Thursday, December 17, 2009

Julie's Peru Mission Trip

Toward the end of November, I participated on a one-week medical mission trip in Peru with Medical Ministry International (MMI). Among many other firsts for me, it was the first time I travelled internationally on my own and it was the first time I joined a mission trip without knowing anyone who would be involved. Needless to say, I was quite nervous but also very excited to step into this adventure. As I headed to the airport I could hear Him softly whispering “Trust Me”.

After maneuvering through three airports, I arrived in Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, with all my luggage and important documents still intact. Our team was brought to a beautiful guesthouse to stay for the week.

Our work began the next day with going to a police station where we were given space to set up our clinic. The patio and upper room were filled with donated equipment including many walkers, wheelchairs, crutches and canes. That afternoon, I and five other volunteers headed out to an outlying town called Ayaviri to open a smaller clinic. We brought as much equipment as we could stuff in and tie on top of our van.

During the drive, we saw wild lamas and sheep wandering in the pastures alongside the road. The scenery was spectacular. The elevation of Ayaviri is about 1200ft (400m) so the weather changed from being pleasantly warm to freezing cold. The altitude gave us all massive headaches for most of the day.

In both Ayaviri and nearby Canabilla we treated a great variety of patients, from a one-week old baby to the very elderly. We fitted many people with wheelchairs and walking aids, taught countless exercises and answered questions the best that we could through our translator. We became very creative with designing supplies out of duct tape. The people were always so very grateful for the help we could provide. By the end of our two days there we were all exhausted but agreed it was a very rewarding experience and we were all glad we had chosen to go.

The following three days we rejoined the rest of the team in Arequipa and worked in the clinic. I saw several children with terrible, untreated deformities that if treated earlier, they would likely be able to walk. Many elderly women complained of back and hip pain from years of being bent over working in the fields. On several occasions patients shed many tears as they revealed their sad or tragic stories to us. It was an opportunity for prayer, to show Christ’s compassion and provide hope and tangible help. One patient was so grateful for all she had received that she said we were “like angels that have come down from heaven.”

It was a very busy and exhausting week where I was challenged mentally, physically and spiritually. I did not even have time to think if God was truly there with me. However, as I reflect on the many times I was fearful and overcame that fear, when I felt inadequate and succeeded, when I was exhausted and carried on, when I felt lonely and someone came alongside; I realize that God was with me every step of the way, whispering, as He always does “Trust Me.”

I want to say a huge “Thank you!” to everybody who encouraged me, prayed for me and supported me financially to make this trip possible. All of you had a part in making a difference in my life and in the lives of the people I met and treated.

To see more photos and read their descriptions, visit our Flickr page here. Look for a set of photos titled Arequipa, Peru with a picture showing me at the airport.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Leeches, Cows and Lots of Children

Leeches! At first they seem innocuous. Little inch worm creatures moving like mini-slinkies, somersaulting toward our feet. Then we realized they were land leeches and suddenly they were worthy of serious attention as our team stomped through the thick tall grass, some only wearing flip-flops on that first day. Then flashes of movement and rustling amongst the dense vegetation gave away the presence of other small creatures and (hopefully) harmless snakes. Despite the creepy crawlies one could see the lushness of the land and the potential it holds to feed children with healthy food and yield cash crops that when sold will earn money to purchase other basic necessities.

Context. In this Southeast Asia country with its warm, humid weather and vast low-lying deltas, it is easy to see conditions conducive for a rich harvest but these conditions also revealed its susceptibility to deathly floods when Cyclone Nargis ripped through this country mercilessly in 2008. Conservative death estimates were around 150,000 while some unconfirmed independent estimates numbered deaths as high as one million. Whether it is shunning international aid in the face of a natural disaster or exercising political persecution amongst its own population, it is impossible to avoid the smothering presence of the ruling military government.

Hope. But in the midst of this poverty of resources and freedoms there continue to be those who embody love and self-sacrifice and the result are homes where children who have lost both parents grow and thrive. We were at such an orphanage where children are loved, sheltered and have an opportunity to receive a good education. They also have an opportunity to meet Jesus and we witnessed the fruit of that relationship as we shared our days with children who raised their hands in worship with full conviction and blessed us with their beautiful voices in song.

The Orphanage. In fact, those who operate the orphanage are not content to just take care of their own children but they also bless other orphanages with gifts of food and various life staples from the fruit of their own land and labour. How much more does God desire to bless those who are themselves generous with what they have been given! Our one week visit there was to assist them by developing a Master Plan for the development of their 27 acre property. They have already begun by building homes, providing clean water and working toward self-sufficiency through agricultural/aquacultural initiatives. However, they also understand that as they continue to develop their property with housing and agriculture they need guidance to maximize the use of their land.

Existing Conditions. The property currently has one girls home and one boys home with a current total of thirty four children. Both homes include space for house-parents. There is also a Dining/Kitchen building, one staff house, a straw and thatch kitchen and two water towers. There are two fish ponds and facilities to raise cows, goats and chickens. These animals provide fresh milk, eggs and meat for the children. A variety of vegetables and fruit are grown on various parts of the property.

On a separate piece of land this orphanage owns and operates a farm where they grow many acres of rice as a cash crop, maintain a very large fish pond and raise turkeys. The proceeds of the farm help pay orphanage staff wages, provide planting/harvesting work for the local population and feed their own children as well as those in other nearby orphanages.

Master Plan. The goal of our team was to take a scattering of existing buildings and create a village: a place of community, recreation and learning. When the Master Plan is fully built out, there will be a central community outdoor space with a soccer field, an administration building, five girls homes, five boys homes, an education centre/guest house, a multi-purpose (gym/meeting) building. These will all have their defined locations but will be connected to each other visually through the landscaping to maintain a connectedness, an accountability within the community. A sustainability/resource planner on the team helped to organize the agriculture around the property to create visual interest and take advantage of various growing conditions.

The Children. While our team of engineers, architects and planners worked hard to develop the design of the site plan, buildings and infrastructure, the pay-off was to spend some time with the children who all have had such a hard start to life. The smiles, laughter and playfulness that exuded from the children could easily have been cynicism and hardness if they had not been brought into the care of this orphanage. But in these children we see eyes that twinkle with curiosity and we hold hands that reach out knowing it will be received and held with love and protection. These children sleep soundly, assured of their heavenly Father’s love.

Love Thy Neighbours. At mid-week of our time we took an afternoon off to visit two other orphanages. These were on smaller, more urban properties where they had less chance to grow their own food sources. But where they could they have done so and at both orphanages we were again met with songs of joy and thanksgiving from the children. It struck me that often the children in our western churches, who have so much, do not sing with as much conviction and thanksgiving as these children who have so little by comparison: there is something we can learn from them.

Project Photos. A new set of photos has been place in my Photo Gallery for this project, so click here (Photo Gallery) and see the Southeast Asia set with a slideshow (click the middle of the photo for commentary). If you want to spend a little more time looking and reading, click here in Details (Photo Details). Check these out along with the project video on my side bar and see what your support, encouragement and prayer have produced in the work of this team. "Thank you" to all our prayer and financial supporters for making this project a reality.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Back to Southeast Asia

Most countries we travel to are grateful for the service that eMi teams provide. However, on October 8th, I will be leading an eMi project team to a country that does not welcome international assistance with open arms. In fact, this country's recent history is fraught with injustices to its own people and in recent times shamelessly turned away international aid in the aftermath of a major natural disaster that killed 200,000 of its own people and destroyed the lives of many others who survived.

But just as eMi does not conduct projects as “feel good” opportunities for it staff and volunteers, so neither does eMi conduct projects to simply gain favour or accolades from local governments. Some countries are called “hard” or “closed” by missionary groups for a variety of reasons but nonetheless, these are places where people need the Lord, the ministries need our help and where we desire to live out Christ’s love.

The orphanage we are serving on this trip owns a property of approximately 30 acres. Several homes have been built for the staff and children but as the ministry expands they realize the need for a good master plan and an integrated building and infrastructure design. Besides planning for living and educational facilities, agriculture and aquaculture will also be integrated into the make-up of the ministry and the character of the property. These will help toward maximizing self-sustainability as well as offer skill training for its youth.

To help achieve these goals, we are bringing a diverse group that will include architects, a landscape architect, a sustainability/resource planner, two civil engineers (survey, water, waste water, site grading), a structural engineer, an electrical engineer and a draftsman.

Besides providing this service we will take moments to play with the children and we are making plans to buy groceries with donated funds and distribute them to poor families.

Ironically, the orphanage we are helping has been recognized by the local government as an excellent example of a well-operated orphanage. The testimony of the work and effort of the orphanage staff is going beyond the boundaries of the orphanage property!

Our goal is that our efforts will a) raise the living standards in which the children live b) be a good guide to ongoing expansion and development of the ministry for the proper stewardship of their resources and c) that this be a place of physical, educational and spiritual growth and development.

Please pray with us and for us as our team endeavours to serve this ministry to orphans whose families have suffered great persecution. Pray as well for all our families at home as they carry on the busyness of life without those of us on the team.

You can see more details of the project by visiting the link under Greg's Upcoming Projects at the top of the right side bar of my blog. Thank you to all our supporters and friends who have come alongside my family and me in so many different ways, making it possible for me to be a part of this work. I look forward to sharing with you all about this project upon our return.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Place of Rescue Transition Home

Place of Rescue. When visiting Place of Rescue for the first time one can easily be drawn into thinking that this is an idyllic home, a place filled with perfect children laughing and happy smiling grannies with wide (almost toothless!) grins. But beneath the laughter and wide grins Place of Rescue is foremost a haven, an oasis in a world that can be hard, cold-hearted and mean. The fact is, here one encounters children who have overcome abandonment, grannies who are alone after losing their grown children to AIDS and entire families who live under the daily shadow of HIV/AIDS.

But love also lives here. Jesus demonstrated this love in His sacrifice for all and Marie Ens and her faithful fellow administrators, staff, house moms and teachers at Rescue are here to live it out to each orphaned child, each lonely granny and each mother and father with HIV/AIDS living in a hospice home.

Marie, referred to affectionately as “Grandma”, and her house moms have worked hard to create a family environment for each of the children. As the house moms take the place of the children’s biological parents, they face all the challenges and phases of parenting and so in the coming days, Place of Rescue is moving toward a new phase of its life-cycle: some of its children are growing up.

Growing Up. The hardest moments of parenting are often the times of letting go, to see children move step by step and year by year toward independence and self sufficiency. Have you done all you could to teach them about life? Can you continue to help them transition into adulthood and responsible living?

For the children at Rescue, a major marker to indicate the time to transition away from the orphanage is not one of age but high school graduation. Since many children at Rescue start proper education at a later age, many stay at Rescue beyond the typical ages of 18-19 for high-school graduation. So as this milestone is being met by the older children, Rescue is working to find an appropriate level and means of continued support and guidance.

A Transition Home. One answer will be a new Transition Home, an extension of Place of Rescue orphanage in the city of Phnom Penh where high school graduates will live in community while attending university or vocational training school. With greater independence but having the oversight of house parents, it is hoped that the Transition Home will be a helpful bridge between living at the orphanage and living with complete independence.

Rescue has purchased a property in the capital that contained two houses, one which was demolished and one which has been renovated as a Guest House. For our week in Cambodia, the eMi team stayed in the Guest House and designed a Transition Home for the empty portion of the property. Our team met with a local contractor and structural engineer to gather information about local construction practices, building code issues and to understand construction scheduling and cost estimation for budgeting purposes.

The product of our team’s efforts is a 23-bed, four-level residence. There are areas for group social activities as well as quiet spaces for individuals. A spacious kitchen allows for group meal preparation. After viewing numerous local buildings under construction, the team is confident the design is one which fits well into the local context, will maximize natural cooling in the hot, muggy weather and will provide good rain and wind protection during the thunderous storms of the rainy season.

Our final evening in Phnom Penh was spent presenting our design and sharing a meal with Marie in her home along with the Place of Rescue executive staff. We also spent time with the children once again, some of whom were comfortable enough with us for rides on our shoulders. What a privilege to give of our skills and resources for the future of these beautiful children.

Project Photo. A new set of photos has been placed in my Photo Gallery for this project, so click here (Photo Gallery) and see the Place of Rescue set with a slideshow (click the middle of the photo for commentary). If you want to spend a little more time looking and reading, click here in Details (Photo Details). Check these out along with the project video on my side bar and see what your support, encouragement and prayer have produced in the work of this team. "Thank you" to all our prayer and financial supporters for making this project a reality.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cambodia - Place of Rescue Transition Home

Cambodia is a country with long and rich traditions.  Its people are friendly, industrious and gracious.  But in recent decades this southeast Asian country has endured the immense pain and anguish of war and the ravages of HIV/AIDS.  As its economy has suffered in the midst of this turmoil and many rural people are drawn to larger centres for work and opportunity, the country has also witnessed the devastation of many of its younger generation as young boys and girls are drawn or forced into prostitution or become victimized by sex tourism in all its destructive ugliness and depravity.   However, despite the images of seedy devastation broadcast on international news, the spirit of the Cambodian people to love and care for its own people has not been quenched.

Place of Rescue is an orphanage and AIDS hospice in the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.  Founded by Canadian missionary Marie Ens, Rescue is operated and staffed by Cambodians and endeavours to raise the children to know and respect their Cambodian culture while also experiencing first-hand the love of Jesus through the lives and testimony of the Place of Rescue staff.

Along with providing care for families where both parents are ill with AIDS and the orphans they and others leave behind, Rescue is also home to two other groups: grannies who have been left in poverty and without care due to the prevalence of the disease among the younger generation and young, unwed pregnant factory worker girls who (many having come from rural areas to look for work in the capital) have been abandoned by the father of their unborn child.

Now in it’s sixth season, Place of Rescue is beginning to see some of its young children grow to become teenagers and young adults.  After receiving elementary and high school education at Rescue, many are beginning to leave the safety and security of Rescue to find work or attend vocational training school in the capital.  To facilitate an easier shift to independence for these young people, Rescue is now establishing a Transition Home in the capital.

Two adjacent residential lots have been purchased and combined into a single property.  One existing house on the property is in decent condition and has undergone extensive refurbishing.  The other was demolished and on Saturday, May 30 I will land in Phnom Penh with a small eMi team to spend a week in the refurbished house to design a 3 storey Transition Home on the adjacent vacant space.  More than a simple residence, the Transition Home will incorporate segregated housing for boys and girls, residences for house parents as well as integrated communal spaces.

Our team will include an architect who will design the facilities, another architect to investigate and assemble project management documents (budgets, construction timelines etc) and create as-built drawings to document the existing house and property, a structural engineer to design the multi-storey structure and a civil engineer intern from UC Berkely.  As the team leader, I will coordinate all activities, hold the measuring tape…basically whatever the team needs in order to do its work!

The wife of our architect is coming with us and during the week will be teaching English at Place of Rescue to fill this need because the ex-pat English teacher for most of the school year had to return home overseas.  Our work will also be supplemented in-country by a former eMi intern, an engineer specializing in water supply and sanitation who now lives in Phnom Penh.  This engineer will be providing advice for remediation measures for current sanitation infrastructure problems at the orphanage property.

Please pray with us and for us as our team from Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, San Jose and San Antonio travels to serve Place of Rescue.  We will be praying for sensitivity and understanding of the local culture, travel safety as we travel to Cambodia and on the streets of Phnom Penh.  We will also be praying for all our families at home as they carry on they busyness of life without those of us on the team.

You can see more details of the project by visiting the link under Upcoming Projects at the top of the right side bar of my blog.  You can also visit the Place of Rescue website at  Thank you to all our supporters and friends who have come alongside my family and me in so many different ways, making it possible for me to be a part of this work.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

HCRM Orphanage in Haiti

Children are the same everywhere you go. Inquisitive, fun loving…waiting for an opening for friendship…hoping for someone to hold their hand…someone to give them a hug. It’s what I found in Brazil, Rwanda and this past week in Haiti. In children we see promise and hope and collectively our hearts ache when we know a little one is hurting. If we also know the future holds few promises for the child before our eyes, how can we walk away and pretend it doesn’t matter?
Haiti is a tough place to like. Flying over this island nation, one is less than inspired by the expanse of brown, deforested hillsides. Instead of tourists, the beaches and streets in and around its capital, Port-au-Prince, are covered with garbage.

Hope. And yet, in a city where hope seems to have no business showing itself, one can glimpse splashes of hope in the midst of gaudy signs and brightly painted buses filled with expressionless people: children heading to and from school in their uniforms, singing and holding hands. Among these are the children of Haiti Children’s Rescue Mission (HCRM) in whose eyes you can find a hope that only God's love can provide.

Pastor Jean Fritz Nicolas and his wife Mireille operate HCRM along with a local Haitian staff. They currently have a little more than 50 children but have had as much as 100 in the past. The children arrive at HCRM in a variety of ways but invariably they are children with few prospects and are vulnerable to starvation, exploitation and abuse.

Although some will grow up under the roof of HCRM, opportunities will be sought for each child to be adopted to new families, mostly in North America where they will have greater access to higher education and opportunities in the future. But whether these children remain in Haiti or become part of families abroad, each will be raised in an environment where they will know and experience God's goodness, a goodness that heals and transcends the hurt and bitterness already experienced in many of their young lives.

Warmed Hearts. The team lived in the current rental property with the 52 children and had many opportunities to play and build friendships with them. Their cries and laughter became the back-drop of our work and always reminded us of why we had come to Haiti.

In an environment where one would expect selfishness and a desire to hoard any small morsel or treat, the children challenged us with their great generosity. Whenever we brought them candies and treats, they would seek out other children to ensure they received their share. We are taught that God's goodness is found in relationship and the children drew us into that goodness every day.

One day we were absorbed with troubleshooting the electrical system of our residence. As I stood lost in thought a little hand slipped gently into mine. The little boy simply wanted the contact of having his hand held. Could I possibly be "too busy" for that?

New Land. Having operated out of rented facilities for a number of years, the establishment of HCRM as a viable, long-term ministry dictated that it begin to seek property for a more cost effective, permanent home. In 2008 HCRM purchased a raw piece of land in the municipality of Gressier, just beyond Carrefour which is a district outside of Port-au-Prince. The property, located on the top of a hill, is about 12 miles (19 km) from HCRM's present location in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville.

The expansive view toward the Caribbean Sea on the new property is stunning and the air is fresh and clean. With its modest but growing financial support base it was crucial that HCRM establish a practical and economical strategy to develop the property, with all their required facilities and infrastructure, to its full potential and so for that, HCRM contacted eMi.

eMi. An eMi team of 11 (1 staff, 1 intern and 9 volunteers) arrived in the bustling airport (with as many want-to-be porters as travelers) of Port-au-Prince on February 14, 2009. For the next week the team would conduct a detailed topographic survey of the property, investigate issues of infrastructure (water, sanitation, power) and design all the facilities needed through a series of detailed interviews and discussions with Pastor Jean Fritz and his wife.

As this property is not connected to the government electrical grid or municipal sanitation, the technical challenge to our team was to design facilities and infrastructure that would operate with maximum efficiency and cost savings to conserve fresh water (from collected rain and an on-site well) and generated electrical power. The treatment of all waste-water would be done on-site. Potable water would be brought in until an economical on-site treatment system can be installed.

New Orphanage. The result was a facility in several buildings that could house and feed 200 children with 20 live-in nannies and provide living space for 22 resident staff and 38 guests/volunteers. There would also be individual homes for the director’s family and one other long-term volunteer family. Also included on the property will be a church, a health clinic and land for small scale agriculture. The health clinic and church will benefit both the orphanage as well as the surrounding community. The children will receive their education at a school in neighbouring Carrefour which is also being established by HCRM.

Project Photos.
A new set of photos has been placed in my Photo Gallery for this project, so click here (Photo Gallery) and see the HCRM set with a slideshow (click the middle of the photo for commentary). If you want to spend a little more time looking and reading, click here in Details (Photo Details). Check it out and see what your support, encouragement and prayer have produced in the work of this team. “Thank you” to all our prayer and financial supporters for making this project a reality.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Haiti Children's Rescue Mission

The Children of HCRM

In a country dedicated to the practice of voodoo where an estimated 80% of the population live in poverty, Haiti Children's Rescue Mission (HCRM) is a light of hope in a place of spiritual and emotional darkness.  Child slavery, rampant sexual abuse and exploitation and other horrors are all too prevalent in a country where parents who cannot afford to feed their family sometimes resort to selling their children into bonded slavery or turn them out onto the streets to beg and fend for themselves.

HCRM is a place of refuge and hope as children in their care live in a safe home, receive an education and have an opportunity to be adopted by loving and caring families.  All this happens in an environment where the love of Jesus is lived out by the staff and experienced first hand by each child.  The orphanage is currently housed in rented facilities but HCRM has now purchased an undeveloped property on which they hope to build a permanent home, one that can accommodate more children and be more affordable to maintain in the long run.

Pastor Jean Fritz at the new property

From February 13th to the 22nd, I will be leading an eMi team of two architects, a site planner, three engineers, a draftsman and two engineering students (one an eMi intern) to help design the facilities and infrastructure (power, water, sanitation) for the new property. Also coming is a volunteer photographer/artist/writer who will help to produce fund-raising and awareness documents for the orphanage as it continues to fund-raise for the construction project as well as its many ongoing expenses.

We would welcome you to pray for our team: for travel safety, sensitivity to the needs of the orphanage, flexibility and grace in working together toward a common goal and an openness to love all the people we will be there to serve.  Please also pray for my family and the families of all volunteers as they sacrifice time with their loved ones and fill the void in the busyness of family life at home.

You can see more details of the project by clicking the link under Upcoming Projects at the top of the side bar of my blog.  You can also visit the HCRM website at  Thank you to all our supporters and friends who have come alongside my family and me in so many different ways, making it possible for me to be a part of this work.