Happy Birthday Joe

Today is Joe’s birthday.  I will not say which one but according to his children he is getting really old!

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Here are just a few of the great things he has done this past year.

He did not get angry at all when I shut the garage door on the van….three times.  He just put the auto body repair shop number in the favorites section of his contacts.  He didn’t even say anything when the insurance company sent us a letter suggesting that “the driver, Jody Schobel, should examine her driving habits” (in my defense it’s not my driving that’s the problem, I’m an excellent driver, it’s the parking that I struggle with but that’s a story for another time).  He just handed me the letter.

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the damage is hardly noticeable

He also didn’t say a word when I accidentally washed his passport.  But really who keeps their passport in their pants pocket?

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He re-arranged two days worth of meetings at the very last minute so he could drive me and van full kids and stuff to Wyoming because I had insomnia the night before.

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And he got to change a flat tire along the way.

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He trekked all over the globe for work.  From Germany to South East Asia multiple times.  He was in Malaysia when flight MH370 disappeared, thankfully he was already on the ground when the news about that broke.  And he dutifully complied with my request to text every single chance he could on his flights back.

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cathedral in Germany

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Singapore skyline

He took about 1500 pictures of the Sensenbaugh fire.  If you scroll through them fast enough on our computer it looks like a video

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There was a fun trip to Chicago.

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Hanging out with family.

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Of course his he had his part in the famous Christmas turkey incident.

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Then there are all the basketballs, tennis balls, volleyballs, baseballs and footballs that he has thrown, caught and chased after.  One of the best things that he does is the dishes.  Every night.  But I think tonight the kids and I will take care of that.  We like to go all out on birthday celebrations.

And just because it’s important to remember past mistakes so that they are not repeated there is this.

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Happy Birthday Joe!

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Cancer Didn’t Win

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One of the last times I saw Tom was back in June.  We ran into each other at the Casper Walmart.  I was there to pick up groceries.  He had just finished a chemo treatment and was waiting for the pharmacy to fill a prescription.

He looked a little thinner and a little tired but he was the same old Tom.  We chatted for a minute or two about the kids, the weather and summer cow work.  And then he grabbed my hand and squeezed it and flashed me that thousand watt smile of his.  There were a million things I wanted to say right then and a million memories flashed through my mind but Tom would not have wanted for me to get all sentimental in the middle of Walmart, so I just squeezed his hand, smiled back and hoped he knew what I would have said if I had only known how to say it.

Here we are a few months later, forced to say goodbye long before we should have to.  There is not a stronger, tougher more stubborn cowboy out there anywhere but cancer doesn’t play fair, not even close.  Cancer robbed the world of a sweet soul and a heck of a Cowboy.  Cancer robbed Bob and Sharon of a son, Brenda of her brother, Heidi of her husband, two beautiful little girls of their Daddy and a whole lot of us of the truest friend you’ll ever come across.

Dad won’t be able to call up Tom and say,” we’re thinking about working some cows” and before he can finish, hear Tom say, “what time should I be there and how many horses should I bring” even though Dad was probably calling the night before he needed him.

We won’t be able to watch Tom ride or rope or listen to him tell wild west stories around the cooler after a branding.

Cancer robbed us all of something really special because Tom was one of a kind.

But cancer didn’t win.  There is a quote by Albert Pine, that says, “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains immortal.” Cancer didn’t win because Tom left a mark on this world and on us that can never be erased.

Anyone who met Tom remembered him and immediately liked him.  Anyone who had the privilege to call him a friend, loved him.  He was always there to help, often without being asked.  He had a smile that could light up a room and a laugh you’d never forget.

Cancer may have robbed of us his physical presence but it can never take away the good that he did, the friendship and the memories.  No one will ever be able to fill the cowboy boots he left behind and we will miss him everyday.  But cancer didn’t win because he will never be forgotten and will always and forever be loved.

All week friends have been posting pictures of Tom I’ve put a few of them together in the video below.

Dad wrote this poem for Tom.  Godspeed my friend…..

Tom

It was early on in 81
Winter here had just begun

And in amongst it’s snow and wind
Here young Tom his life he did begin

Even though he had a wintery start
You could tell, this kid was all heart.

We’ve watched him grow over the years
From his first snoose to a few too many beers.

Saw him ride broncs in the arena and outside
All the while on both he had that grin that was so wide.

It didn’t matter whether it was working cattle or digin post holes
He gave you his all, it was just in his soul.

Now why God did you call this good cowboy home at this time?
When he’s got a young family and is just in his prime?

You know we’ll trust your call is the best
But it sure makes it hard on me and the rest!

I’m sure when you called and said Tom, can you come now
He couldn’t say no, he didn’t know how.

I know there were cowboys to great him up there
And mount him with whatever they had, cause he wouldn’t care.

So we’ll go on cause we’ve no choice in the matter
But we’ll sure miss Tom when the cattle begin to scatter.

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DR Part 5 – Final Thoughts

I can’t say that I did a single thing to change a single thing in the DR.  I’m sure anyone could have painted the wall as well as I did, no doubt someone could have done it better.  And absolutely no sixth grader improved their French on my watch, in fact some French knowledge may have been damaged on my watch, but I don’t think it was anything that Miss Matilde wasn’t able to fix in short order.  However, the DR changed me and challenged me in a lot of ways.

Here are a few of my final thoughts on my DR trip.

Some things are the same no matter where you are, even if they are very, very different.  Even though growing coffee is very different from raising cattle, at the heart they’re not so different at all.  Both require a love and passion for caring for the land and being outdoors and growing something with care.  They both have unpredictable challenges and require constant learning.  And they both reap great rewards.

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Darrell teaching us about coffee plants
photo credit: Julie Peterson

Kids everywhere are just kids.  They love recess, they all know how to strike a pose when they see a camera and they all want to give their substitutes a hard time.

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kids at TEARS school
photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2014

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kids at the TEARS school
photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copy right 2014

Language barriers are hard.  It’s difficult and time consuming to learn another language and when you are surrounded by people speaking a foreign language it feels really lonely.  Even talking through an interpreter is really tiring.  I know people have strong feelings about immigrants here learning the English language and I don’t disagree. I do think that if you move to another country you should make every effort to learn the language but I think we should remember that it’s really hard and time consuming and can be really lonely.  Just because someone isn’t speaking English doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to or aren’t trying to learn.

Warm weather rocks!  Especially when you have been trapped in a never ending winter for months.  I can’t tell you how good it felt to walk outside and not have to worry about your facing freezing off.

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Miami Beach
photo credit: Julie Peterson

Sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone.  Sometimes we learn a lot more about the world and about ourselves if we go somewhere completely different and a little bit scary, even if it is on the wrong side of the Mississippi.

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The breakdancing class that Cara and Tami had to substitute teach. Thank goodness I didn’t get assigned to that one!

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One of the students in the breakdancing class
photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2014

Doing what your called to do most likely won’t be easy, but that’s ok.  I think sometimes we get the idea that if we find our “calling” that things will be easy.  You know sayings like, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, or “do what you love and the money will follow”.  I can’t tell you how many times we talked with truly amazing people, who felt called to work in missions and service and who loved what they did, desperately, and they are extremely good at what they do.  But ever single one of them said, “this is really hard, some days this is really, really hard.”  And yet they didn’t doubt or wish it were different.  They just seemed to accept that some days were going to be really hard. Things worth doing, right things, good things, things you were meant to do, are sometimes going to be really, really hard and that’s ok.

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Pat M handing out hugs at the TEARS school
photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2014

Mission trips are complicated.  As I said in my first post, this trip was more of service/learning trip than a traditional mission trip, so I’m not sure what a traditional mission trip would have been like.  But through our book study (When Helping Hurts), discussions within our group and with those we met along the way, I learned a little bit about how the urge to rush in and fix things for people can end up causing more problems than it solves. That the crux of it all is always going to be creating relationships and walking with people. Helping them find a path to self reliance that honors their unique culture and unique gifts and talents, instead of “fixing” whatever we perceive the problem to be and walking away.  We are all broken, in one way or another and we all need each other, in one way or another, and we all need to feel valued.

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kids from the Haitian school
photo credit: Julie Peterson

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kids from the Haitian school
photo credit: Julie Peterson

This quote from Pope Francis speaks to this idea, “Hospitality in itself isn’t enough. It’s not enough to give a sandwich if it isn’t accompanied by the possibility of learning to stand on one’s own feet. Charity that does not change the situation of the poor isn’t enough.”  And I don’t think we can help anyone learn to stand on their own feet if we don’t take the time to get to know them and humble ourselves enough to see things from their point of view, meet them where they are, without judgement.  It’s complicated and requires a great deal of effort and thoughtfulness.

The two questions I most often get asked since I’ve been home are; “how was your trip?” and “would you go back?”  So here are the answers.

How was your trip? My trip was really amazing.  I learned so much and I’m still learning from it.  I made some wonderful friends and met inspiring people.  It was nothing like I expected and absolutely perfect.  It’s very hard to describe and something I will never forget.  And so much fun!

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crazy ladies in a van with chips
photo credit: Tami Allen

Would I go back?  I would absolutely go back to Doulos.  I feel connected there now in many ways and the connection between Doulos and Prince of Peace runs deep.  And I really miss Sandra and Darrell and Courtney and Mike and Becky and…..

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Spirit Mountain
photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2014

But the question of would I go on a mission trip is more complicated.  I would be very careful and cautious in choosing to go on a future mission trip.  I would want to make sure that what I was doing was truly helping.  That it was more about the people in need and not about me feeling important.  That I had skills that fit the situation, that were needed at that time and place.

I know, we are all called to serve the poor in some way.  The trick is figuring out what that looks like for each of us.  And to do that well and effectively, we have to get know both ourselves and the poor (and that could be the materially poor, emotionally poor, spiritually poor, relationally poor because poverty comes in many different forms) more intimately.  I am going to be very honest here.  I am finding this all really difficult and I have zero answers. But I’m working on it….a little at a time.  I know I am not going to pack up and move to the DR, that much I have figured out (see Dad every thing is going to be ok).  I know I fit in the puzzle somewhere, just where and how is a work in progress.

And I know this for sure.  If you get the chance to go and learn about a different culture and meet amazing people and travel with church ladies who randomly break into song and dance and change peoples names and smuggle coffee. Do it!  Go! Don’t think twice, just do it.  Just prepared to learn and laugh and cry and make sure there is someone in the group knows how to catch frogs.

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photo credit: Julie Peterson

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DR Part 4 – the final days

Day 6 – We started out with breakfast and morning prayer and announcements at Doulos an then it was off on a new adventure.

We drove down to La Vega to visit the T.E.A.R.S. School.  T.E.A.R.S. stands for True Evangelism Always Requires Sacrifice.  TEARS was started 11 years ago by Roderick and Twila Davis.  They sold everything and picked up their two toddlers and moved to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic and started a school.  We started with a introduction to their ministry and a quick tour of the school.

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TEARS is free to all that attend.  Their parents are required to perform some volunteer house at the school but they do not have to pay.  There is usually quite a waiting list to get into the school.  Children not only receive a private education but also a free breakfast or lunch (school is half day, some come in the morning and some in the afternoon) and also medical care if they are sick.

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a classroom at TEARS

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surrounding neighborhood

The situation at TEARS is much different than the situation at Doulos.  In our book study, When Helping Hurts, we learned about the three levels of poverty and response to poverty – Relief, Rehabilitation and Development.  Doulos is working on the development level while TEARS is working at the rehabilitation level.  Both are crucial and very different.  It was interesting to see the two side by side and think about the differences and where we might fit in, as individuals and as the church.  Lots to think about.

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TEARS also partners with a school strictly for Haitian children which we were also able to visit.  I guess I would say this school was maybe on the border between Relief and Rehabilitation.  The relationship between Dominicans and Haitians is quite complicated and difficult.  There is much that I don’t know about the situation and history but in a nutshell from what I understood, Dominicans do not want Haitians in their country, at least for the most part.  So, Haitian children are basically ignored by the Dominican government.

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kids at the Haitian school
photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2014

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photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
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photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs
copyright 2014

The school is part of a church and we spent time talking with the principle and the pastors wife.  And also singing with them.  And once again it didn’t really matter that we spoke different languages, we recognized each others songs by melodies and the words just seemed to come.

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Pat J entertaining the kids
photo credit: Julie Peterson

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kids at the Haitian school
photo credit: Julie Peterson

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kids at the Haitian school hanging out with Kayla
photo credit: Julie Peterson

After visiting the Haitian school we had lunch at the TEARS headquarters and met and talked with Rod and Twila Davis.  Once again, I sat there shaking my head wondering how someone sells everything, packs up their family and heads off to serve in a completely foreign country.  Their story was really amazing.  There is a great video on their website that tells just a portion of their story but will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

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Roderick and Twila Davis, founders of TEARS
photo credit: Julie Peterson

Then we headed back to TEARS.  We had a chance to play with the kids during recess.

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We learned about the water treatment plant that they have at the school.  In the Dominican you can not drink the water.  Some homes have running water for showering and toilets and some don’t but you can not cook with or drink the water.  They must buy bottled water for consuming.  TEARS partnered with Stewardship Foundation Varsity Bible Church and Healing Waters to develop and build a state of the art water purification system on school grounds.  They are able to provide clean water bottled water to the barrio at about half the price that they would pay elsewhere and use the funds to maintain the water system and school programs.

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And then we were able to present them with the donations that we had collected and brought down with us.  At the time we set out collecting things we really weren’t sure at all what to bring.  They did say school supplies would be good, so we had crayons, papers, scissors ect.  And just crossed our fingers that that was what they needed.

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Nancy Lee and Nancy enjoying a cup of coffee while we wait to present our donations to the teachers

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Barb (or Wendy as she was called by this point in the trip because Tina decided she looked more like a Wendy and we just all decided to go with it) is a soccer mom.  She has two girls in soccer and is a soccer team manager.  Wendy Barbara knows soccer, whether she ever really wanted to or not she is now a soccer expert.  So, in one of pre-trip meetings she said, “I wonder if they could use any soccer stuff?”  Nancy Lee said, “I don’t know but it can’t hurt to bring some if you have anything.”

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Some of our donations

So, Wendy Barbara, or WB for short, made a few calls, sent a few emails and she soon had piles of soccer stuff donated by her fellow soccer moms.  She stuffed them in the biggest suitcase she could find and lugged it all the way down to the DR, hoping all the while that someone might be able to use some it.

Well, as it turns out…..yes they could most definitely use it.  The TEARS staff all got a little teary when they opened Wendy Barbara’s soccer suitcase.  It turns out they had been working on getting the paperwork done to get into a soccer league, they had this idea about sports evangelism, about connecting with kids through sports, through soccer in particular, to build relationships, keep kids out of trouble and maybe find a way to mention a few things about Jesus along the way.  The Friday before we got there the PE teacher came to the principle and said he had all the paperwork approved, they could be in the soccer league, all they had to do was get a team together, which would be easy but the things was, they had no equipment.  The PE teacher handed a list to the principle with what he needed.  The principle just said “we have no money for this right now….we’ll just have to pray about it.”

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Courtney translated for Wendy Barbara and the PE teacher

Well, you can guess how it ends can’t you?  We show up with Wendy Barbara and her soccer suitcase and every single thing on the list is in that suitcase.  Every. Single. Thing.  Wendy Barbara and Her Magical Soccer Suitcase.  Sounds like a children’s book doesn’t it?  Oh and also, the kindergarten and 1st grade teachers were about to run out of paper and art supplies, so our paper, crayons and ect. were exactly perfect.

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Some of the staff with all of us

By the end of the day we exhausted but happy and grateful for all we had experienced.  We stopped at a beautiful Catholic church on our way back through La Vega and then at a roadside convenience store for some refreshments – there may or may not of been Presidentes consumed.

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Cara gives the day a thumbs up

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And then back to Casa Tranquila for our dinner and nightly debriefing and tree rat watch. This was Kayla’s last chance to spot the tree rat and I think she was determined not to leave the Dominican until she say him/her.  Luckily we did not have to leave her behind because she did spot him/her.  I’m not sure anyone has ever been so excited to see a tree rat.

And then we had to pack up.  It felt in some ways like we’d been gone forever and in others like we had just gotten there, so it was with mixed feelings that we gathered our stuff and stuffed in our suitcases.

Day 7 – We headed out for one last breakfast at Doulos and one last Doulos cheer.

We said our goodbyes, which wasn’t easy.  Even though we’d only been there a few days we felt like part of the Doulos family and we were going to miss these crazy people! And then we piled in the van to head down to Santo Domingo.  It was a longish ride in a smallish van and we had a little trouble finding our resort but we arrived all in one piece.

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Giavonni and his girls
We sang You Are My Sunshine to him before we left

A couple of things.  Rules of the road are different in the DR.  It’s a bit more of a free for all I would say.  And lots of motorcycles with lots of people on them, without helmets, and also lots of people riding in the backs of pickups on tops of loads of stuff.

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In Jarabocoa there were basically no street signs or street lights, just every driver for him or herself.  Santa Domingo is a much larger city so there were street lights, although it appeared that they may have just been optional.  When you were stopped at a streetlight people would walk down between the cars knocking on your window trying to sell you things.

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The beach at our resort was really nice, except if you turned to the right you did see some sort of oil refinery.  But if you looked off to your left it was nothing but ocean.  I will so though that I enjoyed Jarabocoa much better.  There were lots of vendors at the beach walking up to you every two minutes wanting to give you a massage or pedicure or sell you gum or sun glasses.  You felt bad saying no but were very annoyed all at the same time.  That part I did not like. The warmth and the sand and the beach was really nice.  But I will say that this is when WB and I started to feel a little homesick, even knowing that bitter cold temperatures were waiting for us back in Minnesota.

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Day 8 – Headed home.  It was time.  We packed up and headed out.  It was a fairly uneventful trip home, except for the part when Kayla earned the nickname Kingpin Kayla.

You see Darrel had offered to personally roast us all some coffee.  Who can pass that up?  So we had all bought coffee, several bags of coffee in most cases.  Then there was the problem of how to get it all home.  Pat M had a bag that had previously been filled with donations but was now empty.  Kayla and Tina had shared a bag so we figured if we stuffed the coffee in Pat M’s bag and Kayla checked it, then we wouldn’t have to pay extra for someone checking two bags.  Perfect!

So we sorted out the coffee orders and wrapped each order in black plastic bags and put them all in Pat M’s suitcase.  Handed the suitcase over to Kayla and off we headed to the airport.

We went through customs and security and had some extra time to grab something to eat at the airport.  WB and I grabbed found a Pizza Hut and Lays Potato chips, it was really good.

Then we hear Kayla’s name being called by the gate agent.  Weird, wonder whats that’s about?  She was asked/ordered to report to customs immediately, so that her bag could be opened in the presence of customs agents.  Huh?  What is up with that?….

We never thought about what bags of coffee beans wrapped up in black plastic bags, neatly lined up in a suitcase going to the United States, might look like under X-ray.  Poor Kayla.  She goes on a service trip with a bunch of church ladies and gets marked as a possible drug runner.  See this is why you never agree to take someone else’s bag, even if they are known to you, and even if they are church ladies, maybe especially if they are church ladies.

Pat J went with her to customs, luckily Pat and Kayla both speak Spanish, and they got it all sorted out.  Thankfully, we did not have to leave Kayla in a Dominican clink.  That would have been really hard to explain back at POP and may have deterred some from going on future trips.  Plus a real bummer for Kayla!

Once Kayla and Pat made it back to the gate and we all breathed a sigh of relief, Wendy Barbara dubbed her Kingpin Kayla.  And as I drink my Dominican coffee every morning, I can’t help but think of Kingpin Kayla.

It was a long day of travel but fairly uneventful.  It was COLD when we got off the plane in Minneapolis but we were so glad to be home and see our families and sleep in our own beds.

I can’t imagine a better group of ladies to travel and have this adventure with.  I will have one last post with a few final thoughts and pictures in a day or two but the bottom line is I am really glad I had the experience and so grateful for my new friendships.

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Happy Birthday Anne

Today is Anne’s 10th birthday!  Time flies faster every year.

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Anne on her first day

Here are a few things she’s been up to in the past year.

Baking

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Working in the calving shed

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Hanging with friends

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and her brother…..once

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And hanging with her twin

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and with her cousin

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Moving cattle and feeding cattle

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working at the rodeo

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There was volleyball and archery

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And then there’s all of this

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Happy Birthday Anne!

Thanks for making us smile!

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DR Part 3 – The Next Two Days

Day 4 – This day started unexpectedly early for some us.  Barb got up to go to the bathroom about 4:00 am.  She was on the top bunk and the bunk beds were wiggly and squeaky and the bathroom door was really squeaky.  But that wasn’t what woke us up.  What woke us up was Nancy’s blood curdling scream.

Barb thought she had been too noisy and had startled Nancy awake, so she began apologizing, “I’m so sorry!  It’s just me, it’s ok, you can go back to sleep”  But Nancy was quite agitated and said, “No! It was wet and cold and in my face!”

So, now we are all confused and certain that Nancy is in the midst of a horrible nightmare of some kind.  Julie flipped on the light and we all began trying to tell Nancy everything was ok.  Nancy kept insisting that, no everything was not ok because something really gross feeling hit her in the face.

Then Tami, very calmly says, “hey guys….I bet it was that”  She is pointing to the ceiling in the corner of the room, just above Barb’s pillow.

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What we surmise must have happened is, that when Barb got out of bed she startled our quite large and slimy friend, Mr. Frog.  Who then hopped up onto Nancy’s bed.  She felt something on her leg and thought it was me trying to wake her up for her turn in the shower.  So she sat up in bed, which must have further startled Mr. Frog, who then jumped in her face. Hence the screaming.  And then somehow he hopped way across the room and up to the ceiling.  Upon seeing Mr. Frog, Barb and I screamed and bravely ran into the bathroom and slammed the door.  It’s hard to be brave at 4:00 am, on the wrong side of the Mississippi in a room with filled with foreign frogs.

We did eventually collect ourselves and come out of the bathroom to help our roommates problem solve.  We quickly came to the conclusion that the frog had to go. Barb was particularly insistent on the fact that the frog had to go.  She has a weird aversion to sleeping with a frog hanging over her head.

 It was Nancy, however, who took charge of the situation even though she had every right to be the one most traumatized by the whole situation.  She found some gloves, climbed up on Barb’s bunk and attempted to grab Mr. Frog, who proceeded to “walk” across the wall with his suction cup like feet.  Seeing this someone screamed, it could have been me but it also could have been anyone else in the room, so lets just leave it at someone.  The screaming once again scared Mr. Frog, who is apparently a jittery creature.  So, he jumped all the way from the ceiling to the floor.  Luckily it was very near the door.

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Nancy, aka Frog Hunter

Nancy climbed off the bunk grabbed Mr. Frog and in a brilliant moment of team work, Julie instinctively thrust open the door as Nancy gently (or perhaps not so gently) tossed Mr. Frog outside.  Julie quickly slammed the door closed and locked the door.

At this point we all began laughing hysterically.  We wondered how on earth the other half of our team had not been woken up by all the commotion (they must be very sound sleepers we decided) and also how on earth Mr. Frog got in our room in the first place and then if he might have friends or family…..

We then decided to do a sweep of the room just in case.  I had a flashlight so I looked under every bed and in every corner (see I can be brave sometimes).  We were clear.  So we laughed hysterically some more and wondered how we were ever going to be able to sleep for the rest of the trip.

We did eventually all fall back to sleep for about 15 minutes and then our alarm rang.

As we gathered with everyone waiting for our van to arrive to take us to school, Nancy Lee said, “did you guys here that party last night? I heard a woman scream and thought she might be being attacked but then there was all this laughing, so I guess it was just a wild party.”

It was then that we knew for sure not to count on our fellow team members in the other room to come to our rescue.  We would be fighting frogs all one our own.

So, then it was off to Doulos for a day of substitute teaching.  But first we would join the staff for announcements and prayer circle and then the whole school begins the day together in the Wallace Amphitheater.  All the students and teachers gather and have announcements, a student lead prayer, sing the national anthem and then they have a Doulos Cheer.  The Doulos cheer is when a student or staff member comes up on the stage and performs some short action, dance, song and then shouts “Doulos!”  And then everyone tries to copy it.  Then they all scatter for their classes.

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Morning announcements, prayer, national anthem and Doulos cheer

Then we picked up our class assignments and lesson plans.  Tina and I had 6th grade French.  And here’s the thing.  Tina nor I speak French.  Not a single word.

We learned something very important in that class, which was this.  Sixth grade students world wide are united in giving their substitute teachers a hard time.  Sixth grade students are universal in their inability to use their “inside” voices.  And substituting for an hour long sixth grade French class will last for approximately 3 days…..at least that is what it felt like.

They wore us out.  Don’t get me wrong, they were good kids, funny kids, smart kids but they totally knew they had us over a barrel from the second they sat down.  They spent the entire hour trying desperately to convince us that “really, Miss Matild always lets us out early”, “no really, she does”, “especially on Mondays, on Mondays she always lets out early.”

No French was learned that day.  But we did keep them in the room and alive and safe for one whole hour which I’m going to count as a success.  We were not able to keep them quiet, which was really unfortunate for Nancy Lee who was trying to conduct her teacher workshop next door, but we did keep them in the room for the whole hour so I feel good about that.

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Julie and Nancy visiting with students under the Mango tree
photo credit: Cara Lemmage Photographs copyright 2014

Next up, Tina and I were sent to 9th grade Science where we were instructed to introduce the concepts of mass, volume, weight and density.  Let’s just say that after 6th grade French our confidence in our substitute teaching skills was waning a bit.  So we were really glad to see Cara come bopping into the room with props to help us.  This class went much smoother and they did learn at least the definitions of mass, volume, weight and density, even if we did just read them out of the text book.  After they did some reading and answered some review questions we spent time just chatting with them.  It was a very enjoyable class.

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Study time under the mango tree.
photo credit: Julie Peterson

Then it was time for lunch with our lunch buddies.  The two days we were serving at Doulos we were assigned a Doulos teacher or staff person to have lunch with.  My buddy was Courtney.

As I mentioned in my last post, Courtney is from the Twin Cities and came down last year on the POP women’s trip.  She then decided that she wanted to be a bigger part of Doulos and she’s been in the DR since last June working as the communications supervisor.  All the teachers and staff at Doulos have to raise the money to pay their own salary.  It’s a huge commitment, to not only leave your family and country but to also fundraise.  But every one of the teachers and staff that we talked to all felt called to be there.  They were passionate about the kids and passionate about the mission that Doulos is set upon.  They were all amazing and fascinating people to talk to, all with huge hearts and huge faith.

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Courtney
photo credit: Julie Peterson

After lunch, one more class.  This time Barb and I went bravely to 7th grade English (at least I know English, so I figured it had to be a step up from French).  This class was a breeze.  The teacher was there to at the beginning of class to kind of set things straight and they were to read and work on a plot diagram.  It was the quietest group of 7th graders I have ever seen.

A quick walk downtown for some refreshments and back to Casa Tranquila to get ready for our family dinners.

We were split up into groups of 2 or 3 and then assigned a Doulos family who had graciously offered to host us in their homes for a typical Dominican family dinner.  I’ll be honest I was really nervous about this.  First of all, I don’t know Spanish (ok, I know un poco, but two semesters in college and then never using the language again definitely was not going to cut it).  Second,  I’m not great at making conversation with people I’ve known for years, let alone people I’ve just met who speak an entirely different language.  Social situations make me nervous and I was way outside my comfort zone here.

I was relieved to find out my partner was Nancy Lee.  She has done this several times before so I knew she could get me through it.  And it was an awesome night!  We spent the evening with the Castillo family.  The boys, Robert, a third grader and Robert Louis a  Kindergartner, both of whom go to school at Doulos on scholarships.  Nancy Lee sponsors Robert Louis so that he can attend Doulos.  The older son spoke english, as all Doulos students do, but since he was just in 3rd grade and still learning, a neighbor, Carol, a sixth grader from Doulos came to translate for us.  And yes, Carol was in French class with me earlier that day but she was on of the three girls who kept shaking their heads no, when everyone was saying, “we always get out early”.  So I knew she we were in good hands.

We had brought a few small gifts including Jenga and UNO, so we played games, ate a wonderful dinner and visited, every word going through Carol.  She was a wonderful interpreter and I’m sure she was exhausted by the end of the night.  I was and all I really did was sit back and take it all in.  They were such kind and gracious people.  The parents told Nancy Lee how grateful they were to her for sponsoring Robert Louis.  That it meant everything to them that he had such an opportunity.

Later in the evening, as we were standing in the dark (not a lot of streetlights in the DR) under the stars, waiting for the bus to come pick us up.  The boys father, Robin, said, “you know Jesus makes all the difference for a family.  My wife and I and did not have that as children and our families had struggles but we want better for our family and knowing Jesus has made all the difference for us.” It was a very sweet and tender moment.

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Part of the Castillo family the next day at Doulos because I forgot to take a picture the night we had dinner together!

Back at our Casa Tranquila, we gathered in our evening spot with our tea and biscuits and the stories spilled out.  The teaching, the throwing the teaching out the window and just trying to keep the kids contained, the families and the dinners and kids of all ages and “oh there goes the tree rat!”

Nightly prayers – Dear Lord, thank you so very much for all of these wonderful experiences and also please keep the frogs away.

And then it was off to bed, right after sweeping the room of any signs of anything that shouldn’t be there, and off to sleep….

Day 5 - The morning started off much the same, minus the frog drama.  We were off to Doulos for breakfast, singing to our driver Jiovanni all the way.

Nancy Lee joined a few students for the Doulos Cheer.

This day we were landscaping and painting, which for me was much easier than subbing.  I was on the painting team with these lovely ladies.  Here is our before and after.

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Me, Pat M, Julie and Nancy

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Here’s part of the landscaping team.

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Sandra, Barb, Tina and Kayla
Photo Credit: Cara Lemage Photographs, copyright 2014

Then at the end of the day we were invited to the home of Mathilde, the French teacher, for tea and cake.  We ended up not having time for the tea but the cake….oh my goodness the cake!  It was seriously some of the best cake I have ever eaten in my life.  We begged for the recipe to which Mathilde said, quite directly, “No. Absolutely not. I’m sorry if I am too direct but no.”

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At Mathilde’s house

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Mathilde after breaking our hearts by denying us her cake recipe

Back at our DR home we got cleaned up and ready for dinner.  We had wonderful dinner guests once again. Mike Zweber and his family came to join us.  This was a big treat because not only is Mike the new Executive Director at Doulos but he’s also a Minnesota guy and not just a Minnesota guy but a Lakeville guy!  Mike had been on the POP mens trip last year and by the end of the summer he was the new Executive Director and had sold everything and moved to the DR.  I told you this was a common theme.

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Mike and Becky Zweber and family

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They arrived in typical Domincan style, the whole family on one moto but with an American twist. They added helmets.

He and his wife Becky, shared their story with us.  I am still shaking my head over the whole idea of just selling everything and moving to another country.  I am amazed by their courage and faith.  We heard many times from the Doulos staff and the staff at T.E.A.R.S. where we would venture the next day, that they felt called to come here and serve in this way.  I’m not so sure I could do it….

They had such great stories and were so much fun to spend time with we could have talked all night.  But we sent them home because it was a school night and the kiddos needed to get their rest.

We had our nightly discussion about our day, our book study and wondering what tomorrow had in store for us….

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The Domincan – Part 2 – The First Few Days and Doulos Discovery School

Here’s a day by day re-cap of the first few days of our service/learning adventure.  And just so you might be totally confused we had, two Pats (Pat J and Pat M), a Nancy and a Nancy Lee and a Barbara whose name was changed to Wendy by the end of the week.  Along with Tami, Tina, Kayla, Julie, Cara (as in Care – a) and me.

And a couple of quirks to note about this group.  There was spontaneous singing, usually let by Nancy saying, “this reminds me of a song…” And also, spontaneous dancing usually let by Tina and specialty Yoga moves by Kayla.  It was a very talented group.

Day 1 – We all descended on the Minneapolis airport at 4:45 am.  It was really early and really cold out.  I really thought we’d be the only ones there because really who wants to go out in the cold at 4:00 in the morning if you don’t have cows to feed.  Apparently quite a few people because it was so crowded!

Our group of 11 ended up splitting into two and placing different bets on which security line would move the fastest.  I don’t know what the other group discussed while they were standing in line but our group talked at length about how puzzling it is that we can put a man on the moon but have yet to figure out an efficient security screening process.  Although, one suggestion that we did come up with was that the 3 TSA personnel standing nearby chatting could maybe open up the other lane!  I know, crazy idea but I’m still convinced it might have helped.

We finally made it through security and got re-dressed and re-packed and hoofed it to our gate because well, basically the plane was getting ready to board.  And as luck would have it, it was quite a hike from security to our gate.

My group made there just as they were boarding “group 2″.  Pat J’s group, however, was no where to be seen.  I did start to panic just a little bit and leaned over to Barb and said, “there is no way I’m going to the Dominican Republic without Pat J.  She’s the one who talked us into this.  I’m not getting on that plane until she gets here.”  Barb, very wisely, said, “well…I agree we shouldn’t leave the country without her but I think we could hang out in Miami for a few days.  We can at least go that far.”  So, with a sound back up plan on the books, I breathed a sigh of relief.

As the gate agent is saying “we are now boarding group 3″, we see Pat J and her group moseying our direction.  No urgency in their steps whatsoever.  We begin waving our arms frantically in the international sign for “hurry up the plane is leaving!”  They casually waved back and continued to mosey our direction, a few of them stopping off at the ladies room.

“final boarding call”.  To heck with it, I decided, I’m going to Miami.  I may not go any further but I didn’t get up this early for nothing and I’m going far enough south to get warm.

In the end everyone made it on board and all was well.

We landed in Miami and since we had a 6 hour layer over we decided to rent a couple of mini vans and head to the beach!  You should know that the rental cars in Miami are located conveniently, about a five mile hike from the main terminal.  Nancy Lee was regretting the carry on with about 75 pounds of books in it but she definitely got her 10,000 steps in.

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It was pretty nice to look out the window and see green for a change
Photo Credit: Julie Peterson

Once at the beach we stopped at Puerto Sagua for lunch.  If you are ever there, order the Cuban Beef and you will be happy and very, very full.

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Photo credit: Julie Peterson

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Cuban Beef
Photo Credit: Julie Peterson

Then it was off to take pictures of the beach to text back to all our friends and family back in MN and other cold and snowy locations.

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Miami Beach
Photo Credit Julie Peterson

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And then it was back the airport.  And onto the next plane.  Trust me I double and triple checked that Pat J was seated with her seat belt securely fastened.

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Photo Credit Julie Peterson

A couple of hours later we were in the Dominican!  It’s still weird and crazy to me that in the span of one day you can go from the bitter cold, snowy tundra of Minnesota and end up in the green, humid, WARM, tropics of the Dominican Republic.

We arrived to this van. And the warm greetings of Sandra who would be our guide for the week.  About an hour later we arrived at Casa Tranquila and basically collapsed into our beds.

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Day 2 – We woke up early and took a quick tour of our Dominican digs, since we were too tired and it was too dark when we arrived the night before.

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Then Sandra’s husband, Darrel, arrived to take us on a hike up to Spirit Mountain and the coffee plantation. We were also very lucky to be joined by Krista Wallace.  Krista and her husband Chad founded the Doulos Discovery School in 2002 and in 2003 they started Spirit Mountain Coffee as a way to help support the school financially and also as a place where the students could work on expeditionary learning projects.  It is really amazing what they have accomplished and hearing Krista’s story was one the best parts of  our trip.

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Krista Wallace

The van couldn’t make it to the top of the mountain so we had to hike in the last couple of miles.  And as we hiked along I found that it reminded me of Bates Creek.  Now it was completely different, no sagebrush, no antelope, no aspen trees.  But all the same something about the feel of it reminded me a bit of home.  And as Darrel and Krista talked to us about how they grow and harvest the coffee plants, again I thought of home.  They were talking coffee not cattle, which are quite different as you can imagine.  But still….you could tell how hard they all worked to keep trying to improve, to take care of the land, to learn how to do things better, to find ways to overcome obstacles like uncooperative weather and bugs and things way outside their control and how much it all means to them.  So, I was roughly 2600 miles away from my Wyoming home and in a completely different environment and yet right there under the surface, the heart of it all was the same.

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Darrel teaching us about coffee beans

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On top of Spirit Mountain

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So we hiked and we learned a lot about coffee and then we had sandwiches and listened as Krista shared her story and made us all cry.  And then we had a turn swinging on the big swing and it was time to hike back down.

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Tina and Kayla on the big swing
Photo credit: Julie Peterson

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Coffee beans

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Tami enjoying her turn on the big swing
Photo credit: Julie Peterson

On our drive back to Casa Tranquila, Darrel had our driver stop in a little town to show us a typical public school.

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Inside a typical public school classroom

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Then it was showers (some of us were lucky and had intermittent warm water and some had straight cold), dinner and great conversation by the pool.  I don’t remember who was the first to spot the tree rat but he/she made his/her first appearance that night.  It was very brief and not everyone saw him that first night, so it was a little bit like a big foot sighting for the first few nights, some believed, some did not.  It would take Kayla all week before she had her first tree rat sighting.

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The perfect spot to enjoy tea, biscuits and deep conversations and to observe tree rat behavior

The very kind staff saw us sitting out there and brought us tea and biscuits which they would do every night without fail.  They spoiled us just a little.

Day 3 –  We were back with Sandra and she took us on a tour of Doulos – it was Sunday so it was just us, no staff, no kiddos around.  We learned a lot about Doulos and about the education system in the Dominican.

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The grounds at Doulos. Doulos students helped to design and build the gazebo

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A new building for elementary classrooms. Last years POP mens and women’s group helped to build and paint these classrooms.

The Global Competitiveness Report of 2010 listed the DR third to last in the world for quality of primary education.  Only half of current elementary students will finish 4th grade.  There is a drastic shortage of teachers, school buildings and financial support to provide a quality education.  A public school day lasts 3-4 hours and classrooms are often crowded with as many as 50 students per instructor.  There are private schools but their quality varies widely.

Chad and Krista Wallace founded Doulos Discovery School with this mission -  To Educate and Equip Servant Leaders through Christian Discipleship and Expeditionary Learning to Impact the Dominican Republic.  And Doulos truly is an oasis for the students that attend.

The curriculum is based on the most rigorous academic standards from US schools.  Students become literate in Spanish, English and French.  They are taught through expeditionary learning techniques which means they learn by doing and experiencing. For instance, if they are studying the coral reef, they will read about it, study it through a variety of disciplines – how is it formed, what animals live there, how that affects the beaches, how the beaches affect tourism, how tourism affects the economy of the DR, ect. Then they visit a coral reef and study some more and then work on a project that incorporates everything they have learned that is then used to teach others about the corral reef.  There were several moments when those of us that have school age kids, looked at each other and said “man I wish my kid’s school would do something like this!”

But here is the part that I really love most about Doulos.  They intentionally mix socioeconomic classes so that students learn to see each other as equals, challenging the paradigm in developing countries (including the DR) that leaders only come from the elite class.  So, half of the students at Doulos come from upper class families who pay tuition.  The other half are students from lower economic families and receive almost full scholarships (scholarship families are asked to pay what they can and also must contribute a certain number of volunteer hours at the school).  Friendships are formed across class lines as students work together to serve the community through regular service projects.  They also have daily devotions and weekly Bible studies as part of their curriculum.

After touring the school we went to check out a nearby waterfall, Salto Jimenoa.

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We had to cross several long swinging bridges of questionable integrity.  I quickly learned to make sure that I was never on the bridge at the same time that Tina was on the bridge. Tina is a daredevil and likes to swing the bridge whilst walking across it.  I am the exact opposite of a daredevil and do not like the bridge to have any movement whatsoever while walking across it.

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Tina and Kayla crossing the bridge.
Photo credit: Julie Peterson

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Our group at the waterfall

After our waterfall/swinging bridge adventure we got cleaned up and headed to off to church.  The service was in spanish but we did have an interpreter for the sermon.  The music was amazing and it didn’t matter one bit that it was in spanish because worshiping through song is pretty awesome in any language.

Back at Casa Tranquila we had visitors for dinner!  Danae Lemoine who is the new director at Doulos came to talk with us.  And Sandra and Darrel came by and brought Courtney.  Courtney is from the Twin Cities.  In fact, Courtney was on this very same service/learning trip last year with the POP women and by last June was living in the DR and working at Doulas as a communications supervisor. This was a story we would hear more than once, someone taking service/learning trip to Doulos, falling in love with the school and the country and moving there (don’t worry Dad I’m not thinking of moving).  It felt like old home week and I had only just met these crazy people.

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But I think the best part of the night was this.

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 Darrel made us amazing homemade guacamole.  It’s lucky no one got hurt because we were knocking each other over trying to get to the guacamole bowl.

Then we said goodbye to our dinner guests, had our evening discussion and prayed that we would do well on our first day of service, substitute teaching…..

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