Friday, May 30, 2008

The Human Sawmill

If you know anything about cutting with a chain saw (and I know only what Allen has told me) you know that it is difficult to cut straight lines with one. If you wanted to cut very straight lines in big pieces of lumber, you would use a huge circular saw (as they do at a sawmill), or at least a band saw. When we lived in the states, Allen used the term "chain saw carpentry" to refer to really rough cutting work.

So, we are greatly impressed when we see how 2 x 4's are created from rough lumber, in remote areas of the mountains, using chain saws!

The lumber in these pictures was being cut to be used in the construction of the roof structure for a new church building. The congregation was able to contribute much of the labor and materials for this building. They collected sand, gravel, and large stones for the foundation, created mud bricks, mixed mortar and laid the bricks, harvested the rough lumber and delivered it to the church site using oxen. But for cutting the rough lumber into 2 x 4's, they had to hire a professional - with a chain saw!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tropical Storm Alma

We've received a couple of emails, asking about our situation in regard to Tropical Storm Alma. Everything is fine here, although we have been receiving rain off and on since this afternoon, as the edges of the storm have been over our area.

The storm is predicted to downgrade to a tropical depression before it reaches us, so our expectation is that this will not amount to anything more than rain. Of course, if it is a lot of rain, this can have significant consequences, but it looks like our area will be spared any damage from this storm.

Right at this point, we're just enjoying the cooler weather that this storm has brought to our area!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Begin the Bodega!

Although we have two partially completed buildings on our construction site, we recently received a donation of funds (thanks, Brookfield Lutheran Church!) specifically for the purchase of the materials to build the bodega/warehouse . . . so we have started in on a third building. The bodega will be used to store and organize donated food, clothing, and other goods, for distribution to the poor in Lempira.

Here are some pictures, as our crew starts to zoom along on the construction of this building!

The foundation of the new bodega

Another riveting shot of that foundation

Intern house, which is currently NOT under construction

Here's a nice picture of the team house, which is soooooo close to being closed in.
We're moving along with the construction as fast as we possibly can. The rising price of everything is effecting us here in Lempira as much as anywhere, and the faster we build, the lower our final material and labor costs will be. We can't stockpile many materials, as the risk of theft is ever-present. Please pray with us that funding will come in speedily for all of this construction!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Preparing for our Re-entry

Of course, bags are being packed, cars rented, hotel rooms reserved, etc, in anticipation of the big trip half of our family will be making to the US. But there are other preparations we have to make, which you may not be aware of . . . things you wouldn't necessarily think about.

For instance, there is a word we have to remind ourselves not to use in the states. We picked up this word on Guanaja, and it is a perfectly useful word, which we utter regularly in both English and Spanish. The word is 'molest' ('molestar' in Spanish) and it means "to bother or annoy." On Guanaja, in English, this word is used quite frequently, in such applications as:

Woman at the door, wanting to borrow something, says, "Can I molest you for a minute?"

Little girl running from the boy who is teasing her, squeals, "He's molesting me!"

Me, to any of my sons, as they try to pick fights, "Stop molesting your sister!"

You get the idea. We started using the word, with this definition, on the island, and we have continued to use it as part of our English vocabulary in our home. It is, of course, reinforced by our use of the similar, very commonly used Spanish verb. In the states, we have to be very, very careful not to use this word, as we will certainly be misunderstood!

Another re-training involves our use of the bathroom. It is standard practice in Honduras (and most parts of Central America) to place your soiled toilet paper in the trash can, rather than in the toilet. This is because the plumbing here is not quite the same as in the US, and very frequently the toilets will clog when toilet paper is flushed.

In the North American homes we will be visiting, we can expect to find lovely, decorative trash receptacles in the powder rooms, which are NOT intended for holding soiled toilet paper - sometimes they don't even have plastic bag liners, as we ALWAYS have in our bathroom trash cans here. It is extremely hard to break such an ingrained habit as where you put your soiled toilet paper. We just aren't concentrating on cultural differences when using the facilities! So, we are talking about this now, and we will remind each other frequently over the course of our trip.

We don't do this next one frequently, but pointing with our lips is certainly done some of the time here, and it just doesn't work in the US, plus we will look weird doing it there! We also say hello to people we pass on the street here with a quick upward jerk of our chins, which I think, back in the states, would just make us look as if we'd developed a nervous tic! The kids and I will try to remind each other not to use these common signals, as we prepare ourselves for our visit.

This all reminds me of a story I heard, from one of my friends on the Sonlight Forums. It was about a family who worked for many years as missionaries in Africa. When they returned for a furlough to the US, the children were appalled to discover that their clothing was horribly unfashionable, and they were subjected to rude stares whenever they went out in public. Four years later, when they were preparing for another trip to the US, the children asked their grandparents to send them appropriate clothing in advance, so that they would 'fit in' during their visit. The family arrived in the US airport, adorned in their fashionable clothing, and the parents noticed that the family was still the object of much attention and staring as they passed through the crowds. Glancing behind them, the parents saw their fashionably attired children following them in single file, all carrying their suitcases balanced upon their heads!

Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Build a Bigger Church Building

The congregation using this church building needed more space, but they had a very small piece of land upon which to build. They wanted to continue using their existing building as long as possible, while building the new building.

The solution? Not exactly what you would do in the US, but it worked out here. They built the new walls around the old building. The space between the walls is actually larger than it appears in this picture.

At this stage of construction, pieces of metal roofing, from the original church roof, are being used to protect the mud bricks of the new walls. Mud bricks are a good material choice here, but they do have to be protected from rain. An overhanging roof will do this job when the walls reach full height.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bed Bugs . . . of a sort

Last night, I was awakened several times from a sound sleep by bugs crawling on my arms. Now, I am a pretty heavy sleeper, and bugs landing on us as we sleep is not at all an unusual experience, as we don't have screens on our windows. These bugs were definitely crawling, not flying in and landing, however, and they disturbed me enough that I eventually chose to evacuate my bed. I grabbed my pillow and a spare sheet, and completed the night sleeping on the couch.

I perhaps need to mention here, for clarity, that Allen and I have separate beds. You really don't need to know that, except that you might be wondering why he wasn't bothered by the crawling bugs in the bed. He is an insomniac, and I, though a very sound sleeper, am a noisy sleeper, plus I move around a lot in my sleep. Because sharing a bed means that Allen gets no sleep, we have separate beds. TMI, I know, but I figured if I didn't explain, someone would ask about it.

So, this morning, I checked the bed, to see if I could figure out the source of the annoying bugs. I found the remnants of an ant nest between my sheets! The colony had already departed, but they left behind a few of their eggs (I presume these were duds?), so I knew they'd been there! Apparently, even the ants found my sleeping movements to be too much to live with.

I'm hoping for a more restful night tonight.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

By Special Request

Allen was reading old blog posts, and he asked me to repost this piece, from last August, about the monthly Bible Training School for pastors. There were a lot fewer people reading my blog back then, so perhaps this will be new to many of you.

The week of the monthly Bible Training School is a busy time for our family. Now that we are having the fifth session of the school, however, things are running quite smoothly. Here is what is involved:

Ahead of time, Dr Julio, who teaches the classes, chooses the training materials, and gets them to us. We make enough copies for all of the students, and punch holes in the pages, so that the students can add these to their notebooks. Russell makes sure that all of the registration information is updated from the previous session, so that he can be prepared for the current registration. A team of ladies from town purchase the food supplies for the meals they will cook. All of this takes place before the school session starts.

On the second Tuesday of each month, the school opens. The pastors, pastors-in-training, and church leaders travel to Gracias from the departments of Lempira, Intibuca, Ocotepeque and Copan, and even from the north coast cities of San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba. One regular attender travels 12 hours by bus to come each month. Several of the pastors who live far into the mountains start their trip on horseback, from areas where there are no roads, then stable their horses with friends and finish the trip by hitching a ride on the back of a pickup truck.

Some of the students go directly to the school location, a retreat center owned by a local denomination, situated just outside of the city of Gracias. Others gather at one of the town churches, and we shuttle these pastors out to the school. We also make sure that the styrofoam cups, coffee pots, and coffee supplies are in place, for these students love their coffee!

At the school, Russell registers the arrival of each student. We are excited about the attendance we have been having - approximately 80 students each month. Dr Julio usually has time for a short morning teaching session before lunch the first day.

In the late morning, Allen (or Russell - he's 18 now, so he has a Honduran driver's license) picks up the ladies who do the cooking and the food they have prepared, and carries them out to the school, along with disposable plates, cups, and silverware. They stay for lunch with the pastors, and afterwards bring back the ladies and their dirty dishes . . . so that the ladies can get to work on supper!

At home, sometime during the day on Tuesday, at least one or two pastors will arrive who got to town too late for the morning shuttle service (this month, there were four late arrivals). We serve them coffee (of course) at the house, and either have them wait for the next scheduled trip out, or give them some money for a taxi. The road out to the school is pretty bad, and we've decided the cost of a few taxi fares is a better use of our money than the extra wear on our vehicles from additional trips!

At the school, classes go all afternoon, with only a short break for coffee, relaxation and fellowship, in the beautiful mountain setting.

The students are extremely serious about these studies, and there is a lot of interaction during the classes. Dr Julio is a lot of fun, and a good teacher, and everyone has a good time, while covering a lot of material.

Back at our house, during the afternoon on Tuesday through Thursday, Rachel, Bethany, or I make cakes for the evening dessert. This month, we sent out 4 cakes each evening. Around 4:30 Allen (or Russell) picks up the cooks and the evening meal - and the cakes - and heads out to the school. They only forgot the cakes once . . . now, I think the students remind them!

After dinner, they bring the ladies and the pots back to town. Usually there is an additional class session after dinner, and then some time of fellowship, impromptu worship sessions, etc.

On Wednesday and Thursday, this schedule continues, except that Russell has to leave the house at 7am to take the ladies out with the breakfast, in addition to the other meals. The class sessions go all day on these days. On Thursday, Allen goes out in the afternoon, with a large selection of the Bibles and Bible study materials that we have for sale. He sets up a table so that the students can shop during their breaks from class. The book sales are subsidized, so that the prices for the books are actually less than what we pay to purchase and ship them. We tease Allen that his business degree didn't teach him much, since he seems to be setting up his bookstore to intentionally lose money!

On Friday, breakfast is served at the school, and then the pastors depart. Many stop by our house before leaving, to look over the books some more, or just to visit. Some bring us small gifts. They all tell us how extremely grateful they are for the chance to come to this training.

The pastors do not pay anything for these classes, or for the food and lodging during the school session. But they are all sacrificing as they pay the cost of transportation, and as they miss most or all of a week of work. None of these pastors is paid a salary by their church - they all work a secular job, usually in agriculture.

We keep pretty busy during the week of the Bible Training School, but it is exciting, as well. Even though Allen and I are not trained pastors or Bible teachers, nor do we have good enough Spanish to teach in the language, God has allowed us the privilege of starting this school and running it each month. We are able to use the funds from our donors, our vehicles, and Allen's ability to orchestrate the logistics, to help with the things we can do, and that the local Christians would not have the resources to do. God provided the teacher, and placed the desire to learn into the hearts of these pastors and church leaders.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lists and Maps and Timelines

We are in major preparation mode for our upcoming mega field trip!

This morning we had a 'walk ourselves through Early American History' discussion, followed by the project of creating a timeline of major events. I was sent to the computer several times by children who had a sudden yearning to be reminded of the details of certain points of history. (I googled "Shay's Rebellion," "The Treaty of Ghent," and "Bleeding Kansas.") It was fun to have them so excited about history!

Yesterday Rachel and Bethany created maps of the east coast states, with labels showing the major stopping points on our trip. Since we haven't lived in the US for so long, this map work isn't as familiar to the kids as I would like it to be. I'm looking forward to introducing the children to some of the places I remember so fondly, as my childhood was filled with field trips to Williamsburg, Philadelphia, the Mall in Washington, the Smithsonian, etc.

This afternoon, each of the children will be choosing a particular aspect of this broad historical period to study in depth, to share with the rest of us when we are actually in that general region. I'm guessing Chris will choose a civil war battle, but it will be interesting to see what the girls pick.

Many different plans are coming together for this trip, but our liveliest conversations generally involve the wonderful foods we will eat during our travels. Recent salivations have been initiated by discussions of: salad bars, 2% milk (that tastes like 2% milk, and nothing else), cottage cheese, lots of other varieties of cheese, fresh strawberries, baby carrots, filled donuts, seafood (we had wonderful seafood when we lived on Guanaja, and we miss it now), store-bought bagels, deli lunchmeats, and so many other things!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chicken Pox - Round Two

David/BucketBoy just showed me his torso, which has acquired a large collection of small, itchy bumps.

Let the good times roll. Sigh.


In less than three weeks now, I will be leaving for the US, taking three of the kids on a major American history field trip. We are just crazy with preparations.

Bethany and I need to finish her school work for the year, and then I want to go through a quick review course of American history through the end of the civil war with the three participating children, so that it will be fresh in our minds as we visit the relevant historical sites.

We are also working through everyone's closets, to see what needs to be purchased, in the way of clothing, while we are in the states. Underwear and socks, of course, but what else? Christopher is growing like a weed - the new clothes bought for him this past fall no longer fit him. We have no clue what the styles are like in the US right now, so we hope to manage to look "classic" rather than "dated." Oh well. We'll probably just fail on that one!

I need to purchase a month's supply of the medications I use, as they are so much more expensive to purchase in the US than here. The kids are also planning to get haircuts here, because we can get a cut for under $5 in Gracias. We don't need to talk about what haircuts would cost us in the states!

I'm grateful that my oldest daughter is still at home, and she can take responsibility for a lot of the general work around the house while I'm gone.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Last night in my living room

We had guests last night. Russell's girlfriend, Iris, and her family came over for a visit, to bring us a gift of homemade tamales. I am guessing that tamales are a traditional Mother's Day meal, although I happen to know they are a lot of work to make, and the men are NOT making them for the women. Seems to go against the North American idea of how to celebrate Mother's Day.

I had a fun discussion with Iris' mother, about how we celebrate this holiday - how the mother is not supposed to do any work that day, how she can sleep in later than usual, and be served breakfast in bed. We don't necessarily do all of these things (this year, I did sleep in very late, though), but the main idea seems to be that the mother's contribution is appreciated, and , if she is lucky, the mother gets a day off. In Honduras, the celebration involves a serenade of the mothers at daybreak. This is often done by stationing cars with huge speakers at intervals throughout the city, and then blaring the music from the radio. Hmmm, not my idea of the start to an ideal day.

Iris' family are all musicians. The father is the worship pastor at their church, and all of the family are involved in this. They also play music for other occasions, including having been hired by a number of families to serenade their mothers on Sunday morning. Russell told me, that as my Mother's Day present from him this year, he decided NOT to have me serenaded at dawn. I really liked that present.

So, as I mentioned earlier, last night Iris and her family (that's her father and three brothers in the photo, the camera-shy girl peaking out behind them is Iris, and the seated girl is the girlfriend of one of the brothers) came by bringing a gift of tamales. They also, at my request, played and sang for us. All of the men in the family play several instruments and sing. The two sisters and the mother play no instruments, but all sing. It was the first time I've heard Iris sing alone - she has a very lovely voice.

Oh, do you want to see a better picture of Russell's girlfriend? Well, as I mentioned, she is quite camera shy, but we managed, over the course of the evening to sneak a couple of shots. Here you go:

Oops, no good - she managed to hide her face in that shot. You can see, though what beautiful hair she has!

Okay, here she is, still not looking especially happy about the picture taking, though:

We're having great fun getting to know this family . . . and who knows what the future may hold - someday they may be relatives!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Have I mentioned the bad roads?

Yes, this really is a road. Click on the picture, to get a closer look.

At the bottom of this picture there is a ford, currently dry because we are at the end of the dry season. Within a couple of weeks, as rainy season gets underway, this ford will be impassable.

Currently there is a walking bridge, made out of twisted strands of barbed wire and rotten wood, which is the only way to cross this spot once the river rises. You can imagine, as we cross these swinging bridges, how much we want to hang on to the wires along the sides. But that isn't advisable when the bridge is made from barbed wire. This makes the crossing of this type of bridge a little extra-memorable.

This is another location where we have been asked to help build an improved bridge.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blogging Bugs

Our visiting team has now departed, but they left behind some fun pictures! Here are a few of their encounters with the bugs of Honduras.

Friday, May 9, 2008

More about that bridge

Yesterday I posted a picture of several people posing on this bridge. The team did not have to cross this bridge to get to their ministry site. However, Allen told me that the children in this area do cross this bridge to get to school. When the river is low enough, they can ford the river instead of using the bridge, but during the rainy season their choices are to cross this bridge or to miss school.

Allen is working on several fronts to try to replace some of the very dangerous bridges in Lempira. So far he has collected a large quantity of cable, and he has worked on developing working relationships with some other groups who do this kind of project, including Engineers Without Borders. It's been a slow and frustrating process, but Allen is stubborn persistent. I feel confident these projects will come together eventually.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Through the eyes of a visitor

Shannon and Chris, from the current team, let me download their pictures to my computer. Here are a few random shots of Honduras, as seen through the eyes of a visiting team member.

Allen and Russell syphoning diesel from one vehicle to another on the team's incoming trip

Stopping to buy snacks along the roadside

Team presenting a puppet show at a very rural school

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The team is back in Gracias

They had adventures involving swinging bridges and muddy roads and drivers (CHIP) who thought they were Mario Andretti. Or so I am told.

Hopefully I will have a few pictures to post tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, I thought I'd let those back home know that the team is fine, and heading out for more adventures tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The team is here, and the adventure has begun

On Thursday of this past week, Allen took our Land Cruiser to the mechanic here in town, and had the brakes serviced. On Friday, he drove to San Pedro Sula, to have work done on the exhaust system and to replace the rear tires. Certainly, we had everything ship-shape for the arrival of our team, right?

On Saturday, Allen and Russell went to pick up the van they had rented to transport the team (the Land Cruiser alone doesn't have enough seats). Once again, the vehicle we reserved was not available to us (I believe we've been let down by every vehicle rental company in San Pedro now).

Happily, Allen is nothing if not resourceful, and he managed to scrounge around and find two 4-door pickups to rent, in place of the van. Of course, the rental fee was higher, and driving three vehicles (instead of two) is going to mean using more fuel. But, you do what you have to do.

The two pickups each had about 1/4 of a tank of gas in them. That was enough to get to our major half-way point along the road, La Entrada, for refueling. So, the group set off.

Along the way, it was discovered that the rear axle on the Land Cruiser had shifted. Although to my non-mechanical mind that sounds catastrophic, apparently the passengers were not endangered by this, but our new tires were being damaged as the vehicle drove in this condition. Sigh.

Arriving in La Entrada, the team found that there was no diesel available for purchase in that city. Apparently there have been fuel shortages in the big cities, but we hadn't had any trouble in our area, and we hadn't heard anything about it. Because the Land Cruiser has two tanks, Allen was able to syphon diesel from that vehicle into the two trucks, and the group managed to drive on to the next major city, Santa Rosa de Copan.

In Santa Rosa de Copan, the group found a gas station with fuel, but purchases were limited to 400L (about $22) of diesel per vehicle. Happily, the attendant forgot to watch the pump when filling the vehicles, and he accidentally filled one truck's tank to the top.

During these adventures, Allen called home and arranged for two of our 55 gallon drums (which we use to transport water to the construction site) to be filled with diesel, so we'd have a supply in case the fuel situation gets worse during the week. So far, we've still be able to purchase diesel in our area, but we're prepared for the return trip, we hope.

The team arrived in Gracias, and while they were settling into the hotel and heading to our house for dinner, Allen and Russell were making arrangements with our local mechanic to have the axle problem fixed on Sunday, as our plan was for the Land Cruiser to transport team members to La Frontera, a remote area near the border with El Salvador, on Monday morning.

The team has now continued on their way to the area where they will minister for the first couple of days. I haven't heard from them since they left Gracias (cell phone connections can be spotty in that part of the mountains), so presumably everything is running smoothly. Generally Allen and Russell manage to get word to me if there are problems.

Oh, and there is a doctor and nurse on the team, and I was advised that it should be fine to go ahead and send Bethany (who, although covered with chicken pox, is not feeling ill, just itchy) along for the trip. So, Rachel, Bethany and David went along with Allen, Russell and the team.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Precious Photos

This morning I received an email, from the mother of some missionaries we worked with when we lived on the island of Guanaja. She visited her family there several times while they lived on the island, and she still keeps in touch with us. She discovered, in her photo collection, some pictures of David as an infant, before he joined our family. I have very few photos of him from that time period, so it is very special for me to have these pictures.

Here he is when less than a year old:

And the photo below was taken just before he came to be a part of our family. He had a lot of skin problems at the time, but they have all been resolved since then. (Well, unless you count the fact that we expect him to have chicken pox in the next couple of weeks.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

What Could Happen?

We're old hands at hosting teams. We've had so many unexpected events related to teams over the years, we know everything generally works out fine in the end. We even weathered a potentially serious hurricane/tropical storm while hosting a team last year.

Still, in a "Murphy's Law" kind of way, we do seem to encounter special problems right as we are getting ready for teams, or while they are visiting. We have a team coming in this weekend.

So this morning, Boo came to show me her "itchy bumps." We often get these bumps after spending a day out on our property. They can be like poison ivy, and sometimes they seem to be bug bite related. I was unconcerned, until Rachel said, "Look how many she has! It's like she has the chicken pox or something!"

Then it hit me. Two weeks ago, Kirstin and Bethany spent a day working at a local orphanage. A few days later, that orphanage was hit with an outbreak of chicken pox.
Boo had the vaccine when she was a baby, but the dates (chicken pox has a two week incubation period), and the ever-increasing number of itchy spots all over Boo have convinced me. This is a case of in-spite-of-the-shot chicken pox.

A friend in Virginia (the state, not the city of Virginia Lempira) just informed me that there has been quite an outbreak in her area of chicken pox which hits in spite of the child's having been vaccinated. Her son's entire cub scout pack got them.

I've called our incoming team, and warned them of our contagious condition. Since all of the team members are adults, we are hoping to hear that they have all already had the chicken pox, and this will not affect their trip, and also that Boo and David will be able to visit with them during their stay.

Since David was 14 months old when he came to us, we don't know if he has had the chicken pox or not - but we are assuming at this point that he will break out in "itchy bumps" two weeks from now.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's Boo's Turn

Boo (otherwise known as Bethany) has lived in Honduras since she was four years old. In all that time, she has only returned to the US once, after we had lived here one year. She really doesn't remember very much about living in the states.

Because we never return to the states as an entire family (due to David's non-adopted status), Allen and I have taken turns returning, for various reasons, and taking one or two of the children with us each time. Well, it's finally Boo's turn!

Bethany is just now finishing her school year, studying US history through the Civil War. She and I (and possibly one or two more of the children) will be driving along the east coast, stopping to visit American History locations along the way.

Because our home base is Maryland, we will spend a lot of time in that area, which is so rich in great places to visit. Williamsburg, Yorktown, Washington DC, Baltimore, Gettysburg, Philadelphia are all close to "home."

We're all so excited as we plan for this trip, which is scheduled to happen in the month of June. Although, I've noticed something about myself. Apparently I've gotten used to the part of living in Honduras which involves not having lots of options. I'm quite used to my options being limited to "this is the item you can get: buy it, or don't buy it." Just looking through all the websites for these historical locations is making me feel a bit crazy - there are just too many options!