jueves, 22 de diciembre de 2016

A Christmas Celebration and a Homecoming

The last few weeks have been extremely busy with finishing up the semester, midterms (again, didn’t go as well as I hoped), preparing for the school Christmas celebration, and trying to finish my grad school class a week early so I don’t have to work on it while I’m back in America. However, everyone survived and everything went well.
The Christmas celebration was pretty fantastic. Each class presented a song or skit, everyone ate, and all of the kids were sent home with large bags of food and a toy. Because of a lot of generous donations, we were able to send each child home with some rice, beans, oil, noodles, corn meal, sugar, fruit, cookies, sardines, and more. Each child received a toy like a large toy car, doll, yo-yo, tea set, ball, or hula-hoop. They were so unbelievably excited. It was such a blessing to get to see each of their faces. 

However, the reason they receive these bags of food each year is one thing that these children and young adults need prayer for. While we may look forward to vacations, they are actually very difficult times for these students. For many of them, the only food that they receive each day is what they get while at school. What that means is that vacations are times of hunger. These bags of food will help some, but they honestly are probably already gone, or almost gone (depending on the size of the family). This vacation is three weeks long. Please pray that God will provide for the physical needs of these students during this vacation.
Also, for many of these students, vacation means isolation. Almost none of them have family members who sign. The older ones who live near each other can get together and have some social interaction. However, the younger ones and the ones who don't have deaf friends nearby will be spending the next three weeks in isolation, with little to no communication. They need prayers in this aspect as well.
I've been told that December can a dangerous time in the DR. It is a month when all of the thieves are out working overtime. Please pray for protection for these students and their families during this dangerous month.
I’m currently sitting in my bed (what used to be my bed? My American bed?) after having dinner
with my mom's side of the family and getting to surprise some church family and my aunt and uncle on my dad's side by showing up at a restaurant jam session where they all were. I can’t believe I’m back in America. I don’t think it has really hit me yet. It’s definitely exciting and I am so happy to be here. Finally getting to see family and friends who I have missed so much was an indescribable blessing. I feel so happy, blessed, and loved. But it’s also a strange feeling, if I’m being honest. I have been living in a different country for six and a half months now. I have developed an entirely new life. A new routine, new diet, new job, new city, new language, new culture, and I have added family and friends to my life. Full disclosure, I feel more like I’m traveling than like I’m finally home. That’s a weird thing to admit, but I’m going to take it as evidence that I am where God wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do. I still don’t know why He chose me, and some days I am sure that He made the wrong decision. But then He gives me glimpses of His plan and reminds me that this isn’t about me. That He has chosen to use my life, and all I can do is trust and obey.

But for now, I’m on vacation! I get to spend the next two weeks visiting family and friends, relaxing, and enjoying the fact that everything is in English!!

domingo, 27 de noviembre de 2016

A Different Camp from a Different Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, I was so blessed to be visited by one of my very best friends. It was fantastic and uplifting to have her with me for five days. She got to see what my everyday life here is like, we were able to catch up, and we had a lot of laughs. (If you don't believe me about the heat in the school, ask Kayla.) Getting to spend time with her was exactly what I needed, and I'm so grateful that she was able to come and be a part of my new life for a few days.
That same weekend, one of the women in the Deaf church got baptized along with many other people from the church that planted the Deaf church. Many of the people from the Deaf church came to be a part of this wonderful event where probably 30 people of all ages made a public affirmation of faith. It is so amazing to see more and more of the Deaf community accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Oh, and I also did this! I learned how to drive a motorcycle! I'm not very good at it yet, so I still need to practice, but I made it around the block. The faces of the people watching a white woman go by driving a motorcycle were priceless.

A few days after Kayla left, a group of Americans came to do a camp with the students at the school. They attended the Deaf church on Sunday, had activities for all of the students Monday, Tuesday, and half of Wednesday, and then took the older students to a camp Wednesday through Saturday. They brought a few people with them who could sign, but I became the "official" interpreter. Normally when this group comes, the Americans speak in English, an interpreter then translates it into Spanish, and then one of the teachers interprets it into sign. My presence meant that one of those steps could be eliminated. I have zero interpreting experience, so the idea of this made me very nervous. But God gave me everything I needed to be able to do it. And I have no doubt that it was through Him, because I never could have done it on my own. I interpreted the Bible lessons and stayed with the sports rotation to interpret for the Americans in charge of that station. Some of the Americans held a workshop for the teachers all day Monday and Tuesday as well. It was a fun and special time for all of us.
The awesome team of Americans from Arizona

Chapel time
Wednesday afternoon, the group of Americans, a few of the teachers, 25 of the older students, and I left for a camp two hours north of Santo Domingo in Jarabacoa. It was absolutely gorgeous. Even though it didn't stop raining until the day we left, we had an incredible time. The air was nice and cool up on the mountain, which I LOVED! We had devotionals twice a day, played in the mud, swam in the pool, played basketball, volleyball, foosball, pool, and ping pong, rock climbed, swung on a giant swing (see picture to the left), ate s'mores, and had an amazing time laughing, sharing, and growing together. My arms might fall off and my mind feels like jelly from all of the interpreting (back and forth between English, sign language, and Spanish), but I am glad that God was able to use me to help teach His word and facilitate communication.
The giant swing! That's me in the middle.

Making s'mores

The thing about this camp that was very different for me personally was that it was the first time I was not a part of the group of Americans. I was a part of the Dominican team. I saw the camp from the perspective of someone who lives in this country and culture and who works with these students every day. I was able to answer questions about the students, the school, and the culture and offer some guidance to the American team in a way I never have been able to do before. I normally go through my days not really thinking about how much my life has changed, but sometimes things (such as this experience) really remind me that this is my home now and my life is so completely different than it used to be. That realization is at the same time exciting and terrifying.

I don't know what it is about these kids and young adults, but once you interact with them, you will never be the same. I have seen it over and over again with the team that does the camp in June, and now I have seen it with another group. They find their way into your heart and change your outlook, your priorities, and your walk with God. Their joy for life, generosity, kindness, eagerness to learn, faith, love, and amazing sense of humor make it impossible to just continue life as if you had never met them. This community is so unbelievably special. God has brought them all together to do something incredible for His glory. I have no doubt. Being a part of it all once a year was amazing. But being a part of it every single day is a joy and a blessing that I could never describe. I am so thankful.

jueves, 27 de octubre de 2016

A Late Post-Hurricane Report and More

I can't believe it has been almost a month since I have made a post! The time has been flying! Hurricane Matthew brought a lot of rain and some wind, but we had no flooding and barely even lost power where I am living. However, the areas near the river experienced a lot of flooding. A few of the students from the school's homes flooded, but not many. But here are some pictures I took when we drove around the area where the school is located and where many of the students live. This flooding continued to rise for days after the hurricane had passed and then took over a week to go down. Thank God that all of the students, teachers, and their families were kept safe and that the damages were not nearly as bad as they could have been.


There have been a few cool things going on at the school. One day, a finance company visited the school and gave the kids a talk about saving money, which is a skill that is very important for them to learn and begin to practice. I think what the kids remember most was the inflatable yellow mascot guy, though!

Also, yesterday the sixth grade class competed at the festival of songs in English. Students from multiple schools in the district came together and performed songs for one another in English. Natali taught the sixth grade class a song in English and they performed it beautifully!! They read the English lyrics on a karaoke version of the song to keep them in time with the music, knew what the English words meant, and were able to perform the song in sign language. It was an incredible experience. When they finished singing, the entire room stood up and applauded for them the Deaf way (by shaking your hands in the air above your head). Not only was this an amazing accomplishment for the students and something for the whole school and community to be proud of, but it also exposed many of those people to deafness and sign language for the first time. The audience got to see just how amazing and intelligent these Deaf students are and how beautiful their language is. Exposure like this is part of how we can change the perception of deafness in this country and give these kids and the future generations a better world to grow up in.
Each of them received a medal, which they were able to take home and show to their families. This is something tangible that these parents can be truly proud of, which will hopefully help them see the potential of their children and encourage better relationships between these parents and their deaf children.

In not so great news, I gave my first test to each of my classes. It did not go as well as I had hoped. I was feeling pretty discouraged and like I must not be doing a good job at being their teacher. I felt as though I did everything I could to prepare them, but I just hadn't done enough or that I had done it badly or maybe I had not been able to communicate the concepts well. However, when I handed the tests back, my students took it very well. They took it much better than I did, in fact. I explained to them that these tests were difficult on purpose because I intend to challenge them. I told them that they are capable of doing everything that hearing students can do and that I was going to hold them to that standard. That I refuse to treat them differently or lower my expectations for them, because they are absolutely capable!
I continue to remind myself that I am attempting to teach some advanced concepts to students who have very little knowledge base to build off of and understand this material. They also can only read and write on a very basic level, and the science language is very difficult for them. We will all continue to work together and find a way to make sure they get the best education possible. I am in a learning process just as much as they are, as this is my first year teaching. I know that the Lord is in control and that He will guide my steps through this process as long as I continue to trust in Him.

In my personal life, teaching English once a week is going pretty well. The class seems to respond well to me and it is actually a lot of fun. One day, I was having them debate different aspects of animal conservation and the power went out. It was already dark by this time, and some of my students tried to tell me that we needed to end the class early. That was not going to fly with me. We took out our cell phones and shined light on each pair of debaters until the power came back on. That was an adventure.
I also went out to the new 4D movie theater and the circus. The 4D movie theater was pretty cool. The seats shake and move and lift up and down, the seats in front of you squirt water and air, smoke rises up from the floor, and lights around the theater flash. The movie wasn't that great, but the 4D experience was rather cool. However, the Dominican women did not appreciate that their hair was getting wet! The circus was pretty fun too. There were magicians, jugglers, acrobats, animal tamers (snakes thicker than my head!), and a clown.

I know I say it all the time, but I truly am just so blessed to be here serving and being a part of this community. Even though there is so much work involved during this first year of teaching, more responsibilities are being added to my plate, grad school work is constantly looming over my head, and I often feel very overwhelmed, each day I get to spend with these kids and young adults is such a blessing. I get to see God working in so many incredible ways everyday. If you ever doubt whether God is truly working in this world or not, come visit us some time. You will see just how mighty He is.

sábado, 1 de octubre de 2016

A Report and a Request

Last time I wrote, I had just made it past three months being in the country. Well, I have now been here more than three months post-camp, which is actually a bigger deal because going to camp is part of my normal routine. Full disclosure, as the newness of the situation is wearing off, I am beginning to miss my old life and home somewhat. But I am still so grateful for this mission the Lord somehow saw fit to send me on, and I am truly loving my new life and serving in these new ways.

Ever since God called me to leave my life and plans for the future to come here and be a teacher to the deaf, I have often wondered why He called me. There are so many people better qualified to do this job than I am. I have no formal education in teaching (much less special education), I have very little formal education in American Sign Language, I don't speak Spanish, I have never been evangelistic, my knowledge in theology is rather lacking, and the list goes on and on. But the longer I'm here, the more I am starting to believe all of those reasons are exactly why He called me. Any success I have and any impact I make could only be possible through Him. There is no way that any human ability or institution can take credit for what I do while I am here. All of the glory is to Him and for Him. If you ever find yourself wondering why God has placed you where He has, just remember that if He put you there, He will provide everything you need to be able to serve Him as He intended.

One thing I have learned about Dominicans is that they celebrate EVERYTHING! There are so many special days and each one is recognized and talked about in the schools. For example, just this month we have had the Day of Alphabetization, the International Day of Peace, the Day of the Bible, the Day of Children's Rights, and the Day of the Deaf. The Day of the Bible was celebrated with songs and dramas presented by each grade teaching about the Bible and its power.


We also got a special visit from a missionary named Bob who is 84 years old and still traveling around teaching people about the love of Christ!

Things at the school are going pretty well overall. Teaching is going great and each of my students (even the more challenging ones) is such a blessing to me. The director's son comes in once a week to teach the older students about technology and computers, and his new project is to teach them how to fix computers, which could be a wonderful way for them to make some money in the future. If any of you have any old computers, laptops, or cell phones that are damaged and you are looking to get rid of, let me know and I can get them from you in late December to bring back with me to help out with this amazing learning opportunity.

However, the water business that runs out of the school and provides some income for the school has been struggling due to the lack of electricity in the last month. For the past month, the electricity at the school has been off more than it has been on. And without electricity, we can't run the water purification system and can't sell water. That money not only pays the incomes of those who work in the water business, but also for the gas and driver for the school van. The school van was purchased thanks to a lot of hard work in fundraising done by members of the team that comes to put on the camp every summer. This van picks up and takes home children who have no transportation to get to and from school and can't afford any public transportation, and it has been such an incredible blessing. Without income from the water business, the van can't run and those kids can't come to school. Thanks for God's incredible provision through generous donations, we were able to keep the van running this last week. However, once that money is gone, we're not sure what we are going to do. We definitely need prayers in this area. If you are interested in donating to this cause, you can visit http://www.handsofjoyforthedeaf.com/donate.html. All money donated to the Hands of Joy organization gets sent to an account for the school and will be used to meet its financial needs in order to give these children a better education. There is so much power in prayer and in coming together as the body of Christ in order to help our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate.

sábado, 10 de septiembre de 2016

Settling in to My New Normal

As of yesterday, I have been in this country for three months. And for anyone who might have doubted me, I'm still going strong! I have now been truly teaching for two weeks, and it is just now hitting me that I'm actually a teacher. Me. A teacher. An actual teacher of my own classes. Who saw that coming? Certainly not me!
Each day's lesson requires a lot of preparation and work (for starters, I have a six page word document of science signs that I have had to learn just for these first two weeks), but the students seem to be truly interested in the subject. They have very little knowledge of natural sciences at this point, but due to the education standards, I'm having to teach them the information appropriate for their grade levels even though they don't have the necessary foundation to build off of. The school has no running water, and when there hasn't been electricity to run the water purifying system, no water to drink at all. There is rarely electricity at the school, so the students and teachers alike endure the blazing temperatures without even fans most of the time. Also, when there is no electricity and it is a dark and rainy afternoon (this happens often), it's very difficult for the students to see their work or even the teacher signing. The school is located between two other buildings with some of the classrooms to the back and a huge door and wall in the front, so there is very little breeze inside the school. All of this makes for extremely difficult, hot, and sweaty conditions for both students and teachers. However, those kids show up to school every day so excited to be there. They love to come to school and they have an unparalleled eagerness to learn. The teachers have such a heart for the students and arrive joyful everyday. Watching the dedication and resilience of the teachers and students at this school has been so inspiring to me. Such joy, strength, and love can only come from the Lord. I am so thankful that I get to be a part of this amazing team of teachers and students who work so hard everyday, despite the difficult conditions, to educate and improve the lives of these students and to enhance the opportunities for future generations of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in this country.
Teaching 7th grade the structure of neurons.
And not only are these students eager to learn, but they're intelligent. I have been teaching 7th grade about plant hormones and tropisms, the human nervous system (each part and function of the central, peripheral, and autonomic systems), and the endocrine system (the different glands and the hormones they produce). Fifth grade has been learning about the solar system and structure of the Earth, and 6th has been learning about cells and cell organelles. It is a lot of difficult information, as they have never been exposed to this stuff before and they can only read and write on a very basic level. But these kids  are surprising me and exceeding my expectations every day. They can achieve so much, and now that their education and opportunities are improving, this group could have a future and quality of life unheard of for the deaf population here as of yet.
Also, I got a paying part time job! Remember how I told you all that I taught an English class for English teachers? The teacher of that class offered to hire me to take over that class. However, I had to turn that down since part of the class is learning about the education system here in the Dominican Republic, which I know nothing about. The teacher then offered me a job as his teaching assistant. He will teach about the system, and I will teach the English. It is just four hours a week, and it will be very nice to have a little money. I am feeling a little intimidated by this undertaking, but after some prayer, I felt that this was the right choice. So here I go on another new adventure!
Please continue to pray for the students and teachers at this school, and also for the Deaf population here as a whole. Also, please join us in praying for the completion of the new school. For the past couple of years, the government has been constructing a new building for this school which will be much nicer, much larger, and have many more resources. It was supposed to be finished last fall, but there is still so much work that needs to be done. Personally, I could use prayers in figuring out how to use my time as wisely as possible. Between working all day, preparing my lessons, learning all the necessary vocabulary in Spanish and ASL, and keeping up with my grad school work, I am struggling to find enough hours in the day. Once again, I am thankful beyond words for all of the love, prayer, and support I have received. God has provided for me in ways I could not even have imagined. Not only have I been blessed financially by many of you, but I have also been so blessed by the family that has taken me in and accepted me as one of their own. Even when I feel overwhelmed by the work load, frustrated by the language barrier, or exhausted from the heat, when I think about how the Lord has rained blessings over my life in these past three months, I really can't feel anything but gratefulness.

domingo, 28 de agosto de 2016

First Week of School

Well, we did it! Everyone survived the first week of school. Everything went pretty smoothly, and I am so excited to continue teaching these kids! This first week was pretty laid back because apparently it's a normal thing here that a lot of students don't even come the first week of school. There were so few students in grades 5-7 (the grades I will be teaching) that we combined them on Monday and Tuesday. I spent some time just observing while the experienced teachers reiterated school rules and expectations and then we all told each other about our summers, played games, etc. Later in the week, I reviewed some of the important topics they should have learned last year. They were so excited to learn and were able to pull some of that information out of their dusty summer brains. On Friday, all schools were shut down because of the tropical depression (even though it was sunny almost the entire day), and I was able to actually rest some for the first time in a couple of weeks.
I finished my current grad school class after working every spare moment for the past couple of weeks, and my next class starts September 1st. But for the next few days, I get to focus on my lesson plans, studying science vocabulary in Spanish and ASL, and relax a bit. I really need to stop procrastinating...
Last Friday, I went to Natali's English class with her because it is right after work and we are sharing a car. Now, this is not a basic English class. This is an English class for English teachers who are already teaching English and are looking to improve even more. The professor noticed me immediately because I stick out like a sore thumb everywhere I go. He asked me to stand up and tell everyone who I am and what I am doing in the Dominican Republic. My announcement that I am teaching natural sciences at a school for the deaf with sign language being the primary language and supporting that with vocabulary in Spanish so the kids will be able to read and write those words in the future sparked a language discussion in the class. A little while later, the professor approached me and said, "Since you're here, I need to ask you a favor. I have to go teach another class for an hour, so you're going to teach this one. Here's the book, just talk about what it says, ask them questions, have them discuss. Just let them hear your accent and make them practice speaking in English. You'll be great. Good luck!"And just like that, he left…Now standing at the front of the class, I turned to face them and saw about thirty pairs of eyes on me, waiting expectantly. So, I taught. After an hour, it was time for break. Then the teacher came back, taught for a while, approached me again and said, "I need to deliver some paperwork, so the class is all yours again!" And he left…again…He came back at the end of class and said I'm welcome to come every Friday and take some work off of his plate. The students were very kind and told me I did a great job. I was also apparently very famous, as the teachers I was teaching told their teacher friends in other classes about what had happened. After class, the professor talked to me and Natali about the school and said he would like to visit some time. He is a very respected man with a lot of experience and power, so this could be a great opportunity.
Tomorrow I begin introducing new topics to my students. I have studied and prepared so much, but I still feel extremely underprepared. I could use prayer for increased trust in the Lord's provision, for strength of mind to continue learning and retaining these concepts in new languages, and for clarity in my communication with my students. Thank you all so much for your prayers and support. It means the world to me.

miércoles, 17 de agosto de 2016

Good-bye Vacation!

Well, summer vacation is officially over. We have been working in the school for the past two weeks, preparing for the new school year. I will be teaching 5th through 7th grade natural sciences this year. What that means is that, using textbooks written in Spanish, I have to develop three separate curriculums from scratch. I started by reading my way through the first units of each textbook so I knew what exactly I was expected to teach, and so I could learn the science vocabulary in Spanish. It took me an entire week of eight-hour work days, but I finally read through them, Google translating all of the words I didn't know. I am currently working on making lesson plans for the first few weeks, and the next step is making sure I can sign it all in ASL. However, there are a ton of technical science terms that I don't know in ASL, so I have a lot of studying to do before school starts on Monday! The end of my current grad school semester is also coming up, and I have a lot of work left to do for that as well. Needless to say, I am feeling the pressure!
This is how I study when the power goes out at night
But it hasn't been all work all the time. I have gone out with a missionary family a few times to visit their church and go to the movies and such. They are a great resource, have been very helpful, and are wonderful friends. I also met up with a friend from camp who is currently living here for a research internship. She, one of her friends who was visiting her, and I went to the Colonial Zone and walked around. The Colonial Zone is the oldest part of the city with buildings that were built when the Spanish first came and settled here in the Dominican. We visited a cathedral and a fort, ate some delicious food, went to some shops, and had a great time. Also, it was my first time venturing out on my own! I felt like such a big girl. I took a taxi there and back all on my own. I even had a conversation with one of the taxi drivers in Spanish!
I might have hopped a locked gate to get here. It's fine.

On that note, my Spanish is improving considerably. Well, my ability to understand it. Not so much my ability to speak it. But I know that will come with time. The language barrier has probably been the most difficult part of this move, so I'm feeling pretty good about the improvements I have made in the last couple of months.
I'm really excited to see what all God has in store as this new school year starts. Thank you all so much for your prayers. I could use many, many more in these next few weeks!

jueves, 28 de julio de 2016

Trying to Make Sense of Closed Doors

This past week has been mostly pretty uneventful. We have really just been hanging out at home. I exposed Natali to the original Star Wars trilogy. This is now the second time I have had the privilege of watching these movies with someone who was 100% taken by surprise at the classic plot twists that most people who haven't even seen the movies know and take for granted. Very entertaining.
The main events of the week revolved around watching a door that seemed to finally have opened slam shut. Without going into too much detail, the American couple who was staying with us had been trying for many years to help one of the deaf children in a very special way. Over and over, each door seemed to close. This time, it seemed as though they had finally succeeded in taking an important step when another door slammed shut in their faces. Something about this door seemed much more final. Serious and long-lasting consequences became a possibility, and the American couple knew it was time to let this go. With extremely heavy hearts, they realized that what they had been trying to do was not going to be possible. They returned home confused and broken-hearted, but sure that this was God giving the final "no." I have to be honest with all of you, I'm not sure I would have been strong enough to accept "no" as an answer at this point. They had put so much time, energy, and resources into this. They had sacrificed so much. To some, their acceptance of the situation may have seemed like a lack of persistence or a lack of caring. To me, it demonstrated the strength of their faith and their trust in the Lord. I can only pray that when faced with closed doors, I will have the same faith and trust to keep my eyes on the Lord and trust in His perfect plan for eternal glory, even if I never see the good in my lifetime.
I found this blog entry by Daira Curran that really resonated with this situation. I have kept this post short (or I intended to…) so that you will hopefully have time to read it. http://purposecity.com/insights/why-god-may-be-closing-doors/
For those of you who may be encountering closed door after closed door, I hope you can find comfort in knowing that our Father is a Good Father, and His ways are perfect. We may not understand His plans or His ways, but our perspective is so limited. He can see everything from beginning to end. If we expect to understand everything that God does, then we do not truly believe Him to be the awesome God that He is.