February 22, 2015

Beauty and the Book

We have found The Bridge to be the perfect spot for small get-togethers with a purpose. 

On Valentines Day, the teen girls of the Sweet Tea mentoring group gathered again to finish our study on Redefining Beauty according to God's standard.  These precious gals listened, took notes, asked questions, and went home with some print-outs to hang near their mirrors. They even graciously sat through all my mistakes in Spanish. Throughout the days that followed, I enjoyed the conversations that opened up as a result of what we all learned.

One week later, we held our first book club, all in English! A dozen or so of us spent the past week reading The Giver, highlighting passages that stood out to us and even creating art inspired by what we'd read. Then we met on Saturday to dig a bit deeper, with fun activities, lively discussions, and thought-provoking discussion questions. We were inspired by the main character, who, once he understood the difference between life and abundant life, wasn't content to settle for less and wanted others to share in what he'd discovered. I think we lit a flame under this group, which will continue to meet every other week. We decided to watch it with those who had come trickling into The Bridge as we were wrapping up our discussion.

Some of the things we're trying out now are a little out of our comfort zones, new things that come to us as vague ideas and get fleshed out through a lot of prayer and study and advice from the been-there-done-that crowd. We're so thankful to finally have the facility where we can host these events, building relationship with these young people and helping them on their journey.
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February 16, 2015

To Camp or Not to Camp?

When I first began teaching the 25 students of a special English language/culture program, they told me excitedly that one day we'd go to camp. There were stories of speaking English only for days at a time, and nervous giggles about how they'd ever be able to do that.  Fast forward to almost two years later and it's time for that very camp.

We loaded up on a bus--all of them plus me, the one "adult" of the crowd--to make a six-hour trip to the rustic campground.

We were a few minutes into our trip at this point.
Nestled in giant trees of mangoes, bananas, and just about whatever other tropical fruit you can imagine, this place was a site for sore eyes after all that bus time. I gave them a big pep talk before we piled out to drop off our bags and find the rest of the 90 students who'd come from three other locations across the country. My teens were nervous about how well they'd be able to understand and speak with their peers, so it took a little shoving to get them off the bus and down the path into the jungle.

Yep, there I am in the center of the back row.

After lunch, a welcome speech, and an icebreaker, we split into five groups. Luckily, my group stayed in the dining hall for what was to be the first of a three-day series of classes put on by peace corps volunteers. Did I mention that it was incredibly hot? Well over 100 degrees with enough humidity to make a cactus sweat. I fanned myself with my schedule and tried to keep my water bottle full.

With a few minutes left in that first class, a cool breeze blew through. Uh-oh. I knew what that meant. I jumped up to close a few doors and check to see where all the electronic equipment was plugged in. Within a few minutes, we were in the full-fledged fury of a serious storm.  The lights went out, I unplugged everything I could find, and the kids started gathering the stuff that the wind was blowing around the dining hall. Despite the rain blowing in, no one could bear to close the windows on the much-needed, refreshing wind.

We watched as that wind got stronger and stronger over the next few minutes, causing the huge mango tree outside the door to bend its biggest branches far enough to touch the ground way beneath them. After a few times, it finally snapped. And we heard other snaps, only able to imagine what they might be because the rain was too strong to see far off.

It turned out that we were in the safest spot of all the campers. Others were in much smaller buildings, but thankfully, no one was in the cabins, because some of those were hit by the falling trees and lost parts of their roofs.  We didn't hear these stories until hours later, when the others made their way to the safety of the dining hall.

By the time the storm slacked off, it was getting too dark to do much. So we went in small groups back down the little paths now littered with the fallen trees, assessing the damage and getting our stuff out of the cabins. Later that night I accompanied one student and a couple other adults into town for a trip to the pharmacy, but only after we waited at a few places for men with chainsaws to make a way for us to pass. At some spots, we had to turn around and find a new way because the trees were just too massive.  Seeing how much damage had been done all around, I was very grateful that God protected all of us and that the storm came when it did, rather than an hour later when we would have all been out in the open on the soccer field, unprotected and far from the dining hall.

We all slept in that dining hall that night, and after calling parents and buses the next morning, we packed up to head home. Without water and electricity and with the threat of more storms later that day, it was too risky to stay. The change in plans was disappointing, but we still had the opportunity during the 24 hours of the camp to meet new people and make unforgettable memories in crazy circumstances. And we got in a lot of quality time together on the 12 hours of the round-trip on the bus.
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February 9, 2015

A Few Photos of the Fun We Have

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of extra activities and travels, those things that usually pop up from time to time but happened to all come at once this month. Right in the middle of that was a trip to Asuncion related to my teaching job.

I love teaching English every weekend to a group of around 25 teens who won scholarships from the US Embassy to attend. As part of their sponsorship, they also learn cultural and historical facts about our country, participating in some of our holidays throughout the year. (One of their favorites so far was the Thanksgiving Feast a few months back.)

Last week, I went to the capital for a conference hosted by the institute where our class takes place. They do these every few months, and it's a great opportunity to get to know the other teachers better while I hone my skills as an educator. That made it worth me getting up before the sun to catch the bus with my coworkers and spend half the day traveling to the conference. ;)

That's me sitting on the front row on the left corner.

As soon as I got back, it was time to plan for a few special events in The Bridge. Friday afternoon, 25 of the peace corps volunteers who work in this area of the country held their monthly meeting at our youth cafe. We have tons of respect for these young adults who come here for 2 1/2 years as part of making the world a better place and exchanging culture, so we were thrilled to meet them and share stories.

The next day, we hosted Another World 2.0, an event for youth that involved trivia, music, tournaments, and just all-around good times. The first of these events back in December gave us the opportunity to make a lot of new friends who have been hanging out at The Bridge ever since, and this time we also had a full house.

Needless to say, we were a little zonked by the time the alarm clock went off for church the next morning, but it was a great week full of learning with the added bonus of meeting new people.
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January 23, 2015

Empty Nest or Full House?

My baby, the one who was born just a few short days ago, is 18 today. How did that happen? She came out already grown, knowing way too much about what was going on around her and making sure she let us know that she knew. She could talk long before she could walk, so she set about using her vocal leadership skills to get her almost-twin Bryan, born 6 weeks after her and already walking, to go retrieve toys and her pacifier. She hasn't stopped honing this skill since.

This week is also the last week of her homeschooling career, so despite that we don't have any sort of co-op to join with for a graduation ceremony, her high school days end the same day she becomes a legal adult...mayor de edad in Spanish.

These past two years have been a big time of preparation for the next step, something that wasn't quite decided until very recently. After a lot of talking, praying, and consulting, several visits to colleges in the US, a few to colleges here, and still more talking and praying, she has decided that she will stay here in Paraguay with us.

I'd always imagined her flying away to university life the instant she finished high school, with me depending on skype and her grandparents and a lot of prayer. But as we went over the options she could choose from, she talked a lot about a gap year, that time after high school when some young adults (did I just use that word to describe my BABY?!?!) step away from formal education and explore a bit, looking into things that interest them but maybe they didn't have time to pursue while studying. The goal is to find out what it is in life that makes you passionate, what fulfills you and makes you feel you were born to do this.  Of course, many folks don't find that out until way down the road, but if it's possible to learn this BEFORE investing years of your life into studying for a degree, that's a plus.

So she will take some classes, volunteer a bit, carry out some internships--we're not exactly sure WHAT this time will look like. We trust the Lord to open and close doors for her and speak to her heart while she is seeking Him and His will.

I'm excited for her, I'm nervous for her, I'm nervous for me.  I was just talking to another parent-of-teens this week about mommy guilt, and for missionaries, I think it's easy to throw on a pile of it.
Are my kids going to be permanently damaged for this? Have I destroyed their chances for ___? How will they ever feel at home? Will they marry here or there and will that make them happy or leave them feeling like they're missing something? Should we have ___?  Why did we ___?  
In her wisdom, her reply to me was, "If it wasn't the mission field, it'd be something else. You're just able to put a name on it more easily than some." I'll try to remember that.
It seems that as parents, we're aware all along that we do things wrong, that we're human and we mess up this mothering thing, that we have regrets. The difference when they're younger is that we're able to say, "Well, she has __ more years at home, so I'll make up for it in that time." Then comes that big birthday, that big graduation, and we are suddenly aware that the clock is up.

So I consciously decide today, like so many days before, to place her back in the hands of the One who loaned her to me, while I enjoy the extra bonus of getting more time with her than I'd expected. :)

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January 19, 2015

Chicks of The Bridge // Chicas de The Bridge

Mentoring teen girls is close to my heart.  It's something I've tried to be actively involved in no matter where we lived, and having these little get-togethers we affectionately refer to as Princess Club is part of that.

I have been working this past year with the team at more to be--the ministry founded by Elisa Pulliam dedicated to "equipping moms, engaging teens, and encouraging mentors." They offer lots of studies, worksheets, and printables that I've been working my way through translating, so naturally, I wanted to try them out on the gals in my little corner of the globe!

This past Saturday, we hosted the first of such meetings that's been held at The Bridge. It was an odd time of day--lunch-time on a weekend--but since many of the girls I invited are part of my English class that ends at that time, we thought we'd give it a shot. We named it Sweet Tea and sent out cute little invitations with pretty colors and a tea cup with steam coming out the top of it, although the heat here meant we'd actually be drinking the iced version in plastic cups.

The young ladies snacked on little sandwiches, sliced veggies with ranch dip, and chocolate chip cookies, trying to decide if they liked our version of southern party foods, while we watched a few videos and looked at photos about what different cultures find beautiful. Then we talked about what really makes a girl beautiful, and the problem with looking for affirmation in the wrong places.  They filled in the blanks and commented every now and then as we worked our way through the study.

At the end, I told them that the only place to fully understand their real beauty and worth was through an intimate relationship with God, giving each of them a little card with the graphic below, except in Spanish. I also explained that I wasn't there to pressure them into anything (they get enough of that already), but that I trusted that God was already calling to them, whispering to their hearts in that special way that means He loves you and wants you to love Him back.  
I'll be honest. We've been here a long time now. We've been planting seeds and loving kids and investing in their lives not only spiritually, but holistically as well. We don't always see the fruit of that. While I know very well that God is at work behind the scenes, I don't always get to see His hand in motion or see things come full circle, and I'm okay with that, really. I know enough to know that He's always, always drawing people to Him. But I have been hoping that God would let me experience that, praying that He'd let me be part of the harvest in another area than the seed-planting, that He encourage me in this sorta dry time to know that our investments aren't in vain.

A couple days later, I got a text from a girl I only recently know. She joined my English class a couple weeks ago and surprised me by showing up at the girls' meeting. She asked me a few class-related questions then got right to it--She was sure that the words I said at Sweet Tea were just for her, and she wanted to know how to get right with God. We had a beautiful conversation that ended in her reconciling with the Lord. She's a born leader, one of those people who goes her own way and has no desire to follow the crowd. I'm looking forward to how God will use her personality as she grows in Him. Please pray for her and for the other young ladies who are learning what they mean to God and what He wants to mean to them.

**Find this study and many free, downloadable resources, by clicking here.
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January 13, 2015

Cosplay, Anyone?

Spiderman, Super Mario, Darth Vader,Wolverine, Dr. Who, Jack Sparrow, and a few ninja guys. And me.  I sure didn't expect to find what I did when I agreed to go at the last minute to this cosplay event.
cosplay (costume + play) -- dressing up like a specific character and role playing a short skit or dance related to that character; most commonly selected from pop culture personalities, anime, comic books, cartoons, movies, video games, or television.
No, this isn't REALLY the mythbusters guy, but
pretty close, huh? For the record, I went dressed as
Arrow, the greenish arrow-wielding hero of comics
and a new TV series, but I couldn't handle the
over-100 and high-humidity temperatures,
so no more costume. 
I didn't expect to meet so many young people who are involved in this subculture, to have so many opportunities to explain why we live in Paraguay, and to invite all these new friends to The Bridge.  I expected a few people to show up on this terribly hot day in the middle of summer, at the event being hosted a few blocks from our apartment. Walking in the door, I realized I'd grossly underestimated how many people love this hobby. I'm betting you already know folks who do it, they just haven't told you yet. ;)

At this particular event, not everyone came dressed up. Many were curious fans or have some sort of business connected to these characters.  There were booths for karaoke, for playing video game tournaments, for admiring or buying handmade statues of the characters or their props (think Thor's hammer), for picking up a sticker or t-shirt of your favorite cartoon show.  And then in the evening, various cosplayers took to the stage for role playing. Some acted out a scene from a show or movie, some sang a song, and some just jumped around on stage fighting "bad guys". The point is for these "cosplayers" to make a costume at home from basic things you'd find around the house.  A 2-liter bottle spray-painted and decorated to look like an oxygen tank is valued much more than a store-bought prop.  So these kids got to really show off their creativity, not only in fabricating their outfits, but in staging a skit to demonstrate who they were representing.

Now those of you who know me know that I'm not very creative, but I greatly value creativity.  I think it's one of those things we've somehow stifled over the years in the Christian community, but I fully support redeeming the arts and chipping away at the misconception that only those who draw pictures of Jesus on the cross or coming back in the clouds are valid artists. I don't go with the thought that only those who sing praise and worship are using their talents for the Lord, and all others are wasting what they've been given. I think God has given us some crazy-cool abilities and we haven't begun to tap into all the ways they can bring Him glory.

So, yeah, off my soapbox and back to my story. One of the folks I met is a young man who just opened a comics store here in town. Of course, I invited him to visit us, and he showed up a few days later. We ended up joining forces with him to have a friendly trivia day at The Bridge.  The pictures below give you some idea of the fun we had that day, when 50 teens and young adults showed up, many of them for the first time.

trivia contest with cool prizes

new friends who learned what The Bridge is all about

a little time in between games for some music by one of our "regulars" at The Bridge, Jake

camp and youth-group fave "Clang That Thang"

Since the event, we've gained a whole new group of young people that come quite regularly to The Bridge. These are exactly the kids we've been looking for and feeling called towards. They don't fit into the little boxes society tries to put them in, have more questions than answers, and don't have it totally together yet--what a privilege to get to be part of their lives at this stage of their "figuring it out," all because of the fun of cosplay. 
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January 2, 2015

2014 Holidays in Paraguay

After a lot of deliberation, we decided to take our mid-sized fake Christmas tree down to The Bridge and let it stand in the front window.  It was fun to decorate it and explain our tradition to folks coming in, and that way the lights weren't making our house even hotter. Every evening, a young couple brought their baby girl by to stand outside and watch the twinkly lights. We invited them in but they said she was in that grumpy part of day and the lights were the only thing that seemed to calm her down. Glad we could help. 

We decorated a small white one we found at a little tienda on the corner for our house, leaving out the lights altogether.  I figured that if it's sparkly white, who'd see the lights anyway, right? 

We had a beautiful rainstorm the week of Christmas, bringing temperatures down into the tolerable range in the evenings.  When Christmas Eve rolled around, we went to the home of one of my English students, Jake.  His parents are sweet folks who live a little bit out of town, in what Jake calls the jungle.  I guess it technically is, but after hanging in the Amazon, I don't use that word lightly.  ;)

Jake's sister was visiting from Buenos Aires, Argentina, which brought our total to 8 people all around the midnight table under a huge mango tree, with plates full of grilled chicken and beef with brick-oven-baked cornbread and bowls of fresh fruit salad.  Camille contributed a pan of peach cobbler just like Mother used to make.  I think it was a hit because the man of the house asked for the recipe four or five times before the night was up.

At midnight, fireworks went off all around and Jake lit a few Roman candles. We all sat around chatting in the cool breezes for a bit longer before heading home to wait on Santa Claus.  And then we four Hagermans got up the next morning to celebrate Christmas Day, knowing that we were some of the only people in the city awake. A little after lunchtime we heard the stirrings of our neighbors and a few cars were seen on the streets, but mostly, Paraguayans spend the 25th sleeping off the celebrations of the night before.  

For New Years, our fellow missionary friends the Rayburns came over, along with our friend Walter. We had the meal a little earlier this time--around 9 PM--then waited for the rain to slack off enough to go to the river.  It seems everyone for miles and miles around was there, waiting for the fireworks that were sure to happen at midnight.  As it turned out, the rain put a damper on the festivities, and the only fireworks were those that people had brought themselves or restaurants nearby did.  We made our way out of there pretty quickly because small children pointing Roman candles and bottle rockets into the crowds just didn't sit very well with us, and the littlest Rayburns didn't care for how loud the explosions were.  I heard, "Are you sure they won't reach us?" more than once, and I couldn't in good conscience say that I was.  Sitting inside their car, however, we had a lovely view of the ones that made it high enough in the sky to show their colors.  

The next morning, I awoke to the smell of something quite heavenly.  Allison (Rayburn mom extraordinaire) was baking doughnuts. You are aware that we don't have doughnuts here, right? I have handled giving up Wal-Mart much better than giving up Krispy Kreme these last years, so to say that I was excited wouldn't do justice to how I felt when I smelled what was coming out of the oven.  What a way to start the New Year, right? 

Hope you all had a great season of sharing and celebrating, too!
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October 25, 2014

Visitors from a Foreign Land

Okay, technically, from here, the United States is a foreign land. And a few family members from the states visited us for about a week, so we took advantage of that time to show off a bit of the country we've come to love.  Unfortunately, our car is STILL in the shop, so we bused it and walked it and taxied it all over the place.

We saw the zoo that cares for animals indigenous to this area, most of them quite different from what you'd see in good ole' South Carolina. 


Of course, we visited the Jesuit Ruins, taking in the huge buildings that have survived centuries, silent witnesses to the slaughter of the native people who sought refuge in those walls.


We visited the school where I taught English this past year, and the pastor gave us a walk-through of the classrooms, where the children sang "Read Your Bible, Pray Every Day" and then they grew, grew, grew.  We saw land that had been purchased to build a new classroom to satisfy government requirements, and office space that will serve the school and the small church that is adjacent to one classroom. We were privileged to pray over this land, the school, the children, and the community before leaving.

We returned to that school a few days later, as I was asked to judge a cultural festival. Each grade represented a certain country, dressed in typical clothes, performed a song and dance, and sold food at elaborate stands they'd built to showcase their chosen country. It was impressive! The best part was that, as judge, each stand provided me with a sort of sampler platter, so that I could also give appropriate points for the dishes they'd prepared.  I loved that job!

Several church groups have hosted events recently, including a concert for youth to welcome spring and a city-wide rally to pray for the area and urge politicians and families to make good choices. During the city rally, a huge Paraguayan flag was passed over the heads of the crowd while local pastors took turns praying for the city, county and nation.

Camille was asked to be the official photographer for several of these events, and she's sharpening her camera skills more and more each week.  I'll leave you with a picture she recently took of the sunset over the river that runs alongside Encarnación, separating us from Argentina.

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September 8, 2014

Yes, We Move About Once a Year...

Since we moved to downtown Encarnación (as opposed to a mile or so up the road), we have lived in a tiny apartment in a medium-sized building.  It afforded us an eency weency balcony, where we strung a couple of ropes and hung about 3/4 a load of clothes. The rest were hung around the house. It felt a little dungeon-like, with only three windows in the whole place, something that also led to tons of black mold growing in the walls, on the furniture, on the books, on the clothes--well, you get it.

http://walkingwonder.blogspot.com/2013/11/cramped-apartments.htmlWe had a miniature kitchen, big enough to turn around in but not much else.  We squeezed a table for four in the living room area, just beside the love seat that was the official school room.  The girls shared a bedroom that might be mistaken as a walk-in closet in some of America's finest mobile homes.  But we could walk to English class and The Bridge, as well as the grocery store, the hardware store, the bakery, and the meat store, so we were thrilled to cut back on gas costs and live so close to everything--especially considering how many months of the past year our car spent in the mechanic's shop.

Day-to-day operations of Casa Hagerman weren't too smooth, though.  Everyday at homeschool time, the apartment had to be rearranged to make room to sit and put books out. Then when I needed to cook for The Bridge (generally an hour or so after school started), more shuffling to access the kitchen and, hopefully, counter space.  You'd laugh if you could see all the times I did it without a counter, holding the mixing bowl in one hand while I measured ingredients and poured with the other.

And might I remind you that the girls are teenagers now.  Yep, at 15 and 17, they have their own collections of beauty supplies, favorite clothes, and various souvenirs they've held onto through the moves. Did I mention that they are polar opposites in terms of music taste, organization, and sleep schedules?  You can only imagine the stress that cramming these two and all their junk in that glorified closet every day and night caused.  I won't even tell you how crazy it got when we'd entertain guests.

Knowing that our rental contract on the mini apartment was due to expire, we began praying for more space months ago.  We scoured the internet advertisements, the realty listings, and the streets.  It seems that this city is on a bubble (is that how'd they say that in English?) right now, due to the new river beach and increases in summer tourism.  So prices are at a premium, and those people with 3-bedroom apartments know they are sitting on a gold mine.  There were comments floating around that we'd never find what we were asking for in the price range we had to work with, but we just kept praying.

I'm thrilled to report to you that one week ago, we moved into what I can only describe as a house on the second floor.  It's a huge apartment above the home of a little grandma, so we have much more privacy. It has two small balconies on the street front, plus a huge back balcony out back with a roof and enough room to hang several loads of clothes and still sit out there to enjoy the fresh air.

Each girl has her own bedroom, and each bedroom is twice the size of the one they were sharing. The kitchen is spacious, and I've already found places for the appliances and ingredients we use for The Bridge, as well as counter space to make it all happen.  A wide hallway means we can take the paperwork, books, and suitcases out of our bedroom, and windows on every side make the place so bright that we hardly use the lights during the day.

Once we get our car back from the mechanic (please continue praying for that--it doesn't seem it will be anytime soon), it will have a gated parking area.  We are sharing one bathroom but it is big enough to have an area for a shower, rather than the whole bathroom BEING the shower, as in the past.  And we're still close to everything.  In fact, we are one block closer to English classes and The Bridge, and only one block away now from two different grocery stores.

So as I type this, everyone is in a different spot working, and the dog is trying out all the different spots he can flop around.  And now when I say, "Come see us!" I'm much more excited about that possibility, knowing we have space for you.

I know God didn't promise us a huge house. I know there are missionaries living in huts or worse. I know we could have survived in that mini-apartment.  But He answered this prayer and found us a place that fit ALL we'd asked Him for, and I'm so thankful for what that means to my family. I sent out a prayer request when we first found the place and were negotiating with the owner, who wasn't too thrilled that we have a big dog, and many of you were sweet to respond that you were praying.  THANK YOU!
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August 7, 2014

June and July in a Whirlwind Post

Got your seat belt buckled?  Let's just say that the last couple months have been crazy, and I haven't exactly kept up with this blog.  So lemme fill you in as quickly and succinctly as possible.

A THIEF ARRIVED.  Someone broke into the garage of our apartment building and somehow got our hood opened (no signs of entry, all still locked when we got down there).  When we turned the key the next morning, alas, nothing.  No battery.  We decided it was time to give in and get the chirpy alarm thing.

WHITNEY LEFT.  You remember the sweet gal who spent five weeks with us starting in May, including several days in the hospital for a serious bacterial infection?  Well, her departure was equally exciting.  We left our town with plenty of extra hours so that we could give her a mini-tour of our favorite cultural hot-spots on the normally 5-hour car ride to the capital city.  We had several things go wrong, and then a bit more than halfway there, the car died.  Caroline, Whitney, and I grabbed Whitney's luggage and hopped a bus as quickly as possible and then grabbed a taxi as we got closer, making it to the airport with a few minutes to spare before her flight left, then spinning around to take the midnight bus back to Encarnación.

THE CAR REBELLED.  After a few weeks in the repair shop and $1500 worth of loving care, our car came back home, but still with a pesky noise that didn't seem it should be there.  We drove it a few miles out of town to get it at road speed, and it died again.  This time, the wrecker driver said the girls and I could stay inside it as he towed it back to our we-see-you-way-too-often mechanic.  It was pretty exciting (and slightly scary) to be towed that way, but we watched Ken and the driver converse as we pretended to be in a parade behind them.

MY FOOT HEALED.  The foot fracture I sustained from twisting my ankle on uneven sidewalk finally healed, and I can walk on it fully again without feeling pain.  My leg is still unstable and the knee often gives out while walking, so I constantly have to be aware of what's around me, so I can grab ahold of something in a pinch.  I wiped out a week and a half ago in the bedroom, breaking the fall with my outstretched hand.  A bruise showed up behind my elbow, supposedly from the impact my bone had with the muscles back there, even the only part to touch the floor was my open palm.  Needless to say, I'm still having lots of pain in my arm and can't use it for much of anything, but it should heal up soon enough.  The weird thing is that when I fell, I felt my knee twist up behind me in an awkward angle.  I just lay there a while, nervous to move it or get up because it was such an odd fall.  But since then, the pain in my knee is GREATLY reduced.  I think that something that was out of place was put back where it should be during the twisty fall, so I can't really complain about the arm.

I hope you're still with me at this point, because I've saved the best for last.  Yeah, there is some really GOOD NEWS!

THE BRIDGE IS OPEN!  After years of dreaming, searching for a place, raising funds, making connections, praying, and praying some more, the youth center we feel God sent us to Encarnación to open is up and running!  We hosted a couple of pre-opening events with a few invited guests to test everything out, then flung wide the doors on July 4 for a night full of music, samples of our baked goods and coffee, games, door prizes, giveaways, and a whole lot of explaining what this place is about.  A month or so later, we're meeting new people almost every day.  The regulars are bringing friends, people see us on Facebook, folks come in because they saw our flashing sign.  And we are thrilled every time we see connections happening and God's love flowing as we'd envisioned it could be.  We're working the kinks out about the schedule, the baking, the legalities, and all sorts of fine details, but we have been thrilled with the response.

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