Thursday, December 27, 2007

Saying Good Bye, Saying Hello

Some goodbyes can be hard. Take leaving San Diego for instance. We left San Diego yesterday after 14 amazing days of resting, enjoying the sights, and being given opportunities to serve, and it was sad to leave this fun place behind. It also meant we were saying goodbye to California after 37 days of new and exciting experiences. We truly felt that our time here was a great gift from God via his servants at World Impact, and we praise him for it.

But there are other times when saying goodbye is fun. Like when you tackle a big pile of gravel as a family and get to say "goodbye" to it when you are finished. We hauled it, spread it, and used it to fill in low spots on the yard of one of the WI missionaries. Through our interactions with the gravel and our Christmas service project of saying "goodbye" to five garbage cans full of junk that we pulled out of a crawlspace, we discovered that when 6 people work together on a project, they can really get a lot accomplished! So in a sense we said "hello" to a new form of Dueck 6 team bonding - effective manual labor, which we hope to use in Emo when we work on our new place.

This past Friday we said hello to place that we hadn't seen in 10 years. As a family we all hopped on the trolley and headed to Tijuana, Mexico, where Lorianne, Lois and I had been with Lois' sister Elaine when Lorianne was just a baby. We had a great day there as a family, shopping, seeing the sights, sharing some of the resources we have with those who are in need, and just enjoying learning more about the Mexican culture.

How to say hello and goodbye at the same time - straddle the border!

Saying hello to our new look Mexican Princess!

It was amazing what this mother daughter team could do in about 20 minutes.

My Dad bought me a name ring when I was kid, and I was so excited to have the chance to do the same for my kids. It took the artist about 5 minutes to carve each name in the ring, and it only cost $6 a ring! Lois encouraged me to get a new one for myself so mine says "Dueck 6" on it.

The famous "Tijuana Zebra" (which to the trained eye looks very much like a donkey that is painted white and black).

How NOT to say goodbye to Mexico on a Friday night - this was the lineup of cars trying to get across back into the USA. We just walked into Mexico (through no customs line at all - you just walk across) in the morning, and walked back around supper time. The foot line up was waaay shorter, and only took about 5 minutes to go through.

As a family, we also said hello to some new Christmas traditions this year. Our children all learned verses to do with the Christmas story, and we prayed together that God would give us a chance to use them to glorify him. WI was having a Kids' Christmas club in two Hispanic apartment blocks on Dec 19, and we were given the opportunity to give our gifts to God by doing a family drama. I wrote and narrated the play, Lois did the costumes and got the kids on and off the "stage," and they all acted and said their verses.

We also played some games with the kids and helped with a craft, which reminded the kids that God keeps his promises, especially the promise to send a Savior, who would save us from our sins. It was great to be working with children again, and really encouraging to see our kids get right in there. Joseph even said right after craft time, "helping is so much fun!"

Another new tradition we started was celebrating Jesus' birthday on the 24th instead of the 25th. We gave out family gifts to encourage our team unity, served together, and went to church in the evening. It was a meaningful day, and also allowed us to celebrate Lorriane on her actual birthday, Dec 25th. It was a special day of saying hello to our grownup 11 year old, who is maturing in her faith, in her relationships with her family, and her desire to make an impact in the world. We did lots of exciting things to make the day "all about her," but I will let her tell you about them.

This past week I personally decided to say goodbye to a bad habit I have developed over the past 6 years or so. It is the sin of not playing enough with my kids. While we were on the beach at Coronado Island on the weekend, I played some scoop catch with Joseph, and we had a blast. The Holy Spirit reminded me that I had had a bag full of sports equipment (including scoops) in my basement for years that I had pulled out for church events, but had never used with my children. God graciously allowed me to see my sin of neglect, and I am thankful that my kids are not so old that I can't make it up to them.

Is there anything you need to say "goodbye" to as you end 2007? A bad habit, a hurtful attitude toward someone, or a grudge that you just need ask forgiveness for? And how about saying "hello" to a kinder, gentler, more God-centered, Bible-loving, grateful person in 2008? It is possible, you know, not because of our great efforts or wisdom, but because God has allowed us to draw near to him because of Christ:

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been
brought near by the blood of Christ." Eph 2:13

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Party Time in San Diego

It has been a great week here in San Diego. With reports of -39 Celsius coming to us from Winnipeg, we have appreciated even more the beautiful warm, sunny days here. Yet we do miss the snow, the sliding, getting a Christmas Tree in the bush with our GMC friends, and many of our regular Christmas traditions. And no matter how beautiful it is here with the flowers and the palm trees, it just isn't natural to see Christmas trees for sale on bare parking lots and Santa decorations on green grass! (Also strange is the custom of attaching Christmas wreaths to the front grills of cars and trucks.)

Last week on December 13th, Stephen celebrated his 5th birthday. He had been looking forward to it for weeks, and for his present (since he loves animals) we all went to The San Diego Zoo! We had a great time checking out the hippos, giant pandas, lots of monkeys, the different big cats, a sea lion show, and lots of beautiful birds. We walked pretty much the whole day, but for our four kids with lots of energy it wasn't a problem.

While at the Zoo, we happened upon a Korean lady who did Alphabet Art. It was amazing to watch her work, and the kids were excited about us possibly getting a painting. Since Lois had bought a Redwood bear as a souvenier, I thought it was my turn to get a memory of our "Adventure with God" trip. So here is the art piece we bought (see if you can figure out what it says!).

We also celebrated in the evening with our new friends and neighbors who are missionaries with World Impact. We are staying in the WI guest house, which gives us more space than we have had in months - 2 bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, plus a whole downstairs room with another bathroom as well as a back yard complete with play structure and basketball court! Our new friends have a son named Josiah who is Caleb's age and is lots of fun for our kids to play with. And their daughter babysat for us today so that we could go on our first date in months! We thank God for his graciousness in providing us with this place, as well as our new friends.

One other big party we were a part of this Sunday was a Feliz Navidad outreach event put on by WI in a low rental apartment complex. It was a great chance to celebrate the birth of Christ with a mostly Hispanic crowd. The food was Mexican (tamales, enchiladas, frijoles, pollo), and the testimonies and sermon were in Spanish. There was a great mime group which ministered through Spanish and English songs. I was asked to share the Gospel using an EvangeCube, and had the privilidge to use it twice, sharing once in English with a group of teens around a table, and once to a lady through her daughter, who translated the message into Spanish.

Our kids enjoyed watching the mime, and playing with other children. They really enjoyed the Pinatas that were part of the fun. (Personally, I think the concept of kids swinging a huge stick while surrounded by other kids, then scrambling madly for candy on hard concrete is a very dangerous activity!) Lois and I commented how it was great to help and serve at a large ministry event without having to know everything that was going on.

Overall, our time here has been a lot more relaxed that LA, which we are thankful for. It is good to rest, to see the sights, to remember how gracious and faithful God has been to us over the past 99 days, and to rejoice that we can celebrate the promise of the Messiah.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Seeing the Signs

We are leaving LA tomorrow for San Diego, but before we go I wanted to pass on some humor and challenges that I have seen here these past few weeks. There is much glitz in this town, much to laugh at, and much sadness as well. From Hollywood to Skid Row, Los Angeles truly is a city of contasts.

I should of have bought this shirt.

She was probably younger than 25, selling bracelets on Venice Beach to earn enough money to buy an old RV so she wouldn't have to sleep on the streets.

He never aimed for worldy success, yet he has been seen on TV and heard around the world by probably more people than anyone else alive today.

We are collecting pictures like these for people we know, and this is the best one yet. (P.S. - Joseph misses being in your class Mr. Randy!)

We were truly shocked by the number of homeless people here. Pray that they will go to God for hope, and that you and I won't live the same way knowing that there are people out there whose entire life's possesions can fit in a shopping cart.

Fun in the LA Sun!

LA is a hopping place, both in terms of ministry needs and church options, as well as places to have fun. While we haven't taken a lot of time to do tourist things, we did manage to see some pretty cool sights in the past few weeks.

While at Magic Mountain two weeks ago Caleb got picked to be a volunteer for the Bird show. He had the opportunity to feed a baby emu (which was almost as big as him!), and also entertained the crowd with some very slick dance moves during a 15 second lull in the show. As a reward for his efforts, they gave him a free photo holding up the parrots that were in the show - he was pretty pumped as you can see.

I have been playing basketball a few times in the mornings at the LA Christian School gym with a some of the World Impact staff, and while I am not great, it has been really enjoyable to play some competitive sports for a change. Maybe that was what inspired me to take Caleb and Joseph to an LA Clippers game (Lakers tickets were too expensive!). We had a blast at our first ever NBA game, and the boys were cheering right to the end. We even got to see a statue of Gretzky right outside the Staples Center, which was something I wasn't expecting.

On Friday the school had a Feliz Natidad party and our kids got to go. The party was a lot of fun for the kids and since our kids aren't shy, they got right in there. Caleb entered the "Fat Santa" contest and was given a XXL shirt which his team proceeded to stuff with newspaper. They even made him dance afterwards! (I had to promise him I wouldn't post the dance video online - too bad, because it was hilarious!) Lorianne was wrapped up with paper as a present, while all the kids got treats to take home.

Hollywood was an area that we just couldn't pass up. While we are thankful that movie stars and the entertainment industry in general aren't a big draw for us, it was very interesting walking along Hollywood Blvd. seeing who the the world deems to be famous. We saw a few people that our kids knew (like Walt Disney, Charles M. Schultz and Big Bird), as well as many that we didn't know. The big draw seemed to be to go visit the homes of the stars, with every 2nd person on the street trying to get us to go on a tour with them. Lorianne thought it was just rude that people would go tromping right through other people's houses until we explained to her that that you only drove in front of the house, and didn't actually go inside!

Mann's Chinese Theater and the hand prints (or in case of the Star Wars characters pictured with Caleb, the footprints) of a whole variety of people and characters were really interesting to see. Some of the prints dated back to the 1930's. One of the most recent additions was Johnny Depp. There were a lot of dressed up characters on the street in front of the theater who were trying to earn a living by having people take their photographs - Superheros, Villains, and of even Charlie Chaplin. The whole Hollywood experience, while only lasting an hour or so for us as we walked around, gave some insight into a very real part of North American culture.

Churches in LA are also quite unique. Sunday morning we joined Bishop Ulmer at his Faithful Central Bible Church, held every Sunday in the Forum Arena, former home of the Lakers and Kings. The congregation was at least 95% black, and while me and the 5 blond members of the Dueck 6 stuck out, we were warmly welcomed. The music was lively, the sermon long, but challenging (including a lot of "Stay with me now," "Now listen up" "Someone is going to get deliverance today, I can feel it!" and if we weren't responding enough to his message, a "I don't think you are getting this!"), and we left being reminded to stay on the road, follow the truth, and have faith in God.

Sunday night I was very blessed to attend Mosaic, a church started by Erwin McManus. The church meets in 4 locations around LA, and doesn't own any property. I attended the Mayan Theater campus, which is a downtown salsa night club. The crowd was mostly 20 - 30 something, the music was hip hop, and the atmosphere was very refined and cool (they even had the disco ball and a smoke machine going!). Erwin preached from John 8:1-12, and the challenge was for believers to stop being the ones holding the rocks, and start being the people who show the grace, mercy, and compassion of Christ.

One final fun thing we did this Sunday was to go to Venice Beach, (otherwise known as Babylon according to one WI staff member). The atmosphere was very crazy, with all sorts of people, and activities there. We shopped at vendors, watched graffiti artists, Joseph and Caleb were volunteers for a break dancing/gymnastics show, and we avoided the opportunities to try legal marijuana.
One hour of walking on the boardwalk was enough for us, and we were very happy to stop at our first Cold Stone Creamery of the trip and enjoy some amazing ice cream and sorbet.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How LA is Different than Winnipeg

We have been in LA for just over a week now, and have experienced so much. There is the usual things that you would expect from being in Southern California, like warm weather that demands we wear shorts and t-shirts. This naturally leads to me responding to emails from people in Wpg with comments about the beautiful sunshine, +20 degrees, etc (it is fun to rub it in to those who are shovelling snow and dealing with -35 windchills!).

We are also blessed with a home for two weeks - one bedroom apartment with 6 people excited to be there, since it means we don't have to pack up every couple of days. And Lois and Lorianne even got to decorate the place for Christmas! (By the way, if you ever hear someone tell you celebrating Christmas in a warm climate just feels weird, believe them, because it really does!) We hang up stockings because they are used for our Advent season celebrations.

As most of you know, we are in LA because it is on our "Adventure with God" route. But we are in downtown LA, one block of the Santa Monica Freeway and about a mile from the Staples Center because we are serving with World Impact, a ministry that focuses on reaching the urban poor with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God led us here via different connections in Winnipeg, and it has been great to serve along side the different admin staff, church planters, health workers, thrift store staff, and others.

So getting back to the differences between LA in Winnipeg, which you probably realize are many. Here is a short list (some with pictures, some without) of what we have noticed in our first week of living here.

Life in LA is different than life in Winnipeg because:

-In LA, buildings are protected with razor wire, electric gates, and iron bars. This is a picture of the LA Christian school that WI runs. It is located down the street from where we are staying, and like many buildings in the area, is surrounded by a high gate with topped with both barbed and razor wire. While we haven't seen much evidence of crime (outside of a burned out Honda Oddessy which looked like it was out of a movie scene), clearly it is an issue here. We have had the privilege of helping decorate this school for Christmas, and to get into the building we have had to use our garage clicker to open the gate, or knock at the locked door and wait till someone lets us in.

-LA has termite infestations, and Wpg doesn't. On our first day of work me and the boys got to play demolition crew and take out a deck that was completely rotted through. Termites had been in there for years, and destroyed it completely. We all got an education in termites when the pest control guys showed up to fumigate the basement. Did you know that termites can dig through painted walls, and that the reproducing termites fly away from the colony to start other colonies?

-The "Projects" in LA are truly deadly places to live. On Sunday we went to a WI church plant called the Powerhouse Church. It is located in the Watts area of LA, the birthplace of the Crypts gang, and the heart of the projects. While the kids at the church really reminded us of Tadoule Lake kids, their lives are much harsher. Everyone had a family member in jail, fights and rapes are common, and I talked with a man who had two stepsons murdered within 10 months of each other. Truly, this is a place that is hopeless without Christ. The pastors working here realize that only the gospel of Jesus can bring hope to this dark place. Please pray for the Watts area of LA, that this Christmas those who are walking in darkness "will see a great light" Isaiah 9:2.

-As whites, we are in the minority, meaning the street signs aren't for us! We are living right between Korea town and the much larger Hispanic area of South Central LA. By far the majority of the people we meet are Hispanic, and we really wish we knew some Spanish - the signs are in Spanish, the people in the stores speak Spanish, and our friends here at WI speak Spanish. While we were in Watts, there were no white people at the church except those helping serve -almost everyone else was an African American, as is most of the area. It is a first for our family to be in a situation where we are the ones that stick out.

Being in a different cultural area has its benefits, as we have experienced so many new things: buying flowers and corn on the cob from a vendors on the street (think of the Dickie Dee ice cream man with coolers of hot corn in front of his bike instead of a freezer), and going shopping at street vendors selling really yummy food! We haven't tried tamales yet, but the fruit and Mexican baked treats are delicious. And we even met someone selling bunches of live crabs!

And LA is also different than Winnipeg because:

-There are Superheros in LA, both big ones and small ones! On Saturday we had a great day as a family at Six Flags Magic Mountain park. We encountered some heroes that you just don't see walking down the streets of Winnipeg. The park had a whole "Gotham City" section, with great set decorations, and some really neat rides that the kids liked.

And later, we spotted two new Superhero sidekicks, doing their very best to help save the world from trouble, while looking really cool in the process!

-Winnipeg just doesn't have Roller Coasters with cool sounding names. Have you ridden on "Mighty Mouse" the coaster at Tinkertown? Lorianne and I have, and it was kind of fun at the time. But now that we are the official Roller Coaster Buddies (it was Lorianne's idea), MM just won't cut it anymore. Now we are into rides with names like Goliath -with speeds up to 85 miles an hour, Scream - where you are hanging on a seat in mid air (see picture), Tatsu-fly at the speed of Fear - where you literally are flying like Superman, Riddler's Revenge -the world's tallest and fastest stand-up roller coaster, and X - EXTREME -a crazy hanging, spinning, 4-d gut-wrenching ride that was worth the 20 minute wait (but wouldn't be worth a 4-hour wait on a typical summer day). Who would of thought that me, a guy who hates most rides at the Red River X, would be spending a day going on world-record beating coaster rides with my 10 year-old daughter?! It was sure fun! (And a big note of thanks goes to Lois, who graciously took the guys on rides and carried the back pack around while I went and did my part and supported my daughter's new love for roller coasters.)

-As is to be expected, it has WAY more lanes of traffic than Winnipeg. The most we have seen so far is 16 lanes across, and thankfully, the most we have had to wait is about 20 minutes in traffic. God has been gracious to us and Lois and I have really worked together well navigating all the different freeways and exit ramps. The kids have learned NOT to talk to mom and dad (or even breath loud!) when we are trying to navigate going 75 miles/hour, and we have arrived everywhere we want to go on time and schedule. But I do wonder how we would have managed all this before Google maps!

Lots of differences, lots of experiences, lots of learning and lots of fun. Tomorrow I am off to Target to pick up some stuff for Sonshine Shop Thrift store, while Lois and the kids will help sort the 500-1000+ dollars of slightly broken merchandise that comes in. Many of the missionaries of World Impact are very blessed by all the household supplies, diapers, food, and misc. new stuff they get that would otherwise go in the garbage.

Thanks again for your prayers for us. We are thankful for all that we have, especially as we meet many who have so little, and/or have experienced so much hardship.