Day 4: Homecoming

Day 4
September 29- Saturday

Breakfast: pancakes!
We also had fresh watermelon juice and papaya juice, which they said would get me “moving,” but it was only a myth. (Or maybe two accidental Imodium in one sitting were just stronger than an entire field of papaya trees and watermelons combined.)

Either way, Day 4 was full of mural painting and home visits.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We had an opportunity to walk through the village and visit families identified by principals who were especially in need of rescources. Antonia had spent the morning sorting the bags of donated items, and we were able to distribute them to specific families. We were touched by the warmth and welcome we received at each home. At home, we wouldn’t be caught dead inviting a handful of strangers into our home unexpectedly if it wasn’t clean or ready for company. But there, we were invited in—all 15 of us—to houses the size of walk-in closets, and we were humbled by the authenticity of their welcome.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

(Side note: I am reading the book Mudhouse Sabbath, and, interestingly enough, tonight I read a chapter that sealed my suspicion about this kind of hospitality.

Page 49: “Intentionality, however, is not perfection. Let’s consider that very last excuse in my list, the seemingly innocent insistence that my apartment is never tidy enough for guests. Well, now. I probably shouldn’t have curdled milk in the fridge if I’m inviting someone over for tea, and it might be nice if I emptied the kitchen trash and didn’t leave dirty clothes all over the bathroom floor. But to be a hostess, I’m going to have to surrender my notions of Good Housekeeping domestic perfection. I will have to set down my pride and invite people over even if I have not dusted. Having guests and visitors, if we do it right is not an imposition, because we are not meant to rearrange our lives for guests—we are meant to invite our guests to enter our lives as they are. It is this forging of relationships that transforms entertaining into hospitality…I understood why Julianus Pomerius had spoken of hospitality as unbending one’s self. In this unbending, there was a genuine return to hachnassat orchim, to an inviting of guests. The irony is that the unbending requires inviting my neighbors into the places where I am most bent.”)

We rounded the corner at one house and found a toddler sitting in a bucket. THey were all cool with the pic, so I took it. A. Dorable.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Inside the house were hammocks slung from wall to wall as beds, and outside, in her dirt-worn yard, was a row of flowers. They were wilted and trampled on, but still somehow growing, and they were planted with such care and concern you couldn’t help but smile inside. She gestured towards her kids, and we understood. Kids everywhere trample on their mothers’ flowers.

As we were walking and driving, we also saw people sweeping dirt floors and dirt yards and dirt porches, and we recognized that sweeping the floor, no matter what kind of floor, is universal. Again I thought, as I did after the Step into Africa experience, that nothing but grace separates me from this woman. I plant flowers. I sweep my kitchen floor.  But somehow I was born here, and she was born there.

After home visits (and 3 o’clock tamales that never were) we returned to Cahal Pech for a secret homecoming dance surprise for the girls on our team who were missing their Homecoming dances that night in Indianapolis. Antonia, David, Imanuel (siblings and principals at 3 village schools) and their families came to the celebration. Their sons were each of the girls’ escorts. Ricardo, Antonia’s husband played “Baila Bamba” loud and strong on his Spanish guitar, probably raising the dead for midnight dancing all over San Ignacio. It was such a happy time, a highlight for the girls, and the kind of singing/guitar playing that gets you up out of your seat in spite of yourself or your bum leg.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

At midnight, after giving birth to a raisin, I knocked on Becky’s door and she answered with 2 ex-lax and an apology. And lots of laughter. The package said to take two, so I did, and then I went to bed.


Day 3: Imodium does not equal Ibuprofen

Day 3
Same as yesterday: Wake-up. Eggs & tortillas. Deet. Load the van. Bumpy ride.

We arrived in Santa Familia and spent the morning painting and teaching. The kids in the school had a chance to work on and present writing projects to the rest of the class, and their stories were beautiful. Plus, their accents were just so cute.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We broke for lunch at 12, and Antonia said she had driven down to the corner BBQ stand to order chicken for lunch, but it had not arrived yet. Dan whipped out his guitar, and we decided to sing for a couple minutes until lunch arrived. Yes, that hot mess in the front with hot pink umbros and neon shades is me. What? Walk away.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Two hours later, lunch had not arrived and we were still singing.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

In Belize time, minutes and hours are the same measurement. Lunch came at about 2:30, after we had forged though the entire songbook and had also begun to take requests. It was the most delicious meal I might have ever eaten. Goooood chicken. Goooood tortillas. Exxxxtra hungry.

After lunch, our entire team spent the afternoon painting. Randy and Dan (also known as Randy and Dandy) painted the outside of the school, while the rest of us covered books and painted Dr. Suess murals.

Here’s where it gets juicy.

I was standing on a desk painting a camel above the chalkboard, when my weight shifted and I stepped on the corner at a bad angle. The desk flipped out from under me and I fell hard, banging my shin on the ledge of the desk. I thought I was going to die. I mean, it was the kind of pain that makes you see stars, and I couldn’t look at it for a few minutes because I was afraid to know.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Someone on the team brought me Tylenol, another person went to find ice, and our team leader brought me 2 Ibuprofen for the swelling. I remember thinking (after I swallowed) that they tasted chalky, and I asked Becky if they were chewable, but she just shrugged. Lesson one: look at medicine before you eat it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on the sidewalk with ice. This little girl from the village sat next to me almost the whole time and told me all about her brothers and sisters. She was so sweet, and I was so grateful for her company. It was one of those rare moments when you look at someone and see Jesus. Me and Fatima and the Prince of Peace all sitting on the sidewalk together.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Later in the week, I found out that the Ibprofuen Becky gave me was actually Imodium. She laughed and cried at the same time when she confessed. It was a seriously unfortunate and funny accident that stayed with me for days until I found the medkit and some ex-lax. That’s another story for another day.

Before dinner we met with Even from CARE Belize and BCVI, and learned about all he is doing for handicapped kids in Belize, too much to recount. God is blessing his ministry.

Dinner was Mexican night, and we had GANACHES and tortillas! Yes!

Day 2: Spread ’em Sister!

Day 2
September 27th, 6:00am

Breakfast: eggs and tortillas. Every meal, every day was something and tortillas. But the tortillas were homemade, a thousand times better than any tortilla I’ve had at, like, Cebollas. They were more like giant pieces of Naan bread from the Taj.

The first thing we did (my roomies: Ashley, Peggy and Andrea) was open the back door and step onto the balcony to look at the view. We had a feeling it was going to be amazing, and it was! Our balcony, and the open-air conference area we used for meals, overlooked the mountains, San Ignacio, and all the little teeny villages not on the map. We could even see this little white spec out in the hills that ended up being the church in Santa Familia. Every morning was foggy, and we quickly learned that the foggier the morning, the hotter the day.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Each morning Dan passed out the songbooks and happily strummed away on his guitar as we sang our thanks for breakfast and muddled our way through “Renuevame” and lots of other songs, both in Spanish and English. The hotel staff told us later in the week they were blessed by our singing, that the songs lifted up to the guest rooms and out over the hills and cabanas, anointing Cahal Pech each morning.

After breakfast, as would be the case all week, we slathered ourself in sunscreen & deet (gross), loaded the supply bags assigned to the day’s village, and squeezed into the van.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The distance to Santa Familia was only about 7 miles, but it took, like, 40 minutes because the roads are so bad.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We arrived at Santa Familia to a welcome party by the principal (Antonia) and the students at Santa Familia R.C. School.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Each sign and balloon was purchased by an individual family and sent to school with a student to welcome us. Each grade presented a song or a poem, and one of the classes gave each member of our team a Belize flag.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We spent the morning passing out school supplies to the kids and teachers and observing in the classroom. Our plan for lunch every day was PB& J. At lunch, we went across the street to Antonia’s house and made peanut butter and jelly (which is a treat—peanut butter is $16 a jar!) sandwiches. We each scarfed down a few sandwiches two seconds before finding out Antonia and her mom had made us an entire lunch of tortillas, chicken, rice & beans, cole slaw and potatoes and orange Fanta in glass bottles. As would any good guest, we ate every bite of that lunch, too (how could we not?) and waddled back across the street to the school.

Half of us spent the afternoon teaching in the classroom, and the other half painted the outside of the school and traced giant Dr. Suess murals for the team to paint later in the week.

We left at 3 to go back to the hotel to clean up for dinner, then drove back to Santa Familia for a surpise pitch-in dinner hosted by the teachers. Each spot had a small vase with a flower and a nametag to mark our seats, and Antonia conducted a short tutorial on all the Belizean dishes, GARNACHES, and how to put it all together.

After dinner we spent hours and hours and hours playing every game ever invented, during one of which I was blindfolded and made to believe I was carefully being guided between scattered raw eggs. At one point, Becky yelled “spread ‘em sister!” and when they took the blindfold off and turned me around, David (Antonia’s brother and the principal at San Marcos) was lying flat on the floor making me think I’d walked right over him. I was wearing a skirt.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Hugo, our driver, told us that the families in Belize get together on Sundays and play games like this all day and all night. Can that be true?!.

Day 1: These are the combos

Day 1
September 26th, 7:30am

Fifteen team members arrived at the Indianapolis airport with 60 bags of luggage—44 bags of donated items, 15 personal bags, and one guitar. Each bag was color coordinated, labeled, name-tagged, taped and checked, thanks to our luggage coordinator Peggy, who, incidentally, was full-body searched at every single checkpoint ☺

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We got everything and everyone through the gate and waited for almost 2 hours to board the plane. We used the time to bond, eat donuts, prepare, eat donuts, go to the bathroom, eat donuts, play cards, eat donuts, go to the bathroom, eat donuts, and bond more.

The plane left at 10:20, and the flight was fine. We had a layover in Houston for about an hour, flashed our passports, loaded a super-small plane with roll-up stairs and flew about 3 hours to Belize City.

When we were landing, I remember looking down and being unable to fathom the amount of undeveloped land, the massive spreads of swamp, the little clusters of villages in between swamp and jungle, and the 300 different shades of green. It was beautiful, but scary how unpopulated a place can be when you’re used to people everywhere. I felt sad peering down because America will never have that kind of undisturbed beauty, and Belize seemed like it might be lonely.

When we landed, I video-taped the sign that said Bienvenido a Belice and then took a picture of the customs sign that said something-something no pictures allowed. The “no pictures allowed” part I read last, after the picture was taken, and I was immediately approached by 2 customs officers who searched through my camera while I tried not to pee my pants in fear of being sent straight home. Before I actually left the airport that afternoon, my camera had been searched 3 times and I had been questioned by 4 different customs people. Lesson: no pictures in customs.

An hour later, Hugo, our assigned driver from Cahal Pech, loaded our luggage into a pickup truck while we stood around peeling off layers of clothes and chugging bottles of water. Belize was the hottest hot I’d ever felt, like sitting in my car on a 90-degree day with the windows rolled-up. They said our bodies would adjust. I wanted to be naked, like, immediately, and I never stopped wanting to be naked until we landed in Houston 12 days later. It’s just the truth.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We hopped on the bus and drove out of Belize City toward San Ignacio, the town where we would be staying for the first 7 days. We sang from the airport all the way to San Ignacio with our own special rendition of “This is the day” and just kept adding our own special verses like:

This is the bus, this is the bus…
This is the team, this is the team…
Hugo is the driver, Hugo is the driver…

And then someone held up their Pepperoni Combos and sang:

These are the Combos… that the Lord has made… uh, yeah. You know the rest.

About halfway through the third song, Hugo joined in and Carole started passing out donuts. Like, she pulled the boxes magically from her carry-on, and the trip’s fave one-liner: “Never-ending box of donuts” was born. (Seriously, where did she even get those donuts?)

As it got dark, we began to quiet down and notice our surroundings: banana stands, concrete houses, plywood houses, finished houses, houses in progress, houses of sheets, houses with electricity, houses without, one-roomed stores, Fanta stands, Alka-Seltzer storefronts, lots of people sitting on porches, lots and LOTS of roaming, skinny, slow-moving dogs. I think we all realized separately, together, we were in a new place.

We drove through San Ignacio, which a beautiful cluster of stores, fruit stands, bus stops, fountains and houses on brick-paved streets, overlooking the Macal River and the outlying villages. Lots of places had party lights strung, the circle in the middle of town faced a wall that said “Welcome to San Ignacio” and there was a little sign in front of the bridge that led to the sister town, Santa Elena, and in front of the soccer fields next to the road we turned on, that said: Jesus Christ, Lord of Belize.

Cahal Pech, which means “Place of ticks” was the name of our hotel, and also the name of the Mayan ruins that sat at the very top of a hill overlooking San Ignacio and the outlying villages. We started up the hill toward the hotel and could hear the bus struggling, so we go really quiet, and I think most of us prayed silently as the bus roared, and then heaved, and then slowed, and then teetered and then died. Hugo reversed the bus down the hill and pulled into the gas station. Apparently the bus can only get up the hill on a full tank of gas, although, having been up the hill on the bus with a full tank of gas, I imagine its usually a 50/50 chance. I closed my eyes and imagined that God was pushing us and our 50 million pounds of luggage up the hill with His pinky finger. And then we made it.

We cheered for Hugo, unloaded our luggage, found our roommates, ate a delicious fettuchini dinner made by the hotel staff, got our instructions for the next day and called it a night. I think we were all asleep by 9 o’clock. Ashley was my roomie. I miss her a lot.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Bread and fish and luggage

Hey, guess what? This time next week, we’ll be in Belize!

Our team spent Sunday afternoon packing 45 bags each with 50 pounds of school supplies, clothes, shoes, books, toothbrushes and paint rollers—that’s 2250 pounds of donated items.

To break this down, each of the hundreds of boxes of crayons or pencils, every pair of shoes, every last toothbrush and ruler, every supply that passed through the hands of one our team members into one of the 45 bags, was purchased and donated by an actual person. Someone heard about the need, got in their car and went to the store or picked up the phone and called a friend or made a trip to their storage unit or even took a Saturday afternoon to clean out their garage, put everything into a bag and somehow got it to CFI. Just in the last week, our school supplies were tripled and two brand new soccer nets were provided for San Marcos.

All afternoon, we stuffed and stuffed, pulled on zippers, sat on bags and squeezed out every last ounce of available space until each supply was packed. We are now charged with transporting 2250 pounds of offering into a handful of Belizean villages—2250 pounds of time, money and compassion—and distributing the items on behalf of you as the hands and feet of Christ, who is providing for a need there.

Our team leader told us at the end of the day that some of us are senders and some are goers, and that each job, each part of the body, serves its purpose. If you are a sender, THANK YOU!

Can you see the big picture, how hundreds of people were involved in this one act of service and how each person contributed to the whole, how together we are functioning as one body?

I didn’t. I almost missed it. To me, it was just a pile of clothes and shoes and books in a great big donation room, and I was weary as I saw all the bags that needed to be packed and weighed. I am thankful for a team leader who stopped us in the midst of all the activity to recognize the miracle we were witnessing. We prayed over the bags at the end of the day, for the love and kindness that filled each one, and asked God to multiply the supplies and clothing as we unpacked in each village. It could happen, you know.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

School Supplies

School supplies: need ‘em

One of our projects in Belize is to go into the classroom and help kids construct paragraphs and stories in English. The national language in Belize is English, but the majority of families speak Kriol or Spanish in the home. In fact, 70% of all Belizians are bilingual or trilingual. Our team leaders have been working with teachers to come up with a needs list and writing project that will help the kids learn about paragraph construction and grammar. As a team and individually, our goal is to model “proper” English and sentence structure through a written story demonstrating how we’ve seen God work in our lives (it’s a Catholic school). In turn, the kids will have an opportunity to think about and identify how they’ve seen God work in their lives and construct a similar story in English with individual help from members of our team. The project will hopefully provide a fun and unique way to learn and remember English on paper, which is important because the kids are required to pass an English test to continue beyond 8th grade. It’s also a good practice to stop for a second in an ordinary day, look for evidence of God in our own lives, and to share. Or write it down. Or both.

Also, while part of our team is in the classroom, another group will be providing general upkeep and maintenance on the school grounds, and others may be working on a similar “story” project with adults, some even parents of kids in the school.

The need list (and here’s where you come in) is simple: school supplies, paint supplies, infant clothing.

Each member of our team will be checking two luggage bags full of school supplies and project supplies (paint rollers, paintbrushes, etc.) and carrying-on our own personal items in a backpack. Ideally, we will have packed for ourselves WAGs (wear-and-gives) and will come home with little to nothing, including our actual physical luggage. The Cornelius Foundation makes trips to Belize two to three times a year, and on each trip they load suitcases and bags full of project supplies. The more bags available, the more supplies we can bring. The system works well and is cheaper than shipping, but creates a great need for permanent suitcases and luggage bags for the Foundation.

If you have the means and are looking for a way to contribute, we need 30 pieces of luggage with wheels (suitcases or duffel bags, new or used), pencils, erasers, loose-leaf paper, rulers, calculators, colored pencils, crayons, paint rollers, paintbrushes and infant clothing (anything under 2 yrs old). Any adult sized t-shirts or athletic shorts would be appreciated for the team to wear and donate.

Please e-mail me if you are able to provide for any of these needs:

Thank you so much to those who have already contributed time, energy, money and prayers.

“The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose…”
1 Corinthians 3:8

brother love

First of all, I’m going to be an Aunt!!

I don’t have any kids so this is my first experience with this kind of thing, but I find it fascinating and overwhelming how much you can instantly love something, like a 6 week old fetus that isn’t even yours. My 20 year-old brother, Ben, woke up at the same time I did on Monday and stuck his head in my room and said, “Morning aunt Brookie” and I said “Morning uncle Ben” and then I told him he really needs to start learning how to make rice. He didn’t get it.

I can’t stop thinking about my Aunt Candy (who was killed in car accident 8 years ago this month) and how she must have felt when she found out my mom was pregnant with me. Sometimes when a person dies, we bronze the best characteristics and forget everything else. I’ve been accused of doing this because I can’t think of a bad thing about her. But aunts and nieces have a unique relationship. It’s like the benefit of a sisterhood without all the cattiness, or the benefits of a young, hip mom without all the authority.

I’ll admit I never totally understood why she loved us so much. I mean, I was sort of weird growing up and my brothers were total terrors. But she did—in that eyes-light-up kind of way. She took us messy places, like those pop-art boutiques (remember those?) and led us out to a field one day during spring break, when my brothers were bouncing off the hotel walls waiting to go to Opryland and my parents were totally stressed-out because Opryland was closed, to perform a naming ceremony like my brother’s had seen on Three Ninjas, and she gave us all ninja names. My name was clover. It was very serious.

She also called us at 6 am on our birthdays just to be first and mailed us tons of packages from Japan and France full of candy and little fireworks. Only aunts can send candy and fireworks to little kids, you know? She’s also the one who found my cats dead in the freezer while she was looking for extra mayonnaise because we’d run out and desperately needed mayonnaise on our sandwiches. I remember spending the night in her dorm room at Ball State when I was six and being so sad when I found out someone had stolen her bike. She was so nice. Obviously they didn’t know her.

When I was older, she called me after her first kiss with the love of her life to make sure I knew what it should feel like, to make sure I knew when I was ready. And in high school she tried to drive through, like, 3 states of tornados to make it to my graduation party as a surprise. She took Bryan on special trip to Florida once, just him, when he was about 7 or so. I never questioned the normalcy of those things or realized how special they were until I became an adult and wondered if I just “bronzed” the memories.

Now (in light of little baby wilson) I just want to wink at Candy somewhere in heaven and say, I knew it! You really did love us as much as I thought you did….

Moving on.

I received my nameplate from the Name Campaign this week. My little boy is Dennis, age 11. (The organization has collected the names of thousands of children abducted by Kony in Northern Uganda and has imprinted each name on a nameplate.)

Holding that little name in my hand, I can’t help but wonder where he is and what he is doing, how long he has been away from home, and whether or not God could please let Dennis escape and go back to his family, if they’re alive, or at least run to a safe haven. It reminds me to pray for him, and all the other kids, every chance I get and to tell others about his story and about the crisis.

It’s easy to hear a number like 20,000 or 30,000 and forget that those huge numbers are made up of individual kids. If you go to the site and click on campaigns, and then click on war-affected children, you can read about this campaign and even see drawings by child soldiers that will break your heart, and then, hopefully motivate a commitment to help.

It’s easy, and the site provides other things we can do, too. All profits from the sale of the nameplates go to Rachelle Rehabilitation Center, one of the only centers in Uganda that offers food, clothing, education, room & board, medical care and counseling to children who have escaped.

This is how the name campaign started:

I learned about the children of Northern Uganda in 2004. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I had the idea for the Name Campaign but didn’t pursue it – until one night I woke up and KNEW I had to do something, even just take a tiny first step. At 3 am, I started researching any organizations I could find that might have a list of names of kids who had been abducted. I ended up with the phone number of Angelina Atyam, a woman I had seen on Oprah whose daughter had been abducted. I called her in Uganda right then and somehow managed to reach her. She was so lovely to me – a complete stranger calling out of the blue. I told her about the idea and she encouraged me to move forward. At the end of our conversation, I told her that I keep her daughter Charlotte in my thoughts and pray that she’ll come home one day. Angelina was quiet and then said “So you don’t know?” My heart dropped – I thought she was going to tell me that her daughter had died. Instead she said “I have just this day come from seeing my daughter for the first time in seven years. She escaped from the LRA yesterday.” She had thought I was calling her because I had heard the news – when in reality, I was calling her because I had heard (and finally listened to) the voice within that calls each of us to act. I was speechless from the synchronicity. I took it as a sign – to speak their names, tell their story, bring them home. To begin. And that’s how we started.

So anyway, today if you think of it, pray for Dennis.

…Father love is reigning over us, brother love binds man to man…