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.

*****

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{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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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!

10489733_10101871470894505_990116292426809900_n
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 (: