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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Generosity and Christ

This past Sunday I was really touched by a simple and yet beautiful act of generosity. A woman at church whom I admire for acting on her faith instead of just talking about it shared with me how she had a friend whose boy was struggling with some health issues and wished for a tablet. As a family, they are going through a hard time, so this woman went on the web, set up an account people could donate to and asked all her Face book friends to think about helping out. Within hours the donations poured in from across the country and more than enough money came in to buy one of the best tablets available.
There is something about this time of year that brings out both the best and the worst in us. We've made Christmas out to be this orgy of shopping with Black Friday and Boxing Day on either side of Christmas encouraging all this, and yet this is also the time of year that stories of generosity and compassion always  come out about people who are struggling and receive these acts of hope and grace from people who slow down to see and hear their stories. These moments bring tears, though I always try to hide them.
These are sacred moments, moments where we reconnect with the Spirit of God and our hearts get softened. Christmas, the time in the year we remember the gift of God, Jesus, "God with us," and it stirs something in us that needs to reach out and connect with someone else just as God reached out by becoming human and connected with us. Why else are there all these cheesy sentimental movies that only come out at this time of the year, movies that we never admit to watching, but secretly enjoy because they touch something deep inside us, a need to care and show it.
I encourage you this Christmas season to act on these feelings of wanting to connect with someone else in a spirit of generosity, whether it's being a secret Santa and quietly helping out someone who has a need, or openly reaching out to give to a charity that helps make our community a better place to live, or even better, by offering an afternoon or couple of hours to help someone out. May the love of Jesus soften your heart and bless you this Christmas season

Friday, 2 December 2011

Advent: getting ready!

We're a week past Black Friday, an event that is even creeping into Canada now, and I have to confess that as I look ahead to Christmas, I'm not ready. It's not that everything around me isn't reminding me to get ready; the radio is filled with Christmas songs and carols, some of my neighbours have their Christmas trees up already and the mall parking lots are packed every time I drive by. I'm reminded that the longer I wait, the longer the line ups are going to be when I finally get around to the shopping I need to do.
Church services are filled with Christmas songs and we're reflecting on Biblical songs pointing ahead to Jesus in our sermons leading up to Christmas, yet I'm finding that even with all this going on around me, I haven't even begun to get ready yet for Christmas. The "ready" I'm talking about here is being "heart ready," moving away from the cultural Christmas and moving towards the church Christmas, the Christ centred celebration. I know I should always be Jesus focused, eyes and heart looking always to Jesus, but at this time of year I actually find this to be really difficult.
Part of it is the time of year with more darkness than light and the dullness of the weather weighing on the soul, part of it is the pressure of trying to make Advent services extra special for any visitors that might drop by, the financial pressure of giving gifts and giving extra to the church, attending the extra programs and events that go with the Christmas season (all of which I look forward to because of the people the are associated with), and the simple tiredness of being cheerful and happy because that's what's expected.
This week I began to read through the Gospels again, something I do every December, immersing myself into the Biblical story of Jesus' coming, life and even his death because it all leads to the resurrection and Jesus' return to his father's side again. It's my way of reminding myself of who I am as I reflect on who Jesus is. As I move closer to Christmas, the Gospel stories do their thing in my heart, preparing me, getting me ready for Christmas.
If you are finding that you're not ready for Christmas yet, try turning to the Gospels and letting their stories get you "heart" ready. There will always be too many things to do, too many places to go and too many people to see at this time of year, yet you can make it through with calmness and peace through the stories about the reason for the season.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

after the mission trips

Last week I spent a week with a group of high school students from 4 different church groups that came from Maryland, Wisconsin and New Jersey. Our own church group from Montreal was made up of students from our church and some of their friends. I've had a few days now to reflect on both this mission trip and the earlier one in Nicaragua with a few of our young adults and a couple of things stand out for me.
The first is how our youth and young adults see the church. Our young adults actually have a pretty negative view of the church while our high school students tend to see it more positively, though they have questions they about church and God as well, many of them very good questions. Now you need to know that not all the youth are connected with a church, which brought out different kinds of questions and ways of seeing things. It got me thinking about Christians, church, God and how this all fits together.
First some reflections on the trip with our young adults. Many of them are negative about the church because of mis-information about what the church stands for and believes about different social issues. There is also a reluctance to make a commitment to the church or to faith. It seems  that they don't care for Jesus' call of an all or nothing approach to following him. They seem to have heard better what our society says we believe as Christians about issues such as homosexuality than what we actually teach and believe. This has bothered me ever since we've come back from Nicaragua and I have no answer that completely satisfies me as to why this is.
Why does the voice of the church have so little connecting power in their hearts and why are they so willing to believe the worst of the church? Could it be that we say the right things, the God things and yet somehow we don't connect this with how we actually live as a church in our society? Is our faith a passionless faith, making it easy for our young adults to believe what our culture says about us over what we actually teach and believe? Do we really know God and what He loves and hates, or do we read our own likes and hates into God? Is this why their faith, and maybe even ours, is so passionless? We've taught them all about God in church, but is this connected to home and school and life in general? How passionate are we as a church about being God's transforming presence wherever we are? Are we really working to make this world a better place for others, or are we more concerned about making life better just for ourselves?
Lots of questions, not as many answers! I wonder if it has to do with our approach to our relationship with God and with each other. Do we take these relationships too casually, do we see God only as "papa" and no longer as our creator and Saviour. Do we accept salvation as our right and fail to see it as the costly gift it really is? Do we hold ourselves and our youth accountable for their faith or are we too soft on them and ourselves, telling each other that when they get older they'll get more mature? What does this say about our own faith? Do we really live what we say we believe?
Much of what I've just written also comes out of my time on the high school mission trip to the Adirondacks last week where the theme was "Be different". This sharpened up some of what has been going on in my head and heart ever since the Nicaragua trip. The high school students asked some good questions and forced me to think deeper on faith and how we should be different. One of the things that came up was that many people who don't believe in God are really nice people as well and other religions call for their followers to be good too, so what makes Christians different? We can talk about grace and Jesus dying for our salvation and forgiveness of our sin, a hugely important part of our faith, but many people prefer working for their salvation instead, so is there anything else that makes us different?
From my life experiences and study of Scripture, I will say that there is one other thing that makes Christians different: we don't live for ourselves, we live for others; our lives are outward focused instead of "us" focused. We focus on God and living lives that bring him glory, and we focus on loving others, being a blessing to them, working to change our communities so that everyone can experience the shalom that the Old Testament talks about, creating a small piece of God's kingdom wherever we are. In order to do this we need to know God and understand what his kingdom is like so that we can do the work he's put us here to do. As Christians we need to know what we believe and  then let this really shape our lives, our focus, what we do and why we do it. We can't simply drift through life gathering up stuff and let life flow all around us. We can make a difference in the world, God calls us to make a difference in the world, that's why we're here. He gives us eyes to see, ears to hear and hands to work to make a difference for God in our neighbourhoods, our cities, our country and our world; speaking up for justice, for compassion, for rightness, fairness, beauty, and more that makes our world a better place for everyone and brings glory to God. This is what we need to show our youth, this is what they're looking for; to make a difference and have a reason to do so. We're called to live what we believe in deep and passionate ways and our youth will be drawn to faith in deep and wonderful ways. The world will see God working through lives like these.
These are just a few musings on what I learned this year from our mission trips, lots of questions, not as many answers, but that's alright as we had opportunities to talk together about God, faith, life and what life is all about. Life is messy, faith is sometimes hard and even messier, but always God is with us. What a blessing to be with our young adults and high school students and learn from them. I see faith in them, and a struggling with faith sometimes. I recognize also that faith is hard today, especially for our youth here in Quebec, and that makes walking alongside them even more important. We need to invest ourselves in than our young adults and youth and you will find that you will grow too. I feel like I've been given a wonderful gift in being part of their lives.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

last night here in Nicaragua

It's hard to believe that we're heading home tomorrow already and we'll be home with our families again by midnight tomorrow. At the same time, I had to say goodbye to Angie and Stephanie at Hosanna Sur, two beautiful energetic girls that made my time at the school so much fun. When we left, they hung on to us and called out "No ca vas", "Don't go!". If I could have taken them home, I would have. It has been both wonderful and challenging as we have seen  things that will stay with us for a long time, hopefully even for a lifetime. My prayer is that this has changed us, making us more caring and compassionate, but also more aware of the world we're in and of God's presence in our lives. The girls do want to save some of the important events and experiences for sharing with you personally at home, but I'll also let them share one last time on this blog as well.

Today was a pretty perfect last day. We finally got to play the long awaited soccer game with the grade 11 boys. They are AMAZING. I played for about 20 minutes but the boys, Annelies and Tessa went on for over an hour. By the end of the day we had so many little inside jokes with them. It was hard to say goodbye to them. Even though some of them were 2 years younger than us they are just like the boys back home. We got pictures with them and their facebook account names so hopefully we can keep in contact. Later in the afternoon we went to the orphanage. That was probably my favorite experience yet. It was a perfect positive way to end our trip. The orphanage housed infants to 7 years old. I obviously spent most of the time with the beautiful babies. Mom and Dad, I want a baby brother....his name is Abraham, he's 2 months old and he told me he wants to be a Toufexis...make it happen. I can't wait to share pictures of this amazing orphanage with you all. God has really blessed that place. Today made me realize how much i'll miss Nicaragua.
Love Lea
p.s Can't wait to see my family and everyone else at the airport tomorrow!

Mom and dad, I am bringing home a baby sister (Mayling) and husband (Humberto.) Thanks for understanding!
Love you

Today turned out much better then I expected. Since I have a cold and didn't feel well today, I thought the day would long and excruciating, but thankfully it was the opposite. In the morning we went to Hosanna Sur to help with our final feeding program there as well as hang out with the grade 11 students. At the end we taught them some english and took a bunch of pictures with them and it was a lot of fun! After lunch we went to the orphanage and Annelies and I were able to go as well even though we have colds, since some of the children there were sick already. Though we didn't get to hold any of the babies, we were grateful we were able to go and see what an amazing place it truly was. The orphanage was definitely the most incredible part of the trip. The people there were so amazing, and it was great to see what kind hearts they all had. The children there were adorable and some of their stories were heartbreaking. The orphanage was well managed and well kept, and was a place where joy and happiness was seen in each of the children's faces. The compound also had housing units where teams and families could stay while they visited to help out and do work for the orphanage. It it absolutely completely and positively in my future plans to return to Nicaragua to go to that orphanage and hopefully next time I won't be sick, that way I'll be able to hold little babies too!
- Katherine
P.s. I can't wait to go home, flush some toilet paper, take a hot shower, eat something that has not had bugs land on it and last but not least, sleep without worrying about bugs and/or geckos crawling up my nose while I sleep. Love you Mommy and can't wait to see you!

Today was a great way to finish this Nicaraguan adventure. We finally got to play soccer with the grade 11 boys and were really able to bond with them during the game even though we had no idea what one another were saying. Tessa and I played for what felt like three hours and turns out I did something to my foot during the game but only realized when I washed my feet in the shower this afternoon and saw that my foot was blue :S. It was kind of sad saying bye to all the grade 11 students after the game but we got tons of pictures with them and hopefully we will be able to somehow stay in contact with them through facebook. This afternoon was torturous for me. I had been wanting to go to an orphanage this whole trip and three days before we go I caught  a stupid cold ( thanks a bunch Terrance). Being in the infant room and being unable to hold any of the babies was awful. The orphanage itself was gorgeous though and the kids are way better off there. All of the children there aren't actually parentless. They are there because of neglect, abuse and abodonment. A lot of the tiny little babies that were there were simply left at the hospital after their mothers had given birth to them. Another three siblings were taken from their family situation because their grandfather was also their father. It was great to see that those kids were taken out of that awful situation and were now with people that cared for them.I would love to come back to that orphanage next year and actually be able to help and hold the children there. I have been so faithful with sunscreen throughout this whole trip on my pale dutch skin and for some reason today I forgot to put some on. I have the most horendous sunburn and I'm not looking forward to the nasty peeling that will be happening a few days from now. Even though this trip was an amazing experience and|I am so grateful to have had this oportunity, after ten days I am so ready to get back to my nice warm bed, my air conditioned house, my cold water that I can drink straight from the tap without worrying about toilet issues, my clean and bat free bathroom,my gecko free room, my family, friends and puppy, and lastly my nice WARM shower!! See ya soon pops, T, Dareck and Katie!
P.s One thing that I will miss so much is the gorgeous way that spanish people pronounce my name!
- Annelies

Today was an amazing way to finish our trip in Nicaragua. Bonding with the grade 11's was really nice and being able to show some of my soccer skills definitely created some type of connection between some of the boys and I. Unfortunately I went to bed feeling very sick yesterday and felt horrible today during the day so I didn't play soccer for too long. My 'feeling sick' had nothing to do with a cold or something contagious so I was able to hold my futur son at the orphanage. Kids as young as a few weeks old were part of this orphanage and I kept whispering, "you're all too young to be here, without a family" but the longer I was holding this child, the more I was able to reflect on the fact that all of these children are so much better off in this loving, caring and amazing placement. After experiencing the orphanage this afternoon, I realised that it's definitely something that I could see myself helping out with later on for a few years. We met two particular girls who work at the orphanage who we really were able to connect with simply because they were both not Nicaraguans! One was from michigan and the other from Wisconsin. One came on a ten day trip just like us, came back and married the translator that was designated to her group. She is now living right behind the orphanage and will probably live in Nicaragua the rest of her life. The other girl came as an intern for three months and has now been here for a year.
This experience has been amazing, heart warming and has made me grow a lot.
I am very excited to be back home tomorrow though.
see you soon,

Wow, I can't believe we will be heading home tomorrow. What an experience. It was such a pleasure for me to serve with these young ladies. They are all amazing in their own way. Parents you should be very proud. I will continue to pray for them all as they make life decisions and figure out where God will lead them.
I am a little concerned about going through Customs tomorrow..... Customs officer: "Anything to declare?" Me: "Yes, some cashews, some coffee, a hammock and a 2 month old baby boy named Nathaniel." Don't worry honey, I checked his feet and they were huge. I suspect he may make a great running back :)
I sign off with mixed emotions. I say goodbye to beautiful Nicaragua (even though there is much poverty, it is beautiful because God is doing some amazing things here), the humidity, the cold showers, the not so great bathroom situations and the quarter size bug I found on the inside of my towel (which I was wearing at the time!). I say hello to my family, my puppy, my bed, my warm shower, my toilet that flushes and tap water.
Please pray for traveling mercies and that we don't have any issues with our bowels (there I said it) on the way home. Most of us have been a little too regular for the last few days :(
Thanks for all of your support and prayers.
Love, Caroline

As you can see, today was a special day that has helped us all reflect more deeply on the total 10 days. God did something special today and we are looking forward to reflecting more when we're back home again and allow everything to settle more deeply into our hearts. Thank you for all your prayers

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Day 8

Good evening, or morning if you're reading this with your morning cup of coffee. Today was shopping, painting and movie, I'll let the girls talk about all this, but I have to admit that the movie has touched me deeply and reminded what our walk with God is all about. I have a lot of reflecting to do!

Shopping is nothing like montreal, thats for sure! We only had 45 minutes to shop through a bunch of little stores and surprisingly we were able to get everything we wanted in that time. We finally finished painting the school today, but it was a challenge. It was crazy hot today and the heat just made it that much harder to paint. A few grade 11's came back to help us finish up today and their help was definetly appreciated. Tomorrow we get to go back to say bye to the kids and to see the final outcome of our work. 1 more day here and we're home :)

Shopping was very stressful for me and unlike Tessa, I did NOT get everything that I wanted in 45 minutes (sorry Patrick and Elizabeth :S). We painted the second coat in the classrooms today and it was brutal. The paint wasn't staying on but we eventually finished it and it looks pretty decent. The movie we just finished watching was very inspirational and simply amazing. Tomorrow we will still be learning more about Nicaragua then we will be picking up food from the market for the feeding program at the school we're serving which will also allow us to say goodbye to the students, teachers and other staff that we met there during our 10 days. In the afternoon, we are visiting an orphanage which i am so so so so so excited for. It will be hard for me not to want to bring every single one of them home.

Hello all, Hot, hot, hot and hottest! The humidity level is soooo high. Annelies and I have been fighting with a headache for the last 3 days. On the upside my hair looks great :)
The girls worked so hard today in the heat to finish our painting job. Thank goodness a few of the grade 11 boys came back to the school to help us. I wonder why........
The movie we saw was called Reparando. Google it and you will find a few youtube clips. An amazing documentary on how God can use a few people who feel called to change the lives of so many in Guatamala. I will share more when we get home.
Tomorrow we are looking forward to going to the orphanage. A few of us have had a cold (thanks Terrance) and depending on how we feel we may not get to go in and hold some babies :( Please pray that we all feel better. One of us is having bathroom issues. I will let her tell you about it in person. Pray also for Katherine. She has the cold and worked like crazy today and paid for it this evening. Don't worry Martine, we are all taking good care of her and she was feeling better.
The girls that did not blog this evening send their apologies but the heat and the hard work has sent them all to bed early.
Thank you for all of your encouraging words and your prayers.
Blessings, Caroline

After the movie we talked about what following Jesus is about: he was a friend of sinners, never turning anyone away, and loving with the love of God. At the heart of our faith, this is what makes our faith real: God's love being worked out in our lives and us loving God and others. To bad churches and Christians often forget this. Thank you for your prayers and your encouragement. I discoverd that the blog had privacy blocks on and I've disabled them so commenting should be much easier: comment and post.
God bless, Jake

Monday, 30 May 2011

Day 7

Good day everyone, it's hard to believe that we've been here a week already. The time has flown by and we've taken in a lot of information and experiences in the past 7 days. Today started with a sobering experience, as we were driving to Hosanna Sur, we came across an accident between a pickup truck and 2 motorcycles and one of the motorcycle drivers lay on the side of the road and he was dead. Many of them do not wear helmets, though with this accident, it's unlikely even a helmet would have saved him. It is a reminder that life is a gift from God and precious, but also that God may call us home at any time and we need to be ready right now, not leave our relationship with God for tomorrow. The girls were shaken up by this and it showed in their quietness for the first part of the morning. We spent time with the grade 11 students all morning and they helped us in the afternoon. I'll let everyone else share how they expereinced the day themselves.

I'd first like to take this opportunity to apologize for my insane mothers comments. I love you and miss you Mommy but you gave us all a good laugh with your technical probably made me miss you more.Thank you to everyone who has commented. It is definitely nice to hear from people back home. Mom, Dad, Mr. Richard (Katie, you too)and Mr.Steve, you type exactly how you speak! We all miss you. Today had a brutal start but we were able to actually have a good time connecting with the grade 11ers. The language barrier will never cease to be weird and awkward but we did have the opportunity to laugh and poke fun about class clowns, dating, teachers... justin bieber...etc. We also got the majority of the painting done with the help of the tall grade 11er boys. We all discussed how we don't want to share too much on the blog so we can have some interesting stories to come home with. So that is all for now. Be prepared for june 2nd. Love you and Miss you all:)

wafu banana bean and papa new guinea, MISS YOU! Mom says she misses you guys also.
- Annelies

Hello family, just like Lea mentionned previously, I dont want to mention too much on the blogs because I know I will have so much to tell you when I get home, which I believe you'll prefer more than: "well you read it on the blog, no need to hear me speak" (haha)
Love and Miss you very much. Can't wait to be home again.

So i pretty much agree withh everything Anya and Lea said... I can't wait to be home to tell you guys about everything that has happened down here! I'm just writing cause I know mom and dad count on me to say something. I love you guys and miss you mucho.

Tonight we talked about God, doubts, our own faith and lots of questions, continue praying that God continues to work in all our hearts, helping us to love him more and more as he loves us,

a few pictures to reflect the schools we've been at, the poverty and the wealth

these pictures are from the Jordan school

 the Antorcha Divina school

the organic farm which has impacted over 5,000 families

the Treasures of God school

poverty is a major issue in Nicaragua

but there is also extreme wealth, not many inbetween however

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Day 6 Sunday

Hello there everybody, thanks for the postings, the girls especially look forward to reading your comments! If you want to post, you will be asked to register, but you simply need to give some basic information so that when you post a comment, we will know who it is from. Today we went to a Nicaraguan church, Hosanna Sur, right by the school we are working at and worshipped in Spanish. I'm sure the girls will share something about that, then this afternoon we went to the Pacific Ocean. It is now around 6 PM here and we have the evening to relax, and even I'm giving them a night off from talking! Now it's their turn to share--Jake

So today was the beach and it was amazing. The weather was perfect and we got to play a soccer game with some boys from here. We had an awesome day!

Soccer on the beach. Enough said.
loved it

Today we got to go to the beach and play soccer against a bunch of local boys and somehow I managed to score a goal and it was the most exciting thing ever! Of course I got a sun burn again even though I've been putting on sunblock! The food was really good too. It was a great day!
- Katherine

I finally got a decent tan today :). The beach was amazing and so was playing soccer with some local boys. We also got to meet our guide/ translator's wife and step son. He was super adorable and played soccer with us also. The church service this morning was painfully long this morning but we all managed to survive somehow.
- Annelies
P.S HI RICKY RICARDO! miss you Pops! Tell Terrance I say Helloo

So I'll never complain that Pastor Jake's services are too long again. This mornings service was 2 hours and 15 minutes. Add to that, not understanding the language and deathly hot and humid temperatures. Enough said. Unbelievably, the Pastor was in a suit and tie! I did recognise a number of the tunes though :)
The beach was great. We kept a close eye on the girls, as did all the other men/boys on the beach....
Before I sign off, one more comment about yesterday's Zip lining. Moms, when you see pictures of your girls hanging upside down, or flying through the air like superman, they have been doctored, I swear! If you don't believe that, in my defense, I did tell them that I thought they were nuts!
Love to all. Katie, only 4 more sleeps and we will be home :) Tell Daddy and Terrance that we miss them too.
Back to work tomorrow :)
- Caroline

to sum things up a bit, it was a good day and I'm reminded that even when we are somewhere and don't speak the local language, worshipping God still happens! Worship is an international language and doesn't depend on us, but on the Holy Spirit working in us and our hearts and leading us to worship God with all our brothers and sisters. It felt a little bit like heaven today in Hosanna Sur!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Day 5 Cultural day

Hi there everyone, this has been a very different day for everyone. Today we took a break from work and learning about ministries and what God is doing in Nicaragua and went to see the beauty of this Central American country. It is truly a beautiful country with rain forests, coffee plantations, lakes and volcanos, all within a short distance of each other. I'll let the others share their favourite part of the day and what they saw.

Zip lining through the forest, dormant and active volcanos, boat tour through some islands, feeding and taking pictures with a monkey is what our day consisted of. Today was amazing and we got to see some beautiful parts of Nicaragua. It was a big change and difference from the usual things we have been seeing like the slums and the poverty but it was so much fun. It was great to see the difference between the cullture in Canada and the culture in Nicaragua. We were able to enjoy and experience new things while being able to learn new things about this country.

Today was so much fun and I got to do a lot of things I wouldn't be able to do at home. In the morning we went to a pottery shop where they had three adult Chihuahuas and a bunch of babies which were so cute and cuddly but we found out after they had fleas....gross! After that we went zip lining over a coffee bean plantation which was incredible but also super scary at the same time. I even went upsidedown at one point! Then we had lunch at a really nice restaurant that reminded me of a resort. After lunch we took a boat tour to an island with actual monkeys on it, but wild, not like in a zoo! One even jumped on the boat and ate from junk food. Later we went to see an active volcano which was really cool and amazing. We had Pizza Hut for dinner and thankfully it was like at home! Now we have the evening off to relax and hopefully sleep really well tonight even though a gecko got into our room last night and is somewhere making annoying sounds!
- Katherine

Not very many people get to say that they saw an active volcano, dormant volcano, wild monkeys, baby chihuahuas and got to go zip lining, go on a boat tour around a bunch of beautiful islands, go out for lunch and supper all in the same day in Nicaragua. Today was amazing. That is all.
- Annelies

Cultural day is the BEST day! We finally got to take a break from working. We got to experience the amazing Rain Forest, beautiful Lake Nicaragua, The Masaya Volcano and the animals of Nicaragua. It was definitely a change from all the poverty we have been dealing with the past 5 days. One of my favorite parts was driving through the city of Granada. I would encourage you all to either google maps or google image it...Amazing. It was like a little piece of old Spain. Another mind blowing experience was the zip lining, so much fun for us adrenaline junkies. Also, While stopping off to check out a dormant volcano, Anya and I were asked to be interviewed by a Korean travel channel and all I could think was "great, let's throw another foreign language into the mix!". But hey, We're korean stars now. Today especially we really got a taste of how coveted young "gringas" (white girls) are here in Nicaragua. I don't think we've gotten so many blown kisses in our lives. Anyways, I think it was pretty important for us to see all the positive parts of this country as well on this trip. I will remember this day for the rest of my life. Who else can say they did all this in one day?
Love you Mom and Dad and the Toufexi
Lea xoxo

After reading everyone else's comments, theres not much more to say. It was an amazing experience and something that we will remember the rest of our lives. Not many people get to live through and experience what we did today and it's something we will be able to share with our children later on. It was refreshing to see the beautiful and positive parts of Nicaragua because monday we will be back to seeing and working with poverty. We all thanked God for the gorgeous weather that we had today, not too hot and definitely not too cold which was perfect for our zip lining activity and our volcano visit. Tomorrow we will be going to the ocean so please pray that we make it safely and have amazing weather as it will be our only day at the beach.
Anya (love you mom and dad  ps. thanks dad for letting me know about Alan's comment. That's so sweet of him)

So, wow, what a day! I am one tired lady. I'm proud of myself that I did not let my fear of heights get the best of me today. I went zip lining in a rain forest! I got harnessed up, climbed up to the platform with everyone else, watched all the girls go, got clipped on myself, then off I went zipping through the rain forest with my heart in my throat and fear in my eyes. When I was done I was so glad I'd done it but was glad it was over...... That's when they told me that there were 10 more that we had to do! Are you kidding me??????
We saw some beautiful places here in Nicaragua! What a drastic difference from the poverty that we have been surrounded by all week. We went on a boat tour in Lake Nicaragua, near Grenada and saw some amazing homes on there own Islands. Fred and Diana, I know you are planning on moving to Ottawa, but do you know that you can buy your own Island here with a beautiful home on it for around $400,000.00? You may want to reconsider your relocation. Just sayin.... I promise we would visit you :)
Katie, I'm glad to hear that you are doing well. I will talk to the Big guy about that canned dog food.
Love you and miss you Hon.
- Caroline xoxo

You've heard from everyone and there is not much to add. It's important that everyone saw that in spite of the great poverty here, there is also great beauty in this country that draws people back. At the same time, it was a reminder of the great gulf between the rich and the poor here; there is almost no middle class. Things are changing slowly and the Christian organizations and followers of Christ are playing a big role in this. Pray for the girls as we will be reflecting more over the rest of the time here on what God is doing here, what kind of a God he is and our relationships with God and other followers of Jesus; but also pray for those working here to reveal God to the people in Nicaragua through the work they are doing to transform the country and the people in it, and pray that we all may be transformed by God as well, blessings

Day 5 Cultural day

Hi there everyone, this has been a very different day for everyone. Today we took a break from work and learning about ministries and what God is doing in Nicaragua and went to see the beauty of this Central American country. It is truly a beautiful country with rain forests, coffee plantations, lakes and volcanos, all within a short distance of each other. I'll let the others share their favourite part of the day and what they saw.

Zip lining through the forest, dormant and active volcanos, boat tour through some islands, feeding and taking pictures with a monkey is what our day consisted of. Today was amazing and we got to see some beautiful parts of Nicaragua. It was a big change and difference from the usual things we have been seeing like the slums and the poverty but it was so much fun. It was great to see the difference between the cullture in Canada and the culture in Nicaragua. We were able to enjoy and experience new things while being able to learn new things about this country.

Today was so much fun and I got to do a lot of things I wouldn't be able to do at home. In the morning we went to a pottery shop where they had three adult Chihuahuas and a bunch of babies which were so cute and cuddly but we found out after they had fleas....gross! After that we went zip lining over a coffee bean plantation which was incredible but also super scary at the same time. I even went upsidedown at one point! Then we had lunch at a really nice restaurant that reminded me of a resort. After lunch we took a boat tour to an island we actual monkeys on it, but wild, not like in a zoo! One even jumped on the boat and ate from junk food. Later we went to see an active volcano with was really cool and amazing. We had Pizza Hut for diner and thankfully it was like at home! Now we have the evening off to relax and hopefully sleep really well tonight eventhough a gecko got into our room last night and is somewhere making annoying sounds!
- Katherine

Friday, 27 May 2011

Day 4 already

Good evening everyone, it's thundering and lightening outside, thankfully as it has brought down the humidity! Last night we had a fascinating evening as we met a couple from Alberta who moved down to Bolivia about 8 years ago to help the people there develop farming techniques that do not rely on machinery and are sustainable. They shared with us many of their experiences coming to Latin America and taught us much about the people and culture here. They are in Nicaragua to see how they might help here and to explore where God might be leading them next. We gained a great deal of insight into why some things are the way they are here. We are also being challenged about our own culture, the strengths of it and the weaknesses we often don't think about. We are being encouraged not to feel guilty about living where we do and having what we have in comparison to the people here as God has placed us where we are and the people of Nicaragua here, but we are being challenged to think of what our responsibilities might be! A lot of heart stuff and thinking going on!! -Jake

Today was a busy day. We visited an organic farm which was interesting but very annoying to be swarmed by flies. In the afternoon we went to 'Treasures of God' which is a centre for kids and youth with disabilties, mostly physical. It was very shocking and sad to see these children laying down looking very lifeless. We did alot of sensory exercises with them and simply sat beside them. I will let a few of the other girls share their experience.
-Anya (love you Mom and Dad)

Today was a long day. I'm super sunburn so that makes everything a little less enjoyable! In the morning we took a really long and bumpy car ride to an organic farm. I really had to pee and when we got there, there were bats all over the bathroom. It was a terrifying experience. At the farm there were lots of bugs but the animals there were kind of cool. I never knew how big pigs were and its unbelievable! After lunch we went to Treasures of God to interact with the disable children and their mothers. It was shocking to learn some of the kid's stories and how the center works. Besides the bugs it was a good day!
- Katherine (love you Mommy!)

I peed in a bathroom with bats this morning. I never thought I'd say that but it happened. Besides that and all the terrible feces smells from the farm this morning, today was a really good day for me. In the afternoon, as the other girls have mentioned, we had the opportunity to go back to Treasures of God. the first time we went (on Tuesday), Michelle the director was super busy so we mostly felt like we were in the way and we didnt really get the chance to interact with the children which was something I had been looking forward to. This time we each got to interact one on one with a disabled child. At first I had the opportunnity to do stimulation exercises with one of the children. It was very obvious that he was both physically and mentally disabled. I started to get emotional while doing the exercises but didnt want to cry in front of his mother because I recognized that this was something she had to deal with on a daily basis. I then moved on to a little girl named alysia. She was so adorable but was unable to really communicate and had developmental problems. I quickly figured out that she loved getting her hands rubbed and calmed down when I did that. Afterwards, Katherine, Pastor Jake, my mother and I talked to Michelle about all the different kids and what their specific needs, challenges and disabilities were. It was then that I found out that the first boy I had been doing the stimulation exercises with at the begining of the day was born a 'normal' and healthy baby boy. When he was six years old he was running home in the rain and was hit by an electrical wire and got electricuted. He is now 15 years old and the past 9 years of his life have been completely different from his first 6. After hearing all of this I had to excuse myself to the bathroom because my inital emotional feelings that I experienced earlier on in the day came back. I couldnt imagine how it felt for his mother to one day have a completely normal child to now having a fifteen year old that can't walk, talk, feed himself or communicate with others around him. Overall this day was really challenging for me but I'm really glad I was able to see what michelle was doing for all these kids and their families.
p.s love you papa

So this is what happened today and how the different members of our team have experienced the events of the day. We've met some amazing people this week: Blanca, Lennin, Lester, Michelle, and more; others have touched our hearts, I've met a little girl Angie I want to take home :). Please keep us in your prayers and feel free to leave comments as we would love to hear what you are thinking as we serve, learn and experience being in a different culture far from home, thank you--Jake

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Day 3

Hi everyone,
It's hard to believe that we've been here 3 full days already! There have been quite a few differnet experiences so far, but I'll let everyone else share their thoughts on what they're experiencing and thinking first. -Jake

The weather today was very very very very hot and we were painting a school outdoors. Before that, we visited a school from preschool to grade 6 with whom we played a game that they taught us which was pretty funny and very competitive. The kids were so happy to see that we wanted to participate and we even teamed up with them. So far, this trip is really much more about us learning about Nicaragua and the different things we can do with World Wide Christian Schools rather than changing these peoples lives which is what we were expecting and wanting to do. We ARE learning alot and it's very interesting, we just thought we'd be doing alot more heartfelt work towards these children and their families.

Today we visited a new school in the city of Managua. We got to play a game with the kids at recess, which was soo fun. We had a great time and they had a great time laughing with and at us. In the afternoon, we finished the second coat of the first color on  the school we started painting yesterday. It was INCREDIBLY hot, but we toughed through it.We learned alot about the culture today and more on Nicaragua and their christian schools. Tomorrow we're going back to the special education school for children with disabilities and we're all really looking forward to it.

Hot! Hot! Hot! Ummm...... Did I say hot?
Today we painted the outside of one of the schools. I don't think I have ever done physical labour in that kind of heat, but the girls powered through and we got it done :) Tomorrow we get to go back and put on the second coat..... Hoping for some cooler weather.
We have spent a lot of our time visiting different Christian Schools in Managua (there are over 100 schools in the area)  and learning about all the various opportunities and needs in the area. The Hearts part of our Mission is about changing our hearts for the long term to see how we can continue to serve God wherever he leads us. Continue to pray for us as we explore where God will lead us.
PS: Good news: Our stomachs are still okay (you know what I mean.......)
- Caroline

Ya, it was incredibly hot today! My nose looks like rudolph the red nose reindeer so i'll be applying 100 SPF to that tomorrow...oye. This morning was very interesting at the school in Managua. All the children came out for recess and had this elaborate game set up (essentially it was a relay race) and we were asked to participate. Our competitive sides definitely came out, resulting in Anya, Tessa and I having bruises and scrapes. We are all still in one piece thankfully:) Thank you for the support. I love and miss you toufexi clan.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Day 2

Good day everyone, it's just me blogging tonight, we had some issues with the connection here and my browser.
Today we began working at Hosanna Sur, the school we'll be most associated with for the rest of the time we're here. We learned a bit about the school, played some games with some of the younger students, and attended a Mother's Day celebration at the school and discovered how hard it is to participate when there is a language barrier. Honestly, this created some frustration among us all as the celebration went long and it was so hot and humid. We then served lunch at the school and ate there as well before we served the students. The meal was a basic root vegetable and beef soup, with vegetables that we've never eaten before. It was basic food that filled you up, but not at all what we are used to in our lives back in Montreal. I got to play with a few of the students, tickling them and they tickled back, no need to Spanish then, just lots of laughter! In the afternoon we painted a base coat on the outside walls of the two classrooms that were recently built, and it was hot!! Don't worry families, we are using lots of sunscreen!
This evening we talked about what we're doing and why, and there was/is some frustration because there are so many needs and it seems like we're doing to little to really help the people here. We talked about how a mission trip is about us being shaped by God as much or more than about the work we do here, work that the local people could just as easily do themselves, and how it's about us becoming more aware of the world we're in. We can accomplish more back home by sharing our hearts and stories with you when we come back than what we will physically accomplish here. Please ask us to tell our stories when we return.
Some important questions were asked:
why are we really here,
what is this mission trip really about,
could the money we paid to come here have been better spent just giving it to the schools here,
what are we really accoomplishing here, etc.

Please pray for us as we wrestle with these questions and as we work at seeing what God is doing here in Nicaragua. Please pray that our hearts will be touched by God as we learn about the ministries happening here, and that we will grow to love the people here as much as God loves them.
Thank you for your prayers and support,

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

We're here!

We arrived in Managua late last evening and after a long wait at customs, we finally met up with Lennin and Lester, our guide, driver, translators and basic great guys who brought us to the Nehemiah Center where we thankfully got a good night's sleep. Today we were introduced to 3 different schools, Jordan, Mt Hermon, and Treasures of God schools where we learned their histories and helped out in different ways. It's wonderful to see the passion in the schools for God and Christ and for the students and their families. Each school has their own story, their own struggles and their own blessings. The hospitality among the people here is heart warming and we're getting a chance to practice our Spanish while they practice their English, thankfully their English is better than our Spanish :).

I must say that we were expecting much less than what we actually have here. The food is very good and even better than that, their fresh fruit juices. Our guides are very nice and welcoming and I keep repeating to the girls that they are just so perfect for our group; their sarcasm, funny remarks and joking around is 'SO us'. Our sleeping arrangements are working out quite well. Mrs.Caroline, Annelies and Lea are in one room and connected to that; myself, Tessa and Katherine which definitely helps with the heat factor although we haven't been complaining yet. We had the opportunity to visit three schools today, but only actually got to interact with the children at one school which we have many pictures of to show you when we get home. Much more to write about, but I will give the others the opportunity to speak about their day as well.

OLAAA!! Waking up this morning wasn't the easiest thing to do, mainly because throughout the night we heard geckos, roosters, angry barking dogs and so many other animals that I cant even identify. Things are very different here in Nicaragua; replace squirrels for skinny chickens, dogs, cows and the occasional horse. Replace houses, condos and apartments for one level shacks without doors and windows. Replace acorns for mangos. If you think Quebec drivers are are sadly mistaken. No road rules apply here; driving on the wrong side of the road is a non issue.
PS. : Hi Aunt Belinda ;)

First things first. The food here is pretty amazing. We were definitely not expecting  that. the place we are staying is super nice. I know that i didn't sleep too well last night  because of all the noise, but we had fun today regardless of our tiredness. It is ridiculously humid here but were managing. This morning we visited 2 different schools and got to play around with the kids and learn about the history of the school. In the afternoon after lunch we went to a  school for the disabled children. it was sad to see but it was nice to know they had a place to go for help. The language barrier is pretty crappy too cause we all want to talk to the kids but we cant.
Hello mother father and brothers. miss and love you.

Hello North America, pretty much everything that has happened today has been summed up by the other girls (big mouths). Well, in fact I haven't read theirs there will be repetition. Its 8 pm right now and we just finished a delicious dinner, those Nicaraguans can cook. Anyways, today we visited three schools which was fairly tiring but it was fun. I got to put my Spanish skills to the test with the children. I got pretty attached to my little group of grade 2ers. They made me little cards to take home:). The thing I love most about Nicaragua is definitely the driving, the drivers are MAD. Its so hilarious! Don't worry Mom our driver Lester is the best and would never lead us astray. But it's actually so fun to see the village, the side road stands and all the stray puppies (and cows and chickens) while we drive. Ok well ill save the rest for another time. Thank you for your prayers and support. Love you Mom and Dad (and the rest of the Toufexi)

Greetings from Nicaragua!
I knew Nicaragua would be different from Montreal, but I had no idea what to expect. I was not prepared for the heat and the amount of creatures there are. From the huge and loud bugs, to the random dogs in the street (one even crossed on the crosswalk last night, smart dog!). Everything is loud too, its hard to fall asleep when you're not sure what exactly is making those noises. Today we visited three schools, which really showed me how much we take for granted, when students here don't even have pencils, and a pack of 18 crayons per class is like a miracle to them. The culture is so different and it's amazing to see all kinds of animals wondering wild where ever they please. The bathrooms aren't that great so I'm trying my best not to go too often! :S
Love you Mommy, and I miss you all, tell Mark I say hi!
- Katherine :)

Ola! I'm not going to repeat all the details of the day that mi amigas already shared. I will say that the thing that struck me the most about the teachers and principals we met was their passion for Christian education and the love and dedication they had for their students. Many students here drop out after grade six to go and work. Only 2 out of ten go on to highschool but only one of those two will graduate. WOW!
At the end of the day we went to the grocery store and being the good Dutch girl that I am I feel the need to share this ( Belinda you'll appreciate this) ; We managed to buy two bags of oreo cookies, two boxes of ice cream sandwiches, milk, a large bottle of fanta, two mangos, and a small thing of chocolate milk all for $11.50 US!!!! That's it for now, love to all. Miss you hon.

Talk to you all again tomorrow-Jake

Monday, 16 May 2011

Getting ready to go

It's only 7 more sleeps till we go, here's a few thoughts from everyone as we get ready to serve, learn about the people and what God is doing, and experience the culture of Nicaragua.

We are all really excited about this trip but we have several prayer requests such as :
- SETTLED STOMACHS.... (You know what we mean......)

we are excited about going, but know we need God with us and your prayers to support us, thank you

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

At the beginning

In less than 2 weeks I'm off to Nicaragua with a group of young adults and a young at heart leader to serve with Worldwide Christian Schools in the area of Managua. Caroline, Annelies, Anya, Katherine, Tessa, Lea and I will be spending 10 days serving, learning, and experiencing the country and culture of Nicaragua and thinking and talking through the 10 days about our relationships with God and each other. We leave on May 23 and come back 10 days later, hopefully wiser, closer to God and each other, and with tans of course :). Follow us daily as we share with you what we're doing and  how we are being changed by our time in Nicaragua.