Saturday, January 28, 2006

Missionary Conference, Part Two

(My apologies for making you wait for part two.)

The conference started Monday afternoon. Our main speaker was Tex Williams, who is the director of World Bible School. He brought us several great messages during the week, about a variety of topics. After his first message and some orientation, we had dinner and spent the rest of the evening meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends.

I’m not going to go into what we did every day, but for those of you wondering what we actually did all week, the daily schedule was:
Message from Tex
Men’s/Women’s Classes
Free Time
Message from Tex

I enjoyed the classes but for me the greatest part of the conference was getting to talk to all the other missionaries. We had met most of them before but this was a new opportunity—a chance to visit with them as colleagues. It was a blessing to be able to talk to teams that have been here for years about how hard the first year or two is. Think about the first couple of years of marriage: people warn you it’s hard, but once you’re actually married, you are able to relate to what they’re saying, learn from them and be encouraged by them. And that’s what it was for us. A chance to hear someone say, “Yes, what you guys are going through is normal,” “Here’s something you can try when that happens,” and “Don’t worry—it gets better!” Don’t get me wrong—we didn’t spend the whole week in counseling. I also enjoyed spending many hours playing cards with the other women, staying up into the wee small hours of the night.

The other invaluable part of the week were the worship times. I can’t tell you how hungry I was for worship in a large group. In English. Russ got to lead singing a couple of times which was also a blessing. I know he misses doing that (and I miss hearing him do it).

Thursday night was a highlight of the week. Georgia planned a luau-themed banquet. It was a blast. We decorated the hall and gave everyone leis as they came in. Several of the men participated in a hula competition that I am sure everyone will remember for quite some time. Another hysterically funny game was Pass the Banana. We had been looking for luau-themed games online and found this game, only it was using coconuts. But we were in Belo, and coconuts were scarce, so somehow we decided to use bananas. We split into five groups and started playing hot potato with the bananas. In my group, the game evolved and we started throwing the banana across the circle. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but bananas aren’t a very hearty fruit! After a round or two, we were throwing mush at each other. Fortunately, there was a huge centerpiece made up of fruit so we had an unlimited supply of bananas! I think we ended up using nine or ten bananas. It was absolutely disgusting (we were all coated in banana slime) and incredibly fun. In the end, it came down to me and Randy. We joked that we would determine the team budget based on the outcome. (Thankfully I won!) All the prizes were food items from the US.

Friday was a day of goodbyes and long rides. We were on a flight home with the Porters at 9:55 PM. We shared the van to the airport with a couple of other families. The van ride was bumpy to say the least, and Russ and I affectionately refer to the ride to the airport as “Puke Fest 2006”. But somehow everyone made it to their flights on time and we got home, safe and sound at about 11:30 Friday night. We holed up for the rest of the weekend, recovering from the week.

We are so thankful we got to go to the Missionary Conference and are already looking forward to next year’s conference in Porto Alegre. In the meantime, we have many new friends around the country to keep us encouraged.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Missionary Conference, Part One

Originally uploaded by russandval.
We started our trip Monday morning. It qualifies as Monday morning because there was an "a.m." after the time, but it sure seemed like Sunday night to me! Our flight left at 6:15, meaning we had to be at the airport at 5:15 and leave the house at 4:30. Despite my best efforts, I didn't fall asleep until after midnight and then work up at 3:00, so I wouldn't catagorize it as a good night sleep. But God supplied me the energy to get through the day. Our taxi arrived ten minutes early; fortunately we were pretty much ready at that point. We rode through the abandonded streets of Salvador, making it to the airport in record time. (Though I've noticed a cab ride to/from the airport is always around the same price, traffic or no.)

We knew we were going to beat the rest of the team to the airport (everyone but the Porters were on our flight; they had gone down on Friday for some vacation) so we checked in and had some breakfast. And coffee. Quick Portuguese fact for you: the word for breakfast is the same word as the one for coffee. So you say "I drank coffee" and it can mean "I ate breakfast" or just "I drank coffee". Sounds confusing, but it makes sense most of the time. When we finished our coffee, we found the rest of the gang, in various stages of awake. Some people hadn't woken up until 5:15, which is when their taxis arrived, so their mornings were a little more harried than ours.

We all made it on the flight without incident. It's a short hop from Salvador to Belo Horizonte, only 90 minutes. (It would have taken 12 hours to drive it.) With the time change, we arrived just before 9:00. Vans had been hired to meet us and take us to the hotel, but since the earliest we could check in was 2:00, we arranged to rent a van for the day and putter around town. Randy and Jenn were going to meet us at the airport, return their rental car and spend the day with us. We hooked up with our van driver without any trouble, but Randy and Jenn were AWOL. Alicia and I stood in the arrivals area forever but they didn't show. Messengers kept getting sent from the van to let us know the driver really really needed to get on with things, but we didn't have any way to get a hold of them. Just as I was getting ready to send the van on without me, Alicia spotted Randy and Jenn across the airport. They had made a wrong turn and spent an hour lost in downtown Belo Horizonte. When I got to the van, I discovered the reason the van driver was so antsy- he wasn't our driver for the day. He was going to take us to the "grocery store" and we would meet our other driver. But, he kept asking, why do you want to go to the grocery store on the other side of town? There are lots of closer stores. We didn't back down. The grocery store on the other side of town was Wal-Mart. There was no way we were missing that!

We spend a couple glorious hours at Wal-Mart (which, for the record, is still mostly full of Brazilian stuff) and then crossed town again to eat at TGIFriday's. It wasn't one of my favorite restaurants in the US, but we were all thrilled to eat tater skins and buffalo wings. Heavenly. The restaurant was empty but we completely overwhelmed it. Our waitresses spoke English, and said they'd had Americans come in before, but usually just a couple of businessmen. I hope they enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed our time there!

After stuffing our faces, we loaded up one more time to go to the hotel. It's a "farm hotel", so it was a ways out of town. Quite a ways. Down windy, bumpy roads. Somehow, even with our full tummies, no one got sick. (There wouldn't have been room for anyone to get sick- the van was stuffed with suitcases and people.) But we made it on time and were eager for the conference to start.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Where Does the Time Go?

I cannot believe that it's already January 8. In two months and five days we will be celebrating the first anniversary of our arrival in Brazil. It's incredible.

But before I start getting all sappy, I'll fill you in on what we've been up to:

We had a great time with the Quireys. We took them all over town, out to see the sea turtles, to the beach twice (including the day they left!) and to several great restaurants. We also had some wonderful meals at home. It was awesome to get to gather around the table with them. Their visit really filled our hearts (and pantry!). There's been a lot of people here, but there are no visitors like your own family! We've almost got the apartment back to normal.

Our church building is now a done deal. We have keys and everything. I have to confess that I was holding my breath until we had the keys in hand. But now it's official and the task of fixing it up is now before us. As one of the "budgeteers", I have to make a lot of judgement calls- money is tight and we can't do everything at once. As anyone who has done any renovating knows, it doesn't take much to eat up a budget. Please pray for widsom as we try to determine our priorities.

We have to get up EARLY tomorrow morning to catch our plane to the missionary conference in Belo Horizonte. I'm very excited for the opportunity to hang out with the other missionaries, pick their brains a little and have some fun.

When we get back, visitor season continues. Randy's parents and Travis' dad will be with us. (I forgot to mention we've had Mary Virginia's parents here this week.) The steady stream of visitors has meant a steady stream of marshmallows, but now it will also mean more hands to help with the building.

Thinking of marshmallows, yesterday Russ and I made s'mores with marshmallows that the Maberys brought, graham crackers that the Quireys brought and FRESH Hershey's chocolate that two of our supporters, the Duncans, sent with the Quireys. Now that's teamwork!

Well, off to pack. It's our first trip since we got here, so I'm a little out of practice packing. It's been a nice change from living out of suitcases like we had been, but I don't know where we stashed all our travel stuff. Please pray for the team as we travel!