Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Glimpse into our Role with GHNI

As of late, we have not talked much on the blog about our new role with Global Hope Network International. There are a few reasons for this, but to put it most simply I feel confused about what I can say about our work with this organization.

I wrote a couple blog posts, to which Josh promptly said "you can't say that" or "you need to say that differently." I deleted them roughly 5 minutes after posting them. I felt so flustered and confused about what I was allowed to say that I decided to say pretty much nothing at all and keep the blog mostly personal. I know that this blog is the only way some people hear from us though so I feel bad about that. 

That being said, I still haven't exactly figured out what is appropriate to share on this oh-so-public blog. So if you read this, and are thinking, "wow it's weird that they don't talk much about their work with GHNI, I wonder what they are actually doing." then please e-mail me. Our private newsletters contain much more of the exciting information. And if you really want to know the gritty details we could also meet up, which is what we have been doing with a lot of people. 

A few things I can share here: we will be living in Chiang Mai, Thailand and working full-time for Global Hope Network International. You can read all about certain aspects of the work on their website (link on the right side of the page).

We are really excited about this work. Over the past eight years we have traveled to more than 35 countries (I have lost count) and been to many remote locations working with people in need. We are so thankful that we had the opportunity to do that work but were sad to leave villages behind in dire conditions. In some cases, the chief of the village would actually give us a tour and tell us what some of their physical needs were- usually along the lines of "we need a doctor, or a medical facility", or "we don't have enough clean water." Children wore tattered clothes or no clothes at all and were visibly malnourished or sick in many cases. Even though we know we brought one good thing to their village (purposefully vague here), it was hard, especially after I became a mother, to leave a village behind knowing that their children were still dying of preventable diseases. 

We have just been visitors in their villages, but we got a little taste of what life is like for them. We have mastered the art of the "bucket bath". We've made the choice in some cases between whether flushing the toilet or taking a bath was more critical that day. We've eaten via candlelight under a mosquito net....not by choice, more than once.  We've had rats bigger than Josh's tennis shoe in our hotel room. We've eaten monkeys, snakes, camels, rats, pigeons, horse intestines, and some food that we may never know what it was. We are familiar with all the major anti-malarial medications because we had to be. We've had dengue fever, intestinal parasites, and severe food poisoning. We've received threats and been told we have to stop the work we are doing, and continued anyways. We've been robbed, cheated, and begged upon. And I am not complaining. It has been a privilege to serve in this way (though I don't always have that attitude in the moment). But I'm thankful that most of these are not everyday realities for us. We have lived comfortable lives- both in Illinois, Florida, and Thailand. 

The people we visit on the other hand....they have no other choice in many cases. They live in remote areas, and are uncared for by the governments and majority groups in their own countries. These are the people we want to help. These are the people Global Hope Network International is helping. Their slogan is "bringing help and HOPE to the hidden and hurting." And they mean it. We're so excited to work alongside the amazing people we have met so far. Transformational Community Development is all about empowering the people in impoverished remote villages, to lift themselves out of poverty through sustainable means.  Yes it is possible and not as hard as you might think...or maybe much harder than you might think! But it is happening, lives and communities are changing! 

And we're so thankful for the people partnering with us and investing in this work. We have 69% of our monthly support pledged at this point (keep checking back as I've been keeping the sidebar updated). We're still hopeful that we might return to Chiang Mai January 15, but it's looking less likely. When we think about it realistically, February 15 is looking to be more feasible from a human perspective. Still we know anything is possible. 

So far our experience with Global Hope Network is limited to a couple of trips but here is a picture of some of the amazing people we get to work alongside of. 

Below is what public transport looks like in a village Josh went to last year for a GHNI training. 

And here are some of the community members who went through GHNI's training program in that village with their trainers. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Insecure Third Culture Kids

I think all of the parents of third culture kids (sometimes called missionary kids) periodically question their decision to live the lifestyle they do. Most of the time I think it will be beneficial for my kids to grow up overseas- more aware of other cultures, people, and places. Less materialistic and worldly I hope. A lot of grown third culture kids I have met attest to this too.

Then there are other days, days where I wonder what we are doing to our children. Right now we are on furlough. And as expected, furlough is HARD on kids who are one and three. Yes our kids are loving quality time with grandparents and aunts and uncles they don't get to see often. But in between all the fun moments, they seem to be the most insecure versions of themselves I have ever seen. Our kids who used to go to sleep happily on their own, now both require us to lay in their room with them until they are sound asleep. And if they awake in the middle of the night, mommy or daddy needs to be there to help them back to sleep. Oi, this makes for some tired parents.

Mostly I feel like I have no moments to myself ever on this trip. During the day even when my kids are in the best of moods they insist that I be either right by their side or holding them (usually Hailey). In Chiang Mai they have both been known to play happily on their own (or even together) without direct adult interaction the entire time. Here, not at all. Common Colby phrases on this trip "Mommy I need someone to keep an eye on me." - 55 times a day, usually when I try to go to the bathroom, prepare a meal or perform other necessary tasks
"Mommy I want you to be with me."
"Mommy please sit with me."

Every second of the day....even when I leave the area he is playing for a mere moment to get a drink or go to the bathroom.

So what is it about this lifestyle and furlough specifically that is hard on kids? Well whenever you read the parenting books about kids that aren't sleeping well or behaving well, one thing that is stressed is "consistency and routine". Ah-ha! Consistency and routine are the keys to happy sleeping kids! Well those two things are downright impossible on a furlough. They only thing that seems to be consistent is that there is NO consistency from one day to the next. We are hopeful that starting preschool will help Colby feel a slight sense of stability as it will at least be 4 days a week of being the same place for a few hours in the afternoon.

It's possible preschool could have the opposite impact, but hopefully not. Today was Colby's first day. It's only half day preschool 4 days a week but it is a good stepping stone to the full day preschool we have him signed up for 3 days a week when he gets back to Chiang Mai.

As we walked away after settling him in and dropping him off,  I sort of felt like the "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" chorus should be playing or something, I did hear it in my head.

It is only 12 hours a week total. But I think those 12 hours are going to be great for both Colby and Mommy.

That's all for now.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Furlough and Support Team Development- A Brief Overview

We are currently in the U.S. and have just begun doing support team development for our new role. Many people are asking if we have to move and the answer is no, we will still be living in Chiang Mai, Thailand in the same rental house. Yay, we don't like moving so staying in the same place is a huge deal!

If you want more information about our role and organization you will need to ask me in a personal message as I'm still a little fuzzy about what I can share online.

Traveling nonstop for almost three weeks now has been exhausting and Hailey and I are both suffering from a never-ending cold probably because we are not getting the appropriate amount of rest to fight an illness off. Overall though our kids are being troopers. In case you missed it, they did amazing on the flight from Thailand and have tolerated lots of time in the car reasonably well for a one year old and three year old. (We drove from Chicago to Orlando with overnight stops in Peoria, St. Louis, Nashville, Destin, and finally was a LONG trip!)

I know some people are wondering what our support situation is like. Honestly, we are just getting started with our fund development. Since we had to make a trip down to Orlando, we haven't had much time to meet with many partners yet. Next week, we will be road tripping back to Illinois and getting support raising fully underway. I will be posting our support stats on the sidebar of this blog if you want to keep up to date.

Right now, we have confirmed 12% of our monthly support pledges/needs and 15% of our one-time needs.

If everyone who supported us with our previous role, continues on with us we will be at 68% of our monthly support which is a much better number so we hope that might be the case! It still gives us a ways to go though so we really appreciate each and every one of our partners taking the time to talk to us and join with us in this work. We cannot do it without you. :-) Like, literally we can't go back to Thailand at all until we are fully funded.... ;-)

Hope to see so many of you soon!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Furlough Fears

So furlough is slowly creeping closer and closer. In less than a month we will be boarding that plane for America and our stay will be so long (4 and 1/2 months) that we will be essentially living in the U.S. We have actually lined up a rental apartment in Peoria and everything.

Many people probably think we would be just ecstatic to return to our home country and there are so many wonderful things to look forward to
-being near to family
-seeing friends I miss like crazy
-meeting with support team members to share stories of God's work and faithfulness in and through our lives
-not eating rice at every meal
-having free baby-sitters nearby!!
-eating amazing American food- Chic Filet! Avantis! Monicals! CPK! Oh be still my heart, I sure do miss American food....
-shopping at Target!!! and other stores with lots of clothes in my size!
-civilized driving patterns
-freely flowing hot water from all sinks and showers!
-not eating rice at every meal
-celebrating holidays in America! Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families!
-not sweating all day every day
-having dengue fever in America (Oh wait, hopefully not this time!!)
Oh and did I mention not eating rice at every meal? Is it apparent that this girl has had about enough of rice for awhile.....

Anyways, America is fabulous it's true. But the weird thing is, we aren't as American as we were last time we were there....and it scares me a little. Sometimes I have a hard time scrolling my facebook newsfeed because of the things some people post- the obsession with fashion, beauty, and fitness seems to have multiplied exponentially. We have only been gone two years, but we have been a little bit sheltered I think. We actually don't have any sort of cable or satellite hook-up to our TV so we don't see most mainstream media, sports, or news except when we go looking for it. Occasionally a TV commercial pops up on youtube and Colby seems confused and frustrated by this weird advertisement interrupting his dinosaur video. Josh and I have managed to keep up with a few favorite TV shows via the internet, but there are no commercials, and there is no channel surfing to stumble onto something you wish you hadn't watched.

Sticker Shock
So yes, mainstream media and culture scares me a little as it seems to have gone downhill swiftly. A few other things that scare me- sticker shock. The cost of living is for sure less in Thailand. Now don't get me wrong, some things here are actually more expensive- used cars for instance are way more expensive here! International school is cuh-razy expensive and may need to be added to our monthly budget soon. There are a few others things like fuel too.

But then there are some other areas where we definitely spend less in Thailand.
1. We can eat out as a family for less than $5 total- easily! And the food is delicious! And sometimes we spend less than $3 to all eat out together. Of course you aren't sitting in air conditioning and the restaurant does not have walls or a bathroom, but it does have food and usually some sort of tin roof. :-)
2. Rent although our house might not meet the minimum standard of living of many Americans
3. Luxury items like massages and frappucinnos are very cheap here too- $1.50-$2 for a coffee frappe and $5 for a one hour massage! Despite this, I can't remember the last time I got a massage....
4. Fruit and vegetables at the local market sometimes seem practically free...

I could go on, but you get the idea, some things are cheaper, some things are more expensive. Either way we will probably feel like it is a crime to pay restaurant prices in who wants to take us out to eat? :-)

Are We those Weird Expats?
Some other concerns....have we become the weird expats? I know we have only been back in Thailand two years, but we have been living abroad or traveling to third world countries for eight years now! That's a long time of doing something not at all normal and I'm guessing it might show more than we realize. Our friends are all other expats, missionaries (who might also be weird unbeknownst to us!) and Thais who of course are very different from Americans.

Fellowship or lack thereof?
Fellowship is a huge concern while we are home. While we know lots of people in Peoria and Glen Carbon, we are no longer part of any real organized fellowship anywhere in the U.S. Yes there are churches who sent us out and we plan to attend, but we don't have a Bible study to attend or a Sunday school class we feel we are part of. We don't have a group of friends who will be calling to invite us out or to their Christmas party. It could be a weirdly lonely time back in our "home."

It's just Not Home
And that's the other thing, it's just not home anymore. I love the song "Home is wherever I'm with You." And it's sort of true, we'll all be together, but we won't have Bella our dog. We won't have our house or 90% of our possessions. We will be living in an apartment with minimal furnishings, toys and likely no decoration. Bella will be back in Thailand staying with friends. We are trying to sublet our house which means someone we don't know will be using our home and furniture. We won't have a car to call our own, though we have borrowed vehicles lined up. It's just weird and I already know I'll be longing for and worrying about our real home in Thailand.

Missing School
Colby will also be missing his first semester of preschool in Thailand. I know it's not a big deal really, but it matters to me. I am ready for him to begin part-time preschool and truly think it will be good for him to have that structure in his life. We are not even sure if the school we want to send him to will have a spot open for him to fill when we get back in January. :-(

Support Raising
The fact that we will be doing intensive full time support team development/fund raising for our new role could be its own blog post. But yes, while we consider it a privilege to invite people to partner with us in our work, it is also HARD. There are good days and bad days. People who encourage you and pray for you and lift your spirit and people who tell you to "get a real job" and "stop beating the bushes." Yes raising support is not for the faint of heart. But we know that ultimately it is God who called us to our position, and it is God who will bring in the support we need. We hope that many of our current supporters will continue on with us as we transition to a new organization, but even if they all do, we still have to raise additional monthly and one-time support.

And of course don't even get me started on the weather in Illinois in the fall and winter! Yikes! My babies and I are going to freeze!

Feel free to begin praying for us as we are beginning preparations for our time in the U.S. Our schedule is still not nailed down, but we know we will be making a visit to Orlando in September to wrap up our official work with JF and do some training for our new role. Beyond that we will be traveling all over Illinois and beyond to connect with friends, family and support team members. I get exhausted just thinking about all the travel and the toll it will take on our young kids who really need stability and "normal" schedules in order to do basic human functions like sleep.

Here's some random pics from life this past month all shot with my Nikon.

Pensive Colby. I think he was watching some deer. 

She toddles with the best of them. (At Horizon Tweechol Botanical Garden)

He was only 4 inches off the ground but was desperately saying "mommy let me down, let me down!"

Elephants are a common find around Chiang Mai...

So are these friendly Thai deer who think Colby's green t-rex looks like it might be food. 

Colby loves puddles. I love reflection photos. 

Hailey loves trying to put shorts and underwear on her head as a hat. No joke. 

She also is adorable with a ponytail on top of her head. 

And loves playing with mommy's phone especially to take selfies of herself. 

This doll is her favorite toy right now. :-) Thanks Mimi! 

No idea what she's doing....

Summer loves to play mama's helper with Hailey while I do Bible study with her mom.

Some of the ladies I will miss at a 4th of July Party

Some of the women in my Wednesday morning Bible/book study group along with our kids. We got together for our last meeting for awhile at a fun restaurant with a playground. This sort of fellowship is what I will really miss when we are in the U.S. Hope I can find something similar to plug into short term. If you know of anything feel free to let me know. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

New Norms- Life in Thailand

I guess you realize that you've really begun to adjust to the foreign culture when things that used to be weird and annoying start to feel normal. Most of this stuff has felt normal for awhile, but sometimes I get caught up in the mom stuff and forget to write about the Thailand stuff. So this is for anyone who is curious about life in Thailand. And if you're really curious feel free to pay us a visit! :-)

Here are some examples of new norms (and yes the first three are all potty issues!):

1. Not being able to flush your toilet paper at many public restrooms. It's all too common to see a sign in a public restroom that says "please do not flush toilet paper" I'm now pleasantly surprised when I'm in a public bathroom and there is no sign and the little waste paper can isn't filled with soiled toilet paper. It leads to some bad smelling restrooms...There are even some bathrooms that say "urine only". I guess if you need to go #2 you are out of luck.

2. Or all too often there are no public restrooms. Sometimes it's really hard to find a bathroom. If you're out and about and feel a potty crisis coming on, you start brainstorming where the nearest place that is likely to have a public restroom is.

3. No toilet paper. It's always good to have your own tissues with you because public restrooms often do not provide it. Instead there is often a little water hose connected to the toilet that you can use to "refresh" yourself. Or sometimes a person standing outside selling toilet paper.....

4. Driving on the left side of the road. This one is just second nature now. Occasionally when I am the driver I still get into the passenger side of the car though and sit there for a moment, like "hey where's the steering wheel?" Not too often anymore though.

5. Stray dogs- they're everywhere. I used to be appalled that they just sleep in the middle of the road in the middle of the day. Now I just drive carefully around them or in some cases rev my engine to let them know they better move. And actually most of them aren't stray. Almost all of them have some sort of caretaker, but they are allowed to roam freely for much of the day.

6. No central air. It's pretty much non-existent in homes in Thailand. Most people don't have air conditioning in the main area of their homes at all which is odd considering this is a country that only really dips below 90 degrees for 2 months out of the year if that.

7. No heat. Okay based on what I said about average temperatures in the last one, this isn't that surprising, But on those odd nights where it drops down to 50 degrees and your car and house both don't have heat, you are shivering a little and there is nothing you can do other than layer up.

8. No central water heater. Individual showers have individual water heaters that actually heat the water as it's coming out of the nozzle. It actually amazes me that it can heat it fast enough for showers, but it does!

9. No dishwasher. I realize there are plenty of people in America that don't have dishwashers....but in my experience they have become pretty standard among middle class Americans. Here it is crazy exceptional if you have one.

10. Line drying. Okay this one could almost be left off the list as a decent number of my friends now own clothes dryers. We are not one of the lucky. Occasionally it crosses my mind that we should buy one, but the sun does a really good job of drying our clothes 9 months out of the year. The other 3 are the rainiest parts of rainy season and sometimes it becomes a challenge and we end up with drying clothes hanging all over our bedroom while we blast the air conditioner. Sadly the sun is pretty harsh on our clothes and I do think it shortens the life span of many of our clothes....especially anything with spandex or elastic in it. If I can convince Josh it is a good idea we might someday splurge on a dryer.

11. Speaking Thai. Okay really my Thai is still terrible, but I'm thankful that I feel closer and closer to being able to express what I want to occasionally.

12. Having a maebaan (English translation: house helper or house mother). This was super weird to me at first. Why would I hire somebody to clean my house when I always cleaned my own house in America? Just because it's cheap didn't seem like a very good reason to me. That was before I realized that this country is just plain dirty. And every day your floors end up super dusty. And hanging each clothing item on the line one by one takes a LONG time (especially if you cloth diaper like me). And doing all the dishes by hand takes a LONG time. And making every single food item you eat including salad dressing and stuff Americans take for granted FROM SCRATCH takes a long time. And bathrooms need to be cleaned way more often as most of them are the kind that the entire bathroom gets soaked each time you take a shower. So yeah houses need to be cleaned way more often and everything takes way longer. Unless you've been here and seen how quickly everything gets dirty, it's hard to understand. We have one who helps us clean, cook, watch children, or do laundry 3 days a week.

13. Monks. We see monks walking around in orange robes all the time, but one thing that was really weird at first was their morning ritual of walking around the neighborhood with their little pot receiving food offerings from people who bow down and chant in front of them. It's my understanding that they believe they will be blessed in return for giving the monks food. The monks cannot say anything about the type of food that is offered, it all just gets mixed up in their pot and they eat it later. I always want to take a picture when I see this, but I wonder if it's super disrespectful so I never have. The guy pictured below was just taking a walk, he was not doing one of the morning food walks.

I know there are so many more things I could add to this list but these are the ones that came to my mind right now.

Some of my comments might sound like complaining, but that was not my intention as most of this stuff just kind of rolls off of me lately. Here are a few more pictures of odd but normal everyday sights in Thailand.

Buying a crib mattress for Hailey. Yep we couldn't find one so we went to a foam factory and had a piece cut, and then took it to a seamstress to have a cover made for it. It was cheaper than a real crib mattress, but a lot less convenient and there is no safety standard....

These giant snails are everywhere during rainy season. You will frequently crunch them under your truck or foot...

I suppose this isn't all that different than a farmer's market in America, except it is....really different. Vendors line the streets for about a half mile behind our neighborhood selling their stuff and really congesting traffic once a week. There are many similar markets open every night. 

I have actually seen way more people than this in the back of a truck this size many times but never have my camera ready. Just know that this is not that extreme. 

And this is also not the most overloaded truck I have seen...

This is the cutest cow I ever saw in the back of a pickup truck! :-) Love the big floppy ears cows have here! 

And that's all folks! We love Thailand and all its differentness. Although somedays the differentness still stresses us out slightly! Even after 2 and a half years! 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Life as a Bystander in a Country in Turmoil

We are on the eve of a controversial election here in Thailand.  If you have been following the political scene in this country for the last decade (or perhaps century) you know that this is nothing new.  Nineteen coups since becoming a constitutional monarchy.  For most Americans, the idea of a coup is quite foreign.  A U.S. President has never been forcefully removed from office (assassination aside...) and replaced by another, un-elected official.  Here, it happens once or twice every ten years.  The last iteration was in 2006, when Thaksin Shinawatra was removed from office by the military, and charged with corruption.  He is still living in exile, but his sister is now the current Prime Minister.

The current crisis still revolves around the class feud that led to the 2006 coup.  Thaksin built his political machine around policies that beneftted rural areas, gaining him large amounts of support among the poorer regions of the country.  The middle class and urban elite in Bangkok resented his policies, as they bore the brunt of the financial burden.   He also represented a threatening shift in the traditional power base.  I'm not going to go into more detail regarding the past seven years.  There is plenty of information out there about the aftermath of the coup, and the events that have brought us to the current standoff.  The recent protests were sparked by an attempted amnesty bill, which would have forgiven criminal charges against every politician in the last eight years, Thaksin included.  It was a seemingly blatant attempt to allow Thaksin's return, and his political opponents were infuriated, sparking months of protests in the streets.  The opposition party resigned, crippling the government and effectively forcing the current Prime Minister to resign or call new elections.

So here we are...the election is tomorrow and the two sides are growing increasingly violent.  The anti-government protesters are blockading polling sites in an attempt to sabotage the election.  If they can prevent enough people from voting, there may not be the quorum of elected officials needed to form a new government.  The pro-government forces wish to exercise their right to vote, and keep the current government in power.  Gun skirmishes and bombings are being reported in Bangkok regularly.

As foreigners, we obviously have no vote.  We are also legally barred from participating in any political activity.  I can sympathize with both sides to a limited extent.  The protesters feel that the current government is ruining their country by spending billions of borrowed baht on policies they feel exist only to cement their grasp on power.  They also feel powerless to stop the political machine that has seemingly "purchased" millions of votes with government funds.  On the other side, if we were in the United States I could not imagine supporting a group that was trying to sabotage a democratic election.  Mostly though, it seems that this is a power struggle at the highest levels and in the end, none of the players really care about the people that are affected.

Today we celebrated Hailey's 1st birthday with many of our close friends here.  It was a lot of fun, even if baby birthday parties are short lived.  One by one, we watched as parents made their exodus with wailing children as the sugar overload and skipped naps took their toll.  Later, after our children graciously napped, we went to mall where we found a huge Hot Wheels track, live ponies walking around in an indoor pen, and an empty stage with blaring music for Colby to dance on.  It was a really fun day.  Near the end of our time at the mall, I wondered what tomorrow would bring.  I never had thoughts like that before we moved here.  Most of the time, back home, it is easy to take normalcy for granted.  Things certainly do change, but it tends to happen at a slower pace.  We really don't know if this current crisis will be resolved peacefully.  We have heard talk of moving the government to Chiang Mai, splitting the country in two.  Some journalists have hinted at the prospect of civil war, but I think it is mostly fear-mongering.  It seems that a vast majority of the population wants nothing to do with the violence.  At the same time, reconciliation seems a long ways off.

There are many more things I want to say here, but I feel they are best left unsaid.  What it all boils down to, for me, is the human condition.  The Bible says that we are all fallen, and without the redeeming work of Christ in our hearts, we will remain this way.  Our fallen nature manifests itself in various ways, and to me, that is the center of the current struggle here.  Greed, corruption, pride, and fear...driving a country to the brink for what reason?  No good ones come to mind.

All that to say, please join us in lifting up Thailand.