Monday, January 28, 2008

17,392 km later we are "home"!

Well, if you have been waiting by your computers, anxiously wondering if the Dueck 6 made it back to "Winterpeg," the wait is over - we are here! By God's grace and goodness, we arrived in yesterday, January 28th, on a very mild -4 degree Sunday afternoon, 138 days after our September 12th departure date. The Custom's Officer said it well after she inquired about our trip -"Everything is good, and welcome home." Truly it was good to be back in Canada and see a familiar sign pointing the way.

Our trip home took as a bit longer than usual because God again chose to encourage us to slow down. After a couple of great days of driving in Mexico, we arrived in San Antonio on Tuesday night with plans to enjoy the Wednesday there, and then make a fast drive up 22 hours north to Grand Forks in 2 days so we could do some shopping before crossing the border. Well God thought it best that we should drive slooowly home, so he provided a few of us with our first cases of "the trots" amongst other things. Myself, Joseph, and Lorianne have had our share of bathroom breaks over the past week, and we aren't quite done yet! However, our spirits are good, and the kids were amazing travellers once again, doing five 8+ hour travelling days in the past week.

Leaving Mexico on Monday morning was sad, because we were leaving behind not only great weather and amazing sights and delicious food, but also leaving Miss Susan, who had become a great friend to all of us in the past week. She again drove us to the toll station at the edge of the city, and all the kids hugged her and told her how much they will miss her, and how much they (and we!) are looking forward to her coming to visit us in Emo sometime soon.

Driving back up through Mexico we managed to get a shot of some of the provincial welcome and so long signs along the highway (I think Feliz viaje means have a happy trip). We drove through about 5 provinces on our 1200km journey to the border, and it cost us just over $40 in toll fees to travel on the amazing smooth and safe roads.

I think this is a photo I will blow up for the wall. It shows, the moon, a palm tree "forest" and the shadow of our amazing van, which served us so well (and will get a well deserved trip to the garage this week to see what needs fixing!).

Mexicans love their statues, and there were many of these huge monuments to famous historical figures at the entrances of the cities we travelled through. It would have been nice to stop and see who these people were, and to learn some of the history, but there was not time - I guess we will have to go back some day!

We were doing a lot of praying about the border crossing back into the States, and it went great, outside of sitting on a bridge for about 45 minutes waiting to get through. (It did however, allow us to get a great picture of our second US/Mexican border of the trip.) Outside of our initial entry into the US in October, all our border crossings and highway checkpoint stops were very smooth. It is a good thing that we didn't have any issues at the Mexico military checkpoints, because there were guys with machine guns and sandbag posts with heavy artillery guns! The kids were kind of awed by all the weapons, and it really looked like if someone tried to make a break for it, that they would just get mowed down.

This past week wasn't just all driving. We did get some much needed school shopping in (our kids are entering school in Emo on Feb 11 - yippee say the parents!), and had fun at the hotels. The weather was miserable in San Antonia so we didn't get to see the Riverwalk or any other sights. However, the kids all loved the "Texas" waffles at the hotel we were staying, and while Lois did more shopping, I took the kids to see The Waterhorse, which is a great movie.

I believe it is fair to say that Lois actually enjoys shopping more than I ever thought she did. Maybe it has something to do with all the great sales here in the States, or more likely, the fact that we actually have some money available. In that sense, it has been very nice to live in a kind of "fairy tale" world with no house bills, money in the bank from the sale of our house, and opportunities to do and see (and buy!) more things than we have never had before.

In North Sioux City, South Dakota, we had the very new and very fun experience of having a whirlpool tub right in our own room. Fire code regulations didn't allow us to sleep in a regular room, but the guy at the desk let us have a suite with bed space for all six of us (and this very fun tub) for only $75!

Throughout our whole trip we have again and again seen how God has supplied hotels at reasonable rates for us. In fact, we even have enough points through the Choice Hotels chain for two free nights, which will come in very handy when we are back to living the regular pastor lifestyle.

Oh the fun of the snow! The kids were looking out the window for snow and finally, in Kansas, we found enough to play with! Having not seen any snow at all until now, it was quite the novelty, and they had lots of fun throwing snowballs at each other. And the big highlight last night was to go over to Auntie Elaine's house, get the snow boots and sleds, and get ready for some serious Winnipeg snow fun.




So we are "home." Well it isn't really home, it is Grandma's house. The Adventure and the unsettledness still continues as we meet with people, make moving arrangements, book appointments with friends, tie up loose ends, buy school supplies, and pack some more. And even in Emo our first home will, as God guides, only be temporary as we seek to move into the country.

But ultimately that won't be home either, because life is just one big journey to our true home, heaven. Living with nothing but a van full of stuff for 5 months has made this biblical truth seem that much more real. We are aliens and strangers, living in a foreign land, hungering for a place that when we get there, we will look around, and look inside at our souls and truly be able to say, "Now, I am home." No longer will we have to fight our sinful nature and struggle to obey our loving Father, or cringe when we see our children act in sinful ways. No longer will the things of this world catch our attention and distract us from our calling to a gospel-centered, Christ-loving, Bible-reading life.


"The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of the lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." Revelation 22:3-6



That is the greatest homecoming, much greater than travelling around North America and then coming home. And so, as with all of God's children, the Dueck 6 "Adventure with God" really isn't over, it just continues on. And for that matter, this blog will continue on as well. Hopefully you are friends will want to continue to see and be encouraged by what God is doing in our lives, and I pray also that in years to come, our own children will read these adventures and know that God has been faithful to them all through the years. So stay tuned (especially in the next week as Lorianne will post a poem she wrote in honor of our homecoming).


Again, thank you for praying for us. As we meet some of you in the coming weeks, I know that we will be blessed and humbled to hear how you have prayed for us. Truly the things I have written would not have been written if God had not stirred his people to pray.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Just when we thought we had seen it all!

Mexico City is truly an amazing city: incredibly huge, full of noise from combis (small VW vans used as buses), roosters, dogs and Mexican music, and filled with amazing things to see and do. With only 7 days of tourist time at our disposal, Lois, Susan and I sat down and made a plan on Sunday night, and with one major (and I mean major as you will see in a moment) change, we have stuck to our plan.

Here is what we have all seen and done:

Monday: The Pyramids at Teotihucan (pronounced Tayotewahcan)

(Before I talk about the amazing pyramids, please allow me this little announcement)

Attention all Hungry Travellers! After travelling thousands of miles, and searching the highways and byways, the Dueck 6 finally reached their much sought after destination of choice . . . Krispy Kreme Doughnuts!



Seriously, we been trying to find a Krispy Kreme for months! After finding none down the coast, discovering that the one in Phoenix was closed, finally seeing one in San Antionio and Laredo (on the other side of the freeway!), we were delighted to discover that KK has made it to Mexico City. So our first stop on Monday was to buy a dozen to fortify ourselves for the long walk, and of course, to get those great little hats, with Spanish writing on them naturally.

That aside, the real focus for the day was the archeological city of Teotihucan (TT for short), located some 40 km NE of Mexico city. The city was inhabited from 100 B.C. until about 700 A.D., and its name is a Nahuatl word meaing "place of the gods."



No one knows for sure who the original inhabitants were, but they were likely an early Nahau Indian tribe. People lived in this complex city, which had underwater drainage, temples, marketplaces, and streets until just before the first millenium, but by the time the Spaniards arrived in the 1500's, it had been abandoned for centuries.

Religion was a huge part of life at TT, and the first area we saw and climbed on was the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, which not only introduced us to the really steep steps we would be climbing all day and the specific building techniques used by the inhabitants, but also contained some amazing serpent heads. The symbols around the head represent the splashing water as feather garlands. The open mouths were used to contain the hearts of the human sacrifices, which were sadly a large part of the belief system of the time. Both the stone work and later murals we saw were very well preserved for being over 1000 years old, and the artistry of the people is quite amazing.

The big draw at TT are obviously the the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest of the two, measuring 200m along each side, with a height of 60 m. There are 5 tiers on the Pyramid, and an almost total lack of any kind of railings or safety features, which made the climb that much more fun! It took some serious huffing and puffing to reach the top, but the view was truly breathtaking. A temple used to stand on top, but for now it is just flat, so it made a great spot for us to have lunch! The Pyramid of the Moon was at the very end of the main street know as the "Avenue of the Dead" and is surrounded by large courtyard with many smaller pyramids (the first photo of TT was taken from first tier of the Moon Pyramid). Lots more could be said, and more pictures could be shown, so just ask us when we get home if you want to see them.

(I have to show you these two though. First, the kids "falling" off and then Mom and Dad looking like happy tourists.)




Tuesday: The Zocalo- the Heart of Mexico City
We braved downtown traffic and headed to the historic heart of MC, which contained buildings not 1000's of years old, but hundreds. The Spaniards "converted" the Aztec Indians to Catholocism through various means, most of them brutal. The National Cathedral is the largest in the city, and is actually sinking every year! MC is built on a drained lake bed, so the ground is very soft. The Cathedral is seriously sloped inside, and actually has a plumbline hanging from the ceiling to show how much the building has shifted.

While we were all impressed by the size and granduer of the place, the kids especially thought the excessive worship of the saints and of Mary was very sad. Much of what Mexican Catholics worship today has very little to do with scripture or Christ, and a lot to do with the worship of the dead, and ritualism.

If you look at this picture of the church, you might notice that the stones are very similar to those of the Pyramids. That is because when the Spanish came, they forced the natives to tear down their old temples and use the stones to build new Catholic churches, a technique which seems so wrong, yet was very effective in helping to achieve the goal of having the Aztecs worship the Catholic God, or better said "gods."

The next stop was right around the corner, some old Aztec ruins discoverd in the city during excavating for new construction in the 1960's. These ruins were located right next to the Palacio Nacional, the Presidential Palace of Mexico. This was the former home of the House of Represenstives, and was where the Mexican Constitution was drafted in 1857. It is most well known today for the murals of Diego Rivera, a famous Mexican painter. His take on the history of the Mexican society, from the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures, to the War for Conquest, the Independence Revolution and wars against the States, was both beautiful, and demonstrated pride in the nation of Mexico.

In the midst of all the unfamiliar and new, it has been fun to see things that we recognize. The typical fast food places, pizza joints, Starbucks and more. But this was something that I couldn't pass up taking a picture of. Sadly, Radio Shack is no more (don't you just miss those red batteries!) and doubly sad is the fact that 7-11 in Mexico doesn't sell slurpees!

Wednesday: Relax Day!
We all needed a rest, so while Susan went and taught a class at seminary, we hung out at her place and went for a walk. As you can see, Susan has a great apartment, and we have all enjoyed playing Stephen's new video game he got for Christmas (even Lois played once!). After staying inside for a while, we went for our daily walk in the neighborhood.

There we observed:

the dreaded "Tope" speedbumps which are killing our muffler (that is a combi going over it),



and met a Mexican Oma selling our favorite new snack, the churro!



We also talked with Grandma on Skype, and even saw her for the first time in 4 months via a webcam. The kids especially liked this, as they got to do show and tell with all their Mexican purchases, and even played a few songs for Grandma on their new whistles!

Thursday: Sharing with the Children in Cuernavacha
Susan had a connection with a children's home in this city 1 hour south of MC. We wanted to go and visit and bring a gift, so after a few phone calls making arrangements we agreed to provide a special lunch of chicken breasts and rice for the 100 children and 20 volunteer staff at the Casa hogar Amor para compartir (House home love to share). The house was started 5 years ago by a pastor's wife who took two girls who were living on a garbage dump into their home. Obviously God has blessed their ministry, and they are now taking in many children whose parents can not look after them, including some who are brought to them by the Mexican Government (who unfortunately don't give them any money when they drop off the kids).

The home also has a partial school staffed by volunteers, and they are looking to build on a plot of land just outside this city of about 1 million people. Most of our supporting of the home was done in paying for the lunch, but Susan, Lois and Lorianne also helped serve the lunch. The boys played with some of the other boys, while I played a pickup game of basketball with one of the volunteers in the courtyard.

We were blessed by the the patience and love that Lulu had with the children, and how well behaved they were, including the little ones (the home has babies all the way up to 18 year olds). They all waited patiently for their lunch, and when given the opportunity, about half a dozen little boys and girls stood up and thanked us for the meal and for coming out to visit them. They also sang some songs for us at the end of lunch. It was pretty special that we had this opporutnity to share of the resources God has given us.

God also gave us the opportunity to play the role of mail "family", handing out some small "Jesus" bears that were given to another Alliance Missionary in MC by some ladies in B.C. God truly does have his children all over the world, and when we all do what we can with the gifts and talents we have, his kingdom work is done.

As we were leaving a little girl of about 5 years old pressed into my hand a gift of a small bag of cheese puffs, while the Pastor blessed our boys by giving them a brand new Star Wars transformer set of which the home had received a few donations of, and Lorianne received a stuffed animal from his wife. We went to serve, yet felt (as it often is) that we were the ones being blessed.

And now,



announcing the "Major Change"



of plans . . .


Because we didn't want to drive back to MC after the children's home, the plan was to stay at a hotel for night in Cuernavacha. But, because Susan mentioned it was only 300 km away, and because our kids really wanted to swim in the ocean, we left the home and headed for . . .





ACAPULCO!



That's right, rather than drive two hours back to MC we drove a total of 10 extra hours to experience what was likely the most enjoyable 22 hours of our trip. It was 27 above, the sun was shining, the water was warm, God blessed us with a hotel on the beach for only $90 (instead of the posted rate of $180) a room, and we just had fun!!!

I think the pictures speak for themselves.















As we drove back through the majestic mountains of Mexico, we were rested, more tanned, and full of memories that we didn't think we would ever make. Caleb mentioned that we were probably the only car with Manitoba plates in Acapulco, and I am sure he was right! It was special to be in a place that my Omi and Opi used to go to decades earlier, and to just soak up some warmth before we head back to frigid Manitoba starting on Monday. As we had our devotions in the hotel on Friday morning we read the following

"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!"
Psalm 98:5,7


I pray that we as a family will always be joyfully praising God, and not just when we are sitting on a warm beach thousands of km from home.


Thanks for all your prayers for our trip. God has been kind and gracious, and we are humbled by his love for us. We ask that you continue to pray as we begin our 4000 km trek home in a few days. The plan is to drive a full day on Monday, overnighting it hopefully in Saltillo,Mexico, where we stopped on the way down. We then plan to travel to San Antonio for two nights stay before entering the snow and ice of the north on the weekend.

We get to camp out for a few more weeks with family in Winnipeg before some of our new friends from Emo come with a big semi truck to move us on Saturday, February 9th (anyone want to help us load up in the morning?!). We are looking forward to being at GMC on February 3rd, and seeing many of you are friends.

If you want to get a hold of us while we are in Winnipeg, please email us at dueck.conrad@gmail.com or call us at Lois' mom's place, 667-9696 after Jan 28. And stay tuned to this blog as we will let you know when we arrive safely, and what else is going on in our "Adventure with God!"

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Experiencing God in Mexico City

For those of you who are wondering "Did they make it to Mexico City alive and well?" you need wonder no longer! We left Phoenix on January 8 at noon, and after 1100 miles of driving to Laredo, Texas (doing our first all nighter of the trip), and 1200 km of safe driving over 2 1/2 days in Mexico, we arrived in Mexico City and at Lois' cousin Susan's place with almost no trouble.

The highways were amazing, gas only costs 70 cents a liter at the state owned PEMEX stations all along the route, and we managed to get two nights at different hotels and buy groceries with our very, very limited Spanish. The only issues were some technical difficulties with visas and car permits at the border (that proved that I still have lots to learn with being patient), and a brief interaction with a Police Officer while driving behind Susan to her home in Mexico City (I followed Susan instead of the police officer on his motorbike and it all worked out!).

The countryside on way down was very different than anything we had seen so far. Instead of the Saguaro cactus forests that we saw in Arizona, the hils are covered with lots of palm trees. It is very dry, and also exceptionally hilly. We had no idea that Mexico had so many mountains. In fact, for most of our drive down from the border, we drove between two mountain chains that converge in Mexico City. The drive down took us through kilomoters of nothing but wilderness, with the odd small town right along the highway, which included such diverse things as stands selling snake skins, horses staked out on the meridan to graze, lots of little shops advertising "Vulcanizador" (tire repair, which we thankfully haven't needed), and small herds of livestock being herded by children and adults.

And then of course, there are the gigantic Mexican Bulls!



(Seriously, we were totally messed up by this guy! It ends up that he is just a billboard advertising Mexican beer, but when we first saw it just outside of Nuevo Laredo we thought it was real!) The picture also shows the great Mexican toll roads, which only cost us about $35 from the border to Mexico City (MC).

Being in MC is a bit surreal. For almost 10 months we have been telling people we would be going here, and now that we are, God has again showed us why we needed to come here, and that he is always with us. Susan is the one woman director, administrator, and teacher at CETA, Centro de Educacion Teologica de la Alianza, the Christian & Missionary Alliance Seminary in Mexico City. Months back I offered and she accepted that I could teach a seminar on Parenting for Spiritual Growth that I had done at GMC. So yesterday I had the amazing privilidge of teaching and sharing with seven great Mexican Christians who are excited about serving in their churches' CM program. Susan translated for me, and we all laughed at certain points, and enjoyed growing closer to God together. And I realized again that God has blessed me with the opportunity to learn so much, and that I have the responsibility to use my teaching gift to pass on his truths to others.

While we haven't seen much of MC yet, we have seen lots of Lois' favorite car, the VW bug. (It seems that it was only three years ago that they stopped making the old style here in Mexico, so they are everywhere!) We have experienced some of the traffic, the insanely huge speed bumps everywhere (seems that stop signs don't work so well, but a two foot bump on the road sure slows you down!), the noise of the many buses, and the wonderful smells from the taco shops. Susan is going to show us many of the major tourist spots this week, and we are very excited about that.

But even if we were stuck in her apartment for the next week, MC would still be a highlight of our trip (and not just because she has a huge apartment with lots of bedrooms, Canadian satelite TV, and a very friendly cat named Toby). It would be because of our church experience this morning at an Alliance church in Atizapan a "suburb" of MC.



About 70 Mexican believers gather here weekly, under the ministry of Pastor Arturo and his family. What could have been a long, boring service for us and our children because we don't speak Spanish, turned into a powerful experience of God through his Spirit. God once again blessed us "beyond what we could ask or imagine." There is so much to say, so I will just list it.

  • There was a patch of grass, a swing and a football behind the church that we could play with before the service began.

  • Monica, a translator friend of Susan's at the church translated for Lois during worship while Susan translated for me.

  • Pastor Arturo chose to preach in English for us his Canadian visitors, and Monica translated for the rest of the church!

  • The church has one Sunday School teacher who speaks English, and this was her Sunday to teach (and she brought her Spanish/English Bible!).

  • The Pastor's children were in Sunday School, and their daughter Lisa Marie who was (surprise!) Lorianne's age, and their son Samuel (who is 8 like Caleb) speak English.

  • The sermon was on pride, an issue that one soon to be lead pastor needs to work on.

  • At the end of the service, the church gathered around us, layed hands on us, and prayed for us! They prayed that God would lead and guide us in our new ministry in Emo.

  • As we were being prayed for, Elizabeth, the Pastor's wife, received a word from the Spirit and shared with us that God through his strength and not ours would do a mighty work in the church, and that he would provide for and look after our children.

    Truly, we were humbled and blessed by the morning, and God's grace towards us and our children. Afterwards we went out for lunch with the Pastor's family and had a great time sharing and encouraging one another in our faith journey's as our children played and had fun together.

    So the adventure continues, and it gets better all the time. In two weeks we will be back in Winnipeg, and less than a month we will be in our new home in Emo. But for today, we again say "Thank You" to our great and awesome God who is so gracious and kind to his children.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Happy Birthday toooooo Me !!!!!!!!


The "Your Home is a Van News Birthday Edition"

By Lorianne M. Dueck

By the looks of this title you probably know exactly what this post is about. And with the picture it is really obvious that this post is all about ME!!! One thing you don't know (unless you were at my family party) is where we went. So go grab a cup of Tim Horten's coffee and get a load of this article!

It all started with the statement of "Mom, we never get to really celebrate my birthday. It's always like 'Happy Birthday Lorianne! Time to go to church.' We never actually celebrate my birthday on Christmas." After talking about it with dad, they decided that the 24th was to be Christmas and the 25th was Lorianneday!!!

What a Christmas it was! We cleaned garbage out from under a house!!! (If you have heard of a T.V. show called Dirty Jobs, this should have been one of them!)

Anyways, a few days before my birthday my parents, more like God, helped them find a place to go for my birthday. So on my birthday (Yes, we had High School Musical plates) my dad opened up the computer and showed me a picture of .............................. The Catamaran Resort!!!!! We were going there for the special Holiday brunch!!!
(Note:***In this picture I am not dancing with my fingers, I am just showing that I am 11!***)
So after breakfast we got dressed up and drove to the Catamaran. I had a special dress to wear since I was a Mexican Princess today (Mexicans like to have big parties and dress up)! The red dress in the first picture was my special party dress.
The Catamaran was a beautiful resort, right on Mission Bay. It was so fancy that they had parrots in their gardens! One could say hello and another could say peek-a-boo!
There was soooooooooooooooooo much good food there! Salad tables, chicken and potatoes, sausages, fruits, quiches, omelets and a lot more! I haven't even listed the desserts!

Hey, who put there arm in the picture! Well I guess fame just has its way with some people. In this picture it shows only part of the salad bar. Notice the ocean in the background? We saw surfers surf that morning too!
I only had 2 helpings of food. After that I was so full! After letting it settle we had dessert. There were cakes, tarts, a cobbler, donuts and little glasses with fruits and pudding.

There is my family. Don't they look like me?
A lady sitting next to us at brunch heard that I had a birthday so she walked over handed me a fiver and said "My son was born on January 3rd and he felt shorted out. This is for you in case you feel shorted out." I said thanks and was amazed because I didn't even know her! God blesses us all. Even as we are being blessed he blesses. Our waitress got her team to sing for me too. She even put candles on a piece of cake for me! Then my mom wrote Happy Birthday on it!

The fun doesn't stop there! We went back to our San Diego "condo" in the evening and we broke my Pinata! It was filled with all the unhealthy good brand candy!!! That was fun! Look at all that loot! What a great way to end the day. My parents told me that I would probably never have a party like this one again! Hope to hear your comments soon!!! See ya!