We’ve gone a little radio silent here lately. And I can’t blame a lack of internet this time, we’ve just been busy working.
As of mid-March, for the first time in the last six months, we actually knew where we were we going to be FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS!! I realize that probably doesn’t sound as shocking to you, but for us it’s insane! The first stop has been San Martin, doing volunteer work with a bible school…
and the second stop will be Tumunan Lodge in Chile. We will be working there in exchange for room and board! It’s our first Workaway job. It’s located in the Andes, has fly fishing, horseback riding and it’s own little vineyard. We aren’t sure what all we’ll be doing, but it could be anything from general lodge cleaning, cooking, garden tending, to helping in the vineyard, to helping guide guests on fishing trips. The owner was also excited that we have marketing and graphic design backgrounds, so probably a little of that thrown in too. They have a couple horses on property which they say I can ride in my free time! Oh, and did I mention they do wine tours of the Colchagua Valley? We start on April 15, so more to come. Here’s the website if you want to check it out: http://www.tumunanlodge.com/
Anyway, since mid-March we have been here in San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina. We are volunteering with a Christian ministry here started by a friend of Rick’s, Pablo. Rick met Pablo about ten years ago; Pablo was the translator for a 10 week mission trip Rick went on to La Plata, outside of Buenos Aires.
Pablo saw a huge need in this area of Argentina for people to be able to understand and apply the bible to their lives in a transformational way. Traditionally here the only way people hear the bible is through a sermon on Sunday at church. This area, and Patagonia as a whole, is very cut off from the outside world – mostly due to the government. Importing anything is crazy expensive, sending any kind of package here means you have to pay 50% of its value in import fees (we speak from experience on that – long story!), and outside information or goods are not taken kindly to. So there is just not any resource for people to know how to read the bible, or how it can transform their life.
So Pablo started a bible school here, and we learned earlier this year that it has been struggling to get attendance and really take off. Pablo asked if we were in Argentina if we would like to come help – sort of a consulting job, see what the situation is, what improvements might help, give some marketing advice and redesign the website and materials. So that’s what we’ve been working on for the last few weeks. Rick has designed an incredible website that will really draw people in and engage them! We were able to share with Pablo a lot of the successes we’ve seen with equipping classes at Watermark.
And as we studied the situation, we came to the conclusion that Pablo needed a new target audience, and we got leadership to agree on that!! (ok, marketing nerdiness – but that’s HUGE!). The leadership has even asked that we rethink all of the courses for the year – all new topics – and I’m taking the lead on that! It’s very exciting. So we have developed a whole new marketing strategy, course content, radio ads, Facebook content and strategy, rebranded everything, including the website, logo, flyers, everything!
Pablo and his family have been incredible and generous, they invited us to share their home while we are here. We have laughed and learned so much getting to spend this time with them… so much so that it deserves it’s own post….
Ironically, we’ve spent the longest time we’ve been in any one place since we left, in a city we never intended to go to, in a country that wasn’t in our plans – Danang, Vietnam. And it reinforced for us again that God has us on this journey, and is directing our steps as to where to go.
How’d we end in up Danang? God’s perfect timing.
We knew we wanted to do mission work or volunteer work during our time in Southeast Asia and were excited to get started. We had a couple of contacts and potential opportunities from Indonesia to Cambodia, but those didn’t work out when we started getting into specifics, they didn’t have a need for us right now. Rick reached out to one of his good friends from college who had taught English and helped at an orphanage in Danang… Bryan put us in touch with the Orphan Voice and they were willing to have us, said just let us know a day or two before you show up and helped us with our visas, where to stay, all that.
We hop on a bus from Cat Ba Island (well minibus, to bus, to boat, to crappy bus, to crappy bus, to sleeper bus) and what was supposed to be 20 hours later, and turned into 30 hours later, we were in Danang.
We get to our hotel and call Tony, who leads the orphanage, and he says “well, this weekend is a little different. We won’t be here, there’s a retreat with our church. Want to go? The van leaves in 15 minutes!” I’m in the shower at this moment (30 hour bus rides make you want to shower!) and so Rick yells at me to get out and pack up, we’re headed out.
We didn’t realize how badly we needed re-center, refocus, be around other believers, be reminded of God’s purpose, until we got there. It was God’s incredible plan that we were there.
The retreat was put on by Danang International Fellowship (an expat church). The speakers were incredible – Eric and Rachel DuFour. One of the biggest things we got from it is that we don’t have to have our long term calling figured out right now – Rick and I just the weeks before had been really putting pressure on ourselves to figure out what we want to be doing with this travel and after this travel and really started to stress about it, or at least feel frustrated. But they reminded us that we just have to say “Yes” to God each day and do what he has for us that day – not have the future all figured out, that’s God’s job. What a refreshing truth.
On top of the amazing couple speaking, we met a ton of incredible folks. Jeff and Nancy, a couple who have moved their family to Vietnam to help the deaf here. In Vietnam, a person with any sort of a disability is considered a burden to their family and society – they aren’t allowed to go to school, there is no therapy available, no education even. For deaf folks, there is really no use of sign language in Vietnam… so they will live their whole lives without communicating with anyone, being discouraged by their family, no allowed in school, they cannot get jobs, it’s just a sad and hopeless life.
Jeff and Nancy have brought sign language to central Vietnam. They are training kids and adults. And they have a restaurant that employs all deaf staff, giving them an opportunity to earn a living they never would have had, plus a community of others who have learned sign language so they have people to talk to. They are expanding in more rural areas. It’s really incredible. And that’s just one of the couples.
We also met Christophe and Sakura – and instantly connected with them. (INCREDIBLE people – we heart them so so so much!!!) We met them Sunday of the retreat and chatted over lunch and after for a couple of hours – about long term travel which they had done a couple years ago, about their work and mission in Danang, about their passion for business and providing employment, laughing about stories of crazy adventures in Canada and Costa Rica.
Well they just have huge hearts and the next day we got an email from them asking if we would like to stay at their house while we were in Danang. We “moved in” a week ago and have loved every minute we spent with them. They are our kindred spirits on the other side of the world! We got to hang out with Christophe, Sakura, Noah (4 years old) and Saya (almost 2 years old) – by the way their incredible kids speak French, Japanese, Vietnamese and English!
What about the babies?
We went to Danang to work with Orphan Voice – they run two orphanages and provide vital help to eight other orphanages, as well as run a therapy school for kids with disabilities, and a home for victims of sex trafficking, and a home for youth at risk of being forced into sex trafficking among other things (they’re pretty busy!). We got to help with the elementary aged kids one day and help the prep/paint part orphanage alongside a World Race team which was super fun! The next day we went to see the baby orphanage that was in the rural area. I know this will be a shocker for y’all but as Rick put it I “took to those babies like a fish to water.” I changed my first cloth diaper (really 3 bandanas and a combination of multiple knots that would make a sailor squirm). Sweet faces and sad stories, but in the middle of it you’ve got the laughter of these kids. It was heartbreaking and heart warming at the same time.
We had a blast playing with them but my arms are still sore from holding babies all day!
But then Rick’s graphic design skills were discovered! There were so many things that needed to be designed for Orphan Voice, for the therapy center, for a deaf school, for a Christmas in Danang musical. It was really cool to see him be so willing to jump into dozens of projects and give help that was so valuable! We spent the next few days working on design projects.
From there it was really cool to see how we both got opportunities to put our skills and abilities to work to help a bunch of different folks. Rick got to design art for the walls of Christophe and Sakura’s business’s new office. He helped with newsletters, signage, business cards, letterhead for three different organizations. I was asked to write a marketing plan for a new business that teaches and certifies people to teach English abroad. I also got to teach marketing 101 to a group of college student interns. And (most exciting for me) I got to work on some menu strategy and marketing for a restaurant that trains and employs people who are deaf, and where all proceeds go to continuing to help the deaf community in central Vietnam.
Rick and I were both surprised by how much we had been craving getting to do some work and thinking and be productive and contribute to something bigger than ourselves. We really enjoyed it! God puts people right where he wants them right when he wants them there.