Funny and Surprising Things: April Volume


It’s Missy here again. It seems like such a long time ago that I wrote the last post and it was back in February. If you want to jump down to the prayer items feel free. Also, if you have emailed me a personal reply and I have not gotten back to you, my sincere apologies. Our life here is much busier than it was at the beginning and I am woefully behind on replies.

Here is my list of funny and surprising things that have happened over the last couple of months:

1.       My feet are tan. In fact, they even have tan lines. Never in my life has any of me gotten tan. Burned? Yes. Freckled? Yes. Pale, like alabaster? Yes. Tan? No. Until now. It’s kind of weird. I’ll have to see if I can get Evan to send a picture.

2.       Evan bought a whole bag of “limes” from a lady walking around our street with a little boy (they looked like they might have come from Guatemala). They looked hungry and she said she was selling them to buy food. Only the “limes” were sickly little things and when I cut them open they were bright orange inside. I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen an orange lime. Turns out they were just very small oranges that weren’t full-grown, ripe, or healthy but Annabelle and I still slaved to make some juice and it was quite delicious. 

3.       One has to be careful what colors one wears. The two political parties are represented by red and blue. If you wear red or blue people automatically assume you are affiliated with a political party. If you paint your house or bike or anything else red or blue, it is assumed you are making a political statement. In fact, I wore a red shirt one day and a bus didn’t stop to pick me up. I’m still convinced it was because I was wearing a red shirt. It doesn’t matter that I am not a resident, that I cannot vote, that I really do not know anything about either party, or that I have both red and blue shirts. Alas, I have (mostly) retired that red shirt. I decided it is notworth missing a bus over.

4.       As you know, Annabelle is a bright little light everywhere she goes and she was given a second-hand bike by our wonderful neighbors (we couldn’t ask for better neighbors). She’s now riding like a champ and wants to go up to the park every day. It’s a little big for her but she is able to start and stop on her own. Everyone knows her by the unicorn helmet with it is neon blue mohawk. No one here wears helmets when they ride bicycles except our little unicorn.

5.       We have received one piece of mail. That’s right – ONE! It was truly an exciting day in our household. The mail was actually a beautiful and sweet birthday card a dear friend sent me. But that’s it, a single solitary piece. Feel free to try though, if you are up for an experiment. Our address is #3 Third St. San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize, C.A. In fact, if everyone who got this email sent Annabelle a letter, it would be wonderful. Just don’t forget international postage!

6.       Almost last and certainly not least, Annabelle keeps wondering how they get the mashed potatoes into French fries. Truly it is a question for the ages.

7.       And topping the list of funny and surprising things… I got pooped on by an iguana. That’s right. Poop on my hat. And my hand. And showered around the towel on which I was sitting. Liquid iguana poo. Eww. We were sitting at the river enjoying the beautiful clear water. Annabelle was playing and I was relaxing under a large tree. We had heard howler monkeys, countless tropical birds, and seen basilisks, and large green iguanas. Suddenly, it sounded like rain drops falling all around only there weren’t any rain clouds. And then I saw what fell on me and around me and we saw the gloating and relieved iguana. Eww. Eww. Eww. Of course, we all laughed. I imagine in some country somewhere being pooped on by a reptile must be some sort of blessing.

Thank you for humoring me by reading this little list. It’s certainly different living here. And fun and sad and maddening and everything in between. We are loving it, even the hard stuff. Thank you for joining us on this crazy adventure.

My Work Update

I am now up to what I consider full capacity for counseling. I am primarily working with the students at the three Anglican primary schools (primary schools go from k-8th grade) in the area. I see about 20 children per week. I have a number of family members with whom I’m regularly in communication and then teachers, principals, and community members. I have some appointments outside of school hours. I have now met with people in at least 8 locations and the mobile office thing (without a car) is not easy for me. And then there are the countless conversations that happen in doorways, on street corners, and outside. Clearly, being flexible is important in this work. Of course, people here are often not as concerned with confidentiality in the same way I am, but I have been practicing long enough that it is ingrained in me to be very careful and I have always been pretty conscientious (go ahead and laugh, since we all know it’s true).

An extra tidbit for anyone who cares:

I mentioned previously that I would be working on my continuing education. Here are the continuing education trainings I have completed – Human Trafficking and Exploitation, Clinical Supervision, and I am currently working on a long training on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am quite interested in learning about complex trauma and intergenerational trauma as I am working with a lot of children and families who could be case studies in that subject matter. I have several other trainings lined up most of which are particularly relevant to my work here.

Good News

We have some lovely friends here. Not only are we friends with the Alenskis’ but we are friends with our neighbors (see about the bike earlier) and they even invited us out to their family farm in the village. It was amazing and refreshing. They have innumerable fruit trees and flowers, various livestock, and even a little fish pond they keep stocked. We also have some friends (thanks Kimberly for the introduction) who have two kids and we try to see them when we can on weekends. They are lots of joy and good conversation.

There are many good things happening here – to us and through us. I think we are all being challenged and we are all growing immensely spiritually here. It was and is good for us to be away and to have this special time.

We continue to be incredibly grateful for God’s provision for us. As we mentioned previously, we have had some unexpected expenses back home. God continues to be gracious and generous with us. Thank you to everyone who has or is supporting us in our work here. We continue to be floored by your generosity (you know who you are). Believe it or not, our monthly expenses are less than $1,600 for all three of us. Of course, there are things that come up over and above that amount – as I’m sure you can imagine.

Prayer Requests

Please pray for Mary Beth, David, and their little man. The baby is due any day now (even though he’s only 36 weeks old). Please pray for a safe delivery and the health and wellness of mother and son. Please pray for Mary Beth and David as they adjust to having a child. 

Please continue to pray for Annabelle and friends. I think she is continuing to experience some cultural dissonance and seems to daily have difficulties with some of the children in her class – particularly the girls. Overall, school is going well for her and we have good family time, but I know she really misses some of her friends in the States and just hasn’t connected with anyone at school in the way I would have hoped for her.

Please pray for Evan’s knee. We do a lot of walking and he has had some knee troubles for several weeks. Please pray for healing.

I have also started to experience some cultural dissonance – primarily with work. Cultures have different values and some things I value highly – like honesty – are not valued as highly by many of the families I am working with. It is also difficult to feel like one is making a difference or connecting with people when one has no idea of the truthfulness of what they are saying. That is just one example of the cultural dissonance but there are quite a few in my therapy work. Cultural dissonance makes self-care especially important so I am trying to be cognizant that I am not working too much and I am doing other good things. 

Until next time… Don’t forget to get your kids or grandkids or nieces and nephews to paint a picture or write a note and mail it to Annabelle.

Update for February

Hi! This is Evan. The longer you live in a new place, the more you become accustomed to the small things which were initially surprising. Fewer interactions and sights seem noteworthy. For the most part, I think I’m still in the phase where I’m regularly taken aback by the unique beauty of this place. 

Things in this post: Chewie Update, Evan’s Work Permit Update, and Evan’s Work..  There are plenty of photos in this post, as per the usual! 

 

Chewie: The Final Chapter

Chewie made the journey! Below is a map of just how far Chewie traveled. Many thanks to Missy’s mom for making it, to Curt’s parents for holding on to it, and to Curt for traveling all over the world just to bring it here.  

We had a fantastic time with Curt. He rented a motorcycle and we showed him some of the great local places. He really wanted to visit a Mayan ruin, so we took him to Xunantunich. He totally fell in love. 

I have my Work Permit!

I applied for my work permit in November. I was finally approved. This is great, as it means I don’t have to spend money and time every month renewing my visa. I had to make several trips to Belmopan, and had to jump through all sorts of hoops, but it was finally approved after I wrote an appeal letter. To finalize things I had to drive to the capital, pick it up, go to another gov’t office, and then to immigration. I arrived at immigration before 8am and was told that the docket was already full for the day. I told the guard that I really needed to have this done by the next day or I was going to have to renew my other visa again. When he heard how long I’ve been working to get my work permit, he gave me his cell phone number, told me to text him at 6 the next day and confirm that I was coming. He got me in the next day. 

The photo above is of my jacket the first morning I rode. It was so foggy I couldn’t see, and was like driving in rain. I was soaked, but the ground was still dry, so my whole body ended up covered in mud. Maybe this is why the guard took pity on me. 🙂 

What I’ve Been Doing

I have continued to play a lot of music. I’m playing on both Sunday evenings and Sunday mornings. On Sunday evenings, I am selecting the music and handling the slides as well. I spend a ton of time practicing. Between the morning and evening services, I play anywhere from 12-14 songs on Sunday. 

 

Recently I worked with a missionary group from Texas (wonderful folks!) to paint the inside of St. Hilda’s. I’ll put before and after photos below. It was a not-great yellow, and now it’s a crisp white. Talk about rewarding work! 

We’re also making progress on one of the big projects I’ve been tasked with – Building a rectory for St. Hildas. We have had the land cleared of the brush that had grown up and are working with the government to purchase it. It has been leased for over 20 years by the church. The purchase price is only $800bzd ($400usd). Once that is settled, I will begin to meet with builders to get a sense of the cost of such a project. Then it is time to fundraise. 

I’ve also been asked to begin working with two young lay-ministers who are being asked to take more ownership of the evening service. Our plan is to meet weekly to work through planning and to use that time to help mentor them. 

Sometime this Lenten season, I’ll be leading a day-long retreat for the young lay ministers in our two churches. I’m really looking forward to this. 

Speaking of Lent, I have some great photos from our Ash Wednesday services. In the morning, I attended the service for the young children from the school. Fr. David wanted me to photo the service. Annabelle’s class was there. More about this later, but Annabelle has been asking about baptism and has been reading her Bible a lot lately. We’ve been having some wonderful conversations.

I added some photos of Annabelle helping me make her a swing under our house. It’s great!  

That’s it for now!

Thank you all so much for your prayers and support. It means the world. I’ll be sending another update soon with more about Missy’s work.  

 

Missionary Mom: Stephie Van Wagenen

Missionary Mom: Stephie Van Wagenen

The recent publication of The Messenger features testimonies about moms on the mission field. This article is an extension of this edition. Read The Messenger here.

My husband Hunter and I are currently Missionary Candidates living in Greensboro, North Carolina, and preparing to move to Spain to serve as missionaries on the Camino de Santiago.  Over 300,000 pilgrims a year walk along the ancient paths of the Camino, many seeking something spiritual to fill the void in their lives, and God has called us to establish a hospitality ministry there where we can care for pilgrims and share with them the love of Christ.

Before Hunter and I were married and called to Spain, I lived in Ethiopia and served with a Christian organization called Water is Life International.  I lived with another missionary family, but spent most of my time traveling and working on my own with a team of Ethiopian colleagues.  I often spent long days in the back of a Land Rover, bumping through the bush of southern Ethiopia, spending time in local communities and working on well drilling projects.  Living and serving on the mission field as a single person was very different from what I anticipate it will be like when Hunter and our son Asher and I move to Spain to serve there.  One of my greatest struggles during my three years in Ethiopia was loneliness and living far away from family and friends.  I felt the pressure of “being on my own” in many ways.  While marriage is not a solution to loneliness, I do expect that it will be a very different experience going to Spain and serving as a family unit.  I anticipate there will be great comfort in that.  

My desire is that our ministry would flow out of our family, and that our children would be an active part of it.  Even now in Greensboro, 7-month-old Asher accompanies Hunter on pastoral visits and helps to bring comfort, joy, and peace to others in our congregation.  While this is a simple thing, it represents what we desire for our future ministry with our family.  Once we are established on the Camino, we dream of our children helping with chores around the hostel and bearing the hope of the Gospel to weary travelers.

I am a new mom and it has been a journey figuring out how to juggle all the roles and relationships I am blessed with in my life, especially while we are in the intense season of partner development and preparing to move to the mission field.  I draw support from God, resting in him and leaning on his strength.  Hunter is an incredible support to me and loves and serves me well.  We are extremely blessed by our families, and by our community at Church of the Redeemer who continue to bless us and be so generous to us.  “It takes a village” is no joke!

We continue to pray for God to raise up new partners to step into ministry with us, especially those who have a heart for Europe and the lost.  If anyone is interested in learning more about our ministry, or joining us through prayer and financial support, they can contact me at stephievanwagenen@gmail.com or visit our support page on the SAMS website here.

Daily Life

Missy here. This is a long post. Therefore, I understand if you want to jump to the IMPORTANT stuff at the bottom!

If you look at all the pictures Evan posts, you might think that we are on a year-long vacation (and I realize that Belize is a tourist destination), but the work we are doing is very real and, for me at least, it is sometimes quite intense. So, I’m going to share with you our weekly schedule after some other tidbits. If you aren’t interested in the schedule – no worries – but for those wanting a deeper feel of the rhythms of our lives, here it is.

Annabelle said to me the other morning, “it’s better living in Belize than the States, right Mom?” I replied as I often do in these sorts of situations by saying, “In some ways.” I asked what she was talking about and she described walking to school without a winter coat and instead being in our short sleeves, looking at all the greenery and bright flowers, and that we get to walk everywhere and we’re in better shape. I didn’t point out that we were walking down a dirt road, past some shacks (and some nicer houses) or the many other ways that the States would be considered “better.” We often discuss how in some ways Belizeans are quite environmentally conscious – like reusing all manner of things and parts of things – and sometimes not so much. It’s all a matter of perspective.

The following morning Annabelle said that she likes school now that we’ve had a weekly routine for a few weeks and she’s adjusted to it. It’s surprising in a lot of ways, but she does seem to actually be enjoying school more than she did in the States. She still asks about homeschooling sometimes and is still showing signs of anxiety around school in different ways, but she doesn’t resist going like she would at times back home. The school pace is really rigorous and there is an emphasis on handwriting that was initially quite hard for her, but she says she’s gotten used to that. We’ll have to send a picture of her handwriting sometime because it’s quite remarkable how neat it is.

Another thing Evan and I are still getting used to is that Annabelle’s school schedule is quite different. In the States we would have almost 7 hours between drop-off and pick-up. Here, however, one of us has to meet her for her hour-long lunch break every day. We live close to the school – which is a very good thing – since it’s a lot of back-and-forth. It does, however, also mean that one of us has to plan on not working for several hours straight. We get about 3 hours in the morning when we can both get things done and then it’s hit or miss. It is helpful that I’m working with her school seeing kids and parents and some folks from the community.

Sunday: Church is at 8am. Since Evan helps lead the music, he gets down there at least by 7:30am these days. We usually end up home around 10am and then have a relaxing morning. Once we went to St. Hilda’s with Fr. David and Ms. Mary Beth for that service, and occasionally we will join them there although this makes for a very long day and lots of sitting still on hard benches for Annabelle.

The afternoon is spent relaxing and getting ready for the week because Evan heads back to church for the evening service around Annabelle’s bedtime. He will start to lead the music for that service in a couple more weeks.

Monday: 8:30am – Drop Annabelle at school (I timed it and this whole process can take about 30 minutes). I meet with students/families at St. Andrews School (where Annabelle attends) OR make phone calls and try to follow up with parents and organize my week.

Soon I will have to start working on my continuing education for my license during some of these morning times.

11:45am-12:45pm – Get Annabelle for lunch, try to make sure she eats enough and gets washed up, and then it’s back to school. Sometimes these lunch hours feel long and spacious and other times rushed.

12:45pm-2:30pm – Meet with our mentors, SAMS missionaries Fr. David and Ms. Mary Beth, about our work here and what they need from us and to answer any questions. While this is our formal time of meeting with them we try to spend time with them at other times too.

After school and getting Annabelle home it’s usually close to 3pm and we spend our time working on homework, eating a healthy snack, or running errands if she has been told she needs anything for school the next day. Daily homework that is due the next day has been a new thing for us. In the States she had weekly homework and she was often resistant to working on it. Interestingly, here she will often buckle down and try to get it done. Sometimes she has three assignments due the next day. Like I said, rigorous.

Tuesday: See Monday morning

12:45-2:30pm – Meet with more students and families as necessary

Tuesday afternoons Evan meets to work on practicing and preparing music for Sunday and then he teaches his guitar class so Annabelle is definitely my responsibility. While Evan has been really enjoying teaching the guitar class it is actually quite helpful to the kids too. One Mom even called Evan after the first lesson her son went to thanking him because she has been worried that he’s headed down a path of poor choices and this has given him a new focus. We see him all over town riding his bicycle and he’ll stop and talk with Evan. There is a noticeable lack of engaged men in the lives of many of the children here and Evan fathering Annabelle, teaching the guitar class, and engaging with many of the kids is beautiful. You can see the look of yearning on many of their faces when he talks with them. We have learned that 60% of Belizeans are under the age of 25. You can imagine all the implications of a statistic like that.

Wednesday: These are my long days. I either drop Annabelle off at school and catch a motorcycle ride with Evan or leave before Annabelle goes to school so I can catch a bus. I usually spend anywhere from 10-30 minutes waiting for a bus and then the bus out to St. Barnabus or St. Hilda’s takes about half an hour. It only costs $1 which is nice. St. Barnabus and St. Hilda’s are the two other Anglican schools that Fr. David oversees. St. Hilda’s is also an Anglican church. I have had to walk between the schools before and it is beautiful and hot, even using an umbrella to shade me from the sun. It is about a half hour relatively flat walk and is a great chance for me to pray for this land and the people in it – particularly those I’m meeting with. I pass Galen University and University of Belize Central Farm campus, Mennonite fields of corn and other crops, cows, a few houses and little shacks selling things.

The area where St. Barnabus and St. Hilda’s schools are located is more rural and has a reputation for more crime and family dysfunction. And these realities are reflected in my work there.

The trip back to San Ignacio means either waiting under a hot bus shelter for a bus which can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes of waiting or asking if Evan can drive out to pick me up, or once I was randomly offered a ride by two single moms with their kids in a truck where none of the gauges worked. They were very kind and dropped me right off by Annabelle’s school. I think I’ll need extra deodorant on these days over the next few months as this is a long hot one.

Thursday: Thursday is my most flexible day as I’m usually in town and can meet with St. Andrews families or do some of the many other things that need to be done.

Friday: Annabelle gets released at lunch time on Fridays so we pick her up at 11:45am. While this means we only have about 3 hours to get anything done it is really nice because it feels like we get to start the weekend early with her. I often have parents who want to meet on Friday morning because that’s the only time they are available. Needless to say, my morning goes quickly. Last week I meet with 4 students and family members over the 3 hours.

Saturday: I think you all know by now that Saturday has been designated Family Fun Day – which is where most of Evan’s photos come from.

There are countless aspects to my work here which aren’t reflected in this sort of schedule – like all the meetings and documentation submission to the Ministry of Health (in the capital), the Ministry of Education (in the next town over), The Department of Labour (the local office and in the capital), the Income Tax Department, and three visits (so far) to two different Immigration offices neither of which is in our town. And all without a car. Our decision not to get a car is one we intentionally made, but it has certainly made some things more challenging. Of course, it requires an intentionality to what we do and it has also helped us to slow down which has been very good. There are many reasons we are here living and serving in Belize. Some altruistic and noble and some selfish. We definitely didn’t want to come here to burn ourselves out and are trying to be thoughtful about living more slowly, gently, and healthily.

I have also met with the local psychiatrist who spends half her time here and half in the capital. She is a visiting Doctor from Cuba and only speaks Spanish so her coworker had to translate for her. I also met with the psychiatric nurse who is Belizean and has been around for some years and knows all the ins and outs of working in this area. The psychiatrist and nurse actually go out into the community to find homeless people if they have mental health issues to make sure they have their medication.

And I went to the police station to meet with the Domestic Violence Officer who is the one I report abuse and neglect to. I felt I needed to talk with her after hearing a lot of what I would normally consider reportable things in the States. She was helpful and clarifying. These are amazingly dedicated Belizeans who work tirelessly, not only in San Ignacio, but the entire Cayo District and work 8-5 but are on call all the time. They deal with a lot of emergency situations with people who have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, other psychiatric issues, domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and neglect. They were very excited for me to be here and they all keep reminding me that there are no other counselors of any sort in the District at this time. There was a District School Counselor but she left at the beginning of November. Thankfully, Fr. David has encouraged me to focus on the three Anglican Schools, but everyone wants to refer to me once they find out what I do. We’ll see. I am prepared to tell people “no” as necessary. I’m certainly not planning on going out on mental health emergency calls. Actually, the police officer told me that everyone really likes it when folks come from other countries because everyone here is so worn out from doing this sort of work all the time. She encouraged me to make sure I keep self-care as a priority. 😊

With doing so much walking everywhere we run into church folks and Annabelle’s classmates daily. They all love her and love to yell her name (one really likes to call her “Annabella”). There is little anonymity here which is uncomfortable for me, but can also be beautiful. One has to walk the walk or everyone knows it. We are getting into the loving our neighbors thing in a different way. We regularly talk to our neighbors (often from our porch which everyone is jealous of) and when we are walking to the grocery store (side note – it took 4 different grocery stores to find margarine the other day – butter is rarer and much more expensive). Grocery shopping is never a one-stop thing.

THE IMPORTANT STUFF

Great News – I got my Temporary Work Permit through Immigration. For anyone who cares, this allows me to volunteer not actually make any money working. The same will be true for Evan. Unfortunately, despite the fact that he applied a month before mine, his has needed to be appealed through no fault of his. Pray that his work permit can come through.

Great News – If you read the above then you already know this but Annabelle is really enjoying life here. We are still having bumps and she is still showing some anxiety symptoms, but when she talks about life here she is very positive. She loves taking the bus and seeing the countryside and the people-watching too. She also really enjoys riding the motorcycle and I think we’ve both been impressed with how safety conscious she is about it.

Great News – Now that we’ve been here over two months (10 weeks!) I think we’re all relatively adjusted to a lot of things – not everything of course, but most of the daily stuff. We are all finding things we really enjoy and we’re feeling more comfortable in relationships. While we might still be in the honeymoon phase of cultural adjustment, I think that it’s gone far more smoothly than I expected. There are only little things so far that we miss about the States, like being able to flush toilet paper, but we certainly miss our friends and family more by far than missing any conveniences.

Please continue to pray for our little cottage and the heating situation. It is not easy to deal with from a distance and a lot of the burden falls on Evan.

Please pray for the children here. While I often heard hard things in the States in my work, it was most often from adults who were distant (at least in years) from their trauma and it is difficult to hear while the children are still stuck in some traumatic and painful situations.

Stay tuned for the exciting news about Chewie!

February’s news from January.

Ok, so about the title;  I suppose it is January’s news in February. But you’re getting the news in February, so it’s February’s news that happened in January. We good? Ok.

Things in this post: Chewie Update, hipster food photos, what Evan has been up to, family adventures.  There are 25 photos in this post, so you don’t even have to exercise your brain very hard to get a sense of what we’re up to.

Chewie: The Saga Continues

Chewie is definitely lost forever. We can only hope that whatever airplane gremlin found it is enjoying it. I would recommend they wash it first. GOOD NEWS though! Naomi (Mimi), Missy’s mom and creator of Chewies 1.0, 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2, has already completed Chewie 3.0! It was shipped to PA where our friend Curtis picked it up and took it to Haiti. Curtis is scheduled to visit us in Belize in a couple of weeks. Pray that the unrest in Haiti – nationwide protests seeking to oust the current president – will not keep Curtis away. Clearly you should pray for the people of Haiti as well.

Annabelle seems to cycle on and off between handling the transition here. This is normal and we’re finding ways for her to express frustration and anger in healthy ways. Please pray for all of us in this.

FAMILY FUN DAYS!!!

Part of taking care of Annabelle has meant we are being super intentional about taking our Saturdays as our day off and declaring them FAMILY FUN DAYS!!! Those are three exclamation points for those who are counting. One for each of us.

Enjoy the slideshow and be sure to read the captions.

What I’ve Been Doing

I’ve been playing way more music than I expected and I’m so happy about that. Before I arrived, Fr. David (a great musician) was handling all of the guitar playing and singing duties as well as the priestly duties. It was made more challenging by an elbow injury. He asked me to step in and I have. I have learned more music in the past month than I have in the past several years combined. I never lead worship, and most of you know I’m a songwriter who has spent much more time playing in public than in church. This has been stretching to me musically and growing me in a good way spiritually. I play a lot of Wendell Kimbrough. The liturgical music we use is from a wonderful artist, Judy Bailey. Her album is “Lift Up Your Hearts.” Check i t out. 

I’ve also been asked to teach a group guitar class. My students are awesome! This is the first time I’ve taught a guitar class and I’m really enjoying it.  Look at the photo below. Seriously. How cute can you get?!

Also below is a photo of our sister church, St. Hilda’s. We went to a baptism service there a few weeks ago. I’m not posting photos of the baptism, out of respect to the family, but I’ll share a photo of the church, with a wonderful girl in white dancing in the aisle.  The photo above of Annabelle  in the purple dress was taken in front of St. Hilda’s. Beautiful.

Look at this food.

Surprising Things Vol. 1

 Missy here. I’m going with themes for my blog posts as there is so much to share and I’m trying to keep it focused. Still, this email has a lot of words… 

Before I get to some things which have surprised me about living here… prayer requests.

1.       Pray for the work we are doing. I’m beginning to get into counseling in the schools and in the community. The need is overwhelming. As I’ve spoken now with the local psychiatrist at the hospital and school administrators, I’ve learned that although there have been counselors in the district in the past, there is currently no one offering counseling services other than for those in significant crisis – and then they go to the hospital to see the psychiatrist. This week I met with 5 students in two different schools and many others are getting parental permission to speak with me. I’ve already been hearing firsthand of horrific domestic violence, child abuse, significant trauma and disrupted attachments. Many of these problems are generational and cultural as the systems in place to address them from law enforcement to social services are only able to deal with things if they are severe – like life or death. I need discernment and wisdom. Please pray also that those who will most benefit from working with me would come.

2.       Annabelle has been having ups and downs with adjusting to school. She has been showing some anxiety symptoms that are not usual for her. Please pray for her little spirit to be full of joy and life and freedom and for us to help her through this transition. She is the 25th student in her class and the school work is rigorous.

Now for SURPRISING THINGS:

I had wondered many times how closely the Krio I learned in Sierra Leone would be to the Kriol spoken here. Despite the fact that I learned Krio 15 years ago and for only 4.5 months, much of it has come flooding back as I hear people speak the Belizean Kriol. There are many similarities in words, expressions, and grammar. Honestly, the Kriol here is far easier to understand and pick up as it seems more closely related to English and people often speak half a sentence in Kriol and the other half in English. But surprise, surprise, even as I study the Kriol-English dictionary I’m just amazed by this similar language half a world away and I’m surprised by my own memory 15 years on.

I have been amazed by how much Annabelle loves bucket showers. For the uninitiated – bucket showers are literally when you take a shower out of a “bucket.” For one reason or another, we have had only cold water coming out of our faucets quite a number of times since we arrived. Annabelle, who usually insists she doesn’t want a shower or bath (only to spend many long minutes playing and singing to herself once she’s in) loves bucket showers. We heat a pot of water on the stove. Then we pour pitchers of half heated, half cold water over her until she’s soaked, then shampoo and soap up, and then use the rest of the pot of water to rinse. Ironically, it’s usually warmer than even when our water heater is working. 😊 And also it conserves water.

Which leads to my next surprise – water disposal. I’ve been surprised that other than toilet water, all water from our house goes out into the street. Every dish we wash, clothing we launder, shower we take, time we brush our teeth, etc. Every last drop goes out into the ditch in front of our house. I will say that it makes me much more conscious of how much water we’re using and is good for conservation mindedness. Thankfully the toilet water goes into a septic system.

Annabelle has been surprised by some differences at school – not only are there 25 kids in Annabelle’s class but food can be shared and in fact, it seems encouraged. Annabelle was not allowed to share food at her schools in the U.S. We have also all observed that keeping one’s hands to oneself is not a thing here. All of the children at the school are quite physical with one another.

We’ve been surprised by the fact that we haven’t received any mail here yet. Not even one little piece. And I know some folks mailed us Christmas letters even before we left the U.S. I keep wondering where those pieces of mail are… perhaps they made it to the North Pole and Santa will bring them later – like next Christmas.

There have been many lovely random surprises – like how beautiful it is here. Every time I ride on the motorcycle, I kind of fall in love with this land. And we’ve had some really sweet conversations with random strangers on the bus that must be divinely appointed. On one of my trips to the capital, Belmopan, I sat next to a lovely British woman who lives in DC and was with a tour group. Our conversation was so nice in fact that she gave me a hug and a kiss when I left. I would venture to say most of our days are filled with random surprises.

Last, but certainly not least, I’ve been surprised by how much we all love the food. We don’t all love all the food but there are so many things that are delicious and fresh. If you come visit, we’ll definitely be bringing you around to try yummy things! The one that blew me away this week was coconut pie for which they use coconut flour and is full of sweet, spiced coconut. It was amazing!

*Please note there is no judgment in these “surprises.” Things here are a mix of better and worse than in the States or anywhere else.