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Friday morning, July 20th, 2018

At the airport, waiting for the plane that will take me to Salt Lake City Utah on the way to Mexico City on the way to Villahermosa, about to post my update on Facebook, and I see my sister’s post…

Nothing like changing a flat tire to brighten up an early morning trip to the airport. I prayed I would get Rachel delivered safely and on time, and I did.

And then I got a flat. But I had a safe spot (cell phone waiting area) to stop and change the tire, and I have a daddy who believed tire changing was a necessary skill for his daughters when they learned to drive.

Over and over God has used cars and driving to demonstrate His protection and mercy to me.

Now I will drive home. Slowly.

So thankful she is okay, especially knowing she has her baby with her, too, I post mine…

Here goes!! I'm off to see what God has in store. (And work on my photography skills.)
Thanks sister for getting me on my way! Drive home safely! No more flat tires!

Friday evening, July 20th, 2018

And I am safely arrived in Villahermosa. We got here early!! It was an uneventful trip in all the right ways.

There are some more people due to arrive here any minute.
It's beautiful.
Happy Sabbath!
Saturday evening, July 21st, 2018

Today has been a beautiful Sabbath! We met at a hotel in Villahermosa for services. Brethren came from all over Tabasco, as well as from the United States, Chile, Guatemala, and Bolivia for the youth camp starting this Sunday.

Pablo Loayza, a brother from Bolivia gave the sermonette about the faith we need, and Gabriel Garcia spoke about Nuestro Patria (Our Homeland), looking to the time when this world will be following God. The messages went together really well!

Then the Jimenez family invited EVERYONE over for a meal they prepared working all day yesterday in the heat. It was wonderful! Delicious food, wonderful fellowship, in a beautiful environment!!

I am so thankful for the opportunity to meet new people and see again my friends I love from when I was in Puerto Vallarta in 2016.

Sunday July 22nd to July 29th, 2018 

Camp Rio de Janeiro, Pichucalco, Chiapas, Mexico.

During camp I had no internet, and very little phone signal in a few select places. Since this was the case for almost everyone, we had very few electronic distractions.

It did mean that posting regular updates was impossible, so here is an after-the-fact review...

Sunday morning campers and staff met at the hotel where services were held Sabbath. After saying good-bye to parents and siblings, we loaded up into two vans and made the approximately two hour trip out to Pichucalco. Everything is so green!!!! There is lots of water here, flowing from rivers that primarily come from Guatemala, and there is some rain all year. We drove through banana plantations, coconut palm plantations, and all sorts of other things I did not recognize. But everything was intensely green!

We had 16 campers aged 10 to 20, three mini-campers, and 11 staff. Campers and staff hailed from many different places in Mexico, the United States, Chile, Guatemala and Bolivia. Some traveled approximately 24 hours by bus each way to be able to attend camp! Others took multi-day trips by plane. For many staff as well as campers this was their first time to come to a camp.

The camp itself belongs to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Our being able to use it came about as part of a series of miraculous events. The campground can host up to 800 people, about 250 in air-conditioned dorms, and we had it all to ourselves with the exception of the caretaker and his family.

The setting was awe-inspiring. The grounds are well-maintained, but right at the edge of the neatly-trimmed field is the jungle! Within the camp grounds there were huge almond trees and coconut palms that provided shade, and life was everywhere! Day or night, there were continual loud sounds from the tremendous array of animal and insect life. I have never seen such a variety of ants! I once read a story that spoke of someone from the jungle dying of boredom when they went to live in the city. I never before could grasp what they meant. Now I do.

When we arrived, we quickly got to work getting things cleaned up and in order. All staff arrived together with the campers, so speed was of the essence especially when it came to having the kitchen and dining area ready to go. The kitchen staff also faced some unique challenges. The dining hall and kitchen were roofed and had walls, but they were open at the top to allow for ventilation. Protecting food from uninvited animal friends took some brainstorming and innovative solutions!

After eating, we did a couple of ice-breaker activities and went through introductions and basic camp directions, and then discussed the camp theme, Nivel Dios, or God Level. All of the teaching for the week of camp (and also the following week) pointed us toward the goal that God has for us, that we be with Him on His level and that we become like Him. The different messages and activities pointed out concrete things that we can and must do now, in order to demonstrate our absolute commitment to our merciful God, as well as the wonder of God’s hope and promise for us.

Monday morning we began by introducing the camper teams that would be used for activities for the rest of the week. They decorated a team banner and developed a team chant. They were both hilarious and creative. The rest of Monday followed basically the same schedule as Tuesday and Thursday. Every day we had an object lesson, Bible class, and then sports, swimming and team activities.

Wednesday we went to a nature reserve called Saraguato. To enter the reserve, we crossed a river on a zip-line. From there we hiked a short distance to a waterfall that we could rappel down. Then we hiked further up the mountain to the entrance of a series of caverns. The caverns are cut by the sulfur spring that feeds the streams and rivers. Because of the chemical interactions between the limestone and the sulfur and other minerals, the streams are a milky-blue color. Inside the caverns we saw spiders, transparent fish, and bats. God’s creation is so diverse!

Friday morning followed the typical pattern, but a box was set out for people to put in any Biblical questions they might have. In the afternoon, the campers rehearsed presentations of the lives of biblical people that they would present Saturday night, and then worked as teams to prepare answers to certain biblical questions related to the camp theme. There was also a time when they each answered a series of questions about what they had learned and enjoyed most about camp. They brought up the team activities often, because they allowed the campers to connect and bond. They also said they learned a lot from the Bible classes and the object lessons, that they helped them see things from a new perspective. In the evening we had a fire-side talk where the questions placed in the box were read, answered, and discussed.

Sabbath we held services at the covered volleyball court/auditorium. There was a lovely breeze blowing that kept it quite comfortable. Mr. Loayza gave the sermonette about being faithful and avoiding syncretism, Mr. Garcia gave a sermon reminding the youth that they are called, not just their parents or families, and Moises Cruz gave the closing prayer. The youth filled in for the rest of the service. Hector Alejandro led songs, Vincent Del Signore offered the opening prayer. León Tejeda ran the sound system. All the youth together sang for special music, directed by Mr. Garcia.

Sunday morning we packed up and waited for the vans to take us back to Villahermosa. Once again at the hotel, families came to pick up their kids and people headed home. Goodbyes were hard. Many of us will not see each other again until the Feast of Tabernacles in Puerto Vallarta. Some do not have any expectation of being able to see the people they met at camp ever again in this life.  

Thankfully, so long as we walk faithfully, we can rest confident in the hope of seeing one another again when Jesus Christ returns to welcome us into His spiritual family forever.

Sunday evening, July 29th, 2018

I am in Paraíso in a town called Chiltepec, in the state of Tabasco, staying with brethren Don Joel Alejandro Escamilla and his wife Doña Lucrecia Rodriguez Perez and their two sons Hector and Daniel.

The boys were campers, Don Joel and Doña Lucrecia both worked at camp.

They live in an incredible location... a lagoon right across the street, the Gonzalez River out the back door, and the Gulf of Mexico in sight. It is such a blessing to be here!!
July 30th, 2018 4:15pm

Today we regrouped from camp as we prepared for this week of Good Works projects.

For the first time in my life I ate fresh-harvested mango that Ana brought over. I learned a new-to-me way to wash clothes from my wonderful teacher Lucrecia, and found out you can hang up clothes on the clothes line without clothes pins!!! Things we miss out on in our everything-technological world!

Tomorrow the plan is for us (semi-local brethren and other Good Works volunteers) to go to a special-needs school in Paraíso. There we will work with parents of students from the school to level a patio, and do some other repairs. We'll all eat lunch together, and then we have activities planned to do with the kids in the afternoon.

We practiced a couple songs today, to share tomorrow... Pollito chicken, gallina hen... and Caminando por el campo, una vaca me encontre... God willing, it will be indcredible! Prayers are much appreciated for His ongoing blessings.

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Today was our Good Works project at the special needs school in Paraíso, Tabasco. School staff, parents and some students came to work with us. They have a back area that could be used as a play or learning area, but it needs to be leveled. Right now it isn't very safe for anyone. We moved a load of sand and a significant amount of gravel.
We also did some cleaning, and then we worked to repair, sand, and paint some desk/chair combinations.

Doña Lucrecia and Doña Ana fried whole mojarra (tilapia) and brought a cabbage salad, salsa picante and a starfruit water. The school staff shared pozol (a cold drink made of ground hominy and toasted cacao beans) with us and made tuna empanadas and spaghetti.

It was delicious and the conversation was great, too!

And then back to work!
Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Today started early with Don Joel and I taking a taxi into Paraíso to get some additional things set up for the special-needs school where we worked yesterday.

While we were gone, Doña Lucrecia went to work, and Doña Ana came over with her husband Don Gonzalo to prepare the rest of the mojarra for this evening’s dinner. Then nine of us got taxis into Paraíso where thankfully we were able to get tickets onto the bus into Villahermosa.

There we met up with Mr. Garcia and Moises Cruz. After dropping things off at the house where we were going to spend the night, we went to the ladies’ care home where we were scheduled to spend a few hours this afternoon. There we met Doña Nati Jimenez and her brother Eduardo as well as the youth that came with them.

Our experience with the ladies was very special. We sang a song with them, played games with the balloons, danced, drew pictures, and broke a piñata.  Through all these activities we were able to get to know them better.

Seeing other people be happy with such big challenges in their lives, helped us appreciate our lives more, and reminded us to take advantage of the possibilities and abilities we have to better our own lives serving others and God. And then, we came back to the house to break bread (or tortillas) and mojarra together as we reflected on the day.

Thursday, August 2nd

Today 11 of us met in Villahermosa, Tabasco for a leadership class led by Andrés Delgado from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon in Mexico (more people had hoped to come, but transportation here is expensive and time-consuming).

He began with a very thought-provoking activity where we were each given a slip of paper with instructions to individually draw a specific body part. Mine said to draw a right leg. Everybody worked hard for several minutes, then he told us to hand them in and taped them together to make a body. The result was somewhere between ridiculous and horrendous. We laughed pretty heartily. Then he told us we were going to repeat the task, but this time we were to work together.  We strategized, worked as teams, and actually made something fairly decent looking, even though only a couple of us have any developed artistic talent. Here we clearly saw the advantage and necessity of teamwork.

The class was excellent and led to good discussion afterward about how we can put into practice what we are learning both from that class and in church, etc. Mr. Delgado reminded us that we have to be ready to be leaders. I really liked the way he shared that God is inviting us to a place where miracles happen, but we have to be willing to step out of our comfort zone.

Let’s go!!

Friday, August 3rd

After running errands in the morning, we stayed here at the houses for most of the day until the leadership class. Doña Lucrecia had to work. Don Joel’s sister Fanny Escamilla had come to visit from Villahermosa. She shared a quesadilla made with queso Oaxaca in a tortilla gruesa along with pico de gallo. We also ate grilled machuelo (I believe it is called mullet in English) which her brother Don Gonzalo helped prepare, and calabacitas, (diced squash with herbs, etc.). Then she prepared a special remedy for skin lesions from moringa and aloe vera from plants growing right here.

I am learning so much!!!

Friday Evening, August 3rd

In the evening we met in a lovely hotel in Paraíso for a leadership talk and to receive the Sabbath. Mr. Garcia led the discussion about being servant leaders, reminding us that that is our promised role during the millennium. We also read Luke 12:37, KJV, “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.”

Somehow I don’t remember noticing before that Jesus promised to serve like that again, in the future. That is pretty overwhelmingly incredible.

After the chat we ate pan dulce with horchata and coffee and partook of sweet fellowship!

Sabbath, August 4th

This Sabbath we met at noon for services. Mr. Andrés Delgado gave the sermonette addressing forgiveness, reminding us that if we do not forgive, we are hurting ourselves. We are the ones carrying around that burden of anger and bitterness. He encouraged us to let go, to ask forgiveness ourselves as well, and to move forward. Mr. Garcia spoke about the attributes of a good servant according to God. He reminded us that serving is a sacrifice. It will not always be convenient, and that it should be done in a balanced way, making sure to keep up our prayer and study time with God, as well as taking care of our own responsibilities. He also taught that service must be with love and excellence, as our service in this life prepares us for the service we will offer in the next. Afterward we had a delicious potluck including another cake made by the talented Don Joel, this time including the logo of the Good Works program.

Then the brethren who were going to participate in the Buenas Noticias conference met to make sure they were all ready for the next day, while the rest of us continued to fellowship.

It was so hard to say goodbye, but some of the brethren had to leave by a certain time, or their tickets on the vans back home would cost more, and so gradually the hall emptied until just those of us who would head back to Villahermosa that night were left. Soberly we packed the car, and made the beautiful drive back to the capitol city; there we ate dinner and worked until fairly late making sure the last details were ready for the conference.

Sunday, August 5th  

Mr. Garcia met me in the hotel lobby to drop me off at the Villahermosa airport before he headed back to continue to prepare for the conference which would continue to build on all that we had been learning the last two weeks with a theme of Miracles in Process, referring to us as humans, as miracles in the process of reaching the goals God has set for us.

The report on the conference was great! There were about 15 guests, and the brethren felt that it was a very positive experience.

Meanwhile, I touched down in Mexico City where I had about an 11 hour layover. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do during that time, but it turned out that Paula Lichtensztejn, one of the girls from camp, lives in Mexico City. She and her mom, Myriam picked me up and took me out for a wonderful light-hearted day in the city. I felt really blessed. I was missing my family and friends in the states and looking forward to seeing them again, but also I was really having a hard time with all the goodbyes. It felt like God was gently continuing to give me one positive experience after another on my journey back, making it easier.

Even on the airplane ride home, I saw sky like I can never remember seeing it before. We rode the edge of the sunset almost the whole way home. There were thunderheads standing tall below us, over carpets of white cottony clouds. Some of the thunderheads came together so it looked like they were forming portals to other worlds of pink and orange. And yet the sky we could from above, was still blue. I was left in awe. Our God has chosen to make this world beautiful, ever-changing, and colorful. And He has chosen to share it with us. He could have left us with only the ability to perceive black and white, but He didn’t. He could have made the clouds perform their function in a constant shape and location or on a constant path, but He didn’t. Once again, I am reminded of the scripture, He who is faithful in little, will be faithful in much. If God so diligently set up this gem of a planet for us, there can be no room for doubt that He is taking just as much care in each piece of our lives.

Day by Day