The musings of an English speaking preschool teacher in a Spanish speaking country

The average four year old can stand on one foot for 9 seconds, peddle a tricycle, count 10 items and has the capacity to acquire 4 to 6 words per day, given access. They are learning everything from how to sit still for longer periods of time (we’re talking 10-15 minutes), how to wipe their own bottoms and quickly undo their pant buttons and how to do it in time.  They are finding out how to open their own juice boxes and insert the straws without creating an apple juice geyser, and how throwing rocks at their friends seems fun but can also hurt someone. They must learn that writing on the walls and not following the rules comes with consequences. They are learning basically everything through trial and error.


Teaching ABC’s and 123’s in English to Spanish speaking toddlers comes naturally to me. We are forever singing catchy songs and playing fun games. After just a few weeks of class, almost all of the children can respond to the question, “What is your name?” with “My name is (Fernando),” can rote count to 10, can recognize their own names and can recognize several English letters. They have already learned many vocabulary words like boy, girl, same, different, backpack, and classroom.  A few have even started saying word phrases like “a girl” or “my backpack.” It is truly amazing!


My name is Rachel.

My name is Rachel.

But a source of constant frustration for me as a second language teacher, is not in the academics, but in the area of the heart. It comes when I want to talk about the why, but my Spanish abilities sometimes end at the what.


I can communicate, “please don’t hit Camila!” but what I’d like to say is, “How sad Camila must feel when you hit her! You must be feeling very angry with her. How can you show Camila that you are angry without hurting her?


Instead of only knowing how to say, “Oh, no! Please don’t touch the plants!” I want to say, “Oh no! How can we keep our school looking beautiful for all the children to enjoy? God’s creation is so awesome and He wants us to take good care of it.” You get the idea.


There is a cliche that pops up often in the missionary world that says, “God does not call the equipped, he equips the called.”


God is equipping me in these heart matters in three ways:


  1. He sent a bilingual woman of God to be at my side everyday. Rosalina is my teaching assistant and she is such a blessing with these matters. She has a beautiful way with the children and they love and respect her.  She can remove a child from a sticky situation and have those longer-deeper conversations that I so very much want to have, but simply can’t. Her heart breaks for the children that so desperately need to know that they are loved and cared for. While we still have much work left to do, she completes me in the ways that I lack.
  2. He provided Spanish lessons. This is an answer to prayers! This year our school administration and missionary board is providing all staff with language lessons! So Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I have Spanish lessons with a small group of other missionaries.
  3. He gives grace. Period.


And whether it is in preschool or marriage, parenting or the office, His grace is always enough.

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.

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. 😉
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!
6. Santa came to town! And you’ll never guess who played the part!? Yours truly, TREVOR!!
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
Much love and blessings to you all for 2014!

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


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?


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.

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:





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.”


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.

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.

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.
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


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.