2010 Snapshots for the MK Meier Family

Date: January 1, 2011
Location: Quito, Ecuador

Today marks the end of an entire decade of the 21st century.  Exactly ten percent of this “new” century is already behind us.  What an amazing ten years it has been.  What an intriguing year this past one has been.

Our blog already contains many of the highlights for this past year, so I won’t go into great detail.  I’ll just mention some of the recent developments that have both blessed and challenged our lives.  Feel free to read about the details in our blog.  Our current prayer requests are listed as well.

1)  THE EMPTY HOUSE (Ministry) — The tenant who moved into our townhouse in West Virginia at the end of July left unexpectedly at the beginning of November. We are facing the same situation we had our first year on the mission field.  Our debts are increasing as we struggle to pay monthly mortgage bills during the hardest time of the year to find renters.

2) A VOYAGE WITHOUT IMMEDIATE RESULTS (Ministry) — Stephen completed his recruitment fair trip to Atlanta, GA, in early December, but came back with no job offers.  So, he is continuing his search for new schools both in the U.S. and internationally that are looking for experienced school administrators for the 2011-2012 school year.

3) MY FIRST CHRISTMAS PRESENT (Family News) — During the time Stephen was in the U.S., I convinced my doctor to do another ultrasound so that we could find out the gender of the baby to give Stephen a chance to bring back some appropriate baby clothing from the U.S. It’s a…..(read the blog).  =)

4) CHRISTMAS WITH THE MK MEIER FAMILY (Family News) – Read in our blog about our quiet but special Christmas celebration at home with the kids.

5) A CENSUS WORTH REMEMBERING (TCK Views) – Find out how we spent the final Sunday of November at home and why not a single church held a service that Sunday.

May 2011 bring each of you continued peace and joy in the face of global and local uncertainties.  May God’s Word and his Love be your true anchor in every storm you face.  It is a pleasure staying in touch and knowing that so many are supporting our ministry in prayer.

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Prayer Requests

Before going into the stories for this past month, I’d like to share some quick prayer request items with you.  Please, keep these things in mind when you pray for our family and the ministry God has allowed us to participate in during the past three years.

1) That we’ll find new renters for our townhouse in West Virginia very soon.  We have been without renters for three months and it is hurting us financially.

2) That Cristina’s mom, Helen Cobb (a missionary in Guatemala), will be able to raise the extra support needed so that she can come down to Ecuador in early April to help Cristina when baby #3 comes into the world.  A round trip ticket from Guatemala to Quito is between $800-$1000.  So far, a friend has offered $100 toward the trip.

3) That Stephen will be given a good job offer soon so that we can start looking forward to the next location of ministry that God is leading us toward.

4) That Cristina will be able to finish writing her dissertation in the next five months.  She has been struggling with writing the first chapter (approximately 20 pages), but made some headway on it during the Christmas break.

5) That Jared will learn and grow in the knowledge of the Lord as he has started to attend Awana meetings and is going to Sunday school at church.  What is encouraging is that Jared really enjoys memorizing Bible verses. Little Luke still attends nursery and is too young for Awana.  

Jared is ready and excited about attending Awana for the first time this year.

The Empty House

When we first left the U.S. at the end of July in 2008, we had no renters for our townhouse.  A church friend who owned a real estate agency in the Northern Virginia area was left in charge of caring for our home and helping us find renters.  The wait became eight months.  We struggled to make ends meet.  Student loan money was helping our credit card debt from going too high, but we were watching our debt slowly increase over those months.

Our townhouse is the second one from the left.

When we finally got the first renter in our home in March of 2009, we were so excited.  That tenant signed a year contract and completed a full year of living in our home.  We started to get a little anxious as March of 2010 approached.  The tenant wanted to leave, but was trying to find a new job and requested to stay in the townhouse on a month to month basis.  So, we agreed to that.  The tenant finally moved out at the end of June.  At the same time, our realtor friend told us he could no longer take care of our home, but connected us with a new real estate agency in West Virginia.  We were fortunate to be able to coincide our visit to Virginia with signing on with this new real estate agency called Potomac Housing-Realtors®, Inc. of Martinsburg, WV.  After filling out several papers and giving them all the information on our townhouse, they went straight to work and found a new renter for our apartment by the beginning of August. 

We assumed that we could relax for the next year with the new renter firmly established in our apartment.  However, at the end of November, we were still waiting for the rent money for that month when we found out that the tenant had moved out unexpectedly at the end of October, giving no explanation why.

Since then, our home has once again been empty.  For those of you living in the north eastern area of the U.S. or have been watching the weather news, you’ll know that the winter storms have blown into our area.  It’s a really hard time of year to find renters, because not as many people are interested in moving in the cold and often dangerous weather. 

We are currently talking to the realtors about reducing our monthly rent on the townhouse to attract new renters and possibly offer half off the first month’s rent.  It’s becoming a burden financially, as we do not have enough money to cover our mortgage without rent money being returned to us.  The good news is that the recent tenant did leave the house in good condition, and our home is less than five years old.

A Voyage without Immediate Results

Stephen helps decorate our family Christmas tree on the weekend before his trip to the U.S.

Two days after Thanksgiving break, Stephen was taking an international trip to the U.S. He had two major destinations.  First, he was traveling to Naples, Florida, where he was being considered as a possible candidate for high school administrator at a church-based school there.  He was to spend two days there and then he would drive up to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend a job recruitment conference hosted by the AASSA international association of schools located in central and South America.  Basically, several schools from countries in central and South America, would be sending representatives to this fair to recruit people for different administrative positions at their schools. 

Stephen had already connected with several of the schools through the recruitment website, and was highly confident that he would receive several job offers while attending the conference.  However, the fair did not turn out quite as he had hoped.  Although he was able to make some valuable connections with other administrators there, he was not officially offered a job position by any of them.  There are still a few schools who are still “considering” Stephen among their top candidates.  But Stephen is learning that even if one is considered “second” among the candidates, it makes no difference if the person considered “first” accepts the job.

Such was the case with the Christian school in Naples.  Stephen was told that he was a definite “second” choice, but they were waiting to hear back from their number one choice.  Two weeks later, they received their confirmation from that candidate and told Stephen that the position had been filled. 

So, here we are, once again, wondering where God will send us next year.  The only thing we know for sure is that we will be leaving the Alliance Academy International.  Stephen’s replacement has already been chosen and announced to the current faculty and staff.  There is no turning back.

Our biggest challenge right now is finding positions that will offer Stephen enough of a salary that we can pay off our loans and mortgage, and so that Cristina does not have to work for at least a couple years while their children are under school age. 

One school in Honduras was at the point of offering a position to Stephen, but he found out that we would need to rely on donations and financial support gifts.  Raising support has been increasingly difficult in this past year as many of our friends and supporters struggle to meet their own financial burdens.

There is another recruitment fair in Chicago, Illinois during the second week of February.  Stephen is still considering whether he should attend, because we really don’t have the funds to send him on another week long trip to the U.S.  However, he may have to attend if nothing opens up between now and then.

My First Christmas Present

The schedule of ultrasounds has changed since I gave birth to Jared.  Or at least, that is how my obstetrician tells me.  With both Jared and Luke, the first important ultrasound did not take place any earlier than 16 weeks into the pregnancy.  Now, my doctor tells me that the crucial time to do the first thorough ultrasound is between 11 to 13 weeks.  He insisted that this is the important window in discovering any possible early defects in the development of the baby.  However, it is also too early to find out the gender of the baby.

My doctor also insists that it is important to have an ultrasound for each trimester.  So, I was going to have to wait until the second trimester ultrasound to find out if I was having a girl or a boy.  During my November check up, my doctor said that we should probably go ahead and schedule the second trimester ultrasound for sometime in December. 

“Maybe the middle of December sometime…what do you think?”

I looked up at him sheepishly and said, “Well, my husband is going to be in the U.S. during the first week of December.  It would be nice, if he could return with specific clothes for a baby boy or a baby girl.  But doing the ultrasound then would be too early, right?”

The doctor scratched his head for a minute or two and looked at his calendar.  He starting thinking out loud about how many weeks pregnant I would be at that time.  By the end of the first week of December, I was going to be 22 weeks pregnant. 

Finally, he said, “Alright, how about the first day of December?  Then, you can call Stephen in the U.S. and tell him what to bring back down.”

I was completely thrilled to hear the news and began to count down the days to my next ultrasound.  The weekend before December 1, Stephen and I put up the Christmas tree and pulled out our Christmas music and our Christmas decorations.  So, I really felt like I was in the Christmas mood when I went to see my doctor for the ultrasound.

I tried not to act too antsy or impatient as he went through the routine process of checking the baby’s head, face, legs, arms and vital organs before checking the area of gender discovery. 

“So, what do you think it is?” he asked me as I looked at the screen of a squirming little body with its legs spread wide open. 

I wasn’t sure what to assume.  It didn’t exactly look the same as Jared and Luke, but I was afraid to get too excited. 

“It’s not a boy?” I asked lamely.

“It’s a girl!” he told me confidently and then typed “xx” on the screen.

I could hardly believe it was true.  “Are you sure?” I asked him. 

He pointed to the screen to show me where obvious male organs were missing and where you could clearly see that the child was a female.  My heart leapt. 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love both of my sons very much and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.  But I had felt for many years that God was going to bring a daughter into my life and that I was to name her Grace.

And there she was on the screen.  She will be our little “GEM” because her initials (Grace Erin Meier) spell that word.  Jared and Luke already refer to her as baby Grace.  I don’t know if Luke really understands much of what is going on, but I think he will be a wonderful big brother when our little GEM comes into the world in another three months or so. 

As my doctor finished the ultrasound, he said what a pleasure it was to do my ultrasound and that everything was “immaculate” with the baby’s progress and growth.  I felt double blessed.  Not only am I expecting a daughter, but she is healthy, as well.

Cristina poses at 25 weeks of pregnancy on Christmas eve.

Christmas with the MK Meier Family

The timing for Stephen’s trip to the U.S., allowed for many Christmas gifts to be brought back to Ecuador.  Stephen spent one night with my siblings in Gainesville, Florida and they gave him many gifts to bring back to Ecuador with him.  We had also saved up gifts purchased over the summer to give to the boys for Christmas.  So, we have a tree loaded with presents when the boys woke up on Christmas morning.

Jared climbs through the tunnel of his new tent.

Every year, Christmas morning becomes a little more meaningful as the boys grow to understand and appreciate what the season means just a little bit more.  At nearly three and a half, Jared was really starting to understand the concept of Christmas.  He was able to help pick out some presents he wanted to give his brother and his mommy and daddy.  We counted down the “naps” until Christmas, since Jared sleeps twice in a 24 hour period. 

I woke up on Christmas morning before anyone else.  Usually, I find it difficult to get out of bed, but the adrenaline of the upcoming day got me up early.  I puttered around the house getting last minute things done and waiting for the boys to wake up.  A surge of excitement welled up inside me as I heard the boys stirring and Jared started talking to Luke.  I grabbed my camera and waited to take a picture of the boys as they came out of their bedroom for the first time to see the tree, the presents, the bulging stockings and…of course…their first present, a small Discovery kids tent with a tunnel attachment already set up in the middle of the living room. 

Luke zooms through the tent tunnel with great excitement.

Jared came out of the bedroom first.  His eyes grew wide as he looked into the living room.  However, he retreated quickly back into his bedroom before I could get a picture.  I could hear him talking to Luke and trying to coax him to leave the bedroom. 

After about five more minutes, I see Luke walk out of the room, with Jared literally pushing him out the door. 

“Look at the presents, Luke!” Jared was saying. 

They were both surprised to see me standing there, and got a bit side tracked by my Christmas greetings.  But eventually they made it to the living room and their new tent.  They were so excited and begin to climb through the tent and the tunnel immediately.  I let them play a little while, and then told them that they needed to drink their morning milk, because it was already 7:30 in the morning.  They had both wet through their pajamas, so I changed them into new sleepwear.  By then, Stephen was awake. 

We let the boys open their stockings first.  By this year, Jared was beginning to understand the concept of digging everything out of the stocking before focusing on one object.  Luke, however, wanted to stop and play with every toy he pulled out of his stocking before trying to get anything else out of his stocking.  It took a bit of convincing to turn his attention back to the stocking when he had so many intriguing toys lying around him.

Jared and Luke open their stockings with a little help from Mamma.

 After the stockings were finally empty, it was time for the boys to take a bath and get ready for breakfast.  So, we all got ourselves cleaned up and filled our bellies before we tackled the Christmas tree loaded with wrapped gifts. 

By the time breakfast was done, the dishes washed and put away, it was already 10am.  Stephen read the story of the three wise men to Jared and Luke to explain why we give gifts to each other on Christmas day.  The night before, we had read the Christmas story of Jesus being born, so we didn’t repeat it again that morning. 

Then, we began to open presents.  We let Luke be the first to select any gift to give to the person to whom it belonged.  That was Jared’s present.  Next, Jared selected a gift.  We let Luke and Jared continue selecting the gifts.  Luke was the first to get tired of the gift-opening process.  After selecting gifts for the fourth or fifth time, Luke began to grab gifts, hand them to his dad and then take off to play with a gift he had already opened. 

Jared wanted to help everyone open their gifts, too. 

We had to pause a few times to allow the boys to try out their new gifts.  By the time all the gifts had been unwrapped, it was past noon.  We gave the boys their lunch and put them down for a nap without any struggle.  They fell asleep almost immediately.  Who knew that opening gifts all morning could be so tiring?

A Census Worth Remembering

Luke is really excited about putting up the tree lights.

Perhaps it was the upcoming Christmas season, but I couldn’t help but think of the national 10 year census in the country of Ecuador in light of another national census taken many, many years ago in the Europe and Asia.

Luke 2:1-5 (NIV)

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.” 

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Well, I’m glad that census-taking has become a little more sophisticated in the 21st century, but I still wonder about the decisions made by Ecuador’s political leaders in deciding how to do a national census.  I don’t know if the census was done in the same way ten years ago, but this time around they decided to “volunteer” the middle and high school students from all the Ecuadorian public schools to participate as census takers.  They actually gave the students several days off from classes so that they could be trained properly in the method of gathering census information.

The plan was to send all these students out on one day to gather the census data while everyone else stayed in their homes “waiting to be counted.” Each student would be assigned a specific sector of the city in which they lived and a police officer would accompany them all day as they made their rounds to different homes. 

Perhaps that seems strange to societies in which a dependable, mail-service system is in place.  In the United States, the national census is always conducted through a mailed “form” being sent to select homes.  Some homes get a short form and others get a “long form” in which they seem to be asked all kinds of strange questions about their home and property.  In Ecuador, the post office system is anything but reliable.  Mail is lost on a regular basis.  Any valuables are at risk of being stolen, even by the post office employees themselves.

Regardless of how the census data is collected, there is always a certain amount of controversy about the questions asked and how the collected data will be used.

The day scheduled for the 2010 Ecuadorian national census was the final Sunday of November; which was November 28.  Businesses were required to stay closed that day.  No church could hold a service.  No one was to leave their homes on that day unless they had special permission (a.k.a. if they were a police officer, hospital employee or a guard. Stephen and I received a little paper in our mailbox from a middle school student attending the nearby military academy.  Little Alex said he would be coming by our home on November 28, and he requested that we wait there for him. 

That day was the final day of our Thanksgiving vacation.  Since we had nowhere else to go, we spent the day putting up the Christmas tree and decorating our home for the holidays.  At about 4:30 in the afternoon, we received a call that our little census taker was on school property and that he would visit us after he talked to another couple who lived in the same building. 

An hour later, we received another phone call from the school guard saying that the boy had already left because he ran out of time.  So, we never got counted as part of the census. 

Jared and Luke help put the limbs on our artificial Christmas tree.