Archive for May, 2013

Telly Award for “Your Child”

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

My Telly Award for our music video

Apparently I didn’t blog about this before, but getting the award today has reminded me.

Our music video for “Your Child” was nominated for a Telly Award earlier this year, but I never thought much about it. The Telly are basically the awards for anything in the realm of film, television, or internet that wouldn’t qualify for an Oscar or an Emmy. So you can have regional programming or internet programming or advertising, anything like that. Well, you could knock me over with a feather, but we ended up winning a Bronze Telly for our piece! Several people did articles about it – you can read the one from Music News Nashville here.

I have to say, now that I have the statuette which weighs a ton, I actually believe it. I just don’t know exactly where to put it…

Have you seen the video yet? You can check it out here.

North Jacksonville Baptist – Happy Mother’s Day!

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Our view from the concert under the bridge at lunch

Rotating while presenting in the round at North JAX Baptist

The children's choir on the morning service - they were so cute!

Nathan and I flew straight to Jacksonville from the Dominican Republic because I was doing a Mother’s Day event for North Jacksonville Baptist and singing on their morning service. We got in Friday night late and were totally exhausted, so we caught up on sleep and emails and notes and things, and then headed out for just a bit to the Saturday art market which is held under an overpass. We figured we would get lunch there and just have a little downtime. What a cute little art show/ craft fair/ farmer’s market! We looked around, admired all the doggies (apparently there’s a big doggie connection here), got some great food at the booths, and listened to an outdoor concert all while experiencing a beautiful breeze and looking at the JAX skyline over the water. That’s a pretty outstanding lunch!

We then headed over to sound check at the church and spent the afternoon at that. Sunday morning, I spoke and sang for their Mother’s Day brunch. This is a annual tradition here, and they had about 700 women at tables with the stage in the middle, so I did a lot of rotating. 🙂 What a warm group, and the leadership was so kind to us both!

After the women’s event, we went into the service where I was presenting some special music. We also heard from a children’s choir (absolutely adorable!) and the amazing worship team with a choir of over a hundred and a 40 piece orchestra – that will life you right out of your seat! Add to that a great sermon from the pastor, and a service that ends with people coming down to receive the Lord, and you have me in tears. I don’t think I will ever get over the grace of God, and when I see people giving their lives to Him, it just overwhelms and blesses me.

Nathan took me out for a Mother’s Day lunch. For Mother’s Day I got my mom the awesome gift of watching my kids!! Seriously, she is wonderful, and we did something special both with our kids and my mom when we got back.

This was a great weekend, and I hope I’m back here someday! But I’m also super happy to be home and with my kids again – we missed them so much in the Dominican Republic! I’m so glad that they are coming with me on all my travels this summer and we won’t have to be apart again for quite a while.

Dominican Republic with World Vision – Part Three

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Back in urban Santo Domingo

The micro-loan recipient showing the recycled plastic he and his son make

Some of the homes built into the cliff down to the river

The trampoline game that wore me out!

Norkelin with her sewing machine

A woman proudly showing her graduation picture from the vocational school

Some of the neighborhood kids on the way home from school

Pony carts in the middle of traffic

The hairdressing class

Bakery school

Across the street from the vocational school

Outside the music school

The students played us Pachelbel's Canon

The team with the students at the music school

The cathedral in the Old City

The Old City

In the Old City

God is over everything here too

Today I am sitting in a hotel room in Jacksonville, Florida. I have an event here this weekend, and I can’t even believe we are already back in the States. We have run so fast the last few days that I have hardly been able to keep up with my notes.

When we got back to Santo Domingo Wednesday night, it was very late. We got another dinner that ended about 10:30 and then went to bed. We had an early morning. We had spent the first couple of days looking at World Vision’s rural work, and in Santo Domingo we were looking at their urban work.

We drove out of the good looking part of Santo Domingo, and across a bridge over an incredibly beautiful river. On either side there was shack housing built all the way up the cliffs. Such a juxtaposition. On the other side of the bridge was basically a different world. So much traffic, with pony carts competing with taxi cabs. Cement block stores with hand spray-painted signs. Loads of pineapples, mangoes, and bananas on the sides of the roads and tons of trash.

We made a quick stop at the center where WV facilitates micro business loans to pick up a WV worker and then headed to our first stop. We pulled off a wildly busy, urban street, into an area of lush greenery that looked like it was miles from any development even though it was right in the middle of the city. The bus was able to navigate about halfway down the dirt roadway before the driver gave up and we walked the rest of the way.

This was another of those inspiring stops for me. We met a man and his sixteen year old son who had started their own plastic recycling company. He had taken basic business classes at World Vision’s vocational center and then they had given him a micro-business loan for $600 to buy a grinder. He and his son gather plastic trash from all over (there is trash everywhere) and grind it up into plastic pellets suitable for recycling. Then they sell it to local companies to make their own products out of it. He paid back his original loan in 10 months, and was now supporting his family. They were saving, and planning to buy a bigger grinder and expand the next year. This to me was just the essence of the power of micro enterprise. We don’t just want to support people, we want to give people the means and opportunity to support themselves. I love it!

After that, we stopped at an urban WV preschool. The elementary school was across the street. We played with the kids for a while, and they completely wore me out on their mini-trampoline. I made the mistake of starting a game where I would jump on the floor next to them four or five times and then squat down. They all mimicked me, falling together when I went down. This was a hilarious game! And one they wanted to repeat about 400 hundred times! And since I am just a tiny bit older than them and it was about 100 degrees, I was done way before they were. My husband was laughing pretty hard at me – he’s so helpful.

After this we visited a couple of other recipients of micro-business loans. One was a woman who had borrowed $150 to buy a sewing machine. Now she supports her family by making bedspreads and curtains. She had taken the sewing classes at the vocational school. The other was a woman who had taken classes in jewelry making at the vocational school. She had taken a small loan to buy materials to start up, and now was very successfully making jewelry as well as doing some sewing. Both had paid back their loans in about 9 months.

I was very excited to see this vocational school, and we learned that they had just completed their new building. Apparently the old building was just two large rooms, and so the classes had to share space which made it hard to hear and concentrate. The new building was beautiful, and had much more traditional classroom space which they told us was a great help. I have to say, this building was new and beautifully clean and well done, but I was again so impressed by the complete lack of waste in anything I have seen. This building was built with quality, but there was nothing unnecessary or fancy about it. Everything we have seen here has seemed to me to show such amazing stewardship, and such an intelligence about what and where they would put funds. Nothing was wasted.

We saw several classes in progress – a sewing class which takes about 9 months for certification, a bakery class, a hairdressing class (which smelled really horrible because they were teaching straightening that day!), and a jewelry making class for girls. We also saw basic classrooms, an art studio, and a daycare where women can bring their children while they take classes. I looked at the class list and it was amazing how many things they were offering; everything from computer and English classes to car repair and farming. All the classes are free for sponsor families, and are also open to the community as space permits.

We ended this day by visiting the music school. As someone who has taught music for years, I do not hesitate to say that the director of this school is an amazing man! He has had literally thousands of kids through his door, and has taught a vast number of them himself. He said there was a tremendous need for worship leaders in their area – one local pastor told us how he had prayed for 6 years for anyone who could play an instrument – and that his heart was to train people to be able to serve in that way and to love music.

Several of his more advanced players got together and played us Pachelbel’s Canon in an arrangement for violins, recorders, and piano. We also played some music for them, and it was so amazing to be reminded again that our God is everyone’s God, no matter the language. Claudia translated for us, and Perry, Joel, and I did some of our music for them.

After this we headed back for yet another really late dinner, this time in a restaurant whose building dated from the 1500’s. There is so much history here. We basically had a debriefing dinner, and took time to share with each other what God was showing each of us on this trip, and how we thought we might use what we now knew when we got home. Even though we’ve only been together a couple of days, it feels like summer camp – we’ve all bonded and aren’t ready to leave.

The next morning we got up early and headed into the old city. Marcia, a singer from California, had already had to leave the night before because she had an event. Perry, Joel and I all have events this weekend as well, so we were scattering soon to all parts of the U.S. Joel had to leave early that morning, but the rest of us looked around the cathedral, build in the early 1500’s and bought a few souvenirs for our families. I had to make sure to get coffee – I realize that’s not the point of this trip, but my goodness, this week had the best coffee of my entire life!

As we headed back to the airport, watching the Caribbean sea on the side of the bus the whole time, I couldn’t believe that the trip was over. Those were some of the most packed days I’ve experienced, and I have a lot to digest.

As an aside, our younger daughter, Rachel, was in the national archery competition in Louisville on Friday while we were traveling – my mom took her. As soon as the plane touched down in Atlanta, I checked her stats – she scored her personal best ever in competition! And as of the morning, she is third in the country for fifth grade girls. We’re so proud! The have another entire day of shooting today, so I don’t know where she’ll end up, but we were so very sad to miss it, and I’m just thrilled that she didn’t let that get her down and did so well! Can’t wait to get home to see our kiddos!

Want to see more pictures? Check out the whole album here!

Dominican Republic with World Vision – Part Two

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Heading to the first sponsored child's neighborhood

With the neighborhood kids at the sugar cane plantation housing

Nathan plays thumb wars with some of the boys

The crowd begins to grow

With our sponsored child, Melandia (in red), her mother, younger sister, and niece

Heading back to the ADP

With some of the ADP staff, Jean, and Claudia

Jean with her sponsored girl, Moreli, who really, really really loved her new doll!

One of the nutritional supplements for malnourished kids developed by World Vision

In the waiting room at the clinic

Seeing the pediatrician

Today was a great day. One of my favorite things when traveling is getting to go to real people’s homes – not to be a tourist, but to see and experience a little bit of how people really live. When traveling with World Vision, many times that is a hard experience because people are living in very difficult situations and circumstances, but getting to see the real needs in a country and in people’s homes and lives is what God has used to really wake me up to our responsibility to others in our world. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Four of us on this trip chose to sponsor new kids in DR before we came so that we would be able to meet them and start the relationship that way. We spent the morning visiting the families and meeting our kids. When we were at the home of someone else’s sponsored child, we spent the time outside just playing with the neighborhood kids and learning more about what WV was doing in their neighborhoods.

We started at Joel Weldon’s sponsored child’s house. I was again amazed today at the variety of placements we saw. Her family lives in a rural area with very little greenery or ability to grow food. She was so beautiful, and had such a wonderful and supportive family. While he was meeting her, I was outside giving out stickers to the neighbor kids and taking their pictures to show them on my camera. They taught me the Spanish names for the stickers I was handing out, and my Spanish vocabulary basically tripled. 🙂

This was a hard stop stop for me, though, I confess. There was one boy in particular who I noticed quickly was a special needs child. His mother was very protective of him, as were his siblings. He was clearly loved. I kept thinking of all the resources we had had access to when my son, Toby, was little, and what a profound difference they made in his life. This boy really has access to nothing, and it was so clear to me that he was so valued by his mother – it must break her heart. That was the hardest thing I saw personally, and I cried as we left. It’s hard to go back to some of those feelings, and harder to think of the struggle of his family. World Vision has a specific program to support special needs children, and I really want to look into that more. If you are interested in supporting a child, click here.

After Joel’s family we went to a much more packed neighborhood to visit the sponsored child of Barb Christing, an author and speaker. This was also the neighborhood for our sponsored child. These homes are basically barracks built to house the workers on the sugar cane plantations. Nearly all of the people living here now are of Haitian descent. Their families came over a few generations ago to work the plantations, and were never able to leave. These people are held in the grip of generational poverty, and there is really no way without help to get that hand up to get out.

As Barb met her sponsored child, we played with many children in the neighborhood. Word spread, and there were close to 50 by the time we left. We moved on to our sponsored child’s home, but the kids followed the bus and more people joined. By the time we got to our sponsored child, Melandia’s home, there were so many children that they were getting concerned about safety. We missed most of that since we went in to meet her, but it also was sobering to think that there were so many who had so little that a free sticker would draw enough people to be concerned about trampling.

When we got to Melandia’s home, we met her, her younger sister, her mother, and her little niece. Their home was made of cinder block, about 10 feet wide and two rooms deep. Melandia was feeling so shy, which made a lot of sense considering how much attention our group had drawn, and we were able to draw her out a little more by telling her about our kids and how shy they would be, and talking about her dog. We had brought her letters from our children and a picture of our family as well as some school supplies and other presents and the groceries for her family. The first thing she brought out to show us was the first letter we had written her.

It was wonderful to meet her and we are so excited to have a relationship with her, but what really struck me was her mother. Her mom stood to the side and watched everything, such a big smile on her face. She was so proud of her daughter, and even more than that, she was so happy for her. I could tell she was expecting us to realize what an amazing daughter she had, and she was so pleased for her to have the support. It was exactly how I would have felt about my children in her place. I felt very connected with her, and for me, it’s always that connection with the parents’ feelings that make me want to help even more. We aren’t just here for Melandia, but also for her family and for her community. Leaving was hard, but we will write and we will pray, and I know that meeting her and having her meet us will make our relationship so much more real.

We left that neighborhood then to go to a more developed area. Jean’s sponsored child lived down the street from a school and she had stayed home that day to meet Jean. She was such a beautiful little girl with a sparkling personality, and when she was asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she immediately said, “I will be a doctor, and I love school!” Her story was very sad. Her mother had remarried, and often in that situation, the man will accept his new wife but not her children. Fortunately, she has an aunt her took her in, and also seemed to be extremely loving and proud of her. I give her aunt a lot of credit – she had taken in several other children as well to keep the family together, even though it was hard for us to see how she would ever support them.

After this we went to the ADP office to meet the staff, and then onto the medical clinic World Vision was running in the area. The waiting room was packed, and we learned that was because the shipment of nutritional supplements for malnourished children was in, and many families were waiting to get their new supply. At the clinic they had a pediatrician’s office, an OBGYN, and a blood testing station which they were so thankful for – they told us several times how helpful it had been both for HIV testing and also for all kinds of other diseases. Upstairs there were classrooms, and they do a lot of community education about health issues there.

By this time we were running far behind schedule and had to cancel our last stop at a bakery school. We were all sorry about that! But we still had the 3 hour aka 5 hour trip back to Santo Domingo that night. On the way we heard a couple of other stories from people on the trip. It’s been really fun to hear how God has transformed the lives of the people with us on this trip and how He has put them into ministry.

Checking into the hotel tonight was a serious culture shock. This hotel is completely modern and comfortable, and very nice. There is an area of Santo Domingo that looks wonderful, but we know tomorrow that we will only have to drive a few minutes to see desperate poverty. I am uncomfortable in this very comfortable room. So often, we are immune to our wealth in the U.S. Our family lives a very middle class life in our country, but compared to the world, that still puts us in the top 1%. Our translator, Claudia, told us that when she was growing up, a wealthy person was someone who was able to eat three times a day and who didn’t have to sleep on the floor because they owned a mattress. Right now I’m in a room with two beds and triple sheeting, and if I weren’t where I am, I wouldn’t have given that a second thought. This is hitting me hard tonight.

Want to see more pictures? Check out the whole album here!

Dominican Republic with World Vision – Part One

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Kids welcoming us at the first ADP

Singing with the kids at the preschool

At the electrician training school

A woman showing me her incredible garden

Perry getting a little more hair cut than he expected

The grocery store which was more expensive than mine at home

The street outside the computer lab

The other Jennifer and her friend - notice the Justin Bieber notebook

A passing sugar cane train - we saw this constantly

Perry sharing his story and a little ukulele on the way back to the hotel

A gorgeous view of the beach close to our hotel

My husband and I were invited to go to Dominican Republic with World Vision about a year ago, and we have been so excited to go. It’s hard to believe that the trip is here! This is an artist trip, and it’s meant to give World Vision artists an update on what they are doing and to see the ministry in action. On this trip there were five artists including me, my husband, Nathan, two of our World Vision representatives, our videographer, Heidi, our driver, and Claudia, our translator and guide who has worked with World Vision for years.

Nathan and I got up very early yesterday morning and flew to Atlanta to meet the rest of the team. They were all coming from the West Coast except for Heidi who was coming from Nashville, and we were meeting Claudia and our driver in the DR. I had met Joel Weldon before this trip, and I knew our reps, Jean and Patti, because I’ve worked with them for a long time (and they’re fabulous!), but everyone else was new to us. It’s been fun to see how quickly our group has already bonded. We all have a love for Jesus and a love for World Vision in common, and that helps everything. 🙂

We all left Atlanta together and flew into Santo Domingo, getting in in the afternoon. After getting through customs and immigration and buying visas and changing money and picking up some very late lunch, we immediately got into the bus for a 3 hour trip that turned into a 5 hour trip. Having been to several third world countries before, we were definitely prepared with a “go with the flow” attitude, and there wasn’t any real problem except for bad roads and traffic, but after traveling for 15 hours straight, we were pretty happy to see our hotel that night.

The hotel was the best one in the Barahona district, and it still was very basic with no hot water and fifty year old mattresses, but it was very clean and we realized that we were staying in amazing luxury compared to the people we were visiting – we were thankful. The food was wonderful, though, and we were offered sea bass the first night which was wonderful. We had no idea this was a staple, and we would be offered that for every lunch and dinner the entire time, but since we love sea bass, no hardship there. 🙂 By the time we finished dinner it was after 10, and since we’d gotten up at 3:30 that morning, we went back and collapsed.

We got up this morning and it was a totally non-stop day. This is a very small hotel with about 15 rooms, and we realized at breakfast that the rest of the hotel was taken by a missions group from an American college, and that was fun – we told them what we were doing and they told us what they were doing and we all prayed together and for each other.

We saw several Area Development Programs (ADPs) out here. We started at the most central one at a community center run by WV, and were welcomed by one of their after school groups which teaches traditional Dominican dancing. It was such a beautiful welcome! Afterward, we asked the kids how many of them were sponsored, and it was about 75% of them. I have loved seeing how WV’s involvement in the community is extended to the entire community whether sponsored or not. We heard about the classes and after school help that they were doing at this center and met the staff, and then we headed to a local WV preschool.

I have been amazed all day by the diversity of landscape and of neighborhoods here. This preschool was in a very dry and rocky area, and we had driven through very lush, Caribbean landscape to get there. We spent some time with the children, sang a few songs with them and heard from their teachers and then drove another half hour to see another education project.

I loved this project – it was inspiring to me. They had a semi trailer that was decked out as a school. Half of the trailer had a table, chairs, and a big whiteboard. The other half had all kinds of electrical equipment like junction boxes and switches and things attached to the walls. Young men ages 16-20 could come for a 9 month program to get certified as electricians. They are running three groups, one morning, one afternoon, and one evening, and will train about 60 young men. Then, at the end of the program, they will hitch up the semi trailer and move it to another community and do it again. We asked them what they were going to do with their training, and several of them answered immediately that they would use it to earn money to put themselves through college to become electrical engineers. I love that they are giving these young men the tools to make their own way in life.

After that we saw some very impressive gardening. We went to one woman’s home and saw her garden. World Vision had trained her with growing techniques and had helped her get the materials and build the garden. They also partnered with another relief organization to get the seeds. Now she grows enough food to feed her family and even to share with her neighbors and sell some as well. I like to garden, and this garden was amazing! She was so proud.

Then we went to another ADP and stopped at the headquarters where they had a school for aspiring barbers. A very funny moment for all of us except perhaps Perry, was when Perry Springman, one of the artists on the trip, asked them to trim a little spot on the back of his head he’d missed when he’d cut his own hair before the trip. Fast forward about 45 minutes and there were about 16 people working on his head. It was hilarious. Perry ended up with a lot less hair than he was expecting, and the school ended up with some extra practice that day!

We made a quick stop at a grocery store. Many of us had sponsored new children in DR before this trip and we are going to get to meet them tomorrow. This was an opportunity to pick up some groceries for the families to give to them tomorrow. Claudia helped us to know what would be most appreciated, and we bought rice, beans, cooking oil, powdered milk, anchovies, and some cookies for the kids.

We drove a little farther and saw a computer school. It’s in a very remote area, and from the street, you would never believe it’s in there, but up the stairs is a very impressive little computer center. There were about 20 kids working on learning formatting when we were there, and I met another Jennifer and her friend. Her friend was holding a Justin Bieber notebook which made me laugh. There was also a little classroom area there, and they had been teaching basic bookkeeping to local families.

After that, we drove about an hour back to the hotel. One really neat thing Jean asked us to do was to take turns sharing our stories as we drove since we were spending so much time in transit. Perry told his story tonight which was fascinating, and I am really looking forward to getting to know everyone in this way.

When we got back, we had about an hour before our really late dinner, so Nathan and I took the opportunity to run down to the beach really quickly to see it. Tomorrow is supposed to be another incredibly packed day and then we leave to go back to Santo Domingo, so we didn’t want to miss it. It was an amazing view, and the lava rocks were incredible.

We’ve had so much to digest today, and I’m still forming my opinions, but I have already been so impressed by the variety I’ve seen here in WV’s work. It’s so much more about families and communities than I even realized. We’re praying to have wisdom to know what God would have us share from this trip and how He will use it.

Want to see more pictures? Check out the whole album here!