Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mission Trip to Graham County

Wednesday about 1 pm, I got a call from the Eddie Caldwell, Executive Director of the North Carolina Sheriff's Association, informing me of the headlines above.  The Sherrif's Office there was operating outside from under a tarp on the sidewalk.  My mind went back to the scenes etched in my memory from being in Haiti following the earthquake.  When told me that they "don't have any computers or printers", I immediately contacted my technicians and asked for help collecting equipment to deliver on Thursday so that we could get them up and running, protecting the citizens of Graham County. EVERY client we contacted offered what they had. They are listed at the end of this posting. I called the Sheriff to ask about the quantity needed, and immediately knew I was helping a brother in Christ.  The music that played during the ringing was from Sidewalk Prophets 2009 hit "The Words I would Say".  The phrase that played was...
"Be strong in the Lord and,
Never give up hope,
You're going to do great things,
I already know,
God's got His hand on you so,
Don't live life in fear,

(It was also his ringtone that I later heard frequently while working in Robbinsville.) Hal Overman came over at 10:30 pm and we started assessing what we had.  We swapped hard drives, added hard drives, video cards, CD Rom drives and cleaned up about a dozen PCs.  Still awake and working at 6:30 a.m., we were ready to load Eddie Caldwell's Tahoe for the nearly 6 hour trip to Robbinsville.
Sheriff Moody had already secured an abandoned Wachovia Bank building from it's owner, so we arrived about 12:30 to unload what we brought.  Inmates from the county jail were there to help with lifting, moving and cleaning.  We identified work areas, still without furniture, and I began to setup PCs.  By 5:00, we had several key workstations up and running on the internet, but continued to work until about 10:00 pm.  After a good night's sleep, Eddie and I headed back for the new Sheriff's office.  We worked late into the afternoon, finding out late in the day that the County Commissioners, several of whom were lame ducks after losing their primary elections, were refusing to allow the County I.T. Director to help us.  We were on our own.  Buncombe County asked what they could do for us and we now were in need of a server.  The NC Highway Patrol ferried a new server from Asheville down to us that arrived about 1:00 a.m Saturday morning.  I spent the night installing software and configuring printers.  Without leaving the office overnight, (they left me a Glock 9mm because the suspected arsonist was still on the loose) I finished the server.  Saturday was spent configuring and testing printers, scanners and fax machines. The overnight deputy on his way out said, "Well, I'm heading on back to the reservation."  This was a true statement.  He's a Cherokee Indian and that's where he lives.  All my life, I'd heard that phrase spoken figuratively, but never literally until now.

Random pictures below are self explanatory.  Let me say how encouraged I was to see Sheriffs from neighboring counties come to the aid of Graham County, population about 12,000.  Supplies and people showed up from as far away as Brunswick (Wilmington), Tyrrell, Gates, Rockingham and Johnston Counties.  Nearby counties, Cherokee, Swain, Buncombe, Jackson, Clay and others showed up as well.  It was a great story about Sheriffs helping Sheriffs, neighbors helping neighbors. 

In the perspective of life that I have from having served as a missionary in the Domincan Republic and Haiti, it reminded me of the phrase, "Charity begins at home".  I couldn't help but respond and know that God put the right people in place to allow me to be a small part of helping this little county with a total population equal to about the number of High School Students that live in Cary.

Thanks to all of those businesses that donated technology items.  What didn't get used here, will be prepared for another trip to help another Sheriff's Office.  (Next time we won't wait for a disaster.  Our plan is to identify disadavantaged offices that need upgrades and install equipment sometime this summer.)

Some equipment was accumulated from clients who just give us equipment to prevent it from being thrown away.

The only surving computer below was across the hall from the main fire.  It was full of soot and ash.

If you see this tag, say hi to Sheriff Moody for me!

My overnight protection!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How we got to the Dominican Republic....


When Ken and I were married 31 years ago, we thought we would be missionaries, however, much earlier in our lives. Back then, Ken was in college and I was working. God’s idea, not ours (although we quickly and happily adjusted), was to start a family early in our marriage. We liked that idea and continued in the next nine years to have six wonderful kids. Now that we have raised our family, much later than we had thought (God’s timing is perfect), we are thrilled to have the opportunity to be missionaries.
In September of 2005, the week after Hurricane Katrina, Ken went to Mississippi with a bunch of church men to help with immediate cleanup endeavors. In November of the same year, we decided to go to Biloxi, MI, to help with the Katrina Relief. Seven of the eight of us piled in our Excursion pulling our trailer and drove through the night and got to Biloxi at 3 am the morning of Thanksgiving.

Above: Andrew, Luke & Silas thawing turkeys
Below: Karen & Aaron working in the kitchen trailer

Above: Karen, Melinda & Aaron cutting up the thawed birds
Below: Aaron & Luke grilling turkey wings

Above, Karen preparing the dressing
Below, Luke, Silas, Aaron, Andrew and Melinda all outside with the grills. Volunteer college students there on the right

Below, Luke puts on more wings until they are golden brown!

Alongside other Christians from a variety of churches, we cooked turkeys in every way you can imagine. We used donated grills, deep fryers, roasters, huge crock-pots, boiled in pots, and baked in ovens in a huge kitchen trailer a relief organization had brought to Biloxi. One of the interesting parts of this trip is we did not know where we would work or who we would work with when we got there. We were told they may need help at this specific site. The people organizing this effort thought they were receiving cooked turkeys and would only have to cook the fixins’, however, when the semi had rolled in several hours earlier, the turkeys were whole and frozen…yikes! They didn’t know how they were going to accomplish the task and when we rolled in with 7 workers, we all knew it was a “God thing”. We prepared Thanksgiving dinner for 1,400 people for 14 straight hours!
They all ate under this tent, from lunch until 8 pm.

Our church had given us $1000 to buy food. Several of the kids went to a Kroger at 1am the night we left and bought whatever nonperishable food they could for the money. We left it at a site where they had given out of most of what they needed before Thanksgiving. Late Friday afternoon, we rolled into a community hit hard, and replenished the pantry before the Saturday morning rush. We worked with the NC Baptist Men’s Association, which dispatched us to 3 different locations to work on flooded houses.

Karen above with the mom of the house.
Aaron removing moldy sheetrock.

Above:  Late Friday night, delivering food to tent in the hard hit town of
"Pass Christian".
Below:  Hometowns of workers there.  It was a tent city of volunteers.


We wanted to take a family trip with our family as it had always been and before we started having additional members of the family…we had 3 weddings in less than 5 months in 2007 and are delighted to have three more female Georges in the family! We started looking into taking a trip, somewhere warm and tropical. It is not cheap to send eight people south and Ken said “What about if we combine it with a mission trip?” The kids were all in favor of it so we started our search. We tried to go to Guatemala where groups from our church have gone. We tried going several other places where people we know have previously gone, all to no avail. Remembering a book he read about a 20,000 member church in Louisville, KY, Southeastern Christian Church, Ken googled them, thinking surely they have a strong missions program. He found the site of G.O. Ministries and emailed the president, Brook Brotzman, in July of 2006. He got a phone call from Brook in September as Brook had been traveling for the organization. Keep in mind we did not know where we were going in 3 months but had faith something would pull through. After one phone call with Brook, we got a call back the next day saying that our tickets were purchased, we were to leave Christmas day 2006 for a 2 week trip to the Dominican Republic. They planned one week of mission work and a week of vacation for us.

RDU Christmas Morning Above,
Below: 8 am Dec. 26 with our guide, Isaias Gabriel.

The eight of us excitedly left Christmas Day for the Dominican Republic. We were greeted at the airport with one of the G.O. buses and trailer for our luggage with smiles and wonderful hospitality.

Above: Feeding kids at Los Guandules
Below: Hato del Yaque construction.

Our first week was spent moving sand and dirt, mixing cement, carrying block, and forming a bucket brigade for pouring concrete wall pillars in Hato del Yaque, a severely impoverished community about 8 km outside of Santiago. We helped in feeding centers that feed hundreds of children in very low income areas 6 meals a week. We worked out in the sun most of each day, taking breaks to throw baseball with the kids hanging out near the construction site. We attended a Haitian church where the service was conducted in Creole, Spanish, English and French! (partly because we were there)

Above & Below: The Monton house.

Ken peers in from the window.

We had the chance to meet folks in the neighborhoods near the churches, even attending a “Secret Santa” gift exchange in a home of one of the members. (Pictured above) A family with 9 children lived in the small wooden structure with a tin roof, open all around the top. One of the main things that stood out to us was the hearts of these people, their love for their country and their happiness in spite of their poverty. They are truly a people who may be poor in material things but not poor in spirit. As we discussed the trip with our children later, they agreed that the mission part of the week was unforgettable and life changing, while the resort week was simply “fun”.

Returning to the states, we as a couple had decisions to make. Was now the time for that mission work? Was this the place? None of the American missionaries spoke Creole or French, yet Ken could speak with many of the Haitians in French and understood much of the Creole. Maybe God was drawing us to this place. We came home and made plans to explore a longer trip for later in the year.

After much thought, prayer and discussion, we made plans to combine an October trip that Ken had planned to France with the Sister Cities Association of Cary to help plan a student exchange with Wake Tech. We spent 5 days in Le Touquet making plans and spending time with our French hosts. Jeff Hadley, Head of the Culinary Arts Program, along with his lovely wife Donna attended meetings and made contact with all of the right people to make the exchange happen in March 2008. Below are pictured Jeff and Donna outside a famous cheese shop in Boulogna.

We used our frequent flyer miles to get there and decided to combine the voyage with a trip to Spain to learn Spanish in an intensive immersion class. Following our 5 days in Le Touquet, France, we flew from Paris to Malaga, Spain for 3 weeks of intensive Spanish classes, 5 days a week, 6 hours a day. We were hosted by a Spanish family that lived one block from the school. We immersed ourselves in Spanish culture and language. Below are some shots from Malaga…

This is a view from our school roof where we had several afternoon classes. 180 degrees around and we could see the Mediterranean Sea…

Below is a castle in downtown Malaga…

While we were there, they had an outdoor Rodan exhibit.
Us with "The Thinker"..the orignial one!

Karen with a Kurt, a German guy who used to have a micro-brewery in VA Beach. He came to Malaga on his Harley-Davidson from Germany to learn Spanish.  He spent most of 2008 touring around South America, so he was preparing to communicate.

Here’s the city-scape skyline near sunset and the harbor from atop the castle.

Harbor by night

We even signed up for a weekend student excursion to Morocco, visiting Tangiers, Tétouan and some of the countryside. (Our blog picture of us was taken as we left Spain on the ferry to Africa, passing by The Rock of Gibraltar, which is in this photo.) Ken’s French came in handy, as most of the signs were in French. In the shops, French was the second language.

Below is the former Portuguese Fort in Ceuta, Spain. We didn’t know until this trip that part of Spain is on the continent of Africa.

What a culture shock to walk through a Medina (market) in an Arabic country! In one city, we had a plain-clothes (western dress with a bulge under his sport coat) police escort walking around with the group, constantly counting, to make sure nothing happened to a tourist! After an amazing 2 day trip to Morocco we were back on the shuttle across the mouth of the Mediterranean leaving the African continent headed to Europe again. Here are some of the shots from Morocco:

Olives, Olives, Olives!

This town of Chefchowan was painted all blue. We were told it was to keep mosquitoes out of their homes. (Sorta like sky blue porch ceilings in the states are painted blue to keep spiders from spinning webs there.)  The concrete was smoothed like icing on a cake and it felt like a winter wonderland in Disneyworld.

We headed home to the States a few weeks later, after a short holiday weekend checking out the “original” Sierra Nevadas near Granada, Spain. Alhambra, the former palace of the Moors in Spain is in Grananda. Interesting historical note: Columbus’ voyage in 1492 was financed by Ferdinand and Isabela ONLY because they had conquered the Moors and taken Alhambra earlier that year. It freed up the money needed for such a voyage because they weren’t financing a war against the Moors. We didn’t know that fact while we were at Alhambra, but here we were, preparing for mission work on the Island where Columbus established the town of Isabela, touring the conquered fort that led to the discovery of Hispañola.

Above: Alhambra moments after the outdoor lights came on.

Below: Here’s a town in the Sierra Nevadas of Spain. (Your house can be any color, as long as it is white!)

We came home with 5 weeks to prepare to leave the U.S. for 4 months. The most difficult part of preparation, was packing 4 checked bags and 2 carry-ons with what we needed. We arrived to our little home in Santiago at night, so our neighbors, Dave and Cherry had us spend the night in their house, in our gated little 2 home community. It was great having them here to teach us “the ropes” and to have instant friends as neighbors. This is our history...and the rest until the day you are reading this…is history!!! We hope this will inspire you to make your own history!!!



Is it really November? November means Christmas is coming, right??? We must be time travelers, how did it get to be November? Can’t believe our last post was March…so much has happened since then. A very brief synopsis:  I, Karen went home the end of February to have shoulder surgery as a result of the accident in Louisville last September. It was good to spend some time w/ mom, my main caretaker.
In late March, after our last posting, Ken left the DR for Barcelona to meet me, and we traveled to Montpellier where Melinda studied abroad for the school year and was about to have her Spring Break . Here are some of the pictures from that trip:
The 3 of us in the Gaudy Park in Barcelona:

The park full of people on a Friday.

The Gaudy Designed house in Barcelona was incredible. Here’s a shot of just the roofline. Seeing is believing...a must see if you ever go to Barcelona.

Below: This is in Montpellier, a statue in the main plaza in town, The Three Graces. (Melinda’s blog has photos of her and her friends climbing on the statue late one night...don't tell!)

Below:  Ken’s intensive French Class picture. He spent several weeks in class in the mornings, working on his French and keeping his mind sharp with a group of young gals.

We then took a week, during Melinda’s spring break to see some sites in Italy and the French Riviera. Most of those photos are posted on Ken’s FaceBook. We also toured Roquefort caves and ate some cheese, visited vineyards and drank some wine, toured old walled cities and took some pictures. Here are links if you are interested in any of these places:
Links to Facebook pictures of Europe 2009 Spring Break

Casa Batllo, Gaudy:
Montpelier, France:
Cotes d'Azur 1:
Menton, France:
Winery Tours, Languedoc-Rosellón:
Fernand Léger, Biot:
Biot - Antibes:
Southwestern France:

After all that traveling, we traded a timeshare week and went to a lovely little port town, Dénia, Spain, for a very relaxing vacation w/ Melinda and her friend, Ariel.



When we came back to the DR, we had a delightful 4 days at Playa Dorada in Sosua and it was such a wonderful experience to see different nationalities and cultures worship together during the G.O. Celebration of Partnerships.  Americans met with the nationals they sponsor from the DR and Haiti.  Melinda came back to the DR w/ us and was a great asset as she is fluent in French and Spanish. Many of the Haitian preachers couldn’t speak Spanish, only Creole and French. Melinda was able to sit at their table and translate for their American Partners. Below, we are singing together in 3 languages: Creole, English and Spanish.

Here’s the whole group (minus Ken, who was behind the camera).

In an earlier blog post you can see Ken and Dave baptizing 4 Dominicans. This is the wife of one of those baptized back in March, being baptized in a nearby church late in May. They have 2 children together, Junior and Yudelka.

The 3 of us jumped in to working with the teams that came from the states. Here I am helping out at a dental clinic and then Melinda is doing the same thing. This was a group of dental hygienists from the states who cleaned teeth for several days. The dentists from a local domican clinic did all the teeth extractions.

Below: Melinda has a big prop of a mouth and is teaching dental hygiene.

Luke came down to see us between his spring semester and his time to leave for Army Basic Training. He is in ROTC at UNCC and enlisted in the National Guard. He had basic training until August, then left for AIT training in his automotive specialty immediately after. He graduated from AIT with an Army Achievement Medal and was named a Distinguished Honor Grad as he was number one in his graduating class!  Here we are in front of our house...very early in the morning before leaving to take hiim to the airport.

Melinda and Karen went home the end of June and a little later, Ken was home for 10 days in July. The whole family (except for Luke who was still in Basic Training) got together at the beach over the 4th weekend and we had a Christmas in July, since we weren’t all together at Christmas… it was a fun time together!

Aaron, Silas and Nathan playing Bacchi Ball.

Everyone at the table except the photographer.
Bill Cosby here "carving the bird"!

I (Karen) had back surgery in August and then 3 weeks later, Ken and I flew together to CA to see Nathan and Angela and their new house they just built. We had a fun time just hanging w/ them, meeting some of their friends and driving to Napa Valley for one day. Bay Bridge below, then our Spanish came in handy speaking with Manuel who works at the vineyard.

I returned to the DR to work with 2 teams in the Bateyes, which are small communities built in Sugar Cane growing areas. They are self-sustaining communities built in modern times to replace the camps of African Slaves brought over from 1502 thru the 1800’s to work the sugar cane fields. The modern Batey communities each have a water tower and homes clustered together near fields so that workers can walk to work. It would be equivalent to migrant worker camps in the states, except without any of the protections we have. Haitians predominantly work in these camps. In 1916, when the U.S. invaded the Dominican Republic, (yes, we invaded, occupied and set up a government. It doesn’t make the U.S. History Textbooks, but they certainly know about it down here.) many Haitians were brought (from a U.S. controlled and occupied Haiti) into the D.R. to work in the sugar industry, both fields and factories. The modern day Bateyes are both a result of that as well as Trujillo’s use of Haitians as slave labor in the Bateyes from 1930-1961 when he was assassinated. Children born in the Bateyes have no rights as Dominicans if they are born to Haitian parents. They have no birth certificates from the D.R. government.
Spending 2 weeks working both in medical clinics and with children in VBS type settings was eye-opening. Progress has been made in the last 10 years. Back then I’ve been told, 90% of the young children wore no clothes because they didn’t have any. Today, that number is only about 10%. I witnessed children playing in the dirt streets and when needing to, they squatted in the street to use the bathroom. There is no sewage or water system. Only the water towers and out-houses.
Here are some shots from the medical clinic, street shots and VBS kids’ pictures, including some from the church building in Batey 5. (Most of the Bateyes are only numbered in this area.)

Med students above seeing patients.
Below a street scene outside a colmado at dusk.

Above, laundry day - Below, singing in Batey 5's Church.

Parachutes are always a hit!
Below, I shot these Sugar Cane workers taking a break late one afternoon.

In the neighborhood we live in, we mingle and participate in local activities. We are invited into homes to share a meal and fellowship quite frequently. Here are some shots from there…

Juan Luis doing dishes, a new thing for him.

Below: This is printed on the back of the power bill.  Notice that they want you to know where you can get 24 hours of power.  That doesn't mean ALL 24 hours. We're off about 2-3 hours a day.  Other areas only get 8-12 hours a day.  There is not enough generating capacity on the island to allow 24x7 power.  Residential rates are on a graduated scale, from $0.11 to $0.35 US per KwHr.


Quite a few Dominicans in the poorer neighborhoods steal their electricity. They make a hook on the end of a wire and with a stick, lift it up to hook it over the exposed wires from the power company in the street. Since the voltage is 110 as it travels down the wires overhead, they either hook on a single wire and then use a ground for the other, or they use 2 wires in the street. After becoming Christians, Juan Luis and Juana had their wires cut by the power company that they were connecting that way. (Sometimes a look-out on the street warns folks and they un-hook their wires before the power company truck comes by.) They wanted to get some wire from us so that they could “steal” electricity again. Ken talked with them from Ephesians 4:28 about stealing, which led to the installation of this light meter.  Have you ever seen one with all ZEROS?

I was fortunate to be able to travel so soon after my trip.  I conidered  a blessing to have had a surgon that speaks
Spanish and wasn’t freaked out by my coming back down here so soon. I just had to get an X-ray at 6 weeks on a CD and send it back to him. That in itself was an experience…actually almost everything down here is an experience! However, I was back hre in time to go to the Conferencia de Mujeres aka Women’s Conference. What a blast!!! …to see 250+ Dominican women in one room laughing and singing and just enjoying being together was a boost for me!!! I had so much fun watching them have fun. I think the highlight of the weekend (other than learning from their enthusiasm for praising and worship our Lord), was when they turned the lights off on Saturday night—no it wasn’t the power going off—and started the movie Fireproof in Spanish. Those ladies were oohing and ahhing over every little thing. When she was not nice to him, they ooohed and when he did something nice for her, they ahhhhed…don’t think I’ll ever forget it 

SURPRISE!!! When I got back home, Ken had bought and installed a new automatic washing machine for us!!! (Automatic means it has cycles like “American Style” machines, but it is half the size of our machine in the states.) I think that was the highlight of my summer…sadly it has to do w/ comfort and convenience rather that something spiritual, but it does make doing the spiritual things more enjoyable! We had been having Dominicans wash our clothes and they would come back folded and wet (sometimes smelly) and we never felt like they were really clean. Many Dominicans wash their clothes in a wash pail w/ a hose and then dry them on barbed wire fences (I actually have little holes in most of my tops and our sheets) or trees, whatever they can find. The ones that do have a washing machine, it is a two sided one and you have to move the clothes over to rinse/spin. We are trying to not be too Americanized and live as Dominican as possible and to live amongst them but having clean laundry was one area I really wanted to keep my culture. We have a clothes line in our bedroom, actually several strands back and forth where we hang things to dry. With the inside temperature between 80-90 year round, it doesn’t take long to dry our washer spun clothes.

One thing I (Karen) have done that’s kind of my own little ministry here is to bring back sheets and towels donated by ladies in my neighborhood and my Bible study group. The sheets and towels here cost as much as they do at home and they really aren’t as good of quality. Having these to be distributed by the Christians in the neighborhood helps them reach out to their neighbors.

Silas and Joni, our 4th son and his wife, came down for a week to see what we do here in the DR. They spent 4 days here in Santiago with us, seeing one of the work sites we worked on when first here with the famly in Christmas 2006. It is in Hato del Yaque and the first floor is complete, serving as a dormitory and church building. As soon as funds are available, a nutrition center will be opened there, feeding the local children a noon meal 6 times a week. This is a picture from March 2009.  The first floor is completed now teamsfrom the states have stayed and worked there for past 2 summers.

Ater our first family trip and Isaias was our host, we began partnering w/ him.  He is the youth minister at our home church in Santiago and we consider him to be our Dominican son.  When we are there, we try to host an activity at our house once a month.  While Silas and Joni were there, we had a chili and domino night.

Silas spoke to the Youth group in front of our house and Isaias translated.

Silas and Joni played with the kids during VBS at Hato del Yaque.  Joni speaks Spanish really well.  If she lived down here a year, she'd be fluent!

Then we spent a couple of days with them in a resort in Juan Dolio, near Santo Domingo. They flew home from Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, of course, is the oldest European City in this hemisphere. (We feel like we’ve followed Christopher Columbus’ life in reverse. We’ve visited Santo Domingo, he founded in 1498, his house in the abandoned town of Isabela, he founded in 1493, Barcelona, he sailed from in 1492, and Genoa, Italy, where he was born in 1451.)

Like our lives, trying to keep our heads above water!

Ken is currently taking a course at the local university to improve his Spanish. It’s called “La Historia del Caribe”, or the History of the Caribbean. It’s a history / anthropology class, but being 100% in Spanish and having lots of reading and writing to do, it is really helping him to stretch his brain! The professor is from Honduras and he is closely following the events back in his home country as they unfold. Ken is planning to take a few from the class with the professor on a field trip to the Bateyes on November 28-29, since they are studying modern day slavery and the development of the sugar cane industry in modern times. They will staying in the Dorms that G.O. has built in Batey Nine. Hopefully these future college graduates will gain insight into the conditions that exist in this poor region of the country and will one day be influential in helping improve the plight of these people.
He is also working with the private school here, sponored by G.O. Ministries to set up and maintain the computer lab.  We have received 45 donated laptops and enough money for the networking part.  It is now fully functional, air conditioned and used every day.
Ken will blog from the DR in November and December. I’m back home in Cary and Atlantic Beach where I’ll be until the first of the year. We won’t all be together for Christmas because Aaron and Shauna will be in Wales visiting her sister who is about to have a baby.  Maybe we're destined to have Christmases in July!

It has been a unusual year as wel as an unusually busy year thus the reason our BLOG is so far behind.  STAY TUNED AND AS ALWAYS,  WE ARE SO VERY GRATEUL FOR YOU AND YOUR PRAYERS AND SUPPORT!