Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why I Love the Church

I know that there are a lot of critical things to say about the church these days (and throughout the ages), but today I want to focus on one of the many reasons I love the church and am so thankful to be a part of a church body.

Jesus is trying to break some faulty beliefs in my life.  For a lot of my life, instruction or commands in The Bible came across to me as another things I needed to do to please God.  No matter how many times I heard from wonderful pastors that these commands are for me, it just didn't click.

Until more recently, when I am starting to see the grace in His commands.

"And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." Hebrews 10:25

In these past few weeks I have seen why this instruction in his Word is so important for us.

Some of our best friends were in the hospital this week with their 4 year old son with cancer.  It has broken my heart to be thousands of miles away and not be able to offer hugs and meals.

But I have watched God's beautiful church (the people, not the building) surround our friends, love on them, offer them words of encouragement, pray for them,  and one of my dear mentors started a meal train to get food to their family so they can focus on the important things as their son goes through treatment. Beautiful.

Early this morning a wonderful woman and mother in our church here in Ibarra left this world and went to be with Jesus.  I heard the team of young missionaries we live with get up early and head out to be with the family.  They are just now starting to trickle in at 9:30 pm with red eyes and full hearts after a day of helping the family put together the funeral in 12 hours.  Beautiful.

Over and over again Kurtis and I have been surrounded with love and support in all the ups and downs in life, including the adoption of our son to our move to a new country. Beautiful.

I have many people in my life that I care for that do not have this blessing.  They are not a part of a church family that can offer love, encouragement, and hold them up when they don't feel they can go on.  This breaks my heart.

I am thankful for God's beautiful church and the way it can be tangible Jesus here on earth.  I am going to bed tonight knowing that my dear friends know they are cared for, a grieving family has seen God's love through His' people, and feeling the prayers and sacrifice of so many who many who give so that we can be here in Ecuador. 

We are so blessed to be a part of the church and I am ever more grateful for gifts in God's Word.

"Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Longing for Home

Holidays are hard away from family.  What surprised me is that this 4th of July was one of the hardest so far!  It may be due to the fact that we just had my mom, Kurtis' sister, and Kurtis parents come to visit us over the past month, and they were all back at home in the states, and we were here.  Don't get me wrong, I love Ecuador.  It is a beautiful place with lovely people, but I don't think it will ever truly be home.

But in truth, neither is Arizona.  I read a passage from CS Lewis recently where he talked about our longing for home and our constant desire to fulfill that here on earth.  We go through great effort to create special moments, but they never quite live up to what we hoped for.  We remember times with our family in the past and it brings back warm feelings of home, but when we try to recreate those moments or create new moments, they are never perfect, they never quite feel like home to us.  The reason being is that we were not created for earth.  Our real home, our real longing is for heaven.

Philippians 3:20 says, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ."

This really resonated with me on our last trip back to the states.  We were so excited to be with friends and family, but in the midst of our joy, there was still pain and struggle.  We still had work to do, time constraints that kept us from seeing so many people we wanted to, there was still brokenness in families, and our best friends found out the day before we got home that their son Moses had cancer.  We were so thankful that The Lord allowed us to be home with our loved ones, but honestly, I am thankful that it isn't really home and that my heart longs for my real home in heaven with Jesus, where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more cancer!

I had a very strange experience last night while I slept.  I am not sure if it was a dream or was real, but I was dying.  I could feel my heart failing me.  I could feel my spirit separating from my body and I was whispering to Kurtis "I love you" over and over.  The thing that surprised me though, was that I wasn't scared.  I was excited!  I felt ready to finally be with Jesus in my home that I was created for.

Obviously, The Lord did not take me to heaven last night, but it was a reminder to me that I need to keep living with eyes that are focused on Him, my true home, and do my best to do His work with the time he has given me in this foreign land.

C.S Lewis (excerpt from Mere Christianity)

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

We were so confused!  We had just gotten word from our supervisor and the CEO of our organization that the Manta church plant (our group) had been canceled or delayed for at least a year.  There just wasn't the amount of young missionaries necessary to form a whole team.

We had sold our things, raised a lot of money, and moved our family down to Ecuador to help plant this church and in one conversation we realized this may not be why the Lord brought us here.  “Why Lord?  We know your plans are good; this one just doesn’t make sense yet.  We’ll trust you and wait for your answer.” 

In the midst of it all, God gave us a peace that there was a specific purpose in this change.  

This all happened right before Christmas.  We went through the next month with little idea of what we would be doing in the coming months/years; trying to brainstorm ways we could be useful for Extreme Missions and Christ’s kingdom.  Some possible options on our plate were to help with another church plant already in process, or travel home for an extended time to wait for the next opportunity to plant a church with Extreme.  Flexibility has definitely been the word of the year for us!

On Saturday, January 18th, we got a Skype call from our Supervisor.  He asked us if we would be willing to jump in as the Cluster Coordinators of a team that has just recently started their work in Ibarra, Ecuador.  Due to health reasons, the current Cluster Coordinator family needed to relocate so their team was suddenly in need of a support family.

The former Cluster Coordinators are dear friends of ours, so the news was difficult to receive.  We were grieved for them, and yet had peace about filling their position, with great desire to honor the work they put in before us. 

We needed the Lord to confirm it for us, and He did in a beautiful way.  Throughout his young life, Malachi has had a love/hate relationship with prayer.  He loves it when it extends his awake time before bed.  He hates to take it seriously, and he never likes to pray out loud.  This time, Kurtis asked him just to pray for our family in his heart, and he shocked us with this one: “Jesus, please help Mommy and Daddy and Kai Kai know what to do.  Aaaaamen!”  

And we did know what to do.  

It all started making sense now.  This is why the Manta team didn’t come together.  The amazing thing is, there are 4 people on the Ibarra team that were originally scheduled to be on our team in Manta, so we had already started developing relationships and praying for them.  Even crazier is that most of the others were with us in language school or studying ministry on the same campus during our time there.  So we already had this amazing base of relationships with this team before we ever knew we would be working with them!  How cool is that?!

We packed up all our belongings (with the help of friends who showed up at just the right time without us asking) and in 2 days moved to Ibarra, Ecuador on Monday, January 20th.  We were welcomed by our new team with a beautiful lunch they had prepared, flowers, and many welcoming hugs. It was overwhelming.  This team is the one who was experiencing a difficult time, but still they chose to bless us with their welcome.  What a special day!

Pastor, Pastora and some of our amazing team fixing us lunch on our first day

A very warm welcome!

We are now the Cluster Coordinators (or Support Family) for 6 amazing young missionaries, with four more coming in May.  These missionaries have a great passion for the Lord and have a true desire to share His love with the people of Ibarra.  We have learned a lot from them in a short few weeks and we are excited to grow alongside them as we seek to follow the Lord’s call together.

From left to right: David, Chase, Priscila, Pastora (Astrid), Jared (Pastor & Pastora's son), Rebecca, Abigail (you may recognize her from our first newsletter), Pastor (Yoan), Michaela, & the Strunks

We are also working alongside a Pastor and his family, who are incredible examples of what it means to follow Christ and who we are fortunate to consider friends.  Another blessing in this is that Kurtis became good friends with Pastor Yoan while we were studying language at the seminary.  Yoan was one of our language professors.  He and Kurtis bonded through Jesus and playing basketball, and somehow a lack of a common language did not seem to matter.  We are very excited to support this family in ministry over the next two years!

In case you are wondering, Ibarra is a beautiful, small city surrounded by mountains and an active volcano called Imbarbura!  The weather is a bit warmer than Quito, but not bad at all, especially compared to the beautiful oven we lived in for the past 15 years in Arizona.  Ibarra has beautiful lakes and very kind people.  We are looking forward to getting to know the city and the people better and can’t wait to show any visitors around!  Hint, hint…. ;)

A local park with a view of the volcano

Malachi thinks it is pretty cool here ;)

I will write again soon to fill you in on all we will be doing here.  It is such an honor to be doing the Lord’s work with this team in Ibarra!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Holidays Abroad // Part 1

The holidays are always the hardest time to be away from family, whether you are a few states or a few thousand miles away.  As we faced the upcoming holidays here in Ecuador, we received some very good news.  We had visitors on the way!  What a blessing to have family near on our first holidays away from home (really in all of our lives)!  Yes, we have been super spoiled!

It started with a visit from Kurtis’ sister, Kristina.  She showed up the day before Thanksgiving with suitcases packed with treats from The States!  She even traveled with a cooked turkey breast and a homemade apple pie!  (Unfortunately, the turkey didn’t make it through customs, but thankfully the delicious pie did)!

Kurt's sister, Kristina (or "Aunti Na" as we like to call her) and Malachi, exploring the equator together.

Malachi loves to watch "Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown" and because of this he is SURE that Thanksgiving meal consists of popcorn, jelly beans, and toast!  Well, Auntie Na came through and brought us Jelly Belly's from home! We were all pretty excited for him to enjoy them, but felt so bad when the first Jelly Belly he popped in his mouth was a ho cinnamon one.  Boy was he surprised!  I am sure it is not what he imagined when he was thinking about jelly beans!  He quickly got over it, though, and enjoyed the rest of the bowl with us.

Our best "Charlie Brown" faces.  He's kind of a grumpy dude!

On Thanksgiving day I looked up "Thanksgiving meals made with Chicken" since we were short some turkey and found a great recipe that did end up tasting quite Thanksgiving-ish.  We enjoyed the day, Skyped with family, and thought much about all we have to be thankful for.  It all came together great and it felt like home!  

Auntie Na's famous zucchini stuffing and traditional green beans :)  Yay for big suitcases!

We even got to set up the Christmas tree while Kris was in town!

A little sibling rivalry

You can't set up the tree without some delicious hot chocolate!

While Kris was still in town, we had the privilege of spending a really big Quito holiday with our neighbors.  The 6th of December is Quito's birthday and we found out that birthdays are a really big deal around here!  There were fiestas in the streets a whole week before the actual day; people in party busses, celebrating the birth of their town.  

On the night of December 5th, our neighbors took us through Quito to see all the fun.  We visited the beautiful historic center of Quito.  There were people everywhere!  It was fun to witness all the excitement.  

Exploring the city

We ended the night with a late dinner (11pm) in a beautiful restaurant at the top of a local landmark hill.  We enjoyed delicious empanadas, potato soup, and even tried hot chocolate with cheese.  Yep, you read that right.  Cheese!  I'll just say I prefer to stick with marshmallows :)  It was a beautiful night and we are so thankful that Kristina got to be a part of it with us

On the 6th of December, we were treated to a personal parade in our own little neighborhood! 

Happy Birthday, Quito!

Monday, November 25, 2013

This is not about Ceviche...

In a few short hours I will be venturing in to the kitchen to make a traditional Ecuadorian soup called Ceviche.  For those of you that know me, this may come as a bit of a surprise. For one, I have never been much of a cook, although I do believe God is changing that in me. I have really been enjoying sharing the responsibility of cooking with our roommates and will soon be the main cook for 14 people almost daily.  The other reason this might surprise you is that I am not a very adventurous eater, especially when it comes to seafood (cheviche is made with shrimp…), but I really enjoy this soup and have been a little more open to seafood lately.  Good thing because we are moving to the coast in 6 months.

This blog post really isn’t about seafood or cooking, though.  One too many surprises? :)  It is actually about friendships.  Kurtis and I have been blessed over the years with many wonderful friends.  God has always placed people in our lives that we can laugh and cry with and we are so very thankful.  In the decision to move to Ecuador, leaving our friends was one of the hardest parts.  We miss you all so much.

But… God is so faithful.  We have moved in across the street from probably the nicest family in all of Ecuador :)  Our friendship began because our boys are close in age and really enjoy each other, but it just so happens that us parents really enjoy each other also (even with the language barrier). Hey, if the kids can do it so can we!

 Doesn't Malachi just seem to fit right in :)

 Boys will be boys

 Giddy up


Our neighbors have blessed us by bringing us many traditional foods to try, letting us practice (and at times slaughter) their language, they have welcomed us in to their home on traditional holidays with their extended family, and have supported us through this time of huge transition!

Enjoying a traditional Ecuadorian dessert made by our neighbor

A few weeks ago, my friend (and neighbor) Elizabeth invited me over and taught me how to make some wonderful traditional food so that I can have some meals under my belt when I am cooking for a team that will be 1/2 Ecuadorian.  We made Ceviche (as mentioned above), Fritada (a traditional pork meal), tortillas de papas (fried mashed potatoes with cheese in the middle),  fried plantains, and a sweet dessert with tomate de arbol.  


After spending the morning watching/helping a pro, rapidly writing notes (admittedly with mixed spanish and english depending on the facil-ness of the word) and stumbling over my verb usage, Kurtis and Malachi joined us and we all shared lunch together.  It was a beautiful time and a day I will not forget.  And everything was really delicious (muy rico)!!!

Lunch time!

I am so thankful I serve a God who cares about the little (or big) things, like our need to be relational and the importance of friends.  Thank you, Lord for providing in each moment.

Our neighbor Elizabeth and her daughter Emalia 

In less than a month we will be leaving our current house to move in to the home where we will be staying with our team while they are in language school and seminary classes.  Thankfully, we are still close enough that we will be able to visit our neighbors, but we will soon be moving far away.  It will be hard to say goodbye to such sweet friends, but we are trusting that the Lord will provide just what we need in the next place we live and I pray that we can be that kind of neighbor to someone else no matter where we live.  We have learned so much from them!

We are so thankful for Pablo, Elizabeth, Emalia, and Andres!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Day in the Life of The Strunks

 A view from the Basilica in the historic area of Quito

We have been in Quito over a month and we would love to share with you what life looks like for us now...  

Nazarene Theological Seminary where we attend our language classes

Monday through Friday Kurtis and I wake up around 6:30am (4:30am for our Phoenix peeps) and get ready for language school.  We are attending classes at the nearby Nazarene Theological Seminary.  The Seminary campus is about a 15 minute walk from where we live and we walk most days.  Quito is very hilly, so this started out as a pretty big challenge, but it is getting a bit easier and I am thankful for the time of forced exercise, and for some moments  with Kurtis. 

We are in a class with 5 other students who are at a beginning to intermediate level in Spanish. Our “Professora” speaks very little english, so we are doing our best to keep up!  We started class a couple weeks late due to the issues we had with our Visas, so we have had a lot of catching up to do.  We have about 1 month of language school down, and we are finally feeling like some parts of it are starting to click (at least in understanding.  Speaking it is a whole other story)!

While we are in class, Malachi spends time with one of our wonderful roommates, Angela.  He has a lot of fun with her!  They color, read books, and go to the park that is in our neighborhood.  We live in a gated community in Quito that is nice and peaceful.  Thankfully, we live on a street that is not a thru-street, so Malachi spends a lot of time outside playing with us!  We love being outside!  Its beautiful here.

When class lets out around noon, Kurtis and I make the walk back home.  We get home in time to eat lunch with the kiddo :)

Our awesome roommates: Angela, Trevor, and Kindra

We can find a lot of the same foods here as in the States. We shop at a big store called MegaMaxi which is comparable to a Super Walmart.    There are a few interesting food items we have experienced her so far: we drink milk out of a bag, avocados and bananas are cheap and delicious, and there are many delicious fruits here.  Most interesting and surprisingly delicious fruit: Granadilla (also known as “snot fruit”). It's gross to look at but yummy to the tastebuds!

After lunch it is time for Malachi’s nap.  This is Kurt and my time to get work done, do devotions or rest.  Our brains are pretty full after studying a different language all morning!  Once nap time is over, the rest of the afternoon is spent having fun with Malachi at home or at the nearby park.

Malachi has made a great friend across the street named Andres.  He is 4 and they have a blast riding tricycles around the neighborhood.  We get to spend quite a bit of time with his family while they play, which is a great opportunity for us to practice our spanish!

Having fun at the playground in our neighborhood

For dinner, we take turns making meals with our roommates.  Our roommates are all great cooks!  We have enjoyed yummy foods from Peru, Ecuador, and the U.S.  We really enjoy dinnertime with our roommates.  It is a great time to sit together and learn more about each other.  We are very thankful for their humor and willingness to teach us during this time.

Once Malachi goes to bed for the night, the homework begins for us.  Some nights we have just a few things to do, other nights, we feel a bit overloaded; but we get as much done as we can. We are anxious to be able to communicate with the people here.  Pretty soon, our roommates are going to start speaking only Spanish.  That will be a challenge, but will be really good for us!

On the weekends we enjoy time as a family.  Next weekend we are headed to Ambato, Ecuador to spend time with another cluster coordinator family and their team of young missionaries.  We are excited to see a team in action!

We will be in language school for about 3 months and then in mid-January we will welcome our team to Ecuador!  We ask that you pray for our team as The Lord gathers and prepares them for this ministry.  If you know anyone who has a call to missions, please let us know if you think they might be interested in ministering in Ecuador.  We would love to talk with them!

Our trip to The Basilica in Quito

Friday, August 23, 2013

Snapshots and Tidbits

(Or at least that was my intention when I started writing. Maybe we should re-title it, 
"Almost Every Detail From Our Trip Thus Far")

Thursday, August 22nd

We arrived in Quito late last night, and after a very windy ride to our new home for the next few months, we settled in for a good night’s rest.  Today we have just been taking it easy and trying to get things somewhat organized.  I have a feeling that we will just start to feel settled when we will head to the next place!

We wanted to share just a few of the happenings from the past couple days:

We met our family at Garcias for lunch before we headed to the airport on Tuesday.  This worked out wonderfully!  We got a whole side-room to ourselves and we really loved the time with our family!
Precious moments with our amazing family

At the airport we were informed that we would need to pick up our checked luggage in Houston for our layover.  (I had called the airline earlier and was told they would keep it for us overnight since we were on a long layover).  It was a little stressful trying to figure out how we were going to handle 6 large checked bags, 3 carryon suitcases (all too large for Malachi to help), 3 extra-stuffed personal items, a car seat and a 3 year old!  But with no choice, we had to make it work, and God provided.

Both of our dads prayed over us before we left and our youth pastor from our teen years, Kevin McGinnis (also part of our extended family) prayed over and anointed us.  Very special moments for us all!

Goodbyes were said and we tearfully trekked through the crazy world of airport security.  It was an extra blessing to have Kristina and Donny, Kurtis' sister and brother-in-law (both flight attendants), come along with us to help us manage it all.  We also enjoyed getting to be with family a little bit longer.

Malachi did a GREAT job on our flight to Houston.  Thankfully it was a short flight!

Staying entertained 

After tracking down all our luggage (we were relieved it at least made it that far), we waited about an hour for our shuttle to the hotel.  Although we were tired and hungry, we both had an understanding that this was just a little preparation for what we could experience in a new culture.  So we embraced it as much as possible and entertained the little guy as best we could.

We rested well at the hotel and then had to check out by 1pm, so we slept in, swam a little, packed up and headed back to the airport on the final part of our trek.

We got to the airport about 5 hours before our flight.  I have to admit, I was a little frustrated we had to go so early, but it ended up being a good thing.  We had time to put important Ecuador contact info in all of our luggage, Malachi and Kurtis got to go on a fun tram ride for free, and we were able to sit down and eat some of the best airport food I think we've ever had!  

Getting all of our bags labeled with S.A. contact info

Kurt & Kai Kai enjoying the tram

Although our large amount of luggage was hard to manage, God always provided a cart (or 2), or a person to help us any time we needed it!
A sweet moment

We boarded our flight knowing that we had a 5 ½ hour journey ahead and we were a little nervous about how that would go with the little one.  He once again did great, which was impressive because he was exhausted and in rare form by the time we got off the plane.  We needed all the patience we could muster as we stood in line after line to get through immigration and customs.  The poor kid was just done by then!

Two of the missionaries that we are staying with from Extreme met us at the airport.  Definitely a welcomed sight!  They handled finding two taxis for us and joined us on the hour long twisty-turvey ride home.  Malachi and I were quite a pair in the back seat...  

Malachi doesn’t get carsick like I do, but we have found that when we mix exhaustion with a vehicle, things can get messy.  So  I sat there, holding out a wet wipe incase he couldn’t keep it down, while at the same time trying to keep my cookies.  Sorry if that is too much info, but I’m glad to say we both made it with all cookies intact!  Malachi fell asleep and the last 15 minutes of the ride was a breeze. (I am learning I need to always keep an extra bag with me, just in case).

We are living in a room with a bathroom attached in a home being rented by one of the missionaries of Extreme.  This home is where they hold a 40 day retreat for young adults with a desire to seek our God’s will.  We are so thankful for a nice place to stay with people who can help us get accustomed to life in Ecuador!  We didn’t do much unpacking last night, just crawled in to bed and we all slept like babies!

This morning we woke to cheerful laughing from two kids of another Extreme family.  They are hanging out here while their parents go on a much needed vacation.  We are thankful God provided some friends for Malachi to play with as he gets settled in.

Here are two favorite quotes from our travels so far:

*As we were taking off from Houston:
                  Emily heard Malachi say enthusiastically (with a pacifier in his mouth): “Mommy, we are going to die!”
                  Emily: “What?” 
                  Removing the pacifier from his mouth, Malachi said: “We are high in the sky!”
                  Emily:  "Oh!", with a huge sigh of relief.  
                  Boy the difference a pacifier can make!

*Kurtis’ favorite quote from the trip: 
Emily: (Sternly during final landing) Put that pacifier in your mouth!  Your ears are going to hurt if you don’t suck on it, so suck your paci now!

*Just now Malachi walked over to the OPEN window in our room and said:  “Ahhh, what a beautiful day!”  (Guess he appreciates being out of the heat as much as we do)

We are taking about a week and ½ to get settled and then Kurtis and I will start language school.  Looking forward to getting familiar with the beautiful city of Quito!

Much love to you all!

A view of the city from our new home