Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm Back!

I am home in California...though I have not quite settled in yet...sleeping and eating still seem to be a problem, but that will go away soon enough!

I want to start this part off with a quote from a book I was reading while I was in Bangladesh...

"'The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,' he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortneson's own. 'Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be undeducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survided here for a long time.
...Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them." -Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson, p. 150)

This quote speaks volumes of the lessons God has taught me over the last several years of travels and continued to teach me (quite literally in regards to sitting down and having tea) on this trip to Bangladesh.

As I mentioned in the last entry we were suppossed to start officially working on building, but of course things changed. We left the hotel early and drove for an hour an a half to the World Vision Office in the area we would be working in. Upon our arrival we were served coffee, biscuits and mango (let me tell you the mango is amazing here!). We also were briefed, in a little more detail, about the families we would be helping and what our time in Bhanaderia looked like. At the end of the meeting we were informed that we would not begin construction that day because the supplies had not arrived from Dhaka. So we went to the village to meet the reaminder of the families...or so we thought. Upond our arrival we walked out to a clay foundation (raised) and we were introduced to a widow and her mother whose home was completely destroyed by the Cyclone...i nfact all that was left was a pile of debris that had most likely been sitting around for the last 7 months. Then we were told to work and clear away the debris. The team went to work-sweating incessently. In the process many frogs, centipeds (which a woman crushed with the heal of her bare foot, cockroaches, and large spiders came out of hiding. The villagers just laughed at us. I was able to bond with some of the children by taking their picture and showing them the picture on my digital camera. The children interacted with us by giving us beautiful flowers-which we proudly wear in our hair. After about an hour and a half we had cleared the site and we headed back for lunch at the Office and then drove back to the hotel to get ready for church.

On Monday morning we headed out to the villages and really got to do some work. The supplies began arriving to the village. The measurements for the home were taken and three foot deep holes were dug by hand (and coconut shell) for the concrete pillars that would serve as the supports for the first home. During the afternoon some of the team continue work on the first home, while the rest of the team started demolition on the second site. Some of the orginal home was still standing and the woman was still living in it so we had to clean it out and then tear it down. Once again...the big critters came out, by this point I was so over them it didn't even bother me anymore! By the end of the day the first home had a frame and the second home was measured and ready to get going the next morning. After a long day of work we were ready to go home, but it was time for tea. So we were invited into one of the villager's homes and we had tea (which by the way is amazing here!) and biscuits in our very sweaty clothing...I am sure we all smelled wonderful.

Tuesday was very similar to Monday. The team was working in groups on several sites. One group continued working on the first home by helping put the tin roof on. The second group dug holes for the supports at the second home. And the third group...well we got to deconstruct a clay home! Cockroaches, termites and rats!! It was actually pretty fun! At 11:30 am it was time for tea and then we headed to lunch. After lunch we continue work on our sites. The Third group used the clay from the demolished home to level out the foundation for the new home. Around 5pm it was time for another round of tea and then we went back to the hotel.

Wednesday was very simliar to the two days previous...continued worked on the different sites. Late in the afternoon it began to pour! The ground turned into a super slippery mess! Working became almost impossible and walking...well, I didn't fall but I came pretty was funny! We finished the first home on Wednesday which was great timing since it was my last day down in the village. It was really unreal to be handing over a brand new home to this family...there are really no words to describe it!

On Thursday morning my boss and I left for Dhaka. The trip was normal until we stopped at a dock. I thought we were going to put our van on a ferry like before, but we quickly found out that our driver was staying on this side of the river and our host was waiting on the other side of the river for us. So, to get to the other side of the river we had to hire a speed boat to give us a ride. I was so excited (though our hosts and several other people have told us how "dangerous" this is)! The boats were not anything super amazing, but they were we hopped in! All I could think was...I should be wakeboarding right now...but the ride was incredible! We got to the other side and they pulled the boat up to the muddy side of the river and we had to hop out with all our luggage...we really stuck out! After about another 2 1/2 hours we were back at our hostel in Dhaka (about 1 1/2 hours of that was stuck in traffic in Dhaka...LA traffic has nothing on traffic in Dhaka!). That evening we had one last dinner with our host family and then I was headed to the airport for my 1:30 am flight to Hong Kong. Thankfully all my flights were failry on time and I got home on Friday afternoon as scheduled!

Adjusting to time differences, food, and life have been a little easier this time around...though I am still tending to wake up at 3 am and not being able to go to sleep!

So Bangladesh...I am still processing! It is beautiful, hot, crowded, and definitely a place that I have been blessed to get to serve! I am thankful to all of you for your prayers and support as I continue to explore what God has in store for me all over the world as I continue to chase after Him and His heart for the world!

Friday, June 13, 2008

I made it to Bangladesh!!

Hello from Bangladesh!! We finally made it!

Our flight from Hong Kong to Bangladesh was very interesting. Since the airline we were going to fly to Dhaka only has 2 flights a week from Hong Kong, we were put on a flight with the Bengali national airline. There were about 50 people on the flight (and it was a very large plane!) at least we got to sleep on the flight. Though there were other Americans on the plane, my boss and I were the only ones aboard who were not of Bengali descent...let's just say my height and skin color truly make me stand out. Alot of the passengers were very curious why we wanted to go to Bangladesh, it was wonderful to be able to tell them that we were going to help with the Cyclone Relief.

We arrived in Bangladesh at 2:30 AM and were greeted by our host. It was raining when we arrived. We drove directly to our hostel in Dhaka City. On the drive, my heart was just opened to the need of these people...this country is definitely one of the world's poorest. The city is chaotically beautiful...extremely crowded, polluted, loud and hot...but the people are beautiful and wonderful. The country is predominately Muslim...only about 1% there is great need there also.

On Tuesday we were able to spend time with the team from APU and fellowship in our host families home. (The team had just arrived from India the day before) We spent the day getting supplies for our trip down south and trying to recover from jet lag. Our host family and all the people we have meet from World Vision and local churches have been incredibly hospitable. We are always invited in for tea and biscuits (still so much English influence here) and conversation.

On Wednesday we had a 6 hour drive down to Barisol. Driving here is an adventure! One of the most interesting parts of our journey was a 20 minute ferry ride across a river. We had to stay in our vans because it was not safe for us to get out. It was incredibly hot in the van, but it was very memorable!

On Thursday we drove about an hour to the village we are going to be building the homes in. (We are staying in the city during our time here instead of the village) We got to meet 3 of the 10 families...thank the Lord for World Vision and all they do! The village we are working in was not completely destroyed (it is about 40 kilometers from the coast), but there was a lot of damage to roofs (completely gone) and walls (trees falling). There has been absolutely no relief in this village (or area) due to the lack of "severity" of their circumstances. The families we met truly are the least of the "least of these." One of the families is living out of their little kitchen area of their home, the dad has gastric cancer and cannot work, and one of their three children is mute. Another family is composed of 1 woman who has no one to take care of her...she literally has nothing! The villagers were very leary of us at first (we are probably the first Americans they have met) but by the end, the little boys of the village were showing off by jumping off trees into the river and the women were trying to keep us girls out of the heat by welcoming us into the shade with them. There is at least one young woman in the village who speaks English very well, so we are praying that God will use us to be able to minister to her and to others through her interpretation. God truly has prepared this village of Bhanderia for this team and this time!

Fridays are the day off here (due to the country being Muslim...that is their holy day) and some of the staff that we need to begin have been delayed in other parts of the country (the World Vision staff is not getting paid to help with this is all volunteer for them to be assisting us...and we could not do it without them because they are our go between between the government and I said we are so very thankful for them!) So we went to a "pond" that used to be part of a King's home. I have never experienced heat and humidity like yesterday! It was incredible! In the evening we were invited to meet with the pastor and some of the deacons of the Barisal Baptist Church. They are partnering with us in building the homes by sending four of their college students to work alongside of us...we really are getting to partner with the global Church! These four guys have become inseperable from the team! Their English is wonderful and we are able to share life with them here in Bangladesh. After visiting the church we were able to also visit the home of one of the World Vision staff. We all crammed into their humble home and enjoyed laughter and some ice cream...quite the treat on a really hot day.

Today we are spending time as a team to prepare for the work ahead. (The team has spent 4 weeks in Calcutta, India and these four days have really served them as a time to rest and debrief before they spend 5 more weeks in ministry...they will not get any days off until they fly home).

Tomorrow (Sunday) we should begin work on the homes! My boss and I will stay until Wednesday morning and then head back to Dhaka so we can make contacts with some strategic people for further ministry here in the future...then I fly out Thursday night.

I spend most of my days intentionally hanging out with the students and being in utter disbelief that God is using our tiny Relief Effort to really do huge things 1/2 way around the world. This still seems like a dream and I do not really know if I will ever fully grasp why God decided to use me (and this project)...but He has and I am so very thankful that I get the chance to witness it taking place. I have also had the amazing opportunity to build some great relationships with our APU students and am looking forward to continuing to invest in them when we are all back at APU.

So...I think that is it! I am healthy and so blessed! I hope all is well at home!

Love you and miss you!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Stuck in Hong Kong!

Things don't always go as planned...that is what I continue to learn on this trip!

My flight was delayed 2 hours from LAX which was not a huge deal until they informed us that we were going to have to make an unplanned fuel stop in Korea due to massive that took over an hour....needless to say by the time we got to Hong Kong (11:30 pm) we had missed our connecting flight to Dhaka.

The airline put us up in hotel and informed us that our flight (on a completely different airline) would not be leaving until the next day at 7 pm. Which meant we had a whole day in Hong Kong. We (my boss and I) decided to enjoy our time here and do a little site seeing. So today we took a train to one of the islands and went to Victoria Peak on this oldschool cable car (wish I coud attach pictures, but I can't download anything right now).

We rushed back to make sure we got checked in for our flight and then we were informed that our flight would not be leaving until 11:30 they checked us back into our hotel for the evening. We just checked out of the hotel and finally got our real boarding passes to hopefully get on a plane to Bangladesh. Our biggest concern at this point is that our luggage gets there...our luggage spent the night at the airport instead of with us...hmmmm we will see if it gets there.

So yep that is it for now...I will try and update more when I get to Bangladesh. But so far we have heard that the plan is for us to head down to southern Bangladesh on Wednesday to start some relief work.

Hope you all are doing well!

Blessings from China!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Leaving for Bangladesh Tomorrow

I'm packed, ready and I really can't believe I am going to Bangladesh in just a few hours!

I have no idea what to expect! Seriously! All I know is that I am flying from LAX to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh)...from there all is unknown.

I am has been a long time since I have headed half-way around the world and not had a clue as to what to expect when I arrived. But at the same time I am so excited!

So just in case your wondering why I am going to Bangladesh (I know, I know...everyone still thinks I am going to Thailand tomorrow because that is where I always go)...well, this year I was the Graduate Assistant in the Office of World Missions at Azusa Pacific University. Somehow they thought I would be the best candidate to work on developing a brand new program called Global Relief. The goal of this program is to provide for humanitarian aid needs globally by engaging the APU community and working alongside the Global Church.

A student at APU grew up in Bangladesh and his parents still live and work there (for a prominent non-profit that I probably shouldn't publish here just in case random officials read this!! joke!!). Well, when Cyclone Sidr hit in November this student and I had a conversation and the idea came up that we could do some sort of relief effort for the victims. This idea turned into a full-fledged semester long, campus wide fundraising campaign to build houses for those who no longer had one.

Throughout the semester we had almost every student life office on campus get involved (which is amazing!) and we raised over $6,000 (or approximately 10 houses) for the victims of Cyclone Sidr. The amount is not what I had hoped for, but I know it is just the beginning of a program that has the ability to change lives.

So what am I doing in Bangladesh? That is the question even I am asking...but I will have the answer very very soon (oh in about 48 hours when I arrive in this new foreign land). For sure we know that the supplies are on their way from Dhaka to the relief effort site...that was probably one of the most amazing emails I know that the money was actually going to work on the other side of the world. While in Bangladesh we are more than likely going down to the relief site (with a team from APU...students that have been overseas for over a month) and hopefully getting to help do some construction. We are also more than likely going to do just about anything we are asked to do (which is very exciting) and meeting lots of people and sharing the TRUE reason we are show some LOVE!!!

So yep, that's it! I will try and update you from Bangladesh and post some pictures...but just not too sure if I will even be able to get anywhere near somewhere that has internet access. But I will for sure post stuff when I get home!