Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Celebrating Easter with choirs of angels

This Easter we abandoned the typical celebrations with baskets and egg hunts, chocolate bunnies and daffodils. Instead we experienced Easter Sunday as a festival of singing with choirs of Haitian angels. We were blessed to participate in two rockin' celebrations with our Haitian brothers and sisters.
When the Haitians say Sunrise Service, they really mean rising before the sun for service and then celebrating royally at the first crack of light. That meant they rang the large church bell outside our window in Pignon at 3 a.m. and gathered for service at 4 a.m. We left Meilani sleeping with Auntie Stacie, dressed quietly and snuck next door to catch a peek of what was to transpire. We tried to seat ourselves consipicuously in the pews amongst the people, rather than our usual perch at the front of the church. Five choirs, including singers from four other Baptist churches were already warming up for the big event. We slipped into the middle of a broken pew and the singing commenced.
We really had no idea what was in store. The church on the main mission compound where we stay was the host to this year's Sunrise Service. People from the neighboring churches helped pack the house with more than 1,000 people and the choirs rotated with special music. The Baptists are not usually a demonstrative bunch but for this service they were raising hands, shouting Hallelujahs and spreading the joy of the Lord. Then the preaching began. Ericlee didn't understand the Haitian Kreyol but he saw the sweat on the preacher's brow, felt the passion in his words, and felt the excitement in his heart.

As the sun began to rise, the people in the church flooded the streets and started to march toward the town square. The choirs sang. The band marched and played. People watched from their front porches and through the cracks in their doors. Ericlee was able to follow the parade - something he later said was indescribable. At the square, they shouted "He is Risen! He is Risen! Cris Resusite!" at the top of their lungs.
After a quick nap, our team packed into the pick-up truck and started the trek to service #2 at the San Raphael church. This one was more "low-key," although the enthusiasm and passion was still all there. We saw the faithful flock of people as they sang, recited scriptures and ate together. Many of these walked 1-2 hours to get to church from their mountain homes. We were awed by their dedication.
While the lades of the San Raphael church served our group and the church members an Easter feast, Meilani found some new friends. The girls in their Easter dresses played hide-and-seek in the window, shared a few pieces of candy and climbed a pile of rocks. What a different kind of Easter than we are all used to. What a blessing to drink in the simple life and celebrate the true meaning of the holiday. Christ has risen!

Home Sweet Home

We made it home safely on Monday night after a full day of traveling. How we miss our Haitian friends. This truly was a life-changing trip for all of us and will take some time to process. We have lots of stories and photos to share with you all in the next few weeks but first we need to catch up on sleep, laundry and concentrate on our obligations to work and the track team. How quickly we were whisked back into the crazy busy American way of life! Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts while we were in Haiti. We truly felt the blessings and protection throughout our 12 days. 

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Haiti Trip: Team passes the halfway mark

This morning we were awakened by the now familiar sound of the 4 a.m. prayer meeting at the church next door and the roosters outside our window. We have fondly come to recognize the music of the black angels singing and ushering us into each new day.

We are beginning to feel the rhythm of Haiti.

Our team has made it past the halfway point of our trip and we are all lamenting how quickly the time is passing. We have experienced so many blessings these last seven days it’s hard to know what to focus on.

Stacie and Dorina just completed a three-day study for the young women of the church. This was a blessed time of sharing our testimonies and encouraging the women. We sang, prayed, studied the Bible and shared. We had an average of 25 women between the ages of 16 and 24. Today, we hosted a “bridal shower,” helping underscore that we are the “bride of Christ.” The women delighted in an activity dressing five of them as brides with wedding clothes made of toilet paper. (Sometimes the simplest things can be so creative and fun.) We also served peanut butter brownies, which we baked in a homemade oven at a nearby bread bakery. A few of the women shared what they learned in the last few days.

Forest, Ericlee and Clint are in the midst of hosting a Young Men’s Leadership Conference. They have had a powerful time of teaching about leadership, identity and purity. The men are very interested and asking insightful questions on these topics. They had an average of 23 men between the ages of 15 and 35. Their final session will be Friday morning.

On Wednesday, Stephanie Ridgeway, our church’s Coordinator of External Focus (Missions), arrived. She will be with us for this second half of our stay in Haiti. Last night Peter Costantin, the field director of Christian Friendship Ministries, took us for a bumpy truck ride out to a parcel of farm/garden property owned by his father. He unfolded for us his vision for this “field of dreams” to harvest the sugar cane and other valuable fruits and vegetables growing there, and eventually to build a Christian camp for young people. There is very little right now in Haiti designed for reaching out to the children. Peter’s vision is to invest in and build up the next generation of Christian leaders.

Meilani continues to drink in the Haitian culture. As we walk the streets, many locals joke that she must be Haitian or should stay here for good. Her skin has turned a beautiful bronze and she’s made good friends with a little girl named Witza (who was one of our youngest camp members when we came in 2001 – an amazing athlete). In church, she gathers up the children like a mother hen and passes out stickers and candy. Her eyes are filled with wonder as she explores this new land and people. (She’s also had lots of great bonding time with “Nama” or Grandma Chris.)

Our biggest joy has been reuniting with old friends and sharing our beloved Haiti with close friends and our church family. Please continue to pray for us as we travel and minister. A few on our team are struggling with the familiar “stomach issues.” (Yes, we’ll spare you the details on that.) Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

We wish you a blessed Good Friday and Easter Sunday! Think of us worshipping in this corner of the world with our extended Haitian family.

-continued blessings
-protection from spiritual warfare
-health (especially stomach issues)
-team unity
-vision (for how we can partner with the Haitians & Christian Friendship Ministries in the future)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Welcome (Early) Baby Lazo

CONGRATULATIONS to Paul & Michelle Lazo whose little girl CYNTHIA JOY was born two months early. Yes, she already has a mind of her own (no surprise for a little Lazo!) She came into the world at 5:36 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and is doing fine. We are so excited that Mama and baby are doing well, although 4-pounds-6-ounce Cynthia has to stay in the hospital for at least 6 weeks as she develops. Please continue to pray for them.

News from Haiti

We arrived here in Pignon, Haiti, Friday afternoon after our long trek across the United States from Fresno to Los Angeles to Miami to Port Au Prince and then out to the rural mountain area. We were delayed in Port Au Prince for several hours as we waited for one stray bag at the airport. We were scheduled for an 11:30 a.m. flight to Pignon but we didn’t actually fly until 1:30 p.m. We waited for those several hours in the small airport in Port Au Prince. This was a kind of holding pattern for us as we were introduced to the sticky heat, some time connecting with Haitians in the airport and preparing emotionally and spiritually for the days ahead.

We were greeted here at the house by the wonderful staff of Christian Friendship Ministries. I was overjoyed to see so many friends and especially the little children waiting to see us in the yard. The women already had a scrumptious Haitian meal set on the table for us. We ate, we rested and we began unpacking our 14 bags – mostly of supplies.

Saturday morning we jumped right in to a time of ministry and sharing with the people. We planned a day of activities for the kids here in Pignon. Ericlee called it a “Field Day” of sorts. More than 100 kids were out on the field by 9 a.m. ready for our games and prizes. We taught them Steal the Bacon, Limbo, Duck Duck Goose and even did some track & field events, including the relay races (passing batons), hurdles and the 50-yard dash. The sun beat down on our backs but we were very blessed by the bright faces of the children – so many of them with natural athletic ability.

Forest, Stacie and Clint already fit right in with the culture. Forest is already planning his next trip to Haiti and Stacie is bonding with all the little babies and children in the front yard. Meilani has made herself right at home and already has a sweet missionary's heart. She loves passing out gift to the kids and playing with her new friends. She's even tried out some Haitian words.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gilmores head out for Haiti

Au Revoir! We leave Thursday for 11 days in Haiti. We will be returning to Pignon where Ericlee's mom (Grandma Chris) was born. We are taking a team of people from our church to do ministry and cast vision for our church partnering with Christian Friendship Ministries for a project in the future. Our team includes (left to right) Clint Yarbrough, Ericlee, Dorina & Meilani Gilmore, Stacie & Forest Benedict, Stephanie Ridgeway, Christene Karlyn (aka Grandma) Please pray for us while we are gone and check back here for occasional updates.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Happy 60th Birthday, Mom!

If I didn't tell you, you would never guess my dear mama was turning 60. Her official birthday is Thursday but we decided to celebrate on Saturday night since the Gilmores are leaving Thursday for a Spring Break missions trip to Haiti. We surprised Mom with tickets to a local dinner theater. The show: 42nd Street.

We had great fun dining out on a double date with my parents. (Grandma Chris graciously played babysitter for the evening.) Mom loves shows and especially shows that involve dancing. For those who don't know, "42nd Street" is a Broadway show that takes place in the 1930s and features lots of great tap dancing as well as singing and romance.

Mom enjoyed a key lime birthday dessert at intermission and they even announced her name and birthday for the whole audience to help us celebrate. Our waitress lit a birthday candle and we sang. We all enjoyed celebrating Mom. We were tapping our toes as we left the theater.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Easter Egg Brigade

Friday night we helped Grandma Larry celebrate his birthday. His birthday was actually February 14 but we have a tradition that we set up our house like a restaurant and give him and menu and then he chooses his birthday dinner. This year's theme: Dorina's Italian Ristorante and the entertainment for the evening was a certain easter egg toy for Meilani.

Larry chose Butternut Squash Soup, Baby Greens Salad with Feta and Asian Pears, Chicken Cacciatore and Raspberry Bread Pudding for dessert. Meilani had a little pre-Easter fun as Grandpa showed her how to spin this egg toy and she made it bounce and roll across the table. Such fun!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Inspired by Art: Small group takes a field trip

Thursday night we took a break with our Small Group friends to check out ArtHop. ArtHop is a semi-monthly arts affair in Fresno. Art venues in downtown Fresno and the Tower District open their doors and allow community members to indulge in a buffet of art around the city for free. This event happens every other Thursday night but we've never had the chance to attend. Our friend Allison mapped out the plans of which galleries to see - and we were all very inspired. We went to three galleries and saw: photographs of India, large, jazz-inspired paintings, a photo exhibit on feet and some large modern paintings by my old friend Ronald. Meilani loved the photograph of the elephants in India. The whole experience made me reflect on how long it's been since I actually got out my easel and paints and had a painting party. Definitely something to make time for this spring! ArtHop is a cool (free!) date night or family outing. It's a chance to meet up with old friends and celebrate art in the Central Valley. We'll definitely be going back.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Baby Time: Showering Mary with Blessings

It's spring and as they say in Bambi (one of Meilani's newest faves) everyone's getting twitterpated. It's also time for the babies to bloom. Our dear friend, Mary Andrade and her hubby, Antonio, are expecting a little girl in just a few weeks. Sunday we helped host a baby shower for them. Candice Lewis was the hostess with the mostest. She opened her Kingsburg home to 30-some women armed with "girl gifts."

Showers are always a great excuse to get all the girlfriends together. This time most of us left our kids at home with the daddies so we enjoyed an afternoon out for socializing and celebrating with Mary.

Late Saturday night when I was agonizing over what dessert to make I decided to follow my own craving. We indulged on homemade chocolate-dipped strawberries. (Always a winner with the ladies!)

I also decided to go for the gourmet chic cupcakes. I tried out new recipes for zucchini-honey cupcakes with cream cheese frosting (healthy for the pregnant mama) and organic chocolate cupcakes with all-natural raspberry sprinkles. These were fun to make and easy to serve.

After digging into the food, we played some of those goofy shower games. The theme was Winnie the Pooh (since that's the decor in the nursery) and we played a Pooh character guessing game. Stacie also served up the "What's that smell? Diaper Game." All the ladies had to guess the mystery brown stuff (melted candy) in the baby diapers. Yucky!

Susan tried to cheat by actually licking the brown fair!

Mary raked in a myriad of great gifts, including some of her registry Pooh items and lots and lots and lots of cute girlie clothes and bows. Did someone say pink? That was definitely the theme for this spring baby girl!

We sent the guests home with little jars filled with honey and tied with a ribbon as a shower favor. A fun twist on the Winnie the Pooh theme. The party was a perfect chance to celebrate as we eagerly await the arrival of Emalia Ruby Andrade.