To face giants and rescue snails (Finding courage part 3)

I thought I was done writing about courage a couple of posts ago, at least for a while. However, I was out with a friend recently and as we chatted I recalled a story from Buenos Aires Argentina involving my middle child, Talai, a story in which she showed great courage. With so many unknowns in our future as a nation and a world, I figured one more dose of encouragement couldn’t hurt. So without further adieu, allow me to share a tale of snails, bullies and courage.

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Outside our apartment in Corrientes. In the background is an asado or, “barbeque pit.”

When we first arrived in Argentina to study trauma counseling and work with victims of human trafficking, we lived in the northern province of Corrientes. The girls were so excited. We had finally completed our long road trip from Northern Michigan to Argentina and after months of endless adventure and travel we were getting ready to settle in to what would be home for the next several months. As a family we looked hopefully and excitedly towards a seemingly bright future. Unfortunately, we didn’t detect the dark clouds of bullying quickly approaching on the horizon.

The particular area we were in was one of the most anti-American places we’ve ever been. I remember standing in line at the store one day and trying to make small talk with a woman standing behind me.

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Homeschooling at our Corrientes apartment

“Hello, how are you?” I said.

“You know the Russians beat you to the moon,” the gal responded. “Stupid Americans; you think you rule the world.”

It was an intimidating experience, but with love and patience we won over most of our neighbors. It was a difficult time for our whole family, but Talai had the worst of it. Talai is an Aspy, which means she has a super-cool personality, but she sometimes struggles to read social queues and make new friends. At the base we worked on there were many children. Several of them picked up on Talai’s quirks and soon she was the focus of daily bullying in the community. During kids church one Sunday a teacher came and got Sal and I. Talai had been in a fight, or more like an ambush. Two boys had held her down while another punched and kicked her. During Sunday school.

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Enjoying a mate (being a South American green tea shared amongst friends from the communal cup, mate, and straw, bombilla) in front of our apartment

At one point we thought things were getting better when a girl around her age befriended her. The two girls were peas in a pod; they teeter-tottered and laughed and whispered together. Other kids started to leave her alone and Sal and I were so relieved. Then one day her “friend” led a co-ed group of kids into the bathroom and kicked in the door to Talai’s stall. She was mortified and heart broken.

The rest of our time in Corrientes was very hard on Talai. Sal and I tried working with parents and teachers to stop the bullying, but in the end we had to keep Talai in our sights constantly and discipline the other kids ourselves to keep her safe. Sal employed some interesting tactics to deter kids from picking on Talai, but even their fear of him was not enough to stop it completely or help her make friends. I think the most difficult thing for her was that these were fellow missionary kids; they were supposed to be her brothers and sisters in Christ. Truthfully, it was a sad commentary on a community where holding on to their racism was more important than embracing the international Christian fellowship.

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A game at a sort of party/vbs we held for local children in Buenos Aires, Argentina

As soon as we could transfer our studies, we left there and moved onto a missions base in Buenos Aires. We had been part of a daily program for street children and saying goodbye to them was difficult and sad, but we had to take care of our girls. Initially we liked the new base a lot. Both the adults and children seemed friendly and sincere. They apologized for the racism we had encountered and assured us that everyone was family on the base. We lived, studied and worked on the base and our whole family was adjusting well and making friends.

When the rainy season arrived, large land snails started emerging all over. My girls are lovers of all animals including the creepy crawlies and they loved seeing the snails everywhere. We noticed that broken shells started littering the sidewalk, but we weren’t sure why. Then one day Talai burst through the front door with tears in her eyes holding a smashed snail in her cupped hands.

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So many snails!

“Mom!” she exclaimed. “The kids are smashing the snails! They just take the poor snails and smash them on the sidewalk for fun.” She could barely get the story out as sobs of indignation and sadness wracked her. I did the best I could explaining to her the cultural and background differences that caused these kids to seem to her so heartless, but there was little I could do to console her, and nothing I could do to make it right.

I rocked her in my arms until she calmed down and then we buried the remains of the poor dead and broken snail she still held. Over the next few days she built a snail hospital and started collecting broken-shelled snails and caring for them. She poured her whole heart and all her time into it. A couple curious boys came by to ask what she was doing. They were intrigued by the hospital and so they went out, found a healthy snail, threw it on the concrete and then brought it to Talai to care for. Talai put her hands on her hips and proceeded to scold the boys for hurting the snail in the first place. The boys were abashed and quickly apologized. Then, they asked if they could help with caring for the snails. She sent them out to scavenge for food and they returned that afternoon with lots of greens and flowers from various people’s gardens which earned them official snail hospital staff positions. They came by daily to help and learn from Talai.

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Talai and the original Snail Hospital

Word spread quickly and soon we had large groups of kids in our front yard investigating the snail hospital. Most kids were puzzled over why she would care for snails (which they smashed because they thought they were gross) and left laughing among themselves. I began to worry for Talai. She had endured so much at the hands of bullies just a little while prior and now she was taking a stand that, although noble, was seen by her peers as foreign and odd. I worried that the other kids would use this as an opportunity to tease and ridicule her.

Sal and I discussed this and one night we sat Talai down to have a talk with her. We explained that, although we were very proud of how she was caring for the snails, her actions in doing so could possibly make her a target for ridicule. We told her to consider the possible price this endeavor might cost her if it resulted in being bullied again. We assured her that none of the bullying had been her fault, and that what she was doing for the snails was right and good, but even so it may have negative consequences for her.

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Talai selling Aloe Vera to raise money and awareness for her snail hospital

Without pause she explained to us that under no circumstance was she going to abandon her patients; as a doctor she was bound by the Hippocratic Oath. She told us that Jesus said that anyone who puts their hand to the plow and then looks back is not worthy of Him and she assured us that, while she appreciated our concern, she had counted the cost and that standing up for the helpless was always worth it.

What was there to do but hug our little world-changer and support her in her work? We watched her closely day-by-day, ready to jump in and defend her. But then, something unexpected happened. More and more kids became intrigued by how she cared for her little victims and started volunteering at her hospital. Meanwhile, Talai changed her attitude of anger towards the perpetrators into one of patience and understanding. She started approaching groups of snail smashers and reasoning with them, explaining how even snails were created by God and how it was much nicer to enjoy and play with them than to smash them. The change didn’t happen overnight, but it came on steadily.

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That’s part of my garden

More and more kids started to disapprove of snail-smashing. Talai received new hospital volunteers daily, which was a good thing because her hospital, which had expanded and annexed our entire front yard, now had hundreds of patients. Then, one day, snail-smashing ceased completely.

With almost all of the base kids involved in the hospital to some capacity, and without the emergency room being overcrowded from smashed snails, Talai led the kids to expand the hospital into an all-out snail rescue. My beautiful exotic garden became a sort of snail hospice (“Snail Heaven” as Talai called it) where snails who weren’t expected to survive went. As it turned out, my garden must have had some healing powers because many of the snails made a turn-around and became so healthy that they ate most of the plants to the ground. We also had the constructed and expanded hospital and the graveyard for those who didn’t make it in our front yard.

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Talai takes a shift on a rainy day as a snail shuttle scooter driver

Other kids volunteered their yards and gardens and soon there was a snail playground for the younger ones, physical therapy for the older ones and a diner. They started a shuttle service to transport the snails from one area to the next and designated “drivers” would carry the snails on their scooters. They even painted the snails’ shells and kept records of their progress. Scouts would go out in search of snails who had run away from the hospital and others hiding around the base and bring them to the rescue where they would receive health screening and a check-up before being released back to the wild. It really was an incredible operation.

My garden was devoured beyond repair; there was a constant stream of kids through my front yard and peeking in our windows; parents were complaining to me about their raided flower beds; and I couldn’t be happier. My daughter had changed the minds, hearts and destructive practices of an entire community. She convinced others to enjoy and embrace something that they had previously reviled. Many a good missionary has spent years and even decades trying to do that very thing. I was so very proud of her

Many people ask me what I do with my kids while we are in the mission field, as if my girls were annoyances impeding on “real mission work.” I don’t “do” anything with them. Together we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the widows and the orphans and preach the gospel of freedom and peace to the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden. And sometimes they do it without me.

Thank you for reading this post. God bless you.

 

Cute Challenges to writing an update: or “From point A to point B”

As I write this, I am hiding in a corner at the YWAM base (our internet access location). Earlier I sat up to a table in the community area as I composed the first draft. Linda, a very cute girl around 9 years old skipped up to me. She is mute and was having trouble with the other kids because of her inability to articulate. No invitation needed she jumped up onto my lap. I showed her some pictures on my computer which completely fascinated her. She stayed by my side, jumping on and off my lap, wiggling like she had a scorpion in her dress and trying to buy games through the Play Store on my phone. In her excitement she pointed to a picture on my computer and started swiping her fingers across its touch screen. Somehow her actions combinedIMG_20160506_193739 with my keyboard typing completely erased my first draft.

At that moment I had a sort of internal struggle where I lept between “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and “This sweet little girl just needs a friend. What’s the big deal?” Poor Linda looked at me, mouth open attempting an “uh-oh” and waiting to see how I would react… Well, I’ve always been a softie when it comes to kids.

After about half an hour of play time showing Linda more pictures and how to play a math game on my phone, I figured I’d better get to rewriting the update. I tracked down Linda’s parents and then found another spot on the base with a decent wifi signal and began to write. Within 10 minutes a young Paraguayan missionary and friend who is in cross-cultural missions classes, approached me. “Heather” he said with his Guarani-thick Spanish accent. “I really need your help. In one hour I am presenting on the differences between North American and South American culture. You are the only North American on the base right now so can I please interview you?” Without waiting for a response he started asking all about my “cold northern culture,” as he called it. No matter what I said I just couldn’t convince him I wasn’t cold-blooded. “You are from the north after all,” he said. “That is why it is so hard for you here with us warm Latins while Sal (my Mexican-descended husband) gets along so well. I hear North Americans don’t like hugs.”

“But it’s not difficult for me here,” I responded. “I love Latin culture and I love hugs.”

“Maybe you just don’t realize that our ways are really hard on you or maybe your husband is just rubbing off on you.” Oh well, my friend is sure to discover one way or another that not all North Americans are “cold cultured.”I believe we are the first US family he has yet met.

Forty-five minutes later he wrapped up his interview and headed to class. I turned on my screen to write and another young Argentine missionary (whose hair I agreed to dread next week) sat down next to me. She just needed a “big sister” talk.

After listening a bit and encouraging her not to hide big decisions from her parents, I excused myself and sook out a seemingly quiet spot of ground outside where I didn’t think I’d be disturbed. I loved all the interaction, but I had work to do. The update was coming along well until a group of kids stampeded around a corner IMG_20160514_115203and pounced on me. It was a mix of missionaries’ kids and our restoration home students.  “Tia Heather!” they yelled. They were so rambunctious it was all I could do to stop them from stomping on my computer. Once I climbed out from underneath them I explained that I had some important work to do but could come back later to play. “OK,” they said disappointingly. I reopened by laptop, sat down and found myself in the middle of a half-dozen kid huddle… “Where is Mila and Talai and Dassah?”… “What does that button say?”… “What are you writing?”… “Will you teach us to lasso cattle”…So much for not liking hugs.

After a short tickle fight, I decided I had better take drastic measures or I would never complete the update. That brings us to now, with me hiding from a bunch of very cute distractions in a dark corner of the YWAM base quietly writing. With that introduction, let me invite you to read:

 The Update

or, “Where we are and where we are headed”

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freedigitalphotos.net

We have been working in Argentina while attending the School of Rescue and Restoration through the University of the Nations from which we recently graduated. The school involved long days of up to 15 hours in the classroom and required us to put in many hours of hands-on work with children in the youth penitentiary, orphanages and homes and with the onsite restoration home or Casa Abierta. We worked directly with the kids and when possible their parents as well. We learned about: childhood sexual abuse, family restoration, human trafficking and extractions, restorative counseling, working with governments and much more. Now with our education paid off and our counseling certificates in hand we are headed for Uganda, Africa.

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courtesy “africa” at freedigitalphotos.net

To reach and become established in Uganda is the second step in a multi-phased plan to ultimately run a restorative home and private school for highly traumatized youth in Uganda Africa. The plan looks something like this:

  • Phase One: Study and prepare, get certified (completed)
  • Phase Two: Arrive and become established in Uganda, Africa-
    • Prepare van for drive from South Africa to Uganda
    • Ship van to South Africa
    • Fly to South Africa
    • Obtain Ugandan working visa
    • Drive to Uganda
    • Work alongside other ministry, learn culture/worldview/politics
  • Phase Three: Buying and Building Phase
  • Phase Four: Running the home and school
  • Phase Five: If the Lord wills, help others start and run their own restoration homes and schools for traumatized youth

 By the first week of August we will leave Corrientes and head for Buenos Aires, the port we will likely be shipping the van from and flying out of. The Buenos Aires metropolitan area is home to around 14.5 million inhabitants and we are grateful to have contacts in several areas of the city who will help us navigate the landscape and bureaucracy. There is a lot of footwork

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Courtesy “photoraidz” at freedigitalphotos.net

and paperwork involved in transporting 5 people, 2 dogs and 1 van across the Atlantic! We expect the process to take about a month or so. Other than that, we are waiting on funding and will be turning a lot of attention towards fundraising. If you are interested in helping us in this phase of the project, please see our “Support Page” or go to

http://paypal.me/salandheather.

 We are excited about the adventure ahead and the opportunity to anchor in some roots in Uganda. We have been in a sort of transitional chapter in our lives for almost seven months now and we are anxious to establish a home that we can “come home to.”

 A Note on Driving:

 Several people have already asked us  why, considering the risks, are we driving half-way across Africa. Usually the question is framed something like, “Are you crazy?!?” Truthfully, sometimes I think perhaps we are, a little. However, ultimately we feel that the benefits of overlanding far outweigh the risks. Here is our nutshell explanation:1212151441

  1. With our experience overlanding Central and South America, we feel confident in our competence to minimize the risk involved in this trip.
  2. This trip allows us to create valuable networking and contacts which will be immensely helpful toward starting a home and school. It also provides for us the opportunity to learn African culture before jumping into ministry with them.
  3. A vehicle is a must-have in Uganda one way or another. Without it there is no way to dependably transport our family. We have a dependable van that is invaluable to us. Our van (donated by Family Life Church) is large enough to fit our family and has proven it is up to rigorous driving.
  4. It is cheaper this way. A used, questionably dependable vehicle in Uganda costs around $17-20K. Our trip, including gas and traveling costs, plane tickets and shipping the van should cost significantly less than that.
  5. It is less complicated. As foreigners, obtaining a vehicle in Uganda is complicated.
  6. After much prayer, we feel this is God’s guiding.

 That said, it would be a lie to claim that we’re disappointed with how things are working out. As explorers and adventurists at heart, our whole family is very excited at the prospect of driving through Africa, seeing new places, meeting new people, learning completely foreign customs and everything else involved with such a journey.  We are exquisitely blessed that God has merged our dreams with His plans for our lives. We get to do what we love as we serve His Kingdom and help the “statistically hopeless” to have and follow their own dreams.

Isn’t our God simply amazing?

Less than a week to go!

And so, the countdown begins. In exactly six days from today we will be driving across the US-Mexican border (deep breath… and exhale…) But do not worry about us. The hours we have put into preparation, planning and research have been countless. We even bought this book:

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As it turns out, driving across Central and South America is actually “a thing.” It’s called overlanding. Lots of people do it, including retired folks, modern day gypsies, remote workers, fugitives, backpackers, and missionaries!

Currently we are camping on a friend’s property in Austin, Texas. On Tuesday our pups have a vet appointment to complete necessary travel paperwork and on New Year’s day we head to Laredo. We’ll be Camping Austinvisiting one last consulate and spending the night there so we can get an early start crossing the border the next morning, January 2nd. Our first stop is the YWAM base in Monterrey, Mexico. With a little luck and a lot of grace we should reach Corrientes, Argentina in 6-7 weeks. The YWAM base there is helping us to find a small home to rent so we can get settled a bit before the School of Rescue and Restoration begins.

Since leaving Michigan, we have already covered over 3,000 miles. This has given us a chance to prepare for our overlanding trip in a safe sort of mock trial. The Lord has, in this time, prepared our van (yes, new brakes and battery are a must) and ourselves (everyone definitely needs their own sleeping bag) for the trip we are very close to embarking on. More than ever, we feel prepared and confident. Not to mention, Sal has achieved the status of “yes and no mechanic.” Yes: I can fix that. No: I am not certified.

sal and van

We have given the inside of our van a make-over and it definitely feels like home. (Will post pictures soon)

Now that we’ve got business out of the way, allow me to share a few stories from our adventure thusfar:

In North Carolina we served hot chocolate to stressed exam week students at a local college and shared the Good News of the Gospel with them. The girls did an excellent job rounding folks up. Something about a four-year-old in pig-tails promising a warm cup

freedigitalphotos.net
freedigitalphotos.net

of hot chocolate on a cold day proved irresistible to the college kids.

A few days ago Mila decided she wanted to share the Good News with a woman who was stocking Pokemon cards in Walmart. As she has seen Sal and I do, she attempted to break the ice by asking her about her tattoos which were barely visible beneath her Tee shirt. With a big smile the woman lifted her sleeve to reveal Satan and demons and a big triple six across her bicep. Mila’s eyes grew to saucers and she clenched her jaw so as not to let it drop. With a polite “Thanks for showing me” she turned on her heal and hurried back to Sal. Poor Mila was rather distraught feeling that she had “cowarded out” by not telling the woman how much Jesus loved her. She vowed to follow through next time, no matter what someone might have tattooed on themselves, bless her heart! This opened up a perfect teaching moment on conversational evangelism and light Apologetics. Sal and I reassured her that approaching the woman in the first place took courage and that both God and ourselves were proud of her.

trunkSimilarly I was asking a young man about his dreadlocks about a week ago. By the end of the conversation he was inviting Sal and I over to crochet our dreads and “burn down.” Being the naive woman that I am I just smiled and waved and pondered over his odd phraseology as he drove away, thinking perhaps we could visit and share the Gospel with him. Sal, in the drivers seat of our van busted out laughing. To the inquisitive look I gave him he responded, “Honey, you just got us invited to go get high!”

“What?”

“Yep,” Sal said. “That guy just invited the missionaries over to smoke some weed.” As it turns out, my dreadlocks are proving to open many opportunities to share the Gospel… who’d have guessed?

Christian Clip Art
Christian Clip Art

Across the miles we have camped, slept in the van, witnessed to Muslims, made many potty stops, donated half the clothes we started with to free up space, evangelized at universities,  gotten stuck in a muddy field, said lots of goodbyes and had lots of fun.

As we embark on this new adventure that God has called our family into, we petition your prayers. We ask God daily for divine encounters, open doors, safety, provision and favor. If you would join with us in this, we would greatly appreciate it.

freedigitalphotos.net
freedigitalphotos.net

Also, please prayerfully consider partnering with us through financial support. You may make a one-time donation or provide monthly support. Click on the “Support” tab for more info. We do not yet have sufficient funds to complete this trip and attend the YWAM secondary School of Rescue and Restoration, but we are confident that we go on God’s timing and have faith that He will provide.

This New Year will mark a radically new chapter in our lives. Our prayer is that it will also mark something significant in your own life as well. May you go deeper with God this year than you have ever been before. May you experience greater manifestations of His love for you and learn to love Him back with ever-growing strength and zeal. May forgiveness and intimacy define your relationships, especially with family. And may you laugh often, filled with the joy of our Lord and that peace which transcends all understanding.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

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