Friday, May 25, 2012

Where'd He Go?

One of the things I like most about the Bible is that it’s always fresh.  By that I mean that I can read the same chapter, or verse, that I’ve read a hundred times before and have something new pop out at me.  It never ceases to amaze me. 

A few weeks ago I was reading in the book of John, Chapter 8. Towards the end of the chapter Jesus is talking with some of the Jewish leaders and basically telling them that they will only be truly free when they start to follow Him.  This irks them a bit and in verse 48 they say to Jesus, “You Samaritan devil! Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?”  Call me crazy but saying to anyone, “Hey, I think you’re demon-possessed” is not really the smartest thing to bring up during a “discussion”; particularly when said discussion is with the Son of God! 

Well, as this little chat of theirs continues the Jews, with whom Jesus is conversing, get more and more riled up and they are ready to go to battle.  They are so angry that they start picking up some stones with which to stone Jesus.  Now here’s the part I love. John 8:59 says “At that point they picked up stones to throw at him.  But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.”  So wait, let me get this straight.  He was right in front of their eyes and then “bam!” they couldn’t see him?  How cool is that?  Did he just “slip out” when they were all bending down to pick up a stone?  Did he vaporize right in front of their eyes?  Were they blinded?  The verse doesn’t really clarify how it happened, just that it happened.
 Can’t you just see the Jews looking at each other with befuddled looks on their faces?  “Hey, he was just here a second ago, where’d he go?”  I love it!

Personally, I think this says something about the amazing power of God.  To me, Jesus’ ability to be “hidden” is nothing short of miraculous; but more than that it says that everything happens at the right time.  We already know that Jesus is going to die at the hands of the Jews but that was not the day for it to happen.  God had already chosen the time when Jesus was to die. In the meantime, He made sure nothing happened that wasn’t supposed to.

We can always trust God’s timing.  Some days it may seem as though He is moving particularly slow, and we may think He’s forgotten us . . . . but He hasn’t.  He’s just waiting for the right time – His time.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mules, Carts and Pigeon Poop

Fez is one amazing very old city.  We started today with a tour of some of Fez's highlights. It was so fun to have a guide who knew his way around and got us into some places that we could not possibly have found on our own.  

First off, I'd like an aerial map of this city.  There are over 9000 streets in this walled city built in 808 AD.  As far as I could tell there weren't any street signs but I guess, to be honest I was trying to keep an eye on our guide and didn't look for them.  I think if you’re looking for something your directions might sound more like “turn right at the fig stand, left at the nougats, then straight past the sheep heads.”  And no, I’m not kidding about the sheep heads; we did indeed see sheep heads for sale.  I’ll spare you the pictures.  Don’t ask me what they do with them; I don’t know and I'm pretty sure I don't want to.

No cars are allowed inside the city of Fez so everything from produce to propane is delivered by mule, donkey or a cart.  The buildings that make up the city are three or four stories high and the streets are narrow – maybe eight to ten feet wide.  It’s kind of like if you took New York City, got rid of the cars and shrink-wrapped it.  When animals or carts are moving in the streets it’s the job of the pedestrians to move out of their way – and you might just have to dodge some droppings while doing so.  It was a cultural experience like no other. 

 Shy guy or part of a witness protection program?
There were four highlights on the tour.  We visited a pre-school with about eight kids in attendance.  The school was inside of a small room – maybe 13 x 13 at best, the kids sat at desks and it didn’t appear that there was a playground anywhere nearby.  Nonetheless, the kids were adorable and sang songs to us and recited the five pillars of Islam to us like they’d been born knowing them.  Interesting.

Of course, visiting a mosque was bound to be on the agenda.  Our guide told us that there are five things you’ll find inside of a mosque; a fountain (or some sort of water), marble, mosaic, plaster and carved wood.  I have to say, however, that I’ve tried to find this information online and can’t see it so I don’t really know if this is true.  One thing I have learned over the years is that sometimes guides make stuff up. 

We also stopped at a weaving shop where we had the chance to watch scarves being made and make a few purchases.  After they demonstrated the loom for us they put scarf turbans on everyone on our team for a photo op.  I was in awe of how fast they were able to do so many different styles of wraps and match the color with each person’s outfit.  
Here’s a little tip I’d like to share with you; if someone ever offers you a sprig of mint either take it and stick it directly under your nose, or run the other direction as quickly as you can.  We were starting into this little shop when I guy offered me a sprig of mint and I tried as nicely as I could to refuse it.  To be honest, I thought he wanted to sell it to me; but he was insistent that I take it.  Little did I know it would be my only link to a pleasant smell for the next half hour.  We were entering, it seems, a leather shop, which conveniently overlooked the local leather tanning operation.  STINKY!  
I really can’t tell you everything the guy told us about the leather tanning process but when he mentioned pigeon droppings I questioned him on it, for clarification purposes.  “Pigeon droppings?” I said.  And he replied, “Yes, pigeon droppings, as in pigeon poop,” as though I didn’t know what droppings were.  Apparently they are used to help make the leather soft and supple.  Think about that the next time you buy a pair of shoes.  I found this video online  which is really pretty intriguing and shows the life of a worker at the Fez Tannery. 

Our tour ended with some time for shopping and some lunch.  It was an experience that I’m glad I didn’t miss but I’m not feeling a strong need to repeat any time soon, either. 

We left Fez on Tuesday morning to begin our trek back home.  We stopped back in Khemmiset for lunch and then headed to Casablanca for a farewell dinner at Rick’s Café, made famous by the movie, Casablanca.  What an amazing trip!  

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Saturday - April 28 

We woke up this morning to pouring rain.  This would not do because today we were throwing a party - a very special OUTSIDE party for 100 orphan boys.  Ephesians 3:12 says that “Because of Christ and our faith in Him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence,” so during our prayer time that morning that is exactly what I did.  I boldly prayed and petitioned God for sunshine between 10:00 - 3:00, because a party, in the rain, with just over 100 boys sounded less than fun.  And, as we set up for the party there were still some clouds but it was clear that sunshine was on the way and not one speck of rain fell between 10:00 – 3:00.  Nothing short of miraculous if you ask me.

After we got things set up for the party we visited a nursing home that was on the same grounds as the orphanage.  It was truly one of the saddest things I've ever seen.  Most of the mattresses were on the ground with a few up on bed frames, I suppose for those who can't get to the ground easily.  Although, one of the women on the ground was paralyzed which means when they move her someone has to lift her up off the ground.  In spite of their circumstances they were all so excited to see us and we brought them a little kit of essential care items like soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc.  It was a sweet, tear-invoking visit.
We ate lunch with the boys, which was quite the experience.  They were very polite and we tried to communicate with them, which generally led to laughter at our attempts to speak each other's languages.  Most of them know French, as well as Arabic and some even know a little English.  I learned how to say, "What is your name?" and "My name is Nancy." and from there we just smiled and laughed at our ineptness. 

After lunch the fun began.  We had all of the same games that we’d done on Thursday (minus the now dead 12-foot beach ball) plus a few more.  There was one station where the kids had one minute to eat four Saltine crackers.  That was hysterical.  They would put all four in their mouths at once and try to chew and swallow in less than 60 seconds; which apparently can’t be done.  After about 30 seconds they’d start to realize there was no way this was going to work and they’d get the giggles which prompted a saltine cracker eruption from their mouths.  Earlier, when we’d been discussing this game I said “Do we have a prize if they are able to do it?” and was told that it isn’t humanly possible.  I’ve not yet tried it myself, but hey, you go ahead and let me know how it works for you. 

My job at the party was to take pictures of the boys on a motorcycle.  The worker from Convoy of Hope that we were helping is planning to make prints of these pictures and deliver them to the kids later.  Can you even imagine how few pictures you’d have of your childhood if you grew up in an orphanage?  I loved the kids’ expressions as they got on the motorcycles because they would be all smiles up until the moment that they were ready for their picture. Then, they’d put on this “I’m a cool biker dude” look until I clicked the camera and then back to all smiles. 

During the party, in addition to the games, dancing and cotton candy, all of the kids got new shoes, sandals and a new outfit.  Each child has a locker in his room to store his own stuff.  I can’t imagine having just one little tiny cubby to store everything I owned.  It sure puts a person’s priorities into perspective. 

The day ended with a wild game of “Last Man Standing” where each child had a balloon attached to each foot and was supposed to pop the other person’s balloon but keep their balloon inflated.  There was no clear winner, unless you count the fun that they all had.  In that case, they all won. 

After three days of work (if you can call it that) I can honestly say that I felt like we were on the front end of a miracle.  Though my work in Morocco is finished for now, there is one thing I know for sure; God has only just begun.    

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Community Service Day

You know how you see those people alongside the roads picking up the garbage?  Well, that was our team on Friday, April 27.  On the opposite side of the lake from where our hotel was located there is a little beach area where locals go to enjoy family time.  But apparently, they don’t clean up.  Bizarre.  It would probably help if there were some garbage cans in the area, but there aren’t.  So, our team had their work cut out for them.  

Perhaps you’ve already noted how I refer to our team as though I wasn’t a part of the group and well, this would basically be true.  You see, with there being a party planned for the next day there was a need to fill 125 bags of candy for the kids and, well, someone HAD to do it so when they asked for volunteers my hand went up faster than lightening.  So, while the rest of the team was outside enjoying the fresh air and gathering garbage, my friend, Patti, and I LABORIOUSLY packed 125 Ziploc bags full of candy.  It was a sacrifice to be sure, but hey, someone had to do it. 

O.K., the truth is that Patti and I had a fabulous time packing the candy and getting to know each other better while the rest of our team, and some kids we’d hired to help, filled 180 large garbage bags!  Patti and I were able to join them after lunch but we didn’t really have to work very long before the job was done. I do believe, though, that I filled a half a bag.  And pictures, I took pictures to document the work done.  Let’s just say, I worked within the realms of my skill sets.

Because I’m writing this after returning home I can tell you what happened the next night as a result of the trash pickup.  We went for a late dinner at the restaurant at our hotel.  There was a couple there that looked to be an American couple and I’ve gotta tell you I wondered what in the world brought them to this little-known town in Morocco.  As we were walking in they asked if we were the group that had cleaned up the lake.  I was standing closest to them so I said yes as though I personally had done the bulk of the work myself.  They thanked us and started clapping!  They went on and on about how nice it was and how great it looked which implied that they’d seen it when it didn’t look so great. 

As it turned out they are working at the American Embassy in Rabat (Morocco’s capitol city).  They told us that they’d be letting the Embassy know what we’ve done.  And once again, I see that God has a purpose and a plan for the reason we were in Morocco.  I may never know the reason entirely (at least not on this earth) but the sense that I went for no good reason was quickly fading from my thoughts. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rockin' in Morocco

Written on Thursday, April 26  

This morning we started out at Arabic lessons.  Whoa, that was interesting.  It probably would have been best if we'd spent the entire hour and a half learning how to say about ten words and then repeating them over and over and over again.  But instead, we started with ten basic sayings and then moved on to numbers, things we might say while shopping and the ever important "where is the toilet?" phrase.  

In other words, imagine trying to learn basic French in 90 minutes.  Probably the easiest word I learned was "no."  It’s super easy to say (Lla) but the best part is the hand signal that you use at the same time.  You're supposed to take your index finger and kind of wave it back and forth a few times.  It's very effective.  I now know how to say “no” in English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.  It’s a start, but I’m not even close to being bilingual.

After our language lessons we went to lunch and then headed to the town of Ait Wahi to put on a party for 350 middle school kids.  We had four game stations for them; Nerf Basketball, Ring Toss, Bean Bag Toss, and Bobbing for Apples.  I know what you're thinking, "Bobbing for Apples?  Isn't that kind of germy?"  Why yes, it is, but in Morocco germs don't exist. Or so I'm told.  I know it's hard to imagine middle school kids enjoying things like a bean bag toss but they've never done anything like that before.


In addition to that 150 kids got a new pair of shoes (the ones who were in the most need), there was a snack station, and a DJ playing incredibly loud music.  Things were rockin'.  I love this picture of this little boy showing off his new shoes.  He was so proud!

At the very end of the day we brought in a giant 12-foot beach ball.  It had taken several attempts, and hours of time, to get the ball blown up and within 30 seconds the ball was slammed into a prickly tree, got a huge gouge and died.  Pastor Rob said it was like a seeing a falling star; fun, beautiful, and very quick.  But, the kids LOVED it!  This is the biggest event of this type that has ever happened in Ait Wahi, and maybe the only event like it ever to happen there.

My main job today was to take pictures.  It would have been a no-brainer had my camera not started giving me fits.  Electronics - it's a love/hate relationship.  It was still fun though and as time went on the kids got comfortable enough to come over and ask me to take a picture of them with their friends.  Some even wanted to have their pictures taken with me - so sweet.

At the end of the day the principal came up to Pastor Rob and said "You are a friend to the children of the world.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  God bless you."  Suddenly the answer to “why did God lead us here” becomes clearer.

It was a good, good, day.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Strangers in a Foreign Land

Finally, here is my promised blog about our most recent Global Project trip to Morocco.  I'll be posting five blogs over the next five days.  At least that is the plan.  So, here's today's post and then four more to follow around 5:00 PM (CDT) every night.  So, here goes:

Morocco is 99.95% Muslim and we were told in advance that we wouldn’t be able to talk about Jesus while we were there.  Our purpose was to work with Convoy of Hope to help provide some humanitarian aid to those who needed some hope. 

I must admit that before I left I wondered, really, what is the point?  But, I knew that John and I had been appointed by God to be on this trip and thus I would go and serve. 

Here’s a tip – do NOT read A Thousand Splendid Suns on your way into a Muslim country.  It will not help you arrive with a loving and kind spirit.  Unfortunately, I made that mistake so when we arrived late on Tuesday night I was unsettled and nervous.  We weren’t scheduled to meet up with our team until Wednesday morning (being as we’d detoured to Amsterdam along the way) so we were on our own.  I was unprepared for the fact that they’d want my passport number when we checked into the hotel.  I tried ignoring that question on the registration form but the hotel clerk would not check us in without it.  Apparently, this is standard operating procedure in Morocco.  Let’s just say, the government likes to know where you are while you’re there.  As you might imagine, this did not help settle my nerves.  

Wednesday morning arrived soon enough and we were back at the airport to meet the team.  Once the shuttle bus driver understood we were trying to meet friends coming in from JFK, he grabbed our bags and escorted us to the gate where they would be arriving.  Very kind!  Gradually, I was starting to feel more comfortable in my surroundings.

Once our team arrived we loaded up our luggage and headed for Khemmiset where we’d be doing the bulk of our work.  Pronouncing Khemmiset properly requires starting with something that sounds like you’re trying to clear out the back of your throat and then adding “hemmiset” after that.  It’s not easy for those of us who use English as our first (and basically only) language. 

Our hotel in Khemmiset was beautiful!  There are three couples with our group and we all shared an apartment type of living arrangement.  Two couples shared a bathroom and (upon my request) John and I had the master bedroom with an attached bath.  Just to be clear, I requested this room due to a lack of appropriate attire for moving between bedroom and bathroom and NOT because it contained a Jacuzzi tub and view of the lake.  I wasn’t even aware of that at the time of my request.  My friends, Patti and Rebekah climbed in to get a feel for the tub.  

I’m not going to lie, it was nice, but the jets didn’t work and we never really had time to use them anyway.  The apartment area also had a huge living room in it and ended up being the spot where we had all of our team meetings and breakfast each day. 

We had a chance, after our arrival, to settle into our rooms, take a nap and enjoy a little time outside by the lake before we had lunch and a team meeting to help us prepare for what was coming up in the next few days.   

After our team meeting the girls in the group went to downtown Khemmiset to purchase appropriate tops to wear during our ministry time.  We did not need to cover our heads, but it was important to be sure our backsides were well covered.  Who knew?  It was during this trip to town that I knew for a fact that we were indeed strangers in a foreign land.  

While Khemmiset isn’t terribly small (it has a population of over 111,000) eleven white girls still make quite a statement as they roll into town.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget the little girl we passed on our way.  She was probably around six or seven years old and had beautiful dark, curly hair.  She was standing, I believe, with her father, just off the side of the road and when she saw us she just stared with this “why do those people look so different” kind of look on her face.  Man, she was cute! 

Of course, after we parked the van and walked to the shop where we’d buy our clothes, we got quite a number of looks from the townspeople.  I leaned over to the team member next to me and started singing “I Love a Parade” because I felt very much like I was in one.  

New clothes in tow we headed back to our hotel for dinner.  I don’t remember a lot about the meal other than the band and dancers that performed during the meal.  Wow, just wow, is about all I can say about that.  Our room was just above the dining room so I know for sure that the music ended at 11:00 PM, which turned out to be the exact moment I turned out the light ending our first full day in Morocco. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dreams Do Come True

If you are a regular reader of my blog you may have noticed that my most recent post was taken down.  I can’t really go into the details as to why but suffice it to say, it was for the protection of the people that we worked with on our most recent Global Project Trip.  I have much to tell you about our trip but before we joined our team in Morocco, John and I spent nearly three days in Amsterdam and I just have to write about my favorite day. 
I don't remember when it was that I first dreamed of going to Amsterdam to see the tulips in the spring but it has been many years.  On January 1 of this year I spent several hours writing down my hopes, dreams, goals and aspirations.  On that list I wrote "Tour Holland in the spring."  Underneath my complete list of goals and dreams I wrote this, "I don’t know how you’re going to do it, God, but I’m going to ask." 

On April 23, my dream came true.  But it didn’t just come true; there was an added little bonus package.  Before we left home, I’d been watching the weather forecast and it appeared as though our time in Amsterdam would be pretty wet.  Even though I knew it sounded incredibly self-serving I asked two of my friends to pray for no rain on the day we went to the Keukenhof Gardens.  (To my credit, I didn’t ask for it not to rain for the whole trip.)   You won’t believe what happened.  We woke up to rain the morning of our garden tour, but shortly before we left the hotel, the rain stopped.  There were still thick clouds and we even got a few more showers during our 45 minute bus trip to the gardens.  BUT, as we walked up to the entrance gate the sun broke through the clouds and transformed the moment right before my eyes.  I couldn’t help it.  I cried.  I mean, just getting to visit the gardens was an incredible gift but to see the sun at the exact moment I arrived – well, that was like a kiss from God. 

And the beauty was incredible!  Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, forget-me-nots, and more lined the huge acreage of the gardens; all arranged in an incredibly artistic way.  I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story; not all 200 that I took, just some of the best.  Enjoy, and when you get a few minutes, write down your own list of dreams and goals; even the crazy ones.  There is something to putting it to paper, I don't know what, that makes dreams seem more possible.  God might say no, but only because He has even better things in store.

I would never have thought to put these colors together.  I'm not even all that fond of red and orange, but wow, it sure works!

Living the dream!  I did NOT sing "Tip Toe through the Tulips" though I did hear someone else singing it - off tune.

This is one odd shaped tulip, don't you think? 

I would love to see these opened up, wouldn't you?

You've got to get at least one windmill picture in Holland, right?

Just one beautiful spot after the next! 

This is a tulip field made to look like Chopin.  Personally, I thought it looked a bit like George Washington. 

 I will try to update my blog with stories from Morocco as quickly as I can.  Stay tuned.