Piranhas and tarantulas and dolphins…OH MY!

26JAN

We have had a GREAT week of hanging out with 25 kids as their parents were in meetings.  We have had a lot of fun exploring the grounds here at Kids Alive in Pucallpa, Peru.  The property is located on about 5 acres so our mornings were spent exploring,  playing games, eating snacks, learning Bible verses, and having fun.  Our afternoons were spent swimming in the river.  The river is home to piranhas, anacondas, river dolphins and many more exciting things that touched our feet as we were swimming!

One of the mornings we had a photo scavenger hunt.  Some of the things on the list to find were:  a monkey, mosquito, tarantula, termite, leaf cutter ant, coconut, banana on a tree, oranges, star fruit, dolphin.  We found most of the items on the list (except the monkey!).

You may wonder if it is safe to swim with piranhas.  We all asked the same thing!  Apparently it is ok as long as you do not have any bleeding wounds.  Thankfully Donnie’s surfing injury was healed enough to go in.  We fished for the piranhas after swimming with them and have gotten some good pictures of their teeth.  As soon as I figure out how to post pictures to this blog, I will get those on here.

It is HOT here.  We only have cold showers and I have been thankful for those cold showers!  (For anyone that knows me, this is a miracle!)  The mix of heat, humidity and mosquito laden atmosphere makes the river a welcome activity with a cooling shower to top it off.  We are LOVING it!  The excitement of newness has not yet worn off.

The week has also been great in getting to know the missionary families working with KAI in Peru.  We have made new friends and have had the chance to see their hearts for the children and people of Peru!  The group ministering together here are united to share the gospel.  We look forward to sharing all the ways KAI is changing a culture by being the hands, feet and heart of Jesus.

Tomorrow we head back to Lima and then up to the mountains.  We will swap out our shorts and t-shirts for our jeans and sweatshirts…the mountains are snow-capped!

 

A jungle adventure….

20JAN

 

We arrived in Pucallpa, Peru on Saturday. Pucallpa is about 300 miles east of Lima, over the Andes Mountains and into the jungle of Peru.  We actually are only about 70 miles from the Peru/Brazil border.

 

Upon arriving in Pucallpa, we had the chance to visit a friend of Don’s that is working here in Pucallpa with Wycliffe Bible Translators as an airplane mechanic.  We had a great time visiting with the Kooistra family, taking a boat ride, and cooling off with a swim in the river.  We also got a tour of the hangar and heard a lot about the work  mission aviation is accomplishing in the jungle.

 

We are seeing how small of a world it truly is…as we were touring the hangar yesterday, a guy came in and met our family.  When he was introduced to “Don Williams” he said, “I was just talking about a guy named Don Williams.  He was a missionary in Colombia, and a guy you would want on your security team!” Donnie explained that was his Dad.  They talked for a bit about Don Sr. and the lasting effect he has had on so many.  Don Sr. was a great man of God that had a heart as big as his calves!

 

Here in Pucallpa, Kids Alive has a care center that runs programs for children and will be opening a children’s home in the next few weeks.  We are staying at the care center with all the KAI missionaries from throughout Peru for the next week as they have their conference.  We are volunteering during the conference by keeping all the missionary kids busy while their parents are in meetings.  (We will have about 30 kids each day.) On the agenda is nail painting, rainbow looming, fishing for piranhas, and lots of soccer.

 

It is nice a warm and humid…exactly like you would expect a jungle to be.  It is also FULL of mosquitoes. Holy cow, there is no joking about mosquitoes here.  (We are thankful that we got the Yellow Fever vaccine and have been taking our malaria pills!)  I have never experienced this amount of mosquitoes…and they are huge!  They sound like a jet plane while buzzing in your ear and are like a vampire with the amount of blood they take.

 

We are looking forward to this week in the jungle and having a chance to hang out with a bunch of kids…stay tuned for some jungle adventures!

Kids Alive International

17JAN

We are in Lima, Peru visiting with Mike and Diane Fietje and their family.  Mike and Don played soccer together at Moody Bible Institute about 20 years ago.  (Sheesh, where does the time go?!?)  Anyways, the Fietjes have been in Peru for 15 years with Kids Alive International (KAI).

I will give you a basic summary of KAI and how we have been involved:
Kids Alive runs 2 ministries here in Lima.  The first is a children’s home called Juniper Tree Children’s Home. Juniper Tree takes in children that have been orphaned, abandoned or abused.   Juniper Tree currently has about 25 kids living there.  The  Children’s Home  is made up of individual family homes where a house mom helps provide for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the children.  Once a child arrives at Juniper Tree, they are typically there until they reach 18.  Many of the “graduates” from Juniper Tree have gone on to volunteer with other at risk children.  We had the chance to meet Marlon, a guy who grew up at Juniper Tree.  Marlon recently got married and is in seminary to get more training in working with youth on the streets.  What a great testimony to the work KAI is doing…giving each child the foundation to build a future and a hope.

The other ministry KAI runs in Lima is the Oasis Care Center.  Oasis started off as a facility that had children come each day to receive a balanced meal.  Many of the communities around Lima are very poor and although the children have families, they were often malnourished.  Oasis has now grown to be a full care center where over 100 children attend daily for preschool, nutritious meals, homework club and AWANA.  KAI has started a school and currently has Kindergarten and 1st grade, hoping to add a grade each year.  The impact Oasis has had on the community is amazing.  School age children (all the way through high school) come each day for tutoring and a meal.

One of the other areas Oasis is developing is a Moms Helping Moms program.  Each semester, 10 moms are chosen to attend classes, training and discipleship at Oasis.  The morning is spent in Bible study and teaching of God’s Word on marriage, parenting, finances, etc.  The afternoons are spent in training classes:  sewing, jewelry making, cooking, etc.  As the women learn skills and what they enjoy, they are able to find work easier and provide more stability for their families.  We had the chance to meet with Carmen, the director for the Moms Helping Moms program.  Carmen’s love of the Lord and the women she works with is precious.  She has seen great growth in many of the women and has celebrated commitments to Christ through the study of God’s word.

Both ministries in Lima are changing the culture. KAI is not only caring for the physical needs, but also giving training in life skills.  More importantly they are sharing the love of Jesus and His power to redeem lives.  Awesome!

The Yada Project is excited to work with KAI to provide more opportunities for growth at Juniper Tree and Oasis. We are still working on how we can work together, but here are a few of the plans. At Juniper Tree, we are looking into the possibility of providing scholarships for further education to graduates.  At Oasis, the women would have the opportunity to develop a product  and then sell their products to The Yada Project.  This would provide a consistent market and an opportunity for growth.

What a joy it has been in meeting those with a heart for widows and orphans and seeing how God is at work here in Peru….

Brazil plans….

15JAN

“Man makes his plans and God directs his steps…”  Proverbs 16:9

After a few tours of the Brazilian Embassy, the US Embassy and all of Lima, we have gotten the final word on Brazil…NO.  We were hopeful that a signed and notarized letter from the US Embassy would be sufficient to get our visas, but the Brazilian Embassy would not grant our visas.  We are all disappointed, but have a peace in knowing that God has already directed our steps in a different direction.

On a side note, we enjoyed our “tour” of the US Embassy!  It truly looks like a fortress in the middle of the city and we were all impressed with the professionalism, kindness and sympathy we were shown.  Proud to be an American!

We have enjoyed exploring Kids Alive International here in Lima and will be at the Kids Alive children’s home in the jungle all next week. During that time, we will continue to work on our replacement plans for Brazil.

South America is not lacking any places to explore or people to meet!  In fact, Don talked with a guy that is working in the mountains in Peru and had worked closely with his parents in Ecuador.  We were wondering how we could fit in a visit to them….now we have time.  We would welcome prayer for our replacement plans to come together.

In one of our travel books it read, “Flexibility is the requirement for survival” and Albert Einstein wrote, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”.  We are learning daily the joy of flexibility and may be freaking geniuses by the time we get home.  :)

Brazil update…

14JAN

An update on our Brazilian visa saga:  We spent most of the day working on our visas for Brazil.  The hang up is that in addition to a pile of paperwork, new passport photos, our passports, and money; they also need a notarized copy of each of the kids birth certificates.  In an effort to pack as little as possible, we neglected to bring the birth certificates (and who would think you would need those if you had valid passports?!?).  We even had a friend looking in Madison through our packed boxes at home for the birth certificates (a HUGE thanks to Greg!).  Anyways, according to the Brazilian Embassy, we are not allowed in the country.

Our only hope is a meeting with the US Embassy tomorrow morning at 9 am.  We are hopeful that Brazil will still work out.  We are also fully relying on God’s direction for the remainder of our trip.  We have looked at a map and have a “Plan B” starting to form if need be.  We will keep you posted after our meeting tomorrow.

Another thing to pray for:  Donnie is needing to remove his stitches.  Luckily, Isaiah has given him a lot of practice with stitches (Isaiah has had at least 5 stitch injuries in his short life).  Since I am absolutely NO help with medical stuff, one of the kids is up to play nurse and will assist Don in this one. I will try to capture a few photos of this endeavor.

One last thing…Lima has Starbucks!  We have had terrible coffee on this trip and I feel fully alive again after a great cup of strong coffee.  Praise God!  That is all.  Just rejoicing in the good stuff.  :)

 

Hospitality…

11JAN

We said goodbye to the beach and new friends in Montanita on Tuesday and boarded a bus for Guayaquil (3 hours).  Upon arriving in Guayaquil, we expected to catch the bus for Lima, Peru an hour later.   The bus we intended to take had left early…just because time means nothing down here. We checked our other option for a bus and they were booked until Friday. Hmmmm…we stopped to pray and see what our other options were.
A guy recommended a bus company that was not direct to Lima, but that would still be a better option than waiting 4 days in Guayaquil.
The bus was a bit cheaper than the other we had planned on, left that night from Guayaquil, had a layover the next day in a beach town for a few hours and had 5 seats left on it…sold!  Well, that plan worked out better than we had hoped…thank-you Jesus.
Next up was figuring how we would spend the next 8 hours in Guayaquil. The girls and I went to use the bathroom (a whole different blog post on that experience!) and left Don and Isaiah to figure out a plan. As we came out, I said that we should just pray we find someone to ask that lives in Guayaquil to tell us what to see with our few hours there. Lille saw a woman that had talked to her in the bathroom and said to ask her.  As she walked by and smiled, we asked her if she was from Guayaquil. The next thing we know, we are getting in a taxi with our new friend and our tour guide for the day.
Enma Lorena, our new friend, also had a few hours in Guayaquil before a doctors appointment and was thrilled at the opportunity to show us around Guayaquil. We had simply asked where to go, never expecting that someone would actually want to take us!
Enma Lorena took us downtown to show off some of the architecture and then to the port of Guayaguil and gardens to see “the best of the town”. We enjoyed lunch together and were then planning to go back to the bus station.
Enma Lorena insisted on allowing us to rest at her sisters before our overnight bus trip.  We went back with her and had coffee and sat by a pool. It was lovely!
She then made dinner for us and sent us off with her email address and a promise that the next time we are in Ecuador we would come and visit her home. Enma Lorena showed us true hospitality.  Amazing!
As we sat waiting for our bus, the kids all said that even trying to explain the events of the day would never do justice to our prayers being answered. We prayed, God directed clearly and we were blessed beyond measure.
We are glad we took Enma Lorena up on her insistence to rest at the pool because the bus trip was less than restful!  We had 14 hours (9 pm-11 am) with a border crossing (where everyone is required to get off the bus and walk over the border), a bag check for drugs and a stop in a town. We ended up stopping every 3 hours, not the most conducive to sleeping!
We arrived in Chiclayo, Peru at 11 am and had the day to explore. Isaiah asked that we just find the beach on our own and NOT ask anyone (or God) for someone to show us around.  We enjoyed the beach and Isaiah rented a surfboard to try the waves in Peru.
That night we boarded the bus again for another 12 hours to Lima. This time we asked if any seats were available on the first floor, which is the “first class” of bus travel. They had 5 seats available but they were $10 a piece more. We got them and I think that may have been the best $50 we have spent the whole trip!  A great nights sleep does wonders.  :)
We are now in Lima, Peru with a friend of Don’s from soccer in college. We are enjoying getting to know their family and ministry.  More on that soon…

More to celebrate…

06JAN

We are concluding our time in Montanita, Ecuador and moving on to Peru tomorrow.  After celebrating Christmas, New Year’s and Isaiah’s 14th birthday here, we have exhausted the town of celebration.  Ha!  That is not true.  We barely partook in the celebrations around Montanita and it is just gearing up for their busy time here at the beach.

We have LOVED our time here and the people we have met.  I would love to share about each of our new friends and the fun we had in talking, having dinner, playing games and just hanging out together but there just isn’t enough time.  We know that nothing happens by “coincidence” and are confident that God led us to each new friendship.  We are reminded of the verses in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose.  For we are God’s fellow workers…” We pray that as we invested our time into new friendships, that the Lord will make Truth known and cause seeds that were planted to grow.  (Check out our new friends and some pictures on Facebook…we hope to stay connected through technology!)

We celebrated Isaiah’s birthday yesterday with his 2 simple requests:  surfing and eating.  He chose his favorite foods to eat and requested surfing with Don. IMG_3146 We had a fabulous breakfast of bolon (authentic Ecuadorian: mashed plaintain with cheese, rolled into a big ball and fried) and fresh fruit smoothies.  Then the guys hit the waves.

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Isaiah has gotten to be a pro at surfing and is keeping up with all the locals.  Don tangled with a wave and got hit by the fin of his surfboard.  He thought he would have a good bruise, and kept surfing but later realized he was bleeding pretty well and needed stitches.

He grabbed a cab and took a quick trip to the hospital for 7 stitches. He is taking some penicillin to keep any infections out and is bummed that his surfing is over for the next few weeks.  One of the hazards of living life to the fullest…but totally worth it!

Have I mentioned the laundry here?!?  You drop off your laundry:  they wash it, dry it, fold it and then you pick it up.  It is $1/lb.  I could get used it the laundry situation here.  I need to go pick up our laundry today since all of my tank tops are in the wash.  It is hot here today!  Oh yeah, what is the weather like in Wisconsin?!?  :)

I saw a rat.  We were cooking in the outdoor kitchen here and decided to make a smoothie. I pulled out the blender, added the fruit and turned it on.  Out ran a rat from the base of the blender.  I screamed.  I danced.  I ran out of the kitchen.  You probably heard me screaming in Wisconsin if you had been listening.  Isaiah claims that we don’t need to worry about that rat again…I gave it a heart attack.  My heart still races at the thought of that nasty thing running out at me.

Tomorrow we catch a bus back to Guayaguil and then board a bus for Lima, Peru.  In all, we will have about 29 hours on a bus in the next two days.  That should give us plenty of time to catch up on some sleep and school…

New Year’s experience…

02JAN

Happy New Year!  We did not plan to blog today, but after our experience last night we just had to share it.  After reading through a few posts on Facebook this morning, we did not have a typical family celebration.

We started at 5 pm with cooking a huge feast with all of our world guests.  We had someone from every continent (except Antartica).  Don was the grill master, cooking up carne asada, chorizo, and chicken (30 lbs of meat!).  The rest of us chopped up pico de gallo, guacamole, fresh fruits, etc. It was great getting to know everyone and celebrating the New Year repeatedly as the clock struck midnight around the world.   Around 9 pm, they kicked off a “card game” for the New Year (that involved drinking).  We kicked off a tough game of Uno at the next table.  :)

Isaiah talked for hours with a few guys from Sweden about snowboarding.  Then he ran into town to buy some fireworks to end out our party.  From here, the Ecuadorian traditions start…

We are still trying to figure out what is Ecuadorian tradition and what is a Montanita beach tradition, but we can still share the tradition that we experienced last night.  At 11 pm everyone (it seemed like the whole town!) goes to the beach and lights campfires and fireworks.  Lots of fireworks.

All week we have been watching the locals make paper mache masks and figures.  Each figure and mask is elaborately painted and carved.  A lot of time and work are put into these and displayed all over town.  Everyone brings their mask to the beach at 11 pm and sets them up all over the beach.

The beach is filled with people…mostly drunk.  The smell of smoke is almost overwhelming (weed, campfires, fireworks).  I tried to take some pictures, but it was too dark to capture the beach scene, but it was quite a sight!

At 11:30 pm, the surfers all gather together to create a “surfer parade” up and down the beach.  They run with their boards, chant something, jump over fires and then lead everyone into the water at midnight.  Don and Isaiah were right in the swarm of people catching their first wave of 2014.

The tradition is then to burn the masks in the fires on the beach to symbolize the “letting go” of the past year.  We watched for about an hour on the beach and then realized they were also burning the masks in the streets in town.  Fascinating to watch!

Did I mention fireworks?!?  Yes, there was A LOT of fireworks.  Fireworks are not illegal here, so anyone can buy big, huge, explosives off the street.  It was like a continual 4th of July firework display for hours.  It was amazing to watch until a few were set off into the crowd and became more like missiles than fireworks.  :)  Drunk people setting off explosives is not a great idea.

We left the beach around 1:30 am and walked through the dancing streets of Montanita.  We got an ice cream and watched the continual celebrations and ended out our evening by 2 am.

The kids all exclaimed that it was by far their most memorable New Year’s Eve ever.  I would agree.  And just in case they thought all the drinking and dancing looked “fun” last night, we walked through town this morning to see the “fun” all those people are having now as they are holding their heads and a bit hung over.  It does not look quite so “fun” anymore.  :)

I cannot truly describe the atmosphere, but it was an experience.  We were thankful for the time to see the new culture and traditions, but also thankful that our hope does not lie in the “fun” of this world.  The verse “Be in the world, but not of the world” resonated with us last night.  We pray that the hope that is within us shines bright.

Happy New Year from Ecuador!

A few things we have learned in 2013…

31DEC

Today we are enjoying preparing a meal for all of our new friends here in Ecuador.  We will have a New Year’s Eve fiesta with friends from Switzerland, Sweden, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Ecuador, Colombia, Holland and at least 6 other countries!  The tradition at the beach is to hang out at the beach until 12 am, and then EVERYONE races into the waves to catch the first wave of the new year.  We plan to join in the festivities and hit the waves at midnight.

As we are preparing the meal, we think back on 2013.  We have learned a lot this past year and will share some of those thoughts over the next few posts as we continue to process them.  One of my major lessons this past year has been the amazing things God will do if you are willing to allow Him to lead.  I have felt the thrill of living life to the fullest and most abundantly this past year as we have surrendered our plans and allowed His plans to lead us.  Walking by faith and not by sight is a daily surrender and we are still in the midst of the learning curve.  Life is too short to have it all figured out before taking a step and we are constantly relying more on His strength.  Pura vida! (Pure life!)

I have also learned some very practical things:  hot water is a luxury NOT to be taken for granted; septic systems in 3rd world countries DO NOT like toilet paper; there is good reason to pick up after your dog; cockroaches in warm climates grow to be as big as buses; water from the tap is not a friend to your digestive system.

We are enjoying the friendships we are making and love the chance to be the light of Jesus.  We are overwhelmed with the great gifts of hope, grace, love and joy we have in knowing we are here for a purpose and to build HIs Kingdom one person at a time.

Happy New Year from the Williams Family!

A whole new world…

29DEC

I have been in language school for one week.  I am progressing in my Spanish skills quite well and am enjoying practicing throughout the town.  I am now officially friends with the cleaning ladies and feel like a whole new world of friendship has opened up now that I can speak another language better than just ordering food.  I must admit, I am still better at charades than Spanish, but I will keep practicing.

The little town of Montanita is gearing up for New Year’s.  The flocks of people that come to the coast for New Year’s is amazing.  The next few days here will be similar to MTV Spring Break, but with nothing being illegal.  It is not bad during the day, but the nights get very loud.  In fact, the music at the discoteca just went off at 7 am.

We escaped the busyness of the beach here yesterday and went to a Ecuadorian National Park, Isla de Plata.  Isla de Plata is known as the “poor man’s Galapagos”.  The smaller island has many of the same species of birds and animals that the famous Galapagos has, but much cheaper to visit.  We took a boat out about an hour into the ocean to the island.  We saw dolphins swimming next to us, large sea turtles that we fed watermelon to, and a whale.  We were able to hike on the island and saw  blue-footed boobies.  Blue-footed boobies are amazing birds that are only found in 3 places in the world:  Galapagos, Isla de Plata, and one other island in Ecuador.  We ended the day snorkeling on the island and a very choppy boat ride back to the mainland.

As we were coming off the boat, we saw a very unusual bug.  We stopped to inspect it and ran into 3 families that were also looking at the bug.  We started talking to them and found out that they all volunteer at Casa de Fe (the orphanage in Shell that we visited).  Since we are about 15 hours from that small jungle town, it was a surprise to see them here.  We talked for over an hour and were able to hear more of their heart for how they are serving in Ecuador and what led them to Casa de Fe.  We see clearly that God is at work and are waiting to see how it all fits together.

Today we are having church on the beach, surfing, and then getting all these Ecuadorian and European new friends to cheer on the Packers.  (I found a restaurant in town that is willing to switch channels from futbol to American futbol for a few hours this afternoon so we can have a Packer party!)  Go Pack Go!