Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dennis Got Semi-Certified!

Praise God...after a couple rough weeks at work, Dennis was certified last Friday (April 18th)! It will not be official until an FAA person comes to the tower to look at him, but for now, he is able to be in position and do his job without being under a trainer. His first week of being certified has gone really well --- drama-free especially after everything that took place last week! I thought about sharing it all on here, but it took Dennis 7 pages to write about it in an e-mail!!! Just know it has been quite the trial for Dennis, but the LORD has sustained him through everything and in the end, good prevailed over evil! So, Dennis will keep working in Laredo while we wait to hear from the FAA.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pictures of Laredo from the Web

Laredo - Gateway to Mexico

On March 1st, we left San Antonio for Laredo (pronounced luh-rā-doe) , a city dubbed “Gateway to Mexico”. Remember Dennis talking about ending up in Mexico?!? Well, we’re just about there; from where we’re currently staying, we are about 15-20 minutes from the border! We have yet to take a trip over to Mexico, but we have driven close enough to the international bridges to see the huge Mexican flag waving in the air. I included the map of Texas to the left so you can see where Laredo is located (for those of you who do not know the geography of Texas; Laredo is on the southwestern border).

Here is the LATEST NEWS with the Dunnavilles as of TODAY: Dennis had an interview with the FAA this morning and it went very well. Based on certain information, we suspect he could be offered a job at either Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport or San Antonio International Airport. We were told the hiring process for the FAA could take up to 6 months and for seems the LORD wants Dennis working here in Laredo.

During one of Dennis’ online searches about Laredo, he came across one site that labeled it the worst place to live in the U.S. In other online research, one can find some other not-so-nice statements about Laredo. BUT, we have learned to judge for ourselves before taking others’ words for things and sure enough, I would say Laredo is a fine place to live. That is, if you can handle the crazy drivers and avoid getting a chipped/cracked windshield [which seems to be an epidemic here]. :)

We have been here for 6 weeks now, and I have felt completely safe and comfortable. Laredo is just like every other part of the country where we have lived in that you have your nice people and your not-so-nice people. Some Laredoeans are even extra-social: we have had numerous smiling people walk up and rub Josiah’s head, touch Hannah’s curly hair or grab Moriah’s chubby legs and make some nice comment. Others might find this intrusive, but I find it endearing.

Culture-wise: Laredo is reportedly 94 percent Hispanic. We have been told that Laredo isn’t south Texas, but north Mexico. However, we’ve also heard that Laredo is not like anywhere else in the U.S. and it’s not like anywhere in Mexico either. Most people here are bi-lingual, but out and about, Spanish is definitely the dominant language. Apparently, I fit in here because I have had several people speak to me in Spanish, assuming I understand what they are saying. :)

We have encountered a handful of people who did not speak any English. This could be frustrating, but we find it inspires us to work harder at learning Spanish. We came to Laredo looking forward to being immersed in a Hispanic culture where we would have to be more diligent at learning the language (which is something we’ve talked about doing for years). And we thought if we settle in Laredo and become fluent in Spanish, then maybe we could go in and out of Mexico to minister there.

In other aspects, Laredo is just like the rest of the country with a nice-sized public library, a state park, a shopping mall, many wonderful parks for the children, Wal-Marts, Targets and every fast food you can imagine on almost every street, etc. It is commercialized all throughout the city, which has its pluses and minuses. It is convenient, but being a rural girl, I miss seeing more of nature (although there are palm trees all over the place here which are very pretty). However, I appreciate the unique architecture of various homes and buildings throughout the city.

We recently visited Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) here in Laredo and the campus is beautiful! There is a herd of whitetail deer living around the campus and we were able to see about 5 or 6 of them --- they just graze around right on the main road you take in and out of campus.

Weather-wise: March in Laredo was BEAUTIFUL! The daytime temps were anywhere from 70 to 100 degrees; although the 100 degree-days have been hot, they are not as bad as they sound since the humidity here is nothing like the summers in the northeast! The evenings have all been gorgeous with perfect temperatures and lovely breezes (although I should note sometimes it can get quite windy)! I have thoroughly appreciated January, February and March in Texas. So far, April in Laredo has been quite hot (mostly 90's) so I can't imagine what it will be like in a couple months.

Since coming to Laredo, we have been staying in an extended stay hotel --- which is not bad at all. The only thing getting to Dennis and me is sleeping in the same room with our children given all the noises they make (including Moriah’s snoring lol)! Other than that, we feel we are still living quite luxuriously since we have unlimited AC, a bathroom, a small kitchen with a full-sized fridge, stovetop, microwave and toaster --- and housekeeping. :) After our experience in Connecticut (another long story lol!), we have learned not to make any set plans. Despite our longing to settle down, we came to Laredo knowing that it might only be temporary so staying in a hotel was our best option.

We have just been happy to have a paycheck after 8 months without one! We have enjoyed living on the edge, so to speak, but it definitely wears on you and I am happy to be moving back into a “normal” life (but I'm also not getting my hopes up in case the LORD has other plans lol!).

This should get everyone up-to-date to the present although I have left out many details on the ups and downs of these recent months. In the future, maybe I will rewind and share some of the struggles I’ve experienced. For now, I’m just trying to focus on the positive, namely the LORD’s faithfulness and the overall peace we’ve had throughout everything!!!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Welcome to San Antonio!

A photo of San Antonio at night (taken from the web):

After we left Alabama and were on our way to San Antonio, I was being a little fearful about this whole journey and Dennis asked me, “What would it take for you to believe you’re on the right path? What sign could God give to prove it to you?” I couldn’t really answer that but I must say our arrival into San Antonio that night was quite convincing. We drove into San Antonio right at midnight on New Year’s Eve...fireworks were going off everywhere, including right over Interstate 10 as evidenced by the fireworks' debris falling on our van! Since it’s so flat out here (and apparently they don’t have the same firework laws as in the northeast), you could see fireworks for miles and miles! It was truly amazing! Perhaps it was all a coincidence but either way, I’ll never forget our “welcome” to San Antonio!

As far as our friends we stayed with --- I thank the LORD for their kind hearts and willingness to open their home to others. These guys were already in hospitality mode: They had the wife's grandmother and 3 siblings live with them for an entire year and then, they had a co-worker going through a divorce stay with them for a few months. So, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to stay with a family who was used to having their privacy invaded. :) We know that having a family of 5 stay with you cannot be easy breezy, but we are so grateful that the LORD has made this couple so laidback and welcoming --- we truly did feel at home while there.

While in San Antonio, we made a short visit to the Alamo and the RiverWalk. This was more exciting for me since I had never been to Texas, but Dennis was in San Antonio for basic training in 1998. Here's a photo of the RiverWalk from the web:

Ministry-wise, Dennis was able to visit numerous churches, hand out tracts, talk to people on the street and engage in two different small groups from area churches. I helped take care of the little girl where we were staying to help the family save money on daycare costs. Hannah loved having a little girl to play with!

I also have to mention how gracious our friends were regarding Josiah’s cat allergy. They have a cat and we figured we’d make it work, but after a few days there, Josiah was having asthma-like symptoms to where we tried to keep him outside as much as possible. Our friends asked around to see if anyone they knew could keep their cat and a sweet couple from their church small group offered to keep him while we were there! That was so kind of everyone to do that for Josiah and we never would have expected that! He was fine once the cat wasn’t in the home and we could vacuum up most of the hair/dander.

We enjoyed our 2 months in San Antonio and despite feeling at home with our friends; we did not want to overstay our welcome (Proverbs 25:17). Back when we arrived in Texas, Dennis felt it was time to get a job as a type of tent-making venture so we would not be a burden to anyone (see Acts 18:32 & 2 Thessalonians 3:8). After he looked into various jobs, the first solid offer he received was in his trade at a place we had never heard of before coming to Texas...Laredo. Not long after we arrived in Texas, Dennis looked on a map at all the airports in the U.S. that bordered Mexico and saw Laredo International. Mexico was an area where he had often talked about doing mission work so we were intrigued by the area despite being told that it wasn’t a place we’d want to go --- which we didn’t let deter us.

So, Dennis accepted a position with RVA (an air traffic control contract company) working at Laredo International Airport; which finally brings us to the present location of our travels!

Bayou La Batre, Alabama

First of all, be careful of using phrases like, "I'll NEVER do such and such..." I always used to say that Alabama was one place I never cared to visit since I assumed it would not be a fun place for an interracial family. Lo and behold, we made plans to head to Bayou La Batre, Alabama: the deepest part of Alabama. The map below was the best I could find to show everyone where Bayou La Batre is located. Hopefully you can see the red circle to the east of New Orleans. Bayou La Batre is right along the Gulf of Mexico and is not too far from the Mississippi border.

Fortunately for us, the family we went to stay with was also interracial so we figured if they lived there and were still alive, then clearly there were no crosses being burned in their yard or bricks being thrown through their windows. :) So, just to help with any stereotypes of Alabama --- our experience there was totally uneventful regarding our mixed marriage. Contrary to popular belief, we found Alabama to be quite diverse and everyone seemed to get along just fine.

So...after 2 months of getting rid of most of our things, we left for Alabama on November 27th with just a van full of belongings, not having any idea what the next day would bring. We knew we had a certain amount of money to last us a certain amount of time and we also knew that we had a decent income tax return coming sometime in February. We were comfortable with this. We had money for food and we kept plenty of clothing and had the offer for a roof over our heads, so what more did we need?!? After almost 36 hours between driving, sleeping at rest areas and food/bathroom breaks, we arrived in Bayou La Batre on November 28th. And I thank the LORD for allowing our 3 little ones to be awesome for that entire road trip!

Our friends in Bayou La Batre were very kind to open their home to us. We appreciated their generosity especially considering they have 4 boys of their own and were expecting baby #5 while we were there! Josiah loved being there with all the boys --- their home was definitely his favorite stop throughout this trip!!!

We planned on going to Alabama and ministering there just like anywhere else until the LORD led us otherwise and within 2 weeks, we had an inkling that we would not be settling in Alabama. Before leaving PA, Dennis kept saying we could be there for 1 day, 1 month, 1 year or 10 years. (Note: He also said something about ending up in Mexico, although his mention of this overwhelmed me.) In the end, we were in Alabama for 5 weeks. We had various plans for our time there and although we were unable to see some of those through, we learned several lessons and so we feel that our time there was not a loss. Dennis was able to evangelize to some people here and there (including a woman who appeared to be considering an abortion), but it seemed that our stay there was more for our sharpening and refinement.

On a lighter note, we went to a park one day that was right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico (Hannah called it "the park in Mexico"). It was beautiful, however, the mosquitoes were TERRIBLE even in December!!! Dennis might tell you the bugs were a deciding factor to leave Alabama lol! :)

Once we were in Alabama, we began making tentative plans of doing a “circuit”; spending summers in the north and winters in the south. The idea then expanded to evangelizing around the country (i.e. Arkansas, Texas, Nevada, California, Montana, West Virginia), being hosted by various friends/contacts and then making our way back to PA. It was at this time that Dennis began making calls to arrange hosts in various places. Since Dennis had 2 job offers in PA, we thought perhaps we could end up there or take a job anywhere he was led throughout our trip. During our visits around the country, we would do our best to evangelize, minister and spur on other believers in those areas.

From Alabama, our options were to go to Arkansas or Texas but in the end, Dennis felt a leaning toward some dear friends we knew from our time in Delaware who were now in San Antonio.

And thus began the next phase of our journey...

God IS Our Provider!

When we made the plans to get rid of our things, I did not know the work that was going to be entailed; it included a lot of time and organization. Believe me when I say you don’t know how much stuff you have until you are trying to get down to the bare minimum lol!

Throughout the process, I joked to Dennis that I now understood how the rich young ruler might have felt when Jesus told him to sell all his things and follow him. Mark 10 says that the rich young ruler was “sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” I say, “Perhaps he was sad because he knew how much work it would be to get rid of all his stuff!” :)

In the beginning, Dennis suggested giving everything away while only accepting donations, but another close friend and I both shot down his idea real quick. In the end, Dennis yielded to our suggestion of having a sale with price tags. So, we planned to sell as much as we could and give away the rest on and make donations to local thrift stores (along with throwing away numerous items).

We made plans to have a moving sale on October 13th and immediately posted about the sale on the Lancaster County Tag Sale site. Next, Dennis e-mailed a flyer to a local pastor (initials = N.B.) and asked if he would share it with his congregation. Well, that one man must have e-mailed our flyer out to every Mennonite in E-Town and Mount Joy lol! We had soooo many phone calls and people come by our home from that one man spreading the word --- thank you LORD for directing Dennis to N.B.

Within a matter of hours of Dennis e-mailing our flyer to N.B. along with a Freecycler, we had about a dozen “shoppers” in our home. Now this is what was really crazy: From that night on, we had people come to our home, give us money (one person paid us $400 cash), tell us to call them when we were done with our furniture/appliances and then leave empty-handed!!! When all was said and done, we were able to live in a fully furnished house up until a week before we left PA! How awesome is God?!?

The Thursday before the sale, our rental company called as a courtesy to let us know that they were bringing people by to check out the house on the 13th. Dennis said that would be fine, but it might be a little crazy since we would be having a yard sale. Our rental company guy then said that we couldn’t have a yard sale because it was forbidden by our lease. For the record: we are law-abiding kind of people and what the lease said was “No business activity.” We had no idea this included a yard sale – go figure.

BUT, this brought up a wonderful turn of events. At first, we were trying to brainstorm about how we could still have a yard sale, but not necessarily on rented property. I was distraught trying to figure out how to make this work. But eventually, Dennis suggested that we revert back to the original idea of donation-only. I was still distraught, but quickly started making a donation can since we had a woman on her way over to "shop". Dennis started praying over me that the LORD would increase my faith but I was too disgruntled to even stop what I was doing during his prayer lol!

The woman arrived and asked if she was at the right house for the sale. Dennis told her "Yes and No". We explained the situation to her and in the end, she donated $60 for what I honestly would have only asked $10 for --- we had an answer to Dennis’ prayer; praise the LORD again! Before she arrived, we had a Freecycler stop by to pick up a free coupon book. After telling him our story, he put $10 in our donation can!!! God is good!

So, we told everyone that everything was free – just give as they were led; there were people who gave us more than we would have asked, people who gave less than we would have asked and people who gave exactly what we would have asked. We even had people who didn't take a thing but gave us a $20 donation. God gets the glory in all of it!

Something else worth mentioning was the change in atmosphere once we went from a sale to donation-only. For one thing, Dennis and I were having disagreements about what to charge for certain items although we laugh about that now. Overall, donation-only made for a better environment for us and the "shoppers" or donors; although one man said his wife was "going bananas" because we didn't have any prices on the items. :)

Of course, we met all kinds of people during this process. At one time, we counted over 100 different people who came through our home within a couple weeks! I think the most memorable people for me were this sweet older couple who originally came by for the donation-only giveaway. The wife called me a week later just to see how we were doing. I told her that we still had a lot of children’s items left and wondered if she knew anyone who could use them. She and her husband came back by our home because they were going on a trip to Costa Rica to visit their niece who helps at an orphanage there. They said they wanted a suitcase of clothing to take for the children at the orphanage. I told them not to give us a penny for the clothes since I was just so happy to know the clothing would go to children who were truly in need! They still gave us $5 and the next day, the wife called and said they felt they should give us something else so she brought us dinner. It really touched my heart to basically have a stranger bring us a meal!

Another neat person we met was a kind local doctor whose church was sponsoring refugees from Burma (Myanmar). We had a few of the Burmese refugees come through our home and take many items they needed – including Dennis’ mountain bike which could help them get around town. Again, we were just happy to give to those in need but the doctor gave us a generous donation for all of the items.

One of the most amazing things to me was that during this whole process, Dennis received 2 job offers from Christian men [without having to chase after the jobs]. The first opportunity came from our oil guy who, the year before, kept asking Dennis to come work for him. Well, the day after we gave our notice to move, our oil guy accidentally called our home. Dennis called him back because he was curious if he still needed help. Sure enough, he did.

The next job offer came through a woman who came by our home to see what we had. She was also a believer so we spent a lot of time talking and sharing about our journey to that point. She called her husband [W.E.] to ask him how much she should donate to us and when she got off the phone, she said to Dennis, “If you want a job, my husband said you’re hired” (W.E. has his own carpentry business). W.E. and Dennis talked on the phone a few times and we even visited their church. We also had their entire precious family over for dinner, but in the end, Dennis passed along this job opportunity to a friend.

So, even with the tempting offers which could have allowed us to keep living in the wonderful farmhouse on that gorgeous land, we decided to continue as planned and embark on our journey. Below are some pictures of what we left behind:

I like to believe Jesus when He said, "...there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mark 10:29&30). He was sure not to leave out the promise of persecution along with the other stuff lol! :)

In the end, with the money from the sale of our car, items and other donations, we had just enough money to last us until we received our security deposit check in the mail at the end of December (i.e. with only $2 to spare)! Praise God!!!

Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow - what we will eat and what we will wear - because our Father knows that we need these things (Matthew 6:25-34). I thank the LORD for the opportunity to see that He is faithful – even down to the penny (or dollar)!

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

How This Crazy Journey Began

While living in E-Town, PA back in June 2007, Dennis made a tough decision to leave a job that he loved (working as a caregiver at a group home for mentally disabled men). From there, we made a decision that he would not go looking for another job but that we would wait upon the LORD to see how we would be led or wait for opportunities to present themselves.

Note: I'm sure you might be wondering how we could financially swing such a decision. Well, we've been blessed beyond measure in the area of being financially savvy (Praise be to the LORD) and therefore, we've learned to live off of the least amount of money possible. But even through many months with NO income, we STILL lived very comfortably. We always had more than enough food, more than enough clothing and a roof over our heads at all times [and with no government assistance]. This is an area where I sincerely pray that we are able to help others someday. I do not believe we have this knowledge just for ourselves.

Back to the story: In July, we had a Spanish exchange student living with us so we considered ministering to him our full-time job for that month. We then had a Japanese exchange student stay with us for a few nights. Throughout the summer, we spent extensive amounts of time writing, handing out, and mailing Gospel tracts. In August, Dennis spent the entire month doing some intensive seeking of the LORD in a way he could not have done while working (e.g. a 21-day water-only fast.).

In September, Dennis started a business he had the idea for back in August. I thought this was a great business idea, but for some reason, when he started actively promoting it, I was not at peace. As it turned out, he had various physical ailments [linked to his coming off his extended fast improperly] that kind of slowed him down with the business. So, he would take a break, but then when he would go back at it, he would get physically hindered again! Coincidence?!? Perhaps, but between the physical ailments and the dissension because of my lack of peace, Dennis let go of pursuing the business despite the promising prospects he had.

From there, as certain events took place [or didn’t take place], we were pointed in a whole new direction that we never could have planned on our own. One of the biggest events that took place to affect our decision-making process at that point was on October 1st when Dennis went to a dealership to sell our Honda Accord. Funds were getting low and so we decided to get rid of one of our many "spoils." Dennis had been doing full-time ministry and we agreed that we did not need two vehicles. Over the phone, the dealer said that we could get a check in 20 minutes and our rent was due that same day! So, Dennis went to the dealership and the dealer told him to pull the car around. Dennis got in the car and...It wouldn't start!!! We call it "the click that changed everything." Had that not happened, we would have sold the car that day, paid our rent for that month and continued on as we had been (i.e. waiting upon the LORD's provision, one month at a time).

However, on October 5th, we had dinner at our landlords' home and Dennis filled them in on our situation up to that point. Knowing that the "king's heart is in the hand of the LORD" (Proverbs 21:1), we had a romantic hope that the LORD would move their hearts to work with us in some kind of way, but apparently the LORD had other plans because that didn't happen. And so...after a delicious dinner with them, but now knowing we would have to give our 30-day notice and move, I was quite distraught since we had no leads on what we would do next. When we got home, I went straight to bed.

Dennis was distraught at seeing my demeanor but before going to bed feeling defeated, he decided to just praise the LORD through it all. During his time of prayer and worship that night, he had a complete paradigm shift and received what he calls a “realization-revelation.” In our romantic views, we were expecting some type of grand supernatural deliverance in order to keep our current lifestyle, but that wasn’t necessarily the LORD’s desire.

In this case, Dennis received the realization-revelation that we were actually in a very blessed situation where we were being forced to be freed up from worldly wealth and possessions [which often equal prisons because they can become our treasure and possess us]. In the end, Dennis felt an impression to downsize by getting rid of all of the possessions that we couldn’t fit into our minivan and then leave for the “mission field.” What we once feared and saw as a burden (i.e. losing our lifestyle), we could now embrace as a blessing and newfound freedom. Without being tied down to a home and lots of stuff, we would gain the flexibility to do or go wherever the LORD might lead.

After that weekend, we got the car fixed (cost=$400), sold it and paid our rent for October. I'll share some of our neat stories from getting rid of most of our things in the next blog.

Plans For This Blog

The main purpose of this blog is to help all of our friends, family and internet pals keep up with our lives. It's been hard for me to respond individually to everyone since daily life of just being a wife and mother consumes much of my time. This way, everyone will get the overall picture of what's going on and I won't have to write novels every time I e-mail someone. :)

I'm also blogging for my own journaling purposes regarding this crazy journey we've taken. I know that it could be over before I know it and I might regret not writing down these little tidbits.

Once I get everyone caught up on all that has taken place these recent months, I hope for this blog to be a place where I can share lessons I'm learning, various Bible passages that speak to me and most importantly: preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14)! I hope to encourage others to seek the LORD with all of their hearts (Deuteronomy 4:29) and to study to show themselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15). We are fortunate to have God's Word at our fingertips and we are so blessed when we spend time in it!

The disclaimer for the spiritual side of this blog is: I do not claim to be an authority on much of anything anymore. I'm learning the truth in "the more I learn, the more I learn I don't know." Despite my continual struggles, my prayer is that the LORD can use this flawed, fleshly being to help point others to Him and the truths that lie within the pages of His Word.

With all of that being written...happy reading!