Last Friday night, a group of my friends and family participated in the annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life. We walked the track from 7 p.m. – 1 a.m. in memory of my aunt Jill, and in honor of so many others who have fought cancer. I’m so proud of my team, The Dukes – we raised over $2,500 this year! Being 8 months pregnant, I didn’t walk as far as normal, but I still managed to get about 14,000 steps and keep that baby in! Here are a few highlights of the evening.
This weekend I had the privilege of photographing Donnelly College’s 10th annual SHINE gala, held at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. Our advancement team started the day early, with a quick break for a stadium tour before guests started arriving. (In addition to photography, I also designed the invitations, program, signage, slideshow, and more.) The evening included lots of mingling, excellent hors d’oeuvres, a program featuring student and alumni panelists, and a time to raise more funds to keep costs down for underserved students. It was an incredible evening, and I’m so happy I had the chance to capture it!
Yesterday my office hosted its annual Bring Your Dog to Work Day in support of the American Cancer Society Bark For Life event. The day began with a doggie meet-and-greet, and the dogs hung out around the office throughout the day. We wrapped up the afternoon with an ice cream social, complete with ice cream doggie treats! I didn’t have a pup to bring to the event, but I did get to doggie-sit while one coworker was on a call. It definitely made for a lively day at the office!
It’s hard to believe we’ve already been back from Nicaragua for a week and a half. It’s hard to go back to “normal” life, and I pray that I don’t slip back into a lifestyle where I take what I have for granted. Did you know that people who make over $40,000 are richer than 99% of people across the globe? Hearing that really put things into perspective for me.
Here’s a bit about our travel day home, if you’re interested. If you have any questions about Project H.O.P.E., what we did, the people of Nicaragua, or anything else, please let me know in the comments below.
Saturday, July 25 – Some of the group had to leave for the airport around 4 a.m., and others didn’t fly out until about midnight Saturday night. We were lucky to have a mid-day flight. I woke up around 7, had a dry cinnamon roll, and packed up my stuff so the Project H.O.P.E. maids could clean out the rooms for the next group arriving that afternoon. We all hung out in the cabana and the kitchen until mid-morning. (They brought out some fruit and eggs a little later on, which I was grateful for since the cinnamon roll didn’t fill me up.) We quickly said our good-byes and hopped on the bus for the airport.
When we flew in to Nicaragua it was late and I was disoriented, so I didn’t really get a feel for the airport. This time I realized how small it was – just one two-story building and one runway. Check-in went smoothly, then we found out our flight to Miami was delayed a couple of hours, because the plane was coming from Miami, where storms had been passing through. I was pretty nervous that we weren’t going to make our connection. Jerod and I split a small wrap in the airport, and we had a smooth flight with one beverage and no snacks (thanks, American Airlines) and landed in Miami around 8:30 p.m. (6:30 Nicaragua time).
Our connection to Kansas City left at 9:30, so we only had an hour to get through customs. We ran through the airport, only to have to stop and wait through a long line at the immigration kiosks. Then we had to pick up our bags…but our bags hadn’t even appeared on the conveyer belt yet. I found someone at the American Airlines information desk and notified him that there were 21 people still waiting on bags for a flight leaving in 30 minutes. He made a call and found out it was delayed 20 minutes, but he was able to delay it another 10 minutes or so. He told me to gather our group when we got our bags, and he’d make sure we made it to our flight. When I found the group, several of them had already gone ahead (every man for himself!) so that plan fell through. Once we made it through security and re-checked our bags, there were staff there letting people to Kansas City through, so I think he did pull some strings for us. He was the nicest American Airlines staff person I’ve ever dealt with. I was one of the last of our group to arrive at our gate – making it just in the nick of time. Unfortunately there was no time for dinner.
Thankfully we had a smooth flight to Kansas City. Once we arrived around midnight, everyone split off pretty quickly with a few hugs, ready to be home. My bag never arrived, so I filed a report, and Jerod’s dad took us home. When we got home I immediately went to Little Miss K’s bedroom and picked her up. She barely opened her eyes and really had no idea what was going on, so I got to hold her in my arms while she slept for about 10 minutes. The next morning she clearly had no idea I had held her, because she was thrilled to see us! I was so happy to see her, too.
We had an incredible trip – one we’ll never forget, and one I hope to be life-changing. Again, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. And if you are considering going on a mission trip, JUST DO IT! You may regret never going on one, but I promise you won’t regret taking that leap. Oh, and my bag arrived at our door two days later with everything intact.
Friday, July 24 – We ate breakfast quickly and headed to the village a little earlier than normal to say our good-byes. We only had about 45 minutes there, and I started crying as soon as we arrived as I saw the kids run to Abby – I knew how much they’d miss her (and the rest of us), and maybe more importantly, how much I would miss them.
Our family arrived at the community center (minus Jorge who couldn’t get off work), and there were lots of hugs and a few more tears. We walked to their temporary home since their Project H.O.P.E. house hadn’t yet been started aside from post holes, and we were lucky enough to have the interpreter Evelyn follow along with us. Since we had her with us in the beginning, we decided to go ahead and pray together and talk briefly. We told each other we’d continue to pray for each other and that we were so grateful to have met each other. Even after Evelyn moved on, we were still able to communicate much better than our first visit to their home. They opened their rice sacks of clothes and seemed to enjoy looking at them. We gave Sebastian a small board book of Lil’ Miss K’s that was in both Spanish and English – he knew immediately that it was just for him and wouldn’t let anyone else look at it. It was adorable to see how he clung to it! We gave him a couple other small trinkets too, and we gave Gizelle another apron, Jorge a donated baseball cap, and Estphanie a pair of cute pink converse sneakers, which she seemed excited about. Even though they have almost nothing, they gave us gifts too – a brightly-colored Nicaraguan napkin holder and a hanging key holder that says, “My God, where are the keys?” in Spanish. Earlier in the week we gave them a photo of our family.
After watching Sebastian play for a bit and taking a couple more selfies with them, he headed back up to the community center for a few more minutes. Estphanie and I played some clapping games, then we exchanged many more hugs and had to leave. I remained composure until we got on the bus, when I saw several other ladies crying too, and we saw them all waving vigorously good-bye. It’s hard to believe we’ll soon be going back to our normal, comfortable lives, and they’ll still be in the village, where they’ll be doing the same thing over again next week with another group of missionaries. I only hope we touched their lives half as much as they touched ours.
Next, we headed to Granada, a big tourist city in Nicaragua. It took about two hours on the extremely hot school bus, so the drive was pretty miserable. We arrived at a boat dock, had a bathroom break and bought some tasty roasted cashews from vendors, then hopped on about 3 boats for a tour of Lake Nicaragua. We got to navigate through some semi-narrow canals filled with what looked like a type of lilies on the water – it reminded me of a picturesque rainforest that would be on Discovery Channel – it was absolutely gorgeous!
About 15 minutes into the boat ride we started seeing giant homes on the water … we finally found where the few rich people in Nicaragua live. Halfway through the boat ride we came upon an island that inhabited a handful of spider monkeys – I’m not sure if they were native to the island or if they were placed there for the tourists, but they were definitely tame. They recognized one of the boat drivers and hoped onto his boat for a while. It was kind of surprising to see well-off Nicaraguan tourists on the boats too.
After the boat ride, we went to an open-air restaurant overlooking the lake where we had chicken, steak, or pork entrees. The best part of the meal was the plantain chips, which were kind of like sweet French fries. It was nice to have a bit of time to relax and unwind after a week of work and an emotional morning. After the restaurant we went to a market, where we had about an hour and a half to shop – not nearly enough time, especially for my cousin Cyndie, who had 6 kids to buy for. Most of us bought fruit smoothies, and even though we took a risk with the Nicaraguan water, none of us got sick that I’m aware of. I bought a dress, sandals, and baby hammock for Lil’ Miss K, a couple souvenirs for our niece and nephews, Nicaraguan coffee, and a woven bracelet for myself.
After we left the market we had to endure about 2 more hours on the hot, uncomfortable bus back to basecamp. It might have been the worst part of the entire week – I felt pretty bad by the time we got back. We ended the evening with steak, which was probably my least favorite meal of the week. Every night we had a different kind of fresh-squeezed juice – my favorites were the watermelon juice, dragon fruit juice, and something similar to limeade. The passion fruit juice, which we had a lot in Haiti, was also delicious. They also had a dark purple juice that tasted like cinnamon that a lot of us didn’t really care for. And because we wanted to continue with the trend, we stayed up just a bit later than the previous night, going to bed after midnight.
Thursday, July 23 – We started off the day with egg casserole, muffins, fruit, and the obligatory rice and beans, then we headed to the village for a shortened day of work. Jerod and I decided to focus on our family today rather than building homes. Building relationships with the people is just as important, and we wanted to make sure to do that. After our morning worship, we found an interpreter to talk with Gizelle and find out more about her, her family, and her walk with God. We found out that she grew up Catholic and was baptized as a baby, and her family is going to church regularly outside the village (by foot or by bike). She wasn’t ready to be baptized as an adult, as she was still studying the Bible. (We gave them a Spanish Bible a couple of days prior.) Gizelle studied journalism and wants to help people look up information(?) – she plans to find a job once the home is built. She also told us how grateful they were, because without Project H.O.P.E., it would have taken many years to save up enough money for a home. She said she couldn’t imagine leaving Sebasian like we’d left Lil’ Miss K, and that she would have been constantly worried about him. Overall we had a nice, fairly long talk.
After our conversation, I was planning on going up the mountain with another team member to get a good overall photo of the village, but the taxi, the hike, and the water tower climb ended up being no-no’s, so I worked on blocking with Gizelle for a while instead. Abby and I had previously joked that we were tough and could mix concrete by hand, so she stopped by the house and asked if I wanted to give it a shot. The guys were more than willing to give us their shovels, take a break, and use us as entertainment, so they watched us mix two batches of concrete. After about 30 minutes we were happy to hand the shovels back over. Despite what the guys said, we both thought we did pretty good – our time wasn’t that much slower than theirs!
We had lunch at the community center, then had a shortened women’s Bible study. At the end, each woman got to keep their notebook and they were all given aprons made by the women at Plaza Heights. I took photos of the women in their aprons – a lot of them liked looking at their picture and were very grateful for the aprons. Next was a quick, very crowded children’s Bible study, where they got to do a craft, color, and eat gummy worms. During the Bible studies, the men played the Nicas two quick games of baseball and won both games this time! Jerod grabbed a ladder for me and we climbed on top of an abandoned house near the community center, which overlooked the entire village, Lake Managua, and the volcano, so I could get my photo. Like lemmings, several people followed suite and joined us to take in the gorgeous view.
We left the village around 2 and took two buses down to a lake for baptisms. We had two people – one Nica baptized by Jim, and Hunter from our group, who was baptized by his step-father. I don’t think they could have had a more beautiful setting for a baptism – it was pretty neat to witness.
Back at basecamp we cleaned up and ate a delicious dinner of sea bass, veggies, and mashed potatoes. It was my favorite meal of the trip. Evening service was really emotional for myself and several others, I think. Between Holy Communion and awesome music from Nate, I just felt really close to God.
We quickly packed rice sacks full of donated clothes we’d brought for our families, which turned out to be hectic and disorganized. It was a let down going from such a touching service to a stressful process. Some of the guys did have fun putting on crazy outfits, which lightened the mood a bit. Luckily we’ve already made plans to make it go smoother next year. We stayed up until almost midnight – but we’re enjoying each other’s company more and more every night.
Wednesday, July 22 – Today was a full workday in the village. We had our typical large breakfast, which always included eggs, salsa, rice and beans, and freshly-squeezed juice along with some kind of carb.
This morning’s pow-wow in the village included dancing to the catchy song, “Chu Chu Ua.” I was selected, among quite a few others, to go up front to dance with Eduardo leading the motions. It’s kind of like a Nicaraguan version of hokey-pokey, only more entertaining! After the sermon and small group time, we got right to work. After dropping Sebastian off with a relative in the village, Gizelle worked with me today. We worked on blocking all morning on Greg’s family’s home. We’re really starting to get into a groove now, so it’s coming along pretty quickly. The kids in the family hung out with us while we worked, so it’s always fun to stop and play with them. Sometimes it hardly feels like work at all!
After lunch I walked around with Abby to take more photos of the village. A few kids tagged along with us – wanting to swing in our arms and joke around. They’re all so friendly and sweet – they really took to Abby on the first day and have been attached to her every since! After lunch, Cyndie, a translator, and I went to a little shop in town to purchase chair hammocks, which we ended up bargaining down to $15. Bible study was a success again.
At the end of the children’s Bible study, Jim (one of leaders of our group) had a special treat for the kids – snow cones! We had over 200 children wait patiently in line for them. The man and woman running the business worked hard on their little portable bike snow cone contraption – the man shaved the ice by hand and the woman scooped red and yellow syrup onto each snow cone. It was a lot of fun to witness such a treat.
I went back to work blocking in the afternoon, and I got back to the community center right as we were leaving, so I was disappointed there wasn’t much time to talk with our family. We did get a few big hugs and lots of good-bye waves.
Back at basecamp I cleaned up and Skyped with my parents since Lil’ Miss K was exchanged with Jerod’s parents that afternoon. They said she’d be having a great time, and I got a chance to tell them a little about our trip. For dinner we had chicken fajitas with homemade corn tortillas and a delicious watermelon juice. I helped wash dishes (we all have kitchen cleanup duty one night), then during the evening service we got into small groups and talked about our Nica families and how to reach out to them. After lunch prep, Cyndie, Abby, and I had fun trying out our hammocks while the guys held them up for us! Even though it was probably the most tiring day, we stayed up talking pretty late – I figured it was fellowship time we’ll never get back.
Tuesday, July 21 – The women and men split up today. The men went to the village to work until sometime in the afternoon, when a few of them visited a jail (that housed about 75 men and 2 women crammed into a few cells), and all of them went to Furia Santa, which was a rehab facility. They played the Furia Santa guys in a game of baseball, and I hear they lost because the Nicas cheated. 😉 The women started the day with a very scary/bumpy bus ride to the House of Hope – an organization trying to help women get out of prostitution, which is legal in Nicaragua.
Although they are technically supposed to be of-age, I believe they said the average age of entry was 11. (Two years younger than the U.S.) We had the opportunity to purchase jewelry and cards made by the women at House of Hope, which they do every Tuesday during a weekly spiritual program – for many, the crafts are the only “honest” income they get. I think there were probably 80-100 women there. For those who want to enter the program full time, they offer basic housing to stay in for 4 years with very strict rules. They receive training and a small microloan to begin a business. If they are still in the program after those 4 years, they are given a bigger microloan and a home off-site, and they have slightly less strict guidelines to follow. If they stick with it 5 more years, the house is theirs and they graduate the program. We got a tour of the facility and watched a bit of the morning sermon, then gave out sunglasses and just hung out with some of the younger girls. And when I say young, I mean really young. They were covered in makeup and wearing slightly more provocative/feminine clothing than all the other Nicas I had seen. But they were joking around, acting like typical teenagers – it breaks my heart to think of what they’ve already had to endure.
Next we went to the dump, where people actually live. I was expecting to see homeless people around the edge of a landfill, but we stopped a couple of blocks out, because it can get quite dangerous the farther in you travel. There was a group of kids already at a building (which was recently purchased by Project H.O.P.E.) having Bible study, I think. We played music with them with Sariah’s musical instruments, and not a single piece walked away when it was time to leave. Amie and I served them lunch – one ladleful of rice, and one spoonful of soy protein mix. It didn’t smell appealing at all. They all had old bowls (sibling usually shared one), and ate it with their fingers. After serving lunch, we headed back to basecamp for our own lunch of sandwiches.
In the afternoon we visited the women’s cancer hospital, adjacent to a women’s hospital in Managua. As an employee of the American Cancer Society, I was really looking forward to this experience. I have to say, I’ve never wanted to end cancer as much as I did while I was there. It was hot – there was no airflow whatsoever. The women were all laying around aimlessly in a room full of beds lining the wall, but when we got there, they began to rise and graciously accepted our hugs, and their eyes just lit up. Claudia, one of the Project H.O.P.E. staff/interpreters, created a really fun and energetic atmosphere with games and music. While we were doing games, 4 women from our group went into rooms where women were getting chemotherapy and prayed over them. They said it was really emotional. We finished off our time there by painting their fingernails and toenails. One lady wanted all her red nail polish removed and French tips added, which took me quite awhile. It was a rewarding experience.
Back at basecamp, we cleaned up and ate meatballs, rice, and mushroom sauce for dinner. We stayed up late and played Phase 10 with several of the others in our group.
I forgot to mention that on Sunday night we tried to Skype with Lil’ Miss K, which was a complete disaster. She started bawling when she saw us, so we decided we’d better not attempt it again the rest of the trip. Luckily we had Wi-Fi at basecamp so we were still able to hear from the grandparents each day.
Monday, July 20 – After another big breakfast, we left for the village at 8 a.m. We had a morning service, small group time, and the opportunity to give our families Bibles. We finally got to work around 9:30.
Jerod worked on roofs again (with Jorge – he was off work since it was a national holiday) and I helped finish blocking at the same house I worked on yesterday. I mostly filled the cinder blocks with dirt and cement and moved the cinder blocks to the interior of the house so they were easier to access. Throughout the day I alternated between working, taking photos, and helping with the women’s and children’s Bible studies.
Before the women’s Bible study began, me, Abby, and Evelyn (one of the interpreters) walked around the village peeking into homes and letting women know that Bible study was going to start at 1 p.m. When we got back to the community center at 1, there were less than 10 women there. By about 1:20, there were closer to 40 women there. They definitely live on “Nica time”! Rachel did a good job leading the Bible study, even though at times it was loud and hard to hear. The women were given note cards and colored pencils and really enjoyed sketching and coloring during the study. The children’s Bible study was filled with kids, and Becky did a great job with them, even though it was even more difficult to hear.
At the end of the day we met up with our Nica family in the community center and took a few photos. I played clapping games with Estephanie, and Jerod got Sebatian to giggling by playing with his sunglasses, which is apparently a universal game. Lil’ Miss K loves it too.
We left the village a little after 4, cleaned up, and had chicken with a yummy creamy jalapeno sauce for dinner. We had our evening church service, which included a few stories and prayer requests. I helped with lunch prep, and we stayed up just a bit later than the previous night. Getting used to this new schedule, I slept even better than the night before.