Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Elementary Musical!

During February and March, Ruth and I were able to join forces to lead a group of 30 elementary students in 2nd-6th grade from NCA in a musical production! (Yes, this is an "old news" post; sorry for the delay!) The logical thing to do when you feel too busy with life is to add another commitment, right? The high school had recently performed "Beauty and the Beast," and many younger kids were lamenting the fact that they couldn't participate in that musical (including Henry and Mae). . .so we created an opportunity for younger students to get up on the stage. We decided that we could only manage about 30 kids in total, which in hindsight was a very good decision. The 30 spaces were full within 24 hours of the announcement of the musical, which was an affirmation that we were meeting a "need" in our school community.

We spent 7 after-school afternoons preparing for a short, 20-minute musical based on the "Three Trees" folktale. The story, also in book form, is very appropriate for the Easter season (Christmas, too), and we were able to perform it at a special chapel for our elementary Spiritual Emphasis Day--the day before our Easter break. The kids did a fantastic job. . .I was VERY impressed with the quality (and strength!) of their voices, their ability to memorize the words (many for whom English is a second language) and choreography, and the way they took their roles so seriously. 

It was also great working with Ruth--we often have very different "work lives," so it was nice to have a project together (yes, we did have some differences in opinions every so often, but it only served to bring us closer together:)).

Some pictures of our practices:

And of the performance:

I think this will become a yearly tradition at NCA; we are thankful to see the love of music and the stage so present at our school, even at a young age. It was awesome to see our own children glorifying God through the telling of His story. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Privilege of Peeing in a Cup

I usually think of peeing in a cup (at the doctor’s office, of course!) as a necessity, or as a shameful task (who wants to put a cup full of pee with your name on it on a counter where everyone can see it?), or as a risky challenge (will it really all go in the cup?  what else might get in the line of fire?), but today for the first time, I realized that peeing in a cup is also a privilege. 

After my regular Wednesday Pregnancy Support Group and Childbirth Class, 16-year-old Maria pulled me aside.  She explained to me that while she was almost 5 months pregnant, she still had not gone to see a doctor.  I could tell she was a little ashamed to admit this, because every week, no matter what the topic, I reinforce the importance of regular prenatal care.  She wanted to know what she had to do to start receiving prenatal care at the clinic where our group meets.  I very naively told her “Oh, you just have to schedule an appointment with the receptionist,” thinking that I had fully answered her question and taken care of her needs. 

“But what do I need to bring?” I didn’t understand her question at first… Yourself? Your baby in your womb? A full bladder? Then I noticed she was looking at the prices listed in the clinic, and I realized what she was really asking was “How much is this going to cost me?”

I brought her over to Dra. Sonia to better answer her question.  She first told her the price of each doctor’s visit--$5.  Then she listed the prices of each lab test that needs to be done throughout pregnancy, a list of about 10 exams, ranging in price from $2-$10 each.  And then on top of that the price of an ultrasound.  With each number stated, I saw in Maria’s face the likelihood of her actually receiving prenatal care go down.  She took the list of prices with her, but I did not see her going to the receptionist to set up an appointment like I had originally suggested. 

After she left, Dra. Sonia and I chatted for a while about this conundrum—we acknowledged the extreme importance of these women receiving prenatal care, but we also acknowledged the barrier of the high price tag associated with it.  It may not seem like a lot to you and me, but the cost of a regular visit and a routine urine exam (about $7.50 total) is what many Nicaraguans make in a full day of work.  Dra. Sonia said that she always gives the women the order for the $2.50 urine exam but many end up leaving without doing it because they can’t afford the added expense.

I left the clinic today feeling guilty (I’ve never had to worry about how I’m going to pay for a routine medical exam), disgusted at the injustice of our world (why should Maria have to worry about the cost when so many others don’t have to?), sad (thinking about how many problems past and future could have been or would be avoided if women had access to the care they needed), and motivated (I see the need for change and want so badly to do something about it).

I don’t know what will come of it, but Dra. Sonia and I ended our conversation dreaming about a sponsorship program that would allow donors to sponsor a pregnant woman in my group, providing them with the medical care they need throughout their pregnancy.  My hope is that in time, I will be writing another blog post asking you to consider sponsoring one of these women who are so dear to me. Stay tuned!

Last year's group picture

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Koinonia Groups

One of my "extra" involvements at Nicaragua Christian Academy outside of the SOAAR classroom is assisting with the preschool chapel (which is actually for children in PreK1-2nd grade). I've been involved mostly because of my love for music and worship and singing. . .singing with a big group of enthusiastic kids is one way I truly experience God's power!

This year, a few of us created a small-group model to be used on occasion during our Wednesday chapel times called "Koinonia Groups," referring to the greek word referring to Christian fellowship (also the name of the Project Neighborhood house that Ruth lived in during her sophomore year at Calvin). Our chapel theme this year is the Book of Acts, which lends itself perfectly to the idea of meeting together, sharing together, praying together, studying the word together--all in community, together! Our theme verses for the groups come from Acts 2 regarding the early Christians:

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

The students come into the Eagle Center wearing colored head bands, and after we sing together and do a short lesson, students divide into multi-aged groups of 5-7 students, led by teachers and assistants holding a group flag of matching fabric (yes, if you have done Group VBS, you know where we borrowed this idea from!).

Each group is named after one of the early churches--Corinth, Rome, Galatia, etc. We spend about 15-20 minutes in these group--praying together, completing a hands-on activity related to the theme, eating a snack together, etc. The topics of the group time has ranged from today's persecuted church, identifying idolatry, and "going" to tell share the Gospel.

I'm thankful for the growing opportunity this is giving our youngest students at NCA--to realize that they are indeed part of a larger community of believers!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

This last weekend, I had the privilege to play piano for the NCA drama department's production of Beauty of the Beast. Beauty and the Beast was my very first Disney "cassette tape," and my 5th grade-self had every song memorized once upon a time. . .so it was fun to relive some of my earliest musical memories now as an adult!

I had envisioned that the music wouldn't be TOO difficult, being from a kid's movie and all, but it was. And it was long. I began practicing in December, and met with the student performers once a week during January and then about 3 times a week in February, many days until 5:00pm. The show was about 2 and 1/2 hours long, and I had to play 337 pages of music for each of the three performances. This, for me, was all about focus and mental energy. . .no matter how much I practiced, I never felt totally prepared for the marathons of playing for so long without a mental break. It was also a challenge to keep my back from seizing up from the stress of it all!

I was so thankful to have another keyboard player by my side each night. Jackie Sjoberg, the one-and-only NCA library volunteer, played all of the "extra" orchestral parts on a second keyboard, which added a lot to the music AND made me feel a little better about life in general. She had the show down to a science. I also enlisted three different page-turners, one for each night, which really saved me!

This was my fourth year as the pianist for the annual show, and this, by far, was the best (though the most work)! I'm thankful for the opportunity to use my piano skills in this way each year at NCA. I'm also excited for life-beyond-the-musical, and I know Ruth is, too! We're already doing things, now, like organizing the house and jigsaw puzzles again!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The ground has been broken. . .

Today, a large group of staff, students, parents, board members, and visitors gathered in an empty dirt field adjacent to Tesoros de Dios to glorify God and give thanks for His faithfulness as we "broke ground" on the new equine (horse) therapy arena. Under the intense sun (yup, I forgot the sunscreen), we sang of God's faithfulness, shared testimonies, and a few of us actually got to use shovels to move a little dirt:)
Moises helping warm up the piano

Wendy, the program director. . .

About half of the group was on the other side of the wall; wheelchairs weren't able to get over the wall safely (and there was shade!)

One of the groundbreakers, Stephanie!

Michelle, the director of Tesoros de Dios

The kids breaking ground. . .

God truly is good! All of the money has been raised for the purchase of this new land and the construction of the covered therapy building, a wall around the arena, and stables ($95,000!). We continue to look forward to phase two of Tesoros de Dios construction--new classroom space, therapy areas, and a vocational building for older students. . .but first things first! Please take a moment to pray that the city will quickly grant the necessary permits to begin the actual construction. We're ready. . .but the paperwork is not--and in Nicaragua, this process can be lengthy. 

This empty lot will soon be used for so much more! The current Tesoros de Dios buildings are to the left. 
The board will continue to work on raising funds for these additional projects, but I think it is very appropriate to sit back, look up, and say "thank you!" to God for His perfect provision through his people all over the world.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Fifty-five pounds

The lesson I did at House of Hope yesterday was based on Mathew 6:26-27: 
"Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.  And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?" 

Later, I realized how hypocritical this lesson was coming from me, especially at House of Hope. Most of the time I spend thinking about House of Hope is filled with worry:

 "What in the world am I going to talk about?"
and then after I finally figure out what to talk about:
"How in the world am I going to say that in Spanish?"


"How am I going to fill an hour and a half of time for 50-70 teens and kids?" 
And then I think,"We should do a craft--they love crafts,"
which leads to:
"Where am I going to find the time and money to prepare crafts for 70 people each week?"

I have been trying to plant and harvest and store (Matthew 6) in an effort to solve these problems on my own, but I have been failing.
But, I know in God's eyes,
this ministry is valuable,
that the women and kids who come each week are valuable,
that I am valuable.

And this past week, I was reminded that God will take care of me, and these women and children, in this ministry. This reminder arrived in the form of a 55 pound box on flight UA 1421 with my mom on Thursday evening.

I had emailed a friend from our home church just 2 weeks before to ask her to help with the "Where am I going to find the time and money to prep crafts for 70 people each week?" dilemma.  In those 2 short weeks, she and a group of women from my church bought and prepared 20 different crafts (each for 70 people!) for me to use at House of Hope.  And since then, they have made 20 more! This will provide crafts for the women and children at House of Hope for almost a year.  I am so thankful for this hands-on, touchable reminder of God's provision and love.

We were able to do one of the crafts yesterday, and here are some pictures:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ode to a Christmas Vacation Well Spent

Two and a half weeks ago, we finished the first semester of school at Nicaragua Christian Academy, and the following day we boarded a plane to spend the Christmas holiday in New Mexico, where most of Andrew’s immediate family lives. While we had been planning this trip for months, our kids didn’t know until the morning of the flight at 4:30am! It was an incredible surprise, and I’m impressed we pulled it off.
This is not typical for us—this is our fourth year in Nicaragua, and our first time spending the December break stateside. 

Why this year? Why NM?

1) Last summer, when in the US, we were unable to make the trip to the great Southwest.  We weren’t able to connect with Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church, one of our supporting churches. This break was a great chance to do both!

2) Our kids have LONGED for a cold, snowy Christmas!  They got oneJ Christmas Eve was our only significant snow fall, so we did have a White Christmas, and we were able to play in snow in Colorado (like 6 feet of it!) and in the Sandia mountains near Albuquerque. Charlotte was only one year old when we moved from Michigan, so this is really her first memorable experience with the white stuff (she LOVED it, though the first time she saw it she ran into it barefoot!) And even when there wasn’t a lot of snow, it was certainly different weather than the warm temps of Nicaragua. BRRRRR!

3) We budget for one US trip a year, and we likely will not come back to the US for the summer months for our normal Michigan/New Mexico adventures (no sibling weddings for the first time since being in Nicaragua!). We’ve always wanted to stay in Nicaragua for the summer at some point: time to do more language learning, time for Andrew to complete a two-week special education course in Nicaragua in which he is enrolled, time for more traveling opportunities around Nicaragua (and maybe Costa Rica!), time to welcome more visitors into our homes that can’t typically travel during the school year.

We had a lovely time in New Mexico with the Ippel clan, and many of Ruth’s family members, too. Below is a poem I wrote to commemorate our time together that I shared with my family—some of this might not make sense to an “outsider”, but it gives you an idea of how we spent our last few weeks relaxing and fellowshipping before the second semester begins next Monday.

Ode to a Christmas Vacation Well Spent
Christmas 2016 by Andrew Ippel

Family gathered from near and far,
Using airplane, feet, and car,
To spend some much-needed time together
Despite the cold and dreary weather.
Rehoboth was the destination
For this special family vacation.
For our kids this was a surprise.
Made it to the Managua airport before the sunrise.
Mary had spent much time collecting
Warm clothing that would be protecting
The skin of the Ippels from the far south,
Not used to the cold and chapped skin by the mouth!
The Bob and Mary house was jammed—
But nobody minded begin crammed.
Fondue feasts and Ethiopian platter,
Happy Hour with noisy chatter,
Green chile dip, and charred hot dog,
Endless sweets and creamy egg nog.
The Kuerig machine making hot drinks a breeze,
Helping to thaw us out from the freeze.
Mary’s refrigerator always prepared,
With Bob hardly cooking none of us scared.
A family Christmas Murder Mystery—
Our costumes and accents full of hilarity.
Games like Werewolf, hearts, and checkers
Codenames, Guesstures (but not for the Becklers)
750-piece puzzle done just like that,
With so many games, still some time to chat.
Always guests, like Micah and Jan,
Eunice, Gloria, and the Mur and Josh clan.
Campus adventures, like caroling to Fred,
Ghost Tours and “SS” filling all with dread!
Hockey and Dodgeball and Scooters in the aux gym,
Ruth’s 30-day challenge not keeping us slim.
Playing Sunday piano and joining the choir,
Missionary presentations on Christmas drawing some ire.
Hogback hiking, icy Hales Canyon and the Crevasse disaster,
Mud and low temps helped us move faster.
Brunch at the farm, Grandpa’s Grills eats,
Bowling and movies and Water Store treats!
Feeding the horses and collecting the eggs,
10% egg survival rate due to wobbly legs.
Getting gifts from mom and dad (never with ease),
Requiring multiple stops and caroling at Mickey D’s,
Home Videos—a walk down memory lane.
Helping us remember which one(s) of us were the pain.
Ringle Bells, soccer games, piano battles were shown,
Three Billy Goats Gruff—can you believe how we’ve grown?
A side trip to Albuquerque, with much to explore.
Tocano’s, Frontier—couldn’t eat more.
Hot tubbing and popcorn at the great Drury Inn.
Laser Tag—Charlotte wants to do it again!
Exploring the artsy world of Meow Wolf too,
Sandias by Tram,  Christmas lights at the zoo.
A quick and full trip up to snowy Pagosa,
Slippery ice on the roads and on each ponderosa.
Surviving the drive and relaxing at the Springs,
Falling asleep before the New Year could ring.
Using the Sienna to get up the hills,
A challenge for chains and Bob’s driving skills.
Skiing at Wolf Creek—incredible glee!
Until Ruth’s stunt off the lift hurt her knee.
Thankful for only a partially torn ligament,
And last-minute PT dates with Anthony—God sent!
What a gift, to be with the Ippels,
Amid the red rocks and dripping ice cycles.
20+ Ippels now—we’re a group! We’re a crew—
Getting us together is quite a to-do!
And three tiny babies soon on the way,
Bonbon or Bobert? Who can say!?
Were so thankful for this past December—
So many memories made to remember.
God has been faithful as He keeps us united,
(I can’t remember the last time we’ve fighted!)
Made one in Christ Jesus—what else can we say, but
Lang saltza leyva, and Hip-Hip-Hooray!?

We are so thankful to God for these last few weeks! Pray for us as we enter back into life and ministry in Nicaragua. Pray for Andrew as he prepares for a new semester at school. Pray for Ruth as she manages the household with an unusable leg (see poem above) and for speedy healing and recovery. Pray for our kids; it isn’t fun to say goodbye to grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, and while they do love Nicaragua, they don’t always remember that fact during these transition times (Henry was plotting to spend next semester as a Rehoboth School student).