ICP stands for awesome

ICP also stands for Implementing Church Partner – also known as the local church Compassion works through.  Sunday morning we got up, ate breakfast, and were off for our first project visit.  Since it was Sunday we started the morning off with a church service at our first ICP visit.  At each of the projects we visited we were greeted by the kids and – usually – they had whistles and kazoos and confetti and signs.

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It took us a minute to make our way into the church and get settled, but once we were we were seated we were treated to a dance from the girls

and a skit from the boys

it was obvious to me, and I don’t think I was alone, that the kids were invested in these performances.   Yes, they had worked hard to impress the sponsors that were visiting, but it was also a chance for them to focus on their talents.

After these performances it was time for the message.  I might have been the only one who didn’t know the agenda, but I was truly surprised – and very blessed – to hear our tour leader, Sandeep, speak.  He shared his testimony with the kids.  Sandeep grew up in India and is a formerly sponsored child.  I know he was speaking to the kids, but I think his message might have had a greater impact on their parents.

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After the service we were treated to a brief glimpse into some of the curriculum taught at this project.  For our team, it was a window into the Bible curriculum that is taught.

Then it was lunch time!  First order of business was a quick game of pre lunch frisbee.

Then it was time to serve the kids and then their parents.  I don’t think I’m exagerating (I might be, but I don’t think so) when I say there were 5,000 people.

After we’d served the masses it was time for us to eat.  Lunch was amazing and the proof that it was amazing is that I have no photos.  We were all too busy eating to take pics.  But, it is important to mention here we were introduced to a new fruit.  I didn’t take a picture of it, but if I were to describe it I would say it was very passion fruit-y.  One of the translators told me it was nicknamed booger fruit and I just did a google search for Ecuadorian booger fruit and voilà,.. I now know it’s cultured name is la granadilla, but I think I prefer booger fruit.  And I could eat it all day long.

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photo provided by google

Lunch was over and things were wrapping up at the church.  It was time for our group to head off.  But first, a couple of boys wanted their pic taken.  They are pretty snazzy.

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Our next stop was a boat ride on a nearby lake.  There was discussion about wether we could all do the boat ride, was it big enough?  Then we found out the boat could fit 60 – so boat ride for all! (and I’m very glad there were not 60 people to test that claim.)

Boat ride over it was time to head back to the hotel to debrief and relax.  Most of us were pretty tired after a full day!

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the whole group post boat ride!

 

Tren Ecuador

Day 2 in Ecuador.  A very well rested group of travelers gathered in the hotel lobby to grab our box breakfasts and board a bus to take us to the train that would take us to the place we would be spending the next several days.

(Disclaimer:  my blogging mojo isn’t what it once was so I didn’t get pictures of every little thing, but my traveling companions have all been generous and have given me permission to steal theirs.  Or I guess since I have permission it’s just using, not stealing.)

One of the pieces of information we had prior to the trip was whom our “family” group would be.  And I bravely volunteered to head up our group.  There were 5 in our group and we were given the exotic name of “four”.  I’ll let you guess what names the other 6 groups had.  On the bus, headed to the train, we were gifted with a group translator.  (I’ve never wished I’d taken Spanish in high school more than on this trip.)  Our translator was Ramiro.

Ramiro

Since we weren’t given head shots of our translators I stole this from his FB page. (Sorry Ramiro)

The translators on these trips are amazing.  They don’t just translate the language, they translate the culture and the emotion.  They work tirelessly and are always smiling, even when they are exhausted.  They also are fickle and switch groups on a whim.  But we hadn’t discovered that at this point in the trip.

Any way…  the train.

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all of us (minus the trip leader)

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team quatro (4)

After the pics were taken tickets were handed out.  Michael and I were in the same compartment, but not seated together.  I was seated facing backward, which isn’t necessarily how a person who suffers a touch of motion sickness likes to sit.  Luckily we quickly discovered there was a sitting area at the front of our compartment.  Motion sickness averted.  The next excellent discovery was the dining compartment where coffee – real honest to goodness coffee – could be found.

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Coffee and seats procured we were free to sit back and enjoy the scenery and conversation.  There was interesting graffiti,

and so much green…

We also had a train translator.  Who explained the sights we were seeing and gave us some important cultural information.  The only thing that really stuck was that they have lots of cows in Ecuador, but too bad the Europeans made the whole world lactose intolerant.  (That’s my extremely loose translation of what seemed to be his questionable tale.)

Shortly after boarding, or maybe an hour after time on a train doesn’t feel so linear, we had our first food offering.  Empanadas.  If I’d known this was coming I’d have skipped that box breakfast.  But I ate the empanadas anyway.  They were yummy.

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This train also made a few stops, two of which involved us exiting the train and doing or seeing something.  The first of these stops was at the National Recreation Area of El Boliche.  (That’s my own translation of the sign…  Might be right, might be wrong.)

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Recreation area means hike.  It also means llamas.  Here’s some random photos.

After our hike, it was back to the train station for a snack.  ***Side note… the very first thing I did when I found out we were taking a trip to Equador was to google what to eat in Equador and this was the first opportunity to put that knowledge to the test***  Snack time is where we discovered potatoes and corn are a big deal in Ecuador.  Also, we discovered Aji – an amazingly tasty, can’t get enough of it and luckily for us it seemed to be offered at every meal condiment.  (Wonder if tree tomatoes grow in Colorado?)  My snack included humita (think Ecuadorian tamale but don’t tell the Ecuadorians you thought that) and the locro de papa (potato and cheese soup) I ate – and the Aji.

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After our snack, we were off again.  Chatting and looking at green stuff.

At some point, lunch happened, but that’s a bit vague.  We had sandwiches, seems like maybe a cross between pimento cheese and chicken salad, but I don’t remember.  And then we had our next stop at Alausi.  Where we stretched our legs and were treated to a dance.

After the dance, we were back on the train to finish our journey.

We made it safely to our hotel.  We’d had a great introduction to Ecuador and were ready to rest up for Sunday morning church at the first project we would visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

0°0’0″

The middle of the world is in Ecuador.  I’d ask, “who knew?”,  but apparently, a lot of people know and now I’m one of them.  And thanks to me so are you, if you weren’t.  Also, Michael and I went there.  Not to the specific point of 0°0’0″, but to Ecuador.

Michael celebrated his 10 years anniversary with Compassion international last year.  One of the very generous things Compassion does is send their employees (and a companion) on anniversary trips at 5-year marks (5 yrs, 10 yrs, 15 yrs, 20 yrs, etc..)  It’s a great opportunity for employees in America to connect with where the work is done.  For Michael’s 5 yr trip we went to Indonesia.  Michael’s work anniversaries conveniently happen to coincide with our monumental wedding anniversaries.  (His 5 year at work was our 20 year.  His 10 year was our 25.)  So we combine them.  So for our 25th wedding anniversary and his 10 year work anniversary, we took a trip to Ecuador!

Monica Packing

Last minute packing.

It started they way other trips of ours have started – with a delay.  We were leaving from Colorado Springs through Dallas/Fort Worth and planning an overnight in Miami.  We did that, but everything was pushed back a few hours.  Our overnight ended up being a long morning – we were in our hotel by 3am and checked out at noon.  So we did get a little sleep.

We left Colorado Springs with a few other Compassion employees who were also taking anniversary trips.  So we all started the journey and managed the delays together.  In Miami, we met up with the rest of our group.  I’m not one to get too mired in the details so I was a bit surprised to discover there were 30+ of us.  I’ve done other trips with Compassion and it’s always been in the 20 person range.  We made introductions at the airport and started getting to know each other.  Most of us were from the states, some had international travel experience and others were getting their first stamps in their passport.  We had one couple who had made the trip all the way from New Zealand.  But we all had some things in common, this was an opportunity for us to learn about what Compassion really does and (for most of us) a chance to meet our sponsor child.

We boarded the flight for Quito, Ecuador.  We arrived, gathered our luggage – there was a very, very lot of luggage because we all brought along our personal luggage and gifts for Compassion projects and gifts for our kids.  We made our way through immigration (giving me my second stamp in my passport) and met up with some of the staff from the Ecuador country office.  We boarded a bus for our hotel for the night.  We were exhausted and a bit disoriented and we had an early start the next morning so we made our way to our rooms with instructions to gather really early the following morning.

 

Oh, hi.

So it’s been a while… like a year and a half or so, but I’m hanging in here – until recently, like the last month or so, I would have added “barely” to that statement.  I feel like I’ve been hibernating and it’s now time for spring to get here.

I’ve got lots of reasons for my absence, but the biggest one is I don’t know how many ways I could say I just can’t function or even more, I don’t have the words to explain why I couldn’t function.

In the past 18 months…

I returned to America.  Not by choice, but at, what I do think, was a good time for our family.  And turns out many people had expectations of what this would mean and I found that very overwhelming so I responded in ways that could and did damage relationships.

I got a part-time job at World Market – great store, but also overwhelming to work retail at the holidays.

Then I spent Thanksgiving with my immediate family.   Michael arranged for Chan and Aly to make it to Colorado.  And there were friends there.  It was good. It was probably the first big positive in our return.

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And somewhere in this time, I discovered that I brought a great big ol’ helping of social anxiety with me when I returned to America.  I don’t know where or when I picked it up, but man I caught a massive case of it and it seems like it might be a permanent part of who I now am.

Christmas came.  Parts of Christmas were good.  When we heard we’d be returning to America I thought a few of the positives that would come with that would be time with friends and time with family.  We had a great Christmas with some awesome friends.

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We made it into the New Year – 2017, I was determined I would get things under control.  I didn’t.  But I didn’t give up.

In January of 2017, my older brother died.  It was devastating. Not because he died.  But because I’d wished him dead for many, many years and his death changed nothing other than to cause me more pain than he’d caused me while he was living.

The holidays were over, New Year was over.  I needed to do something that felt like forward motion so I got a job at Caption Call.  It was also part-time, so between my two part-time jobs, I had a full-time job.  And what’s the best thing to do when you have two part-time jobs? Find a temporary full-time job.  A temporary full-time job that is a Monday – Friday kind of job.   The kind of job that makes you quit your two part-time jobs.

In March of 2017, I started working at Compassion International.  Yes, the same place that Michael works.  The reason we were in Asia.  It was just the kind of job I needed.  Set hours and responsibilities that didn’t extend past the hours I was required to be at work.  In May of 2017, I was able to turn my temp job into a permanent job.

About this time Sam came to us and wanted to know if his graduation trip could be to Thailand.  He’d taken his GED and passed with flying colors with college credits and all that jazz.  When Chan graduated we took a family trip to Japan.  When Aly graduated we took a family trip to New Zealand.  Sam wanted to return to Thailand to see his friends graduate high school.   Michael and I thought this was a great idea, but it couldn’t be a family trip.  Finances and jobs wouldn’t allow for it.  So it was a Sam and mom trip.  It was a healing trip.  It was the first time I heard Sam speak of Thailand as his home and not as a place he’d never wanted to live.  It gave him an opportunity for closure.  It also gave me an opportunity for closure.  I saw friends.  I made my way along roads that for years had been home for me.  I saw life had gone on without me.  And that it was okay.  I returned from Thailand knowing Thailand was no longer my home and recognizing that I hadn’t made a home in America, either.

Life was painful.  Interactions with people hurt.  And that makes life very difficult.  When you want to put your best foot forward and make a really good impression, but every single time you try you fail, it doesn’t make life easier.  It’s caused me to mess up relationships with some neighbors and to not even try to have relationships with other neighbors.  It caused me to mess up relationships with friends and it’s caused me to mess up relationships with family.   It’s hard to navigate life when you feel like with every hello you say you owe that person an apology.    And when you see all the failed relationships around you and you see that the common denominator of them all might be? could be? is?  you, it’s crushing.

But that’s where I am. And the funny thing is that I do feel like I’m turning a corner.  Every day no longer feels like a challenge. I don’t think the tension of finding my home will ever go away, but I now know that I can live with that tension and thrive in that tension.

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it’s flooding in thailand

our first stop on the compassion sponsor tour – if you don’t count the hotel – was to a project in the nonthaburi province, just outside of bangkok.  it’s an area that is flooded – it has been for weeks.

   

the purpose of our visit was to learn more about this particular compassion project and to provide a little bit of relief to the project workers by helping them cook and package up meals for those who are house bound due to flooding and to deliver the meals in the local flooded area. (that was one long sentence.)

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when we stopped and offered food to this lady she was prepared.  she stretched the cane out to us.  we loaded the food on and stretched it back to her.  she’d obviously had practice at this.

the water’s not going any where any time soon and when faced with such a desperate situation it seemed that people just chose to get on with life.

  

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this neighborhood is right along the chao phraya river.  as we talked to the folks who live here they said they are used to floods.  that it floods every year.  but it has never stayed this long.  and disrupted so much.  they are more than ready for the water to go.

and this is love

I have spent the past week on a Thailand Compassion Sponsor Tour. You might recall I did this last year, too. But this year has been different for me – we now have a sponsor child in Thailand and I got to spend a whole day with him. I have many tales to tell and they will come, but I am going to start with this one.

It’s about a husband and a father. A man who loves deeply, unselfishly, and unashamedly. He is currently a single dad – but not by choice. His wife has made some bad decisions. I do not know her story. I know she chose a lifestyle that is not compatible with raising children. I don’t know why she chose this, but I know we all make bad decisions, some more serious than others. Her’s started with her leaving her family and has now led her to jail. It has left her children motherless and her husband alone.

Her husband is raising their 12 year old son and their 11 and 9 year old daughters. The children attend school and they attend to their chores. They help their father. They are the picture of dutiful. I am sure that they do this because they feel it is their responsibility, but it is more than that. In the short time I spent in their home I was impressed by the love they so obviously have for each other. And by their hopefulness for a better future.

The father is a construction worker by trade. It is what he has spent his life doing, but he is no longer able to work as he once was. He has lost much of his sight and requires a great deal of light to see the very little he is able to see. He might be limited in what he is able to do, but he does still work. In construction. Doing the tasks he is able to “feel”. The ones that the years of doing over and over have caused to become like breathing for him. This does limit his earning potential. Some money is better than no money, but it’s not the same as enough. He was the one who did the cooking for the family. Chopping and slicing and stir-frying take on an added degree of difficulty when you cannot see what you are chopping and slicing and stir-frying so his son has taken over the cooking. He sits with his son and instructs him. He teaches him recipes, techniques, seasoning. His son hopes to be a chef one day and is daily being mentored for this by his father. His daughters both want to be teachers. He encourages them both. He tells them they can be teachers – that they are not defined by their current situation.

His wife is soon to be released from jail. He loves her dearly and He wants more than anything for her to return home – to be a mother to their children. To be a partner for him. He wants her to be an active part of their family. He has arranged for her to have a sewing machine. He has arranged clients for her. He has set her up to succeed. His children see this. They know what she has done. They know that there is stigma attached to her having been in jail. They know that their father does not have to welcome her back. And they see that he wants her. That he loves her. That he has not given up on her. And still she has a choice to make. She can choose not to return to them. To leave them motherless and their father alone or she can choose to join them. But the choice is hers. It has not been made for her.

Meeting this family helped me process an issue I’ve been struggling with. For a few months I’ve been working through a crisis of faith. I’ve been wondering just what it is that makes me worthy of God’s love. I know the answer to this – head knowledge they call it. But knowing and feeling are two separate things and my belief and my feelings weren’t in agreement. After meeting this family I realized that the way that husband loves his wife is just a shadow of the way God loves me. The way that husband wants his wife to be a part of their family is what God wants from me. God’s not going anywhere and the only thing he has for me is good. Plans for my success. And it’s my choice, no one can make it for me.

on the eight day – samoeng, chaing mai province

i honestly have no idea how close to our scheduled time we were in the vans and on the road.  but, if i were gonna guess, i’d guess we were a little late.  and then we were a little nauseous.  or at least i was.

because, as the bird flies, the distance between samoeng and chiang mai is not so far.  but, as the van drives and the road curves, the drive was forever 2+ hours.

i have no idea where the road in this picture is,
but it’s almost as curvy as the road we were on.

eventually, we did arrive.  and thanks to big pharma and their thoughtfulness in manufacturing diphenhydramine i could still walk and talk and participate.

when we got out of the vans one of the first sights we saw was a board covered with the pictures of all the kids in the project.  i was amazed by the vast number of pictures on the board.  and then i was further amazed when the program manager said that all but 4 – i’m pretty sure he said 4 – of these kids have sponsors.

the villages this project serves are predominately populated by karen peoples and hmong peoples.  and the main project operates several satellite facilities – the kids on this billboard are from all the facilities combined.

our focus for this project visit was compassion international‘s child survival program.

to learn more about this program we visited the home of this young mother and her 11 month old son.  she lives with her husband and his father.  her husband is currently working in the strawberry fields several hours away.  she shared with us how she and her son benefit from the child survival program and the dreams she has for her son.

the child survival program’s goal is to save the lives of young, at-risk children by providing:

  • Nutritious food supplements
  • Immunizations
  • Ongoing health care
  • Physical, emotional and spiritual development

and to offer the children’s mothers:

  • Prenatal care
  • Health care
  • Nutritional training
  • Parenting skills training
  • Spiritual nurturing

but beyond those things she benefits from the community that’s been built among her, her son and the other 51 mothers and babies that participate in this program.