Sunday, July 30, 2006

eating bunnies...

Yes, Ella and I ate a bunny today for lunch. Not a rabbit bunny, but an Indian food. It's a bread bowl with curry and vegetables, potatoes inside that you eat with your fingers. It was really good, spicy, but good. Curry is a huge staple in South Africa. My girls had an African dinner night this past winter where we made two types of African curry...a pasta and a hot meat and vegetable one. They were excellent! If we come next year, we'll be eating more!


We went to church together this morning. James and Ella attend an evangelical church that is attended predominately by Indian people. The building is fairly small, a sanctuary with a couple classrooms on the side. I got to lead pre-K Sunday school with Ella and had a blast. For those who know Ella she is a DYNAMIC person! Anything she does, teaching, leading, parenting, she does with ENTHUSIASM!! I loved working with her and have loved watching her with her own children.

I also got to talk some with the youth pastor at their church about my vision to bring youth from AK next summer and planning an activity/ministry that our groups could do together. Youth students and ministry are looked at in a different light here from what I've been learning. They are not in as overt ministry as in the U.S. because they are young and "unruly." Similar in some ways to our own preconceived ideas about youth, but they are starting to break out more and do more with the youth here. Talking with the youth pastor he said they do get together occassionally with nearby youth groups and had a big youth rally a month ago that went really well. I would love to learn more and be able to do something together in the future if it works out. Something to pray about!

African Fun Run

Yesterday morning Ella and I ran in a 5K fun run in Durban. It started and ended at a mall with carnival type stuff there for kids. There were a few "runners" there that were obviously a part of running clubs and ran in blazing African time...the hard core were bare foot. The course you ask? Good night, it reminded me of San Fransisco. The hills were incredible, straight up and straight down. All in all it was a great time and the weather was perfect. Their winters are like our high summer temps. James was telling me yesterday that the more serious races you have to have a lisence to compete in. Everyone in a running club, which most are in, already have a lisence, outsiders (such as myself) have to buy one. Kind of like getting a fishing lisence. Needless to say they take running pretty seriously here. We're signed up to do a 10K on the 9th in a wildlife refuge...more of a cross country style race on trails. Should be quite the experience! Running with the elephants!

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Woohoo!! After 30+ hours of fly time I am HERE!! I got in to Durban yesterday afternoon (Thursday) and got to hang out with Ella and the kids for ballet, lunch and play time. Last night Ella and I set out all the gifts from AK people so they had a "Christmas" of sorts here this morning. They LOVED it! Today Ella, the kids and I are headed out to a rural village pick up their next door neighbor who is out visiting her mother. James will be working at the college while we're out.

I didn't realize initially that Durban is as big as it is, over 3 million people! So I'm going to get a taste of the rural side of life this afternoon. I am EXCITED to be here! It's great to see them again and catch up. I slept a ton last night so I'm hoping to be more coheriant today. :-)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


So I am en route to South Africa. Right now I'm at the London Heathrow airport for a 7 hour layover before my final legs to Durban to see James and Ella. I flew out of Anchorage Tuesday morning and am due to be in Durban Thursday afternoon. Talk about travel time. I am thankful for this layover to be out of a plane for awhile. So far I've flown 17 hours and have about 13 hours left to fly. Woohoo for air time! I slept about 5 hours on the last flight from LA to London.

I've enjoyed great food on the plane, bread, cheese, hot tea with milk...truly European. I forgot that Europe is not big on AC, conservation of energy or something. Reminds me of our heat wave in 2003 Carrie. There are parts of the airport that are a little toasty.

I'm hoping to walk a few laps around the international terminal before I sit down for another long leg. I have a whole new admiration for the Embrees doing this with 3 small children! You guys are amazing!

I'll try to update my blog while I'm in Africa but I'm not sure how often that will be. Thanks again for your prayers!


Our conference at Wheaton wrapped up Friday afternoon. We met one final time as a group before leaving to "debrief" and set individual and team goals...things they want to do when they get home to share what they have learned. One of the things they are planning on doing is going on a monthly basis to the senior center in Palmer to have a game night or just visit. We went to a senior center one afternoon in Chicago to play Bunko and everyone (young and old) had a blast! Dierdra had the opportunity, by request, to perform some of her South Pacific song/dance. They ate her up! For those who don't know Dierdra is the performer of the group, she can sing, dance, do gymnastics and anything else like it at the drop of a hat. You name a song, she has a dance.

Another goal we set as a group is to talk to our youth pastor about having this group lead one of our youth nights so they can do the lesson in a similar style to how the talks were shared during our large group times. They are also hoping Kris will let them add a mosh pit to worship. :-) I'm letting them pursue that one!

A little wrap up to the trip, Friday afternoon the group split. One van went shopping and the other went to the Navy Pier. I was part of the Navy Pier group and we had a great time riding some rides, playing mini golf and eating. Saturday we spent the entire day at Six Flags riding rides and standing in LONG lines. I finally got to try out Dejavue, nutso roller coaster. Steve and I waited and sat in the front row. INSANE!!! We all had a blast that day.

From beginning to end this trip was an absolute blast and blessing. This is the 2nd summer trip I've been on with this group and I am even more attached to them now. They are an awesome group of students. Thanks again to all who are praying. I can't think of even one glitch the entire week...aside from the insane amount of water fights. :-)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


It's our 4th day in Illinois and we are soaking it up! The conference is excellent, completely different than last year. They changed the name, the layout, the number of students (1,000 down to 500), the focus and it is exactly what our team needed. The focus this year is not so much on going out and verbally sharing our faith every day through different day trips and places, but studying the Bible, retelling those stories and then sharing how our lives relate today to those stories. We've gone through creation, separation, people of promise, new covenant is today. It has been so good for me as a leader to dig into the Word every day. I have been longing for a youth experience/training like this and this is it! It has been a huge blessing to hear the students share every day/night about the things THEY are learning and how God is showing them things in their own lives in a new light.

To give you a little taste, yesterday we had our large group gathering which consists of worship/singing and then the speaker shares the target story of the day. Yesterday's story was a summation of most of the Old Testament...people of promise, Abraham to Moses to Joshua hitting hard on the Promise Land. That afternoon one of our "group expressions" was to walk to the "Tabernacle." They set up rooms on campus that were laid out like the tabernacle that the Israelites had while wandering 40 years in the wilderness. It was a powerful experience. We would read at each room/station where we were and what was done in that room...all the way back to the holy of holies.

In the evenings we get back together to worship and then students share as they feel led about what they experienced that particular day, specifically what God is teaching them or showing them in a new light. One of the things I have appreciated most about this conference is that there is not a lot of "fluff." The worship time, study time, group time, even large group sharing time is very genuine...focused on God and not us. It's hard to explain on a blog, but it is evident that the Holy Spirit is present among us and is working in and through us. I am excited to see how this group of students will be challenged to take what they've learned home and teach it to other youth group students.

Tomorrow is our last full day here. Friday we head out to a hotel and half day of fun somewhere...downtown Chicago I think. Saturday we hit Six Flags and Sunday we head home! This is an AWESOME group of youth! They are a blast to work with. Every night at our youth group time 3-4 students and one leader share their testimony/story too. It has been great to get to know everyone on a more personal level and be able to encourage them where they are at. Thanks mucho for all those who are praying for us! We are BLESSED!!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

heading to Chicago...

Tonight was our final Merge meeting. Saturday night our team is heading out for Chicago...a direct flight so all should be smooth in the way of travel. :-)

Steve and Sara Novak did the lessons tonight on "Your Story" and "God's Story." In a nut shell, who is God and what did he do for us? God sent his son Jesus, as a human sacrifice to bridge the gap between us and God by dying on the cross paying the price for our sin. Because of Jesus' sacrifice we don't have to pay a price. We don't have to earn merit, pray a ton, read our bibles every day, do a bunch of good works to try and earn our way to heaven or a better place "enlightenment." Some of those things are GOOD, but not necessary to get to heaven. We need to recognize that the price has been paid IN FULL and ask for forgiveness for our sins that we can engage in a personal relationship with God. It's not a high mucky heirarchy of people you have to work through or go through, just a recognition that God is who he says he is and that Jesus is his son and he paid the price for our sins so we could be connected to God...back in the love relationship he always intended us to have with him. God LONGS for us to have a relationship with Him!! God is crazy in love with us, messy lives and all. I don't get it in my little finite mind, but I know it is true b/c of the bible and have experienced his love and grace poured out over my life time and time again. If you've never experienced it, you're missing out!! God is CRAZY IN LOVE with YOU!!!

So that wasn't such a nut shell version, but I don't think we are reminded often enough of how deep God's love is for us and the incredible relationship we can have with him.

All that to say...God loves us, our meeting went well, and I am pumped about this upcoming trip. I'm excited to get to spend time with this group of teens and leaders. I'm excited to see how God is going to move and work in these student's lives and my own. For those of you praying for us, please pray for wide open teachable included. There is a lot of great content that will be given and it can sometimes get bogged down with the fullness of the week. I'll try to update my blog when I get back. This next transition is going to be a quick one...24 hour change over before I head out to Africa. More on that later! See you SOON James and Ella!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Dave and Aimy

Soooooo, this summer has been great so far and is full of trips, ministry and lots of fellowship. In the mix of all that I haven't been very faithful about updating the biggest Eller news. We're having a wedding!! I mentioned back in March that my brother got engaged. It turned out to be a rather eventful/memorable proposal.

Dave was very tight lipped about his plans to propose b/c he didn't want anything leaking out to Aimy. The short of it is he had the majority of the Wasilla PD follow him to her house one afternoon about 3:30 p.m. There was a big production when she came to the door, much to her surprise, a huge line of cop cars, lights flashing etc. All of it on video, he knelt down on her front porch and popped the question. The more memorable part for our family was what happened on the outskirts of this proposal. School was letting out at a nearby elementary school and they held up the busses for 30 minutes or so b/c they heard about all the cop cars and thought they were busting a perpetrator they'd been watching for the past month. After calling dispatch the staff learned it was just a guy proposing to his girlfriend. My mom happens to work at that school and got some great harassment the next day! Way to spice it up Dave!

The big day is August 19th. I am excited for you guys and wish you the VERY BEST! I'm going to have a sister!! Woohoo!! Love you both!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cristo Rey Family

Cristo Rey in English means "Christ King." We (WBC) have developed a relationship with this church over the past 8 years. They are on fire and excited about God. It is evident throught their worship time (singing), prayers, and sharing.

Pastor Enrique and Ava started the church and have 4 incredible kids, two grown and two at home. The women of the church showed endless hospitality and love to us making amazing homemade Mexican food for dinner every night. They showered us with hugs and encouraging words. They would hang out with us long after the evening service was over to talk, eat and sing praise songs.

There were times the "flexibility," no set schedule, weighed a little on me trying to do children's ministry, but I learned to go with the flow and enjoy the spontenaity. The part of Mexican flexibility that I loved the most was the evening times when we would just sit and talk, sing, do whatever getting to know each other with no busy agendas in the way. Many of the people there still had to work each day and go to school, but they were very giving of their TIME...something I struggle to do at home. To me one of the greatest gifts a person can give is TIME. Why is it so hard to do?

The picture above is of pastor Enrique, Ava and their daughter Esther heading off to her 8th grade promotion. In Mexico 8th grade promotion is a HUGE deal. They have a full course dinner, prom style dresses and suits and a dance.

hair braiding...

I mentioned in my previous post that Margarita braided hair as part of her income. All of the girls and one of the guys on our team had our hair braided. Elizabeth's took the cake for the longest time, 3.5 hours! She has hair down past her belt line. The kids LOVED playing with her hair!


Our first day at Cristo Rey I met a young woman, Margarita, that I immediately connected with and got to know more as the week progressed. Margarita and I are the same age but with very different life stories. She is a single mom of three beautiful children. She lives with her mother so she can work, go to school (via DVDs she said) and take care of her children. Her home is basically a cement walled shack. Part of her income comes from braiding tourist's hair such as us. She was at the church daily to braid girl's hair from our team and did an awesome job.

Through getting to know her I found out that she was introduced to Cristo Rey sometime this past year and loves having this new "family" in her life. She is a believer and her life has changed for the better since making new friends at the church. Wednesday we had all day together at our beach day. The church family and WBC team went to the beach that day to hang out and fellowship in a relaxing environment with less structure and agenda. She shared with me about her kids and how she wants so much for them. She has a daughter that is 10, and two sons that are 7 and 5.

I hope to keep in touch with her and encourage her as she presses on to make ends meet for her family. I was able to give her a huge bag of beads before we left. The kind she uses to bead hair. Something so simple for me, but so huge to her. Meeting Margarita really hit home and put things back in perspective for me personally how wealthy I am here in Alaska and how little you can live off of.

Monday, July 03, 2006

foot washing...

In year's past our group has led 3 ministries in Mexico, children's ministry, sports ministry and women's ministry. This year, due to smaller numbers, we did not do a "women's ministry" specifically. Amber, one of our team interpreters and leaders, had the idea to do a foot washing for the women one afternoon to have a time to pamper them and lift them up. We purchased plastic tubs and foot washing scrub, lotions, salts in San Diego before heading down.

On Wednesday we had a fellowship day planned where our group would go with the church family at Cristo Rey to the beach and hang out together in a more relaxed atmosphere. This posed to be the perfect time/day to do our foot washing. We set up with some of the women there to meet at the church at 1:00, inviting any girls, teens/women to come.

Amber read a passage in her Spanish bible from John 13:1-17 that tells the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet. As the women sat a listened our girls began to wash and massage their feet. Some of the women enjoyed it and were very appreciative, a few were uncomfortable with us touching their feet but they sat nearby and listened. Women don't get the same TLC and pampering (little to none) that we do in America. It was a joy and priviledge to be able to serve them in that way.

Children's Ministry

The girls on our trip were in charge of the children's ministry this week. Five girls did bible story lessons and Mayerly interpreted for the group. Having never been before myself I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I've always heard that the culture in Mexico tends to be much more laid back, unscheduled and flexible. That could not have been more true this week. There was a general layout of things we had planned, but every day was different. In general a typical day of ministry would be getting to Cristo Rey, our church site, and going out to invite kids to come to the bible club that day. Kids would begin to gather and we'd play games, kick ball, jump rope and soccer. The girls would get things going shortly after by leading singing...children's songs we'd learned in Spanish. A girl would present the verse of the day and we'd all practice together. Another girl would give her bible lesson giving an invitation at the end allowing kids to have a time to respond to what they learned, ask questions and pray together with a leader if they wanted to. At the end of the lesson we'd do a craft together and go out and play with whatever time was left. There was never a set beginning and ending time, we just started when the kids showed up and they would leave any time after craft, sometimes staying around until we had dinner.

From what I could tell, most of the kids that came to our bible club were kids that already attend Cristo Rey. Throughout the week we had between 20-35 kids each day. There were two evenings that we did children's ministry as well. We were not prepared for this having been told prior to leaving that we would not be doing evening ministry, but again, FLEXIBILITY was the theme. Emily gave her lesson Tuesday night because we skipped Wednesday afternoon's club time and I did an impromptu lesson Thursday night on John 15:5. The kids made the props and I had them act out a skit to that verse then asked them questions about it.

I think the relaxed atmosphere and forgiving scheduling helped the girls relax and let down their guard a lot quicker. Most of the girls that went were nervous about leading ministry, but after the first day they opened up loved on the kids, led the club time and filled in as needed. I loved being able to sit back and watch them step up and not hold back as we (myself included) often do back home. They made me proud!

Travel to Mexico

We're back from an incredible trip to Rosarito, Mexico! Many thanks to those who were praying for us those 8 days! All in all things went very well, no major hang ups, NO SICKNESS, a huge answer, one student committed her life to Christ, interactions with Mexicans were encouraging (church family and new acquaintances), and WBC students stepped up to the plate in terms of leading the ministries they were involved in. There is a lot I would like to share so I am going to pick some highlights and break it up a little to give you a better picture of what we did and learned.

Starting out the trip we had a couple "gliches." One of our guy leaders, Cody, got very sick with an infection a couple days before we were supposed to leave for Mexico. It became clear the day prior to leaving that he was not going to be able to make the trip. The Lord provided someone last minute to take Cody's place. Rob Sande, the resource manager at WBC, readily stepped in leaving his family for a week. The leader dynamics, Amber, me, Rob and Kris, turned out to be a huge blessing. We worked very well together. Goes to show God knows what is needed when and where and he is in control!

We were delayed leaving Anchorage Friday night which ended up messing our connections for the rest of the day. Initially we were going to get into San Diego early in the morning Saturday and go to a water park together as a fun day. What ended up happening is our group was split in two. One group got to S. Diego around 3:00 p.m. and another got in at 8:00p.m. Needless to say our "fun day" didn't happen, but there was adventure to be had in spontineity.

Kris, Rob and Amber (3 leaders) went with the 1st group on to San Diego. I stayed in Seattle with 6 students for a 7 hour layover. Not wanting to lay around in a airport and knowing our water park day was shot, I gave the students the option of going downtown together to scope out the water front, Pike's Market etc. They were excited about the idea so off we went. Kris and I touched base via cell phones and his comment to me when he heard our group was on a bus to downtown was, "please stay together!" For those who don't know I am directionally challenged and being the only leader, I think it made him a little nervous. We had a blast getting out and soaking in the 80+ degree weather together and made it back in time to catch our flight to CA. It was a blessing in disguise. By 9:00p.m. we were all reunited and eating dinner at Olive Garden. We spent the night at a small private college campus that night before heading down into Mexico the next afternoon.