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For [he] will not often consider the years of [her] life, because God keeps [her] occupied with the gladness of [her] heart. Ecclesiastes 5:20 Sirens piercing the early morning air draw me up through layers of consciousness as I try to orient myself. I must not be in Boonville. Nor in Oroville. Chico??? Cracking my eyes open I see the unfamiliar surroundings and then I know. BogotŠ, Colombia, South America. Ah, yes. A small room in a huge building which used to be a convent, and now houses the Filadelfia School for the Deaf. This will be my home for the next three months. Well, one of my homes. The song comes to mind, "East side, West side, all around the town ..." The school is on the east side of town, near the mountains, which serve as an orientation tool as Iím learning to navigate the city. I have a wonderful little nook here where I spend most of the week. Then on Sunday I go to the west side of town where I have another wonderful little nook, at the home of my friend, Marilyn Cathcart, who is a Wycliffe missionary here working with one of the indigenous tribes. While Iím on this side of town, I go to the deaf translation team to do some teaching for their morning devotions. Then I head back to the east side. Then into His hand went mine; And into my heart came He. And I walk in a light Divine The path I had feared to see. Before I left for Colombia I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a sort of horror as I thought about living in a city. I would ask myself, "Arlene, what are you thinking of??? Do you realize what you are leaving behind to go on this wild goose chase to the end of the earth???" Then the opening words to this poem, which I had read in a church bulletin as a young believer, would echo in my head as though the LORD were answering my thoughts, "Will you leave this to follow Me?" And even as in my youth, the words of this poem captivated my heart to say, "Yes! I will leave the flowers--not for a crown, but for love of You, and the joy of carrying the message of Your grace to those who have not yet heard." So here I am. Guess what? There are flowers everywhere!! In peopleís yards and in green spaces throughout the city. In the tiny patio outside my window, hidden somewhere in the middle of this huge building where I live, grows a plant similar to our Christmas cactus in its vegetation, but much larger. Just as I arrived it bloomed, a huge red flower, with another bud ready to pop. They tell me this plant never blooms, and they wanted to get rid of it, but no one quite got around to tending to its demise, so ... It has delighted my eyes these ten days now and shed a fragrance of my Abbaís tender care through its beauty each morning. Last night I got an email from my brother in the Bay Area with a beautiful bouquet of roses in it. They looked so real I could almost smell them. The best thing about them is they donít have to be watered, they wonít wilt, and I can look at them from anywhere my computer and I wander. What a blessing!!! Thank you my dear brother! BogotŠ is a city of several million people, depending on how many of the surrounding localities are included in the numbers. Traffic is interesting. Pedestrians not only do not have any rights over cars, you take your life in your hands when you step off the curb. So unless you have lots of time to get across, you just wait. Iíve ridden in taxis, which are much cheaper than in the US, and I see that the lane markers are suggestions at best, and totally ignored at worst. Still, traffic seems to move along at a pretty good clip, I donít see any anger displayed when someone gets cut off. Itís largely a game of bluff to see who will chicken out first, and everyone seems to know the rules and just plows on through. Surprisingly, I havenít seen any accidents, and my friends tell me the ones most at risk are the motorcyclists who weave in and out of the stream of cars, seemingly without fear. This week I started working with Jaider, a young man of about 17 yrs, who only recently came to the school, not having had any education prior to this, and without any language at all. It is mind boggling to think of his having grown up in total silence, without even having anyone try to communicate with him. Now it is my task to work with him on math and writing -- I mean just teaching him to make the letters, and then to communicate that the unintelligible squiggles and marks are the key to unlocking the world of learning for him. So far weíve worked with the first game of the Math Without Tears program using pattern blocks. He has a difficult time concentrating and staying focused, but he stuck with it. Of course, at this time, even the little sign language he knows is more than I do, so we have quite a time playing charades to communicate with each other. Please pray for Jaider, that he will come to understand not only the elements of the three Rs, but also that in our interaction, both with me and his other teachers, he will believe in Jesus, and come to know his inestimable worth. Another group I am working with is a special education class. It is a group of six children with varying abilities. We worked as a group on Thursday, again using the pattern block math game, and then we will be breaking down into groups of two or three according to ability, with the teacher and I each leading a group. Please pray for these children also to sense the love the LORD wants to express to them through us, and begin to hunger for Him. Pray also for me, as I am in way over my head in this. Pray that I would not be content to just keep my head above water, but, leaning on the everlasting arms I would walk and leap with joy on top of the waters!!! I was really excited when they asked me to teach some Hebrew language skills to some of the deaf team. Also, Marilynís people are translating the O.T. into their language, so she wants some help with the Hebrew also. I am thrilled beyond words that the work Iíve done in Hebrew and the O.T. exegesis of the past 25 years is now going to be useful to these translation teams. Please pray for me to have clear thinking as I navigate between four languages. Spanish is coming back pretty well, as I use it with the office staff during the day. My friend, Patti, an American who is the director of the school, and I also speak Spanish to each other during the day to cut down on brain drain going from Spanish to English and back. I think the sign language will pick up as I have the evening classes beginning this week. But once I start working with Hebrew, translated into Spanish and then into sign language, then the fun will begin. The LORD has given me a wonderful friend in my sign language interpreter. She and I get together on Saturdays to plan the teaching for Monday morning. She is also going to help me learn some of the specific sign language I need for a Christian setting, as the classes are purely secular. So please pray for Marta and I as we work together. My formal classes in sign language begin tomorrow night. Iíll be going to class from 6-8 each evening, M-F for four weeks to complete Level I. Then, if my brain is up to it, Iíll take Level II in April. In the meantime, while Iíve been waiting for school to start, Iíve been making balloon animals, taking pix of the kids showing me their individual sign, sort of a nickname, as well as finger spelling their name. The nice thing about taking a video clip is that I can slow them down to be able to figure out what they are signing!! I'll be writing about my deaf/blind student in the next report. His name is Samuel. Pray for him also. In all of this, the LORD really is keeping me occupied with gladness of heart. Iím not feeling the sort of panic I usually feel in a city where I canít see out and Iím surrounded by cement and graffiti. Even though Iím surrounded by people all day Iím also not feeling the usual energy drain of being around people a lot. The LORD has been waking me up each morning at 6:00 so I have quiet time alone before the press of the day starts. I didnít have any jet lag at all when I arrived. My body seems to have adjusted well to the change in altitude (8000+ feet), Iím making lots of new friends and I have both food and shelter. What more could I ask? Well, some of you might think about coming for a visit!! ... Thanks so much for your prayers and your wonderful emails. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by your love and prayers. In the service of the King!! Arlene
Hi again from Colombia, What a great adventure in faith this is! I had no idea I would be so stretched and challenged in learning a language. Several aspects of this task are different from other languages I've studied. Mainly, being taught by a deaf teacher adds a level of difficulty in not being able to ask questions to clarify things. I stumble around and sometimes can get my question across, but the things I really need to know are impossible because I don't have a sign dictionary or textbook which teaches me how to put the words together. Also, a lot of the conversational vocabulary I'm learning is either not applicable to the kids or else not appropriate!! We have learned to discuss dating and marriage in great detail, but somehow I haven't found that real useful with my young friends. I have found several people who are willing to help me individually with grammatical structure and vocabulary specific to the situations I am involved in. Please pray for me to be able to communicate with my tutors and find a way into the language which fits my particular language learning capabilities. I'm leading two groups in devotions, the deaf translation team and the teachers at the school. We are enjoying some good discussions. One deaf/blind boy is asking for help to study the Bible. We need another person who can interpret for us, as it turns out his Spanish is only a little better than my sign. Please pray that his hunger for the Word will increase, and that someone else will also want to learn who can be the bridge between us so they both can learn to mine the riches of God's love letter to us. I'm involved right now in a project to translate thank you letters the students have written to supporters who help with their schooling. We have to also take photos of all the kids to include in the letters. Did I mention there isn't any heat in any building I've been in so far. The temperature ranges from upper 60s in the daytime to low 50s in the night. Everyone layers up in the morning, sheds layers during the day and then replaces them at night. I'm about to finish my first sign class. I walk to class each day about 5:00 pm and then take the taxi home. It's quite a challenge to navigate because sidewalks are in disrepair, uneven, narrow, etc. But it's quite interesting to see all the small businesses operating in tiny spaces along the street. I'm planning to take some photos before I leave. Thanks for your prayers. I really appreciate them. I miss all of you, and I will have lots to share when I get home. Hugs, Arlene
Dear family and friends,
Only two weeks left in BogotŠ. Now the rush is on to finish all the projects we have in the hopper. As it has turned out, the ending of the first photography project was only the opening scene for the next one. It continually amazes me to discover that most of the parents of deaf children have never learned sign language, and effectively have no way to really communicate with their children. Once they get to school and learn some Spanish, they can write some words here and there, but essentially, the deaf children are pretty isolated at home.
One of the projects my friend, Cris, at the school is working on is getting the parents more involved in learning sign and getting them connected with other parents of deaf children. BogotŠ is a huge city of several million people, so she has gotten together some of the parents who have shown interest to lead home groups in their area of town. They get together, with some of the older students as teachers, and work on sign language with other parents who live in that area. Once a month everyone gathers at the school for a day of review and practice with games, skits and lots of fun and laughter.
My task has been to photograph the various events. Of course, taking the pictures is only the beginning. Organizing them, making simple repairs such as red eye reduction etc., and then choosing which ones to print, putting them up for everyone to see has occupied an enormous amount of time. However it is an investment well worth while as the kids are enchanted by the pictures of themselves and their classmates.
They come to me asking me to bring out my computer during lunch break to show them pictures. This has generated some good conversation and opportunities to use my sign language. Those of you who are in my picture albums are now famous around the school as everyone is interested in seeing pictures of my family and friends, where I live, where Eric goes hunting, the boys' adventures of white water rafting and hang gliding and anything else I have to show them.
It's amazing to think about leaving and how much I will miss this place. The other day I had to get some photos printed. It was about a three mile walk to and from the shop, and the trek took me through a section of stores and residential neighborhoods which would have been my least favorite place to walk when I came here. But now, I find myself enjoying the bustle, gawking at sights along the way, and generally enjoying the walk. I have to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes open for uneven pavement, dips and rises on the sidewalk, bicyclists, sidewalk vendors and other pitfalls along the way, but I'm amazed that I could actually say I enjoyed the walk.
Jaider has not chosen to return to work with me, but he has made several overtures of interacting with me, which is a change from where he was at first. He has enjoyed learning to use my camera, and has actually taken some good photos. The teachers say he is doing much better in class now, also, and he has been moved to a regular class of kids nearer his age.
I talked with Samuel again the other day, and we are still working at getting him a Braille Bible. I can now talk a little bit with him as I sign and he puts his hands over mine to "read" what I say, then he signs back to me.
All in all, even though I don't sign as well as I would like, I'm amazed at how the LORD has opened opportunities to encourage kids, to engage with them in activities and to practice my sign language with them. They know how to ask for balloon animals, tell me what animal and what color, and I know this activity has given me lots of chances to just bless the kids and give them another warm and loving presence in their lives.
And though I haven't done all the things I thought/hoped to do, I know that the relationships which have come from this time of mostly being a "gofer" are ones the LORD will use in all of our lives as we part ways physically, but remain connected in our hearts across the miles. I know some relationships will just pick up right where we left off the next time I come to Colombia.
I plan to be back in the Oroville/Chico area on the 16th of May, and in the Boonville area a week or so later. Nebraska family, perhaps the end of June for a few days before Krista's wedding on July 4. Wherever, whenever, I'm looking forward to seeing and talking with you all.
In the service of the King!
It is now March 8, 2014, five years later, and Arlene has again headed "South of the Border" to BogotŠ, Colombia, South America. The Lord has once again led her there to minister to the needs of others in the Body of Christ. Hopefully we will receive occasional updates which will be posted here. In the meantime, be supplicating at the Father's right hand for her needs even though we may not know the specifics.
March 21, 2014
Sorry to be incommunicado so long. I have not been able to have reliable internet since I've been here. Today someone came over who knew how to get the passcode for my friend's internet, so now I have a strong signal. PTL!!!
It's been a pretty busy two weeks so far. At this point I am teaching math to all the grades except grade 10 at the deaf school. It's quite an adventure to do this in sign language, but the kids are all really kind and helpful as well as patient with my mixture of sign, mime, charades and anything else I can think of to get the ideas across. I start at 7:00 AM some mornings, which means I have to catch the bus by 6:00 to ride across town to the school.
When I'm not at school, I'm helping sort and pack my friend's things from her house to get ready to sell the house. I'm also starting to study the Cacua language in preparation for helping the indigenous translators finish the books they have started.
The Lord was so kind to give me several "stones of remembrance" to remind me it was He who sent me here when I feel overwhelmed with all the activity and juggling several languages all the time. ... I'll try to keep you up to date on happenings here. ... I hope to see you all before too many moons have passed.
hugs and blessings,
in the service of the King!!!
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