Culture, History, Missions, Religion, Travel

Second Story Room

Pictures seem to be a sensitive subject. I was told to ask if I wanted to take a picture of someone. I completely respect that and they return the favor. (For the most part. I have caught a few people taking pictures of me when I wasn’t looking. I don’t mind, it’s just a little odd. Which, I guess, is good to know how it feels) I don’t usually ask any of the women, but they don’t hesitate to ask me. One girl came up to me yesterday and asked to take my picture, so I posed with her while someone snapped it. But when I asked her if I could take one with mine, the answer was no. 

The women especially do not go for the photographs. Except for this one. I was told, rather than asked, that I was going to take a picture with her. Then, the person beside her was cleared out of their chair so I could sit down. And, the cameras were brought out. 

  
With all of that being said, I did take pictures of the Syrian families I visited. They were very willing to be photographed. However, since some of them shared so openly about their faith, I think it’s best not to attach pictures to all of their stories.

We entered a narrow alleyway, were led up two flights of stairs and welcomed into a small, bright room. Taking our shoes off and sitting down on the mats placed around the walls, we made ourselves comfortable and the story began. 

  
This is another Syrian family: a husband, wife and 4 young children. The youngest was just a newborn, only 24 days old. They have been in Jordan for 2 and a half years. They lived in the town in which the uprising started. The man was an Arabic teacher, the woman a high school chemistry teacher, both with college degrees and good jobs. They were surrounded by family, most of which are still in Syria. 

As we sit and talk to them, we are encouraged to ask questions. My same question for every family is always: how did you get here? Their town was close to the Jordanian border, so they walked. 10 miles with their small children. The boy was 5 months old at the time, their girls 2 and 4 years old. They took nothing with them, except a bag of medicine. No clothes, no personal belongings. Imagine loading up your small children and fleeing into the unknown. The Syrian army was shooting at them from a distance as the walked. 

Since this was at the beginning of the conflict, many people had decided to flee at the same time. They said their group totaled 700 adults and 200 children. It was a literal exodus. At evening, as they approached the border, three bombs exploded around them. But, they made it. 

Local families have ministered greatly to them and because of that, they have come to know Jesus. When the woman was asked what convinced her to believe, she said: “Jesus was the only one who said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one else said that. My background has only been confusion. This was clear to me.” 

God is love and in a place that violence and war and radicalism has wrought so much destruction, the love of Christ shines bright. “I read in the Bible about how Christ loved the world and came to give us eternal life.” What a light giving message that is to someone who has wandered in darkness for so long. 

When they were asked about the future, their response was one of faith. “The Kingdom of God is like a seed that has produced a large tree. We hide ourselves in that tree.” Come what may, their faith is sealed and they rest assuredly in that. 

War is obviously terrible. There are lives lost, hate spread, homes destroyed. What can be good in this? Is there anything at all that can come from something so awful? Yes. The Lord promises us in that He works ALL things together for our good. And that promise stands, even in times of war. At the end of our visit, they proved this to be true. “The only benefit from war is that we have learned of Christ and received eternal life.” 

The Lord’s work will prevail. Always. He is removing people from Syria and displacing them around the world, places they never dreamed they’d have to go. And He is placing people there to minister to their needs. Everything has been taken from them, but through the grace and love of Christ, they are receiving life they never knew of and a new home for eternity. 

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Culture, History, Missions, Religion, Travel

Out of the Blue

Beer and nuts. Not the snack I expected from a missionary. We arrived in Jordan a day early and the missionary invited us over to his house to meet his family.  

 
We started off with coffee and baklava. I love the opportunity to sit down with people one on one and hear their stories. This family is so warm and inviting, answering all of my questions and sharing their experiences. 
 
More family showed up to join in the festivities and more food was brought out: bowls of nuts and ashtrays, which I discovered were to put the shells from the seeds in. They asked me if I wanted a drink and the description was that it was like non-alcoholic beer. In my western mind, the thing I compared this to and thought they were trying to explain was root beer. So I told them that was fine. 
  
 They brought it out and I found that it was literally a non-alcoholic malt beverage that looked and smelled exactly like beer. They obviously were being completely literal in their translation. 

Visiting is a little bit of a vague term to me. Visit has always been synonymous to talk in my life. Like when my aunt would call my mom and they’d talk, that was referred to as “visiting”, just talking and catching up on life. Going for a visit meant going to someone’s house and doing that very same thing. 

So when the missionary asked if I wanted to go on home visits, I didn’t really know exactly what that would entail. As I loaded in the van with a couple of the leaders from our group, I learned that we would be going to the homes of Syrian refugees that are currently living here in Jordan. 

I’ve been hearing about Syrian refugees for months now on the news. About them escaping Syria, about countries deciding whether or not they’ll allow the Syrians to seek refuge within their borders, about government and politics and war. But, to be honest, I mostly ignored it. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I never took the time to learn about it. There was never any relevance for me. But, that has changed.

Syrian refugees aren’t a news headline, they aren’t politics. They’re people. People who have been displaced by violence. People who have had to leave their home, leave everything they own and move to a foreign land where they are given no rights and barely enough help to survive. 

So, I want to share their stories. 

This family fled Syria a year and a half ago. The husband and wife had a fruit and vegetable stand there, where they sold produce. They came to Jordan in a Jordanian army bus, which helped them flee from the fighting going on. They came with only the clothes on their backs, leaving everything and everyone behind. 

Mom and son

Her children are fortunately able to enroll in school here (only 25% of Syrian children are allowed into the Jordanian public school system). She and her husband, however, are not able to get jobs. They survive on 10 dinar per person per month. This is given similarly as food rations and is the equivalent of about $14. Their pricing is not too much different than ours in the U.S. so you can imagine how difficult it is for this family to survive. 

Their temporary home is here in this one room apartment. They sleep on mats on the floor. In Syria, they had a home. Now, they have this. 

  
They have applied for asylum through the UN. They’re hoping to be able to move, but the list of asylum seekers is long. People have been waiting since 2012 and still are stuck, with no way to support themselves. 

They were a happy group despite their situation. They were excited to have us visit and wanted to take pictures with us. 

  
This mother didn’t ask us for help, she didn’t want anything, she only asked that we listen. She needed to tell her story, to share her burdens. These are the stories that need to be told. This is what people need to hear. 

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Art, Europe, History, Travel

Da Vinci Code

I have this theory that all travel pictures are repeated. And I think I’m finding it to be true.  

Cathedral of St. John the Divine

    

When we were in NYC in October, we happened by this huge church. Everything looks pretty big there, but this looked like the biggest building I had ever seen, which is saying a lot since it was situated around skyscrapers. It was just massive. So, we went in and found out that it is the fourth largest church in the world (by area). And, the fifth largest is located in Milan’s city center. The Duomo. I had no idea I was even working my way down this list. I don’t even want to know where the others are. 

The Duomo

There are lots of old churches in Milan and when we walked by one yesterday, I commented that I felt like I was living the da Vinci Code. I had forgotten that Jake bought us tickets to see the Last Supper. Which I learned later is housed in the exact church we were walking by when I said that. 

 

Santa Maria delle Grazie

 
Seeing this masterpiece was a process. You have to buy tickets three months in advance. I never knew this, but it is actually painted on the dining room wall of this old monastery. So, you have to be in Milan to see it. I guess I just thought it was a painting that could move from museum to museum. 

To see it, you have to go through two dehumidifying chambers before entering the huge dining hall. Lucky for us, while we were waiting, an English tour came through and I got to hear their guide explain the details surrounding the painting. 
  
The Last Supper was apparently a popular topic to paint during Leonardo’s time. However, all the paintings prior to this depicted the moment when Judas Iscariot was revealed as the traitor. They show Judas seated on the opposite side of the table from Jesus and the Apostles, which puts all emphasis on Judas. As Judas is sitting on the same side of the table as the viewers of the painting, it symbolizes that we are all sinners alike with Judas and that our sin separates us from Jesus. In these typical depictions, Jesus and the Apostles are showing no emotion, as the Apostles are considered Saints in the Catholic tradition and thus are above expressing human emotion. 

Da Vinci’s depiction was completely different and revolutionary. It shows Jesus at the center (the actual central point of the piece is Jesus’ temple, which the rest of the picture is painted in reference to). It depicts the moments before the traitor is revealed, at the peak of emotion when the disciples are shown trying to figure out who will betray Jesus. 

  
This was not a point of view that had been painted before, and apparently people began coming to the monastery to see it soon after it was finished. Did I mention that it took him 4 years to paint it? To think of devoting 4 years of your life to a single piece of work is a little mind boggling. Unfortunately, he didn’t use a painting technique (fresco) that was conducive to painting on plaster. He painted on dry plaster and the painting began to disintegrate soon after it was completed. Then the church was damaged due to a bombing in 1943 during World War II, which led to further destruction. Luckily, the integrity of the painting has been restored and is now closely monitored (although they estimate that the current state of the work is about 50% diminished from what it originally was).

When we went into the dehumidifying chambers, the guides covered nothing about taking pictures in the dining hall. But the moment we were inside and a lady brought out her camera, it was made known that NO pictures were to be taken. Which was extremely disappointing to me. Not because everyone needs to see the actual painting. Everyone knows what that looks like. 

I was disappointed because it is hard to explain the magnitude of it. This room is huge, with a high, arching ceiling. The Last Supper is painted on one end of the room, while a huge painting of the crucifixion is at the other end. Leonardo painted it while on scaffolding because it is so high up on the wall. The size of it really is astounding. 

So, I did what any good older sister would do. I coaxed Jake into sneaking a picture. Because we all know that I am not discreet enough to commit criminal acts. Plus, the other lady got a picture before they told her not to, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. So, here it is. 

  
Let it be known that Jake risked being thrown in a dungeon to take this. You can thank him later. 

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Culture, Europe, Food, Travel

EXPOse’

I found some new glasses today. 

  
They’re pre-transition lenses. 

  

And, yes, I have been wearing them, they’re super convenient. To be honest, I haven’t really gotten that many stares with them. Fashion is kinda weird around here. 

I met a girl from the U.S. She asked me what state I was from and when I told her I was from Arkansas, she said: what are you doing here?! 

   

Good question. Milan is the city hosting the 2015 World Fair. Just to give you a reference point, the Eiffel Tower and St. Louis Arch were two sites that were built as a result of World Fairs. The theme for the Expo in Milan has to do with food, agriculture, and future sustainability. So, coming to check it out just seemed like the thing to do. Also, it is the biggest event ever organized on food and nutrition. I’m a nerd, I know. 

  

People have asked me what it’s like, which is another very valid question. I had no reference point for it and since it’s not heavily advertised in the States, I’m sure no one else really does either. After having experienced it, I would say that it is like a composition of a bunch of museums. 

There are 140 countries represented and each country has a pavilion, which they dedicate to explaining their agriculture and food supply. Each pavilion is completely different in its depth and content. Some are a short walk through, some have videos, Romania’s had a magic show (still trying to figure out what that had to do with anything), some are really interactive and technological. Each country can decide what angle they want to take too. So, some focus on their main cash crop, say coffee, for example, while others choose to focus on what their country is doing to feed a growing population. 

I met the American girl at the American pavilion (strange, I know), which depicted the changing landscape of food in the US population. It looked at the evolution of fast food and how our focus is changing back to farm fresh and organic foods and how the collaboration of these two ideas is resulting in a new food culture. 

   

Along with countries being represented, there were also “concept” pavilions, which covered different topics. One I was interested in was future foods. I didn’t know what this would be exactly, but was interested to find out. It turns out it was a supermarket of the (probably not so distant) future. 

  

In this supermarket, I went to a shelf and picked up a jar of raspberry jam and on a screen beside me, it told me not only what I had picked up (there were weight sensors in the shelves, which were able to indicate to the computer what I had selected), but also where the raspberries had come from, their nutritional values, as well as the carbon footprint that was made in producing this jar that I was holding in my hand. 

  

It all sounds so advanced, I know, but I do think that we will begin to see more of this type of technology as people desire to become more aware of the origins of the food they eat. 

  
As you can well imagine, I didn’t even begin to cover everything the event had to offer, but I tried my best. I think we did 44 of the pavilions, so I’ll highlight some of my top picks. 

Israel: I’m headed to Israel in a little over a week, so I wanted to check this one out. Theirs focused on how Israel has become an exporter of food, despite their desert climate. Because of the difficulties with farming desert land over the years, they became innovative, which led to the creation of cherry tomatoes (a plant which was more desert sustainable and offered greater yields than the traditional size) and irrigation systems that are used worldwide today. 

 

  

Belgium: the over arching theme of this exhibit was about utilization. Belgium is a small country that wants to maximize their output to feed their people. It had a section explaining the commercialization of insects there. I assume everyone knows this, but insects are becoming more popular and acceptable as a food item worldwide because they are much more sustainable to farm (using less water, food, and land) and offer more protein per gram than most of the meat we consume. They also had a section which talked about wild, edible plants. Did you know that there are 50,000 edible plants on the Earth, but only 200 of them are currently consumed? Neither did I. We should be using these wild plants to their fullest potential, which is what Belgium apparently thinks too. Also, chocolate. Belgium has chocolate.

  

Russia: I like Russian history and culture. It’s so interesting to me how this country has changed and developed through the centuries. Their exhibit featured the Russian scientists: Vavilov, who is the founder of the world’s largest collection of cultivated plant seeds and Mendeleev, who created the Periodic Table. It also displayed pictures from their 110 year old plant collection of cultivated and wild plants from all over the world. Their work in the preservation of our food supply is impressive and more extensive than I ever realized. 

  
Other country highlights: 

Brazil had a ropes course you had to navigate to get into their building. 

  

The Czech Republic had a huge birdbath. 

  

And, Mexico had chilaquiles. Because no cultural food tour can be complete without a little Mexican food. 

  

 

  

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Craft, Europe, Fashion, Travel, Uncategorized

No Worries 

I’m currently on hour #25 of no sleep.  

Cab ride selfie

 
When we exited the airport, Jake picked the first cab driver he came to. As we were loading in the car, he said, I’ve heard Italians drive kinda crazy. I think he just has a knack for picking the crazy ones (see Thailand taxi post for reference)

About two seconds into the drive, I found that he’d heard right. The speed limit was 110 km per hour. We were traveling at a hefty 155 km/hour. I didn’t do the math, but I knew it was fast. Faster than I was really comfortable with. And my comfort level for speed is probably higher than the average person. (For those of us in the mph world, 155 km/hr = about 96 mph). People always say have a safe flight, but what they should say is have a safe cab ride once you get there. 

  
After arriving at our hotel and dropping our bags, they informed us that we would need to wait to check in. So, we went in search of a restaurant. I’m pretty much a zombie at this point and as I was coming out of the subway station, a man from Senegal came up and proceeded to tie a bracelet on my wrist. 

  
This is a common market tactic. Their rule of thumb seems to be: if they can get it on you, you have to buy it. This bracelet was tied on before I knew it and the guy was wanting paid for it. Unfortunately for him, I always have no money. I don’t carry a bag or a wallet or anything with me. So, after explaining to him that I had nothing, he let me go with a handshake and a hakuna matata. A problem free philosophy that results in a free bracelet? I’ll take that any day. 

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Family, Food, Funny, Garden

FYI: DIY

I sent my brother to the store for groceries and this is what he came back with. (And, no, they weren’t having an enchilada sauce sale.) 

  
Sometimes it’s easier to do something yourself rather than to ask for help. And I knew that. I especially knew that when I sent him inside to find the squash seeds I needed to plant. We plant a fall garden, which starts now. I planted three varieties of fall squash. I harvested the seeds from our earlier crop, so the seeds I sent him in to find were still in the dehydrator.   

Homegrown butternut squash & seeds

  
I knew he wouldn’t find them.

 I knew it. 

But I waited in the yard til he came out on the porch. I thought, by some miracle. he’d found them. So I yelled at him to grab my notebook, where I keep my garden diagram, and a Sharpie. (So I could mark where I was planting the new seeds at.) 

 

Summer garden diagram

 
Except for when I shouted across the yard at him to grab a Sharpie, he thought I said squash seed. To which he yelled back that he couldn’t find. Then I yelled, not squash seeds, a Sharpie! To which he yelled, car keys?! To which I yelled Sharpie, to which he yelled that he still couldn’t find the squash seeds… So I went in, got the squash seeds, my Sharpie, and not my car keys. And went out and planted my squash. 

Like I said, sometimes it’s easier to just do it yourself. 

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Asia, Culture, Food, Missions, Travel

Until the Whole World Hears

I posted my 50th blog the other day. I had no idea I had posted that many. I feel like my 50th post should’ve been something monumental or moving. But, instead, it was about popcorn. That’s probably a pretty accurate description of my writing though, so it seems appropriate. After being alerted that it was post #50, I took a little trip down memory lane and read back on some of my earliest posts. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t usually read things after I’ve written them. It’s just a quirk of mine. But, I wanted to go back to remember where I started.
This has been such a fun (and funny) journey for me. Reading my first posts reminded me why I started writing and how much I enjoy it. It had me laughing and remembering stories that I didn’t even write about. The funny thing about these stories is that a lot of them aren’t monumental happenings. They aren’t about the major stories of my life. To me, they are the little things, the details that weave the bigger stories together, the daily things that often get lost in the mix. Those are the stories I love to tell. And those are the stories I love to read, so here’s to the next 50!
Four years ago, I was in Micronesia on my second medical mission trip. (If you don’t know where this is, don’t worry, neither did I! We had planned to take this trip to the Dominican Republic and instead got saddled with the Micronesia trip. It’s a tiny tiny tiny set of islands in the South Pacific, by the way.)
Landing in the Land of the Islands

Landing in the Land of the Islands

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Three years ago, I was in Armenia on my third trip. (Interesting fact: we could see the mountain that Noah’s Ark landed on from where we were in Armenia. The mountain {Bible trivia: anyone know the name of it?} is in Turkey, but we were in the Ararat {that’s it!} Valley, so we could see it from there. Another interesting fact is that I skipped my first week of senior classes in college to go on this trip. It was totally worth it.)
Cloud covered Mt. Ararat

Cloud covered Mt. Ararat

One of the many monasteries we visited on that trip

One of the many monasteries we visited on that trip

And, two years ago, I was in Cambodia on my fifth trip. Now, I’m gearing up for number 9. I never realized it before but I think I see a pattern that has been established. People always ask me where my favorite place is. I never have a good answer for that. They’re all so diverse, both in geography and culture, and I went to all of them at different points in my life, so they all hold memories from those times. (Like trying to do the homework I was missing from class while trying to soak in the scenes of the Armenian countryside)
The other question people always ask is what’s the weirdest food I’ve eaten. And, I can answer that one (although this is a really long list…)  It was in Cambodia and it was called balut, which is apparently quite a delicacy. It’s a half developed duck egg that has been cooked and it is served over rice. So, I tried it. Because when in Cambodia.. Right?
Balut

Balut

I should also note that when they sell these eggs, you can buy them according to the stage of their development. So, you can buy a less developed egg (which maybe wouldn’t have formed feathers or a beak yet) then scale up from there on development. This one that was cooked for us was a late stage of development and very close to hatching, which they said was not ideal. Here’s what it looked like after it was mixed up and ready to eat. (I feel I should mention that this was Matt’s idea, the guy holding the bowl, and I blame him completely for bringing about these circumstances. He specifically requested this delicacy from our hosts, and they went out and tracked down the eggs and cooked them for us.)
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Cambodia has been on my heart lately because there are some really neat things happening there right now. When I was there in 2013, they had the ceremony which established the first church in Cambodia for our particular missions group. It had been a nine year process of building and growing, and it was such a blessing to be there to witness the establishment. Here’s a picture of our missions group with all the founding members. Can you pick me out of the crowd?
First BMA Church of Cambodia

First BMA Church of Cambodia

Currently, the church is ordaining a pastor and the missionaries there will be turning more of their focus towards work in a remote village on the river. This village is called In Village and we got to visit when I was there. When I say this village is remote, I definitely mean it. It is only accessible by boat, so our group of over 20 loaded up in these rickety boats and let a 9 year old motor us across the not so gentle waters. (I’m not sure if you can tell from this picture, so let me detail it. There is a 9 year old in front who is the driver, and one of the boys jumped out of the boat to get the motor free of weeds while going across the river. Jake is in this boat and I am standing on the shore because I came across in the earlier boat. No big deal.)
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I am told that they received official papers from Provincial Cults and Religion to be able to construct buildings in the village, which will serve as a project center, place of worship and living quarters for a couple of young men who will be working there. This is a huge step forward for the work in the In village. On our trip there, we worked out of the “community center”. Which was essentially the place they met for the animal sacrifice ceremonies. The jawbones of various animals nailed up inside the building were the first thing to give that particular detail away. Now, they will have a place of their own, where they can work and serve.
Me and a Khmer lady in the In Village in 2013

Me and a Khmer lady in the In Village in 2013

Not very many people know anything of Christianity there. Buddhism reigns supreme in this region of the world. In fact, in another village we visited on our trip, one of the members of our team asked a local man if he knew who Jesus was. The man replied that there was no one named Jesus in their village, but we might find the man we were looking for in the next village over. He had no idea who we were talking about, had never even heard of Him.
Sleeping Buddha

Sleeping Buddha

Cambodia was my first exposure to Southeast Asia. It was a whole different world, for so many reasons. It opened my eyes to needs, both spiritual and physical, that I wasn’t even aware existed. It’s that same hidden hunger I started this blog talking about. When I began traveling for missions, I had no idea what I was in for, where I would go, the people I would meet. When I started writing, I had no idea what stories I would have to tell.  50 posts in and I feel like I haven’t even begun.
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