Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dominican Republic: The Ministry

Disclaimer: This might be a little long...but there are pictures!

This post has taken me a long time to write. Notice it's almost February, and the trip happened in October? I've been going back and forth since the trip trying to figure out how to write about this for someone other than myself. Because I've discovered a whole bunch of issues I never knew I had. First, I never put photos of other people on my blog without their express permission, but never had a problem doing so from missions trips. After Peru, I didn't think twice before putting up photos from that trip, and I'm not sure when I changed, but I did.

Because it bothers me that we go on these missions trips and then use these people's photos and names and stories and lives for our own gain. To say "look how good I am, see what I did?" To shock people with the conditions. To awe them with what we're doing. To raise funds for our organizations. But how often do we think to respect them by not using their photos and life stories for the whole world to see? And yes, I understand that these photos and stories provide "proof" of the missions work happening, where sponsor's money is going, etc. But how do we find the balance? With this new awareness, I've had a hard time with this post.

Then there's the safety thing. So many countries that are visited for missions work are dangerous, and sharing these names, stories, locations may cause problems for the people themselves and the ministers in those locations. This struck me hard not long after we came home. One of the men we ministered a lot with, who was with us nearly every day, went missing and hasn't been seen, aside from one reported confrontation with a group of people where he was pushed into a vehicle. This is someone I got to know. I went to his ministry, his home. I shared a meal and prayer with his wife and children. And suddenly he's gone, leaving behind a family and life.

In sharing the stories of the ministry work we did and the people we met, I have a responsibility to honor these people and their stories. To respect their privacy and safety, to treat them as the people I know them to be, not just statistics or stories to entertain. To find the balance between sharing and invading. Compassion did a post that addresses a little bit of this. I've come to the conclusion, it's okay to share photos and stories, but there needs to be  balance and respect. Every detail of their stories do not need to be shared. Names shouldn't be shared unless the person gives permission. Specific locations and photos that could identify those locations are off-limits.

For all these reasons and more, I've found this post difficult to write. Here's my best shot.

Much of this trip was more information-gathering than hands-on missions (visiting schools and churches, getting to know the pastors, cast the vision we have for the area, get their input, etc.) but we still did our fair share of ministry! Pastor spoke at several venues and we met with lawmakers to discuss the plan we have to help their country. We also did a giveaway at one of the outdoor church services. If I'm remembering correctly, over 400 people showed up! And they were so orderly and calm about waiting in line for their turn! New England needs to take lessons!
I did a little "medical missions". And by "medical missions" I mean I applied a bandaid to my little sweetheart, the local pastor's daughter. We had made friends with a woman visiting from California and she burned herself pretty badly while making tea, so I treated her, too.

Then, there was my favorite part of the trip, the children's ministry! I had planned for one night of a children's service. I was told there was about 50 children that would come....there were a few more than 50...
Notice some of the kids sharing chairs?? The place was PACKED! I taught them the Spanish song I had learned in Peru. I call it Chicky Chicky. I knew a lot of the kids coming had been in church and the children's program for a while, so I had written a lesson that would be appropriate for kids who know Jesus, and kids who don't. It's basically a lesson that God made us all with a special mission in mind, tying in the Gospel message. When it was time to pray, this was the response we had.

We ended the night with some singing, puppet dancing, and candy! It was so much fun, and such a fun time! I had a blast and it was one of those "This is What I'm Made To Do" moments. When we went to church later than night, the kids flocked around me, so I think they enjoyed it, too. 

Several nights we went to services at the home of a man who opens his property to church services and kids programs. The same day as the first kids program we did, Pastor spoke at the service in the yard. I had a pile of kids all around me the whole night. We danced together during the praise music, and sat on the grass together during the message. I kept trying to get them to listen to the pastors, but, like any other children, they kept talking and trying to ask me questions that I just didn't understand. A young man came up behind me and translated a few of their questions (hooray!). Soon after, Pastor had an altar call, so I asked this young man to translate for me as I started talking to the kids. I explained that Pastor was asking for anyone who wanted to know Jesus to go forward. I asked if they knew and loved Jesus, and they all said yes. So I suggested we pray together, me in English, and they in Spanish. I may not have understood every word, but man can these kids pray! 

As Pastor continued praying for the adult's various needs, the kids and I continued praying, and soon it turned into singing. My young translator started singing a song in Spanish that I recognized, so I joined in. It was "Let It Rain". It was such a sweet time of fellowship! Worshiping with my church kids is always a highlight of my week, and getting the chance to do it in the DR in two languages was so special! Huge thanks to my great translator and good luck with your studies at university!  (excuse my sweatiness...the Dominican is HOT!!)
That night the high continued! We stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we got some so-so rice and chicken, and some delicious lamb! Once back at the hotel, we all agreed we wanted to swim to cool off, and got permission from the manager (it was past 11pm). While I was changing into my suit, I heard a drumming sound out my window and assumed it was just the AC. When I opened my door , it was POURING! We still went swimming, and it was so much fun I can't even tell you. It was raining the hardest I've ever seen, and then it just rained harder!! We were just swimming and laughing the whole time, it was marvelous. It was like God smiling down at us, cooling us off, and just delighting in what happened that day as much as we were.

 The second night of ministry was a God-organized thing. It wasn't supposed to happen. I showed up for a church service, and was asked "Ashley, can you share something with all the kids that are here?" Suuuureee....Almost immediately, a message formed in my head around one of my favorite Bible passages, Psalm 19, particularly verse 1. Talking about how the entire world was designed to show off God. I used my camera as an example (a Children's Minister can turn anything into an object lesson at the drop of a hat!) that pictures help us remember people and events, just like nature reminds us of God. 
 Sorry for the blurriness. The lighting was weird, and the power for the lights and microphone kept going out! This was the night of the giveaway, and there were hundreds of people, mostly kids! Way more than I've ever spoken to in my life, especially spur of the moment! But it went well, I think. The power outage didn't help keep the kids attention, but hey, they got the message.
This trip was so great, different than most I've been on. Maybe because I know that we'll be back, that it's not a one time thing. There's so many stories I could share, but this post would be so long!! I can't wait to return in a few months, hopefully with a better command of the Spanish language. We'll see how good this Berlitz program is!

Do you have a favorite missions memory? What do you think of the privacy/respect issue I talked about at the beginning? Its part of my new outlook on missions that I will try to share soon.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Great 2013 Adventure Has Begun!

My best friend and I decided that we were going to do one new (slightly scary) thing per month. Groupon has come in very handy for this, so our first adventure we chose Rock Climbing! We got a super deal for a 3-hour Intro to Climbing class at the Boston Rock Gym, which includes gear and a two week membership.
So let's discuss how two people who are terrified of heights managed to climb 35 feet in the air, then have to blindly fall back and allow strangers (and later a machine) to safely lower them to the ground, shall we? There were nine of us in the class, and for the first climb, I was the 7th person to go. Every person that went up made my stomach tighten a little more. I finally volunteered because I think if one more person had gone before me, I would have been sick and chickened out. Everyone went up and down with no issue, stoic and silent, so there was no real reason to be nervous. But I HATE heights. This is the girl who was this close to needing to be pushed off the ledge when we went zip lining. So I get strapped in, and start climbing, just thinking about getting it done and having bragging rights (and maybe praying just a bit "God please don't let me die"). I was just past half way when I almost chickened out and stopped climbing, but then my pride and competitiveness got in the way. I didn't want to be the first one to chicken out! So I pushed myself all the way up and touched the top! I DID IT!! Once at the top, I made the mistake of looking down, which immediately prompted a "holy crap this is high!" from me, and giggles from my classmates.
(Sorry for the poor quality. It's in a gym, on my phone. Also, I need to teach my friend how to use an iPhone camera...)
Then the really scary part, leaning back, letting go of the wall, and trusting the little girl of an instructor to safely lower me to the ground. Took me a minute, but I did that too! By the time I unhooked, I was shaking and my heart was racing, but I climbed a 35 foot wall!!!

After we all made it up and back down, we learned knots and belaying basics. We were divided into groups to practice. I suddenly had to trust newbie climbers, not just strangers, with my life. So not what I expected! I'm not little. My partners were. At one point we had to "surprise fall", so our partners could learn to catch a falling climber. I did it (not from high...and they probably knew I was about to fall, since I sort of just stopped moving). At the wall nearby I watched my friend stop and say "okay, I'm gonna fall now...are you ready? Are you really ready?" After my "fall", I climbed back to the top, then they lowered me down. For some reason, the rope had moved slightly, so I couldn't reach the wall while I was being lowered, I was just dangling in mid air. In the midst of this, I hear the guy belaying me say, "oh! I came off the ground a little there!". In case you were wondering, that does not instill confidence in someone already pretty terrified of what she's doing! Once I was safely on the ground, the instructor then told us what to do if that happens.

After the class, we had free-climbing-time. Chrissy and I played with the auto-belays a bit. (We also attempted one of the difficult walls with like a 120 degree angle, but let's not talk about that one...or how I landed on my back...twice....) We did the wall below twice. You can't tell in the picture, but I really did go all the way to the top!
The first time around, I got to the top no problem, and then had a little panic attack. See, with a person belaying you, when you lean back, there's tension so you don't start falling immediately. With the auto belay, it acts like a seatbelt. With slow/normal movements, it moves with you. When you jump off the wall, it catches you. So rather than just leaning back, you kinda have to jump off the wall. It's absolutely and utterly terrifying. The whole time I'm trying to do it, my best friend is yelling at me, "Come on! You can do it! Just, leap of faith! Leap of faith! Just do it! I'm gonna have to tell our friends tomorrow that you didn't do it". Finally I did it (and I may have screamed a little...). Most terrifying thing I've ever done. Seriously. Then it was her turn. Hehe. She freaked out even more than I did! So, of course, I teased her back. Once she came back down, we took a water break to calm our nerves and gave it one more go. And both fell off the wall.

I don't know why I thought the jumping off the wall would be easier the second time. It wasn't. I got up there, and panicked again. I was about to let go (I was pretending I was Amy Pond trying to get back to Rory. Except, instead of blinking in front of a Weeping Angel, I had to jump off a cliff "All I have to do is jump, right? Just jump and I'll be with Rory?") when my foot slipped and I just fell off the wall. That was definitely enough for me for the day!

All in all, this was a terrifying, yet really fun, experience! We're already planning to go back! I'm so proud of us! We did something new, something scary, and didn't get injured! SUCESS!

Now, a bonus for my fellow geeks. My brother works at a Geek-Mecca type store, so he has a nice collection of stuff in his room. I particularly enjoy his Doctor Who collection. The other day, I went in and couldn't resist rearranging some of the figures to this:
He noticed the next day, and has left it that way. Today I went in and did this:
He already had them in this position, but I added the marks (and don't worry, they are washable. I tested first!) Now I wait for him to notice. Muahahaha! Of course, if he actually reads my blog, that may ruin it, but oh well! I think I have a new game :)

What kind of adventures do you have planned for this year? Any ideas that we should add to our list?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

January 2013 Snippets

My past few posts have been book reviews, so I thought I'd share some snippets of what's going on in Ashley Land lately!

Speaking of books, I'm making great progress on my 50-book challenge, so far I've finished 7 books! Yessss. I think having a Kindle has helped a lot with this. Love my Kindle even more than I thought I would (thanks mom and dad)! But don't worry, I still like having real books. I've bought some of those, too. I just joined the Launch Team for Ken Wytsma's new book Pursuing Justice and I'm so excited to get started with it! Look for that review mid-February.

I had another traumatizing incident with a fish this week. On Sunday, I was with my friends in my living room watching TV when I noticed there were fish in my tank! My dad had cleaned my tank (that only had a lobster [crayfish]) and gave me two pretty fish! As soon as I noticed them, I also noticed that one was dead :( We continued our television watching but after a little while, I looked over and saw the remaining fish (a pretty little pink one) GET ATTACKED BY THE LOBSTER. I watched it happen! With tears in my eyes, my friends and I tried to cheer on this little pink fish as it would escape, then tip upside down and float to the bottom...only to be attacked again. It went on for a few minutes before the pink fish finally passed away and was sucked towards the filter. It was so sad! I'm getting teary just thinking about it. I may have a phobia of those evil little black fish, but pink ones are pretty and kind and loving. (Yeah, I know, I'm like, six. It makes life fun.)

Enough sad talk. Let's talk about fun stuff! Our VBS Kit came in today! It's so much fun! This year is going to EPIC, guys! Seriously, they even use the phrase "Epic Adventure" in their marketing, and it's not exaggerating! I can't wait for VBS!

The other day I had a weird dream that we moved into the church and my bedroom was the sound booth in the sanctuary. But it still had to be a sound booth, too, so I basically just had a bed and lamp and we shuffled things around so it all fit. In my dream I walked in to go to bed and the men's group was there for prayer, and I was upset because I needed to sleep for work in the morning! Guess that's what happens when you read about constructing the tabernacle before going to bed!

My best friend and I decided to make this year EPIC (so the VBS theme is a perfect fit!). One of the things we've planned is to do one awesome, new, possibly scary, thing each month. Some of the things we've talked about are rock climbing (in the works!), zip lining, see the Northern Lights, and other top-secret ideas. Groupon is a very handy tool to help us accomplish this :) Of course, I will document our adventures here when they happen!

So far, I am very much enjoying this year and greatly looking forward to the rest of it! The only goal I'm really lagging on so far is my very-quickly-approaching need for health insurance. Things keep coming up to keep me from sitting down and getting it done! So tomorrow, that is the main activity before I go to work. Get myself health insurance. Everything else I've set as goals are in the works and going well, so I am very happy with life right now.

How about you, how's your 2013 going? Any big plans/goals in the works?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Hearts On Fire"

Hearts on Fire tells twelve inspiring stories of ordinary people following their vision of a better world for all. Their stories run the gamut from young to middle age, clean water projects to education for the poorest of the poor. Iscol provides a medium for these visionaries to express their passion in their own words to inspire readers of any age or class. This fast read will light  a fire in your heart to make a positive impact in our world. By helping provide opportunities to the next generation, we can inspire them to reach their full potential and bring hope to their communities.

Reccomended. 4/5 Stars.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Route 66"

I am SUPER late with this review (so sorry, Mr.Kandiah and publisher)!! But I am so glad I finally found it in my mess and read this book! For some reason, I expected it to be a teen Bible study, but that wasn't the case at all (although a teen could certainly read and understand the book). Route 66 is a deep, yet accessible, overview of the entire Bible that enables the reader to learn how to truly study the Bible. It is designed to be an 8-week study, complete with journaling prompts and group discussion guides. It even includes a plan to read the entire Bible during the 8-week course.

Route 66 is very well written and researched, with a great balance of personal narrative and theology to guide the reader into a deeper understanding of the Bible. My favorite section was Week Two, on the Books of the Law. So many times we rush through these books, thinking they largely don't apply to us today, but the author explains why that's not true and how to get the most from the Books of Law.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to study the Bible, and hope to find a group to work though the study with. 
5/5 Stars

I received this book from Monarch Books through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Year, New Goals

I realized that we're nine days into this new year, but I haven't shared anything about my New Year's goals! So let's share a little bit. I don't like to make resolutions because I feel like they always get broken. I mean, it's basically expected for you to not complete your resolutions. So I like goals better. Preferably goals that can be measured and have steps to get there.
This picture is from December when I was making my 2013 plan. My wrist was kinda sore from working out and stuff, so I was wearing the brace. I got a lot most of the "how-to" for my plan from this post (disclaimer: I don't agree with or condone the language/lifestyle represented in this blog, but there's also some great goal organization tips!) Now, if you don't want to read that whole thing (or did read it and got completely confused, like I did the first two times), let me describe how I planned my 2013! Note: I changed some of the things from Nicole's blog to better suit me.

First I sat down to reflect. Actually, I did this twice. This whole process of prepping for 2013 took me several sittings because I didn't want to rush into it. So I sat down and thought about my 2012. What were the highlights? What did I accomplish? Where did I fail? I used my blog and Facebook albums to remind me of some things I almost forgot about. And I wrote it all down. I took up a whole sheet of paper with awesome things! 

The post I was using as a guide uses step two to choose a word or phrase to motivate your year. I skipped this. Mainly because I couldn't settle on something! The closest I can come, even still, is "focus". Or "me". Or "passion". See, I can't decide! So I skipped this one.

Then, with the past in the past, I started looking to the future. I looked at my goals from 2012 to see if I wanted/needed to carry any over to 2013. Things like "reach goal weight" and "become debt free" fall into this category. But, before actually writing a list of goals, I made a list of "Life Buckets", or categories. These are the areas of your life that make up who you are, all the important bits. I ended up with 8 categories, such as "External Ashley", "Internal Ashley", "Relationships",  and "Adventure". 

Once you have your categories, make three goals for the year in each one. For example, under my Adventure category, my three year-long goals are 1) Try one new, slightly uncomfortable thing per month 2) Leave the country twice and 3) Learn Spanish. These are big goals, but that's what you want here! Something big but achievable in a year. If you have 8 categories as I do, you should have 24 goals. (I actually have two categories with an extra goal each...shh! don't tell!)

So how are you possibly going to achieve all 24+ of these goals?! Easy. At the beginning of each month (say, on the first?) you will sit down with your list and write one action step for each goal that you will accomplish that month. Which means you will have 24+ small action steps (which are basically baby goals) to do each month. Now, these won't always be done. In which case, you carry some over. But having them on paper is inspiring and motivational! I can't wait to cross things off my list and get closer to meeting these goals!! 

Finally, because I like things pretty, I made these goals pretty! I put my categories and goals on pretty paper, all scrapbook like, to hang up where I can see it every day to help motivate me. At the beginning of the month, I used my journal to record my action steps for the month. I even had space at the bottom of the page, so I will draw a smiley face for everything I complete on my list. Is it weird that that's a lot of motivation for me?! 

We're nine days into the year, and so far my new goal system is going great! I think I am actively working on half of my action steps at this time, so it must be working! To recap this: 8 Categories, with three goals each. Each goal gets an action step every month to get you closer to that goal. Easy Peasy. Good luck! 

Did you set goals for the year? How are you working towards them? What motivates you to keep going towards them?

Monday, January 7, 2013

26 Years

My mom has a favorite question. Every birthday, she asks the birthday person, "So in ____ years of life, what have you learned?" She then is disappointed because we usually just groan and mumble "idunno..." It's not that we haven't learned anything, it's just that we feel put on the spot! To which she says, "Well, you had all year to think of something!" and then we just change the subject.

But tonight, just for you mom, here are 26 things I have learned in my life (in no particular order). This should cover me for a few years, right?!

1) How to actually exercise, like, real exercises, even some on machines!!
2) I am very much an introvert (despite what some friends think). If I don't get frequent Ashley-alone Time, I go crazy and get cranky.
3) The world is a seriously messed up place.
4) For every messed up thing in the world, there is some amazing person seeking to change it.
5) I crave travel, but travel just for the sake of travel always seems to be missing something. I am in my element when I travel with purpose (i.e. Missions).
6) The importance of one person who totally understands you and all your quirks (or at least, puts up with them), who can be a partner-in-adventure for all your life's moments.
7) I love celebrations: holidays, birthdays, etc. are awesome.
8) How to sew.
9) Doctor Who is fantastic and slightly addictive.
10) People aren't always what they seem (for the better, or the worse).
11) Life doesn't always turn out like you think it will, but God's way is so much cooler and better!
12) The new candy cigarettes are not good :( I miss the old ones. A lot.
13) Finances. Budgeting. Blah blah blah.
14) How to be a nurse.
15) Kids are awesome and way smarter and more aware than we give them credit for. They need to be nurtured and challenged, to know that they are important and their opinions matter.
16) I am not a movie person. Yes, I like movies, but I'd much rather sit down and watch some episodes of TV shows.
17) I fade if I'm not creative frequently.
18) There is a lot more to life than finding a spouse. A whole heck of a lot more!
19) Prayer is where people must have gotten the idea of magic. It connects us to a Really Big God and changes unchangeable things? Magic! (But even better than magic, because it always has a positive ending).
20) I become more geeky as I age.
21) Many Christians are not living as Christ-followers. They live a "just-good-enough-but-still-blend-in" kinda life without much risk or difference. I want to be a risky difference maker.
22) Reality TV has gone insane. Do we really need two TV shows about professional bra fitters?!
23) The Bible is a seriously cool book. History, Romance, Action, Parables, and more all in one book, yet is applicable to everyday life two thousand years later?! Yes, please!
24) Life truly is better when lived for others.
25) Those people who say "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" have no idea what they're talking about. I could list a lot of things that taste super amazing.
26) My family is kinda crazy and weird, but I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Best Reads of 2012

Sadly, I didn't make it to my goal of 50 books this year :( But I DID get super duper close: I read 49 books, parts of some other books, and a metric ton of blog posts. So here are the five books I loved the most this year. They are in no particular order; I had a hard enough time just narrowing it down to five!

Kisses From Katie (Katie Davis)
This was my first book in 2012 and I LOVED it! Katie's story is crazy and her faith is inspirational. How many 18 year-olds do you know that would move halfway across the world and adopt 15 kids on her own?!

Leading on Empty (Wayne Cordeiro)
This book has helped so much to help me learn to balance my life and my work/ministry. I am not totally good at the whole resting thing until it gets bad, but with this book I've gotten better, and plan to keep at it in 2013.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson)
I have never laughed so much or so hard at a book as I did with this one. Jenny Lawson is hysterical with life stories that are too funny to be made up. Because of this book, she's now on my list of "Famous People I Want to be Friends With". Be warned though, she swears like a sailor.

The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke (Suze Orman)
This book is long and detailed, but so good! I now am prepared to get my finances totally in order, including starting a retirement fund. Suze walks you through everything from credit cards and ratings to retirement planning and big-ticket purchases while acknowledging the difficulties of being young and broke. A Must Read for young people wanting to start a strong financial life.

When Helping Hurts (Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert)
Corbett and Fikkert make the point that the poor are people as much as anyone else, yet many poverty relief projects treat them as if they can't do anything for themselves. The authors go on to share how to best help the poor while honoring them as people and empowering them to take charge of their own lives. Should be read by anyone in Missions or Outreach ministries.

So that's my favorite reads of 2012! There were a bunch of other great books, and you can see the list here. What great things did you read this year?
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