Saturday, July 30, 2011

Home is Where the Heart Is

After 54 hours of traveling, I have finally made it back to Minnesota. How did it take so long? Let me tell you....
I arrived at the Tel Aviv airport at 2:00pm on Wednesday (6:00am MN time). I had to get there early because my ticket was changed. I was supposed to fly out Thursday morning, but that flight was cancelled, so I was rebooked to fly out the night before and stay in a hotel at my connection in Jordan.
Flight takes off around 6:00pm.
Landed in Amman, Jordan a little over an hour later. There I have a 16 hour layover.
Flight is scheduled to leave Thursday morning at 10:45am (2:45am MN time). We board and sit.
We sit on the tarmac for three hours due to mechanical problems. Always an exciting thing to learn when you're on a plane. The girls next to me start  freaking out; I just laugh.
We take off around 1:30pm.
About 13 hours later we land in Chicago. It's around 6:00pm there. I have a connecting flight to Minneapolis at 7:22pm.... Not gonna make it.
I get to the Delta desk at 7:06pm, they rebook me for a flight leaving at 11:45pm.
I grab some Starbucks, sit down at the gate, and watch the news.
A Thunderstorm roles in.
We reach 11:45... no one is flying in or out. Half our crew is sitting in planes on the tarmac who can't taxi in due to the weather and even if they were here we couldn't fly out until the lightning stops.
For the next 3 hours we are told our flight is continually delayed.
At 3am, the weather clears, the planes come in, we are ready to board. Problem! Our pilots were on planes that have been waiting to come in and they have exceeded the amount of time they can fly.... Looks like we're not leaving tonight.
We get hotel vouchers and more food vouchers. I head to the hotel crash for a couple hours then come back to catch a 10:35am flight.
That flight is delayed to 11am.
I find Starbucks again. At this point I have 3 food vouchers that total $20. I order the largest coffee they have (I only got 3 hours of sleep the night before and needed a boost!), a scone, a muffin, a banana, and still have a $6 voucher. So I turn to the lady behind me. "Here you go! Enjoy free coffee on Delta!" She was so happy... I forgot how easy it is to make Americans happy if you give them free coffee.
Flight leaves at 11am.
Landed in Minneapolis a little after noon.
What an adventure! That is definitely the short version of it... It was great to finally be back... home... Or at least, what I am expected to call home. But I've always been told that "Home is where the heart is." If that's true, my poor heart is spread all across the globe! Part of my heart will always be here in Minnesota, because that's where my family and a lot of my friends are. But part of my heart is also at my university in Indiana, and Greystones, Ireland, and Jerusalem, Israel.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that is not even true. My real home is an eternal one that I have never seen but look forward to every day. There my heart is perfectly secure, resting in the hands of my Savior. Here on earth, I have the privilege of loving, serving, and knowing people and places, but they are just a glimpse of the splendor that awaits me.
Soon I will get to go home, but for now I wait, with great expectation and excitement. But as I wait I choose to follow wherever the Lord leads- from the rolling green hills of Ireland, to the Old City of Jerusalem, to the Land of ten thousand lakes, to the corn fields of Indiana or wherever else He might send me. Wherever He leads I will go.
Will you join me in following Him?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When God had Other Plans

Today I had to say good-bye to all my wonderful new friends. They have taught me so much and it was definitely an emotional departure. I headed to the airport for my 36 hour trip home. It's that long because my first layover is 16 hours! Why? Airline confusion.
The ticket I originally bought had me scheduled to leave early tomorrow morning. But that flight was cancelled, so I had to fly out this afternoon and stay the night in order to make my connecting flight tomorrow morning. My parents had been talking to the airline for me and in theory I was all set up with transportation to and from a hotel for the night. But in the Middle East, anything can happen, so I wasn't banking on this. And I figured any hotel I did end up at would be like a Motel 6. But my day hasn't been anything like what I expected....
I expected a lot of confusion at the ticket desk in Tel Aviv since I had that flight switched to the day before. I got there extra early, went through the first round of bag checks. Had my bag thoroughly searched by a kind man who I tried to encourage by being friendly. (Note: Be extra nice to airline staff! Most travelers are really rude and stressed. It is amazing the witness we have just by smiling, being really patient, and saying, "Thank you for searching my bag so thoroughly. It makes me feel much safer!") I got up the ticket desk and the supervisor was able to quickly get my new ticket issued. Problem one solved!
My flight was short and simple. I had the best all-natural mango juice ever! I don't know how they can afford such nice stuff. But this is definitely the nicest plane I have been on in a long time even though it was Travelocity's cheapest option for my flight home. Who would have thought?
So I land and get in line at the ticket desk to figure out where I head next and if I have a place to sleep tonight. (At this point, I didn't even know if I would have dinner paid for. I had packed a couple cliff bars and one of my coworkers made me this awesome little dinner in case I had no food!) But the lady new exactly what I needed and within five minutes I had all my papers and was headed to customs. I cleared with no problems, headed downstairs, and found the van to the hotel. Mushkilay niya.
Once in the van I met another American woman (when you don't know what anyone is saying half the time you gravitate towards a familiar accent and language) who was teaching English at a Bible College in Bethlehem this summer. We got to talking and had a wonderful chat on our way to the hotel, at the hotel (which is a super nice 4 star place; no motel 6 here!), and over dinner (paid for by the airline!).
God is so good. I thought I would be lonely, stranded, and missing my friends. And while I still really do miss Shevet, I also feel very encouraged knowing that God is taking care of me. I don't know why I ever doubt His promises. You think that by now I would have learned....

Monday, July 25, 2011

It Comes to a Close

Today was my last work day. I have tomorrow off and then Wednesday I begin my journey back to the US. In so many ways, today was as normal a day as I have around here. But every moment just reminded me of a million other wonderful ones that I have had this summer.
This morning, Mohammad helped me clean the house again. That kid is so awesome. He's only eleven, but kinda mature for his age. Kinda. He still has his mischievous moments and pretends to spray me with cleaning solution, but we get along great. I told the families yesterday that I am headed home this week. They bring it up every time I see them, double checking to make sure they have the day right. Then we end up in a debate if I should go home at all. They think I should stay. When I tell them I can't, they decide to come to America with me. I just agree to this and we all are pretend happy with this arrangement.
Then I went and bought food at the market. I saw all the same people who all know my face by now. I ended up with a conversation with the pita guy who I learned is going to be studying English in the same state where I live sometime this year. Still not sure I believe him or if he was just trying to make conversation, but for now, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
A simple day, but a perfect last day. Tomorrow I'll start packing and prepping to go home. But today I was just here. Exactly the same as always.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Grieving with Hope

For many, death is the scariest thing they will ever face. To them, death is the end. But as Christians, we know that even in midst of the sadness of death, there is hope! In the midst of sorrow, God shows Himself as our comfort. Even if we don't understand why, we know that He is sovereign, good, and loving. We know that He has promised eternal life for His children. Death is not the end, but the beginning of something so much better!
We heard about Abd El Aziz's passing yesterday, but I got a little better idea today of what exactly went happened. He was checked into the hospital on Tuesday, had surgery on Thursday, and was recovering well in the ICU when we visited Friday. The doctors were very pleased with how his surgery went and did not have any concerns. They checked on him at 1:00am Saturday morning and he was doing fine. But at 5:00am, things had taken a turn for the worse and he died a couple hours later. From what the doctors can tell, his death was due to something other than a complication with his heart, but the exact cause is still unknown.
Since yesterday was Shabbat, it was impossible to transport the baby's body and his mother back to Gaza until today. We visited the hospital this morning to spend time with her, cry with her, comfort her, pray with her, and talk to her before she went home.
When we arrived this morning, we found her sitting with some of the other mothers outside on some benches. My heart broke for her and as we made eye contact, tears started streaming down both of our faces. I quickly walked over and gave her a long hug, before sitting down beside her and holding her hand. As we cried, she looked to heaven, her eyes full of questions. I didn't have the Arabic vocabulary to encourage her, so instead I prayed that the promises of the Bible would be true in her life. That as she mourns she will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4) I thank God that there were other women at the hospital this weekend to spend time with her and that we had a few hours with her today to show her His love.
Keep this family in your prayers. Right now their grieving is raw and real. They are full of questions that only God can answer. But I pray that one day they will be able to say, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 13:55) And I pray that through this sad time, they will find the hope that comes with knowing Jesus. As He said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cry with Me

I wish I only had good things to write. I wish that all surgeries were a success. I wish this was heaven where death and sickness do not exist. But that is not reality.

Meet Abd El Aziz Saleh (or Saleh for short).

I first met this adorable little boy on Tuesday. He is a sweet child that suffered from down syndrome. His mother is a very caring woman who adored her little boy. Yesterday, I visited them in the ICU of the hospital. Saleh had just completed his surgery on Thursday, but was awake and in full recovery mode. The doctors were attentive, but did not seem at all stressed about his condition. His loving mother, however, was working diligently to convince the baby to drink a bottle of milk. In typical kid form, he was all but cooperative. Who can think of eating when there are a million tubes and wires all around distracting you?
This morning, as I walked downstairs, fully enjoying a restful Shabbat, I got the news. Saleh has died.
This is only the second child that has passed during my time here and the first I have actually known well. My heart breaks for his mother who will remain at the hospital until her son's body can be transported back to Gaza tomorrow.
Yesterday, when we were at the hospital, my coworker felt strongly compelled to pray for Saleh's mother to have comfort. We did not fully understand why at the time. She also felt the need to pray that the mother would see Jesus in a dream or vision and that through this she would learn about him. We will probably not know until heaven if this prayer also comes true. But as we wept and prayed today, I saw Jesus, holding little Saleh in one arm, and reaching out his other hand to this mother who was bent over weeping. He has not abandoned them.
Keep this family in your prayers. I pray that one day they will be able to say, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 13:55) I pray that through this sad time they may find eternal life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Changed Lives

Today I had the incredible privilege of meeting Joel Rosenberg's wife and three of their sons. Joel is an author and speaker who incredibly predicted a terrorist attack on the US before 9/11, Yassar Arafat's death, and many other events in the Middle East that shocked the world. His source? The Bible. Reading through the prophecies of the Old Testament, he hypothesized what would happen to make them come true... It's intriguing at least. The Bible does have a lot to say about future events.... maybe we're living in them right now. Maybe not. I'm no expert. But I have read one of his books and heard him speak here a couple weeks ago. He had some interesting ideas. But anyway, this blog isn't about him.
This afternoon, his wife, three of their boys, and one of their friends and two of her sons came to hang out. They came with us to the local park so we could play with the Iraqi kids and just hang out. They are lovely down to earth people that love God and love the work he is doing in the Middle East.
But it was the friend's story that was the most fascinating part of the day. Let's call her Sarah. Sarah grew up in a nominal Shiite Muslim family in Iran, but her extended family was very religious. She married an Asian man who had grown up in a nominal Christian family, but had walked away from God in college.
When Sarah was nine years old she heard about "truth" and all her life she wondered what this "truth" could be. She couldn't find anything that seemed to satisfy.
After she was married and her kids were born, through a whole bunch of circumstances, she learned a little about Jesus and ended up praying to Jesus one day. In that moment, she felt him touch her shoulder. That's how Sarah knew he was real. So she went and told her husband who encouraged her to go to church and find out more. She went and loved it. From that day on she followed Jesus. In the following years all of her family members came to know Jesus through dreams and visions.
Her story is only one of hundreds of thousands in the Middle East. If you haven't heard, I recommend you do a little research about Muslims converting to Christianity in the Middle East. The numbers are astounding. And for the most part, it's not through missionaries. It's through Jesus. He is appearing to them in dreams and visions! Even though Christians may be scared to enter the Middle East and evangelize, Jesus isn't!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Down

My dearest friend here at Shevet and bunkmate has been sick this week. Poor girl has traveled all over the world and been sick with every random disease known to man. It seems no international adventure is complete for her without at least one battle with a foreign infection.
Thankfully, I have managed to avoid succumbing to this terrible sickness. But in return, I have gladly helped out with her main role- Children's Activities. Like me, she came for three months this summer. This whole time she has brainstormed brilliant crafts and games that incorporate Bible stories or are just plain fun. She also plans outings to the park, fish pond, and McDonald's for ice cream! Needless, to say, she does a lot of amazing work.
Throughout the summer she has had various shorter term volunteer assistants. The girl assigned to help her right now has been here for almost three weeks. But when there are six kids in the house, planning activities that will entertain all of them is overwhelming, so I have been pitching in to help.
This morning we only had three kids- Mohammad age 11, Nour age 3, and Ali who is 9 months. He didn't really participate. But coming up with something for an 11 year old boy and a 3 year old girl to do together.... good luck. Solutions: arts and crafts. Mohammad wasn't really into the idea. We were making masks with circular sheets of paper. But we showed him cool designs and pulled out feathers to make it more exciting. Eventually he got halfway on board and made a pretty decent mask.
But he was quickly over the whole project and we moved on to more appropriate games, such as pick up sticks. That quickly became a crowd pleaser and the mothers drifted over to watch and participate. After a couple rounds of that we played the ever popular Candyland! This has got to be the best cross-cultural game when you can't speak the language. There are so few rules, no numbers (Arabic and English numbers look different), and lots of fun colors. The whole group upstairs joined in and we had a very entertaining game! I love how the simple things are so exciting here because they are so new to these families. I'm sure many of our western ways perplex them, but they are always gracious when we make cultural errors.
As I count down my last week here, I count my blessings, remembering all the amazing times that I have had here, all the lessons I have learned, and all the friends I have made. God has definitely been good to me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adventures at the Market

A coworker and I went down to the Arab market today to buy pita, eggs, and chicken stock. I shop at least twice a week so I've gotten to know the shop owners and they know what I want before I even ask. For example, we always buy pita in bags of 10. This is a small annoyance to the pita guy, so he always groans (with a smile) when I walk in and ask for 200 pieces of pita.
But back to today, we drove down to the markets. My coworker usually parks along the sidewalk and then stays with the car. Since it doesn't take me very long to get everything he tries to stay close by. But technically you're not allowed to park there, only drop off supplies or pick things up. Sometimes the police roll in and start handing out tickets to cars sitting by the side of the road. When this happens there is a whole bunch of shouting and a bunch of shop owners quickly moving their cars. We've learned it's better if he just waits so that he can just roll away if necessary.
So I walked in and grabbed the pita then headed to the egg shop. My coworker decided to do a lap around the block rather than just hang out. So after I get the food I go looking for him. On one arm I have two bags with 100 pieces of pita, and then in the other arm I'm carrying four flats of eggs, each with 2 dozen eggs. My coworker later told me I looked like the statue of liberty, waltzing down the sidewalk. But I did attract a fair amount of attention, which is understandable. The men sitting outside their shops, playing chess, don't often see young western women carrying tons of food down the street. But I quickly found the car and went back to find chicken stock. I looked, but everything in Hebrew and Arabic, so I gave up and went looking for the car.
I thought my coworker had done another lap around the block since I didn't see my car. But then this car with a crowd of Arab men honked at me. Normally, I would ignore this since it's not unusual and the best thing to do is pretend you don't hear it, but I happened to glance over and realized... that was our car! My coworker is sitting in the drivers seat, there is a young man in the passengers seat, another in the back seat, and five to ten more crowded around the far side of our car.
At this point, a million thoughts run through my brain, but I realize I have no choice but to walk towards the car. Awkward. Really awkward. That's all I'm gonna say.
So I'm wondering what I'm going to do. I don't really want to get in the backseat, but I didn't know why the guys were in our car.... I find out later they had just walked over, started a conversation through the window with my friend and then two of them had hopped in. He, unsure of what was going, tried to carry on a one sided conversation in English while they kept talking to him in Arabic. So as I get closer to the car, he leans over and opens the passenger door, signaling the Arab to get out. He slides out of the door and I get in and quickly close the door. At this point, every guy outside of the car starts leaning in our windows. "Hiiiiiii.... What's your name?" "So, they didn't have the chicken stock. Let's go." I reply instead to my coworker. Only one problem. We still have a visitor in the back of the car.
Oh well, better to get away from the crowd. We start to pull away and make it up the street. Our visitor in the back is keeping up a steady stream of Arabic. We are trying to explain we are headed home and will not drop him off anywhere. He starts asking for shekels. We refuse. He gets out of the car. Whew. Another man walks up and tries to sell us a Qur'an. We say no. He and the other guy start talking. The light turns green, and we finally get away. Definitely one of my more awkward experiences at the market. Let's hope those guys find something better to do with their time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

World Cup Blues

My normal bed time here is around 10 since I get up before 6 most mornings to do my summer soccer workouts. There are few things that have changed this routine. Sometimes if I have to work late I'll stay up past 10, or like last night, if the US women are in the World Cup Final.
We don't have a TV, but I found the game streaming live on Unfortunately, so did everyone else around the world that doesn't have televisions. A couple of my coworkers stayed up to watch the game with me. We got through the exciting first half with only minor technical difficulties (every so often the screen would freeze and we would have to reload).
But in the second half, the whole world must have tuned in online, and we couldn't get the connection. We had the play-by-play pulled up on one tab, but we really wanted to watch the rest of the game! It was almost midnight, and we were about to concede defeat, when suddenly it started again. So we pushed play to begin the second half.
But then that only worked for about 15 minutes and then the game ended in real time and the video feed quit. At this point, it's just me and Kristina who also played soccer in college. Our other coworker had gone to bed.
We wanted to find out the results, but at least wanted to watch a highlight video of the goals and final score. So we wandered into the office and found one other person still awake. We sweetly asked him to find a highlight video for us, knowing the final score would be all over goggle. So as he used my computer to find the right video, he made comments like, "No way! Crazy! Hmmmm." The suspense was killing us. But finally he found one of the shootout. We hadn't even known they had made it to penalty kicks, but it was approaching 1am and we really really just wanted to watch the ending.
Needless to say, I am very sad that the US didn't win. But the guy who found the highlight video reminded us, "Japan just got hit by a tsunami. They need a moral booster." I suppose he is right. But I'm still sad we lost. I watched a highlight video of the goals today and have to say they were amazing. I'm at least glad it was a good game.
But now I'm super excited for our season to start this fall. Let's go TUWS!
And taking a lesson from the US women, let's spend a little extra time working on our penalty shots, ok? 

Saturday, July 16, 2011


One of the great things about this ministry is the large network of people across the globe that it is connected with, and the new people it is constantly introducing us to. Our newest acquaintances are from the States, but are currently at a ministry school in Jordan. They are visiting Israel for a couple weeks doing ministry and site seeing. These five guys are really passionate about God and it's great to hear their stories. The man that leads their ministry school is our contact in Jordan who helps us transport the Iraqi kids from the airport in Amman across the border.
Yesterday, we invited our new friends to a BBQ at a local church. We didn't know anything else except that we were invited. We showed up and had the privilege of participating in a tri-lingual service. The church is Korean but works with the Arab community who generously translated the service into English for our sakes. Afterward was one of the most random "BBQ's" I have ever been to. I knew it would be different than your typical American BBQ, but I wasn't expecting to see sushi there. (Not that I complained since sushi is one of my favorite foods!) But it was a great time of hanging out and fellowshiping with other believers from other cultures.
Today, we invited our new friends to the beach in Tel Aviv with us. But only one of the guys was able to make it and he brought another German girl that is traveling with them. So six of us, including our visitors, set off for the beach. It was fantastic! The sun was shining, the water was warm, but refreshing, and we got gelato that melted as fast as we could eat it. We spent the day in the water and I even learned how to body surf! At first, they called me a "Shwabe" which I think was a shortened version of "Shredder Wannabe", but I quickly proved myself and moved up in the ranks.
It was a great way to spend Shabbat- sun, friends, gelato, and shredding. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oink, Oink, Yum, Yum, Oops!

This afternoon I was in charge of supervising kids activities. They usually have one activity a day that is epic and exciting, and another that is just to keep them entertained. This afternoon was just supposed to be entertaining.
Our first activity: Kurdish Basketball. We named it this because we didn't have a hoop or ball and had to get creative... So instead of fancy equipment we use an empty powdered milk tin and crumpled up pieces of paper. I brought it upstairs and was showing the kids how to gently lob the paper wads into the can to score baskets. They were just getting the hang of it when one of the fathers walked up and asked me if he wanted me to throw all the useless paper away. Apparently "basketball" doesn't translate well, but at least I kept him from throwing our homemade basketballs away!
Then we moved onto chess. The eleven year old boy staying at the house right now seems to really like it. So I set out the board and hoped I could remember all the rules. I learned a few years ago, but have never played the game very much. Thankfully, all rules were completely unnecessary. Apparently, my opponent was not well acquainted with the rules either. The entire fifteen minute game consisted of us moving the pieces around the board at random. You never lost any pieces. If the other person's piece was in the way, you just move yours to a different empty space. I was glad when after fifteen minutes he was ready to be done and move onto puzzles.
The hour ended with us playing memory. Correction, we were playing with the memory cards which had pictures of animals on them. We were just flipping through them, making the different animal noises and teaching each other how to say "cow", "elephant", "mouse", etc in English, Kurdish, and Arabic. Then they started a casual conversation about eating different animals. They would hold up a card and ask if I ate that animal. For example... Do you eat a cow? Yes! Do you eat a mouse? No. Do you eat a horse? No. Do you eat a chicken? Yes! Do you eat a pig? Yes!
Gasps all around the table. I quickly realized my mistake... The Qur'an says that it is forbidden to eat pigs. Oops. Well, it is going to get this straightened out. They must have hoped I had spoken incorrectly and asked again. Do you eat pig? Yeah, I do.
No, no! You cannot eat the pig! Allah has told us not to eat the pig.
Well, I'm sorry. But my Allah has told me it is ok to eat the pig.
No no! Allah said it is not ok! Promise you won't eat the pig!
I can't. I like the pig.
Well, needless to say, this conversation was going nowhere. Eventually they gave up trying to convince me that the pig was very bad and we moved onto other topics. I wish I would have had enough language to continue that conversation, but we were already using sign language, broken Arabic, Kurdish, and English. I'm not sorry it happened. Religious discussions are popular here. The Middle Eastern culture is not afraid to dialogue about religions, and is quick to start the discussions. Hopefully the way we live-with love, peace, and joy- shows that our character is above reproach. Then when we enter into discussions about religion and different things the Bible and Qur'an say, they are not completely turned off. They looked like they wanted to discuss this as much as I did, but we all knew it wouldn't go anywhere. Someday I'm going to learn Arabic and come back so that when these conversations come up, I can actually engage in the discussion. Inshallah.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Little Liar

Well, it's official, children from other ethnicities are sinful human beings just like Americans that need to be redeemed by God. My latest example is three year old Noor. An adorable Iraqi child that looks like an Arabian princess.
Friday I went to visit her in the hospital after her surgery. We were just hanging out so I pulled out my bottle of bubbles. I blew some for awhile, then handed it over to her. She loved it and blew bubbles for quite awhile. When she was finished and put the cap on, I reached over to take it back.
"No! This is mine. You gave it to me last night when you were here."
Excuse me? I was not here last night. My selfish instincts kick in. This kid just took my bubbles! I want them back!
I realize I cannot get them back without making her cry. So I forfeited.
Today, I was back at the hospital again and we picked up Noor to take her home. I had grabbed a new bottle of bubbles at the house since she still had my old one. (You can never leave home without bubbles!) We were hanging out, playing around, while we waited to head back. Noor's mom had bought her a pack of gum. Noor did not seem well acquainted with bubble gum and kept swallowing it instead of just chewing it! Her mother told her to share and give me a piece. Noor refused.
Then I pulled out my new bottle of bubbles Her eyes got big as she remembered that she had taken my old bottle! She quickly took a piece of gum out of the pack and handed it to me.
Now, I gotta tell you, I'm not a big gum person. I don't eat it very often and I rarely eat bubble gum. But I laughed to myself in that moment. I hadn't meant to make her feel guilty. I honestly had just pulled out the bubbles because I was trying to think of some other way to pass the time. But it was funny to see how quickly she reacted when her sin was confronted. Her repentance came in the form of a tiny, pink piece of gum. My forgiveness was shown through accepting the peace offering and then playing games with her for the next hour. Once again, God is working on spiritual hearts, in addition to physical ones.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bleach Gets Rid of a Multitude of Stains

I love the book of Proverbs because it is full of short practical sayings about life. Things that are not promises or guarantees, but general statements that are true for most people. Well, if I was going to write a list of Proverbs from this summer, they would probably go something like this.

-Leaving open bags of rice on the floor is sure to invite mice into thy dwelling.
- Singing always makes cleaning go quickly, but a grumpy attitude makes an entire day miserable.
- It is easier to learn Kurdish then to get the men's bathroom to smell good.
-  Language barriers can be difficult, but the Lord can work when we are limited.
- Bleach gets rid of a multitude of stains.

I'm sure there are many others, but thus far, those probably summarize some of the lessons I have learned. As for yesterday, bleach definitely got rid of a multitude of stains.
Now standards of cleaning between Kurdish families and Americans are maybe, possibly, slightly, a wee bit different. Plus, since this isn't their house, they are not as motivated to clean it. So by some miracle, Sunday the entire house was empty. All of our children had either gone back to Kurdistan or are in the hospital. We get a new batch on Thursday, but for one whole day the entire upstairs area was empty. This means it is time for a deep clean!
Nine of us tackled the project. In five hours we managed to scrub every single inch of that place. I am not exaggerating. No piece of silverware was left unwashed, no corner left unswept, no cobweb not destroyed!
But let me tell you, it was a battle. There were new species of mold growing up there not known to scientists. It was touch and go for a while, but in the end, we emerged victorious! The dirt had been conquered!
One of my favorite moments came about halfway through the big clean. Now, one of my favorite staff members is a almost 70 year old Australian woman who is originally from British India. As such she has this fantastic accent that is mostly British but has random Australian words thrown in. But she is hilarious! Everything is a tragedy! The world is her stage and she takes full advantage of it. But I adore her! She is one of the wisest godliest women I know.
So during our clean, she came up to me and asked, (Read with a British accent that goes up in pitch as the tragedy grows) "Natalie! Natalie. What am I to do?! This poo brush has been sitting in water! Water Natalie! It is disgusting. How am I to clean it?????" "Bleach." "Bleach! I never use bleach at home. Oh the chemicals Natalie! Here these children are having heart surgery and we are bringing them back to chemicals! I'm just glad the little ones aren't here for this!" "I'm sure it will be ok. And we have to get it clean." "At home I NEVER use bleach! I always use lavender oil! Oh goodness." "It's gonna be ok. Just use bleach this time." "Oh alright. Do you have gloves?! I could not possibly clean using these harsh chemicals without gloves!" "No, sorry." "Oh no! What to do?! Alright, well I will figure it out!" "Alright. Good luck!"
Oh it was funny. I have many stories about life with her. She definitely makes every day much more exciting. And contrary to her desires, bleach is actually very effective, although I am learning to try other things like vinegar. The smell isn't all that pleasant, but it's easier on the skin. Maybe she's right and I will invest in some gloves. In the meantime, I better get back to fighting stains. The upstairs area is clean, but the downstairs still could use some work!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Learning to Love

So I have a confession to make. There are certain occasions in which I have laughed at my mother for something that I have started to do now that I am older... But let me back up a little bit.
Before I left on this six month adventure, in my quiet time I asked God what He wanted me to take away from this whole experience. I knew it would be a huge time of growth, but didn't know exactly what to focus on. Over a few days, I really felt like He was telling me, "During this time I want you to learn about love. First, I want you to understand how much I love you! Then I want you to poor out that love to those around you." It sounded simple enough. How hard could it be to learn about God's love?
But let me tell you, it has been so incredible and I am realizing this lesson is nowhere near finished. It will definitely be something I am learning my entire life. But during these six months, I have learned so much about God's love. I have learned that I am such a complete failed mess and it is only by His grace that I can even get out of bed each day. I have been completely humbled many times and any time my pride tends to sneak back in, God whacks me right back down (in a loving way) so that I am completely dependent on Him. In fact, I've found when I finally look at Him and say, "Ok! I give up! I do not have the strength to do this on my own!" He replies with, "Finally. Now you are out of my way and I can really work in your life!"
But as I have learned to love God, I have also learned to love the people around me. For a long time, I've had this wall up that doesn't let very many people in. It was like I knew if I got to close and eventually had to say good-bye, it would hurt too much. It didn't seem like it was worth the pain.
Amazingly, one little two year old boy was able to break through that barrier and teach me to love. How? By loving me. Every time I walked upstairs, he would jump up and down, giggling and smiling, and come sprinting (well, waddling), towards me. I could do no wrong in his eyes. No matter how tired or grumpy I was, he would love me anyway and always be excited to see me.
Today, I had to say good-bye to the little guy. It was a bittersweet time. It's always exciting to know that the kids are healthy and able to go home, but at the same time, they are missed here. Usually, I am sad for about ten seconds as we watch the van drive away, but then life goes on. Today, as my little friends drove away I actually felt a couple big tears role down my cheeks. This is where it goes back to my mother. She always cries when I leave for camp or school or to travel around the world for six months. I always thought this was funny. I mean, I'm coming back eventually! But today, here I was, crying as I watched my little buddy leave even though I have only known him a month. I know I will think of him often in the coming months and continue to pray for him and his family. But right now, I thank God that I had the opportunity to meet him. And for letting a little child, to teach me to take the walls down and just love.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Fiance Departs

So remember the child I told you was in love with me. Well, his mother proposed for him (communication is still lacking since he is only two) and I'm supposed to marry him! But sadly he is leaving for Iraq tomorrow so I don't know if this whole relationship thing will work out.
It has been rather humorous this week as this whole fake relationship has played out. In the Kurdish culture, marriage and children are VERY important. The fact that I am twenty and not married is unusual to them and they are a bit worried about me. But they are even more concerned about my coworker who is twenty-eight and still single!
So as far as relationships go, they are always trying to set us up. One of the grandmothers that brought her granddaughter here for heart surgery doesn't like the child's mother. So she asked one of my coworkers to come back and marry the child's father instead! So as you can see, the proposals have not been limited to just me.
However, I have received multiple ones this week. Since the two year old is a bit young for me, the father of our eleven year old patient asked if I would marry his son. Sadly, the eleven year old said he wouldn't have me. Guess that one won't work out either. Instead, they suggested I marry two different guys who work here at Shevet. But for various reasons, I don't think those are God's plan for my life.
So as I say good-bye to my fake fiance tomorrow morning, I will definitely be a bit sad. It's hard to say good-bye to such a nice boy who is so doting and generous. (He is always letting me play with the bubbles or share his slice of cake!) But I trust that when the time comes, God will bring the man He really intends for me to marry into my life.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wedding Dresses and Lions

Building relationships with the Iraqi kids can happen in the randomest and funniest ways. Surprisingly, a combination of sign language and random Kurdish or Arabic words can communicate a whole host of ideas.
For example, last night we went out for ice cream at McDonald's to celebrate a staff member's birthday. On the way back, we stopped at one of the windows that was displaying one of the gaudiest wedding dresses I have ever seen. I mean, it was truly horrendous. It had one sleeve like thing that looked like a giant lamp shade. It would have puffed higher than my head. But note, this was only on one side. The other side didn't have a strap. Then around the top there were beads and tear drop shaped fake pearls, and ribbons, and lace, and other nonsense. It was.... ridiculous. The dress itself was mermaid shaped so it comes in tighter around the knees. At this tightest point there were giant roses all the way around the dress. Then out from this gaudy garden flowed yards of that weird netting. The whole combination was just dreadful, but the Iraqi moms thought it was fantastic! They kept telling me I should wear it! I just said no, no, no! This started a conversation about if I wanted to get married, and then somehow we skipped straight to having children so I had to remind them I am not married. Then we decided, "Inshallah" (If God wills it) this will all happen someday. But I can tell you that Inshallah I do get married, I will not wear that dress!
Then today we went to Lion's Park so the two boys in the house could have some time outside. The house is actually really empty right now. We have two children in the hospital, one had a doctors appointment today, and then the two boys- Mohammed age 11 and Joman age 2. I love both of them and have an awesome time hanging out with them. Mohammed is the oldest of seven children, so he is a great big brother to Joman. Today at the park, he was always trying to convince Joman to join in, but also careful that the little boy wouldn't get hurt. We splashed around in the fountain and had a great time. Joman is so funny. He is a little behind developmentally because of his heart condition. When he first got here, he never walked. Now he waddles around, cautiously, but with growing confidence. He is also my little child. I'm serious. This kid always chooses me over his mother which is starting to cause some problems. Last night I had to leave so they could put him to bed. Apparently he cried for half an hour! I felt so bad. Thankfully I made up for it today by playing with him in the pond, then blowing bubbles after lunch, and took him up and down the slide countless times at a nearby park. I just hope when he goes home he forgets about me and loves his family!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Forced Floating

So apparently normal people ask for days off of work. Me... well I get told by my boss that I need a day off and she doesn't want to see me around the office for a whole day. I suppose she was right and I took full advantage of my forced break!
Another one of our staff members celebrated her birthday today so she also had the day off of work. We decided to make it the best birthday ever. Our destination of choice? The Dead Sea!
Once again I braved the public transportation system, this time with much more success although still a bit of confusion as to which bus we needed to get on. But we figured it out eventually and made it to the En Gedi Beach on the Dead Sea this morning. It was already a warm day so we decided to jump right in. Maybe that's not the right way of putting it. For those of you who have never had the privilege of experiencing the Dead Sea, let me advise you to put on your bucket list. It is the coolest and weirdest sensation. You start walking in and before you get in up to your knees you feel like you are going to fall over, so you quickly turn around and sit down. And you're off! Floating on the waves without a care in the world. The first time I went, I didn't believe it. You can't possibly just float... but you do. The ridiculous amount of salt in the water forces you to float. It is so cool!
So we paddled around for a bit, trying to avoid getting salt water in our eyes. It stings so bad! Then we laid out on the beach for a bit, enjoying the sunshine. It was at this time that we noticed everyone rubbing dirt all over themselves. Odd, but also normal here. Apparently the mud next to the Dead Sea has tons of minerals in it. You can actually buy bags of it at the stores here, or if you visit just find it on the beaches. We figured we would do as the locals do and also joined in the fun, completely covering our bodies in the dark substance. After letting it dry for a few minutes, we waddled back into the Sea to wash it off. Our skin really did feel smoother so it must have worked.
After enjoying a nice PB&J sandwich on the beach we decided to find a new adventure. We were close to En Gedi so we thought we would hike one of the trails up the waterfalls. However, the directions we got from the local snack shop guy were a bit off. We headed the wrong way down the highway a couple kilometers and found a kibbutz (hotel) where we were given the right directions. We headed back the way we came and finally found the right area.
The hike up the hills was beautiful! The entire area is gorgeous desert mountains, but then randomly there are a cluster of palm trees and these lovely waterfalls spilling down the hillside. We hiked the trail up alongside the stream and swam in the pools along the way. It was so refreshing!
All in all, my coworker has decided it was the best birthday ever. For me, it was a great forced vacation. Who knows, maybe sometime I'll actually think to ask for one of these before my boss kicks me out of the house...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Worlds Collide

For the next couple days we have a few  volunteers from YWAM helping out in random places around the house. Their home base is Ireland! The irony of it all. Originally the girls are all from Canada, but their training was in Ireland so they came straight from there to Israel. Girls after my own heart. 
Anyway, today, one of them named Erin (who sadly is not the least bit Irish), joined us on our normal hospital visit. I felt a bit awkward throwing her into the chaos that is Gaza days, but she was great and just went with it. It was actually really nice to have another girl along for the day. It gave me someone to talk to since the language barrier hinders a lot of communication with the Gaza moms.
Erin definitely was able to experience the ups and downs and absolute insanity that sometimes comes with our weekly trips to the Gaza border. While there is definite wisdom in making plans, I find that flexibility is also very important, especially in the Middle East. Anything we plan may or may not happen. In the end, I’m just glad we know that God’s timing is perfect. But for those that don’t have that security, a change in the plans can be a very stressful event. For example, today we thought we were checking three kids in for surgery and at the end of the day we did check in three children; they just weren’t the ones we thought we were going to check in. As a result, tears along with flexibility became a theme of the day.
Dema, a beautiful three year old girl, was our first child checked in for surgery today. The poor child was so nervous and cried most of the day. Thankfully her mother was always there to comfort her and wipe away the tears. Then we checked in Fawze, an eight month old little boy, for surgery. He also was very nervous and big crocodile sized tears frequently spilled out of his eyes and down his cheeks.
It was at this point that the changes began. We planned on checking in Mustafa, an adorable one year old boy that has Down syndrome. But unfortunately, he developed a rash on his stomach and the doctors sent him home. His poor mother was very upset and cried at the news. We will have to reschedule his surgery and get the paperwork through to bring him out of Gaza again. Right now we pray his rash goes away quickly so we can bring him back to the hospital for surgery. In his place, the doctors checked in seven month old Nour. This little girl will have heart surgery eventually, but first they want to do some tests to evaluate her nervous system. Her tiny body supports a head that is larger than normal. The doctors hope to discover what is causing this and solve that problem before addressing her heart condition.
After sorting out that confusion upstairs, we headed downstairs to visit the other three children from Gaza that have just finished their surgeries.The first of which was five month old Sami. Originally he was checked in for observation since he was so underweight for his age. However, the doctors felt he was strong enough and went ahead with his surgery earlier this week. Today in the ICU the nurse said he was stable and was very pleased with his condition. 
Also in the ICU were two of our Iraqi kids, Ali and Noor. Sometimes I get a little nervous walking into the ICU. Some of the nurses are very protective of that space and don't like visitors. Thankfully, today I was admitted without a problem. I think they like it that I can speak a little Kurdish to the Iraqi moms. The nurses probably think I'm communicating a lot more than I am, but hey, whatever it takes to get in there! I actually do feel like I've improved quite a bit. Today I was able to reassure Ali's mom that all his vitals on the monitor were good and learned that Noor demanded pudding when she first came out of her post-surgery induced sleep this morning!
We then headed to the children's ward and were able to play with Selma and Amen, both nine month old kids from Gaza. I have to tell you Arabic hospitality is amazing. These women always welcome us even if we have only met them once before. They are quick to offer us a seat even if it means they will stand, and if they bring food they make sure they bring enough for everyone. I am also learning it is important to greet everyone in the room, even if you don't know them. Each woman gets a handshake and a kiss on both cheeks. Men get a handshake if they initiate it but at the very least a respectful nod. Oh the cultural differences! I hope I get them all right!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round

But you know, it really doesn't matter is the wheels are going round if it is not the right bus. That's right. My adventures with the public transportation system today were a bit... interesting.
Typically we drive one of our community vehicles to the hospital when a child has surgery. But today there was so much going on and so many people in different places, Jeff (my fellow co-worker who is from Australia!) and I had to take the public transportation system. Now I must confess, coming from the suburbs I have very little experience with the bus system. I'm not opposed to using it; I've just never really had reason or opportunity, so I was a bit excited!
Now before we get into the story you need to understand how the buses work here. There are the normal big city buses that look like big green caterpillars, but then there are also the Arabic "Sharoot" buses which are really just big vans.
We were told to take a Sharoot to to the Central Bus Station and then Bus #84 to the hospital. Mushkilay niya! (No problem) Or so we thought. I had never done this before and Jeff had only done it a couple times so I knew it would be an adventure. We headed to where you normally catch the Sharoots only to be told by multiple people this wasn't right and we needed to go back up the street and catch a bus to the Central Bus Station. We didn't know any better so we did! Caught the bus, no problem, and headed off. In less than twenty minutes we were at the Station. Odd, it should have taken closer to an hour. Well....
We headed inside and wandered around for... awhile. Finally, finding an information desk we were told we could not catch a bus to the hospital from here we needed to take a different one into the city and then catch another bus from there. Ok. We got this.
We find our next bus and get on. Once again, no problem. We can do this. An hour or so later we get to that "Central Bus Station". I'm starting to think it's interesting that there are multiple bus stations that are referred to as the "Central" one.
We get off, wander around for... awhile. Ask a couple different information booths and finally realize we are completely lost. It will probably take at least an hour for us just to figure out how to get to the hospital. Alright. Done with that. We hop in a cab and are there in ten minutes. The journey, which should have only taken an hour or so took over two and a half hours! But once again, Mushkilay niya.
Well, we made to the hospital halfway through little Ali's surgery. He is less than a year old and absolutely adorable. You can read my telling of his story at
After our time at the hospital, we decided to brave the buses again. This time, we got the right but made it to the right "Central Bus Station" and found the Sharoot without any problem. Sheesh, why couldn't it have been this easy on the way there? Oh well, it was definitely an adventure! But one that I would rather not repeat, if at all possible.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Art of Discipline

I had an interesting conversation with a coworker the other day about how to discipline children. It's funny how many parenting conversations I've had this past year. I mean, I'm only twenty, not married, and definitely don't have kids of my own! Yet, God seems to think I need to plan ahead for the future. Anyway, disciplining children is a whole new kind of challenge here. But it is so important, it's not like we can overlook it. The Bible definitely emphasizes its importance. My recent study of Proverbs has revealed a thing or two...
"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid." ~Proverbs 12:1
"Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right." ~Proverbs 20:11
"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." ~Proverbs 22:6
And there are tons of other passages that talk about respecting authority, the proper structure of a family, etc. But this isn't meant to be a Bible lesson, but rather how I've seen good parenting and not so good parenting play out here.
We have some fantastic mothers here. Moms that are quick to praise their children when they do right, love them, and discipline them when necessary. But we also have some mothers that lack the "art of discipline." Why "art"? Well, because I have come to understand the discipline is tricky. It can't be done in anger and it can't be done harshly. But it must be done. It must be done firmly and as often as necessary, but in love. If there is no love than it is as ineffective as if it was not done at all.
Working with heart patients can make discipline tricky. We have had kids here that it is literally life threatening for them to cry. It takes away their oxygen supply and they could die. Therefore, their parents have given them anything and everything they have ever wanted. Imagine that kind of monster. We have another little girl here right now that is eleven. Her father told her mother that she is not allowed to discipline her daughter. Not allowed! I was shocked. As a result, this girl frequently hits her mother on the face, rebels, bites, pinches, throws things on the floor, demands gifts, etc. Why? Because there are no boundaries!
As odd as it seems, I think kids secretly like discipline. I think they like it because it shows that someone cares. Someone is paying attention to what they do. And someone loves them enough to say no, there are boundaries. Because if someone is paying enough attention to say no, then they are probably also saying yes when it is appropriate and I love you frequently.
Well now that our little eleven year old has had her surgery and is stronger, her devious ways are only getting worse. As such, we have had to take on some of the discipline that her mother is not allowed to do. For example, the other day, this little girl slapped my face. Not hard, but in a very disrespectful way. My response? I slapped her back. I know this sounds bad, but I'll explain. I used my hand to gently swat her cheek. It did not come close to hurting her. But it was just enough to let her know I, unlike her mother, would not take it with a smile. She didn't even flinch, but the shocked look on her face let me know I had gotten the message across even though I didn't have the words to express what I needed to say.
My most recent disciplining happened at the hospital this week. This same little girl is desperate for attention. If we praise her, pet her, encourage her when she is doing right, then she will do it. But if we ignore that she resorts to bad behavior so that someone will pay attention to her. It's really sad so I try so hard to encourage the good so she will learn the right way to gain attention. Unfortunately, her mother hasn't figured this out yet. So this week when we were at the hospital we had to wait for a long time. Boring for an adult, let alone a rambunctious kid. So in our time of waiting this little girl started bullying one of our little two year old boys. Why? I guess because we weren't entertaining her. She pretended to kiss him but was actually biting him! The mother ignored this action, but after ten times I had enough. I sat her down and said (translated for your benefit), "Not good." Her response, (in a very sing-songy mocking voice), "Very, Very, Very, Very good!" So we repeated this a few times. Finally, I just went off in English and told her everything I wanted to. She couldn't understand the words so I said exactly what I felt like, but I made sure to keep my tone very serious, but not threatening. Then I switched back to Kurdish and explained she was not allowed to touch the little boy, to kiss him, to bite him. I enforced this rule a couple more times and then she got the message.
When I told my coworker this story, he seemed upset. He challenged me if I was really loving this girl in disciplining her or if I had another heart issue to work through. I'm glad he did. I'm learning it is so important to make sure we discipline with the right motives otherwise it is not Biblical and not pleasing to God. I think the verse in Ephesians 6:4 about Father's not exasperating their children can apply to American college students working with little Iraqi kids too. But I was able to explain to him, as I did to her mother after the whole biting incident, and as I explain to you now. I disciplined her because I love her. It goes back to Proverbs 22:6. I want her to be a good person in the future, but she won't magically become that if she is allowed to be a devil child. I pray that when she and her mother return home, her father will see what a lack of loving discipline has done and change his methods. If not, I fear for her future.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

They're Heading Home... Soonish

Today I got to accompany three of our Iraqi patients (Hezhan, Chera, and Joman) to the hospital for Echos.  We expected Hezhan and Chera them to be released, but knew it was not likely for Joman to be allowed to return home so soon after his surgery. However, as we played in the waiting area, his mother would look over me with a question in her eyes, "Iraq?" Translation: "Will we get to go home to Iraq tomorrow too?" But it was a question I couldn't answer.
The other two patients had their Echos and came out excited that they were officially released to go home. After each one emerged with a huge smile, I would do a victory dance around the waiting area. They LOVED this. Who knew me acting goofy and singing, "Iraq, Iraq. They're going to Iraq." could bring so much joy? Or maybe the fact that they were going home made them smile more than my dancing. Well, either way. They did join in though until they realized that other people were noticing our little dance party and quickly settled down. They were horrified to think people might think they were crazy. 
Finally, it was Joman's turn. The Echo only took about ten minutes, but it felt much longer as we waited, wondering if he would also be released. When I couldn't wait any longer, I headed over to the door into the Echo room. As I looked in, I made eye contact with Joman's mom. She peaked her head out the door, gave me a thumb's up, and whispered "Iraq!" Joman was also released! This was very unexpected considering he arrived less than a month ago, but the doctors believe his surgery and recovery have gone well enough that he can return home in record time.
With joy in our hearts, we knew it was time to celebrate while we waited for the official discharge papers. We headed down to McDonald's and ordered ice cream for everyone! Joman probably only ate half of his; the rest ended up all over his face!
Unfortunately, the official papers from the hospital were not able to be completed today. Wolfson discharged more children than normal and the nurse in charge of the paperwork was too overwhelmed to get them all done. The families were disappointed to hear they will not be heading home tomorrow, but understood that there was nothing else to be done. We hope to get the discharge papers on Sunday and send them all on their way Monday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Bubble Girl

Bubbles make the world go round. Or at least solve a multitude of children sized problems. Today was another Hospital visit. 5 kids. 4 echo appointments. 1 in for a special diet program. That kid, Yahya (or in English, John), is missing a certain enzyme that helps digest food so he has constant diarrhea. GROSS! The doctors helped his parents figure out what he can and cannot eat so now all is well.
But anyway, back to bubbles. Usually this can be kind of traumatic for the little ones, so a big part of my job on hospital days is helping them to smile. So I have learned one of the quickest, easiest ways to solve this problem... Bubbles!
Example #1: Little girl is sitting. Her mother has to go get something and walks off for a moment. Child starts crying! Yikes! Other parents are glaring. We're on the verge of catastrophe. Solution: bubbles! I walk over, whip out my handy dandy to go bottle of smelly bubbles (Yes, they are really scented. In fact, one of the other kids today tried to eat them!). So I blew a couple of bubbles and the problem is solved. Tears have stopped and everyone settles back in, happy that the crisis is averted.
Example #3: We are having trouble engaging one of the older (14 years old) boys who is in for an Echo. Apparently he is too cool for coloring and paper airplanes. The solution: A bubble blowing contest! Three guys from another organization were there so they all took each other on blowing the biggest bubble. The patient also felt comfortable joining in with all these other older boys enjoying themselves. 
Example #3: All the other patients have left for the day. Things are quiet. Yahya is the only kid still around that is awake. So to keep boredom at bay... bubbles! We had a glorious time blowing and popping bubbles for at least twenty minutes.
Bubbles solved a lot of troubles today. Thanks to my constant carrying of my scented bubbles, my coworker has dubbed me "The Bubble Girl". I'll take that as a compliment! They really are great. But I will need to restock soon. We are nearing the end of my current supply and I would hate to not have them if another crisis comes up!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Time of Transition

The beautiful thing about working in a small community like this is how close you get to everyone. In some ways we are like one big happy-some-of-the-time family. Everyone loves each other and wants good for each other, but every so often you drive each other crazy. But in the end, you figure it out because you have to.
Right now though, our little community is quickly changing. One of our volunteers just left, another will leave on Wednesday, two new ones arrive on Thursday, one of our kids went home last Thursday, a couple more will go home Friday (hopefully!), and we will probably get new kids soon after the other leave. Wow! And to think I'm only here for three months! I can't imagine what it is like for the people who are here for years at a time. It would be so hard... getting attached to people and having them leave so quickly.
Before each volunteer or child leaves we have a little party for them and one of the long term staff member makes a DVD with some memorable moments. It's a really cute way to sum things up. We all have the opportunity to offer some encouraging words, give the person leaving a couple small gifts, and then pray for them as they head out. It's a really sweet time. Last night for the good-bye party went to a nice hotel and ordered dessert and coffee. The view looked out over the the city, the sun was setting. It was one of those picture perfect moments.
Now as we transition to get ready for new volunteers and kids, I also remember that have just over a month left. The time here as flown! I can't believe my six month adventure is heading towards the home stretch. But even as I catch glimpses of the finish line, I try to focus on the path right in front of me. There is a lot still to do and I want to use my time wisely!

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Day to Top Them All

Definitely not a normal day at the office. Mostly because we weren't at the office! Yippee! Today we had a staff field trip! Isn't that precious?! On the schedule: the Church of the Nativity, Mar Saba Monastery, Shepherd's Field, and the Herodium. I thought this would be a normal, uneventful event. How wrong I was....
So we started out heading towards Bethlehem which is only a few miles away in the West Bank. We made it through the checkpoint with no problem and headed to the Church of the Nativity. Well... we thought we were headed there. We ended up taking the "scenic route" around Bethlehem. But hey, twenty minutes later, we stumbled across the Church and we all got to see a bit of the town in the meantime! At each of the sites, we had arranged for someone to read a passage of Scripture that goes with the place and  one of my coworkers who is ubber smart gave us some more history. At the Church of the Nativity we started out with the history, which was fascinating, but too long to go into here, then headed inside. As you enter the door is really short. Architectural error? Ancient people were actually really short? Nope! It was done on purpose so that everyone who enters no matter what their rank in society will have to stoop. This shows that every person is humbled before God. Cool, huh?
Once you get inside there are several different chapels all decorated in different styles since several different denominations run the Church. There is also an area that tradition recognizes as where Jesus was born and then where Mary laid him. (We don't know if that was it for sure, but it is nice to sit and reflect there.) There is also a tiny, dark, musty chapel way down in the bottom of the Church. Ok, I will give you a little history because it is so cool! Once upon a time, (like around the late 300's AD) this really smart guy named Jerome decided the Bible should be translated so that the normal old Joe could read it. Good idea, right? So he studied Greek and Hebrew extensively, headed to the holy lands, and holed up in this little chapel and did his translating. The result: the Vulgate. The Latin translation of the Bible. The word Vulgate actually means something along the lines of "common speech" since at the time Latin was the language everyone spoke. Well, fast forward a few centuries to Martin Luther. He freaks out at the Catholic Church because they refuse to translate the Bible into the common language. The translation the Church uses that Luther dislikes: the Vulgate. Latin is no longer the language of the common man, but nobody had taken cues from Jerome and re-translated it so that everyone could still use it.
So after wandering around the Church for awhile and reflecting on the fact that GOD humbled himself and became a human (WOW!), we met outside for a little Bible study. We read the beginning of John 1 in order to get a fresh look at Jesus coming to earth. (We're all so familiar with the Christmas story it seemed better to mix it up and think of it in the greater context of universe history.) Then we sang a few Christmas Carols! The funny thing... it is June 24th. We are exactly halfway through the year to Christmas Eve!
Then it was lunch time! We grabbed a felafel sandwich, downed some cokes, and headed to Stars and Bucks (Yes, you read that right! Funny isn't it!) for some ice cream! Then we were off to our next stop! Oh wait, slight problem. It's Friday. Muslim holy day. The Church of the Nativity and the parking lot where we had left our cars is right next to the biggest mosque in Bethlehem and they were having their afternoon service. Every inch of the parking lot was filled! So we hung out for a bit and waited for them to finish their prayers. Then we were off!
Our next stop was Mar Saba Monastery. We followed some signs and started driving and driving and driving. We stopped and asked for directions three times because we thought we must be lost! But no. We were going the right way. So once we had officially found the middle of nowhere we found the monastery. The scenery was beautiful! I know this may be weird but I think rough, desert, rocky terrain is some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We camped out for a bit and read Psalm 63. Let me tell you, "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water," takes on a whole new meaning when you are sitting in the desert and all you want is water.
Then it was time to move on. Unfortunately, we had been moving a bit slowly so we ran out of time to see all the other sites. Some people needed to go back, but a good number of us decided to press on and see one more place. So the drivers were swapped around and we parted ways. Well, tried to at least. The first car took off with the only person who knew the code to unlock the other car. And in the middle of the desert, none of our cell phones had signals. Yikes! So this Palestinian on a motorcycle pulls up and tries to help us. At first we are resistant, but we realize we are out of options. So when he offers to give the only guy in the group a ride to the top of a mountain so he get a signal on his phone, we have to accept. So off he goes and the six of us ladies are left wondering if we will ever see them again.
Thankfully they did return about ten minutes later. We got the car unlocked and headed home. The guy on the motorcycle lead the way and we headed down some winding roads and up a mountain, only to realize our van was not going to make these tight turns easily. This resulted in a lot of shouting, praying, and me laughing quietly in the back seat. We did eventually make it up the road and stopped to get cokes to revitalize our weary souls.
Our last stop was the Herodium. Sadly, it was closed when we got there, but we still did a little bit of a history lesson. This was a mountain that King Herod (the Herod from Jesus' time) decided to build. The man (Herod, not Jesus) was crazy, but a brilliant architect and designer! It really is a remarkable structure and that was only one of his many works. He also had Masada built (another desert palace that we think he might never have used), many many aqueducts, and the Temple in Jerusalem. Plus others, but those are the ones I remember.
So yeah, that was pretty much our day. We came back, had a nice Shabbat meal and now we are officially in rest mode. As for me, I think a nice cup of tea, a movie with the girls, and maybe later a good book will be a great way to kick off our day of rest. Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Luv Youuuu Na-Ta-Leee

The day I arrived at the beginning of May so did little Kosar and his mother. Maybe it's because of this connection, but I have definitely fallen in love with this little two year old. I'd like to think the feeling is mutual. I'm the only staff member who's name he knows and says. And the mom's taught him to say "I love you" in English. So the last couple weeks I would walk up and hear, "I luv youuuu Na-Ta-Leeeee". Precious!
And while this child is adorable, it hasn't been all beautiful moments. This mother has been probably one of our harder ones to love. She hasn't necessarily understood why there are certain rules in place, and one night a confrontation took place that resulted in a lot of tears. But slowly I've seen her transform. I think a lot of her behavior was due to the fear. Fear of what would happen to Kosar. Fear of all the new cultures and experiences she was having. Fear of the unknown. Without the security of God, I can understand how scary the whole thing is. Hopefully we were able to share with her the peace and joy that comes with being God's child.
Well, today, Kosar went home. His surgery went smoothly and in only six weeks, he was all finished. I had the privilege of accompanying him and his mother to the Israel-Jordan border. One of our other staff members accompanied them across the border and then we have a contact on the other side who met them. He will get them on a plane tomorrow to go home.
While I'm sad to see them go, I know it was time. They both miss their home and have been ecstatic all week when they heard Kosar was almost ready to fly out. I hope the things they have heard here will stick with them and someday they will learn to love Jesus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Other Side of the Coin

Last week when I was at the hospital I met a Palestinian girl and shared some of her story with you. Well today I met a couple Israeli kids from the same organization that is working to build relationships between Israeli and Palestinian youth. Unfortunately, I did not have nearly as much time with them, so I don't have the same amount of information to share, but I do want to throw out one little story that one of the girls shared with me. I know this doesn't "balance" out my story telling about the people involved in the conflict, and to be honest, that isn't really my goal. I just want to share what I have learned from real people who live this every day. It is easy as Americans, sitting on our couches at home, to listen to American newscasters tell what they think. Why not let the people speak for themselves? At the end of the day, we are not trying to judge who is right and who is wrong, but learn the whole story and see how we can help in the reconciliation process... if at all.
So her story... I was telling her about the ministry we work for. How we bring kids from Gaza to the hospitals for surgery. She responded, "My dad did the same thing!" He was in the Israeli military, but saw a huge need in Gaza and the West Bank. There were lots of kids who needed hospital care that they could not get in the Palestinian territories. So he arranged to transport the children to the Israeli hospitals so they could have heart surgery. What a beautiful thing that the news doesn't usually highlight! It was her ending comment that really stuck with me though. "I don't understand why Palestinians hate all Israeli soldiers. My dad was a soldier and a good man. He was helping them!"
This is where the discussion between both sides is so important! There are good people helping people on both sides. Unfortunately, in war and conflict, the good people are overlooked and the bad people make the newspaper headlines. Something needs to change there.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Most of the holidays and festivals around here are connected with at least one religion. I mean, when you've got three religions colliding in one place, it's hard to have time for any other kind of holiday! But for the past week, this small miracle did happen and we have had the Festival of Lights.
It is not connected to any religion so there aren't a lot of tourists to the city. Instead, it is mostly put on for the locals and whatever lucky tourists (like myself) happen to be around.
The festival itself is kinda hard to explain. Most of the city has lights running through it and there are different stations that have shows that combine light and sound. It's really sweet. It looks a lot like Christmas time in Minnesota. All the lights strung up. The crazy neighbors that go all out and put up enough lights it feels like daytime even in the middle of the night. All we are missing is five feet of snow and I would have felt right at home!
Anyway, we were walking down the streets admiring the displays, ooing and awing over the whole thing, when I made the comment, "This is so beautiful!" Then some random guy with a long scraggly beard and baggy, messy clothing looks over and says (much to our surprise) in an crisp accent, "It is ugly! I hate it! This is the worst year yet!" Our mouths dropped open and it took great effort to not let the laughter bubbling up inside spill over. My coworker, always ready to take on a challenge, replied, "Really? Well, if you were on the committee what would you have done." This resulted in a five minute conversation about the changes he would have made. Unfortunately, then we reached a fork in the road and parted ways. So we never got to hear the end of his stories. But he did make the event more lively.
Despite his complaints, I really did enjoy it. There were fantastic light displays, flame throwers, and strange interpretive dancing. Very entertaining to say the least. And while I don't have the energy to go out every night, it was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity that I'm glad I had.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Oh, Baby!

The Mission: throw a baby shower in a culture that doesn't normally have them for a large group of people that don't all speak the same language.
Status Report: Successfully completed!
One of our Arab coworker's daughter is having a baby in less than five weeks! A few American friends thought it would be fun to throw her a baby shower. But due to some strange circumstances that I don't even know about, they had to back out, placing all the planning and responsibility on the mom (my coworker). However, this isn't a culture that typically has baby showers. They are becoming more common as women here learn about the tradition, but for this mom, the whole thing was overwhelming.
That's where community comes to the rescue! We stepped in and took different responsibilities. A couple of the girls made decorations, others bought gifts, and someone went and got a couple cakes since there wasn't going to be enough desserts. My job- games.
I spent most of the afternoon researching popular baby shower games online. Let me tell you, there are some strange ones out there. But now I feel completely confident in planning games for a baby shower in America. Doing it here, that was a different story. I had to take into consideration, cultural differences, the language barrier, and age range (I think we went from age 9 to around 70). This meant very different mobility levels. Did I mention there were about thirty in attendance? Yikes!
So here is what I came up with... the every popular, put a whole bunch of baby items on a tray, briefly show the audience, then recover it up and have everyone try to remember as many things as they can that were on the tray. We decided to use this as our icebreaker game. It actually went really well! I didn't have all the normal baby items, so I printed out pictures of a pacifier, bottle, booties, stroller, and crib, attached them to a little stand I made out of a cut up toilet paper roll and added other items like a diaper, Big Bird Toy, safety pin, baby spoon, baby lotion, etc.. to a tray. The Arab women really liked it! They all laughed at how few most were able to get. But our winner got 14 out of the 17 items! I was really impressed. She was the Aunt of the mom-to-be and is sharp as a tack, despite her age. (I am not saying that old people aren't smart. I'm just saying that it is common knowledge that the memory starts to slack off once you get past sixty. )
After a yummy dinner or various Arab foods, we brought it back in for Baby pictionary. I brought a little white board and markers. I split the group in two teams. Arab speakers on one team and English speakers on the other. I would have preferred to mix everyone up, but it was too hard to know if they guessed the right answer! Thankfully there were also a few girls on hand to help translate. This also went over well! I was really happy with how willing they were to step up and participate. Everyone really enjoyed it and was sad when I ran out of phrases or words.
To conclude the night we gave this first time mom some essential baby items and some blessings for the baby. Each of us from Shevet prepared either a song, verse, poem, or prayer to say to the mom and baby. The challenge: some of the women in attendance are very strong Muslims. We were requested not to rock the boat by using Jesus' name or pulling out a Bible. So when I read part of Psalm 139, I had it written on a sheet of paper and didn't say the reference. Others who prayed, read their prayers with their eyes open. Also since God's name translates directly to Allah, a lot of what we said the other women really agreed with. I know this is a great ministry opportunity for my Christian coworker and her believing daughter. I think the things we shared helped to break down cultural barriers so their witness can continue.
All in all, it was a great night! The women thanked us as we left. One even invited us to her daughter's wedding! It was so cute. Who knows if we will get to go. If we do, I'll bring my white board and we can play some wedding  pictionary! Ok... draw a wedding cake, flowers, wedding gown. No, those are too easy. I'll have to keep brainstorming....

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I got the oxygen tank!

On a normal trip to the beach, you might want to make sure you have swimsuits, a beach towel, sunscreen, and maybe a beach ball. Around here, before we reach for any of those things, we make sure the oxygen tank is packed in case someone needs a boost before we rush to the emergency room. We also check to make sure all medication that is taken three times a day is packed. And of course, we could never leave without a first aid kit. So you know, just a basic fun day at the beach! Thankfully, our latest outing did not require any of this emergency equipment, but is crazy to think these safety precautions are in place because they really really really might be needed!
But there are other things about life here that we do in order to help the kids heal faster or as a precaution so they don't get sick or hurt. Since their hearts are already broken (literally, not figuratively) it is so important the rest of them stays whole.
For example, teeth brushing. Who knew that this little act could help so much! But it really does keep a lot of bacteria out of their bodies and help them stay healthy. However, teeth brushing is not common in Kurdistan, at least not with most of these families, so teaching proper technique is often a battle. Tonight I had the privilege of assisting our normal kids staff with scrubbing the kids pearly whites. Let's just say, when gentle words don't work, sometimes you have to just dive in and scrub away!
Play time is also done differently. We have to be really careful with how we pick the kids up. The heart surgeries open up their chests, so post surgery it is important not to lift them up under their arms. This can cause too much strain on the newly closed incision... I don't want to be graphic so let's just say we want those stitches to stay closed! So instead, we have to scoop them up under their bum. This also becomes interesting when working with little kids that should be in diapers. Sometimes staff members have had to go change clothes after handling a poopy baby.
So on that lovely note.... I hope this entry has given you a look into the finer moments of life with little children. It really is a joy to work with them, but there are some moments where we just lift up our hands and say, "God, thank you for the promise of heaven, where everyone is whole and clean!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Right to Survive

Reading a book about someone’s life can never compare to actually hearing them tell it. Skimming newspaper articles about a political situation is nowhere near as personal as hearing it from a victim. Watching the news on television cannot convey how much the people who live in these circumstances every day are suffering. And that is why when I had the opportunity laid before me to hear a Palestinian girl’s story, I knew I needed to listen. In the course of twenty minutes she told me more personal stories than many Americans will hear in their lifetime. I’m not a journalist. I don’t know how to do a proper interview, so I just listened to her talk. When I asked questions, sometimes I suspected what her answer would be but wanted to hear it from her, other times, I was shocked. I wish I would have had a tape recorder, but here is the gist of our conversation.

Why are you here?
She was with an American organization that brings Israeli and Palestinian youths together. They go to a three week camp in America where they get to dialogue about their situation. Afterwards, they come back here and continue to do community service work side by side in hopes of increasing reconciliation and peace. She actually had to go to the camp late. Why? The government. In order for Palestinians to leave their region they need permission from the Israeli government, paperwork in order to enter Jordan to catch a plane to other parts of the world, and what she called “coordination”. I think this refers to exact travel plans: who will pick her up, where, when, etc. She had the first two, but the coordination wasn’t figured out all the way so she was only able to go to the last two weeks of camp. On the last day of camp, she asked one of the Israelis. “In two years you will go to the army. You know me. You know my thoughts and desires. You know I want peace. If you are in West Bank and you see me and your commander tells you to shoot me, would you do it?” The Israeli said yes.
Where are you from?
Originally, she was from Gaza, but it got so bad there they had to move to the West Bank. Now she cannot go visit her relatives in Gaza. Currently she is from a town called Ramallah. I asked her where that was. So she drew a map of Israel…. “Ok, so here is Palestine. This is West Bank. Here is Jerusalem and here is Ramallah.” “How far away is that?” “Because of the check point, about two hours.” “What if there was no check point?” “About 17 minutes.”
Why does the check point take so long?
In order to come into Israel, they have to have special papers with permission and IDs. I have seen them from when we pick up families to take them to the hospital. If they don’t have these, they don’t enter. Once at the check point, it takes forever. Why? She could not give me a reason. They are humiliated at every turn. They go through many security scans even though they could not have picked anything up as they go through. Sometimes the official will go on break and leave dozens of people waiting in between scanners, or what she referred to as “cages”. She also told me that “if they are in a bad mood” they can ask you to strip right there. She saw them do this one time. They told a young boy to take off all his clothes. He did and they took his clothes away. Then they told him to go home; he could not go through today. Another Palestinian woman gave him a jacket to wrap around himself.
Your English is very good. Where did you learn it?
“Really?” She didn’t know how good she was, but her English was almost flawless. Probably the best I’ve heard by a non-American since being here. We learn it at school in Gaza. Everyone does now. “Why English? Why not learn Hebrew since you are right next door?” “I don’t think anyone would think to do that. We would not want to learn the ‘enemy’s’ language.” She had two older siblings that are currently studying in the US and England at universities. I asked her if she will go as well. Probably, was the reply. She knows her brother will most likely never come back. He likes America so much better. “What would you study?” “My mom wants me to be a doctor. But I don’t want to. That is a lot more school. I’m just not as dedicated like my brother.” “Well then, what would you study if you could pick?” “Politics.” “That’s what I study!” I got a high five for that.
Do you think peace is possible?
“I don’t know.” After the response of the Israeli at the camp last summer she says she has lost hope. But all she wants is freedom. “We are denied the basic rights. The right to live. The right to survive. Every day I am afraid I will be killed.” She told me one week when it was really bad, she puked three times simply out of fear and stress. I asked her, “Are things getting better?” “No. They are actually getting worse. There are more houses being destroyed. More settlements being built.” At the camp, when the Palestinians told the Israeli students all the things that were being done, all the people (including children) that were killed in the Gaza Wars, their response was, “Sorry.” “Sorry isn’t enough.” And she’s right. Saying probably won’t be enough. I don’t know what will be. But I know America needs to wake up and hear this side of the story. There is so much going on here that most people aren’t aware of.

I read a book last year called Occupied Voices. It is simply Palestinians like this girl telling their stories. I highly recommend it for anyone who is trying to gain a perspective on what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like from the Palestinian side. And while that book really touched me, I know that this conversation has even more so. As we parted today, she turned and gave me a hug. All she wanted was for someone to listen, someone from the outside to hear and know the truth. So I share her story with you, so that you can also know. Will you listen?