Friday, January 1, 2016

Reflections on Venezuela

       I spent 19 days in Venezuela when I was 19 years old.  Those 19 days were full of life - bursting with so many different emotions and experiences.  Some of the hardest days of my life were spent there…but also some of the most thrilling and culturally rich.

I traveled to Venezuela with my fellow Up With People cast mates.  There were 150 of us and we represented 26 different countries.  We had been together since July touring Canada and The United States, but for many of us this was our first time off the North American continent.  Our goal was to promote peace and understanding among nations through our Broadway-style show, our community service, and our host family experiences.  It had been 13 years since a cast had toured Venezuela.  We were known as Viva La Gente! (Live the People!).  Our stay in March of 1996 included five allocations:  Valencia (11th -16th), Barquisimeto (16th - 19th), Caracas (19th - 24th), Cuidad Bolivar (24th - 27th), and Porto Ordaz (27th - 30th).

       Bienvenidos!  Our adventures began in a very unique fashion.  We flew from Florida in two huge Venezuelan military cargo planes.  We sat side by side along the frame of the plane in orange net-like chairs.  Our luggage was put in big strapped-together piles beside us.  Everyone wore ear plugs on this noisy, crowded six hour flight.  Upon arrival in the country, we were put onto three big busses that drove 80 miles per hour while blasting Venezuelan dance music (Merengue) to our first city, Valencia.
       I had the sweetest host family which included Esperanza (the mom), Jorge (the 15 year old brother), and two other brothers ages 13 and 17.  Jorge spoke excellent English, but Esperanza did not.  I had taken two years of Spanish class in high school so I understood a few things, but I was shy to try to speak.  Esperanza constantly asked me if I was “contento” and if all was “sufficiento.”  She told me I was “groggy” in the mornings and she reminded me each day to wear my “nametag!”  Esperanza made the most delicious fruit juices I have ever tasted in my life!  Their home was lovely with a wavy tin roof and decorative bars across the windows (but no glass).

I climbed a small mountain (Cerro Casupo) on my first full day in Venezuela.  Jorge carried his Spanish/English dictionary along on our hike.  He was very passionate about pronouncing his English words correctly.  It was a hot, dry day with March being part of Venezuela’s dry season.  Jorge told me that sometimes cows die during the dry season, but that during the rainy season river and lakes overflow.

        At the show facility (La Casa Don Bosco) I had my first interaction with street children.  There was a mob of shouting children around a few of us.  We were all smiles and nods.  We said, “si! si!” to the children.  Jorge later told us the children had been swearing at us to make fun of us.  I was told to be careful of my valuables because these street children were known to steal.  Sad.  Later, when selling show merchandise at the intermission of our show there were people stealing merchandise and money from me.  It was scary being surrounded by a mob of people who knew I was wearing a money belt jammed full of bolivars (dollars).  I felt very trapped and claustrophobic!   
Drivers in Venezuela were another thing to be wary of!  In addition to driving very fast, they also change lanes quickly - sometimes four lanes at a time!  Sometimes cars had to throw on their breaks to avoid hitting someone changing lanes who didn’t calculate very well.  When passing someone on the freeway, they honk their horn.  I felt like it was a miracle to get anywhere safely!

During my time in Venezuela I ate lots of corn, rice, meat, and arrapas.  An arrapa is flatbread made from ground maize or cooked flour.  Arrapas were usually cut in half and some kind of meat or cheese was put inside.  They were very filling.  In Venezuela, I also had soup the color of egg yolks that tasted like corn and tuna the color of beef.  I had spaghetti noodles with salsa on top and once I had lasagna. I had mashed potatoes, chicken, and carrots & tomato salad for one meal.  Apple cake was served for dessert.  I drank iced tea, fruit juice, a chocolate drink, guava juice, milk, and lots of bottled water!  One morning my host mom gave me a strawberry shake to drink.  She pointed to it and said, “weight-less!”  I think it was a Slim-Fast drink. 

Our first show in Venezuela was unbelievable!  It was amazing!  I think I now have an inkling what it might have been like to be one of The Beatles.  Such enthusiasm, such generosity, such emotion, such screaming!  We even had to have security people at each end of the stage.  The audience would scream and cheer whenever anyone came on stage and then applaud wildly after every song.  If they knew a song or could catch on to a chorus, they belted out the words with such vigor.  The entire show was in Spanish and we concluded with two Venezuelan songs.  The audience sang along wholeheartedly.  They clasped hands and swayed with their arms up in the air.  It was beautiful.  Talk about chills.  We were all beaming and squeezing each others’ hands too.  We ended up doing two encores!  The audience even knew our theme song, “Viva La Gente” and an old original classic from the beginning of Up With People (in 1965) called, “What Color Is God’s Skin?”  I know I was not the only one with tears streaming down my face listening to the audience sing, “De Que Color Es La Piel De Dios….”

Our second show didn’t run quite so smoothly.  The power kept going out.  There were about 20 Venezuelan military men watching the show and controlling the crowd (we had learned from our first show that we’d need help).  Standing on stage with all the uniformed men around us reminded me of the scene from The Sound of Music when the Von Traps are performing at the Vienna Music Festival before their big escape over the mountains.  

My impression was that most Venezuelans love to party!  In fact, parties often last until three or four in the morning.  I attended a couple parties with my host families, but I always left at midnight.  In Valencia I went to a Dance Club called “Nuvo.”  They had a dress code, so everyone was dressed nicely.  There was fancy lighting and special effects and at one point confetti came down from the ceiling.  I attended a party in Barquisimeto that was held at the home of my host sister’s friend.  Five musicians wearing sombreros arrived and played their trumpets, guitars, and fiddles.  It was a live “Mariachi Band” serenading the birthday girl.  That was quite the thrilling cultural experience.
    I really enjoyed my Valencia host family.  At one point Jorge asked me who my favorite host family so far in Up With People had been.  As I was describing a family from Barrie, Ontario, I mentioned that we had played Uno together.  A day or two later Jorge and his family sat down at the table with the Uno cards and asked me to play.  So sweet!  There was Spanish music playing and we laughed a lot (mostly making fun of my Spanish).  Good memory.

When it was time to leave Valencia all the host families gathered at the drop off sight where the busses were.  Mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents were all there and many of them were crying and shouting their last goodbyes.  People got right up near the windows of our busses and looked in.  Once the busses started leaving the people did a clapping cheer that got louder and louder.  Then many of them got in their cars and followed behind us, honking their horns and waving madly.  There were still cars following us 15 minutes after we departed!
       In Barquisimeto, my roommate and I had a nice host mom and two host sisters.  Lulu was a university student studying to be a preschool teacher.  She told me that on average, it takes about 6 years to get a degree because there are so many strikes at the university!  Leibas was the host sister that took us to the party with the Mariachi band.  This host family taught us the traditional way to greet one another - with a kiss on the cheek.  Everyone kisses everyone except a guy and a guy never kiss each other!  Their home was drastically different from the Valencia home.  There was nothing fancy about it.  The walls were almost completely bare and some of the rooms were separated by just a curtain.  Their extremely small kitchen had no door and one could walk right out into their lush, green garden just inches from their stove.  There were cockroaches in the shower and cement floors everywhere.  

      Our Barquisimeto host family had some terrible news while we were staying with them.  Their niece died in a car accident.  It was such a sad time.  It happened on a “free day” when there were no Up With People activities and we were supposed to spend the day with our host families.  My roommate and I just stayed in our room and let them grieve.  It was a long day.  

On the day we had to leave Barquisimeto our host family wanted to give us something.  So, Leibas walked over to the wall in the main entryway and took two clay decorative pieces down from their wall and gave one to me and one to my roommate.  Then the wall was bare.  We were so moved, we were speechless.  I keep that treasure in my curio cabinet and look at it often and remember.

      When I look back on my time in Barquisimeto, I remember all the emotions.  I also remember one more emotion…fear.  At the birthday party that Leibas took us to there were some very intoxicated young men there.  One kept wanting to kiss me.  It started out innocently enough.  Five of us went for a walk to buy ice for the party.  One young man asked to hold my hand and I was flattered, so I agreed.  I was 19 years old and had never held a boy’s hand, never gone on a date, never had a boy really notice me.  It was fun to be noticed.  Back at the house the drinking began.  I’d never been to a party with alcohol.  The young man who liked me got very drunk.  A group of us were dancing in a circle and he came up and wanted to dance close with me.  He tried to kiss me twice.  I was so scared!  I couldn’t seem to get away from him.  I went to the kitchen, I went to the patio, I paced the room, I clung to my roommate.  I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom just to get away.  Eventually we convinced Leibas that we needed to go home, so she got us a taxi and we made it home safely.  I wish I had never had that experience.  I’m so thankful nothing happened to me that night.  I still remember my fear.  I replayed that night in my head over and over in the days ahead.  That was not wise.

Our third stay in Venezuela was in Caracas, the capital city.  I came into this noisy, dirty city full of fear and I basically had a nervous breakdown.  At the meeting where we usually meet our host families, the team informed us that most of us were hosted alone and that most of us would have to use the Metro to get to our host family’s house.  I was one of them.  They explained this right after telling us things like, “Never be alone!  Never wear jewelry or Nike shoes!  Blond girls watch out because these Venezuelan men can’t be trusted!”  I lost it.  I cried hysterically and could not be consoled.  It’s all a big blur, but eventually they gave me a new host family where I was hosted with four roommates (including a staff member).  Our host mom (Yoselyn) and two host sisters were there to bring us home.  It took two hours using the Metro system to get us to their penthouse apartment.  They lived on the top floor of a twelve story building.  They had linoleum floors and glass windows.  Out on the terrace one could look over all of Caracas.  I slept on the floor, but I was just so thankful to feel safe.

       Caracas is a big city with lots of poverty.  I had never seen anything like it.  There was a huge hill that had shack after shack piled close together.  Many of these shacks were made of cardboard.  Some had tin roofs.  It reminded me of Mesa Verde National Park.
  While in Caracas my roommates and I had quite a unique experience.  We got to appear on National Television in a comedy program called, “Caracas Radial.”  From what I understand, it is a program similar to America’s “Saturday Night Live” with comedic sketches and repeat characters.  Before our appearance we had to get our makeup and hair done.  I got bright red lipstick and my hair was huge!  The sketch was about an annoying hair dresser who was supposed to give us each a hair cut and massage.  We each had to jump up and slap him on the cheek.  The show was advertised all over the place and they made a big deal of having guests from “Viva La Gente” on the show.  We taped the sketch on a Friday and it appeared on TV the following Monday.  About a week later, one of my roommates was approached by someone in the mall who asked her if she was from “Viva La Gente.”  She had seen “Caracas Radial” and had recognized her.  We were famous!  But, it was such a weird experience!
     Our Up with People show facility in Caracas was amazing.  It could hold 20,000 people.  Michael Jackson had performed there recently.  There were cameras everywhere as we performed.  They aired our show on Venezuelan national television.  The audience members ran down to the front of the stage and stood there for the entire two hour show!  Again, we felt like rock stars!

        Each of my host families wrote a message to me in my host family book.  My Spanish-speaking friend, Lili translated them into English for me.  I was touched by the words written by my Caracas host family.  They wrote, "Dear Jennifer, the moment has come to say goodbye!  For some people to meet somebody for such a short period can't represent to be sad to say goodbye, but in such a short time we've been able to discover what a wonderful person you are and you transmit a lot of peace and you are very sweet.  God bless you and protect you!  Come back whenever you want.  I tell you that you are a very sweet girl.  We will remember you forever."

Despite these kind words from my Caracas host family, I was relieved when it was time to move on to a new city….a smaller city.  We went to Cuidad Bolivar and the majority of us stayed on a military base.  We slept in a huge room full of bunk beds and we took showers with the cockroaches.  But, we enjoyed sitting around a fire each night and there were mango trees nearby that were perfect for picking.  One of my favorite memories from Venezuela was of eating fresh mangos right from the tree.  So sweet and delicious!

      In Cuidad Bolivar our show facility was on a baseball field!  We performed on the outfield and the audience sat in the fenced in stands.  They were far away and we couldn’t even see them as we performed.  But, during he Venezuelan songs we could see them swaying with their lighters.  We heard them singing too - but the sound was delayed.

Cuidad Bolivar went by fast and we were soon on to our last city, Porto Ordaz.  My roommate and I had a wonderful host family.  Our host dad, Jose spoke English very well.  He worked at Banco Del Orinoco, the bank that sponsored our Up With People tour.  His wife Maria was very sweet and smiley.  They had a three year old daughter named Nathaly who was absolutely delightful!  She acted just like a typical three year old…only everything was in Spanish!  She played with my slippers and giggled when I let her try them on.  She babbled happily.  When her mom told her it was time for bed, she plopped her head down on her mommy’s lap and protested.  We did a lot of laughing in Porto Ordaz.

       This family had enough money for nice clothes and a nice car, but I was surprised by the starkness of their home.  We ate Arapas on plastic chairs in their living room with concrete bare walls.  Nathaly’s toys were strewn across the concrete floors and it was obvious this mostly-empty room was where a lot of life was lived.  I still wonder why it wasn’t more “homey.”
       Jose took my roommate and me to Cachamay Park on the Orinoco River.  It was lush and green with lots of palm trees.  I saw an iguana while we were there.  I found Venezuela to be quite beautiful with its mountains and hills and the views of the Caribbean Sea.

I’m really glad I got to visit Venezuela.  My husband and I are planning a trip to Puerto Rico in the near future. I wonder if I will see any similarities.  I’m thankful to be 20 years older (and wiser) and I’m glad I get to explore with my husband.  I look back on Venezuela and I remember the emotions I felt as a 19 year old.  So many emotions.  But, mostly I remember the kind people….the host family who played Uno with me, the little host sister who tried on my slippers, the host mom who made arapas for us even while grieving, the penthouse family willing to take a fifth guest who had tears of fear running down her face, the host sister who gave me the clay treasure from her wall, the audience members who were so enthusiastic….  How blessed am I to have had these experiences!  I’m thankful. 


Friday, December 4, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015 from the Sapps

Merry Christmas!
 We hope you are doing well and enjoying this festive Christmas season.  Here is our yearly update:
Todd has been very busy at Remmele as it continues to expand.
I'm enjoying my 16th year as a teacher.

James and Jaimee bought a home in Maple Lake and are enjoying being homeowners.  Jaimee works for a clinic in Buffalo and James works for Olson and Sons Electric.  They are expecting a baby in June, so that makes us grandparents!  We're looking forward to meeting the newest "Sapp-ling!"

Daniel works at 3M in Hutchinson and lives in Montrose.  He had knee surgery this summer and is recovering well.  

Todd and I enjoyed traveling together this year.
We did some fishing in Chamberlain, SD and Sauk Centre, MN.

We also enjoyed three wheeling near Finland and hiking along the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota.

We worked hard in our garden (can you find the frog amongst our blueberries?) and we cleaned the rock around our house.

I spent some time with my sister, Patty near Green Bay, WI (including a quick trip to Door County) while Todd and his dad did some trout fishing in the Bighorn Mountains of Montana. 

This advent season my mom and I will be sharing Christmas music at my church in Becker and her church in Alexandria.
May God bless your new year with love, laughter, and good health!  Enjoy God's many blessings in your life!  
Merry Christmas!
Love, Todd and Jennifer 

Saturday, January 31, 2015


Todd with his mom and dad
I have never met Lynne Johnson Sapp, but she still belongs in my "31 Days of Friends and Family Who Inspire Me" because she was Todd's mom.  She raised him to be the amazing person he is today.  
     Lynne was born on November 1st, 1942 to George and Libby Johnson in Clarissa, MN.  She and her family moved to Staples when she was two years old.  She        
Lynne caught a BIG fish
had a younger brother named Barry.   
     Lynne was confirmed at the Congregational Church in Staples.  She went to church by herself each week because her parents didn't attend church.  Lynne played clarinet in band.  She worked at a car-hop as a waitress (she took food out to the waiting vehicles).  Lynne and her family moved to Verndale before her Junior year of high school.  Her dad was the meat cutter (starting in 1958) for the grocery store in Verndale.  He was the G in "E & G Grocery."  Her mom worked there too.  While finishing high school, Lynne also worked there.  After graduating from high school, Lynne moved to the Twin Cities to work at a bank.  She preferred life in Staples, so she came home and began working at Barker and Barret (income tax and insurance).      
     Lynne met her future husband, Doug, while he was attending Tech School.  Their first date was going to Wadena for hamburgers along with Doug's friend from Tech School and Lynne's friend, Eileen Brock.  
      Doug and Lynne were married in 1961.  Lynne's aunt gave them a food shower!  People brought canned goods and other non-perishable food items for the new couple.  What a great idea!  After getting married, Doug and Lynne moved to the Twin Cities.  Doug worked for General Mills doing government work and Lynne  worked in Minneapolis at the Oscar Shot Company.  She made small transformers.  All the workers were women.  They had to solder little wires and coils.  
      Todd was born in 1963 in Minneapolis.  Lynne simply adored her son!  Her nickname for him was Toad.  While Todd was still a baby, the family moved to Rochester for a few years.  Later they moved to Glenwood and Villard, then back to Staples.  Lynne stayed home with Todd until he began Kindergarten there.  
     Once Todd began school, Lynne began working for Staples High School.  She worked there for 25 years.  She did secretarial work and was a teacher's aide.  
Todd with his mom and dad
Todd says, "She could type like lightning!  A brand new Sears Electric could not keep up with her!"  When Todd needed daycare as a kindergartener, he was watched by Beatrice and Monroe Nickels.
     Todd remembers taking a ceramics class with his mom when he was about 8 years old.  He made a frog incense burner.  He remembers taking trips out west with their 1970 Ford Pickup and topper.  There was no heat in the camper and no air conditioning in the truck.  Later the family took trips up to Canada with a pop up camper (and the same Ford Pickup).  They would go fishing in the Bighorns too.  Todd remembers, "Mom rode horseback with white knuckles because she held onto the saddle horn so tightly.  She humored us."  
Lynne and Doug at Todd's uncle's wedding
     Another fond memory of Todd's is of riding a 1970 Moto-ski snowmobile together.  Doug got the longest one he could find so all three of them could ride on it.  It was the most expensive snowmobile available ($1,000), but it was cheaper than buying two.  Todd rode between his mom and dad.  I love the picture I see in my mind of their cute family riding together.    
     In 1973 Doug and Lynne started building their house in the woods about nine miles outside of Staples.  They carved out the woods and made a farm for themselves.  They had cows and horses.  One summer a horse cut its leg.  Lynne cared for the hurt animal.  Its name was Sugar and it ended up being Todd's horse.
     Lynne was soft spoken and rarely raised her voice.  She was a very supportive mom to Todd.  She particularly enjoyed fall school shopping with him.  They'd go to the big town of Wadena and shop at the J.C. Penney store.    
      After her 25 years of working for the Staples High School, Lynne did secretarial work at the Energy Office, which was a government program to survey houses to find energy leaks.  Later she worked at Freshwater Co-Op, which was a place that worked with troubled youth.  Her last job was being a teacher's aide at the Lincoln Model School.  
     Todd told a humorous story, "Once when Dad and I were away on a trip, Mom grabbed a 12 gauge and, as she put it, 'blasted a skunk on the road!'  That was the first time she had ever shot at anything.  After that she decided to be a deer hunter."  
Lynne and Doug
     Lynne enjoyed sewing, knitting, reading, and working in the vegetable garden.  She once refinished a six legged stand and a chair.  She was a devout Christian.  She liked to write letters to people.  According to Todd, "She made perfect red velvet cake 50% of the time - made from scratch cake and made from scratch frosting is very difficult to make turn out the same each time!  She made the world's best kringler, shortcake bars, and apple pie.  She always mysteriously had a little crust left over...but she didn't want to waste it, so she'd bake it with cinnamon and sugar on it...for me!"  
     One day Lynne wanted to try a new recipe for pie that she had  discovered in the Rural Electric Cooperative Newspaper.  Following the instructions exactly, Lynne put the pie into a paper bag before popping it into the oven.  Everything was going fine until Doug came into the house and asked, "What's that smell?"  She said, "It's probably the paper bag."  Doug said, "What paper bag?"  "The one that's in the oven," Lynne replied.  Doug asks, "In the oven?!?"  He walked over to look, opening the oven door (letting in lots of oxygen) and suddenly the pie and paper bag went up in flames!  He managed to throw the pie and the flaming bag out the window.  The fire went out.  The pie landed right side up, so they tried to salvage it.  But, it was too full of ash and it tasted too smoky to eat!  Everyone got a good laugh.  The Sapps are still laughing over that story! 
     Christmas was always a special time for Lynne.  One thing that Todd always did to his mom was grab her neck and pinch it between his two fingers and then in a high squeaky voice he'd sing, "We wid you a mewry cwistmas....."  It made her squirm and gave her goosebumps all over.  I can just imagine!    
     Lynne enjoyed sitting down in the evenings with Todd and Doug to watch TV.  They watched Lawrence Welk, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, and Hee Haw.  When they entertained guests on a Saturday night, they let Todd stay up and watch Saturday Night Live with them.  Usually he had to go to bed early.
     Lynne was very particular.  Everything had to be "just so" in arrangement.  There was no dust or water spots anywhere.  Now I know where Todd gets his title of "Mr. No Water Spots!"      
Todd with his mom and dad
     Lynne loved being a grandma!  She adored her two grandsons.  Unfortunately, she didn't get enough time with her loved ones.  She got breast cancer when she was 45 and died at age 52 (February 20th, 1995).  Todd says, "She was very strong through the journey.  Her faith stayed strong.  She knew exactly where she was going to go when she died."
     I look forward to meeting Lynne in Heaven someday.  I'm going to give her a big hug and thank her for raising such a wonderful son!    
Lynne and Doug with grandson, Daniel

Lynne with grandsons James and Daniel

To learn more about the "31 Days of Friends and Family Who Inspire Me" Project, click here:

Friday, January 30, 2015


Jessica and her husband, Brian in 2012
     I was introduced to Jessica by our friend, Amy in 1997 (I shared a blog about Amy on January 16th).  Jess would come visit Amy while we were in college together and then after we graduated Amy and Jess were roommates in an apartment in the cities.  I visited them often.  Soon Amy's friend, Jess became my friend too.  We had such fun together.  We were young single gals having adventures and loving the life God had given us.  The three of us even went on a three week trip to Prince Edward Island, Canada one summer.  Talk about adventures!!!
     It's a good thing Jess enjoyed Canada because years later she returned to Canada to attend library school in London.  Jess loves being a librarian at Northwestern College and she's good at it too!  Later in this blog, Jess shares with us what she enjoys about her job.     
     Now that we are each married and living miles apart, Jessica, Amy, and I enjoy getting together at favorite restaurants like"Good Earth" or going to each other's homes for tea parties with our other girlfriends (Becca, Shawrene, and Carey).  Jessica is especially talented at being a hostess.  She often has a theme for the evening and she always serves delicious food!  Her Scandinavian Christmas Party has become an annual favorite.  
      Having been single friends together for many years, it was so special to get to be involved in each other's weddings in 2008 and 2012.  Jessica and Amy beautifully decorated the sanctuary for my wedding with only a few flowers and tulle.  They also sang a lovely duet together of "He's Always Been Faithful" during the ceremony.  Precious memories for me.  When Jessica got married I pulled out my favorite puppet for the groom's dinner and gave a silly lip sync performance of a song by Doris Day (a favorite singer of both Jess and I).  Then the day of the wedding I played my violin as Jessica, the beautiful bride, walked down the aisle.   
     Both being teachers, Jessica inspires me to share history and literature with my young scholars.  Both being singers, Jessica inspires me to sing along with greats like Doris Day and Ella Fitzgerald.  Both being Scandinavians, Jess inspires me to embrace my ancestry and explore my roots.  Both being Christians, Jessica inspires me to read my Bible and trust in the Lord with a grateful heart.  I'm grateful for Jess.
The amazing hostess!

The Lake of Shining Waters (on PEI)

Enjoy reading about Jessica as a librarian...

Why did you decide to become a librarian?
      "I decided to become a librarian after exploring several career possibilities that seemed interesting to me.  I enjoyed studying history and had enjoyed researching at the Minnesota History Center library as a history major in college, and even as a high school student for history classes and National History Day.  I noticed that many jobs at the History Center library required advanced degrees in  History as well as in Library Science.  That is what first interested me in pursuing a master's degree, along with interviewing several librarians about what they enjoyed about their jobs.  I moved to Canada to study Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario and I really enjoyed my studies, so I knew I had found a career field that I would enjoy."

What do you like about working with college kids?
      "I enjoy working with college students of all ages and programs, as well as faculty.  The favorite part of my job is teaching research skills to students, followed by helping students with their individual research needs at the reference desk.  I teach students how to efficiently and effectively locate needed information, how to evaluate the information they find, and how to use information ethically.  These are important "21st Century Skills" for the information age.  The search strategies I teach can save students' precious time.  It's rewarding when students tell me how research instruction has saved them time, or helped them discover new and exciting information about their chosen topic.  Some students have returned to thank me for help that got them through a class or even helped them graduate."
      "Other things I enjoy about my job are working on challenging research questions and learning new things each day as I assist students in finding information about subjects that interest them.  I also enjoy developing the library's collection, both recommending new items and weeding out old ones."
Creating wedding decorations for the sanctuary...
To learn more about our trip to Prince Edward Island, Canada, click here:

To learn more about the puppet show that was presented to Jessica and Brian, click here:

To learn more about the "31 Days of Friends and Family Who Inspire Me" project, click here:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Translator Julia

Julia and Jennifer
Trying out some handmade hats!

Sharing a song at Vacation Bible School
Julia and Jennifer in Vatutino
Translating at the church service
Julia's family in Cherkassy, Ukraine 
     I met Julia in 2005 when three friends and I were sent as a mission team by our church in Becker to visit our sister church in Vatutino, Ukraine.  We led Vacation Bible School, shared music and testimonies at church services, and cultivated relationships with the congregation there.  I have written an entire blog about my experience.  To read it, click here:
     Julia was one of three translators who brought the experience alive for the four of us Americans.  All three translators were with us for church events and Vacation Bible School during the day.  But, Julia was with us 24/7.  She stayed with us at our host family's home, ate meals with us, rode in the car with us, and visited people's homes with us.  Without her, our experience would never have been as deep and rich and rewarding.  She touched our hearts because of her skills as a translator, but also because of her wonderful personality, her positive perception of things, and her heart for the Lord.  Julia was my friend, and thanks to email and Facebook, she still is my friend and I treasure her.
     Having never had the unique experience of working with a translator before, I didn't know what to expect.  Most of the time Julia would listen to a whole story or concept and then translate it all at once (rather than translate line by line).  It was delightful observing her re-tell one of our funny stories and then watching the reaction of the Ukrainians when she arrived at the funny part.  
     Before arriving in Ukraine, I had typed up my testimony to share with the church congregation.  Julia studied it the night before the service so she would be prepared to translate.  She used her Bible for direct translations when Bible verses were involved.  During the church service, she and the other translators would sit behind us and whisper to us what the main concepts were.  It was quite an amazing, unique experience.
     While preparing to write this blog post, I went back to my journals from my 2005 Ukraine trip.  Over and over I expressed how thankful I was for much I appreciated her insights and her words and her her friendship encouraged me at times when I felt overwhelmed and unsure of I knew God had brought her all the way from Cherkassy to Vatutino just to be there with us (even though her family missed her back home) my eyes and heart were opened to the Ukrainian people because of this amazing young lady!  I continue to be overwhelmed with gratitude.  She inspires me in so many ways!        
     I'm sure it is clear that we loved having Julia for our translator.  But, the other wonderful thing is that Julia enjoyed translating too.  For this blog, I asked her to write down what she enjoys about being a translator.  These are her words, so enjoy: 
      "Interpreting gives me useful experience of all kinds. It gives me lots of experience in my teaching occupation, develops stage presence, it develops  acting skills, communication with people. When interpreting various people you learn from them various skills. You can learn management as well as good logical teaching. You find out about different cultures which is exciting as you then can apply some things to your life. Working with different people widens my horizon as I learn new ways of cooking, making crafts, sharing fun things and ideas. I saw the hospital system changing in my town because a team of Ukrainian doctors took trips to the UK and learned valuable experience from British colleagues. When I interpet for Pastors I love translating sermons as I get inspired by their preaching. I believe God shaped me into a Christian the way I am using this precious experience of working with Godly believers such as people from Becker Church, like Jennifer and the  team who came over to a little place in Ukraine called Vattuino. I guess they don't even realize how much each one of them influenced my life. I'm so grateful to God for every trip I had in my life, for every change provoked by those trips. Once I had a phone call from the interpreter's coordinator pleading me to go to Vatutino instead of staying in Cherkassy  (which was much more convinient for me as for the wife and the mother). I hesitated for a monent. And then decided to agree. It was a brilliant decision as I found good friends both American and Ukrainian. The Ukrainian Pastor and his wife became a Christian example to me as well as my American friends.  Many years passed but it seems like it was just yesterday."

     Julia is a teacher in addition to being a translator.  When not teaching or translating, Julia is often planning or preparing for a themed party or fun event.  She is extremely talented and creative.  Recently she has done a fishing party for her husband's birthday, a CARS party for her son's birthday, a lemon party for some girlfriends, and a spa party for her own birthday celebration.  She creates a festive environment, makes delicious food and desserts, and decorates with taste and fun.  I love looking at photos of all her events.  So, to end the blog, I'll post some photos of her creativity for you to enjoy.  

To learn more about the "31 Days of Friends and Family Who Inspire Me" project, click here: