Monday, April 23, 2012

A Little Update

Hey Everybody!

Hope our weeks all started off smoothly ;) Anyway, just wanted to update you all that while my usual posts about Orphan Care, Adoptive Families, Special Needs, etc., are down the pipe a little later this week, I have updated the Our Orphans Love Page, the Our Graduates Page, and the Charities Page (something I've been meaning to do for over a year......) Along with posting posts, we will continue to update these pages over the next few weeks as well! Until then, Enjoy, and SPEAK FOR THE SILENT!

 (And as always, this wouldn't be a proper post without putting Russel and Ilya in it ;) )

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Army of Families (Prayers for Many)

If there was one thing taking months off of blogging did, it was give me a boatload of new families in the adoption process to advocate for when I finally made the time for it again. At this point, most of the families  I meet I either met through other adoptive families who are or have gone through the process, or it's families who have adopted before adopting again! :D So without further ado, let's start down the loooooooong list of families who have stepped out in faith to answer the Call of God found in James 1:27, Proverbs 31:8, and so many other verses in Scripture.

First up is the Ochs Family, who you'll recognize if you read my account of my trip to Texas. Marj and Ryan (Mr. and Mrs. Ochs) are a fantastic couple with two great little kiddos, Colvin and Georgia, and are in the process for Elvira from Reece's Rainbow. They are standing before a judge to petition for Ella to be theirs RIGHT NOW, so PRAY PRAY PRAY if you read this before Thursday Morning! Continue to keep them in your prayers over the next month too, as they wait out their 30-day waiting period and head back to Eastern Europe one last time to finally bring Ella home. The link to their blog is here. 

Next is the Burman Family, also a family from the RR community I got to meet whilst in Texas and who I now love to pieces! Few of you who have been in the Reece's Rainbow community over the last year will forget two HUGE stories that went viral amongst us- Carrington, a 10-pound 4 year old literally on death's door when the Burman's brought her home, and the other story being that of Pleven, one of Bulgaria's Orphanage facilities and the horrid conditions that were found there- 10-pound, 2-year-old sized 12-year-olds, etc. Having gotten to meet Shelly, Carrington, and the entire Burman Bunch, I can tell you they really are an amazing family and that Carrington is a living miracle, having gone from death's door to a happy, smiley, raspberry-blowing little lovey. It's no secret that the Burman's have brought home and saved 5 kids in all from Eastern Europe, along with having their two biological kids Madelaine and Ethan. Earlier this year, Shelly and Brian (Mr. Burman) felt called to bring home two boys from Pleven- Teagan (4 years old) and Kelten (12 years old). Shelly and Maddie have already embarked on their first trip (with the awesome Sousa-Brown Family), and are now anxiously awaiting a court date. In the mean time, they are holding an Etsy fundraiser with their friend Joy selling "Carrignton Necklaces" (necklaces originally sold to raise funds for Carrington) for the boys! You can get them in 4 different styles, and hey, a gorgeous necklace that reminds you of an amazing family with an amazing call, helping them ACHIEVE that call, is pretty awesome in my eyes ;) their blog link for Kelten and Teagan is HERE and the fundraiser link is HERE. Make sure in the message space to say what style you want and which family you want the proceeds to go to!

The next Family I want to re-introduce to you is the Rogers Family, who you may remember I mentioned in a few posts like this where I advocated for multiple families who have supported us and we support in return! At the time that  I was advocating for them, they were bringing home two sweet peas, Oscar and Christine, now Clare and Malachi. Needless to say, these two have blossomed.

Now, the Rogers are going back for two older children! Bernadette (a 16 year old with Down Syndrome who will be re-named Jessica) and Mason (9 yrs old, DS)!

Their blog is HERE, and, as luck would have it, they're doing a Carrington Necklace fundraiser too! So following the link above in the Burman's section, if you say you'd like the money to go to the Rogers family, it'll go to their Family Sponsorship Page! Or maybe buy one for you and one for a friend and give each family some love ;)

The next family is the Lindquist family adopting Ethan, who we've mentioned multiple times as they are huge supporters of ours and are reaching the end of their process! Please keep them in prayer as they do one last garage sale and get ready to travel to BRING ETHAN HOME!!!!! Their blog is HERE. You can find their FSP in our "Children we are Praying Home" page, as on top of their estimated garage sale profits they need 2400 extra $$$.

Next up is the Whiteaker Family, another long-time supporter and friends of ours! They are waiting for travel dates to finally pick up Mr. Danny/Colton, but are also awaiting the arrival of their first BABY!!!!! Looks like Colton's gonna be a big brother a little while after he gets home! :) Their blog is HERE.Please continue to pray for them as they prepare now for not one, but TWO little boys!!!!

Next is another family we've mentioned before- the Anderson family, adopting two little girls (outside Reece's Rainbow) from South America! Right now our compatriots over at Rainbow of Hope/4Girls4Christ are running a fundraiser to help this family with the funds they will need to hopefully  travel in the next few months!!! The link to the Anderson's blog is HERE and the 4G4C fundraiser is HERE. Just for clarity, the Faith Trust and Pixie Dust chip-in is the one for the Anderson's ;)

Next is the Schwenzer Family, who adopted Julia and Aaron from my sister Julia's orphanage shortly after we brought our Julia home! They are going back for Marina, also from the Orphanage that my Julia, their Julia, and Aaron are from! Please, as with all of these families, keep them in your prayers. I had the chance to meet them this January (along with reuniting with the Hinzes), and I so hope I can see them again once Marina's home! Their blog is HERE.

The next family that I'd like to introduce for the first time is the Breen Family, who I met up at Pathfinders/Cooperstown this summer at the RR Reunion! Missy and Bill adopted Vlado about a year ago, and are now traveling back to get another little boy! Feel free to follow their blog and keep them in your prayers!!!!!

From Left to Right- Andrea Roberts (!!!), Missy (Mrs. Breen) and Vlado, Bill (Mr. Breen)

We now have three families to round out this post: two new, one of whom has made multiple appearances on the blog .

First of the new three are the Jenks Family, adopting Sydney and Lucien from the same region as the Schwenzers! The Jenks family currently have 4 children and are so beyond excited to bring home these two adorable children! Right now, though, less than a month from possibly travelling, they are TEN GRAND short. Thus, time is short to help them raise a titanic sum of money. But God has done great things for those families in adoption processes before, He can do it again! If you go HERE and purchase one of these pendants (meant to be Mother's Day gifts) and mention the Jenks family in your order, 50% of the proceeds will go towards their adoption!

The other new family I'd like to introduce is the Shpak family, adopting Shannon from Reece's Rainbow! I can't even begin to articulate the strength this family has and the amount of callings they are following selflessly at once, so I'm merely going to state the fact that they're AMAZING, and then link the blog for their adoption of Shannon HERE (Mr. Shpak has just met her, TOTAL cutie)  and their domestic adoption process of a little boy named Ethan, a process which has asked for so much time, energy and faith, all of which the Shpak's have kept and are keeping. Keep this family safe, Father as they continue to walk with you, in their own words, "knee-deep in adoption!"

Finally, we are continuing to plug our beloved Spitz family in their fundraising for Lyla. The stakes have been upped, however, members of the family and friends have started taking challenges to raise money faster. The Basile family kicked it off with Mrs. Basile taking a pie to the face when they raised 10 grand, then the Spitzes took it into their own field when Dave (Mr. Spitz) got a stylish mohawk and makeup treatment ala the littles (quite the artistic piece if you ask me) and now- well, Conor and Nick (the big bros of the bunch) have agreed to dress in teenage girl apparel once the fund hits 12K. Good grief- talk about LOVE! Needless to say, all 3 Spitz men will be getting medals of honor from yours truly when I hopefully see them this summer. If not, well, there's always the postal service ;) Their fundraising continues to rise to titanic proportions at the blog linked HERE. They are also frantically raising the money needed to finish their dossier so they can send it out to USCIS and become one step closer to going to GET LYLA! You can see that over HERE.

Well, that just about wraps it for this group of families! We are, as always, praying for them hard and anxiously awaiting all of them to be home with their beautiful children! In the mean time, please continue to pray for our precious Russ and Ilya, and that THEY can be in one of these posts soon!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Strongest Love

I once said to a friend that no task worth achieving is within easy reach. I find that so many times God calls us to do things beyond our own strength, or what we perceive to be "out of our comfort zone" or "more than we can do" so we A) learn to rely on Him more and B) see nothing is out of reach so long as we rely on God. Orphan Advocacy/Adoption/Missionary Work is definitely in that category. You can't do it alone. You need help from not only God but also from those around you that share the call and the conviction. But on an even further level, I have come to admire some in the world of advocating for Orphans who love deeper, work harder, and never let their personal comfort zone set the boundaries for where that love goes.

And this post is a salute to some of the greatest examples of that that I've seen in my life.

I've had this post forming in my mind for quite some time, and wasn't sure quite when or where would be the best time to share such deep emotions and personal emotions. But through the timing and working of the Lord, many things have happened in the past few months that bring you the post you are reading now.

I admit one of the first things that repelled me from Orphan Advocacy when I first stumbled across it was the emotional roller coaster you must willingly ride day after day. How could you possibly love and work tirelessly for someone a thousand miles away, whose life was totally out of your hands? I could only find the answer through Faith, Hope, and Prayer. But even then, there was fear. What if something went wrong in that child's life? What if there really was nothing I can do for that person? What if the path's not always clear as to how I can help them? What then do I do?

While I still don't think I could answer that question completely, God has used so many people around me to show that we can and are meant to love till it hurts, just like He did. One of the earliest examples of that was Tori's love of her dear Carmencita in Peru. Only being able to see her a couple times a year, unable to find a family for her because she is not available for adoption, Tori did everything in her power and then some to give Carmencita the love and life she deserved. Despite all of the barriers put in front of her, all the things that easily could have discouraged someone else, she pushed aside her personal comfort zone and any obstacles in her path, all in the name of love. Love for one beautiful girl with Cerebral Palsey in Peru.

I saw it again in the way the Hinz family grieved but continued to love Nikita, the little boy they originally committed to along with Mr. Dusty (they committed to Sonya later). Despite never meeting him in person, never getting the opportunity to hold his little hand or snuggle him, he is their son. They celebrate his birthday, call him their own, even though he never "officially" got to be part of their family, He is in their hearts. A perfect example of embracing the toughest circumstances adoption can throw at you and make it something beautiful beyond what my words or anyone else's can do justice.

All through this time, however, there was another example of this, one whose story is nothing short of its own little fairy tale.

The Spitz Family, adoptive family of Michael (now Gavin) and Mariya (now Isabelle/Bellie) from Reece's Rainbow, originally began on a path to a different little girl: Lyla/Lilianna, blessed with Down Syndrome. Remember her?

   It was their adoption of Lyla that originally brought my family and theirs into contact. We cheered for Lyla as they cheered for our Jenny/Julia. But I'll never forget the day I found out things had gone wrong. So, SO wrong. Lyla was on death's door in the hospital, unadoptable until further notice, if she stayed alive. It was then that they adopted their sweet Belle, who I got to meet this summer, pictured below with awesome big sister Taylor:

Shortly before our little gathering in Cooperstown NY, though, they had decided God was calling them to adopt again. At that time, there was NO word on Lyla. No idea where she was. Regardless, this amazing family continued to love her as their own, forever grateful to the little girl across the sea that had indirectly brought them to their soon-to-be two little Ukrainian cutie-pies.

But then, there was another day I'll never forget: the day Lyla came back. On Reece's Rainbow. Out of nowhere. At that point, though, they were committed to mr. Gavin, and could not bear either the thought of leaving Gavin or Lyla. Thus they continued to love her and pray for a family to step forward.

Fast-forward a few months. Summer and Dave go to meet Gavin (who, by the way, is in the same Orphanage as Lyla). Needless to say, Gavin's a cute, adventurous little guy they love with all of their hearts. But then Summer did something on the second trip that would have left me in a puddle, no, a LAKE, on the floor: she asked to MEET Lyla. Meet Lyla. At that point all she'd be able to do is snuggle her and say there was a family on the way for her (YAY!), nothing else. Regardless of her own emotions, Summer met Lyla. and snapped a beautiful, timeless portrait of a beautiful little girl:

Fast forward another couple months: I was in Texas one morning checking messages on my phone to see if there was anything urgent, as I wasn't on Facebook, my e-mail or blogger all that much. There was an e-mail alert regarding a message from my mom. Reading down a few lines, all I could read was "Caleb, I have some sad news: Lyla lost-." What came after the "lost" didn't fit into the text message, but it didn't need to. I knew the next two words were "her family." That day riding around in the car I thought about the situation at hand. Writing long, passionate blog posts was out of the question until I left Texas as I barely had any time for Internet at all, so that left prayer. I prayed for the Spitzes as they grieved the loss of this family and for the little girl in Eastern Europe who had no idea of all the prayers and tears being poured out for her. I prayed that somehow this would all work out. By the time I was in the airport leaving for Texas, my mom had called us to say that through some God-given miracles, Lyla was going to become a Spitz.

The Spitzes announced their happy news publicly about a week later, to a TON of supportive people willing to help any way they could. As things stand now, people are fundraising and advocating this family like all get-out. To see all of this happening really is a reminder that, when a beautiful cause comes along, good people doing good deeds do still exist that can and will help. That good still abides in this world.

More than that, it is a reminder for me of that Strongest Love. A love that endured heartbreak and joy time and time again, that prayed endlessly, that crossed oceans and personal boundaries and any obstacle in between because of one little girl. One little girl who is WORTH IT.

Right now, one of those fundraising groups I mentioned before is doing a 3rd Genreation iPad giveaway to help the Spitzes raise funds for sweetest Lyla. So get on over there and donate, share, support any way you can! The link is right HERE. Help these last two days of fundraisng (today also happens to be Summer's Birthday!) be the BEST day of them all!

So, to one of the little babes we prayed for for months, and to one of the families that's prayed for US and our ministry since it's genesis, here's to you and your amazingly willing hearts. May God Bless you on this amazing journey!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Our Two Little Buddies

As Speaking for the Silent has developed over the last year and a half, we have advocated for children in many different ways: child of the week, children from different countries or orphanages, etc. Our most recent method of operation, however, was putting two or three of the children we felt most drawn to and putting them into a collage we shared on an almost post-by-post basis. Our most recent collage was our three musketeers, Brigita, Lilianna/Lyla and Ilya P.

I am extremely happy to say both Brigita and Lyla/Lilianna have families, both of whom I know. Brigita's mom Dee has been fund raising and working to bring her home for the past couple months, and Lyla's story....well, that's a post soon to come ;)

But that still leaves our little dude. Ilya P. Mr. McCutesy. Little guy's still hanging around on the waiting lists for a family, and we are praying that this changes soon, because it MUST.

But in the name of camaraderie and trying to pray for/advocate for more than one little guy at the same time, we've given little Illya a buddy: meet Russell!

Ain't he just adorable? Look at those CHEEKS! anyway, Ilya and Russ are a couple years apart, with Ilya in '06 (6 yrs old) and Russ a teeny 2 1/2! The picture of Ilya is probably pretty outdated. God knows where he is or what physical/emotional/developmental state he's in at this point. As for Russ, and updated picture shows him as looking pretty good-

Regardless, both of these little guys need homes. They need families. They need love. Ilya's already lost 6 years of it. Russel is still so small and hasn't had to feel that heartache, that loneliness yet.

Thus, these are our two little buddies. Until they are both in the arms of their Forever Fams, they're going to get the 5-star advocating treatment. Mentioned in every post, here, Facebook, and elsewhere. We might even dip our toes in the fundraising water and try to do some of that for them!

Welcome to the S4TS family, Russ and Ilya. Here's to your future families, and that they come for you soon.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection (Preparing for Action)

It feels good to be blogging again. While I'm regretful to have missed the months I did, I feel beyond blessed to have gotten the opportunities I have, from going to Texas, to meeting Adoptive Families through other avenues of communication in those months where I was not as loud for The Least Of These as I should have been.

So now that the story of my Texas adventure has been told, it's time to get back to what the name of this blog/ministry states that I/we do: Speak for the Silent.

At the end of this month, I will be hopefully launching a large attempt to help my fellow advocators raise their voices higher, as well as raise my own voice for those little angels I feel drawn to shout for. During that time, we will be advocating, partnering with other advocates, sharing more encouraging stories, and making our first attempts at fundraising.

As I/we prepare to begin this project together, I am going to ask each and every one of you to Speak for the Silent in your own way: share our page/mission or that of a similar organization with someone who might not have ever considered Orphan Care. Blast the message of James 1:27, Proverbs 31:8, and so many other Bible Verses from the rooftops. Together, we can make this happen, make it a success. To draw attention and compassion to the Orphans we so love here at S4TS, the families that are stepping forward in faith to adopt them, and the other advocates after the same mission as us.

I hope you have all had a very happy, healthy, blessed Easter Sunday. Just as Christ has risen from the grave today, let today mark a new breath of life coursing through not only this blog, but in the life of every orphan, adoptive family, and advocate around the world.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An Opportunity Part 6/Finale: Free to Love (This is not Goodbye)

Monday, March 12th, was the last day me and Dad would be spending in beautiful Dallas Texas.The yucky rain that had pervaded Saturday and most of Sunday fell away to blue skies and sunshine, with temps in the high 70's. It was gorgeous. We spent our morning with Marj and the kids, enjoying our last bit of relaxation and visiting time together before me and dad were off to visit the wonderful Burman family that evening and then leave early Tuesday morning. I was more than happy to have some quiet with a family that had turned from acquaintances to family for me in less than a week before I was thrust back into life back home. Poor Colvin was still feeling under the weather, but he took it like a trooper and we all had a fun morning playing together one last time.

       Lil' Georgia :)


For lunch, the Ochs took me and Dad into a gorgeous little Southern Home Cookin' restaurant called Babes in a local shopping square. The area itself feels like a modernized set from an old western movie, with little shops, restaurants and salons lining both sides of the street, with little porches and awnings and such. It was gorgeous.

The Restaurant itself, Babe's, is a restaurant that specializes in Fried Chicken and Chicken-Fried steak (for any of you who don't know what I'm talking about, it's a Steak in breading like fried chicken) with all the important sides, like your mash potatoes, hot biscuits (with butter and honey of course), etc etc. My mouth is already watering just reminiscing ;D Needless to say, it was DELICIOUS. And I officially became part southern.


After we got back form lunch, I got ready to head out with Dad to meet the lovely Burman family at their home. I first met Shelly (Mrs. Burman) when I was assembling the slideshow presentation the Lindquist Family put together for their adoption of Ethan. I got to talk with Mrs. Burman here and there, exchanging a couple e-mails back and forth. While I can't remember who it was, someone along the way reminded me as I was planning my trip that they were in the DFW area. As soon as I thought of it, however, I remembered that Shelly and the Burman's eldest daughter, Madelaine, would be traveling to Eastern Europe to meet the two handsome boys they are working to adopt, Kelten and Teagan. Still wanting to let them know they were in my thoughts and prayers, though, I sent Shelly a message saying that while I'd be in Texas if they were around and available, giving them the dates I'd be open to meeting up. Shelly responded saying that they would be home the night of the 11th, and would be more than happy to have me and my Dad over on the 12th for a visit before I left. From there on, I realized just how truly amazing this family was/is- inviting two guests they'd never met before over for a visit the day after they returned from a week-long mission trip to Europe! I don't know how they do it, but it's a pretty amazing thing to see :)

After about an hour of driving amidst some interesting traffic, we arrived at the Burman's to a living room full of smiling faces waving and looking up at the two new people who had just arrived. For the next couple hours, we enjoyed dinner and plenty of conversation with this amazing family and their 7 awesome kiddos.

Just for Maddie- "Carrginton's Like a Tiger!" pose ;)

And one extra bonus: a little video of Princess Carrington herself :)

The Burman's are one great family, and I am beyond happy I got to spend the time I did getting to know them and their story.

As we were heading home, I could feel the pangs of sorrow from a happy journey ending driving into me. So in stead I thought back on the trip and all it had entailed, affected me, changed me, moved me, opened my eyes, my heart, opened up new opportunities, etc. Had I known the song at the time, I probably would have thought of Aaron Shust's "We Are Free," a song talking about opportunities to overcome our weaknesses and become more than we ever thought we could be by being Christ's hands and feet to people.

When we got back to the Ochs' that night we said goodnight and goodbye to the toddlers and enjoyed one last night of conversation and quiet time with Marj and Ryan. It was so bittersweet, as it felt like part of the happy routine my days had fallen into, but with the knowledge it would be a while before it happened again. We said our goodbyes that night as well, as me and Dad would be heading out around quarter to 7 the next morning to get into DFW Airport on time.

Going to bed that night was hard. There was a part of me that was eager to get home and reunite with mi familia. There was another part of me that did not want to leave the new family I had found here. Alas, teleportation devices to bring one group to the other aren't in existence yet ;) I went to sleep that night thankful for the times I had enjoyed, saddened that they had come and gone, ready to head back to NY, and eager to come back again to Texas soon.


Tuesday morning me and Dad got ready in the most silence as possible in the hopes we wouldn't wake anyone early. We finished packing and got everything into the car, where the dew was still fresh on everything around us. Looking back, the song "This is not Goodbye" from Sidewalk Prophets plays in my head as we pulled away one last time.

"This is not Goodbye
I know we’ll meet again
So let your life begin
‘Cause this is not goodbye
It’s just “I love you” to take with you
Until you’re home again"

They say home is where the heart is.  If that really is true, as I believe it is, I've come to realize home doesn't have to be a house you live in for X amount of days/months/years, Or one certain place you call your "hometown." It's wherever you feel loved. Wherever the people that you love are. It's wherever you see God working. Where you know He's using you for some greater purpose. With that conclusion, I've come to realize my home isn't just in Rhinebeck New York. It's in Rhinebeck New York, as well as the Dallas/Forth Worth area of Texas. It's in Camp Veritas. It's in Northeast Ukraine. It's with every adoptive family that has ever called me a friend. It's in my church, and every place Christians gather across the world. 

Home is where the Heart is. 

 "But lay your treasures up in Heaven,  where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Matthew 6:20-21

Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Opportunity Part 5: Reaching Out- A Sunday Mission Trip to Dallas

On Sunday morning, Me and Dad were up early to get ready for another awesome opportunity with Compass Church: a mission trip. But this, unlike some spring break mission trips, wouldn't require thousands of dollars in Airfare to travel to a different country or even a different continent, but only an hour-long car drive into the heart of Dallas to serve fellow Christians there. Late Saturday night as I was talking with a couple of the great guys from Compass, Matt (their youth pastor) was telling us what his group would be doing when they went to a different place than the one where I was going. It would involve going to a church of Burmese believers, worshiping with them in their Sunday service, eating a traditional Burmese-cuisine lunch with them, doing some community service, and journaling about it. When I asked Matt how or what they'd be journaling about, he offered an explanation for the basic format in a way that hit me like a ton of bricks: "So Caleb, tomorrow your group will be going to a Sudanese Church, where you'll worship with them, do Sunday school with the younger kids, and just have a great time with a bunch of really cute toddlers." I nodded my head with excitement. "Now," he said, "the thing we're going to ask teens to think about in their journals is this: Who is that child or group of children in your community, and why haven't you done anything to help them?"

That question plowed through me like a sledge hammer. While there might not be as many "organized" efforts in my area of Upstate NY for outreach work, I thought about my younger siblings that I'm helping with on a daily basis. Do I try and mirror Christ's love in the way that I interact and play with them? Sometimes you need a new place or a group of people can cause you to consider things you never would have thought about, or you think about them in a different way. The group at Compass did that for me. I now felt like I understood on a deeper level what I would be participating in on Sunday.

We arrived at Compass Center shortly after 8 a.m., to a whole flurry of people going this way and that, signing in for the Spring Break Trip, which would actually last for 3 days. Unfortunately I was going to be busy Monday, and leaving early Tuesday. Nonetheless, I felt honored and privileged to get to be a part of it as much as I could. As I was holding the doors to Compass Center open with some fellow teenage Men of God, we all made small talk and introduced ourselves. As I was telling the brief version of how I had ended up coming from New York all the way to Dallas Texas, I briefly mentioned how I had talked with CM and had gotten to spend a lot of time with him yesterday. All of the sudden, one of the guys I was talking with exclaimed, "Wait, my Dad is the reason you're down here?" As it turned out, one of the guys I had just met and was going to be spending the day with (named Mitchell) was CM's son! Needless to say, we all had a good laugh at our ironic "moment of truth."
After a everyone signed in and CM and Shawn had given a brief intro to the trip, everybody boarded the dozen or so 12 passenger vans Compass had rented to get us all to our various locations. The group I was in was so large we easily filled up two vans. While me and Dad didn't get to go in the same van with CM and some other kids closer to me in age, me and did quickly struck up some conversation with the wonderful couple driving our van, Brian and Angela Newbie. Brian and Angela are 5 months pregnant with their little baby boy Andrew, and I cannot give them enough credit for volunteering to cart a bunch of teens around the DFW area of Texas and minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ during such a crazy and exciting time in their married life.

After about an hour's drive, and a stop to Target to get some baby food packs to donate to one of the churches we'd be visiting, we arrived at the first location on the day's itinerary: a Mediterranean restaurant. While we wouldn't be eating our meal with the congregation of believers that we'd be worshiping with, we would still be getting a taste of some of the things they ate in their native country. Marj and a man named Nathan Bogue met up with us there, as Marj is part of the Youth Ministry team at Compass and Nathan is an employee of Aid Sudan who has great relations with the Sudanese residents of DFW. The restaurant seated us in an outdoor (covered) porch with an ingenious heating system that kept us warm as we ate our meal on the cool, rainy spring day.

After our meal, we traveled a couple minutes down the road to the church used by the Sudanese refugees for their worship center. The group we would be worshiping with was made up in part by a group called the Lost Boys, a group of boys that, as children, fled Sudan when civil war (which included forced child armies) began in the 80's and 90's, and then fled their sanctuary of Ethiopia when civil war erupted there too. They ended up at a United Nations sanctuary in Kenya, where they were given sanctuary here in the U.S. While most of the "boys" are now grown men with families, their testament of courage and trusting God in the most brutal hardships still stands firm.

After we arrived at the church and received a brief introduction, we joined the congregation in their Sunday service, which had just begun. Many of the Sudanese invited us to look on in their hymnals with them (their songs were all in their native language) and they were kind enough to have a translator there to help us understand the sermon better. While the service lasted almost 2 hours, it really was a unique experience to see another group's form of Sunday Worship. While we have Spanish services at my church, I rarely attend them, and having heard bits of Spanish here and there for long enough, it almost feels like some foreign second nature. After sitting in with our Sudanese brothers and sisters, however, I felt moved on a deeper level to try and interact with the Spanish apostelate my church has and to attend some of their services some time.

By the time we got out, the rainy, foggy day had turned into beautiful, brilliant sunshine. the Sudanese children, who had been in Sunday School while we were in Church, were running around in the enclosed yard that was in the center of the Sunday School rooms. Their little laughs added so much more to that feeling of the sun coming out- we had went from quiet rain into sunshine filled with the laughter of children.

 Some of the kids had made that TITANIC paper airplane you can see in the left hand corner- ah, good times :)

While I have a feeling most of us teens could have spent hours playing with all of those cute little kids, it was time to head on to our final location for the day. As we drove into the next area of DFW we'd be ministering to, I was quickly reminded of that "everywhere's a mission field" mentality I'd been praying about with the guys at Compass Saturday night. All of the previous areas I had seen of Dallas were filled with beautiful houses in gorgeous communities, all very nice and well-kept. As we arrived at the community center/church where we'd be working, I began to see the "poorer" side of Dallas: smaller houses on patchy dirt/grass lawns, streets that were going to be in need of pavement soon. To think that such different environments could exist only an hour apart, shook me into place, and made me realize just how in need so many parts of America are for the love, compassion and care of the Church.

Once we arrived in the community center, Nathan gave us a brief run-down of what the conditions for most Sudanese refugees in Dallas is, and what the group would be doing over the next few days to help fix this place up to be an even nicer facility for these refugees and their children. After we had talked a little bit and we got a tour of the center, CM divided the group into teams to teach different age groups Sunday school. Unfortunately at that point, little Colvin had hit a pretty bad fever back at home, so me and Dad would need to head back with Marj so we could get home with them. At that moment, CM pulled up two chairs for me and Dad and called the group together. They all linked arms in a circle around us, praying for our journey, what we were doing, what we had done, what we were yet to do. Sitting in the communal embrace of such a great group of people, many of whom had taken advantage of the small timeline they had to get to know me, was moving to the point of tears. It was the epitome of "The Church United." Needless to say I was more than happy to have a group hug with Mitchell and Marj to recompose myself a bit and recover myself. Shortly after that we left, after heartfelt goodbyes and farewells.

That night back at the Ochs' house we all enjoyed some time to decompress from the days events and enjoy some quiet company. While I felt a pang of sorrow inside that all was drawing to an all-too-soon close, I was beyond grateful for the opportunities and people I had been blessed to meet. So to all my Compass family, if you are reading this, thank you. You are forever in my heart and prayers.