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Certainly, I Am With You (Pons, Cuba Update)

The Very Beginning [ 3/24/19 ]

At 12:30pm we gathered together at the AC  to do last minute packing for mission trip. There was a mix of excitement as well as fear of the unknown. Would we forget something? Would we make it to the airport on time? Is everything ready? Are we ready?

Time came and went and before we knew it we were waving goodbye to our parents and loading up the vans. Forming a circle and huddling close we prayed together asking God to go with and before us. We got in the vans and off we were. A couple hours later we arrived at the San Francisco Airport. Rather slowly we checked in our bags. There were some complications due to some of the bags being overweight but by God’s grace it worked out in the end. By the time we went through the security check it was 6:50 pm. We split off into little groups and with the ten dollars provided to us we went in search of food.

Eventually the time we had all been waiting for came and so we dragged our heavy, overflowing  carry-ons to our gate and found our seats at the back of the plane (Jaycee said that sitting  at the back of the plane was better because  if we get in a plane crash we’ll be safer. I’m not sure if that’s true but I appreciate the thought). The plane took off right on time and just like that we were on our way to Panama City. We look forward to what God can and will do through us on this mission  trip as this is merely the very beginning and we know He has great things in store far beyond what we could ever imagine.

[ 3/25/19 ]
Two long flights later we arrived in Havana, Cuba. We were at once struck by the beauty of this island and the humidity none of us were ready for. A couple of people in our group had issues going through customs but in the end God made a way and we successfully  made it through every check and search. We were met by Christopher, a friendly missionary working with ASI, who prayed with us and informed us on Cuban culture. We spent that night at the World Youth Division located in Havana.

Fast Forward [ 4/7/2019 ]

It’s crazy to think that a full two weeks has gone by. Fourteen days spent in door-to-door visitations with the locals, eating amazing food, watching dozens of younger boys eagerly play baseball, passing out Spanish GLOW tracts, joining the kids as they sing Alaba Dios (Praise God) at the top of their lungs, talking and laughing with our team of bible workers, presenting truth every evening to those who attended the meetings, and so much more. I’m quite certain that we’ll never forget the friends and memories we made there in Cuba. Sure we spoke two different languages and weren’t always able to understand each other, but by the end of the mission trip we became one big family in Christ.

We had our difficulties here and there but it was a growing process for all of us. For many of us it was our first time preaching and I know personally I didn’t feel prepared or that I was capable of ministering through preaching. It was at this time that I was reminded of Moses and his experience when God called him to go and speak before Pharaoh. Moses said “Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:11). What really struck me was God’s response. God said unto Moses, “Certainly, I will be with thee” (Exodus 3:12a). God takes us as we are. It’s okay if we’re not the most eloquent public speaker to walk the face of the earth because God hasn’t left us to figure it out on our own, instead He takes us as we are and fulfills the work within us that we ourselves are not capable of doing. And He did just that these past two weeks.

We clearly saw the Lord work in great ways in just the small amount of time we were there. Though the work we were doing there in Pons seemed so small to us God was able to take what we did and use it to bring souls into the eternal kingdom. During our last week in Pons we visited a lady who had been coming to the evening meeting regularly. She had been receiving bible studies from the Bible workers there in Pons and the Lord had placed in her heart the desire to be baptized. The only problem was that she was struggling to surrender something in her life, jewelry. The day we had visited her we prayed for the Lord to give her strength to overcome her struggle and we continued to pray for her even after that. A few days later we bumped into her as we were doing visitations elsewhere and as we greeted her we noticed that she was no longer wearing jewelry. She seemed happier than ever and wanted to fully commit her life to Christ. Through this experience, and so many others like this one, we witnessed the power of prayer and saw how God was actively working in the heart of the people there in Pons. It was definitely a blessing for each one of us to have the opportunity to be co-labouraters together with God.

“In our life here, earthly, sin-restricted though it is, the greatest joy and the highest education are in service. And in the future state, untrammeled by the limitations of sinful humanity, it is in service that our greatest joy and our highest education will be found—witnessing, and ever as we witness learning anew “the riches of the glory of this mystery;” “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27.”                                     A Call To Stand Apart, p. 67.3 (Ellen Gould White)

-Sunika Tarusenga
Team Pons
Rob Kyle, Elissa Kyle, Nathan Escamilla, Beauty Gurning, Erielle Vito, Sunika Tarusenga
Pons, Pinar del Río Province, Cuba

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Where Theory Meets Reality (Pilotos, Cuba Update)

One pack of cigarettes, one cigarette lighter, and one ashtray lay on the table in front of us. “These are all the items in my house,” she said. “I’m ready to quit.” We had gathered for a special cessation ceremony with Elena* in her home, and as we sat in a circle in her living room, I wondered if it would be enough.

All of this had resulted from our visitation several days prior. Elena lived in the house adjacent to our house church, and she had been attending our evangelistic campaign meetings in Pilotos. Every morning, our campaign team made visitations to the people attending our meetings. Leydianis, one of our Cuban team members, led the conversation, while Jesús, our translator, filled me in on the main ideas.

As we conversed, she shared her struggle with smoking. She explained that she had already tried to quit, but had failed. “I know it is bad for my health, and I’m tired of it. I don’t want to smoke anymore,” she told us. As Leydianis did all the speaking, I searched for something say. I knew that the Church had resources like the 5-day cessation program, but I didn’t have any of it memorized. Without internet access, I had no practical advice to give off the top of my head. So I reasoned that I could at least share some encouragement from the Bible. However, as Elena and Leydianis continued speaking, I noticed that the conversation had already shifted to a spiritual focus. “I believe in God,” she affirmed. “I read God’s word every day, and I am well acquainted with the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I also read many different devotional books.” Here was a woman who already knew the Bible and fundamentals of Christianity. I hadn’t expected that. What could I say that she didn’t already know?

Elena knew all the theory. Most likely, she would already be familiar with any promise that I could share from Scripture. She had probably read and claimed them herself. But yet, she had not been able to kick the habit. As I stood there, still without saying much, I thought, “Where does theory meet reality?” For her, there was some kind of disconnect between words and real life.

This disconnect, I believe, is all too common in Christianity, and particularly in Adventism. We have all the theory well-polished. We have present truth. We speak and preach about the power of God. We preach a true gospel of righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ, not a watered-down justification-only message. But theory alone isn’t enough. We often claim the promises of Ezekiel 36-37, Mark 9, and 1 Corinthians 10, and these are beautiful, precious promises. If we’re honest with ourselves, though, it sometimes seems as though God is silent. There are times when it doesn’t really translate into real life and practice. We read God’s promises and believe them; we see His power displayed in other people. But why doesn’t it happen in our own lives? Where does theory meet reality?

I’ve been there. I’ve wrestled with the same question. I personally didn’t have a good answer. How then, could I help someone else?

Nevertheless, I figured something would be better than nothing. Thus, I decided to share a few promises and advice anyway. But as I did, I wondered if I actually believed what I was saying. Finally, Jesús suggested a special ceremony in which we would gather all the cigarettes and related articles in her home, have a special prayer, and then destroy the items. Elena agreed.

A few days afterward, Jesús, Sir Michael, Jonathan, and I paid Elena another visit. This time, she invited us inside, and in her living room were the three items. “These are all the cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, etc., in your home?” Jesús asked.

“These are all the items in my house,” she said. “I’m ready to quit.” In the time we spent together, she shared with us her story. From the information she imparted, we could gather that she had probably grown up in a broken family, devoid of love. As a young adult, she was drinking in the streets and likely had been through numerous failed relationships. At the age of 27, she began smoking. She worked in a dental office and knew the harmful effects of smoking, but that didn’t stop her.

That was 25 years ago. Now she was 52 years old, held fast in chains of bondage. “I’m tired of it, and in my heart I know that I don’t want to do this anymore,” she explained. She also told us that God had helped her previously to break the habit of drinking alcohol. “I still serve the same God. There’s no reason why He can’t do it this time.” As we spoke with her, we gave her words of encouragement, practical advice, and promises of Scripture. We gave her the assurance of divine assistance, even though the journey would be difficult. We reminded her that even if she fell down, God wanted her to still get back up and continue. “And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even if it must be at 2 in the morning, we are willing to come and pray with you,” Jesús added. Somehow it all seemed a bit more convincing.

We knelt on the concrete floor and prayed together. When we arose, we sang Faith is the Victory and prepared to leave, taking the cigarettes with us.

…Faith is the victory… faith is the victory… oh, glorious victory, that overcomes the world…

Would this faith be victorious? I hoped so. Where does theory meet reality? I still didn’t have an answer. Only time will tell. But I know that God is faithful.

–Joey Shiu
Team Pilotos
Michael Hess, Jonathan Supit, Joey Shiu
Pilotos, Pinar del Río Province, Cuba

*Name changed

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Women’s Retreat

The cool water laps at the sides of our paddle board as my friend and I propel it forward, water swirling away from our paddles. In the distance we hear the faint laughter of the other girls on the dock. It seems to be a recurring problem to have one of the boats get loose and to have to retrieve it by a series of calculated moves by multiple people, or by simply paddling out with another boat to drag it back, but that adds to the fun. Everything is perfect. This is just the weekend we needed to bond with each other while relaxing.

After paddling back to shore, we drive to the lodge to set up our beds and listen to a talk on how we view ourselves as women and how to keep a healthy mentality by the things we tell ourselves.

Now it’s time to dress up! So many different hats and colors to take pictures in, why not have a photo shoot? We feel like ladies from another time as we sip our tea and take delicate bites of our scones and tea sandwiches. Small talk or real talk, it doesn’t matter. We’re just enjoying being together. The serious play done, we proceed to put on goofy skin-rejuvenating face masks. These face masks help us appreciate who we are when we don’t look our best, Mrs. Nelson tells us during worship.

In the morning we awake after a long and restful night to pack up and get creative. Fall shapes get splashed with colorful paint–these will serve as reminders of the wonderful memories we made together.

~ Rachel C. and Maleah M.

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Cuba~Blog #3 (3/28)

Bici Taxis? Bumpy? It is amazing how quick your perspective can change! Today we hired a horse carriage to take us to the meeting. It’s amazing how that little horse can canter while carrying eight people and the carriage! It’s also amazing how much you notice the flaws in the roads when going that speed! I’m sure, though, that before I leave Cuba I will have found many ways of transportation that are much more uncomfortable! :D
At the meeting, it was my turn to preach to the adults. The theater is quite large, the screen being just as big as some theaters in the United States. When we first walked in there last night, our mouths dropped open. We had not expected a room even half that big. Now, I stepped onto the stage with trepidation. Tonight’s meeting was on the origin of sin, Christ’s sacrifice, and an appeal to accept His salvation. The weight of responsibility for their souls felt like a burden. All I could do was pray. God brought twenty-two adult visitors that night and seven children.
As I sat in the front row for the preliminaries, Michael, my translator, whispered to me what was going on. Then, the pastor came up and began giving some announcement. Michael pointed toward the back. A lady with a stiff pink shirt (and an even stiffer expression) sat in the back. “She is a government official. She is the Secretary of Religious Affairs. She is the one who allowed us to use this theater. She has come to hear you speak.”
My heart jumped into my throat. “Lord?” I croaked.
“Child…I told you that you would testify of me before Kings, and you complain that I ask you to testify before a secretary?”
I bowed my head. “Father, I’m sorry…help me to trust you.”
The talk did not go perfectly. Satan tried many times to interfere. My slides went wrong many times, but God always provided. At the end, 10 people came forward to accept Christ’s salvation. As I said the final prayer, I was amazed. God is so beautiful! We take him for granted. All our lives we have lived with his hope, but some people have never experienced it. They have no concept of his AMAZING love for us, and all that He sacrificed for us. I don’t think anyone can imagine the amazing joy and peace it gives to be able to share that love with someone for the very first time.
-Olivia Antuña, Jiguani, Cuba

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Cuba~Blog #2 (3/27 evening)

Our first night is done…wow. We are already on island time, though. Despite the fact that we knew we should leave our apartment at 7, we didn’t leave till 7:30, much to our translators’ chagrin. We were so late, that they hired Bici taxis for us. Now, a Bici taxi (Bici is short for bicicleta) is a fascinating device like a mix between a tandem bike and a rickshaw. Basically, a driver peddles pulling a double seat on the back. Each bici looks different. Some have canvass shades over the seats, while some have metal shades. The ride was bumpy but really fun. There is nothing like it to make you wish you ate less for supper.
One of the things this pointed out to me, which I have seen all throughout the trip this far, is the clear distinction made between us, foreigners, and the Cubans. My light skin and hair are like a sore thumb pointing to everyone that I don’t belong, but that is common in all the foreign countries I’ve been to. Here, however, the stares are more distrustful, suspicious, or lustful. Even where we stay, our hosts eat in one room, while we eat in another. Maybe more than just the cars are frozen back in the 1950’s.
I gave the kids meeting tonight. It was very interesting. We tried to sing for them Spanish songs, but apparently our Spanish is not understandable. Not that I’m all that surprised. The projector stopped working part of the way through my talk, so we did the craft until I had gotten it back and running. God is good! As Ms. Tara always says, “Plan, plan, plan, and plan to be flexible.” In total we had 14 adult visitors from the community and 2 children. This far exceeded what we expected.
After the meeting we talked with our team, and then walked back. Now, it is time to go to bed, and get ready for a whole list of adventures tomorrow, starting with: showering!

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Cuba~Blog #1 (3/27 morning)

I can’t believe this is real. The chorus of a thousand birds constantly fills the air. The heat, which sometimes seems unbearable, is pulsed away by the cool breeze. I still haven’t figured out if the toilet works, but there is running water! That in itself seems amazing. Even though I know I am only around 90 miles away from Florida, I feel like I’m on the other side of the world.
Cuba seems like a time capsule. A place where time itself stands still. By looking at the architecture and the antique cars, anyone would believe that this was a ghost town from the 1950’s. Then you see the carriages. Cars are so expensive that most “fast” travel is done by horses pulling carts, or sketchy looking motorcycles.
This morning I piled with my team into the back of a…vehicle, I really have no words to describe it, with all our baggage. The cramped conditions had a way of making me wonder if I really needed all the things I’d packed. Bumping along, we sang songs with the pastor who was with us: his Spanish mixing with our English. Through the language of music we were able to communicate that which we could not with words.
Our voyage to our village, however, was not without a problem. We were less than half way to our destination when we were pulled over by the police. We could hear the voices of our driver and the policeman intensely talking with one another, but none of us could figure out what the problem was. Calmly, we took the council that we had been given in orientation: when you run into a problem, pray. A few minutes later, we were on the road again. Later we found out that our driver needed a special permit to carry foreigners. The police man, however, had let him go with only a ten-dollar fine. God is so good!
Tonight we will be beginning our meetings. I’m not sure what God has in store, but I know that whatever He brings us too, He will lead us through.
-Olivia Antuña, Jiguani, Cuba

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Help Thou Mine Unbelief (La Pedrera, Cuba Update)

Climbing into the cramped seat of our vehicle, I wondered what laid ahead on the long road beyond us. Numerous incidents had delayed our departure, and now we were the last group remaining. We had waved goodbye to each of the other 4 groups as they departed from the SDA Conference office in Holguín, Cuba. Finally, our driver, Felipe, sputtered the engine to life, and we commenced the 2-hour journey to La Pedrera, in the northern province of Las Tunas.

Unfortunately, we were unable to hold our meetings in the La Pedrera house church as we had hoped. Instead, our campaign was hosted in the neighboring town of Delicias, a 20 minute bus ride away on potholed dusty roads.

We began our adult and children’s meetings with a presentation on Daniel 2 on Tuesday, March 27. I pulled our projector out of the suitcase and began to set it up. Instantly we realized we had a problem. The power outlet was for a 2 prong plug, not a 3 prong plug. Reaching back into the suitcase, I removed a 2 prong extension cable. But this only moved the problem one step back. The extension cable likewise lacked a ground outlet. I had brought a universal power adapter, but I had left it at the house church in La Pedrera. As I was debating what to do next, the Delicias church member who operated the equipment retrieved the church’s projector and showed it to me. God has ways to provide. But when I glanced at the back of the projector, I saw that it only had a VGA (analog video signal) port. Holding up my HDMI (digital video/audio signal) cable, I tried to explain in my limited knowledge of Spanish that the projector was incompatible, but he seemed unconcerned. I turned around to rummage through our bag of random cables, no HDMI to VGA adapter was to be found. I sighed; we were stuck. I turned around again, but to my surprise, he was holding a dongle. None other than an HDMI to VGA dongle. I thanked him and completed my setup.

After the message, I gave each attendee a firm handshake. When I had greeted the last person, I began to tear down the equipment. My laptop was halfway into my backpack when the realization hit me like a brick. Unlike my laptop that I use on a regular basis, the old laptop I brought to Cuba had a VGA port. However, I had been so accustomed to the absence of a VGA port that I hadn’t thought of it.

It was a silent rebuke to me for my lack of faith. My mind flashed back to an incident 2 weeks prior…

Friday afternoon, March 16, one week before mission trip. I was making preparations for my first sermon. After 20 minutes of work, ShareSynch International, the application created by ShareHim for sermon presentations, suddenly crashed. Down with it also went my work that should’ve been saved. Combined with other technical difficulties and frustrations associated with ShareSynch, I decided that would be the last straw. However, being only a week away from mission trip, there were few other options. I conversed at length with Mr. Krueger, but by the end we had reached no conclusion. The only thing we could do was pray.

I went to bed that night pleading with God. I prayed that He would reveal to us the solution and for the faith to believe that He would carry through. The following morning, I went on my usual Sabbath morning prayer walk. As I descended the shortcut from Squirrel Run to Academy Road, I was praying about the Cuba sermons. I asked God to make it work somehow, claiming the promise in COL 363.1 that when we give ourselves wholly to God in His work, He makes Himself responsible for its accomplishment. I also continued to pray for the gift of faith. Without warning, I looked up, and it began hailing. But to make matters worse, the wind began to blow the hail into my face. I turned around to walk backwards into the hail, slightly annoyed. After a few seconds of debate, I decided to ask God to stop the hail. After about 15 seconds, it seemed like God was answering. The roar of the hail began to decrease, and less seemed to be falling. I was ecstatic! I took it as a sign of assurance that everything was going to be OK. But a few seconds later, the hail began to pick up again. Doubt spouted in my mind. It was a small thing, but confused and dumbfounded, I asked God, “Why?”

Then I realized it. Yes, it was still hailing, but the wind had changed direction. It was no longer blowing in my face. Perhaps God wasn’t answering my prayer as I had asked, but He was answering nonetheless. When I had accepted this fact, God then decided that I was ready. As I rounded the final bend several hundred feet in front of the Weimar Academy wall, the hail stopped entirely. I was overwhelmed with wonder. It was as if God was saying to me, “Is there anything too hard for me? Just trust Me. I’m going to take care of it.”

In my journal, I scribbled, “I don’t know what God is going to do. But He gave me the assurance that morning that I had nothing to fear. So I’ll let Him do the saving, and whatever He needs me to do, I’ll do it.”

And time and time again, God came through for us. I’ve forgotten to bring items to the meetings. My HDMI cable was too short. ShareSynch decided it wanted to crash on me again. I’ve stood up to preach less prepared than I’d like to be. But despite all our problems and difficulties, God has worked through us – in spite of us, in fact. On Saturday night, March 31, an altar call for baptism was made. Five people came forward, including a family who had been studying with our local Bible worker, Osvaldo, for 5 years. Wow, I thought. God works in such mighty ways with such inadequate instruments.

My faith was so weak. We serve a powerful God. And yet we pray as if He lacks in resources. In Mark 9:23, Jesus said, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Then, in that beautiful prayer for help, “the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”

I, too, cling to that prayer. In The Desire of Ages, Mrs. White penned these words: “Look not to self, but to Christ. He who healed the sick and cast out demons when He walked among men is the same mighty Redeemer today. Faith comes by the word of God. Then grasp His promise, ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’ John 6:37. Cast yourself at His feet with the cry, ‘Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.’ You can never perish while you do this – never.” (DA 429.1)

I look to Christ, claiming His promises. I know I am weak. I know I am powerless. I know I am unprepared. But “I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is through the power of Christ alone. Nothing of me, everything of Him.

-Joey Shiu
Team Steward (Mr. Steward, Dr. Kuninobu, Mrs. Ing, Joey Shiu, Matthew Kuninobu, Jared Ing)
La Pedrera, Cuba
WA Mission Cuba 2018

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Belize Update

A normal morning starts off at 5:30 a.m. We wake up to the chirping of birds outside our windows and the beautiful scene of nature to begin our personal time with God and prepare for the day ahead. Most of us share a bedroom with one of the MOVE students. Many of the MOVE students do not speak english, so it has been a fun challenge for each of us to practice communicating with our roommates in another language. After group worship we make our way to the mess hall a.k.a cafeteria for a hearty first meal which includes a variety of foods (beans, rice, bread, fruit, etc.) then disperse to our different work stations. Over this past week Soren, Gabriel, Robin, and Amanda M. have been doing construction and working on tresses. Miss Abby, Mrs. Hasse, Sunika, Lydia, Anella, and Mercy have been adding color to the campus with the bristles of their brushes. Mr. Mike and Matthew…well no one knows what they have been up to. The team that has been removing large rocks from the field includes Mr. Poljack, Riley, and Chantal. Miss Amanda has been working along side Tanzi painting one of the dorms and sewing curtains for the cafeteria.

This Thursday we drove into a village called Santa Martha. On the way we passed by hut-like houses often with only half a roof. Many of the villagers have their own plantain trees and chickens. Once we arrived at the church in Santa Martha there were already some Belizean women excited to attend our cooking class and crafts. Eventually, more women from the village came. Sunika, Soren, and Amanda M. demonstrated how to make artisan bread and a lentil soup, both of which the women participated in and enjoyed—even though the bread was slightly undercooked due to lack of time. One event that stood out to us from that night is when Amanda was practicing her Spanish on some of the younger children and she was trying to say un poquito (meaning a little) but, instead she said un pequito (meaning a birds beak) which we all had a good laugh over. The spanglish is real! After the cooking class was over Mercy, Alexis, and Chantal taught the women how to make flowers from paper. All in all it was a very tiring day, but we were (and still are!) excited to see how the Lord will use us during our time here in Belize.

– Amanda McCraw and Sunika Jojo

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Calixto update

We have arrived safely in Cuba, and have begun our evangelistic crusade in Calixto.  The people here are very kind.  The host of our group is very self-sacrificing for the cause of God.  His home has both a church and a baptistry, so the evangelistic meetings are taking place right at his home.  He is allowing us to stay in the rooms of his home while he and his wife stay in a tent in the back yard.  Last night we had at least 25 attendees at both the adult and children’s meetings.  We visited people in their homes this morning and personally invited them to the meetings.  We anticipate many more attendees this evening.  The four young people from Weimar (Jaycee, Cristian, Isabella and Julianna) have earnestly taken up their mission and are representing Weimar and their God rightly.  Please keep praying for our efforts in Calixto as well as the other teams in Cuba.CUBA

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Day 4

We worked super hard today!! We woke up again at 6 am and got ready and went to the cafeteria for breakfast. Today they served oatmeal, bagels, and Morning Star patties with fruit. It was pretty good. Then the staff told us what we were doing today. Group B and D went to a house that is called “house 60” and put insulation all around the it. We also put up and stapled a thick tarp over the insulation for more insulation. Then we screwed in plywood over the insulation. After the whole house was done, the rest of the time we tore down the siding of the garage. That was REALLY fun. You would swing the hammer with all your might, but that wouldn’t even make a dent in the wall. With persistence, we were able to tear down that wall. Group C finished painting the garage that group A and D prepped yesterday. Group A finished working on the “dog house” and put up drywall and then they dug and put cinder blocks in a hole. That took the whole day. Lunch was really good. It was Asian food. There was rice, curry, punsit, and spring rolls. Yum!! We also played a lot with the kids. It’s fun! Supper was good. We had sloppy joe’s and fries. Around 8pm, we met as a group and talked about what is going to be happening tomorrow since it is our fun day!! YAY!!! I can’t wait to see what God brings us tomorrow!!!

-Mackenzie Jezierski – Junior