A Beautiful Day

Today is a beautiful day! My precious niece, Sophie Jean Schilling, was born at 2:52 am. I woke up this morning to messages and pictures announcing her arrival! As far as I’ve heard, the whole family is doing well. I’ve had permeant smile on my face all day and have been joyously telling anyone who will listen to me about my gorgeous new niece and showing her picture to everyone around me.

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Yes, today is a beautiful, beautiful day. But it’s also a very hard day. You see, when Sophie’s brother Liam was born, I was holding him within a week. Despite the three states and seven hours between us, I was able to see Liam a lot the first couple years of his life. I watched as he grew from a tiny infant to a toddler with so much joy and personality. I celebrated holidays and birthdays with him. I loved every precious stage I was able to witness.

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But it won’t be like that with Sophie. She will be over 2 months old before I get to hold her in my arms. I will miss birthdays and events and special moments. There will be no collage of me and Sophie like the one of me and Liam above.

These are the days that make it hardest to be here. These are the days that I want to pack my bags, get on a plane, and never look back.

Living in Haiti is hard. Teaching is hard. Ministry is hard. And being away from the people I love most? Probably the hardest aspect of all. Here, we spend our weeks pouring all of our energy and emotions into our students and our weekends planning and preparing for the week ahead. I am desperately trying to understand an unfamiliar language, but learning a new language takes time, so for the time being I’m left unable to communicate with my community, my student’s families, and those around me. I can’t even get groceries or go to a restaurant without someone who can translate for me. When I brush my teeth or wash my hair (which isn’t that often, if I’m being honest), I’m trying to assess how much is left in the bottle, hoping I’ve judged the right amount and I won’t run out before the next boat arrives. I spend hours pouring over my lesson plans, wondering if I’m really doing my best to meet the needs of each one of my students. We are so blessed at Sonlight with amazing ministry partners and friends, but the realities of this life we have chosen can be extremely difficult. Not a day goes by where my heart doesn’t ache for the life I left behind. I miss my beautiful house, my amazing teaching job and coworkers, and our precious families.

So why are we here? Why did we choose to give up our practically perfect life for this road instead? The answer has always been rather simple for us: Because God called us here. We are not here for “fun”, we are not on an adventure, and we did not come for the “tropical weather” aka, temperatures so high there’s literally a puddle of sweat on my seat when I get up from teaching math groups at 9AM. We are here because when we decided to follow Jesus, we decided to die to ourselves. We no longer live for Hannah and Bryson, but for our wonderful, perfect, heavenly Father. Even on the days that I’d rather be somewhere else, I am confident that this is where God wants us to be. And that makes that hard parts a little easier to manage.

There’s another cool aspect of this life as well. My family is all working in ministry. My parents have devoted their lives to minister to people of all ages all over the country, and my brother is a youth minister – he and his wife are invested in bringing up the next generation in Christ. We are all working to further the kingdom of God. I am so blessed to  be part of a family that has always put Christ first. It gives me chills just knowing that this is the kind of family my nephew and new niece and future children will grow up in. And just as I am comforted by looking at the sky and knowing we are all looking at the same sun, I find even more joy in knowing that despite our distance, we are all serving the same Son.

And that, my friends, is what makes today a beautiful day.

I’m so glad you’re finally here, sweet little Sophie. I’m counting the days until we get to meet. ❤

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Yesterday one of my students came up to me after school and asked me for an extra practice worksheet. She wasn’t just looking for some extra points to improve her grade, she genuinely recognized a skill she was struggling with that was jeopardizing her ability to do well in math, and given that she’s a 9th grader, it’s pretty crucial. While some people may hear a request like that and think of the extra work it takes to put something together, I am overjoyed! Even though it could be an indication that I may not have taught that particular concept very well the first time, that request tells me this student not only wants to get a good grade, but that she wants to genuinely understand. I’m new to teaching, but already my heart breaks for the students who struggle in school and ultimately become convinced they aren’t smart enough and can’t learn. I try every day to ensure the students in my classes who have a rough time with math do not feel like this is as good as they’ll ever do. I want them to believe they have a chance, that they can always strive to do better, and that one subject is not representative of their ability overall. Not everyone is going to excel in every subject, particularly math, and I understand that. I want my students to understand that too and not be ashamed by their grades, to be proud of what they are able to accomplish, and know that who they are as people and the way they treat others are more important than their grades on a test. Some days are more successful than others; I am learning as much as my students!

We are currently finishing up our fourth week of school, although last week was our first full week! We cancelled school for two days when hurricane Irma went by during week 2. Irma had little to no impact in our area and Jose was never even close. Hurricane Maria is currently projected to go north of us and stay offshore, we will likely get some rain tomorrow and/or Friday. Please pray for those in the Eastern region of the Caribbean as they were impacted by Irma, and are also being hit by Maria.

Other than the hurricanes, we’re starting to fall into routines here. In addition to teaching our respective classes, Hannah is leading a 7th & 8th grade girls Bible study along with Miss Ashlie, one of the other teachers. I will be starting the 7th & 8th grade boys Bible study next week. Hannah and I are also helping with Junior Worship (1st through 3rd graders) every other month on Sunday mornings. In addition, all of the missionaries get together on Sunday evening for a devotion and prayer. Some of us also hang out on Friday evenings sharing a meal and watch something, play games, or just visit.

This week we have our first group of visitors for the year. Groups, usually from supporting churches, come to visit, help in the schools, and experience some of the culture. We integrate the visitors into our classrooms and spend some afternoons with them doing something outside of the school. Monday for example, the visitors, some of the seniors from the school, and several missionaries including us went downtown to the market and purchased food for several families in need who are connected to Sonlight.

With all of that going on, every day is full! But it is a good fullness. It’s not the busy of commuting to work, running errands, events out of obligation, etc. It’s a life full of people we are either teaching something to, or learning something from. Every day is full of opportunities for us to show the love of Jesus to our students, to the people who come visit, and to uplift our co-workers. Every morning when I wake up, I remind myself that while I am a math teacher, my goal every day is to love students and show them who Jesus is.

The Shock of the Familiar

The Shock of the Familiar

When I was in the teacher preparation program in college, I learned about something called “The Shock of the Familiar”. This phenomenon can occur to new teachers fresh out of college when they head back into the classroom. On one hand, they are entering an environment that is very familiar – the lockers, the desks, the books. The environment they walk into looks exactly like the one they have spent 12+ years in, except with one key difference: they are now on the other side of the desks. Instead of looking for ways to get around the rules, they are now enforcing them. All the work they once grumbled about are now the assignments they are giving to students. I learned that this can sometimes be a stumbling block for new teachers, as this once familiar place is now suddenly something different.

As I start the school year here at Sonlight, I’ve been trying to avoid my own version of “The Shock of the Familiar”. Teaching feels almost as natural as breathing to me, and managing a room full of personalities has been my norm for the past three years. So much of the classrooms at Sonlight looks very similar to the ones I’ve been in before. There are books and curriculum, whiteboards and markers, and students sitting behind desks. They even wear uniforms like the students in my first 4th grade class! And yet, it is also so different – I am now a visitor in a country with a different culture than the one I’m used too. I have a full-time assistant in my classroom, which is amazing but new to navigate as I’ve never had one before. These beautiful students of mine can speak English, but it their second language – these 9 and 10 year olds speak TWO languages and are learning a third (French), when sometime I feel like I can barely speak one! While I know I have plenty of skills and experiences to aid myself in the classroom, I hope to stay constantly aware that what I’ve done in the past may not work now. That I may have to adjust my ideas of teaching in order to meet the needs of the students I’m entrusted with. Every good teacher knows that evaluating, differentiating, and trying new things are crucial components of education!

That said – Bryson and I had a successful first day of school today! I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic about the year ahead. My day started out a little rocky as I tried to hand out name tags to my students in the school yard before school started – I somehow managed to get all the name tags twisted together, and had to lay them out on the ground to unwind them! Not the best first impression for my 4th graders. Luckily, it was all uphill from there and the rest of the day continued with only minor bumps. Bryson has jumped into the teaching profession and has worked so hard to get ready for all 5 of his unique classes. He feels they are off to a good start, and he is looking forward to see his students’ growth throughout the year.

Below are some pictures of our first day in the classroom! Please keep us and our students in your prayers!

Hannah

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Briye pou Jezi kote ou ye!

IMG_20170827_JerrysPanIt has been a busy week! During the mornings, we went to orientation to learn more about teaching here, living here, and doing ministry here. In the afternoons, we finished getting our classrooms ready, worked on lesson plans, and sorted out the materials and books our students will be using. Registration is tomorrow and classes start Wednesday! It’s hard to believe it’s here all of a sudden! Hannah has 20 students in 4th grade and I have 59 total across my high school classes. We are looking forward to meeting them all!

This week hasn’t all been about school. We got all of our suitcases and the boat carrying most of the things we shipped from the US. After that, we went shopping at the crowded open air market where you can buy everything from live chickens to school supplies! We stuck to basic baking ingredients and potatoes to supplement what we had sent here by frozen shipping container. We also got our local phones set up. Since we have pretty regular internet access, the best way to contact us is still through email.

This morning we attended Sonlight Church, which is in Creole. We don’t understand anything yet but it’s a good venue for picking up new vocabulary. This afternoon we went to a hotel that has a pool and swam around to cool off a bit!

 

We rounded the evening off with dinner at Jerry’s hotel across the road. Jerry runs a hotel that hosts people who come to visit Sonlight during the school year and makes dinner for the staff a couple of times a year. The panorama photo in this post is the sunset view we had, it doesn’t quite do it justice!

During church, one of the songs was repeated from last Sunday and due to its repetitive nature, it seemed easier to follow than the others. The chorus goes “Briye pou Jezi kote ou ye” which means “Shine for Jesus where you are.” It’s not a new concept, but at the same time it’s one we often forget. You don’t have to be a church staff member, an international missionary, running a soup kitchen, or whatever to represent Christ in your life. All that is required is you and the correct attitude that lets Jesus show through!

Please keep us and our students in your prayers as school gets going!

An Instrument’s Job

We Are Here!

After two long days of traveling, we made it to Port-de-Paix, Haiti yesterday afternoon. Our travel here was less than ideal, to say the least. The night before we left, we learned that Bryson’s grandmother had passed away. Though our hearts are broken for the loss and we wished we could spend more time with our family, we continued with our plans to leave Wednesday morning. When we arrived at the airport and began checking our bags, we were informed by the attendant at the counter that we could only bring 1 checked bag each – opposed to the 6 total we have planned for! After Bryson and both of our fathers argued with them back and forth, we frantically attempted to repack what was the most important into only 2 suitcases with the help of our families. We rushed through security and got them to open up the gate for our plane, getting on only minutes before the plane took off!

Our travel woes didn’t stop there. We made it to Chicago, but our flight to Miami was delayed by over 2 hours – causing us to miss our connection flight into Haiti. After arguing with some more airport staff, we finally got rebooked for the following morning. Luckily for us, four other Sonlight staff members were also stranded, so we weren’t totally alone. Travel the next day went smoothly, and we’ve gotten it worked out to hopefully get the rest of the luggage we left behind next week. We have spent our time here so far setting up our apartment, working on getting our phones set up, and getting to know the others at Sonlight. Bryson got the key to his classroom, but I have yet to receive mine, so unfortunately setting up my classroom is getting put off for now.

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Through the chaos of the past couple days, I’ve been thinking about instruments. Earlier this week, I was playing piano with my sweet 2-year-old nephew Liam. He loves to bang on the keys himself, but at one point I played the ABC song, which he immediately recognized. Liam kept asking “ABCs! ABCs!” I wondered if he was confused as to why the piano played the song he wanted when I was touching the keys, but when he was touched them it made random sounds.

That’s how instruments work, right? The piano alone does not have control of the sound it makes. Each instrument is beautiful, unique, and serves a different purpose, but each one is at the mercy of the musicians’ call as to what song they want that instrument to play.

Acts 9:15 says “But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” At this point, God was commanding Ananias to go and speak to Saul, which was not something Ananias was super thrilled about doing. But as an instrument of Christ, we, just like Ananias and Saul, are called to do things we don’t want to. We are called to go on roads that are not smooth. We are called to face challenges, to press on for His will even in the moments it doesn’t make any sense.

Instruments do not dictate the music. The instrument’s job is to faithfully play whatever sounds the musician chooses.

Our travel to Haiti this week was rough. My heart is aching for the family and lives we have left behind. But even so, I know my purpose as an instrument of God, so I will continue to play the music my Father gives to me.

We’ll update again soon – hopefully with more details on our classrooms! 🙂

Ready or Not

“Are you ready?” I’ve been hearing that question a lot lately as we’ve been getting closer to leaving. Such a simple question, but a complicated answer. Ready in what sense? Ready in that we have everything we need? Ready in our planning for teaching our classes? Ready emotionally to leave a culture we understand for one we don’t? Ready to live in a country we don’t speak the language? No of course not! I’m sure there’s something we forgot. There’s more details to work out for our classes. Leaving our friends and family and a comfortable environment for one unknown is hard!

But then I am reminded of a simple truth. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Romans 12:2. When Hannah and I started this journey, we decided we wanted to live our lives for the next million years, not the next 50. That isn’t to say that logistics and details don’t matter; stewardship of our worldly resources and being prepared are also Biblical principles. But those things aren’t the end goal we are preparing for, nor are they the reason we are going.

So, with that in mind, the question of are we ready becomes a different one. Are we ready to trust God’s will? Are we ready to serve Him in every daily opportunity we’re given? Are we ready to pour our knowledge, love, and faith into our students? Are we ready to be encouraging and uplifting members of a team focused on loving and educating a community?

Yes!

We fly out on Wednesday morning and will arrive at our apartment in Port-de-Paix sometime late Thursday morning after spending the night in the capital, Port-au-Prince. We will start school the last week of August and so we’ll have a little bit of time to settle in and prepare our classrooms. As we get started, we have some specific prayer requests:

  • Pray for our travel regarding safety, schedule, and that all our luggage makes it!
  • Pray that we remain healthy as we get started.
  • Pray for our initial adjustment to our new environment.
  • Pray for our future students!

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A Letter to My Niece and Nephew

Dear Liam and Sophie,

You two are my most favorite people in the world. As your Aunt, with no children of my own, you are the most wonderful and special little people in my life. From the moment I knew of your existence, you have completely captured my heart. You bring me more joy than I ever thought was possible. I love you both so deeply and would do absolutely anything for you.

Knowing that makes my choice to go to Haiti, across the sea and miles away, seem impossible. It breaks my heart to know that many months will pass before I hold you in my arms again. I will miss birthdays and specials days and important moments. Some days I feel like I can’t do it, that I am the most terrible aunt in the world for leaving you. It makes no sense at all.

But you see, my sweet niece and nephew, you are part of the reason I must go. You both are extremely blessed. You have an amazing mom and dad who love you so much. I can see it the way they talk to you and about you, they way they light up when they see you and everything they do to keep you safe and protected. They will do everything they can to ensure that you will have the best chance at life. Someday, you will go to school and get a wonderful education, and this will allow you to go on and do many things in the world. To someday create and raise your own families. Most importantly, your parents teach you about Jesus. They pray with you and read the Bible to you. Not only are they making sure you have the tools you need to succeed in this worldly life, but they are also giving you the foundation you need for your eternal one.

As happy as that makes me, it also makes me a little sad. Because not every child in this world is as fortunate as the two of you. In every county of the world, there are children who are not given the same chances at having an education, at knowing Jesus, at being loved. That breaks my heart, because I wish so desperately that every child could be loved the way you are. And while I cannot help all the children who need it, I can do something. I can use the skills I have to reach children in a place where they need help. So I choose to spend my life fighting to give as many children as I can even a small piece of the life you have. To help them learn. To teach them what the Bible says. To show them that they are loved. Right now, I will go to do this is Haiti; someday I may do it somewhere else.  But wherever I go, I will always be fighting for these children.

So while you are the reason I so desperately want to stay, you are also the reason I go. Because every child deserves to be loved like you.

Love forever,

Aunt Hannah

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July Update

Hello Friends and Family!

We have just short of 6 weeks left before we leave to work with Sonlight Ministries in Haiti. It is still a little unreal that we will be heading there NEXT month! In the meantime, we have continued preparing to leave. Bryson gave his official two weeks notice to Caterpillar last week and only has a couple more days of work there. We’ve been slowly collecting materials for our classroom and reviewing the curriculum we will be using. We have our tickets booked, and we will be flying out from the Quad Cities on August 16.

In addition, we have continued to work on raising funds. Thank you so much to everyone who has already given us support! We are so thankful to have a network of people who believe in us and this mission. Last week someone asked me when we were leaving, and when I replied with our fly out date, he said “oh, so you’ve got all your money then.”  The reality is that as of the end of last month, we have about 70% of what we need. If we are unable to meet that goal, we will still be going to Haiti in August – Sonlight understands the challenges of fundraising and that it may take a little time to acquire them, especially since we are just starting out.

However, it is our goal to reach that asked amount before we go. The money we are raising does not just take care of us, but it takes care of others. While a portion of these funds go to making sure we have our basic needs met, they also go to the financials of running a school and making sure each student has what they need to be successful. This includes electricity, textbooks and workbooks, clean water (which many students don’t have access to at home), and basic school supplies. Sonlight also employs many local people to work in maintenance, as classroom aides, office help, kitchen staff, and other jobs which help those individuals, as well as the economy in Port de Paix.

Bryson and I believe so deeply in the mission work of Sonlight and want to make sure we are doing our part to help them reach as many people as possible. So we ask that you please consider partnering with us financially and helping us raise this last 30% we need! Even a small gift can go so far in helping. Support can either be mailed or given online. Visit our give page to see details on how you can help!

As always, keep praying for us as we prepare for the chaos and changes ahead as we begin to start our new life in this ministry. Thank you so much for joining us on this journey!

Hannah

God is Faithful!

It’s official: we are homeless! This past Thursday we closed on our home in Decatur. When we made the decision to move to Haiti this spring, though we felt certain God was calling us to Haiti, we were also realistic and knew that in order to take that step, we needed to sell our house. The Decatur market can be hit and miss, so we knew we were in for an uphill battle. As soon as we returned home from our visit to Sonlight at the end of March, I immediately started finishing the unfinished DIY remodeling projects I’d procrastinated. The following week, a coworker of mine was talking about selling his house, and I got the name of his realtor, who is the most successful realtor in our area. Within four weeks of making our decision to go to Haiti, we had the house on the market. Four days later, we received an offer from the first person to come look at the house! We were completely floored at the timing – while we know God is powerful, we were amazed at how fast He answered our prayers about selling the house. Even our realtor, the best in town, was amazed! Though the past couple months have been a whirlwind, we have been continuously reminded of God’s faithfulness as we prepare to make this move.

In addition to the house closing, we’ve made some other progress. Thanks to our parents accommodating their now homeless children, we have bedrooms set up at both of our families’ houses.

Earlier this month we had the opportunity to spend a week at Southland church in Lexington, KY learning from teachers and ministers Southland made available to us and to the other Sonlight missionaries. We had a great week and really enjoyed getting to know our future co-workers better!

We have also been working hard raising the funds we need. As of right now, we have commitments for 44% of our annual support this year! We feel incredibly humbled and blessed by the individuals and churches who have partnered with us in this ministry. We cannot thank our prayer and financial partners enough! You guys are amazing and we are so grateful! As we still have a ways to go, we would ask you to please prayerfully consider partnering with us financially. If you are wanting to donate and don’t know how, please click on the Give page to see how and where to send donations.

Looking ahead, we will be spending our time traveling, packing, raising support, learning Creole, preparing for the school year, and visiting family. Thank you for your continued prayers as we begin this journey!

Leaping with Eyes Wide Open

You’ll often hear the phrase “blind leap of faith” referred to when people make big decisions without a complete picture ahead. This phrase has been on our minds lately.

Bryson and I have been very fortunate in our adult life. Bryson has worked for Caterpillar Inc. for almost 6 years as a mechanical engineer, and I am currently teaching 2nd grade in a rural district, which is in every way the job I dreamed of in college. We have always lived fairly close to family and have great relationships with our parents, siblings, and our precious little nephew. We live in a beautiful home that has housed many family events and in the time we have been married, I cannot picture a moment when I have wanted or needed something I was unable to afford. On the contrary, we have been able to use our money to support others we know in the mission field and other causes. It is in many ways the life I always dreamed of.

In March 2016, we went with Bryson’s parent to visit Sonlight ministries in Haiti. As his family has been connected with this mission for over 25 years, they had been asking us to go with them since we got married and this was finally the first time it worked out. It was my first visit to Sonlight, and Bryson’s first visit as an adult. During this time, I was in-between teaching jobs, and I had spent the last few months wondering what God wanted me to do. I had been applying for jobs with no avail, and was even open to abandoning the teaching profession altogether. Yet my heart still felt pulled to the classroom.

When we arrived in Haiti that spring, from the moment I walked into the school, I heard God’s voice more clearly than I have heard it before or since: This is what I want you to do. This is what I have been planning all along.

At first, I was like oh, woah, no way God. I can’t move to Haiti. I can’t leave my family. This is too much. But that feeling has never gone away. It stuck with me that whole week. I told Bryson how I felt, and he told me he always wanted to use his engineering skills in a mission field scenario, and that Sonlight would provide him with that opportunity. We returned home and began to pray about our future. Our lives seemed to settle back to normal – I got a new job I loved, we continued enjoying the blessing of the home we created – but the call we heard in Haiti never went away. Nearly 14 months later, we still believe we every ounce of our heart that Sonlight Ministries is where God wants us to be.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” Proverbs 16:3. God has revealed His plan to us, and scripture promises He will fulfill it. With that in mind, we are moving to Haiti to teach at Sonlight this August! Faith is not blind, but rather a commitment to an infallible God who has fulfilled his promises throughout history. We are leaping, but with eyes wide open.

“If we are ‘out of our minds’, as some may say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:13-15