Thursday May 30th, 2019

Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

Every place we have served we have seen a rainbow.  If you believe in signs then you no doubt will recognize this one as the sign God gave to Noah following the end of the great flood.  I always thought rainbows were beautiful but since taking on this journey and being blessed with them at every stop I have appreciated their significance that much more.  It also isn’t so much that we have seen rainbows as much as when.  They have typically come toward the end of our service time and while this may simply be coincidence I have long thrown such notions out the window.  So it was that today, the last day of our service in Romania, we had a late afternoon storm which gave us a brief, not terribly vivid, but evident rainbow.

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The day started out like just about every other we have had here.  I did my last shift at the hospital while Sara did some sorting and baby bundles in the support center.  We left the kids at home to enjoy their last day of playing with the Catos.  My shift was rather uneventful, passing out diapers, snuggling with babies, the usual.  I was particularly grateful though that Ann told me to pick whichever babies I wanted since today was my last day.  It isn’t like you have favorites but it was still a nice gesture on her part.

As it turns out my babies were particularly sleepy apparently because both cuddled up and promptly slept when I had them.  I felt really calm and peaceful about that.  This whole time I have been working I have wanted those babies to know they are loved and cared for even when they have been alone and away from their parents.  I felt like they felt comfortable in my arms and that is why they slept.  We didn’t play but I knew they felt my love for them which is why they were okay to simply let go and get a power nap.

I said my goodbyes to the staff and to Ann and Joyce and then picked up Sara.  We made a quick stop by the store for a few items to get us through our last evening and then headed home to pack up.  I ambitiously thought we could get this knocked out in two hours or fewer.  I was incorrect.  On the positive side it was only four or five hours and we only had to panic slightly when we realized that we underestimated the number of bags we would need.  But in the end we took a deep breath, recognized the challenge and overcame.  We got the house more or less straightened away, made especially difficult after realizing the girls had managed to spill an entire tupperware of chutney on the kitchen floor and then used all of our paper towels to clean it up.  We gave the house a good once over and then enjoyed a quick birthday celebration for Martin, our neighbors’ one year old.  Sara and I had a final meal of Dodo’s pizza and then we headed off to enjoy a relaxing night of sleep, prepping for the next day’s travels.

All in all despite a few hiccups the day was very peaceful, calm, and reassuring.  We knew that God had placed the path before us and we needed only follow it.  We had made the most of our opportunities and we felt made a contribution to the mission of FFR.  The rainbow I think was God’s way of reminding us that His covenant remains and is true.  I hope that it was also His way of showing us that the path we have taken is consistent with His plan.  I look forward to the next rainbow, wherever it may be.

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Friday April 19, 2019

2 Corinthians 6:2 For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

I finally got a decent night’s sleep despite going to bed quite late (or early depending on your frame of reference). Jeff headed out at 9:15 and I got up shortly thereafter. The kids were kind enough to let me sleep this morning and we just skipped school. Today was a big day for FFR, their yearly shipment of donations arrived from Germany. The donations arrived by semi, but the truck was too big to come into town, so several cars/vans/trucks were arranged to meet the truck outside the city limits, unload and reload to take to various locations in Brasov for storage. Jeff was part of the crew unloading the semi while the kids and I headed up to the support center for unloading. In total we unloaded approximately 250 boxes and stacked them 10 high in the center. My kids were wonderful helpers and I am so proud of their efforts and hard work today. We left the center at about 3:00 in the afternoon and headed home for a quiet evening.

Here are some pictures of today’s workload:

Tomorrow Jeff will run in the Braşov Half-Marathon where he will run Tampa Mountain a total of 3 times, so we had an early night for everyone. He is really excited for this run because he has been raising money for Mission:University, a new mission of The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission in Banbasa, India to send 10 young adults to university. We both are so grateful for the donations and prayers we received during this fundraiser. We will be able to share a total amount raised next week!

I still don’t feel normal yet, but it will happen soon I am sure. The jet lag this go ’round is nothing like my time in Phoenix. I was tired there, but unable to sleep. Now that I am home I am able to catch up and get some rest. It may take a day or so to finally feel rested, but I can see that I’m getting there.

It is so weird being here during this Easter holiday and Holy Week because here in Romania they observe the Orthodox calendar, in which Easter and Holy Week is next week. For us, today is Good Friday and we didn’t attend services or really get to experience any of Holy Week, which was difficult for me though I am hopeful that we will get to celebrate it next week.

Honestly it didn’t feel like Good Friday at all, until Jeff showed me this picture he took on his walk home from the store. I won’t share what I see here, but rather let you decide what you see. I promise no editing has been done to this photo.

Tuesday April 2, 2019

Isaiah 26:3-4 Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—in peace because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.

Jeff and I had a conversation last night about the scripture from March 30, Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19) and in doing so he presented me with a different way to read this scripture. I read this as God providing me with an anticipation of what is to come, that He is preparing the way for me and there is something waiting for me just around the corner. But Jeff gave me a different perspective. God could also be reassuring me that He has this all under control, to stop preoccupying myself with the future and be present in today. I think I actually like the latter better, plus it goes hand in hand with today’s scripture. God has this all under control. He has plans for us, that while we don’t know what they are just yet, He is our rock and as long as we trust in Him and listen for His call, we will be provided with countless blessings in the future.

I was with the girls today while Jeff and David headed to Budila, a small village where Firm Foundations Romania (FFR) runs a Kids Club (aka: preschool) and an after-school program. The boys were home pretty early and the girls had done pretty well with their schoolwork, so all in all it was a successful day. Lucia was so excited to have a texting conversation with one of her best friends from India, Ellie. Ellie has always been so sweet and loving towards Lucia and Lucia was so excited to get a bunch of pictures of her time with Ellie. Even from India, Ellie made her day and Lucia learned a valuable lesson that even if our friends are not right next to us, they are still very close to our heart. Here are a few of the pictures she got today:

David said he enjoyed himself at Budila, but according to Jeff, David never left his side. David has always been so timid when it comes to new situations and I guess today was no different. What I find interesting is how he describes the experience. When he got home and I asked him about the day, his response was “it was awesome”. I wonder if he had another opportunity to go back if he would be more interactive with the children. But either way, I am glad he enjoyed himself.

Jeff and I ended up leaving the kids behind at the house for about an hour and a half so we could help Steffi move about 100 banana boxes filled with adult clothes. Once we got home we made a quick dinner of oatmeal and toast for the kids and grilled cheese sandwiches for us.

As I look back on today’s scripture and conversation that Jeff and I had last night, I am amazed how we can read the same scripture in different ways. I think we read it in the ways we need at the time, but I also think it is important to be open to differing viewpoints and perspectives because then we can really open ourselves up to hearing God’s true word. I don’t think it is about right and wrong, but rather how God is speaking to us at that certain moment. On Saturday I read it one way, but the same scripture on Monday evening had a totally different tone and lesson.

Saturday January 26, 2019

Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Vacation started today. Everyone slept in until 9:00 am, which I think we all enjoyed. We quickly got dressed and headed downstairs for the flag raising ceremony for Republic Day and then off to breakfast. The kids got to enjoy the pancakes and waffles they have been craving and missing. We walked around the hotel, I took a nap, Jeff worked out, and then I sat in the steam room for about 20 minutes hoping it would help my cough (it didn’t, but it still felt nice). We ended up having a late lunch in hopes that we could just do a light snack for dinner and the hotel was nice enough to give us a really late check-out so we only ended up sitting in the lobby for about an hour before our car arrived to take us to the airport.

The kids were so excited to be headed for Singapore, but not so thrilled that it was another overnight flight. Though we were holding onto a small surprise, we were flying Singapore airlines on an double decker airplane and we had seats upstairs–they were thrilled. We got to the airport with no problem, got checked-in and found out that I had to meet with a customs agent before going through security. This seemed to really concern the children, though I am not sure why. Everything worked out just fine and we continued on our way.

As we were walking through the Duty Free shops to the gate, we came across a luggage store where he was able to find a bag for all of our electronics that will not make him want to cry. Since we left the states he has been using my old college shoulder bag. This was a good bag, but it was not designed for heavy loads and it was constantly digging into his shoulder. His new bag is a backpack and much more conducive to traveling. The guys at the luggage shop also seemed pretty thrilled to get a new bag, since we left behind his old one after swapping everything into the new one.

I grabbed a quick muffin and drink for everyone and we boarded the double decker plane bound for Singapore. While at the luggage store we grabbed eye masks for all 3 kids and that may have been one of our best investments! All three kids slept for most of the flight, despite the cabin lights being on for most of it!

Goodbye India…Our new Banbasa family has changed us forever. You will forever hold a piece of my heart and I will be back as often as possible. To all at The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, we miss you already and thank you for welcoming us into your family. We will see you soon, but until then know that we connected forever.

Friday January 25, 2019

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

Even though goodbyes are becoming part of our life now, they don’t get any easier. We got up early and showered (actually I took a bucket shower because there was no water pressure), got the kids up and ready, finished the last bit of packing, and headed downstairs for our last breakfast on the mission. Clifton led a wonderful prayer and all these goodbyes brought tears to my eyes and overwhelmed my heart with a mixture of joy and sadness. Anjali was able to hand out her friendship bracelets we made last night and we all were bombarded with hugs and friendship bracelets from everyone.

The mission kids had school today and I am so grateful they did because I don’t know how we would have ever gotten out of there. They all leave for school at 7:45, right when our car pulled up. We did the final goodbye hugs and the older kids headed off to school. The little ones were still there because they don’t start until 9:00, so I was finally able to capture Ruhani’s infectious laugh on video. Check it out on my Instagram page @sarassimplelife. As we drove away from our home over the last 2 months, we were comforted by letters and cards made by the kids. It was such a wonderful gift from them and we read some during our drive.

After a group prayer we piled in the car before the tears could begin and we were off of our 375 km/12 hour trip to Delhi. This drive was similar to every other drive we have done in India, complete with crazy driving and weird traffic situations. At one point, as we neared the suburbs of Delhi we encountered some construction in which we went from 3 designated lanes (which actually means 5-6 lanes of cars) down to one designated lane (which meant 2-3 lanes of cars). This experience was so crazy. I have never felt so trapped while in a car as I did then. I don’t think we were even able to open the car doors to get out, not that we would, but there were cars and motorbikes everywhere!

But we finally made it to our hotel near the airport. We checked in and dropped our luggage off in the room before heading to dinner. The food here was good, but everything we ate reminded us of our Banbasa home we just left. Nothing tasted nearly as good,probably because we were really missing the company.j

I was really not feeling well at all, the air quality here in Delhi was worse than in Banbasa and I was extremely grateful that Aunty Rosie was kind enough to give me a couple masks to wear; they helped a ton. Pretty much after dinner I headed to bed. We had a long day ahead of us, since our flight was not until 9:45 pm tomorrow night. But I will say that we made the right decision to drive to Delhi today rather than tomorrow on Republic Day. The hotel was crazy busy and so were the roads, tomorrow would be so much worse.

Thursday January 24, 2019

Romans 15:1 We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Packing, packing, and more packing along with some last minute laundry and a few final projects that got finished up. I have been attached to Priscilla any time she gets near the kitchen because I am desperate to extract any cooking knowledge out of her! Clifton and his DTour clients got in last night, so we got a small bit of time with them before we all go our separate ways tomorrow.

These final goodbyes are so difficult and even though we’ve done this already several times, it doesn’t seem to get any easier, but it is almost more difficult. I think we are able to connect with people faster because we know we only have a short period of time and I am just heartbroken that we have to say goodbye tomorrow after breakfast. This week Jeff and I have been getting up in the morning to help with breakfast and our kids each took one day this week to also help (I couldn’t do Tuesday and Wednesday because I was not up for it-my asthma and cough is getting worse by the day and I am struggling just to walk up the stairs. I have never experienced this much difficulty breathing with just a cold.)

Jeff and I were able to help Clifton out with his DTour meeting this morning. After hearing all about the plans for their next 8 days on motorbikes into the Himalayas both Jeff and I have an urge to take up riding so we can join another one of his tours. This won’t happen right away because we will need to have a fair amount of experience on a motorcycle before we could do something like this, but I am totally game and think this could be an adventure of a lifetime! If you already ride and are up for a challenging but thrilling ride into the mountains of northern India, check out the DTour website.

I was able to sneak away with a few cookies for a Uncle Malcom and Aunty Sonia. It was so nice to see them again and they promised to come by this evening to say goodbye to all of us because they would not likely see us in the morning before we left.

For tonight’s dinner I didn’t leave Priscilla’s side and also got to try my hand at chutney making again, this time I didn’t over blend it and it turned out amazing. Priscilla was kind enough to make my favorite dinner here, vegetable subji with chipati and chutney!

Just before we started eating, Sonia and Malcom came over and we got all our kids to say our goodbye to these wonderful people. Sonia’s hugs are the best and I am going to miss them. It is just one more reason to come back again soon.

This whoever week we have been receiving multiple cards and friendship bracelets from the kids here and Anjali really wanted to make some for her new friends. She was still up making these bracelets when we got back from dinner and was going to be up all night finishing these if she didn’t get some help. So she and I watched 50 First Dates and made more friendship bracelets than I care to know. We finished the last one about 5 minutes before the movie ended. Thankfully there would be plenty of time to rest and nap during the long car ride to Delhi tomorrow morning.

I did our last bit of packing and took Priscilla, Cathy, and Nancy some items that didn’t make the cut and headed off to bed.

Wednesday January 23, 2019

Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

The mission kids were off school again today, actually they were off yesterday too, because of the rain up north in the mountains. For whatever the reason, Banbasa is part of the same district as Champawat which is way up in the hills. I can understand that schools would close up there when it rains because there would be no way for the kids to get to and from school with possible landslides and dangerous roads, but why the schools here are closed I have no idea, though the kids here are not complaining.

Anjali got up this morning to help with breakfast and she did great. It is amazing what a little extra sleep will do for a girl!

Today the girls and I made some chocolate chip cookies (several weeks ago Priscilla was able to track down some chocolate chips in Khatima). My kids were super excited and I was surprised that the cookies turned out pretty awesome given the fact that we were missing brown sugar and the white sugar we have here is not the same refined sugar we get back home but rather sugar crystals. However, Aunty Rosie had purchased a hand mixer which made creaming the butter for the cookies a much easier task. The cookies were a hit at 4:00 tea time and we finished just in time for the power to get turned off for the afternoon.

Lucia has been gone just about every afternoon and evening having dinner and playing with Ellie, Eugene and Filly’s daughter. Ellie is 17 and she and Lucia have become quite the pair. According to Filly, Ellie makes Lucia dinner and they sit and eat and talk and laugh together.

We’ve had another good day with Anjali so I am feeling a little more hopeful that getting her more sleep was at least a part of the solution.

On a totally different subject, Cathy was so sweet and bought Lucia an early birthday gift…this beautiful dress. Lucia loved it and didn’t want to take it off. Thank you Cathy!

Tuesday January 22, 2019

Acts 4:30-31 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

I don’t really know what to say, other than I just can’t believe we are leaving in just a few days and I can feel a piece of my heart breaking. I am so torn because my body is looking forward to the change in air quality, my heart doesn’t want to leave and I am pretty confident that part of it will always remain here in Banbasa, India.

Today I was able to help the girls in the kitchen make chipatis. While I didn’t get the chance to roll them, I did make the batter and prepare the dough into balls to be rolled out and then cooked. I have decided that when we get a house, Jeff is going to be making me an outdoor fire pit to cook our chipati and our subji. Of course I will likely be calling back to India for some help and I am pretty sure it will never taste as good as it does here.

Shortly after chipati making I meet with Nancy who gave me a quick lesson in how to wear my Saree. She first showed me how to put it on and then I made an effort at replicating it. For my first attempt I did pretty well. Nancy asked if she could do a small photo shoot, so we headed out by the old fallen tree and I let her take some pictures. It was so funny, as I walked through the mission I had just about every child asking me where I was going and telling me how nice a I looked in a Saree. I loved having it on so much that I went into town with Rochelle after tea time to pick out another one and drop it off at the tailor. Rochelle was such a trooper. She wasn’t feeling great but still trekked into town with and enjoyed a quick treat of gol gapas. I am happy to say that I found a beautiful Saree, this one is much more simple but still very pretty. We dropped it at the tailor for him to put the fall in it and I will be able to pick it up tomorrow.

We had a fun surprise from family back home, a package! Uncle Jesse, Aunt Tessa, and Annecy thank you so much for the wonderful gifts. We all love them and it brought us so much joy to get a box filled with goodies from our family back home in the states. We all got matching bracelets, as did my whole extended family got the same ones! So even though we are away from each other we all still all connected together. Lucia was also super excited for the stuffy keychain. She has been collecting keychains during this journey and has quite a collection so far and was stoked to add one more!

I watched Priscilla make our dinner tonight and I diligently took notes so I can attempt to replicate some of this amazing food. My new little notebook is going to be a priceless resource.

Monday January 21, 2019

Exodus 15:26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

Our kids were off school today for the MLK holiday, so we took advantage of a free day to explore and head to the Nepal border. We thought it would be a fairly easy walk, but it ended up being almost 5 miles one way. The kids did great and though we didn’t cross the border (mainly because it was going to cost $120 just for the day) we still had a fantastic time. We decided to take a horse-drawn carriage home, which was crowded but definitely a new experience. Part of the trip there and back is crossing over a large dam and walking alongside the river. It was really nice to be just the five of us, but I was also acutely aware of how much I was going to miss my wonderful new family on the mission and I just can’t believe that we are leaving this place in a week.

Unfortunately my lungs and sinuses are not doing so well and are looking forward to some cleaner air. I was happy that my body help out long enough for this excursion. I would’ve been so sad to miss it.

On our way back through Banbasa, we stopped to pick up my Saree and suits. Thankfully all was ready and we had finally had money to pay for it! We were also able to stop at my new favorite street vendor for “tiki” and “gol gapas”. Tiki is a crispy potato pancake topped with garbanzo beans, fresh onions, sweet red sauce and sour green sauce, a dollop of yogurt and finally some crunchy gol gapa. This is such a yummy treat and very easily lunch. After eating the tiki, I introduced Jeff to gol gapas. It is basically a hollow fried flour ball that they smash a hole in it to fill with a few garbanzo beans and then the sweet and sour sauces. You put the whole thing in your mouth and it is a liquid explosion of flavor in your mouth. It is messy but absolutely amazing and I could sit here all day and eat them!

We got back to the mission in time to for dinner. The kids got washed up and we headed over to the Strong House for our group meal. I actually made the chutney tonight (with the help of Nancy), though I guess she wasn’t watching me close enough because I over blended the chutney and it came out more like a sauce then chutney. It still tasted good, just the wrong texture; beginner mistake I guess! The food here is so flavorful that I am really concerned that all other food is going to taste so bland.

We also came home to find that Priscilla and Sarah had brought out a 5,000 piece puzzle and set it up in the Strong House for everyone. So we all took some time to work on this before and after dinner.

Sunday January 20, 2019

Colossians 1:10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

We started our morning helping The girls make breakfast. After breakfast and dishes, I was exhausted. I am starting to feel the effects of living in India for the last 2 months. My lungs are constantly burning and I am finding it difficult to take a deep breath. I have started needing my inhaler much more frequently and am also finding it more and more difficult to sleep at night because I am waking up coughing. Unfortunately, there is not much I can do.

Right after church we went over to Sonia and Malcolm’s where we enjoyed some coffee and cakes, along with some wonderful conversation; I really enjoyed our time with them. It was the first time since being here that we were able to have this one on one time with them and I do wish we had done this sooner. I would have loved to get to know Sonia and Malcolm better.

We had to say goodbye to some other volunteers today, Rosie and Frank. It was so wonderful to get to meet them and spend some time getting to know them.

After lunch, Sareena (one of the big girls) was kind enough to do some Henna (or Mehndi) on my hands. I sat in a chair, soaking in the sunshine while Sareena gently ticked my hands with the ink. Jeff joined me while helping another big girl with some homework. This process was so relaxing that by the time she got to my second hand I kept dozing off in my chair only to be awoken to Sereena laughing at me! What a spectacular afternoon, it was absolutely peaceful with all of the mission kids in quiet time and our kids watching a movie in our apartment. And then it all ended at 3 pm when the kids were done with quiet time and the whole mission sparked to life again with the sounds of laughter and squealing children.

As usual, our kids ate dinner with the mission kids and then we all met back at the room by 6:30 to get them showered and in bed so we could head to dinner at 7 pm. I will say that this quite an undertaking and the time pressure is difficult (we are always late to dinner), but I love these dinners in the strong house. We spend about 2 hours eating dinner, laughing, joking, drinking Chai, and just getting to be adults. I kind of sat back tonight and took in the whole thing, plus I am not feeling all that great. I am really going to miss these dinners, actually, I am going to miss the entire mission here. I feel so torn because my body is really feeling effects of the severe air quality here, but my heart is aching at the realization that we are leaving in just a few short days. The people here have etched a permanent mark on my heart and I haven’t even left yet, but am already wanting to return.

I can’t even begin to describe the constant love expressed here and while I have tried my very best to give all that I could, but I kept feeling that I am getting more than I am giving. I pray that I was able to show the wonderful children and staff here how much I appreciated them and that I had grown to love them just like family–they are my Banbasa family and they will always hold a piece of my heart.