Friday, July 31, 2009

It's really a wall!

Things have been blessedly busy! We are enjoying a work team from Upper Deer Creek Church, Galveston, Indiana. This church holds the record as being the first church to send two work groups to Refuge Ranch in one year! We hosted our first ever work team from Upper Deer Creek this past February. God granted us grace before them and they felt called to come back! Praise God!

Besides the work team, we are all adjusting to Daniel's arrival in our home. The adjustment has gone wonderful and very smooth. Ana, who will be three years old in 10 days, has had the hardest time adjusting. She either wants to hold him, take care of him and play with him, which he doesn't always appreciate, or she is taking away his toys.

This week's work team has been working hard on taking down all the wooden forms that were put up in order to pour the cement of the back wall of the lower level. This is a 100 foot long, twelve foot high wall! Taking down the forms has involved snapping hundreds of wire ties and then taking down the forms.

Once the forms are down, some have been dismantled in order to be reused as forms for the headers (the next item to be poured). All of the wood has to be reoiled, with used car oil, in order to assure that it is not ruined by the sun and rain so that we can reuse the $5000 of wood that we invested in for forming the back wall. This same wood will be used to form the headers and then the roof of the lower level.

The group also helped one of Josiah and Fidel's ideas come to reality. We have a small area of grass between our house and driveway in which Pati has planted a few small flowers and other plants. Fidel and Josiah joined in her enthusiasm, but quickly realized that Beethoven (our Saint Bernard) and our new guard dogs would destroy any attempts at a small garden area. So, over a month ago, Fidel and Josiah gathered scraps of rebar and, while I was at school, made their own fence out of rebar scraps and pieces of string. Needless to say, I was moved at their creativity, their perseverance and their teamwork, but the fence was a bit dangerous (cut rebar has very sharp points) and wasn't exactly what you could call "attractive". So, Dale and the rest of the UDC team came to the rescue and helped Josiah build a picket fence. Refuge Ranch now has a white picket fence. Martita immediately got excited about turning the area into a rose garden! When Pati mentioned planting tomato plants there, Martitia promptly defended her territory and declared the area a flower-only garden - no vegetables allowed. Pati will have to wait for Lucy Marshall to help with the big vegetable garden.

It is wonderful to see the kids get excited about a project, make plans and carry them out. For our kids, that had no future and no thought about the future, making plans, dreaming and then carrying them out is huge!

To see more about this week's work team adventures, check out their blog at:

As always, thanks for your prayers that sustain us throughout each day!

With much love and gratitude,


Friday, July 24, 2009

The Cement Pour

For those who were wondering - YES, the back wall of the lower level was poured this past Tuesday! Since the concrete pour happened on the same day that we got Daniel's papers and brought him home, he got priority on the blog! Since Tuesday, well, life has been rather a blur.

Victor and I were in Veracruz picking up Daniel while the concrete pump truck and eight cement trucks rumbled through Refuge Ranch to pour the back wall of the lower level, which is a reinforced concrete wall. This means that there are rebars running all the way through the wall, inside the poured concrete to make the wall stronger.

We praise and thank the Lord for His faithfulness, and we thank you for your generosity and obedience, in providing the $5000 needed to pour the wall. This is the first time ever that we have used cement trucks to pour concrete at Refuge Ranch and is proves to be easier, more economical and a better quality concrete. So, Lord willing, we will get used to seeing cement trucks around here more often!

In order to pour the concrete, a huge concrete pump was used. The kids keep telling me that the concrete pump truck looked like a huge grasshopper. This truck pulled into Refuge Ranch around 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The cement trucks started rolling in around 11:30 and the pour was done around 4:00 p.m.

As I understand it, the cement trucks would pour the concrete into the pump truck and the concrete would come out through a long tube or hose that one of the cement company guys was controlling to fill the forms.

Dale and the other men on the work team this week at Refuge Ranch would then use a vibrator to help the concrete settle down in between the rebar.

We thank the Lord that the pour went well, with no accidents or major mishaps. We are looking forward to getting those forms off and looking at a huge concrete wall!

Each time since we have gotten back from Veracruz and I ask the kids, or the work team, or our staff about the concrete pour that day I get the same story repeated back to me. So, I better share it with you too!

The concrete pump truck pulled into Refuge Ranch about two hours before the cement trucks arrived. Why? I really don't know why! However, the Lord can use any situation and my sister-in-law, Pati, and my niece, Jocelin, saw those workers just standing around waiting for the cement trucks and they had an idea. They promptly got several copies of the Gospel of John and some evangelistic tracts that we have for the crusades and gave them to the cement company workers. Those guys stood around for several hours reading the Gospel of John! Then, I am told, everytime there was a lull in the work as they waited for the next cement truck, they would get out their Gospel's of John and read some more!

What you are making possible through your prayers and giving to the ministry here at Refuge Ranch is not only transforming the lives of children, but is transforming the lives of those who come into contact with Refuge Ranch. Praise God and thank you!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Back home at Refuge Ranch - with Daniel!

After my last email/blog entry I left you on Monday night as we were preparing to go to bed. We enjoyed breakfast in our hotel room (treated ourselves to room service!) and spent the morning catching up on banking and other internet stuff. We left our hotel and made the 40 minute drive back to the town of Hueyapan where John, Maria and Daniel live.
This is Daniel with the missionaries who have been taking care of him:
John and Maria and their daughter, Hannah.
We were to meet the city lawyer at noon in order to draw up the letter giving us permission to take Daniel with us and then have the judge stamp his approval on the letter. Maria, the local missionary, was to meet us at the lawyer's office at noon with Daniel's mother. Victor and I arrived about 15 minutes earlier and the lawyer was in his office. This was a bit suprising to us because it is rare for somebody in Mexico to arrive on time, much less early, and the lawyer had said he wouldn't be in his office until noon. He was busy at the time so we waited in the hallway. While we were waiting, the DIF director walked by, greeted us and went into the lawyer's office. If you remember, we had met with the DIF director the day before had she had claimed that the DIF could not help us and was the one who sent us the lawyer. As far as she knew, the lawyer was going to take care of the court process to have us declared legal guardians for Daniel, which would have taken 2-3 months, and that Daniel was going to stay there in Hueyapan during that time. So, I think she was a little surprised to see us waiting there to speak to the lawyer. When she walked out of the lawyer's office, she said we could go in. We went in and immediately noticed that the lawyer's attitude had completely changed from the day before. He was not nearly as nice, did not make eye contact as well and was short and to the point. His point? The judge was on vacation and wouldn't be in again until August 3 and nothing could be done until August 3. No more options, no more possiblities, the end!

We walked out rather dumbfounded. I was fighting tears and wanted to scream, shrivel up, run back in there and shake the lawyer, grab Daniel and go - anything! But, by the grace of God I kept my composure. Victor and walked out of the municipal building and looked at each other with huge question marks in our eyes. Maria had not yet shown up with Daniel's mother. I said: "Let's pray." We leaned up against a concrete column and prayed - for God to do anything, show us anything! Right after opening our eyes, Maria pulled up, got out of her mini-van and said: "We've got problems." My first thought was: "You aren't the only one!" She promptly continued by explaining that Daniel's mother could not come to sign the papers! It wasn't that she was unwilling to - the problem was much more serious than that. If you recall, we had had a small struggle getting her out of her village the day before because her husband wasn't present and because she had been quite ill. Well, when Maria, with her mother, went back up to the village Tues. morning to pick up Daniel's mom, Daniel's mother's mother-in-law came out of the wooden/thatched roof hut and said that nobody was taking Elena (Daniel's mother) anywhere. She said that Elena was in bed dying and that it was our fault!

Let me explain! These villages are within an hour of a town, Catemaco, that is our nation's witchcraft capital! Hence, Elena's village is steeped in witchcraft. Interestingly enough, those who practice witchcraft and believe in witchcraft hate Christians with a passion. Why? Because when Christians are around their witchcraft doesn't work! The power of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit prevent the witchcraft from having any effect! So, Elena's family wanted to "cure" her using witchcraft, but since Elena had spent the day before with us, the witchcraft was blocked and now Elena was even more ill than before. So, when Maria and her mother arrived at Elena's hut, Elena's new husband was there and told Maria and her mother that they could go in to see Elena. But, Elena's mother-in-law came storming out of the hut and said nobody was going to get in to see Elena because it was our fault that she was so ill and they had brought in the best local witches and they were in the midst of doing their work to cure Elena. Maria's mother wanted to barge in, but Maria held her back, knowing it would do no good. When Elena heard Maria's voice she tried to get out of bed, but her mother-in-law called out: "She is trying to get up! She is trying to get up!" Elena's husband went into the hut and neither he nor she came out again.

This is the road heading up the village where Elena, Daniel's birth mother, lives.

So, Maria and her mother went back down the mountain to Hueyapan, where Victor and I were waiting. As they came down the mountain, Maria was thinking about how we could take Daniel home. Daniel had responded so well to us and Maria and her family were leaving for Canada the 30th of this month, so we were all anxious for him to come home with us. Then, Maria had a brainstorm. Maria employs a young woman to help with the cleaning and dishes in her home. In fact, this young lady is Elena's (Daniel's mother) cousin - and is from the same village as Elena! The two young woman look very much like one another and obviously come from the same village (their build, physical characteristics and dress). So, when Maria got home from going to see Daniel's mother, she promptly informed her young employee that she was now Daniel's mother and would be signing the letter allowing Daniel to come home with us!

OK, that is the background information of what was going on with Maria while Victor and I were in the lawyer's office being told that the judge was unavailable. So, Victor and I finish praying, Maria shows up, gets out of her van, tells us there was a problem (not even knowing about the situation with the judge) and says: "I couldn't get Daniel's mother, but he has another one now." And her household employee, whom we know, gets out of the van! She had an envelope in her hand where she had been practicing her cousin's signature (Daniel's mother's signature!). It was only three letters - her first initial and the initials of her two last names. We then informed Maria about the absence of the judge. She stood there for a minute and said: "Let me go see. I know the judge and I know where he lives!" She walked into the city building and about two minutes later walked out and said: "The judge is in there and will draw up the letter and sign it! He asked if Daniel's mother was here and I said yes!"

When she told us that the judge was in there I just about ran in there to punch that little lying lawyer in the nose! I couldn't believe it! But, then Maria told the rest of the story! She walked into the judge's office and he was there. She asked him if he was on vacation and he responded, "Yes, but I just came over here to run a quick errand and you happened to catch me here." Wow! We knew that Maria didn't "happen" to catch him there - we knew that it was a divine appointment, set up by the Lord himself as an answer to your and our prayers! Victor, Maria and Daniel's mother's cousin walked in and came out no more than 10 minutes later with the letter allowing us to take Daniel home signed! (I didn't go in because my light skin color, blonde hair and blue eyes cause more problems than you can imagine!) So much for the Christian lawyer who was soooo willing to help us! We have concluded that he was waiting for an offer for a bribe from us, but didn't ask for one because he could be arrested for soliciting a bribe, but would have been more than willing to accept one! We never considered offering because he truly seemed to be on our side and willing to help us. Had a bribe occurred to us on Monday, this could have all been taken care of in a matter of minutes! However, we thank the Lord for the extra day we spent there to become even more attached to Daniel and to see, firsthand, the hell that Daniel's mother is living so that we can keep her in our prayers!

(Note - this note was added to this blog on August 24, 2009. Since bringing Daniel home, we have decided to obtain Daniel's mother's signature on the necessary documents. This is due to several reasons. First and foremost, we received some expressions of concern from Fishers of Men supporters regarding Daniel's mother's cousin signing in her place, although it was done in keeping with his mother's wishes and desires. We do not want to give the impression that we participate in illegal activity in order to bring children into our family, because that is not the case. So, in order to respond to those concerns we will be seeking Daniel's mother's signature. Also, after visiting the pediatric cardiologist in Mexico City, we were told that Daniel will need a heart cath and open heart surgery. Since both of these procedures are quite risky, we agree that it is best to have Daniel's mother's signature before moving forward with those medical procedures. Thank you for your understanding and comprehension of this very unique situation. End of note.)

We got in the car, drove to Maria's place and picked up our Daniel! Within a half an hour he was strapped into his car seat (for the first time ever!) and we were on the way home!

He was a GREAT kid the entire eight hour drive home - with only two rest stop breaks! I think he was so in shock about all the new things going on around him that he didn't have a chance to even fuss! He spent awhile examining the car seat straps and buckles, then a couple of hours looking out the window, then he took a good nap and after that he would spend a half an hour to 45 minutes examining any toy that I would give him. Every experience is a new experience! We did discover he is deathly afraid of dogs! I had brought along a doggy puppet to help entertain him. The only time I had seen him cry was as soon as I took that puppet out he started screaming and crying! Ooops! Live and learn! He loves socks (he has gone barefoot or in sandals his entire life) and eats like a man!

We got home at 9:00 last night at which time he was bombarded by his new siblings - especially the younger ones - eager to hug, kiss, carry and show him the place! I gave him a bath, which he cried at at first, but quickly got accustomed to, and then put him to bed. We started our bedtime routine and he only whimpered about 10 minutes before falling asleep. He slept all night without a peep and when I peeked in at 7:30 this morning he was sitting up in bed quietly, so I got him up! That sure was an easy night! This morning he refused to let go of me for the first couple of hours. By mid-morning he would go with different people and by this afternoon was walking around the house on his own, exploring a bit more.

As for his heart condition, we thank God for it because that was his ticket out of that village. The judge was willing to draw up the letter because Daniel would never get the medical treatment that he needs in his home village. In fact, Daniel's mother is 21 years old and has three other children, ages 7, 5 and 3 that she has given away to other local families that have the means to raise them. She did this for two reasons - her four children are the result of incest, as she was forced to live with her step-father as his wife (along with her mother!) and, after escaping those conditions earlier this year, she wants no reminder of that abuse and previous life as she tries to start life over again. She also realized that she would never have the resources needed to give her children a chance at life. However, she hadn't given Daniel away because he was the youngest, until she discovered his heart condition and realized she would never have a way to get him the help he needs. So, if the purpose of his heart condition was to get him out of there - the poverty, the witchcraft, etc. - then we know the Lord can heal him because the illness' purpose has been fulfilled. However, if the Lord allows his illness to continue, He will guide us in getting Daniel the help that he needs and God will be glorified through whatever happens!

One last story - for those who want to keep reading! This is not nearly as glorious, but I enjoy sharing stories that show our human sides too and reveal our weaknesses because then you can be convinced that the only reason that we get anything done for the Lord isn't because of us, but is due to His grace, mercy and great joy in using His imperfect creations for His work! I had held up great all weekend while riding the roller coaster of "We have Daniel. We don't have Daniel. We have Daniel. We don't have Daniel." All day yesterday, on the drive home, the only thing I could think about was a big, hot hamburger, steamy french fries and a vanilla shake from any fast food joing! We pushed on driving and pushed on driving trying to get through a mountainous area before evening when the highway tends to be covered by fog and makes driving rather treacherous. We made it through that area with no problem and arrived in Puebla around dinnertime - perfect, a big city! There's got to be a fast food joint around here. We drove through the entire city and never saw a fast food joint! Finally, on the other side of the city, there was one gas station and a greasy food joint there - our last option. We went in and I asked for a chicken sandwich - all they had was ham and they were closing so we would have to take it to go! So, we bought our three, cold ham sandwiches on hard bread and canned juice. I cried through the entire meal as we drove through the rain! The brave, Godly missionary cried over a cold ham sandwich! How ridiculous! I can handle the big stuff - but it is the little stuff that gets to me! Then, I felt guilty because I should be thankful for having something to eat - there are thousands of people around the world who don't have anything to eat day after day! After my tears were shed, I asked the Lord for forgiveness and asked Victor to forgive me for telling him he was an awful husband for not providing a hot meal for us (oops!) Guess what? Rosa, our cook, didn't even know about this story and guess what is on the menu tonight? HAMBURGERS! Boy, am I going to enjoy dinner!

Daniel playing on his new rocking horse with Dale Bridge, a member of this week's work team! Love that smile - actually, both smiles, Daniel's and Dale's!

Love you all so much!


Monday, July 20, 2009

Still in Veracruz!

Greetings from the state of Veracruz! Victor and I left Refuge Ranch on Sunday morning at about 9:30 a.m. after greeting the last three members of this week's work team that had arrived late the night before. (The work team consists of Dale from Indiana, Kerstin from Wisconsin, Lorraine and Ivan from Ohio, Dave and Jamie from Kentucky, and Zach's mom, Kris, and her friend Carole from Ohio.) Victor and then stopped in the city of Puebla to eat one of my all-time favorite Mexican foods - stuffed chiles with pomegranate seeds on top. Just as we were leaving Puebla the engine temperature suddenly shot way up! Victor, always very in tune with the cars he drives, immediately slowed down and then pulled over. One of the radiator hoses had burst! He poured in the rest of the radiator fluid that we had with us, which cooled the engine enough to get to a gas station with a mechanic next to it.

Of course, the mechanic didn't have the right hose, so we spent the next two hours flagging down a taxi, returning to Puebla, going to two auto parts stores, buying the hose and putting it on the car. We thank the Lord that the hose blew so close to a major city so that we can even get the part and that Victor noticed the temperature right away and no damage was done to the engine.
We arrived at John and Maria's house at about 8:30 and Maria was just getting ready to lay Daniel down for bed. Of course, he got to stay up for awhile longer to get to know his new parents! He came right to us and we spent an hour or so visiting and playing with him. Victor and I then went back 40 minutes up the highway to the nearest large city to stay at a hotel to get some good rest.

We went back to John and Maria's this morning at about 8:30 and Daniel ran to the door when he saw me and ran right up to me! We did not get the papers we had hoped to get today, so that is why we are still in Veracruz, but we had a great day with Daniel! We went to go pick up Daniel's mother to go with us to the DIF (Child and Family Services) office. His mother is 21 years old and lives in a village about 40 minutes from the main town of Hueyapan, Veracruz. We took a paved two lane road that turned into a dirt two lane road, which turned into a one lane rock road(?). It was a beautiful drive thorugh lush tropical scenery and over a bubbling little river, but extremely bumpy and hot. Daniel's mother already gave away her three older children, ages 7, 5, and 3, as all four of her children were a product of incest by her step-father. She has escaped his home and is now living with a young man she hopes to marry. She is a very small young woman, with an extremely sad face and was quite ill when we arrived today and has been suffering fainting spells lately.

When we arrived her husband was not home, so it took some convincing for her to come with us as she is part of an indigenous community in which women cannot leave the home without their husband's permission. Her husband's 70 year old grandmother (barefoot and in traditional indian clothing) finally agreed to come with her so that her husband would not get mad at her.

We went to the DIF office where the director called the state office and informed us that the DIF could not do anything about Daniel because we did not want to pursue his adoption. (It's not that we aren't willing to pursue it, but adoption is so difficult, drawn out and uncertain it's really not worth it!) She sent us to the city lawyer. This is a picture of Daniel and his birth mother in the DIF office. Shortly after this picture was taken, Daniel's mother fainted! After she came to, she was taken in the DIF director's personal truck to the community health center as Victor and I waited for the director to get the return phone call from the state.

Victor and I went on to see the city lawyer, while Daniel's mother was at the doctor. The lawyer informed us that he could do the paperwork for us to have legal guardianship of Daniel, the only thing that the state of Veracruz would allow us to do, but this process would take several months! In the meantime, we couldn't take Daniel because we would have no documents to proove that his mother had given us permission to have him and we could get arrested at any one of the several military checkpoints we must go through on the way back to Refug e Ranch if they realize that Daniel is not ours and we don't have permission to have him with us.

We basically implored him to think of an idea for someway to get us a document showing that Daniel's mother has given him up to us so that we could take him back to Refuge Ranch while the guardianship court case was in process. He finally, after several hours, suggested that he contact a friend of his who is a notary public and that maybe he could draw up such a document. So, we finally took Daniel's mother home around 5:30 p.m. and then hung out at John and Maria's house with Daniel.

We are now at a hotel in the larger city, Acayucan, about 40 minutes from John and Maria's place and I have internet access! Yeah! The lawyer informed us late this evening that the notary is out of town! So, plan 3,725 (or so it feels!)! Tomorrow, Maria is going to pick up Daniel's mom in the morning and we will meet them, and the city lawyer, in Hueyapan (where John and Maria live). The lawyer will draw up the letter that we need and take it to the city judge for his stamp of approval. HUGE PRAYER REQUEST- that the judge is actually present, available and willing to stamp the letter! Of course, the lawyer is not available until noon - so this won't be happening as early as we would like!

We pray that Daniel's mother shows up (she wants to give him up, but is kind of tired of coming and going all the time); that the lawyer shows up on time; that the letter can be written; that the judge is present, available and willing to stamp the letter.

We trust that all that will happen and we will be able to leave for Refuge Ranch, with Daniel, tomorrow afternoon and arrive home late tomorrow night! Our other kids need us too!

The awesome part about today was that Daniel really started to bond with us! For the last month and a half, Maria would ask Daniel: "Where is Mommy?" And he would just point out into space. This morning, Daniel was on my lap and Maria asked him, "Where is Mommy?" He immediately turned around and pointed at me! He did this three times consecutively! Throughout the day, on about 4 different, unrelated occasions, people commented on how content and attached Daniel seemed to be with us - including the DIF director and city lawyer who were shocked to know that we had met Daniel in person less than 24 hours ago! He even slept in my arms about an hour and a half this afternoon. We left him with John and Maria tonight because he has a crib there and is used to the routine there and I think they are enjoying every last moment that they can have with him. But, we left him crying for us and stretching out his arms saying, "Mama! Papa!" Heart breaking! But, Lord willing, I will take him in my arms and never have to leave him again!

Thanks for your prayers and sharing this adventure with us!

May God's power be displayed for the world to see!


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Oaxaca, One More Perspective

My time in Oaxaca was a very eye opening experience. That line is a growing cliche, but you'll have that when you take spoiled Americans, accustomed to electricity, hot showers, and toilets that flush, and drop them in the middle of a trash dump in an underprivileged area of Mexico. The drive there was fun...plenty of cramming in and out of the vehicle at rest stops, but plenty of sleep time within. I have never been farther west in the United States than Illinois, so the massive rolling green mountains were all new to me. When we finally arrived at our camp site, we unpacked, snacked on some bread, and got ready for bed. I had made the mistake of only bringing a pillow (no blankets or sleeping bag), but luckily the family that lived on property had some spare blankets for me so I wasn't too cold. Still, the first night sleep on a table was quite a change from my SelectComfort bed in Ohio (another example of the spoiled American life).
The first morning was rough...I was kindly placed on bathroom cleaning duty. For those that know me, they know I'm a pretty severe germaphobe, but for those that don't know me, you really won't appreciate the toll this job took on me. Plastic dentistry gloves and a doctor's mask really did nothing to mask the scent of an outhouse or block the germs that probably had festered for weeks. Without Ernesto, I could have never gotten through the job...he did quite a bit of the work (but I paid him back when dish-day came, because I'm a master scrubber/cleaner from plenty of work at a restaurant). When the job was done, I washed my hands with bleach twice and went through 1/4 of my Axe bottle trying to remove that deathscent. The rest of the day, I heard plenty of jokes about how I have bathroom duty again the next day with a toothbrush, but I let them roll off, as I knew there was no way I was returning to those three cesspits/pools with intentions to clean. Everyone still tells me that it was a learning experience, but the only thing I learned is that I want to get a 6-dig job so I can pay someone to clean MY bathrooms. A few people were able to snag pictures, but I'm sure my eyes were spitting fire, so I'm sure they won't be happy with them. Angelica's camera actually got wiped by a girl from Oaxaca, so that's one less set of pictures to worry about. Now that I look back on it, I really don't feel better about doing it, but I knew it had to be done and I am glad I did it on a mission, serving God...because if it hadn't been for God, I wouldn't have gone anywhere near.

My actual job on the mission was to follow Adrian around, which I would have really enjoyed (he's a pretty cool guy), but I actually ended up elsewhere. Halfway through the day, I was bored senseless and there was no work to be done, so I took Julie's advice and grabbed a soccer ball and started a game (there was a goal post just behind the main building). My ministry at the house is sports, and my ministry in Oaxaca was the same. I played soccer all day for three straight days. While I wasn't going to stop the game midplay to evangelize, after each game, the boys went with Julie for a time of songs, stories, and crafts. Every day, the numbers seemed to grow as word spread about all-day soccer at the church. There were a few boys 15-16 that played each night (we played until long after the sun went down...the moon was the only light) and I got to know a few of them by go on trips around town with them (in search for more soccer balls after our first two popped). I was able to talk about their lives, my life, etc. and as far as I know, my Spanish made sense to them. The last night, the whole group had a church service, and those guys stayed and watched the whole thing (some of the only locals, and definitely the only males their age). Even after the church service, they went out in front of one of the lights and juggled the ball back and forth in a circle. While I didn't openly evangelize, I was happy to be able to draw more people to the location of the mission, where the other team members did the evangelism.

After returning to softer beds, warmer blankets, less insects, warmer showers, fuller showers, electricity always at hand, my computer, contact with family, contact with friends, flushable toilets, food always at hand, drinks always at hand, running water, and normal life in general, I still look back on my first mission with bright memories. It didn't start as I had pictured it starting, but it definitely finished beautifully with plenty of soccer, souvenirs, and sunny days. I'd go back in a heartbeat.
Written by: Zach Gerber - 19 yr. old summer volunteer from Ohio with Fishers of Men

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hello! This is Holly Fish (far left) and Emily Schueler (far right). We are both from Randolph Wisconsin and just participated in the medical crusade in Oaxaca, Mexico. We learned about Fishers of Men when Julie was on a home visit last fall and spoke in my (Emilys) church. After hearing about the mission I (Emily) felt a calling to go on one of these trips. I then talked about it with my friend Holly who also felt a callling to go. So we made the plans and decided to go on the crusade for six days and then stay with the Zaragozas at the Refuge Ranch for a few days.

Holly and I worked with the medical team doing various things throughout the week. We took weights and heights, blood pressures and blood sugars, cleaned peoples ears, and observed the doctors and different procedures that they performed. It was such a blessing that we got to work with such kind and patient doctors that were willing to show us different things and explain how and why they were doing that particular thing. You could definitely tell God was working through the entire staff.

The entire week was filled with new experiences. It started when we arrived and found that we would be sleeping on a cement floor, had no running water or electricity, and had an outhouse for our restroom. We also got to take cold bucket showers. Throughout the week we realized it was all worth it when we could help so many people. It helped us to get a taste of what these people live like every day and we were happy that we could help make their lives a little better even if it was only for a few days. However, the last night is when it truely came all together for us. One of the local churches where we held the crusade had a going away service for us. At the end of the service they all prayed for us and thanked us for our service and above all thanked God. It was such a moving experience to us, to see these people, who have so little be so thankful for things that we take for granted every day. Their amazing strength and faith in God really opened our eyes and hearts to see that God is really everywhere and works through all people. We were called to work through Him for these people, but these people worked through Him for us in a way we would have never imagined. We will never forget this experience and thank God for this opportunity and hope to be able to do it again.
Emily Schueler and Holly Fish

Friday, July 10, 2009

Greetings from Oaxaca, once again! The EMMC work finished last night and this morning we packed up and moved into Oaxaca City proper. We had been in the neighborhoods surrounding the garbage dump, which lies on the outside of the city. We spent this afternoon in the Zocalo, or main square area, of the city of Oaxaca enjoying all the sights, sounds and smells of this colonial city. Then, we sent the team and our kids back to the home where we will all be staying tonight and Victor and I are out on a date! Here you can see us where we just ate dinner in a nice restaurant with a balcony overlooking the main city square. It is like a breath of fresh air to have time for just Victor and I after such a glorious, yet busy week of constantly going from one need to another, from one child to another, from one question to another.

How can you summarize a crusade? Say it went well? What does ¨well¨mean? We are simply called to obey! So, once we have obeyed to the best of our God given talents, abilities and strength - that is a job well done! Do we measure a crusade by numbers? Some that accept Christ during a crusade will eventually fall away because the seed has fallen on hard ground or will be choked by weeds, like Jesus taught in his parable. (Mark 4:1-20) Others that did not make a personal decision for Jesus this week will eventually come to a personal relationship with Him due to the seeds planted in their hearts this week. Besides those with whom the Good News of Jesus Christ is shared and who receive the free services of our volunteer medical personnel, EMMC´s impact the lives of the church members and local pastors and missionaries with whom we serve, not to mention the lives of those of us who form part of the Fishers of Men team that carries out the crusades! Crusades even impact the lives of those of you who pray for the crusades, who financially support Fishers of Men and who follow our communications, such as this blog!

So, this crusade went well - we have obeyed our Father´s orders! In the coming days I will be sharing more stories with you - the Zaragoza children and how the Lord used them throughout the crusade and blessed their own lives at the same time; the woman who can talk correctly again because she got two new front teeth; the committment and dedication of our Mexican volunteers who faithfully serve crusade after crusade; as well as adventures from Zach, Emily and Holly - our short-term/summer volunteers.

Thank you for your prayers and we ask that you continue to pray as we travel back to Mexico City tomorrow! God bless you all!

With much love and appreciation,
P.S. Here is a bonus picture you can laugh or cry at! Our bathroom facilities for this past week! Oh the sweet sound of a flushing toilet! Even those of us who are missionaries appreciate certain blessings when the Lord allows us to have them!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hola from Mexico! Julie asked me to post some time this week while they were in Oaxaca and "introduce" myself. :) Most of you know my name as you have heard about me in newsletters and emails. However, in case anyone slipped through the cracks of communication (which is quite possible) my name is Ashleigh Weis. I posted a picture of myself with all the kids in the pool as I thought it would be appropriate, seeing that I have spent quite a bit of time with the kids in that activity as their swimming teacher!

A minstry blog has been an exciting new adventure that Julie and I have talked about(It was her idea, just for the record). There are so many little stories that happen on a day to day basis that we are never really able to share with you all. Many of you have been down here and you know the faces and the people behind these stories. With this type of communication you will be able to share life with us, laugh with us, and pray for us on a more personal and daily basis. What a blessing from God to be in such a technologically advanced age where we, as missionaries, can communicate so consistently with all of you!

To begin the tradition of sharing life I would like to tell you about my preschool class last week. We have been studying plants and planting (soon to move on to harvesting). So, I had my preschoolers (Ruth and Bernabe) plant seeds about a month ago and they have been watering them and watching them grow. Last week it was time to transplant the sunflowers and some of the cucumbers outside. They helped by putting the plants in the holes I had dug and giving them a cup of water before covering them with dirt. To the humor of Julie and I, Ruth informed her mom that "we let the plants go during school today". Julie and I both got a little laugh at the way she explained the process. She is learning about her world and loves it!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Straight from Oaxaca

Greetings direct from an EMMC in the state of Oaxaca! It is so exciting to be able to share what the Lord is doing while on an EMMC and not have to wait until Victor gets home or until the next newsletter to share with you!

There is nothing more incredible than riding in a 15 passenger van:
  • sitting next to the love of my life (my husband, Victor), knowing that he is just as passionate as myself, if not more so, about Jesus Christ and serving him

  • sharing the van with my nine children, six of whom have been rescued from the pit of Hell
  • accompanied by 3 short-term, college-aged summer missionaries whose lives I know are being transformed forever

  • having another van and truck follow us full of Mexican volunteers anxious to use their unique talents and abilities to serve the Lord
  • watching the highway stretch out before us up into the hills, illuminated by a bright blue sky, accompanied by green fields and evergreen trees with a snow-capped volcano as the backdrop
  • knowing that after this week of work, tens, if not hundreds, of lives, will be transformed by the power of the love of God expressed through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross to pay for our sins

Our family, along with Zach, Emily and Holly, pulled out of our house at 7 a.m. on Monday morning and met the rest of our team - another 21 volunteers- at the WalMart parking lot an hour and a half later. We all ate cereal for breakfast in the parking lot as we finished loading everybody´s luggage on the top of the white 15 passenger van. Then, at 9 a.m., we hit the road! This trip consists of 33 volunteers (11 of which are the Zaragoza family). This requires two 15 passenger vans and our cab and a half pick up truck, which carries the medical supplies.

We arrived in the city of Oaxaca at about 3 p.m. and then spent another hour and a half getting through the city and up to the communities surrounding the city dump. Ninety-five percent of the homes in the community in which we are working are made out of tin, including the two rooms in which our family is staying. (At least we do have a cement floor in our rooms! But, did you know that rain falling on a tin roof is extremely noisy?)The streets are all dirt/mud streets with lots of gulleys and huge potholes cut out by the rain.

The pastors with whom we are working serve two churches in this area. We are serving in the ¨lower¨church, called that because it is about 10 blocks further from the dump than the other church. However, the ¨lower¨church has electricity, which is necessary for some of our medical equipment. The women on our team are sleeping at the upper church, while the men and most of the Zaragoza family are staying at the ¨lower¨church.

We have no shower facilities - just curtained off areas in which to take showers using buckets, and all the toilets are pit toilets. But, GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!

The crusade is going very well and everybody is working hard - from Ruth and Ana helping us to invite neighborhood children to the clown show (put on by Diana, Josiah and a girl from our church, Erika) to Dr. Escamilla (a retired military colonel that, despite his wife coming home from cancer surgery yesterday, he took a bus to Oaxaca to join up with the crusade team and arrived today!)

I will sign off for now, but hope to be back tomorrow to give you more details and stories about the crusade itself. (We had to come about a mile down from the church to find an internet cafe that had high speed and not satelite internet service.)

We love you all so much and are so thankful for your love, your prayers and your generosity that allow us the incredible privilege of serving the Lord! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Life doesn´t get any better than this!

Humbled by our Lord,
Julie (I better start signing my name since we soon hope to have other staff members blogging here too!)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Where the Two Ministries Collide

Well, the kids are all in bed (finally!) and the suitcases are all packed. Our family leaves at 6:30 tomorrow (Monday) morning on an Evangelistic Medical Mission Crusade with Victor. We like to travel with him once a year so that the kids can see what their Dad does everytime he leaves home on a crusade and also to give them an opportunity to minister to others. It has been quite a week just getting back from Milwaukee and then getting the entire family ready for a crusade!

Zach, our summer volunteer, will be travelling with the family, as will Rosa, who serves as cook at Refuge Ranch and on the crusades. Ashleigh and Pati will be staying back at the ranch to have a week of a slightly slower pace. Emily and Holly, two Wisconsin college students studying in the medical field, arrived today to participate on the crusade. Granted, they arrived minus their luggage, which got lost, but we have sent another Fishers of Men volunteer to the airport tonight to pick up the missing suitcases.

This crusade will take place in the city of Oaxaca, which is the capital of the state of Oaxaca. We will be ministering specifically to families and children who live and work at the city dump just outside the city limits. The city of Oaxaca is a four to six hour drive from our home. You can see on the map where we live and the state of Oaxaca.

Please pray for the following:

-Ashleigh's health - she has been suffering from some mystery ear/throat/jaw pain and is quite sick of being sick!

-for our family and the team's safety and effectiveness while on the crusade

-for the $4000 needed yet to pour the reinforced concrete wall in the lower level addition to the main house here at Refuge Ranch