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There's so much to be thankful for.

School is back in session. The students have returned from their holiday travels. The campus of LCC International University is buzzing. Our calendars are filling up already with events, celebrations, meetings and other tasks. As I sit in my office, working on budget updates, discipline reports, and other important emails my mind can't help but drift off to the fabulous holiday we had away from the LCC campus. 

Josh and I had the tremendous privilege of having friends from the United States visit us from December 24 through December 30. Natalie and Bryan flew in on Christmas Eve and we set out to tour as much of Lithuania and Latvia as humanly possible in seven short days.

Although the journey was long (by kilometer), it was not tiresome. It's too bad that we couldn't travel like my friends The Muppets - by map. That would have made things much faster... Check out our journey!
Insert Mennonite inside joke here.
This tour took Josh and I from Klaipeda to Vilnius, from Vilnius to Riga Latvia, from Riga to Klaipeda, from Klaipeda back to Vilnius, from Vilnius to Moletai, from Moletai to Kaunus and from Kaunus back home to Klaipeda. That's 1,606 KM for those who keep track of such things. Praise God that the travel blessings flowed freely through our trip. It was not without it's hiccups, or shady bus situations, but we always felt warm and safe, but also a little bit like human ping pong balls (excuse me, Table Tennis balls - just in case Evan Oswald reads this). 

We bundled up and toured churches, took photos, stayed in fun hostels, ate a LOT (mostly cheese and dried meats), sampled local beers, pet dogs (using my Lithuanian language skills), and had an all around superb time. Here are some photos from our adventures!

Natalie delivered Christmas goodies - she knew just what I wanted!
On Christmas, we climbed the Vilnius "Pilis" and enjoyed a snowy day of sightseeing.
The holiday meal was followed by an evening of pub games at "Spunka," recommended by our Klaipedian friend Kipras.
Once we arrived in Klaipeda, Josh facilitated a "Concert for Friends" at Herkas Kantas - our favorite local pub. Friends Kel and Inga also performed.
"Let it snow, let it snow let it snow!" sings Josh!

After dropping Natalie and Bryan back off in Vilnius on December 30, we went to Moletai to ring in the New Year with our friend and student, Julija, and her family.This was a party to remember as we joined with Julija's Moletai church to celebrate the New Year with worship songs, bible quizzes, 2 meter long sparklers, home-made cepelinai (here's the process if you are brave enough) and a pet bunch of awesome cows on the dairy farm. A baby cow named Schumacher even licked me. The hospitality we experience in Moletai was unbelievable-- I think I am still full from all the delicious meals and tea. It was great.

A quick tour of Moletai before leaving for Klaipeda.

When our journey finally ended, and we were back in Klaipeda, we were greeted by several letters, Christmas cards, and two special packages. It is always a great pleasure to receive mail here in Lithuania. I am particularly touched by all the people that take time out of their busy lives "back home" to think of us while we serve abroad. I LOVE LOVE LOVE getting mail, so it's always a special surprise to see what arrives -- especially during the holiday season.  

Cards and letters from loved ones afar.
On the same day we got two packages! One from our Trinity Family and a package from my sister Alison and her husband Zach!

A beautiful letter, lovely scarf and other goodies from Alison.
Josh loves his Christmas Present!

That's right, more Cheez-Its from both Trinity and Ali. No, I can NEVER have too many of these.
We might be able to hang this stocking with care from the TOP of the chimney.
Thank you for all your thoughtful notes and kind words.
After all these grand travels, amazing visitors, lovely letters and surprise packages, it's easy to see that we have a lot to be grateful for. Entering into our next season at LCC, we now feel replenished, refreshed and rejuvenated to tackle the challenges ahead. Thank you for sending love and prayers from afar!

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Alisha "Awkward" Garber

Living in Lithuania is not without its challenges and cultural misunderstandings. For those who know me well, having the middle name “Awkward” only adds to the occasional faux pas.

This guy has stories.
For example: last week in Lithuanian class we began to study adjectives. Being two staff members auditing a student course, it sometimes can be embarrassing to offer our own answers or questions in an audience that is not our peers, but those we mentor. 

Our professor, Radvyta, advised us to turn to the proper page in our text book— it was filled descriptive images of different physical attributes, labeled in Lithuanian. Immediately, I pointed and said: “Hey, it’s Josh!” pointing at a pirate-esque male character with an eyepatch and stubbly beard. 

Immediately, the class roared with laughter. 

After further inspection, I did not identify a pirate, but rather the pictured example for “ugly.” The eyepatch was a Band-Aid and the stubble was acne. Not the best way to describe your spouse…

Uncomfortable situations aren’t always bad. I love shopping at the open-air market and grocery store. We’ve been frequenting one called “Maxima.” Their shopper’s rewards program earns credit at the local movie theatre—eventually we’ll have enough credit for a date night! 

Home-made Cheezits, complete with hole!
Upon one visit to the grocery, Josh and I were inspecting something to drink and deciding whether it was the right choice. Around the corner came a very distinguished gentleman, in cap and leather-elbowed blazer. He looked down at the package in my hand, up at me, and down at my hand again. Making eye contact, he blew me a kiss and continued with his shopping. The decision had been made — into the cart it went!

Unfortunately, Maxima doesn’t carry all of the creature comforts we were accustomed to at home. We have had to adjust our diets and frequent recipes to the ingredients that are available. There’s no cream of tartar, Crisco, Chocolate Chips, or Cholula hot sauce… but we’ve made do. I’ve even attempted making my own Cheezits (and they were pretty satisfying). It’s all part of the journey.

Students paint a collaborative picture
during Art Week.
When times seem difficult, it’s not hard to find encouragement. This past week the Resident Life team sponsored “Art Education Week.” There were nightly events to inspire and engage the student body in the musical and visual arts. 

Since LCC International University does not currently have fine arts programs, our hope was to fill that gap with some intentional programming. 

It was AMAZING. The response was so great to the “Funky Jam” on Wednesday night that we hope to host more in the future. We also had an art show on Thursday with over 50 pieces of student art on display — the talent pool here at LCC is unbelievable. 

Additionally, we started work on a mural and it’s almost finished. There are about six core girls who are helping paint it and it’s been lovely to get to know them better as we paint together. (We'll post pictures of its progress in a future post)

The Funky Jam, an improv
jam time, is one way students can
exercise their creativity.
Through all these adventures, I never forget those we’ve left behind in the States. I had the unbelievable pleasure of chatting tonight with Steve and Darla Schrock and welcome their son, Samuel Joseph, to the world. I cannot express the joy and sadness it brought to my heart to share some time with them on this happy occasion, but to be so far away from such dear friends during such a blessed event.

Occasionally, I feel the spirit of Hal Shrader calling out to me when a song pops into my head. I’ll be walking from the dorm to DeFehr, the main academic building, to pick up printing and, out of the blue, I start singing: “Hey, I just met you and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe…” 

For those who don’t know Hal, he’s quite fond of this Carly Rae Jepsen chart-topper.  Although catchy, it’s not one of my favorites, so I like to think that when it comes to mind, it’s Hal thinking of me all the way from Arizona.

Hey, I’ve just blogged a bunch, and this is crazy, but I’d love to video chat, so Skype me maybe?

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