2017.

[FYI, the yearly wrap-up posts are long. Feel free to skip it.  I mostly do these for myself.] 

I think it’s about time for an update.  This is late, practically a year late.  Basically to the point of being ridiculously late, but until now I just couldn’t.

At the beginning of last year, I wrote a wrap-up post for 2016, which had proven to be a really difficult year.   If you remember, I have this habit of naming years in my head, and 2016 was “The Year of the Two HMA’s.”   I was late writing it, and I didn’t get it posted until the middle of March.   I finished up that post with these words: “It is yet to be seen what kind of name 2017 will end up with in my head.  But I’ll be sure to let you know.” 

I had no idea when I wrote those words that we were just a couple of weeks away from having a bombshell dropped on our family.   Because I was about to learn that 2017 was “The Year We Found Out Lacey Had Brain Cancer.”

I’m not going to write extensively about my thoughts on all of that at this point.  It will come.  Maybe.  But for now I’m going to try to at least walk through the events of the year so that I’ll have them written down.

2017 went a little something like this….

In January, we took a trip to Mississippi for my little sister’s wedding.  I had spent a couple of weeks trying to round up everything we’d need, because it should come as no surprise that we don’t really have fancy clothes or winter clothes here in Arequipa.   We finally made it to the airport on our departure day, only to have the fog roll in.  And in Arequipa, fog means the planes are grounded.  So we waited at the airport all day long, and they ended up canceling all the flights.   So we went back home, went to bed, and tried again the next day.  More fog.  So we waited at the airport for the entire day AGAIN (which was by this point filled with lots of screaming angry people), only to be sent home that night.  On the 3rd day, I was starting to panic, because it was just a few days until the wedding, and I was afraid we wouldn’t make it.   But thankfully the fog lifted long enough that a couple of flights got off the ground, and we made it out of the city.  It only took us 50 extra hours added onto our itinerary, but we finally made it to Mississippi, and my kids never wanted to see an airport again.

Finally arriving in Jackson after 50 EXTRA HOURS added onto our itinerary. But we made it. And some of my favorite people were there to pick us up!

The wedding was amazing.  Janie was a fairytale princess.  My boys were in awe; it was their first American wedding and they’d never seen anything like it.  Lacey and I had the privilege of standing up front with her as her matrons of honor, and we cried as we watched our baby sister take her vows.    The reception was at my parents’ house, and we all had so much fun dancing to the amazing band.   My boys fell in love with the Pettis girls (whom I’ve known almost my entire life… my boys have good taste), and they had so much fun with their “dates.”

Have you ever seen a more gorgeous bride?

The boys’ expressions for pretty much the entire night. They were in awe.

After the wedding festivities, we packed up and drove to Chattanooga to spend a little time with Nate’s mom and brothers.   His mom spoiled us with a little overnight date, so we snuck away to downtown Chattanooga while the boys had fun “Mammaw time.”   Nate and I stayed at the Read House, which was special because we haven’t been back since we stayed there on our wedding day in 2004.   It was neat to be back.    After a few days with the family in Chattanooga, we drove back to Mississippi to squeeze in a couple of medical appointments (mainly with Barrett’s pediatric cardiologist) and throw a fun little birthday party for my mom before heading back to Peru.

The Read House in Chattanooga. It was fun to stay here again after almost 13 years!

We left Mississippi on the first day of February, and we even though we always hate the goodbyes, we were excited to get back to Peru. While we had been away for the wedding, the Goots (our teammates, the Gutierrez family) had arrived after their HMA!  We’d been apart for months, so it was so wonderful to get to be reunited.  They were exhausted from all of their traveling and support-raising, but they were motivated to jump back into ministry after so long away.

Bonhams & Goots… Finally reunited and back into ministry planning mode!

We all hit the ground running and started making ministry plans for the year.  Now that the whole team was back in one place, we were able to start back with some of the ministry activities we’d had to put on pause.  We were busy again with things like “Noches de ROCA”  (Wed. night discipleship and prayer meetings),  youth group meetings, counseling, and bible studies.

At home, the kids and I jumped back into homeschool after their break from the holidays and the wedding.  Barrett spent the month wearing an old-school heart monitor because he’d had a few abnormalities over the past several months, and the doctor wanted to know if the high altitude in Arequipa was affecting it.  It drove Barrett a little crazy, but he handled it like a champ.

In March, we continued ahead with our normal ministry events, plus a few special events like a church-wide beach retreat to Camaná (a beach about 3 hrs away) and a New Members class.  We also started our Sunday School classes back up and started incorporating a “Children’s Sermon” into the service each week, and Nate and Nathaniel took a trip to Cusco for a presbytery meeting.   In the middle of the business, we had a 12-day (!!!) water cut, which was the longest stretch without water we’ve had yet.  It was not fun.  (Still not as bad as the time we had a 6-day water outage along with our most violent stomach bug to date…that one was worse.)

Sunday School starting back up at La Roca

We also had a couple named the McCalls come to visit our team here in Arequipa to talk more about missions and get a feel for what ministry in Peru might look like.  We had a great time hosting them and getting to know them for a week or so, and we looked forward to seeing what God might do in the future through that connection. [spoiler alert: we were excited to extend an invitation for the McCalls to join our team, which they accepted. They’ll hopefully join us on the field when they finish their support-raising!]

And then came April.    On April 5, I received a phone call that suddenly shifted everything.  My mom called to tell me that doctors had just discovered that my big sister Lacey had a large brain tumor, and they were pretty positive it was cancerous and very aggressive.   Everything stood still.   The next couple of days were extremely emotional, and Nate and I began making a plan for what we should do. In the meantime, Janie and I created the Love For Lacey Facebook page where we announced the news and asked people to join us in prayer.  We knew that Lacey would most likely need a very delicate brain surgery in the next several days, plus weeks or months of treatment.   We decided that we would fly back to Mississippi to be present for the surgery, and that the boys and I would stay on in Mississippi for an indefinite amount of time to help out as needed with Lacey’s family.    So we packed our bags and I loaded up our homeschool into suitcases, and we flew back a couple of days after receiving the news.

Finally back with my sisters!

 

“Braverman Dinner” (as Lacey calls it) on the night before her big brain surgery

Lacey’s surgery was 2 days after we arrived, the Wednesday in the middle of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.  She went home from the hospital on Good Friday.  We celebrated the resurrection as a family together on Easter morning, and it was beautiful.

Sitting in the hospital with Lacey after surgery, reading her texts to her so she could hear all the encouragement pouring in

After the surgery, the biopsy showed that Lacey’s cancer was indeed a stage 4 glioblastoma.  She would need aggressive treatment for the rest of her life.  Even though we all knew that it was the expected result of the biopsy, it was still hard for all of us to hear the official diagnosis.  But we cling to the truth that God’s will is good and right, and that his plan for Lacey’s life is for her good and His glory, however it may unfold.  We know this is true, and we believe it.

Nate stayed in Mississippi with us for about 2 weeks altogether before needing to head back to Peru, but the boys and I stayed to help with Lacey’s 4 kids and errands and treatments and anything else that we could do.  Plus, to be honest, I just couldn’t imagine getting on a plane and being a continent away, so I was glad that there was a way that I could help.   Lacey had a couple of weeks to rest and recover from surgery, then started chemotherapy and radiation.

By May, I was busy helping in Mississippi and missing Nate like crazy, and he was back in Peru getting ready for a short-term team to arrive.  Our home church (Madison Heights Church) was planning to send 5 guys to Arequipa to help with a project to install large water tanks on the homes of various members of our congregation who had regular needs for water.  (When you live in the desert, the need for water becomes a stark new reality on a day-to-day basis.)  I was sad that I wasn’t going to be there to help host.  It worked out well though, because since the boys and I weren’t there at our home in Arequipa, there was plenty of extra space and beds for the 5 short-term team members.  So instead of staying in their hotel as planned, they just stayed with Nate in our house.  They worked hard and accomplished a lot in a few short days, but they were all worn out by the end!

In Mississippi with the short-term team before they flew down to Arequipa!

Meanwhile, back in Mississippi, our whole extended family and tons of Lacey’s friends were working together to help Lacey and her family get through all of her weeks of treatment.  It was all hands on deck, and so much support flowed in from all directions.  Meals were brought every single day to Lacey’s house and to my parent’s house in order to feed the masses.  Different people drove Lacey to every single appointment and treatment since she couldn’t drive and needed extra help with some of her day-to-day tasks following the surgery.  Friends and classmates helped Lacey’s kids with every single activity, including their schoolwork on their 3 “at-home” days per week. (Her children attend a university-model school where they do their work in class 2 days and at home the other 3, so it is like partial homeschooling in a sense.)  There was such love and support and practical help from every corner.  Lacey’s community rallied around her like I’ve never seen, and it was an amazing thing to be a part of.

The quilt that Lacey’s friends made for her, covered on both sides with patches signed by friends who prayed for her during the hours of her brain surgery. Her community came together like I’ve never seen in order to carry their family through those months of radiation and intense treatment.

Nate and I were doing the best we could to keep some things “normal” while we were apart.  We knew it would be hard on the kids (especially on Luis) for our family to be split for so long.  Through Facetime, we tried to keep up with the routine of  Nate reading to the kids before bed.  They called him often and video chatted every chance they got.   Noah and Barrett understood for the most part what was going on, at least as well as they could at that age.  They missed Nate, but they knew where he was and they understood why we had stayed in Mississippi for longer. But Luis struggled significantly, and he didn’t quite understand what had happened and his anxiety peaked.

Keeping up with the evening routine of Nate reading while the boys color…. except it was through Facetime.

Near the end of May, Nate and I had the chance to sneak away for a weekend.   We had been looking at tickets to see if there was anywhere at all that we could get to cheaply so that we could see each other in the middle of our stretch of being apart.  Flying from Arequipa to Mississippi is expensive, and we thought there had to be an inexpensive option somewhere, and we didn’t care where.   He finally found a couple of cheap tickets to Miami.  We met there for a long weekend and it was so nice to get to spend a few days together after being apart during such an emotionally intense and weary time.  It was such a blessing, but it was also really hard to leave him in the airport afterwards and head back to Mississippi alone, where every day held such intense emotional weight.

A quick weekend trip to Miami so we could see each other in the middle of the craziness. It was just what my heart needed.

The twins turned 7 at the beginning of June, and we celebrated with a party at my parents house.  The boys also had the chance to attend VBS at Highlands Pres (the church I grew up in and that my parents and Lacey’s family still attend).  Those kinds of things aren’t really a possibility for them in Peru, so I was glad they had the chance to go!  On the 9th, the kids and I headed back to Peru.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a harder time saying goodbye than I did on that day.  The boys were also more emotional than normal because they didn’t want to leave their cousins that they’d been spending so much time with.  Luis, in particular, struggled intensely because he hadn’t seen Nate since the beginning of April and was afraid we would get back to Peru to find that he had left us.   Luis’s abandonment fears run deep, and his anxiety that his dad was gone forever came out in full force on that trip back.  It was hands down my worst travel experience to date, and I was a sobbing mess by the time we arrived in Arequipa.

The 7 crazy cousins. They became a tight crew during those 2 months.

 

Saying goodbye to this girl was rough. I sure do love my big sister.

We didn’t rest long, though, because I had to jump back into the government process for my Peruvian driving license as soon as I got back (which is a long and difficult and MISERABLE process!).   I was also determined to finish out our homeschool year by the end of the month so that we could take July off from school and have at least a few weeks of “summer break.”  We finished at the end of the month and celebrated with ice cream!  Meanwhile, back in Mississippi, Lacey finished up her radiation, and we waited to hear results from her first scans.

Celebrating the end of the school year! High fives all around!

In July, I struggled.  I had expected to come back to Peru and be able to jump back in to life and ministry, but instead I found myself getting depressed as I tried to manage being so far away while Lacey continued battling her cancer.  I kept feeling myself slipping emotionally, but I couldn’t explain it.  We were still busy with ministry, but I just wasn’t myself.  I decided to pursue some counseling through the resources with our missions agency, and my amazing counselor helped me process through some of what I was feeling.  I continued working with her for the next several months.   I also continued on with the driving license process, which felt overwhelming at times. I failed the first time even though I had performed well on the test, because the evaluators wanted a bribe.  The second time I took the test, I stalled the car out repeatedly because I was so nervous (you have to use a stick-shift for the test), and I failed AGAIN.  I was so frustrated!!   But we had some good things that month as well…  We celebrated 4 years with Luis in our family, and a few days later he turned 8 years old (although he was sick that day).  We also celebrated Nate’s 33rd birthday.

Celebrating 33 amazing years of Nate.

August was busy.  Nate finally found a good property to rent for the seminary he’d been making plans for. He was excited to start trying to turn some of his ideas into reality.  We signed the lease on the property and started doing some work on the place.   We also started our new homeschool year on the 7th, and I was glad to get back into a solid daily routine again.  Noah and Barrett started 2nd grade and Luis started another kindergarten-ish year (it doesn’t really line up with a grade since it’s special-ed for his special needs and learning issues).   I FINALLY passed my driving test and received my Peruvian drivers license!  And on the up-side, since my process had taken so much longer than the rest of the team, the law happened to change in the middle of it and my license is good for 10 years instead of 2.  So I won’t have to go through that again for a LONG time!!

First day of school!

 

We also hosted an MTW Vision Team for our missions agency in August.  They brought down a group of people from all over the U.S. who wanted a better view of missions and life on the field.   I continued with some counseling, and when Lacey’s birthday rolled around on August 16th, I struggled with being so far away.  So I made a big purple birthday cake and we celebrated her from here!   Nate and I also celebrated our 13th anniversary with a fun progressive dinner at various stops around town.  Nate had to do a bit of traveling at the end of the month to attend presbytery meetings here in Peru, and we wrapped up the month with a big virus that swept through the whole family.

The MTW Vision Trip crew finally on the ground in Arequipa!

 

A purple birthday cake for Lacey. It was GOOD.

We started September off with a much-needed family weekend away. Well, it wasn’t that far away… we drove to a great hiking place about an hour outside of town, and we hiked up to a really cool waterfall.  We let the kids explore, we caught some tadpoles to take home with us (aka homeschool science class), and we stayed at a hotel with a pool.  It was nice to spend 48 hours just reconnecting as a family.   Nate continued on with plans for the seminary, and we kept working on the property that we had leased.  On the 18th, we celebrated 5 years on the field (our “missioniversary”), and we were so thankful for the way that the Lord had continued to confirm to our hearts over and over again that this life of missions is what we are called to.  It’s hard being a world away from those we love, but God just keeps reminding us that he holds us and sustains us, no matter what.   Later in the month, Nate and Nathaniel had to fly to Greece for a couple of weeks to attend some leadership meetings with our missions agency, and Alicia headed back to the US to see her family.  The boys and I stayed here in Arequipa, and I was not a fan of being the only one here!  I was so thankful when all of them landed back in Peru again!

Trying to get a selfie with the waterfall. We aren’t good at selfies.

 

A few shots from our little family get-away

 

Noah learning a little about Greece while Nate was there.

In October, we started prepping for another trip back to the U.S., this time for Nate and Nathaniel to attend the Global Missions Conference in order to do some recruiting.  While they worked on their plans for the conference, continued on in ministry at La Roca, and moved forward with plans for the seminary, the kids and I continued on in homeschool.  We released the tadpoles we had caught and raised, and I took each of the kids on a mother/son date night in order to spend a little non-school time with each of them.  I definitely need to do that more often! We also cheered Peru on as the national team played some qualifying matches for the World Cup.  We cheered for Colombia as well, and invited everyone from church over for the Colombia vs. Peru game.   We were excited when both countries qualified!

Saying goodbye to our little tadpoles froggies.
The Peru vs Colombia World Cup qualifier game. We hosted a viewing party and cheered for both!

In November, we boarded flights for the U.S.  Nate and Nathaniel went to the Global Missions Conference they’d been prepping for.  They had a booth featuring the various work happening in Peru, and they gave a presentation at the conference as well.  They also got the chance to see some of our great friends who were attending the conference, and I was sad I didn’t get to see them, too!  But I was thankful that when Nate flew to the conference, the boys and I flew to Mississippi.  I was so excited to see my sister again and get to spend time with my family!  While we were there, my little sister Janie and her husband announced that they would be moving from Chicago back to Mississippi.   When Nate finished with the conference, he joined us in Mississippi, and we stayed there through the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was one of the sweetest trips back to Mississippi I’ve ever had because it was filled with such intentional family time . But once again, it was really hard to leave at the end of the month.

The “Peru Guys” all set up at the Global Missions Conference!

 

A few pictures from our Thanksgiving trip to Mississippi.

At the beginning of December, we were back in Peru and I pulled all of our Christmas decorations down from the storage room.  I was struggling with preparing myself for the holiday, because I knew I would have a hard time being away from my family this year.  But it wasn’t long before Nate came and told me that my mom had called, and she had offered to fly us back to Mississippi for Christmas if we could manage to get away.  I was so thankful!  The kids and I flew back about a week and a half before Christmas without telling anyone, and we were able to show up and surprise Lacey, who had said that all she wanted for Christmas was her entire family in one place. (Here’s the surprise video.)  Nate finally joined us a couple days before Christmas, and we were all together.   It was a really sweet time with my family, and I was so glad to get to spend the holiday with all of them.

Hiding outside the door to surprise Lacey for Christmas

 

the sisters and brother-in-laws on Christmas day 2017

 

Christmas/NewYears dinner out for the adults before we headed back to Peru

We flew back to Peru on New Years Eve, and we were somewhere over the ocean when we said goodbye to 2017.  To be honest, much of the year was a blur.  I struggled emotionally in a deeper way than I have in a really long time, and I felt like I was split between two completely different worlds.  I feel such a strong calling to missions and to life on the field, but I also felt such a strong pull back to Mississippi for the first time.  It was hard to figure out how to navigate a consistent longing to be back there with my family, while at the same time being convinced that we were supposed to stay right where we were in Peru.  But ultimately, I just felt thankful that God had given us such a peace regarding where we should be.  And I clung to his promises that he’s not just sovereign, but that he is good.  He knows every corner of my heart. He knows every cell in Lacey’s brain and exactly how many seconds she (or any of us) has left.  While this year might have blindsided all of us, it came as no surprise to him, and he will bless us abundantly and show us his mercy and goodness even through this.

The Bonhams ringing in the new year at 35000ft, somewhere between MS and Peru.

And so 2017 was the year that we found out Lacey had brain cancer.  And it was also the year where God showed himself faithful and true and good, yet again.   And he will do it again next year.  And the one after that.  For the rest of eternity.

 

 

 

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2016.

Twice per year, both times within the span of one week, the entire city of Arequipa erupts in fireworks at midnight.    As a family –as a city– we usher in both Christmas Day and the New Year at midnight, sitting on our rooftops in our pajamas, bundled with blankets and a steaming cup of hot chocolate to watch as the skyline explodes.  It sounds picture perfect, and it kind of is.  There’s no way to explain it to someone who has never seen it, and there’s definitely no sleeping through it!  {Click here to see a video of the craziness. not our video, btw}  But I definitely love having such an amazing display as the bookends to each year, and it’s one of my favorite new traditions.  We love closing out the year that way.

But to be honest, 2016 did not end with all of us snuggled together on the rooftop like we did on Christmas Eve.  There was nothing picture perfect about it.  Rather, it ended with me leaning against the rooftop doorway in bare feet, having just stumbled out of bed at the sound of the first explosion, while the boys watched sleepily for a few minutes before trudging back to bed. “Its beautiful, but I’m just so tired, mama.”

Yep.  That about sums it up.  2016 wore us out.

I have this weird habit of naming our years in my head, and this one was “The Year of the Two HMA’s.”  Both our family and our teammates family each took 4-5 month HMA ministry trips this year while the other family managed ministry in Peru alone.  And I think I can safely say that we as a team have ZERO plans to ever repeat it.  It was a hard one.  But there was also abundant grace to be found in the midst of the weariness.    Our team grew stronger despite the distance. Our marriage grew closer.  Our hearts were forced to trust the Lord and his goodness in new ways.  Hopefully, we are wiser for it.

>>  2016 In A {not-so-tiny} Nutshell:

2016 began in the States during our very first HMA (Home Ministry Assignment).  We rang in the new year with Nate’s extended family in Hanover, Pennsylvania, then headed back down south to Mississippi to get to work on our Stateside missions responsibilities.

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The Bonham trio in Hanover, PA for New Years last year with Nate’s extended family.

From January until the end of April, we were traveling around the southeast to give missions reports and speak at missions conferences. We checked off lots of other work-related things from our list, such as medical visits, several surgeries, document updates, adoption/citizenship-related meetings for Luis, etc….all the things we can’t do while living in Peru.   We traveled a ton as a family, and Nate occasionally on his own.  He went to Germany with a group from our missions agency to assess some ministry ideas.  It was a crazy, stressful few months where we felt like we were completely out of a routine and weren’t in one place long enough to feel settled or relaxed, and we hauled the kids all over creation with us. But I won’t rehash all of that here…. Overall, it was difficult and exhausting and not at all what we had expected, but it was good.  We both are passionate about sharing our love for missions and ministry, and we were blessed by the opportunity to do it.  {Click here to read a bit more about our HMA.}

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^ a small sampling of our stops along the way.

Meanwhile, our teammates, the Gutierrezes (aka Goots), were here in Arequipa holding down the fort solo.  There were a lot of difficult situations that arose while we were away, which I won’t go into here, but it was a stressful season for the Goots to be on the ground alone and difficult for us to be so far away in the midst of it.   We did our best to support our teammates from afar and help out however we could through video calls, but it was hard on all of us to be on different continents for those few months.

On April 27, we landed in Arequipa to jump back into ministry on the ground.   We were SO READY to be back in Peru!! We’d been thinking for awhile that we wanted to look for a house more suitable for balancing both ministry and homeschooling, so we decided to hit the ground running with a house-hunt as soon as we got back.  Within a couple of weeks we had found a great house that would allow us to host ministry events and provide Nate with a decent office, while at the same time giving me a good homeschool room and green space out front for the boys to burn energy…. all for less than we’d been paying before.  Win-win!  And in less than a month’s time from when we’d landed back in Arequipa, we were all moved in.

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{Top left} Moving day!  //  {Top right} getting the living room set up  //  {Bottom} shared community green space out front!  In a city with so few yards, this was an awesome find!

We spent the next few months getting settled in the new house and enjoying the chance to use it for ministry events.  Nate hosted a guys’ night, we threw a big block-party to get to know our new neighbors, I started a weekly meeting with a couple of girls from the church, and we began hosting weekly dinners to get to know people from the church or in the community that we had met.

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{Top} Guys night watching a huge Peru soccer game…  Nate projected it on the wall in our backyard and invited all the guys from church to come.  //  {Bottom} We threw a neighborhood cookout in the green space in front of our new house.  Almost everyone on the street came!  It was a great way to start building community in the neighborhood.

We had a lot going on at the church over those months as well– a few new ministries that we decided to try out, growth in youth ministry and Sunday schools, and the opportunity to host a pastoral retreat for the pastors of our presbytery in southern Peru.

The twins turned 6, Luis turned 7, and Nate and I both turned 32 and celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.   Nate traveled back to the States for General Assembly and a minor surgery.

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Birthday boys!  The twins turned 6 on June 3, and Luis turned 7 on July 28. 

On August 1st, we started a new homeschool year at Bonham Academy, with the twins entering first grade and Luis in Kindergarten.  Our mornings suddenly became a bit more structured, and we started finding our groove.  We began discovering that we all really kind of like this whole homeschool thing!

But we weren’t the only ones in school, because around the same time, Nate picked up a counseling class for the fall semester and started to carve out a bit of weekly time for lectures and assignments.

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August 1, 2016: First day of school at Bonham Academy AQP! 

Over the summer, we had also started getting ready for the Goots to take their HMA…  it was their turn to head back to the States for several months and our turn to hold down the ministry fort in Arequipa.  We hadn’t originally planned on both of our families having to do it in the same year, but it ended up being necessary.  The Goots left in early September, and we missed them every single one of their 142 days away !!  Seriously, without them, we… barely… survived….

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Sept. 8, 2016:  The Goots ripping our hearts out, about to get on a plane for 5 months.  

 

 

And so the fall months proved to be busy as well.  We celebrated our 4 year missioniversary on September 18th.  In the weeks/months following, Nate traveled to Lima to assist in a church planters’ evaluation and to Colombia for a leaders’ retreat with our missions agency, and we had full plates with discipleship opportunities and a revolving door here at home with so many people in and out for meetings and dinners.   It was a crazy stretch, made crazier by the addition of a young teenage boy who moved in with us for about a month and jumped into our daily homeschool…which suddenly moved from being in English to being bilingual.  But that’s a whole other story!

In November we also had a really fun visit from Nate’s mom and one of his little brothers, Ben.  They came for Thanksgiving and we had a great time celebrating and showing Ben around the city, since it was his first time to Peru.

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{Top Left}  Nate and Ben getting ready to zip-line over the canyon  //  {Bottom Left}  Visiting one of our favorite lookouts with Nate’s mom and brother  //  {Top Right}  Yummy Thanksgiving spread  // {Middle Right}  Mammaw having a lightsaber battle with her grandboys  //  {Bottom Right}  Photo op at a park with Uncle Ben

December was a tough month for many reasons, both on a personal side and a ministry side which made for a difficult and discouraging time.   For the sake of privacy for others, I won’t detail any of the specifics here, but it was definitely a raw and stretching season, probably the most intense we’ve had so far in our 4 years on the field.  But we clung to the promises we know are true and clung to one another; in many ways it proved for Nate and me to be a sweet time of being able to continually encourage and minister to each other’s hearts in the midst of it all.   And it made us REALLY ready for the Goots to hurry up and get back! Thankfully they were right there with us (via technology) every step of the way.

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Christmastime in Arequipa
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Christmas lights in the Plaza

On the ministry side of things, we were in Christmas and end-of-the-year-planning mode.  We hosted a big evangelistic/outreach-focused Christmas dinner for the neighborhood surrounding the church, and it went really well.  We had more than 80 people in attendance, with about 2/3 of them being new faces.

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Dec. 23, 2016: Christmas Outreach Dinner for the community surrounding La Roca

As I mentioned above, we rang in Christmas Day on the rooftop at midnight with hot chocolate and blankets as we watched the fireworks explode all over the city, and it was beautiful.  Later in the day, we celebrated with a few extras at our dinner table who needed a bit of extra care during the holiday season, and we were thankful for the chance to offer some love and community during a season that is difficult for so many.  The sanctuary at church was still decorated with twinkly lights from the Christmas Dinner a few days before, and it was beautiful to end the day with our evening service, celebrating and worshiping a God who loves us so much that he would come to us in the midst of our brokenness.

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Christmas Day 2016
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Christmas Day 2016 

The day after Christmas, we packed up and loaded the boys on a surprise last-minute trip to the beach.   It was just 3 nights away in a very humble hostel on the coast, but even with kind of rough accommodations and the fact that 2 of us got pretty sick, it was still really nice to get away just the 5 of us and sit on a beach.  We needed it.

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Dec. 26-29, 2016:  a few days away as a family on the Peruvian coast

And so, by the time New Years Eve rolled around, we decided that our need for an early bedtime trumped our desire to see fireworks on the roof.  I promised the kids I’d wake them up when the chaos started (as if they could sleep through them!), and I went to bed myself.   When the noise began at midnight, the boys and I stumbled up to the roof to watch for a couple of minutes, but we didn’t last long.  I don’t think any of us had the energy.

To be honest, I didn’t have any trouble saying goodbye to 2016.  The Year of the Two HMA’s moved on along to be a thing of the past.

It is yet to be seen what kind of name 2017 will end up with in my head.  But I’ll be sure to let you know (:

HMA 2016 {thank you}

On December 14, 2015, the Bonhams loaded up our suitcases and boarded a Mississippi-bound plane for our very first Home Ministry Assignment (HMA).

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^ Mississippi bound!

{In case you’re unfamiliar with the term,  HMA is a required part of our job as missionaries with MTW… As Long Term / Career missionaries, we return to the US for an extended period once per 4-year term to take care of our state-side missions responsibilities.  During this time, we visit our supporters and supporting churches in order to give missions reports and keep them up-to-date with ministry here on the ground.  We also work on fundraising to support our ministry here and recruiting new teammates, as well as take care of lots of administrative needs and medical issues before we return to the field to begin our next term.}

To be honest, I was really anxious about our HMA.  I was looking forward to seeing family and friends, and I always love opportunities to share about missions with churches and groups, but I still had a hard time getting on that plane.   We had finally gotten into a really good groove here in Peru, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to our routine and the community we had been starting to build.  We finally had some momentum both at home and in ministry, and I knew that a 134-day detour in the middle of that would be difficult.

Plus, since it would be our very first HMA, Nate and I weren’t really sure what to expect.  But I can definitely say that we were optimists and idealists rather than realists.  We had a long list of things we had planned to take care of and we were completely convinced we’d have no trouble checking them off.  After all, we had 134 whole days right?

Wrong.  It turns out that HMA was a little more complicated than we’d predicted, and our travel/speaking schedule, to-do list, and unexpected pile-up of medical issues took us by surprise.   By the time our April 26 departure date finally rolled around, we felt like we were barely limping onto the plane.

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^ a small sampling of our stops along the way.

 

And while it was certainly an intense and exhausting stretch, it was also strangely energizing.  Maybe I can chalk it up to my verbal-processing tendencies, but standing in front of a group of people and sharing our passion for missions and ministry in Peru lights a fire under me.  There’s a part of me that genuinely loves the support-raising and reporting side of our job.  I love sharing my passions.   Every presentation and meeting filled me with a deep longing to get back to Arequipa.  Talking and reporting about ministry while having a little distance from the daily nitty-gritty only reconfirmed to my heart that this is exactly where we want to be.

 

Throughout all of the traveling and visits and presentations, I kept thinking back to an old blog post I wrote 4 years ago.  We were in the middle of support-raising for our initial departure to Colombia for training, and we were exhausted from the travel and schedule.  A lot of people asked me if it was worth it, or would comment that it was such a shame we had to do so much work to raise our money.    Back then, even though we were just in the very beginning steps of our missions journey, I could already see the start of something amazing.  I wrote,

Yes, it would be nice to have all of our monthly expenses magically covered by a big missions fund.  But it’s even nicer to have someone say to you, “I believe in what you’re doing.  I support the decision your family has made.  I want to literally invest my hard-earned money into the calling you’re so passionate about because I believe that God is building his kingdom through the spread of the Gospel.”

I look at our list of supporters and realize what they are.   Supporters.  They support us.  Financially.  Prayerfully.  Emotionally.   It’s a powerful thing.

Yes, I’m tired.    Yes, I’m sick of sitting in my minivan.   Yes, it’s hard work raising enough money to support us and our ministry.  But we’re not just raising support.  We’re raising supporters.  We’re raising prayer warriors.  We’re raising gospel partners.  In a few weeks, I’ll leave for Colombia  knowing I have a crowd of people back home supporting us.

So no, it’s not a shame.  It’s a blessing.

Every word of that still rings true, 4 years later.

We were thankful for the chance to spend time with family and friends.  We were so glad our boys had the chance to start building relationships with long-distance family members and experience a Mississippi Christmas.  We are so relieved to be able to take care of medical issues and surgeries in the US instead of Peru. All of those things were such wonderful blessings.

 

But most of all, I was thankful to get back on that Arequipa-bound plane on April 26, tired as we were, knowing that we were being supported by such an amazing crowd of family and friends who send us on our way with their love and encouragement and prayers and financial gifts.   They love us well from afar, and they are such a huge part in our ability to do our work well.   We are equipped and encouraged to go because they do such a great job of sending us.

So, thank you.  Thank you for sending us and serving us so well during our first term. Thanks for giving us the opportunities to share and tell stories about our lives here in Peru… for feeding us and loving us and entertaining our kids while we passed through your town and your congregation.  Thank you for signing on to another stretch of investment in the work going on here in Arequipa, for asking when you can visit and how you can pray.

But most of all, thanks for sending us back again.  We’re so thankful to be here.

*****

hma family collage

{I’m not going to do a full re-cap of all of our stops and visits and meetings and things, mostly because its hard to get all of that into one post.  But if you would like to see lots of pictures from HMA 2016, please feel free to scroll through my instagram account!

 

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:

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^ 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.

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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.

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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
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^ 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.

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.

 

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!

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Good times.

 

 

 

 

College. I mean Preschool.

After 100 years of silence, I am back to the blog.  Well, at least I hope I’m back.  I’m always awesome at great intentions.

But as my teammate Alicia pointed out on her post yesterday, getting “settled” here in Arequipa has been quite the ordeal.   First of all, we have to do everything in spanish (which we’re still learning), and the way everything is done here is different from Colombia and VERY different from the States.  We’ve had to relearn the process for everything from contracts to bill-paying to house-hunting, etc.  Second, we didn’t have any contacts here.  The guys literally knew 1 person when we landed here, and that was a taxi driver named Jesús.  In Colombia we had some help and some resources to get started, here we had none.  And third, WE KEEP GETTING SICK.  The process of letting your body adjust to a new culture, new foods, new germs, and new viruses is A BEAST.  At any given time, there is at least one person on our team sick, usually more.  Parasites are no joke, people.

So we’ve been busy, and sick, and exhausted, but we are finally getting to a place where things are leveling out a little.  And since I now have a bit of time and mental energy, I thought I’d catch up with what’s been going on lately here in Arequipa.

First of all, MY KIDS ARE GROWN.  How did that happen? If I feel like the mission field has aged me, it has DEFINITELY aged my kids.  They’re practically adults.  (Except for the fact that they still can’t figure out bathroom etiquette, but that’s beside the point).  They are talking up a storm in two languages, can argue and debate with the best of them, and suddenly seem to be able to call me out in my parenting inconsistencies.  I was already feeling like I was surrounded by teenagers in 3-year-old bodies.

And then they started school.

Nate and I knew when we moved here that we wanted to find a preschool program, particularly for Luís’ continued language and cognitive development.  There’s a little “jardin” right down the road, and after visiting and talking with the director, we decided to give it a try.  I wasn’t ready to send them for the full 5 days a week, especially since we are still working so much with Luís and his attachment, but the director agreed to let me send them 3 days a week if I would keep up with homework and keep them on track with the class for the other days.

Wait…homework?

It turns out that preschool in Peru is the real deal.  Maybe it was the fact that my children suddenly seemed so grown up, or maybe it was because I had a school supply list that could fill a dorm room and looking through their curriculum gave me the urge to help them pick a major, but it felt more like I was sending my kids to college on that first day.

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^ 3 munchkins very excited about this whole “school” thing they keep hearing about!
first day of preschool
^ Excited about their uniforms… a beanpole in the middle and two little pot-bellies. The 3 couldn’t be more different, that’s for sure!
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^ my favorite pic of them in their uniforms… taken last week by my mom when she was visiting

Since then, I have tried my best to figure out this new world of preschool, but it continues to throw me for a loop every single day.  I have covered their books in wrapping paper and vinyl, as directed.  (That’s harder than it sounds…my version looks pretty ghetto.)  I literally took a school supply list of words I didn’t recognize to a shop, handed it to the sweet little shopkeeper, and said in spanish, “My children just started preschool.  Please help me.”   Maybe the desperate first-time Preschool Mom look is the same in any country, because she just laughed and said, “Don’t worry, Mamita,” and gently talked me through all the random little things on the list.  But I can now discuss things like glitter, tempura paints, yarn, and using gelatin to fingerpaint without a problem, so I guess that’s progress!

But every day, it’s something new.  Whether it’s a new list of things that they’ll need in class, or homework instructions that seem bizarre, or an explanation of how to pay for this or that, I’m always having to figure out how a new part of the process works.   Thankfully the director is very patient, she understands that preschool brings along with it a whole new category of vocabulary I haven’t learned yet, and she is willing to teach me every step of the way.

^ the book box for one of the boys… it contains 15 books, plus there are 3 more that don’t fit. The books cover everything from life skills to letters to math to science to art.
^ a little sample of the work and assignments they bring home
^ a little sample of the work and assignments they bring home as homework

And as confused as I can be at times, the boys are learning like crazy.   Barrett came home the first week and explained to me in detail how precipitation works.  I was understandably surprised that he knew what any of that was, and asked him if he had learned it at school.  He said, “Yes, my teacher taught me about that. Except she said it all in spanish, and I’m telling you in english.”    A preschool brain’s ability to language-hop is amazing, to say the least.

And speaking of language, it has been INCREDIBLE to see the difference it has made in Luís’ language development!  We were told by the language/cognitive specialist in Bogotá that a spanish immersion environment would boost his abilities across the board, but we had no idea how quick and drastic it would be.  Within the first 2 weeks, Luís was using more english at home than ever before.   Now that he has an established environment for each language, his little brain is working hard to figure out the differences and he is making significant progress.  I could never have imagined how much spanish preschool would help his ability to communicate in english at home.

All that to say, preschool has been an adventure for the whole family.  I am still shocked at how “academic” it is at times, and that I am doing homework every day with 3 year olds, but they are loving it for the most part.

^ busy doing homework
^ busy doing homework

Plus, it has given me 3 mornings a week to do things like get a spanish language partner, clean my house, and keep up with all the things on my admin list….like blogging.

So hopefully, I’m back.  And as long as being a first-time Preschool Mom in another language doesn’t COMPLETELY fry my brain, I’ll be a regular around here again (:

Despedidas.

Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m not in Bogotá anymore.  It feels so crazy that our time there is finished, because it seems like we just arrived.  In the end, I was surprised at how difficult it was to say goodbye to a place that I’d only lived for 15 short months.

There were alot of reasons I wasn’t quite ready to go.  I knew I’d miss the people we’d come to know and love there.  We had become great friends with some of our neighbors, who were so kind and patient as we learned Spanish.  Our church family, who welcomed us with open arms, loving us so well despite our inability to communicate much at the beginning.  The long-term Colombia team who celebrated holidays with us when we were missing home, answered so many cultural questions, and encouraged us as new missionaries with young kids on the field.  Our amazing Spanish professor who spent hours with us every day, filling our brains with a new language and loving us even through the stress. The nannies who cared for our children while we were in class and taught us more about cross-cultural friendships than anyone else as they observed our day-to-day lives in our homes.   And of course, the other families in the AIM program, who walked with us daily through the most stressful season of life we’ve had to date.  They became family.  The goodbyes were hard.

But for me, there was another layer of complexity involved in saying goodbye to Colombia.  I wasn’t just leaving a place I’d loved for 15 months — a sweet little townhouse, a neighborhood I’d started to call “mine,” a familiarity that had taken months to forge.  I was leaving Colombia… Luís’ home.   His birth country.  His roots.  

It was different than the way I felt about taking the twins away from their birth country.  For the twins, they’ll always have a piece of Mississippi in their lives, because they have me.   I can’t separate my life from my Mississippi upbringing, and no matter what, my children will always experience pieces of Mississippi culture no matter where we live.  I carry it with me wherever I go, and even if my children never actually live there again, it will be a part of them; they are being raised and nurtured by someone with Mississippi running through her veins.  I am the link.

But I can’t do that for Luís and his birth country.   I lived in and loved Colombia for 15 months, but that wasn’t nearly long enough for the culture to permeate who I am and the way I live.  It wasn’t long enough for me to deeply understand and feel a part of the culture, to have it resonate so deeply with me that I count it as part of my identity, to be able to accurately pass it down to my children so that they feel like it’s a part of them as well.   Hopefully Peru will be that way eventually, but that takes YEARS to forge–a lifetime maybe.   And though I will try as hard as I can to preserve the pieces of Luis’ Colombian heritage and history, I know I can never do it fully.   In many ways, when I flew out of Bogotá a few short weeks ago, I felt like I was severing the link, and that breaks my heart.

But then, that’s not completely true.  I may have moved away, but Colombia will always have a piece of me.  Not only because I will always remember my time there as a season in which the Lord stretched and changed me in painful and beautiful ways, but because Colombia gave me my son.   Colombia will always be a part of me, because it’s a part of Luís, and I am now inextricably tied to it.  I couldn’t let it go if I tried.  Instead of me providing links to his roots for him, he’s the one who provides it for me.

So even though we said goodbye to Colombia, it wasn’t for the last time.   My children will always grow up with Colombian food and pieces of Colombian culture.  They’ll always hear me talk about the beautiful Colombian people and the experiences we had living there.  We’ll take them back as they get older, so that Luís and his siblings can develop their own memories of and love for such a beautiful country and heritage.

Now that I think about it, maybe goodbye isn’t the right word after all.

See you soon, Colombia.

Arequipa.

It’s almost January, but my doors are open to let in the breeze and the sunshine, and I’ve got on shorts, flip-flops, and a tiny bit of a leftover sunburn.  This isn’t Bogotá or Mississippi, that’s for sure.

My blog went stale, and in the meantime I moved to the other side of the equator.

Obviously, I haven’t done a great job of documenting that whole process, which I am sure I am going to regret later.  But for the past several months, the priority has been SURVIVAL, and sometimes writing it all down just doesn’t make the cut.  Unfortunately.

But here we are, starting a new adventure in beautiful Arequipa, Peru, and I guess I should get myself up to date.

Back in the summer, the discussion started among the families on our team and our missions agency about the possibility of making the transition from Bogotá to Peru earlier than we had originally planned.  Nate and I were actually in Cali, Colombia for our adoption travel call when it all started.  We were meeting Luís and experiencing an intense emotional whirlwind within our own family, so all of the details and specifics about when we would move to Peru were the farthest thing from my mind.

As the decision to move in December was made, I was still neck-deep in chaos at home with Luís and the twins, so anything beyond the current day was too much to think about.  “Just tell me when to get on the plane,” I told them.    And really, until the time came to start packing up the house, I just didn’t worry about it….which is weird, because normally I’m the type that gets so excited about things like this that I scour the internet and spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking and planning and daydreaming about the new place.   But this time, I told myself, I would discover it when I got there, and that would have to be good enough.

To sum up, we sold or gave away almost everything during the month of November.  We held on to our beds, some clothes, and a couple of small items and loaded them up in a container to be shipped to Arequipa.  On December 2, we moved out of our little townhouse in Bogotá and into the same missionary guest house that we had stayed in when we first moved to Colombia 15 months before. We spent a week saying goodbyes and finishing up last minute things, then on the 11th we flew to Lima, Peru, where we started our visa process (which had some hangups and will have to be done again).  On December 18th, we finally touched down in Arequipa with 4 trunks, 1 duffel bag, and 4 carry-ons.  (Plus 2 other families and all their stuff, too.)

all 17 of us heading to the airport!
Leaving Bogotá…all 17 of us heading to the airport!

We got in late after dark, so I couldn’t see anything.  Nate kept telling me that the volcano, Misti, that towers over the city was RIGHT THERE, and that I would be shocked when I woke up in the morning and actually got a look at the city around me.  He was right.  This was my view when I looked out the front door the next morning:

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Arequipa is unbelievably different from Bogotá, in every way imaginable.  And it might be a desert, but the sandy mountains, amazing volcano, and warm sunshine make it stunningly beautiful.

We’re staying in a furnished rental apartment for a month or so while we hunt for housing and a car, and hopefully we will be able to start setting up a house sometime in January or February.  

In the meantime, I’m going to get started on finding out all the cool things about this city that I had put on the back-burner for the past few months.  So far, I can tell you that this desert city is breathtaking.  Beautiful views.  Amazing weather.  Friendly people.  Yummy food.  

I think I’m going to enjoy the discovery.