Happy New Year !
Wow! It's already the eleventh of January! This year is flying by! How are your new year's resolutions coming
along? Are you sticking to them or have you already forgotten them? As for me and Patricia, we made no new resolutions (that
I know of). I'm just happy to get through one day at a time, without any added pressure.
Well, we had a very busy break, and that is my main point of writing. So here is the retreat news...
Our three former youth group kids from NC (Richard, Ashley, and Sarah) arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule
(12:35 am) on early morning Saturday December 27th. So that in itself is a huge answered prayer. Usually, travel to and from
Suriname is a major problem, with all the delays, mechanical difficulties, stolen luggage, and the like. So we could tell
that God was at work. We arrived back to our house about 1:45 am and wound up fellowshipping with the kids until around 4
am. And then we slept.
When we all got moving some time in the early afternoon hours of Saturday, we took the kids downtown to buy
some hammocks. It was quite the adventure with all the traffic and people milling around. After visiting several stores, we
found some hammocks that everyone liked. Afterwards, we went grocery shopping for the retreat. That was another experience
for the kids. It was neat "seeing" Suriname through their eyes. Then we spent the rest of the evening running errands and
visiting several people. We took the kids out for Chinese. It was an exhausting day for us, but the kids didn't think that
it was all that busy, but for us--in Suriname--that was an extremely busy day.
On Sunday morning, we were taking the 3 to our local Guyanese church. Well, I know now why we don't have our
own teenagers. Do you know how hard it is to get three teens up and ready for church in 45 minutes? And Patricia thought it
was difficult getting me up in the morning! We made it to church on time (it's a little impossible to late for anything in
Suriname). So the kids got to see our local church. Afterwards, we came home, ate lunch, and packed up for the retreat.
We all met at the school around 2 pm and loaded all of the gear into the van and bus we hired. We had all
but one of our bible study students attend and his absence was due to the elevated terrorist warning since he is an embassy
kid. That was a bit of a bummer, but what can you do? We loaded up and began our hour-long trek to Overbridge River Resort.
Once there, we unloaded and set up camp. We had 2 huts rented for our shelter (one for guys and the other for girls). We laid
out the ground rules, assigned teams, and began the retreat. Overall, the retreat was a fabulous event. No complaints from
the kids, no major injuries or loss of life, and plenty of food at meal-times and most importantly--all emphasis on Christ.
We stayed for 2 nights. Everyone enjoyed sleeping in the hammocks--that is, except Patricia. She enjoyed some pampering as
she slept in the cabana we rented (with all the amenities!). I even gave in and slept in the cabana the second night. Call
me a whimp, but hey, even though we are in the tropics, it got chilly sleeping in the hammock! The first evening, Ashley and
Ms. Davis led praise and worship. All of our kids sang--and that was just awesome. Worship has been a struggle for most of
our kids. They are just not at that point yet--but they were worshipping this night! Sarah led some ice-breaker games so we
could get to know each other a little better. She did an excellent job with that. Then Richard, Sarah, and Ashely each gave
their personal testimony to our group. Between the 3 testimonies, I know that they were able to touch on any and every topic
our kids here have faced. It was an encouraging time in the Lord. And finally, I gave the message on striving for that intimate
relationship with Christ. It was a good way to end the retreat that first night.
The next morning, Ashley led morning devotions and all the kids had a quiet reflection time while breakfast
was being prepared. For the most part of the day, it was fun in the sun. Again, in the evening, we came together for games,
praise and worship and the message. When we ended, we had all the kids get with a buddy and pray with each other. That was
also very good for our kids. Before they turned in for the evening, they had "small group". All the girls with Sarah and Ashley,
and all the guys with Richard for an evening devotion. All of our kids on this retreat are professing Christians, so it was
more a time of growing and fellowship for them and this retreat really served that purpose. We returned home on Tuesday afternoon
for some much needed rest.
Wednesday was New Year's Eve and we took the three to enjoy the fireworks at one of our student's home. The
fireworks were not as breath-taking as they had been in previous years, however the 3 enjoyed the show and our student, Michael,
allowed us to share his stash of fireworks. We delighted in the havoc that we wrought with Michael's fireworks. Sarah was
extremely mischievous with her bottle rockets--or I think a better word is "dangerous". All in all, we had a ball ringing
in the New Year.
Thursday evening, we again had a houseful of teens, as another one of our students, Johnnie, organized an
impromptu "game night" at our house in honor of our guests. When we planning an evening of "down time", but an evening of
fellowship and fun was enjoyed by all and more important than rest anyhow.
Their final day in Suriname was upon us. We awoke early Friday morning to take the kids on a surprise tour
that Patricia had arranged through METS Touring Company. This is a professional touring company that specializes in eco-tours.
We enjoyed a 10 hour tour throughout coastal Suriname. We were joined on this tour by one of our students, Jenny; because
the 3 really connected with her. We explored an old fort/slavery prison in New Amsterdam, a defunct sugar plantation in Marionburg,
and hopped a boat across the river to an old coffee plantation in Fredericksdorp. Also on this tour was a Dutch photographer
who took many, many pictures of us for the METS website. I haven't checked their website recently, but I'm very curious just
to see how many of the pics of us actually appear on the site. We arrived home in time to shower and grab a short power-nap,
for the day was not over. Shortly, we loaded back up and headed to our local Guyanese church for a Youth Night there. Ashley
again led praise and worship, while Sarah led games. This was our first time working with this youth. In fact, another local
youth group joined us too, so we had about 35 local Surinamese youth there. Richard, Ashley, and Sarah again gave their personal
testimonies and I offered the invitation, however there was no response. After church, we took the 3 to experience Suriname
McDonald's. They were amazed to see that the line extended almost out the door and it was a 30 minute wait in line. After
enjoying real fast food, we headed home. It was around 10 pm. We had a short time of fellowship and prayer, then the 3 sadly
packed their bags for their trip home. We departed for the airport about 1 am, unloaded the kids, helped them get in line,
and gave them a few words of advice to assist them in their trip home. We sadly said our goodbyes, the 3 didn't really want
to leave. We left them in the check-in line. Patricia and I arrived back at our home around 2:30 am. We were able to get some
sleep and have a full day as the 3 continued their travels. They did not touch down in Raleigh until around 8:30 pm that evening
and then they had a 2 hour drive back to New Bern.
I will say that God really used these 3 young people during this short trip. God used them to bless me and
there is no doubt that He used their example of willingness and enthusiasm to touch the lives of our youth here. I could really
see God working through each of them and their lives. We should continue to keep these three in our prayers because I'm sure
that God has some God-sized plans for their future service for Him.
On some other notes...in the past several weeks, 2 of our dear friends went home to be with the Lord: Monique
Thomas in December, and Vern Ehlenfeldt this past week. These 2 people were instrumental in our being here in Suriname. Monique
and her husband, Mark, were the ones that got us working with the youth back in North Carolina in 1997 and Mark once told
me that I would someday be in the mission field. When he said that, I laughed. Sorry, Mark. You were right. I ask that we
continue to lift Mark up in prayer during this time. Vern looked over our property the first 2 years while we were in Suriname.
He was a great carpenter and now he is with the Master Carpenter. We ask that you lift his family up, especially his wife,
Doris. She has been a mighty prayer warrior for us during our ministry here.
Over Christmas, we got a new addition to our family. A rottweiler puppy, who we've christened "Bear". If you
recall, last March after our break-in, a student's family loaned us a rottweiler, Nina. We fell in love with Nina. Well, we
now have Nina's puppy. The family surprised Patricia the last day of school before Christmas break. They brought Bear to her
classroom, gift-wrapped in a box. Patricia and all the students were ecstatic. This is how this family expressed their love
and gratitude for all the work Patricia has done for their daughter. Now we are up to 6 dogs!
A big answered prayer--we now have a new principal for our school! Mr. Avery Stewart has joined ACS and will
be arriving in February. Please pray for Mr. Stewart as he leads our school.
Continue to pray for my classroom. I got 2 additional new students this past week. One boy is from India and
the other boy is from South Africa. Pray as seeds are being planted, that they take root, and grow.
The Lord has led me to now work with the youth at our local Guyanese church. Please pray for me as I undertake
this new responsibility of leading a new bible study and training a young man for leadership of the youth group there.
That is about all for now. For your viewing pleasure, I have posted the best pictures of the retreat and the
youth night. Please simply follow these directions:
Go to http://www.photoisland.com Log In User Name is "surinamepics" (sans the quotation marks) and Password
is "guest". Look at the left side and click on the 2 photo albums entitled "Overbridge" and "Youth Night". For your maximum
viewing experience, you may want to run the slideshow of the pics.
More than Conquerers,
John and Patricia