Middle of the Season

It’s the middle of the summer season so that means we’re spending a lot of time on the road, living out of suitcases, translating lots of games and conversations and spending a lot of time at the boys homes.

Thus far, both Billy and I have been able to travel to Scripture Union’s homes in Ica, the Sacred Valley and Kusi, many of which multiple times. When we travel with groups, a much of our time is spent assisting the volunteers with communication and coordinations, but there is also time where we find moments to grow in relationship with the boys at each home.

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Each year there is a moment or two that tend to stand out from the rest. The moments that stand out are usually when you aren’t expecting it and sometimes to somebody else it could seem like not much of anything out of the ordinary.

One year, I was going from the city of Iquitos to our boys home Puerto Alegria on the big boat with all of the boys plus a group. I had spent a considerable amount of time at the Puerto Alegria home the previous few years so I had gotten to know the boys at the home well and started to learn about their pasts. On this particular boat trip, which started off like any other, I happened to be sitting next to one of the older boys at the home. He had been living at the home for a few years with his two younger brothers. I don’t remember how it started but asking a simple question and all of a sudden he was pouring out details of his life before coming to the home – what had been done to him, how he had to step up and take care of his family at a young age, his desires for his two brothers and family. It isn’t easy for many of the boys in our care to share about the past trauma they have experienced since it usually comes with a deep feeling of shame. I ended up spending the most of hour-long boat ride just listening and giving him the opportunity to share what he felt he needed to say. This definitely was a moment that stands out from the rest.

A few weeks ago I was at our boys home Kusi with a group. Usually groups end up having a couple hours of free time after they finish their work project before we sit down for dinner together. On one of the days, I happened to be walking from my room towards where the boys spend time before dinner. As I was walking through the plaza at Kusi, I saw a group of 4 seated on the sidewalk talking and watching a bird that was perched on the electrical line above them. They didn’t see me walk up behind them so I stood there for about 5 minutes just listening to them talk about all sorts of things (the bird on the line, a friend at school, a soccer game they saw a few days ago) before they realized I was there.

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Once they realized I was there, I sat down with them and we talked about their day at school, an upcoming activity we were going to do and various other things that boys like to talk about.

In all the time I have been working with the Girasoles boys, I have always been drawn to the 7-12 age group. There is something about that age where they easily engage in conversation and answer all your questions about school and such. They can think of the funniest things and are quick to respond with something clever. They love to play and love it when you join in with them. And they are still are okay with a hug good night at the end of the day. These five fit that bill perfectly and I loved spending that unexpected time sitting on the sidewalk hanging out together.

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Andres, Yosmel, Zócimo, Maicol, Fran

Then all of a sudden, as quickly as it started, they were done talking and wanted to take a bunch of photos and even more videos. I’ll spare you the dozens of videos they wanted to record of them rolling in the grass and being boys!

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A couple nights ago we said goodbye to the group from my home church in Dearborn, Michigan. Each year for the past 16 years, the church has sent a group of volunteers to assist at 2 of the boys homes. This year, we split the two weeks between Kusi and Ica, homes that the group has developed a relationship with during the last few years.

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It is always great to have the group here in Peru – to be able to spend some time with old friends and familiar faces and to be able to serve alongside one of our Michigan church families is definitely something we look forward to each volunteer season.

As we come up on mid-July, we’re in the middle of the volunteer season. Billy is off with a group in the jungle right now and we both have a few more trips to different homes before we finish in about a month. We also have many piles of receipts on our dining room table that we slowly are digging through and sorting between trips.

Would you join us in praying that the rest of the volunteer season goes well? We’re praying for safe travels, good health, time for rest between groups and more of those “stand out moments” with the boys at our Girasoles homes.

— Kate

PS – This Sunday, July 17th, I will be sharing about what Billy and I have been up to here in Peru with Scripture Union! Join me at 11am (after the service) at the First Presbyterian Church of Dearborn for an update on how God is working through the ministry for abandoned and at-risk children.

Address: 600 North Brady, Dearborn MI
Look for me in Mitchell Hall (fellowship hall)

5 years.

Today marks five years of living and working in Peru.

60 months of doing life in Spanish.

1825 days of being a part of the Girasoles abandoned children ministry.

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I woke up this morning at our Girasoles home Kusi where I am spending the next week with a group from Scotland. Over the years, I’ve spent numerous weeks at Kusi and I’ve had a privilege of being part of these boys lives for many years and watching many of them grow up and seeing them mature into young men. It is a privilege we do not take lightly. Each time we visit any of the Girasoles homes, it is like going to see family.

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In these five years, I’ve traveled 89,116 miles (that’s 1069 hours or 44.54 days of travel) to spend time at Scripture Union’s homes for abandoned boys. I have had the opportunity to meet many people from around Peru and all over the United States that come as short-term volunteers.

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Both Billy and I are so thankful for the opportunity that you have given us to be part of this ministry here in Peru. Thank you for your generous support through prayer and finances. We would not be able to continue working here without your help.

We can’t wait to see what the next few years bring to this ministry and the lives of the children we work with. The best is yet to come.

– Kate

Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit

Billy and I have just returned to Lima after a whirlwind trip to Detroit and Orlando to participate in the Christian Alliance for Orphans’ (CAFO) Summit and Collaborate: Forum for Global Leaders.

Our trip was to start with a weekend visit to a family in Dallas. The family and their friends have faithfully supported one of our children’s homes for the past few years, but a change in health made us have to modify our plans and we found ourselves with plane tickets to Dallas and nowhere to stay. As we researched possibilities, it was going to be economically unfeasible to change our original itinerary, and since it was last-minute, flying to visit other supporters was going to be cost prohibitive. On a whim, we checked availability and cost to head to Detroit for the weekend and by some minor miracle, last minute tickets that would fit our itinerary were cheap.

(Since our weekend in Detroit was a last-minute change, we decided to surprise our parents. Billy’s parents were called as we boarded the flight to Detroit and I ended up surprising my mom by showing up at her work.)

We spent the quick 72 hours just spending as much time as possible with family and relishing in “being home”.

After our quick trip to Detroit, we headed south to Orlando for the conference. This was our second time attending Collaborate and Summit with CAFO and this year was just as good as the last. We first heard about the Christian Alliance for Orphans about 18 months ago when Billy was Google searching “best practices in Christian children’s homes” in an effort to better train himself in working with the Girasoles ministry.

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Collaborate is a two-day gathering of global leaders who are working with orphans and vulnerable children. While we are the only participants who are working in Peru, the seminars gave us an opportunity to meet others working in similar situations around the world, and specifically in Latin America.

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Summit is another two-day conference geared to those interested in adoption, foster care and global outreach of orphans and vulnerable children. Summit is comprised of so many interesting and applicable workshops and sessions that Billy and I had to divide and conquer. Since participating in a training last October about trauma competent caregiving, we both have developed an interest in child development and psychology so many of our sessions were in that vein, in addition to sessions about how to better your orphan care ministry.

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In addition to the sessions, Summit has been a great networking opportunity as we look to train and improve the Girasoles ministry. Last year Billy was introduced to a couple who has in turn connected us with a few other people who have in some ways served as mentors and have been able to give us guidance. Through connections made at Summit last year, Billy was invited to attend the World Without Orphans Forum in February. Each time we participate in Summit, we return armed with new connections, materials and tools for this ministry.

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Now that we are back in Lima and as we shift gears into full-time volunteer groups, we ask that you pray continued development meaningful relationships with the children within SU’s care, for safe travels as we visit the homes with volunteers, and for health as we spend a lot of time over the next few months away from home and on many bus rides!

– Kate

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To continue our ministry with the children at SU’s homes, we need to raise new support in commitments of approximately $1200 per month. Your continued support would allow us to continue being God’s hands and feet here in working alongside the Peruvian staff and being a continued part of the 120+ children’s lives as they grow up in our Girasoles homes.

Would you consider partnering with us?

To give, please visit the United World Mission website. Any gifts will help, no matter what size. Thank you!

Short-Term Teams’ Role in Long-Term Strategy

A few months ago, United World Mission contacted me about writing about the impact of short-term missions on Scripture Union’s ministry. It was recently posted on their blog and I thought I would share it here as well. – Kate

My first short-term mission was in the summer of 2000. The youth group from my church in Dearborn, Michigan loaded up a blue Ford 15-passenger Econoline van and headed east where we would serve at a day center in the city of Pittsburgh. We spent the week helping with various tasks; painting the front entrance, serving meals in the soup kitchen, landscaping and general cleaning of the property. I was just 14 at the time.

The following summer, in 2001, my church decided to send another youth group mission trip but this time instead of driving just 5 hours to Pittsburgh, we boarded planes and headed south to Lima, Peru. A small group of 6 people from my church spent three weeks serving with Scripture Union Peru at their campground locations in the jungle and on the coast. Each day we helped with construction and maintenance projects that were needed at the two locations. Through clearing fields and folding banana leaf fronds in the hot sun, and laying bricks and painting walls on the Pacific coast, we were helping build foundations to grow Scripture Union’s work with abandoned and at-risk children.

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I don’t remember many of the details about that first trip to Peru in 2001 but I do know that a small seed was planted in me. I enjoyed helping further the vision of the children’s homes that Scripture Union wanted to build. I felt like each task we helped with, while being something small, was contributing to the big picture of growing the Kingdom of God here on Earth but specifically within Peru.

Over the years that seed grew and blossomed. I returned to Peru each summer to volunteer with Scripture Union for many years and eventually decided to study Spanish while I was in college. My trips to Peru during the first few years after starting to formally learn the language were completely different than previous years when I simply knew the very basics. All of a sudden the relationships I had built over the previous four years with the help of translators, phrase books, drawings and gestures suddenly had words, depth and understanding. It was during those years that I would return to Michigan really having felt that I had been used by God and my time had been well spent.

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Now, 16 years after that first trip I find myself working full-time with Scripture Union hosting the same short-term missions groups that brought me here to begin with.

Each year as an organization we host multiple high school, college and adult mission groups that come to serve at the 7 homes for abandoned and at-risk children that have been established over the years. Many of the groups we receive each summer have been volunteering with Scripture Union for multiple years, and many of the people in each group are returning volunteers. Groups typically spend 10 to 17 days serving at one or two of our children’s homes where they assist with maintenance projects like painting or minor construction by making adobe bricks.

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Unlike my first few trips when the homes were still in development, our volunteer groups now are able to spend time with the children who have been brought to our care by the local court system. They share meals together, spend time in the Word through group devotionals or Vacation Bible School activities, play lots of soccer and group games. It’s the relationships that are developed, despite the language difference, that bring our groups back year after year.

My husband Billy and I spend just about 6 months of the year traveling with volunteer groups and visiting the children’s homes that Scripture Union runs. Each trip is slightly different and each is an opportunity for both of us to dig deeper in relationship with the children in our homes. It has been a personal joy for each of us to see the children that we first met in 2001 or our subsequent trips turning into young men, becoming adults with their own families and growing in their faith. Some of the Peruvian staff we work with today remember us as just kids on our first few short-term trips. At the same time, now that we are here full-time we have built relationships with former volunteers and summer interns that we are able to continue developing through the years and ministry together.

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It is such a blessing to see how the Lord uses members of His body from all around the world to advance our mission and ministry. The majority of the children who arrive at our homes come with a very low self-esteem. They come very difficult pasts where they have suffered all kinds of abuse. More often than not, these issues are compounded by situations of extreme poverty and broken, dysfunctional families. It is hard for many of them to dream about their future. The full-time Peruvian staff in our homes work with the children showing them that they do not need to be defined by their past but rather they have a Creator who loves them for who they are. They no longer have to live in darkness, but can take on the identity of a child of God, following the path of Jesus, the Light of the World, throughout their lives.

The volunteers we receive not only come as encouragement to our full-time staff, they, through their words and the testimony that they live out in front of the children, also affirm the good work that our staff is doing on a daily basis. The message is only compounded when familiar faces choose to return year after year to build relationships by spending time with the children at the home. Every time Billy and I go to one of the homes, we are frequently asked how specific people from various groups are doing and then they will return to visit again. This message that the children in our homes receive is completely worth all of the work that goes into planning each trip and dealing with last minute changes, cancelled flights and transportation strikes.

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Apart from the self-esteem boost that the volunteers give to the children in our homes, they also have become a network of people that keep the ministry in their prayers and advocate for us when they return home. Each volunteer group brings a financial donation to support the ministry, something that has helped us move forward as an organization over the past few years. When volunteers return home, many personally continue to financially support the organization and share about their experiences with a great network of people through their churches, small groups, places of employment, and schools. Many of the people who come as volunteers come because of an experience their friend or family member had previously.

We are thankful for the relationships that have been developed over the years with our short-term volunteers. Their support through visits, prayer and finances have greatly impacted Scripture Union’s ministry with abandoned and at-risk children in a positive way.

– Kate

Originally posted on UWM.org

5 Months in a Flash!

It is hard to believe that it is already the end of February. And even harder to acknowledge that we haven’t updated this space since September which is quite sad since I probably have about 4 different drafts of updates that were started and never finished, mostly in my head. I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but during those 3 or 4 minutes I spend in the shower each day I am able to whip out an amazing, eloquent update that all gets promptly forgotten as I step out of the bathroom. Sitting down in front of the computer and I can’t remember how to spell or get a simple point across. Maybe we need to buy some of those waterproof notepads.

Nevertheless, maybe the following will help explain why we have basically gone radio silence around here. Around mid-December time, I would have told you that I think I could count on two hands the number of days that Billy and I have spent in Lima since mid-September. Here’s why:

Way back in September our church in Lima, Camino de Vida, hosted it’s annual women’s conference – Conferencia Ellas. I attended the conference in 2014 with Carmen, a friend of ours in Lima, but throughout the entire time kept thinking that it would be fun to do with a group of people. When they started advertising the event earlier in the year, I started to think and pray about who to invite and decided to invite Esther (our house mother from the Ica home), Carmen (our house mother at Hope House, the girls home in Lima), Rosa and Luz Mery (two girls from Hope House), Julia (a friend who is living out in Yungay) and Carmen (our friend in Lima). The conference was two great days of speakers, worship and fellowship with other women and it was so great to be able to share this with a group of friends.

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The day after the conference, Billy and I headed off to the airport. Thanks to a great deal on flights (all 6 of them, 2 of which were international for $97!), a favorable exchange rate and a reward to ourselves for literally going straight from May to August, meant we were able to spend a couple weeks in Colombia. We split our time between the mountain city of Medellin and the Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena de las Indias, plus a very quick day in Bogotá. Our parents weren’t too keen on the idea when we first told them but all was fine and even at some points we felt safer there then we do here in Lima.

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We returned to Lima and not even 24 hours later after spending the day unpacking, washing clothes and repacking, we found ourselves back at the airport to head to Detroit for just over a week. Earlier in the year, we attended the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) Summit where we learned a great deal about the international orphan care movement and met many people and organizations that have become experts and examples in the field. One of those connections, the organization Back2Back Ministries, invited us to participate in a 3-day train the trainers workshop on the topic of “trauma informed care” in Cincinnati. The kids that live in our children’s homes all have experienced some form of trauma in their short lives (whether it be physical abuse or emotional trauma by the mere fact they aren’t living with their families anymore) and we feel that to help them understand and navigate their lives, we and the rest of the Girasoles staff need to be trained in how to effectively minister to a child who has experienced trauma. For me, one of the best things the presenters said during the three days was “behavior is the language of children who have lost their voice.” There were so many takeaways and things that will greatly improve our ministry and the house staff as they work with the kids on a daily basis.

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We returned to Peru after the conference and being able to spend a few days with our families ready to go on to the next thing. We arrived to our apartment in Lima at 7am and by 5pm that same day we were on our way to Kawai (90 minutes south of Lima) to host a week-long training for the Girasoles parents. Immediately Billy was able to share a few of the principles we had learned during the trauma competent caregiving workshop just a few days prior and check-in with all of his house parents during the annual training. We spent a few days in meetings and made sure to find time to grow together as a team and enjoy a bit of the surrounding area.

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The day the Girasoles training ended, Billy was off to the airport to meet the missions pastor from a church that has generously supported us over the past few years. He was new in the position and hadn’t been to Peru before and was interested in getting a first-hand look at the ministry. In 3 short days they managed to visit our children’s home in the Sacred Valley and the two in Iquitos before the pastor departed for the States.

(At this point, I had to check our calendar to see what came next…)

Ah, finally a week in Lima!

One of the boys from the Kusi home came to Lima for a couple of days to have some intense dental work done on his teeth. He was born with a disorder where his teeth don’t produce enamel and are basically rotting away at 12 years old. He was deathly terrified of the dentist and didn’t appreciate having to spend a few days at a great dentist here in Lima (which coincidentally was the same place Billy had his wisdom teeth removed a few months prior) but the staff made it an painless of an experience as possible. We were so thankful to Peru Dental for their generosity and help with the procedure!

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We hosted a group the first week in November at our home in Ica and had a great time. I have always loved going to the home in Ica – it’s a really easy home to get to at just 4.5 hour bus ride and the staff there are just wonderful with the kids. The group was a new church from North Carolina who were so much fun. We spent the week playing with the kids, painting the classroom, making book shelves and enjoying the start of the Peruvian summer.

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We said goodbye to the group and traveled the next week with a couple from the church who would help us film a new video to share about the children’s ministry (coming soon). We spent a few days filming the kids who are studying in Lima on the government scholarship and then traveled to Cusco and Iquitos to film testimonies from the older boys who are still in our care. I had a lot of fun “setting the scene” and getting kids to act in the shots while being able to work with some of the older kids to help them share their testimony on camera. We’re looking forward to seeing what the final product ends up being.

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Another week in Lima! Unfortunately I got sick and ended up spending a few days in bed and missing going to our pastor’s house for an American Thanksgiving party. :/

The following weekend Billy traveled with a Peruvian couple to Puerto Alegría so they could see the house. Henry and Eva were our house parents in Kimo but when the decision was made to close the home, they were asked to move to Puerto Alegría and take over as the house parents there. They went for a weekend with Billy to see the home, meet the kids and see if they wanted to move from one jungle to another. (A few weeks later they decided to do it!).

A day after Billy returned from Iquitos we were off to the Sacred Valley again to assist with a water filtration system installation at a church near the boys home. Billy led the installation with a couple members of the congregation while I led the education component that always goes along with the installation. We sang a lot of “Use Esta Agua” (Use this Water) and did a whole bunch of Living Waters for the World activities

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We are suckers for a great airline deal and a few months prior when the LAN flights went on sale, we managed to snag roundtrip tickets to Arequipa, the white city in the Peruvian Andes for the weekend. When roundtrip flights go on sale for $40 a person you can’t say no. We grabbed a Groupon for a very basic hotel (bathroom wasn’t even connected to the room) and were off for the weekend. Arequipa has been on our “must visit list” for a long time now and I was so excited to be able to finally go and even more so to have Billy’s uninterrupted presence for 3 whole days. This was a minor miracle. The city is covered in bricks made from volcanic ash so many of the buildings are a beautiful white color and there is an amazingly beautiful convent which was by far the best thing we saw those two days. It was over 20,000 square meters and took up an entire city block. I probably left after the 2 hour visit with over 150 photos and they just don’t do it justice.

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Ah, back to Lima again!

At this point we were ready to get back into a routine in Lima and decided to stay home and take it easy for Christmas. We invited a few of the boys who are in Lima on the government scholarship to come over on the 24th for the traditional Peruvian Christmas celebrations. Billy and I spent the day cleaning the house, making a bunch of sides and Christmas cookies and getting things ready for their arrival. Huberth and Kevin arrived about 8pm where we sat down to have Christmas dinner about 9:30pm (Peruvian schedule but American food). We watched Charlie Brown Christmas (thank you somebody on the Internet for subtitles!) and headed out to the street at midnight to watch all of our neighbors light up the sky with hundreds and hundreds of fireworks. It really is quite impressive and one of my favorite Peruvian traditions. We returned inside and like everybody else in Lima sat down to open a few presents and unlike most people in Lima, were off to bed at 1:30am.

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(Almost caught up… Now I’m seeing why we haven’t had time to update recently and realizing that this would have been easier if we had more often!)

A few days before the end of the year we had two groups arrive to ring in 2016 at two of our boys homes. Thanks to some pretty horrible weather around the Dallas area, both groups had flight issues and ended up not arriving when they were supposed to. We made a few long calls to airlines to get new flights sorted and multiple trips to bus stations to change and repurchase new tickets. In the end everybody made it to Peru finally and Billy and I were off to the jungle to spend the next week at Puerto Alegría. It’s always fun to spend a holiday at one of our children’s homes. On New Year’s Eve we moved all of the tables in the dining room into one long table and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner at 10:30pm (everybody was so hungry by that point!), played the classic Puerto Alegría group games and shortly before midnight headed out to the soccer field to start a bonfire and light off fireworks to start the new year.

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At this point, life starts to slow down and we spent almost an entire month in Lima! January has always been a slower month for us since there are few volunteer groups and not much pre-planning needs to be done yet for the upcoming groups. We still managed to fill the month with spending time with the older boys living, working/studying in Lima, doctors appointments, Skype meetings, meeting with Buckner Peru about working alongside Hope House and a quick weekend trip to Kawai (90 minutes south of Lima) for a 25th wedding anniversary. We also celebrated my 30th birthday and our 3rd wedding anniversary this month.

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At the beginning of February, Billy set off on what will probably be his biggest trip this year – the World Without Orphans Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Thanks to those connections made at the CAFO Summit, Billy was personally invited to attend the forum. After conveniently finding the best price & itinerary ticket to Thailand out of Toronto, he set off to Detroit for a couple of days before beginning his long roundabout trip to the forum. After quickly having to adjust to the 12-hour time difference, the forum started and was another great networking opportunity. Two of the breakout sessions he chose ahead of time dealt with “next steps” for children that are leaving a group home setting and becoming independent. They gave him tons of examples of things to work on with these transitioning young adults which will be very helpful here. Over the past couple of years as the older kids transition out of our homes into either the government higher education scholarship or into getting a job and living on their own, we’ve noticed some basic things that they just never were exposed to as kids (money management, how to open a bank account, etc).The forum gave Billy the opportunity to reconnect with people he had met at the CAFO Summit and meet others who are working in the same field.

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A few days after Billy left for the States, I received my own visitor here in Peru. Katie, who has been a one of my greatest friends since commiserating over RA rounds at Alma together, came to visit for a week. The last time she was here was for an extended trip which included going to Machu Picchu and our wedding so this time we were off to the jungle! We headed to Iquitos where I was able to show her the two boys homes we have there before heading out into the Amazon jungle to stay at a lodge for a few days. We had a great time out in the middle of nowhere where the heat and humidity made it look like we were always just getting out of the shower. One of the hardest things about living here now is maintaining friendships back in the States and it was so great to be able to spend an entire week catching up and making new memories together.

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Now, it’s mid-February and Billy’s on his way back to Lima. It has been a weirdly crazy, unpredictable 5 months.

As I think back over the past few months, I am reminded of how much we both enjoy being a part of this ministry and how thankful we are for the people that help us make this possible.

Would you join us in praying for these couple things?

– Continued safety in Lima and as we travel around the country visiting the children’s homes. We will be heading to the Sacred Valley in the beginning of March with a volunteer group and in April, we will be visiting all 6 homes within two weeks with a small team of doctors and dentists for the Girasoles annual check-ups.

– Time for rest together as a couple amidst our busy schedule.

– Smooth application process for the kids that are applying for the Beca 18 government scholarship for higher education studies these next few weeks. They will be sitting university entrance exams, filling out lots of paperwork and waiting to hear results. Pray for ease as they navigate Peruvian bureaucracy and their nerves as they sit for exams.

– Wisdom and guidance as we put together projects for our upcoming volunteer groups and make all of the necessary coordinations ahead of time. Pray that their visit will further strengthen the Girasoles ministry at the homes.

If you made is this far, thanks for sticking with us through this long update! 🙂

– Kate & Billy