Saturday, October 8, 2016

Warm Welcomes and Amazing People

I've been in this roaring country for a whole month now! I must say Panamá has welcomed me with open arms in each place I've been.  For my first four weeks here I have been learning Español in the beautiful cities of Boquete, Chiriqui and Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro! Now, finally, I am in San Miguelito, Panama working with 14 amazing chiquitas! I'm going to tell you a little about my month so far!

Boquete, Chiriqui:
Boquete was an amazing small town! I was there for 2 weeks taking spanish classes. My spanish classes were everyday from 1pm-5pm. YES, 4 HOURS LONG! It was very intense for me and at times I found myself very frustrated, but I was very eager to push myself and learn the language. I also lived with a host family, which made it even better for learning spanish. For the first week I was taking the class, which was supposed to be a group class, it was only me and the teacher....for 4 hours a day. Each day I thought my head was going to explode from all the spanish in my brain. After the first week, 2 more students came and I was no longer a lone!! One student was a girl from New Jersey and the other student was a girl from Germany. I was so happy to be with them and it also gave me more people to practice and talk with. 

Also, while I was in Boquete, I didn't JUST learn spanish, I went on many awesome adventures! Boquete was know for all of its amazing nature throughout the town, so I took full advantage of doing some exploring. In my free time I went rafting and hiking! Rafting was soooo awesome and I think I got lucky when I chose the craziest guide! Everyone in my boat and I fell out of the boat more than a handful of times on each rapid hahahaha. To put that in perspective, there were 4 boats and in the other boats, people fell out maybe once or twice on the whole journey down the 13 km river! I saw monkeys, iguanas and many colorful birds and I must say, Twas an amazing adventure. 

After my rafting adventure, I wanted to try out hiking! I really wanted to hike on the volcano, called Volcán Baru, but this was the rainy season and everyone suggested that I shouldn't go. So instead I hiked the Quetzales Trail! I must say it was the BIGGEST, LONGEST, HARDEST hike of my life! I hiked 8 HOURS up this mountain and needless to say, it KICKED MY BUTT!!! Also, along the trail, I got to hear/see a monkey family in the trees and the sounds from them were awesome and soooo loud! But nothing was greater than the view at the top in the clouds! It was absolutely stunning! My time in Boquete was great and full of so much nature!

Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro:

Bocas del Toro was also a very small town. Most people rode bikes as means of transportation everywhere! Also this places had many other islands with things to do so everyone takes "water taxis" to get places. And by water taxis, I mean boats to take you from one island to the other! I also took 2 weeks of Spanish classes. This time they were from 8am-12pm and I started off with people in my class! In this town it was slightly harder for me to learn spanish because most people spoke english and there were MANY tourists. But here, I made sooo many amazing relationships with some great people. We went to the beach almost everyday and ate really good food! My favorite beach was La Playa Bluff and My favorite place to eat was Mono Loco! But I just want to say leaving Bocas del Toro was soooo hard for me because I made so many great relationships with some awesome people. Bocas was literally paradise and I'm really going to miss it and the people forever! Even though I was only there for 2 weeks it felt like a month had passed. I would like to go back one day before I leave Panamá

Hogar de Las Niñas:
FINALLY I am working at the girls home! I am working with 14 amazing balls of energy from ages 5-18 years old. They welcomed me into their home with open arms on the first day and they haven't stopped smiling yet. A normal day here consists of: Waking up at 6am for showers and doing hair. (For me, I've never done anyones hair besides mine, so this started off difficult hahaha) Then breakfast. After, the girls chill around, do homework they didn't do the previous night, or play games. Before lunch they begin getting ready for school, putting on their uniforms and cleaning their room until lunch. After lunch we leave for school to get everyone to school by 1pm. The girls go to 4 different schools, olders girls at escuela secundaria and younger girls at escuela primaria. They go to school from 1pm-5pm and in this time is my free time. Around 4:30pm the Chauffeur and I make our rounds to go pick everyone up. When we return the girl shower and begin homework until dinner. After dinner is chill time, then bed time! I am pretty much being a mommy to these 14 girls and I couldn't be more happier! No one here speaks any English and I'm so thankful for those Spanish classes. My first week has been truly amazing and I'm so excited to be working with mis chiquitas for the next year! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Salud a Health, Happiness and Jesus Christ!

I have been in Panamá for almost a week!! It has been AWESOME so far! I've met some amazing people and done some awesome things.

When I got to Panamá City, Panamá (Thursday) I arrived at Elly Withers house, who is also a YASCer. She is finished with her year here and is returning to the US this week.  After I put all of my things in the house I didn't even get a chance to sit down before I was out the door and meeting new people.  We walked all around the city of Panamá. We walked through the Avenue central de Panamá, which is a street that is a few miles long full of things to see and buy, market style. There were soooo many people and so many things to buy like: clothes, fruits, vegetables, purses and so much more! After walking through the the market like street we went to the marina. It was a gorgeous view with restaurants and running/walking paths. While we were walking, the streets were full of people going about their daily lives. Some things that surprised me were barber shops were literally out in the open, along the curbs. And not only did they just have one, but they were everywhere, one after another! Also, this animal called a Ñeque, it's like the equivalence to a squirrel in the US. BUT they are the size of a raccoon....needless to say, they scared the crap out of me hahaha! There is also a crazy, weird looking fruit called a Mamonchino. It looks like a sea urchin and when Elly tried to give me one, I may or may not have freaked out a little hahaha. It is a dark red fruit and when you eat them, you tear the shell open and in the inside is a juicy off whiteish, grape-like thing with a seed in the middle that you eat. Very bazaar! OH...EVERYONE SPEAKS SPANISH!! It's little difficult for me and I'm a little frustrated but overall my first day was a great experience!

The next day (Friday) was a Farewell/Welcome Fiesta for Elly, James (another YASCer finishing his year) and I! We were headed to La Playa! That day I met more wonderful people. We packed up 2 cars and hit the road towards La Playa de Santa Clara, about a hour away from the city. On the way to the beach we passed over El Canal de Panamá. You could see all the boats/ships leaving and coming, which was an amazing sight. When we got to Santa Clara we stayed in a camp with cabins, about a 2 minute walk from the beach.  It was pretty dark but that didn't stop us from walking to the beach anyway. We danced and laughed all night! On the beach, a friend brought a Chinese Lantern for us to say a farewell/welcome blessing with. We lit it and Elly, James and I each held it, said a wish/blessing and released it into the night sky. It was beautiful! In the sky, there were soooo many stars and we even got to see the Milky Way!!!! T'was AWESOME! The next day we woke up bright and early, made and ate breakfast and headed to the beach for an awesome beach day. The beach was everything and more! We swam, ate snacks, went tubing around a small island in the ocean and played ultimate frisbee and Benjamin Button in the sand. (If you don't know what Benjamin button is, it's a game where you start with one person in the middle and everyone else starts at one side then tries to run to the other side. If the person in the middle catches you, he/she has to pick you up with nothing touching the ground and yell Benjamin Button 3 times before anything touches the ground. Then that person is now in the middle also.) That games was hilarious because in the end, the last person was, of course, the biggest person and we all worked together/struggled to get him up hahahaha! After our great time at the beach we all returned home in complete exhaustion. Day well spent!

Sunday I went to church with Elly at the Cathedral, which was literally right next door to her house. Service was great, it brought me right back home. It was so welcoming and warm and I truly felt at home. The service was also very similar to my home church at The Church of the Holy Communion, in St. Louis, Missouri. They gave a small speech and blessings for Elly's farewell and also brought me up and welcomed me to their congregation! It was so awesome and I felt so full there that I began to cry a little. Something that really stood out to me during service were the readings. Two little girls, no more than 11 years old read the first lesson and the Psalms, which was something I did at my church for years when I was their age! Church was pretty awesome and slightly emotional for me, but just absolutely wonderful.

After church I began my journey to Boquete, Chiriqui, a city in western Panamá, close to the border of Costa Rica. I am currently here taking two weeks of really intense clases de Español at a school called Habla Ya. I live with a wonderful host family in a beautiful house! I walk about 20 minutes to school down a beautiful, tropical street with sooo much greenery. Boquete is a small city but is roaring with different activities to do. After two weeks here, I will be traveling to another city nearby called, Bocas Del Toro. There I will do another two weeks of intense clases de Español. I am taking these clases because when I get to the Hogar de los Niños, I will need to be able to communicate pretty well with the girls and to be able to understand them wholeheartedly. The girls there won't know much English so it's up to me to learn my Español.

A river I walk past and scenery I see on my walk to class and my Host Family's house:

So far, my time in Panamá has been amazing and truly a blessing from God! I have learned soooo much Español already and I hope to continue learning and enjoying my stay here! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Goodbye's, THANK YOU's & Hello's!

As my time here in the United States is winding down my emotions are through the roof! I'm so excited, slightly nervous and beyond thankful to set forth in my new journey in life.

A few weeks back I had to say a few very hard goodbyes....SCRATCH THAT....SEE YA LATERS... to some life long friends that I spent my college career with at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO. Recently, I've been saying my see ya laters to my hometown friends in St. Louis, MO. For me, see ya laters are never easy because I'm such a sap!

Now I'd like to give a huge and special THANK YOU to all of my amazing supporters, the Missouri Diocese and my wonderful church family from The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion. I have reached my Fundraising goal of $10,000 with their fantastic help and support! Words cannot explain how thankful and in awe I am and it means sooo much to know that I have such amazing people cheering me on.

I was also able to speak with Elly Withers and James Fitzpatrick who will be finishing their year of service in Panama through YASC when I arrive. After talking to them I am so beyond excited and ready to get there! Elly told me that they will be throwing a Farewell and Welcome Party for us when I arrive which sounds awesome!

I just want to say Thank You, Thank You, Thank You again for all the love, prayers and support on my new journey. I wouldn't be able to do this without you all.

God Almighty has brought me; the love of family has supported me; the joy of friendship has uplifted me; and with the guidance given by Jesus Christ, I have arrived!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Beginning of Glorious Journey: My Story

 I would like to start by telling you a little bit about my story and how I have come to do this missionary work for the Episcopal Young Adult Service Corp.

I am a cradle Episcopalian and 21 years ago I was baptized as a baby in Mitchel Hall because my mom told me, apparently, the main sanctuary was in the middle of renovation back in 1995. My immediate family and extended family were also in attendance on that day.  Amazingly, my family has been members of Holy Communion since the late 1960s and are still active members of this church family. 

At around 3 years old my mom start making me go to Sunday school EVERY Sunday, but little did she know that was not on my to do list. Whenever she would take me to MY classroom, I would RELIGIOUSLY follow her back to her class where she was teaching the older kids.  After this happening over and over and me following her back to her class, she finally let me stay and I had won that battle!  I may have gotten to color, BUT I was STILL listening to the lesson too.

As I got older I knew I could no longer play that game so I started to stay in my class and really enjoyed the lessons that were taught.  Being older also came with the title of being in the Youth Group, which I had always looked forward to being old enough to be in!  There were lock ins, flashlight tag, hiding and seek in the church, field trips to places like the city museum and lunch dates and pizza parties all with the youth group under the leadership of Karen Sterbenz at the time.  I always invited a few school friends to be part of my church adventures.  All of my friends, co-cheerleaders, co-basketball, co field hockey players or neighborhood friends knew that if they spent the night at my house, they were going to church on Sunday.  I guess I was an evangelist even back then! 

Later came the mission trip to Bay St. Louis, New Orleans to help people who were victims of hurricane Katrina and a trip to Memphis, under the leadership of the now Rev. John Stratton and Rev. Rebecca Raglan.  I learned that giving of yourself is a lot more rewarding than receiving.  I think the mission trips started my hunger for traveling.  Of course we traveled to different places on family trips but a trip to do service seemed to be a little different.

My service to Holy Communion was to help in the nursery during church service, where I assisted Amela, the babysitter, and I looked forward to the snacks just as much as the kids because Jerome made the best popcorn ever!  For as long as I can remember, I helped my family serve a hot lunch for our guest at Trinity Episcopal Church in the Central West End.  I was always in charge of handing out the sack lunch for our guest to take with them as they left. I thought it was all fun and games as a youngster but later realized the reality was that some people’s nightmares were during the day and I always felt good after serving them.

When I became senior at University City High School it got harder and harder for me to go to church, BUT my mom was relentless and made me go every Sunday.  I really didn’t put up a fight, I just didn't want to get up.....until she pulled the covers from over me and pulled me up. I would drag out of bed and would wear whatever I had worn the night before.  Little did I know that the foundation was being laid and I was learning even though I was half asleep during the service.

Fast forward to my senior year at Missouri State University where I received my degree in International Business Administration.  I remember telling my mom that I had no idea what I wanted to do in life.  She proceeded to tell me that it’s okay and not all people have it figured out by graduation.  You get out of school, get a job and figure it out along the way.

Then one day a friend of mine from my business fraternity told me about this program called YASC and how it was just like the Peace Corps, which was something I was highly interested in.  I went home that night and did my research and found out it was through the Episcopal Church.  I knew at that moment this sounded AWESOME. So I called my mom and told her about it and that this was something I really wanted to do and she was all for it.  My mom told Father Angell about it and by chance he had gone through this program as well spending his time in Honduras!  BUT when I went to fill out the application I thought all was lost because I had missed the deadline.  But by the grace of God Father Angell told my mom to tell me to submit it anyway because they were still looking for young qualified people.  After I submitted the application, about a week or so later they told me I was selected to go to New York for an interview.

While I was in New York I had a whole new awakening.  In the interview process, about 18 others and I gathered at The Holy Cross Monastery in Poughkeepsie, New York for a weeklong discernment process.  I had never been to a monastery before and had no idea what to expect but I can say it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  While I was there I learned so much more about my self and who I am and began to get and idea of what I actually want to do with my life.  In this monastery I experienced a whole new level of fullness and wholeness.  When I felt that, I knew that this opportunity was right for me and that this was my calling.   When I left that monastery after the interview process I felt like a new person with a clearer direction of my purpose in life.

After a week I was due to give them my decision if I really wanted to do this, which was a YES and a week after that they gave me theirs which was also a YES.

Once I was in, I began my long waiting period of finding out my assignment.  Although I was anxious, I was willing to go wherever the lord saw fit.  My assignment finally came late May where I would be going to San Miguelito, Panama to work at the Bella Vista Girls home for girls 0-18 years old who are no longer safe in their own homes. 

I know I will be tested and challenged everyday but with Gods hands on my shoulders and my heart in his hands I will prevail.