Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nearing the end...

I have one week until I am home.  This has by far been the longest time I have been away from my home and my family.  This has also been one of the hardest semesters of my life in so many ways!  Yet, I think I will come away in the end grateful to have had the experience.  

I've been starting to experience some of the first of the lasts.  It's a bittersweet feeling because I hate change and I hate saying good-bye, especially to a place that I really love and appreciate.  But the past few weeks, I have more and more SO ready to be home.  I think about my sweet nephews who are growing so much without me there often.  I want to just be HOME.  I'm ready for Christmas as well!  I've been getting so excited for Christmas, and it makes me so anxious to be home and spend the holidays with my family.

Thanksgiving didn't even really feel like Thanksgiving this year.  We had a rainy Thanksgiving weekend, but it was enjoyable.  We had a large Thanksgiving meal with the rest of the program students and teachers and faculty in a restaurant.  They prepared us a "traditional" American Thanksgiving meal, and it was delicious! (Especially because we haven't really had American food in so long!)  It was delicious and a lot of fun to celebrate the holiday together.  We played some games and even did a Secret Santa gift exchange.  I did better than I thought being away from my family for the holiday.  It probably helped that it wasn't my first Thanksgiving holiday away from my immediate family.  (I have spent it with Derrick & Sandy in Chicago before.) And it really didn't feel like Thanksgiving at all since they don't celebrate the holiday.

I will miss a few things from Spain, though, so I just wanted to share a few of the things that I feel like I'm going to miss shortly after leaving this place.  

-Speaking Spanish.  It truly is one of my passions, and I've learned so much!  Yet I know I have so much more to learn, and I keep desiring to speak better and keep learning!  That is a lot harder not being in Spain, so I will miss the opportunity to speak and practice my Spanish all of the time!
-The professors.  I love my professors here and everyone at Acento.  I will miss them all so much and miss the experiences and fun class times!  It also is beginning to hit me that I am DONE with classes for my undergraduate career!  Woo-hoo!  (But also scary!  I feel so old!)  On to student teaching next semester! (which I am also getting anxious and excited about!)
-Seville.  This city is beautiful and old.  I will miss walking around and seeing beautiful, old buildings and exploring the city!
-Rosa.  My sweet Rosa who I've stayed with all semester is so great, and I will miss her so much!  It has been a blessing to be able to stay in her home and for her to open her home up to us in the way she has!  She is a blessing for sure.
-The lifestyle here.  There is always things to do in the city, but yet it still feels like a smaller city in so many ways.  I will miss being able to go out late at night and see so many people in the streets and walking around, etc.  It is a great part of the culture here, and it has made living here a lot of fun.  

For now, though, I am ultimately looking towards being home.  And when I think about it, I don't think I will miss being in Seville more than I will appreciate being home with those I love!  Pray for my transition, as this week will be hard.  We have lots of good-byes, packing, and tests before I head out on Saturday morning at 4 AM from my home here!  I have an anxious heart about a lot of things, so I'm hoping that I continue to enjoy my last days and really feel like I just use my time well & don't get too antsy to be home!  I will be home sooo soon!  I can't wait to see everyone. :)

Adios y vaya con Dios,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mi viaje a Amsterdam

It's been almost a month since I traveled to Amsterdam with one of my dearest friends--and I'm dying to go back some day!  Sara and I have been dreaming about going to The Netherlands for as long as I can remember.  Ever since we knew we were going to be studying abroad in Spain, we have talked about making a trip to Holland.  We would talk about it and dream about visiting the MOTHERLAND often!  So when we got here, we quickly got to planning our trip of a lifetime--which it truly was! I absolutely adored Holland, and so hope to return some day!
We decided to go a long weekend when we had a day off from class here in Spain.  We ended up missing one day of classes, but which is something totally do-able here. Sara and I ended up finding some pretty cheap tickets--especially for flying to The Netherlands from Spain--and snatched them up.  We booked a hostel for the four nights.  We ended up staying at the Christian Youth Hostel that Northwestern's Spring Service Project students visit each spring.  It was fun to see where so many of our friends and fellow Northwestern students have been!  It was also a wonderful hostel where people were so welcoming and friendly!  We ended up attending one of the Bible studies they have each night because a worker invited us.  It was enjoyable and fun to converse with people from all over the world.  It even fell on Sara and I to translate parts of it to a Spanish-speaking fellow there!! Crazy the opportunities that are placed in front of you daily when you know a second language...

We flew to Eindhoven, because the airplane tickets were much cheaper, which is only about an hour and a half by bus to Amsterdam.  We arrived at the airport--which was filled with souvenirs of wooden shoes & all things Dutch and even had a tulip stand! I loved Holland already!  As soon as we arrived and saw everything, I just felt like I had arrived at home!  It was a crazy weird feeling.  When we rode on the bus to Amsterdam, we rode past farm fields and terrain that seemed more "Iowa" than I have seen in a long time!  It was a welcoming sight!

As soon as we got to Amsterdam, I was in awe of all of the Dutch fronts on the houses and the things that just so reminded me of my home in little Orange City, IA.  It is truly crazy how similar Orange City is to Dutch-land when you are actually there seeing it all!  I constantly would see things and be like "Ooh!  That's why they have that in Orange City!  Or.. that's why that looks like that in Orange City!" etc.  I felt almost so torn--because things felt so familiar--but yet I had to keep telling myself I was still in Europe!

As soon as we arrived at the train/bus station, we decided to buy train tickets and go immediately to Haarlem to see the Corrie Ten Boom house.  We were very glad we decided to do that! The Corrie Ten Boom House/Museum was an amazing experience.  We waited outside the door of the house (that is still standing in its original position) and were able to take a free tour throughout the house.  We were able to see the place where Corrie and her family hid men during the Second World War and hear about Corrie's life and her experiences.  It was a very cool experience & educational!  Definitely a must-see if you go to Holland.

Haarlem was beautiful & small and felt like a small town like Orange City (granted it was still a lot bigger I believe).  We also visited a windmill right along the water and were able to take a tour through it and see how it works & go up to the top and look over Haarlem.  We ended up being the only ones in the English tour, so we sort of had a private tour to ourselves with a very sweet, old Dutch man.  We had fun walking around a little bit and just enjoying being in Holland!  Then we took the train back to Amsterdam and found our way to our Hostel.  

Over the next few days, we did so much in Amsterdam and had a beautiful, fun time together!  Some of the things we did in summary:
  • ate poffertjes at a small "fair" that was set up right in front of the Royal Palace (seriously RIGHT in front!) with rides and everything!
  • visited the famous Rijksmuseum where we were able to see lots of famous art from Dutch history & from around the world.  I have been to a few art museums since being in Europe, but I think this was definitely my favorite!
  • ate traditional Dutch pancakes at Sara's Pancake House-- they tasted and looked more like crepes!  We also figured out quickly that Dutch syrup is definitely not the same as American syrup.
  • went on a boat tour through the canals of Amsterdam.  A fun, relaxing way to take in the city during our last day in Amsterdam!  The canals were one of my favorite parts of Amsterdam--they added a lot of character to the city, and I of course love being in the city, but also right on the water!  They showed us lots of famous houses & sites along the tour.
  • walked through the Bloemenmarkt (flower market) where there are lots of souvenirs..and of course TULIPS!  (Unfortunately we didn't get to visit Holland during Tulip season) :( I loved all the little gift shops & tulips, wooden shoes, etc. (all things DUTCH!) throughout the city!
  • toured the Royal Palace.  This was a lot of fun.  They shared lots of Dutch history through the audio guides & there was lots of cool art, VERY decorated rooms, etc.
  • walked by the Heineken factory & museum.  We decided not to take a tour inside, but it was fun to see.
  • ate at the Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam!
  • walked through the small Amsterdam Cheese Museum & tried out free samples of cheese!
  • took a small tour through the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and learned a lot about the history of tulips!
  • visited the Anne Frank House...WOW.  This was a cool experience.  It made learning about the event in school and reading her book that much more real. It was a cool experience and well worth the wait in line.  Very different experience from the Corrie Ten Boom House, but equally interested & very neat & special to see.
  • visited Westerkerk (church)
  • found the "smallest house in Amsterdam"-- it literally is only as wide as my armspan!  And it wasn't nearly as tall as the other houses/buildings on the block!  Crazy!
We had so much fun!! It was a packed four days, and like I said before, a trip of a lifetime!!  I still can't believe that I have been to Holland!  I have to pinch myself sometimes!! I felt like I was living a dream the entire time!  However, it did me quite homesick for my little Dutch town on the other side of the world!  I seriously felt heartbroken when I had to leave such a quaint, cute place that reminded my soul so much of my real home in Iowa!!  It was crazy how much I fell in love with a place in just four days..but I guess that love for it had been growing for many, many years back in Orange City. :)  

Soon soon SOON I will be blogging about my week-long break & trip to four more wonderful places:  Barcelona, Rome, Paris, and London!  

Adios y vaya con Dios,
From on top of the windmill... our cute tour guide took our picture :)

Poffertjes :)

In front of one of the canals


Monday, November 3, 2014

ICYMI: Life is NOT a piece of cake

The last couple of weeks have been some of the craziest of my life.  The memories I've made, the adventures I've taken, and the people I've spent my time with have really made these past weeks unforgettable.  (More posts to come about those adventures!)  I've gotten to see and experience so much.  Yet, those weeks have also held some of the darkest, most uncomfortable, and hardest moments of my life as well.  

Like I've probably mentioned before, this study abroad thing hasn't exactly been a piece of cake for me.  Lots of it has been really hard.  As of a few weeks ago, I was probably in the worst place I've been so far on this adventure.  I was feeling very lonely, very lost, and very angry.  A lot has changed since then (thank goodness!), and I've learned to appreciate a lot even though those hard feelings and emotions were very real to me.  

What do you do when you feel very lonely & everything & everyone you know and love seems so far away?  I have had to struggle and wrestle with those feelings.  Many times I've had to cry out & say "God, why does this hurt so much?  Why does this suck?  Why do I feel as if I have no one to talk to/hang out with/be with, etc?"  It has been hard to ask those questions, but I also am realizing that these questions (along with moments of praise and thankfulness!) have really formed part of my experience in Spain and can be just as rewarding as those more lovely thoughts!

Not everything is easy in life.  Not everything is a piece of cake.  Not everything gives you instant gratification.  We live in a world that very much looks for those things.  Yes, I want to LOVE my experience in Spain.  Yes, I want to be so glad I came & praise God for all the wonderful experiences and friends He gave me while here.  But if that isn't the case, that's okay, too.  I can still praise God for THE experiences He gave me, good or bad.  No matter what, He is good.

No, I'm not saying that this experience just stinks.  No, I'm not saying I absolutely hate it here and I just want to go home.  That's not the case!  {Don't get me wrong, there have been moments I've said those things to myself & to people such as my mom!}  There is SO much to truly be thankful for here!  I am in a wonderful place with wonderful people, and I'm so glad I have gotten this experience!  

Times have somewhat gotten better as well.  I have learned to cope with my homesickness little by little & get used to the fact that "my people" aren't here with me and I miss them because of it.  But I know that I can make the most of my time here and learn a lot!  My Spanish has been greatly improving & I love the professors & the school I'm at here.  The city is beautiful and the people are wonderful & kind.  Rather than days of feeling especially lonely, I just have moments where I feel so.  

And I'm learning daily to look to God for friendship.  Jesus is the best friend I will ever have, so why not take advantage of this time to grow closer to Him & learn and grow as a person!  Because when it comes down to it, people let you down.  People hurt you.  Experiences hurt you.  But God is my forever & always. Of course, this thought makes me think of one of my favorite country songs. :) 

"I could stand to lose my faith in
friends that come and go;
yeah they'll be there when you need them,
they say that when you don't.
I could give up on my heroes, 
could let myself down too,
but what would I do
if I lost my faith in You?"

That song has been one of my favorites for a long while now.  I remember the lyrics striking me at one point when I was hurt and upset over the way I was feeling beaten down by relationships with others.  And I've thought of the lyrics from this song often when I've felt as if everything around me is falling apart.  Just like it says at a different point in the song (the link is above if you want to check out all the lyrics), God's got our back.  We don't know why and we don't deserve it.  We WILL find ourselves up against walls in this life, but we have NOTHING to worry about.  God has it ALL in His hands.  Isn't that oh so wonderful? 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Un Mes en Europa

Yikes.  It has been a month in this place.  Some days it feels like it's been forever.  Others it seems like I just got here and I'm still adjusting.  Yet my time here is almost a third of the way over!!  Even worse is that this is my first blog post since being in Spain..oops! Sorry to all of those I promised that I would be blogging far I have not kept to my promise! (Now I will definitely be trying harder to stick to my promise!)  Once a couple weeks go by, so much happens that it's just so hard to know what to say! 

Well today I decided it is time to share some of my story since being Europe..what I've been up to, what I've been feeling, some of the things I've seeing and experiencing here in Spain!  I will try to recap the last month as best and efficiently as possible!

I have been living in Seville now for over a month.  It is my new home (and yes, it still feels new even though I've been here now for about 5-6 weeks.  This is crazy to me because I was in Bolivia for 7 weeks about and my time here feels like 1/10 of the time I had in Bolivia, yet Bolivia felt like it went so fast as well!  Time just really flies and it is hard to keep track of it.  I have been living with a lovely older lady who we call our "senora" here in Spain with my roommate Michelle.  I absolutely adore Rosa.  She is sweet, funny, and she is constantly doting on us and wanting us to feel completely at home in her tiny apartment.  And when I say tiny, I mean tiny.  I have never lived so "on top of" other people in my life.  It has taken some getting used to--living with a completely new roommate, in a tiny room with a bunk bed, and sharing one tiny bathroom among the three of us.  I will definitely be happy to have my own space again when I'm back in the States!  It has really been going well though, and I'm thankful for that.  Rosa is also an amazing cook, which is great!

The second weekend we were here, a large group of us went to the beach in Cadiz.  It was a couple hour bus ride, and it was well worth the trip!  I laid on the beach for 8 hours, got fried (& didn't even care!), and had a relaxing time.  It was great after our first full week of classes.  Classes have been going great.  I have class from 9:55 until 1:30 with one break in the middle.  I only have three classes daily, which is nice.  I made it through my first round of tests, which went well also!  School feels a little bit like I'm back in high school-- going to the same classes every day, etc.  But I generally enjoy my classes and my professors especially.

We have taken two school excursions as well since I've been here!  One of the first weeks we went to Cordoba!  We had a day trip where we were able to visit the Mezquita which we had been learning about in my art class.  We also were able to have free time and walk around the city and across a bridge that was built in the 1st century!  The history here is amazing, and I love it!  

This past weekend we had our only school excursion that was overnight.  We took a bus to Toledo, which was about 6 hours away.  We stopped on the way and saw the windmills from the famous Spanish literature piece "Don Quijote".  Some people were quite thrilled with the windmills!- me: "I've seen a few windmills in my day.." ha We stayed overnight in a hotel, which was amazing!  We were all thrilled to be sleeping in comfy hotel beds and to be able to take an actual shower with a showerhead attached to the wall! (Yep, our showerhead at our house is not attached to the wall)  Oh the little things.  In Toledo we walked around the tiny, winding streets and explored the many shops.  Toledo is known for all of the swords and weapons they make (Toledo was actually where all of the swords and things were made for Lord of the Rings!).  As a class we visited the large cathedral there and spent a lot of time admiring the architecture we have learned about in art class.  We also took in an amazing view of the city from a spot outside of the city.  

From Toledo, a group of me and 7 other friends traveled by train to Madrid.  We spent the weekend in Madrid at a hostel.  It was my first train and first hostel experience, and it was a blast!  We took in tons of amazing art at the Reina Sofia and El Prado art museums.  Paintings by Picasso, Dali, and El Greco we really enjoyed.  It was cool to see some famous works of art that for many years I've only heard about in school or in books actually in person!  We also visited the Palacio Real (a royal palace) where kings and queens of Spain have lived.  It was very ornately decorated, and I really enjoyed it!  We had a great time exploring the city.  When the rest of the group went to the soccer game, I was able to wander around the large Buen Retiro Park and some of the city near our hostel some more.

This past month has been crazy.  I have gone through a large range of emotions.  I have had really good weeks, and I have had some not so good weeks.  Overall, I'm having a great time, enjoying this city, and the experience.  But also overall things have been hard (harder than expected).  Some things haven't been so easy for me--finding my place, making new friends, etc. and that can make the experience difficult, confusing, and overwhelming.  I have had some definite days of homesickness in the past here.  That was very hard as I have never dealt with that before-- I was never homesick in Bolivia!  It made me miss Iowa (and even Bolivia a lot), and it has made the experience a difficult and overwhelming one in many ways.  But I'm trying to trust in my God who knows why I'm here and that I'm meant to be here, and I'm learning to take it day by day and find the good in each day.  I have been working to make the absolute best out of my experience.  Pray that I can continue to do just that each and every day!  More updates to come.. I promise. :)

Adios y vaya con Dios,

Monday, September 1, 2014

Los primeros dias en ESPANA!!!

Am I really in Spain??  Is Seville my home for the next 4 months?!  Is this for real???
Those are just a few of the questions I have been asking myself in the last few days.  I simply cannot believe I am here.   I don't know if that is a good thing or not yet! I am just waiting for the day when I am like--oh crap!! what did I get myself into?! I can't go home! I can't see my family!...-- but for now I am really enjoying & trying to take in all of the new sights, smells, and tastes of this beautiful city that I now am able to call home!  Seville is GORGEOUS.  That makes the transition all the more easier!  I really didn't want to leave home.  The night before leaving, I was a straight-up mess.  The last few weeks at home I wasn't excited AT ALL to come to this place.  I would've packed up in 2 hours and got on a plane and been fine going to Bolivia, that's for sure!! But another new place?  A place so far away from home where I know next to no one again and have to stay for 4 months?  No way.  Not excited at all.  But I did really quite well the day I had to leave!  I was very impressed with myself if you ask me. ;)  Barely any tears were shed the day of my departure! (which wasn't the case the night before! ha)

But I am here!  It is always quite the transition when you are in such a new place.  It's a completely different thing trying to get accustomed to a place where you know you are staying for quite a while & it needs to start feeling like home.  It takes time.  And I'm totally aware of that.  I've been telling myself to just continue to be patient & rest in the fact that this is where I need to be right now..

All of our flights and everything went so smoothly, which was seriously so nice.  I was absolutely exhausted upon our arrival, though.  We lost hours and I was completely lost as to what day it was when we arrived.  The jet lag really wasn't as bad as I expected, though!  I guess the daily, short siestas help with that. :) As soon as we got here, Leslie, the program director, and Jenna, the Student Ministries Coordinator, met us at the airport.  From there we got on a bus and drove through the city to our individual homes where our Senoras met us.  

Me and my roommate (Michelle) live with a sweet older lady named Rosa.  She is just the greatest.  I have so enjoyed living with her so far!  She is an amazing cook, which has been such a blessing!  She is retired, so she spends her day pretty much taking care of us!  Anything we need, she helps us with & she is always so willing and wanting to make us comfortable in her home.  We live in a tiny apartment  (I mean TINY).  Me and my roomie share a small room, and then all three of us share a bathroom.  There is a small living area where there is a couch, tv, and our dining room table & then there is a seriously tiny kitchen that can really only fit like one person at a time!  It is definitely hard to get used to being in such confined space!  We live on the second floor of an apartment building.  Unfortunately, our home is the farthest from the school, so it is a good half hour walk to school.  It has been in the 100 degree range all week-- it is HOT HOT HOT here.  I was not expecting that all!  There's no air conditioning, so we have fans on just to try to keep us cool!  I don't think I have ever sweated so much.  Hopefully it will cool down soon, so it's more comfortable & we are WANTING to be out and about doing things! 

The first few days we had a lot of orientation stuff--getting to know other students, the program, etc.  It has been good to get to know other students in the program and get to know the city.  We have spent quite a bit of time already just walking around, exploring, and getting to know the city.  I feel so lost here and can't wait til I know my way around and how to use public transportation--especially since live so far away from the school & the center of the action.  I thought Cochabamban transportation was tricky!--that seems like a breeze now!  It'll get easier I'm sure.  I'm already learning so much.  I have a bike pass, so I have spent some time getting to know the different bike stations where I can rent out a bike and ride around town a little easier.  There are just so many people out and about all the time, which I love, but it can make biking tricky sometimes too!  I will definitely be sharing more about this city and all the great things about it that I am learning to love! It is a completely new culture, and I love it!  This was kind of a random post, but I wanted everyone to know that I've made it safe and sound & am really doing well! :)

Adios y vaya con Dios, 
The Plaza de Espana-- one of the places we visited on our tour and photo scavenger hunt throughout the city!

A beautiful mural of a sleeping child in the Plaza de Armas-- another site we visited during the scavenger hunt.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Despues de una semana..

I have been home from Bolivia now for a little over a week.  It seems crazy and it has gone so fast, yet at the same time it seems like weeks since I've seen my beautiful Bolivian family.  I miss them.  A lot.  I miss Bolivia.  I miss Cochabamba.  I miss the kids at El Centro.  I miss my simple, beautiful South American life.  

I'm just now blogging since my departure and last week in Cochabamba.  Mostly because I'm finding this really hard.  Nothing has been easy about coming home-- saying good-bye, not knowing when or if I will return, & re-adjusting to American life.  I think for the most part, I've just tried not to think about it.  That really stinks.  But I've found it to be easiest when I just enjoy my time here and don't actually think about how much I miss Bolivia and the Quiroga family especially.

I know that not thinking about it is not the way to deal with my re-entry and culture shock of being back in the States.  I know that I need to face my time there and the after-effects and thoughts about it head on.  I really wish in some ways I had right away.  But I think I needed time too; a lot of things have been really hard since being back and I've wanted to ease myself in.

I've never experienced anything quite like this.  I have experienced going to other countries--especially Haiti-- and coming back and missing it and everything.  But nothing can compare to the large range of emotions--strong emotions-- I've felt since being back from Bolivia.  A large part of it is my lack of understanding of them-- I feel like I don't even know or understand my own feelings & emotions-- so how am I supposed to explain them to somebody else?  That's another large part of my pushing all of my feelings to the side...

I feel like a large part of me is just broken.  Or missing.  I loved what I felt in Bolivia.  I loved where my heart was.  I loved my experience.  But right now I find myself confused.  Asking questions.  And unsure why I'm here-- in Iowa.  If people ask me about my time, I usually just share that it was an incredible experience, I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I made some amazing friends.  But I don't even know how to go deeper-- how to share my heart-- how to explain what I'm feeling and what I felt in that place.  I really haven't shared with anyone how much my experience has impacted me.  Part of me feels bad about that.  I feel like I should be able to use this experience and share it with people, etc.. I know that I just need time, though.  It will take time to process my emotions, thoughts, feelings..and I need to do that.  I need to face those things and deal with them rather than push them aside.  Because that is where I will really be blessed and learn so much from my experience.  

I would love to talk about Bolivia.  Really.  With anyone.  I would love to share my stories, what I've learned, the things I saw, and the many ways I was blessed and am continuing to be blessed by my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve, learn, and grow in Cochabamba.  If you would like to talk about my time there, I would love to talk with you!  It may be hard to form the words to truly describe my experience, but I would love to try.  And with that being said, I will continue to process and learn from my time there.  My prayer is that I would continue to be able to do that and that it wouldn't be painful, hard, etc.  I miss Bolivia so much, but I know that only means that I had such an amazing, blessed experience there and can't wait to return!

My last days in Bolivia were so bittersweet.  I got the flu in the night and was sick for an entire day on my second to last day there.  I was upset that I couldn't enjoy one of my last days there.  My sweet mother took such great care of me and I was feeling very humbled!  We spent a lot of precious family time together in our last days.  My heart was just sick thinking about having to leave.  My last morning I was all packed up and anxious to leave.  Joana and Leah prepared Joana's famous chocolate cake.  We ate it before my departure together.  I was able to give everyone the gifts I had for them, and many of the family members were able to say a few words to me.  I will never forget those words Mama Toty shared with me and the tears we both cried around the kitchen table.  After that was the hard good-byes.  I had to hug Joana, Jorge, and Isaac and the other girls good-bye.  Many tears were shed!  After that David took me and Mama Toty to a taxi.  We took a long, mostly silent taxi ride to the airport.  Mama sat with me in the airport for a long time because we were there quite early.  She never wastes a moment to teach a lesson, tell a story, and we talked quite a bit before my departure.  Saying good-bye to her was just so hard.  Saying good-bye to everyone was so very hard.  I can't say I've felt a heartbreak quite like that before.

I flew that day to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Me and another girl who was serving in Cochabamba stayed in a hotel that night.  It was a lot of fun to be able to explore a bigger city and see a different Bolivian city!  We got some supper and found their Plaza Principal.  We woke up early the next morning and were in a taxi to the airport by 6:30.  We were able to see a beautiful sunrise on the way.  

Seeing my family was so bittersweet as well, though.  I was so thankful to be back in my mother's arms after a very long day of travel.  Seeing my nephews the next day and the rest of my family was just so great!  But I was exhausted--mentally, emotionally.  Like I said, none of it has been easy.  It was most definitely much harder to be back than to originally go!  That was probably the most surprising part of my entire experience!  But looking back, I can just think about how thankful and blessed I am.  Thankful that I was given the opportunity.  Thankful for the many people who blessed me by giving towards my trip and making it possible.  Thankful to have met a wonderful family in Bolivia who quickly became true second family.  Thankful for my friendships at El Centro.  Thankful for the many ways in which God touched my heart.  

So, thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thank you for giving, praying, and blessing me on this journey!
I am one very blessed child of God.  

Adios y vaya con Dios,

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

La escuela Biblica de vacaciones y el comienzo del fin...

My final week here in Cochabamba has begun, and it is very bittersweet.  I am ready to see my family, but I will miss the people who have become my 2nd family here so very much.

Last week we had VBS.  We ended up not being able to have it on Thursday because of the protests and everything.  However, we didn't have to drop anything because we made it all fit into Friday's schedule miraculously!  Friday was another really great day at VBS.  I was able to share the gospel with Leah's help using the Gospel Soccer Ball.  It is basically another version of the wordless book, where colors represent the different parts of the Gospel story.  We thought with the World Cup going on and all the kiddos that really love soccer, it would really help them remember the important Gospel story!  I think it went really well, and the kids really showed that they knew God's story.  

At the end of our time that day at VBS, Joana led a time where the kids could say good-bye for us.  It was a really bittersweet but special time.  The kids got in a big circle around us volunteers.  They got in close so some of them could lay their hands on us.  And then Joana led them in an echo prayer where they prayed over us, thanked us for coming, and wished us well.  Then after the prayer some of the kids took the microphone and said a few words for us if they wished.  Some of them said they would miss, others that they wished we would be safe in our travels, and that God would care for us.  It was so very sweet of all them.  It was such a special time to say good-bye to those kiddos that have stolen my heart.

Saturday we had our last morning of experiments.  We did experiments with water with the 4th-6th graders.  It went well once again, and it has been such a blessing to be able to teach them and interact with the older students at the center.  Saturday afternoon we went to the Cancha and did some shopping with Toty and Joana.  We then went down to El Prado and ended up getting ice cream at our favorite place and watching the very ending of the World Cup game.  

Sunday I had my last day of church.  I have been so very blessed to be a part of this church family while here.  Everyone has been so welcoming.  I will really miss the intimate worship setting and seeing everyone each week.  Before preaching, David spoke some words to me and then prayed for me as it was my last week with them.  At the end of the service, everyone got in a circle around me and laid hands on me while Mama Toty prayed for me.  As my sweet Bolivian mother was praying and choking up, I couldn't help but really tear up.  It will be so hard to leave these people that I love and that love me so well!  Her prayer will always be very special to me, as she prayed for my time with them and for my future.  One of the hardest parts of Sunday is that I was expecting my dear friend Arminda to come to church.  She always asks me if I'll be there and this week was no exception.  I kept waiting and waiting, but she never showed up.  I was expecting to say good-bye to her that day.. I feel very sad that I never really got the chance to say good-bye, as that was my last chance.  It is really hard not feeling that finality.... I will miss her so.  She is a sweet, sweet girl who has loved on me so much this trip. 

Sunday was a day for fiestas!! We were invited to two parties that day, so we had quite the busy day.  First, we had one of the teachers at the center, Laura's, baby shower.  It was so fun that she invited us.  We went with Toty and Joana.  There was lots of good food and games.  We had picked out a gift for her from all of us volunteers the day before at the Cancha.  We could only stay for a short time, but it was so fun to be a part of a celebration like that here in Bolivia.  

Then we headed straight over to the Porter's house for Natasha's QUINCEANERA!!  I have always wanted to experience a quinceanera so I finally got to!  It wasn't quite the extravagant event that they sometimes can be, but it was such a special time and we were so glad we could help Natasha celebrate!  She is truly a special girl, with such a beautiful smile and her joy for the Lord radiates!  The quinceanera is really a time to celebrate a girl becoming a woman.  We ate some really good food (my first amazing burger in a long time! yum!) and laughed a lot playing games with everyone.  Everyone was asked to bring a few words to say to Natasha.  We spent time all sharing what she means to us and got to hear letters read to her that were sent from family all around the world.  It was so special, and I am so glad I could be a part of that special celebration.  

Yesterday, Monday, we ended up going to Parque Tunari.  It is a national park where you can hike.  We were expecting to find a lake or something, but we ended up not being able to make it far enough.  We had to turn around in order to make it down in time before sunset.  We started from the house walking at 10:15.  We didn't make it home til after 5:30.  Man, we were exhausted!! We walked pretty much the entire way.  Just up the mountain it was about 13 kilometers!  We figured we walked about 17 miles in total that day.  My legs are feeling it today!  The views were beautiful, though, and I was thankful I was smart and brought my nice camera this time!  

My days are coming to an end here.  I'm beginning to recognize that so many things are my "lasts".  I'm treasuring my last moments with the Quiroga family and the new friends I have made here.  I will miss this place so much, and will always treasure it.  I hope to be back!!

Prayer requests:
  • That I would be able to really cherish and take in these last days.  
  • For safety and good travels as I travel to Santa Cruz on Saturday and then have to spend the night in a hotel before flying out to the USA on Sunday morning.
  • That I would feel peace as I have to leave this place and am able to say good-byes and feel some sort of finality..
  • That God would not stop working in me, but that I would continue to learn and grow in these last moments and days, and also as I return home and have to adjust to home once again.
  • Pray for our work at the center this week.  The kids are still on vacation, so we are deep cleaning this week!  
Adios y vaya con Dios,
Mama Toty dominating one of the games at the baby shower!  You can tell she's had some experience ;)
The kiddos singing one day at VBS!
Me and Natasha at her quince!

At one of the highest points we made it to on our hike....overlooking the beautiful city of Cochabamba.