28 May 2014

God: Faithful Through Change (JH/HS Retreat!)

Nick was invited to be the speaker for the Academy's Junior High/High School retreat that took place a few weeks ago.  Here are his thoughts from the weekend...

Life is change.  God is constant.  The sooner in life we are able to accept and walk in these two realities, the better, the stronger, the more prepared for life we will be.

The Junior High & High School (JH/HS) students in the Mercy Ships Academy are about to encounter a tremendous amount of transition.  Of the 18 students in 6th-12th grades, 8 of them are leaving the ship this summer, as their families are ending their commitments or taking up posts at other locations around the world.  These 8 students will be heading to new countries, new cities, new schools, new neighborhoods - all filled with new people.  Tremendous amounts of change are right on their doorstep.

For the 10 students who are remaining onboard for next year, they too will experience a great deal of change: saying goodbye to their friends who are moving; welcoming new families, students, and a new Principal next school year; sailing to a new country in August to begin a new field service in a new land...  Lots of change coming up for them, too!

It is for this reason that the current Principal and I decided to set the theme for the JH/HS Retreat as “God: Faithful Through Change”.  It was a wonderful honor to be approached by the Academy Principal with the request to be this year’s JH/HS Retreat Speaker.  After 17 years of Teen Advisors’ Retreats back home, I was thrilled to be able to not only accept the Speaker role, but also to get to plan out the Sessions for the students and teachers in an interactive, high-participation, Teen-Advisors-style Retreat!

Over the 3-day weekend, we had 7 Sessions that blended the elements of short subject-matter teachings, object lessons & purposeful games, guided individual reflection times (called Solo Times), and small group discussions.  These sessions were interspersed with snack breaks, free time, organized fun events, meals, and a few hours of nighttime sleeping.

The students and their teachers on this Retreat were amazing!  They arrived ready, open, and eager to participate.  It can be the case in Retreats like these that you have to spend the first day just helping the group lower their walls and barriers so that they can actually engage, participate, and glean the content that has been prepared for them... but not this group!  From Day 1, Session 1, they were fully present.  They were attentive and engaged.  They dove right into the object lessons and games.  They ate up the guided Solo Times alone with God (they were hungry for it!), and they were actively engaged in the small group debriefing / discussions after each.  It was awesome!  And it made for such a successful Retreat.

To top it all off, we were in a gorgeous location, full of open green fields surrounded by lush forests.  It was so great to see all the kids just running freely, out in the open, enjoying being kids!  They could throw a frisbee without fear of it flying off the ship!  We stayed at a Catholic Retreat Center, run by a a group of 20 Congolese nuns who lived on the property.  They prepared our meals each day, comprised of delicious soft steamed rice, fresh vegetables, a light meat course, and a variety of African sauces.  We ate GOOD!  And in the morning, midday, and evening, the sisters’ songs of worship would echo throughout the Retreat Center as they gathered for their own daily times of worship.  We could truly sense that we were gathered together on holy ground.

Though I had not yet moved into my new role in Chaplaincy, this Retreat felt very much like a return into full-time ministry for me.  Oh how I have missed these days of planning events, writing teaching lessons, planning session handouts, organizing worship services, and spending quality time with brothers and sisters in Christ amid both fun memory-making together as well as meaningful sharing, counseling, and praying together.  It was a kind-of homecoming back into the world of what I genuinely feel God has called and is equipping me to do with my life: full-time pastoral leadership and discipleship ministry.

By the end of the weekend, both the students and teachers had interacted with each other and God around numerous topics related to the realities of being people in transition, and in trusting in our constantly faithful and present God.  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  His Spirit lives within us, and accompanies us through every change in life.  Thanks be to God for His Presence, His provision, and His faithfulness!
Surely there will be more to come!

24 May 2014

Academy Awards

We love being reminded of how incredible this place is...and there have been plenty of reminders of that lately!  We're especially grateful for how special the Academy is and how well our children are being loved on, invested in, taken care of and taught.  In the past few weeks we've gotten to see end of the year performances and participate in celebrations and ceremonies - each one a treasure that we do not take for granted and have been extremely blessed by (and hopefully we'll share lots of pictures from those events soon!).

One particularly special celebration happened Thursday - the Academy End of the Year Celebration (this year there was an "Academy Awards" theme -- about halfway through Nick said "oh...Academy Awards...I get it.").  The children walk (or dance!) into the International Lounge by class.  Different presentations are made by the classes - dances, poems recited, slide shows...there was even a rap this year.
Emma and the preschool class worshiping to "Seek Ye First" 
The beginning of Caroline's ballet class dancing to "Oh Our Lord" - gotta love it when the ballet teacher chooses an All Sons & Daughters song
The Elementary getting ready for the "good manners rap" 
And then (this is our favorite part!), each child is celebrated - each child is called up and given a "character trait" -- this is a particular word or value that the teacher has seen in the child throughout the year. They are also given a verse of scripture to accompany the trait. You can read about last year's character traits if you'd like (secret confession: I've had this in draft form all year....and just published it...it's about time).

After the character trait presentations, each class is presented as the next year's class (for instance, Eli's class is then introduced as the 2014-2015 Grade 4 class).  The whole presentation is special.  It's significant...holy...remarkable.

As an act of worship and an on-going celebration of the children that God has given us, here are the character traits the Cash kids were given by their teachers this year:

Emma: Alertness
"Emma pays close attention to everything and everyone around her and she is able to anticipate the right responses.  She is the first one to take action wen one of her friends need her help and sometimes you even here her call 'Emma to the rescue!' "

Ephesians 6:18 "and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for the Lord's people."

Caroline: Goodness
"Caroline has displayed integrity, honesty, and reliability.  Simply put, Caroline has displayed goodness.  This goodness allows Caroline to do the right things even when no one is looking.  It also allows her to show compassion and be helpful towards those around her.  God can use Caroline's goodness to point others to Himself and advance His kingdom through her."

Romans 15:14 "I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another."

Eli: Kindess
"Eli is a very kind person.  He is always thinking of others and their feelings and wants everyone to feel included.  He is concerned when others are upset or sad and tries to cheer them.  Eli is a friend to all."

Proverbs 21:21  "Anyone who wants to be godly and loving finds life, success and honor."

It's special when Truth and Life are called out of your children.  We love that THAT is the award they get at the end of the school year.  We don't have anything against academic achievement awards and recognition...but there's something significant about being called up front and encouraged at the core of who you are.  That's what we want our children to hold as valuable - character, integrity, virtue -- being who God has made them to be.  Those are the things that are going to last long after report cards are lost and test scores are forgotten.

This is special place...we're honored to be here and to be a part of this community - and especially grateful to be a part of the Academy.

Surely there will be more to come.

15 May 2014

Drill #40 Getting Ready for Sailing

Engine testing...bunkering operations...at sea drills....

We're getting ready to sail!  We're still a few weeks away from departure but the preparations for leaving are well under way. 

We had our first "at sea drill" of the season today.  The Captain said we did well.  Thought the world (or at least our world of friends and family!) might like a glimpse into it...   

The alarm sounds...announcements are made....instructions are given...and we head out to our muster station ("B" this go round) on deck 7 - picking up a lifejacket on the way.....

Lined up to get a life jacket
The Cash Kids loooooove wearing life jackets (they'll be thankful if we ever actually need them)

Trying to make it all a little better with gummi bears...worked for one, not so much for the other one.

 Whole lot of orange...the Dutchies must love that.

some Palmers and Cairncrosses seeing if they can touch their toes

Elsa and Caroline....our lifeboat can't help but have a good time with these 2 around.  
A walk to/tutorial of the Lifeboats (they actually swung them out...but we didn't get to get in them....)

Drill is over, life jackets off, smiles back on (thanks to Nick for making funny faces beside the camera)
 Put 'em back, ready for next time
 Add another mark to the chart

Please pray for us - "us" being the Cash family and "us" being the crew of the Africa Mercy and "us" being Mercy Ships worldwide - as we prepare to leave Congo and head to the Canaries for about 8 weeks of shipyard maintenance (including a time where the ship is dry docked).  This is a very busy time for all of "us" -- there's much to be done.

Please pray specifically for:

  • containers to be released from the port authorities
  • patients who still need significant healing
  • our Captain - for wisdom in leading and managing a very complex ship
  • the loading of fresh water and fuel for the 2 weeks of sailing
  • the safety of our deck crew as they operate machinery and load vehicles, containers, etc.
  • the good-byes that will be said in the coming days and weeks (to day crew, to local friends, to crew mates who are heading home)
  • the Advance Team who is already hard at work preparing for our arrival in Benin

After the sail, the Cash Crew will be in Grand Canaria for about a week - we'll move off the ship into a hotel (this is required during the dry dock period - no children can be on the ship).  Nick will continue to work (commuting back and forth to the ship) and the other 4 of us will play (or something like that)!  On June 25th our family will leave to go on holiday - we're doing a bit of traveling in Europe. We'll return to the ship in mid-July - and hopefully get to move into our new cabin.  So there's all kinds of exciting things coming up for us.  (including Nick's transfer into Chaplaincy NEXT WEEK!  Please feel free to pray for that transition).

What an adventure....one that we're glad to be a part of - and glad that we've got YOU as a part of it, too.

Surely there will be more to come.

03 May 2014

catching up

Yes, it's certainly easier to keep up than to catch up...but sometimes catching up is necessary.  Today's your chance to enjoy some pictures from the past couple of months of Cash family life!   

Italian Naval Ship
So there was an Italian Naval Ship that docked near us a couple of months ago...and not just a Naval Ship - an aircraft carrier!  The 3 eldest members of the family got to go over for a tour. We definitely enjoyed getting to see the ship and it was exciting to walk out on the flight deck. Though, in our professional and very mature opinions, the best part of the tour was saying random things with our best Italian accents....("fettucini!" "spaghetti!" "bonjourno!") 

Some shots from every day life...

Mrs. Herma and her preschool girls!
this picture is awesome on so many levels. 
The girls visiting the wards (pictures thanks to Miss Suzanne!)

A glimpse into the glory of container day/getting packages
Maybe someday we'll write about how getting packages "works"...just know that it includes overhead pages that get us all excited and then climbing lots of steps.  Thankfully, this time around, a few of the deck guys were willing to help carry this precious cargo up the 4 flights of stairs.

It's not a bad picture...his eyes are closed in joy.  

A Gateway Gathering
When we first left Columbus on this adventure, we went to Texas for 5 weeks of training called Gateway.  The others in our Gateway group quickly became - and have remained - some of our closest friends in Mercy Ships.  It's been hard to say good-bye to the ones who have already finished out their commitment....and there are more leaving in the next few weeks.  BUT some are staying on with us...and some are coming back!!  As a way to celebrate this special "ship family" we went out to a restaurant called "la Pyramid" last Sunday afternoon.

Caroline holding the newest member of our Gateway Group!  
The Mums at Carnivore
As a way to celebrate/honor the moms who are leaving, we all went to dinner together (well, most of us...a couple were missing)...it was especially exciting that the favorite restaurant of the Cash family was the venue of choice.  
Caroline's workshop
Living on a ship means that there are spare bits and pieces of all sorts of things just waiting to be discovered - occasionally on deck 8 and especially on the dock...(and we have a really nice carpenter who let the girls come get a cup full of treasures the other day). Caroline has been collecting random metal parts and has been making "instruments" in her workshop.  Gran'daddy, feel free to take the credit for this one.

So how's that for getting a little more caught up on Cash Family life?  We still have Easter pictures and stories to share.  But we're closer to being caught up than we were...and that's always a good thing (as is the word "better"...but that rabbit trail can be chased another day).

Surely there will be more to come.