Spain

After our London layover, we had an overnight in the Venice airport and then on to Barcelona. Our cousins were in Europe at the same time we were, mainly to tour Scotland and Ireland, but we decided to meet up in Barcelona for a day!

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We were there during Catalonia’s referendum to succeed from Spain, so there was a pretty heavy police presence, some demonstrations, and lots of people out voting.

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Dan and I rented a car and drove from Barcelona to Espot to do some hiking at Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. The drive there was beautiful.

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We stayed at a hostel in the town run by an elderly Spanish couple.

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The park was gorgeous. We spent the whole day hiking.

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Because of the revolution going on, almost all of the roads going back into Barcelona were closed, so we had to keep taking detours. It wasn’t all bad though…

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We spent our last night in Spain in Sitges, a costal town right outside of Barcelona. We could see the ocean from our room, and we ate dinner at a restaurant overlooking the coast.

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London Layover

MKW_20170928MKW_9046© Meagan WanschuraI *love* London. I think it’s the fact that there’s history at every turn and I can understand the language. Or maybe it’s the bright Union Jack flying everywhere, the double decker busses, and the bright red telephone booths on every corner. Or because I grew up loving Sherlock Holmes and C.S. Lewis. Whatever the reason, I was so excited that when Dan and I booked flights to Europe for last fall, our itineraries had us meeting up in London with a seven hour layover. My flight was delayed (story of my life last year), so it ended up being more like a five hour layover, but we packed some of our favorite London sights in.

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Compassion International

compassion

Shortly after I returned home from Thailand in 2013, I began partnering with Compassion International to sponsor a little girl there. Through the years I added another girl from India, and then one from Ecuador (who I got to meet in person in 2016). Last winter, the Indian government forced Compassion out of India, so I transferred that sponsorship to another little girl in Ecuador. We’ve exchanged letters and pictures over the months and years of sponsorship. It never fails to brighten my day when I get a letter and a drawing from one of my little girls. Last year, I was blessed to visit all three of them in person.

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I’ve sponsored Suwanni for over four years. She has a sister and a brother and she lives with her grandmother. Although she lives a good eight hours outside the city, her mother works in Bangkok. It wasn’t until my most recent trip to Thailand, where I actually spent time walking through the Red Light district there, that I realized how much Compassion International means to girls like Suwanni. Her education is being paid for. Medical expenses are covered. Her parents aren’t forced to sell her for money. We met in Chiang Mai for the afternoon. She had never been to a big city before. She was full of wide-eyed wonder. We took her to the zoo, where she fed sheep and elephants, and walked through an aquarium. She tried her first slice of pizza for lunch. I saw girls Suwanni’s age outside the red light district begging for money. Common sense says that in a few short years, they will be inside working for it. I am so, so grateful for Compassion and the work that they are doing in Asia and across the globe. And I’m so blessed that Suawanni is part of my life.

 

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July found me back on Ecuador’s coast in the little fishing village of Rocafuerte. Seeing these two smiling faces was definitely a bright spot of the trip.Guadalupe lives with her mom and brother. Sometimes her dad comes home, sometimes he doesn’t. Genesis lives with her mom and seven siblings in a one bedroom house. Her dad was murdered two years ago. These girls are growing up in a dark place. But I am so thankful that they are learning about Jesus at the Compassion project.

Being able to see these girls and spend time with them in person was such a gift. You realize that your sponsorship is so much more that just sending money every month. There’s a face behind that money. A person that’s being cared for. A soul that’s being fed.

 

Ecuador 2017

Sometimes, at the end of a mission trip, you feel like you saw the heavens open and mountains move. Other times, you’re left with more questions than answers and you wonder if you made a difference. Ecuador 2017 was the later for me. So many things just seemed so hard. The trip was marked by transportation troubles – a surprise refueling in Jamaica and return to Fort Lauderdale on the front end, bus confiscations and breakdowns in the middle, and a cancelled flight on the way out. One of those things is enough to make a trip interesting. All of them in one trip is just plain exhausting. The second week of the trip was spent working in a tiny little village on the northern coast of the country. Unemployment is high, abuse is widespread, devil worship is becoming common-place. The war for these kids’ souls was real, and, to be honest, most of the time it felt like we were losing. How any one could have heard the lessons we were trying to shout over the din of 300 noisy, high-energy kids is beyond me. The work we were doing wasn’t moving any mountains. But maybe success on the mission field looks different than my expectations. Maybe it’s not measured by the heavens opening or mountains moving. Maybe success looks like simply being there and encouraging the local church. Maybe it is continuing to give of yourself when you’re hot, tired, and sick. Maybe it looks like hugging a child who isn’t accustomed to receiving love. Maybe it’s planting seeds and having faith that someday those seeds will be strong trees, sheltering others from the storms of life. If that’s what success looks like, the members of the 2017 Ecuador summer team were wildly successful.

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After the team left, a few of us stayed extra days and explored Quito and hung out with our dear translator friends

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Making quimbolitos with the Utreras Family will always be one of my favorite Ecuador memories

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Krabi, Thailand

After we finished our media project at House of Grace, most of us (*ahem, Andrew and Abby*), flew to the coast for a few days to unwind and hang out before we parted ways. We ended up staying on an island about 2 hours outside of Krabi, in a fabulous Airbnb rental. We rented bikes to get around, ate amazing food, rode elephants, and took a boat ride to an outlying island for a day.

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California Dreaming

So, I’m obviously reeeealllly behind on blogging. This trip happened almost a year ago now. Last January, my friend Lydia and I decided to escape winter and hang out with some friends in California. Escape winter we did. The sunshine and sea air were surpassed only by the company we enjoyed.

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La Jolla will always be a favorite place to watch a sun set

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After we left San Diego, we rented a car to drive up to LA. When we got to the rental agency, they told us they only had sports cars left. What are you going to do?

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LA traffic is everything people make it out to be. We probably spent half our time in the car, but we saw some pretty cool sights along the way.

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2017 In Review

2017. What a year.

9 States.
8 Countries.
5 Continents.

I watched the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. Ran on the beach as Pacific Ocean waves splashed on my feet. Dove into the Mediterranean Sea. I rode an elephant through a jungle in Thailand and a camel in a dessert in Morocco. There were flights, trains, road trips, taxis, and boat rides. Memories that will last a lifetime. Here are some of my favorite moments from 2017.

*P.S. I was horrible about blogging this year. Most of these trips will be further documented in upcoming posts.

1. Texas + California

9 Friends. 11 Days. Antiquing. Coffee shops. Ice Cream. Ocean Air.
The Pacific Coast Highway. Hollywood. Griffith Observatory.

2. Michigan Ski Trip

The whole fam. Road trip. Skiing. Late night gaming. Good food. Better company.

3. Disney

If the answer is palm trees, is it really even a question? First trip to Disney World with my nanny family. Rides. Swimming. Sunshine. Fireworks. Palm Trees.
*Side note, I’ve been with this family for five years now. I’m so incredibly blessed by their generosity.

4. Thailand

Media missions. House of Grace. Jutiporn’s Cooking. Mangos and Sticky Rice.
The Indian Ocean. Elephant Rides.

5. Philly

Philly Cheesesteak. Independence Hall. The Liberty Bell. Dear Friends.

6. Ecuador

Story Team. Transportation Troubles. Camp. Crepes & Waffles.
The Beach. Sweet Friends. Making Quimbolitos.
“But oh. You complete Your plans, with our broken hands, You have shown. I have seen Your work, raising life up from the dirt. You complete Your plans, this I know.”

7. Compassion Visits

Suwanni. Guadalupe. Genesis. Pizza. Chicken and Rice.
Chiang Mai Zoo. Pacific Ocean. So Much Love.

8. Year End Softball Tournament Weekend

Back to back championships. Dan Home. Come from behind victories.
Homemade pizza. Cornhole.

9. Wanschuras Hop the Pond Again

London. Spain. Morocco. Italy. Gelato. Street Music. History Everywhere. Train Rides. Jumping into the Mediterranean. Driving through Tuscany. Watching the sun rise from a hot air balloon. Riding a gondola.

10. Ohio

Volleyball. Fireside talks with friends. Kitchen Crew.

11. Lutsen Ski Trip

Fresh powder. The best company. North Shore. Betty’s Pies. Skiing.

12. Random moments that make life beautiful

Starbucks. Picking Blueberries. Family Dinners. Running. Trips to the pool.
Baseball Games. Lunches out. Life is Beautiful.

I started last year with three big goals.
1. Read more
2. Pray more
3. Run more
I’m happy to say that two out of the three definitely saw progress. Setting aside my drive time everyday to pray, has been a really good way to integrate it into a daily habit. I ran February-November this year, and completed my first half marathon in July. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I actually enjoy doing it. Unfortunately, I think I only read one book cover to cover this year, so that one’s staying on the list for 2018.

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According to Spotify, my most listened to song of 2017 was Ellie Holcomb’s Red Sea Road. It was released in January, and the truths in the lyrics spoke to my heart all year long. “This desert’s dry but the ocean may consume, and we’re scared to follow You. So we’ll sing to our souls, we won’t bury our hope, where He leads us to go there’s a Red Sea Road. When we can’t see the way, He will part the waves, and we’ll never walk alone, down a Red Sea Road.” Every year is full of thousands of choices. Some big, some small. Some are easy, some seem overwhelming. Heading into 2018, I’m still holding on to those truths…whatever stands ahead, we never walk alone down a Red Sea Road.

The Before Project: Thailand 2017

 

I promised myself that before I left for Ecuador I would write about Thailand. Well here I am, leaving the country tomorrow, and I’m still don’t feel like I have the right words…

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Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in me. Every winter we wait. Through long, cold, dark days. And every spring it comes. Budding trees, grass shooting through barren ground, the sun once again shows its face. A yearly resurrection.

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Redemption. It never gets old. I think that’s why House of Grace holds such a special place in my heart. In the mountains of northern Thailand, you can see it playing out before your eyes; this beautiful redemption story.

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My first time at House of Grace we focused on telling their story. And what a grand story it is. That trip we spent nearly all of our time in Thailand inside the secure boundaries of House of Grace.

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This time was different. Our purpose in going back was to show people what the girls at House of Grace are being saved from. Less than 24 hours after landing in Thailand, I found myself walking the streets of Bangkok’s red light district. It is a sensory barrage. Noisy, humid, flashing lights, club managers approaching the guys in our group trying to sell services. If you were a casual observer strolling through, you might think that everyone there was having a good time. The girls lined up outside the clubs were friendly, smiling, flirting with the scores of men walking by. But we weren’t there to casually observe. We sat down at a table outside one of the clubs and watched carefully. I saw how the girls would engage men walking by. How they would giggle, and grab their arms. And then I saw their faces after they were done interacting. I watched the smile immediately fade. I saw hurt, despair, and rejection. I saw fourteen or fifteen year old girls sitting at tables with old men. I saw a little girl, no more than seven or eight years old begging right around the corner from the red light district. I wanted to scoop them up and run away as far and fast as possible. But I couldn’t. I could only bear witness to their stories. We spent three nights walking those streets, and what I saw was haunting. I can’t imagine living it day in and day out, with no hope of anything changing.

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Our team was exhausted when we left Bangkok. Emotionally, physically, mentally spent. Someone asked me how I dealt with seeing the darkness of the red light district. To be honest, I don’t know that it’s something you “get over” seeing. I wrote a little bit about that side of things here, but truthfully, I don’t know how I would have coped with what I saw in Bangkok if we hadn’t gone to House of Grace right after. Sometimes it takes the darkness to realize just how beautiful the light is.

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Grace. Redemption. Love. Beauty. Light. Laughter. Life. When I think of House of Grace, that’s what I think of. You see it on the faces of the girls as they worship. You hear it in their giggles as they play games in the courtyard. You see it in quiet moments when an older girl takes a little girl by the hand. It’s as refreshing as the clean mountain air. Ask anyone who has been there. I can guarantee you that they won’t stop using the words “love” and “joy”. It’s one of those rare places that you can walk into for the first time and immediately feel at home. These girls will take all the love that you can give them, but you don’t leave feeling drained. You leave filled, because love is brimming to the top in this place, and if you stick around for just a little while, it will spill over, and your life will be changed.

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My Thailand adventure could be summed up a hundred different ways. I could talk about driving to mountain villages in the back of a pick up truck or racing (literally) through Bangkok on tuk tuks. I could talk about the amazing food we ate there – believe me, there was load of it – from mango sticky rice to Pad Thai, to milkshakes from Chus, to cheese nan, and just about everything in-between. There were rooftop pools, and $12 massages. There were team brain storm sessions, times we all wanted to pull our hair out, bubble tea breaks, and so, so much more.

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But I think that for our team, Thailand will always be about the little girls. The ones that don’t have to beg on street corners, or engage men outside of nightclubs. The ones who are safe and loved. The ones who are free to be little girls. Who can throw their heads back and laugh, because they are care-free and innocent. Those little girls who are growing up with big destinies.

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And finally, to the team I was lucky enough to call mine, there are no words. I can’t thank you enough for the hours of hard work you put into this project. Each of you poured your souls into your work, and it was a beautiful thing to watch. For the sweat, the tears, the laughter. The inside jokes and photoshop jobs. For the deep conversations and knowing when to keep things light – thank you guys. There’s nobody else I’d ask to go halfway around the world to tackle a project like this with. Keep being crazy enough to think you can change the world – because you can.

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