"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter..." Isaiah 64:8

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's a WYLD Life!

If a semester of leadership training and working with the kids wasn’t enough to show me why this program is called Wyldlife, camp certainly did the trick. I thought the kids were crazy when they dipped socks in the ice cream gutter and used them to whip one another at our Hunger Games-style end of the year party. But that was nothing.

To be fair, I had a warning. From one of the kids, actually. I wish I could tell you his name, but I probably shouldn’t. I will tell you this, though…his name does NOT fit his personality. It’s like the little Chihuahua named Killer or the big, buff guy called Teddy. It’s just a little comical. I’ll call this kid Teddy for the sake of the story, but ask me his real name later if you want to know.

ANYWAY, Teddy gave me a good and proper warning about Wyldlife camp as he held a cooler of ice water over my head at the Hunger Games party. I begged and begged him not to dump it on me, and he looked down at me (I’m pretty sure he’s at least a little taller than me, but either way, his attitude was definitely one of looking down, not up), and he laughed a little. “You’re going to have to toughen up before camp, you know,” he said.

“I know! I know!” I agreed, begging a little. “I will!”

“It’s going to be way worse than cold water at camp,” he added. “It’ll be Mountain Dew or mud or something even worse.” I nodded vigorously as he lowered the cooler. “Just wait,” he mumbled as he walked away. I let out the breath I’d been holding. Phew.


Three months later, I cheered with the other girls as Teddy climbed the High Five at camp. We hadn’t been at Rockbridge for ten minutes, but he was already harnessed up and making his way to the top of the wobbly wooden pole. I watched in amazement as he balanced on top, scooted around til he was facing front, and jumped off, high fiving the dangling glove as he fell (attached to the rope, of course). Doubting that any of my girls would want to do the High Five, I turned around. Just before I walked away, though, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Teddy holding out his helmet and harness. “You’re next,” he said with a smile. “Newbie hazing.”

Wishing I wasn’t such a wimp, I put on the gear, all the while trying to think of a clever excuse to get me out of the climb. Unable to think of anything, I shouted the commands to the staff below and grabbed the first handhold.

“I can see the fear in your eyes!” shouted Shawn, another leader, from the crowd of onlookers. Thanks, Shawn. That really helps.

Climbing the pole wasn’t too hard, but once I got to the top, I quickly realized that I did not have the balance or skill to stand on top and jump for the glove. I counted to three, jumped, and let the ropes lower me down, hoping Teddy would be satisfied that I’d at least climbed up. He wasn’t.

“Failure,” he whispered. “I don’t think you’re going to make it.” But a little while later, he gave me another chance. “Now you have to do the Screamer,” he said. And I want you to pull the cord.”

The Screamer wasn’t that bad, just a giant swing. It was actually really fun, and I didn’t even mind pulling the string that released us once we got to the top. As we got off, I hoped Teddy wouldn’t use my loud screaming as a reason to make me do something else.

“Acceptable?” I asked.

“Acceptable,” he agreed. But it wasn’t over yet.

The whole week was more of the same. At the carnival, he gave me a pie to the face which actually covered most of my upper body (hair included) in sticky cool whip. And that was after I’d just gotten soaked in the dunking booth. I gave him piggy back rides. And I didn’t even tattle when his little friends dumped their ice creams on my head. It was all in good fun.

But the worst by far was the mud. Apparently this is a yearly thing at Wyldlife camp. They bring in a bunch of dirt and mix it with water until they have a gooey, nasty mud pit for everyone to play in. Except, for some reason, the mud didn’t smell so good this year. Actually, that’s a major understatement. It smelled TERRIBLE. Like manure… or worse. And of course, as a leader, I’d been given lots of instructions about the mud pit: “You’ve got to dive in or your kids won’t want to play in it. Go crazy. Have fun. Roll in it. Get your kids to come in with you.” Great.

As I walked to the mud pit with my girls, we could smell it before we could see it. “Aren’t you girls excited?!” I screamed, all the while dreading the next half hour. “This is going to be awesome!” And by awesome, I mean, nasty, gross, miserable, and disgusting… “Let’s go!” But if you don’t want to, it’s okay. I’ll gladly take you back to the cabin. “Hurry up! Dive in!” Or don’t. I won’t blame you at all if you decide to pass on this one. In fact, I’d love to sit with you and watch everyone else.

I picked up a piece of mud, dying on the inside, I feel like I’m holding POOP!, and threw it at one of the girls. She threw some back and hit the back of my shirt. Okay, not so bad. I can throw a little bit, get hit a few times, and be done. I scooped up another wad of mud but never got around to throwing it. Because in the corner of my eye, I saw Teddy.

He ran at me full force and knocked me straight over. But knocking me down in the mud wasn’t nearly good enough. He ROLLED me in it, coated my hair in it, and made sure I had plenty on my face as well. Grossest day EVER! I can deal with mud, but this smells SOOO BADDDD! I smiled at Teddy. Okay, you got me. Am I initiated yet!? I don’t think you’re going to top this one! With a look of satisfaction, he turned to go tackle his friends. Can I be done now? Nope, the games had just begun, and I spent the next hour or so learning that I will never ever understand why pigs like to roll in the mud. Ew.


After that, Teddy mostly left me alone. I still got the looks. He made it evident that, while I might officially be a Wyldlife leader, I was still a pretty pathetic one. But it didn’t bother me too much. I was busy with my girls. Really busy. Helping girls with everything from boy stalking (their term, not mine) to dealing with absent or addicted fathers, Melissa and I had our hands full.

It didn’t matter that we were busy, though. Or tired. Or dirty. Or hazed by Teddy and friends. I still loved every minute of camp. Because it was so amazing to be a part of this group of leaders that was just pouring out Christ’s love on these kids.

It was a beautiful thing to see leaders all over camp meeting with kids one on one on the last day. It was incredible to know that each of these kids was being challenged to consider the message of the gospel. Each had a leader who had loved and prayed for them all week, if not the whole YEAR before, and not a single one would leave camp without an opportunity to “turn their chair around,” to start a relationship with God. And looking around camp, I knew that many of the kids would leave transformed.

After club that night, Josh had the kids go outside in silence for 10 minutes to reflect on what they’d heard. And at the end of that time, something incredible happened. I wasn’t there, but I heard about it later. Here’s my secondhand account:

As soon as the train whistle sounded to call the kids back into club, Teddy ran up to Stephen. “I have to tell you something,” he whispered excitedly.

“What?” asked Stephen, eyebrow raised with curiosity.

“I’m in!” Teddy exlaimed.

“You’re in?”

“Yeah. I’m in. It’s all true. I believe it. So what’s next?”

I didn’t get to have such an exciting conversation with any of my girls, but that’s OKAY. Teddy has been coming to Wyldlife for ages, and we’re just now seeing the results. So who knows what’s going to happen with my girls down the road, with Maury River Middle School, where Wyldlife will be starting up its own club this year, or with the kids I haven’t met but already love? I dunno what’s going to happen. But I agree with Teddy. I’m in. Even if it gets a little WYLD.

*Photos coming soon*

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Steady Beat

August 8- This happens every single time I work with kids abroad. And no matter how much I try to mentally or emotionally prepare, it doesn’t help. I just have to face the fact that for every hello, there’s going to be a goodbye. Every kid I love is going to be a kid I leave. Every friend I make is going to be a friend I miss. Every laugh now will probably be a tear later.

But strangely enough, that doesn’t change anything. Because it’s not about me. These kids need ALL of my love, even if it means a hole in my heart later on. Jesus said to take up His cross which means loving others til it hurts and then some, regardless of their response. So here I am again, in this country that I love, knowing that goodbye is just around the corner.
It hasn’t been the best morning. Actually, it’s been a pretty bad. We took the kids on a hike up to some waterfalls, and I ended up in the back with Samara (another volunteer) and the kids having trouble climbing up the slippery rocks. Within 5 minutes, it goes from bad to worse as we lost the others, Samara got bit by a spider, and I tumbled backwards while climbing, banging both knees and taking a dip in the icy water in the process. Shaking but thankful that I hadn’t hit my head, we realize it’s time to turn around. We have no idea whether or not we’re close to the falls, and it isn’t worth risking any kind of accident. Annoyed at being left behind and missing the fun, I begin the climb back down the mountain with Samara and the girls. I quickly forget my bitterness, though, and begin to enjoy walking with Eli, Nikol, and Ana. All three were students at the school my last time around, and it’s nice to reconnect with them in such a small group. Nikol has grown from a shy six year old to quite the chatterbox, and Eli has somewhere gone from pretty to gorgeous. I confess Ana hasn’t changed much. She still adores me all the while driving the other kids nuts with her bossiness.

As we walk, it begins to hit me. Tomorrow is my last day. My mind drifts back to my farewell party two years ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long. So many details are still etched in my mind, especially the tears running down the faces of the three girls now walking beside me.

“Miss?” Anna interrupts my thoughts. “Are you sad?”

“What?” I stutter, as I often do when a Spanish phrase interrupts my English thoughts.

“She wants to know if you’re sad,” says Elizabeth. “Because we can see it in your face.”

Amazed at their ability to perceive my emotions, I offer a weak smile and avoid the question. “I’m just happy to be able to see you all again,” I say. “Today has been quite an adventure. “

Ana returns my smile, but I can tell Eli sees right through me. She takes my hand and I look away so she doesn’t see my watery eyes. These tears are for another day.

Nikol, Eli, Ana, and I at the waterfall
 August 9- I’m totally lying right now. With the kids in a circle around me, I resent having to shout “Muy bien!” every time they sing, “Como estás, Miss Josy, como estás?” The question seems ridiculous. Do I look like I’m doing okay?!? My eyes are red and puffy, and I long since gave up on holding back the tears. How did I become so attached in two weeks? It must just be that I never really let go the first time.

It only gets worse as the little ceremony goes on. Individual kids thank us for our time with them, and they sing and dance. With the group hug, I finally feel my heart break and not because they’re squeezing too hard. Elizabeth weeps as she hugs me, and Ana gives me a letter I still haven’t been brave enough to read. But the worst is actually the boys. Eleven year old girls cry all the time, but seeing emotion in a teenaged boy is a rarity. Jaime actually poses for a picture (which he is normally way too cool to do), and Justi hugs me goodbye at least three times. Abel places one of his Olympic gold medals around Cody’s neck, and even Chino and Piero kiss us on the cheek. Not surprisingly, Brayan is one of the hardest to bid farewell. New to the school but the star player of Team USA, he stands at a distance with a frown and waits for a chance to hug his biggest cheerleader. When he finally wraps his arms around me and tells me not to let go until I get to the United States, I totally lose it. Why does loving these kids have to hurt this much?

With my banged knee beginning to ache from standing, I take a seat on the edge of the patio to watch the kids play soccer. In two years, so many things have changed. But as I rise to leave, I realize that one thing has stayed steady. Walking down the dusty road with little brown hands clutching mine, the ache in my heart starts its chant yet again, calling me back to Peru. And I have to wonder if it will ever stop.

Cody hugging Piero in the middle of the goodbye circle

with Ana and Jaime

I know Cody's eyes are shut, but I had to post this one bc Abel is actually smiling, and Justi almost is

I love this one!

Abel giving Cody one of his many medals

best group of volunteers EVER

**Cody's post coming soon**

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tinkuy Olympics 2012!!

I’ve always know that I’m a competitive person.  But something about the Tinkuy Olympics seems to have made me even more so, bringing out my true colors alongside my red, white, and blue.  Saying that I want to win is an understatement.  I cheer to win, I fight to win, and I even pray to win (is that cheating?).  But even so, winning is not the main goal.  There is a much more important objective.  The Tinkuy Olympics are actually about blessing some really sweet kids that live really hard lives.  They’re about giving joy to children whose lives at home might lack it and through all that showing the love of Christ…all the while trying not to get tooo competitive. 

August 9:  So my prior estimate was correct. My team got their butts whooped… big time. On Tuesday we lost every event we played. We didn’t manage so much as a bronze. I am a competitive person. My dad has a t-shirt that says “If I can’t win I don’t want to play” and I’m inclined to agree, so it was a very humbling experience to lose again…and again…and again. To make matters worse when my team and I were hugging out our failure I was overcome by a bout of homesickness. I started crying. I was absolutely humiliated. The kids thought I was crying about losing and kept telling me “es solamente un partido” (it’s just a game) and “vamos a ganar mañana” (we’ll win tomorrow). Finally I managed to sputter out, with Josy’s help, that it wasn’t about the game, that I just really missed home. Suddenly I was surrounded, no longer with just my team, with children telling me I’ll be home soon, and please not to cry and that they’ll miss me when I leave… naturally that made me want to cry more…but I’m too tough for that so I swallowed my tears and put on a smile, but I don’t think they were fooled because even the older boys who usually ignore me gave me a hug goodbye at the end of the day.

The following morning we climbed a waterfall. Yea, climbed. After hiking a vertical trek that would have killed me if I wasn’t so prepared from our trek up Machu Picchu Mountain we reached a waterfall, but the kids weren’t satisfied with just looking at it they wanted to keep going up. So up we went clinging to slippery rocks for dear life. The boys were really helpful offering hands to Cindy, Adele and I as we tried to follow them up a path seemingly only used by mountain goats. However, the constant state of panic paid off when we reached the top and were standing before an even larger waterfall. The kids proceeded to splash around and swim in the forty degree water and although I didn’t get in for fear of catching an even worse cold I did get a large wet huge from Justi that left me shivering for much of the hike back down. Regardless, it was quite the adventure and I couldn’t have asked for better guides.

Then the afternoon came…the final day of Olympic games…my teams last chance at a victory. I’d been so preoccupied with our little excursion that I forgot to dread it, but it turns out I didn’t need to because my team won a gold medal in the three legged race and a bronze in the egg in spoon race. And although we are still beyond dead last for the overall medals won, it was so much better than nothing because the kids in my team had something to raise their spirits.

Tomorrow is the closing ceremony for both the Olympics and our stay here. It’s going to be a very fun, but also a very emotional day I’m sure; especially for Josy. But we have a great day planned with international foods, [frankfurters from Germany, PB&J from the US, cucumber sandwiches from Great Britain, mango lassies from India, and vegetable sushi (which I helped Cindy make!) from South Korea]dancing, and the award ceremony where we will give out the medals and announce the team that won the most overall. Then next thing you know I’ll be on a bus on my way to the Lima airport en route for my home among the hills. Despite my homesickness, I don’t know how I’ll handle the goodbyes from my students and my fellow teachers and new friend Cindy. I guess I’ll cross that bridge tomorrow.

August 9: We started the Olympics last Thursday by picking teams. It’s absolutely ridiculous how nervous and excited I was to see who would end up on Team USA. As I drew names out of bags, teams India, Great Britain, Germany, and South Korea, cheered for their new members. So did I. Because my team was AMAZING. I didn’t know all the kids, but I had several from last time, including Luis (see my last post) and his older sister, Maribel. I took them into our team meeting and began to plan our t-shirts, cheers, and dance as we made flags and banners to wave during the game. The excitement in the room was contagious. I finally sent them home eager to come back the next day and make shirts.

When the kids arrived on Friday, they immediately lined up outside of their team’s classroom. They were so excited about the Olympics that I began to get nervous that their expectations would be too high and they’d be disappointed. Back with Team USA, Brayan designed our team shirts and we got busy decorating them with sharpees and fabric paint. I was thrilled by my team’s unity. They all wanted identical t-shirts so no one would doubt that we truly are a team, in mind as well as in dress. Pedro begged me to be careful as I outlined the stripes for him to paint. Maribel and Heydy used tape to make their lines perfectly straight. And Brayan spent over 3 hours on his. Their perfectionism was adorable.

On Monday, my team arrived clad in their new t-shirts, and I made them even more patriotic with ribbon and facepaint. As I lined them up for the parade in my cowboy costume, Pedro came up to me and whispered in my ear. “I’m nervous, Miss.” So I gave the team a pep talk before handing them their flags. As we marched around the neighborhood to Rocky and Shakira, my team chanted “USA, USA, USA.” And the other teams were just as cute and excited.

We all entered the school to our team’s national anthem and then gathered around the patio to watch each team present a dance. These dances were pretty much the cutest thing ever. From square dancing to traditional German and Scottish music to India’s dance to Jai’ho, to K-pop, each team was ADORABLE. And my team’s performance of Cotton Eyed Joe was also stellar. It was a great day, and no one could wait to start the games the following afternoon. I’m sure that the volunteers were every bit as excited as the kids, if not more so.

The first day of games were just as fun as I expected, but they were also extremely stressful. I didn’t realize that the kids would feel so much pressure to win. My team wasn’t too discouraged after losing the academic relay, but after a close loss in volleyball, they were getting upset. They were so cute as they played, apologizing to me every time they made a mistake and looking so serious and focused. I screamed and cheered with my team on the sidelines, looking like an idiot with my American flag facepaint, flag nails, and team shirt that was at least 5 sizes too small.

The day got better, though, once we started the soccer tournament. My team got the unlucky draw in our 5 team tournament bracket and would have to win 3 games to win the gold. The first game was very evenly matched and very stressful. After 3 five minutes sets with no goals, they went to penalty kicks. Brayan, my star player who had been stuck playing goalie would finally get a chance to shoot. But the poor kid was so nervous that he made a terrible shot that ended up hitting the crowd and not the goal. Alarmed, I hoped he could relax enough to successfully block the other teams shots. He pulled through and we ended up winning that game.

The next game was even more stressful. I yelled and screamed and cheered so much that the parents who had come to watch were cracking up. After another tie, this time 2-2, we went to penalty kicks yet again. After scoring 2 to the other teams one, my team erupted in cheers. But somehow, Jimmy (the ref) messed up and announced South Korea as the winner. Kids from every team freaked out. I almost burst into tears (I can’t remember ever being so into a sports game in my life). Thankfully, Jimmy sorted it out, and we were declared winners, moving on to play India in the final. In yet ANOTHER close game, we had to resort to penalty kicks. Brayan pulled through as goalie for the third time, and we won the gold. Saying it was an exciting victory is definitely an understatement.

After that, we finished up the day with a silver in tug-of-war before heading home to get some rest. The next day, I decked the team out in paint and ribbon once again for our last day of competitions. Wednesday’s games were somewhat less stressful, and I looked slightly less ridiculous, this time dressed as a Native American instead of an American flag. We won gold in jump rope and the egg in spoon race, and Elizabeth surprised us with a bronze in shotput. My kids were so eager to watch and cheer, and even though we came in 4th place over all, I couldn’t have asked for a better team. They had a blast and I can’t wait to give them their medals today. But while I know the closing ceremony is going to be so much fun, I know that the day will be overshadowed by the fact that today is my last day here. So it will be bittersweet.

Team USA with their shirts before the opening ceremony

Cody with Raquel and Rosio from Team Germany

With Elizabeth and Nikol before the opening ceremony

Cody with some girls from her team

Team USA after Day 2 of competitions

opening ceremony parade

Abel with the torch and the Olympic rings

Brayan preparing to block a penalty kick

Day one of competitions with Eli and Nikol