Stephanie H.

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I can’t believe it’s almost been a year since I was in Haiti. There are so many memories that I will hold dear.

One night while standing on the roof watching the sun set, some of the team members were talking about their desire to jump off stuff and that sometimes that feeling almost overwhelms them, usually when they’re not wearing a harness. This was not a morbid conversation but a reflection of man’s propensity to do things that are scary because of the electrifying feeling that is the result. In a world where one’s synapses are constantly bombarded by television, video games, cell phones, traffic lights, and so on, it becomes increasingly more difficult to feel something amazing. We can be so connected that we’re no longer present.

For me, Haiti was a scary idea just like jumping out of an airplane or eating ‘rare’ delicacies. I allowed the application to sit in my inbox for close to two weeks before I even started to fill it out. The only reason that I opened it again when I did was because I knew if I didn’t, the opportunity would slip by without me even having a chance.

After that, things happened WAY too fast to even have time to be scared. Even now, so much of it is a blur — the congratulatory email, the trip meeting that next Saturday,  packing, and then meeting at the CLT airport all occur before time even begins to slow back down. What a blessing this trip was for me and I’m so glad that I jumped.

It’s funny to me how our trip truly began and ended with a hot van ride over the mountains. On the way to Cange, everyone was careful to stay in his/her personal space and not inconvenience each other. We even apologized for touching! After a week of tripping over Connor’s flip flops, borrowing anything you couldn’t find in your bag, trying to figure out who was napping on your bed, using Madison’s nasty handkerchief, and sharing 2 bathrooms among more than twenty people things definitely were different on the van ride back to Port-au-Prince. People were sleeping with their heads on other’s shoulders, had random body parts situated to feel as comfortable as possible,  and we were singing old t.v. theme songs. In the span of one week, we grew from perfect strangers to family.

My first night home (not my 4 hour “nap” before I had to be at work on Monday), my phone continually beeped as text messages and Facebook alerts arrived because we didn’t know what to do in the quiet of our own space.

Our plan was to teach these children and this community how to take photographs. It is simple to measure that success in the images they produced which were breathtaking and extraordinary and all the equipment that we were able to leave with them. But the real gift is that we printed, for some of them, the first photograph they’d ever had of themselves or that newlyweds in Cange will no longer have to travel to Port-au-Prince to have a wedding photograph taken.

While the gifts we’ve given them were tangible and meaningful, the gifts that I received far outweigh anything I left behind. The memories of my experience will stay with me forever: Playing in a rainstorm with the children who desperately wanted to spend time with the Blancs (that’s us Americans). Listening to Luke share so unabashedly about his dreams the school that he has started in his mother’s childhood community. The girl who I worked with growing comfortable enough with me to test her English skills. Friendships formed over laughter and the “hardships” of being in a third world country.

We have a bond in this experience and we will forever hold these people and the memories of this trip in the most special part of our hearts.

James R.

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The trip to Haiti was an unforgettable experience. I wasn’t really sure what to expect before the trip, and anything I did expect was miniscule compared to what Haiti had to offer. Even the mountains were different than I had imagined. Although not the tallest mountains, they were very rocky and steep. Haiti definitely offered more to us than we could offer it.

The people were beautiful as well as very nice. I don’t know where in America you can wave to a complete stranger and get a wave and bright smile in return as if you just made their day. Teaching the Haitians about photography was so satisfying because they all were so excited to learn and were engaged the whole time. Something I found beautiful was how openly Haitians expressed their love for God. The people of Haiti have a strong relationship with God and they aren’t afraid to speak about Him or prayer.

We didn’t just leave Haiti and its people with some new knowledge on how to shoot pictures, but we left Haiti with new experiences, new friendships, and moments that we will never forget. I think it’s safe to say that many of us left some of our heart in Haiti and all would love to return soon.

We were constantly reminded to try and seek where God was while we were in Haiti. He was everywhere we looked, everywhere we photographed, anywhere we let Him in.  One afternoon we were all in a small classroom shack and monsoon rain had suddenly came out of nowhere and poured onto the classroom. We were unable to go outside and take photographs, but instead we sang a couple songs together. They were Christian tunes that everyone had learned growing up. What was special was that even though the teachers sang in English and the Haitians spoke in Creole, we were all able to sing in unison. At that moment it really made me think, how, even though we were from two completely different countries, looked nothing alike, and spoke two very different languages, we both had the same exact God and the same love for God.

This trip couldn’t have came at a better time in my life. If it had been even a year earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to have gone. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have been mature enough to even take this trip in serious thought. It was God’s will that all of us young adults were put together for this week and He gave us a beautiful week that will be remembered in all of us for the rest of our lives.

Madison J.

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One word to describe Haiti is unbelievable. From the moment we arrived in the sauna-like atmosphere to the moment we had to exit the van and walk up the hill so it could make it up to the road to take us home, Haiti was unbelievable. I loved every second of it. Although I could go on for days about my favorite memories one that stuck out the most was the time we spent with our morning photography class. A few of these children taught themselves English and spoke it very well. Everyday they would come in with a new list of Creole translations for me. We would sit in the back and they would tutor me (mainly laugh at my terrible pronunciation).

This trip was different from any other mission I’ve been on because I found the people of Haiti were teaching me more about being a Christian than I could ever teach them. Many times my Haitian friends would ask me about my faith, if I believed in Jesus, if I prayed, and if I read the word of God? It was very humbling to see how the people of such a disaster stricken area with poverty and low amounts of clean water can be so happy, hopeful, and full of faith! It really has made me take a second look at how unappreciative I have been.

I built some beautiful relationships with people that I hope will last forever. Before we left my new friends kept asking me (in their broken Haitian accent), “When you come back?? I hope for when you come back!”. Haiti has captured a part of my heart and I would consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world if I get the opportunity to go back to this loving, welcoming, and breathtaking country. Orevwa, until next time!!

Amber-Drew F.

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I have traveled to many different cultures and each time I try to do so with little to no expectations and with an opened heart to see the Lord! When we arrived to Haiti we were greeted with a pleasant smile! One that made you feel welcomed and filled you with excitement.  We were not only meeting Haitians for the first time but in a few cases we were meeting our Haiti Team for the first time! While we did have some disagreements, interesting conversations, and lots of continuous laughter I know without a shadow of a doubt that God orchestrated it all! This group of strangers from different parts of North Carolina  became a family in love with the God who sent us to do His work.
I enjoyed the photography of our trip and being able to watch kids use their imagination like they never have before! I hope that now that we are gone that they keep their imaginations running wild and free to experience the joy and beauty of photography.  While not everyone is a photographer, I did learn that no matter what you sound like “Good ole Methodist” can SANG! When we couldn’t find something to do because of rain or no entertainment there was always singing and dancing! I found myself in a kitchen worshiping and in a metal building scream praises to the Lord as rain prevented us from our last photography class.  I was blessed to share the Gospel through song on a national Haitian radio station. Music was a underlying theme that created memories for a life time! I will never again be able to listen to “Don’t Stop Believing” without seeing Paul and Connor doing twinkle toes! “It is Well with my Soul” will never again be sung the same way in my heart. “How Great Thou Art” will always be a song of unity!
While all of these are incredible memories my greatest memory I will always hold dear is the importance of smiling and laughter.  Bad days can always seem better with a smile, hope is always shown in laughter, tickling no matter what your age will always make you feel loved!  We have one life to live, we don’t have to have a plan for it all, days aren’t always going to be amazing but God will always bless us and those around us with a simple smile or a cute giggle from a child! I have learned to treasure ice cubes, clean water, and running water!
Before leaving I decided my over all theme for my pilgrimage to Haiti would be “Light” my focus scripture was John 8:12 — Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”come!  We found that having light was important! We had days and nights where there was no electricity! This challenged us to think out side of the box! I will never forget standing in darkness holding hands of my team members prayer over dinner, our last word, amen, triggered the light! Every time from that point forward when we had no light, I would hear someone yelling for me to start praying! Perhaps that was the answer I went on this trip to find that I had been searching for and unable to clearly hear God say to me! God calls us all to be in the light! But He also desires us to walk into the darkness to share and spread His light!
So I challenge each of you who has followed our pilgrimage to Haiti to be come the smile that uplifts a hurting soul, the laughter that brings sorrow to joy and the light that changes a world full of darkness! While we might have been the chosen ones to go to Haiti we CALL on you to help us NEVER FORGET and to allow us to continue sharing the story of Haiti with you all!
To my Team— You all will always be near and dear to my heart! I praise the Lord for allowing me the opportunity to learn from each of you! Each of you will always have a special place in my heart! We are all bonded together with the memories we were so richly blessed with! Thank you for your laughter, smiles, talent, conversations, advice and love! To the “poop room” I love you all! I still can’t believe nothing of Connor’s was in my bags, I wish I would have Lysoled like James told me to, Stephanie maybe one day I will talk without an accent haha I doubt that! Madison you are just an amazing young lady and Hannah (Coconut) I know I owe you some tooth paste Ill try to get some to Boone SOON haha! Thank you ALL for changing my LIFE and challenging me to become who Christ calls me to be! I am forever changed and blessed!

Hannah D.

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I cannot believe that this is already our last day in Haiti. Ever since this journey began a mere month ago, the whole experience has been a whirlwind.  For me, personally, hearing about it at my home church on Super Bowl Sunday (I was visiting for the weekend) was such a blessing. Little did I know I would feel called to go through with the application process, desperately awaiting my Spring Break fate. A week later, I was making the drive to Hickory with my best friend to get my passport expedited from Representative Patrick McHenry to have the passport show up on my door step two days later. And now, this is our last day in a country we have all come to love.

Today, while some are walking through town and the market for one last time, gathering gifts to bring to our loved ones back in the states, others are slowly beginning to pack and tie up the loose ends by making sure all the equipment we are donating to the school has the proper cords, batteries, etc.  This afternoon, many are traveling to the rural school as well as visit the suspension bridge built and engineered by a group from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. The bridge has become a sign of life in this community giving those in the rural areas access to the towns during the rainy season which we have come to find out has started 2 weeks early. Our translator, Ezekiel, has also invited us to his home to show us how he climbs the trees to retrieve coconuts. It’s going to be a busy afternoon but one we will never forget.

The theme for this week has been where we have seen God in all of our experiences and what we have learned.  I have learned that there is one language that is universal no matter where you are and that’s laughter. The Haitian people want lives filled with laughter just as much as another culture, especially the children.  Laughter is the one thing that we can all understand and another one of God’s precious gifts. I have also learned that God has His own sense of timing that we can’t understand.  This week, we tried to have lessons planned and unexpected things would happen like monsoon type rainstorms or camera batteries dying. But together, we were able to make things work, most of the time in better ways then we could have ever planned. God also had the timing to bring this wonderful group of Young Adult United Methodists together in mission and we have grown together in ways that we can’t explain. We’ve had our own sense of laughter during the week and have made a lifelong relationship with one another through our awesome God.

As I sit on the back porch for one last afternoon taking in our scenery and the sounds around, I can’t help but think how much of myself is going to be left in this community and in this country.  With the idea of being 23 years old and getting ready to graduate from college, I have recently become concerned with my age – that I was getting old. In fact, I have become 23 years mature, realizing that I have so much of my life to influence others and continue in this journey of helping a country who desperately needs hope and to continue that laughter we have all come to enjoy.  This is not a good bye at all, but rather an ‘I’ll see you soon’. God gave me Haiti; it is now in my heart and forever it will stay.

It Looks Like We’re in Jurassic Park

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As I begin this post, we are taxing down the runway toward our gate in Miami. The pilot just told us over the intercom that it’s something like 76 degrees here. I’m just looking forward to some air conditioning and some food.

Our morning began like so many others, us rising with the sun. It’s been so nice this week not to be startled by my alarm but to wake up more naturally. We again were served a hearty breakfast before it was time to get ready for worship. Two of our compatriots even managed to match.

Before we left to walk to the church, several of the pastors served Communion on the front porch of the house. With the spectacular views and the wonderful new friends, it was a special time.

We walked together to the church and joined many of the Haitians from the community. Although the majority of the service was in Creole, the songs that were sung and the mere presence of God in that place were uplifting. We were given seats of honor at the very front of the sanctuary. Our group participated in worship as well by singing “Sanctuary” and “As I Went Down to the River to Pray.”

David P., through a translator, shared his message on thirst and how Jesus is the only one who can fulfill our thirst.

We were escorted out of worship early because we had a flight to catch. The pastor of the church actually stopped the service and told us to head back to the house. We filed out of the church with everyone watching us

After some quick last minute packing, a costume change, and a hearty lunch, we loaded up our stuff and headed back towards Port Au Prince or so we thought. When we got to the bottom of the crazy hill, we had to get out and hike up the hill one last time. We didn’t do it for nostalgia but because the van couldn’t get up the hill otherwise!

The ride to the airport was a lot smoother than the ride to Cange at the beginning of the week. Maybe it was because we were going downhill or maybe it was because Madison shared her Dramamine with me.

We had a short wait in the Haiti airport and several of the guys got up close and personal with security. You could tel everyone was so drained because for the first time all week we were sitting together but it was quiet.

The flight to Miami was peaceful. The ocean was amazing because you could see the current! I don’t think I’ve seen so many blues in my entire life! If the flight was peace, the Miami airport was chaos. Maybe it was that we were exhausted but the airport signs were unclear and the process was complicated.

We had to go through Passport check, security, customs, and pick up and recheck our baggage. Then we had to find ourselves something to eat before our flight to Charlotte left. Most of chose, being typical Americans, chose pizza and boy was it good!

Most of our team slept all the way to Charlotte. Those of us who didn’t, got to see lightening from the height of the clouds producing it. The landing in Charlotte was smooth and so was our exit. Several people seemed to have lost their luggage. As I was leaving the airport, they were in the offices trying to find out where it was.

For me, the goodbyes at the airport were harder than bucket showers, remembering to not flush the toilet paper, or walking almost everywhere we went. In many ways we became a family, disfunctional at times, but a group who really care about each other. We will miss finding Connor’s stuff mixed in with our own, Madison having her face time in the mirror, AJ’s hilarious jokes, Catherine’s contageous smile, and something unique about every other person. We are better for having met each other and many of us will be friends for life!

(In the bracket), I have something to say!

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It’s our last night in Haiti which is said with happiness and sadness. Many of us are excited to return to our families and our warm beds, but we are sad to leave our new friends and this special place. Some of us have started packing while others of us still have our belongings scattered all over the floor.

Unanimously, it has been one of the best days we’ve had while in Haiti. While we didn’t work directly with the kids at the Cange school, we went on some of the most amazing trips. One group visited Luke’s, who is one of the translators, school. The other group visited a village which is connected during the rainy season only by a swinging bridge.

In the morning, we really didn’t have any set plans but everyone still got up bright and early. The sun rise helped most of us wake up and we even felt cold this morning! Breakfast was what we’ve become used to: cornflakes without milk, raisin bread, Laughing Cow cheese, and something that resembled oatmeal.

After breakfast, we had some free time to do what we wanted. Some people visited the gift shop at the hospital to pick up some souvenirs and others stayed at the house. Around lunchtime, we set out on our adventures.

Part of the group went to a school which was created by our translators. We rode in the back of a truck down the hill to the lake. From there, we got on a motor boat which took us across the lake. Then there was an approximate two mile hike into the depths of the jungle. Apparently the lake drops significantly when it’s not the rainy season and we walked in the riverbed on super smooth rocks.

This school serves a village of approximately 5000 people and has almost 250 students. Luke, the translator, chose this village to build his school because it was the village in which his mother grew up. The supplies are virtually non-existent and the tent in which they have class has holes in it. I’d sincerely like to at least send pencils and notebooks to the school.

After we had a rest and a visit with the teachers, we were given fresh coconut. These coconuts were the small kind and exactly what you imagine when you think of a coconut. They put a hole in them and allowed us to drink from them. Then they hacked them open with a machete and we got to eat the coconut meat.

We walked back down the mountain and took the boat back to our starting place. Then it was a race back to the house before the storm hit. We made a quick stop at the other translator, Ezekiel’s, house and he climbed a tree with just his hands and his feet. He grabbed the other kind of coconut that is native to Haiti and threw them down to us. We took them back to house to share with the other group.

Meanwhile, simultaneously in another village…

Another group of us started out from Jane’s house with Jane, Dee, and some of our other Haitian hosts.  We climbed the monster hill again, and all piled into the large van in which we had previously rode in from Port Au Prince.  We left Cange and journeyed deeper into the surrounding countryside.

After a short time on the paved road, we made a turn onto a gravel road.  I should mention that Haitian gravel is a little different from American gravel.  It is about 8 times the size, for one thing, and placed in a much more haphazard way.  Our driver took every slightly flat spot as an opportunity to put the pedal to the metal, and we made pretty good time.  Our heads were rather scrambled though.

Presently, we came to Tierra Muscady, where we toured a truly beautiful church and school building.  It had been built with support from the Epsicopal Diocese in Upstate South Carolina, and the Bishop would be visiting the next day; so preparations were underway in earnest.

We returned to the van and bounced along.  The road we were on had been built by the US in the 20s and the bridges were very old.  One of them had been burned, causing us to detour through a small creek.  Still, we soldiered on in the van until the road became impassable for anything other than the plethora of people on foot, donkey, and motorcycle.

At the bottom of the valley, we reached the engineering marvel of the area.  Built by students from Virginia Tech, there was a swinging bridge across the river.  Think Grandfather mountain at a much lower altitude.

The village of Tipeligre, where we were headed lay across a large river.  Today, it was shallow, and people were bathing and doing laundry in the water.  During the rainy season, however, the river swelled in size, completely isolating the village.  Children were unable to attend school, and those who got sick went without medical care.   The bridge changed all that.

We walked across the bridge and into a completely different Haiti than we had seen.  Cange is a rural area, but it is fairly well connected thanks to the Zanmi Lasante hospital and school as well as the Digicel School.  Tipeligre was much different.  We walked uphill about thirty minutes until we reached the church and school.

The church was still under construction.  It has been funded through the cooperation of a Methodist and Baptist church in Blacksburg Virginia.  Every cinderblock, bag of concrete, and even the metal eaves for the ceiling had to be carried across the swinging bridge and up the mountain by hand.  At this time, the 305 children that the school serves have class on the dirt floor of the future sanctuary.

Leneus and the other leaders at Tipeligre had a coconut ceremony for us, which we shared with the children.  If you have never had fresh coconut, let me tell you, it is way better than what you get in the grocery store in the states.

Leneus shared with us that the Tipeligre church will be dedicated on May 29th, 2012.  When finished, it will be just as beautiful as the church in Tierra Muscady.  The children were very friendly and wished us farewell as we raced the rain back to Jane’s house.  We met back with the other group, weary but grateful that we had made the trip to Tipeligre.

Both groups arrived back at the house around the same time. Most of us hurried to take a shower because we were hot and tired from all the hiking we’d done. Then we sat around, sharing stories and laughing until it was time for dinner. They served us goat meat!

After dinner, we had a concert performed by some of the most talented people in Cange. They played music and sang for us and we even sang a little for them. Some people played spoons and we all sang if we knew the songs!

We were given strict orders this evening to have our stuff packed for tomorrow. The preacher from one of the churches invited us to join them tomorrow morning, which is something we’d planned not to do. They pastors on the trip had planned worship, but they worked together to change the plans. We will be singing tomorrow and one of our pastors is lucky enough to be preaching to Cange. They told the preacher that we’d be involved but that he’d have to make the service short so that we’d get to Port Au Prince on time – we’ll still be giving him almost three hours (and we complain about services in the US).

This may be my last post from Haitian soil, depending on how crazy tomorrow is. If I don’t get the chance before, I’ll definitely update in Miami!

That doesn’t sound like Jesus…

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Good evening. It is my attempt to get this blog posted much earlier than I did last night. We’ve all been so busy and have been enjoying each others’ company so much that getting down to the night’s business has been challenging. We didn’t start charging cameras and uploading photographs until after 10:00 p.m. last night.

One change occurred yesterday that was significant. The boys moved into the other houses that they were supposed to be in the entire trip. However, a group of French who were working with Partners in Health stayed longer than planned. The boys have been gracefully sleeping on mattresses in the floor of the dining area. The arrangements have been tight but it was honestly nice to have everyone close. The French group left yesterday afternoon and the boys finally were able to move. They packed up most of their stuff – although the girls’ room is still littered with shoes, water bottles, and other items that belong to the boys – and moved about two hundred yards away into bright pink houses! Paul did, however, leave his hammock hanging in the dining room and he still slept there last night.

This morning started the same way that many of them have. We’ve left the windows open and some of us have left the wooden door open as well (there are grates and screens covering them) and the sunlight seems to be what rouses most of us from our dreams. We get dressed for the day and meet for breakfast. The food seems to be their interpretation of what they think we eat at home. The food is prepared cleanly to keep us safe. Sometimes they get their meals confused and we end up with spaghetti for breakfast and oatmeal for lunch.

Some of the team members consumed a quick breakfast and took the dolls which were made and donated by one of the churches to give to the preschoolers. They sang songs and played games with the kids before we joined them for the last morning session.

We spent hardly any time in the classroom today; instead we went out and enjoyed the kids we’ve been working with and let them have free reign over where they wanted to take pictures. We had a general theme of them showing where they saw God. We showed them the American tradition of self-portrait, silly poses like the Heisman, and we even showed them how we could capture all of them jumping in the air. Several of the groups ended up in a garden. In the heat of the day, this area was cool and lush with life.

According to our hostess, that area is used to teach agriculture to the students. They learn to plant and grow things, and, when the plants are a size where they are sustainable, they are allowed to take them home to plant.

When we returned to the school, we allowed the students to pick a photograph to print. Although they had taken amazing photographs over the course of the week, many of them simply wanted a photograph of themselves or with a group of their friends. I think that we gave them such a blessing to allow them to have a photograph of themselves at this particular moment in their lives. Not only will they remember this class and our time with them, they will have a tangible reminder of who they were at this point in their lives. I would venture to say that most, if not all, of these young adults have never had a photograph of themselves. Although we brought pencils, notebooks, underwear, and many other items to give away, I firmly believe we gave them an amazing gift today!

Once everyone had their photograph printed, we had a short closing. The students that we worked with all week shared their gratitude for the opportunity and thanked their teachers.

I am amazed at the ambitions of so many of these students. They don’t strive to be farmers or to sell items at the market. They desire to be doctors, teachers, lawyers, and diplomats. I hope and pray that they are able to see these dreams into fruition. They are the future of Haiti and I firmly believe that they will do great things for the country of which they are so proud.

Email addresses were exchanged and lots of kids promised to friend us on Facebook. I cannot wait to return home and continue relationships with these wonderful new friends. After goodbyes, hugs, and even some tears on our part were shared, the group split up. Half of us returned to the house for a rest break and some down time. The other group joined a class which was working on letters to students in America.

One of the most interesting concepts about school in Haiti is that the classes are not based on age but on passing exams and the time they’ve been in school. This means that there can be 10 year olds and 20 year olds in the same class. The class we worked with today was the fourth grade. The teachers translated a letter from a class in Atlanta, Georgia who were going to be pen pals. The students copied a letter written on the chalkboard in English and filled in their own personal details. We sat with the kids and helped them with spelling and sharpening pencils.

When we were finished, some of us headed back to the hospital to visit the gift shop with items from local artists. We spoke with the woman who ran the gift shop who had retired to Cange. She was from Greenville, South Carolina and she definitely displayed the Southern hospitality to which we are accustomed. It was so difficult to get out of the shop because she wanted to talk!

While the group who worked with the kids writing the letters took some time to rest, the others returned to the school to instruct the teachers on how to use the equipment so that they could continue to teach once we go home. They allowed the teachers to take photographs before showing them how to use the printers. We presented them the laptop. They were overwhelmed by the fact that we were giving them all this equipment when we’d only met them earlier in the week.

We’ve finally all returned to the house and we’re wandering among different groups having discussions. Two of the translators have joined us and are asking us about Yani and Michael Bolton. We explained to them that while we knew who they were, we really didn’t listen to them. It was nice to have discussions with people so close in age to our group.

Tim is working on finishing his devotion this evening. We’re distracting him from finding a Bible verse that he needs. It’s almost time for dinner and then we’ll just hang out at the house until it’s time for bed.

The school is closed tomorrow, so I’m not really sure what our plan will be. It will be interesting though and I’ll be sure to share what’s going on. Then on Sunday, we’ll be getting ready to head home. I’ll try to post before the car ride and then again when we hit Miami.