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.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Fiestas Patrias 2017!

It's hard to describe the festivity surrounding Fiestas Patrias--the celebration of Nicaragua's "Independence Day" each year on September 14 and 15. So rather than try to describe the event in words, here are some pictures and videos from Nicaragua Christian Academy's celebration this past Wednesday. A lot (though not all!) of the photo credits go to NCA photographers. . .we lifted them from NCA's Facebook page. Enjoy!

The morning of Fiestas Patrias always takes some extra time to get ready and for the family picture session! This year, Ruth learned how to cut Andrew's old (though clean) socks to create instant hair buns for the girls. 

The men from the annual "Teacher Dance"
Watch the infamous teacher dance by clicking here.
The whole teacher crew. . .

You can see Mae's class dancing by clicking here

Can you spy the Ippel?
 Mae and her classmates memorized quite a long poem in Spanish. Check it out here.

Mae's class watching high school presentations. 

The Homeroom Mom Dance--first annual event! Ruth probably practiced more than any other family member to get ready for this big day:)

 See Ruth and the other homeroom moms killin' it by clicking here. 

Watch Charlotte and her kinder friends singing here!

In addition to dancing, each classroom prepares a drama regarding Nicaraguan history and culture to share with parents and other grade levels. Henry was a colonizer from Spain. 

See Henry and his classmates presenting here. They had a popular presentation because they handed out candy afterwards. 

We hope you enjoyed the videos and pictures! The only better way to experience is to come down and see the events for yourself:) Happy Independence Day, Nicaragua!