Bonham Academy: Kindergarten

This is what my mornings look like these days:

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It’s a big change for us.

This time last year, I mentioned that Nate and I had decided on a new venture that was sure to make us crazy.  (Well, mainly me crazy.)  But nonetheless, last year we decided that, given our current options, it seems that homeschooling is the best choice for our family right now.   So I spent the last year researching, talking to some veteran homeschooling mamas, and doing some “practice days” here and there with the kids to see what they thought.  (Munchkin Consensus: YES PLEASE!)

This summer, however, the twins turned 5 and Luís turned 6…which means it’s time for REAL kindergarten, not just some fun practice days here and there.  So “the playroom” transformed itself into “the schoolroom” as we hauled out the toys and hauled in the curriculum, books, and art supplies.  We put a big star on the calendar for September 14 and declared it “The First Day of School.”    A late start, but we had to get our Colca Canyon and Sacred Valley trips out of the way first.  And here in Peru, the first day of school is usually in March (the school year runs from March to December), so our calendar is completely out-of-whack as far as they are concerned.

^ Obligatory "First Day of School" photo. Those are some excited boys!
^ Obligatory “First Day of School” photo. Those are some excited boys!  September 14, 2015

Now we are about a month in, and things are going better than I expected.  It didn’t take us long to get into a good rhythm, and I think we are all benefiting from having a solid morning routine for the first time.

And while we are off to a good start, I’m a little nervous about the rest of the year.  With our impending HMA (Home Ministry Assignment) coming up–more on that later– I have no doubt that our routine and schedule is going to get bumped around a bit.  And by “bumped around,” I mean demolished completely.  Somehow I am going to have to figure out what homeschooling will look like with an insane travel schedule while we continent-hop.  My goal at this point is just to finish a curriculum year within an actual year, however that ends up working out.

And as I mentioned, the Peruvian school calendar is different from the US calendar, so there’s always the question of which calendar we should stick to.  Or maybe we should just have year-round school with short breaks whenever we need them?  Who knows.

And there’s the ongoing issue of making sure I’m far enough ahead in my planning and preparations that I can order the supplies we need and have them brought down in plenty of time before we need them, which means that I’m already having to start researching and making decisions on first grade materials.  (…and also experiencing deep denial that my children are old enough for me to consider looking at first grade materials.)

All that to say….  we have one month down, and I’m pretty proud of that.  I have no idea what the rest of this year will look like, or what new complications or considerations will arise.  But for now, we have jumped in head-first, and we are loving it!

***

 

Here are a few more pictures of our first few weeks…  Hover for captions, and click for larger view or slideshow view.  

Year 3.

Today is our missioniversary.   At least that’s what Alicia calls it, and I love that.   She calls Luís’ family day (July 25) our “Luísiversary,”  and December 11, when we finally touched down in Peru, is our Peruversary. And so today, September 18, is the 3 year anniversary of the day we boarded a southbound plane and moved to another continent as missionaries. Our missioniversary.  3 years ago today we landed in Bogotá, Colombia, with 12 pieces of luggage, 2 kids, and not a word of Spanish.

When I think back on Year One, I mostly remember culture shock, Spanish, and waiting… waiting for anything at all to start to feel normal, waiting to figure out where we would be long term, and mostly, waiting for Luís, whom we finally brought home 10 months into our first year.  I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t communicate, exhausted from studying spanish, and really lonely.   But I also remember loving Colombia, embracing our new lifestyle, and thinking, “YES. This feels right.”

I remember Year Two as “The Year We Plowed Through.”   We moved to Peru right at the beginning of Luís’ transition to our family, and it was a whirlwind.  Juggling adoption, continued language deficiencies, illnesses, and adjusting to a new country (again) felt a little like I was under water and fighting to swim upward so that I could finally come up for air.  I was pushing through as hard as I could to get to a place where I could breathe.  I remember the prayer journals filled while sitting on the floor of the boys’ bedroom while they slept; I remember Nate’s late-night spanish study sessions and early-morning prayer times;  I remember wondering how long it would be before I finally made friends again in this new place.  But I also remember the numerous tiny glimpses of the amazing work God was doing in each of us as we adjusted to being a family of 5; and I remember falling in love with the beauty of living in a desert; and I remember rejoicing at each new person who slowly opened up to the idea of a friendship with a clueless gringa.  It was hard, but it was good, and God was faithful.

And Year Three.  What would I call this last year?  I’m not sure, to be honest.  It’s been a weird one.   With the first two years, I knew what I was walking into ahead of time, more or less.  Even though there was no way to truly be emotionally prepared for the reality of culture shock or adoption transition or learning a language, and even though it’s been exponentially more intense than I had imagined, there was still a sense in which I walked into it knowing what I had signed up for.  Intellectually speaking, I knew what was ahead.

But Year Three showed up with some unexpected turns.  The only way I know to describe this year is heavy.  All of it.  It’s been an emotionally difficult year.   We’ve had significant changes in our team, we have taken on new unexpected roles in ministry that have stretched us thin, and we are pouring into a church and community in which every single person has been affected deeply by abuse, poverty, and pain.     None of it has been the way we had imagined, and most of it has felt too difficult and draining to write down.

And yet, there’s still somehow a deep, sweet undercurrent of joy.  I have never felt more incompetent or ill-equipped for something in my life than I do right now, and yet I also have never felt more sure of our calling to missions and to Arequipa.  God has so lovingly and gently reaffirmed this to my heart over and over again.   I love these people.  I love this church.  I love serving them and crying with them and praying for them.   And sometimes that terrifies me because I have no clue what I am doing.  I absolutely cannot do this…which means I am reminded every moment that it doesn’t depend on me, and that my insufficiencies point all the more to Christ’s strength.

This year has been heavy, and I am thankful for that, because once again, God has tenderly shown me that difficult or heavy doesn’t necessarily equal bad.  Ultimately, it has reminded me that carrying burdens isn’t a part of my job description.  Casting them off is.  I lay them down before the cross, and then I walk with others and show them this amazing Jesus who calms our hearts and carries our burdens and loves us fiercely, and I pray that they too will experience the sweet joy found in casting their burdens on Him and resting in the One who holds the universe.

I don’t know what Year Four holds in store, and this time I am walking into it KNOWING that I don’t know.  It might be an even heavier one for that matter, but that’s okay, because I’m not the one carrying the weight.   I’m the one being carried.

Happy missioniversary to us, and here’s to many, many more.

2014.

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

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

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

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

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

^ the day we showed the house to the boys, they were thrilled to find TURBO (the snail) on the roof!  Sadly, he was gone by move-in day.
^ the day we showed the house to the boys, they were thrilled to find TURBO (the snail) on the roof! Sadly, he was gone by move-in day.
^ the view from the rooftop of our house.  We were so excited to move in!
^ the view from the rooftop of our house. We were so excited to move in!

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

^ checking out the loot from a trip to the fish market
^ checking out the loot from a trip to the fish market
^ the Plaza de Armas in the center of the city
^ the Plaza de Armas in the center of the city

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

^ the boys on their first day of preschool
^ the boys on their first day of preschool
^ showing my parents around Arequipa
^ showing my parents around Arequipa

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

market20

market16

aqp around town 4

market

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

^ Nate and the guys practicing Andino music in my living room
^ Nate and the guys practicing Andino music in my living room
^ torta de choclo... So glad I learned how to make this because it is AMAZING!
^ torta de choclo… So glad I learned how to make this because it is AMAZING!
^ Making salt dough volcanos!
^ Making salt dough volcanos!

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

^ at the boys' favorite park
^ at the boys’ favorite park
^ silly boys
^ silly boys
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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.

Bonham Family Update {December 2014}

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

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

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

^ Our first glimpse of Arequipa
^ Our first glimpse of Arequipa

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

^ Christmas 2013 -- last year's whirlwind Christmas
^ Christmas 2013 — last year’s whirlwind Christmas

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

^Christmas 2014
^Christmas 2014
^ Christmas 2014 {with this years Christmas Eve jammies}
^ Christmas 2014 {with this years Christmas Eve jammies}

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

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

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

^Nate preaching in spanish at our church
^Nate preaching in spanish at our church
^Nate playing with "Jesus El Verbo," the Andino music group he is a part of
^Nate playing with “Jesus El Verbo,” the Andino music group he is a part of

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

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

^The boys first day of preschool, March 2014
^The boys first day of preschool, March 2014

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas from the Bonhams!

2014 Shoot (3 of 10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see how this goes.

Settling: A Broad-Strokes View.

August marks 8 months since we moved here to Arequipa, and we are slowly but surely getting our bearings around here.  It continues to surprise me how different everything here is from Colombia (and of course from Mississippi!), but we are readjusting and resettling, even through another little bout of unexpected culture shock.

And despite the readjustments, I have been delighted by how much I am falling in love with this city.   Every time we discover a new part of town, a new way things are done, or spend time with new people, I find myself thinking how excited I am to be settling here long-term.  I had never laid eyes on Peru before we moved here, and now I can’t imagine leaving it.  I am so thankful that the Lord has continually answered my prayers that he would give me a love and a passion for wherever he calls us.  We still have a long way to go to really understand this place and its people (not to mention the language!) but I am enjoying the learning process in the meantime.

And since I haven’t done a great job of chronicling our adventures in Peru thus far, here’s a quick little run-down to get myself up to date:

DISCOVERING AREQUIPA

Even though the process of really getting to know a city takes a long time, we have really enjoyed seeing new parts of Arequipa and learning more about this place we call home.  We are constantly on the hunt for parks, markets, restaurants, neighborhoods and other interesting spots that we haven’t seen before.  We are trying to figure out how people spend their free time, where we can go to meet new people, and fun places to take friends when they visit.   But more than just seeing the cool parts of town, we want to learn more about “the real Arequipa” according to the Arequipeños who live here.  Really learning this city requires a whole new level of intentionality and dedication to engaging the people, listening, and observing.   Of course, 8 months is only a drop in the bucket, and we have a LONG way to go!

CELEBRATIONS

Our family has hit a lot of big milestones over the past several months, one right after another.  We celebrated the boys first day of school back in March (the school system has a different calendar here).  My parents visited Peru for the first time later that month.  In May we celebrated my 30th birthday.  In June the twins turned 4, Nate’s mom visited for a fun week, and then we headed back to Mississippi & Chattanooga for a couple of crazy weeks.  In July we celebrated Nate’s 30th birthday, our 1-year anniversary of Luís joining our family,  and Luís’ 5th birthday.   And this month, Nate and I will celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, and next month we celebrate our 2-year missioniversary (or whatever you might call it)… We have had one exciting thing after another to celebrate!

GETTING INVOLVED & MAKING FRIENDS

Since we arrived here in Arequipa, we have been praying that the Lord would open some doors for us to get involved in the community and make some friends.   We have been so thankful for the ways that He is answering that prayer, and life has certainly been getting pleasantly full!  Between a couple of small ministries we’ve been able to get involved in, the small church we’re a part of, and continuing to meet people around the city, we are beginning to develop some relationships.  We are slowly but surely building a community here, and it’s a beautiful thing to see it developing.    Nate has grown close with several guys that he plays music with regularly, but it has proved to be harder for me to find opportunities to get to know other women.  (This was the opposite in Bogotá, where finding female friends for me was much easier than guy friends for Nate… we have had a role reversal here!)  I had asked several people to pray consistently with me that the Lord would provide me with a few solid friendships with Peruvian women who would help me learn the culture, practice spanish, and begin to feel more at home in general.  I’ve gotten to know several ladies recently who have been so patient and kind, and I am so looking forward to seeing where the Lord leads our burgeoning friendship.

SCHOOL

As I mentioned, the boys started school back in March.  It’s not an actual school, necessarily, but a “jardin” for children from 0 to 5 years.  It’s more like a preschool.  Trying to navigate preschool in a foreign country and language has been interesting to say the least.   Many parts of it have been a struggle, to be honest, and we are in the process of re-evaluating our plans for the next year.  But the boys have enjoyed it overall, and the process has helped me understand a bit more about the culture of young families here.  As the boys get a bit bigger and we move from preschool-age to kindergarten-age, we’re figuring out what is going to be the best fit educationally.

The boys aren’t the only ones in school, though.  Nate jumped back into classes several mornings a week with a private tutor at the language school here in town.   His professor is excellent, and between classes, homework, and the amount of spanish he gets in day-to-day life around here, he is certainly getting his fair share of practice!   I’m not in school at the moment, but I’m working through several spanish grammar text books on my own, and I’m trying to get in good conversation practice when I can.   Hopefully I’ll be able to do a couple of short intensive classes at the language school later in the year.

FAMILY

Last month, we hit the big milestone of one year home with Luís.  I look back over the past year and the ways we as a family have grown and changed and adjusted, and I am amazed.   That morning I sat around the breakfast table with the boys and told them the story of the day we met Luís.  I was shocked that none of them remembered a bit of it, not even Luís.  The twins have vague memories of a few things before he joined our family, but not many;  they had just turned 3 at that point, after all.   None of them really remember life before each other, and I love that.  In the past few months, there was a subtle shift from the transition phase to something that more closely resembles normal.  There’s a little less chaos, a little less drama, a little less anxiety, and instead our days have a lot more trust, affection, and playfulness.   We are still working consistently with Luís to make up for some developmental delays in a few areas, particularly in communication and expression, but he is doing really well.  He has recently started speech therapy in spanish 3 days a week, and I am hoping that it will give him a big boost in his communication skills.

Overall, the feeling of finally feeling “settled” here in Arequipa and starting to feel “settled” a bit more into our family has all flowed together in a weird and nice way.    I don’t know any other way to describe it than that….things are just starting to settle.

Of course, that’s just a broad-strokes view of life around here… the excitement happens in the details! Well, the excitement and the chaos and the boring parts and the busyness and the mundane, and everything else.   The details can be messy.  Messy, but always interesting. Maybe if I’m lucky, some of those details will start turning into blog posts (:

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 (: