World Changers

They only weigh an average of 50 lbs. each and none of them more than 52” high. Their colors range from creamy vanilla to warm chocolatey brown, but they are too young to notice the difference yet. They are coming into their own, but still have baby faces and sweet baby voices. There are 20 of them. They are small in size. They are first graders world changers.

It started out as a project, part of the expeditionary learning model at Doulos Discovery School. The first grade theme is Families Around the World. Trevor and I are in a unique position that we get to experience the fruits of our ministry through the eyes of our own children—being that Luke is in first grade and Emily in Kindergarten. Their classes are a purposeful and perfectly split-mix of full-tuition paying students and scholarship-funded kiddos. So it becomes this breathtakingly beautiful thing when they begin exploring the ways that each other live.

Instead of just telling them about the children that don’t have mommies and daddies, they actually went and visited an orphanage and made observations. Science. They were welcomed into the modest homes of a small poor neighborhood to interview the locals about their family dynamics. Language Arts. They learned about families on each of the seven continents. Social Studies. And then graphed the ones that have clean water and those that do not. Mathematics.

But somewhere in between bar graphs and world maps, they learned about this place called Africa. I know, because Luke has not stopped talking about it for weeks. They learned that just like their own country, Africa does not have clean water. And they also learned about the millions of bellies that go hungry every day. And this is when Social Studies and Language Arts turned into something bigger. Their tiny hearts were touched and they wanted to do something. Let me remind you, this comes from kids that have next to nothing, wanting to do something for those that have even less. Each first grade family contributed the equivalent of $2.50 to give food to local families in need, many of them stretching their contribution over a couple weeks as it was more than they could afford. And then they wanted to do even more. So with the help of some grown-ups the first grade class is hosting a pancake breakfast fundraiser this month to send all of the money to Mozambique, Africa.

Doulos meets a need of this community, but it doesn’t stop there. These little ones are already paying it forward.

Look out world! Great things come in little packages. And their journeys have just begun!

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Making observations at the orphanage as a little girl washes her plate.

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A little boy and girl show the first graders this family’s outdoor kitchen. The students were collecting information about about families.

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Our little “African” in his traditional garb and his South American cutie-pie friend showing off their graphing skills at Expedition night.

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.

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.

15 Things We’ve Learned about Dominican Culture

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This week, we’ve hosted a team of 10 from our home church on a mission trip with our human trafficking organization. The team organized a sports camp for kids 8-18 years old and have had over 100 kids show up each day to be loved on and to hear the message of Christ, and the group of older kids are taught human trafficking awareness. We also launched our awareness campaign in the barrios (neighborhoods) of Jarabacoa handing out literature and just basically informing families of the potential dangers of traffickers. A lot of great stuff going on, but for me, this group has been especially fun because though they are a mission team, they are also our friends! So I have gotten several opportunities to tell them everything that I have picked up in my year of life here about Jarabacoa and the Dominican culture. And the cool thing is that it occurred to me that these things that are so foreign to us, are going to be second nature to our little third culture children, Luke and Emily. I reflected on the top 15 here:

1. Saying Adios. When you are walking on the street and you pass someone going the way you just came, instead of greeting them with “hola (hello),” it is more often “adios” which is Spanish for “good-bye.” This felt so strange when I would arrive to work at the school and the security guard would greet me every morning by saying, “adios,” or in my mind, “good-bye.” Until the day I considered the literal translation of the word “adios” is “to God” and it is more of an expression meaning “Go with God.”
2. Cheek kissing. Took some getting used to, but when I went back to the states to visit in June, it felt so “blah” greeting my friends that I love with your regular old hug.
3. Pointer lips. A common Dominican mannerism is when wanting to point at something, to purse your lips together and tilt your chin in the direction of “it.” It can be a response to a question, “where is the bathroom?” or it can mean, “look at that fill in the blank.” Bonus: Another common gesture that I just picked up on at sports camp this week, is when a kid was requesting a drink of water, in lieu of words they made a fist like a baby who sucks his thumb, and uses his thumb to point to his mouth. Strange, but true.
4. Respect “siesta.” The only thing you are going to do outside of restaurants and the grocery store between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. is nothing. Numerous times of banging fists on the steering wheel as we pull up to the hardware store, bank, cell phone store and basically any other business before we learned to respect the rules of siesta.
5. Anything goes on the road. Seven people on a motorcycle? Sure. Driving the wrong way on a one-way street? No worries. Headlights and turn signals? What are those? Need to haul lumber or another cumbersome item like a couch? Just drag it behind your moto. It’s alllll good.
6. No road rage. This one goes with the last one, but it’s truly been one of our favorite lessons. Just chill out. Going three-wide on a two-lane highway never stressed a Dominican out. There’s no preconceived notion of who has the right-of-way and if you, oops, cut someone off, no one is angry. Horns are used for notice, not to express anger. No harm, no foul.
7. Bathroom novelties. Don’t flush the TP. Toilet paper goes in the trashcan. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty, but it is a normalcy for us.
8. Drop the last sound. Forget everything you learned in Spanish class, because in this country, the last sound of every word is dropped. So “two eggs” is not pronounced “dos huevos” but “doe huevo.” Like-wise tons of vocabulary that you learned is very different here. Domincans are known to have their own version of Spanish.
9. The world is their dance floor. There is always music spilling into the streets from somewhere and Dominicans love to dance and sing loudly. It is not an uncommon sight to see someone stop to dance in the middle of the grocery store aisle.
10. Respond to “God bless you” with “Amen.” Dominicans are enamored by our two toe-headed kids and often gush over them and somewhere in between the “que lindos! (how cute!)” and the hair rubbing I hear them say, “God bless you,” and I’ve had to train my response to say, “Amen.”
11. “Si Dios quiere.” When speaking about the future, or if you were to say, “see you tomorrow,” a common response is “si Dios quiere,” or “if God wills it.”
12. Don’t bargain. This one I’m not sure about, but Dominicans either don’t bargain on prices, or they are just really that good at it. But they don’t budge on their prices, and if you try to speak to a landlord or a business person and “work out a deal,” they look at you like you have just seriously offended them. It makes no sense to us that they would rather leave a property vacant for 12 months or more, than to come down on their rent.
13. Always welcoming. As we went from house to house to invite kids to sports camp or talk about human trafficking, we were not once turned away or found someone pretending not be home, but instead were welcomed to come inside and sit down in many houses. There are zero “No Soliciting” signs around here.
14. Conveniences. Though we have surrendered many modern-day conveniences in the third world move like dishwashers and air conditioning, we have acquired a few that we never had. You can buy limes, trash bags or a cell phone charger at a stoplight or you can even have your windshield washed while you wait. There is only full-service option at the gas pump. One of our favorite options is the small convenience stores called Colmados that are literally sprinkled in every corner of the country. From just about ANYWHERE you are, you can walk a block or less and buy a Coke in a glass bottle, eggs or other various items.
15. “NO HAY LUZ!” And lastly, the biggest adjustment has been altering your life around the electricity issues this country has. Nearly daily, the power is turned off for an unspecified amount of time, usually lasting 4-6 hours in the middle of the day but can be much longer and can be in the middle of the night. Re: no fan, no internet, no laundry, no nothin. You learn to adapt. You wake up early on laundry day and send emails as soon as you think about it, IF you have power. But still, super frustrating. Cooking dinner with flashlights is always an adventure, or a good excuse to go out for pizza. And, hey, the pizza place has a generator with WiFi and air conditioning.