Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reclaiming ME!

I was speaking with a friend, recently, about baking bread - and I mentioned that I haven't done much of that for a very long while. Then I glibly explained, "Well, you know, I was kidnapped."

When my friend responded that it has been two years (!) since I was kidnapped, I recognized that I've been taking the easy way out in conversations . . . lumping together a lot of stressful and hard things which have happened over the past couple of years as part of the kidnapping. I know it's not all about the kidnapping, but I haven't necessarily wanted to explain all of the reasons I've been . . . floundering . . . for so long.

I believe, however, that I am starting to come out of that season of my life, and in honor of reclaiming me, I thought I'd give you a glimpse of what's been going on in my life, and where I believe things are headed.

You will likely recall that my daughter, Rachel, got married just three days before the kidnapping. Even though I'd had two children move out previously, her departure had an especially large impact on my day-to-day life because Rachel is a natural home-maker. Over the years, as she developed her skills in this area, I sacrificially (umm hmmm) allowed her to handle most of the housework: the cleaning, cooking, organizing, decorating, planning, household budgeting, shopping, menu planning, scheduling . . . well, you get the idea. Rachel ran the house. Of course it was hard on me, when Rachel left, trying to pick up all of the pieces of running the household - especially while recuperating from the trauma of being kidnapped. Makes sense, right?

Then, though this may be TMI for some, I'm a woman in my 50's and it was inevitable that menopause would be rearing up at some point. Although I'd had no noticeable signs before the kidnapping, I was in full menopause just a few months after. That was fun, dealing with wacky emotional and physical responses to the hormonal fluctuations, while also recuperating from being kidnapped, which apparently can also produce some interesting emotions.

Ben, partly in response to being kidnapped, partly in response to me being all over the place emotionally, and partly because he was in the throes of becoming a teenager at this same point in time . . . well, Ben became a handful to parent. A really BIG handful. And homeschooling him became the worst thing in my life. That was especially hard to deal with, while we were both getting over the effects of the kidnapping. (Are you sensing a theme, here?)

Then, within six months of Rachel getting married and moving out, Gus also left, to begin his life as a working adult and college student, in the US. This was hard on everyone. Gus had been the one who handled big things around the house for me - the lifting, the hauling, the filthy and dangerous stuff, etc. He also was GREAT with Ben, as Ben was struggling; so both Ben and I felt his loss very keenly.

Things shambled on in a messy way for a few months longer, until we came to a place where we had to resolve some serious, ongoing Ben issues. There's a lot of middle-story I'm leaving out, but in January of 2015 Ben started attending school, rather than being homeschooled. This has been a good change for everyone - but it has required a LOT of time and hard work in the adjustment, and we're not done adjusting yet! Because Ben was behind in his studies, he and I basically homeschooled in the evenings after school, from January through the end of the school year in June, to get him caught up with his class in the subjects which are taught in English at the school (math, science, history, Bible, and English).

Through the summer, we continued a (slightly less grueling) study schedule, which also included several hours of tutoring in Spanish, three days each week. At the end of the summer, just as Ben was heading back to school, Boo, the youngest daughter of the family, moved back to the US, to work for a year before starting in on college. Boo is a quiet one, but her sweet spirit and her willingness to jump in and help wherever she was needed is sorely missed here now!

Suddenly, I was alone in the house all day - no kids at all! Since this hasn't been the situation in my life for the past twenty eight years - and as homeschoolers the kids and I spent huge amounts of our time learning, working, and laughing together during those years - I think you can imagine how . . . adrift . . . I've been feeling lately.

However, with Ben's school situation gradually stabilizing - and now that I've had some time to adjust to the new realities in my life - well, I can see that the world is sort of opening up in a new way for me. I'm working on setting up some systems to get our home running more efficiently (including hiring household help) to free up my time for the things that I think God is calling me to do in the future. I'm not entirely sure what those things are, exactly, but I want to be ready for them!

I'm sure that working on writing my book is part of it. I'm suspicious that some public speaking may also be involved (although I haven't a clue how that would fit in with living in Honduras, but that's God's problem to figure out). I'd love to have a more hands-on part in our official ministry, now that my hands aren't as full with the ministry of raising the children. Beyond that, I'm praying and waiting to see exactly what the next season of life will hold for me.

Meanwhile, maybe I'll do a bit more baking . . . .

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Phew - October was a tough month!

I never mention this online while it's happening, but now that it's over, I can tell you that Allen was gone from home for weeks, recently, doing fundraising in the US. While he was away, Russell, Clay, and I handled things here . . . and it was a particularly rocky time for me.

Here are just a few of the "special moments" I was privileged to experience in October . . .

First, I was driving home at dusk one evening, with Ben in the Land Cruiser, when suddenly my steering went out! It was quite a blessing that we were climbing a very steep hill at the time, and so making an immediate stop was not a problem. We were in a very dangerous spot along the road, where the one-lane-wide road has long, sheer drop offs on both sides! Had we been traveling the other direction, going steeply downhill, when our steering went out, this could have been a much more serious situation.

Another blessing was that, although we were on the road to our house, which hugs the side of a steep hill which completely blocks the cell phone signal the entire way, we were in the one spot where there's a ravine instead of a hill. Because of this, our phone was receiving a good cell signal where we broke down and we were able to contact Russell immediately, to come and rescue us.

Russell and Clay came out quickly, while Ben and I sat in the dark, with the car mostly blocking the road - which wasn't a problem, as no other vehicles came along before Russell got there. The guys were able to make an impromptu repair using wire, so that Russell could carefully limp along in that Land Cruiser to get it up onto our property. Clay drove Ben and I home in Russell's vehicle.

Then, because I wouldn't be able to drive Ben to the bus stop for school the next morning, Ben packed his clothing and school needs and headed back into town with Clay and Russell. For the following few days, Russell worked on repairing the damage to the vehicle, and Ben spent the nights in town. Russell was able to purchase the needed part and repair the vehicle before the following weekend, so I was back on the job, driving Ben back and forth to Gracias everyday . . . until . . .

Saturday morning, I picked up the gal who works for me in the house, out on the main road. She brought along her 13 year old sister (though I'm not sure why). Although my helper is comfortable around my dogs, her sister was not . . . and she screamed and ran, and one of the dogs attacked the girl, thinking she was protecting me. I grabbed the girl and was able to keep the dog from biting her face or neck, but in the process the dog also bit me, in the ankle.

We both had to go to the hospital for stitches (and our family had to put down our most protective watch dog), and then I spent another week staying home, while Ben spent school nights at Russell's house. I had to sit quietly, with my ankle elevated, most of that time, as it was difficult to walk on that leg, and it would swell up if I didn't stay off of it.

After just over a week, my wounds were healed enough that I could start driving again. The first day I drove Ben to town in the morning, but when I went back to pick him up following his after-school sports my engine started making a strange noise. Since I was in Gracias at the time the noise started, I drove the few blocks to Russell's house and had him check it out. Sadly, the problem was that my 16 year old engine was in need of being rebuilt - a huge and expensive undertaking!

Once again, Ben packed up and moved in at Russell's house for the week of school. This time I wasn't injured, I was just stuck at home without a vehicle. Russell was, as always, amazing about picking up my responsibilities in addition to his own. This repair took two weeks to be completed, but finally the vehicle was back together and Russell and the mechanic took it for a short, gentle test drive. They drove to the nearby gas station to put in some fuel.

At the gas station they told the attendant to put in 1000 lempiras worth of fuel (in Honduras, there are no self service pumps in gas stations), and while the attendant was pumping the fuel into the vehicle, Russell and the mechanic both had their heads under the hood, adjusting things in the engine. After paying for the fuel, they headed back up the road, but the didn't get very far before things went VERY wrong. The engine began racing uncontrollably, and the Land Cruiser began to spew huge clouds of black smoke! They tried to turn off the vehicle, but the engine wouldn't stop running! Eventually they were able to stop it by disconnecting a fuel line, but not until significant NEW damage was done to the engine.

It turns out that the cause of this event was that the attendant at the gas station had put gasoline into the vehicle, instead of diesel . . . in spite of the fact that it is clearly labeled for diesel! Here in Honduras there is no expectation that companies will be responsible for damages caused by their employees, so we knew we had to pay for yet another major engine repair. Sigh.

The vehicle went into the repair shop again, and after another week the fuel injector was repaired (or possibly replaced, I'm not sure). Everything was put back together again, and we started to drive the Land Cruiser again . . . but . . .

A few days later, the engine started making a continuous high pitched whine. We haven't yet found out the cause, or what it will cost to repair.

Sigh. Currently, Allen and I only own this one, 16-year-old vehicle. We sold our other Land Cruiser a few months ago (it was older and higher mileage than this one - and we sold it because of the cost of continued repairs and maintenance), and we are anticipating purchasing a newer used pick up truck, fairly soon. Meanwhile, Russell and Clay keep loaning us their vehicles, or chauffeuring us to town and such.

So, that's the recap of some of the difficulties we've been dealing with in October. It has been a long, annoying and expensive month! Because some of you reading this are our supporters, and will want to know this information, the costs to repair this vehicle, so far, have been around $6000. We're always trying to find the most economical line between purchasing a newer vehicle and repairing the old ones. Up until recently, repairing the Land Cruisers - the ultimate vehicles for our location and terrain - has been the obvious choice. Now, we're praying again about how best to use the funds we have, to make sure that we have the transportation we need for both personal and ministry uses.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The big coffee planting season is now behind us

August and September bring regular, torrential rains to our area. It is during these months that the tender young coffee plants are moved from their sheltered nurseries out into the fields. 

Landowners in our part of Honduras are putting in acres and acres of coffee; more every year. It's a fabulous crop for the conditions here - since it can be grown on rocky hillsides, which we have in abundance, and the plants thrive in this climate. Another benefit is that the coffee can be planted in the ground below existing trees, which decreases the likelihood of erosion problems.

The mountainous terrain excludes the possibility of mechanized farming in much of Honduras, and the country people in our area are quite knowledgeable about and experienced with agricultural work. We have no difficulty finding extra laborers when we need them for our busy planting season.

This is the back of Russell's Land Cruiser, with the seats folded up,
moving a load of new coffee plants down to the fields for planting
This hillside has already been planted with coffee plants in straight rows among the existing trees. 

Workers fertilizing the young plants. The fertilizer is in the baskets strapped to their waists,
 and they use the tool, with a single straight blade on the end of a long handle,
to create a small pocket in the dirt near each plant.

In areas where there are fewer shade trees available, the men plant plantain or banana
 plants.These fast growing, leafy plants quickly add shade to the fields, 
as well as providing us with additional crops of bananas and plantains!

Workers spraying to prevent bug and fungus damage. Here in the tropics, either of these can 
wipe out a field of plants pretty quickly, so it's a constant battle to keep them under control.

Russell giving you an idea of the size of the stem
of a coffee plant which went into the ground last year

We're definitely pleased with how our sustainable ministry project is coming along. So far, there has been a large investment of time and money, and we've made great progress! A harvest is not expected in the first or second year, but in spite of that, it looks like we will be able to collect enough beans this year to fill a couple of large sacks, from the plants which went into the ground last year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Taking a drive on the wild side

As I drove Ben to school this morning, we noticed that damage from last night's torrential rain was unusually apparent. We saw several minor rock and dirt slides, places where debris had been washed all over the roads, and lots of new potholes. The rivers were very full, and running tremendously fast - and clearly they had, in several places, come up out of their banks onto the roads during the night.

I decided to document some of that this morning . . . and then I got the totally brilliant idea to go home by a different route, where I would have to travel on dirt roads the whole way home. That, I thought, would assure me of some especially impressive photo opportunities. It might have been wise to consider the fact that my original route of the morning did not require me to actually ford any of the rivers, and this route would . . . but that didn't occur to me until a bit later. And, really, what's the fun of living in Honduras, if you're not willing to take on the occasional adventure, right? LOL

It turns out that the dirt road has recently been graded (since the last time I used it), and most of it did not experience much erosion from the storm last night, and is still very smooth. Good thing I had some rivers to ford, for better photo opportunities!

(Click on the photos to see a larger version.)

This spot is some pretty rough driving!
The road heading down to the river took a beating.

Here's one of the three rivers I had to ford on this trip. On a normal day, none of them are worth a second thought. 

Closer view of the water flow - making me nervous that the concrete bed of the ford might have suffered some damage. Did it? I don't know - the part my wheels touched was okay, though.

Normally, during the rainy season, the water is about 1/4 as wide as this

Closer look at the flow of the water I was preparing to ford. It's not so very bad, though I do get nervous when I can't see the state of the ground at the bottom . . .  

This is where I turn off the main road, to get home

Not very clear in this photo, but the little "ditch" the water created, between the main road and my road is about a foot wide there, and probably around a foot deep. I  hugged the left side of the turn, to avoid it. 
A spot on the side road which keeps getting larger, as the rainy season progresses . . . 
Yeah, I'm hoping not to slide down there . . . 

I picked up these hitch hikers on their way to school.

We have several months of rainy season still ahead of us. Things may get interesting. With Ben in school now, I don't have the option to just stay off the roads.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Church Construction Project - El Rodeito

The congregation led by Pastor Santos Heriberto Reyes, in El Rodeito, had outgrown their small church building. They have been working to expand the existing structure, and we were able to assist them with this project because generous donors have sent funds specifically for the purpose of helping with church construction projects in this part of Honduras. If you're interested in how it all works, I wrote a post about this recently.

Here are some members of the congregation outside their new (not yet painted) church building

A peek at the beautifully finished interior

If you look down the side wall, you can see that a portion of the wall is painted.
That is a section of wall from the old building  . . . you can get
some idea of the much smaller size of the original church building.

During the construction process
We're so excited to be able to play a part in the spread of the Gospel throughout western Honduras . . . and we hope you are, too! God placed us in a location where the harvest of souls is coming in, NOW, and we are working hard - with your help - to ensure that this moment of opportunity is not wasted!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Progress Report for Ben

I'm thinking, now that we have a month of the new school year under our belts, it might be time for a progress report. In order to see the progress, we will first take a look back:
Up until January of this year, Ben was homeschooled, with mixed results. He learned to love reading, science, and history, but he wasn't happy studying at home, and this situation became worse for my extroverted boy, as more and more of the older children grew up and left home (especially hard was the departure of Ben's beloved brother, Gus, when he moved to the US).
Following the kidnapping, in August of 2013, Ben and I both had trouble getting back to the business of homeschooling - we had other things on our minds, to sort through and deal with - and Ben fell behind in his schoolwork, especially in math and writing. As other aspects of our lives began to normalize, school became more of a problem, and things were tense around here.
For reasons too varied to discuss in a blog post, the decision was made to put Ben into the excellent local Christian bilingual school. He took a placement test, which said he was prepared for approximately the middle of fifth grade. With the agreement of the school administrators, he was placed into the sixth grade, because of his age. At ages 12, 13, and 14, there are a LOT of physical and emotional changes happening, and we wanted Ben to be with his peers.
This meant that the six months of school Ben attended last year were incredibly grueling for Ben, and for the rest of the family. Every day, in just math, for instance, he would have to learn whatever new thing the class was learning, but he would also have to learn and practice a number of other types of problems that the rest of the class had previously learned but he had not yet experienced - and he had the same situation in many of his other subjects, as well. Two days per week, he would attend tutoring sessions after school, with his 6th grade teacher, Miss Whitehead. When Ben arrived home every afternoon, he and I would go straight to work on his homework, and, except for a brief stop for dinner, we usually worked straight through until bedtime! Our family was extremely impressed, from the start, with Ben's effort and mostly good attitude. He loved going to school, and was determined to make this work.
It was still a long, hard struggle, though. Over the weekends we would spend time catching up on any homework he hadn't been able to complete during the week (especially in math), and Ben would spend a lot of time writing, writing, and writing! If things went well, Ben would find himself with Sunday afternoons free . . . but that was it! Poor guy (and, just fyi; poor me, too. LOL).
We made it to the end of the school year, and Ben passed all of his classes . . . and for the most part he either received a high A, or he barely squeaked by to pass, in each of his subjects.
Now, you may have noticed that I said this is a "bilingual" school, and I haven't yet said anything about Spanish. Ben speaks English as his first language, and, when we started school, he had a minimal ability to get by in Spanish. He certainly was not ready to take 6th grade classes (social studies and Spanish language arts) in Spanish, with students who speak Spanish as their first language! During the time his classmates took those classes last year, Ben worked with a tutor at the school, to improve his Spanish. At the end of the school year, we felt that he was catching up pretty well in his other subjects, but our greatest concern was whether he was ready to enter the 7th grade classes in Spanish, as a regular student.
Over the summer, Ben attended tutoring sessions, three times each week, with a Honduran teacher from the school. Miss Amy did such a great job with him - her friendly, gentle manner encouraged him to open up and talk in Spanish about anything and everything - and we felt guardedly hopeful about Ben's Spanish abilities, as we started this new school year. (Fortunately it is comparatively very simple to read and write in Spanish, if you can already read and write in English - the reverse is much more complicated.)
As we started the new school year, I was guardedly hopeful about Ben's progress, but, to be honest, I was mostly dreading it! One thing that is available to the students at the school, when they reach 7th grade, is the opportunity to participate in after-school sports. I had promised Ben that he would be allowed to participate, if his grades weren't negatively affected, and if he could manage to get all of the homework done in the time that would be left over, after he'd spent time in the after-school activities. So, he had extra incentive to do well this year - he excels in sports and desperately wanted to be involved in those, as much as possible!
Now, after a month of seventh grade, I'm delighted to report that everything, so far, is going so much better than last year! Happily, Ben is no longer the strange new student who doesn't know how anything works . . . and this has helped him a lot, in adjusting to the new teachers and other differences that are in effect now that he has moved into the second level of classes at the school. He is now attending the classes which are held in Spanish, as a regular student, and the teachers have expressed to him that they are pleased and surprised at his progress! He has been doing an amazing job at keeping track of all of his assignments, and is taking full responsibility for making certain that his homework is completed in the evenings. He's participating in after-school sports four days each week, as well! I'm thrilled, of course, and just a little bit amazed at his progress!
There are still - and certainly will continue to be - many struggles and difficulties along the way . . . Ben is a teenager now, you know, LOL! But I wanted to take a moment and just be grateful for where we are, where we've come from, and that the future looks so bright for Ben, right now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Poverty Enters my House

For almost 15 years now, my family has worked with the desperately poor, in rural villages in Honduras. I like to think my eyes are open to the needs and the problems, if not the solutions, related to the economic situation in Honduras. When visitors arrive, and exclaim over the level of poverty they see here, I nod my head sadly - because, of course, I've seen it.

But recently, our family hired a young woman to help with the cooking and housework. Most missionaries do hire help - it is seen as both a tool to allow the missionaries to concentrate on the work they are sent to do and also valuable employment to individuals in the community. Additionally, the missionary family benefits from the interaction with a speaker of the local language. We already employ a group of regular workers, men who have learned valuable skills while building bridges and water projects with us, and who are currently working with us in the coffee fields. But I've been reluctant to have household help . . . it's too personal for this hermit, having someone working right.in.the.house.

Recently, though, I gave in to the inevitable (I posted about this here), and hired a helper. I've had friends praying for this need, and then for the transition - mostly because, while I knew it was necessary, I was dreading it! I've been so grateful for the prayer support - and am delighted to report that things are going swimmingly! I really like my new household helper - not only is she hardworking, but she's also pleasant company, and she's fond of my menagerie of animals - which is huge when you consider how much extra work they create for her! We are already forming a friendship which transcends the differences in our ages (she's the same age as my oldest daughter), our communications difficulties, and so many other aspects of our lives. Either of us will stop at a moment's notice to share something with the other - a joke, a serious story, something silly one of the animals is doing, a beautiful view, an interesting bug, etc.

But, there has been another thing that has happened, with her arrival into my house. It's not unexpected, but somehow I managed to be surprised by it again . . .suddenly, poverty has entered my house. No longer can I sit back and view poverty as a problem to be addressed on a large scale. Now, it has a name and a face; dreams and aspirations. Poverty wonders how to make life better for her children. Poverty has a sweet attitude, and a brave smile, in spite of setbacks. Poverty is my sister in Christ.