Feliz Navidad

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So the traditional Christmas meal in the Dominican Republic is Pig on a Stick. Let me give a little back story here. Sunday, December 23rd was a normal Dominican day. Kathy was sick in bed and I watched the kids. Late in the afternoon, Kathy was feeling a little better and I went for a bike ride to get some exercise. Nothing out of the ordinary. The next day, craziness. Quite literally, on every corner, there was a guy with 3 or 4 whole pigs on sticks. Small pigs, not too terribly big, that they would hack you pieces off and sell by the pound. We had to drive to Santiago to drop Phyllis off at the airport and we noticed them they whole way there. Some had chicken wire wrapped around them to keep the meat from falling off the bone. I didn’t want to try it–I needed to try it.  However, I’m slightly weary about buying meat off the side of the road (for now). When we got to Santiago, we went to the grocery store to buy some last minute items for our Christmas dinner and they were hacking a pig on a stick up in the bakery section. Free sample time. It was like crispy bacon on the outside and juicy tenderloin on the inside. Ridiculous. Kathy wanted a bite of mine and I got all possessive about it. I think next year, we’ll be roasting our own for sure.

This being our first Christmas out of the country, we couldn’t help but notice the differences between our Christmas traditions and those of the DR. We went to a mall in Santiago yesterday and Santa Claus was there. The mall was packed, yet there was no line to see him. In fact the photographers were beckoning anyone walking by to take a photo with him. He was a little creepy. I guess tradition here states that Santa wears the red suit, full beard and also a full face of white paint. Like a mime Santa. Maybe it’s my childhood fear of clowns, but I wasn’t getting anywhere near him. Another difference is that the traditional Christmas meal here happens on Christmas Eve, hence the pig on a stick. When we got back from Santiago, it was after 9. We saw Yelissa in the alley and asked her what she was doing. Her family was getting ready to eat dinner (Dominicans eat dinner late, I think siesta throws them off. They respect the rules of siesta). She told us the menu was rice/beans (of course), a potato/beet salad, and pig on a stick. She said that her family had bought the head only. We said goodbye, put the kids to bed and a short while later, she was knocking at the door. She had brought a massive bowl full of their Christmas dinner over to us. Even though I wasn’t remotely hungry, I tried a little of everything she brought and it was all delicious. The best was what I can only assume was cheek skin/meat/fat. It bordered on being too rich. Like something we ate at Cochon in New Orleans. And it came from a family that has dirt floors in their house. Thank you God for the perspective. I know I needed it.

Today started like any Christmas would with a 5 year old and a 4 year old in the house. Luke was up at 7:15 just staring at all the presents Santa brought. He came in our bedroom with wide eyes and an ear-to-ear grin. “He came. He ate all the cookies and drank all the milk!” He ran off to wake up Emily with the same story and before we could start the coffee, the wrapping paper was flying and it felt like Christmas. The holiday that is best if you are a kid or have a kid (or grandkid). We spent the morning on Facetime with all our family back home. It can’t replace seeing them and hugging them and loving them, but it’s still an amazing invention, that Internet. We are counting the days for visits from family. That has been the hardest part of all of this and we so look forward to seeing our loved ones again soon. We spent this afternoon with Luke, Naomi and Ethan, just hanging out, playing, installing a basketball hoop for Lukie and cooking some amazing food. Some American staples with some Dominican thrown in for good measure. The yucca balls were the best ever, and Kathy and I made an entire apple pie from scratch. We refilled the bowl that the girls brought over last night with a huge helping of our meal and sent it back over to the neighbors, and our kids played all afternoon with their kids and got to share their new toys (with some coaxing) with their new friends. We want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Plankenhorns.

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In case you missed it…

Wanted to share a letter that we sent out in our Christmas cards in case you missed it.  It explains a lot about how we got here, and where we are are headed.  P.S.  Major thanks to Jaci Bailey for the awesome family pics and to Barbara, Ryan and Sarah for printing and stuffing all of our cards this year for us!

Season’s Greetings from the Caribbean!  It has been three months since our family moved from Florida to the Dominican Republic.  We sold everything we owned, left behind everyone that we loved and took one gigantic leap of faith. Though we haven’t lived here long, we are becoming more Dominican every day.  Luke and Emily are learning Spanish like crazy and rice and beans are part of our regular diet.  The motos are still insane, but they don’t make our heads spin as much as they used to.  Walking into town or exploring a new hike has become a family favorite pastime.  The kids are adjusting well at school—Luke’s favorite part of his day is Spanish class and Emily is looking forward to the upcoming Christmas program.  Her class is singing Jingle Bell Rock.  It’s so neat walking down the street hearing kids yell out Luke or Emily’s name as they are buzzing by on their parent’s motorcycles.  Who would have ever thought?  We have been making new friends, both Dominican and American, but nothing could have prepared us for how much we would miss our old ones!  We enjoyed getting to see Kathy’s parents for Thanksgiving and were so sad to say good-bye again.  It truly is the most heartbreaking part for all of us.  The only thing that gives us peace is knowing that we are here for a purpose and that we’d rather be here miles away and inside the will of God, than back at home and not.  To be given the daily opportunity to serve the “least of these” is a humbling experience and one that we never grow tired of.  The level of poverty and injustice that surrounds us can be overwhelming, but only when we forget how big our God is!  And we know big things are to come.

People from back home ask us all the time, “What are you going to do?”  Well first must be explained, “how did we get here?”  Early on in our marriage, we both had the strong desire in our hearts to be involved in missions work.  We frequently served at our church, but were ready to jump at the opportunity to serve outside the walls of the church.  We both were raised in families with parents that were constantly helping others—whether neighbors, friends or strangers in need.  It was already in our cores.  So when our church announced a mission trip to Honduras to build homes, there was no hesitation.  And from the first day of our first trip, we were hooked.  People question, “why go?  Why not just send money?”  The simple form of the answer is easy.  Because it changes you.  Seeing the need first-hand lit a fire inside us that can never be burned out.  Sometime during those seven days in Honduras, we both knew that we would be called by God- a persisting feeling in our hearts in which we would never feel fulfilled without—to make a larger scale commitment to helping people in need around the world.  Of course, “our plan” was in the way-far-future.  (What is the saying—every time we make a plan, God laughs?)  Each summer for the next three years, we went back to the same community in Honduras and continued to bless and be blessed.  Throughout the years, God continued to prepare our hearts in unique ways for what was to come. It is easy to return from a short-term mission trip and get back to day-to-day routines and lose the desire and drive you once had.  But the people that we were given to do life with all seemed to be on fire for missions, too.  Books that seemed “randomly” chosen, continued to blow our minds and challenge ourselves to dig deeper.  Our outlooks were forever changed and the desires of our hearts were shifting.

And then we came to a place where we were both in need of a career change.  Trevor’s company had dissolved their Winter Haven branch office, and it was always our plan that Kathy would go back to work once Luke started Kindergarten.  So Trevor’s plan was to get certified as a Project Management Professional and Kathy would get re-certified as a teacher.  Though neither of us had much passion about it, we both passed our tests and prepared our resumes for a new career. In June, we returned to Honduras for our third trip, and we both committed to using the downtime there to pray about our careers and life paths.  Did God want us to return to Honduras for longer-term?  At the week’s end, we were disheartened that we did not hear answers to our prayers.  So, silly us, came up with another “plan” that we would BOTH become teachers and that way we would have more free time during summers and holiday breaks to take trips to Honduras. When we returned home, doors kept closing.  Positions that were once a guarantee for us were suddenly no longer an option.  We were in constant prayer asking God for guidance as to what we were supposed to do.  What was once thrown out in conversation as a joke out of desperation—that we should just pack up and move to the Dominican Republic in the footsteps of our some others from church, became a feeling in our hearts that never left.  Once the words were said, there was no taking them back.  We knew what we had to do.  We could ignore it and get regular jobs, but we knew in our innermost beings that if we did, we would always be living in the world of coulda-shoulda-woulda’s.  And it wasn’t us, or friends or the authors of the books we read that put that feeling there—it was God.  Because once we made the decision, the peace that overcame us came can only come from the supernatural.  We had no idea what we would do let alone what it would be like or would it be safe?  But we had peace.  There was no unrest about the decision for either of us.  The only thing that perturbed us, was how could we leave our friends and families?  God answered that, too.  We just do.  Matthew 10:37 says, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” It’s easy to say, love God first—but to do it?  That one hurt.  When we say it was the hardest thing we have ever done, it is not an exaggeration.  Love is an action—not a feeling.  It’s a daily choice.  And it never gets easier.

So back to the original question, “what are we going to do?”  For now, we are praying, assessing the situation, learning the language, praying, loving everyone that we can, praying, strengthening our family and our bond between our team, and praying.  But we have a vision.  We are not the first crazy ones to pack up and move here—we were preceded by some of our Honduras team members, Phyllis Brady and the Ostberg family, Luke, Naomi and Ethan (6) who are all praying the same prayer—what next, God?  And separately, but simultaneously and in our own ways we all feel the pull to help young girls being sexually, physically and emotionally abused in the dark and rampant industry of child prostitution.  Again, let us reiterate.  Not OUR plan—GOD’s plan.  Remember our plan to be teachers and have summers off?  To say we are overwhelmed by this plan is the understatement of the century.  We have the “Where?” and the “What?” but we’re waiting on the “How? When? and Who?”  It would be like our old selves to rush into a plan because human nature is not comfortable with the feeling of being idle.  But our timing is not God’s timing, and we’re following His lead in everything we do.  The waiting is difficult and discerning the voice of God is not always an easy task.  We could make our own plan and do good things—maybe even great things.  But we’re holding out on God’s plan in which He will blow our simple thoughts all out of the water, and in everything we will give Him all the glory!

Please support us on this crazy journey by following along with us on our blog http://www.trevorandkathy.com. There will be a time when we will have more specific needs that you may send to support our mission, but for now we just ask for financial support for our family’s basic needs and future needs for our ministry.  Never underestimate the power of prayer—please pray hard and often for us and the young girls that we have come for as we are sure to be hit with some pretty major obstacles.

Send us your email so we can send out future updates.  Email, Skype, Facebook and call us anytime!  And most importantly, get your passports ready… we miss you all dearly!!

Much love,

Trevor, Kathy, Luke and Emily

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