It has been exactly one year since I left home to go on a 253-day-adventure abroad. Time to reflect on some of my most special memories, don’t you think? It was quite hard to only pick ten because I have so, so many more!
10. Sharing the love at Girls’ day
In July of this year there was a Dutch team from World Servants at the AMG headquarters in Verbena. It is sort of a tradition on these projects to have a boys’ day, organised by the Dutch boys, and a girls’ day, organised by the girls. At both of these days the group shares about the gospel and after that they sing together with the kids, play games, paint nails, make some art or play sports. This year the Dutch girls decided to read a story of Max Lucado (my favorite writer!), Tú eres especial (also known as Sterren en stippen: niemand is zoals jij in Dutch or You are special in English). This children’s book is about Ponchinello, a wooden Wemmick and the town he lives in, Wemmickville. In this little village, people spend their day sticking golden stars and grey dots on other people. Golden stars are for the talented, grey dots for the ones that are not. Ponchinello is covered in grey dots, despite his best efforts to do something good. He spends his day thinking he is not worth anything, until he meets his maker, woodcarver Eli. The book has a great message about self-worth and God’s love and it was amazing to share this message with such young girls. That day there were no translators available, so it was my job to speak in front of all these girls in Spanish. A major fear of mine, but eventually it went so well! It was great to notice all my hard work was paying off, even though I still struggled a lot. Refunfuñó, desmesuradamente, averiguas, it’s not as easy as you think!
9. Mom and dad arriving in Guate
For weeks I had been looking forward to the moment my parents would arrive in Guatemala. It took me two years to convince them to visit this beautiful nation and now that the time was right, they had decided to do it. Ever since I was a kid my favorite television show has been All You Need Is Love. Dutchies from all over the world are being reunited with their loved ones for a while. It has been a Christmas tradition in our home for years. But the thing that always fascinated me about this show was that most Dutch people could finally show their family where they live, how they live, what their daily life looks like. It seemed so cool to me that they had just moved to another culture to build their lives there. And now I was one of those people! Together with my parents and a big group of sponsors I traveled to ten different AMG schools, Camp Canaán, Antigua and they could see what a day in Guatemala looked like, they neighborhood I lived in, the food I ate. Amazing!
8. Watching football with Phil
There are these moments in life that you will remember forever and you are not quite sure why. And there are also these people that come into your life who will make you wonder what you ever did to deserve them. The kind of people who will welcome you into their home like it is yours, who will buy you food because they simply want to (even though you insist on paying for you own food) and who will take you to their daughter’s football (or soccer, for the fancy Americans) game because they know you will enjoy that after a long day in the office. The kind of people who can brighten up the darkest moments in the blink of an eye. One of those simple but special moments were watching football with Phil and one game in particular when we both survived a long day in the office, got into the car, raced through the McDrive and fought our way through the crazy Guatemalan traffic, sipping on our Cokes, stuffing our faces with fries. Just to make it in time for Anna’s game on the other side of the city. While the sun quietly went to sleep behind the mountains, more and more people sat down to cheer on both teams. At the end of the game the grandstand was full of people laughing, chatting and cheering. Afterwards we drove home in the pouring rain, listening to Justin Bieber’s new Christmas album (thanks Anna!). I’ve never really had a father-daughter date but if I ever had one, I think it would look like this.
7. Ziplining Atitlan
The scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life? Probably this. Or now that I think of it, it will be a tie between this and my flight from Costa Rica to Cuba. I will say: death was upon me. The zipline circuit in the Atitlan Reserva is one of the highest in Central America with ziplines up to 60 meters high! Imagine hanging on one 860 meter long steel cable only protected by a helmet and a safety harness… yeah, I thought so. The ride itself was spectacular though and the views were amazing! During the two hour tour you fly through the sky with an impressive mountain on one side and a breath taking view over the lake and the surrounding towns on the other. Volcanoes pop up wherever you look and the bright blue water is perfectly reflected in the sky. It’s a dream location really. Until you have gathered all the pieces of your shattered courage and swing to the other side of the mountain only to discover the cable you just conquered is just a walk in the park compared to the next monster. There is no way back and the courage you just carefully glued back together has already dissappeared like cotton candy in the ocean. So you find yourself screaming at the top of your lungs while praying not to end up in the forest 60 meters below you. But what a fun we had!
6. Meeting our sponsor children
As most of you know I am a big supporter of child sponsorship. And anyone who has ever been upstairs in my house knows that I have a big world map above my bed with all the children me and my family sponsor or write with. Currently there are thirteen colorful pictures with smiling kids on it and the fourteenth is on its way. That is right, I have the opportunity to be a part of fourteen young lives around the world! I LOVE writing these precious people and my heart smiles when I find one of their letters in our mail box. (Oh, by the way, I only sponsor one of them myself, I am not Bill Gates…). Last week I got the most heartfelt letter from my girl in Ethiopia asking me if I would think about coming to Ethiopia to meet her. I wish I could. Out of fourteen children I was fortunate enough to meet three in Guatemala: Eimy, Luis and Rosie. I’d been walking around the school for quite some time when my parents decided they wanted to sponsor two children, a girl and a boy. A few weeks later I got to welcome Eimy and Luis into our family. I got to see them in real life, hug them, talk to them and ask them all the questions I wanted. I found out that there was only one girl left in the school’s soccer team that wasn’t fully sponsored so I decided to give back what God had given me and sponsor Rosie. I had been playing soccer with Rosie for a few weeks so the surprise was even bigger when I could tell her I was going to be her sponsor until she graduates from school. Even though I had to leave Guatemala, Rosie, Luis, Eimy and I will be connected for life.
5. Spending a week with ‘Silverdale’
Apart from ‘working’ most of the time, I also got to spend quite some time exploring and going on adventures. One of my favorite adventures was with a small team from the Silverdale Baptist Academy in Chattanooga. I had the honor to be a part of their little team for a week and we got to deliver water filters in the mountains of Baja Verapaz and share the love of Christ as well as we could with our limited knowledge of Spanish. I had so much fun that I still think about this week at least once a week. Every day we would wake up, explain the water filters to a group of young mothers, play with their children and then hike into the mountains after lunch to deliver the filters to the most remote homes. It was quite a tough week but I have learned so much and I made friends I’ll never forget. We played games, challenged ourselves to explain the filter system in Spanish (thank you Nikki!), encouraged each other to hike the steepest trails, learned and talked about our faith, shared our testimonies and found ourselves amazed by God’s creation. It was the most wonderful week I have ever experienced and I will never lose that memory.
4. Climbing an erupting volcanoNow this is something that is quite normal in Guatemala but for me it sure wasn’t. I got the opportunity to climb the Pacaya volcano with a group of Dutch people and while we were sitting down at the end of our hike the ground began to shake and a deep roar came down from under the earth. I looked up and there were rocks blasting out the volcano with such power that it frightened me a little bit. I could also see some lava coming out of the mountain and it was one of the most magnificent things I had ever seen. Now if you are a Lord of the Rings fan like me, it was like Frodo had just destroyed the Ring in Mount Doom. But than with a little less drama. Once in a life kind of thing.
3. Rainbow birthday in the village of Hope
On my 22nd birthday I traveled with a big group of people and my parents to a very small village to see how an AMG project usually starts. A place without electricity, clean water, schools, nothing. A place where you realize that poverty is not something you only see on television but a real thing. We got to meet the local people from the village and see how they live. The rain was pooring down on us and while we were dressed in thick jackets and rain coats, keeping ourselves dry with umbrellas, the villagers were walking barefoot through the mud. We saw what they had and didn’t have and we saw the heartbreaking situation the children had to grow up in. A hopeless generation in the eyes of humans. But not in the eyes of the God who made them. While we talked in a small home that was used as a classroom about how amazing it would be to build a school there, the thick blanket of clouds opened up and and a warm ray of sunshine fell through the door into the little classroom. We went outside to enjoy the sun after hours of rain and a bright rainbow wrapped itself around the village. It was like God was saying: yes, these are my people and I am giving them hope. After we left we heard AMG had called the village Esperancita, ‘little place of hope’.
2. Spending a week at the hospital with GHO
Another one of my absolute favorite moments was the week I got to spend with a group of doctors from Global Health Outreach. It was my job to make a video about the hospital they were going to work in but during that one week I got to learn and see so much more than I would have dreamed of. I got to try my best to translate between patients and doctors, I got to see surgeries and the delivery of a baby girl, I got to go on morning hikes through the hills and eat ice cream after a long day in the OR. I got to learn so much about what it is like to be a doctor. Doctors were always these incredibly smart, mysterious people to me, who were never scared and who always had an answer to everything. But I got to see that doctors also have their insecurities, their doubts, their failures and their fears and it actually made me respect them even more. I got to be part of a team I never thought I would meet. It was an unforgettable experience to meet these dedicated, hardworking and lifesaving people and I will forever be thankful for all that they taught me.
1. Climbing Pacaya a second time
Pacaya is in my top ten two times for a reason… it is absolutely the most amazing place I have ever seen. It is like walking on the moon. It is like you have left Earth and landed on a mysterious place far away from any species. The second time I got to climb Pacaya was with Phil and his beautiful family. The climb is a pretty tough one but the view at the end is so worth it! And like the first time, we got to roast marshmallows above the lava. But what I didn’t get to see the first time was the a-ma-zing view on the other side of the platform. Endless miles of green fields, as far as the eye can see, abandoned after one of the eruptions. From high up above you can clearly see where the stream of lava ended and where life escaped the burning fire. I could easily spend an hour just looking at the fields ahead and think about the beauty that reflects God’s perfect glory.
There are a million more moments that I could have shared on this blog (and maybe I will!). I could write on and on about the experiences that shaped the life I am living today. But the only word that will come close to describe the past year is blessed. I have been blessed with people and experiences. I am a blessed person.
It has been a year. A YEAR.