Then I heard the Voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said,"Here am I. Send me!" Isaiah 6:8

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Our Family of Elves

I couldn't help but do this, I think it is so funny! Put the url in the box to enjoy this one! Amy

Mission Completion....Fall Photos

My goal is to post the rest of the cute pictures taken in the last few months here, but it seems like an unending battle at times, the kids are just more precious every day and their habits endearing! Here we go for an assortment of pictures!

We went on a family boat ride in Forest Park for Elise's baptism birthday. This started out as a twilight outing and ended as a pitch black darkness adventure. I am so proud of my strong armed man! He rowed us back to the dock in safety, only a few ducks nesting were disturbed! With the home school group we took a trip to the pumpkin farm, this place was quite incredible! There were pumpkins, hay ride, mazes constructed out of hay bales that freaked me out as I crawled through to 'comfort' Elise (yet could not see her even though I was grasping her leg) and a host of animals all with names from Harry Potter. My favorite was the llama named Firenze.

Josiah's favorite part by far was the zip-line, where Elise preferred the tractor bikes. It was a good time enjoyed with friends. The best part was that we got to pick a pumpkin at the end which the kids painted enthusiastically.

There were a few opportunities for us to dress up this fall, of which I take full advantage! We had a trunk or treat at our church the Sunday before Halloween and our friends from the Seminary hosted a trunk with a super-hero theme. Josiah was Spiderman and Elise Super-girl. They are with friends Aiden as Superman and Brody as Dash.

The children also participated as peasants in the Sem Home school's production of Reformation Day. It was a very well done program which the kids performed in front of the chapel immediately after worship, they gathered quite the audience and were encouraged by the boo's and cheering of the crowd.

This collection of photos is not complete without the inclusion of Michael's favorite intramural sport, Ultimate Frisbee! This is the championship game of which he has had the honor of being champion two seasons in a row! (Just don't ask about football!) The guys really enjoy this time together, and it is fun to see the artistic game played. My favorite part is seeing Michael leap into the air above the other guys' heads and snag the Frisbee down....or maybe the best part is the bag of popcorn the kids and I share at each game!

Our family was blessed with the arrival of good friends Miriam and Alex, along with their two delightful twin girls Addison and Jasmine. Elise was enthralled with the thought of these babies to play with, and Josiah is a true baby holder. Between these girls and the Maddry twins, my children think that a double birth is common, and therefore have been praying for twins! I am not discouraging this talk as I have always prayed for that myself, I just hope they are not disappointed if God's answer is no!

After having visitors, we got to visit some friends and family up north before the cool weather hit. The kids and I drove up to Michigan to visit my Grandparents, cousins and Aunts. Michael was working out at the base and finishing up the dry wall in the basement. As we headed up to Michigan we stopped in IL near Chicago to visit some of our friends the Robarges who are out on their vicarage year of seminary. It was good to spend 4 hours together, roaming around a convenient meeting point ~ IKEA! We continued on further in to the windy city and stayed the evening with good friends the Shirley family. They are in a lovely home and sweet boy Kaleb is a lovable cuddle boy, and loved running into the guest bed set up in his playroom. Katrina is also pregnant, about 2 months ahead of me, and she reminded me that the tiredness will go away in a very short while!

At Grandma's, we had fun going on a bike ride, having a tea party, and the boys played a little basement golf. It was wonderful to enjoy the intimate time there, see my Aunts, go to the amazing market of Nino's and enjoy my Grandma's wonderful soups and Grandpa's wonderful stories.

Lastly, I have the photos that were just taken yesterday!!! Wow, I am impressed with myself right now! We have gymnastics every week for the kids. They are in the same class and love to do this together. Elise and Josiah have both learned an assortment of new things and love the running and jumping involved. Their teacher is very patient and enjoys having them in there.

And with this I will close tonight. Love to all, until next time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Parties and Purchases...

I am thrilled to share that I just purchased flossine sugar on e-bay!! This is so exciting because I will now have the one item that all of my parties have lacked.....cotton candy! For only a few simple dollars we will have 9 flavors to choose from. I must say, I am disappointed that this didn't come to fruition before my daughter's "PINK" birthday party, but I will involve it someway, somehow for my son's "Indian" birthday.

Well, enough about my future tooth decay, what I really wanted to share are the photos from the before mentioned pink birthday party. Elise was so excited that her turn for a party had finally arrived. She loved making the invites and thinking of all the people she wanted to invite. We had the party at a park so that friends could run around or play the variety of 'pink' themed games we had. Michael did a good job of hiding random pink items for the 'I spy something pink' game we played, and as always the pinata was truly a 'hit'. This year the pinata was filled with candy from Guatemala. I wouldn't recommend the mango flavored gum, not quite for my palette anyways!

Elise was elated to see her favorite teacher Miss Lisa!

Let the games begin! Grandma helps them list pink things that could be found in a store. Elise strikes a pose by her ice cream cone pinata. She was both the first and last batter up. Josiah ran for the candy, but after his descent on the sugar strewn area, he realized he would prefer the cone for hat, as noted in the second picture with Elise eating a most tasty piece of cake, goes down smoothly as it was covered by pink frosting! Is there any other way to enjoy cake? The group sings as Elise attempts to distinguish her candles.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

It's About Time!!

Ok, so it has been a while....a long while since I have blogged at all. Sorry fan club (or SabMad) for this lack in time and fulfillment of expectations, but we are ready to go, at least today! I have 26 minutes and counting before the children are allowed out of their playroom/bedroom for the day! I am going to post our favorite pics from the last 2 or so months of absence. Love to all, Amy

In the last few days of being in Colorado, we spent time with the Brossetts. We had a blast with the kids, ate a huge Fondue House style dinner, and Elise especially enjoyed dessert.

We also made sure to take the children to the Air Force Academy and saw the monumental chapel where Michael and I shared our first kiss as man and wife!

On our way home we visited the Strahm Family, Micheal's cousins whom own a dairy farm! We actually saw one calf moments after it was born, and the following morning we got to help feed some that were just days old! Josiah loved it, Elise didn't like the mud, and Micheal as always was the clean-up guy for another one of my proposed "experiences." Josiah also named 3 of the boy calves. His choices were Josiah, Joseph, and Joe.

On coming back to the sem, we encountered the Family Park day. This has to be one of my favorite events of the year as the children have a blast. It was really well done this year. Elise liked the small pool and played in the water the whole time, Josiah preferred the fire engine's spray of water! A good day to be a PK in training.
Another exciting event in our lives was going to the Cardinals Baseball game. Granted they did not have the season that they had last year, but we had a blast and stayed to see the last pitch! The kids had both won 2 tickets to the game through a summer reading program, they were both so proud to "take us out to the ballgame." It was an evening game, which is just magical under those lights. While the kids and Michael were searching for the mascot, I got to see a home run to which they set of a series of fireworks! It was a fantastic night.

Lastly, though out of order, I will include our Halloween picture. We went as the characters from Shrek. Josiah was the knight, Elise a Pink Dragon, I was Fiona, Biscuit was Donkey and I hope that you can tell who Michael is! He modernized the character by adding the blackberry to the waistline!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Some Condensed thoughts on Guatemala :)

Even after one month of being back to the States, I find myself still processing what took place in Guatemala and how it is affecting me. I have noticed that there are a few different themes that occur as I replay my experiences to friends who ask "How was your trip?". And so in this blog, I will attempt to summarize what these thoughts are. I am going to write in four segments: "Our time in Antigua", "A Few New Things", "The Mission", and "Continued Ministry". I will recount some of the experiences shared by the 'Concordia Six' as we affectionately named our 3 coupled group.

The Concordia Six

Our Time in Antigua:

The abundance of rain made us thankful for slickers!

An archway on the second floor of an Antigua Building.

A most important part to ministry is communication! So, the first week in Guatemala was spent in Antigua learning Spanish and about the amazing culture that would forever impact us. We attended a 5-Star language school where each of us had our own personal tutor to walk us through our own Spanish program. Since Michael and I were both 'familiar' with Spanish we considered ourselves at the intermediate level when we signed up for the school. On the first day, you are asked to take a placement test to appropriately assess your skill level and select a textbook from the grade levels A-G, G being the highest. Humbly, we were both placed in "Grado A."

The second story of our school, whiteboards abound. Michael and his teacher Edgar enjoying a map.

The school was in a well manicured, open square with phenomenal vegetation all around. Each student/teacher pair had their own table, two chairs, and white board. It was all very open, and I truly enjoyed being able to look around the room and see all my friends studying away! We were all very blessed in our 'maestros' (teachers) as they seemed perfectly suited for each of our characters. For example, Michael was paired with a gentleman named Edgar who was in his last year of law school. Whenever I would look over to their table they would be deep into the textbook, whiteboard filled with sentence structures, and intensely discussing the use of words. My teacher, Magda, allowed me to take a different approach of just using conversation and experience to teach. We talked about our lives, children, social issues, Guatemalan adoption views, history of the country, and freedoms of the U.S. When I did not know a word, I would say the English, she would fill in with Spanish, and I would quickly scribble it down on my flashcards. We also worked on conjugations of verbs on the whiteboard, but I must admit that much of our study time together was out in the city, walking the streets, talking about the incredible country we were in, and going to museums.

This brings me to another point. Antigua, although distinctly Guatemalan in vision, is a very well-off tourist town. There were as many 'gringos' as there were indigenous people. It was a good way to acclimate us to this new world. We were able to walk the streets safely (even though it was still important to use 'big city smarts') and really get a feel for our environment. In the afternoons, after 6 hours of school, would tour the city. We went to a coffee plantation, a few cathedrals, some telling ruins, and at the end of the week hiked a volcano! It was all irreplaceable experiences.

"How hot can lava really be?" thought the man with the burning stick.

We also visited the Lutheran Center in Antigua. Margrette, a friend from my parent's church in Colorado Springs, asked us to bring some pictures and information to a friend of hers at this center. The pictures were of her husband in 1951-52 at the center in Antigua....where he had done his vicarage! At one time the center was an active outreach to the city, and Robert Huebner was the assigned vicar. When delivering the photos we got to take a tour with Nury, the director of the center. Her current responsibility is to research the land to identify and excavate the ruins that they have discovered to be under the property! There is thought to be a whole building on their property, buried about 8 feet, of which they must uncover in order to fulfill their long-term goal of building a property fit for a seminary....quite the endeavor...well worth the effort in my opinion. It was a remarkable place to visit, and I had many aspirations as to what I would love to see happen there! (Now if someone would only ask, and then fund my ideas! Right Bill?)

The Lutheran Center in Antigua.

While in Antigua, we stayed with a host family. Our family lived on the edges of town in a beautiful home. Even better was the relationship that we built there. We stayed with a family of 5. Lesbia, the mom, was the perfect hostess and was very helpful in our Spanish learning. She even wrote out many Guatemalan recipes for me!! The and her husband, Eduardo, had 3 girls ~Maria Jose, Andrea, and Marcella. They also had a young golden retriever named Dulce (Candy). This dog was so similar to our own! There were two other students who lived at the house with us, Kimmy and Donielle. They were teachers from New York and they were very nice in showing us around and helping us get acquainted with the city a little bit. It was great getting to know them as well. We were very well fed, and spent the evenings enjoying family. When leaving Antigua, it felt as though we were exiting a honeymoon of sorts, and were rather decided to return at some time in our future.

A Few New Things

First of all, Guate is a beautiful country. It is tropical in that there was much rain while we were there, resulting in some amazing foliage. When in Antigua I loved the walk from our sponsor family's home to our Language school as we could just soak up the vegetation and look all around at the distant volcanoes! It was a brisk 15 minute walk that was a great beginning to each day. We started in the outskirts of town and progressed into the city, passing a few incredible churches, historical buildings, and a nice futbol stadium. The temperature was just right for wearing t-shirts and pants, ideal. Had we of been in St. Louis during this week, we would have been in the thick of summer with 100 degree days and more humidity than a Colorado girl can handle!

The food that we had was very rich and satisfying. I am just finished translating many recipes from the Spanish to English so that I can share them with friends. Highlights were the rice milk for breakfast, the avocado soup for lunch and the tortillas and plantains for supper. And I can't forget to mention the black beans....sensational! We went to only a few restaurants while there but were pleased every time. I specifically recommend the 'Cafe de Contessa' if anyone should happen to find themselves in Antigua.

Bartering for your purchases was a huge change, and one that was difficult to grasp, especially with how competitive I am. I tried to assess what the 'true value' of the item was since I was dealing with both a different currency, and the local people's assumptions that 'all Gringos are rich and should pay more'. And although there is truth to the later thought, you still don't want to be ripped off. Yet, when I was debating whether or not to buy something because the vendor would not come down any further, Micheal told me that I was walking from the sale over 1 American dollar! So I turned around and purchased the item. There was one artisan's store in which the prices were more or less 'set' and I choose to do more shopping there than in the markets.

In the produce market, I was amazed. I saw so many different spices and foods that I had never was so hard not to purchase a thing! Flowers abounded in magnificent displays, and the odious smell of 'fresh' fish engulfed the meat section. There were a lot fewer tourists in this section, and as I was taking pictures I realized that many of the adults would hide from my camera, so I stopped and therefore did not get as many pictures as I wanted of this colorful, glorious place.

As far as changes that made an affect on our daily life, there were quite a few huge ones. We had to be so cautious everywhere we went, especially in Guatemala City. Our freedoms to wander or have individual time out in the open was not possible. I could not carry my digital camera in the city, it would breach the team's safety for such a valuable item to be in sight. All money and personal information like passport and credit cards had to be in a concealed place, or just left in the house altogether. We had to keep an eye up at all times to see what those around us were doing, and while in the city we had 3 - 4 teenagers surrounding our team at all times keeping watch over us from the local gangs. Even the locals had this constant attention to their surroundings. There was no such thing as just deciding to go climb a near hillside for recreation, you had to be accompanied by a police escort! This was a surrender of freedom that I had never experienced before, and it was one that was quite hard to imagine doing for a long time.

Other changes included the bathrooms and plumbing for the city. It had all originally been plumbed with clay pipes, but with the earthquakes and effects of time, they were broken and had shifted. This being the case, you could not flush toilet paper! That took a few times to remember, it required breaking a habit that we have from toddler hood! The showers were also different. At our house in Antigua, we had hot water....scalding hot water!. We had to barely turn on the hot water and then let the ice cold water mix in for the 'perfect' tepid shower water. At our home in Guatemala City, we did not have the comforts of hot water pipes in the bathroom, and so we used a shower head that had electrical wires hanging out of it! Needless to say, I did not tinker with this equipment at all! The system was set up to have electricity running into the shower head, heating up coils on the inside that would then heat up the water that passed through. It was quite a trick to turn the water to flow slow enough so that it could pass through the coil at a rate that would render warm water. Once you accomplished the feat and felt proud of the trickle warm water you managed...someone in another part of the house would use the microwave or turn on a light, which would short the circuit to your shower head, starting over the process once more. Needless to say, I showered for shorter amounts of time than at home!

A nice change was the pace of life. Time was the people's greatest resource. They were so willing to sit and have a conversation. The day was started at dawn with a rooster's cry. Breakfast was served at 7 am. There was a mid-morning snack around 10:00 and then everyone broke for lunch around noon. There was a mid-day snack at 3:00 and between 7 and 8pm, we had dinner as a family. I could definitely go for these pauses in my day!

The Mission

The actual 'mission' of our trip was organized through "The Servant's Heart". They are a ministry comprised of many Guatemalans and Americans who seek to serve the poorest people in Guatemala city. The majority of the population in the area are displaced Mayans that fled the mountains during the country's recent civil war, they were looking for safety and work. They found the garbage dump to be their best option...their only option. Being uneducated farmers, they had no skills to offer the city. They could earn meager pay by pulling out the items from the trash trucks that could be recycled for money, and a bonus came when they discovered that much food and drink was in the waste as well. It is a consistent job, one that generations of people have shared.

On the rooftops in Guatemala City, the squatter's area behind us.

Many of the people whom this ministry serves live in a 'neighborhood' call the squatter's area. It used to be part of the city's large garbage dump, but has had a little dirt thrown over it, and the people have since built homes with various scraps from the garbage. Sheet metal, brick, clay, bath towels and bed sheets serve as dividing walls in this congested living space that is home to so many. Most have dirt floors. Recently the government has recognized these conditions as being unsuitable and has helped by putting in an electrical line for a single light bulb in a few of the homes. There are many chickens squawking, and decrepit, starving dogs roam the streets. Gang violence is prevalent, in fact, for a young man to not be involved in a gang is almost unheard of, so the people are ever watchful, cautious. It is so much for the eye to behold.

A young mom serving at the ministry with he little one in tow.

Yet, among this community that is seemingly hopeless, there is a growing desire for Jesus Christ. Our part in the ministry was to serve the people by building relationships and loving the unloved. What a blessing this was! Our first day consisted of us touring the elementary school that the Servant's Heart opened 3 years ago. This Lutheran day school is tuition free to the local children, but the parents do need to serve within the school one day a month by doing laundry, helping to clean after school hours, or working in the kitchen. There are currently 150 students enrolled in the school, and about 300 are on a waiting list to get in. Finances and space restrict the number of children enrolled. Breakfast, lunch, and after school programs are provided daily which allows these children a retreat from their home environment where most of them face starvation, abandonment, gang violence or abuse. So the kids flock to the school, they are eager to learn and strive to do their best with this great opportunity afforded them. Most of them have surpassed their parent's education by the time they are in 2nd grade. They are quick witted and aspire to be doctors, lawyers, pilots, teachers, pastors and models! They have joy in their hearts and a readiness to learn.

Our group did not actually teach the children in their daily work or classroom, but we were there to see the goings on of the school. The exception to this was a section we taught on personal hygiene. We taught about the importance of basic skills like washing hands, cleaning your body and brushing teeth. Our teammate Bill wrote an excellent skit about the evil Senior Bacteria and how he tries to infect your body and the only defence against his menacing ways is the valiant Don Jabon (jabon is Spanish for soap). It was a great skit where Michael was 'The Don" and I was 'el senior'.

Practicing 'good hygeine'.

We also taught after school events that were much like a shortened VBS. In it our friend Mary led music, taught about Jesus searching for the lost sheep, and made a craft with the children. Michael and our friend Mat did a skit of the lost sheep in Spanish. The incredible thing was that we were doing this for 60-100 children in a small cement room where the children seemed to pile together to enjoy God's Word. We then would hand out stickers for their sheep craft reminding them that "El Senior es mi Pastor", Jesus is my Shepherd. If they walked away with any thoughts, it was of the shepherd that loved them.

In addition to the children's ministry, we also prepared a women's study. Maryann had assembled hundreds of witness bracelet kit for the women to assemble after she taught on the woman who lost a coin and would not stop looking for it until it was found. The words that rang in my head, time and time again after this lesson, was that the coin was valuable - of utmost importance- that Jesus will not stop searching to find the one that was lost. When asked the question, "Do you have value to Jesus?" Some women nodded their head, some just wondered, and it was our joy to share the truth with them: Yes he values you so much that he would die on a cross and rise from death to save you! I think many women were quite affected by this thought, maybe even for some it was the first time they realized the were truly valuable.

Our team also served as spiritual guidance to the teachers and leaders of the school and ministry. We gave a few different studies for them. Michael even managed to get his slack-line down to Guatemala, and in his lesson taught on the 'balance' of leadership. Due to a lack in trees to tether the line to, we found ourselves up on the roof of the ministry building and the line was tied to the re-bar that protruded from the walls of the structure. It was a very thrilling event, and the leaders really enjoyed the challenge and message that this event brought.

The Servant's Heart also provides further education to their students after they graduate the 9th grade. When they graduate, The Servant's Heart offers to pay their tuition for high school and college if the student will work for them in the after school and Saturday programs for the younger children. Many of the students have elected to do this and have gained much responsibility and leadership within the walls of this ministry. They are thankful for their ability to serve the school that has provided so much for them. Even the six translators were once involved as children themselves, and now are attending college and in return lead the American groups through the week. They are amazing people with so much potential and drive!

In addition to the elementary school, The Servant's Heart also educates older students in occupational training and indigenous crafts. They are trying to provide people with the skills to make earn a living outside of the dump. We visited the site for their sewing department, wood shop, metal shop, bracelets, weaving, and the new t-shirt printmaking machine that was donated to them. They create many beautiful things that require tremendous skill and time.

Aside from teaching, we also took part in two community outreach events. The first was visiting the homes and people of the area. We would walk through the streets with our translators and they would knock on doors to see if anyone was home. When someone would stick their head out, our translators would ask if we could come in and talk with them. The six of us from St. Louis, plus 1-2 translators would cram into a home and visit with the people. We would talk of their problems and joys, their families, their hopes and fears. We would read the scriptures and we would pray for them. We did this a few times in the week and it was an amazing event, every time. People whose children attended the school were so grateful for our service, one lady even asked to pray for us and our team! That was a most humbling moment. Other people had never heard of the ministry and had never set foot in a church and did not know the story of Jesus! Others would tell us about themselves and just needed to talk about day to day life. Each one was willing and available to take the time for us.

The second outreach that the ministry runs is a food kitchen of sorts. The Servant's Heart provides food for a few hundred people in the neighborhood or by the dump four days a week. We went and served the food from the back of a small pick-up truck named 'Rodrigo'. Each person was to wash their hands with the water and soap that we provided, then would receive a bowl of food and some drink in a plastic bag (a Guatemalan modified Capri-Sun). For many this was their first and only meal for the day. It was a beautiful thing to wash the hands of the old and young alike. All were calloused, dirty, and cut, but they were attached to people with looks of gratitude on their faces. Visions from this time will be with me my entire life.

Towards the end of the week we took a trip to see the dump. Since the dump is no longer access able to Americans, we had to go into the city's cemetery to go to an overlook point. My stomach still lurches when I think of this site. We had to walk through rows of cement walls containing the caskets of others loved ones, all the time smelling a most horrific vomitous smell. Sections of the wall were broken, and empty slots exposed of where the living could not afford the year's rent for their deceased family member, the grave was broken, and the body cast down the hillside into the valley of the dump. As we got closer, there were enourmous vultures circling above, waiting for the rancid garbage...battleing with another vulture or a person working below. For miles trash was able to be seen. Constant beeping was heard as the large garbage trucks backed up to dump their collections onto the mounds of refuse for the people to sort. Directly behind the trucks stood people anticipating what might be found in their upcoming search.

The stench and despair of this sight is minimal compared to the sense of distrust and hopelessness worn on the faces of those living there daily. And it wasn't until we were overlooking the dump that I realized the truest tragedy of the people's life was the lack of relationship and trust with their government, their neighbors, their friends, their family....... In comes the Servants's Heart, providing them with stability, dependable friendships, and a relationship with this God~man named Jesus with whom they can give their trust. It is a contradiction to the rest of their society, and it is something that they can never truly live without. What a ministry this is!

Continued Ministry

To say that Michael and I have a desire to be a part of this ministry through our lives is a severe understatement! We hope to go back and serve on many different levels, only time and God's plan will reveal to what extent this will occur. Yet, we are not incapable of helping these great families and assisting the school because we are further away now. We have commited to supporting a child that will attend the Servant's Heart School hopefully until she completes her aspirations to be what she desires! We chose a little girl named Genesis. We asked for a kindergartener because she is close in age to our kids, a girl because we already have boys that we sponsor through other similar ministries, and I thought of my Gramma's church in Texas named "Genesis Lutheran Church" and how Genesis means 'Beginings' and how this is the begining to a great relationship for our family!

In addition to sponsorship we are collecting items for the future Seminary groups to take with them. Hygiene items, shoes, clothes, stuffed animals and toys are a few of the things that we will send. We can pack two 50lb bags per person going on the trip to take with them for the families! It is such a huge blessing to their community!

We also can lift our friends up in prayer regularly. There are countless events in my day that make me think of our time in Guatemala. In some respects that may be the case since we just returned from the trip, yet I hope that these flashbacks don't fade away. Each time a memory pops into my mind, it is an invitation to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. (Take a moment to do so right now if you will!)

Lastly, we have the joy of sharing our story with others and encouraging them to get involved in some way themselves. I highly recommend that if you are looking for a mission to serve, the Servant's Heart should be greatly considered. Their website is: You will be forever changed.

I hope that this encourages you to make a difference in others lives today. Thank you for all of the support; the prayers, finances, and encouragement. We love each and every one of you with the love of Christ.