Friday, December 18, 2015

Hungary- The Journey Home

Today we are homeward bound.

I'm finding it incredibly hard to put into words what has happened this week. But if I could describe it in one word it would be, incredible. Getting to know and hear the stories from many of the refugees we met was powerful and such a privilege. Not everyone gets to have a firsthand look into what is happening in Europe, so we feel honored that we were able to. We're in route to Texas, and there are so many emotions. As hard as it is to leave, I know that the Lord has this and I'm grateful that these friends get to be a part of our story. 

In the next couple days, as we begin to process, I hope we will be able to tell their stories well. Because they are good, important, and help shed light into what life is really like for a refugee. These are people, with families, jobs, and dreams. Sometimes in the midst of the media, it's easy to forget that. It's easy to disconnect from it all, or to make our own opinions about the situation. But when you have sat across a table from someone who has fled for their life, you can't help but feel compassion and deep love for them. Their story becomes a part of you in ways you didn't even know possible. And you find yourself constantly asking the Lord, "how do we do embrace and love these people well?". 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hungary Day 8

Today was the final full day of us going to the camp. In the beginning, we weren't too sure how everything would go down or if anybody would even show up. If it was just about the number of people that showed up everyday, then it would've been considered a success. If it was just about what English we were able to teach them, then it would've been considered a success. If it was just about how much we laughed and played bingo, ( they really like Bingo!)(I'm pretty good at calling out the numbers!) then it was a total success. But it was all of those things and more. It was learning where they are from, who they left behind and why. It was about taking the time to show them you cared and wanted to hear their story. It's kind of a bummer writing this right now. It's a little after midnight and I know tomorrow is going to bring a lot of pictures a lot of laughing but a lot of tears and sad goodbyes. I feel that we have poured a good foundation and just pray that the next group can continue where we left off. Bingo will never be the same!


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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hungary Day 7

   Today our worship time, instead of taking place in our room like it normally does, took place at the refugee detention center. Our team showed up 15 minutes early and sang to Jesus as the men started to trickle in. They sat beside us while we worshipped and while most probably didn't understand ¾ of what we were saying, seemed to enjoy the time together. 

   These are my favorite moments. The moments when we aren't divided by being either a teacher or a student, a boy or a girl, American or Iraqi. We are all just people who enjoy each other's company. 

   Today was a turning point for the team; we started to realize that we only had one and a half more days with our new friends. We were faced with the question, "How do we leave these people who need so much?" The men and women that we have met over the last week have become so much more than students in our makeshift English class. They have become friends to teach you how to play cricket even though you just know they are making fun of you in a language you can't understand, they have become brothers and sisters who have pasts so heavy that your heart breaks, they have become people you love. 

   Coming up on our last few days in Hungary, I would just ask for prayers that the people of the camp will realize that we are sharing the news of a God who not only accepts but pursues them in a world that treats them like less than nothing, and that team will be able to navigate how to say goodbye to people that we care so deeply about. 



The refugees telling us the stories about their travels while we teach about transportation. 

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Hungary Day 5

Now being Monday everyone found himself or herself a little fatigued.  We had spent our day off yesterday at a surprisingly great church service—well at least the worship we found ourselves moved by our precious Lord.  The rest of the service was trying to guess at what was being said in Hungarian via body language and choppy translation.  This followed a full day of hurried site seeing and rushed Turkish Bath experience.  In all honesty the Baths were quite nice but the crowd jacked with my ability to relax--#American-in-Europe #Like to spread it out.  We left the baths and made our way to grab some great food and a little shopping before finding a bed about midnight.


The late night made today a slow start.  Mentally I felt drained.  Emotionally I felt flat.  We have been operating on not necessarily little sleep but adjusting has been difficult.  The first two days in the camp were so much more than routine English class.  Teaching the advanced class there has been an opportunity to dig in a little bit and get to hear the stories of these men.  I found myself blind-sided by how misinformed I had been on their situation as well as how emotionally affected I have been by their stories.  Most of the men in the camp I have talked to are stories of being beaten and banished from the cities they call home, their lives have been threatened, their families lives have been threatened if they didn't leave, home blown up from military conflict; all because these men aided coalition forces.  With new leadership coming to power and rising anti western sentiment from the new political party these men's lives are in danger for their previous willingness to serve as English translators or Coalition led/taught security forces.  These men then seek out help from remaining coalition forces in their country only to be turned away left with the only option to flee so they may save themselves or hope against hope their family will really be spared.  Almost all of the middle-eastern men that we have talked to once they fled their country, surviving very difficult circumstances finally make it to a western nation where in stead of a welcome they are met by people who do not want them.  As such they are processed and shipped to a half way camp for deportees in Hungary: Enter Biscke.  


The Biscke camp is a far cry better than the Hungarian closed camps.  A several month stay at one of the "closed" camps is a popular story here as well.  The camps are called a closed camp is a reference to the inability to leave the camp.  The closed camps are essentially prisons.  As one Iraqi put it "the closed camp and Saddam, are same."  


So, back to today: Mentally and emotionally drained.  Having worship during devotions has been awesome.  Today was special as we all walked away renewed with new energy and encouraged hearts.  Stories have been hard to hear.  Scars can be seen on their face from being hit by the butt of gun and bomb shrapnel.  All of them have scares that are not visible but run much deeper.  It has been such a privilege getting to know them.  I have been blessed by laughing with them and have been moved to tears by hearing these stories.  Our teaching English consists of elementary school worksheets but the simple explanation of what the word humiliation means can draw out stories from their recent past. 


My biggest challenge I am wrestling with now is "Now What?"  How do we maximize our remaining days with the people after such a great foundation has been built?  Tamara reminded me that we are not doing anything.  We are here being with them and our blessed Lord is in charge of the doing.  We need continued prayer for these people.  In our Savior Jesus there is an identity not defined by a "status," or a hard experience. 


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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hungary Day 5

Until a few minutes ago, I wasn't sure which direction to take this post. Should I go the playful route and reveal the stuff I learned about the team – something they most certainly deserve, given how hard a time they are giving me! – like I once (accidentally) revealed Scott's love for an unnamed comedic duo? Or should I go the serious route and report on how God is using this team in the lives of the asylum-seekers?

Reading through the previous entries, however, I was struck by the profound journey people are on. We've been hanging out for days, with group sharing/therapy sessions every couple hours (significant passive-aggressive tendencies on the team!), and yet even still, I had no clue about these inner-journeys people were on. Perhaps I'm just the stereotypically oblivious guy, but either way, this blog has served it's function – it's given voice to the deeper thoughts, emotions and experiences people on the team are wrestling with. And like a modern-day Canterbury Tales, others get to witness how God is working in our hearts on this pilgrimage to Bicske.

As the "host" of the team, one of the joys is being able to help them overcome culture-shock, á la the "What About Bob?!" fashioned "Death therapy" strategy of conquering the fear of the unknown. :) But in truth, however much I enjoy gently nudging people out of their comfort zones, perhaps my deepest joy is watching God continue to (re)shape and transform people's hearts as they serve here in Hungary. What a privilege to be part of!

The greatest sorrow, however, will be having to say goodbye in a couple days.


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Monday, December 14, 2015

Hungary Day 4

Biske (beech-ka) is a small town about forty minutes west of Budapest. Somewhere on its eastern edge, just past the grocery store, there is a refugee detention center. 


The refugee camp resembles something that one might expect to be left over from the communist era, with its mono-colored cement buildings and palpable dreariness. But I don't think it's old enough to be a remnant soviet camp. Still there is a very unmistakable heaviness that hangs over the camp like a mist.


In the camp, we've met refugees from all over the world. The first day I spoke with women from Kosovo, the Congo, Cuba, and Turkey. The second day I met men from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. 


Many of the female refugees do not speak any English at all. Most of them do not even leave their rooms, for many reasons I suppose. Because of this, it has been somewhat difficult for the females on our team to teach English lessons. We'd planned to keep everything gender specific. But this afternoon, when no women arrived for English lessons, I joined the men's Advanced English group. 


We spent about an hour teaching grammar and then we transitioned into a conversation time. For this, our group of ten relocated to a quieter room down the hall where we gathered our chairs in a circle. John, our ministry contact, opened the conversation by asking, "What are your dreams for yourself in five, ten years from now?"


At first, there was obvious hesitation in the room. But Abu* began to share right away. 


Abu is from Iraq and worked for the coalition forces during the war. Because of this, he was attacked and harassed. Then, his family's home was bombed. He was eventually forced to flee. But Abu deeply desires to return to his country. He misses it sorely and noted that it is a beautiful place with beautiful people. But, he said, "I feel like I make pain for my family because I worked for the coalition forces. I cannot return maybe." He stopped his story as pain moved noticeably across his cheeks and mouth. 


Marik shared next. He was attacked by Shi'a militia in Iraq. His face bears the scars left from the butt of a rifle. Marik also desires to return to his home, but understands that may never happen. In five or ten years, he hopes to have started over again somewhere, possibly in the USA. Marik has two daughters, nine and six, who are still in Iraq. Their names mean "eclipse" and "inspire". 


The stories continued in this cadence. The Afghani guys shared about the fighting in their country and their desire to be away from the violence. One wants to study graphic design, but says to do such a thing in Afghanistan would literally get him killed. "There are no opportunities. Everyone is illiterate. Until I was twenty-one there has been fighting. We were born with guns and rockets. All the people know only how to fight. I had to leave." 


The other Afghani shared that a smuggler stole $9,000 Euros from him and he ended up in Greece. He was granted asylum and made it to Germany, but was soon deported to Hungary where he spent eighteen months in the Hungarian closed camp, which is notorious for its brutality. His face held the outward signs of unfathomable suffering: dark circles under his eyes, sunken cheeks, a weak smile. He is twenty-one.


These are the stories of just four of the men in the circle, but all their hopes and dreams were the same: I want to start over, I want to be with my family, I want opportunities like education and safety and freedom.


One of the men meekly said, "My dream is simple. I would like to live in a quiet village and raise goats with my wife."


When I thought of my own dreams and goals for the next five to ten years of my life, I felt nauseous. It felt entirely unfair. Once again I found myself confronting feelings of anger and frustration at my lot in life. Why did God in his sovereignty give me the birthright of freedom and others a birthright of sorrow? I can think of no comforting answer.

But, as I consider these stories, I will choose to respond in prayer. 


The refugee/migration crisis that is unfolding right now is complex and enormous in many ways. Its causes and consequences are complicated and constantly evolving and I do not suggest it is swiftly or simply resolved. But, I do share these stories with you in hopes that you will consider these people in the midst of it. Consider the scars on their faces and the shrapnel that sprayed their houses. Consider the families they were forced to leave and the journeys they endured as they fled. Consider their fear, their pain, their heaviness.


I invite you to consider these stories and then join me as I prayerfully seek to understand how to respond. Where do I go from here? How does this affect me? What will I choose to do now?  


*all names have been changed

Emily Peterson
Youth & Missions Director
Hope Arise United Methodist Church

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Hungary Day 3

"When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: 'Do not think that because you are in the Kings house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your fathers family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" Esther 4:12-14

For such a time as this.

This has been the phrase that has stirred in my heart all day long. Today was our first day at the camp, and somewhere mid day we walked out to find 3 large trucks loaded down with buildings like this. 

One of the camps in Hungary is closing down, so sometime in the upcoming weeks or possibly days this camp will be flooded with up to 500 more refugees. These will be their living quarters. And I can't help but think, what if this is why we are here? What if we get to be the people on the ground while the refugees are transferred from one camp to this one. What if this is our "for such a time as this" moment. I know it won't come without pain or hardship, but it will come with a deeper understanding of the heart of God and what it means to be set at the crossroad. 

Tonight we moved into Bicske for the next couple days while we work at the refugee camp. We are staying at the sweetest local church that stands at the crossroad. We were able to meet the Pastor and his wife and hear their heart for this place. We know that Gods timing and placement is everything, and it is no mistake that we are being hosted by here. We are grateful for those who stand at the crossroad and welcome those trying to find their way.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hungary Day 2

Budapest is beautiful. 

Of all the places I have traveled, this is easily one of the most breathtaking cities I have ever had the privilege of stepping into. The architecture and history in this city blows me away, and walking down the streets here feel so surreal. I keep thinking to myself "this is where we get to be? This is where you have asked me to serve God?" Im definitely used to sweating it out and roughing it on all my mission trips, so this one definitely feels like I'm being a little spoiled. Its hard to fathom that in a city so beautiful there could be so much pain. 

But I know it's there. I know it exists. And my heart anxiously awaits the moment I will be face to face with it. I just keep praying the Lord gives my heart the strength to handle it. 

Tomorrow we head to Biscke. The city where the refugee camp is. And I have so many emotions and thoughts stirring around. I feel like the Lord is sweetly doing what He always does….preparing my heart for His people. I would be lying if I said it wasn't overwhelming, because it most definitely is at times. I've been on the verge of tears ALL DAY long just thinking about the faces we will see. The stories we will hear. And the love we will feel for those we encounter this week. I know the Lord is inviting me and my team into a story greater than we could ever imagine, and I'm choosing to boldly step in. Though I feel terrified to. Because I know the Lord is breaking my heart for what breaks His, and I know this is only just the beginning. 

Emily led us in worship this morning, followed by John with a devotion. 

And there are two things that I have been chewing on all day. The first is one of the songs we sang, because music is a big way that the Lord speaks specifically to my heart. We sang "Nothing I hold Onto by United Pursuit" and there's this part that says"

I Give it all to you God, 
Trusting that you'll make something beautiful out of me

Literally I feel like Im constantly telling the Lord this. Mainly because I constantly feel unqualified for the things He has called me to. I feel like the biggest thing Him and I joke about are the things He asks me to do, because 90% of them I have ZERO experience in. (Like being in youth ministry, or becoming our church's Mission Coordinator, or leading people in running) And I find myself constantly saying, "Really God? That?". And the thing that I have learned is that obedience is a beautiful thing. When our hearts are fully surrendered to the Lord and His will, He may ask us to step into things that the world thinks we have no business doing. But He doesn't always call the qualified, He qualifies the called. And through our lack of qualification, He gets to receive the full glory. 

We're teaching English in the camp this week, and Im sure I'm not alone when I say I have NO business teaching English. In fact, half the time Im not even sure I'm speaking English. ha. But I know that the Lord is going to use everything for His glory. Even if its a complete mess (which I'm sure it wont be) He will still accomplish what He wants to through us. Because our hearts are surrendered to His will, and above all else we want these people to know they are deeply loved and cared for…..English is just the doorway in. 

Which brings me to the second thing I have been chewing on all day. Today we read from Mark 10 where Bartimaeus receives his sight. And the part that we zoomed in on us verse 51 "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked the man. First of all the guy is blind, but when He heard that is was Jesus, he began calling Him by name. Though people tried to tell him to be quiet, he wouldn't. Im sure the crowd was crazy, and I imagine Jesus just stopping in the middle of the road when in verse 49-51, "Jesus stopped and said, "Call him". So they called to the blind man, 'Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. "What do you want me to do for you?' Jesus asked him. The blind man said, 'Rabbi, I want to see.'"
I imagine since he was blind, he probably stumbled to Jesus. And I so wish I could have been a fly on the wall in this moment. To see the interaction between Jesus and Bartimaeus. I think Jesus constantly asks us this same question, "What do you want me to do for you?" And it has been something that has rattled around in my brain and heart all day. 

What do I want Jesus to do for me?

Obviously I want the Lord to have His way. And to give me an overwhelming love for His people. But I think like Bartimaeus, my heart cries out "Rabbi, I want to see". I don't want my own preconceptions to blind me from the real thing. I don't want my expectations to distract me from what the Lord is really trying to show me. I want my heart and eyes to be open to see Jesus fully in each person that I will come into contact with. And to be able to love them the way He has called me to. Radically. Deeply. Purposefully. 

I cant really put into words the state my heart is in. Tender is the best way I can describe it. The Lord is stirring something so deeply inside of me, that emotionally I just feel overwhelmed. With love. With grace. With compassion. I have no idea what we are about to step into. But I know its going to be big.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hungary day 1

To start off, I would like to apologize ahead of time for this blog. It is being written at most likely the drowsiest of time of the entire trip. Anyways, with that aside, lets get to writing.
Day one of our adventure into Hungary was not too eventful. We hopped on and off multiple endless plane rides, ate at random intervals, and prayed to get some sleep in between. However, as expected, not too much sleeping occurred.
I sat there on the plane trying to force myself to sleep, but could not even come to close my eyes. With nothing else to do, I was forced into my own thoughts and conversation with God.
I turned my eyes towards the window and began to bask in the beauty of the land that the Lord has blessed us with. From so high up above, every thing seemed to be so organized. All of the streets and houses were perfectly aligned to make what seemed to be pretty designs. Although, house by house and street by street, I began to recognize the differences in the buildings. Each foundation poured and every wall built up had a different story. I quickly became overwhelmed with even the thought of looking over so many different stories and souls.
It seems so crazy to me that even though I am just one soul with one story out of billions of other souls and stories. Thats when it hit me, at the camp, and even all around Hungary, there are so many stories that I will not get to hear, so many faces that I will not get to know, and so many lives that I will not get to change. THEN something ELSE hit me. Isn't it ALSO crazy how God has given every single person I will and will not meet a story? He care so much about each and every one of us so much. This is my prayer and what you can pray for this week--- I pray for the building of long lasting relationships. For the sharing of stories and exchange of hope. I pray for memories and laughs, and maybe even a few tears.
Tomorrow is our first official day of mission. We begin planning our
english curriculum and will possibly get a quick tour around the city by John. Stand by to hear about more stories, adventures, and newly built relationships.

-Niaya Ramirez

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Hungary Day 1

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Journey Has Begun...Team Hungary 2015

Our team is about to board the first of 3 flights to get us to Hungary. We are incredibly excited about this journey! We get to reconnect with life long friends and hopefully make new ones.

Our family does a daily devotional together during the advent season. Today's devotion came from Luke 1:26-38. It is about the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her she will soon be the mother of the Son of God. To this, literally earth shaking, news she responded "Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

I am certainly not Mary, and the task I am about to undertake is nothing near as world-transforming, but I still walked away challenged. Will the team and I respond as Mary did when asked to do the impossible this week? Please pray for us as our deepest desire is to Be Love to those who do not know Him.

Please keep us in your prayers as we travel. My guess is you will hear from us again tomorrow night!


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Finishline

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start" John Bingham 

Well, we did it. 5 months of training came to an epic end at the finish line of the TCS New York City Marathon. Like everyone has told me from the beginning "it was the race of a lifetime". It was incredible. I felt like I was all smiles from the time we started to the time we finished. The crowd was vibrant, encouraging, and stinking awesome!! There were moments where I couldn't have done it without them. 

It was a crazy journey to the start line in the wee hours of the morning. We left our hotel at 6:30am for our 11am start time. From our hotel we took a cab, to a ferry, to a bus to get to the start line....along with 50,000 other anxious runners. We arrived in the start village with 10 minutes to drop our bags at the UPS truck and get ourselves close to the start to eat and shed off our layers keeping us warm. The canons went off, and we watched as the first wave began their trek through the streets of New York. There was clapping, cheering, and hollering as the race officially begun. It was a surreal moment, knowing in just a little over an hour we would be running across that very bridge starting our own marathon journey. 

The start was crazy. It was like herding cattle. We were the last wave...and it was clearly the "fun wave". Being in the last wave of one of the largest marathons in the world is kinda like sitting in the back of class. It's where are the good stuff happens, it's where all the crazies are. The last wave is just there to have a good time and finish in the allotted time. Many aren't trying to break any ground shaking records, they're just there to take in the sights, enjoy the journey, and check this once in a lifetime opportunity off their bucket lists. They were wild, energetic, and pumped up about taking on the streets of New York. 

It was finally our turn, as I toed the start all became real. I was really doing this. I was really about to complete my first marathon. I was really about to take on the streets of New York for some of the most vulnerable kids. I had worked so hard for this moment, and it was finally here. The canons went off, and away we went over the Staten Island Bridge into Brooklyn. I was beaming. I was like a kid who had just gotten a puppy for Christmas. I was thinking about all the kids we were running on behalf of, and I just couldn't help but feel extremely joyful and thankful. 

I thought about everything that had led me to that point. I thought about every single person who had donated and said YES to protecting the most vulnerable. I thought about all 50 of our teammates out on the course, and the journeys that had gotten them here. It was indescribable. Every time we would pass one of our teammates in their Team World Vision jersey I would get weepy. Just to think about the world changers I got the privilege of running with. Each and every one of them said YES. Yes to months of training. Yes to giving fundraising all they had. Yes to sacrificing late evenings so they could get up early to run. All for the least of these. 

The run felt pretty good until about miles 18-20. Emotionally, I felt drained. At mile 18 I thought, there's no way I can run 8 more miles. I looked at Jen, and with tears I said "I don't know if I can do it". She hugged me and encouraged me to keep pushing. Physically I felt like I could keep going, but emotionally I just felt spent. Like I had nothing left to give. Relentless Forward Motion. It's something that TWV talks about and a phrase that they commonly use. And during those two miles, the Lord taught me what it means to relentlessly keep moving forward. To not give up the fight. To keep moving forward. One foot in front of the other. 

Jen made sure we high-fived people and reminded me why we run during those next two miles. It was a doozie. The only thing I could think of was "make it to mile 24". I knew that once we got to mile 24 we would see our friends and TWV crew. And I knew that seeing familiar faces would help me push through to finish. I kept getting weepy thinking about their faces cheering us on at the mile marker. And the Lord showed up and gave me the courage and strength to keep pushing through for the kids. 

The last 5 miles were hard for Jen. Like we've said from the beginning, the sweet thing is that we've never been down at the same time. If one of us is struggling, the other one is always able to be encouraging. The Lord has always taken care of us that way. The last couple miles, your in Central Park. The energy is high, and you feel so close yet so far. The last mile feels like it's 10 miles long. But as we rounded the corner and could see the finish line in the distance all I could think was "we did it". We crossed the line at the exact same time...together. 

A wave of emotions hit. I crossed that finish line having given it all I had, in training and fundraising. It was the hardest, most incredible thing I have ever done. I was a sappy mess! So overwhelmed with emotion over what we had just accomplished. Overwhelmed with the love and support that we received constantly during this journey. Overwhelmed by the people who stood in our corner and cheered us on. I just kept saying (like a broken record) "We just ran a MARATHON!". It was so surreal. 

I am so thankful for our incredible community who has rallied around us. From text messages late Friday night, to encouraging notes, to phone calls. They all meant the world, and constantly reminded us that we could do this. Now we get to celebrate the victory and all that the Lord has done through so many people joining our story. It really was the race of a lifetime, and I'm so glad we had the courage to start.

Fundraising update: 
So far as a team we have raised $186,000 for child protection!! Which is incredible! But we are still pushing, and fully believe we can hit $200,000 for the kids! 

Liz Mendoza
Overflow Coordinator
Riverside Community 

Friday, October 30, 2015

The final stretch

Today. Today we boarded our flight to New York. We are having ALL THE FEELINGS. This week has been a whirlwind. Sunday we served tacos (in orange tutus) and share with our community about the "why" of our running. Our community generously responded and we were incredibly blessed to be able to donate more money toward child protection!! 

Wednesday our church staff prayed over us and "sent us off". It was incredibly sweet. I got super weepy just by the picture of our staff rallying around us, on behalf of the whole church. It's like we're being sent off to battle, and that Jen and I have the honor of representing our community well. That we have been entrusted to carry out the kingdom, with the full support of them. There's nothing like it. There's no words to adequately describe the emotions I feel about the love and support of our community. It's been life changing. It's through their strength and love that we will take on the streets of New York for the kids. We know that we know that it is not just us 2 running this weekend. We have our people right there with us. 

I'm extremely grateful and humbled by a community that says yes to the uncomfortable. That says yes to fighting for the freedoms of kids all over the world. And that doesn't quietly stand on the sidelines, but loudly jumps into the fight for freedom. Because they know that's what Jesus calls us to. 

The past 20 weeks have been the best and hardest weeks of my life. I have had to at times fight with everything in me to keep pressing with Relentless Forward Motion. I have had to press into Jesus harder than ever, and allow Him to speak to my heart and remind me constantly of the "why". 

This journey isn't for the faint of heart. It tests every.single.boundary and limitation I have put on myself and the Lord. It has reminded me to be faithful and persistent. To be still and quiet. And to allow the Lord to mend my heart to His. Over the past 20 weeks I have marveled and stood in awe of the Lord. He has showed up in incredibly big ways. He has reminded me what it means to truly follow Him, no matter how crazy the journey might feel. 

Over the past 20 weeks, we have gotten the opportunity to train all over the world. From Mission, Tx to Uganda to Haiti to Georgia to Houston to Kansas to Waco. We have never stopped running, because we knew the fight is worth it....and we had to keep going. 

We have run almost every single run together. And come Sunday we will cross that finish line at the TCS New York Marathon....together. Because to run a Marathon, and fight for the freedom of have to have community. You have to have people standing in your corner cheering you on every.single.step of the way.  We couldn't do it without the support of those we care most about. 

We can't wait to gather with our 50 other Team World Vision Teammates and take on the streets on behalf of the kids. I know that with every one of our runners that finishes, the Lord will be looking down saying "well done, good and faithful servant. you have fought the fight well, you have kept the faith". It's going to be the biggest, baddest, EPIC finale to the most incredible journey. I get weepy just thinking about the world changers I get the honor of running with. 

Please keep our team in your prayers. We are praying for sweet sleep, and an injury free, peaceful, joyful, incredible run on Sunday for every single one of our teammates. We are all in this fight together, and we are so glad you are a part of it! 

"And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus" Hebrews 12:1-2

Monday, September 14, 2015

WHY I run with TWV

"It's supposed to be hard.....the hard is what makes it great"

This morning I got up around 5:30am to get ready and head out the door to get in my long run for the week. I'm a morning runner, so three days out of the week I'm out the door by 6:30am or earlier. It's always dark, and I'm usually scurrying around in the wee hours trying to get myself together. The moon is usually still out, and as we begin our run it's typically the only light leading us forward. The morning is still and you experience the calm right before the hustle and bustle of the morning. 
I used to hate running in the mornings, but this training season I have grown to really enjoy it. To enjoy the stillness. To enjoy the quite. To enjoy those early mornings running into the dark unknown.

So why running?!

Like several in our community we are running the San Antonio Rock N Roll Half-Marathon/Marathon with an organization called Team World Vision. This is our church's second year running for this organization. Team World Vision exists to help raise money to provide clean water for communities in Africa. In addition to providing clean water, they walk alongside and assist some of the most vulnerable kids and families through sponsorship and programs while the water project goes through the process of start to finish. They challenge new and seasoned runners to get out there and run on behalf of the most vulnerable. But it's not just about the run, it's about the story. It's about the kids. We are running on BEHALF of them, and advocating (as well as fundraising) so that they may get a chance at life to the fullest. 
So this morning, as I headed out on my early morning run I began to picture and imagine the kids we are running on behalf of. How most of them make early morning commutes for water, school, etc with nothing leading them but the light of the moon. In the stillness and darkness of the morning, I couldn't help but picture little faces like Meretech's from Ethiopia. 

And all I could think about was the MAGNITUDE of it all. 

The thought about how simple obedience to run will transform lives is mind-blowing. The thought about how a willingness to put myself out there, so that others may join in the story will be kingdom building. The thought about how the Lord has invited me into playing a small role in the transformation of kids lives is humbling. The thought about how one day kids like Meretech wont lack access to clean water and will get a fighting chance, all because a group of passionate people decided to run on her behalf. 

THIS is why I run.

When the Lord reminds me of these things, it always makes the runs that much more important. That much more impactful. It makes every mile worth it. Every early morning worth it. Little faces from across the globe inspire me daily, if not minute by minute to carry on. This is for them. I want this for them. And I love that I get to invite other people into their story.

-Liz Mendoza

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Haiti Round 2: Day 6 (Final Day)

What in the world?! How has the week come to an end already?! Today was an adventure to say the least! We went to Kaliko beach....which we thought would be a relaxing day. The journey there was two hours in a bumpy tap-tap.  One cant help but get lost in the beauty of this city. God's heart was evident throughout the drive. We experienced a first today: a Haitian fender bender (AKA horrific accident). This is Christi typing so the story may or may not be exaggerated. Another tap-tap used our tap tap as their breaks. It was very loud but we were all OK. 

The Kaliko beach was nothing short of a tropical island off of the National Geographic channel! The ocean water had every shade of blue, and you couldn't help but feel you were in an old Elvis Presley movie laying on the beach drinking from a coconut. Although the beach was beyond refreshing and the beach volleyball tournament was fierce, our minds couldn't help but wander to the orphanage. What were the children doing today? What will they be doing a month from now? Ten Years? We were lucky to have met these children, and they will have a lasting impact on us as we return home to our daily live's and jobs. 

While driving home we passed the earthquake cemetery. Over 300,000 Haitian bodies were placed in a hole. You couldn't help but think for a second. My mind began to be amazed with the Haitian race, and their faith in God. Nothing rattles it. Makes you wonder what they are doing right? Or what we may be doing wrong in America? Or if anyone is wrong? I think about the amount of time I watch tv, play on my phone,  etc.....and wonder if these distractions have affected my faith at one point in time throughout my life. This trip can definitely make you think, yearn for God, and crave the amount of faith Haitians have on their thumb. 

Today is bittersweet. Even though we are dripping with sweat while sleeping and miss our five star showers, we can't help but start to miss Haiti and think about coming back and seeing the sweet faces of the orphans again. 

Two additional thoughts: Upon preparing to leave the kids on Thursday, two of the house mamas circled them up and prayed over us. Each child prayed aloud and it was sweet, sweet music. Needless to say, there was hardly a dry eye in our group. We will never forget that moment. The other unforgettable moment was on our trip back from the beach yesterday evening. We were negotiating the typical slow, bumpy ride home when we were passing through Sandro's community (He is one of our translators). Two Haitians right outside of our tap tap were in a bit of a scuffle (that's code for an aggressive fight) - maybe over a goat or who knows what, but anyway, another Haitian who was witnessing the scuffle decided it would be a good idea to fire two gun shots into the air, just feet from our tap tap. We were told he did it to calm the crowd, but let me tell you, calm is not at all how I would describe the moment. This unseasoned group of Americans hit the floor of that tap tap so quick our heads were spinning. The drivers started to slow down (why on earth? I do not know), so we "politely" demanded, "Keep Driving!!!" Once out of what we thought was harm's way, we sat up and assessed the situation. NO, we were not being fired at, but still a little too close for our liking. Once again, praising God for protection and peace. We laughed our heads off after the initial shock faded and we all have a good story to share. No telling how big this "fish tale" will get as it is passed along, especially if you get Christi's take on the whole thing. Her laughter and comical "one liners" have kept us smiling through every crazy moment.

We are now on the plane in Haiti, about to take off. Bye sweet Haiti------ we do love this country and its people!!

-Christi, Becky, and Robin

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Haiti Round 2: Day 5

What a sweet team God orchestrated to serve on this team!  Each person serving others and sharing Gods love in unique ways.

Today was our last day spending time at the children's home. Over the last few days we have depended greatly on God's provisions, whether worldly things as electricity and air conditioning, or spiritual peace and comfort.  The time we spent with the kids today included a lot of playing ball, jumping rope, playing Uno, singing, crocheting and simply loving on the sweet kids.  
Others have reassured us of how much of a blessing we will have been to the children, however, I have seen that our team has been blessed beyond measure by those in Haiti. 

The best part of today was the worship time with the kids where Jordan played the guitar. The the kids also serenaded our team, then surrounded us with prayer before we left. What a sweet, sweet time! After saying goodbye, we then arrived at the guesthouse and after dinner we had worship time on the front porch with the Vaval family and friends! Kristie sang while Jordan played guitar. What a beautiful time of restoration. During these sweet worship times I have seen a true relationship built with this community.

Yeah God!


Haiti Adult Day 3

We all woke up for our 7:30 breakfast this morning and it was clear that today is the halfway mark, but of course the Lord still did some seriously awesome work. To me, this trip is unique because the bulk of our work is not building things, painting things, or cleaning things, but instead it's all about building relationships. I'm an emotional, touchy-feely, warm fuzzy type of person, so this specific kind of work is completely breaking my heart and revealing the goodness of the Father all at the same time. 

At the end of breakfast, Devin gave a short devotional and challenged us to ask the Lord which individual, unique gift He has given us specifically for this trip. So today I became an internal processor and took quite a few moments to just stop and look around at our group as we served. It was the most beautiful site to see. 

The fruits of the Spirit lesson today at the orphanage was awesome. The kids were so attentive and respectful! They colored their own name sign and decorated it with "fruit" stickers, to remind them of the fruits of the Spirit. One of the boys that I've grown close with just stared at me and smiled as I helped him write his name (Schneider) on his name sign. He doesn't know english at all and yet he looked at me and said I was doing a good job. These kids are changing me and blessing me more than I had imagined and I am praising Jesus for His sweet, intentional work in me this week. 

Today was my first Haitian church experience and I cannot believe how incredibly faithful, prayerful, and worshipful these people are. Not to mention we were all drenched in sweat the whole two hours! The kids also sat in during church today and even they were raising their hands, closing their eyes, and worshipping the Lord. We all smiled when we realized the pastor was speaking on the fruits of the Spirit (Galations 5:16-25). God is so good. :) 

Each day on this trip, the Lord has shown us that He is at work here and sometimes it practically brings me to tears. I am usually a pretty anxious person, but the few things I thought would be obstacles on this trip have been completely removed by the Lord: the fear of safety, the fear of sickness, and the fear of language barriers. 

The Lord continues to rejuvenate us each morning so that we can pour out again and again. This is my first ever mission trip and I can't believe I've gotten the opportunity to serve alongside my husband, my sister, my mom, and my cousin! I'm so thankful. 

Also, I love fried plantains. 


Uganda Update Day 300026

Today we started the day by going to Phil's kids house to visit with the children one last time. When we arrived only the secondary kids were there as the primary children were still in school. We had a great time playing with them. Sam was in a group with Regina, Moses, Gabriel, Ruth and several other kids who started out hitting volleyball and ended up playing keep away. The kids were all so excited to have someone playing with them! The joy on their faces was great to see. Samuel, Peter Longoli and I sat around and talked for a while Hannah and a few of the kids threw an American football around. I will say they are better at soccer than football but they were all having so much fun and it was fun watching Hannah (future football star) teach them how to throw the ball. I got to see Scovia today and she looked good though she told me that Susan was sick with Malaria. Phil was in Kampala getting the truck fixed so we didn't get a chance to see him. But we thoroughly enjoyed the time with the kids. Moses wanted to be sure Jen that we told you he was praying for you and he loved you. Judy, Samuel wanted me to tell you that he loves you more than anyone in the whole world. Those two kids are amazing. I really will miss them all when we leave.


I then dropped the girls back at Musana so they could continue with "their" projects (Hannah with the dining room walls and Sam with the sign for Sol Café) and I got back into the car to head to Bulubandi. 

Arriving back at Musana I found Sam in the room sewing letters onto the sign for Sol Café. The final product is great and Patrick at the restaurant loves it. I immediately put on my paint clothes and joined Hannah at the wall. She is still creating remarkable things and relegating me to writing quotes. Today I wrote two – all the while talking to Isaac and several of the other kids. He is such a bright little boy. He kept asking me question after question about everything. He finally said, "I need to know your name". I told him my name was Suebee (Sue is too hard to pronounce) and he said I should have picked another name because that was hard to say. I responded by saying I didn't have a choice, my mother picked the name when I was born. I asked him how he got his name. He grinned really big, and told me his mama picked his too! After about two hours of painting and talking I called it a day and took my first real shower in two days. I can honestly say being clean never felt so good. Then Kyemba came back and off to Sol Café we went for Trivia night. I am proud to say I have a perfect record at that game. I am not so proud to say that my record is perfect in losing!! Andrea shared her story with us of how she came to be at Musana and all the struggles she went through in the first several years to get the school off the ground and running. It is an amazing story and reinforces that God was a part of this plan from the very beginning. It is unbelievable that as a young 20 year old she didn't give up but instead fought every battle and challenge that came her way. Today as she looks back she realizes that there are many things she would do differently in hindsight and is glad she had the guts to realize where they were making mistakes and had the courage to change directions. Acknowledging mistakes and the willingness to make changes is what has made Musana so successful over the years. That and the faith they have and the love they all share for the children and for each other.


So tomorrow is our last day here. Hard to believe this journey is almost over. It has been wonderful! I will miss the people, the countryside, Kyemba, all of Musana and chappati. I will not miss cold showers. I love you all.



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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Preparing to Say Goodbye...

Happy Anniversary to my seester and her husband! It was great to talk to you and hear your voice! I'm looking forward to when we can do that on a regular basis!


We got up early this morning (actually Hannah and Sam woke me up), our second day without water, and after a breakfast of Sarah's delicious eggs we headed back to the dining room to paint. We didn't pass go; we didn't collect our two hundred dollars.  We just collected our paint and got right to work. I finished the verse I started yesterday and wrote another one. Sam painted two new ones and Hannah created a new and wonderful design. Yesterday she was a little stressed that the job wouldn't get finished but after today I think she is feeling a little more confident. What she is designing is absolutely beautiful. The collection of creativity just blows me away. I am in my element just printing verses.


The kids still swarm us at every break they have. They are fascinated by the artwork. Even Gideon came down late this afternoon and painted the tires on his bicycle. Emma helped him (each side of the tires was a different color) though he told me this would just lead to the bicycle being stolen! But Gideon was having so much fun and was so proud of his work! Watching him paint was a very joyous experience! I will be amazed if my camera makes it back to the US in one piece. It now has touches of paint and is covered in orange dirt. The kids all try to grab it after each picture to see what they look like. Then as a group they all break into giggles. I have learned to be quick to take a picture and then to quickly lift the camera over their heads to display each picture! I love these faces! They are all beautiful.


The kids finished their exams today. Vicki, I spoke with both Solomon and Benjamin and told them you were interested in how they did. Both assured me they had done very well and both were happy that you had asked. It seems that every child I talked to feels good about their performance! That speaks so highly for the education they receive at Musana.


As I write this there is the constant sound of hammering in the background. Sam is in the kitchen hammering new fabric onto the sign for Sol Café. We have promised that it will be ready by tomorrow. With painting all day Sam is going to be up late sewing on the letters. She has taken full ownership of this project and she is serious about getting it done. I can't wait to see the final project. We asked Kyemba to go into town for us today to buy small nails. We probably need about 40; what we got was half a kilo! We now have enough nails to give every member of the Roman army their very own!! But we got them at the Ugandan price and not the Mzungu price so we are still ahead of the game! He also brought us chappati!! We were in heaven!


At the end of the day as the wind was blowing in and we were sure a storm was brewing I finished writing the first part of the Shema. There was a group of girls standing around me as I wrote the final word. I decided it was a good time to explain what the words meant. So I told them what we say every week in church that in God's smallest finger is enough power to transform the world. I then showed them how to say the Shema and had them say it with me. It was awesome seeing them raise their pinkie and repeat the words I had just written on the wall. I told them that every time they read those words they would know that God has the power to do anything. 

Tonight is our last dinner at Musana. I can't believe our time is almost over. It seems that we just got here and it is already time to go home. I have loved our time here. It has been the most productive trip I have ever been on both in terms of what we have accomplished and relationally. The projects have certainly helped to form relationships. And the relationships have led to other relationships. I am going to be so sad to head home and leave all these new friends behind. On the other hand, I am anxious to see my family and friends at home and share this trip. The pure joy we have experienced. 


Tomorrow we are heading to Phil's in the morning then I will bring Hannah and Sam back here to paint and I will head back to Bulubandi and Kokombo to finish some things I have started. I am hoping that these two stops don't take very long so I can get back and spend some time painting and with the kids. Tomorrow night is Trivia night at Sol Café. Hannah is putting together questions as I write. Those two young ladies have been incredible on this trip. They have done everything asked of them with pure willingness and have gone above the call of duty every single time. It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve alongside them. I am so proud to have taken this trip with them. I can't wait to see what the future holds for them.


Thank you all for your prayers and your thoughts. We couldn't have done this without you. God has blessed us every step of the way.



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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Adventures with Sue

I am starting tomorrow's blog tonightbecause I want to make sure I don't forget the excitement we just had. This huge bug got into my room and was flying around the light. Hannah, who is afraid of bugs, came in to save me with her shirt in hand and her toothbrush in her mouth. Next thing I know she is flinging her shirt at the bug and running away. This continued for a number of minutes as I am under the mosquito net fully protected and Sam is saying she will help in any way but has taken out her contacts and can't see a thing. Hannah is flinging away and jumping at every move. Finally the bug lands on the floor and I scoop it up in her shirt. Her next words are, "Don't squish it, I like that shirt". So outside we go, open the shirt up, fling the bug away and run into the room quickly closing the door! It was a good release for all of us! Hannah was a hero and Sam provided good support! Now fully exhausted from the day, we are all going to bed! 

Ok, turns out the bug we were so afraid of Sarah fries and eats for breakfast! She eats our enemy! She has an entire cup full of them ready to eat. I am so glad to have Bill Miller right down the road!!! All I can say is bugs beware. Sarah is on the prowl! She actually came in our room with a whole pot of them tonight and offered a few to us. I am a little embarrassed to say we all politely turned her down! She just smiled and downed another one!

Sam here! Since Hannah and I stayed at Musana painting most of the day, I thought I would add a bit about that for the blog tonight. If it hasn't been mentioned in previous blogs, Hannah has been tasked with painting the entire dining hall…which is very big. So today she managed to get most of the longer walls done. She has separated it into about three sections: a sky full of hot air balloons, two elephants playing with kids, and a sea. The sea hasn't been finished yet, but she has really big plans for that scene! Once she's finished it, I'll write about it and hopefully include a picture. I spent the day helping Hannah by painting the columns between sections and later working on a sign for Musana. At Musana's restaurant, Sol Café, there is a fabric sign they use to hang and sell jewelry made by Musana's ministry. They have asked us to redo it, so today I worked on finishing the fabric letters for the sign and removing the old fabric. All that's left is to attach the new fabric and sew the letters on. Once I finished what I could for the sign, I went back to help Hannah (as best as I could). It was really fun to paint the walls, especially later in the day when school is over. At that point, most of the kids have either gone back home for the day or have gone to play and do other things. A few kids will hang around us while we paint, so Hannah and I let them help us make flowers on the columns and waves in the water. Some kids like to add some paint and then go back to watching us, but a few of the older kids were really into painting. I enjoyed watching them play around with different colors and patterns on the wall; they really had a knack for it! I hope that if it's not already, art becomes something that those kids keep as a hobby, because they seemed to truly enjoy it and took pride in what they made. All in all it was a long, really fun day! 

It was a good day and I feel I was able to wrap up a lot of loose ends. I am so thankful for this trip and the peace I have felt. I know we are serving exactly where we are meant to be. I thank God for his grace in leading us to this place and the joy he has given us on our journey! Kari, you are in my prayers and thoughts. You are beautiful and talented. You are capable of doing anything. I believe in you with all my heart. I can't wait to hear from you… 

May God Bless you all!


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Monday, July 27, 2015

Haiti Round 2: Day 1 & 2

Well, we made it and it is so good to back! Waking up at 2am to be at the airport on time was not ideal, but today, by the grace of God, I feel rested and refreshed. Flying into Port au Prince is always an experience. When looking out of the window at the city, you see nothing but rusted sheet metal roofs and lots of dirt. The airport was crowded  and slightly overwhelming, but our translators take such good care of us. From the airport, we hopped into the tap taps to head to the market to buy a few supplies....primarily water because it is extremely hot! In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm checking to see if the street lights are lit indicating the city power is on! When the street lights are on, our AC works in the room, but as of right's not looking good... so we're preparing for another warm night.  

When we finally made it to the guest house, Francois and her daughters welcomed us with open arms. They are such a precious family. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing in order to prepare for our first full day. 

Today (Monday), we started the day off at the museum so we could learn a little more about the history of Haiti. Wow.... the knowledge of where this country has come from is a game changer. After the museum, we went to the top of a mountain to a lookout area where we could see the entire city. It was beautiful!! The tiny houses lining the mountain and the crystal blue water along the coast were breathtaking to see. After we "ooh'd and ahh'd" and took a few pictures, we headed to the orphanage. This was what I was most excited about today. Since my last trip over a year ago, I've been looking forward to seeing two specific girls in the orphanage, Wilna and Kieshna. I searched everywhere for them only to find that their families had come for them and they were no longer in the orphanage. In that moment, I was experiencing such conflicting emotions. I was incredibly sad that they were gone, but so grateful that their families had found them. The rest of the kids were so excited to see us. They have an indescribable joy that is amazing to witness. We played jump rope and soccer most of the time, however there is nothing sweeter than sitting in the dirt with one of those precious kids in your lap. I want to bring them all home! 

We ended the day with a delicious meal prepared by Francois and her girls. After dinner, we spent time worshipping and talking about the days events. I can already see the Lord working in this team and I am so excited to see what He has in store for the next several days. Thank you all so much for your constant prayer. We are so grateful to be here! Stay tuned for more updates!



Hello there friends!

I hope that this blog finds everyone well and happy. 

After a couple days traveling around Iganga dropping off various supplies, going to church, and visiting friends, we were glad to have a day to spend at Musana. Most of my day was filled with staring at a blue wall while I painted it. Another wall of the dining hall is officially finished! This one is covered with clouds, sunbeams, and hot air balloons. I had to explain to the students and staff what a hot air balloon was, because apparently they aren't common in Uganda. Musana had also previously asked us if we could redecorate a bulletin board used for hanging and displaying jewelry for sale in Sol Café. Originally, the sign had cloth words stitched onto it saying Musana Children's Jewelry. This gave off the wrong impression that this jewelry is being sold to support some poor orphans at a home. Musana is not about using pity to try and buy support for their students. It is almost entirely self sufficient with over six hundred students, along with wonderful teachers and staff. They support themselves through a very large farm, Sol Café, a new bakery, and the craft room. Any donations they receive are used to help start up new programs and business ventures like a brand new hospital here in Iganga. The beautiful crafts sold at Sol are made by women in the community who were previously in unstable conditions. Musana seeks to empower these women and everyone else associated with the school including their students and staff. Therefore, the sign will soon be changed to say "Musana Crafts". Sue went into town with our driver Kymba to purchase some navy blue fabric for the sign and pick up some beautiful tie dyed fabric scraps from the women in the craft room. Samantha has been using the scraps to cut out the new letters to be sewn onto the sign. After a busy day, we were all back in our room around six o'clock exhausted. After seven hours of painting, I laid on the floor of our room for a while not even wanting to get up and shower. Thankfully for the sake of Sue and Samantha, I managed to shower before we headed to the dining room for dinner. Sarah had prepared rice, g-nut sauce, fresh pineapple, and Irish potatoes. Leah, Yvonne, Andrea, and little Dezi joined the interns and us for dinner tonight. It is so strange to think that we only have four days left here in Uganda, but I think that will be the perfect amount of time for Sue, Samantha, and I. While we will be very sad to leave Uganda and our friends, we are also looking forward to getting back home to our families and friends in the States. It has really been a special trip for us all. God has really blessed me personally on this trip with so many new friends and experiences. While the team was here, Tamara gave a BEAUTIFUL devotional about blessings. A blessing from God is not wealth or success or even health necessarily, even though it might include those things. Being blessed by God means to simply be in His presence and have your heart changed by experiencing His Glory. I can say for myself and the whole team that we have truly been blessed by God here in Uganda with His presence and perspective. We look forward to returning home soon with hearts that have been grown, stretched, changed, and matured. 


Thanks for reading,


Love Hannah


(P.S. Mom, Please buy me some dark chocolate for when I get back! I love you!!)

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