(F)airytales do come true!

21 03 2011

Once upon a time (March 21, 2004 to be exact) Katherine Elizabeth Hollingsworth and Layne Alan Madden had their first date.  Shortly after, they got very dressed up and attended Layne’s high school prom.

Five years later (March 21, 2009 to be exact) they got  dressed up again for a very special occasion…

                                     And they lived happily ever after!

                                Happy 2nd Anniversary Katie and Layne!


(F)araway Island II

17 03 2011

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Acts 1:8

Day 4

After we visited the village that first day, we came to understand that most of what defined the lives of these people was washed away in just a few moments.  Almost everyone lost a family member; some more than one. Those who still had a home had lost everything.  Some managed to save a few pieces of damaged furniture, but all their photographs, clothes, tools for their profession, bicycles, schoolbooks…everything was gone.

Our foam mattresses on plywood bases felt like beds fit for royalty that first night we slept.  We were housed in a small guesthouse.  No hot water seemed trivial since we did have indoor plumbing!  The sweet lady who runs the guesthouse and the two boys who help her couldn’t have kept the place cleaner or been kinder to us.

We began our day with devotions, breakfast, and orientation/job assignments from the ground team, which is comprised of four workers and a variety of  workers from other countries on temporary assignment in Sri Lanka.

I’ll have to preface this part by saying that as we were requested, just prior to our departure, to purchase and bring paintbrushes suitable for painting on stucco over concrete block, Rodney said, “I’ll do anything they ask of me, but I sure don’t want to paint!”  Yes, Rodney was assigned to the search and repair team that had just completed repairs on houses that now needed to be…PAINTED!  We just had to laugh at God’s sense of humor!!!  I was assigned, along with two other members of our team, to the search and repair team as well. Two members were assigned to assist in building a chicken coop where one once stood! 

We were reminded that our job assignments were important, but that our number one job was building and nurturing relationships with the people in the village.  Through these relationships, we would hopefully have the opportunity to share the love of Christ in actions and words.

Most of us loaded the van that would be our transportation during our stay.  Our driver, would be our interpreter along the way.  Rodney decided to ride in the tuk-tuk driven by a young man who would come to be a good friend.

Our house was the third of three in a row that all belonged to family.  At the first house in the row, we met the father/grandfather.  As a carpenter, he makes all the window frames for the village…with hand tools!  It was amazing to watch him work.  He was working with tools purchased by our ground team and was thrilled to have us there. We walked down to the house where we’d be working and began using wire brushes to scrape the stucco…mold and mildew left by the high standing water level was unmoving and required much elbow grease and a lot of bleach!  We weren’t there 10 minutes before one of the men shinnied up a coconut tree in the yard and came down with several king coconuts.  He promptly cut the tops off, then with three whacks of his machete created a hole and handed them to us to drink.  It was a messy, but fun experience and one that would be repeated over and over again by these wonderfully hospitable people.

We soon met Upul.  Before the tsunami, he had been a tuk-tuk driver, but his tuk-tuk was washed away along with his home.  He now lives in one of the wooden shacks with his wife and two sons while he waits for his home to be rebuilt.  He was grateful that the ground team had given him a job as a painting contractor.  He would be working with the painters and would become Rodney’s good friend.

As I was working, a lady that lived behind the house beckoned me over.  She spoke broken English, but enough that I knew she wanted me to come to her house.  As her story unfolded, I learned that her home and small shop had been washed away…this was her sister’s home, but her sister had been killed by the tsunami.  Her family had moved in to have somewhere to live and to care for her sister’s children.  She asked, “You Christian?”  I replied that yes, I was a follower of Jesus, that He lived in me, and that He had so filled my heart with His love that I wanted to share that love with the people here.  She said she was a Christian too, but married into a Buddhist family.  I saw her statue of Mary and her picture of Jesus and was reminded that many here who profess to worship God just set up different idols and worship the statues and pictures but don’t understand the relationship.  I asked my new friend if I could pray with her and she eagerly agreed.  What a privilege to lift up the name of Christ with my friend.  My prayer is that she will not only believe, but also receive the unconditional love and forgiveness of Christ so that her worship will become a relationship.

The family living in “our” house included two beautiful girls, Dielke and Cecicula, Lal, the father and his sweet wife.  She invited us inside to watch her begin preparations for lunch.  All the work was done on the floor and the cooking done over open flame in a carved out concrete area in the wall called a stove!  A new experience for sure! 

Soon Julie, Glenda, and I were called to another area to make rounds with the doctor…a full-time worker here on temporary assignment.  Her gentle nature and loving touch with the people was all the medicine some needed. 

Our day ended with debriefing and prayer time as a team and then dinner at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the ocean.  We were weary from the day’s work, but encouraged and anticipating what the next day would bring.

(F)araway Island

16 03 2011

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. Habakuk 2:14

As we follow the unfathomable story unfolding in Japan, my heart aches for the people there and I’m transported back almost 6 years to Sri Lanka.  I’ve been re-reading my journal from our time there 6 months after the tsunami and thought I’d share.  I’ll post an entry a day for the next few days.  As we pray for the people of Japan, please continue to pray for the people of Sri Lanka where the prayer has been from Habakuk 2:14. Pray that the glory of the LORD will cover both of these island countries as the waters cover the sea.


Days 1-3

We were asked to serve as the team leaders for a most wonderful, divinely “hand-picked” team of seven; three women (ages 22, 43, 62) and four men (33, 46, 57, 61) each with a heart to serve and minister to the people of Sri Lanka. Other than Rodney and I, none of us knew each other before our journey as we are from 4 states.

The journey to Sri Lanka is long (we left Columbia at 2PM Saturday and arrived in Colombo at 9:05 Monday) and covers many countries.  The tears flowed as I watched on the map our plane flying along the border of Iraq…I thought of the sacrifice of our men and women there and prayed for the people of that hurting country.  We flew through Saudi Arabia on our way to the United Arab Emirates.  The airport there in Dubai screamed of the wealth of the country…anything that was glitzy and could be hung from the ceiling or walls was. People crowded the duty free kiosks to buy 21 carat gold jewelry studded with gems.  The stores along the corridors were packed in the middle of this night with shoppers buying perfume, tobacco, alcohol, and anything else they could fit in their suitcases.  It is the only airport in the world where I’ve watched people clamor to take photos of the airport itself. 

Our arrival at the airport in the capital city of Sri Lanka, Colombo, was like a counter study to the airport in Dubai.  As we got off the plane far out on the tarmac to be bussed to the airport, the heat and humidity hit us quickly in our sleep-deprived state.  We walked into the very small, dimly lit terminal where we were again met with duty free shops…only this time selling new and used appliances…store after store selling the same things…appliances, fans, and cheap plastic containers.  The mood was somber and oppressive.  We all noticed the warning vividly stamped in red on our immigration form.  “Possession of illegal drugs in Sri Lanka will be punished by death.” 

Collecting our luggage wasn’t difficult…except for our one lost bag, the carry-on bag containing our necessities, including our malaria medication, which had been hastily checked in London when the flight attendant randomly decided a few bags were too heavy to be carry-ons. I left the lost luggage desk after almost an hour with a promise that our bag would be brought to me the next day…four hours away in a tiny village.  As we left the terminal, all of our senses were assaulted…the noise was deafening…people were shouting in another language, car horns were blaring, announcements were squawking on a long outdated PA system…the heat was oppressive, the smells were unfamiliar, and the sheer number of people we had to make our way through left us feeling like pin balls being bounced from side-to-side…we walked past manned machine-gun turrets to finally get to an open area where we regrouped and found our bus.  Our group was uncharacteristically quiet as we took in our first sights of this island country.

We loaded the bus for our journey south.  Made a quick stop to eat…at McDonalds…yes, McDonalds even in Sri Lanka!  I had McRice…no joke! I had curried rice with chicken called McRice!  It seemed even funnier in my foggy state!

We all sat with mouths agape as we had our first introduction to driving in Sri Lanka…like nothing we’ve EVER seen.  Driving on the left side is the standard, but driving anywhere and anything you like is the norm.  We dodged busses heading straight for us, three-wheeled taxi vehicles called “tuk-tuks” (motorized rickshaws), carts being pulled by animals or what looked like rotor tillers, bicycles, motorbikes, cows and even elephants in the streets, and pedestrians everywhere!  None of it seemed to rattle our driver like it did us!! The constant jerking of off and on braking left our tired bodies even wearier!

About thirty-minutes into our drive we began seeing debris and destruction left six months earlier by the tsunami.  Piles of rubble that were once family homes, beachside guesthouses with most of the walls gone, tents dotting the landscape where families were still living…waiting for help or government approval to try to rebuild.  The farther south we traveled, the more evident the destruction…more piles of rubble, many more tents and quickly constructed wooden shacks measuring 10×12 feet where entire families have lived since January, many more damaged buildings, parts and pieces of colorful fishing boats left at odd angles by the powerful waves.

We stopped at the village where most of our work would take place.  The total devastation of this village…seen so many times on TV because the train had been hit by the tsunami here, was still evident in rubble covering the ground among the temporary wooden shelters, the new homes that have been built, the few homes that survived, and still a few tents.  As I looked closely, I saw buttons embedded in the dirt, parts of clothing, broken dishes, parts and pieces of things that had been part of these peoples’ lives.  It was a tough moment as the enormity of what had happened here began to sink in.

The people, now coming to expect a new team’s arrival, scampered out to see us.  In America, this disheveled group of seven, wrinkled and weary from the journey would have seemed terribly out of place, but here in this village, we seemed to fit right in.  We visited the baker whose bakery was rebuilt and stocked with the equipment needed to reopen by our teams…the bicycle repair shop, housed in one of the wooden shacks, that was opened because team members had purchased tools that were washed away.  We knew we were just beginning to hear the stories and feel the pain the people here had endured. The children, anxious to meet us, came running…each hoping to gain special attention from one of us.  One of the ground team quipped, “The rule here is that you can only take two home with you, so pick wisely.”  We all laughed but became keenly aware at that moment how the children and adults alike would capture our hearts and make it so difficult to say good-bye.

(F)ear Factor

14 03 2011

Those who live in the shadow of their fear…are but slaves to its will

“Why are you going to Pakistan?  You know it’s a dangerous place.”  It was the first time I had felt real fear over my destination.  I was tired after a very long and weather delayed flight from Atlanta to Dubai.  Our team of five women had missed our connecting Emirates Air flight by just minutes and we were hastily rebooked on PIA – Pakistani International Airlines ( the nationals later told us it really stood for “prayer in the air”!).  It was in that line, surrounded by Pakistanis, not another American in sight, that this question was asked of us by Mohammad.  For a single moment, I wondered what in the world I was doing.  The fear was brief, but very real and almost paralyzing and thankfully it would be the last time I felt fearful for the next 14 days.  Mohammad watched out for us on this last leg of the journey like a brother until he knew we were safely in the care of those who came to greet us. 

It was three years ago this week that our team set out on a journey to Pakistan and India to host retreats for ladies in the region.  Our trip was motivated by our desire to love on, learn from, worship with, and just have lots of girl time with those who live in difficult places.  As it usually happens…we were the receivers of so many blessings.

I cannot even begin to tell how challenging the preparations for this journey were.  Families were less than supportive of our calling to go – not because they were against it, but because they loved us and feared what they couldn’t control.  The assassination of Bhutto just weeks before we left caused frayed nerves, lots of tears, and left many, who were sure we would finally change our minds, shaking their heads.  Yet, in the midst of all, we had indescribable peace.  In the end, our families gave us their blessings to go.  What a gift that was to us as we knew how difficult it was for them to release us! 

However, fear is not a factor here...when you are living in obedience!

The ladies we met left indelible imprints on all our hearts.  I’ve experienced the pure joy of getting to see many of them again on subsequent trips to the region.  The bonds I share with the other four women on our team will never be broken.  I’m so thankful obedience rather than fear won out – I cannot imagine my life without this experience that has helped shape me.  So, Dana, Debbie, Debbie, and Kimberly – “it was a blast : )” –  let’s do it again someday!  I love you all so much!