Friday, June 19, 2009

They're home...

Our thirteen children (and Prava) have arrived in their homelands (Uganda and Nepal.)

This will be one of my last blog posts on here....what a wild and crazy (and wonderful!!) adventure this last year has been. I can't thank everyone enough for their encouragement and prayers along the way. It really kept us going! I'm in awe of God's protection...sure, we had some reaaaaaally annoying times where our bus broke down on the road, but it could have been much worse! Sicknesses were even minimal.

I'm unsure how I can even attempt describing the emotions of this past week. Here's an excerpt from an email I wrote earlier:

"I'm sitting down--completely alone--for the first time in a while. I keep expecting to look out the window and see the kids running around....or to hear their laughter and footsteps as they come running toward me. But that's not reality, unfortunately. While it is wonderful to be "me" again, my heart aches as I miss the kids. There has only been one or two times in my life where my heart hurt (to the point of actually being able to feel it...) and that's what it felt like when I said goodbye on Sunday and Tuesday."

All three teams (Central, East, and West) spent approximately a week in Virginia before the kids headed home. During that time, I really enjoyed interacting with the other team leaders/chaperones/road guys. We could all understand the frustrations--and amazing aspects--of road life! I had never met the kids on the other teams, so I loved that as well! We slept in a building that USED to be a school---so we spent every hour with each other before the kids left to fly home.

Last Sunday at 7am, I watched our precious Nepalis pull away in a bus....Prava (chaperone) has become like a sister to me, and I miss not having her around. And of course Suresh, Yeshoda, and Neha are incredible and have impacted my life more than they will ever know. Later that day, I was saying more painful goodbyes to six of our Ugandan children (Martin, Lincoln, Maria, Rose, Sarah, and Isaac.) I was drained, yet I managed to summon every last bit of energy to let them know how much I love them and will miss them. I'll be honest: the day was painful, and I don't cry very often. But I believe I cried harder on Sunday than I had in two or three years.

Tuesday afternoon we said goodbye to the remaining four (Ezera, Jimmy, Gift, Zurufah.) Little Zurufah gripped me around the neck, and I picked her up and just held her, not wanting to let her go. Kory and I were the ones that stayed behind; Alan, Taylor, and Jay accompanied the kids to Uganda. Saying goodbye to my team-mates was an odd feeling :/ As the bus pulled down the road, all I could think was, "I should be on there with I have been for the last 300 days.)
I have thanked God for giving me strength to get through the past few days. Though I'm sad and miss the kids greatly, I am not someone to lock myself in a bedroom and be anti-social. Sure, there is a time for mourning--but then you have to find strength to continue on. It helps that I'm in VA, surrounded by dear friends this coming week (not to mention, busying myself with several photoshoots.)

"So what's next for you, Ashley?" is the all-important question I've been getting :) My heart STILL longs to spend about a year doing missions in Africa, so that will probably happen by early 2010 I hope. But until then, I have a neat opportunity that has recently come into play. Since it is not completely for sure yet, I will explain it in detail in the near future.

Sometime next week I plan to photoshop and upload beautiful portraits of the children. I pulled each one aside last week when we were at the park. I'm sure you'll enjoy them, so feel free to check back.

Monday, June 8, 2009

For those of you who love numbers....

The end is near. As I type this, we're headed back to Virginia to meet up with the other two teams (I am excited to meet the other kids for the first time!) We'll all be together for several days, and then the Nepalis (including Prava :/ ) leave THIS Sunday. Several days later, the Ugandan kids leave, and then I'm officially done on Wednesday.

I'm just enjoying these last moments with our team....we have grown to be like a family, spending every day of our lives together since September. We've laughed a lot, cried, and have seen each other through many frustrations. 

Yesterday was our last full concert (the Nepali kids won't be in next Sunday's concert, since they'll be gone.) Prava, Taylor, and I definitely shed some tears...I was quite emotional, but I held it together as best I could--for the kids' sakes. Some of them had eyes filled with tears, but they were troopers and did a wonderful/enthusiastic performance. 

I'd like to ask for your prayers during the next 9 days. I'm praying that God gives all of us strength during this emotional time (ESPECIALLY the kids, as I know it will be tough for them to say goodbye to us and return home).

I'll leave you with some interesting information. This was stolen from Taylor's blog....she calculated these numbers to her best ability. 

During the tour:

39,000.... miles driven

60,000... adoring audience members

195... concerts

160... different cities/churches

160... different host families that have spoiled the children (and me ;)

way too many (for me, at least 200)... meals eaten in restaurants (blech! From now on, I'll probably only eat out five times a year.)

440... different gas station visits

70... games of Phase 10 the Aunties have played

20... bottles of Dramamine purchased for all our kids who throw up regularly on the bus

50... number of times the Dramamine hasn't worked and children have thrown up into plastic bags on the bus (always pleasant!)

800... children who have gotten sponsored (food, clothing, medical care, Christian education until they're 19 years old!) by our team

560... bathroom trips with all 13 kids

40... fried chicken & green bean dinners churches have provided us with

5... the longest time (in days) we have spent in one place

130... different parks we have visited for the kids to play

4... broken bones (all Ezera's fingers)

240... hours spent watching kids' movies (I usually read my book ;)

1,000,000 number of times someone has asked, "So, how did you get involved in this?" 

1,000,000,000... number of times someone in a gas station/restaurant has looked at our group and said something like, "Now, what exactly IS this??? A fieldtrip or something?"

5... children on our team who have prayed to ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior!!!

Some of these things have been far from wonderful (all the fast food!), but we've made lasting memories with 13 precious children. Which of course is PRICELESS! 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A detour through Lancaster Co!

The month of May could hardly get better! (Oh, it's June now, isn't it? Oh well, you get the point....) After hearing all about East team's and West team's multiple trips to beautiful beaches, WE finally got a turn to take the kids to the ocean. I realize the Atlantic ocean can't even compare to the Pacific's beauty, but we take what we can get.... :) Sunday evening's concert was held at a church in Ocean City, NJ. My host family lived in a house that was practically on the after the concert, we took an evening stroll on the boardwalk which was quite lovely. 

Brett and his sister, Ashten, live in Jersey. So they drove to see our Sunday night concert. The kids (and tearing down product) obviously kept me busy, so I didn't have a ton of time to chat, but it was great to see them again. And we ran into them later on the boardwalk which was an added bonus. 

Monday was windy and frigid (if I'M wearing a sweatshirt on the beach, you know it's gotta be c-o-l-d!) warmed up SLIGHTLY, but the air was still chilly. Did that stop our kids from frolicking in the waves? Definitely not. In fact, for a long while they were the only ones in the water. Our whole team had a fun afternoon at Ocean City. We got a delicious lunch (I'm not a big fan of french fries, but boardwalk fries are delicious!) on the boardwalk, took lots of photos, relaxed on our beach towels, and all that fun stuff.

That afternoon I made the following phone call to my dear mom: "Hey mom, um....apparently we need housing tomorrow night and Wed night, and the office is wondering if the team could come to Lancaster (on our way to Pittsburgh)." My mom's amazing. She didn't want to miss this opportunity, so she scrambled to prep the house and grocery shop (if you know my mom, you'll understand that this last-minute stuff isn't ideal! :) Several wonderful host families came through, and I appreciate all of you!! Thank you Bjaneses, Mershons, Acebos, and Newhards--you were a blessing to the kids.

The next morning our tour bus pulled in to the church parking lot (next to my house), and as we stepped off the bus we almost fell over---we were greeted by the smell of cow manure. Welcome home! The kids were like, "ew! Pennsylvania stinks...." thankfully the smell passed :) 

I can't even describe how wonderful it was to spend two days at home. A huge smile spread across my face every time I looked out the kitchen window to see the kids racing on bicycles or swinging on the swing-set my dad built. During the day, the whole team hung out at our house....the kids happily played outside for hours at a time. My mom made a spaghetti lunch for 24 people yesterday (some kids ate three plates. Where do they put all the food??) Then we went to the theater to see Up in 3-D (animated movies aren't my favorite, but I laughed all the way through this movie....) which the kids of course enjoyed. 

We were home such a short time, but it was packed with non-stop action. It was wonderful to see friends and neighbors who I haven't seen in one or two years. I appreciate all the host families and of course my family--who welcomed the kids with open arms on such short notice. I'll never forget the last few days. I've taken numerous photos the past few days and will edit them soon, but for now here's a glimpse of the week.

Isaac (why the pink headband??), Ezera, Jimmy, and Lincoln cooking breakfast this morning. They made eggs--the Ugandan way. All by themselves. And let me tell you, they were the best eggs I've had in recent history!

Siblings (and Laura on the end, who was a great help)! With some uber cute Africans. The kids wanted to watch home videos of when I was a baby/toddler! 

Making a video message for Jay's dad, so I snapped a photo of all the kids on our couch....

Val with Lincoln and Isaac. Val called me Tues night: "I saw Chelsea's Facebook status. Where ARE you? I'm coming over right now!" It was great to see her....we've been friends since our softball days (8 years?) 

I wish our dinner table looked like this every night

Ocean City, NJ: with Yeshoda and Jimmy. It was chilly, but I eventually got brave enough to wear my bathing suit

Look at our crazy boys...their new thing is taking jumping pictures. I'm afraid that's my fault.

Brett and Ashten came to see us in Ocean City (here on the boardwalk with Sarah and Zurufah)