Art Gallery and Blog

Thursday, May 31, 2012

My City

He said, "Have you ever wept for your city?"

Wow. I couldn't remember ever weeping for my city. I'd heard people say they had. I'd choked up over this awesome worship song about the God of this city the first time Erin had played it on the guitar resting against her hip and had sung it slowly and beautifully, meaningfully, tearfully.

She was weeping for her city.

I was teary-eyed from the beauty of the song and the emotions it evoked, but not for my city. Not if I'm honest about the moment.

Years ago, Pastor Dean Brown had been driving through rural New Brunswick and had heard reports of murders in Halifax on the radio and had said to his wife, Rosalie, " I sure am glad we don't live in Halifax", whereupon he instantly heard that small voice in his head, "You're GOING to live there," and he looked over at Rosalie to see the tears running down her face as she said, "We're going there, aren't we?"

They wept for their city.

And when Pastor Donald asked us the question a few Sundays ago, I could hear the catch in his throat as he said, "This is my city; these are MY people".

He wept for his city.

As you know, my dear, one and only reader, (thanks, ma), I have recently wept for another city. I cried for their poor, their children, their moms, their homeless, their flooded land, their dying animals...but mostly for their children.

But I had not shed one tear for my city, my people. For our poor, our lonely, our homeless, our despairing, our broken hearted, our lost, our afraid, our hungry, our children and moms and dads who don't know how dear they are, how loved they are, how wondrously majestic they are, created for a purpose. Unique and spectacular.

When they wake, are they stretching hands up to the heavens, thankful for the warm bed, safe home full of family, full tummy, freshly brewed coffee, cozy reading chair, refreshing shower, clean clothes, new shoes, artfully planted flower beds, magnolia and lilac trees, a car with heated seats, favourite cd playing, a job to go to, friends on facebook and twitter, a church to go to where they're loved and hugged and praised and edified...?

When they look in the mirror do they see their beauty and intelligence and depth? Do they see the fingerprints of God all over their faces and the faces and places they love, all over their gifts and talents and the things they do and make? Do they see his art and science in their own? Do they hear his voice in their voices, in the birdsong, in the thunder? Do they know how much he loves them? Do they care?

These were the thoughts I was thinking as I drove to work that Monday morning looking around at the faces in the cars on either side of me on the bi-high. There were a lot of cars and a lot of faces, but there were NOT a lot of smiling, peace-filled faces. As a matter of fact, in the 73 cars I passed or watched pass me (just so you know, I passed WAY more than passed me....I may be a thinking person, but I'm very results oriented when it comes to winning in traffic...sure, I'm just about the POLITE-EST driver in the city...I let 'em all in...but I'm shrewd and calculating in picking my lane and when EXACTLY to switch lanes...but I digress)


As a matter of fact, in the 73 cars I passed or watched pass me that Monday morning, I did not see one smile. Two or three distracted two-raised-finger waves as I let people into my line of traffic and smiled my biggest good morning smile at them. But no smiles. There were probably smiles, but I didn't see them. Because, like my friend Claude said last week, many people aren't winning in life. And me letting them into my line of traffic is not going to help them one bit with their finances or marriages or lonely, broken hearts. They need so much more.

And suddenly it happened.

I was weeping for my city. For my people. It was a groundhog day moment and the rest of the day slowed down into live-able, action-able moments as I looked for ways to help, to make a difference.

Right here in my city.

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They said to me"Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.~Nehemiah1:3&4

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

an invitation

Here's what I wrote to Team Ecuador:

Hi, my BEAUTIFUL friends...

I was at church Saturday afternoon and from all the way across the room I saw Philip. It was all I could do not to just drop what I was doing and run to him for a hug. I miss Team Ecuador soooo much. 

I know you'll find it hard to believe, knowing what a cold hard rock of a woman I am, but on the second day back home...I cried. 


I actually shed tears. 

Andrew had asked how I was feeling. He had meant my tummy troubles. 

I thought he was asking how I was FEELING. And I teared right up, then and there and wailed, "I miss Elsa and Sheila and Pam and Julia and Carito and...*sniff* EVERYONE! (i actually went through the names of EVERYONE, but you get the idea) and I miss the guaraba juice and the warm rolls in the morning and I miss the HEAT, and I miss the VAN...."

It was not pretty, my dear friends. 

And when I got the email from Carito, I couldn't even respond, I was so choked up.

You people changed my life, and I'm a better mom and wife and friend and daughter because of the time I spent with you. 

Well, at least I got to bring one of you home with me. The big guy in the yellow shirt.

If you get the chance to come meet Team Ecuador 2012 on Saturday, June 2 at 6:30 pm or Sunday, June 3 at 10:30 am, jump at it. The service at Stoneridge Fellowship is always fun, thought-provoking, life-changing and full of great people, and I know you'll be blessed by what you hear and see and by what God does among us when we gather together in his name. to find us, visit

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them~Matthew 18:20

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ecuadorian roadkill

You're driving along in Nova Scotia, and there's a dead animal on the road or the side of the road. It's bound to be a raccoon or a squirrel, a porcupine or a *gasp and hold your breath* skunk, or maybe even a dear little kitty or bunny, or on the odd occasion it's a deer. Sometimes there's a crow or two hopping around with a napkin round it's neck gettin' ready for a chow-down.

And then if you travel outside your province, it's always a little interesting to see what else there might be, but mostly it's the same laundry list, or grocery list if your name is Cletus, and you're from the mountain areas and happen to have a shovel in the back of the pickup...

But in Ecuador, it was a whole new scene. It was more likely to be a chicken or iguana or duck or cow, and so, sick as this sounds, there was some natural curiosity on everyone's part when we happened upon the scene of a critter's demise.

I know, I know, I've offended my one reader already. Sorry. But it's true. It was all just so different and fascinating, we just were compelled to look.

You woulda looked too.

So we're heading back from site numbers two and three I think, in the community of Salitre. We had seen pigs tied up by the side of the road, cattle of many different types chest deep in flooded fields, a sad lookin' old donkey limping his way along and all kinds of other strange and wonderful animals on our way into the community, and we were still eagerly looking around to see what we'd see on our way back "home".

There was the usual banter and singing and non-stop laughter that filled our van, but it all slowly trickled to a singular-themed hushed chatter as one after another of us noticed the BIG dead animal on the side of the road. The buzz worked its way around the van as we began to realize it was a donkey; probably the one we'd seen on it's last legs coming into Salitre. Poor old fella.

Not much further, we saw another dead creature on the same side of the road. This time an orange tabby cat. Another moment of silence.

But the moment of silence didn't last long. Joe took care of that.

Let me back up. Joe isn't the funny one. Tim is the funny one. Joe is our builder. He builds. Strong silent type. Builds for a living. Builds for fun.

Joe has a shirt that says, "Eat. Sleep. Build"

Joe builds.

But within SECONDS of seeing the dead cat, Joe pipes up:


We broke weak. It was just so fast, and so apt. And it came from Joe. It was awesome. We were all laughing.

Except Pastor Les.

I'll back up a bit again, though, because when we were all noticing the dead donkey, Pastor Les, often the first to notice and file away everything, was busy processing the same sight, but from his own reference point of growing up and living in Canada. So he already had determined that the dead creature was, of course, a deer, and he had moved on mentally to the next thing on his mind, not hearing us pass along the new information to each other that it was, indeed, a donkey.

So fast forward again to the laughter following Joe's well-timed quip, when we all suddenly heard Pastor say:

"What does Shrek have to do with a dead deer and a dead cat?"

And it was all over. 12 voices were all trying to explain the whole donkey, puss and ogre connection, some in great detail, assuming our pastor was probably too immersed in esoteric books about the scriptures to have understood the Shrek reference. But it totally wasn't that.

He just thought it was a deer.

So we thought we knew Joe. Had him packaged up neatly in the little box that said BUILDER.

And we thought we knew Pastor Les. Had him in a different box that said TOO DEEP AND SPIRITUAL TO KNOW ABOUT AN ANIMATED FILM.

And Pastor thought he knew roadkill.

Guess we shouldn't be too much in love with our own ideas about the way the world works, or who people are or what we think we know.

Like Chris Brady says, "Sometimes you don't know what you don't know, ya know?"

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will~ Romans 12:2

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In Your Hand

My friends have been having babies lately.

It's been a weird, recurring thought of mine that over the next short span of years I could be watching my grandchildren become best friends with the children of my best friends.


But these new parents and the language they use with their sons and daughters has been reminding me of some things it would be easy to forget here in the land of "can I borrow the car?" and "I can't find any socks!" and "who ate all the cheese?"

They've been reminding me of the limitless possibilities planted in our children. Planted in us all. Possibilities that need to be fostered and nurtured and celebrated.

This week, I heard a new dad say, "You are the EXPERT at rolling over!"

Now, I know the reality is that most of us learn this one. Rolling over, in the scope of all things possible, may not rank very high on the skills scale. But it wasn't the act of rolling over that this dad was praising. He was praising his son. He was valuing what Wyatt had to give at that moment. And praising and valuing, lifting up and celebrating are habits that foster and build on the possible. Our children need to be nurtured in this way. And so do we. Are we nurturing ourselves and our own possibilities? Or are we focused on what we don't have, our children's shortcomings, our own weaknesses?

Back at the  beginning of this incredible year, Pastor Donald reminded me to look at what I have in my hand to use. He talked of the great Israelite leader, Moses, when he first encountered God and was told that he was going to lead his people out of oppression. Moses, shepherd's staff in hand was protesting and whining that he had nothing to give, to offer, to equip him for such a task. And God asked him what he had in his hand.

Do we see what we have in our hands?

Do I?

If I take 30 seconds and list all the amazing skills and abilities to be found just in the 6 people living here in this house, I'm astounded at the range of capabilities. If I list the blessings of circumstances, people we know and have known, where and when we are in history and geography, the things we've learned and know how to do, why it could bring you to your knees!

We've been gifted to sing, speak, write words, to prepare food, to create art, to play instruments, to set a table, arrange flowers, decorate a room, make a bed, plant a garden, mow or rake a lawn, build a fire, cut and style hair, apply makeup, make balloon animals, do magic tricks, build things, plan a budget, fix a computer, swim and dive and run and dance...

And we find ourselves standing here, staff in hand, protesting and whining that we have nothing to give, nothing to add.

And God bluntly asks us, "What's that in your hand?"

And we reply, unthinking and un-thankful, "a stick."

When it's really all that God's gifted us with; it's really everything we need to accomplish the great plans he has for us. He asks us to throw it down, as he asked Moses, thousands of years ago.

And if, after a struggle, we do throw it down, it is transformed and comes to life and becomes a miracle of creation.

But then, when he asks us to pick it up again, to have the courage and faith that it really is more than it seems, we're afraid to take it up again. Moses' staff had turned into a snake, and I can certainly appreciate his hesitation to reach out his hand and grab that snake by the tail.

I'd have wet my pants if he asked me to pick up a snake.

Think about it.

And so I'm afraid to take the snake by the tail. I'm afraid to do the great things he asks of me. And if I am afraid, so must my children be. And it's here, at this moment, that the years of what I've been saying to myself and to them will make it's impact. Have I been saying, "You're the EXPERT're AMAZING at....look at the ABILITIES you have to..." Or have I been saying other things, things that don't feed possibilities, things that erode them and tear them down.

This weekend, at the LIFE leadership seminar at Mount Saint Vincent University, Jean talked about changing the things we say to ourselves, changing the things we listen to and watch and say to others, and Tammy even admonished us to change the way we THINK about each other.

In the busy-ness of the moments that whip by our eyes and ears and minds, are we seeing what we have in our hands as a stick, or as an instrument to change the world?

So I suddenly see that my friends aren't just having babies. And I don't just have teenagers. We are raising the next generation of leaders who will move and shake and change this world in ways we can't even imagine.

And it all starts with what we see when we look at them, and what we say to feed their possibilities.

What's that in your hand?

Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!~ Mark 9:24

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

dragon flies and vultures

I was sitting at a little table in the early morning sunshine on our last day in Guayaquil, sketching a little picture of a 3 year old child named Christe, peeking out from behind a wall next to the last house we built.  As my pencil built up her image on the paper and I remembered the way she snuggled in when I held her on my lap in the hot sun, I was aware that the colours and sounds and smells of this place were no longer an assault on my senses. They had become a part of my days, and a part of my life. I have a craving, even now, for the taste of guaraba juice, freshly squeezed each morning, for the riot of orange and pink flowers and blue sky and rich green leaves against creamy white concrete, for the sound of horns and spanish cryptoquotish chatter, for the tight hug of heat on my skin, and maybe, just maybe even for the smell of the dog.

No. Not the dog. I was growing sentimental. I do not miss the smell of that wretched dog. Tim had threatened, on more than one occasion, to tie a note to that dog's collar: "please give me a bath".

And it was Tim, that morning, who next wandered out onto the terrace, as had become his custom, to think and pray and read and write in his journal; to soak up just a little more of this city we had grown to love.

After a little while he stopped beside me and shared a little of what he was thinking, and although I don't have anything remotely like a photographic or phonographic memory, and I can't remember the exact words he said, I remember WHAT he said, if you know what I mean. And it all started with the disclaimer: "I'm not usually poetic, but..."

"I'm not usually poetic, but you know how there have been a few things we see every day? Kind of steady companions every where we go, in every community, at every building site? Dragon flies, pigs, chickens, vultures, dogs...?"

I nodded.

"Well, it's occurred to me that those dragon flies that hover beside us while we build, while we eat, while we walk and talk and visit people, and those vultures circling directly above us or just in our peripheral, all the time, every day, everywhere we go, they're kind of like the invisible armies of good and evil, one to protect and encourage and help us to focus on all that's around us, the beauty, the industry, the details, and one just waiting for us to fail, never directly in our line of vision, but intimating and suggesting hopelessness and sadness and sickness and death, inciting fear and despair. Both hovering and circling, but one displaying beauty and intricacy, reflecting light and colour, zipping around us quickly, or floating effortlessly right at our eye level, while the other moves slowly and deliberately, dark and frightening and far above us."

Deep guy, that Tim. Sounded pretty poetic to me.

He was right about the dog too. It did need a bath.

Don't we all, now and then.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  ~Ephesians 6:12

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Today is our last day here.

Looking around at the team as they slowly, one by one gathered out under the porch on the chairs and sofa and hammock this morning, praying, reading, quietly talking, I was in awe of the process that took us from being 12 relative strangers, who knew a bit about each other, but did not KNOW each other, to being this tightly woven community of friends who encourage and edify and deeply love each other and who have worked so well together, laughed so hard together, cried so often, smiled so much.

We´ve come to call the daily laughing fits our ab workout...although often started by Tim, these workouts have been actually started by every member of the team on one occasion or another. Sometimes it´s deliberate quick wittiness (courtesy of Tim, Adam, Les, Sheila, Andrew, Philip, Pam or Joe), but sometimes it´s a clueless thing (called pulling a Sonya), sometimes a powerful reaction to a surprise or practical joke (pulling an Elsa), sometimes a look(pulling a Julia), and sometimes it´s an I´ve-had-it-with-you-people shake of the head(you guessed it, THAT´S a Carito).

We´re already  welling up with tears here and there as we get ready to say our goodbyes to the friends we´ll leave behind at oh-dark-thirty tomorrow morning. I´m still contemplating hiding Beto, our amazing young translator and Carito´s delightful younger brother in our suitcase, and I think Pam and Joe might actually already  have a suitcase full of Konig, our unbelievably giving, devoted driver Delia´s sunbeam of a daughter who has been with us every day between her classes, and who has stolen our hearts. Jose Fernando, another translator, won´t leave and is still lying here on the grass with us. And Tatiana, our translator, driver and encourager, industrial engineer by trade, servant of the Lord and advocate for thousands of children by calling, WILL come to Nova Scotia if we have to pay for the trip ourselves!

Goodbye Ecuador.None of us will ever be the same.

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality. -2 Corinthians 8:14

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Joyful Noise

What a greeting we received on Mount Zion!!!

As we made our way up the winding, bumpy dirt road, bordered on both sides by crowded merchants stalls and gated and barred up shops selling...well, everything and anything, we were suddenly advised from the front to put our cameras away and to keep our eyes averted so as not to draw attention to ourselves. That´s when we began to notice out of the corner of our eyes that the looks weren´t so friendly, that we were escorted ahead and behind by undercover police officers, and that there was a palpable tension in the front of the van. We were told that it would be easy for our van to be taken and for us to also be taken somewhere else and robbed. 

But when we entered the sanctuary they call Mount Zion at the top of this poorest of poor, drug centred community, we could see that things were different. 

Stoneridge, several years ago, got this place inside their hearts and donated money to build much of this beautiful structure, the largest church in square feet in the city, and it houses a school and lunch program for so many children I couldn´t count. They hugged and kissed us and one little girl just went from arms to arms until she´d explored every inch of our faces with her spectacular chocolatey chip eyes, patted our hair, kissed us, squeezed us and smiled and smiled. We danced up to the front of the assembly and clapped and jumped and did actions with the children, and cried as we were told stories about this place and the children there. 

After, while our group was gathered on the stage for a moment before we got to go see the children in their classrooms, Pastor Les tearfully told us that Stoneridge also gives alot of money weekly to the lunch program, because for many, this is the only meal they get all day. We had no idea. 

Thank you, Stoneridge.

We disrupted classes by peeking in the doors and windows, and the teachers there encouraged the children to practice their English greetings...we touched as many little hands as we could before the teachers called them all back to order, so we played a little kick ball in a circle...and it was all good until the ball rolled into the muck, at which point I put my hands up in surrender and walked off the field, followed quickly by all my sisters and brothers...

We´ve been singing all week. In the van, around the pool, on the building sites, in the pigpens. but the Joyful Noise  we heard in that school, Mount Zion, that place of the Lord that stands like a castle on a hill? Why, my friends, THAT was the sweetest sound, the highest praise we´ve heard.

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary. Praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts. Praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet. Praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance. Praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him on the loud symbols, Praise him on the high sounding symbols. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord. Psalm 150


As we approached the site where we were to build TWO houses yesterday, my heart felt something different. The closer we got, the worse conditions got.

The houses looked shakier and more patched together with whatever was around.

There was more garbage lying around.

The dogs got skinnier.

And mile after mile as conditions grew worse and worse, I felt the vastness of it all.

Each morning when I wake, I walk over to the corner of the plot of land on which our hostel rests; this beautiful  sanctuary we´ve come to call home to our family of 12+...and I pray for this city, and I sing to the God of this city, the God of this world, and I think of the vastness of it all, and I´m awed by it and thankful for it.

But this was so different.

I was accutely, painfully aware of how small I am, and how little I can do. And the tears began, and then the quiet sobs, my face turned as far from everyone as I could. And then suddenly we were there and I had to pull it together...FAST. For there, beside the van was the pastor of these two communities...the beacon of hope and light that God has placed among them, the castle on a hill. And here I was, drowning my light in tears, washing out the land under my castle with floods of fear and doubt.

And then I saw her. Bit by bit I heard the story told around me of the woman beside the van, whose face now was also streaked with tears. It was explained that one of the two lots on which we were to build was flooded out and we would not be able to build there today, but that there was another family in dire need...a family of 8 whose home was falling down around them and who had no hope of anything better...and this lady outside my window was the mother in this family and she had just been told that today we were going to tear down her home and build her a new one. TODAY. She was crying and laughing and smiling and sobbing all at once.

And because Stoneridge loves the people of Ecuador, there was enough money left over that when Carito discovered that their beds were rotten, Pastor was able to get them new beds and bedding, with which he surprised them after he presented them the new house from the church. So they had food to fill a fridge, health care for the sick baby, new beds and bedding and a new house to put them in by 4pm, and as we walked away, more tears streaking down sweaty, dirty faces, we saw one of the little boys sweeping out the area that will be where he sleeps.

And I remembered that it´s not just me, and it´s not just this team. We represent the hundreds of people at Stoneridge Fellowship who give and give and give til it hurts and pray for and deeply love the people here in Ecuador, and it´s our friends and families and colleagues who dug deep into their pockets to give some more, and who are continuing to pray even now for these our brothers and sisters in the Lord. And it´s not even just these thousands of people. It´s the God of the Universe who works in and through us and right along side us.

Maybe the small bit we were able to do yesterday was enough. Maybe, just maybe, the small things accomplished on behalf of the thousands of people we represent here today was enough. Maybe God is big enough. Maybe God really is the God of this city. Surprise.

And I was reminded again of 1Corinthians 15:58, and, yes,  I know I already used that one a few days ago, but it´s in my heart to strengthen and sustain me, and I hope it will do the same for you: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself, fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

Spanish Stoneridge

We all worshipped together at Israel Baptist Church early...EARLY Sunday morning. I loved watching Carito out of the corner of my eye, praising God in her own language with the people of her own congregation, and Adam had to pat me on the shoulder a few times as the tears ran freely down my grateful, overjoyed face. The music was triumphant and joyful, the message was powerful and personal, and then I had the privilege of greeting almost every person as they streamed forward at the end, grasping my hand, kissing my cheek, hugging and patting...I learned much of the Spanish I´ve used since from that one encounter with that amazing congregation.

Before we sat down, I had asked the Lord for an open, understanding heart and ears that could hear. He blessed me greatly and I was able to understand much of what we were singing and I was able to find all of the passages of scripture so I could easily piece together what the pastor was teaching. God is AMAZING!!!

After a wonderful breakfast with the lead pastor, we all split into 3 groups to attend different community services. Some of these communities offer up to 5 services a day, there are so many people who come now.

And this time, somehow, God allowed me to understand almost everything. The words to the songs were up on the screen and it was soon very easy to sing right along. Pastor David Campos was engaging and deep and funny and clear, like a shorter, Spanish Pastor Les Somers. I know comparing isn´t good because it can keep you from being open to what you´re seeing NOW, but I couldn´t help comparing this service to our own as it was soooo much like ours in structure, in feel, in sound, in smiles!

It was like Spanish Stoneridge :)

"How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!" -Psalm 84:1

A Hope and a Future

Saturday took us to the poorest of poor areas to replace a Sunday school building that collapsed recently. All the children had been inside it...thankfully no one was hurt in any way, but it was pretty clear that the pieced together fallen building they were continuing to use was no solution at all.

The children gathered very quickly all around us, and it wasn´t long before Elsa had two little girls by the hand and several hovering around her, following her around. Their little faces were open and curious and I was once again delighted and suprised by how quickly bonds were made and communication established.

The Halifax Regional Police had donated a bunch of cardboard binoculars that everyone was so funny to see the little boys running with the little red boxes up to their eyes to go tell their friends. Even adults were coming for them, and pretty soon I was just standing in a circle of hands, putting the little cello wrapped packets into them and being patted and gracia´d and bendiga´d all around. I even saw Placido, one of  the local builders who´s been with us since day one, proudly and carefully putting his in his supply bag.

Elsa smiled at me from her little huddle of joy and suggested we should figure out something to DO with the children since there were already so many hands building and we´d already done our routine of separating the box of different nails and putting together the screws and fasteners.I drew a hopscotch in the dry dirt and the children gathered in a little group around me, giggling as I threw my stone and hopped around, counting in spanglish...they joined in and took turns hopping until the "rock" we were tossing broke into a hundred bits and we all had a good laugh. That´s when Julia suggested that it was time for the balloons...

The balloon animals were a hit, and our little assembly line of ladies was working pretty well, although it was so frantic with all the children trying to grab more balloons out of the bag. It was interesting that there was absolutely no pushing or shoving, just each child chattering and searching to make eye contact with us to let them go first. And we were moved to see that the children who finally did get their balloon animals would often take them quickly to a smaller child and then return for more. But it was also clear very quickly that many of the animals were quickly untwisted and the balloons presented again. That was when it hit us all as we looked around at the children. We could have been handing out twisted blades of grass. It wasn´t about the thing they were getting. It was 100% about the time they were getting with us, the one to one eye contact and  conversation they were having with us. We all made some pretty special connections that day.

The Sunday school program was awesome, and later that night, those who had been outside building told us that when the children started to all sing and respond to the story the work became easier and everything just came together. Those children sat and listened, jumped up and sang, and then about 12 girls and boys, with faces painted with beautiful masks performed a dance for us, set to a modern worship song. My little helper, Ruth, sang lustily along with the song...she knew every word. I squeezed her hand in appreciation as I smiled at the beauty of the sight and sounds of this gift they´d worked so hard to prepare for us. The work that went into that dance touched every heart there.

This all took place in a bamboo structure that this community uses as a church, and so Stoneridge, unknown to Victoria, the leader of that community, had sent 10 000 dollars to build a concrete building. Thank you Stoneridge!!! I wish you all could have been there to see the looks on their faces or hear the cheers. We were so honoured to be representing you all and there was not a dry eye in the place when one of the little girls reached up and kissed Pastor Les.

Making connections with these children was so moving and so vital. If we, as Christians, can have more influence over our children here than the gangs and drug communities who also offer the children comfort and prayer and a feeling of belonging, and if we can do it before they´re 6 and keep it up consistently, we have a chance of giving them hope for a future, and they have a chance at freedom. We weren´t just handing out treat bags with suckers and chips and juice and animal crackers for their tummies. We were sharing the  hope we have with their hearts and trying somehow to convey that there´s a group of people thousands of miles away who gather as they do every Sunday, who love them, who love God and his son Jesus Christ, and who care about the future he has planned for them.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Team

Let me tell you about THIS family, this eclectic mix of people we call Team Ecuador, 2012.

Our pastor, Leslie Somers is always the first one ready, first one to walk onto a site, leading the charge as we head anywhere. Quietly eager and interested, ready for anything, involved in everything. If you ask him, he laughs and poses with a shovel as if he has to pose to be caught actually working, but the truth is that he works as hard as anyone, unobtrusively, but with strength and determination. When it comes time to present the gift from the church, the box of food, the HOUSE to the new owners, you can see the sparkle in his eyes, the warmth and excitement in his voice as he speaks to them, prays for them, conveys our love for the Lord and the church´s  love for them...our deep, profound love for them. He shakes his head and laughs out loud at the constant barrage of humour that starts with Tim, bounces off of Andrew or Joe or Adam or Julia or Sheila or Pam or Philip or Elsa or Beto or Carito, or Dalia or Konig or Jose Fernando or me, and splashes onto the rest of us. Les, or Reverend Doctor to you, is a great leader and an excellent sport. We´re so honoured to be led by our Pastor, our friend.

Julia is a WHOLE LOTTA WOMAN. A student, dancer, mentor and now my dear friend, Julia never thinks of herself but serves and serves, smiles and encourages, and works like everything depends on it. She´s strong, capable, energetic and kind, and her youth and beauty and spirit command the attention of the little ones. It´s actually funny to see her swarmed by them....they just think she´s their peer, and so her influence with them, I think, is that much greater. We´re all so thankful for Julia.

Philip is the strong, silent type. But you wouldn´t want to be a lizard in his room. It would NOT end well, and Tim would be forced to tearfully finish you off. Phil is always ready to serve, and he´s literally given the shirt off his back to help out a friend. He´s always thinking, so he´s often a step ahead, knowing just where he´ll be needed next or what tools will be needed, or what move he´ll need 10 moves from now to slay you in chess. His quiet confidence and thoughtful, pleasant manner are just a joy, and we all look forward to hearing his insights at the end of the day. Thank you, Father, for Phil.

I´ve never met anyone like Carito. She´s this spectacular package of kindness and big-heartedness and love and generosity and strength. She´s in charge of all the details, planned it all, and even gave us this colour coded itinerary that all of us are considering framing and mounting on our walls. You should see it. It really is a work of art. She´s coordinating the schedules, accommodations, meals, water, has to roll with it when things don´t go as planned, has to reign us all in when we´re scattered or distracted, and has to try to figure out our spanglish and translate it into something that won´t offend our Ecuadorian brothers and sisters. She´s SO AWESOME and we´re SO THANKFUL. We are blessed to be led by Carolina.

Adam, Carito´s husband is SO fun, so ready to help, so strong and so smart that we could not, absolutely could NOT do this without him. His love for the Lord shows through in everything he does, from pulling back the chair for his wife or carrying a wall over a puddle of pig poo or leading us in campfire songs. He´s steadily readily always THERE, smiling, laughing, helping and kicking butt at board games. We´re so proud of  Adam. He´s an encouragement and example to us all.

Sheila is our Spanish expert. What´s amazing about Sheila is that she doesn´t let on she´s got these amazing gifts until suddenly she´s sharing her testimony in Spanish with other women or harmonizing along to a song or...yes, kicking butt at board games. Sheila had a heart for the Lord and it shows in all she does and says and people are drawn to her not just because she can actually speak the language. She´s right there in the middle, always, leading and learning, soaking it all in and giving back more than she receives. Sheila lights up the darkness.

TIIIMMMMM!!!! is this wonderful, deep, strong, kind man who´s broken hearted about leaving his wife and BEAUTIFUL children back in Nova Scotia, but who swallows it all down all day long to serve us with his gift for humour. Julia and I were worried that we hadn´t done an ab workout lately, but then we realized, with TIIIIIMMMM!!!! around, it´s just not necessary. We break weak when he opens his mouth. I´ve never met anyone who can put a funny spin on EVERYTHING. Not just funny ha ha. And not this fish tastes kinda funny funny. I´m talkin´thigh slappin´, rollin on the floor, pee your pants funny. But his depth, his love for people, his love for the Lord bring it all back into balance to make this man a pleasure to know, a delight to serve with. He´s just....BEAUTIFUL.

Elsa is such a lady, has such a wonderful heart, such a big, gorgeous smile that lights up a room, and I can´t imagine a world without her. She exudes all the fruits of the, peace, love, gentleness, kindness, self-control, patience, goodness and faithfulness. And she´s so much fun! Nobody laughs like Elsa, nobody listens like Elsa, and there´s no better sport on the planet. I love to see her holding the children, one in each hand, one pushed up against her side, swaying to the worship songs they´re singing. Elsa is my friend, my sister, and someone I´d like to grow more like. We´re so blessed to know Elsa and to serve by her side.

Joe is our professional builder and has been indespensible in the procurement of proper tools, in helping the local builders, in providing backrubs for tired muscles. His motto is eat, sleep, build, and he´d rather be building than anything, but still joins right in to the fun, taking on the biggest waves, verbally sparring with the other men when they start and don´t know when to end a joke. He´s got a passion for building and all things powerful and he´s just a tremendous asset to the team. We´re so thankful for Joe.

Pam is the quiet strength behind and right beside Joe. She´s right in the middle of whatever´s going on, be it work or fun, and her gentle spirit and tremendous work ethic  are an absolute inspiration. She gave up alot to come. Her son Jordan´s last few days in Nova Scotia  is probably the biggest thing she gave up to be here, but there´s not a moment of regret, just steady hard work, willingness and enthusiasm for what we´re here for. She´s strong in the Lord. We´re so blessed to be a part of her life.

Andrew is the BIG GUY. He very quickly made an impression as the guy who could lift anything, and the local builders, Machete and Placido knew pretty early on that they wanted him on their side. He´s humble enough to take direction and yet strong and decisive enough to just run with something he knows needs doing. Andrew´s so much fun and the kids are both cautious of at first and yet drawn to his pure joy. They´re attracted to the way both he and Tim aren´t afraid to tease and manhandle them. Between Andrew and Tim, we´re absolutely kept rolling on the floor, and he´s always ready to whoop anyone at any game, although I´m pretty sure he´s met his match at chess in Phil. I´m so honoured to be Andrew´s wife, and we´re all so thankful he´s on OUR team.

I just wanted you guys to know a little bit about my friends, my family, Team Ecuador, 2012. The Lord has been blessing our work and our play, no one is sick, everyone is happy and tired and we´ve just finished house number 4 today. More about that after I don´t look like I´ve been playing in the sand and dirt and muck. We love you all and are praying for you daily and for our safe return to you. Thank you so much for your faithfulness in prayer and your generosity in giving.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.- Galatians 6:9

Friday, May 4, 2012


Yesterday was a life-changer.

After an Ecuadorian breakfast of plantains and eggs, guaraba juice and the same wonderful warm croissant-like rolls we´ve been enjoying so much, we drove to site number one, two hours away, dropped off team A, then continued on to the team B´s site (GO TEAM MACHETE!). By the time we arrived there, we had passed horses and cows and goats tied up along the side of the road, miles and miles of flooded fields, with horses, pigs, cattle, all belly or neck deep, just hanging out or wandering around. There was some sort of combine harvester farm equipment kind of deal, slightly tipped and deeply stuck in the mud, and still stuck when we passed it on the journey back home to the hostel.

It was quickly apparent that things were not going to move along swiftly with team b´s house. We walked the building materials and tools along the path by the water, over the sandbags and boards and then dropped them by the site...which was at least 3 feet deep in water. No trees or brush had been removed in preparation for the house, and it was soon discovered that there was a bees nest that needed to be dealt with.

Oh, and I´m not talking bumblebees.

These "bees" are black and the size of a loonie.

So we headed back to team a´s site to help them...but not before we told them we were done and thought they could use a hand since they were so far behind...

They were building like crazy and had already put in all the posts and were starting to lay the floor joists. This house was being built in a pig pen, so they´d had to be extremely careful about what splashed onto their faces as they were digging the holes for the posts, holes which kept caving in because of the flooded conditions. The team was dirty and tired but the place was abuzz with cheer and kindness and helpfulness and good humour.

When we were all talking later over dinner, Elsa said she was feeling this profound connection and deep love for the people of this city and then Tim really nailed today when he said that it was all about family.

The grandparents who had lost their home and had been living for years with their FAMILY: a daughter and her children, in this tiny, dark home, perched on stilts over the flooded land, had lost all hope of recovering that independence of a place of their own.

The man who had been going through the most challenging time of his life, trying to provide for his FAMILY, but just not able to manage it on his own any more, who was at the end of his ideas, but not of his faith and hope, worked tirelessly, side by side with the builders and volunteers, even wading knee deep through water and pig muck to move building supplies from the road to the house site.

We saw FAMILIES walking, working in fields, paddling impossibly thin canoes through rice fields, riding bikes, hanging out windows to look at us, sitting on porches, and then later in the city, sitting together and celebrating birthdays and special times with each other over a meal. I was even thinking, as we wove our way through the tables filled with FAMILIES, what a strange FAMILY we made.

But it´s a good FAMILY. And I was so proud of them all today.

For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50 NKJV).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Well, my friends, this one won´t be pretty. The keyboard here is SOMETHING ELSE. I can´t find any of the keys, there´s no @ key (I had to paste this one in from one I found in the search engine).And almost every word is underlined in angry red as I type all these misspelled spanish words. This computer no hable ingles.

Our flights were mostly on time and relatively smooth and tranquil. The last leg was a little iffy, but we   weren´t really so very much aware of our surroundings anyway after 12 or 13 hours of travel. We knew we loved each other. We knew we got along. But it´s like we became a family on that series of flights and airport waits. It was an amazing journey, ending in a crazy drive through the beautiful city of Guayaquil with the most capable driver, Delia (sp). She had a good giggle today when I asked Eddie to tell her she drives like a MAN. At the airport, we finally got to meet Tatiana (what a beautiful woman), and Carito´s parents. Delia got us to our home away from home, the Iguanazu hostel...We awoke this morning to the most beautiful, drippingly gorgeous view of this vast city that is home to something like a million and a half people.

The first house went up today. I can´t describe to you what that was like, but, driving in, watching the topheavy truck ahead of us nearly pitch onto its side so many times, I couldn´t have imagined that the stuff on top of and inside that truck would 8 hours later be a finished home with a young woman whirling around inside, her babies in her arms, beaming a smile that stung my eyes and made my throat feel tight.

I have overload of the senses right now, after only one day of sights and sounds and smells and smiles and words... so I´m afraid I can´t package this up neatly with a beginning, middle and end, a catchy title or a ribbon of theme running through it.

 But I can tell you this. We came here to serve. To make some sort of difference. Every one of us did. And every one of us ached that we couldn´t do more. And I´m left with this thought: How must our Lord feel as he looks at the broken parts of our lives, at our hurts and our weaknesses and our needs, longing to serve us. To give us abundant lives. He said it again and again in so many ways that he came to serve and not be served, that he came that we might have life. And that we might have it to the full.

When Ladi sat there watching us, her tiny beautiful children in her arms, at pretty much the lowest point of her young life, abandoned and rejected and with no place left to go, I learned something about being willing to be served, to receive love. Her choices were pretty limited, but she chose to accept what we were offering. It wasn´t perfect, but it was a start, and she was brave enough and humble enough to start. She let us serve her. Her mom, Sonya (!) served her by watching over the children. Her stepdad served her by providing the land, bringing us chairs to sit on in the shade for breaks, putting our water in his fridge to keep cold, and finally by getting right in with us and helping to lift and carry and build. Her pastor, Carlito,and his beautiful, giving wife, Veronica, served by finding people to build the house and by being there and helping all day in the heat right alongside us.Her little brother Marcos served her by helping with the children and just being there, following his dad´s lead and getting chairs or tools when we needed them. Sure Andrew nearly had him nailed to the floor, but we all agreed, Marcos included, that he was skinny enough to be mistaken for a board, so the big Canadian wasn´t really too far out of line. I guess what I´m trying to say was that it wasn´t the end of the line because Ladi was open to receiving what was offered.

There was this butterfly on the terrace this morning after breakfast, with one wing badly torn. Poor little fella was right in the middle of the deck and in danger of being trampled. Andrew and I both tried to offer to move him. But he was pretty freaked out and flitted awkwardly away when we got close. There were birds everywhere giving him the evil eye (ok, they just looked like they were giving him the stink eye...what do I know...before I noticed the endangered butterfly, they were a beautifully melodic addition to the backdrop of our breakfast), and we really did just want to move him into a shady bush that bore the same orange colour in its blossom as he had on the one remaining good wing.

I don´t want to be the skittish busted butterfly of today. I want to be like Ladi. Broken, exposed, accepting and open to being served by the God who knows "the depths of my heart, and loves me the same".

"In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit"-Ephesians 2:21-22