Community and Open doors.

Six or eight months ago, if you had told me what life would look like in February of 2015 here in Arequipa, I wouldn’t have believed you.    When we were back in Mississippi last June for a few weeks, several people asked me how they could pray for me, for our family, for our ministry.   And my response was always twofold:  1.)  I was lonely and was praying for friends, specifically Peruvian friends. A community.  And 2.) I was praying that the Lord would give us some clear open doors for ministry and growth, and that I could be patient in the meantime while we prayed for his guidance.  I was ready to get things going, and waiting was hard.  But that was my prayer…  Community. Open doors.

That was June.  Fast forward to the first Sunday in January, and this is what was going on:

10904451_802571119818334_5992416045335318891_o

^ Nate and Nathaniel with Pastor Emilio

For several different reasons, the pastor of the tiny church we were partnering with made the difficult decision to step down from his role as pastor.  After the pastor’s announcement, the congregation met and unanimously decided to invite Nate and Nathaniel to serve as their co-pastors during this season, with hopes of growth and revitalization of their members and ministries.

The original intent for our team had never been to pastor, but rather to assist in the training and discipling of future pastors, so this invitation was unexpected.  However, Nate and Nathaniel knew that they would be better equipped to disciple and train future pastors in this context if they had first served in a pastoral role here themselves.  Also weighing heavily was the fact that without support and leadership, this small congregation would continue to struggle.   Nate and Nathaniel spent some time praying and seeking counsel from some other missionaries and pastors, and they ultimately decided to accept the invitation to serve this little church in a new role to help them through this difficult season.

The first Sunday in January, the pastor and the congregation symbolically “handed over the keys.” The congregation we had been spending so much time with for the past 6 months embraced us, figuratively and literally, with warm smiles and open arms.

Community. Open doors.

Of course, when we look back, we can see all the ways the Lord was laying each stone of the pathway, even though it was unknown to us at the time.  Relationships being formed, trust being developed, foundations being laid.

10855008_800965506645562_2727659767467475277_o (1)

And now, 8 short months after I asked several people to pray specifically for community and ministry opportunities, we find ourselves with more ideas and options for ministry than we can pursue at one time, as well as steadily deepening friendships with women, men, and families whom we are coming to love dearly.  We are burrowing down and investing whole-heartedly in this little community the Lord has called us to, and it is so incredibly exhausting and yet so deeply satisfying all at the same time.

Of course, the new roles came with new responsibilities as well.   Nate and Nathaniel are now preaching, leading prayer meetings, teaching sunday school, discipling, leading music classes, doing leadership training, and counseling (all in spanish!) every single week.   Alicia and I are teaching the women’s bible study and children’s sunday school. We’ve had a few special events on the calendar, and we’ll be starting some english classes in the community soon.  It occasionally feels like we were tossed into the deep end, but it’s definitely good for our spanish and our cultural understanding, even though it brought the language-fatigue back with a vengeance!  But thankfully, this is the perfect group for us to learn with because they are so incredibly patient, kind, and welcoming.

^ Nate helping teach music to the youth

^ music lessons and jam sessions

So in this new season, which has brought forth new challenges, new hardships, and certainly new joys, my prayer has changed from community and open doors to wisdom and growth.  Wisdom as we lead and minister in new ways, even as we’re still in a steep phase of language and cultural learning.  Wisdom to see our sin, recognize our cultural crutches, and be sensitive to differences.  Wisdom to pinpoint needs and wisely choose a course of action in order to respond.   And growth.  Growth in numbers for our church as we begin reaching out into its surrounding community.  Growth in the hearts of the members as they begin to thirst more and more for a true relationship with their savior.  Growth in the bond and connection the members have with one another and with us.  And our own personal growth as we learn more and more what it means to love and serve Jesus well cross-culturally.

Thanks for praying for us and with us, friends.  You’re a bigger part of our ministry than you’ll ever know.

{If you want to read a bit more about what our team is up to, please check out our February 2015 Newsletter}

2014.

I am late with this, but that’s par for the course these days.

I never got around to doing a 2013 wrap-up post, and now that I don’t have one to go back and read, I regret it.   I love being able to go back and read bits and pieces of our story whenever I get nostalgic.  So, I want to make sure I get one written for 2014 even if it is February before it is getting posted.  And of course, there’s no way to do it without it being ridiculously long… sorry about that. But I’ll make up for it with plenty of pictures (:

It was a crazy year, but I have a feeling I am going to be able to say that every year for awhile, so I should probably find a more specific descriptor to use.  It was another year of adjusting, transitioning, and figuring out what “normal” is going to look like for us here in Arequipa.  It was another year that pushed and stretched us a lot.  It was full of some really great highs and some really rough lows.  But that also feels like another generic description of a year that was anything but.

So since I can’t figure out how to describe it, here’s the roundup of what went down in 2014.

January.   We started the year on our rooftop at midnight, watching the entire city erupt in color.  Arequipa does New Years right.  {Click here for a video to see what I’m talking about.}  We had been in Arequipa for 2 weeks.  We were still staying in a temporary rental apartment while we hunted for a place to live and a vehicle that didn’t cost a million dollars. (Cars are expensive here.  Although a million might be an exaggeration. Barely.)  We had 3 huge sicknesses back to back that wiped out almost every member of the team, and 2 of those sicknesses were stomach bugs.  There were children vomiting everywhere AT THE SAME TIME.  We finally found houses for ourselves and our teammates, and we all moved in. But we didn’t have any of our stuff that we had shipped from Colombia (mostly clothes and beds bc we had sold everything else).  We were sleeping on the floor of an empty house (my back says NEVER AGAIN. The kids thought it was fun).  But mostly we were just thankful to finally be here and to have a place to live.

^ the day we showed the house to the boys, they were thrilled to find TURBO (the snail) on the roof!  Sadly, he was gone by move-in day.

^ the day we showed the house to the boys, they were thrilled to find TURBO (the snail) on the roof! Sadly, he was gone by move-in day.

^ the view from the rooftop of our house.  We were so excited to move in!

^ the view from the rooftop of our house. We were so excited to move in!

February.   Our container that we had shared with the other 2 families finally arrived…except it was late because it was caught in huge agricultural strike that blocked all the roads.  After two and a half months living out of a couple of suitcases, opening up our boxes felt like Christmas!   We tried to save as much money as we could on furniture, so Nate ended up buying a bunch of lumber and making a good bit of our stuff:  dining table and benches, side tables for the living room, bedside tables, a buffet/island for the kitchen.  There was sawdust everywhere, and then I sanded, stained, and painted everything.  The house was a mess, but we were happy with the results!  We spent the month getting the house set up, exploring our new city, trying to meet new people, visiting various churches around town, learning our way around, and continued hunting for a reasonable vehicle.  {Click here to read our team’s February 2014 newsletter to get caught up.} 

^ checking out the loot from a trip to the fish market

^ checking out the loot from a trip to the fish market

^ the Plaza de Armas in the center of the city

^ the Plaza de Armas in the center of the city

March.   With the beginning of March brought the beginning of preschool in spanish.  The boys began 3 days a week, which meant 3 days a week of homework help for me.   The “school” part wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped, but the spanish boost it gave to the twins was worth it.   Nate started classes again as well. The car-hunt continued, hopelessly, and the guys (Nate, Nathaniel, and Josh) finally decided to take a trip to Lima, where there is more selection and the prices are a bit lower.  They found and purchased cars and drove them back, which took 17 hours on some rough roads.     We found out from the US government that Luís’ citizenship had been denied due to us living outside the country and they sent him a green card instead and said we would have to come back to the US to finalize everything. Noah came down with Tonsillitis and was the sickest I’ve ever seen him, and I braved a pediatrician’s office in spanish for the first time.  We continued visiting churches and making ministry contacts.  My parents took their first visit to Peru!  We participated in a Leadership Assessment with our missions agency and were encouraged by the results.  {Click here to read our March 2014 newsletter, which was a quarterly “Family Update,” to get caught up!}

^ the boys on their first day of preschool

^ the boys on their first day of preschool

^ showing my parents around Arequipa

^ showing my parents around Arequipa

During those first few months, we also surprisingly dealt with culture shock all over again.  I thought there would be some, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be intense again.  But Peru is different from Colombia.  And though there are some similarities, there was still a heavy adjustment period.  Thankfully this time we could get by with spanish, which helped tremendously.  But we also had the added difficulty of not knowing anyone, whereas there was already a team on the ground when we moved to Colombia.   I also struggled with a lot of loneliness the first few months.  (I still do occasionally.)   And even though we had our small team here, whom I love dearly and am very close to, being constantly surrounded by strangers is difficult, and it weighed on me.  Plus, Luís struggled a lot with the move. He had only been with us 5 months at that point, and was still at the height of initial transition in many ways.  He regressed a bit and was very anxious, and it took some time for him to settle back in.  All of those things combined with Nate’s initial busyness to get us settled made for an intense few months.

market20

market16

aqp around town 4

market

April.  We started the month with a bang.  Or a shake, rather.  Our first “big” earthquake happened on April 1st, another big one on the 2nd, and I was a bit jittery for a few days following.   But it wasn’t long before getting shaken up became kind of normal!  Small quakes are pretty common.  The boys continued in school and Nate continued in class.  We began visiting a new church (the one we are a part of now) and began developing relationships with the small congregation there.  Nate started getting together with a few Peruvian guys to learn Andino music and practice spanish.  He took a trip to Cusco (another city in Peru) to visit other missionaries there.  We experienced our first Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Peru.  Our landlady taught me a bit of Peruvian cooking.  Luís started speech therapy.  Our teammates Nathaniel and Alicia began preparing for their trip back to the US for their son’s skull surgery, and we hugged them goodbye on the 28th. {Click here to read our team’s April 2014 newsletter to get caught up}

^ Nate and the guys practicing Andino music in my living room

^ Nate and the guys practicing Andino music in my living room

^ torta de choclo... So glad I learned how to make this because it is AMAZING!

^ torta de choclo… So glad I learned how to make this because it is AMAZING!

^ Making salt dough volcanos!

^ Making salt dough volcanos!

May.  I celebrated my 30th birthday, which just felt weird.  But in a good way, I think.   Much of the month was spent in preparation for a quick trip back to the States in June.   We needed to go back to the US to work on Luís’ citizenship issues, plus we needed to update some of our US paperwork/IDs and needed some specific medical checkups.   Trying to make arrangements for everything we would be doing for those couple of weeks took us a lot more time than we expected!  May was an admin-heavy month, for sure.  But we also had the chance to host several different families in our home for meals and to get to know them better.  The team was also invited to participate in a youth ministry up in the north of the city, and Nate started attending and getting to know the kids.  Nate’s mom came down at the end of the month to see Arequipa and help me travel back to the states with the kids while Nate stayed in Peru for a few extra days.  {Click here to read our team’s May 2014 newsletter to get caught up}

^ at the boys' favorite park

^ at the boys’ favorite park

^ silly boys

^ silly boys

10277425_10101765783053785_3357743994853545744_n (1)

^ homemade bows and arrows from stuff we found in the park

 

June.  On June 3, the twins turned 4 (THEY ARE GETTING TOO BIG!), and we boarded a US-bound plane that same night.   The boys were excited to get an airplane ride for their birthday! We made it to Mississippi the next morning and began 3 whirlwind weeks of seeing people we love, updating a few churches about our ministry here, and doing a lot of government and medical appointments.   I wrote about the boys’ impressions of Mississippi, and about the specifics of our trip on the blog.  In short, it was both WONDERFUL and EXHAUSTING.  As much as we enjoyed it, we were ready to get back to “life” and sleep in our own beds by the end! {Click here to read our June 2014 newsletter, which was a quarterly “Family Update,” to get caught up}

^ we had sweet time in Chattanooga with Nate's family

^ we had sweet time in Chattanooga with Nate’s family

^ this crew spent every waking second together

^ this crew spent every waking second together

^ my beautiful sisters

^ my beautiful sisters

^ My family.  I miss them every single day.

^ My family. I miss them every single day.

**a couple of summary side-notes: During this second quarter of the year, I entered another phase… I still struggled with intense  loneliness, but things were settling more at home and I was having the chance to breathe a little more.  I had moved into a phase of anxiousness to get the ball rolling.  I wanted to be busy with ministry, to be making friends, to be active in things going on in Arequipa.  The process of observing and learning and praying and waiting to see which doors the Lord would open for ministry was so difficult for me!  I knew that the first year needed to go slow so that we could make wise decisions, but being patient was hard.  I began praying fervently for Peruvian friends, and I asked several others to pray with me.  I was lonely, but I was also very confident that the Lord was working here, and that he was laying the groundwork for building community, which also made me hopeful and excited.

AQP Misti Panorama

July.  We jumped back into things head-first after arriving back in Arequipa at the end of June, excited about the small ministry possibilities we were seeing.  We had been refreshed and refueled on our trip, and we were excited about the possibilities we were beginning to see take shape here in Arequipa.  Nate became more and more involved with the local youth ministry, and our team accepted the invitation of the small church we were attending to officially partner with them for ministry.  We were excited about where things were heading.  Nate took a trip to Cusco to help them with the building of an orphanage, and a few of the guys from church went with him to help.  Luís also started speech therapy and psychomotor therapy sessions at a new therapy center that has proven to be AMAZING. We also had a LOT of celebrating  — July 4th, Nate’s 30th birthday, Luís’ “Family Day” and 1 year anniversary of meeting him,  Luís’ 5th birthday, and Peruvian Independence Day.  {Click here to watch our July 2014 video update to get caught up!}

^ one year home with our sweet boy

^ one year home with our sweet boy

^ outskirts of Arequipa

^ outskirts of Arequipa

August.  This was around the time I started thinking of making some changes for the boys concerning school, so much of August (for me) was spent researching options and making plans.  We continued investing in and being a part of the little church we had partnered with, and Nate’s music group, “Jesus El Verbo,” performed for the first time.  The pastor who had been running the youth ministry left for seminary in Brazil and asked our team to take over during his absence, so Nate was excited to invest more fully in that as well.  We celebrated “Arequipa Day,” which was more chaotic than we had expected (:  Nate and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary on the 21st.  10 YEARS!  My sweet grandfather fell and wasn’t able to fully recover in the following weeks, and on the night of August 23rd, we received the call that he had passed away.  I threw clothes in a bag and boarded a plane the next day so that I could be there for the funeral to say goodbye, and Nate stayed in Peru with the boys.  It was a difficult, emotional, and yet very sweet time, and I am so thankful I was able to be there.  I was in Mississippi for about 48 hours, then my mom and I traveled together back to Peru.  Months earlier, Nate and I had booked an trip for our 10 year anniversary, and my mom had planned to keep the kids while we were gone.  I was back in Arequipa for about 24 hours, then Nate and I got on a plane and left for our trip to meet Kelly (my best friend) and her husband who were also celebrating 10 years.  We spent a week with them on a cruise boat, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much we savored the down time!  It was Nate’s and my first get-away since before we left for the field, which means we’ve had 2 international moves and an adoption since then.  A vacation with our best friends was just what we needed! {Click here to read our team’s August 2014 newsletter to get caught up!} 

^ letter practice

^ letter practice

^ the last picture I took with my sweet grandfather when I went back in June.

^ the last picture I took with my sweet grandfather when I went back in June.

^ sailing with this group was amazing.

^ sailing with this crew was amazing. Best trip ever.

^ Happy anniversary! 10 wonderful years with my favorite (:

^ Happy anniversary! 10 wonderful years with my favorite (:

September.  We came back from the anniversary trip and Nate had about 6 days at home before he was gone again, this time to Cambodia for a leaders’ conference with our missions agency.  He traveled about 42 hours each way, then dealt with jet lag, so he was exhausted by the end of it!   I started some preliminary homeschooling work with the boys just to get them used to the idea, and they finished up their last few weeks of preschool.  Josh and Emily announced their plans to transition back to the states.  We as a team got busy working on all of the things that the transition entailed for all of us.  Nate continued on with more involvement in the church and the youth ministry, and our relationships with the little congregation we were serving continued to deepen.

^ the desert surrounding Arequipa

^ the desert surrounding Arequipa

^ Nate sharing about his Cambodia trip with our church

^ Nate sharing about his Cambodia trip with our church

October.  It was an exciting and a difficult month, all in one.   We headed to the Dominican Republic for our agency’s regional retreat, which is held once every 4 years.  We were able to catch up with other missionary friends that we hadn’t seen in years and sit under excellent teaching.   It was a great time for encouragement and motivation in ministry, and we were so thankful for the chance to spend time with so many of our friends and mentors.   We were also reunited with Nathaniel and Alicia!  After 6 months in the states for their son’s big surgery, they were able to meet us in the DR for the retreat and then head back to Peru with us afterwards.   But we also had to say goodbye to Emily and the kids, as they headed back to the States directly from the retreat, and Josh finished out another week or two in Peru before heading back to the States to meet his family.  I bawled my eyes out.   After the retreat, the boys and I started officially homeschooling and Luís continued to make excellent progress with therapy.  I started classes a few days a week to give me a spanish boost.  Nate and I had to make multiple trips back and forth to Lima to get our residency figured out, and we welcomed a sweet puppy named Lucy to the family, which meant lots of long nights at first (:  {Check out our team’s October 2014 newsletter to get caught up}

^ I was so thankful for time spent with good friends at the retreat, especially with Esta! I miss living in the same city with her, now that we have both moved away from Bogota.

^ I was so thankful for time spent with good friends at the retreat, especially with Esta! I miss living in the same city with her, now that we have both moved away from Bogota.

^ Nate napping with a teensy tiny Lucy.  This arrangement wouldn't work these days!  She's huge now!

^ Nate napping with a teensy tiny Lucy. This arrangement wouldn’t work these days! She’s huge now!

^ Lucy

November.  November was busy as Nate and Nathaniel jumped into a few different ministry opportunities in the church and in the city.  They were invited to lead a few different things at church, and they were both asked to preach.  They were also asked to help with some counseling situations, and soon began counseling weekly.   I jumped into the ladies ministry at church, continued helping out in other ministries where I could, and continued homeschooling the boys.  I taught my first women’s bible study in spanish!  In order to balance ministry, homeschooling, language study, and just general home maintenance and cooking (which takes longer here than in the States),  I hired a sweet peruvian lady who helps me a few hours a week with whatever I need (house things, cooking, keeping the kids, etc), and also helps me with spanish.  She has proved to be an immense blessing to us and a sweet friend, and is quickly turning into the boys’ peruvian grandmother!    Nate’s mom came to visit for thanksgiving, and she helped Alicia and me to pull off an amazing thanksgiving dinner!  {Click here to read our team’s November 2014 newsletter to get caught up}

^we put the tree up!

^we put the tree up!

^ Mammaw came to visit!

^ Mammaw came to visit!

^ I wasn't sure what to do when we got to this part of Thanksgiving dinner prep...

^ I wasn’t sure what to do when we got to this part of Thanksgiving dinner prep…

^ Nate preaching in spanish for the first time since we moved to Arequipa

^ Nate preaching in spanish at our church for the first time.

December.  A nasty flu swept through the family at the beginning of the month and wiped out 4 of us (not Luís… he never catches anything here!).  We were in the bed for awhile, and we were very thankful when it was over!  But we didn’t have much down time, because December proved to be an exceptionally busy month.  We hosted 3 big Christmas parties (one for the church, one for the youth ministry & its surrounding community, and one for our neighbors).  Alicia and I were so tired of cooking by the end of it!  But all 3 events went even better than we had hoped.   We helped plan the Christmas service at our church, where Nate was able to preach the Christmas message, and I participated in the Christmas pageant that the women’s ministry put on.    We spent Christmas even drinking hot chocolate on our rooftop watching the amazing fireworks display at midnight.  On Christmas morning we celebrated together as a family, and in the evening all together as a team with a delicious Christmas dinner.  My parents arrived for a visit on the 30th, and we were excited to finish out the holidays with them.  {Click here to read our team’s December 2014 newsletter, which is our quarterly “Family Update,” to get caught up}

^ The Christmas Service - Nate preaching and performing with the Andino music group, me dressed up with Juana for the pageant

^ The Christmas Service – Nate preaching and performing with the Andino music group, me dressed up with Juana for the pageant

^ me with two sweet friends from our church

^ me with two sweet friends from our church

^ new Christmas Eve jammies!

^ new Christmas Eve jammies!

Over the course of the month of December, the pastor of our small church made the decision to step down to handle some personal matters, and the congregation met and voted unanimously to invite Nate and Nathaniel to be their pastors.  After a lot of time spent in prayer and seeking wise counsel, they accepted, with plans to take on their new roles at the first of the new year.

AQP Panorama

And so we ended the year the same way we started:  sitting on our rooftop, watching the city erupt in fireworks…a little exhausted, looking back over the craziness of the year we’d just walked through, and extremely excited at the opportunities the Lord was bringing for the year to come.

Bonham Family Update {December 2014}

Each month, our team writes an e-newsletter update with what is going on with our ministry here in Arequipa. {Be sure to sign up if you want to receive it!} Once a quarter, that newsletter includes “family updates” from the families on our team with personal stories, thoughts, prayer requests, etc… and of course lots of pictures!   It is less about ministry or team and more about what is going on at home for each of us.  This is the Bonham Family Update from December 2014.  It went out via email about a month ago, so I am behind in posting it here, but better late than never! 

******************************************************

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I find myself getting ready for our second Christmas in Arequipa. How is that possible? Didn’t we just get here?

December 18th marks 1 year since our plane landed here in “the white city” of Arequipa, Peru. For Nikki and the kids, it was their first time laying eyes on this beautiful city, and from the moment we saw the enormous “El Misti” volcano towering overhead, we were all hooked. It’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with this place. But despite the beauty of the city and the excitement of finally arriving in the long-term ministry location we’d spent years praying for, the reality was that we were swirling in chaos.

^ Our first glimpse of Arequipa

^ Our first glimpse of Arequipa

This time last year, we were steadily moving forward in our Spanish, but still not very confident. We had just started really feeling “at home” in Colombia when we packed up and moved again to a city where we didn’t know a single person other than a taxi driver named Jesús. We had just downsized everything we owned to the bare minimum (again) and made another international move…for the 2nd time in 15 months. We bounced around from temporary housing in Bogotá while we closed up our lives there to temporary housing in Lima while we worked on visa paperwork to temporary housing in Arequipa while we house-hunted for something permanent, all while living out of a couple of suitcases. And sweet little Luís, who had only been home with us for a few short months and was just starting to adjust to his new life, had his world turned upside down AGAIN when we moved, and he regressed once more into puddles of anxiety and fear. And all just a week before Christmas. We found a $20 Christmas tree and a few decorations, bought a few simple gifts for the boys, and celebrated with thankfulness that the Lord had faithfully brought us here. But needless to say, my memories of our first Christmas in Arequipa are a big blur of just trying to survive the chaos.

^ Christmas 2013 -- last year's whirlwind Christmas

^ Christmas 2013 — last year’s whirlwind Christmas

And now here we are, a year later, approaching our second Christmas in Arequipa, and things look much different. This Christmas, we find ourselves in a city that we have grown to love, in a sweet little home that meets all of our needs, laboring alongside a tiny church family that has embraced us with open arms, finding opportunities for ministry in all parts of the city, a steadily growing confidence in our language abilities, and a burgeoning community that we cherish. And not to mention our favorite little Colombian who is adjusting beautifully, thriving in his family, and making developmental strides all across the board. What a difference a year makes!

^Christmas 2014

^Christmas 2014

^ Christmas 2014 {with this years Christmas Eve jammies}

^ Christmas 2014 {with this years Christmas Eve jammies}

Sometimes I wonder how we got from there to here in only 12 short months, but the answer is simple; the Lord has been so faithful in meeting our needs and answering the prayers of our team and our supporters. He has given us one opportunity after the next to jump in head-first into the city and culture if we only keep our eyes and hearts open for them. He has protected us and guided us every step of the way into situations that have developed into real relationships and opportunities to share the gospel.

But practically speaking, it has certainly been a full and busy 12 months!

Nate has had the chance to lead bible studies, prayer groups, and a growing community youth ministry. He has preached in Spanish, counseled in Spanish, met with pastors around the city, participated in a short-term trip in another part of Peru, traveled across the world for leadership training with our missions agency, become part of an Andino music group, and developed thriving cross-cultural friendships.

^Nate preaching in spanish at our church

^Nate preaching in spanish at our church

^Nate playing with "Jesus El Verbo," the Andino music group he is a part of

^Nate playing with “Jesus El Verbo,” the Andino music group he is a part of

Nikki has jumped back into Spanish class, become involved in the women’s ministry at their small church, started learning how to cook a few Peruvian dishes, had the opportunity to try her hand at teaching bible study in Spanish, begun homeschooling, and has begun making sweet Peruvian friends.

The three superheroes of the house went to an all-Spanish preschool for 6 months for a language boost, then started homeschooling with Nikki in October. The twins, Noah and Barrett (4), are making strides in their Spanish and have enjoyed jumping into preschool/kindergarten at home. Luís (5) goes to four therapy sessions a week with an excellent therapy group and is making progress in every area. His English is getting better and better, and his ability to communicate impresses us more every day. His psychologist has told us numerous times how obvious it is that Luís is “an exceptionally happy child,” and that of course makes our hearts overflow with happiness and thanksgiving.

^The boys first day of preschool, March 2014

^The boys first day of preschool, March 2014

^the twins hard at work with homeschool while Luís is in therapy

^the twins hard at work with homeschool while Luís is in therapy

When the boys aren’t in the middle of school or therapy, they are sword-fighting, wrestling, and rescuing the world dressed up as the superhero of the day, whatever it may be. There is never a dull (or quiet!) moment, to be sure! We have also added a sweet new puppy named Lucy to the family, and she is a handful in every sense of the word. She’s also growing a little faster than we thought, and it looks like we might have a bigger dog than we had planned!

^Lucy at 2 months and 4 months…and she just keeps growing! 

Thankfully, with the busyness and fullness has come such joy and thankfulness as well! We feel so utterly blessed to be serving the Lord here in Arequipa, and we are constantly amazed at the ways that He proves himself faithful in our lives and ministry again and again. We have no idea what next year will bring or what life will look like 12 months from now. But we do know that no matter where the next year finds us, we can walk into this Christmas season with confidence that, even in the midst of chaos and change, He is good and steady and faithful.

Merry Christmas from the Bonhams!

2014 Shoot (3 of 10)

*****************************************************************

Thanks for keeping up with us and our ministry in 2014, and please continue to pray for us in 2015!   Sign up for our monthly newsletters if you aren’t receiving them already, and be sure to check out the family update from our teammates, Nathaniel and Alicia Gutierrez. 

A new venture that’s sure to make me crazy.

For years, Nate and I have been able to put off the education question.   After all, we had no idea where we would end up long-term, and we had no idea what the school options would be in whatever city/country we settled in, plus our kids were too young anyway.  It was easy to just sit back and say, “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see when the time comes.”

Then suddenly we were settled in Arequipa and our kids were getting bigger.  As we started working through what we would like our family’s home-life/ministry-life balance to look like, the school question just kept coming back to the forefront as an important factor in those plans.   It was time to tackle it.

For an expat, that’s a more complicated decision than I expected, and there are many more factors involved than I had ever realized.  Then we threw Luís’ developmental needs into the mix, and it became a big convoluted mess.   In the end, a few things stood out as deciding factors:

  • the state of the Peruvian public schools (which PISA ranks as #65 out of 65 countries tested every few years)
  • the cost of the Peruvian private schools and international schools
  • the need for substantial supplementing of things not taught here (US history, English reading & writing, English lit, etc) in order to keep them on track for what would be required by a US college
  • the fact that our life as missionaries often requires travel
  • the fact that we have to return every few years to the US for several months at a time to give reports attend to agency-related issues, and update our supporters.
  • the fact that I don’t want the kids to have to be in school all day long when family visits
  • the fact that Luís needs some extra one-on-one attention and help that he isn’t going to find in schools here

Taking all those things into consideration, it became pretty clear that homeschooling would be the best option for us right now in this season of life.  Maybe not forever, but at least for now.

Of course, there are logistics involved with that too, because finding the materials here is next to impossible (especially in english), and having things shipped costs a FORTUNE and isn’t even guaranteed to arrive…which means any visitors will be doubling as school-supply mules as well.  Sorry about that.  (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)   Plus, I still want the boys to retain the spanish they’ve learned so far and continue on to fluency, so I will have to add in lots of cultural activities and opportunities to be immersed in spanish (such as a soccer team) in addition to our church activities and inviting people into our home.

And there’s that tiny little issue that those 3 boys have a slightly extroverted mother who tends to get stir crazy in the house after awhile, and there aren’t exactly homeschool co-ops here… so I’m going to have to find a way to do this without completely LOSING MY MIND.

But, on the upside, I’ve always been someone who likes to learn.  I loved school (which is why I kept going back and may go back again one day in the future, who knows?), I love to read and still read anything I can get my hands on, and I love teaching.  All of those things combined make me think that this will be a fun journey as long as I use a literature-saturated curriculum and can figure out a way to do it without feeling confined to the house all the time.  (Field trips, playdates, and experiential learning, anyone?)   Oh, and as long as Nate understands that HE will be teaching higher math.

Really, though, I’m not too worried about it right now.  My kids are still really young, barely kindergarten age, so most of “school” consists of a few basic things and a whole lot of life skills.  I’m just as concerned with teaching them bathroom hygiene as I am with teaching them to read at this point.

So I looked at a bunch of curriculum options, ordered a few little things to get us started, and we will spend the next year or two figuring out what kind of groove fits us best and working on some home routines that might help us down the road when we start the real stuff.  Because kindergarten is supposed to be laid back and fun, right?  I hope so.

For a bunch of reasons, we decided to go ahead and get started now rather than wait until the Peruvian school year ends in December.  They’re finishing out the month, and after that, the new journey begins….with 3 boys at 3 COMPLETELY different levels and with completely different needs despite being the same age, all of whom are hyperactive and without a smidgen of self control.

We’ll see how this goes.

Pawpaw.

In one of my earliest memories, I remember “running loops” at my grandparents’ house.  I don’t know what we called it back then, but that’s what my boys call it now, so I’ll stick with that name.  Their house was one of those floor plans where the kitchen, dining room, den, and foyer were all connected, essentially creating a big circle in which all the grandkids would chase one another.   When the whole extended family was together, you could barely run loops without knocking over the Christmas tree or the folding tables set up to accommodate all of us, but we ran loops anyway.

I was probably 4.  I remember that everyone was there, the cousins and aunts and uncles, and that there was a ballgame on, but that describes a lot of our family get-togethers, so I have no idea which holiday we were celebrating at the time.  But I remember running from the kitchen, rounding the corner into the den, and getting ready to bolt through the space between the couch and the arm of the recliner.  But just then, an arm shot out from the brown recliner, barricading my escape route, and I crashed into it at full speed.

I didn’t even have to look up to know who was tickling me.  One of the risks of running loops was knowing you had to make it past PawPaw’s Chair, and you never knew when you might make it through and when you might get stopped by The Arm.  His arms caught me that time, and probably another 1000 times after that over the years, until one day when all the cousins were too big to run loops anymore.   Funny how that happens.

Pawpaw’s Chair is one of those sacred things, an endearing constant in my treasure trove of childhood memories.   And the Valentines Day cards I used to get from him every year, still stashed away in a box in my parent’s attic in Mississippi.  Or visiting him at the beekeeper booth at the state fair.  The vacations he took with us.  Taking me and my sisters to pick out a Christmas tree.  Seeing him smile proudly at almost every performance, play, awards day, and event I can remember.  And all the times he showed up in full bee-keeper regalia to do a science presentation to my elementary school classes on bees and honey.  I was always so proud to claim him as mine.

And oh, how he loved his grandkids.  And we knew it.  He loved Nate too, although it took some time for him to get used to the idea that the 17-year-old out-of-towner who kept showing up on the weekends to see his granddaughter might actually be “the one.”  I remember the day he went from being skeptic to supporter.  Nate was in town visiting one weekend, and I decided to take him to visit my grandparents church, which I loved.  Pawpaw’s car ended up with a flat tire, and Nate happily crawled on the ground in his sunday best to fix it in the blistering Mississippi summer heat.   Pawpaw slapped him on the back, shook his hand, and said, “Thank you, son. I’m not sure if I could have gotten back up if I’d had to get down there like that.”  Later he told me, grinning, “I guess that boy’s alright.”  They were buddies after that.  He told me several times in the years since how proud he was that I “picked a good’un.”

But that’s how Pawpaw was.  He was interested in and loved the things we loved.  He was one of my biggest supporters in missions and one of my biggest fans in life.

My sweet Pawpaw died late on August 23, and I spent much of that night crying on Nate’s shoulder.  Nate booked my ticket home, I threw some clothes in a bag, and I hopped on a plane less than 18 hours later.   I knew from when we lost my great-grandmother last year that I don’t grieve well from afar.   I needed to hug my grandmother.  I needed to tell my mom and my aunts that I love them while they grieved the loss of their daddy.  I needed to stand with my sisters and cousins and reminisce about our sweet grandfather, remembering together the trips and the nicknames and the love.  I was only there for 48 hours before I was back on a Peru-bound plane again, but it was worth it; I needed to say goodbye.

The service was beautiful, and a beautiful, gospel-centered tribute to a godly man.

I miss you already, Pawpaw.  I am so thankful that Luís shares the spanish version of your name (Lewis), and that he and his brothers will grow up hearing stories about beach trips, bees, perfectly smoked ham, your secret-recipe seasoning that I have carted all over the world with me, the nicknames that always seemed to stick, the Donald-duck voice, your chair, and running loops at the risk of The Arm.

I love you, and I will see you again.

 

The last photo we took together, when I was visiting in June.

The last photo we took together, when I was visiting in June.

 

‘membering Mississippi.

“Hey mama, ‘member Mississippi? When we went there?  Do you ‘member that?”  Hardly a day goes by without a munchkin-initiated conversation about our trip back to Mississippi this past June.  I can’t blame them, though.  It was certainly a memorable trip.

Even though we didn’t intentionally plan it that way, it worked out that the trip back home ended up being exactly one year after the solo trip I took last June.  So without even planning it, I was able to spend Father’s Day with my dad in person (again) instead of Skype.  My kids were able to attend our home church’s version of VBS, and their class just happened to be led by Kelly.  They got good quality time with one of the people I love most, instead of me just pulling up the pictures from the event on Facebook, like I normally would.   Then, on the one-year anniversary of the death of Kelly’s mom, I had the blessing of taking her to dinner and sitting across a restaurant-table from her as we talked about the past year instead of spending it continents apart on the phone.   We also celebrated my sweet little niece’s 2nd birthday by going to her party instead of singing “happy birthday” over a computer screen.   None of that was even on our minds when we bought our tickets.  I would have felt so sad and distant to miss any one of those things, but what a sweet blessing from the Lord when I realized all the things I would get to BE PRESENT for!

Fathers Day 2014

Dad and his girls, Fathers Day 2014

The trip was originally planned because we needed to resolve some issues with Luís’ US citizenship.  (We thought it was taken care of back in Sept of 2013, but it ended up being revoked because we don’t currently live in the US.  So we have to go through a different process to get it, including a specific immigration hearing with a judge.) We thought we would tack on a bunch of other “business” items that we needed to have completed, and we had to leave the country in order to renew our visas anyway.  Plus, our families hadn’t had the chance to meet Luís yet (with the exception of my parents and Nate’s mom and stepdad), so it would be a great chance to introduce him to the family.  We had big plans, and LOTS of things to stuff into 2.5 short weeks.

My little sister (aka Aunt Jay-Jay) meets Luís!

My little sister (aka Aunt Jay-Jay) meets Luís!

Me and Kelly, meeting each others' newest additions

Me and Kelly, meeting each others’ newest additions

In the end, we STILL weren’t able to get the citizenship stuff resolved yet, (its a work in progress), but we WERE able to get lots of other stuff accomplished during our trip, like documents renewed and updated, doctors appointments, more doctors appointments, more doctors appointments….

As it turned out, doctors appointments dominated a good portion of the trip.  By the time I’d been there a week, I’d been to 6 different appointments for various things.  The kids came down with swimmers’ ear, one of Noah’s ear tubes started coming out and got wedged funny and caused him alot of pain, all of our yearly checkups and blood work and vaccinations and more, plus a mountain of GI appointments for Barrett that we weren’t expecting.  Our amazing pediatrician referred us to a GI specialist when I told him about a few issues that Barrett had been having, the GI was concerned about several different things and wanted to run alot of tests and ended up doing a full upperGI and colonoscopy, but first we had to have clearances by a pediatric heart specialist because of some heart issues he’s had since birth…..  which meant DAYS ON END of doctors appointments.   Thankfully, Barrett is doing well now that he has meds and a diet modification, but the few weeks of testing wore us out.

Barrett Doctor June 2014

A loopy and semi-sedated Barrett awaiting his procedure. (With robot fingers to help with anxiety!)

Halfway through the trip, we hopped in the car and drove to Chattanooga for 4 days to see Nate’s mom, stepdad, and brothers.  Nate and his brothers haven’t all been together in one place since thanksgiving of 2011, so it was really fun for all 4 of them to be together again.  Plus, the boys get spoiled rotten by their awesome uncles and aunt (not to mention their Mammaw and Pappaw), so I had no doubt that Chattanooga would be one of the highlights of our trip.  The boys played their hearts out, Nate and I relaxed a bit from the jam-packed schedule we’d had of meetings and appointments in Mississippi, and we were so thankful for the refreshing Chattanooga mini-break we had right in the middle of the trip.

sprinkler fun in Chattanooga

sprinkler fun in Chattanooga

Overall, we got alot done.  We accomplished all of the “business” items on our checklist (with the exception of the citizenship stuff). We were able to give reports and updates at several churches, including the one where I grew up, our “home” church where Nate and I worked before moving to the field, and a church in Emily’s hometown of Hattiesburg as well.  My parents hosted an open house for us to be able to say hello and spend time with so many people we miss, and we had several get-togethers with family and people we love.

Nate, Josh, and Nathaniel doing a presentation at our home church

Nate, Josh, and Nathaniel doing a presentation at our home church

We stocked up on items that we can’t find in Peru (or are ridiculously expensive to buy there) like some specific toiletries, spices, clothes, books & educational material in english, and more.  I rounded up an entire wardrobe for all 3 boys for the next year or two (mostly of amazing hand-me-downs so I hardly spent a dime!).  I jammed an entire huge, colorful living room rug into an army duffel bag and rigged it shut with floral twine, all because my mom said I could have it if I could figure out a way to get it back.  (And it actually made it through customs).   Sometimes the little things make a big difference.

sorting a wardrobe for 3 growing boys

sorting a wardrobe for 3 growing boys

But really, even though all of those things took up the bulk of our time, that’s not what I remember most about the trip.   For me, it wasn’t a business trip.  It was a refueling trip.  My tank was running low.  I don’t think I realized how low, exactly, but it makes sense that after another international move, adjusting to a new place, starting from scratch, and trying to make progress in piecing together a community here in a new country, I was running on empty.

But then I walked back into the familiar open arms of the people and places that raised me, and I felt myself breathe.  And I soaked it up.  Every second.

My family.  I miss them every single day.

My family. I miss them every single day.

my beautiful sisters

my beautiful sisters

I spent every spare moment I could muster (in between a billion doctors appointments) with my family.  Kelly and her kids were practically joined to our hips from sunup to sundown, which is just as it should be.  The noise level at my parents house reached new heights every single evening with all of Lacey’s, Kelly’s, and my children stampeding through it.  They swam and wrestled and laughed, and the mamas sat on the porch and watched and talked and refereed.

10489733_10101871470894505_990116292426809900_n (1)

the crazy boys who spent every waking moment together.

refereeing kids on the back porch with kelly

refereeing kids on the back porch with kelly

Nate and I had long, lazy dinners with sweet friends that I miss daily and who encourage us more than they’ll ever know.   I sat on another friend’s back porch until the early morning hours talking about adjustment, adoption, calling, struggles, and just life in general while I soaked up her wisdom and silently thanked the Lord for speaking to my heart through her.  Michelle drove down and spent the night just so we could have 24 solid hours before she had to go back home, then again for the open house to bring food and manpower.

nikki michelle june 2014

Michelle. This girl always shows up for me.

Even though all of those moments were just squeezed in wherever I could get them, they added up to something much bigger.  They filled me back up.  They gave me the community boost I needed until I can build one here in Arequipa.  They reminded me what it’s like to belong.

But still, even with all of those things that I loved and cherish so much, even with the deep joy I found in being present in those moments, I was still anxious to get back to Arequipa.  I can’t explain it, but I still felt pulled back to this place where I don’t know many people yet, where I don’t have a community yet, where I don’t belong yet.   Because I know that I will one day.  The Lord is faithful, and he is steadily drawing my heart into this place.  I love the kind of deep community that comes from knowing and loving and living life with other people, and that will happen here, too.  It will look different, of course, but it’s supposed to.  It’s Peru, not Mississippi, after all!

The steady process of building community here wears me out a bit, if I’m being honest, but that’s okay with me.  It’s coming, and it will be worth it.   In the meantime, I’ll just take a cue from my boys and “member Mississippi” when I need a little boost.

Thanks for loving us well when we were home, folks.    You mean more to us than you’ll ever know.

*****

I decided not to take my big camera with me due to all the luggage I knew we’d be wrestling already, so all I had was my cell phone.  I didnt get nearly enough pictures, but here are a few more from the trip…

photo 5

A fun couple of days with Nate’s Dad and stepmom (aka Grandpa and Grandma)

photo 4 copy

view of my parents backyard from the back porch, where I spent about 90% of my free time between appointments

photo 3 copy

taking the new paddle boat for a spin in my parents backyard

photo 2 copy

visiting with my sweet grandfather

photo 1 copy

cheering Beckham on at his ballgame

photo 3 copy 2

playdate with cousins at the splash pad

photo 2 copy 2

lunchtime with Daddy after yet another doctor appointment for the Bear

10304798_10101874459415485_4638268616173510344_n

saying goodbye to Kelly and her crew before heading to the airport.

family pic june 2014

our one attempt at a family picture

Mississippi… according to 4-year-olds.

In June, we went back to the states for a couple of weeks to update a bunch of documents, visit a bunch of doctors, give a few missions reports, and visit our families.  Given how much we had to get accomplished in only a few short weeks, it was a whirlwind trip!

But more on the “grown up” part of the trip later.

It happened to fall during the couple months of the year when all three boys are the same age; the twins had just turned 4 and Luís was still 4 as well.   I always get questions when I’m out and about, but it’s especially funny when they’re all the same age.  “Your boys are adorable! Wait, are they triplets?”  “No.”  “How old are they?”  “They’re all 4.”  “…But they’re not triplets?… How does that work?” Lots of confusion all around.

Anyway,  it was pretty exciting to visit Mississippi (and Chattanooga!) with a bunch of 4 year olds who had no idea what it would be like.  The twins had no memory of Mississippi since they were so young when we left (they had just turned 2), and this would be Luís’ first trip to visit.  They’ve heard me talk about it constantly for 2 years, and they know its where all the people they love live, but they didn’t understand much more than that.   Seeing it through their eyes was even more entertaining than I expected.

Here are a few of the astute observations of Mississippi from the minds of 4 year olds:

Halfway through the longest leg of the 18-hr trip to get there: “Mama, when we get to Mississippi I’m not going back to Peru. This is taking too long and I don’t want to do this part again.  Tell Daddy to bring our house with him when he comes.”

“Where are the volcanoes? And they don’t have any mountains?  Then what DO they have?”

Eating chicken nuggets from Wendy’s: “What is this? It’s not chicken.  This isn’t chicken.  I don’t like it. You can have it back.”

“What do you mean, ‘the water is clean?’ You mean I can drink it? Like put it in my mouth?”

“Why do you put the toilet paper in the potty?”

“Mama why are the trees SO BIG?”

“Why is there grass EVERYWHERE?”

“What are those?” (a.k.a. raindrops on the windshield)

“That scared me! That scared me! THAT SCARED ME! What is it?”  (a.k.a the first storm that woke Luís up in the middle of the night)

*Note: We lived in Bogotá, where it POURED daily… How did they forget that so fast?!

“Why are the buildings apart from each other?  It’s just one building and lots of grass. Why aren’t they stuck together?”

“The people don’t drive crazy here. Why aren’t you driving crazy?”

“We are in the car ALOT in Mississippi.”

At the Chick-fil-A drive-through: “Are we getting out? They’re giving you food THROUGH THE WINDOW?”

***

Apparently, reverse culture shock even happens when you’re 4.  But they loved Mississippi (and Chattanooga), and they basically thought the whole thing was one big adventure filled with swimming pools, playing in the grass, best friends and cousins, and lots of attention.  They told me a hundred times throughout the trip that they weren’t getting back on the plane to Peru (thankfully they did without a problem!), and they have asked me a hundred times since then when our next trip back to Mississippi will be.

I only have one thing to say:  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.  I might not be living in Mississippi, but I’ll raise boys who love it either way!

10489733_10101871470894505_990116292426809900_n

Good times.