Treasures from the Orinoco Delta

IMG_2526Hands clapping together and voices lifting up beyond the bounds of wood and frame. Little bare feet running up and down connected boards that create a path from one end of the village to the other. Games played in dust, dirt, and mud that call for river baths when finished. The majestic Orinoco river whose delta is home to the quiet spirits of the Warao people. Canoe paddles splashing in the water in the early morning light. These images, among many others, are tiny treasures I will hold on to in years to come.

About two months ago, ten individuals (three staff members, myself included, and seven high school students) boarded a plane to Delta Amacuro. This is a state that encompasses where the Orinoco River pours into the Atlantic Ocean. It is known as the Orinoco Delta.

The trip was a part of the secondary department’s Week Without Walls: an opportunity for the students to serve outside of the walls of the school.

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Preparing to head out onto the Orinoco

If I calculate correctly, we spent about two days travel and preparation to get to the Warao village, three fulls days with the Warao people, and two days of travel back to Caracas.

The boat ride to and from the village totaled somewhere around six hours there and five hours back.

The morning we arrived at the river, it was cool but not cold. We left the town sometime around 4:00 a.m. and arrived at the boats about 5:00 a.m.  As we were packing our backpacks, food, and other assorted items into the boats, the sun was coming up. The picturesque moment of watching the sun pull itself up from the behind trees into the sky and cast its glistening beams over the river was magnificent.

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An Orinoco sunrise

I remember feeling so at peace on the boat ride. All was silent for a good part of the trip, partly due to the sleepy state of the students, partly due to the moving sounds of the wind and the water. Six hours was not near as terrible as it may initially sound.

Another moment imprinted upon my heart and mind is the moment we arrived at the dock in front of the missionary house. Some of the children in the village must have heard the boat as it made its way toward the dock. There they were, as the boat slowed upon the water, peeking their heads around all corners.

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The missionary house

Much of our time was spent surrounded by these curious and energetic children. The students put together a mini-VBS for the children. I was continually impressed by their involvement and dedication during their time with Warao people.

The dock connected to the missionary house quickly became a playground filled with the sounds of feet running, water splashing, laughter, and mixed languages.

It became the center of much activity during our time there. We gathered our water, brushed our teeth, and washed our clothes on the dock.

The proper washing of clothes was taught by several of the children. The correct process is to rub the clothes down with blue soap and then pound them with a wooden paddle until they are soppy and soapy. After which, you ring them out in the river.

Perhaps one of the most hilarious moments occurred when the little boys were gathered outside of the missionary house knocking down all of the spiders that lived outside of the upstairs window where the girls slept.

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The fact that my nose was red for most of my time here was hilarious to these ones.

They found an extremely long stick to accomplish this mission. Once most of the spiders were knocked down upon the boardwalk, the boys proceeded to run around and smash the spiders with their bare hands.

As we pulled away from the dock on this last day, I found my heart to be both heavy and
full. The students all felt the same way.

I am beyond thankful for every moment I experienced there. I’m also thankful for the maturity and selflessness of the students I experienced this trip with.

I have said many times what a beautiful people the Warao people are. Initially shy, but one quickly finds that they are altogether warm and generous. I’m thankful for the little church that is a part of that village and for the missionaries who invest in the souls and hearts of the people there.

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The day we got here, we went walking along this main stretch. At one point along the way, the boards were broken and we couldn’t cross. We stand there for a few minutes before we decide to walk back only to see the Warao people bringing boards to lay down so that we can cross.

The love of God is beyond cultures, customs, and languages. It requires not that we mold ourselves to man-made norms. It requires instead that we allow ourselves to be molded into the image of our Maker.  

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The students were so loved by every single one of these children.
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This picture melts my heart.
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A typical afternoon activity

 

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The dock connected to the missionary house

 

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Exploring the river the right way
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Never will you meet sweeter and dearer hearts.
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…and these are the treasures I found in the Orinoco Delta.

 

 

Far Better Than Mine

His ways are far better than mine.
I have a rebellious heart. More time than I want to admit I’m selfish, prideful, and I want things my way.

VargasVenezuelaWhat patience the Father has for me. As the world awakens outside my window, I am seeking forgiveness once more for attempting to trust my own feeble attempts more than His.

I am reminded of various season in this life of mine this far when things haven’t worked out like I thought they should, or how I wanted them to.

Longings of my heart. Fears held close. Roads that required painful healing to take.

In every ounce of this, He has been so faithful. The directions my heart wanted to take were no match for the worthiness of His ways.

He untangles the chaos of my heart. He breathes freedom over my mind. His whispers His love and breaks through my pride. He commands me to let go and catches me when I do.

I’m a blundering mess, but freedom’s song cannot be subdued.

His ways are far better than mine.

He knows me better than I know myself. Every path He has brought me down, though often cloaked in painful healing, has led to a joy beyond what I am worthy of, healing I was desperately in need of.

I write this because my heart needs to worship with words this morning. I write this because I let Him down. I’m silent when I should speak. I speak when I should be silent. I let His presence be blotted out by my pride.

Still, when I am unworthy, He is.

He is enough. His ways are far better than mine.

Twenty Sixteen, So Far

January 2nd: said goodbye to loved ones and boarded my plane in the early evening.IMG_0067

January 3rd: landed in Caracas around seven in the morning. Took a cab, made it home, left my suitcases somewhere between the front door and my bedroom. Ten minutes later I was out for the next four or so hours.

January 4th-5th: the new semester began full swing.

January 31: the front door is wide open. The washing machine churns outside as water steadily drips from the hose connected to it. There’s a soft, almost cool breeze floating in through the door and the window behind me. It still feels like a tropical summer most days, but the mornings and the evenings hold a slight chill. The air has been softer this month. I find it hard to imagine the cold winter weather covering most of the States.

I’ve spent a good part of this month trying to find a rhythm in my teaching, planning, and day to day life. The first part of this month felt somewhat chaotic, but these past couple of weeks are steadier.

Transition continues in my day to day life here. I will say that life here doesn’t feel quite so odd anymore. In some ways, I’m almost comfortable. Almost. There’s always a curve-ball of some sort to keep me on my toes. I hope to devote more time to learning Spanish in the months to come. I wish so much that I had studied it before now. I’m nowhere near conversation level. I’m still at the level of survival, if we can call it that.

My roommate and I did hire a Spanish tutor. We had our first lesson just last week. I couldn’t understand most of what she was saying. Poco a poco.

This semester is already a busy one. As a teacher, I’m learning so, so much. Much to my disappointment, I’m nowhere near perfection. I’m thankful that teaching requires me to be okay with that.

In about a month, some of the students and teachers, myself included, will be traveling to Delta Amacuro to spend a few days with the Warao people. Prayers over the trip and its preparation are very much appreciated.

*I realize that this blog post contains idioms. I’ve also found myself using these in the classroom, only to find that the students and myself are not on the same page. The students are such good sports, and I truly appreciate them.

 

 

 

A Year of Intense Growth

IMG_3380I’m currently curled in a blanket, drinking chamomile tea with honey, and listening to jazzy renditions of Christmas songs. It’s a chilly,  but not cold, Monday morning. This Southern weather gives people something to talk about with its highs currently reaching up into the seventies. I’m looking forward to the cold. I also can’t complain. This is helping me ease out of the Caracas weather and into winter here in the States.

After a whirlwind almost five months, I made it back to the States Saturday evening. I had to leave for the Caracas airport at 1:45 a.m. By the time I reached Houston later that afternoon, I found out that my grandfather had passed away as I was preparing to go to the airport in those early morning hours.

To say that I was anxious to be home is an understatement. The last week of school, teaching felt like nothing short of a countdown. My heart anticipated Christmas with my family and the comfort of home. My heart continued to wrestle with the fact that I wasn’t there while my Papaw was becoming sicker and sicker. I wanted to spend a little bit of time there with him and my family.

This whole past year, these past almost five months, and the passing of a loved one has taught and is teaching my heart some very valuable lessons.

Multiple times, the weight of decision and fear of indecisiveness pressed on my heart and clouded my mind. I needed answers, I needed solutions, but it seemed as if those answers and solutions could not be found. Each time, God whispered to me to be still. That’s it. Be still. Yet, I continued to allow emotion and confusion to clog my ears and my heart. In truth, He never fails to lead and to guide. One who is running left to right and out ahead cannot easily be guided.

To be still sometimes means letting go of our need for answers. This does not mean that the answers will never come. Some of them will, and some things won’t make sense until we stand in Heaven with the Father.

I don’t know why loved ones become so sick when we are so far away. A wise friend once said that time is one thing that God keeps to Himself. Do a trust in His sovereignty, or do I bow my knees at the altar of answers and solutions?

As I look back over the course of this year, I know that my life has not been exempt from the challenges and heartache this human life so often holds. This has been a year of intense growth for me, as I hope and pray it has been for a lot of people.

This year has also been filled with blessings. I am beyond blessed by the people God has placed in my life, both here and overseas. Relationships are gifts that are worth fighting for.

If I don’t have a chance to write again before the start of the new year, let me say that I am so, so thankful to be home for these next few weeks. I pray for rejuvenation for these next five months. I also pray for the ability to be, as Jim Elliot put it, “all there,” no matter where I am. Anticipation is a joy, but lack of focus and motivation because your heart is someplace else is an absolute struggle.

Here’s to growth, and a year filled with it. Here’s to a blessing in exchange for every challenge. Here’s to remembering His faithfulness and to comfort in the midst heartache. Here’s to the love and light of the Christmas season never growing dim.

Merry Christmas!

 

The Truth Behind the Fear

IMG_2959[1]If you had asked me before I moved here what scares me more, teaching or living in a foreign country, I would have answered teaching. If you were to ask me that same question now, I would respond the same.

In truth, both caused my heart to somersault.

Learning to live here challenges me. I feel the sting of homesickness when I get on Facebook and see pictures of autumn returning once more, offering its comfort and chill at the end of a long, hot summer. I feel it when I hear the voices of people I love so dearly, knowing that they are so far away. I feel it when I shuffle through my iTunes music and every other song that plays connects to a memory that time only deepens.

In living here, there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not learning something new. For that, I am thankful. I wouldn’t trade this precious time for anything in the world. I am presented daily with the opportunity to step outside of my comfort-zone. Yet, at the end of the day, I can return to that place of safety. I can shut my door, turn on music that I can understand and surround myself with pieces of comfort.

I find that, in teaching, I am continuously outside of my comfort-zone. Teaching is a vocation of vulnerability, at least for me. I’m reading a book by Parker J. Palmer called The Courage to Teach. It is both conformational and challenging. He writes about the depth of teaching. He takes the teacher away from the safety nets of technique and training and puts forth the challenge to examine the inner-life.

He writes, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” On the very next page the title of the book is addressed: “Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart–and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be.”

I must admit that I have not yet reached the place where I fully love to teach because, if I am completely honest, I am still very much afraid of it. I am afraid because of my lack of experience. I am afraid because I am constantly faced with my own imperfections and shortcomings. I am afraid because teaching takes me to my limits. It requires everything of me and leaves me exhausted.

I could do less. I could try to make myself care less. I could seek out only comfort-zones and never rise to the challenges I face, whether they be in teaching or learning life here. But I won’t. I won’t because to do so would be to deny myself the depth of life. To do so would be to miss out on all that the God of the universe called me to when he led me here.

Life here oftentimes feel so messy and out of control. Through it all, I am reminded of the consistency of my Savior in ways that are only visible when I move past my fear of inadequacy and into His peace-filled presence.

I want to leave you with one more quote from Palmer’s book. He writes of a quote by Albert Camus that talks of fear giving value to travel. “Camus speaks of the fear we feel when we encounter something foreign and are challenged to enlarge our thinking, our identity, our lives–the fear that lets us know we are on the brink of real learning.”

To face fear is to invite learning. More importantly, it is to invite faith. It is to say, “God, I want to run and hide, but I want to know you more than I want my own comfort.”

I am thankful for the challenges that are placed before me in this season of my life because I know that I am blessed with the richness of His strength and presence.

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Last week I spent a few days outside of the city for secondary camp.
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Dirt roads are for walking.

It’s the Little Things

IMG_2958[1]Six weeks. That’s how long I have been living here. Four weeks. That’s how long I have been teaching. The amount of life that has been packed into a month and a half leaves me in desperate need to step back, slow down, and reflect.

I know that I have learned so much about life here already, but I am only a beginner. You may be asking how my progress as a Spanish language learner is coming. For the most part I can order at a restaurant, although I’m not normally certain that I know what I’m ordering. I can greet people and ask how they are doing, then nod my head and smile as I pretend to know what is being said past “Bien.” I’m getting better at knowing how much things cost when making a purchase at the grocery store, panaderia, or farmer’s market. I’m getting lots of practice communicating non-verbally. If all else fails, smiles and laughter communicate volumes.

In the classroom, I’m discovering that I cannot do it all. As a look back over these four weeks, I know that it is His strength that sustains me. I can work until my brain turns into a pile of mush, and I still don’t feel like I have it all together. I began this past week completely burnt out. I reminded that sometimes the better thing is to be still, as humbling as it may be. Sometimes we have to let go of the need to do. We have to ask ourselves what we a trying to prove with all of our striving. For me, I am afraid of not being enough. I have this need to prove that I can be enough and that I can do it all.

We can get so caught in the mentality of more work equates better performance. I know that I work better when I have time to be refreshed and inspired. I am still trying to find balance in my life here. What I do know is that, today, balance means taking the time to do exactly what I am doing now. Lesson plans and to-do lists are pressing, but shouldn’t dictate the quality of life.

Some days are harder than others, but there are also days that are filled with blessed contentment. These days are the ones that leave you thankful for the little things. Here are just a few of my “little things:”

  • Meals that turns out good because, in truth, I feel like I’m learning to cook all over again
  • Empanadas, arepas, and plátanos (I do love the food here.)
  • Being able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market without assistance
  • Community that involves lots of laughter and a little bit of ridiculousness
  • Evenings spent sitting outside listening to the sounds of the city
  • Learning to find my way around at least a small part of the city
  • Getting to see this side of the ocean for the first time (Okay, this one is a big thing.)

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

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Look to the Mountains, Look to the Stars

IMG_2791[1]On any given night, the sounds of the city float up and down the meandering streets and through the open windows. Latin music plays somewhere in the distance. A dog barks somewhere down below. Birds that I cannot yet identify readily add their own sound to the soundtrack of this city.

Last night I realized, for the first time, how visible the stars are even in the city. I felt comforted. I need the stars to remind me that I am apart of a universe created by a God who is far bigger than I am. In the same way, I need the mountains and the ocean. During the day, I can look out toward the mountains lifted high in the distance. At night, I can look up and find the stars scattered far above the things of this earth. I’ve yet to stand by the ocean here, but I hope that changes sometime soon.

I am guilty of forgetting that life is so much bigger than my current preoccupations and state of being. I am preoccupied with the fact that school starts on Monday. I get caught up in the details and have an ugly tendency to forget that it’s not about me. Is that not a driving force of fear: seeing any given task through the lens of our capabilities and desires and not through His?

I am preoccupied with the fact that I am so limited in what I can do in this city because of safety, language barriers, and simply not knowing my way around. It is easy to become passive, to fade into the background because it is the one place ofIMG_2795[1] comfort. Love calls me to step out even when it is hard. Love calls me to try. Love calls me to be brave. Love calls me to
live a life that is bigger than what is comfortable or safe.

You see, I serve a Father who gives good gifts to his children. Sometimes those good gifts are wrapped in packages that look like risks, hardship, letting go, or stepping forward.

On nights when the stars shine brighter than the lights of the city, on days when I look to the mountains that stand above it all, I am reminded that the Creator of these calls me to live life deeply. In all that I do, whether it be learning to teach or learning to communicate in another language, I want to move past fear and find that place where it’s about more than me.

I’ve heard it said that if we aren’t afraid than we don’t care enough. There is truth in this. I also believe that the fear should be a reminder that we should press into the richness of the love of the One who is bigger than the fear.

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The view from ICS
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Mountaintop Gardens
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My Classroom
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