Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Thousands Gifts: Finding treasured moments

After reading this blog at A Holy Experience, I was challenged to think about the thousand gifts our family has shared this last week. The simple moments. The highlights. The gifts that were never put under the tree or wrapped in fancy paper. The places where something deep in our hearts was united with the reason we celebrate Christmas. The glimpses of heaven.

On Sunday night Ericlee and I drove my sister, Caron, and her kids, Gio and Sophia, back to the airport in San Jose. We put them on a plane to Seattle and mourned a bit to see them go. After a glorious week together, we traced the treasured moments. These are a few they mentioned and some we've added since then:

~Acting out the Christmas story at my brother Paul's house. Meilani was so serious about her role as Mary. Giada was dressed in angel wings standing arms-spread on a kitchen stool. Paul was Joseph using a black frilly scarf as his beard. Nana Maria kept insisting we sing Christmas carols. Gio, Sophia and Papa Doug were the wise guys. Cindy and Dorina baaaa-ed like the sheep. Michelle was Mary with child. Ericlee narrated in a dramatic voice.

~A grand Christmas Carol Fiesta. Paul and Michelle hosted 25 neighbors and friends. We sang our hearts out for the elderly people at a nearby convalescent home. One woman spread out her wrinkled arms to our girls, delighted to share a Christmas song with children. Complete joy.

~Caroling followed by tamales. A food tradition of a different culture adopted by our family this year. My mom ordered tamales from a family without regular work. They blessed us with marvelous morsels as we blessed them.

~Deep belly laughs as the adults play the game Buzz Word - turning phrases upside down and inside out.

~Making pita piatta with the family. A time to join the circle, continue the passing down of recipes through the generations, through food and the act of creating something wonderful together. Raisin-cinnamon-nut goodness. Warm from the oven. Giada spreading the cinnamon. Too much. Just right.

~Knitting with my niece. Our fingers dancing, flying across needles and skeins of yarn. Had to finish the Christmas orders so we could rest. Hats, headbands, fingerless gloves in all shapes and sizes. Laughing, teaching, sharing and crying. Done.

~Giada opening her first gift of Christmas morning - a Little People nativity set. "Jeeee-sus!" she squealed at the top of her lungs. And in that moment I felt it. Christ had come!

~Watching the Nativity movie. All the cousins, sisters and grandmas piled on our big red couch, still wearing our pajamas. Meilani was delighted to sit in the midst of her family. My sister cried when she saw Mary traveling, sacrificing, heavy on that donkey. We felt the awe of the moment when the star shone down and the child burst forth.

~Rolling out ravioli dough on Christmas afternoon. Caron, Gio and Sophia arguing about the best, most-efficient way to do it. Laughing together at our humanness. The epic project. Creating a new recipe with pumpkin-ricotta filling. Savoring each bite.

~Decorating gingerbread men. The little ones leading the brigade of sprinkles and wiggly lines of frosting. An old tradition made new.

~Taking ornaments from our Christmas tree and sharing them around the table after the Christmas meal. Each ornament represented a story, a country, a people. We prayed for the people celebrating Christmas in those lands. We prayed for those in need. We prayed for the world to find the Christmas Gift.

~A brisk walk with my sister through the neighborhood. A Salted caramel mocha at Whole Foods. A chance to pause, to mourn, to celebrate these months we've lived apart and faced our separate challenges. A chance to intertwine our journeys once again.

....a Thousand Gifts.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

December Gilmore Gazette: Gilmores Prepare for Haiti

Here's a copy of our new e-newsletter, which we will be sending out regularly to keep people updated on our move and mission work in Haiti. If you'd like to be on our list to get this in your email inbox, leave a comment below.

Dear Friends & Family,

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! We are starting a newsletter to help keep our closest circle of friends, family and supporters informed about our plans to serve in Haiti with Christian Friendship Ministries in 2011. We hope this will be a place where we can celebrate what God is doing in our family's life and through His ministry in Haiti. We also want to keep you informed about ways you can specifically pray for us and partner with us in connecting resources to Haiti.

We started this journey back in February when we really felt God nudging us to pursue this calling to go to Haiti for a longer period of time than just a few weeks each summer. The process has been important in preparing our hearts for mission work. We traveled to Haiti in August for two weeks with two teams to work on communications and put on a Vacation Bible School in the orphanage built by our church last fall. This trip also gave us an opportunity to meet with the Haitian leaders of Christian Friendship Ministries and talk through what we will do during our mission year in Haiti.

September was full of painful and powerful experiences as God has challenged us to downsize our possessions and live on a very tight budget. We have been reading and re-reading two important books: Francis Chan's CRAZY LOVE and Richard Stearns' THE HOLE IN OUR GOSPEL. Chan writes, "The concept of downsizing so that others might upgrade is biblical, beautiful...and nearly unheard of." We are reminded that it's easy to say we're not attached to our "stuff." It's entirely different thing to act on that conviction and truly simplify our American lives.

In October we officially put our Fresno home up on the market to sell. We were tempted to rent it out but we really feel God is asking us to take a step of faith and sell our home to be truly free of debt and attachments. Dorina's brother, Paul Lazo, is our real estate agent. We have had several agents and families come look at the house in the last month but we are still waiting on a buyer. It only takes one but we haven't had any offers yet.

On November 7, we ran the Two Cities Half Marathon in Fresno as a fundraiser. We were so blessed to be joined by 17 friends who ran/walked the 13.1 miles. Ericlee served as the coach for "Team Gilmore - Remember Haiti." We trained together for the last 12 weeks. Each week we met for workouts and a prayer time for Haiti. God really surprised us with the success of our first official fundraiser. The greatest part about it was being able to share our heart for Haiti with 127 sponsors, who pledged money toward our mission work in Haiti. We were so proud of the team members. Every last one of them crossed the finish line Sunday and many even achieved personal goals and records. The group raised more than $9,000.

Our departure date depends on the sale of our home and raising the remainder of our financial support for our year in Haiti. We estimate we will need $3,300 monthly (which includes are start-up costs) plus enough to buy a vehicle. We are very excited about many new monthly supporters as well as several one-time donations. We are about halfway to reaching our goal. Please continue to pray for God to provide the finances. We are willing to go as early as January 2011 but waiting for God's provision and direction. Our ministry partners in Haiti are eager for our arrival.

Ericlee is currently working part-time teaching as an adjunct at Fresno Pacific University in the Kinesiology department, DeVry university teaching Nutrition and coaching at Crossfit/S.P.E.E.D. gym. Dorina continues to provide childcare for two children (Nathanael Benedict & Mia Vasquez) in addition to caring for our two girls. Dorina's in the editing stage of her thesis and hopes to complete that before going to Haiti. Meilani started a home school kindergarten program this fall. She's an eager learner! Giada is 19-months-old and full of kisses and mischief. We are enjoying this new stage of her talking and playing more independently.

That's the update on our family. We would love to hear news from you. We welcome emails, snail mail and phone calls!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Frugal Finds: Using our resources wisely

This fall we've been thinking a lot about how to use our resources wisely and how to stretch our pennies. This has been partly out of necessity since Ericlee did not have a full-time job and because we were preparing for our move to Haiti. We have searched out a lot of ways to buy less, eat locally and seasonally and recycle items within our community of friends. This has helped a lot in saving money but also in teaching our girls the value of living on less and helping others.

On our other blog, I've been exploring new foods and creating new recipes to employ some of what we are learning in the area of health and wellness. A few of my mama friends are really frugal with coupons and online deals. I wish I had more time to run around town and take advantage of coupons but I have to choose my errands wisely now that we have one car (another choice in the journey to downsize).

One of my fave ways to save is through Groupon, a group coupon that comes out every day and offers amazing steals on restaurants, activities and more in Fresno. I've scored lots of discounts and even more than $200 worth of free stuff through that site. I only share the ones our family would use.

This year we wanted to continue some of our Christmas traditions but in a more economical way. For the third year in a row, I sold some of my knitted items at a boutique at our church. This helped pay our bills in December and gave us a small budget for the holidays.

Nathanael shows off the knitted pumpkin hat.
Giada poses in a knitted flap hat - perfect to keep little ears warm.
Fingerless gloves embellished with buttons

One of my fave Christmas traditions is writing (and receiving) Christmas cards. I got a great deal on LivingSocial - another coupon network - for some of our cards. We also love to create gifts that are more meaningful than just the latest toy or fashion statement. One tradition Ericlee started with his mom was to create a picture calendar each year. We love Shutterfly and use their online printing services frequently. Every year I make a photo book for my girls to celebrate their birthdays. This is my version of scrapbooking or making picture albums and an economical way to save the memories. The girls page through these books frequently. Giada is especially into these books and I finally got around to finishing her first year book, which will be under the Christmas tree this year.

This year Shutterfly also offered 50 free Christmas cards for including them in a blog. So, here's my shameless plug for Shutterfly. I found out about this from my friends Brandy and Marcy - two friends also on this journey of living in community and sharing more with the needy of the world. Marcy developed a Facebook group and blog called Living Hebrews 13:5 where our friends can give things away or look for used items. We have greatly benefitted from this circle of recycling new and used items.

Why worry about saving?

Sure, it takes more effort and some serious time making wise choices, but we think it's worth it. Not only does it help the wallet; it also helps grow our faith. If we put our faith in God to provide our needs, and then share more of our resources with others, we experience the blessing of giving. Sounds to me like the reason for the season.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

TEAM GILMORE runs Two Cities Half Marathon

(Top Left to right: Julie Rurik, Nancy Willey, Debbie Loewen, Lisa Gould, Forest Benedict, Cori Schmidt, Anne Brant. Second row: Marcy Pusey, Adriana Vilanova, Katrina Jimenez, Jill Janzen, Stacie Benedict, Dave VanderMeulen. Bottom row: Jeremy Willey, Dorina & Ericlee Gilmore, Chris Schultz)
 On November 7, we ran the Two Cities Half Marathon in Fresno with 17 of our friends. This was more than a one-day event; it was a 3-month journey as our group trained together, raised money for our family's move to Haiti and pushed our bodies to new challenges.

The journey began August 16 when started our training as a group. We never dreamed this many friends would join us. In fact, Ericlee and I planned to run the race just the two of us to raise funds like a jog-a-thon but our friends Stacie and Forest got word and decided to join us. Then more friends asked to join the fun. And the rest is history.

Ericlee enjoyed his role as coach of his new "cross country team." He prepared workouts for 3 months, which were emailed to the team weekly. We also met at least twice a week for track speed workouts and long runs. We frequently met at Fresno's Woodward Park to run the Eaton Trail and enjoy the magnificent sunrise over the Sierra Mountains. Ericlee also had us running on the Fresno State track and through the vineyards at the university. This was an amazing time of bonding and prayer for Haiti and our coming mission there. Each person also got sponsors for the race and shared our heart for Haiti with more than 170 new people.

Our personal goal was to run the half marathon (13.1 miles) in less than 2 hours and raise $5,000. (Of course, Ericlee can run much faster than that but he committed to seeing me through my personal record.) Last time I ran an half marathon I ran 2:01:40.

 We were blessed by so many friends joining us on this journey, including Dave VanderMeulen, the husband of my college roommate Jen. Dave signed on and trained in his home town of Escalon, which is 2 hours north of Fresno. Pastor Dave was able to share our mission to Haiti with a new group of family and friends and he raised more than $100/mile he was running. His wife and girls came to cheer us on for the big race and even made encouraging signs to help us on our way. Meilani and Giada especially enjoyed having a larger cheering section for this race. We are so grateful and humbled!
 Cori Schmidt was the superstar of our team. She had never run a long distance race before but tackled this physical feat with enthusiasm. Not only did she destroy her personal records and goals (and lose 25+ pounds in the process) but she also raised the most money of anyone on our team. Cori was so inspiring and I am truly thrilled to have a new mama running partner. (We were thankful for the commitment of her hubby Darrel too, who watched their son and encouraged his wife on the journey.)
 We put in many training miles with old and new friends. Jeremy Willey (center) has been a close friend for years and even one of Ericlee's roommates in the past. His mom, Nancy Willey, traveled to Haiti with us this summer for our short-term trip to do a Vacation Bible School at the orphanage. She was our oldest Team Gilmore member and completed the 13.1 miles walking - always smiling, always encouraging and offering up her sweet prayers on everyone's behalf. Adriana is Jeremy's girlfriend and this race gave us the fun opportunity to get to know her better. She blessed us by finding corporate sponsors for the race T-shirts.

We had a crew of people who were "wogging" or walking/jogging the race. At our final team dinner, we heard their crazy stories of walking and chatting together. As Marcy shared, this race was a time to overcome physical obstacles and grow spiritually as well. Running affords one time to think and pray and many of us were challenged to think about how running is a metaphor for the race of life.

Our team verse was: However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifiying to the gospel of God's grace.

We each clung to this verse along the miles as God helped us through. I'm happy to report I made my goal of running the race in under 2 hours, coming in at 1:57 (under 9 minute per mile pace) with my love by my side. Even more importantly, we give God the glory for raising more than $9,000 and bonding together this community of friends. Everyone crossed the finish line. We are going to make runners out of them all!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Happy Harvest: Always time for a good costume party

Our friends the Toslands invited us to a costume party. With a little urging from Meilani girl, our family dressed as ballet dancers from the Nutcracker Ballet. Meilani was dressed as Clara (carrying her nutcracker). Giada was our sweet Sugar Plum Fairy. Mama was a Chinese Dancer. And Daddy even bravely donned some tights and dressed as a male dancer.

Giada had big fun in the Toslands' bounce house. She thought it was so fun to jump and twirl in her fairy princess dress. She looked positively royal!

This party was a fun chance to reconnect with some friends we haven't seen in a long time. It's amazing how quickly all the kids have grown when you haven't seen each other for a while.

They may have been dressed to impress in princess wear but these girls were all Tom boy! They sped around the Toslands' race track, batted down the pinata and crawled through the tunnels and spider-webbed forest. So much fun!

Amy (Miss Baker Extraordinaire) had a cupcake and cookie decorating station. These boo-tiful cakes were moist pumpkin with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles. Spook-tacular! Meilani & Giada came home with a bag full of candy to trade Daddy for pennies and a trip to the craft store.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dorina's Chai Cheesecake wins prize at Big Fresno Fair

I always love entering the cooking contests at our Big Fresno Fair. It's a fun challenge to make something unique with the designated food product - not to mention a little extra dough if you win. This year I entered the Malt-O-Meal Creations contest. I thought it would be using something porridge-like Malt-o-Meal hot cereal we all grew up on. But the company is out to promote their cold cereals so I had to come up with a unique recipe using on of their cold cereals.

After visitng three local grocery stores, I finally checked the web site and found the cereals were sold at our local Walmart. I came home with a huge back of Honey Nut Scooters, which are similar to Honey Nut Cheerios or Honey Trader O's, which I prefer. Then I had to dream up something to make.The contest is judged on Creativity, Taste and Ease of Recipe.

I have to admit I let weeks go by. I was stumped. Then one day my friend Bev showed up at my house with a slice of cheesecake. We marveled at how inexpensive cheesecake is to make and how glorious and rich the result. I decided to rev up a cheesecake using the cereal in the crust. I knew this couldn't be just any cheesecake. It had to be different. I decided to employ one of my fave flavors - Chai Tea.

I'm a Chai lover. If you haven't had Chai, it's a tea using Indian-inspired spices. The word chai literally means tea. This tea feels very fall to me - full of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. Everyone mixes their chai a little differently. I've noticed Chai is becoming all the rage in local cafes and even Jamba Juice serves a Chai-licious smoothie that's inspiring.

I made a couple cheesecakes to perfect the crust and Chai filling mixture. Of course, I cut the sugar used in most cheesecake recipes in half. The following recipe was the result. My family and I had fun heading down to the Big Fresno Fair and watching the judging. Surprise, surprise - 100 percent of the entries were desserts. The judges did deliberate.

They announced the winners and my "Chai Cheesecake with Honey Nut Crust" was awarded 2nd place and $50. I was very excited to stand next to Pearl, the first place winner. She was the sweetest old lady who was blind and had entered 20 other desserts in the fair as well. Her Raspberry Crunch Pie deserved first!

For the recipe, check out our recipe blog here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Team Gilmore-Remember Haiti runs Cross City Race downtown

Dorina, Cori, Marcy, Dad Doug & Ericlee were some of Team Gilmore who ran at the Cross City Race.
Dorina & Ericlee pose after the Cross City Race 10k.
In October, we ran our annual Cross City Race in downtown Fresno. This was a 10k run through the city. We especially enjoyed this run because we were accompanied by several of our friends who have joined "Team Gilmore - Remember Haiti." There are 19 of us total who are training for the Two Cities Half Marathon on Nov. 7. The Cross City Race was a kind of "practice" race for our team. We also got to sport our new "Remember Haiti" team shirts.
Dorina & Meilani cruise around the baseball field for the kids' run. Meilani got a little psyched out so she didn't want to run when all the other kids were running but she did complete the 1/4-mile route after the race was finished.
Nama Chris came out to cheer us on. Daddy Ericlee ran with his buddy Chris Schultz. Dorina ran her own 10k - her best time for this distance even though the race was a little frustrating because there were no mile markers. We are all looking forward to the big race on Nov. 7 with Team Gilmore, which is a fundraiser to raise support for our family to go to Haiti.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Downsizing: Ericlee sells some childhood treasures

This month we took two giant steps toward our goal of moving to Haiti to do mission work with Christian Friendship Ministries. The first step was to start downsizing our "stuff." We cleared off a lot of our shelves, sorted through the valuable furniture and keepsakes and started piles to sell and donate. One of the big items that we are working on selling is Ericlee's G.I.Joe collection. For anyone who has known my husband for some time, you know that he has a very large G.I.Joe collection. It's not the kind of collection that has been behind glass or comes in original boxes. This is a well-loved and treasured collection that was started when Ericlee was a kid.

In August, Ericlee had the opportunity to sort through the collection and photograph it with his cousin David. They reminisced about the days gone by and their childhood fun. They also marveled at how God has moved in both of their lives to serve in missions. David and his family are missionaries in Spain.

I have to say I'm pretty grateful for good ole G.I.Joe right about now. That dude is paying some of our bills. I'm proud of my husband for giving up some of his treasured "things" for the sake of our family and for others.

The second big step was putting our house on the market this month to sell. We have been anticipating this step for a long time but it was a different thing to actually clean out the house, put up the for sale sign and trust God for just the right timing. We have so many wonderful memories in our home in Fig Garden. We also know it is time to move on and make new memories. More than anything we want to be obedient to God's Call right now. 

One of our favorite authors, Francis Chan, writes, "The concept of downsizing so that others might upgrade is biblical, beautiful...and nearly unheard of. We either close the gap or don't take the words fo the Bible literally." (CRAZY LOVE). This quote really hit us hard. Sure, it's not saying everyone should sell their home and move to Haiti. But we were challenged as a family to think about what we really need and what resources we have to offer God. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grandma Sara Yaquinto's Eulogy: Celebrating life

My grandma, Sara Yaquinto, died peacefully in sleep on Thursday. She was 96 years old and now has a new body in heaven where she is with her Savior and reunited with family and friends. I'm so happy for her home-going.

This is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral today:

I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity to share with you a few memories of my dear grandma, Sara Yaquinto. I could never begin to trace the history of her 96 years. She lived a very full and blessed life but I will tell you a few of my most treasured memories.

I will remember most the time I had with Grandma in the kitchen. The kitchen is the place where everything was happening at Grandma’s house. We spent many hours cooking together. Well, to be truthful, Grandma did the cooking and I did the “helper jobs.” I watched her long fingers with those perfectly-manicured nails fly through the food preparations. Food was a love language for my grandma. She loved to serve others by serving them food. Grandma had the gift of hospitality. Many of you can agree with me that Grandma had this magical way of turning “a few things out of the refrigerator” into a grand banquet for guests – whether they were just stopping by or had prearranged to come to dinner. First, she would bring out the sliced cheese and wedges of pepperoni followed by the olives and Italian bread. Then would come the homemade canned peppers and sausage and pasta dishes with homemade Italian cookies she just happened to have pulled out of the freezer the day before. A few light appetizers would turn into a five-course meal almost instantly. And there was no refusing food from Grandma. If you said no, you got one more serving of pasta. If you said yes, you got two more servings.

Our family built many traditions around cooking together. When my grandpa John was alive, we would make it a tradition to go to their house and make pita piatta, an Italian pastry full of cinnamon-sugar-raisin-nut goodness. Now this is a tradition we carry on with our own children. I will remember Grandma’s Easter breads, Italian love knot and pizzelle cookies. And nothing beats my grandma’s Eggplant Parmigiana – those tender layers of breaded eggplant slathered in marinara sauce with melted cheese on top. (I know, I know, now I’m making us all hungry…)

When I went away to college and then eventually moved to California and got married, I spent many hours on the phone with Grandma asking her to recite recipes to me. This was our connection across miles and time zones. Somehow I didn’t want to lose her gift. Today, some might say cooking is my gift but I owe it all to Grandma and my mom Maria who modeled that Italian hospitality for me.

My Grandma Sara Yaquinto was a woman who loved to serve people. She was very involved in this church (St. Linus) and in the community. She was a part of countless groups and clubs, including the Italian-American Club, president of the Christian Women’s Club and the Daughters of Isabel group, to name a few. She served luncheons for funerals, hosted fundraisers and encouraged club members in her sweet way. Grandma was also serious about her faith. She attended church regularly and prayed daily. If I was struggling with something I always knew I could ask her to add me to her prayer list and she would do it.

Many of you will also remember that Grandma was always dressed to the hilt whether she was going to a club meeting, a fancy dinner or just down to the post office. We’re talking hose and matching jewelry and fancy hats and the works. She was also the queen of bargains, frequently scoring name brand shoes and skirts from her favorite Hudson’s. I loved to shop with my grandma. She knew right where the sales racks were. Grandma’s style was impeccable and so was her hair.

When I wasn’t in the kitchen with Grandma, we were hanging out in her hair salon in the basement. Whenever we would come to Michigan to visit, my mom would have her cut my hair. She was about the only one who could tame my thick, unruly curls. She would sit me in that special salon chair that pumped up to the right height and I would peruse her ladies magazines and hope for the best. Grandma did hair for people in her church and neighborhood until age 90 when she broke her hip. I was always surprised at the way she squeezed in one more friend for “a little trim” or “style.”

Grandma also loved to play cards. She was a whiz at games like “Knock,” “King’s corner,” “Rummy,” “Pinnacle” and others. My brother Paul and I would look forward to going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house so we could play cards. Grandma always brought out the pads of paper to keep score and a bowl full of nuts or candy to munch on. You could try to beat her, but Grandma generally won. It was a given.

Grandma loved her grandchildren and even several great-grandchildren in recent years. She would make a special effort to make it to our high school and college graduations. She would drive to Chicago with Grandpa to see us perform in plays and music recitals. She always bragged on her grandkids and spoiled us with gifts and cards. I will always remember the joy of receiving her cards in the mail in that beautiful, sweeping handwriting with a personal note. Her birthday, Easter, anniversary and Christmas cards would always arrive days before the special holiday. She spent much time sending cards to all her relatives and friends.

Of course, I couldn’t celebrate Grandma without pointing out that she was very particular about the way things should be done. She would clear the table before you were done eating and strip the beds in hotels before checking out. One of my favorite memories is the first time I brought my husband to meet Grandma at her house. She served us a meal, which included spaghetti and her famous sauce. Ericlee was trying so hard to be polite and impress her. At one point, we heard Grandma’s familiar gruff tone, “What are you doing?” she pointed at his plate. He was neatly cutting his spaghetti with a knife and fork. “Dontcha know you do it like this?” she demonstrated that you twisted spaghetti on a fork using a spoon for leverage – only if you needed to. There was to be no cutting up spaghetti in her home. My 6-foot-tall fiancĂ© at the time shrunk in size at the table with no apologies from Grandma. Oh how we still laugh over that one.

Grandma was always into the details. She even planned the details of today’s mass and gave specific instructions about the music and what she’d wear down to the jewelry. That’s the way she was – always ready for the next step. Today we celebrate her life together. I know there must be a grand banquet in heaven now that Grandma has arrived. I can just see her serving up a homemade Italian feast for a host of angels and relatives. She’s been planning it for years. Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gilmores prepare to serve in Haiti

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than eight months since the massive earthquake hit the country of Haiti. Starting that day, we began to feel God shaking our hearts and challenging us to follow him in a new direction.

Many of you will recall that Haiti has been a part of our family’s story for many years. In 2005, we helped establish a non-profit organization called Christian Friendship Ministries with Ericlee’s mom, Christene Karlyn. Our mission is to connect resources to the people of Haiti. Ericlee’s grandparents, the Bells, started their mission work spreading the Gospel in Haiti in 1947. Today, this organization is led by Haitians who are working to rebuild their communities, share the love of Christ, and create jobs for the many people in Haiti living in poverty and hopelessness. The grass-roots ministry includes two orphanages, two health clinics, five schools and eight churches with many other projects in the works.

In February and March of this year, we felt God prompting us that it was time to do more than just send resources. We both felt a confidence that “for such a time as this” our family was to go to Haiti for a longer term of service. We know that we cannot lead an organization unless we spend quality time with the people it serves. We are going to encourage the leaders and to learn the Haitian Kreyol language and culture so we can better meet the needs of the people.

We recently put our house up for sale. We are moving forward with plans to go to Haiti in early 2011 and live at our ministry’s base for one year.  Our departure date is dependent on when our house sells and how quickly God raises our financial support. We are writing to invite you to partner with us. If you have the resources to give financially, we need your support to pursue this calling. We have spent many weeks working out a reasonable budget for our time there. We estimate we will need approximately $3,300/month for our expenses. In addition, we need to raise funds for a four-wheel drive truck that can handle the mountain terrain, which is an estimated cost of $30,000-50,000, depending on if it is new or used.  This vehicle will help bless the ministry in the future.

We recognize that many people may desire to give but not have the financial means to do so. First of all, we want to encourage you because every little bit counts. No donation is too small if you feel moved to give. Also, we do have some creative ways that people can support us through time and service. We are downsizing and we have lots of items to sell. Come help us take photos and put our stuff up on E-Bay if you are the technical type. Volunteer at our coming yard sale. When our house sells, we will need help packing our things to move. We will need people to help babysit our kids during that transition time. Help connect us with the right person at your church or organization so we can share more about what we are doing in Haiti with others. (We are willing to travel!)

This November 7 we are running the Two Cities Half Marathon in Fresno with 17 of our friends. We are all raising money jog-a-thon style for our trip to Haiti. People can come cheer on our team as we train for the race each Saturday or come encourage us the day of the race. We are also looking for local businesses who might sponsor our team. For $150, a business can be recognized as one of our corporate sponsors with their name and logo on the back of our team T-shirts. Maybe you frequent a local business that might be interested in contributing to our trip to Haiti.

Prayer coverage is a vital part of our ministry whenever we go to Haiti. We need committed prayer warriors to lift us up every step along the way. We welcome questions and covet your prayers. We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, August 30, 2010

30-Day Trek: Stuck at the High End of the Scale

It's been almost two weeks since our family has returned from Haiti. It's hard to believe we have been back in our U.S. life this long already. Last night we met with our Haiti team from our church to debrief, reminisce about the trip and plan out an upcoming "sharing night" when we will have the opportunity to share our experiences in Haiti with other friends and family here in Fresno.

I enjoyed getting together with this new group of friends who share a heart for Haiti and the poor. We chatted about some of the "reverse culture shock" of returning home. Some of us experienced the shock of walking into places like Costco, Target or other grocery stores with overflowing shelves and bulk packaging. Some of us felt the "short-term mission blues" after being around so many people around the clock and then coming home to large empty houses. Others felt the frustration of trying to express the experience of serving in Haiti to family and friends who cannot really relate. I always think it's good to talk about some of these hardships as a group. We also brainstormed some ways we can be proactive and specifically help new friends in Haiti.

Since we got home, Ericlee and I have continued to read our 30-Day Trek devotional. We picked up where we left off. The devotional for Day 26 talks about this idea of being "stuck at the high end of the scale." Really, that's where those of us who live in the United States are stuck. But God impressed upon my heart that I am not to sit here in my beautiful California home in the land of abundant food and resources and feel guilty. He put me in this place for a reason. Maybe I should spend less time feeling guilty about what I have and paralyzed by the thought of it and more time brainstorming ways I can live simply and give more away. Maybe I should stop feeling sorry for myself when our "budget is tight" and start thinking of the way people around the world are forced to live in poverty as a result of our overindulgence and overuse of resources here in the U.S.

Day 14 of Trek challenged us with this question: Do my closest friends nurture my deepest commitments? Good questions for all of us to ponder. Ericlee and I have now gone to Haiti with eight teams of people from our church and friend community. Our goal is to formally or informally continue to meet with these friends and talk with them about Haiti and how we can connect resources to those in need. We also consider our Small Group our closest friends who share our values. We are looking forward to this month when we will resume meeting with those four other families to share meals and talk through some of these issues.

Do your closest friends push you toward your deepest values, or make it harder to live them out?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Haiti Update: Long Trek Home

We made it home to Fresno!

Yes, it was quite the trek to get here but we were certainly ushered by angels. We woke up and left the Mission House in Pignon at 5:30 a.m. Our team was surprised that our Haitian staff was there so early to make us breakfast and send us off. Ericlee and I have experienced this many times before but it is always touching to see the crowd of people who gather in the front yard of our mission complex to pray over our travels, say Psalm 23 in unison and send us off with hugs and tears.

This journey was different from years past because we jumped in Peter's truck and our rental car and drove back to Port Au Prince. This is the first year we were not able to take the small missionary flight to the main airport. We had a 5-hour bumpy ride ahead. We strapped down our suitcases and headed on our way.  There was a sweet sorrow in all of our hearts as we drove away from the orphans, our new and old Haitian friends and a week full of God's blessings and appointments.

Ericlee and I were admittedly a bit nervous about making the flight in Port Au Prince. Since we were burned last year and our team had to fly home standby over three days we were praying we would not have a repeat experience. Let's just say that Peter needs some new shocks in his truck. Better yet, a new truck altogether. A few more of our team were sick along the road but we made it to the city by 9:30 a.m. We thought we were in good shape to make the 12:10 flight. Then we hit traffic.

We are used to traffic. We've been in traffic in Fresno, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I grew up in Chicago so traffic has always been a part of my driving experience. You learn to embrace. This was a whole different ball game in Port Au Prince. At one point, we were stopped in traffic at a stand still for 40 minutes.  We were separated twice from Peter, who had Gerby (who is headed to school in Memphis for a year), Nancy, Stephanie and Jeremy in his truck. Understand this, the rules of the road in Haiti are a bit different. If you want to make your own lane, you do. If you want to cross traffic or drive on the sidewalk, you do. My dear husband tried very hard to stay on the tail of Peter's truck so we wouldn't be separated. At one point, a truck driver did not like this. He motioned for us to let him pass. When Ericlee did not allow him to cut in line, he backed up his truck and rammed on through, taking the front bumper off our rental car. I don't think that big AVIS sticker on the front of our truck really helped our cause. We immediately wrote down his license plate but later realized that probably would not make a difference.

We finally pulled into the airport, jumped out and tried to organize our bags, the kids, etc. Peter and Ericlee still had to return the rental. We were mobbed by skycaps trying to "help" us get through the line and make some extra money. It was stressful, especially because I was leading the crew without Peter and Ericlee. We all made it inside. They allowed us to check in even though we had missed the two-hour cutoff for international flights. Ericlee met up with us. Gasp. We were on our way to Miami.

Thankfully, our flight was direct from Miami to Los Angeles and we all were able to fly together. All of the bags made it except for my carryon computer bag. With my computer and camera inside. That's when I realized that those two precious things might be gone forever. This, of course, was another exercise in faith. Over the last few months God has really been challenging our family to consider what is "enough." Do we truly value people over material things? I was certainly grateful that our team - especially my children - were safe and sound. Yes, I had lost a new camera that we had received for Christmas with photos from Haiti and a recent family reunion. (This is why you will not see anymore photos here on the blog for a little while.) Yes, I had lost my laptop with four years worth of files and photos. It was disheartening but I did feel a strange peace. God would provide.

When we arrived in Los Angeles, our church bus driver Jerry McElroy and his wife, were there waiting for us. They picked up our team and drove us back to Fresno - after an important stop to In 'n' Out Burger. We pulled in the church parking lot at 2:30 a.m. We were home.

UPDATE: My carryon bag was found by a man in a little mountain town where we stopped to get some fresh air when a few of us were sick. Apparently, I had put it down on the ground to pick up Giada. Some people ran off with it, took the camera, etc. but a man called the police and at least recovered the computer. I had to pay a "ransom" to retrieve it and it's now being shipped with Peter's wife. A sad price to pay.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Haiti Update: Team enjoys Grand Finale of VBS

Today was our final day of Vacation Bible School here in Haiti. We started our morning with singing as usual. The kids taught us a Hatian Kreyol version of "If you're Happy and you Know it." We had a lot of fun clapping our hands, stomping our feet and shouting Amen and Bravo!

I had the special privilege of teaching the Bible Story Time for this last day (with a little help from my hubby). I reviewed what we had learned from the week and finished up teaching the kids about the "sword of the spirit" and "helmet of salvation." Then I shared the story of David and Goliath and how David was equipped not with physical armor but the Armor of God. I had the kids help me act it out and then we had a surprise visit from a scary Goliath who was fully armed (and carrying Giada in a backpack on his back). The girls cowered at the growls of the giant. Our designated David got out his slingshot with foam rocks and knocked that giant down. It was pretty hilarious to see Ericlee fall (forward) with Giada strapped to his back.

Meanwhile, Jenn, Dana and Stephanie were leading the Craft group in making "swords" out of cardboard and tin foil. The kids posed for tons of pictures with their "full armor" after a week's worth of creativity in Craft class. Jeremy and Kelly completed their final day of teaching drama to the kids with  a few more skits. They had the kids acting out the parts. Our Game Time focused on soccer skills. It was so fun to see the progress in the kids. The first day was very chaotic but today they seemed to get into their teams right away. They have really become quite competitive and loved watching the teachers demonstrate the events.

Since today is Saturday we also took the opportunity in the afternoon to take our team to the market. Market Day is the center of the economy of many of the rural towns. Pignon's market is bursting with people buying and selling from sun up until sundown. Wilcion, one of the young Haitian men, served as our translator and ushered us down to the market.

Unfortunately, we had to go there at the hottest part of the day. Our team tried to stay together as we weaved our way through the throngs of people. We saw people selling avocados, mangoes, potatoes, cilantro, cloves, flour, corn meal. We saw people selling straw hats, chairs, machetes and dishes. We walked through the clothes section. Here the sellers stack clothes in a pile and buyers sort through in search of something they might like. There are no clothes racks or mannequins to show off outfits. I was surprised to see designer jeans and shoes - something that was not part of this market a few years ago.

Our team's most memorable experience in the market was walking through the raw meat section. That was a little eye-opening for some who are used to "shrink-wrapped cuts" we find in our American grocery stores. Enough said.

This afternoon Ericlee taught Games for the youth camp. He has done that all week at Peter's request. About 100 young people approximately ages 15-25 have been staying on the mission campus in Pignon. They study the Bible and sing in the mornings, play games in the afternoon and attend church services every evening.

Ericlee led them in some of the same relays he did with the younger kids. He split them up girls and guys. The girls laughed and giggled but once they got into it appeared even more competitive than the guys.

We had a full day but so rewarding. Our team is starting to anticipate some of the sadness of saying goodbye to all these wonderful children and new Haitian friends. We are savoring the little things that will remind us of our experience in Haiti: a cold coke in a bottle, our last goat meat at dinner and even a sighting of Mickey Mouse, our friendly mouse here in the Mission House.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Haiti Update: Kids put on the "Full Armor of God"

Our Vacation Bible School for the orphans in Haiti continued today. Through Bible story time, Arts & Crafts, Games and Drama, we have been teaching the kids about the Armor of God (found in Ephesians). Nancy taught the Bible story today, explaining the importance of the Shield of Faith.
The children delighted in painting their shields made of paper mache a few days earlier. Here Judelene (who is sponsored by The Bridge MOPS group in Fresno) shows off her skills with the silver paint. These children rarely have the opportunity to do art projects because of limited resources here in Haiti. Dana, Jenn and Stephanie have headed up the crafts and it's been fun to watch the kids really get excited about these projects. We even taught them to tie-dye T-shirts, which they had never seen before.

Jeremy, Ericlee and Kelly headed up the Drama/Theater class for the kids. They even set up this fancy backdrop for the Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego skit. It was so cute to see the kids act out the story. One boy was an angel who was in the fiery furnace. Jeremy acted as then king (with his hilarious princess crown) JoJo was our translator extraordinaire, following up on what he learned teaching drama last year with Jeremy and Marcy Pusey.
We did have an accident happen at Vacation Bible School today. One girl, Milove, had a bench fall on her head. This turned into an opportunity for Bev, Kelly and I to love on this sweet girl. Even Giada showed her compassion, running over to her and patting her arm. She did not want to leave Milove's side.

Ericlee's creative game time included having the kids throw water balloons at a target from the second floor of the orphanage. They also did a Water Brigade game, passing the balloons down the line as quickly as they could. At the end, we had a dozen or so water balloons that were not used so I secretly had all the kids launch a sneak attack on Ericlee. Squeals of laughter ensued.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Haiti Update: Christmas in August

The overall highlight of today for our team was handing out gifts to the children after Vacation Bible School. The sponsors of each child sent packages from the United States. These packages contained art supplies and dolls and cars and clothes and shoes and stickers and even pictures of the sponsors’ families. First we sorted the packages at the house. We made sure each child had a package, including a new outfit and pair of shoes that would fit them.

At the orphanage, we passed out the packages and asked each child to wait until we gave the signal. We were all armed with our cameras to make sure to get lots of good photos to share the moment with friends back home.

Personally, I love Christmas. I get great joy in picking out gifts for family and friends. I love carefully wrapping each package and anticipating what the person will say. What we experienced today was like Christmas times one thousand. These are kids who have so few toys and clothes compared to American kids. It’s hard to really describe the looks of complete wonder and joy when they all tore into their packages.

I can still see the look of wonder of little James’ face when he opened his soccer ball. Judelene was absolutely elated about her Princess & the Frog doll. Ronaldo poured over a picture book. Serline clung to her Veggie Tales DVD. Wilken proudly showed me his new colored pencils.

I was so impressed by the way the kids were even willing to share their gifts. Probably the most exciting gift for the girls was Astrude’s black baby doll complete with a pacifier, clothes and hat. All the girls gathered around and posed with the doll. Astrude seemed not to mind sharing at all.

I had the privilege of taking pictures of each child with their gifts so we can send the sponsors a piece of that moment. I am not a photographer but I got the chance to understand what it is like to try and capture a priceless moment in time like that.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Haiti Update: Bridge team shares highlights

We have a tradition in our family that we always share highlights at the end of the day. It's a chance to catch up on the ways God has blessed us and to appreciate the little moments. We have continued this tradition with our short-term mission teams that come to Haiti. Here are some of the highlights shared by our team members tonight:
Dorina: I loved watching the kids do the game time led by Ericlee. We had them do a jump rope relay and the littlest boy (James) was the cutest. Just yesterday he couldn't do any jump rope but today his team encouraged him and he was able to do ten jumps. My heart melted watching his effort.

Jenn: I loved going paper mache with the kids this afternoon. They were messy and having fun. I loved it! I also LOVE all the random hugs. 

Dana: I loved shopping for souvenirs. Each of the ladies brought such a wonderful array of items.

Bev: I enjoyed talking with Eracin (the Bible teacher and caretaker for the orphans).

Kelly: I loved spinning and dancing with the little girls! I also loved when all the little girls helped me wash my hands after paper mache time.

Stephanie: I enjoyed teaching the kids how to make paper mache for their "shields of faith." I also had a fun experience watching Judelene pump water. She used her whole body to get that pump going.


Jeremy: I liked playing wiffle ball with the boys in the yard this afternoon. We taught them baseball last year and it was fun to see they remembered some of it.
Giada: I loved learning how to wash clothes from the ladies at the orphanage. ;)

Ericlee: I had fun sharing a box of granola bars with the neighborhood kids this afternoon.

Nancy: I was blessed by Serline who saw that my hands were dirty after making paper mache and she carefully washed my hands and face. She took her time and showed so much love in helping me.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Haiti Update: Bridge team kicks off Vacation Bible School at orphanage

This morning we woke up at 6 a.m. to prepare for our first day of Vacation Bible School for the orphans in The Bridge Christian Children’s Home. Our team rested well their first night here in the house. They buzzed with excitement as we anticipated being with the children. We scarfed some breakfast of toast, bananas, pineapple, fresh eggs and coffee. Then we headed over to the orphanage with all our supplies.

They were all sitting at the large table quietly waiting for us. Ericlee and I introduced the team to the kids. We explained the schedule. Gerby and Walquis helped us lead a time of singing to start off our morning. The kids sang a song about David conquering Goliath (one of the stories we plan to study later this week.) As the kids sang their voices climbed higher and louder. Smiles spread across their faces. I couldn’t help myself: tears began to run down my cheeks as I was overwhelmed by their joy.

These children were so solemn just a year ago. They were from broken and abusive homes. Some have watched their parents die because of illness. Others were born into families where witchcraft and voodoo were practiced. Others were practically starving in the streets. I think of Serline, one of the youngest, who gobbled down three plates of food at our table last summer and barely spoke a word to us. Her parents are dead and even her sweet grandmother who begged us to take her to the orphanage because she couldn’t care for her among the seven other family members just died in September. She is a true orphan. Today Serline was grinning. She was singing with explosive joy. Her cheeks are less gaunt and more round. Her eyes dance. I’ve even seen her mischievous side a few times in the last week!

After our singing, Bev introduced our theme for the week – The Armor of God. The kids said they had not studied this before so we were eager to teach them. Then we split up into our groups: Bible story (Bev Damm, Nancy Willey, Dorina); Crafts (Jenn Jenkins, Stephanie Farrar, Dana Johnson); Drama (Ericlee, Kelly Damm, Jeremy Schmidt). Ericlee is leading the games for all the children at the end of our day. We are all helping with that part.

Today’s theme is the Belt of Truth (Ephesians 10-11). Bev shared bout why a tool belt is important when doing construction work. She shared truths about God we should remember each day. The Craft group had the kids making belts out of glitter, paint and newspaper. The Drama group shared a few skits showing how important it is to carry all our tools on our Belt of Truth.

The kids were especially thrilled about Game Time. I got to see my husband in his element teaching fitness to the kids. It was so cute to see them doing push-ups, squats, running piggy back and cheering one another on.

Haiti Update: A Bumpy Truck Ride & a Wrong Turn

Monday, August 2

We sent off our Communications/Construction Team this morning at the Port Au Prince airport. Our Bridge Orphanage team arrived a few hours later. Ericlee, the kids and I, along with Peter, met them at the airport. The airport security guards would not allow us to walk to the door so I had to walk all the way around the gate on the street. I knew the team needed to see a familiar face when they emerged from the airport. When you arrive in Haiti, it feels like there are mobs of people trying to help with your suitcases, sell you items and asking for donations. I didn’t want them to navigate this part alone.

What a blessing the team made it with all their bags and no delays. I heard Bev shout “Dorina” as I stood outside the gate and I was so relieved to see them all safely in Haiti. Then we all piled all their bags in Peter’s pickup truck and the team got into the rented car and headed out of town. We did make a pit stop for some Haitian sandwiches, an oil change and a gas fill-up before we were on our way. The team had no idea what kind of trip was ahead. We were caravanning with Peter. Four team members squeezed in the back, three in the middle and two in the front of our car.

We were not able to catch the small missionary flight we usually take inland. Instead we had to drive through the city of Port Au Prince 80 miles north through the countryside. We saw a lot along the way as we drove. We saw the bustling city of Port Au Prince with all the entrepreneurs selling food and goods in the streets. We saw tent cities teeming with earthquake survivors who had lost their homes. The paved roads of the city gave way to winding roads that climbed up the mountains and then turned into bumpy country roads. The team had fun pointing out the little goats and cows along the way. We passed a beautiful lake that we never would have seen if we had taken the airplane. That area reminded us of a national park. It was so green and blue and beautiful.

At one point, we had to stop because a few of us were getting sick and one team member (who will remain nameless) had to throw up. No fun! Unfortunately, our car stopped but Peter who was driving the suitcases and Bev driving with him did not see us stop. We pressed on – anxious to get to Pignon. We hoped Peter would be just around the bend. Unfortunately, he was many miles ahead and we did not know the way.

The saying goes, you don’t know your own strength until you are in hot water. I experienced that some hot water in that moment when I had to be the navigator and start asking for directions in Kreyol. I’ve learned never to ask one person for directions in a foreign country. We asked about five people. The first young woman sent us down the wrong road but the next four pointed us to the road to Hinch, which we knew was on our route to Pignon.

On this road, we found Peter and Beverly waiting for us. We were so relieved to see them and vowed to all stay together. Our trip was 5 ½ hours in all, although Jenn and Dana say it felt like 9 hours. Our Haitian staff welcomed the team with a Haitian feast waiting for us all. We survived!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Haiti Update: Earthquake survivors share stories

Saturday, July 31

This morning we did more filming of life in Haiti and Christian Friendship Ministries. We took Troy, Allison and Paul on a excursion to the local market. On Saturdays, the market and the surrounding streets are teeming with people selling everything imaginable. I have not had a chance to go to this market for a few years. I am used to seeing all the food for sale – avocadoes, mangoes, bananas, cilantro, sugar cane and more. This year, we saw a lot of other products in the market – everything from designer jeans to deodorant to dishes. It’s amazing and overwhelming all at once.

We also had a chance to do some filming in the little health clinic here in Pignon. Pastor Louis and his wife put on their “doctor hats” on Tuesdays and Saturdays. People come from miles around who need help with infections or headaches or rotten teeth. Pastor Louis helps with medicine and bandages. He has been doing this work for decades. The clinic is simple -  few rooms with curtains for doors. If people need surgery or more serious help, they can go to the hospital here in Pignon. However, many people cannot afford the hospital.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the day for me was hearing the stories of some of the earthquake survivors this evening. This little ciy of Pignon was said to have doubled in size after the earthquaake in January. Anyone who had relatives or friends in this area relocated here in search of refuge. Ericlee and I spent many days trying to mobilize funds so Peter and the other leaders here in the ministry could get supplies and food to the people they knew in need.

It was amazing to hear their stories. I met one young woman who is the cousin of our friend Walquis. She was in Port Au Prince when the earthquake hit. Her house collapsed and she fled here to Pignon (80 miles north of PAP) where she knew she had family to live with. She received a share of food and small loan through our ministry's relief efforts and she was so grateful!

The story of another young man broke my heart. He detailed how his home collapsed and his father was inside. He died when no help came. This teenager was clearly still overcome with the grief of losing his father. He came to Pignon to live with his aunt. He, too, received some of the relief food at the Pignon church. Troy and I were able to pray with him.

Hait Update: Creative Play

Friday, July 30

One of my greatest joys this week has been watching our team bond with the kids. It’s amazing to live in this mission house and know that every time you step out the door there are neighborhood kids or the orphans next door at the orphanage waiting to play with us. It’s so different from the kids in America who have lots of toys, video games and television shows to keep themselves busy. These kids are creative with simple things. For example, a sock and some tape becomes a soccer ball. Some cardboard, string and tin foil becomes a car to pull. An old tire and a stick becomes a game of racing down the street. I hope my girls can learn from this creative play.

Our team has learned to be innovative with the supplies we have here at the house. After Paul & Troy finished building a bed yesterday for our orphanage director, they used some extra wood and a cinder block to make a teeter totter for the kids. Allison and I used some extra chalk she found when cleaning out the desk here in the house to teach some of the girls hopscotch.

Ericlee says his favorite pastime in Haiti is playing soccer with the kids. Last year we were so busy hosting teams that he didn’t take time to enjoy this. This week he has carved out some quality time to play a lot of soccer with the orphan and neighborhood boys. They like to take the ball into one of the school classrooms and play a kind of indoor soccer with posts for goals. When he isn't playing soccer, Ericlee has been helping watch our kids so I have time to use my communication gifts. I love the way he involves our girls in play.

Ericlee has also been busy behind the scenes meeting with the leaders here and working on accounting for the ministry. He is getting his feet wet learning how to operate a non-profit and working closely with Peter, the Haitian director of the ministry here. We know we have many challenges ahead as we prepare for our family to move to Haiti to serve for one year.

This evening the rain finally came to Pignon. For days we have seen lightning and heard thunder. Our Haitian friends joke that it never rains in Pignon. Tonight we learned otherwise. The rain watered the ground, the thirsty plants and brought with it a cool breeze. Unfortunately, the Friday evening service at church was canceled. We were all looking forward to hearing Peter preach.

Instead I got my hair braided by Nella, one of the young ladies who helps cook and do our laundry. We all had a big game of Uno. This is one of those universal card games of colors and numbers that Haitians, kids (Meilani!) and adults alike can join in. It’s a game that crosses cultural lines.