Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

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Greg just before the start of The Crim

Greg, without his glasses, already looks like he’s run 10 miles, but really he’s thinking about running 10 miles and wonders if he’ll finish because of his cold and nagging cough.

After I ran the Fifth Third Riverbank Run in Grand Rapids, Michigan in May, I needed motivation to continue running. So, I set my sights on the Crim 10 Mile Road Race in Flint, Michigan. I grew up in the Flint area. In 1982 I ran The Crim. At 16 years old, not much of a runner, I ran 10 miles in 1:17, that’s about a 7:40 a mile split. I was 2, 224 place. That was better than half, I guess. That was 30 years ago to the day.

Well, I’m not 16 any more. And, I’m probably 50 pounds heavier. But, I competed and I finished!

On Saturday, August 25 I was hoping to finish at 90 minutes, or a 9 minute mile pace. Unfortunately, I had a couple of things going against me.
1. I have been battling an upper respiratory infection and my cough has prevented me from training the last 10 days.
2. I’m older, and I had forgotten about all the hills on this course.
3. My will to push on this day was — well — NOT THERE.

I started my day with little sleep. My cough from my cold kept me awake. I maybe got five hours of sleep, if that much. An hour here, 90 minutes there, not very restful. I woke up tired, not very excited, and worried whether or not my body would let me run, let alone meet my goal.

My dad dropped me off on the U of M, Flint campus and I walked the rest of the way to the starting line. There were surprisingly few people there one hour before the race. I watched the wheelers start, then the 30 year runners, and then it was our turn.

I was in wave C, based on the pace I had select when I registered. So, about three minutes after the front runners started, our wave was allowed to start. I actually felt pretty well. My fist quarter mile spit was about 2:15. My first mile was 8:50ish. And, no coughing at all. I made it to mile four and I was still at about a 9 minute pace. Then at mile five I hit a gradual hill. Then, turned a corner and there they were — the dreaded BRADLEY HILLS. This is a section of the race course that has a series of three hills that climb about 100 feet in about three quarters of a mile or less. These hills kicked my tail. When I saw them, my goal was to run up all oft them.

I did it! But, I was spent.

I got to the top of the last of the three hills and there was another one — a gradual one — but a hill none-the-less — and WATER. The last four miles of the race my body kept saying, STOP, walk a little. So, at each water break I walked through them. It was so frustrating. I had trained all summer to RUN the Crim, not walk it. Not just run it, but do it at 90 minutes.

So, how did I do? My official time was 1:41:44. Not what I was hoping for. 11 minutes and 44 seconds slower than I had hoped.

But, I did finish and I did my best. Next year, IF I run it again I will do a couple of things differently.
1. I will do more hill training.
2. I will do everything in my power NOT to get a cold.
3. I will conserve a little more for the dreaded Bradley Hills.

I will say this, going back to where I grew up was kinda sad. A town that used to call itself, “Buick City” or “Vehicle City” isn’t much of a city anymore. Most of the GM plants have been completely torn down. The home of the famous Sit Down Strike is gone. GM and the Unions have pretty much destroyed a city that was once a bustling city full of hope and pride. Now, the main focus of downtown Flint, colleges and universities.

I’m glad I was able to do my part to give this city a boost. If you remember to, pray for the city of Flint. It really needs it.

I made it to Miami, Florida on Saturday, January 8. It was totally uneventful. The only problem that I had was the fact that I had left my coat in my car. I didn’t think I’d need it in Haiti. But, I did need something waiting in the cold jetway.  But that was only minor.

When I got to the Miami airport, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it to my hotel. I was told there was a shuttle, but the signs were not very clear. I went outside and believe it or not — I actually ASKED someone. They told me to go back inside and up a floor. So, I did that. Some really short lady pushed the elevator button, so I just walked in. Said something smart — and this woman said, “Greg Yoder.”  It was Kathy Redmond, with Compassion International and Dan Woolley, the Compassion guy who was trapped in the rubble of Hotel Montana, in Haiti.  I couldn’t believe we ended up in the same elevator.

We had a good dinner, laughed a little — okay, a lot. In the middle of dinner I get this strange call from my daughter. She told me that my wife had fallen, hurt her knee and hit her head and she thought she needed to go to the E.R. I couldn’t believe it. Long story short, the neighbor took her to the E.R., everything checked out okay, but she’s really sore. Pray for her.

I hit the sack after watch the football game. I woke up in plenty of time. Truth is, I couldn’t sleep much. I get pretty anxious when I travel. I don’t know why. I love flying. I love adventure. Maybe I can’t sleep because I’m excited about it?  I don’t know. I was told we needed to get the shuttle to the airport at 7:45am. So, I went down to the lobby early to get a cup of coffee and something to eat.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t watching closely enough because my team left without me. No big deal, I just caught the next shuttle and made it to the airport in plenty of time.

When I got there, I was told Dan Woolley’s passport was set to expire in March. Typically, you’re not supposed to travel on a passport with your expiration date so close — six months is typical. So, Rich Van Pelt told me if Dan doesn’t go, the team’s staying home. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. My last trip to Haiti was memorable, but not for pleasant reasons. However, Dan made it through to the gate, security and on to the plane. He even made it past customs in Haiti with no trouble.

We arrived in Haiti Sunday, January 9. It was a partly cloudy day. Temp was about 80. A far cry from the 12 above in Michigan. From the airport we went immediately to the new Compassion Village. Wow, what a nice place. It’s certainly different the the Haiti Hilton last year. I was in a tent on the parking lot of the Compassion Haiti headquarters. This place is beautiful. It’s three two story homes all in one gated community. It has a generator, air conditioning (when the generator is running), hot water and great cooks.

Dan Woolley at Hotel Montana

Dan Woolley with Luckson Mondesir at the rubble of Hotel Montana one year later.

After our arrival, we quickly got ready to head to Hotel Montanan where Dan Woolley had a couple of interview scheduled with Reuters and AP. In case you’re not familiar with his story, he works in the website department at Compassion. He and his friend, David Hames, were taking a look at Compassion’s Child Survival Program. They had just been let off at the lobby when the 7.0 earthquake started. According to the driver, he thought the hotel collapsed. He looked for survivors, but couldn’t see any. David was killed. But, Dan — by God’s grace — survived with a badly cut leg. He used his Iphone to get his location and managed to find the elevator shaft. There he was trapped for 65 hours. Had he not made the decision to move, he would have been killed in the resulting aftershocks.

While trapped, he realized he wasn’t alone. Mondesir Luckson, a hotel employee was also trapped. They were able to encourage each other. They talked, sang and Dan shared the Gospel with his new friend. They were both rescued together.

On Sunday, January 9, the pair reunited at on the rubble of Hotel Montana. They shared stories. Dan showed Lukson his new book, “Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Hotel Montana” It was an emotional time for Dan. Making it even more difficult, the media following the two around. AP, Rueters, MNN, and the local press all wanted to know how he was feeling. At one point, Dan just knelt near where he thought the elevator shaft was in the rubble and appeared to pray. It was very moving.

Personally, It was strange standing there, knowing the dozens of people who died in the rubble of Hotel Montana. People from all over the world perished there.

I interviewed Dan at the hotel. I asked him, “One year later, could you have ever imagined that God would have allowed you to share the Gospel with so many people by way of television, radio and print?” He said, “For me, there was an opportunity to witness in the dark. And [I’m grateful] that God chose to use me in that way. After that, there was a wider stage that I didn’t expect. I have a little bit of a dramatic story, but God wants us all to testify to His goodness in our lives. It’s just a matter of what does that look like for us.”

Click here to listen to the interview.

It was an amazing first day.

Day number 2 was equally as amazing. We traveled to a the Berea Baptist Church in Port au Prince for a service celebrating what God has done in

Teen singing

Teen sings, "Hallelujah I have Jesus" one year after losing his mother in the earthquake.

the lives of Compassion children, families and staff. The morning was full of praise and worship, testimonies and God’s Word. One young lady shared how she was trying to get out of her house with her sister. The building came down on both of them. Her sister died. She was also trapped. The beams had pinned her head to the ground. After much pain, rescuers got her out. She is a part of the Leadership Development Program, Compassion International’s program to develop new leaders. She took a year off to recover, now she’s decided to become a Christian school teacher so she can have an impact on her country.

Another young man got up in front of the church. He said, “I lost my mother. She meant everything to me.” Then, he and his friend began singing a song with the lyrics, “Hallelujah, I have Jesus” in the most emotional, convincing way. The day was truly a blessing to me.

Unfortunately, I had to excuse myself from a meeting tonight. I’m not actually sure what the whole purpose was. I will find out when the rest of the team gets back. I had to write stories for Mission Network News and Remember Haiti with Compassion special that’s airing Wednesday on stations around the country.

By the way, you can catch my Mission Network News reports at http://www.MNNonline.org.

Because of bandwidth issues, I haven’t been able to upload any video. So, you’ll have to wait for that until I get home.   More reports tomorrow.

Greg in Haiti (2010)

Greg calling back stories to the U.S. from Haiti.

I’m sure it will be an interesting trip. I’m heading back to Haiti for the one year anniversary of the earthquake that rocked Haiti.

I remember where I was. I was sitting at my dinner table, eating dinner, when I first got word of the earthquake. I actually dismissed it as just another ‘earthquake’. However, I quickly learned differently.

In the days that followed we heard about the loss of life, the massive damage and the number of organizations who were gearing up to help.

A few weeks after the quake, I traveled to Haiti with Compassion International to encourage people to give to the ministry. It was called, Help Haiti with Compassion.

This year, I’m heading back to see what progress (if any) has been made and to encourage people to ‘Remember Haiti with Compassion’ because the needs are so great.

I’ll be traveling with the President of Compassion International Wess Stafford Sunday, January 9-Thursday, January 13.

Check back here often during those days for photos, stories and pictures of everything I’ll see and hear on the trip.

Thanks for your support and prayers.

A little girl gets ready to do her craft

A little girl gets ready to do her craft

The final day of ministry in Russia and everyone’s wishing we could stay longer. August 20 was a great day for everyone. We basically did the same thing we did Thursday. We went to the special needs children (Orphanage 40) camp. This day, I started out with the craft group with the less challenged group. I wasn’t feeling all that great and I thought this would be a good start to the final day.

Today, they were decorating picture frames. The story was, “While man looks at the outside, God looks at the heart.’ So we wanted them to make picture frames and then we were going to take pictures of the kids. We were going to print them out and let them frame them in their frames. It would have worked great, but the printer never worked.

Nicole Latimer with Oxanna

Nicole Latimer with Oxanna

From there, I went over to the ‘difficult’ area. One of the girls in particular, Anna, was a biter. Thursday, she bit me on the hand, arm, twisted my neck, bit someone on the nose, threw someone’s glasses and was just a little terror. For whatever reason, she was so pleasant. I sat with her. Bounced her. I gave her a ‘trot-trot’ ride. Swung her around and she only ‘tried’ to bite me once. Others of the team were able to spend some quality time with her.

Many of the guys just played ‘boy games’ with the boy. We rough housed, ran, threw them in the air, climbed the monkey bars with them, tickled them — just had ‘guy time’ with them. They don’t get much male attention,

Chad with boys

Chad Klumpstra with boys at Orphanage 40 camp.

so this was great.

After our morning, we again went to the beach along the Gulf of Finland. It was very close — right across the street from Orphanage 40’s Camp. We simply crossed the street because we wanted to get a team photo.

MNN/Way-FM Orphan Outreach Team

MNN/Way-FM Orphan Outreach Team

After lunch back at the hotel, we traveled again to Orphanage 14’s camp. Today, however, the director was there and he handled things quite differently. After lunch, they were required to come to attention outside the dinner hall by dorms. Each dorm had a dorm leader who was responsible for their campers being there. When he called them to attention — not a sound was heard.

Greg plays basketball with girl

Greg teaches girl how to shoot basketball

Following that, we got back to work. I stayed in the recreation area this time to try to help keep the kids interested. It didn’t work. However, we did keep a few kids around to play a few games. When it was the girl’s turn, most left — but a few came over to see what was going on. I was actually able to have a great conversation with a few of them and was even able to coach a couple of them on how to shoot a basketball.

One of the girl who came over was a gal who didn’t want ANYTHING to do with us. She looked like she was only interested in being an athlete and didn’t have time for anything we had to offer, until someone told her I was coaching girls how to properly shoot a basketball. She has lots of natural ability, but couldn’t shoot well. By the time I was done, she was shooting a jump shot and making most.

Kristin Plummer

Kristin Plummer befriended by a little girl at camp.

Thursday, August 19 was a challenging day for the team. Many team members were coming off a high coming off the camps Monday through Wednesday. So, going from those two groups to the new groups was a bit difficult for a few, including me. The first group we visited was Orphanage #40. These were special needs children. They were kids with physical or mental challenges ranging in age from 3 to 12 (guessing).

We weren’t able to do everything we did at the other camps. When we arrived the kids were SO excited. They

Autumn Gilbert with girl

Autumn Gilbert attracks this girl's attention. They kind of look alike.

rarely get visitors. So, they were so pleased to have people pay attention to them. The first group I visited seemed to be moderately affected by fetal alcohol syndrome. They seemed starved for attention. When we gave positive attention they laughed and screamed. But, when we moved to someone else, they would lash out in anger to get the negative attention.  This girl with Autumn just loved to be tipped upside down over and over and over again.

The camp was set up by cabins. Some of the severe issues were in one cabin. Less severe in another cabin. And, the even less severe in another cabin.  The team split up into three groups. A group for crafts, which only worked with one group of kids. A story group. And, a recreation group. Mostly what we did is played with the kids. We ran, bounced, tickled, gave piggy back rides, held and did more of the same. The kids just loved the attention.

Little boy at Orphanage 40

A little boy looks over his shoulder at me.

I’ll be honest. This was a difficult place for me because I knew many of these kids have no future. The ‘system’ will marginalize them, institutionalize them and mostly forget about them. For the caregivers, it’s a thankless job. For the kids it’s utter hopelessness. For God, it’s great way for Christians to show the love of Christ and be an example of unconditional love to kids who are forgotten, but also show their caregivers what a difference they can make in these special little ones lives.

After a brief stop at the beach and then lunch, we traveled a camp for Orphanage #14. This camp was different, too. The caregivers seemed cold. The kids seems distant. And, we weren’t sure what was going to happen. Few of the kids actually participated. The ones that did, opened up a bit. Katie Johnson presented chalk art along with a Bible story about David. She told me that at least one boy seemed to connect with the story. After she finished the story about David and his unlikely choice for king, she talked to them about the ‘marks’ of life and

Katie Johnson's chalk art

A boy looks at friend and smiles as Jesus' face comes to light.

how God can remove them. As He does, Jesus is left behind. It was a beautiful picture of Jesus in the black clalk.

At this camp we split up into four groups. The story team. The craft team. The memory verse team and the recreation team.  Many of the boys watched Katie’s art, telling her “you have to be a professional to do that, don’t you?’ (she is, by the way) The girls loved the craft for day one — friendship bracelets. But, we had trouble keeping the interest of the young people doing recreation. We tries basketball. American football. Soccer. We tried strange games. Nothing seemed to work.

I went back to the hotel a little discouraged about the day. However, others were encouraged. It just goes to show that everyone’s different. Many thought they were able to get through to the kids.

We’re praying that’s the case.

kids listening

Kids listening to story times in the morning.

Gray skies greeted us Wednesday, August 18, 2010 the final day with kids from orphanage 2 and 60. We started off in the morning with the little kids again. We shared the verse, Isaiah 49:16, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands: your walls are continually before me.” Many of these young people seemed to respond to this verse. Many understanding it and talking about it. The craft today was making picture frames. Then we took each child’s picture. We were going to print them out at lunch time, but the printer malfunctioned. So, we’re going to print them in the city and Olga and her team will take them back after we’re gone.

Unfortunately, I spent most of my time with the memory verse group because of a couple of issues, so I didn’t get to see much of the other groups. I know they told a story, and there was game time, but I have no idea how things went.

Little boy listening to directions

Little boy listening to directions.

Just before we left for the morning, we presented Orphanage 2 with donations. We had underwear, socks, clothes, lice shampoo and lots more. I was able to thank the ladies for their dedication to the kids, telling them it was a thankless job. I also quoted James 1:27, “Pure religion is caring for the orphans and the widows….” and I encouraged them to trust God for guidance and wisdom.

The after noon was full of excitement. We started off breaking the teens and older elementary kids into four groups. We actually had more kids than we had the previous day. One little boy was NOT getting along with anyone. It finally culminated when he bit the neck of another boy and wouldn’t let go. He bit so hard it was back and blue. When asked why he did it, he could only tell us that the other boy had taken a blue dolphin bracelet. Not sure that was true. I actually pulled the kid off the pile and put him in a wrestling hold so he

watermelon party

18 watermelons helped us celebrate our last day.

couldn’t bite me and tried to take him back to the dorm. An older teen ran over and encouraged me to put him down. Mistake. She grabbed her hand and bit her hard, leaving a back and blue set of teeth marks.

After he was taken away, we had a great day. Paul told his testimony along with a story out of the Bible. Then

Sasha and Nastya

Nastya and Sasha eating watermelon.

Jenn shared her testimony, which also was able to connect with the other teens who were listening.

The day ended with a watermelon party. We’d purchased 18 watermelons. It was gone in 10 minutes or less. It was great fun. It was sad leaving. Be praying for Elya, Alena, Nastya and Zyna. Elya is 14 and we believe she’s close to seeing God do a work in her heart. These others who were special to me. They need Christ’s love, too.

Nastya and Sasha play with 'clay'

Nastya and Sasha play with 'clay'

Tuesday, August 17 was the first day of vacation Bible school at the camp in Zelenogorsk, just outside of Saint Petersburg, Russia. We arrived at around 10:30 am to teach the little children at the camp for orphans about the Potter and the Clay. We sectioned the kids off into three groups. And, simultaneously we would hold story time, craft, memory verse and recreation, then rotate throughout the morning.

The kids seemed really receptive to hearing the Bible story. Olga, the Orphan Outreach Director in St. Petersburg, has done a great job teaching these kids. Many of them already knew the songs, Bible verses and at one point even helped us through the days of creation.

Zyna is new to Orphanage 2

Zyna has only been in this orphanage for a few days.

Following our formal VBS, we just PLAYED with the kids. It is truly amazing how spending a little time with a child who feels worthless can pick up their spirits. There are three kids that seem to be ‘hanging out’ with me. Nastya, Alena and Sergey. These little ones so want to feel worth. The want to be loved. They want to be important. That’s been my focus all week. Just to give extra attention to a few kids who don’t get one-on-one time with adults.

Today was an emotional day for a few in our group. They haven’t verbalized why there have been tears. I’m sure they’re processing everything.

Chelsea stands with Elya

Chelsea (left) stands with Elya (right) as they listen to verse together.

Perhaps they’re feeling badly that these little ones have no where to turn, no one to love them, no one who cares. Perhaps they’re feeling guilty because they’re going to leave and then these kids will be right back to where they were before we came.  Or, maybe they are concerned for their souls.

We got a taste of what’s it like in the orphanage when a fight broke out between two boys. These two boys were sitting in craft time when one tried to take something from the other. The other objected. The one got up, stood above him and (before we could do anything) cold cocked him right in the face. It had to hurt. That drew MY attention obviously. As I stood to get him off this unsuspecting kid, he took off. We tried to get the situation under control. The next thing we knew the ‘victim’ took off after the boy.  That’s the picture of orphan life — looking out for self, because nobody’s looking out for you.

Officially, there are about 800,000 orphans in Russia. Many of these kids have been abandoned at birth, have

Teen girls orphanage

Teen girls get their name tags before VBS starts.

been taken away from parents, or both parents have died. A few of the teenage girls look so hardened by years of institutionalism. One teen, 16, has been in the system for more than 11 years. It’s heartbreaking to hear that many of them have no dreams — other than leaving the orphanage, getting an education and find a job. They can’t tell you specifically what they’d like to do. The reality is most of these kids will end up selling drugs, other organized crime, prostitution, or dead by the time their 18.

These girls listened to every one Emily’s testimony. They appeared to connect with her. Then, Katie was able to share the Gospel through chalk art — telling the girls that our sins put black marks on our lives, but God removes the marks through His blood and changes our ‘marks’ into a portrait of Jesus. They just LOVED watching her do this. Rather than being cold and inattentive, they became warm and open.

Wednesday, we’ll be doing ‘Part 2’ of our VBS with this same two groups, (Orphanage 2 and 60). More posts to follow.

Zelenogorsk – Day 1

Posted: August 17, 2010 in my day, travel

On Monday, August 16th we traveled (by bus) about an hour from St. Petersburg, Russia to Zelenogorsk, along the Gulf of Finland. It was a beautiful drive to the northwest. The winding road took us through the forests bordering St. Petersburg. It reminded me a lot of home — green pine trees, along the calm waters of the Gulf.

We arrived at our hotel at around noon. We got unpacked and made our way down to lunch, which consisted of the same thing we had everywhere else. Fish in white sauce, pork in white sauce/cheese, cucumbers, cabbage salad, and similar foods. It was good. What I need to do is pick one thing — eat that for that meal, and then eat something else for the next meal. I guess I like variety in every meal. I keep eating a little of everything.

Team plays with parachute at camp.

Team plays with parachute at camp.

After lunch, we traveled just a few minutes to the first camp. It was just off the main road, but deep into the woods. The camp is a former Communist Summer Youth Camp, where young people during the days of the Soviet Union were trained in the Soviet system. Many of these camps have been converted into new types of summer camps. Some have because Christian camps, others have been converted into summer camps for orphans.

This camp was the summer home of Orphanage #2 and #16. Monday’s visit was focused on just play. So we did. We just played all afternoon with the kids. I was so frustrated with my physical situation. I wasn’t able to play soccer, volleyball or basketball. For the first time EVER — I felt old. Many of the team were able to reach out to these kids. Some of the team stayed on the soccer field showing the kids their best moves (some were awesome, too – watch the video). Others made balloon animals (like me) for the littler kids. While others went back to the main building and did face painting and did the girls nails.

One of the little girls took a liking to me. Her name is Lulya. She’s a eight year old who just wants to feel loved. I told her (in the little Russian I

Lulya blows up beach ball.

Lulya blows up beach ball. Not sure she trusts me yet.

know) that she was pretty, to which she infaticly denied. She obviously has a very low self esteem. However, I was able to spend a little bit of time with her — carrying her on my shoulders, spinning her around, tickling her and just trying to talk with her. By the end of the afternoon she was holding my hand, as if we were good buddies and as we parted she told me she loved me.

A few of the other teammates had similar experiences.

Tuesday, we’re heading back. We’ll spend time sharing Bible stories with the little kids in the morning. Then in the afternoon, we’ll tackle a harder issue — teenagers. They weren’t very warm to us when we arrived — typical teens. We’re praying God will do a work in their hearts as we head back.

Thanks for praying and continue to pray for health issues. Everyone’s doing pretty well. I’ve been struck with a cough that’s dropped into my lungs. It’s not TOO bad yet, but I don’t want it to get worse.

We’ve be planning for this for several months. Finally, we’re on our way to St. Petersburg, Russia. We have a group of 21 heading there today.

We were all ON TIME. I was the last to arrive because I had to stop and get my Russian Dictionary and practice my Russian on the airplane.

We didn’t have any major kinks. When we arrived the United ticket agent didn’t know what she was doing and couldn’t find our tickets. But, after a telephone call to MTS Travel (our travel agency), they were able to get our tickets with little trouble. A few of us, however, weren’t able to get boarding passes all the way to Saint Petersburg, me included. So, we hope to be able to get them in Chicago, when we land. We have a three hour lay-over, so hopefully we’ll be able to get them.

We’ll keep you posted on what’s going on right here. This is suppose to post to my Facebook page, so we’ll see.