Why you should definitely say yes to hosting an exchange student [at least once in your life.]

Our family family has gained an new member this semester. Meet Walton, a seventeen year-old junior who’s come to study abroad in the tropical DR at Doulos for six months. He comes from the oh-so-exotic location of…

Atlanta, GA! 😉
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It’s an incredible opportunity for him, and maybe even more so for the two Domincan students that Doulos sent to study in the states for a semester. But I think it’s a great experience for our family, too. Here’s why.

We are more intentional in our community. Because we want to share as much Dominican culture with him as possible, we asked our neighbors to come cook Dominican cuisine and dine with us once a week. And Adolfina’s a really good cook. Need I say more?

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We are more intentional in our sense of adventure. One of the things that helped our family adjust when we first moved here was the never-ending opportunity for adventure and exploration of the natural beauty and native people. It somehow made up for that which was lacking. After a while, the busyness of our lives kicked in and we [unintentionally] stopped being so adventuresome. But in effort to give that same experience to Walton, we revisited some of our favorite places and even checked out some new-to-us places like a ride on the only cable car in the Caribbean to the top of a mountain overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

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We are more intentional how we eat. Let’s face it, there are times when I am just not in the mood to do the “going-to-vegetable-market-washing-and-soaking-produce-rinsing-bugs-out-of-pasta-rice-oatmeal-you-name-it-cooking-everything-from-scratch-washing-dishes-by-hand” kind of things a developing country demands of the nightly dinner routine. But because I would feel bad serving Walton pancakes for dinner as often as I maybe (or maybe not- I’m not telling for sure) once did, I have gotten in a much better routine with going to the vegetable market and cooking legit. And we even learned how to make tostones (fried plantains) together!

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We are more intentional about how we treat each other. It’s crazy how keenly self-aware you become of how you sound when you know someone else is listening. If none other, I pray this change is one that sticks long after Walton goes back to the land of peaches.
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And not just all that. We are just blessed to have him. He is so sweet and we are having a blast getting to know him. Keep him and us in your prayers as he faces the joys and challenges of living abroad.

And so the adventure continues!

A Caribbean Christmas in Pics

DSC_0787Our second Caribbean Christmas season is coming to an end, and we cherish the memories with mixed emotions! We did our best to recreate some old traditions and we count our blessings for the new ones that were born. There’s nothing like being surrounded by family around the holidays, but perhaps the solitude made the quiet times with our family of four just that much sweeter, the gratitude for our Dominican brothers and sisters that much deeper, and the message of Christ’s love that we bring to the people of this town that much more powerful! It was a special time for us, and we hope you will enjoy as we share the moments we cherish the most:
 
10. Give Thanks. We were blessed to have Trevor’s parents, brother and future-sister-in-law, and Nana come to visit for Thanksgiving. Last year, we shared Thanksgiving with our Dominican neighbors, and we continued the tradition this year. Mimi and Pawpaw even got to serve at Doulos in Luke and Emily’s classrooms.
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9. Ballet. Emily has enjoyed learning the disciplines of ballet, and what proud parents we were at her first recital! Her teacher is a high school student at Doulos, and we are so grateful for the opportunity. I’m sure this video has already gone viral, but in case you missed out this performance, you can check it out here. 😉
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8. Expedition Night. We got to experience our first Expedition Night and it just confirmed what a truly special school Doulos is. We may be biased, but the highlight of the night for us, was when Luke perfectly executed his lines, both in English and Spanish! He was originally asked to memorize his lines in English, but two days before the show, his teacher decided to challenge both Luke and the Dominican girl who had learned the lines in Spanish, to switch parts! On the first run of the program, the little girl got nervous, but Cool Hand Luke was not affected by the pressure, switched his lines back to English, and saved the day! And then, on the second run of the program, he switched back to Spanish again! Unfortunately, we were in Emily’s class during the second performance, so we didn’t get that on video, but his teacher said it was flawless!  We were proud of them both! It is a great honor to have two fully bilingual kiddos!
7. Navi-Christmas. The Navi-Christmas program at Doulos was so sweet! So glad we invited our friends from church and our neighbors to get to share in this fun program. One of the most precious moments was Silent Night sung in Spanish by the third and fourth graders by candlelight. Luke and Emily rocked the house in Jingle Bell Rock!
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6. Santa came to town! And you’ll never guess who played the part!? Yours truly, TREVOR!!
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5. The Padrino. We love the crazy mixture of our cultures that we have created with our neighbors. It’s always an adventure when they invite us to share in something new, because we never have any idea what to expect.  Like a few weeks ago when they asked Trevor to be Ada’s padrino, or “sponsor” for a graduation ceremony for a medical program they completed for the past 12 Sunday mornings. Apparently, here, going to graduation “stag” is not an option. In fact, your padrino is required to accompany you across the stage. Other than the mortarboards, not much resembled a typical American commencement. Did I mention the ceremony was held in a night club? The girls had ball gowns under their cap and gowns, and after the ceremony was a night of dancing! It was a night to remember. 🙂
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4. Blessings for all. We love being a part of our small house church which serves so many precious kiddos and families by the Rosalia family. This year we had a meal served by the hands of our members, and hand-decorated bags filled with clothes and toys for all of the children! It was possibly our most favorite moment of Christmas. It was a blessing for us just to be able to be a part in this vertical blessing for others.
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3.  Actividad de Navidad. A friend and fellow staff member from the Doulos cafeteria invited our family to their church for their Christmas program. It was filled with singing and dancing. The next day, they invited our family to their home for dinner. You’ve never felt so welcome to a church or a home of friend until you have been to one of a Dominican. This definitely makes the highlight list.
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2. A four-course meal. The best way to beat a Blue Christmas is to surround yourself with great people! What a blessing to be a part of the Doulos family Christmas progressive dinner. We celebrated at four different homes, and ended the night around a fire. It was the perfect ending to Christmas day.
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1. Sleeping under the stars. What is a Caribbean Christmas without sandy beaches and palm trees? We have seen a lot of beautiful things on this island, but the jagged cliffs surrounded by turquoise sparkling waters of the Samana Peninsula is #1 on our list so far. We got to spend time with some great brothers and sisters in Christ, bond as a family (tent camping is a great way to get close! lol), and just be in awe of His creation.
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Much love and blessings to you all for 2014!

Ramblings about sheer madness and one very important message.

I think people would be more tolerable to change in their routine, if it didn’t inherently call for that transition period of sheer madness. For our last month of transitioning to full-time ministry at Doulos Discovery School, that madness has looked something like washing and hanging school uniforms in the backyard at 10 p.m., while making stove top popcorn for kids’ lunches and putting a stack of napkins on the toilet tank lid because [the proverbial you] has been too tired busy to go to the supermercado to buy proper snack food and toilet paper. But the madness is beginning to die down. We are learning the how-to’s and culture of our new ministry. And we are loving every minute of it.

It all began in August, when we sent our kids to Doulos because we were so excited about the quality education that they would receive through this expeditionary learning school. What is an EL school? Glad you asked. Basically, that means that the kids learn through themes of real-life experiences in tangible ways. While chatting with a girlfriend from back home about the cool stuff going on, she asked me if we were “full-hippy” and did the kids go bare-foot at school and do all of their work on the floor in leu of desks, and of course, I told her yes.

Kidding. 

But I definitely think the staff will be open to her ideas.

Kidding.  

But seriously, today I met with three lead teachers and their administrators as they presented their plans for their class expeditions. They call in experts, plan relevant field trips, service projects and biblical integration all within a theme. Emily’s kindergarten class’ current expedition is “insects,” and they’re not just learning about bugs. Soon they’re going to serve the community in a tangible way by educating others on the dangers of Dengue Fever, a common mosquito transmitted disease.  We brainstormed ideas like taking the class on a walk through town and handing out PSA posters to the community, or even a fundraiser for mosquito nets for those in need. Service learning is in every fiber of Doulos.

Luke’s first graders are learning about eating healthy foods because we are good stewards of our bodies. He’s not just responsible to himself for his choices, but now he’s responsible to God! What if we all learned that sooner?

Fourth graders go to the city dump to learn about recycling because sometimes its not enough just to see, but to smell. Ninth graders hike for an entire week up and back down the highest peak in the Caribbean- over 10,000 feet! Can you imagine the unlikely bond that is formed between adolescents from opposite sides of the tracks on a treacherous journey like that? And are we not called to unity?

What would the world look like if every class of 20+ kids around the world from age 3-18 served their community on a regular basis and serving others was not something they do once in a while because it feels good, but was actually a part of their core belief system? What kind of generation would be harvested? My hope is that the Plankenhorn family looks different from the rest of the world, because by the power of God we are raising two little servant leaders that are slowly learning to move from an inherent selfishness toward a Jesus-loving selflessness.

And while it might seem like the parent pick-up line of a school like this might be filled with BMWs and Range Rovers, half of these kids would be happy just to have bicycles.  50% of Doulos kids come from some of the poorest communities in the world. Kids that once had no future, now have a hope.

I love the staff’s earnest desires to give God our best. It would be easy to say, “well, anything we give them is better than what they had.” But no one does. Real life change is taking place every day- from the inside-out. But let me be clear, that it’s not because of any fancy education model or even because kids are fed a healthy meal. It’s because everyday we are pointing them to Jesus. Every change can be traced back to that. 

And the part I am most excited to share– He wants to change you from the inside-out, too! Jesus is not just a baby in a manger. He’s our Healer. He’s our Helper. He’s our Peace. He’s our Saviour. He’s our Living God. All you have to do is tell Him that you need Him to change you, too! Tell him that you’re done trying things your way, and you want to try His way. Tell Him that you want to live your life with purpose–His purpose. Tell Him that you’re sorry for not believing, but you want to believe now. Not sure how to start? Take a cue from five-year-old Emily, and close your eyes, bow your head and shout, “helllllllllllllll-oooooooo, God!” Life is not boring, but fulfilling. Not limited, but limitless. It’s been nine years since I did, and the life change is incredible. Not instantaneous and certainly not complete but a slow-steady-build. Being a Jesus-follower doesn’t make life easy. It makes it worth living for.

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TBT: Dominican Engineering

Today, I posted this picture on Instagram of a man with a Coleman cooler turned into a really loud speaker system for advertisements strapped to the back of his moto.  I was inspired to compile my top 5 favorite moments [captured on film] of Dominican engineering for Throwback Thursday. #throwbackthursday

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5. The question is not why, but rather why would you NOT turn your cooler into an extremely loud advertisement machine strapped to your moto?

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4. Lawn Service in the DR. Who needs a trailer?

3. What to do with all those empty oil cans? Two birds with one stone.

3. What to do with all those empty oil cans? Two birds with one stone.

3. Bird repellant.

2. Bird repellant.

And when in Rome…

1. Driving is so cool when you're a kid.

1. Driving is so cool when you’re a kid.

Here I am, Lord!

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV)

“Here I am, Lord!”

It’s these words that filled our prayers from a hotel room in Tegucigalpa, Honduras two summers ago. While our hearts longed to serve Him in Honduras, God was silent to our prayers, and to our disappointment it was clear that was not His direction for us.

And still eager to serve, we prayed it again. “Here I am, Lord! Send me!” And then, as clear as day, He answered. It was the Dominican Republic, where God had sent three others from our home church before us. No, there was no audible voice, but there was a direction and a peace.

People asked, what would we be doing? And it didn’t matter to us that we didn’t have the answers. Our faith in what we had heard could not be shaken.

Christian folk asked, who was our sending board? We didn’t even know what that meant! We only knew that He asked and we said yes. If someone had written a book called, “How to Be a Missionary,” and we had read it, then maybe we would have known more about sending boards, and language schools and fundraising properly. We were terribly unqualified, but we were willing.

God didn’t seem to care about sending boards or fundraising techniques, though. He continued to direct us and fund our ministry in miraculous ways. That’s the beautiful thing about living in His grace. His only requirement is that we live everyday as if we are saying, “here I am, Lord!” And He blesses abundantly!

And just as the new season begins, we continue to walk in faith again toward the subtle call of His voice. We have been welcomed with arms-wide-open to a new ministry, called Doulos Discovery School. It started with just the two smallest Plankenhorns, as students in Kindergarten and first-grade. As we learned more about the school’s vision of serving Dominicans through quality education, it lit a fire in all of us. And the Doulos model is not just an education– it’s about training servant leaders for His kingdom. The word, “doulos” is Ancient Greek for “slave,” or contextually meaning a “servant who is willfully bound to their master.” Through excellence in academics, there is this amazing platform to pour into the lives of the next generation of servant leaders coming from some of the most unlikely and impoverished neighborhoods. Some of the poorest children in the world have had the course of their lives changed forever. They speak English, are educated, and see Jesus everyday.

It is bittersweet that we close the chapter with FIGHT Ministries. We consider it a great honor that God let us be a part of co-founding an organization that is going to go on and do much needed things for ending human trafficking. We continue to be on our knees asking that God shows favor to Luke, Naomi, Ethan and Phyllis and the righteous work that they do for the kingdom.

But we are so excited to begin serving as missionaries to the Dominican Republic at Doulos. Trevor has taken the role as Finance Supervisor and I will be teaching literacy to English speakers (aka: missionary kids) in grades K-2. Both Trevor and I are able to use our passions that we already had to serve The Lord and people that we already had a passion for! How perfect are His timing and His ways!

We still may be the world’s least qualified missionaries. But God’s grace will take care of all that. We only want to serve. How would your life look if you prayed, “here I am, Lord?

How becoming chicken farmers enhances our third-culture parenting goals

IMG_5256A few weeks ago, our Dominican landlord unexpectedly passed away, leaving his responsibilities to his adult children. The sons decided that it was no longer necessary to pay the worker that tended to our large property laden with edible-tropical-vegetation and several dozen free-range chickens. They told us that they would remove the chickens or WE could start taking care of them. I saw the look in Trevor’s eyes and I knew his desire. He had talked about building a chicken coop for years. And so adventure strikes again. We are now the proud owners of 11 hens and 1 spunky rooster.

Here are some reasons why we think becoming chicken farmers fits in with Plank family culture:

1. No leash, litter box, or tank required. It’s not that we are anti-traditional pets, it’s that traditional pets don’t fit our nomadic lifestyle. Between traveling back to the US and exploring God’s beauty of this island, we are a missionary family on-the-go. These guys are cage-free so they are super self-sufficient. Luke 9:58

IMG_00012. Responsibility 101. It has become our 6 year-old’s before-school-task to feed the chickens, and our 5 year-old’s to collect the eggs. They are learning the discipline of early morning work, and the fulfillment that someone is depending on them. Proverbs 31:15

3. Respect your food. There is a moment of pride that comes with cracking an egg that you harvested yourself. Something is lost on those pristine grocery store eggs if they don’t have at least a little goo or a feather or two stuck to the shell. Psalm 128:2

4. Free-range organic eating. Before we a.) lived in a third-world country and b.) lived on a missionary budget, we were a much more health conscious family in the way of whole and natural foods. We had grass-fed beef, organic eggs, milk and yogurt, and were members of an organic vegetable co-op. Though the smaller size of poultry and the leanness to the beef leads me to believe Dominican meat is much closer to the way God made it than average American meat, and fruits and veggies don’t have half the shelf-life of their American counterparts (Re: no steroids, preservatives, GMO’s), there are still many foods that are just not accessible to us. It was a major sacrifice to our family values when when we could no longer provide the same kinds of healthy options. This is a huge way to implement some of those healthier options back into our diet. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

5. Educational. Well, I know I’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned about roosting, nesting, fertilized or un-, coops, coos, and feed. Aldofina next door taught us how to “candle” an egg to check for babies, and soon she’s going to teach us about the circle of life when she shows us how to…gulp…wring the neck of one that’s ready to be eaten. (Her favorite part, she says.) Proverbs 18:15

6. A family affair. There is an equally important job for everyone and we all have a vested interest. When we work together for a common goal, so many life lessons are birthed:

Teamwork.

Responsibility.

Respect.

Stewardship.

Keep learning.

Give thanks. Psalm 133:1

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

Our next project is going to be building nesting boxes because the daily Easter egg hunt is getting old. Adventure on, my friends!

Eyes in my pencil

IMG_4773My friend, Brady, writes everything down. Multiple journals, mostly hardcover with ornate designs of hearts or flowers scatter amongst her coffee table and other various areas throughout her apartment. Her purse is never without one and ink is abundant. She literally has dozens of them filled with shopping lists, to-do lists, meeting minutes, study notes from her bible time, Spanish words, things God has said to her, things she says to Him and anything else. Though I didn’t know her in her waitressing days, I can assure you that her guests never had that uneasy feeling she was going to mess up their order in her fancy attempt to memorize the entire order sans notepad. A few months ago Trevor had rotator cuff surgery at a big hospital here in the Dominican Republic, and to say the experience was a comedy-of-errors is being polite. Brady accompanied me in the hospital for moral support and we belly-laughed for days about the about the $3,000 hospital bill hand-scrawled on a receipt pad, the computer system which is not one but actually a system of spiral notebooks, and the wild-goose chase we were sent on to get change for our payment. She told me several times, “you have GOT to write this stuff down! People are never going to believe it.” When I returned to the hospital without her, she texted me, “R U writing this stuff down?”

As we rounded the last corner home on a grueling August afternoon walk, Brady says to me, “I think you should blog more.”

Gulp.

I hear what she says, and I have that indescribable feeling of “something” when you know that the words that were said were more than just words, and it’s more like you were just served your next orders for life. But for the moment I brushed it off like she had said something mundane like, “I think you should wear more blue,” or “I think you should take more vitamin C.” And my verbal response to her was short, and while I didn’t mean to sound offhand, I said something like, “I dunno, maybe. You and I are different and it’s easy for you to put your words out there for the world.” I got off-the-hook and she dropped the subject.

Brady writes down anything that is worthy of remembering. Memories become immortal on the pages of her journals. Whatever she is thinking, she writes. I am a writer, too, but I usually write so that I can know what it is that I am thinking. I started reading Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts, which is a memoire of one woman’s ability to find true joy through thanksgiving as she writes an ongoing list of life’s blessings. She quotes John Piper, to say, “that there are eyes in pencils and in pens.” And for me that is true, too. When I need to forgive someone that seems too unforgivable, I have found one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to write them a letter, even though I almost never send it. When I am confused on a lesson that God is trying to teach me, I start writing and thoughts that couldn’t be formulated on their own, now stand. Although I am loving her book, Ann’s concept of literally writing down your blessings is not a new one to me. I did this years ago, when I felt a temporary depression start to settle in because I was struggling with living with a blood disease. I needed God-time so I rode my watermelon-red beach cruiser to a lake near our home, and as I contemplated Philippians 4:6 which reminds us to present our requests to God “with thanksgiving” I started my own list of blessings on a yellow legal pad. It was easy to come up with them because we had just returned from a mission trip to Honduras where we witnessed some of the poorest conditions in the world. I was thankful for my dishwasher, my car, my kid’s preschool, my doctor. And there was power in my list, too. Usually I start writing about something that inspires me, and something more valuable is inevitably revealed to myself.

And I thought about Brady’s words to me about blogging. It was a dare that required courage that doesn’t come from me alone. Because when I talk, I almost always mess it up. Time after time I feel so misunderstood. “That’s not what I meant!” is a common theme. So the thought of putting words on paper, or better yet the World Wide Web, where everyone I do and don’t know can poke holes in my words and thoughts was terrifying. I wasn’t always this way. When I was in the sixth grade, I entered an essay contest for the Daughter’s of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) on some patriotic topic. I received a gold medal and was asked to read my award-winning essay on the local AM station at some ungodly hour in the morning. I don’t think I was nervous, but I think I thought I was probably pretty awesome, and that I was most definitely some form of a local celebrity. But I had excellent training. Over the years, I spent countless hours pouring over details of proses and research papers at the kitchen table of my Grandma Sebree, who happens to be the best writing teacher I know. God has blessed me with a gift of gab, but only on paper.

While I didn’t express it fully, I accepted Brady’s “dare” and committed to more [deep breaths] blogging. And whether anyone reads what I write or not (and the fraidy cat in me secretly hopes that they don’t), it is cheap therapy for my soul.

Do you journal or blog? If so, what is the purpose?

You can read Brady’s blog here.

15 Ways to Celebrate Fall in the Land of Eternal Spring

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Although, we are not officially celebrating Labor Day here in the Dominican Republic, I still think it’s a good time to acknowledge the passing of Summer and the welcoming of Fall. Yes, school is in full swing, college football has begun, and people are Instagramming their pumpkin lattes. But other than those clues, it is hard to recognize the change in season from where I sit. Year-round luscious flora and average temperatures of 75 degrees earns Jarabacoa the nickname, “The Land of Eternal Spring.” It was easy to celebrate summer, with daily warm rays of sunshine and sandy beaches just a short drive away. And Christmas is maybe more commercialized here than the States, and since I’m from Florida I don’t know what a white Christmas is anyway. But celebrating Fall is just not the same. They don’t grow pumpkins or apples here, there are no Fall festivals, and college football and Thanksgiving are out for obvious reasons. And for a brief moment, I almost felt sad for myself. But I did what any good third-culture mom would do, scoured Pinterest for hours, and this year, I am determined to give the season of Fall a proper recognition. Here is my top to-do list of things for a Fall in the DR that don’t include changing leaves, hay-rides, or jack-o-lanterns. My expat friends, please join us, and everyone else can follow us as we cross off our Fall in the DR list @ #fallintheDR.

1. Roast marshmallows and make S’mores. Check check! See picture above.
2. Make caramel apples.
3. Have a real tailgate. Cheesy, maybe, but we will all don our Florida Gator gear for a mock tailgate with grilling and chilling, and maybe we will even teach the Dominicans how to play corn-hole.
4. Bon fire.
5. Nature walk and make leaf rubbings. If we use the right color crayons, you’ll never know the leaves are still green!
6. Plant a garden. Yesss!
7. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Fall is a great time to reflect on our abundant blessings, and to memorize this verse as a family: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1 NIV)
8. Read One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. This goes with #7, and has been on my reading wish list for a while now.
9. Host a costume party. Excited to invite all of our expat-kid friends and some Dominicans friends, too, for a tradition too good to skip.
10. Drive-in movie. No, I don’t know of a drive-in theatre here, but if we projected a movie on the outside wall late enough in the evening, the air may be brisk enough to feel like Fall.
11. Make pumpkin pancakes. It’s a Plank Family tradition.
12. Watch fall movies. On the list: Hocus Pocus, When Harry met Sally, Rudy, Good Will Hunting, Scared Shrekless, and our all-time favorite, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
13. Make fall decorations for the house. I have a board on Pinterest a mile long. You’d be amazed what you can do with tin cans, twine, and orange spray paint.
14. Make a Starbucks copycat Pumpkin Spice Frappe. We did this last year and it was heavenly.
15. Make Grandma Betty’s Monster Cookies. Last fall, my Grandma Betty passed away. One of my favorite recipes that she made every fall was Monster Cookies. If you don’t know what these are, they are like chocolate chip cookies with like 75 other ingredients from oatmeal to Peanut M&M’s and takes the world’s most gigantic bowl and superhero strength just to move a spoon through the batter. So, in honor of Grandma Betty, and because they are fabulous, Monster Cookies are the final thing on my Fall in the DR to-do list.

What’s on your Fall must-do list? Do you live in a tropical climate where you have to get creative to feel the season? Or are you getting ready for jean jackets and Fall foliage? We’d love to hear how you celebrate.

Happy Fall Ya’ll!

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Trevor and Kathy are independent missionaries in the Dominican Republic, and raise their own financial support for their family. If you’d like to be a part of the Plankenhorn family support team, click here to see where they are, and how you can help.

An Innate Desire to Belong

IMG_6880As a third-culture parent, I acknowledge the rich cultural gains that our kids inherently receive living a life outside the borders of America, but I also recognize their needs as small human beings to feel accepted and normal. Their daddy is a sports guy. He can relate to any other person on this Earth within five minutes of meeting them, if, they too, share the same affinity for sports. Second after college football, is his love for baseball.  So it works out great for us that baseball is the sport of choice in the DR.  Our firstborn, Luke, joined little league baseball at a local field just down the street from our house.  And, boy, was he ever excited.  I’m talking, “HOT DOG!” excited. Since we found out about the league at the last minute, his dad scooped him up from school and surprised him with the news and took him straight to his first practice.  Upon arrival, Trevor and the coach, whose name happens to be Bienvenido (Welcome), exchanged cell phone numbers and he tells him what time to return.

The field is right on the main road near our house, and there is only one field, not like the multi-field complexes I have seen in the states.  Our family had actually been there to spectate a few night games last fall for the local minor-league.  The field is torn up, the bases are made of burlap, and the chain link fence behind home plate is mangled and has holes.  There are not actual bleachers, but old and dilapidated concrete steps for sitting.  At street level, is an open-air bar where old and young meet and drink Presidentes out of 7 oz plastic cups. When we pulled up to pick up Luke after practice, we couldn’t contain our smiles to see the sight of our little Lukie engaged in a game of Dominoes (very popular here) with a group of other kids and his coach– at the bar!  (No Presidentes were involved, for all of you who were wondering!) Thank goodness we had just played as a family last week so he knew the rules! They were just finishing up the game, and they all gave high fives.  It was one for the memory books, for sure.  When we asked him how it was, he exclaimed, “It was great! I love baseball.  But for next time, I need a hat and pants and shoes!”  Of. Course. He. Did. I know it was a last minute plan, but how could we have thought that he would ever feel like he belongs without the uniform?  It is inevitable he is always going to be “gringo” or “Americano” or “rubio (blondie),” but if he’s going to be a part of something and truly feels like he belongs, he needs to have the uniform!  He’s always going to look different and talk different, but when he can put on that hat and those funny little pants, he has instant comrades.  On his second day of practice, his teammates shouted his name when he arrived, and one put an arm around his shoulders to lead him to the team.  Talk about melt-a-mother’s-heart.
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In this country, there are many reasons why the education system is ranked 2nd to last in the world, but one problem is that they require every child wear a uniform and they cost money.  It doesn’t take much to connect the dots between lack of education and human trafficking, so as a ministry we emphasize the importance of all of our kids getting their cute little behinds in school.  One family with four kids from ages 7-19 have not been in school for a couple of years, and the youngest has never started.  Yesterday we got the privilege to bless them with uniform shopping and new backpacks. The excitement was contagious as they tried on their new blue button-up shirts and khaki pants.  I thought about the fact that the education they were to receive is going to be crappy and lacking in a lot ways.  I can’t fix that.  But standing there in their little outfits I realized that Little Mama, all of seven-years-old, was no longer going to be waiting on the street corner all day long with that dazed expression like we’ve seen her so many times.  She’s a part of something now.

I think that’s how we are created, to have an innate desire to belong or to be a part of something.  I think God wired us that way so that we want to keep searching for something to belong. The Bible says that with Jesus, we can all have a citizenship in heaven. In fact, it says that as followers, we are royal heirs.  I think sometimes when we’ve made so many mistakes or been told by someone enough, we start to believe we aren’t good enough to be a part of something that fantastic. But I remember one time when I was feeling this way, someone told me  the part of Ephesians in the Bible that says we have been raised up and seated in the (trumpets, please) heavenly realms with Christ. Not a few levels below Him, but seated “with” Him, as in the air-conditioned (hallelujah!) Club Level where the VIPs get the special wrist band and the all-you-can-eat buffet and drinks. And that’s a pretty fantastic and important club to be a part of. My prayer for my own kiddos is that when the day comes and they don’t make the team or just don’t seem to fit in because their skin is too light or their parents sound funny when they talk, that they are comfortable enough in their God-given identities that it just doesn’t affect them.
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Trevor and Kathy are independent missionaries in the Dominican Republic, and raise their own financial support for their family. If you’d like to be a part of the Plankenhorn family support team, click here to see where they are, and how you can help.

The Girl with the Brown Eyes

Like a pet owner holding open a bath towel trying to catch a wet dog darting around the room after a bath, I braced myself and studied her moves to determine which way was she going to go. She is wearing a dark pink t-shirt and jean shorts and her long gangly legs are barefooted.  A tactic, I am sure, to ensure speed and agility as she leaps and bounds escaping every adult through the crowded gymnasium at our ministry’s sports camp.  Nine years old, her skin is olive toned and her honey-colored hair pulled back in a low pony tail.   From my teaching days, I knew the look in her eyes, that says, “catch me if you can!”  She giggles the whole time, and when I finally “capture” her, I lock her in my arms and drag her back to her assigned group leader and say, “this one is a pistol!” And right on cue, she wraps her arms around me for a tight squeeze and runs off to join her group.

She is one of 120 kids on average at the sports camp, but her…”spirited” attitude made a lasting memory on us all.  Everyone knew Daniela’s name.  She was the one who snuck in every age groups’ line for a drink of water, and had to use the bathroom three times during every devotion time.  A Pippi Longstocking of sorts.  When all of the kids were supposed to be sitting on the bleachers taking a break and watching the adults play volleyball, there’s Daniela on the other side of the court as if she might join in the game!  (Yes, another high-pursuit chase broke out!)  But not just that, she had these eyes that would absolutely light up when she smiles.  And that’s not just something nice you say after something really bad happens to someone.  Because the thing that keeps me up at night, the thing that I can’t reconcile in my mind, is that the light in her eyes might be gone forever.
They say that Daniela and her three siblings are experiencing Acute Stress Disorder, and soon they will most definitely transition to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  That’s what they call it after you experience something like what these kids have gone through.  Tuesday morning of this week, the kids witnessed the gruesome murder of their mother by their father with a hammer in their home.  We’ve heard that the kids found hiding places as he threatened to kill them, too.  By the grace of God, their mother’s killer fled the place and the children survived.  Daniela was taken to the hospital and was sedated to cope with the pain.  But now she’s back at her grandmother’s house, which is next door to the home where the tragedy took place.  And all in one day, they have lost their mother and father and witnessed something no human being should ever have to see, let alone a child; and the worst part, for me, is that they don’t have their mother to hold them through all of this pain!
There is no DCF here, or no school psychologists.  No social worker will place her in the care of trained professionals.  For a girl like Daniela who grows up in the barrios of the Dominican Republic, there is no restitution.  She needs so much more now, and she needs it quickly, or the damage can be forever irreversible.  She needs her Heavenly Father more than ever.  I don’t know what we can do for them, but I pray that the seeds planted in her at church and at sports camp that week are enough for her to seek the comfort promised in the Bible.  I pray God will provide the children with a trained professional as they sort through their emotions.  I pray for continued safety and protection for this family and that they will be placed in the care of someone good.  I pray that God continues to break our hearts for what breaks His, for surely God is grieving for these kiddos now.  It is not a coincidence to me that Daniela captured all of our hearts just a week before.  Please lift these angels up, that they will one day find peace and comfort again.  That the twinkle in her eyes will one day be restored, and she will use this oh-so-painful process for the glory of God.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18