Thursday, January 31, 2008

Downsizing to upsize

Sitting by the campfire doing phone work is a new twist for me but a nice one.

It also seems we left one tornado alley to drive into another one. The winds are howling and the waters are bashing the shores with tornado watches out and expecting to be changed into warnings before the night is over. Hopefully the trailer won't rock and roll too much.

This morning started with a staff meeting here at Rebuild Jackson County and 2 members learned they most likely will be out of a job by the end of next month. Downsizing!! This organization is just like many others along the coast, in danger of running out of financing to help those who are desperately in need of help! Time will tell but we would appreciate prayers!

Speaking of those, Diane's mother has had some breathing difficulties and is still in the hospital. Monty's uncle is having even more difficulties and we wait each hour by hour for updates.

I am still in the middle of making phone call after phone call to those who have lost all hope of ever getting back into a real home! I have one lady who hasn't had one single thing done since the storm, she has no ability to do so. She is a working mother with 3 children doing the best she can to just make ends meet! It's amazing to hear the changes in their voices when they receive the smallest ray of hope! It's a God thing for sure! I only wish you could hear it instead of just reading about it here.

Please keep all of these things in your prayers and remember how blessed we all are, no matter what we think!!

Blessings until next time. . . Susan and Monty

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The light isn't an oncoming train

Blogger is having photo "issues" again this evening!

The past couple of days have been quite busy, mostly with getting settled. Monty spent all of today resealing the roof of our camper as we discovered during last nights thunder storm that there was a leak -- right over top of our bed! And, of course, we discovered it AFTER the rains stopped and the bed was wet. We also discovered that if one uses a hair dryer to dry out the sheets and blankets that one should also unplug the ceramic heater BEFORE using said hair dryer or one will blow a circuit!! The fascinating details of trailer life!! Let the storms come back tonight -- we're ready for them (we think).

Getting settled is always a challenge. We tried to locate ourselves as close to the bath house as possible so we could shower there and save on our own water usage. Since we cannot hard-pipe into the sewer line we will need to pick up stakes and drive to the dump station each time the tanks fill. To avoid doing this as much as possible we use the shower house. We have also learned which showers have water pressure and which ones don't! And walking through the trees at night using a flash light is a new adventure also. Thank goodness for the Best Buy gift certificate from our daughter, Lindsay, we now have walkie talkies we can use to keep and "ear" out for each other. And then there are the set of steps up from the living area to the bedroom -- Monty found them the hard way during the night! I moved the night light closer to that area so he can now see when he is going to the kitchen during the night! Like I said, the details of getting settled can bring quite the laugh!!

We were so blessed to spend last evenings dinner with our dear friends from Wisconsin, Tony and Shirley. They are back, once again, for another month of volunteering in whatever way they can. They are working through the Lutheran effort here and are really being "stretched" in their skills and abilities. They spent their first week blowing insulation in the attics of homes and needless to say also spent time finding the local chiropractor who made it possible for them to continue to crawl into the attics! It was so good to see them and we look forward to having a couple more weeks to see them. They might even come and sit by one of our fires some evening!

That brings me to the update on Diane's mother. She is doing much better and if this continues she might be coming home in the next couple of days!! Thank you so much for your prayers!!!

As for Monty's uncle . . . he is now hospitalized since falling the other night. He is just too weak and needs to be where he can be monitored on a constant basis. The family thanks you for your prayers and asks that they continue as time is of the essence.

We also pray for our home Pastor, Pastor Dave and his wife Lisa who are in Costa Rico on a mission trip. Around 5 years ago they started planting churches there and are on a return trip to turn those churches over to the communities! What an awesome outreach and blessing!!

Back to us. . . we are busy looking at homes that have either had (or are in the process of having) work done to return them to real homes. We met Ms Clark yesterday who is enjoying her brand new home. Her old one was replaced with a brand new one and the smile on her face is a permanent fixture.

We also went to other homes that needed assessed for damages and the paperwork process started to get them the help and repairs needed. The Case Managers are the ones who meet with the homeowners and get them through the paperwork and processes to be able to receive funding and/or repairs done. It's quite the process but more and more people are receiving the help they desperately need. Yesterday I was speaking with a gentleman via the phone who was telling me his "story". No doubt he has told his story a thousand times over the past years and still has yet to receive help. When I assured him we had now started the process and would do whatever we could to help him he broke down in tears and told me "you made my day" and now he "could see the light at the end of the tunnel and realized it wasn't an oncoming train!" And all I did was speak with him on the phone! BUT . . . what he really got was a ray of HOPE!! That's all anyone is looking for! These people have lost everything and have spent 100% of their time over these past 2 and 1/2 years doing whatever they could to just survive! They have not had the time to emotionally process anything! And it is beginning to not only show, but take it's toll!

As I have said before --- the need is sooooo great!!!

We will continue to do what we can, to listen to God's calling, to His direction, and do our best to be obedient to that call and do whatever it is He would have us do. We do know we are where He wants us to be, where we need to be, where He is speaking to us!

We are at "home"! Thank you for making that possible with your prayers and financial support!

Blessings to all until next time . . . Susan and Monty

PS In case you lost the info or forgot or are reading for the first time. . . We are "funded" by the donations of people such as yourselves, a dollar at a time. We are not funded by any agencies or any one church. No donation is too small and we bless you for your help. If you would like to donate please send your tax deductible donation to the following -- with a separate note attached. Just write our names on that separate note and it will come directly to us. Our mission sending agency takes care of these details thus making it possible for us to concentrate on our work. Please send to:
International Gospel Outreach (IGO)
PO Box 1008
Semmes, AL 36575-1008
Thank you!

Monday, January 28, 2008

We're Back "Home"

Before I even get into our trip and "landing" I have 2 extremely urgent prayer requests.
1. Please pray for Monty's uncle Larry. He has been suffering with pancreatic cancer for months and they have called in the family tonight. We ask for prayers of peace, the kind that surpasses all human understanding.
2. Please pray for Diane's mother. She suffered a heart attack today. They did get her to the hospital in time and after placing stents she appears to be doing well. She is not a young woman, a mother of 13 and could use healing prayers from all of us.
Now, as you can see by the photos we did make it out of the frigid temps of home in Indiana and after 2 days on the road we landed yesterday late afternoon. I must admit that I have never in my life officially "camped" until now. We are in a state camp ground, surrounded by shade trees and were even able to russel up a real campfire this evening. If you have spent any time here at all you know that the only way to ward off the gnats, the no-seeums and the mosquitos is fire and smoke. Yes, they are all out and were more than ready to greet us as we got the trailer set up. The temps themselves are in the mid 60s and wonderful. Being in the shade is a real treat for us as our past near 2 years had us on the back side of a strip mall, facing the south and on concrete. We are so thankful to Rebuild Jackson County for making this location possible for us.
Speaking of Rebuild Jackson County. . . that is the organization we will be assisting over the next months. This organization has been established since shortly after the storm and is where I would come each Monday morning to meet with all the relief agencies in the area. No matter what the title overhead, Lutheran, Methodist, Amish . . . we all came together around the table and did what we could do to meet the needs of those who lost so much. What a thought - - - everyone working together and no labels!! Now I know why I was at each meeting. They are the ones who welcomed us back, who set us up in the park and with whom we will be working. We will be construction coordinators, once again coordinating the volunteer teams with both their stays while here and the work they will do while here. There is quite a bit of new construction going on and still much rebuilding to be done. Right now there is one gentleman, Moses, who is overseeing every project and he is welcoming us with open arms, and one of the biggest smiles I've seen in awhile! The thought of having both of us come in and help brought on that smile.
Many of the relief efforts have closed their doors having run out of funds. Others are still operating but not knowing how long they will last. Still others are under "reconstruction" themselves. This relief effort is constantly changing, no way to write a book as the minute you think you've "got it" you have to change the way you are doing it.
We are so thankful to God -- and all of you --- for making it possible for us to return to the field. The needs are still sooooo great and we hope to just make ourselves available for God to work through us and use us as He sees fit. We know and trust He has the manual, He has the chapter already written and it is our prayer that we are open to hearing His Word and obedient to follow that Word.
We do not have internet access in the park so we will be doing the best we can traveling to the coffee shop in the mall or using whatever access we can locate. It is still my hope to keep you updated on a daily basis as I know there is going to be alot happening and we will need your continued prayers and support to keep up with everything.
One other note, I did stop in and visit with Ms Faye today! Surprise! Surprise! She could REALLY use your prayers also. She knows no other life than with Mike Sr and is having problems with isolating herself. She is so lost and so alone. Even with all the reassurance in the world it still doesn't make up for the lonely evening and nights. And to "ice the cake" Mike Jr is facing the consequences of a very poor decision he made last spring and will be incarcarated next week and most likely for a couple of months. The judge will make the final decision on the time next week. Please pray for both of them. We all know we learn our biggest lessons from our biggest mistakes. May this be the case with Mike Jr.
We thank all of you for your prayers. They are priceless! Just as much as we know God has called us here to do this work we also know satan will be attacking from every angle, and from some angles we don't even know about yet. Please continue to hold us up and please continue to hold up all those along the Gulf Coast who are still hurting.
Blessings to all until next time . . . Susan and Monty

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Warm thoughts??

The sun is shining, there is a light covering of snow on the ground, the temps are in the single digits and the wind chills are below zero!

And we are packing our camper trailer getting ready to head south! I think the birds are even jealous!

We are really excited to get there, even though it will be a 2 day journey. Pulling 11,000 pounds behind Monty's truck makes is nearly impossible to even reach the speed limit let alone go over it!

We also want to "dangle the carrot" to you out there who might be thinking of putting together a team to come and work with us and spread more blessings among those who feel as though hurricane Katrina was yesterday. We just received our set of house plans for our next Speed Build! Yes, this time we actually have plans, not just a drawing on a piece of graph paper!

Joe will be heading up the team from West Virginia for yet another fantastic week! They are in their own planning meetings getting the jobs divided up between workers and trucks filled with tools and things they will need. Somewhere in there they will throw in a blanket or sheet to sleep on. Sleep is something not easily found during those builds but smiles are abundant.

We don't know this family just yet but we do know they are handicapped as we will be building a ramp. This home must be built 12 feet in the air! Yes, 12 feet! That means more pilons, more digging, more concrete to set them and everyone working 2 stories in the air doing every single thing needing done to build the house!

The week of building has not been set as yet but we are looking at the end of Feb or first of March.

West Virginia would more than welcome those of you who are skilled in construction, or some form of construction. Things move like clockwork that week and the more skilled hands there are the timelier the clockwork.

Be sure and stay tuned in to the blog. Things are about to start happening, God is moving and people are going to finally be able to "go home" again.

The rebuilding of lives through rebuilding of homes is about to go into another chapter and we are so excited to see what God has in store. He already has the chapters written. All we have to do is stay obedient, listening to only His voice and following only His path.

Come along with us, whether in person or through the blog!

Once again, we guarantee only ONE thing --- your life WILL be changed!

Until next time . . . when we are hopefully a bit warmer. . . . Susan and Monty (and Bitty and Samson, of course)

Friday, January 18, 2008

An answer to a question

Standing underneath another of God's wonders, the mighty redwoods. Just a few days before we arrived there had been some strong winds through the valley area and quite a bit of damage was done in the forests. As we walked through them, bending our necks back as far as they could go and that not being far enough, it made me think of the creation. Some of these trees date back to before Christ and I don't know about you but it sure makes me think -- alot. They have stood more than the test of time. They stand tall, looking upward and I believe gaining strength from possibly being closer to heaven than we think. They showed me the strength of God, His power and His presence.

As we travel from church to church, state to state and talk with more people than we can remember there is always one question we are repeatedly asked. It was asked many, many times while we were in California.

The question: "how did you know God called you into this ministry?"

For me, I knew from the time I was a small child that I was called to help people. While I was in high school I sent for the necessary forms to enroll in the Peace Corps. It was the only organization that I knew of that took people into the field to help others. But in my day and age that wasn't a popular thing for females to do so it never came to pass. It was still in my mind and I still wondered how it would all work.

After marriage came 3 children. Every time our church mentioned a mission trip somewhere, anywhere, my heart ached for the opportunity to go along. But with children at home it never was possible. As they got older an opportunity to go to an Indian reservation looked like it might be "the one". Wrong . . . it would take more money than I could afford so once again I dealt with my aching heart and went on with life. When I became a single mother with those 3 children I pretty much erased the idea of ever taking a mission trip.

God had His plan all along.

As Monty and I sat glued to the television watching hurricane Katrina build and build and build I felt a stirring in my heart again. That storm was a monster and the damage predictions were enormous. When it struck I had trouble even leaving for work because all I could think about was the people and how they were suffering. As soon as I would get home I would be in front of the TV for hours, hurting and yet hearing the call "you have to go there".

I wanted to rush out our door and drive south, anywhere, but knew that wasn't the thing to do. I waited for our church to organize a team of volunteers and it seemed like forever before they did. Pastor Dave finally announced there would be a team going and all I remember was coming home from church that day and "telling, not asking" Monty that we WOULD be going. We neither one had paid vacation but it made no difference, we were going. That calling became so strong that I could hardly concentrate at work. My mind was always elsewhere.

When we left for MS that Monday morning I was more excited than if we were heading for an all expense vacation. And I also knew in my spirit that life was about to change.

Within a couple of hours of our arrival I knew we had to come back, for a long time. And God knew it too. He had been that voice I had been hearing from the time I was a child. He had His timing, His plan and it was perfect.

As I look back each time someone asks me that question I realize it took me 50 years to get on the mission field and then God said to just stay there! Isn't He an amazing God! He used each and every day of those years to prepare me, to teach me and to direct me to the field, one step at a time.

To all of you who think you are called by God but don't know how in the world you can fulfill that calling, wondering how it would all work, how about this, how about that, what if this and what if that . . . Just remember that God has the instruction book, He holds the calendar and He will make it happen when it is supposed to happen. NEVER, EVER give up and most of all, NEVER, EVER stop listening to His voice.

You wonder how you will know it's His voice and not something else? When you take the step of faith to follow Him, you will know! He will open doors, He will lay out the red carpet and you will know. No doubts, none!

Surrender yourself to Him and watch what miracles and blessings take place. It's an amazing journey and you won't want to miss a single second! It's worth the risks, it's worth the unknowns because God is your leader and He leads us all because of His love for us.

Take the step, the water is fine! You will be living the dream!

Blessings till the next time. Susan and Monty

Thursday, January 17, 2008

From Sun to Snow??

Yes, we are now back home and in just a matter of hours went from sunshine to snow! Quite the shocker but that's what happens when you travel from California to Indiana in January!
As you can see by the couple of photos we had a good time. The waters along the coast are beautiful. Seeing the waves crash up on the rocks is amazing. The other photo is us with Scott, our adopted CA son the afternoon we went to China Town in San Francisco. What a place! We didn't realize that in the area we were in (Cupertino/San Jose) the population is over 50% Asian. Their educational systems are so outstanding that it draws them to the area. We could have spent alot of time in China Town just looking and getting a better understanding of the culture but we just ran out of time.
Now you might be thinking that all we did was spend time at the water and look in shops!! Oh how wrong you are. Yes, we did get in some relaxation, which is exactly why the team brought us out there. But in the 7 days we were there we had 6 different speaking occasions! We love to share how God is working along the coast and how He took what satan meant for harm and turned (and is turning) it into blessing. The story of Mike and Faye is spreading nationwide and is the best way for people to hear how much the volunteers mean to everyone who has been helped by them.
We started out at the main church's staff meeting and were able to share quite a bit there and meet new people. From there our next stop was the Bible Study group filled with people in their 20s and 30s. That house was packed and each week they have up to and over 50 "kids" show up. They were such fun and we really enjoyed them. Our next stop was both churches on Sunday morning. The church has it's first plant and so we were at one at 8am and then quickly sped off to the other one at 10am. Ken and Beth, who have both volunteered with us, opened their home to anyone and everyone who had ever come on a team or who just wanted to meet us to lunch. It was amazing how many old friends we got to see and once again to feel their love poured back into our ministry.
On our last full day we were asked to come to the Christian high school and share a few minutes with them. This school sent a team to work with us last spring break and will be heading south again this spring break. It was great to see the school, see some of the kids and teachers and meet new ones.
Monty also attended a men's Bible Study one evening and we sat in on one of the classes they offer at the main church.
And one of the most fun things was getting to meet the women who run both churches! What an amazing group of women they have on staff! It seems like we saw more of them than anyone and I don't think they realize just how loved they made us feel! Just before we left for the airport yesterday they all gathered and prayed for us and our ministry!
It was an amazing trip and we are so thankful to the California team for making it possible for us to come and be filled up by them.
We did have a "gliche" at the end. On our last day we had lunch with both Pastor Mark and Pastor Gary. They took us to a BBQ place and both Pastor Mark and Monty ended up with a really nasty case of fook poisoning! Monty was up the entire night extremely sick and ended up spending the entire night in the bathroom! I don't know how he actually made the plane trip yesterday but he did. The flight attendants were extra nice and provided ginger ale which really did start to stay down after we flew out of Houston. Needless to say he is still a bit rough around the edges today.
We did arrive home near midnight last night and today it's just a day trying to adjust to the 3 hour time difference and running through all the memories in our minds. We had nicknamed our CA team our "dream team" and they made a dream of ours come true -- to acutally see California -- and them again! They are planning another week of volunteering in April and we will once again welcome them with open arms!
Thanks to all of you for all your prayers, support and love.
We will be spending the next week preparing for our next venture to MS. We are so excited to see what God has in store and also so excited that we have heard from so many past teams making their own plans on returning and spreading the blessings!
Until next time . . . Susan and Monty

Sunday, January 06, 2008

In the beginning . . .

The first week of December 2005 our church, Vineyard, made its first trip to MS to work disaster relief. I remember Pastor Dave trying to get information as to what we might be doing when we arrived. No matter who he spoke with he couldn't get any info so we drove in rather blind and without many tools. When we arrived, which was very late at night, we were shown a room in the church area that had no walls, no ceiling and I remember laying on our air mattress on the floor and looking up at the ceiling insulation thinking it would for sure fall on my head during the night as I slept. (It never did, it had fallen the week before on another team)

The next morning we awoke to the smell of bacon frying and knew breakfast must be around the corner. Tim and Sherry were trying as best they could to cook for us on nothing but hotplates. I jumped in and made eggs (to order) not only that morning but each morning thereafter. We were then introduced to the other team that was there with us. They were from California and had flown in. We saw them each morning but that was it. During the days we were working on different homes and in the evenings everyone was busy trying to find someplace for dinner and then falling into bed trying to convince our muscles we would be ready to go the next morning.

On Wednesday evening there was a church service and some of us went in our PJs. One of the men from CA was a Pastor and he preached the message that night. I remember these men were always smiling and seemed to love what they were doing.

On the last night they were there we all gathered in the make shift kitchen and took some photos of all of us together. I didn't even know their names.

When Monty and I returned about 7 weeks later to commit to "a year" of disaster relief coordinating the volunteers with the homeowners we had no idea how our lives and those of CA would be intertwined.

The first of March we were told a gentleman from CA was coming to volunteer with us for a month. We were thrilled to meet Scott, a young man who was taking a year out of his life to work with others. He went with us everywhere we went and he became like a second son to us. It was tough to see him leave.

In about another month part of the CA team made another trip to help out. Some were returnees and others were new. It made our hearts feel good to see familiar faces. We saw alot more of them this time as we put them to work in and around the church and they completely redid the church daycare. We knicknamed it the CA kitchen! Another part of them dove into Gladys's home and also completely transformed it nearly brought it to completion.

Once we were relocated from Pascagoula to the next town, Gautier we fell into the pattern of seeing new faces each and every week, our family growing with each one.

Within a few months we received a call saying they wanted to make another trip and work with us. Once again we were thrilled. Again, some of the original mixed with some new guys. They asked for a family where they could all work together and really touch lives. We had no problem in providing them with Charles and Lynn. When they left that week this family had 2 new rooms and a driveway!

At spring break this team helped send their school, Kings Academy, to work with us. All 50 of them! What a blessing it was to see them cooking away at their chuck wagon in the back parking area and to be able to join in the meals and fellowship and worship! The kids are returning again this spring break!!

And low and behold, our very last week in April of 2007, when Convoy said we were closing up shop, our CA team came back yet again. This time all but 1 gentleman were returning faces. That week was such a mixture of emotions. It was such a blessing to Monty and I to be able to share all of those emotions with this team.

And that brings us to now. This team has tried for over a year to bring us to CA for some rest and relaxation. Each time we would think we could schedule a trip -- it didn't work for some reason or another. But now . . . after all this time we have it in the works and it IS going to happen. We knew that if we didn't get it scheduled this time it would be who knows how long since we will be returning to MS by the end of this month.

We are so grateful to this team for everything they have done. They have changed the lives of so many, they have touched hearts, they have new families and they have surely brought a smile to our Lord and Savior! To us they are family!

We are looking forward to seeing the far west. We pray for safe flights and we pray for these people, for their church and for them to continue to be such enormous blessings everywhere they go. It will be so awesome for Monty and I to get to meet the women behind the men, to meet their children and to be welcomed into their homes! What an honor for us!

Thank you California --- we love all of you and look forward to what God has in store for all of us in the future. The one thing we do know for certain is that you have changed our lives, you have blessed us and you are -- and always will be --- FAMILY!!!

For this reason the blog will be a bit sparse for awhile but when we return we will have photos, stories, bodies rested a bit more and hearts overflowing with love!

Until then . . . Monty and Susan

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"Happy"?? New Year ??

Isn't amazing how we all cringe at the thought of change? Why is it that most people are content to stay in a place where they are unhappy, unfulfilled and resentful because of both but yet baulk at the mention of change?

The New Year always brings about change. We all sit back and watch the clock tick and the ball drop feeling sadness at the "loss" of the past year and yet not so sure we are ready for the New Year. And when the clock strikes and the ball drops we realize that those next minutes don't feel much different than the last. It's just tough getting used to writing a new year number on paperwork!

God is a God of change and yet He is the only constant, dependable thing in our lives! He promises to always be with us and never leave us! And yet, I think because we can't physically see Him, we fear change! If we truly trust Him how can we fear change? Food for thought . . .

I am convinced that if we all focused more on gratitude we would fear change less. I thought I would go through the past 12 months and list just one thing I am grateful for. Might you try the same thing? Try it and see how difficult it is to think of only one thing, how many more things pop into your mind; before you know it you will find yourself smiling and possibly thinking a bit more positively about changes that WILL take place this coming year.

January: we started our classes (including homework) at our missions sending agency.
February: we were booked solid with teams of volunteers.
March: the speed build of Mike and Faye's house was a huge success.
April: we hosted our last 2 teams (CA & IA) before Convoy of Hope closed their operations on the coast.
May: we relocated our disaster missions to New Orleans (and I turned a year older).
June: we graduated from our missions sending agency AND were ordained into the ministry.
July: we learned that deep, intense sweating really does cleanse your pores, and the rest of your body.
August: we made a trip home, the first in over 9 months.
September: God called us home for a much needed and long overdue sabbatical.
October: we learned just how tired we were and how not so easy it is to relax.
November: we spent Thanksgiving with family, something we had not done in 2 years.
December: God called us to return to MS and continue rebuilding lives by rebuilding homes.

What an amazing year it was! God worked so many miracles right in front of our eyes that sometimes I felt as though I couldn't take them all in! And each and every miracle came in the form of change!

Do I have reservations and fears and cringe at the thought of starting a brand new year?
NO WAY!!!!! I welcome it with open arms, I welcome God's presence and pray for His miracles and His peace!!!

Each year of my life He shows up more and more!! I better get ready for this year and it's guaranteed to be awesome beyond dreams!!!

Get yourself an attitude of gratitude and open your heart and mind up to hear, see and feel the presence of our truly Almighty Lord!!

Until next time . . . Happy New Year!! Susan and Monty