Everyone is here and the atmosphere is incredible. The only thing I can attribute that to is God. With all the different nationalities and different cultures here, it’s an unbelievable unity that we all have.

As the families arrived yesterday many of us went down to the dock to welcome and help them come up to the dining area. We were told the families were very conservative and not to do this and not to do that, so I was nervous about greeting them as I didn’t want to offend them, especially on the first day. To see the smiling faces, waves, and hugs being exchanged was an answer to prayer. I think I was more afraid than they were.

I’m currently sitting here listening to the drumming encouragement as the woman climb to new heights on the climbing tower. What an incredible group that we get to serve. Also a great reminder to not put anyone into a box. It seems they are blowing away all my beliefs of these families.

It is a delight to see how open each of them are. They will gladly sit and tell us their life story not guarding their heart for us. They want real relationship and aren’t afraid of it. A great reminder of how God wants our relationship to be. How we can bring anything to him and he longs to connect with us. May He continue to show each of us more of who He is as we serve here.

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We have finished our first full day at Porto Astro’s. We arrived yesterday afternoon in haze after being awake for more than 30 hours and after a good swim we hit the hay. Today was a day of breath taking moments. From waking up to a beautiful view to swimming in a glowing sea. Go on you say?.. ok I will.

This camp is amazing to experience. Everywhere you look there is so many accents and beautiful hand made pathways and walls. The camp has been literally been carved out of the hillside. Pathways and cabins and little spots everywhere to pray and enjoy nature. Everything here has a story of generosity and faith, that is , the whole place has been a journey of walking with God. We spent the day preparing for a camp that starts next week to bring families together to learn more about Jesus. Since early 2000 this camp has been providing a safe place for many people to learn more about God’s truth and love for us.

It is monument to humanity and community that is apparent with every step. Walking in on a mountain path from the beach a quarter way down the bay and by boat is the only way to get here. The path itself spoke to me of my journey to get here. A hard and rocky trail that you don’t realize until you arrive to the camp that it’s worth the journey. Many laughs today have left my belly sore. It’s a different pace here and the focus is more on relationship than being busy. We spend so much of our lives being “busy” that this is reboot for me.

A chance to focus on faith and relationships with the many people here. That has been something I needed to find again. A space to be selfless and learn to have no expectation of what’s coming next. Only to be present and feel God’s plan, there are many moments today my heart was filled joy and tears filled my eyes. Sharing stories of faith and feeling the comradeship with everyone as I hear their story and share my own. I am so blessed to be here and the growth is showing me what is actually important. We ended the night with a late night swim.  There is a gift even in the water at night it sparkles with phosphorus during a late night swim. It was magical to see the water light up as I moved my hand in the dark water. I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime. The glow with each movement that can only be seen in the still dark night.  The fun thing is I found it only worked well as I slowly moved my hand through the water.  Gentleness and patience worked better than brute force and speed.   Another lesson learned and Another bucket list item on this trip. Blessings everywhere on this journey.  Thank you God for all the gifts you have given us on this journey.   looking for the blessings  ~Kelly O’Shea

Astros2018Hello from Porto Astros;

We have arrived safely and are writing this to you as we overlook the beautiful grounds and bay of this camp.  All is quiet at the moment as we sit under the covered deck of the main building in the early morning. There are a few sounds in the distance, sheep bells, cicadas and gulls and a few rolls of thunder.  A rain storm  moved through earlier and has caused us girls to abandon our leaky tent.   So we sit in the quiet and journal, read and talk about the events of yesterday and what today holds.

We enter our second full day here and there is still lots to do before the families arrive on Sunday.  We have spent a full day already setting up tents too numerous to count, checking for missing poles, rips and tears etc.   We were joined by a team of young people from California who are in Athens for Operation Joshua (Bible distribution)  and came out for the day.   We ended a day of 35 degree weather with a swim in the ocean that was a first time experience for all of us.  Every move we made int he water created sparkles. Bioluminescent phytoplankton is the scientific term –  look it up and be amazed!   We marvel at God’s imagination in the diversity and beauty of  His creation.

Today we will set up the dining area and do some general cleaning of the cabins and washrooms in preparation for the arrival of the families on Sunday.  Close to 190 people will be on site by Sunday night.  The quiet will soon be over and the grounds of the camp will be filled with voices speaking languages we do not understand.   What we do know is that a smile crosses all language barriers – as does the love of God.

We are grateful for your prayers as we enter into a very busy week.

Laurie, Sarah, Brenda and Tanya (on behalf of the rest of the team who are still sleeping and dry)

 

 

Greece team is off!

This morning we sent off the next outreach team- off to Greece they go!

They will fly out in a few hours, make a quick stop in Toronto and then fly direct to Athens. They will have a little time in Athens then head to Porto Astro to help set up the family camp they are helping to run.

We recently learned there are 190 people expected as guests to this camp, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran. Our team will be serving alongside others likely from US, Greece and Romania.

Please keep our team and all that will be at this camp in your prayers- God can do great things!

May God get the glory!

Pastor Tracy on behalf of Lloyd, Deb, Kelly, Laurie, Brenda, Bernie, Kelvin, Tanya and Sarah

team greece

On June 13th, our team is headed to Porto Astro Greece where they will be serving at a Family Refugee Camp. They will be supporting CrossRoads missionaries Andrew and Melissa Fletcher who are with Hellenic Ministries.

Please keep the team in your prayers as they prepare to travel and then go to serve among refugees at this amazing camp.

Check out this video to see what this great camp is all about and to see what our team will be a part of during their time in Greece!
https://youtu.be/mgMsYUga6Uk

Blessings!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Knows?

 

She wasn’t the type I expected to see at Parent teacher interviews.  The expected ones had been plentiful already,  Moms and a few Dads with youngsters in tow, some looking exhausted and ready for another cup of coffee, trying to keep their young brood from running in different directions. Some trying to coax a toddler off the floor telling them to hurry up so they could get to the assigned classroom in time for their set appointment.  Lots of school age kids had come by already, some looking less than excited and some with big smiles on their faces.  Overall the mood was happy and welcoming.

We had a good view of everyone coming in to the school.  A few servers from CrossRoads had laid out clothing donations on tables in the hallway and were inviting families to take what they were in need of for their children.   There were many winter coats in various shades of purples and pinks for girls and blues and greens for boys, stacks of leggings and jeans, shirts upon shirts and boots and shoes were on display.   Some people  kindly said “no thank you, we’re doing okay”, some had commented on the generosity of the people who had donated and many had left with children wearing something that they really needed and a bag of other items.  And lots of smiles were handed out and received along with a few hugs.

The number of children that had come through wearing coats that they had outgrown by a few sizes was significant.   The arms way too short and the coat fitting so tightly around their bellies that I am not sure how they got the zipper done up.   It was such a great thing to be able to see these kids walk out the door in a new coat that would still fit them next winter.

But this woman, she was much older and slower.  She pushed a walker in front of her as she headed towards us.   She walked with a shuffle and she was bent over, leaning heavily on the walker as if it was keeping her upright.  After explaining why we were there she started looking through the clothes and talking, her life situation coming out in bits and pieces.      She was a  grandmother trying her best to fill the role of a Mother and Father to more than one elementary aged child.

She found a T shirt that said Paris on the front and immediately told us that her granddaughter dreamed of going to Paris one day…..and New York.   ”And she has a very good voice”  the Grandmother told us, “Who knows?”

It wasn’t too long before the granddaughter came around the corner and started looking at the clothes.  As soon as the grandmother held up the Paris t shirt the girls eyes lit up and she gave the shirt a hug as she excitedly said “Paris!”   It was the best find of the day!

This little family has stayed on my mind and in my heart since I met them last week.

I think about a tired grandma who probably never imagined that she would be raising children at her age. It is a challenge physically, emotionally and financially.   There is heartbreak that has led to this situation.

I have thought about a little girl with big dreams of Paris and New York and singing.   She is resilient and hopeful.  I pray that she stays that way.

And “Who knows?”

God knows.

World Water Day

Today is World Water Day! It’s a day to reflect on our water resources and the challenges/solutions that exist. We have abundant clean water in Canada and that is a great blessing. But today we need to also think about people in developing countries that struggle to meet their water needs.

Check out the UN World Water Day website to learn about solutions to our water problems that can be found in nature: http://worldwaterday.org/

You can also take a look at this article written by Compassion Canada that illustrates 8 different children from around the world and how they get their water:

When you need a glass of water, or you need to brush your teeth or wash your dishes, where do you get your water? Do you turn on the tap in the kitchen or get water out of the fridge?

In 2018, access to clean water might not seem like an issue that we should still be talking about—and there’s good news! Access to improved water sources has made a lot of progress in recent decades. According to UNWater, 71 per cent of people use a safely managed drinking water service. But there’s still a ways to go: 1.8 billion people are still using water contaminated with feces, which puts them at risk of diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.

Here are 8 pictures of the diverse ways children in poverty get their water.

Betty, a girl, child, wearing an orange and white dress, bends over to fetch water with a plastic container beside her mother as they are getting water in plastic buckets and containers, daily household chores, parent, adult woman, Evelyn, who is wearing a yellow scarf, turban, head wrap on her head, a red shirt and long pattern skirt, together at a small water source, large puddle, large mud puddle of collected rain water on the ground, with the mother using a green cup in her hands to retrieve the water to pour into the containers. This appears to be an unsanitary water source, potentially unhealthy, unsafe, and not clean drinking water in a large puddle on the ground. They are surrounded by trees in the background, and dark mud on the ground and grass.


Betty from northern Uganda walks with her mom each day to find water at streams near her village. In the drier times of year, only muddy patches of water are available, which often have parasitic worms in them.

 

These girls, who live in northwestern Thailand on the border of Myanmar, come to this community well each day to get water for washing, cooking and drinking. An improved water source like a well can drastically reduce water-borne diseases compared to gathering water from a river or stream that animals frequent.

These girls, who live in northwestern Thailand on the border of Myanmar, come to this community well each day to get water for washing, cooking and drinking. An improved water source like a well can drastically reduce water-borne diseases compared to gathering water from a river or stream that animals frequent. 

Ana and Thayna Franca de Almeida work with their mother and brother in the water. They are washing plates, pots, and pans in the water. They are using buckets, a bar of soap, and sponge. There is another woman with two other children in the river behind them.

 Ana, left, lives in rural northern Brazil, and she and her family come to the river near their home to wash their dishes and bathe. Although much of Brazil is highly developed, there are still pockets of deep poverty in this massive country.

Thirteen-year-old Eric Njuki, a young teen boy, wearing an orange shirt and khaki shorts, at home, with his mother, Rose Nduta, adult female wearing a white shirt and skirt, are standing with a Compassion-provided water tank to harvest rain water, large black water reservoir, container. A walled mud home and greenery is in the background.

 Eric has a rainwater storage tank at his home in rural Kenya. It collects water that runs off the roof and ensures the family has water even in dry seasons. He used to get his water from the river near the edge of his village. He would take three trips every day to retrieve enough water for his family’s daily needs. Sadly, the water gave him typhoid and other water-borne diseases that kept him out of school.

Two children working together to get water from a well. A bike, bicycle is to the right.

 Maria in Nicaragua gathers water with her sister each day from this hand-pump well. Before the well was installed, there was an outbreak of Hepatitis that got many in her town very ill.

Ae-plaetoo and Mue-ngaetoo gather water from this river each morning and each night near their home in northern Thailand. “The water here, it’s not clean and there’s a lot of dirt. Because we get the water straight from the river, we need a filter.”

 Ae-plaetoo and Mue-ngaetoo gather water from this river each morning and each night near their home in northern Thailand. “The water here, it’s not clean and there’s a lot of dirt. Because we get the water straight from the river, we need a filter.”

 8 year old Manzi Kevin, boy, child, wearing a black shirt and tan shorts, smiles as he is handing his mother, parent, adult woman, a cup of clean safe sanitary fresh purified drinking water in her hands, while in her other hands are her HIV medication and pills for her disease and illness. There is the clear stacked buckets, water filter and purification water containers, pails on the table beside them inside their home.

 Kevin lives in a community in Rwanda where there are many widows from the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He has a water filter in his home that the family runs all of their water through to clean it. His mom is HIV-positive, so it’s especially important that she not become ill with any water-borne diseases.

A group of children gather happily together, boys and girls, dressed in school center uniform clothes, red and white dresses or sweaters and shirts, as they are splashing water, clean safe drinkable sanitary pouring water from outside water source, outdoor water faucet.

 These children from northern Uganda have a community tap where they can come to get a drink when they are thirsty and where their moms line up to gather water in the morning and evening, rather than walking through the bush to a contaminated stream. It’s a source of amazement and joy for these children who not so long ago had to drink dirty water.

Contaminated water is a serious problem—more than 340,000 children under the age of five die every year from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene (UNWater).

But it’s a problem with a solution—improved water sources.

Through our amazing supporters, children around the world are getting access to wells, water filters, rainwater harvesting tanks, sanitary latrines and handwashing stations. All this is implemented by the local church, as they display the love of Jesus to their communities.
Will you join with the Church around the world to become part of the solution?

– Written by Compassion Canada

Today, let’s not forget how blessed we are here in Canada to have clean water and with this blessing we need to remember to take care of the natural resources we’ve been given. Please keep those around the world who do not have clean water in your prayers as this is a struggle they deal with daily.

 

 

 

Home Again

Hello all,

With much of the last 3 days filled with vehicle, airplane, and bus travel we all arrived home to our familiar lives. We have been very close to some extraordinary circumstances, that seem very far away and foreign to us in North American.  God came very close to us when we invited Him, along with the acknowledgment that He was/is in control. We have been changed because of our personal, and group experiences. It is worth mentioning that although the feeling is comfortable being home, people and the life around us have also changed while we were away. Patience will be a key for us over the next while as all of us meld back into life, while embracing the changes.

Many times while on this trip, it was apparent that when we took time to reflect on what we saw and or how we were feeling, it enabled some great memory triggers that I hope to visit often. People are not very different anywhere in the world. We all want to love or be loved, if we haven’t been hurt so bad, as not being able to admit it.

Thank you all very much for the Prayer support and concern for us before during and now as we reenter the relationships that we cherish here.

We leave this post with one last picture of us visiting Maria. This widow’s story struck us all in very deep ways.
In 2016 the visiting team, from CrossRoads Chuch, was invited to help the  local church community rebuild this lady’s home. We learned that Maria lost her husband to illness, had a son at home and had no financial means. Because of the Church Empowerment Zone that was set up under World Relief, the church denominations came together to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Many people assisted by shuttling sand, mixing the stucco, and carrying water. Near the end of the afternoon we all gathered to pray for and with this lady, along with many of the community people. What seemed bleak for Maria, gave her hope, as she was thankful and tried to smile when we left her the prayer cards that we created prior to leaving Canada.
This 2018 trip, we were also at a similar home in the next community (working in the mud) when our host, Bob from WR, wanted us to stop by and visit this lady Maria. When we pulled up, I (Richard) remembered that this was the home of Maria. Well turns out that Maria still has our prayer cards, looks at them often and prays for us. She is grateful and has faith in God and her community. Her smile was almost constant with a sparkle in her eyes. This would’ve happened without us there, but was fantastic and tears of joy flood in when we speak of it. Blessed to be that close to Maria’s story. She wanted us to bring back greetings to the church that we are a part of.

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Maria’s House

Love,
Richard, Maria and Stan

Around the Community

Along with home visits with our friends, hearing amazing stories of hope and future we have been given time to see this beautiful part of the country. Walking in the tea fields that are operated by a large company, Learning about tea leaf picking and drying process.

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What we are seeing with our eyes is that this is a very beautiful country with resources that are not wasted. In some areas the land mass is limited because of population, but these resilient people manage to seek ways to get value from their surroundings. With our partner “World Relief” and the exciting plan of “Church Empowerment Zones” where people take ownership for applying lessons of hope. Learning great truths like being part of a Savings for Life group, or Farming for Life that teaches ways to increase from what they already know. Most of the groups we have met with are all  part of a group in the community, to assist in the betterment of life for themselves. This is a proven mind set transformation. All the while World Relief stands by to encourage and train not searching for the limelight.

Richard, Stan and Maria

Land of 1000 Hills

 

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An area in Nyamasheke

Today we left for Nyamasheke by 05:30, to meet with a Savings Group that get together once a week. We drove to a school in the area, before it was light, in order to be there when the members showed up.

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Some members of this group walk for 30 min. to arrive on time. Any person (including guests) arriving late must pay a penalty. It is strict and orderly, keeping accurate ledgers along with accountability. World Relief has continued to be available to groups like these throughout the area.

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Some points to maintain a group such as this, it may have 10-25 members, having a 5 person leadership where 3 must be women, lock box has 3 separate locks and dispersed key holders in the group. This specific group has been together for the last 4 years. We heard from them about how their lives have been changed since the group was formed. Someone mentioned that they didn’t have community friends before this group and another told of how they learned about planning for their future.

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We were invited into some of the members homes were we had an opportunity to meet their families, pray and encourage them. Then to see some of the plans they are making for their future. Plans like buying some livestock to increase household profits. It was a large blessing to be in the homes of these humble, welcoming  people.

Richard VanderLeek