Thursday, August 29

Translating the Barking Pastor and Spinning

In June I had the privileged of going to Peru with an awesome group from Beltway Park in Abilene, Texas.  The purpose of this trip was multifaceted, the first part was a pastors conference. We arrived to Peru late Thursday night and even later to Huacho, where the conference was taking place.  Tommy Hood, the missions pastor at Beltway Park, asked me to translate the sessions for the first evening, Friday.  Of course the role that I was going to play in this trip was translator, but for some reason I thought I would get more than just a few short hours to get re-acclimated to speaking Spanish all the time.  During this previous year in Texas, I have not had much opportunity to practice my Spanish.  Upon returning to the U.S. last June I experienced a strange phenomenon where my prayers and conversations with God switched from English to Spanish.  Then in January I moved in with roommate and one owned a chihuahua.  I told the chihuahua that since she is is a chihuahua then she must speak Spanish and only spoke to her in Spanish from then on.  I also had a short work experience as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant where I spoke more Spanish than the majority of the other waiters.  To summarize my Spanish practice over the last year, I spoke to God and a chihuahua and very little elsewhere.  

Tommy began to share in the evening session missionary stories from other parts of the world where Beltway teams had gone.  While he was sharing a fascinating story about Trinidad and Tobago, there was a part where he was talking about this barking dog, which he copied to better relate his point.  I very calmly translated "and the dog barked just like the pastor just did." I then waited for Tommy to continue.  He, however, did not know that I was not going to bark so he waited.  Now, let me please point out that sounds do not have to be translated considering that there is no translation!  I don't translate sounds, or so I thought.  The congregation caught on to the fact that Tommy was waiting for me to bark and that I didn't want to.  So they began to giggle. I realized at this point that I had to do it, so I swallowed my pride and did my best to copy Tommy.  Everyone roared with laughter and I am pretty sure that my face turned a very deep shade of red.  It wasn't over though.  The barking dog came back and as soon as Tommy copied the dog.  Everyone began laughing and calling out encouragements for me to copy Tommy, this time I just barked without pausing.   We repeated this a few more times.  After translating for three hours that night, I was dead tired.  The whole trip passed somewhat in a blur and I didn't have a lot of time to process what we did.  When one of the team members asked me what I thought about what we were doing one evening, I just looked tiredly at them and said, "I don't know what I think because I have only been thinking everyone else's thoughts for the last 5 days". I am making this point for a reason, First, because I am just now processing what God has done in my life over the summer.  And finally to illustrate the point that I had decided something for myself (that I was not going to translate sounds) and that it required me to change my plans.  

I flew directly from Peru to Ecuador.  I had been anxiously awaiting this day for over a year.  Once through immigration and customs, I walked through the sliding doors and immediately saw my friends, Cira, Darren, Mafer, Mercedes, Emily and Michaela.  I think it was seeing Emily and Michaela Facanha, my team leader's two youngest daughters, that caused my heart to overflow.  This was the first time in my life that I have cried because I was so happy.  The month passed quickly.  I was able to connect up with the youth from Santay Island (one of my previous ministries), work in a Medical clinic in Tenta, Ecuador, and listen to my team member's hearts.  At first it was a little strange because I was coming back with a completely different role than what I had before, but soon I was at home again.  Roberto, my team leader, looked over at me at one point and said "Tabitha, sometimes it feels like you never left." When I did leave I was not as sad as the previous time.  It seems like my heart finally understood that these friends and practically family are part of my heart and always will be.  It doesn't matter where I am living or what my role is, they are part of me.  

This all brings me to the spinning.  Many of you will remember the illustration of God as the potter and us as the clay (Jeremiah 18).  Recently someone said over me, "Tabitha, you are the clay.  And what does the clay do? It spins. God molds." This began to hit home.  See something happened back at the beginning of June that I was not expecting and it caused me to start to ask God, does He really want me to go back to Ecuador or was that my plan.  Many of you might be thinking that I am weak and wishywashy to arrive back to the USA and then be thinking that I possibly shouldn't go back.  Previous to June, I had not even considered it.  God has been gently reminding me that He is the potter and I am the clay.  When I consider what it means to just spin, it makes me think of control.  Who has the control?  Not me.  Who decides how the clay will turn out?  Not me.  What does it require of me?  Complete surrender.  What is complete surrender?  Surely giving up my country, my language, my culture, my customs, and my things is enough, right?  You would think that giving up all these things would make surrender all the more automatic, but I have realized something, my pride wants to say that it is enough.  God is telling me something else.  He is telling me that He wants everything, not just my willingness to give up possessions, but my studies, my marital status, my career, my thoughts, my sins, my good works,  my dreams and my plans.  It means everything.  Sounds like I will be left with nothing right?  Do I really believe the promise, "but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." The eight previous verses talk about our plans in life.  Do I dare trust God with Ecuador? Yes, I do.  Even right now my heart is at peace.  I do not know what the future brings, but I do know that God holds it in His hands and He will direct my paths.  I do not know what to plan for other than to seek His face everyday.  I want to spin. 
A Mototaxi in Peru

Medical Clinic in Tenta, Francine (New Zealand), Tabitha (USA), Dr. Diego (Ecuador), Candy (Ecuador)

Mom and Dad in Tenta, Ecuador

Yes, I did swim in the Guayas River, tradition...

My Ecuadorian family (minus three), Michaela, Sebastian, and Emily

Wednesday, May 22

One Year and Counting

I SURVIVED MY FIRST YEAR OF GRADUATE SCHOOL!  I still find my self confused in the mornings when my alarm goes off trying to remember if I'm late to class.  I feel uncomfortable watching a movie without a book open in front of me.  I have an irrational fear that haunts me that there is still one more assignment that I haven't finished.  But I'm told this is normal for grad school, so I'm not too worried.  I completed 32 hours of grad school and 400 hours of internship and I didn't go crazy!  They did make the mistake to talk to us about the second year (another 32 hours of class and 500 hours of internship AND a thesis) just as we were finishing our first year... But for now I will just enjoy my freedom!  Social work is an interesting field and it is applicable to many situations. 

Now for the fun part, the news!  I have the opportunity to return back to Latin America this summer!  On June 27 I will fly out to Peru with a small team from Beltway Park Baptist Church to translate.  After that I will fly to Ecuador from Lima, Peru on the 6th of July.  I will be with my team there for one month (the 7th of August) and I am so excited!!  Please pray for me in this journey. 

My first semester I lived with my aunt and uncle out in the country, however over Christmas break I moved into town near my University.  The house that I moved into had one nurse and three nursing students.  I was the only non-medical person, needless to say it was a pretty open house.  All of the girls attend my church too and by the end of the semester we all ended going to the same small group during the week.  This small group is amazing!  I started attended on Thursday nights in January.  Around 30-35 people attend, most are graduate students or professionals, some are married and some single.  We took a mission trip to a little town in Texas over spring break.  We ministered to the house parents at a youth ranch.  It was an amazing experiences because God came and blessed these people (and us).  They told us that many groups come to work with the kids but this was the first time that a group had come just to focus on the workers and it was a needed relief. 

I spent most of my time this last semester working on projects for my classes.  So there isn't a whole of interesting things to say about that :).  I still struggled with my English and writing papers sometimes came out with Spanish grammar styles...

God has been using this past semester to teach me about peace and rest in the middle of craziness.  Craziness I definitely understood even way before graduate school, but peace?  That was something that I desired but couldn't seem to quite attain.  To be honest, I have struggles more with worrying about finances during this last year than I have in a very long time.  However, it has been pointless to worry and I see that now.  I know because every month God took care of my needs, sometimes though unexpected ways!  Actually most times through unexpected ways.  I have been teaching Spanish classes and tutoring in my spare time.  Now I am looking for a month long job but so far that has been a fruitless search.  But still I am not worried. God has taken care of me through every step.  I know that I am where He wants me to be and doing what He wants me to do.  Now it is up to Him to take care of everything else!  I want to stay in this peace and trust in God and who He is, when you pray for me please pray that I will continue to know Him more!  That is what I need! 

Thank you for continuing to follow me in this journey!  And for your patience when you don't get updates every month! 
Kristen, Natasha and Me (two of my classmates and friends)

Monday, December 17

FIRST one down, only three more to go!

A full semester has passed since my last post.  I have officially completed my first semester into the Masters of Science in Social Work at Abilene Christian University.  I still don't have my grades back but I think I passed all my classes. 

All things considered, I think I know more than I did back in August.  Good, right?  I have a much deeper understanding of the social policies and the history of social welfare in the United States.  I think I understand a little bit more what social workers do (they don't just take kids away from their parents). However, it is really broad so I won't go into a lecture on social work.  I would like to give you a highlight of this semester.

I struggled a little in the beginning with my English.  I know, hard to imagine that four years in a Spanish speaking country would change me.  Thanks to mom and James for reading countless papers over review boards, research questions, ethical dilemmas and more.  I am studying with a cohort of about 11 other full time social work masters students.  We have all our classes together so you can imagine that we have begun to know each other pretty well.  I had class all day Monday and Tuesday.  On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I had my internship with the local MHMR, the Betty Hardwick Center.

My work during this semester at the MHMR was mostly with the Mental Health intake department and the crisis services.  I shadowed two LPC's (Licensed Professional Counselor's) in the intake area.  We listened to what was going on with the client and then determined if they fit the eligibility requirements.  I have learned a lot about mental health disorders through this work.  The crisis department focuses on helping people in the community who are suicidal or homicidal.  I shadowed the LPC and MSW (Masters in Social Work) on crisis assessments in the local hospitals, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, psychiatric hospital, juvenile detention center and more. Some of the crisis calls were not too serious and we were just called for precaution but others were difficult and very sad.  The suicide rate here in Abilene is very high.  The job that we have is very serious and can often mean life or death.  Needless to say the burn out rate for workers in the crisis area is very high.

All the rest of my time, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and evenings, were spent doing homework.  I talked to some other friends who are doing other masters programs and discovered that what I affectionately like to call the Master's roller coaster of emotions fits about every full time program.  Within a week I will be so sure that I it is impossible to complete the assignments that I will be in tears, the next day I will on top of the world sure that it can be done only to hit the valley the next day.  If any of you have seen Tangled (my favorite movie) it is a little like the scene where she is leaving her tower for the first time.  The feeling at the end of this semester is only utter relief that I get a few weeks break before starting all over again.  They assure us that the first year is the hardest and the classes lighten up in the second year.  Why you ask?  Only because we will need to focus on writing thesis.  Yes, a thesis.  Of course they had to bring this up on our last day of classes right before we are about to enjoy a break. Come on!  Let us live in a little denial for a few weeks!    

I have also been working with OM Ecuador via internet this semester.  It has been a challenge but we have survived so far.   They are starting a new one year program called Transmission 4x4 that is a training time and traveling ministry across Ecuador for foreigners.  It will start next year.  We have had some missionaries come back to Ecuador and a few more work on extending their time on the mission field. 

Many of you know that in September my mom was diagnosis with non-hodgkins lymphoma.  Her spleen had grown to double the normal size so her doctor had her get a PET scan.  This cancer thankfully is a slow growing cancer and we had caught it in the very beginning stages.  She had four weeks of chemo where her only side effects (that she shared with me) was an inability to sleep at first then a very irritable attitude.  Her blood work now shows positive results and she will get another PET scan in February.  She has been joyful and at peace during the whole process, which she attributes to God and the prayers that have gone out.  I would like to say that dad and her children were also at peace and joyful but ...  What can I say, I have an amazing mom. 

My plans for the next couple of weeks are to spend some quality time with my family and catch up with friends.  I also am praying about the next steps to take in regards to my living situation.  My aunt and uncle had graciously allowed me to live in their guest house free of charge this whole semester.  However, they are moving soon so I will need to find a new place.  I am excited to see what God has planned.  He has never failed me and I know that if my time living here out on a ranch has been awesome then wherever He will move me has to be that much better!  Pray with me about my decision and that God will be very clear with what steps I need to take.   If you can and would like to meet up with me, these next four weeks are the perfect time for me!
Two of my new friends and classmates

Sunday, August 19

Here, there and everywhere.

The last 3 months have passed by in a blinding blur.  The 24th of May I traveled to Iquitos, Peru to help with a medical and sports clinic and a pastors conference. Upon arriving back to Ecuador I had three short weeks to pack up my life and head back to the USA on the 24th of June.  I was in Georgia for a few days then on to Texas and my family.  Since then I have been all over not seeming to stay in one place for more than a week, until today.  Today I have arrived to my little house in Abilene to prepare for my graduate work to begin.  It starts with orientation this coming friday, the 24th of August.  Anyone else noticing the repetive 24?  Also on the 24th of July I purchased (part of it at least) a car.

As you might imagine, the change from almost four years in Ecuador to being back in the states has been an interesting transition.  I still fight the urge to say "Hola" when I answer the phone.  And though that is a funny example it has not always been so entertaining.  I find myself constantly overwhelmed by the endless options presented to me at every turn. It took 4 weeks before it sunk in that I was not getting on a plane in a week or so to head back to Guayaquil.  Because of my constant travel I have had a hard time finding my footing.  But bit by bit, each day brings me to the end of this reentry time. I have not forgotten Ecuador or the things I have learned but I am slowing learning once again how to live in the USA.  Though going into Wal-Mart still gives me a headache. 

It has been wonderful to see my family and friends in this time.  I am also excited about my up coming studies and am trying not to be anxious.  The program is two full days of class from 9 - 4pm then 16 hours or more weekly of practicum work.  I am not completely sure what to expect.  I am also learning what it means to live out Hebrews 11:1.  There are a lot of things that I am hoping for and a whole lot of solutions that I do not yet see. The amazing thing is that time after time God keeps reminding me that He is faithful, always faithful.  He has brought me thus far and I know that He will not abandon me.  Lets keep walking by faith.

If you want to catch up and will be in the area or Dallas area, let me know!

Monday, May 21

He looked at me and smiled

Just when you start to wonder if what you are doing really makes a difference something happens.  It happened for me last week when I was doing our normal weekly visit to the hospital.  I had been visiting with 8 year old Justin.  He had been moved about 10 days ago to an isolation room so I had to wear a mask to go in to visit him.  A couple of our volunteers looked a little scared about the fact that I was entering and encouraging them to do so as well.  Until I explained that we were not wearing the mask to protect ourselves but to protect Justin as his already weak body with an almost non-existent immune system had an infection in his blood.  Any small sickness could be fatal to him.  Ever since he moved into the isolation room Justin has not wanted to talk.  He smiles and giggles almost the whole time but not a word.  I wonder if has anything to do with be stuck for days in a room with someone who continually places the blame on you.

He has been there for 8 months now and his mom right alongside him.  It is understandable that she is sick of being there but I don't think she realizes the psychological effect that it is having on her son.  "Justin we are still here in this hospital because you won't eat!" "I'm so sick of being here and sleeping on the floor every night".  It is hard on the whole family it seems, but even more so on Justin.  The mom seemed to suddenly have a change of heart a couple weeks back and started being positive and smiling again.  We were not too surprised though as we had been praying for this exact thing to happen.  Justin too has changed, he has started to eat more on his own.  He moves around more and bring out his old school books to study.  I saw his old school pictures from when he was 4, 5 and 6.  He was so chubby and healthy looking.  So completely different from this little boy with a swollen stomach and his skin stretched over bone.  This is effects of the indiscriminate HI Virus. I caught myself despairing, wondering if it even makes a difference these few hours we can spend with them.   Then I saw him.

I couldn't tell you his name but I knew his face.  It was so familiar.  His eyes caught mine as I moved toward him and he smiled.   I did know him though something was different and he knew me too!  When I was in front of his bed he started speaking and already my brain registered this as something unusual, as I don't recall having a complete conversation with him before.  He was excited because once again there were guys with guitars here with us.  Then I knew, he was the little boy from the isolation room that was here in the summer of 2010.  He would always watch from the window as we would pass by with our coloring pages and guitar.  Thankfully our volunteers were not afraid to go into his room mask and all.  As he started telling me with a huge smile that he remembered the songs that were played and the love that we gave.  Then it hit me, love always has an effect.  Maybe it's  an effect that isn't measurable and that you cannot weigh, but it leaves an imprint. 

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Cor 13:13

Go give a little love!

Saturday, May 5

Trust spoken - Do you dare to share?

Wednesday was an interesting day.  I was just finishing a 5 day sports and ministry conference and training.  It was the end of two weeks in a cold and rainy Quito.  Finally I was on my way to the airport to my beloved, warm, humid and sorely missed Guayaquil.  After being rather sick from a stomach bug the day before I was blessed to be traveling with a healthy and strong group from Guayaquil who helped with my suitcase.  In the hour and a half taxi ride from the campgrounds where we had been staying to the airport, I was seated next to a pastor.  We discussed the conference and some strategies that we would like to put into place in Guayaquil when he asked me how I got started in missions.  I shared my story with a lot of details as we had so much time.  When I got the current place of how I am trusting God to provide a full scholarship to study my masters that is more expensive than $40,000, the taxi driver could not hold back his disbelief.  I then realized that he had been listening to us share our testimonies the whole way.  So I asked him if he thought that these things were impossible.He seemed in awe of the things that have happened to both of us.  This opened the door for us to share the gospel to him and there driving to the airport he prayed to begin a life of trust and faith with Jesus Christ.  I was so excited.  How awesome it is that God can use a simple overheard conversation to change a life!  

We arrived to the airport and since I hadn’t eaten much in the last two days, Pastor Hector invited me to eat a sandwich with him.  He received a call while we were waiting.  After getting off the phone he said to me “Tabitha, I want to speak a word of prophecy over you.  You will receive this scholarship that you are waiting for. I know because I also applied for a scholarship to study my doctorate and I just got off the phone with the lady who informed me that I received this scholarship.” This made me think that I might have received word about it so I said “I would really like to check my email right now.” He took out his ipad and handed it to me.  So I got into my email and there was one message waiting for me sent earlier that day.  I RECEIVED THE SCHOLARSHIP!  There are a few more details to work out but there it is, ACU here I come.  How great is God!

Summary:  I see a masters program that is interesting and that I have peace about studying.  See the cost of studying at this university, momentarily freak out and start wondering why I had to choose one of the more expensive options to have peace about.  Find out that there is a full scholarship for those studying in my field.  Find out that being bilingual is a requisite.  Then that there is only one of these scholarships. Share with my friends and family and trust God.  Then have the opportunity to share the gospel because of sharing my testimony about trusting in this situation.  Someones life gets changed.  Then find out that I got the scholarship.  It blows my mind to realize how God is like this and always has been.  He just wants our trust.  Here is my story, share yours!  

More details to come soon on the plan!

Sunday, April 1


The third annual Medical Mission Trip with OM Ecuador kicked off on Saturday the 24th of March with 10 visitors from the USA, 1 Finnish girl, 2 South Africans, a Chilean and lots of Ecuadorians!  We went to the incredible town of Cadeate on the coast of Ecuador.   During this week I had the joy of translating for Bryan Kaiser with God's Eyes Ministries during his eye exams.  Our phrase for the week was "Always be joyful" from the verse in 1 Thess. 5:16.  We would quote it when we were happy, when we were gritting our teeth with annoyance or when we wanted to cry from frustration.  It helped to remember why we were doing what we were doing.  So remember ALWAYS BE JOYFUL!

As a translator this year instead of the coordinator, I found myself amazingly relaxed with few responsibilities.  I also got to truly experience the work of a translator day after day.  It is hard work and more draining than coodinating. I am very impressed with those who do this type of work full time.  I can say that I only messed up once this week when translating a phrase from Bryan, I turned to the lady and said "Did that work for...." then I stopped abruptly and both she and I burst out laughing.  Bryan just looked at me confused and I finally got my breath to say "you didn't realized that I just spoke to her in English too?" This usually happens more than once on a long week of translating.  Bryan was also practicing his spanish phrases and I think he added this one to his list "Mira la nariz" - "Look at the nose".   Which was the phrase that we would say to the people just before he shined the light into their eyes as they typically shut their eye or rolled it back into their head so he couldn't see the whole thing.  I would typically say "Look at the doctor's nose, no, not your nose, the DOCTOR's" as for some reason their first response was to cross their eyes and look at their own nose.   In general I really enjoyed my work with Bryan and helping someone who many times had never owned glasses get to see the world.  There were hard parts too, like when you had to tell someone that they would not ever get to see, or that they had lost the use of their eye or that only a surgery that we all knew was way out of their budget would get their sight back.  I remember one case very clearly.  There was a young man, about 33 years old, who had horrible sight.  After Bryan examined his eyes he told me to explain to the young man that because he didn't get the opportunity to wear glasses about 20 years ago the vision in his left eye had been so bad that it would never see again.  He looked at me so hopefully when Bryan was talking to me in English.  Have you ever seen hope die right in front of you?  I think I saw it in this man.  But thankfully we were able to help him see almost perfectly out of his right eye. 

We got to help a family with glasses.  The mother didn't have her right eye, it just never had grown.  We were able to give her glasses to help her see out of her left eye.  We also prayed that God would preform a miracle on the eye that never grew.  We didn't see it grow right there but I believe that it can!  Her oldest daughter was a special needs child about 13 years old.  She didn't smile, ever.  Her mom explained that she couldn't see anything and to eat she would pull her head down to about three inches away from the food with the good eye directed towards it just to eat.  We pulled out a super powerful pair of glasses and put them on her.  I think that was the first time I saw her really smile.  Then one of the volunteers from the USA started making funny movements about 10 feet away and she died laughing because she could see it!   She stood quietly during her younger sisters exam with her eyes fixed on the rest of the church and the people moving around to the different medical stations with a smile.  Imagine seeing for the first time something more than blurs.  Another young lady of 16 came with her mom to get glasses.  The mom needed very strong glasses.  She told us that the daughter also needed glasses as whenever the daughter wanted to see something the mom would take her old glasses off (the wrong prescription of course) and loan them to the daughter just so she could look at something.  16 years old and she never had a pair of glasses.  When we made her glasses we began to talk to her.  I was able to share the gospel with her and she prayed with me.  It was excited to see how not just her physical eyes were opened but also her spiritual eyes.  I showed her where to start reading in the bible that we gave to her.  

There are stories after stories like this.  I am in awe of what God has been able to do through this incredible ministry.  I know that the medical clinic side also saw lots of people, helped families, and saw healing.   It was an extraordinary week.  Only an extraordinary God could do something like this.  If you want to see more about God's Eyes Ministries you can look at it at God's Eyes.   I was blessed to have this opportunity!