“the mountain is out!”

October 12, 2010

yes. the mountain was out today. mount rainier that is. that’s what everyone around here calls it (“the mountain”)…and that’s what we say when it’s a clear enough day that it is actually visible. and i can see it from my bedroom window…it’s pretty epic. days like today are special.

 

some things i am learning…

❤ when you can see blue sky (no matter how much of it)… it’s a beautiful day in the pacific northwest!

❤ i am an introvert. (i am probably the most introverted of everyone in my house)

❤ my pride hinders me from loving others as they deserve to be loved.

❤ now is all we have. now is urgent. now deserves grace…no matter who is inside of our now. now is precious. now is a gift. don’t take now for granted.

❤ i really hate a messy kitchen. a messy kitchen can easily put me in a bad mood. clean environment = happier allison.

❤ living off of [hardly any] money is hard. but its doable. and kind of fun because you are forced to be creative…and you just do without sometimes. but my needs are met. so have i really “needed” all that other stuff all along?…

❤ i really really really love to sew and to create things in general.

❤ i am insanely blessed. a lot of people love me for some reason. i don’t get it. but i’m grateful.

❤ i am crucified with christ. it is no longer i who live but christ who lives in me. the life i now live in the flesh i live by faith in the son of god, who loved me and gave himself for me.

❤ life is full of opportunity.

❤ i will not be content to live a life doing anything other than what i was created to do to serve christ and love. maybe this year he’s showing me more of what that will look like…

 

some things i am seeing…

so these are sweet little wild flower chimney sweep looking creatures that live in mount rainier national park. which by the way is out of this world…but in it.

 

ladies and gentlemen…meet: the mountain. pictures don’t do it justice. it’s freakin huge. i’m talkin…if you squint and turn your head to the left a little…you can see what is really a massive waterfall in the bottom left corner of this photo. epic. monstrous. beautiful. huge. massive. incredible. ok you get it…

 

these are two of my favorite people on the planet. they bring me much joy each day. this was a dance sesh to close out a weekend retreat we had. love them. teaching me so much.

 

and here is the family. we had a commissioning ceremony at the church next door and all our bosses and the local support community and lvc folk were there. we kind of dressed up. it was fun. this is on our front stoop.

 

the city. seattle, that is. from gasworks park. and my friend ben who came to visit from alabama…and his friend joseph, a seattlite. seattle is a great city. a really great city.

mandela.

September 21, 2010

so each LVC house has a name…most having something to do with workers of justice, or big thinkers/dreamers…movers & shakers of history. ours is “Mandela” after mister Nelson. it is owned by the church next door and used to be its parish…named “Bethlehem house.” so we’re just really confused over here. but it’s lovely. it’s old and cute and has been lived in but kept up really nicely. i love my house. i am very thankful for it.

so there are 4 bedrooms, 1 downstairs and 3 up. the boys share the room down, girls, up. molly and alayna have their own rooms and rachel and i share. it’s a great setup thus far. mike knocks on the walls every time he comes upstairs…i think he’s afraid of us. we also have a sketchy basement where mice live and flooding happens and couches sit on wooden pallets and laundry is done and bicycles are stored.

side view: (my room is the upstairs side window)

view from our front porch: (Albertsons parking lot. lovely, i know…we get some pretty great sunsets, though) 🙂 that sweet ride is my transport to/from work. the Farm van. you’re jealous…i know. molly and i carpool with the jesuit volunteers each day and larche provides the van. it’s a pretty sweet setup.

living/eating room: (and alayna playing the piano)

great great kitchen and cute cute molly making some hummus:

cute back yard complete with garden and a sweet tree for climbing (i know this from experience):

aaaaaaand mine and rachel’s room.

so that’s the tour of the mandela household.
more on washington, mount rainier, larche, simplicity/sustainability, and new-found biblical community soon and very soon. thanks for stepping into a piece of my new little world.

you should come for a visit. 🙂 ❤

awkwardly long vacation…

September 11, 2010

the church search:
bleh.
i’ve been to 2 so far…1 could be promising, i haven’t given up in it…but i’d like to hear some scripture in a teaching…not an essay speech. 😦
I’ve never really had to church search…they’ve always kind of fallen in my lap in awesome ways. today i’ve been checking out the worldwideweb…AWKWARD!
the first website i went to said: “Where Jesus goes to church…” are you serious!? FINALLY I found the place!!! come on people…for real!? after that i found tv show churches and awkward podcasts that sounded more like a theatrical play and websites with pictures of church buildings that made me want to barf.

church! why is it so weird!? why can’t we just get together and worship and fellowship and serve and love? why do all of these other insignificant factors have to come into play and distract us from Him…

God…please help me to find biblical community.

being present in WA:
when all i’m thinking is that, i’m going to miss…
Graham’s college graduation
Darby Jean’s birth
New Maxwell baby birth (gender/name not known)
Thanksgiving with my family for the first time
Taylor’s first year of college
All of Caleb’s sporting events…
friends. family. a year of fellowship with those i know and love.

i keep thinking about my presence here. i think it would be really easy to keep good communication with everyone i know and love “back home” in all of my spare time. however, it would probably be at the cost of missing out on so much here for the next year.  not that i plan to lose touch with those in the east…but that i need to find balance…

God has me in Tacoma, WA from August 2010, until August 2011. I may never be here again in my life. this life may not extend to tomorrow even. but it’s easy for me to want to live in yesterday. because i know yesterday…we’re familiar, close, intimate, and comfortable. i am finding it challenging to balance yesterday and today. to find the worth and fleeting nature of the reality of this time and place and the opportunity and beauty therein. i don’t know that i will find a perfect balance. but i am thankful that i am aware of the danger of losing this next year to the nostalgia of what i have left behind. it will be there when i return…it will just look different. but that’s ok. this world is not my home. and even if it’s not there when i return…that’s ok too. everything’s going to be ok.

I look around and a lot of the times think to myself..“this isn’t home. where am i? what am i doing here? who are these people? where are my friends? this is an awkwardly long vacation…when do i get to go back?…” not in a depressed or negative way…just in a genuine confusion and disillusionment. however, it is a good reminder of how this world should be foreign to me…and is not and will never be permanent. as long as i am away from my Savior, i will not be home. i am a nomad.

i am learning about home. i am learning how to be present.

what i am learning from living in community:
my time is not my own.
my space is not my own.
my food is not my own.

i am not my own.

so i have lived alone in a 2-story, 2-bedroom cabin in the woods for the past 2 years. i have learned much “independence” and how to be alone. I think it NOT a coincidence that I have been reading blue like jazz upon my transition into Washington and LVC life.  particularly…the bit on community. it is rich with conviction…

don miller on living alone…
“when you live on your own for a long time, your personality changes because you go so much into yourself you lose the ability to be social, to understand what is and isn’t normal behavior. there is an entire world inside yourself, and if you let yourself, you can get so deep inside it you will forget your way to the surface. other people keep our souls alive, just like food and water does with our body.”

on living in community…
“if we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.”
more to come on community…it is beautiful. ❤

l.v.c.

August 28, 2010

The Lutheran Volunteer Corps.

a volunteer corps. founded by lutherans…but open to anyone. so no, I am not lutheran. (and neither are all of my housemates…though 1 or 2ish of them are) but yes, i am a “volunteer”…though technically i get paid a stipend to eat off of.

so the lvc is “a community of faith that unites people to work for peace with justice.” they partner with other local (and international) organizations that are also working for peace with justice. from environmental advocacy/preservation, to building houses for those in need, to feeding and empowering the homeless, to empowering the developmentally disabled to pursue their passions and occupations. the last of which i am blessed to participate in. all of the above causes are what myself and my housemates will be doing for the next year.

so the organization that make a trio of myself and the lvc is: L’Arche.

(http://www.larchethc.org/)
the people you see in the scrolling photos on this site are the folks i get to hang out with every day. and they are amazing without question. where i work is called “Noah’s Workshop” and it’s basically a day program that’s a part of a community of group homes where folks live, love beautifully, and are loved immensely. in my program, we facilitate daily activities, lunch, and outings for each of the Core Members (the folks who live at L’Arche) such as shopping trips, dog walking, visits to museums, and volunteering that THEY do (i know…it’s incredible) at places like food banks, childcare programs, and transitional housing for women. they are smart. they are beautiful and they are hilarious.

today we had chapel…in an adorable chapel on campus, where a priest comes and leads us in liturgy, song, a short teaching on scripture, and the eucharist. that was a beautiful time to experience with them.

this is amazing. i have already built invaluable relationships with some of the core members and i am so excited about the continuation and deepening of those for the next year. 🙂

so another part of the lvc is living in community. my community (in-house) for the year = alayna, iain, molly, mike, and rachel. as a community, we hail from ohio, michigan, minnesota, wisconsin, and florida.

molly: works with me at l’arche, but on the farm. lately her garb has been overalls, which she rocks. molly has the voice of an angel (mixed with norah jones and ingrid michaelson) and can play some beautiful tunes on the guitar and piano – mainly folk in sound. molly doesn’t fit into a mold. she is encouraging and loving and  loves the earth and most everything about it. she also lets me run with her, and for that i am thankful. molly cares. God has gifted molly with empathy.

iain: is a musical kinda guy. he enjoy celtic tunes, playing and listening. he plays many an instrument, namely the irish whistles, bagpipes, and guitar. iain loves to cook, and we all reap the benefit of this hobby. iain has spent the last year serving with americorps and is now serving with us lvc’ers. this guy enjoys good people and good conversation and can usually be found among others. God has gifted iain with the ability to take joy with others in their joy.

rachel: is my roommate. she is a lively one…so don’t let her height fool you, she could mess somebody up if the need every arose. she is a sweet soul and a kindred spirit. rachel loves the outdoors and eating random plants therein. rach has a great laugh, and loves to hug. she is an avid reader and she doesn’t take crap. rachel brings life and love. she also brings me lots of laughter. God has gifted rachel with joy and peace.

alayna: wants to be all that she can be. (and not in an army way) alayna enjoys and seeks community and adventure. new and unknown things fascinate and invigorate her. she is passionate about ultimate frisbee, different cultures, and friendships. alayna is an independent and brave soul, and she too has a beautiful voice. she is curious, driven, and hungry for knowledge. God has gifted alayna with enthusiasm and a mind to think for herself.

mike: likes to go on random long walks by himself – exploring, talking to anyone he passes, learning about our community and neighborhood, and finding karaoke bars to frequent. mike is a quiet, contemplative one most of the time, but when he speaks, he makes it count…and it’s usually hilarious. mike is a joyful soul who can be passionate about most anything. he is a mover and a shaker. he is accepting on all fronts. already i am learning from mike. God has gifted mike with courage and hopefulness.

more to come…

safety.

August 15, 2010

the past few weeks have been a whirlwind. countless goodbye’s…or as some have demanded of me…only “see you later”‘s. lots of packing, strategizing, traveling, closure, redemption, and many many tears. it has been difficult and draining.

i am now in the air…on my way to a new adventure. as the doors to the plane closed and the seat belts clicked, thoughts of “no turning back…this is really it…what am i doing!?” raced through my mind. fear and worry and doubt crept into my stomach and my soul and i was overcome with so much emotion. the tears signify many things all at once.

i have been bombarded with love from friends and family. gifts, special dates, endless support, sweet sweet cards and kind words, mystery cash, and copious amounts of hugs and encouragements and blessings. it has been overwhelming to say the least. i am so unworthy, and endlessly grateful.

as i reflect upon the past season, and as i anticipate the next, i wonder…”why has this transition been so hard?”

safety.

less than 48 hours ago, as i sat in the last supper of our summer staff and listened to my brothers and sisters share thankfulness and love with one another, i couldn’t help but think of safety. “this place is safe”, i thought to myself…”and i have to leave it.” safety comes in many forms…

– relationships.

– jobs.

– a “home.”

– comfort.

– being known.

– knowing.

i am stepping out of a 5-year journey in the comfort of a beautiful place called Camp Living Stones….where I have literally met thousands upon thousands of people over the years, and built life-long and beautiful relationships with so many. i am stepping out of that…into the complete and utter unknown. nothing about this is comfortable, nothing is familiar. i know no one or no thing about where i am going. i have never been there. i don’t know how it smells or feels or sounds or looks. and it is scary. terrifying, actually.

i then reminded myself…this world and this place on this mountain are not my safety. this is not my home. CHRIST alone is my safety. he has always been, and will always be. HE is home…HE is the only sure thing i have. and he is the best thing that there is, and in that and that alone, i have peace. because he has promised himself to me and i to him.
as the tears fall and the thoughts and emotions whirl…i can only pray.

God…i know you’re there. please hold me. i know you have me in your hands. i trust you. i am afraid. i believe, but help my unbelief. i am alone of people and familiarity, but never without you. help me to feel you. help me to trust. i do believe that you know and love me deeply and i remember that you care for the lilies. you are where i have been and you are where i am going. more importantly…you are IN me. i desire to know you and for you to be made known in and through me. this is all that matters. help me to not lose sight despite my circumstance. draw me close. restore my joy. go with me. bring me peace. thank you for your love. help me to comprehend its infinite depth. fill me. give me rest. you are nothing but good. Lord, i cling to you and your truth. be with the ones i have left behind…might we continue to walk on this journey together in spirit and in truth, seeking to know and love you and to know and love one another. and be with the ones i will soon meet, may we bless you together. thank you, God. thank you for this pain and this journey, and the blessing of intimate relationships and love that the hurt signifies. may i be a light for you. help me be a light.
prepare the way, oh Lord.

“peace i leave with you; my peace i give to you. not as the world gives do i give to you. let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  – Jesus, the Christ.

welp. here goes!

chaos -> peace

August 4, 2010

moving.

changing jobs.

leaving comfort.

changing addresses.

new state.

new roommates.

roommates period for that matter.

new church.

new bike. no car.

new bed.

different food.

new driver’s license.

life in suitcases.

rain and cold.

so much going on. so much to look forward to. too many goodbyes to handle comfortably. so many questions…

God is teaching me about rest. about anxiety. about trust. about His provision and love for me. about solitude and silence. these are the things i’ve been learning about this summer. it hasn’t always been pretty…but i am so grateful for these lessons and his truth and growth and the journey to come.

seeking peace. waiting. trusting. trying to live today yet prepare sufficiently for tomorrow. it is a crazy time. it has been a crazy summer. but god cares for the birds. he is ever present. he has a plan for a hope and a future. and everything will be ok. 🙂

more to come…

journal: days 1, 2, 3

September 23, 2009

6.23.09

before embarking on our travels, in the Tallahassee airport, my bag got checked and I got checked. the bag could be because I have a 50 foot piece of webbing and 5 quick links in there as well as a maglight flashlight that could double as a weapon. as far as me getting checked…not sure why, but they sat me down (i felt like I was about to be interrogated) and the woman asked me to turn my hands over palms up, rubbed a circular piece of strange-feeling paper over my palms and said “I have to go test this…wait here.” my thought was “sweet…they think I’m bomb threat or something. do i look shady?” she put it in her computer and this crazy lookin’ bar graph came up on the screen…then she came back and said I was ok. The bag and I got through…no bombs. 🙂

currently I am sitting in the JFK airport. Today has been long…and it’s only 6:30pm. Next flight in T-minus 1 hour and 50 minutes. As I type, my middle sister is in labor with her first child, and my first nephew. Which is crazy/excitingand i wish i was there! 😦

The next flight we hop onto is our first international flight. We had a 10 hour layover in NYC today and have another 12ish hour layover in Cassablanca, Morocco, tomorrow. Then our flight to Cotonou, Benin, where we will (hopefully) get a couple of hours of sleep before our first screening at 8am Thursday morning. (AGH!) We will be looking mighty rough I am sure.

I have not been able to sleep yet on flights today…the first was 45 minutes (Tallahassee to Atlanta…THAT’S SO QUICK!) and the 2nd was 2.5 hours but I am a horrible sleeper and despite the earplugs and bandana around the eyes and travel pillow…alas, no dice. after only 3ish hours of light sleep last night … i’m TIRED.

this is random and scattered…just like NYC. We sat in central park for a bit, had pizza at a place called “Tiramisu,” walked around the Metropolitan Museum of art for a while…got to see some beautiful photography, Michaelangelo’s first painting, and went on the roof to see the city scape. We did a LOT of walking with heavy back packs. The subways were intersting. You really see ALL KINDS of people in NYC. All nationalities and personalities. There was a dude in the subway with a haircut straight out of the 80’s…looked like he just stepped out of the cosby show. it was amazing.

Thursday – 6.25.09

It’s been a full couple of days. Let’s start from where I left off. Flight from NYC to Cassablanca, Morocco. It was kind of crazy…definitely my least favorite leg of the trip out of 4 flights. Started out by some guy behind us while boarding yelling obscenities (all of them) for whatever reason. Serious anger issues. That was unnerving. Then JUST outside the airplane door, a man was asked to check his carryon because it was too heavy and he was refusing. “I am NOT leaving my bag. You CANNOT have my bag.” etc, etc. He was pretty adamant, which was sketchy. Then mister police man decided it would be a good idea to SCREAM at him for a couple of minutes…which we all agreed later that he overdid it. power trip or something maybe? It was intense. And I was next in line…staring at the ground, waiting or the scene to end. They let him on. Just before take-off he came from the back of the plane to where we were and put his bag in the compartment right above our heads. We were like great…a bomb, right above us. sweet. Then dude-bro obscenities sat right across the aisle from me. So I got to hear him be loud and rude and bribe the stewardess to get everything he wanted. (sigh) There were also about 80 small children and AT LEAST 6ish crying babies. It was chaos. We were EXHAUSTED by this time also. My chair did no recline and again, I did not sleep on this flight…it was a long 7.5 hours. Then when we finally got to Morocco, all the police at customs were wearing masks and we had to wait forever and be checked out by this sonar thing to make sure we didn’t have SWINE FLU. Apparently they think we have it…and they don’t want it.

As we were in line going through Customs, we met a gentleman from FL (Moroccan born) named Hassan. He’s a high school principal in Coral Springs (i think) which is random. Anyway, he interpreted for us as we were asked many questions before we could go through…Everyone around us spoke in Arabic. Some knew a little broken english. Not the customs guys though. I don’t think they liked us. The other airport people were friendly and helpful. Hassan offered to help us get around via train/taxi advice and a ride into the city with his mother and brother who were coming to pick him up. We were sketched out at first so we had a huddle while he grabbed his bags and decided that if his mom showed up we would, but if not, we would opt to take the train. His mom did come…she was super cute and old and like 4 ft. 11 and kissed us to greet us and welcome us to her country. it was really sweet because he hadn’t been back to Casablanca in seven years. Before I go on…know that this family was the sweetest most hospitable group of strangers I have ever met…they were amazing. they brought 2 of his nephews and they rode the train so that we could fit in the car…we were so floored at their kindness, it was not an inconvenience to them at all, which was beautiful to me. So we rode into the city with Hassan and his family. us three girls piled in the back with his mother. and we somehow fit four people’s luggage in the back of the car…which had a broken window. and now, our first crazy foreign driver experience. it’s wasn’t too bad, but definitely different than what we americans are used to! Hassan’s mothers house where he grew up was in the thick of the city. He said that people have offered her millions for it but she will not sell it because of all the memories and what it means to her family. They gave us a tour of their home. It was a 2-story, beautiful home with tile walls, and very ornate couches, curtains & rugs. it was awesome. we cleaned up a bit and brushed our teeth which was nice…(except i used the water without thinking…but thankfully it didn’t make me sick…and thankfully i didn’t make that mistake again). We left our heavy carry-ons at their house. (we were SO thankful that we didn’t have to carry them around for the day!) Then Hassan took us to the nearest bank to exchange our money and gave us advice on places to see. Mind you, he JUST got back into the country to see his family for the first time in 7 years, and he wasn’t hesitant to help us in any way we needed. we were pretty floored at his hospitality to complete strangers. it was natural to him. beautiful to me.

Casablanca was really pretty and very historical. An old city, and on the coast, very tropical looking with palm trees and pretty flowers all over the place. We checked out the mosque there, it’s one of the biggest in the world. it was a beautiful building..i took lots of pictures. Casablanca was the first place I’ve ever heard the Muslim call to prayer which was strange. But it was neat to see the dedication of those who would pray every time they heard it. Makes me think, am I as dedicated in prayer? It was eery though to hear the voice speaking in a language i didn’t understand over loudspeakers as you’re walking down the streets. new experience for me. We took a taxi from one place to another, and the man offered to give us a tour of the city for a “very low price” (yea right!) and it sounded pretty low to us, (because we’re americans and we’re rich so we have no concept of money in such places!) and we later found out from Hassan that we got ripped off! haha! BUT, it was a really good tour, and the man spoke english pretty well which was helpful. It was weird to see pizza hut and a couple of other chains from America in the touristy part of the city. Hassan helped us get a taxi back to the airport and got us a good deal. It was kind of sad to say goodbye to him, he was a new friend. Maybe I’ll go visit him at his school in florida some day. 🙂

Our flight to Benin from Morocco was another long one. This is the first time I slept on our travels, it was Wednesday night by this time. I got 3 hours of sleep Monday night, but not a full night’s sleep since Sunday night. We landed in Togo 1st to drop some people off, but couldn’t get off the plane. Landed in Benin at about 2:30am. Martin (our translator) met us at the airport with a driver. it took a while to get some money exchanged and pack the CAR with six big suitcases, 5 carry-ons, and 6 passengers. i still don’t know how we pulled that off. We got home around 4:30. I crashed for maybe an hour and a half before we had to get up and go to our first screening. (we were SOOOOO TIRED!!!)

Our first screening (6.25.09 – Thursday morning) was set up by peace corps volunteers. They were putting on a camp of sorts for girls, called “Camp Glow.” The purpose was to promote independence, education, self-esteem, and that sort of thing. The screening went really well…the girls were very inquisitive afterwards and shared about friends they knew whose parents were wanting to sell them. We talked to them about ways to help their friends stand up for themselves or get help, and reasons/ways the girls should and could avoid ever being trafficked. It was really neat.

After the screening, I had my first Beninese meal! It was rice (with beans), sauce de tomat (tomato/onion/HOT sauce) and a fish head. YUM YUM!!! I didn’t eat the fish…but I made sure someone did. 🙂 It rained a TON that day…and we had car trouble. So we had to call a mechanic…she showed up on a moto…yes, SHE! I thought that was pretty awesome. It’s crazy how they use duct tape, or wedge a screwdriver in car engines to fix them. they are very creative and can fox anything! During this time (several hours) when our car was being fixed…I fell sleep on the concrete floor on the front patio of the school. mind you, it was POURING RAIN, there were people walking all around me, mosquitos biting me, it was broad daylight, it was a cold, concrete floor, and i am a SUPER light sleeper. I was TIRED. they fixed our car and we were on our way! End, day one in Benin. 🙂

Friday – 6.26.09 – 12pm

night time is kind of weird around here. All of out windows are open to let the breeze in and thankfully they all have screens. Haven’t seen a mosquito yet or been bit! YAY! so you can hear people talking outside. Our house is above someone else’s…sometimes it sounds like they’re right outside the door…or in the hallway or the next room…but they’re not. It’s cool and rainy. I’m thankful for the cool. I could handle a little less rain…but it’s good for the earth…and I’m sure it’s bringing water to those who need it. so that too is good.

I slept for 12 hours last night. It was amazing. 7 to 7 USA time…12 to 12 Benin time. I feel like a functional human being again. First full nights sleep (or anywhere close) since Sunday night. Monday through Thursday = hardly any sleep. I’d be ok if that never happened again in my whole life. 🙂

Concept of time here is very different from the states. Martin called us at 11:45 am and said he was leaving to come get us. He has just arrived…and it is 1:52pm. It should take about 20 minutes for him to get to us from where he lives. I thought East TN was laid back. This is a whole new level. haha.

(keep checking back as I continue to post these daily journal entries…there’s plenty more to come!)

a letter of thanks.

September 23, 2009

Hello Friends!

I am going to try to be as transparent with you as possible in this letter, so I will start by admitting that I have been putting off writing it. Not because I am ungrateful for your involvement in my journey, or because I don’t want to share with you about what the Lord has done this summer in my life and in Benin. On the contrary, I think that the reason is that when I think about successfully conveying all that I want to about my time in Benin, the idea is severely overwhelming. When you learn a lot of new, hard, interesting, crazy, and challenging things in a short period of time, it gives you a lot to talk about. But I will do my best! So here goes…

“Our day to day in Benin” looked like this: Some days we had a screening of the film, some days we didn’t, some days we had two or three. Our screenings were an absolute success. To me, the most important thing achieved by our time and work there was to love our Beninese friends by trying to meet their needs and working to combat an injustice that breaks the heart of Christ. Second to that, the film provided a platform for the local authorities (village chief’s, village advisors, etc.) to speak up against child trafficking, young and forced marriage, and polygamy, in a public forum. This allowed for helpful and educational discussions afterwards, sharing of personal stories, and so much more. It was a catalyst for change, and I look forward to seeing further healing and redemption in that place. There is much more work to be done, in Benin, and everywhere. In Matthew 25, Jesus is talking about being hungry, and then fed, or being sick, and then visited, or being naked, and then given clothing. Then He says that whatever was done to “the least of these my brothers and sisters” was in fact done to Him. I believe that as our Creator, Christ hurts when we hurt, and He joy’s when we joy. Therefore, I must believe that in bringing healing to our brothers and sisters in Benin, we are also bringing healing to the heart of Christ.

Yes, I got sick…but it wasn’t too bad, and it didn’t last long! It was beautiful to see the faithfulness of Christ in taking care of my every need moment by moment, as I prayed my way through being ill. It was humbling to fully experience the frailty of this earthly and temporary tent that I currently dwell in, and magnificent to revel in its intricacies thought up by an incredible Creator. There is much to be learned in every part of life, even African parasites! 🙂

Unseen Stories now: My friend Kaitlyn (one of the three who started Unseen Stories, and the leader of the Northern Team in Benin this past summer) has recently quit her part time job to work full-time on the documentary. She will be living by the kindness of friends and family, and her savings account, as she transitions into a few months of full-time volunteerism to complete this film by early 2010. Unseen Stories hopes to use the film to raise awareness in the states of the need and injustice in Benin, and in turn, create tangible ways for Americans to play a part in loving and providing for the children of Benin. Since our departure from Benin, our translator, Martin, has continued to take the film from village to village, shedding light on these dark truths and bringing hope to those in need of it. So the work of Unseen Stories continues! Additionally, Kaitlyn has been invited to talk about Unseen Stories and our recent summer project at the 3rd Annual Congressional Roundtable on Human Trafficking in West Africa, on Wednesday, the 23rd, in Washington D.C. She will also be meeting with members of two State Department Bureaus: Trafficking In Persons and Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to learn about the foreign policies in place to end trafficking in West Africa. This is an exciting time in the life and work of Unseen Stories!

One thing I have learned from the Beninese people is the importance of relationships. In their culture, everything is relationship first, then business, success, school and everything else. I think the way they live is more aligned with how we were created than the culture that I have grown up in. It feels more natural than the impersonal and me-centered busy-ness of life that I have grown accustomed to in America. I believe we all have something to learn from each other, and something to teach one another. It was beautiful to see their interdependence, constant community, and joy in being together. I miss Benin for this, and so many other reasons. I would like to think that I’m not too busy for phone calls or walks in the park with friends. This lesson has caused me to evaluate the things that I value and view as important in my life.

After my time in Benin…I believe strongly that the less [stuff] I have, the more I will be able to see, feel, and give to Christ…and to those around me, and those far away. In my life, I don’t want to be so distracted, preoccupied, or consumed with stuff, that I miss relationship with Christ and His creations. I don’t want to be known by my stuff…but I want Christ in me to be known through my brief time on this earth. I believe that this is the purpose for which I have been created. Whether that manifests itself in my showing a video to mothers, fathers, children, and ex-traffickers in developing countries, or by having coffee with a friend. There is opportunity, meaning and divine appointment in it all. My hope is that for the remainder of this life, I will take each and every opportunity given to me, to love extravagantly, as Christ daily loves me.

Sometimes when I think about June 23 – July 23, 2009…it’s almost as if it didn’t happen. It is so surreal..that it brings tears to my eyes as I type this. Although some days were slow, and I felt as though I would be there forever, (which I didn’t mind) it was a whirlwind of experiences, thoughts, and emotions. I have been to Africa. I was there for a month. I have held the hands of God’s beautiful and dearly loved people in Benin. That blows my mind. Some days I want to go back just so that I can say to myself, “yes, this is familiar, I have in fact been here before.” The Lord has been gracious to give me the experiences and opportunities that He has. I did not not write a single support letter, yet somehow, with a few buttons, a benefit dinner, and the blessings of many kind and giving hearts, He provided the means…and He took me on a journey. You played a role in that. From the deepest, most unknown parts of my heart where words rarely suffice to communicate my feelings, I thank you. I will take this experience with me in my mind and heart everywhere I go from here. I hope I will continue to learn and grow from it. And I pray that it has not only been an experience for me, but that the experiences granted to me will run over into the lives of others, to encourage, challenge, bless, and bring hope.

I would love to share more with you…if you would like to listen. Please do not hesitate to contact me or pull me aside if you have questions or curiosities. To those who ask, I explain this part of my life as a heavy blessing. It is a blessing because I have seen such beautiful things in and  through it. It is heavy because I have a burden to share it, to grow from it, and to allow it to stretch and change me in whatever uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and even scary ways the Lord wills. It’s exciting! He has done a work in me, but there is much work left to be done, and He will be faithful to complete it!

I know that I left a lot out of this letter. Like I said, there is SO much to tell! But I encourage you to read my blog for much more in-depth journaling about our time in Benin, people I met there, specific stories and experiences, what I learned, challenges faced, victories, and so much more. Also, feel free to check out my photo albums as well. There are tons of pictures! If you would like this letter in email form so that you can copy and paste the links, send me an email and I’ll get it to you!

Thank you again. May the grace, peace, and love of our Savior be with you today and always.


❤ Allison

Keep up with Unseen Stories here: http://www.unseenstories.com

Photo Albums: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2688694&id=5211465&l=f830e9521c

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2688773&id=5211465&l=00b8d25d82

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I have yet to venture from my sister’s home in Tallahassee since my return on Wednesday morning. I look forward to sharing once I know what to share…but at the moment, the thought of being around a large crowd of people where I may be asked many questions is very intimidating! So in an effort to prepare myself for questions, as well as answer them for those of you I may not get to see for a while…I am conducting a self-interview. 🙂 Here goes…

(Please note…I am in no way making light of these questions or discouraging anyone from asking them…they are important questions to be asked and answered and I so look forward to sharing with you in person!)

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  • “How was Africa?”
    – One-word answer: Beautiful.
    – Multi-word answer:  Amazing, Hard, Challenging, Different, Not what I Expected, Crazy, Uplifting, Depressing, Encouraging, Conflicting, Spiritual, Simple, Complex, Easy, Eye-opening. It was many things.
    – Every day I woke up thanking God for allowing me to be there and experience what I did. I was overwhelmed with thankfulness daily. The people were beautiful and I learned so much from them and their way of life. I pray that my heart is not hardened by the superfluity of poverty and pain that existed there, but changed, challenged, and open to Christ’s love, healing, and hope for all of our brothers and sisters around the world, with you and I as His vessels of change.
  • “How was your experience spiritually?”
    God Takes care of me. Prayer is powerful, and its power blew me away and grounded me all at once. (and is continuing to do so) The Lord’s love and power stretches to the darkest and loneliest corners of the earth. He cares SO MUCH for me…and no more for me than the five-year-old boy selling tomatoes on the streets of Cotonou, Benin…this is beautiful and challenging. If He loves them as much as me, what a responsibility that gives me to share with them what He has given me, and meet their needs. Christ is our only hope…trusting Him daily was my only strength. Trusting that I was there for a purpose and that He didn’t need me but chose to use me…and as long as I was available and obedient, His work would be complete, whether I saw it’s fruit or not. I continue to rest in that upon my return. I look forward to reflecting more and seeing what else He has to teach me and how He will grow me through this experience.
  • “What did God do?”
    Opened doors. Laid groundwork. Answered prayers. Protected. Healed. Shined His light in dark places. Spread smiles, hugs, kisses, and handshakes. Stilled fears. Shed truth on lies. Facilitated conversation. Spoke all of our languages.
  • “What did you learn?”
    On a personal note, the Lord revealed a lot to me about myself, which is always painful and will hopefully prove fruitful. God has made us all for a purpose…He is beckoning me to pursue that purpose for my life…this is part of the process. Life is easy and convenient here, it is very difficult and inconvenient there. We have no idea how much we have. It’s amazing how cheap and easy it is to help someone in a developing country. We live in a world completely different and painfully segregated from the Beninese people. As different and far apart as we are…we are all created and loved equally by God. I will be continually learning from this experience…it’s not over. This question will be answered in depth by blogs to come re: the day-to day experiences.
  • “What was the most important thing you accomplished?”
    Opening minds and hearts to challenge history, tradition, and poverty, with hope, love, and change.
  • “Challenges?”
    – The language barrier was the single most difficult thing about being there. Yes, there is poverty and hunger like I have not seen more than two times/places previously in my life…but without the ability to communicate about it…the feeling is hopeless to be sure, and the meaning and purpose for being among them gets lost in the lack of words to share with one another regarding life and love and truth and hope. There is something about connecting with other human beings that fills a void in our souls like nothing else can. (second to communion with Christ) It’s a hole God made…and He desires for our communion with each other to fill it positively. Whether it be easy or a challenge. He created us for this…among many other reasons. I do believe.
    – Lots of flooded roads and car trouble.
    – Avoiding becoming indifferent due to the overwhelming nature of the issues that stem from poverty. On the same token, avoiding being burdened so heavily that I become disgusted with indifference and bitter. There is a balance between taking on others burdens so heavily that you can no longer function healthily, and being so overwhelmed by others burdens that you give up hope that change is possible. I have yet to find that balance. (I don’t feel like this was very eloquent, it makes sense in my head…ask me about it in person and maybe I can explain it better)
    – Contracting a parasite. ’nuff said.
  • “Victories?”
    – Getting from point A to point B despite major rain/flooding.
    – Coping with/overcoming my fear of lizards despite being pretty much in arms length of the LARGE devils at all times.
    – No one getting Malaria despite multiple nights of being swarmed by mosquitos.
    – God got me thinking.
    – Despite weather, cultural hurdles, lateness, and car difficulties…the majority of our shows actually happened and on average we had 100 people at each.
    – God and love speak every language.
    – After seeing the film, much discussion and dialogue happened among the crowds. Many people shared stories of being trafficked or trafficking their children. People spoke up for the rights of the child and against the attributing factors to child trafficking such as polygamy. These conversations need to happen there and Unseen Stories film has been and will hopefully continue to be a catalyst for those conversations, and ultimately for change.
    – With our extra trip money we were able to donate to some of the centers that are helping kids, (sending them to school, feeding them, giving medical care, teaching them trades, etc.)  as well as do small things like buy medication for our friend Odette’s son Anzim when he became ill.
  • Favorite Funny Story…
    Two words: sleep deprived. SO…our trip TO Benin was a long one. We flew four separate planes, had five total flights and two twelve-hour layovers. (one in NYC and the other in Casablanca…both of which we squeezed every moment we could out of by sight-seeing in the cities, lots of walking with heavy bags) *PHEW* If you know me very well, you are probably aware that I am a very light sleeper and require ideal sleeping situations (comfort, silence, and darkness) in order to even have a chance at falling asleep. So I did not sleep a wink on our first 3 flights or during our layovers. Finally, on our last flight from Casablanca to Cotonou, Benin I got the window seat with a chair that actually reclined and I fell asleep…a deep sleep. Katie was sitting next to me. She gets the best sleeper award…(she could fall asleep standing up, I was so jealous of her skills) but for some reason she was awake at this point. She was minding her own business when out of the corner of her eye, she noticed my hands creeping up the wall of the plane. (Note: I was absolutely asleep and dreaming about something, I had earplugs in and a blindfold over my eyes to keep light out, and we were sitting in the emergency exit aisle.) She continued to watch in curiosity and amusement until she noticed my hands reaching the emergency exit handle…I then proceeded to pull the plastic covering that protected the handle OFF…she then grabbed my hands and woke me up. I woke up startled and pulled my blindfold off to find the plastic device in my hands, looked at her with wide eyes, said “WHAT AM I DOING?”, and quickly returned it to its proper home. I have no idea what I was dreaming, how this happened, or what would have happened if Katie was not awake and I had actually pulled the bright red emergency exit handle. But thankfully…we survived my sleep deprivation and live to tell about it. 🙂
  • Most Powerful Story…
    Took place in Ouidah, Benin. We went to the slave museum in Ouidah. The town of Ouidah was once known as Africa’s premier slave coast. It is where the majority of slaves were shipped from Africa to America. For in-depth history on Ouidah, go here: http://www.history.ac.uk/ihr/Focus/Slavery/articles/araujo.html
    – I learn and am impacted by hands on or visual experiences…which is part of why Ouidah was so powerful for me. There is a 3-mile path from the center of town that leads to the coast which was blazed by the slaves and the chains which linked them together in the height of the slave trade. This trail leads to a monument called “The Point of No Return.” This structure aims to mark the place where slaves embarked to the Americas. They walked the three miles, were held in small rooms with full of people and with no windows and doors for two weeks. If after the two weeks they were alive and not ill, they were considered fit and valuable and then walked to the coast, boarded ships and set sail. This was considered the end of their lives, their doom basically. Walking the path and through the threshold of the point (or “door”) of no return was an extremely poignant experience for me which festered many overwhelming emotions inside of me and then came out in tears of pain, confusion, anger, and gratefulness. I am thankful that slavery doesn’t exist like it once did…but burdened that it DOES still exist and feel responsible to play a role with my small voice in being the tangible hand of Christ in the lives of those who have been affected by it.
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  • People we made friends with…
    Damien -> our driver, or as Jen called him, “premier chauffeur in Benin!” He was my favorite! He had the best attitude all the time, a very jolly fellow. In his 30’s and a father of three. He loves to dance and loves music. His english improved greatly while we were there and he was so helpful to us. We couldn’t have done it without him. I love Damien! Here he is with his sweet 15-month-old, Lydia.
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    Odette -> was amazing! She didn’t speak hardly any english so it was very difficult for me to communicate with her. But we usually figured out what each other were trying to say. Odette was neighbors with Jen, Kaitlyn, and Todd when they lived in Benin for six months. While we were there this time, a year had passed since her husband Akim died suddenly from an illness the doctors never identified. She is a single mother of two children. Unseen Stories supports Odette and her children monthly so that she ca send her kids to school and give them needed medical care. Another way we were able to help her while we were there was to hire her as our cook and housekeeper of sorts. She made dinners for us when we were in Cotonou and did our laundry for us as well as helped us by cleaning the house and getting water for us. She was amazing. Such a beautiful woman and person, a hard worker, and a great mom, so sweet and such a servant. I was blessed to know her. Here she is with her daughter Fatia and son Anzim.
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    Martin -> Our translator/food orderer/bargainer/mediator in every way! Martin is very passionate about working to fight child trafficking and the work Unseen Stories is doing. He has been a HUGE asset to Unseen Stories and was such a help to us during our time there this summer. Martin is fluent in three languages (that I know of anyway!) and can also speak “Nigerian English” which is english but basically it’s own dialect due to all of the short-cuts and lingo added to it. (It sounds SO COOL!) Martin loves to sing, buy random things like shoes and sunglasses from street vendors and is a un guy to be around. 🙂
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    Aaron -> Peace corps volunteer, screening host, translator, friend, fellow American. Aaron is finishing out his two-year stint in a small village North of Cotonou basically in the bush where he works for an organization called ANDIA. It is a rehabilitation and training center for kids who have come out of trafficking situations. They get to go to school, and they learn skills and trades such as tailoring, weaving, metal working, agriculture (gardening), raising livestock, etc. Aaron is from North Carolina and plans to return their after getting married in a couple of months. He’s a great guy and was very helpful to us in our time there, as well as when I got sick!
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    Liz & David -> More American friends who speak English, yay! Liz is a peace corps volunteer who lives on the coast in Grand Popo. She volunteers some of her time with an NGO called “ATP” which exists to combat child trafficking. Liz set up five or so screenings for us with ATP in the local villages and was SUPER helpful to Unseen Stories and our tour. Her brother David happened to be in town visiting her while we were there. We enjoyed hanging out with and getting to know them for our week at the beach. It was nice to be able to speak english with people! This is them (with Jen in the middle) on a boat on our way to a screening.
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    – “The Boys” -> friends of Unseen Stories whom Jen, Todd, and Kaitlyn befriended when they lived in Porto Novo. They visited us in our last couple of days in Cotonou, we ate lunch and had drinks together on our back porch. Talked about what they want to study and do in their futures, how Unseen Stories can help them financially to reach those goals, and tried to teach each other english and french. They also taught me how to play a Beninese game called Domino which I bought at the artisans village. Super fun! Sweet boys. This is our team with the three of them…
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    Agnus -> My angel! Agnus is a french woman who runs ANDIA, where Aaron (above) works. She is an incredible woman and my hero! She took me in the night I got sick so that I didn’t have to stay at Aarons with no running water, beds, or toilet. 🙂 (PRAISE THE LORD) I got to sleep on a mattress and had access to her bathroom in my hours of need. haha. She is AWESOME…such an inspiration and passionate person. She works her tail off to get grants for the center kids at ANDIA. She is like a mother to all of them. I was so thankful for her compassion and care for me…and more importantly her heart for the children of Benin. Here she is in her back yard with her pet monkey!
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    Hassan -> Our Casablancan friend! We met him at the airport in the customs line. He is a high school principal in central Florida. He is from Casablanca but has lived in the states for 20ish years. Hassan and his family embodied hospitality. His mother and brother picked him up for the airport, gave us a ride to their house to clean up and let us keep our huge carry-ons there so that we could tour the city all day. He helped us exchange money, advised us on transportation, sight-seeing, and food spots. He hadn’t seen is family in a few years, but dropped everything to welcome and serve us. It was so cool…we were very thankful. Here he is on his mothers back patio.
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    MORE TO COME!!! Until next time… ❤ AL

So I have been home for over 48 hours now and have yet to journal or blog. I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding it…probably for several reasons. (note: I’m processing this as I type, which could be dangerous, please bare with me as I hash this out in my head/heart, and forgive me for my honesty)

1) My month in Benin FLEW by…yet was jam-packed with an array of experiences and emotions. The idea of getting it all on paper is very overwhelming.
2) I have a lot yet to process before the idea of sharing will excite me…right now it gives me anxiety.
3) I don’t just want to give summaries of my days there…that will be part of this, but more-so I feel very responsible for the experiences and insights the Lord has allowed me, and I desire to share them with a heart that is heavy, yet hopeful for his beautiful people in Benin, therefore not just enlightening myself and others by revisiting my experiences, but leaving us all feeling Challenged and Responsible for the well-being of our brothers and sisters less fortunate than us worldwide. (That’s a lot of pressure! Know that I desire to give good responses to your questions and curiosities, well thought out, and full of purpose)
4) There’s so MUCH to write about!!!

With those feelings and thoughts disclosed…I want to begin by giving you a little taste of Benin via some facts and figures from trusty Wikipedia.com. I’m copying and pasting…so to cite my source, or if you would like to read more, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benin)

Benin, officially the Republic of Benin, is a country in Western Africa. It borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. Its size is just over110000 km2 with a population of almost 8500000. Its capital is the city of Porto Novo, but the seat of government is the city of Cotonou. About half the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day

The economy of Benin remains underdeveloped and dependent on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, and regional trade. Growth in real output has averaged around 5% in the past seven years, but rapid population growth has offset much of this increase.

The majority of Benin’s population lives in the south. The population is young, with a life expectancy of 53 years. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country; these various groups settled in Benin at different times and also migrated within the country.

In the 2002 census, 42.8% of the population of Benin were Christian (27.1% Roman Catholic, 5%Celestial Church of Christ, 3.2% Methodist, 7.5% other Christian denominations), 24.4% were Muslim, 17.3% practices Vodun, (VooDoo) 6% other traditional local religious groups, 1.9% other religious groups, and 6.5% claim no religious affiliation.

Population: 8439000 (2005 estimate)
Independence from France: August 1, 1960
President: Boni YAYI (Christian)
Official Language: French (among Fon, Yoruba, Dendi, Bariba, and Ge)
Capital: Porto Novo
Largest City: Cotonou
Dominant religions: Catholicism, Muslim, and VooDoo
Money: West African CF franc; US $1 = CFA 498
Interesting fact: Benin is the birthplace of the VooDoo religion, and it’s historical town of Ouidah was once known as Africa’s premier slave coast.

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