Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

“Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10

Psalm 143 is a prayer of David in which he asks for God to hear him as he laments his struggles.  David asks God for guidance for the quickest way out of trouble and dangers and for his enemies to face defeat.  And for this writing, the entire Psalm will help tell our story of the day.  At first glance this reading may not seem appropriate as it relates to the relative ease by which we live our modern lives.  Sara and I don’t face many instances of deadly foes or great enemy armies trying to relieve of us our lands (especially since we don’t have any!).  Nevertheless, the prayer’s intention is applicable, if not the words themselves.

The day started out like our normal Tuesday.  We dug holes for new eggs, cleaned out old nests, found new baby sea turtles, and did some clean-up.  The usual ho-hum.  Things took a bit of a turn though around lunch.  I got assigned a tour for some folks from the UK wanting to learn some sea turtle lore while Sara sent the kids back across the street to get ready for our midday repast. Sara stayed back and helped clean up a few items so she could join me after the tour.

The kids could not have been home more than fifteen minutes without our supervision, though in kid time that is a seeming eternity.  As Sara and I walked up to the volunteer home we overheard a fight which was escalating…rapidly.  From the time we approached the front door to the time we got to the kids’ room, a mere 10 steps or fewer, everything had hit the fan.  Literally.

A little background will help.  Last evening the kids had a fight, shocker I know, about some mundane issue, shocking I know.  I believe that the gist was that Luci was looking over Anjali’s shoulder while Anjali was doing something on her tablet.  This irritated Anjali which caused her to yell at Luci which caused Luci to get angry and then kick or smack or do something to Anjali.  This in turn caused Anjali to grab the mosquito net above her bed and swing it forcefully in the air.  Unfortunately, in the middle of the room is a rather large ceiling fan with metal blades which happened to be rotating at full speed.  The net hit one of the blades causing the fan to go on tilt temporarily and to send bits of chipped, rusty paint throughout the room.  Fortunately the damage was minor, though messy, and a lesson was seemingly learned.

Until the next day at 12:30 that is when Anjali became enraged over another slight of “Biblical proportions” causing her to unlearn the part about swinging the net in the direction of the full speed fan.  This time, however, the damage was marginally more significant.  Rather, the fan blade bent completely in half, the mosquito net was torn, and the fan was now on full tilt and in danger of dislodging and falling.  I’ll spare you the recap of the next hour which included stuttering, tears, screaming, and blaming going all around.  Suffice to say that Sara and I were a tad miffed and were now considering whether we would indulge in the weekend safari plans now that our kids were losing their minds and we were about to lose money on a very unplanned expense of replacing the fan and net.

Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.”  As it was Tuesday, I was scheduled to go teach English again after lunch so we spoke with our hosts to ask where and when we could go find a new ceiling fan to replace the now defunct version.  The plan was to go teach and then use the driver to run to the next town over to pick up both.  Following another energetic day of teaching we were off to shop.  Under advice from Dudley we were to look at the local hardware store for a specific brand which was of a higher quality.  With Prasantha’s help I went in to the store only to find out that they didn’t carry that brand.  The vendor’s suggestion was to try the next town down.  5-6 more kilometers.

“The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground…”  Well, maybe not pursues me, but certainly crushes my hopes.  Following a harrowing drive through the small town main street which was more reminiscent of India than Sri Lanka we arrived at store number 2.  And yet again, no fan.  “My spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.”  I was beginning to feel very frustrated and I was growing weary of apologizing to the other passengers in the van who were stuck on this odyssey for a fan.  This shopkeeper recommended yet another store just a bit longer down the road and so off we went.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”  Third time was sort of the charm.  Despite not having the make and model that we originally sought, we finally settled on an acceptable alternative.  Fan in tow we started the journey back to Kosgoda to pick up the new net and to get back in time to hang the fan before nightfall.  

“In your unfailing love, silence my enemies…for I am your servant.”  All in all, at worst the trip took much longer than planned but it was a success.  The new fan and net were hung and the kids room was cooled off yet again.  More importantly the kids heads were cooled off and the foes of anger, revenge, and frustration were silenced for at least one more day.

The enemies of today are less fearsome than those of the past, at least for our family. But the reality is that our enemies come from within and are often harder to defeat because they go unrecognized and can become too strong to overcome.  Fortunately with God’s help and a great deal of patience even the mightiest enemy, be it anger, sadness, frustration, or annoying little sister, can be overcome with love and grace.  To God be the glory on this day once more.

Monday February 18, 2019

Hebrews 13:5-6 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Today was our first day working with these beautiful turtles. Here at the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project there are 2 main types of turtles that are brought into the hatchery, Green Turtles and Olive Ridley Turtles. I learned a lot about these animals today, as well as how this conservation project works, though I suspect I will learn more over the next two weeks. We have talked with the kids and their schoolwork during our time here is to learn as much as they can about the turtles and the project as a whole. Part of our volunteer assignment is to lead tours and teach English to some of the local kids, in addition to the daily operations and upkeep of the project. Today was both a tank cleaning day and a day for us to teach English to the kids.

I am sure there are people who are wondering about the turtles kept at the sanctuary. The project keeps 12 turtles in their care. They have 6 Hawksbill turtles, which are very endangered, 1 Loggerhead turtle, 1 Olive Ridley, and 4 Green Turtles. These turtles, with the exception of the Loggerhead, will all be released around 5 years of age. The project keeps these turtles for the purpose of education and research. The 4 year old Loggerhead turtle is the only permanent resident because she is blind (she is missing her left eye and is blind in her right eye-both due to a birth defect).

The volunteer schedule is pretty set, which is nice to have a routine for the day. We start our work at 8:30 am, usually with burying any new turtle eggs that are brought in from the local fisherman. (This project has been able to work out a relationship with the local fisherman to buy the eggs they collect each night, as these were previously sold in the markets for food.) We dig a hole in the hatchery sand about 65 cm deep with a bigger bottom (imagine a fish bowl), we drop in 50-100 eggs and then cover with sand, just as the mamma turtle does; the incubation period is about 45 days. In addition to burying the eggs, we also have to clean out nests that have hatched, which means we dig the hole again and remove all the hatched eggs shells, eggs that didn’t hatch, and watch any remaining turtle scamper out of their nest. This process can be quite smelly! By the time we finish with this, we are completely covered in sand from head to toe, not to mention drenched in sweat.

Since Monday is tank cleaning day, after taking care of the hatchery, we get to clean the tanks. The sanctuary doesn’t use any chemicals or additives to the water in the tanks; it is brought in directly from the ocean. This means that algae grows quick, which is why we have to drain and scrub them frequently. This proved to be very tiring work, even with 5 adult volunteers scrubbing away at the algae covered tanks, it took us all morning and some of the afternoon to clean the 9 tanks. But there is always a silver lining. In the wild the turtles take advantage of “cleaning stations” where other animals will clean the algae off their shells and fins, but we don’t have that here, so we have to do it. I imagine that every tank cleaning day we are going to have to moderate the “I want to clean the turtle” argument between our kids! We sprinkle the turtle with some sand and gently take the brush to his/her shell, then massage their flippers with sand until they are sparkling clean!

Since the tank cleaning took up all of the morning and part of the afternoon, we had a late lunch and then found out that we weren’t teaching today because of the holiday, Perahera Festival. Dudley arranged for all of us to take a bus to Colombo to see the parade and all of the festivities.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with friendly people, but holy cow it is humid and hot here, and this is the cool season! We rode the no a/c bus to Colombo and by the time we got there I was drenched. But even me, who doesn’t care for the heat, was enjoying myself. I was so excited to experience this festival and parade. The parade was long, but so fun. They had traditional dancers and performers in traditional garb, then the elephants came. While it was really cool to see these huge creatures walking through the streets of Colombo, it was so sad to see the marks on their legs where the chains to control and restrain them had rubbed them raw. The kids noticed the same thing and their excitement was quickly dissipated too. Our desire to see elephants was now a more specific desire to see elephants in the wild, when they weren’t chained at their feet. I completely understand why they had their feet restrained during this event. You have a street lined with people and performers in front and behind the elephants; there definitely needs to be an element of control. The thing that bothered me was these elephants showed that this was not a rare occasion to have chains on their legs, but rather a regular occurrence.

This scripture passage kind of made me laugh a bit. When we got here yesterday we were informed that there was no hot water, I thought that this was going to be a problem, specifically for our kids during shower time. I heard a little complaining before they started showering last night, but that quickly faded as they realized that the cold water actually felt really good in this stifling heat and humidity. I never heard another word out of the kids about the water being too cold, probably because they realized how good it felt to have a cold shower after a long day of being so hot. Yet again, God not only takes care of us, but He always provides us with enough.

Monday November 26, 2018

Proverbs 24:10 If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength being small

Today was so hard. Our van picked us up for the last time to take us to school (just the preschool today). Several of the teachers from the primary school, including the Principal, also attended. The schools had planned the same ceremony for us as Wat had done yesterday. While we were waiting for the ceremony to begin, the children started to get a bit restless, so Jeff got up and we all sang our “Good Morning to You” song and the whole room was filled with the most beautiful sound, singing children!

The older girls from the preschool (all 5-6 years old) got up and did a traditional Thai dance for the school. It was beautiful. These girls practiced so hard and watching these girls brought tears to my eyes. This was such a special celebration. The “Doctor of Ceremony” performed the ceremony, followed by the principal and teachers tied strings around our wrists as a blessing and then presented with shirts from Nan, so we would always remember them.

Afterwards we sang our “Goodbye to You” song one last time, and again the whole room was filled with the sound of these children singing at the top of their lungs. We had lunch with Rinya, Emma, and Jonas. Before we ate lunch, our children decided that they wanted to share their Sour Patch Kids (which is their absolute favorite candy that we can’t get while abroad) with the children of the school. The thought was overwhelming for me, our kids wanted to share their favorite candy with these children. As a family we gave Rinya some photos of our time here, as a way for her to always remember us. Teaching at these schools has been a life changing experience for our whole family.

While we were sitting outside waiting for the van, we took some time to just visit with Rinya. However, our girls were not getting along at all. Actually, Anjali was being very rude to Lucia and Lucia just wasn’t going to take it. I walked over to talk with the girls and realized that Anjali was really struggling. As I sat next to her, she refused to look me in the eyes and when I asked her if she was sad, the tears just started rolling down her cheeks. I wrapped her in my arms and reminded her that it is okay and even healthy to feel sad about leaving; that we were all feeling this tug on our heart. This is when Rinya came over and sat with Anjali and before we knew it, all of us were crying. Goodbyes are hard and I realize now that at every place we will serve over this year we will have to deal with this grief and loss; it will be our reality. I took this opportunity to talk to the children about the constant changes in life and that grief and loss are intertwined with happiness and joy; we can’t have one without the other. We feel that sadness when we loose something we love dearly. If we do not love, we have nothing to loose. I am not sure if it sunk in, but it will be a conversation we will have more than once.

Here are some pictures we took with Rinya just before leaving the school, a nice way to say our final goodbye to her.

When we got home, Wat presented our children with soccer shirts that he had put their names on the back (but they spelled Lucia’s name “LUCLA” and Wat didn’t notice it until he got home). So we decided that we would be able to go into Nan a bit early tomorrow and get that taken care of before we head to the airport. After dinner, we gave Wat, Grandma, and Na Na some photos that we printed as a gift to them for their love, kindness and generosity. Again, the tears were unable to be kept back. These people are a part of our family now. I love that every two months my family just keeps getting bigger.

Friday November 23, 2018

Isaiah 40:29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Today was our last day of teaching and at the preschool Emma and Jonas were fine with letting us teach all of the classes. It was so much fun to teach these children one last time, well actually, we just sang songs and played games! We were also able to get a class picture with each of the groups, as well as some pictures of the kids during some of the songs and games.

Here are some pictures of the kids playing and singing today!

Playing Duck, Duck, Goose

Saying goodbye
Singing Let’s Go Swimming by Laurie Berkner

Here are the class pictures:

A picture with our driver, who picked us up faithfully, every day to drive us to each school and back again.

We were certainly feeling faint given this was our last time teaching these wonderful children and we were strengthened by how much they learned in the two months we were here. We are so grateful for God’s presence and His ability to give us the strength to say goodbye to these happy children. Every moment at this school was filled with joy and laughter, and how we always were lifted by their energy and spirit.

David also got in a little Muay Thai training today with Wat.

Thursday November 22, 2018

Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Today’s scripture is one that is relevant every day of this journey. Jeff and I have clung to each other and relied on each during the entire process of planning and now during this time of service. I have commented before how much we have leaned on one another during the planning process, but I also see it happening now that we are in the midst of the journey. During the planning process (which was almost 2 years ago), there were times when I was strong and Jeff needed to rely on my strength and then there were times that the tables turned and I needed that support. What was most amazing about these times is that these shifts were almost palatable, both of us could just feel a shift in confidence, faith, trust, anxiety, fear, etc. When one was strong the other relied on that strength. This carried us through the process, but now, here we are, living this journey out every day and experiencing the same things. I am so grateful for his patience and strength, but most importantly, I am thankful for the wonderful communication and understanding we have with each other. He can see when I am struggling, whether with aspects of the trip or with our own children (it is more often this!), and will gently put his hand on my shoulder and tell me to take a break. He is able to sense my frustration, anger, fear, etc. and supports me through it and I do my best to do the same for him. This is not an easy tasks, but we have both committed ourselves to God and to each other, and I believe that because we put God first, we are able to better understand what the other needs; we are not just looking at what we need. We have been able to balance each other and I truly believe that this is what makes our marriage so strong. We think of the other before ourselves and we rely on the other to help when we need it and provide the support and encouragement when needed.

Today was the Loy Krathong Festival, a celebration of the water spirits and a time to let go of the sins, mistakes, and regrets of the past to prepare and make room for the blessings of the new year. After making the Krathong floats, we all headed to the river to release them and make a wish for the future. Shortly after arriving at the preschool we found the kids to be dressed in beautiful traditional Thai dress, all holding their Krathongs they made yesterday. We all walked down to the river together, which took about 10 minutes and then set the Krathongs downstream after making our wishes. Rinya was kind enough to make one for each of our kids and one for Jeff and I to set off together. We had made ones that were still at home for tonight’s festival and she wanted us to be able to participate with the kids! It was so thoughtful and sweet (and very beautiful!). We came back to the school in time to teach the last two classes (Jonas and Emma taught one of them) and then lunch and off to the primary school.

Our kids did their schooling during classes and they did quite well. We seem to have made some progress with getting them to do their work a little more expeditiously, though today they had a much lighter load because we knew that they wouldn’t get as much done with the festivals and celebrations. Once we got home, we added some final touches on our Krathongs and a quick dinner. We knew were going to the festival here in Wiang Sa, but we didn’t know that Wat had arranged for the girls to ride on the parade float! Anjali was not interested in this, but this was right up Lucia’s alley. We ended up having to rush out of the house to get to the parade in time for Lucia to ride on the top of the parade float with 5 other girls. We got to the parade to wait for the rest of the floats and then proceeded to walk slowly in front of the float through the main street of Wiang Sa down to the Nan River. As we were walking down the streets of Wiang Sa I couldn’t help but smile and softly chuckle to myself. Never in a million years would I ever have imagined walking in parade celebrating Loy Krathong in northern Thailand with my family. I have never been so far from my extended family and yet I felt at home with the people of this community (as I did in Germany). These wonderful people have taken us in as part of their family. When we got to the Nan River, there was music playing, food vendors, and lots of people with Krathongs and lanterns walking down to the river to set off their floats.

So we joined the crowds of people down by the banks of the river to send our Krathongs off with a small piece of ourselves (a finger nail clipping) and a wish for the future. This was such a meaningful experience and nothing like I have ever seen in the states. I am forever grateful to these wonderful people who guided us through this process and allowed us to participate in their culture so willingly. Here are some pictures of this amazing experience.

Wednesday November 21, 2018

2 Thessalonians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

What an amazing day! We taught at the preschool with Jonas and Emma, sharing the 4 classes amongst us. It is great to have a break, but I am already missing the kids. Each time Emma and Jonas teach a class for me, it seems to be a mixed blessing. I am so happy we can help to provide a smooth transition for everyone, but I really miss singing and being with the kids, which makes me realize how hard it will be to say goodbye next week. I just can’t believe we leave in less than a week now, time just flies by.

I remember thinking that a whole year is a really long time for this journey and wondering how much impact we can have in just two months, but now that we are living this journey each stop seems to go by so quickly and yet each time it is difficult to say those goodbyes. We have become so connected to the people around us that we find it hard to leave. I didn’t have any idea the level of grief that my children would feel each time we had to leave our new friends. I notice it more with Anjali who, for whatever reason, has this idea that she is not supposed to feel sadness or that sadness is a bad emotion. This journey will give us the opportunity to not just teach her about the emotion of sadness, but also to show her how to handle it. I shed tears in Germany and I am certain that those times will repeat when we leave Thailand. We can hopefully show her that it is okay to cry and that sadness does not have to be a negative emotion; that we can use this emotion to feel closer to those people we are leaving.

I digress. During the last class at the preschool, the kindergarten children and teachers all made Krathongs. So I sat down with the kids and teachers and helped make roses out of banana leaves (which I had no idea could be done!). It was a lot of fun learning the different Krathong techniques from Rinya and watching the children make their beautiful floats. Tomorrow morning, the school will walk down tot the Nan River to release their Krathongs.

Teaching at the primary school was fairly uneventful. I have been teaching the 1st and 2nd classes (basically 1st and 2nd grades). The first grade class is very engaging and are actively participating in the lessons; however the 2nd class is only engaged during a game. So I have to get pretty creative with the lesson plans each class because if I don’t have a game to play the kids are falling asleep, staring into space, or playing with something in their desk. What makes it even more difficult is that I don’t have any idea what the teacher wants me to teach prior to getting to the class. When I walk into the classroom, she gives me a piece of paper with vocabulary words or her lesson plan for the day and I am charged with coming up with interactive games and activities to go along with the lesson she just handed me. Talk about quick thinking! At first I struggled with this, but I have gotten accustomed to it and I seem to be doing just fine. I have figured out that if I separate the class into 2 teams, I can make anything into a game–so that’s what I do. Today was pretty fun and the kids seem to be pretty engaged with our lesson of animals–we played charades, hangman, and practiced writing sentences with a/an/the (the kids had to fill in the blanks–2 teams made it a race!).

After returning home from school, we finished our Krathongs and made sure they were ready to go. We also talked with Wat about staying here in Wiang Sa for the festival as driving to Nan was just going to be too much and would mean that the kids were going to be up way too late. We wanted/needed them to be somewhat rested for our last day of teaching on Friday. I am really excited about the festival. I have been told that it is beautiful to watch all of the Krathongs floating down the river and the lanterns floating in the sky makes for a picture perfect evening.

Here are some pictures of the day, including the kids making the Krathongs at the school and then the ones that we made at home.

Making Krathongs at the preschool

Lucia and Rinya

David and Lucia holding the “rose” banana leaf I had made

Tuesday November 20, 2018

Isaiah 55:10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater...

Jeff and I taught half of the preschool classes today while the new volunteers, Jonas and Emma, taught the other half. It made me realize how much I am going to miss teaching these kids and how much fun I have when I am with them. I am so grateful for the last two months here. At the primary school, both Jeff and I taught as we normally have, and Emma and Jonas taught their own class. This is wonderful because instead of just being able to teach 2 classes in the time we are there, we are actually able to teach 3! I’m so glad we are able to provide more opportunities for these kids to learn English and I realize how nice it is to teach fewer classes–my voice is very grateful for the break.

After school today, we got home to find that Na Na acquired all the necessary materials for us to make our own Krathongs for the Loy (Loi) Krathong festival on Thursday. It is a Siamese festival that pays respects to the water spirits. People make the Krathongs (or floats) made from banana trunks, wrapped in folded banana leaves, and decorated with flowers, candles, and incense. The floats are launched on the local rivers after making a wish. I am so excited to experience this festival and we were talking with Wat trying to decide whether to go to Nan or stay in Wiang Sa. The initial making of the float was a bit tricky, but we quickly got the hang of it, and things went a bit faster. We were able to finish 2 of them and will work on the others after school tomorrow. Lucia took off with Yumi after school, so we ended up working on hers too.

Here are some pictures of our afternoon creating the Krathongs.

Banana Trunks

Anjali and David with Grandma

Na Na showing us how to trim the banana trunks!