help each one grasp the difficult concepts of grammar and solve the "puzzle" of analysis.  I am so thankful for Judy and Margarita, two of our coworkers who helped me with the practical work.  We were able to split the class into three smaller groups to do the practical exercises.
Applying the principles of analysis to real language
Margarita checks on Julieta's process

Judy guides a group through an exercise

When I finished my classes on October 12, I only had ONE week to prepare for our home assignment!  I am thankful for all of the work that Kaylee and the girls had already been doing to prep and pack.  Because we were leaving for nine months, we once again packed up anything that could be affected by mold or dust and stored it in our air conditioned classroom.  Each time we do this, we have to go through a process of evaluating what we have and choose to take, store, or give away each thing.

Packing suitcases to take and totes to store
On October 19, we flew out of Santa Cruz and went to Canada!  One of the couples that attended the big international forum that Etnos hosted in July was the director of our mission's training center in Ontario.  They invited us to visit and give a report to their students about the work we are doing in Bolivia.  So we flew from Santa Cruz to Toronto and spent four days there.  I don't know if we encouraged the students at all, but they were a tremendous encouragement to us!

We were given two opportunities to speak in their daily chapel.  The first day, I gave an overview of the work that Misión Etnos is doing in Bolivia and our current personnel needs.  The second day Kaylee joined me to help share our personal story of how God has changed our plans and worked in us over the past eight years.

We also appreciated the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful fall colors and explore their campus!

Finally, on October 24, we made our way to MONTANA!  Over the past two and a half weeks, we have been working to get our feet on the ground and settle in.  We have unpacked most of our storage shed, purchased things that we lacked (like winter clothes for the girls!), gotten me a new driver's license, and are trying to catch up on sleep.  We are slowly trying to transition back into the lives of our friends and family here as well.

A week ago, Kaylee got back to school with the girls after a 3-week break for travel/transition.  Sometimes getting back into a routine is the best way to feel settled and I think it is working.
Back to school after a short break
Of course, when the got our first good snow fall on Wednesday, we had to take advantage of our first opportunity to go sledding in almost three years!  We're thankful for how quickly we adjust back to cold weather!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Busy, Busy, Busy!

The past 4 months have been crazy busy.  Big surprise, right?

Immediately after the little getaway we wrote about in our last post, we began the process of moving into a new house. We had been fighting a termite invasion for a couple of years and our house needed some significant work, so when one of the other staff families moved off campus in February to focus on another area of our ministry here, it was decided that we should move into their house.

Kaylee was ecstatic.  The house we lived in for over 4 years was too big (almost 2200 sq ft!), two levels, and not a very nice layout, to be honest.  The house we are in now is a more appropriate size for us (not quite 1500 sq ft), single level, and a much nicer layout with a lovely open-concept living/dining/kitchen area.  The girls ended up with a bigger bedroom than they had and I got a little shop off the back porch. Naturally, we lost a few benefits (like the fireplace!), but all in all, it was a good decision.

We had spent a couple of months working on plaster, paint, electrical, and a bathroom remodel and it was finally ready at the beginning of May.  This is now our 20th long-term (more than 1 month) home in 13.5 years of marriage!  At a distance of only 52 ft door to door, it also set a record for our shortest move ever (previous record: 7 blocks). :D
New house at left, old house at right!
The girls are now expert paint scrapers
Kaylee enjoying her new kitchen
The old house is now being gutted and re-purposed as Etnos offices (lower level) and a guest apartment (upper level) as the campus works through some growing pains and changing needs.

Also during May, we had the pleasure of hosting my nephew Zach, who came from Montana for 2 weeks.  He split his time between relaxing (after just finishing a busy school year), interacting with the Etnos students, playing with the girls, being sick, and doing projects.

Dinner with Etnos students Victor & Eunice, Carlos, and Julieta
One of Zach's projects was to build a bike rack for the girls' bicycles

The month of June was overwhelmingly overwhelming as we once again did an English practice time for our students.  Halfway through their training, each group of students spends 3 weeks studying the gringos to get some practice in applying the tools that I am teaching them in the Culture and Language Acquisition class.  As usual, we needed some more native speakers, so we invited my parents and another couple from our home church to join us.  It was a blessing to have them here, not only as a help to the program, but the encouragement of spending time with folks from home.

The fun part about CLA-English is that we get to do "regular life" things while the students accompany us and attempt to learn our language and customs.  We also get to be unapologetically American, which is fun. ;)

My dad built a closet for the girls, often accompanied by a few of the guys

Several students joined Kaylee and the girls to see what homeschool is all about

We taught them an American sport, too :)
At the end, we hosted a big shebang for the whole campus to celebrate my birthday with hamburgers and root beer floats made with root beer I made a few days earlier.
Serving up the goodness

In July, after the students left on their 4-week winter break, we barely had a couple days to breathe before we started the preparations for our next big event, a 5-day international forum.  Every couple of years, leaders of our mission agency from different countries get together with the global ministries board to report current status, encourage each other, talk about issues, and basically stay on the same page.  This forum was focused on Latin America, although with the global team 13 countries and 3 principal languages were represented.  All of the ~85 attendees stayed here with us on campus, so it was a ton of work!

My main job was to coordinate airport pickups for our international guests, which came to about 30 trips to the airport in 14 days' time, many at terrible hours of the night.  Thankfully, I had two other men helping with the driving and it all went quite smoothly for the most part.  During the forum itself, I focused on photographing the proceedings, although I did make one presentation, a report on our current training program.

Reporting on our training program for the global leadership of the mission
Kaylee was once again designated as head of refreshments, so she spent a couple of weeks buying and baking before the forum as well as preparing and serving throughout it.

As usual, all the extra work was well worth the opportunity that we had to meet and spend time with like-minded coworkers from around Latin America and other parts of the globe.  It is always such an encouragement to swap stories and share experiences and talk about God and His work together.

At the beginning of August, the Etnos students all came back from their break and we started up the second semester of 2018.  A week later, Kaylee started a new school year with the girls, who are now in 6th, 4th, and 3rd grades.

August has been a very different sort of month for me.  I  have been teaching only one hour of class per week, which I am enjoying immensely.  The course is one that we typically do each semester, called Analytical Reading, which has the purpose of improving the students' reading ability (generally poor).  I chose to read Charles Swindoll's The Grace Awakening this semester and I love the conversations we are having in class.

Updating our Etnos website and Facebok
I have been using the rest of my time to do more necessary improvements to the new house, manage our Etnos website and Facebook page (a role which continues to expand), and prepare myself for my upcoming Grammar Analysis class, which starts this Thursday, Sept 6.  It is a very intense course and will be much more so this year.  Instead of teaching it two hours each week spread over the whole semester, we are doing it as a modular course in which I will teach 4 hours each Tues-Thurs for five weeks.  I am thankful that I can count on the help of two missionary ladies, one of whom has taught the course several times, for help with the classwork.

In light of this class, we would appreciate prayer for the next two months specifically.  Not only will I be teaching WAY more class hours each week than normal, we will be preparing for a home assignment ("furlough") that we have planned for the end of October.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Field Trip to Roboré

When it comes to destinations in eastern Bolivia, the little town of Roboré comes up as a top spot -- spectacular scenery, great hot springs, flora, fauna, and lots of history.  At only 5-6 hours' drive from Santa Cruz, it's a perfect place to go spend a relaxing weekend.  However, relaxing weekends aren't really part of our lifestyle, so we've never been.

Panorama taken from the base of Chochis tower
That changed because of a project Kaylee is doing with the girls in homeschool; later this year, they will be studying Bolivian history.  To make their study more enjoyable and relatable, they will be interviewing a variety of people they know here in order to learn from their personal stories.  Their first interviewee was our friend Judy, who grew up in Roboré as a missionary kid and came back to serve in Bolivia as an adult with her husband. She loves to show people around her hometown and suggested that her story would have even more impact if we went and saw it for ourselves. So we did!

(As usual, more photos here: Field Trip to Roboré - Google Photos)

The girls were excited to camp, but we had outgrown our well-worn, second-hand tents, so I took them tent shopping a few days before.  On Saturday morning, we packed up and hit the road, planning to come back on Monday.

Our first stop, other than the standard toll booths and police checkpoints, was the little town of San José de Chiquitos.  The church there is one of six that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos. Although we don't agree with their doctrine, we love the architecture! ;) Traveling to visit all six is a very popular tour option for visitors.  We would have liked to investigate the compound, but it was noon and all closed up, so we settled for lunch and went on our way.

Along the way, Kaylee and the girls had gotten their first glimpse of wild toucans and there were several in the plaza of San José.

I was excited to get a photo of one of the goofy critters in flight! ;)

As we left San José, the scenery began a dramatic shift from the yawn-inducing flatness of Santa Cruz to the broken hills and valleys that characterize Roboré.  Unfortunately, the weather closed in on us as well and although it didn't rain until much later, we passed the rest of the day under a heavily overcast sky.  It affected the photos, but it didn't dampen our enjoyment of the sights.

Our next stop was at Chochis, a rock formation that outsiders have nicknamed Muela del Diablo, or devil's tooth, although there are at least two other locations in Bolivia that also claim that name.  Officially, it is called the Tower of David, but most just refer to it as the tower or hill.

There is a "sanctuary to Mary" at the base of it with intricately carved doors and pillars, woodwork typical of the Chiquitanía region. It was built in commemoration of a nasty flood that did a lot of damage and killed a lot of people in 1979.  While the wood carving was amazing, we found the overwhelming worship of Mary disturbing (but not surprising).

The side of the sanctuary had a massive door in door in that swiveled on a pivot.  It featured Eve as the central figure of the Fall on one side and Mary as the central figure in Redemption on the other.  It would have done the sculptor well to study Romans 5 on both counts.

Eve as the central figure in Eden

Mary as the central figure at Calvary
"Most Holy Virgin, from Calvary we are all yours.  We do not deserve you, but we need you.  Help us!"
As sobering as it was, we enjoyed the art and of course posed for another family photo or two.

Upon leaving Chochis, we were only a few miles away from Roboré.  We wandered around town a bit, but as it was getting late and we still needed to set up camp, we really only took time to stop by Judy's childhood home and get a picture of her and the girls in front of it.

What we didn't know at that point is that we weren't actually spending the night in Roboré.  We actually went a few miles farther to a place called Aguas Calientes (hot waters), where there is a campground alongside a hot spring.  Now, I mentioned above that we were planning on camping and that the girls were very excited about it.  To be honest, the only camping they have done here is in the "backyard" at Etnos and they were looking forward to being out in the country and doing some real camping.  Unfortunately, that was not to be.

When we rolled up to the campground, it was immediately apparent that it did not line up with our expectations.  It consisted of maybe 50 pahuichis or grass-roofed shelters and it was LOADED with people hustling and bustling.  It was a shocking contrast for the girls, who have only known quiet Forest Service campgrounds like the one on Battle Ridge.  When we found an available spot and started unpacking next to a group of youths who were listening to their reggaeton with the typical latino love of volume, the two younger ones broke into tears.  Thankfully it was short lived; some time in the hot spring helped a lot!

After getting a reasonably good night's sleep in their new tent, they were much happier in the morning
Thankfully, the youths turned their music off somewhere around 11:00pm and the weather deteriorated no more than a steady drizzle overnight.

In the morning we got to enjoy the hot springs and more birds!

Bare-faced ibis

Snowy egret

The hot spring formed a huge, shallow lagoon that was a perfect temperature for a misty morning!
After soaking for a couple hours, we packed up our gear and headed out for some more sights.  Unfortunately, the weather closed in even farther rather than lifting, which changed our plans slightly, but we still enjoyed ourselves.

We visited Santiago de Chiquitos, near where the first five missionaries from New Tribes Mission (now known as Ethnos360) were killed while trying to make peaceful contact with the Ayoré people in 1943.  It's an incredible story of how God worked through the tragedy, especially considering that we have Ayoré friends who are our brothers and sisters in Christ!
At the plaque commemorating the deaths of Cecil Dye, Bob Dye, Dave Bacon, Eldon Hunter, and George Hosbach
The memorial plaque is at the trailhead for a series of lookouts called "The Antechamber of Heaven," which apparently have amazing views, but as you can see from this next photo, it wasn't worth our time to hike to them!

Catholic church in the plaza of Santiago de Chiquitos
Our last big stop of the day was a fun drive and a short hike into an amazing waterfall north of Roboré, called Chorro San Luis. 

Kaylee and the girls behind the falls, for perspective!
That night, instead of camping again (it was supposed to rain more), we decided to stay in a hotel owned by people Judy knows, next to the church her father pastored in Roboré.  We spent an uneventful night, had a nice complementary breakfast, and busted back home to Santa Cruz.  All in all, it was an enjoyable weekend and I think we all agree that we should go back sooner than later!