Monday, May 1, 2017

Our Trip to Ukraine

I've never been to a war zone before so I left on this Mercy Chefs trip to Ukraine unprepared for what I would see.

After passing multiple military checkpoints, we visited a neighborhood that is cut off from town, which has had no electricity, water or gas for 11 months. The homes in town all have damage from attacks, some which are now uninhabitable. The townspeople still gather for church, even though it is dangerous to do so, as large crowds of people are targets. Sandbags are placed over the church windows to prevent gunfire from penetrating the building and hopefully keeping them safe.

We held a church service, and their worship to God was so intense you could feel their love for God in their voices, despite not being able to understand the words. They worshipped at a place of trust, despite their hardships and loss.

With no utilities, they have been surviving on what shelf stable products are brought into town. We delivered bread and water after church, which they were incredibly grateful for.

While we were in another refugee camp, rapid gunfire broke out nearby, and then a series of bombs could be heard. The people continued to worship with no notice, as this is everyday life for them. Again we distributed bread and water. This town is blessed in that it has milking cows, and as an act of thanks we were given about a gallon of fresh milk. The church has worked to help some of the neighborhoods in the area by providing chickens as well, so that they can have eggs.

The next day we spent time at several churches that specifically reach out to the refugee children. The church is doing a phenomenal job of providing food when the children are able to attend, as well as engaging them in fun activities. The kids loved the attention we gave them, and high-fiving us. We helped served lunch to them which was a rice and meat dish called plov, pickles, some bread with meat and cheese, and juice.  These kids have so much to overcome, but yet gave us nothing but smiles, hugs, and laughs.

Another project the church is working on is helping people rebuild homes. We toured a neighborhood that had been completely destroyed. It resembled many of the tornado-ravaged areas we have been to. We were told it was too dangerous to walk on the grass, as there may be undetonated mines that we might step on.  Just next door, though, was a home they had scraped down to the foundation and rebuilt. I simply cannot wrap my mind around raising my family in these conditions, but they know no other way of life.

Additionally shocking to me is that most people we told we would be going to Ukraine responded with something like, "Oh, what's going on there?" because the American media is not reporting it.

My heart is forever changed and I feel a love for the people of Ukraine. I am excited about working towards helping the church find even better ways of providing food resources to the refugees through Mercy Chefs.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Colossal Changes

Colossal changes?  Well, that may be a slight stretch, but not too far from it.  2017 has brought with it a tremendous amount of change in a very short time.  In December, our youngest made the decision to join the U.S. Marines.  We are so proud, and were happy to have the whole family together briefly in January.  Our oldest son also received a pretty impressive promotion in January, as well.
 I graduated from the District School of Ministry in January (and my hubby graduated in December with his Master's in Organizational Leadership).
 Our missions appointment has kept us so terribly busy that we decided it was best that I quit my job, so I could be on the road full time.  On my last day of work in January, I left straight from work to head to the airport.  I will really miss my job and friends, but I know I can't continue burning the candle at both ends.
 I  joined my hubby and the team on the ground in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where a major tornado had hit.  We were set up at Venue Church, where you could tell they loved their community.  We had some amazing volunteers that helped us get through the deployment.
 The day after we returned to the Dallas area, we were back on the streets feeding the homeless.  Without trying to sound like I'm whining, we have realized that we simply cannot keep up the pace we have been going.  Deployments are frequently 14-16 hour days, with no "weekend".  When the deployment is over, it is vital that we take time to rest.  With that thought and much prayer, we feel it is best to locate a local person who can head up the homeless outreaches for us.  
 After the outreach we said our goodbyes to our son before dropping him off at Dallas MEPS for the Marines.
 The next day he officially swore in and then flew to California for Basic Training.
 And then the packing began.  My hubby even helped label a few boxes.  :)  We have been planning this move for a few years, and are so happy to finally see it come to pass.  It took about 2 weeks to go through our entire house, and either get rid of stuff, move it into the RV, storage unit, shipping container, or Mercy Chefs storage. 
 Of course, we did more than just pack during those 2 weeks.  Homeless outreach continued.
 We also worked at a church for their Men's Ministries meeting.  They set up the parking lot to look like the homeless encampment.
 It was great to have the opportunity to speak to so many about our vision at one time.
 At the end of those 2 weeks, we left our house, moved into our RV, and got a first for us-a puppy!  Meet Dozer.  We sure hope he likes being on the road!
 In any given month, a minimum of at least 2 of those weeks are on the road.  We felt like we were paying rent to just live in hotels, and never home to do upkeep.  It just made sense to move into the RV. We will still build our dream house some day, but for now we just don't have the time to commit to a building project.

So full time in the RV means when we aren't deployed we can office from the RV anywhere we can get Wifi.  We decided to celebrate our change by spending a couple days in Surfside, Texas.  I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I was for a beautiful 80 degree February day.  I felt renewed!  We even had a divine appointment with a stranger while we were there who prayed over us.  Even though it was just a couple days it was very refreshing both spiritually and mentally.
 On the ride home, we saw the Stephen F. Austin statue.  While we had been past the Sam Houston statue many times, I never knew this one even existed.  The grounds were closed the day we drove through, but the gardeners were great and let us go in to take a picture.
 Back "home" on our land near Dallas, we decided that the standard RV brown and beige had to go.  It was fine when we just took the RV on trips, but now that it was home, it needs to feel like home.  It will probably be a work in progress for a while, but this made a drastic difference!
 We spent a couple days at Lake Whitney State Park.  It is very freeing to know that we can work wherever there is Wifi!
 And then we headed to Virginia, home of the Mercy Chefs headquarters.  The drive there was an interesting one-after we got halfway there (a full day of driving) we thought we were going to be diverted back to respond to the wildfires.  We had to stop for multiple conference calls, but ultimately, we were not needed so we continued on our way to Virginia.
 We stayed at Davis Lakes RV Resort in Suffolk, Virginia, which was just a short drive fro our meetings.  The lake was beautiful, but it was much too cold to sit on the sand.  
 We arrived one day early, so we visited my hometown (John had to take a break for a conference call), and then enjoyed an afternoon with my grandma and aunt and uncle.
 The next day all the chefs came together and prepared dinner for an organization that has helped provide water purification around the world.
 We also had several days of training, and got to tour the new Mercy Chefs headquarters.  It was stunning!  It really is amazing the favor God has given in obtaining the building.
 Next on the agenda for a few days was repairs and outfitting one of the mobile kitchens.
 Have I mentioned that I am cold-natured?  We have a water hose that prevents the water from freezing despite the below freezing temps.  However, that doesn't stop the faucet itself from freezing.  John had to place a space heater to get it thawed.  Live and learn!  (And hopefully stay in warmer climates as much as possible!) 
 On our last day in Virginia, John had a meeting that I didn't need to attend, so I visited the home of Planter's Peanuts in downtown Suffolk.
 I also enjoyed the historic churches in town.
 And then it was time to head west back home.  This time we took the northern route through the beautiful mountains,
 John has family not too far from the halfway point, so we stopped to see them.  Isn't Jourdyn adorable?
 I finally gave up trying to take a selfie with my sister-in-law, and made her take it because apparently I'm too old to have acquired proper selfie-taking skills.  It was so good to visit!
 John with his grandparents.
 It was Spring Break in Arkansas while we were there, so we visited an Escape Room with some extended family.
 While there, we stayed at Craighead Forest Park, which is a city park in Jonesboro, Arkansas.  Through the trees you can see the lake.  It is a huge park, primarily for day use with a small RV area.  I absolutely loved this park!  I wish we could have stayed longer.
 Back home a few days later, maintenance as usual continues.
 We returned to the Village Oaks apartments, which we first served during our 17 Days of Christmas outreaches.  It is truly in a food desert-an area of Dallas with no grocery stores.  Once we arrived I needed to run out for a couple pounds of sugar-only to realize, there was nowhere to go.  I ended up at a dollar store.  What an opportunity to serve!
 We have received several letters from our son in Basic Training, and it has been great to hear from him.  One difference from when my husband went through Basic training 20 years ago is the fact that the recruit depot has a Facebook page where they post semi-frequent pictures and videos of what the recruits are doing.  It was so great to see this image (a still-shot from a video) of who I am 99% sure is our son sitting on the far right.
 It is now spring in Texas.  I'm loving my daily view on our land.  We are home this week, always watching the weather as tornado season is looming.  I'm excited for what adventure awaits in the coming months.