Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Calm in the Store

I am an optimist, and I generally consider that a good quality, but I have realized that it might not be the best quality when it comes to facing civil unrest like we have in Nicaragua over the past several days.  Our mission organization provides us with a detailed emergency plan for situations like this that tells us how to prepare--have food for at least three days, plenty of water, cash on hand, a tank full of gas, all travel documents ready to go.*** When we began hearing the news of protests and political unrest last week Thursday, I thought, I really should dust off that Security Handbook to see what the plan is (at that point, Henry, our 11-year old, had read through it, but I hadn’t). BUT, I thought (maybe a little too optimistically), I’m sure it will just all blow over.  News of protests are pretty par for the course here, and in general doesn’t affect our daily lives as long as we don’t drive through specific parts of Managua.  So, I filled my car with gas, but that’s it.  I knew we had at least 6 boxes of mac n' cheese in the cupboard, so I figured that basically equaled 3 days of food.  

As the days went on, the political climate got worse--peaceful protests turned to violent riots, injuries turned to deaths--and we began to realize the gravity of the situation. This realization hit a climax on Sunday as we drove home from church up the road that we usually drive several times a day.  Remains of tires were still smoldering on the road where protesters had lit them on fire the night before, lines of panicked people circled around gas stations and stores trying to get gas and food, a lone protestor stood on the side of the road wearing a black mask and waving a flag.  Several people were leaving stores with empty bottles of water, evidence that there was no more available. And so, I started to freak out a little.  I ran into an overcrowded gas station to try to pull cash out of an ATM, but all 3 of the ATMs were empty. We came back home and started filling jugs with water from our shower and assessing our real food situation (enough pancake batter for weeks, but not much else).  And I started kicking myself… why hadn’t I been more prepared? Stupid optimism.  I should just always assume the worst. I spent the rest of that day feeling like we were in a crappy situation and it was all my fault.  

Anxious to stock up on supplies, my neighbor, Jared, and I made plans to go to the grocery store on Monday morning. When we arrived at the first store, it was still closed and we were told it would be opening an hour or two late because they were still cleaning up from the chaos the day before and stocking their very empty-looking shelves. We tried a second store, and when we arrived the parking lot was already full.  There were no lines out the doors, but long lines had already begun to form to checkout.  My initial impulse was to throw everything I saw into my cart and elbow people to get to the checkout line, but as I looked around the store, a calm came over me. People were giving each other hugs, smiling, letting others pass in front of them.  Several times food items from my overflowing cart fell onto the floor and people next to me stopped to pick them up.  As we stood in the checkout line and waited for about 45 minutes, we made friends with a woman in front of us who told us about her house being threatened by intruders with rocks the night before, but still was able to laugh with us and encourage us.  We also befriended a college-aged man behind us who gave us his realistic but hopeful take on the political situation, and even taught us some new words in Spanish.  Jared commented many times, “Everyone is so calm!”
Our view from our spot in line near the back of the store
I was able to buy a cart full of food, replenish our water supply, and get cash out of the ATM--all very important things for my need to feel prepared, but more importantly this trip to the grocery store renewed my hope in our current situation and also my faith in humanity.  I deeply love Nicaraguans and seeing their calm in the storm at the grocery store reminded me of their strength and resilience. This trip to the store was also a very real reminder that even though I think it is all up to me to be prepared and problem solve and make a plan, but it really isn’t up to me at all.  God consistently cares for us in the details every day in all situations.  Thank God, because if it were all up to me, we could be waterless, moneyless and eating pancakes for weeks!

***We recognize that the ability to stock up on food, water, gas, and cash is an absolute privelege that the majority of Nicaraguan families do not possess due to huge socio-economic disparities. These last days of chaos have been MUCH more harmful to those with less means and options in our community, so please remember this as you think of us and read our stories. We have a lot.
Thank you to those of you who have been praying for Nicaragua and our family!

Update from today (Tuesday) borrowed from a friend’s (Liam Starkenburg’s) Facebook wall: Yesterday (Monday), hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans gathered to march for justice and peace. The march was positive and peaceful, and the outlook for today and the rest of the week is MUCH better than it was last weekend. Businesses, grocery stores and gas stations are open as normal and the panicked crowds have subsided. We're praying that it will remain stable throughout the day today, with hopes of starting to ease our way back into school soon!

Monday's march
Please continue to pray for peace, as well as that the dialogue needed to resolve some major issues in this country will happen soon and on good terms

Recent update on Tuesday afternoon: School will be back in session tomorrow! Students have been invited to wear black, honoring the deceased, or white, in hopes of continued peace for Nicaragua.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

When things don't go viral. . .

As I scroll through my Facebook feed, I am amazed to see what kind of things "go viral"--church welcome signs with unfortunate misspellings, strange products for sale, cute kittens (or really ugly ones), videos of kids feeding parrots in Australia, memes about. . .well, anything and everything. A video of an NCA graduate went viral last year; it was a recording of her riding home after getting her wisdom teeth removed. I probably watched it 10 times. What is it that draws us to share, re-watch, and get so excited about certain words, images, videos?

As missionaries who live far away from our home country and depend on both electronic communication AND financial support, we rely, in part, on our pleas, photos, and stories "going viral." This allows our friends and family (and THEIR friends and family) to pray for us, know our ministry, walk with us, and share financially with us.

Ruth and I get a certain amount of pride (which we know is bad!) when one of our blog posts gets a high number of views. We really aren't in a competition, but it is nice to know people are "out there"--reading about you and caring about you because they choose to click on your link (or even more rare and impressive--share your link!) Some random posts get very high views. Others that we expect to make an impact--stories we are excited to share--are more or less ignored. We can't figure that one out (except for the fact that you all love catchy titles! Highly viewed posts on this blog have involved the word "pee" or sound really depressing.) That said, when a shared post, plea, or story gets a only a handful of random likes, we tend to twist the situation in our mind and feel the opposite--that no one really cares. We are alone. We are isolated and invisible (Not true! We know! But the feeling is hard to shake).

I am extremely thankful that we have not had to "fund raise" in the traditional sense of the word in order to serve in Nicaragua. We have not needed to rely on electronic pleas for money going viral! We've been able to avoid Go Fund Me, gimmicky sales and competitions, direct asks--and God has faithfully provided for us through you in such a way that we have always made our budget. That is a huge blessing. It reminds each month that we are loved and cared for and that our work here is valued.

We are, however, invested as well in the financial survival of the ministries in which we work. The ministry of Tesoros de Dios is growing, and we are attempting to figure out new connections and avenues to allow us to expand, serve more kids, and build--which all mean that we need to grow our budget. As a board member, I'm finding that I'm spending more and more of my time in communication with people with this in mind, always ending correspondence with "Oh--and if you are interested in sponsoring a child, please don't hesitate to email me back and ask for more information!" I probably have emailed a similar line to around 100 email addresses this month. Honestly, I haven't heard back from a single person wanting further information of how to support Tesoros de Dios. Sometimes I just pretend that there is a worldwide Internet error--a giant virtual black hole that is sucking up all of my emails, and it isn't that people aren't interested or responding--they just aren't getting my message. It makes me feel a bit better.

In an effort to raise funds creatively this past month, Tesoros de Dios partnered with Good Ink, a company in the US that helps groups raise money through t-shirt sales. After many emails amongst board members deciding about the details of the shirt design, the prices, and preparing the website, the campaign was launched! Wow! Amazing! It really looks sleek! It was shared on the wall of the Tesoros Facebook page with a goal to sell 200 products in April, and there was. . .well. . .nothing. No interest. After 5 days, we had sold 6 shirts. Viral did not happen.

Not a problem, I thought! I'm a creative visionary--let's make it into a contest! I came up with the idea to give away a few free shirts to folks that shared the campaign via Facebook. Share the post, tag a friend, and write a comment to be entered into the drawing--a ten-second task that could earn you a $20 product for free! Seriously--who WOULDN'T participate!? The contest was to last 24 hours. I emailed the board, preparing them to help me relaunch the shirt campaign with a vengeance! And then. . .nothing. When I checked the post later that evening, I was literally the only participant (I thought that somehow I could get that Facebook algorithm to work in my favor and show up on your newsfeeds!) There were 2 likes. One was my own. REALLY???

I was honestly a little angry last night. Maybe not angry--lonely? Embarrassed? I can't quite explain my emotions. It really wasn't about the lack of money pouring in for Tesoros de Dios, although trust me--they need your donations. I think I just felt alone. Or just annoyed with the weird priorities of the world. Why is everyone liking that cat picture but can't take the time to write a comment about Teoros de Dios or share something for a good cause? Why does Charlie Bit My Finger have 860 million views (I'm sure I have contributed a dozen of those) and I can't get a few for something that does more than just entertain?

Fundraising for ministry is hard. It feels a bit as though you are "cheapening" the ministry to get people to care--reducing God's work in His world into a tangable, marketable product. And then if people don't like your product--well, it feels as though somehow the ministry isn't valuable to others either. A lie, I know.

At the end of the 24-hour window, two shirts were given away to the only two people (besides me) that ended up sharing the post. 2! No "drawing" was even needed. Ouch.

I'm reminded again and again that provision--whether it is for our family or for an organization in which we are involved--is truly in God's hands. We have very little control. We can try to make ministry giving funny, sexy, dramatic, competitive--whatever it takes to go viral. We can send out refrigerator magnets with cute pictures of our own kids or children in wheelchairs, glossy annual reports, sleek videos, monthly newsletters in multiple formats. But the bottom line is that God is the provider and in Him I need to trust--not in T-shirt campaigns, dramatic stories, or clever gimmicks.

So yes, it'll be interesting to see if this blog post gets read. I'll be a little ironic if this post about social media droughts is visited more than the Good Ink website. I'll likely check the stats a few times. But I'll do my best to keep first things first and place my trust in our Jehovah Jireh. I know that I am not alone in Nicaragua, even when the "like count" is at zero.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Night to Shine in Nicaragua

Tesoros de Dios recently partnered with a local church and ministry to bring Tim Tebow Foundation's "Night to Shine" to Nicaragua for the time ever! Night to Shine is an international event, with 540 churches across the globe hosting similar events all on the same evening. . .a prom of sorts with the purpose of giving young adults with disabilities an evening to remember and stand out. Teenagers dress up super fancy, receive a flower to pin on, walk a red carpet to thundering applause and cheering (complete with photographers and videographers), and enjoy a dinner and dance. Each individual was allowed to attend with one family member, but was also partnered with a "buddy/date" for the night. Ruth and I were able to volunteer at the event. Ruth was the official event nurse (though she didn't have to wear scrubs as she was originally told), and was partnered with a young lady named Estefani, someone she hadn't met before. I hung out with my friend Pablo, who has been a part of my Tesoros group for the last 3-4 years. Pablo was probably the most enthusiastic dancer of the night, and while my legs were throbbing and needed breaks, he continued to dominate the dance floor. All teens received a crown or tiara (all designated as the "kings" and "queens" of the prom), had the opportunity to be in the photobooth with "Ms. Teen Nicaragua," and got a lot of special attention in general. In true "you-never-know-what-will-happen-in-Nicaragua" fashion, the catering truck was involved in an accident on the way to the event, ruining all of the food. So Ruth and I didn't eat, and had to leave before a new batch of food arrived (after 9:00pm!). But honestly, while probably hungry, no one seemed to mind too much! Pablo's mom was ready to leave at 9:00, but Pablo wanted to keep dancing, of course:) Events like this are wonderful, but also reminders that we aren't quite there yet as a society in terms of fully including folks with disabilities into our churches, schools, and communities. Ideally, we wouldn't need a separate, segregated "Night to Shine" to give young adults this opportunity to be recognized and loved on so well. But we are NOT there yet. . .and without Night to Shine, I do fear that especially here in Nicaragua our teenagers with disabilities would not have the red carpet experiences they deserve. Pray for increased inclusion in Nicaragua and around the world, and that one day we'll think Night to Shine is no longer a necessary event. (On a side note, I do remember when one of my students with a moderate cognitive impairment was voted by his peers as king of prom at Creston High School, a large urban high school. He was outgoing and friendly, inclusive and kind, and had a smile for everyone. I don't think he won a sympathy vote. . .he truly was the king of Creston. It was a beautiful evening for this student, and it was a real, inclusive night to shine!)

Kendal came from Matagalpa, a 2.5 hour drive, for this event.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Ippel Family Goals 2018

This is the time of year when Andrew and I usually go on a date with a computer and our calendar and work together to make plans and goals for the upcoming year.  We are by no means perfect at completing these goals, but have come to value the practice of relection and intentionality. This year, we have tried to include our children in the goal-setting process as well. Just for fun (and possibly for some accountability as well), we'd like to share a few of our goals with you:

Andrew's goal this year is to "extend our table" more.  Initially, I thought this meant just having more people over for dinner, but after further clarification, I think his goal should actually be called "extending our home."  Whether this means fostering a child,  housing someone in need, or welcoming someone else into our house, Andrew is feeling called to welcome others into this place we call home. Ruth thinks this is an interesting goal as Andrew is never home:)

My (Ruth's) goal is to be more "tranquila," a Spanish word meaning chill, go-with-the-flow.  Our life balancing 3 active kids, 4 ministry partner organizations, homework, Bible studies, sporting events, school musicals, retreat planning, and much more can feel hectic at times, and if I'm honest, the hecticness can turn me into a monster sometimes.  Go-go-go becomes yell-yell-yell, and I would like to change that.  My hope is to remember to take deep breaths, let (unrealistic?) expectations go, and to chose to be a pleasant rather than a productive person.

At his teacher's encouragement, Henry's goal is to read the New Testament this year. Andrew, Mae and I have decided to join him (at first Mae thought she had to read the footnotes, too, so it's going a lot faster now). It is a joy to watch our kids read the Bible!

Mae's goal is to spend more time playing with our pet monkey, Dexter, who sometimes gets ignored.  We have started putting Dexter on a leash and that has made him easier for the kids to play with, although he still finds plenty of ways to be naughty.

Charlotte's goal is to learn how to read.  She has been working hard memorizing sight words and sounding out words she doesn't know.  She can already read most words in Spanish, which she says is much easier than reading in English.

During our visit to the US over Christmas, we were told over and over how big our kids are getting.  This was a good reminder that our time with them is short, and we need to be preparing them for real life. So, we decided this year they will each have a weekly life-skill goal that we would like them to learn to do independantly.  This week, Henry is learning to make balanced meals, Mae is learning to do laundry, and Charlotte is learning to bathe alone.

So, here's to 2018!  I'm sure our commitment will falter as the year goes on, but there's nothing like making our resolutions public on a blog post to keep us motivated, so thanks for reading and keeping us going!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Gift of Being Known

A couple of weeks ago I travelled to the US to care for my dad following an extensive surgery he had had to remove over 40 cancerous tumors from his body.  While I was there, I ended up “living” in the hospital with him for a week, in Chicago where I knew no one.  For those 7 days, essentially the only times I left his hospital room were to go down to the hospital cafeteria for meals. 

This was obviously a very difficult time, first and foremost for my dad, but for me as well.  I was walking (and sleeping!) alongside my dad through a very vulnerable time of a near-death experience, unexpected complication after complication, disappointment, and an uncertain future.  I felt very alone.  My only connection with the outside world was desperate Facebook messages to family and friends.  

I realized just how alone I felt when one day I was riding the elevator to the cafeteria when the doors opened and a group of people walked on. I physically craved for one of them to say “Oh, hi, Ruth!” That’s all I needed—not someone to process with, or to share the overwhelming responsibility with—I just wanted someone to recognize me and know me—to see me. 

The contrast I felt upon my arrival back home was amazing.  I was inundated with smiles of recognition, people telling me how glad they were that I was back and how much they had missed me, hugs, and questions about how I was holding up. This stark contrast made me realize a few things:

First of all, I am so thankful for the deeply-caring community that I am a part of. 

Secondly, I never want to be in the hospital in a place where I don’t know anyone.

And most importantly, I realized that being known is a gift.  It is a gift that I receive ALL THE TIME.  It makes me feel secure, loved, and not alone.

And for as often and as easily as I receive the gift of bring known, I want to be giving it. Sadly, I often “minister” to people without knowing them.  I teach a well-prepared lesson to my pregnant women, but I don’t stick around after the class to ask, “How are you doing?” I successfully struggle though a Bible lesson and leading a craft for a crowd of kids and teens at House of Hope, but I only know a handful of their names.  My temptation is to hide behind the planning and details, the checkmark on my to-do list. 

I hope if you are reading this that you can hold me accountable to giving the gift that I so deeply desire—of knowing and being known.  Pray that I can have the courage to change my priorities and set aside the seemingly all-important details and tasks and instead focus on the definitely all-important people that God has placed in my life. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

26 pictures, not black and white, very short explanation

It has been a out-of-the-ordinary, busy, interesting few weeks. Ministry and teaching. Tesoros de Dios staff retreat in San Juan del Sur. Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Granada. Ruth in the US with her dad, who is doing better but still in the hospital after his surgery. . .please continue to pray for him! We know pics speak louder (and are often more interesting) than words. Here are some of the things we saw over the last few weeks.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

First accident in Nicaragua

One of our worst fears living in Nicaragua was realized today. We were heading down from our house to the school on the backroad affectionately known as the "cow trail," a narrow road paved with blocks that weaves through a few small neighborhoods before spitting you out on the highway near the school. Yes, sometimes there are cows on the road. Always dogs, lots of pedestrians, cars, bikes, motorcycles, chickens, horses, the local lady that likely has untreated schizophrenia that likes to occasionally hit cars with a stick she always carries. Ruth was heading to the school to play ultimate frisbee (a Sunday afternoon tradition that I've recently abandoned), and I was heading to work in my classroom (a Sunday afternoon tradition that I've recently adopted). Our kids were going to run around and play with friends on the school campus.

The kids and I were singing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" acapella for some reason as I was going around a corner, and suddenly a motorcycle carrying a driver and a passenger came around the curve heading the opposite direction in the middle of the already-narrow road. I swerved to the right, and he swerved to his right. . .but there was still a loud thud and scrape as he slid along the driver side of the van. I stopped the van as quickly as I could, and while braking watched the motorcycle swerving and tilting crazily in my rearview mirror. . but he managed to stay upright and stop. I may have said a bad word or two.

I ran out to make sure he and the passenger were okay. They both were limping a bit, and one of them was nursing his hand and wrist. The passenger had been carrying his helmet in his hand by his leg, which was now on the ground completely smashed into bits. It is a law to wear helmets while on a motorcycles here (both drivers and passengers) but many folks just carry them instead. The helmet obviously had created a barrier between the car and the motorcycle (and did the damage to our car), and I believe it helped protect us both from more harm. If they had fallen it would probably be a different story. . .

You can see the scrape marks; I think they are all from the helmet.

The helmet that (thankfully) was not on the head, but near his leg

Hubcap cover thing a little damaged, too, probably from the footpegs of the motorcycle.

Praising God for this kind of "body damage" and not the other "body damage"

We talked a bit and I asked if they were okay, and the men hinted that they didn't want to call the police. They did want money and I felt like he and his passenger were trying to figure out the best route of action that they should take in this situation. I could smell alcohol on the driver's' breath. I asked him if he had been drinking, which I suppose is a silly question to ask if you want an honest answer. I decided to call the lawyer I have on speed dial (I never had called him before, but it is basically protocol here in the event of an accident. It is also the rule NOT to move your vehicle in case of an accident even if you are blocking traffic).

Many people from the houses along the road came out to watch, talk, and give their input. . . probably around 30 or so people were all around. A few folks told us that they knew the men, and said they saw everything and it was certainly the motorcycle who was at fault. If we hadn't swerved, they said, they would've been killed. (I shudder to think about that. Like physically shudder). As I hung up with the lawyer, who said he would be on his way, Ruth told me that the motorcycle driver and passenger had hopped on their bike and had taken off. I called the lawyer back, who recommended just leaving at this point if no one was injured and if the damage to our car wasn't too serious.

So we drove away. Shaken. A little scared. And SO thankful. Thankful that the men were okay enough to flee the scene. Thankful that I'm not in jail (protocol for any accident that involves an injury). Thankful for witnesses who were ready to speak truth. Thankful for God's protection today and everyday. One inch would've been a different outcome. . .one second, a different story, too. . .God is in those inches and seconds and today we praise God for his protection.