Tuesday, August 24, 2010

El Chilar, Oaxaca by Mark

Information and welcome sign for the group above the street near the site.

Last week I was privileged to join the crusade team for the third time. We went to El Chilar, Oaxaca and met some wonderful people. The members of the church who hosted us were outstanding. They did a great job promoting the EMMC so people in the area knew when to come. They kept us fed, and they opened their homes to us so we had a comfortable place to sleep. They also set up space for us to work. We transformed a basketball court into a full service clinic, complete with the love of Jesus Christ.

The town basketball court before transformation

When we got to the site Wednesday morning, the bleachers were full with patient patients. Some people spent the night so they would be sure to get a spot with one of the doctors or dentists.

Dr. Bill Karkow, a surgeon from Iowa, his wife Lu, and three of their kids, Diane, Kirsten, and Daniel joined us on this trip also. Dr. Bill performed some minor surgeries with the assistance of Kirsten and Daniel. Diane is a pharmacy student and did a great job running and organizing the pharmacy.

Lu took vital signs for every patient who came.

Diane and Ernesto consulting at the pharmacy

One of the funnest things to see is the seed planting that happens with the children through the week. While they are still young, the Holy Spirit can claim them through games, songs, and skits.

As Julie wrote about in her blog while we were gone, to begin this trip we had to step out in faith. Until last Sunday, I had never heard of a faith healing of a transmission. Friday morning I had the opportunity to lead devotions. I began with the question, "How much is enough?" There were times when I was growing up when my mother told me she had had enough. When we think about our personal wants and needs, it seems like there is never enough time, sleep, money, etc. But how much is enough faith? Do we have as much faith as the poor widow who put her only 2 coins in the offering plate, knowing by faith that God would provide? I have to admit that my faith is small. Smaller than a mustard seed. I really believe that we can all have stronger faith. Jesus said, "Everything is possible for him who believes."(Mark 9:23b) I need to feed my weak faith with prayer.
I was blessed to share a room with my new friend, Ernesto. When we were talking about how small our faith is, he suggested that pride could be limiting the growth of faith. I enjoy fixing things and part of that is because sometimes it feeds a hero complex. Last Sunday evening I was stumped and looking for a way to fix a transmission overnight. I was sure that something was majorly wrong inside that transmission, but God stepped in because of the faith in the prayers of many people that night. God gave us wisdom and security to carry out the mission He had for us. We saw over 840 cases from Tuesday to Thursday, many of whom heard the Truth of the Gospel for the first time (watch the blog for updated numbers).

An entire family prays together

In an area with active witchcraft and idolatry, this family reminds me, "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, than you choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

Monday, August 23, 2010

Julie & Julia: The Mexican Version

The name of a recent movie reminded me of an experience that I had back on the crusade to Guadalajara in May. I have had this blog in my head and the picture waiting on the computer, but there was always something else to write! However, today is a good day! So, here goes: my own version of Julie and Julia.

We were at the second location on the Guadalajara crusade when I met a little girl whose story epitomizes many Mexican families. I met her mother first when she came to the crusade earlier in the day seeking medical attention. She seemed tired and rather loaded down as she showed up pushing a stroller with a toddler in it over the gravel road and several other kids in tow. I happened to overhear her speaking to a doctor that she suffered from anxiety, which was causing physical symptoms.

After she visited the doctor, I sat down next to her to chat a bit and see if she was willing, or wanting, to open up and share. She did a bit, but very hesitantly, questioning several times what "religion" we represented and if we believed in the same things as her Catholic church and if we used the same Bible. (For those unfamiliar with the Catholic faith here in Mexico, it is a mix of Catholicism and a heavy dose of pagan ritual and even witchcraft. Members are not encouraged and, sometimes, not allowed to read the Bible.) I assured her that we were there to help, that we used the same Bible as the Catholic church and that there was a solution to her anxiety problems. While she shared generally about financial and marital difficulties, she seemed very distracted, so I didn't keep her any longer, but invited her daughter to the kids club later on that afternoon.

I do not remember at what point I found out that her daughter's name was Julia, but I got excited and told her that was my name too! (Although I always use Julie here in Mexico, my name translated is Julia.) Well, that was all the encouragement that little girl needed! She beamed from ear to ear and was at my side whenever possible! There is a word we use in Spanish when two people have the same name: "tocaya". So, little Julia kept telling all of her friends that I was her "tocaya" and boy was she proud of it, too!

Julie & Julia (on the right)

She came that afternoon to kids' club and then missed the next one. I was praying that the little bit of the love of Jesus that she had experienced would go a long way! Then, on Saturday, nobody showed up for kids' club because I had inadvertently scheduled it at the same time as the local catechism class. Just as I had given up hope, all of the kids arrived, fresh out of catechism class...including Julia.

Julia came to our last club when our children dressed up as clowns to sing and do several sketches. Julia's mother was even on the fringes, listening hesitantly, questioningly and quite suspiciously, but listening nonetheless to the story of salvation.

When we go on crusades it is very common to run into adults suspicious of our faith and motives; and children hungry, starving, for genuine love and attention. For many adults, receiving quality, attentive medical care opens the door for them to be willing to listen the Good News of Jesus Christ. For the children, hugs, smiles and words of encouragement attract them to Jesus! However, for this little girl, sharing our first names was the door that opened her heart to hear about Jesus! Now we just pray that the seeds planted will grow!

"Always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you
to give the
reason for the hope that you have."
I Peter 3:15

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Water...by Lucy

Marthita uses scissors to trim the grass in the flower garden

A couple of the roses in our little garden by the house

We are currently in the rainy season here at Refuge Ranch. What exactly does that mean? Well, it rains, and rains, and rains some more! It is very different from what I am used to for this time of year back in Indiana, with the hot temperatures (in the 90's) and humidity. People seem to think because we live in Mexico that the temperature is hot and sunny all the time...maybe because we are south of the border, or closer to the equator, or because what most people experience of Mexico is Cancun or Acapulco with the ocean and beaches. That is certainly not so here at Refuge Ranch! Most days we wear jackets and I am usually still cold as I sit in school! The thermometer outside says it is 67 degrees, which would indicate some warmth, but even now, I'm sitting here with jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and jacket on, and feeling quite comfortable.

We do have the humidity, which I think may be worse with colder weather. Everything seems damp all the time. When we get dressed in the morning, our clothes feel wet. When we sit down, the seat feels damp. Here's something to show how humid it can be, that never happened when we lived in Indiana. When you buy salt in the states, it comes in a circular cardboard container with a little spout on top. That was part of the groceries I brought with me, don't ask me why, but it came! It was fine during the dry season when we first got here, but when the rainy season began, I noticed that it was damp on top, and the salt was wet. I just kept using it. But then, as the rainy season continued, the dampness moved over the whole container until it was just a soggy mess, and we had to transfer the wet salt to another plastic container (I know, most of you would have thrown it out then, but it is still perfectly good salt!), and throw away the old wet cardboard container. Now that is humid! One more example is washing laundry. We do not have a dryer here and the only way to dry laundry is to hang it up. Usually it is hung outside, but every time it rains, we are running out to remove the laundry (That is a lot of laundry from 23-24 people!). I thought I was being smart by putting up clotheslines in all our bedrooms so when it rains, it can hang inside and dry. Wrong! One day I did laundry on a day when it was pouring, and hung the laundry inside. Three days later the laundry was still wet and beginning to smell like it would need to be washed again! Not my favorite thing to do, but that is another story! I have learned that if I use the spinner to spin out as much water as possible before I hang the clothes, then set a fan directly on the clothes, some of them will dry in a day (the ones right in front of the fan!).

The rain causes some interesting problems for us. One is that we still have leaks that we really can't fix until the rain stops. We need the roof to be dry to work on it! Another is that Joanna likes to saddle the horse after her school work is finished and take the kids for rides, but oftentimes, that is when it is really looking like rain, and she is never sure whether to try to get Sona saddled or not before the rain hits. It takes some time to put the saddle on and take it back off, and it is frustrating when she just gets finished saddling her, and it begins to rain! Another problem is that now we are eating in a different building from where the dishes get washed and everything gets put away. Usually it is raining when we eat supper, and whoever has the job of cleaning up afterwards has to carry everything across the drive in the pouring rain. Martha had this job the other day when I was snapping pictures, and she was drenched! But she was a trooper, and even smiled while she worked!

I guess what I need to remember (when I'm feeling a little like Noah, wondering if the rain will ever stop) is that after the rain (and it feels like a flood is coming!), the sun will come back out to shine on us all again. The flowers bloom and are beautiful, and remind me of God's goodness to us, and the garden continues to grow and provide some tasty food for this growing family! God is good...all the time...even in the midst of rainy season!

On that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened....But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded...And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come; I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will the sign of the covenant between me and the earth." Genesis 7:11b; 8:1; 9:12-13

Martha coming for another load of dishes to carry back to the houseStill smiling!

The sun returns to Refuge Ranch!

Monday, August 16, 2010

On Their Way to Oaxaca

8:45 a.m. Monday, August 16, 2010

Thirty people including Victor, our daughter Martha, Mark Marshall, Rosa, our cook, and members of the Karkow family from Iowa just pulled out of Refuge Ranch heading out on a weeklong crusade to the mountainous, indigenous area of the state of Oaxaca!

The team that left for Oaxaca just a little bit ago!

The fact that they even pulled out of the driveway is a miracle in and of itself! Let me tell you why!

The black truck pulling out of the new warehouse after being loaded up! This was the first time we loaded the vehicles inside the warehouse directly from the medical supply area! Praise God!

The black truck and white van heading down the road leaving Refuge Ranch!

The red van on its way!

When crusades are held towards the south of Refuge Ranch we ask team members to meet the night before here at Refuge Ranch. They all sleep here and have the chance to load up the vehicles and head out at a decent time the next morning. We have crusade team members from all over the place. For example, on this team their are volunteers from the United States, Mexico City, the state of Mexico, as well as the Mexican states of Michoacan and Guanajuato. So, they all fly or take buses to Mexico City where we pick them up and bring them out to Refuge Ranch. Yesterday, Adrian took the white 15 passenger van to Mexico City and came back with the crusade volunteers.

When Adrian pulled up to the house he said that the white van and jerked several times about 15 minutes from the house and no longer wanted to shift. Mark Marshall, our resident auto mechanic, got in the van. It would not shift into reverse or any other gear! Diagnosis? A burnt out transmission!

We absolutely had to have that vehicle to transport crusade volunteers! The team had planned on taking both of our 15 passenger vans and the black truck for supplies! (If you aren't yet doing so, please pray for a 40 passenger bus with a bathroom on board and plenty of storage space!) So, here we were, 33 people on site ready for a crusade, enough money only to carry out the crusade, and a van with a burnt out transmission. So, what to do? PRAY!

Seriously, we didn't know what else to do! Victor and I, along with Adrian and Vero, (our right hand people on the crusades and also here at Refuge Ranch), went up to our office here at the house and prayed together. At the same time we asked Rosa to gather the rest of the volunteers to pray. As soon as we finished, I called my parents (our #1 prayer warriors!). Dad promised: "We will be on our knees as soon as we hang up!" (To my grandparents: Thank you for teaching my parents how to pray and about the power of prayer and, even more importantly, thank you for being a living example of prayer to them!) Dad and Mom, in turn, contacted their church's prayer chain.

We were simply praying for peace and wisdom. I knew that God could "heal" the van, but if that was not His plan of action, we prayed He would give us wisdom as to how to get more vehicles or which people to leave behind.

As I walked back out of the house from praying, I passed the piano and said to the Lord silently: "If this van starts running we are ALL going to hold a praise service tonight and sing your praises!"

Victor and I went to the dining room (aka warehouse) to eat with the team. As we walked past Mark he asked Victor: "So, what's your plan?" Victor answered: "Pray!" What more could we do? Fix a transmission at 7:00 p.m. on a Sunday night? Prayer was more of a reality than the possibility of actually "doing" anything!

After dinner Victor, Mark and Adrian got in the white van, were able to pull out of the driveway and began to drive to Cuautla, Morelos. This is about a half an hour drive from Refuge Ranch and is all down hill on the way and all up hill on the way back. I am assuming Victor choose this route to see what would happen to the van on the hills because they have lots of mountain driving to do today!

An hour later they pulled back into the driveway, Victor came into the house and said: "The van is fine! It is running just fine!"

We didn't fix a thing and the van is running perfectly!!!!! God is an auto mechanic supreme!

So, we all gathered in the living room and I let the team know that I had committed them to a time of worship if the van started running again! They readily agreed (of course!) and we held a moving bilingual prayer and praise service!

It is my great joy and pleasure to announce that all three vehicles: two 15 passenger vans and the black truck, along with 30 volunteers have just pulled out of Refuge Ranch on their way to share the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard of His hope in the state of Oaxaca!


Praying for the team before they left this morning.

Let's carry them in our prayers: for safety, for effectiveness and that the glory of God may shine in Oaxaca, throughout Mexico and in the whole world! Please also pray for those of us who stay back at Refuge Ranch: myself, Lucy, Magda and Cirino, that we can be His faithful servants this week here!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mom...by Lucy

Mom flew for the first time in March to come visit us with Pam and Amanda (my sister-in-law and niece)
We took them to see El Popocatepetl
I gave Mom these flowers bought at the open market while she was here

Mom's birthday is today. She is 70 years old today! Way to go, Mom! I know that we usually write about things happening here at the Ranch, but my thoughts are with my mom today.

She will probably spend the day working hard on lots of things for everyone else. I know she had an eye doctor appointment, and an appointment to get the car fixed. She probably cooked all the meals today, and maybe made her own birthday cake. She probably did a couple of loads of laundry too, plus some grocery shopping and other errands. Who knows what else she might try to fit into her day. Hopefully a phone call from me if I can catch her!

Mom has always been a very busy lady. She makes rolls for those having a hard time with life, those who are ill, or in the nursing home. She babysits for her grandkids (No need to twist her arm to do that!), and teaches people things like painting and crafts, and sewing and cooking for 4-H. She might even give you a lesson on her accordion if you ask!She taught Mark Beach, a neighbor, how to make cinnamon rolls. He, in turn, taught his niece, Ashleigh, who ended up here at Refuge Ranch, making them for the Zaragoza family!

Mom taught me how to cook and sew (which come in handy!), how to can vegetables, and make homemade noodles. She taught me about growing your own food, and about doing laundry. Mom taught me to work hard and do your very best (That is why you need a ripper when you are sewing!). She taught me to appreciate every little thing I have (After all, it may come in handy someday!), and not to take anything for granted. She taught me how to be a good wife and mom, and how to serve others well. She prepared me well for the mission field, whether she knew it or not. She taught me about the love of Jesus, and what it means to be a Christian obedient to God. I pray that I have learned well, as I now try to teach my own kids, and help Julie with the rest of the children at Refuge Ranch.

If you spend any time at all with children, remember that you are preparing them for a future that God has planned for them. Give them strong roots, grounded in the love of Jesus, and strong wings, so they can fly where He sends them. I know that is what my mom did. Thanks, Mom! Happy birthday!

"Her children arise and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praises her: Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Proverbs 31: 28-31

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mark's Mutterings

It has been a while since I blogged so I thought maybe I should let you all know I am still here. Since the work groups left I have been working in the school most of the time, but this last week was a little different. I spent some time outside working in the garden, and on vehicles. I spent one morning last week with Victor, John and Adrian at the butcher's with the steer. This was a new experience for me, and I really wondered how I would deal with it. I was OK for most of it and even helped a little. I will not go into detail here but I could tell you about it if you ask. There are pics on Adrian's phone, for real evidence.

Victor, John and Adrian also spent some time with me at the ranch. Next week we are going to Oaxaca on an EMMC, so the vehicles all needed a once over. It was really fun working together. Victor wanted the spark plugs replaced on the white van, which has a big block V8. What that means is that there is not a lot of room to work, so I was glad to have the help. When we checked the brakes, we found a little trouble in the front and added a little more work. Adrian and I stayed back and tuned up the black truck while John and Victor went for brake parts. Fortunately I think the brakes on the black truck and the red van are good for at least one more trip. However, Lucy and I took the Focus to Cuautla Thursday afternoon and the brakes started to grind on the way home. This "simple" brake job resulted in discovering another problem and created even more work. Victor and Julie wanted to take the Focus Sunday afternoon to Veracruz for Danny's paperwork. When they got home from the second church service, I had just washed my hands and was ready for a road test. My drive was much shorter than a trip to Veracruz, and they are not home yet. Pray all is well.

Danny asking me about what I am doing. I try to not be too technical with my answers.

I have also spent some time in the garden. In an effort to keep the loose calf in the lower area with the other cows, I built a small wooden fence with a gate. We need the gate to bring the horse up and picket her to graze and ride in the upper levels. The fun part of this was getting fence post holes deep enough, with no post hole digger and many many rocks. The fence looks nice and it works for that end. Now we just need to block the other end.

Monday morning I wanted to show Lucy what I had been doing, so I took her a surprise. She was sitting at the desk helping one of the kids. When she first looked up, she thought I had flowers for her. But then she realized I had been pulling radishes in the garden. It really is too bad that she does not like radishes. They are the sweetest I have ever had. There are still a few to harvest so if you get here soon you can try them.
First fresh veggies from the garden.

Fresh veggies ready to eat

Not a very profound Blog entry, but thank you for checking in with us.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work with in us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Few Good Laughs

We have been praying for a four door, double cab pickup truck for quite some time now. It is a miracle that our black truck ("the limousine") is still even running. The electrical system caught on fire several years ago and was totally replaced. The ignition isn't even on the steering column anymore - it is on the dashboard! So, anyway, I was thrilled when I came out of school this week to head towards the house for lunch and saw that the Lord had sent us our four door pickup truck!
Oops - OK, so somebody just slightly misplaced the doors!

OK, so we bought two doors at a junk yard to replace the truck doors which no longer neither shut completely nor open completely! When I told Dad and Mom that we had bought two doors for the truck, Dad asked: "So, do they match?" I laughed out loud and said: "Of course not!" I mean, really, my bathroom towels don't match, my kitchen plates don't match, our kids don't even match (we have nearly every skin tone represented in the family) why would our truck doors match! Hey, at least the doors are gray and the truck is black - that's pretty close, isn't it?!

Our main adventure this week (besides trying to get three vehicles in tip-top shape for the upcoming crusade), was butchering one of our calves. We raise cows for their milk and also for their meat because then we know the quality of the meat and what the animal has been fed. While we take the steer to the local butcher to be butchered, we take it upon ourselves to actually cut up the meat into the different kinds of cuts. If we leave the meat at the butcher's and have him do the cutting, it is very possible that we would not get the meat from our steer back, but the meat from some skinnier, lower quality animal. So, Victor had a big wooden butcher table made and part of the staff spent two whole days cutting up and storing the meat.

Some of the meat hanging in the warehouse waiting to be cut up.

Victor, Rosa (our cook) and several other staff and volunteers cutting up the meat.

Watch out for Rosa!

You can add this to your list of unique uses for duct tape - taping up cuts from the butcher knives while cutting up the steer's meat!

Some cuts were worse than others!
After taking the pictures of everybody else's cuts and their duct-taped wounds, Jhon had the idea of bandaging up a finger to make it look like he had cut it off!

Victor and Rosa working together. It is always fun to watch the two of them together because Rosa is more like Victor's mother than his own biological mother! They love and respect each other so much!

"For the joy of the LORD is your strength."
Nehemiah 8:10

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Leading Worship

Several years ago I led worship at a women's retreat hosted by an association of churches to which our church here in Mexico belonged. At that retreat I met another young woman, Irma. She and I "happened" to be in the same small group for the weekend. She was greatly impacted as I shared the vision that the Lord had given us for Refuge Ranch, as she had always had the dream to have a home for children needing a home. She had already felt drawn to the name "The Refuge" for such a place. So, when she heard our vision and that the name of our home was "Refuge Ranch" it seemed to be the Lord drawing us to one another.

That weekend has led to a beautiful friendship between Irma and our family throughout the last three or four years. Irma visits our family every couple of months here at Refuge Ranch. She always brings an entourage of people with her - Christian friends and family and even non-Christian friends from work so that they may see and hear of God's real love. She brings cakes to celebrate whatever birthdays have passed since he r last visit. One of Irma's best friend does professional clowning so, many times, we get our own private clown show! We always have a rousing soccer game, great food and the group always leaves lots of non-perishable items like canned food, shampoo, toilet paper, etc. It is one day that my cheeks always hurt from laughing and smiling so much!
This past year, Irma wrote a book that she has self-published, as she continues to look for a bonified publisher to publish the book. It is a basic Christian living book that is simple, yet profound, and written from the heart, Biblically-based, yet comes out of Irma's personal experiences with the Lord. I had the privilege of writing the forward for the book, which was actually published on the outside of the back cover.

Irma and I with her book

Several weeks ago, Irma held a book dedication service at her hom e church and asked the kids and I to lead worship for the service! What a joy, honor, privilege and opportunity! We spent months practicing at home and even gave the Mayfair Plymouth work team a preview as a dress rehearsal the night before the service, which was held on the day that the work team flew back to the U.S.

There are not enough or the right words to express what it was like to lead worship alongside my children. Actually, our rehearsals at home were of even greater impact on my life because I was relaxed enough to fully contemplate what this meant - my children and I worshiping our Heavenly Father together: children, of whom several, would have never known who God was if He hadn't brought them, in His mercy, to our family; children who have been abused, abandoned and mistreated and now worship their Savior; children whose talents had been hidden and buried, but could now shine in all their glory - Josiah on the drums, Angie on guitar, Diana on the violin and the others singing! May we continue to declare His praises both now and throughout eternity!

Josiah on drums, Diana and Fidel singing. Diana also played the violin.

Martha and Erika singing.

Jocelin and Martita singing

Angie on guitar and vocals, along with Lolis singing

Julie on keyboard

Josiah on the drums

The entire group running through things one more time before the service began.

"In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever."
Psalm 33:8