This summer I focused on raising money to replace my well used camera equipment. I am thrilled to report I was able to raise enough to buy the camera, computer and one of the lenses I needed! Thank you all so much for your support. Having new, perfectly working equipment has relieved so much stress. It was all quickly put to work. Here is a taste of the last three weeks:
Photography is what initially lead me to consider working at an international school and introduced me to TeachBeyond. It is what first connected me with the student community at HOPAC and was the first contribution I made to the God’s Tribe community. It is how I have raised money to get me through my summers when I am home. Now my camera is need of being replaced and my photography is one of the ways I am raising those funds!
If my photography has blessed you over the years, please consider helping me raise the funds I need in one of the following ways.
- I have 50+ of my pictures from safaris, Zanzibar and my trip to Turkey available to order here: https://rebeccalaarman.pixieset.com/tanzaniafundraiser/
Here is a sample:
- The message of the gospel is LOVE. John 3:16 “For God so LOVED the world… ” Upendo is “love” in Swahili. I am so excited to offer these T-shirts for sale to help fundraise! They are $20 ea available in deep teal, clay, navy, and gray. Just let me know what size and color and get me the payment by July 29. I will have a sign-up sheet out at the Bake Sale as well. Orders will arrive by Aug 6 so TZ friends I can bring back for you!
- Open House/Bake Sale/Craft Sale- An anonymous donor has offered to double all funds raised this up to $2000! We will be having baked goods, canned goods, crafts, and more available.
- I have set up a GoFundMe account if you wish to just contribute: https://www.gofundme.com/nntcy-equipment-update
All fundraisers will end July 29.
Thank you all for your support! I am confident I will be heading back to Tanzania with the much needed equipment in August.
Humidity and electronics do not go well together! Add almost daily use by me and my students and you have a well worn out camera. I bought my camera used a few years before I moved to Tanzania. The last year it has been showing more signs of needing to be replaced. Photography isn’t just a fun hobby and a nice thing to have around. It is actually a part of my job and a ministry to my church and to the missionary community. So now that I am at full support (yay!!! Thank you everyone!), I can focus on raising funds to replace my well worn equipment and finally, hopefully buy the lens I need for sports photography that I have needed since I moved here almost four years ago. Full support means by living needs are covered but no room for savings for big purchases like these.
So how am I raising these funds? I am having an open house/bake sale at The Hall in Overisel, MI on July 29. Stop by and say hi, see some of the photography I have taken, buy some yummy food, and hear about what I have been up to at HOPAC in the last two years. Stay for a few minutes or a few hours. I would love to see you!
Not able to stop out but you are interested in helping me to buy this equipment? I have started a GoFundMe Campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/nntcy-equipment-update
Thank you all for your ongoing support! I will have another post later this week with a better update of the last few months.
Friends and I have been talking lately about the stress living in Tanzania. We don’t always recognize it, but it is there. I think I don’t realize most of it as much because I laugh a lot and take it as part of the adventure. This year has been harder because the “adventure” was gone. It was normal day-to day life. No new restaurants, no new trips to explore the country. By no means had I done and seen it all, but day-to-day life had taken over. Until this weekend. Before I get into the story, I just want to be clear that the events in this story usually do not all happen in one weekend like this. We have all dealt with little annoyances/inconveniences from time to time. It is a rare situation that it all comes together in one weekend! I have intentionally left the names of the hotels out. They were both great just not what we were expecting. I have been to Zanzibar several times and love every trip. This one was the best! Without further delay, here is the tale of two ladies and their Zanzibar Adventure.
One of my closest friends is leaving Tanzania this year. Brittany went to orientation with me for TeachBeyond and has been a very dear friend, co-worker and neighbor. Since it was her last year, she wanted to go to Zanzibar one last time. I was happy to go along expecting a relaxing weekend on the beach. Little did I know the adventure that awaited us!
The end of the school year is crazy for both of us so finding a weekend that we could both get away was our first task. We didn’t really think about it being rainy season when we made the plan, but for almost two weeks before our trip, it had been rainy season in full force! The locals say they haven’t seen it this rainy in several years! Tuesday before we left, I sent her a text saying, “I hope the rain stops!” About an hour later she replies back, “The hotel just emailed. The pool is flooded so they have upgraded us to an ocean side room!” We decided even in the weather we were up for the adventure! Even if it was raining and wasn’t beach weather, at least we would be able to see the beach from our room.
The night before we were to go, Brittany, some friends and I decided to check another “one-more-time” item off their list before they moved away. We ventured to another part of town to a favorite restaurant. We were about half way their when traffic came to a standstill. Quite normal for evening traffic on this particular road. We killed time sharing stories, singing to whatever song came to our head, and asking, “why have we not moved yet?! It has been 30 minutes!” So what kind of songs come to our head in such situations? How about Queen’s song Bohemian Rhapsody. Not JUST singing but, trying in our broken Swahili to translate it! Let’s just say “no,no,no,no,no” is much easier to sing than, “hapana, hapana, hapana, hapana, hapana”. We get to the restaurant enjoy our wonderful meal. Get stuck in traffic again on the way back. Someone uses the word “Gesticulate” which prompts an intense discussion and google search of the proper use and definition of the word. We make a quick stop at the supermarket during which my friends come up behind me singing along with the song in the store, “I will always love you”. We see a couple of our HOPAC students and think it strange they didn’t say hi. As we approach my car, we see a car all wrapped pretty in ribbons and balloons. My friends laugh and say, “good luck to the person that has to get into that car!” I laugh and say, “That is my car!” Another teacher had a night out with her small group. Saw us go into the store and decided it would be fun to decorate my car. In the time that we were in the store, they bought supplies and decorated my car. The kids that didn’t say hi were spying on us. We finally get home and get to bed for it is to be an early morning for the REAL adventure to begin!
4:45am My alarm goes off. 4:45 and 10 seconds the power goes out. 5:14 the power comes back on. 5:15 my taxi arrives. After an uneventful, quick drive (just don’t look out the front window. You don’t want to see how close the taxi driver gets to other cars), we arrive at the ferry port. There were very few people in line and we were quickly through to the waiting area. For those who have been to Zanzibar, you know how unique the trip has already been! The ferry ride was nice and smooth. We were greeted at the gate by our taxi driver… well, the friend of the taxi driver because we had to drop him off first. Isn’t that what always happens when you take a taxi?
As we are on the drive to the hotel, Brittany comments that she has never been on that road before. I had been thinking the same thing. We pull up to a hotel but it isn’t the right name.
“Brittany, is this the right place?”
“Oh yeah, in the email it said something about another name.”
As we are getting checked in, the gentleman apologizes that we won’t be able to stay at our original hotel but hopes we enjoy the modified reservation. I look out and see construction on one part of the building, no one around the pool, and no pool chairs so I assume part of the hotel is where we were going to originally stay and we were moved to a different part. As we talk more with the manager, we realize we are in a completely different hotel. Not just that, we are on a completely different part of the island. We had planned on staying on the east side, but ended up in the northern most part! No wonder we didn’t recognize the roads.
“Please wait a few minutes while we get your room ready. We thought it
was for a couple. We will get another bed set up.” We finally go up to our room and quickly realize we are in an ocean view room… not an ocean side room. The ocean is in view, but a ways off. They had added a bed and now we have three beds. As the locals say often, “Hakuna matata”. Internet wasn’t connecting. “Sorry we have someone coming to work on it.” Oh look a TV. What is on this magical TV? A soccer match… and that’s all, haha.
Ok, no problem, we can take a shuttle to the beach. We had a great price on the room so
expectations weren’t too high. We were dropped off behind some buildings and told, “They can call for you when you are ready to be picked up” It wasn’t really clear who “they” were but we figured we could sort it out. Hakuna matata. We walk between some buildings out to a beautiful beach, but no obvious place to sit out by the ocean without being harassed by the beach vendors so we decided to grab a bite to eat and then we would explore.
With lunch finished we decided it was time to see if we could find a place to enjoy the beach. Just as we ventured out from the restaurant, it started to rain. We also realized there really wasn’t a great place to go so decided we would rather go back to the hotel and enjoy the pool. We head to a large business on the beach and ask if they know who we are supposed to have call the hotel. They had no idea what we are talking about so we decide to just try to call ourselves. Thankfully that was successful, but I wondered, what do others do without a Tanzanian phone? In the meantime, we awkwardly stand by a building in the rain, waiting, hoping they understood and were on their way or maybe they didn’t hear us well with the rooster crowing right beside us.
The fun little shuttle truck arrives and safely returns us to our room. The rain has stopped. We ordered a cappuccino and a tea to enjoy by the pool. We find a couple chairs and then realize the pool boy is putting chemicals in the pool at 4:00 instead of 6:00 as it says on the brochure in the room. Just as we are comfortable, the manager on shift walks over, “Sorry, we just need to inform you to please stay out of the water the next hour. If you go in, you will turn black.” Hakuna matata, we will just enjoy being outside by the pool not in the pool. We relax for a few more minutes and are still waiting for our coffee. We decide we had better go check on it since it wasn’t coming to us. We stand by the bar until he finally brings out the tea and cappuccino. “May we have milk with the tea?” Five minutes later he brings the milk. “May we have sugar?” 5 minutes later a packet of sugar. Hakuna matata. We will now just go enjoy in our room.
Since the power was out in the morning, I hadn’t taken a shower before I left and was looking forward to nice shower. Cold, warm, nice. HOT. Warm. COLD. HOT. Warm. HOOOTTTT. Ok, it was a shower. Hakuna matata. At this point, I decided I needed to make a list of everything on this adventure. We were laughing so hard. We were looking forward to the adventure this weekend but we thought that adventure would just be the rain. From that point on, I kept a pen and paper with me the rest of the trip.
The perk to being on the northern tip of the Island is that we were able to watch a beautiful sunset while just having a great conversation.
Even though I have lived in Tanzania for awhile, I still have not been able to adjust to the late dinners. 5:30/6:00 has always been dinner time. 7:00 has always felt late. So when we found out dinner was at 8:00? Time to break open the snacks we brought along.
Dinner was a beautiful buffet at the rooftop restaurant which was actually on ground level next to the pool. We were entertained while eating with a local band of drums, vocals and a fiddle/violin type instrument but I think the musician only knew one note and the drums only knew one beat which made the variety of songs quite interesting.
As it was now nearing bedtime, we headed back towards our rooms only to be stopped just outside of the dining area and directed towards a seat. “We are ready for you to sit here for the African dance show.” We politely excused ourselves to our room and peaked through the curtains to see what it was about and laughed thinking our students have more talent! They were good, but when our students are great and we get to watch them dance all the time, it was a better option to head to bed.
When we checked in, we asked about checking out in the afternoon the next day, “Hakuna matata” we were told. So we had planned on leaving around 2:00… until we went to the front desk Sunday morning to confirm the taxi time. “Sure no problem. You may check out at 10:00 and leave your bags here until 2:00. Hakuna matata.” After a bit of confusion and discussion. They allowed us to stay but we decided to just leave at 11:00. It really was a nice hotel and the staff knew us by name. If I didn’t want to enjoy the beach, I would be happy to stay there again.
So we said good-bye to the beach hotel and headed to Stonetown for the remainder of our trip. Brittany had a few cafes she wanted to visit one last time and we both had some shopping we wanted to do. Our hotel was quite close to the main shopping area and down the winding roads that were too narrow for a car so the taxi parked and the driver had to walk us to our hotel. We were greeted by a lovely woman eager to assist and answer our questions. Once we were all checked in. She led us up to our room. We were given a grand tour. “Face towel, hand towel, hand soap, shampoo, safe, bath towel, TV, and in here is the shower… I mean bathroom” He is standing by a wardrobe. I am sure the bathroom is not in there. The wood must have swollen a bit because he was struggling to get it open. When he finally got it open, I realized he meant bathROBE. We were given the Mercury Suite. Freddie Mercury from Queen was born in Zanzibar. Our room was filled with information and pictures of him. It was a beautiful room. Freddie Mercury wasn’t the only unique feature of the room. The bathroom didn’t have a door! And even more unique, the shower wasn’t in the
bathroom! It was in the main room! Yes, you read that right. I could lay on the bed and look at the shower and the shower had no curtain or wall! Okay, well this is a situation we would deal with later. For now, it was lunch time!
We headed off to a favorite café. We sat down, looked over the menu, and realized it would be better for breakfast so we left to head to a different café, but, because it was Sunday, it was closed. Hakuna matata! We walked about 10 mins to another café only to find it closed because it was low season; it was closed until June 1! So, we headed back to the
first café. Brittany had told me they had good coffee so I asked if I could have their iced coffee with the spiced coffee instead of regular. A minute or two later, we hear in their kitchen, “Iced Milk, spiced coffee.” Then someone else would say, “Iced milk, spiced coffee?” “Iced milk, spiced coffee.” A little laughter followed then they repeated back and forth four or five times. I didn’t realize I had made such as strange request! The complication was worth it. It was excellent! So good, I asked for another one. It was a different waitress though and she told me it wasn’t possible. I assured her it was possible because I just had one! When I ordered my burger, I asked if it came with fries. Yes, no problem. We received a bowl of fries. Then my burger came… with a side of fries. We had more than enough fries and I wasn’t charged extra.
We needed to make a quick stop up at our room before we headed off for our next adventure. We had been given a key and padlock to lock our door so when we returned, we unlocked the door and slide the bar over, but the door would not push open. Remembering what had happened with the wardrobe we figured the door must be a bit sticky too so we are ramming into it, looking all over trying to figure out if we are supposed to push instead or pull, is there a latch we are missing? Finally, we give in and ask the housekeeper that had been in the room next door spying on us for help. She turned a knob and the door popped open… oh my how did we both miss that?!
Other than shopping and a going to a few cafes, Brittany really wanted to go on a sunset boat cruise on one of the Dhow boats. I was a little leery because of the weather, but didn’t want her to leave with regrets. Thankfully, we didn’t go out as far as we had when I had gone before. We laughed at the tikitimaji ndani ya maji [watermelon in the water]. I don’t know why, but it was much funnier to stay in swahili than in English. The clouds were quite ominous all around us. But you could see a strange vertical line lighter on one side than the other. I commented that maybe we would see a rainbow. Not only did we see a rainbow, we saw two, not a double, but two separate rainbows and in one you could see the violet band three almost four times! It was the widest rainbow I had ever seen! We both felt it was God smiling down on us and showing us His love through His creation. When all the clouds around us threatened rain, we were blessed amazing rainbows!
By the time we arrived back on shore, the Forodhani Night Market had begun. We got our favorite Zanzibar pizzas- mine vegetable and Brittany’s Nutella and banana- and made our way back to the hotel. This hotel actually did have a rooftop restaurant so we decided to have a drink and relax overlooking the city. I had so loved my spiced coffee earlier in the day, I ordered another one that evening, but regretfully, it didn’t taste anything like the one I had earlier. I couldn’t even drink it. Probably a good thing or I would’t have slept very well.
Sunday evening when we were on the rooftop, we asked if that was where breakfast was as well. The waiter told us it was downstairs. So Monday morning, we head down stairs for breakfast. It is raining and there is an open courtyard. I was concerned how that was going to work, but after checking there, asking at the front desk, going through two wrong doors, and asking three more people, we finally found the right door to the dining room. There was a nice menu to order from and there was one option for juice- avocado lime. I love avocados, but as a juice? I decided to get over the greenness and try it. I am so happy I did! It was soooo good! Trying a new food or drink alone would have been a normal adventure for me but this weekend it was a very minor one.
Today was to be shopping day and a day just to explore Stonetown. It is known as a spice island and is rich in history. The town is full of unique wood carved doors and fun little shops. “Small shop, small price! Looking is free.” As we are wandering in the rain, Brittany comments, “You can really feel the humidity today!” I replied, “Yes, they call this 100% humidity.” We dodged the raindrops going through the little shops. We were asked many times where we were from and were surprised by our Swahili (mostly Brittany’s!). One man said she should stay because, “Your swahili is better than the Masaai.” Um, okay? Bartering is expected and is usually a fun little banter back and forth trying to find the appropriate price and not have to pay the “Mzungu [foreigner]” price. As we pass a group of boys, we hear in a seductive voice, “Do you like mishkaki [meat kebob]?” Why? Who knows. We don’t even ask why any more. We just giggle to ourselves and walk on.
We were successful finding all we had hoped to find and still had time so we wandered over to the House of Wonders. It had been a palace and was a highly advanced building of its time in East Africa which is how it got it’s name. It is a museum but it had never been open when I had been by before but lucky for us, it was open that day! You could see the potential but it was in need of a lot of TLC. It made us wonder about a lot of things. Like would we get out alive! Between the floors creaking under our feet and the dark oppressive feeling, we didn’t stay any longer than necessary.
Our final stop in Zanzibar was the airport. We had a great taxi driver to the airport. Like everyone else we talked to, small talk started with Obama and Trump. He claimed he was one of two people on the island that liked Trump. Every time someone commented on our president, I would be reminded how much our he represents the United States to the world. Thankfully that conversation didn’t
last long and we moved on talking about how Zanzibar was the first East African country (before it joined with Tanzania) to have an elevator, color television, and several other technological advances. It had been known for its education and was the first East African country to have a train! Many times I talk to people and feel they are making up stories but this time, I think he was telling truth at least to his knowledge.
When we arrive at the airport to check-in, we don’t see a line for precision so we ask someone where to go. They ask us to just wait in this office. A few minutes later, a man comes in, sits down and says, “I am so sorry. I really wish it didn’t happen this way. It was out of our control. Again I am so sorry. Please don’t be upset.”
“Upset about what?” we ask.
“There will not be a 9:00 flight but we were able to get another flight. So you will be leaving at 10:20 instead.” Seriously?! All that drama to tell us we have an hour delay? I believe he thought we already knew and that we were just waiting to yell at him.
He proceeds to check us in and gives us hand written boarding passes. We now have almost three hours to kill in the airport. So, we watch this year’s Amazing Race episodes from when they were in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam! Meanwhile, the airport has completely cleared out. I see one other person waiting for a flight. So, as we wait with our handwritten passes and basically no one in the airport, I am getting a little concerned we might not actually have a flight, but it arrived on time and was a quick, uneventful flight back. As we landed, I told Brittany, “The adventure is not over until we walk back into our homes.”
We were making good time in the taxi back home when we were redirected. One side of the split four lane road was blocked and the other side became two way because of an accident. As we passed by the accident, we could see a vehicle had run into the back of trailer used for hauling large equipment, other cars were off the road and an ambulance had just left. The trailer was through the car window into the driver’s seat. The rest of the way home, I thought, “If our flight hadn’t been delayed, would we have been in that accident?” It was another reminder that God had been watching over us and blessing us all weekend. We were blessed with so much laughter, good company, thoughtful conversation, mostly good weather, neither of us were sick, and we did everything we really wanted to other than an afternoon soaking in the sun on the beach. It was not quite the adventure we were expecting, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
When I say “jelly”, what do you think of? Jam, jell-o, jellyfish, jelly beans? I recently learned the majority of the students here think of jell-o! How did I figure this out? When my students wanted to be jelly!
Each year, I challenge my grade 12 class to come up with a class name. The challenge is to come up with a name that not only describes them now but presents a challenge to work towards who they want to be. We go out to the beach for a day, have some fun, talk about their grade 12 year, and then they spend time alone setting goals and coming up with a name they would like for their class. We all come back together and talk through all the options. This year, the unanimous decision was “the Jelly Class of 2017”.
How does Jelly possibly motivate a class? So I asked them, took their answers and presented them with the following. This is the challenge the class is taking on for their senior year:
Let’s face it. Almost everyone likes jelly! Its unique, there really isn’t another food quite like it. It’s flexible, moldable, sweet, colorful, comes in many flavors- even better when multiple flavors are combined! You just take a little box of powder, mix in some hot water, let it set awhile and poof you have jelly!
Class of 2017, let’s face it. Almost everyone likes you! You are unique; there really isn’t another class quite like yours. You are flexible, moldable, sweet, colorful and you have many talents. You are at your best when you are all combined together!
You came to HOPAC as little bits of powder and you are being mixed with hot water but the hot water will cool off and poof before you know it you are the graduated class of 2017!
A few lessons and challenges for you to learn from Jelly for the next year:
- Be transparent: Jelly is transparent. When you can be transparent and open with each other, you allow yourselves to grow closer together and better bond together to support each other.
- Stick together: Individually, you can’t make jelly. One speck of powder and hot water is just a sticky mess. You need each other. Together you can be bigger and stronger. You can withstand more and not crumble apart.
- Find the right balance: You have to have the right balance or the Jelly won’t set. Too much hot water and not enough powder is soup, not Jelly. Too much powder and not enough hot water… still pretty much powder. Work together, push each other but not too hard. Just enough. Balance work and play.
- Be moldable. When you are moldable, you can take on the shape of whatever God wants for you (not what others want from you!) You can be world-changers, achievers, a team, etc
- Be flexible: Roll with the punches, go with the flow, just wobble with the shaking or dropping. You will be ok.
Conversations this week:
“Miss, I had one of those God moments yesterday!” – From a non- Christian student after a devotional talking about looking for God in the little things, not just the big decisions.
“I just wanted to say I am really enjoying HOPAC”- WhatsApp message from a new student
“God did it again Miss!”- Alum waiting for Uni admission acceptance upon receiving acceptance email
“Miss, what clothes will I need to bring to uni?”- Student packing for uni in the US
“I’m assuming you are busy at school, but it’s one of those moments I want to pop by your office, sit on your floor just to say hi.” – 2015 grad in South Korea. (I do have chairs, they sometime just crowd in and sit on the floor to decompress)
“Miss, I am sorry I was so mad at you yesterday.” Senior working through the realistic options for university.
“[opposition party] really knows how to stop us from getting free pizza.” “#pizzanightmayberuined 😦 ” – A couple boys responses to the possibility school would be closed due to a scheduled protest. Thankfully it didn’t happen so first pizza night was a success!
“You are not the right person. You are the PERFECT person to be teaching us English”- In response to me saying I am the wrong person to be teaching them English writing (after they corrected something I wrote or said).
“It’s God’s plan. [the devotional we had today] That really touched me.” – Student response to a tough family situation they are dealing with that might mean a major life change. The devotional had been our plans versus God’s plans. His plans are always greater than we could ever imagine.
“You were totally right about everything. I’m finding it super hard to make friends and not fall into a huge depression… I just feel super hopeless and I didn’t know who else to talk to.” – Alum adjusting to new school.
“Miss, programs like this exist?!” – showing a student an internship program with Hillsong.
“This is why you need to stay. You need to keep helping students like this!”- A teacher after asking her what she thought of the Hillsong program for this student.
“Miss, I am thinking about working with a local elementary school teaching Likeskills. Especially building self-esteem. Will you help me?”- student planning his Service Learning project for the year.
This at this time four years ago, I didn’t even have a desire to ever even visit Africa much less have a vision or calling to work oversees. Seven months later I found myself opening the door to international work and 6 months later arriving in Tanzania to start this wonderful adventure. It was meant to be two years. Before the first year even finished, I had changed from saying, “I am here two years” to ” I am staying until God says it is time to leave.” Each year the HOPAC staff are given a small piece of paper and we just tick a box for staying or leaving. Until this year, it has been an easy decision. This year, is the first year I am struggling to decide if this is my last year at HOPAC. Permits are getting harder to get, financial support isn’t strong (didn’t raise enough to buy new camera or fulfill my monthly support need this summer. I am still short about $1500 for the year), some of my closest friends that started the same year as me are leaving after this school year… I just miss home, family, friends, living in a culture I know and understand. I will never be fully Tanzanian. I will always be a foreigner in this country… so many reasons to leave… so many reasons to stay.
Dar es Salaam has become home, my community. My students joke at how “Tanzanian” I have become and I just laugh at the complement but know I am still very far from being fully integrated into the community. Just when I think all signs are pointing to it being my last year, I have a week like this past one that shows over and over again there is still a need for me here. Yes, others can do my job. I am replaceable. But the voices around me say, “Please stay!” Please pray with me as I seek to follow the only voice that matters in this decision, the Lord’s. I shared with my students yesterday a devotional and a bit of my life story. We plan, God laughs. I have learned to hold plans, dreams, and goals loosely because ultimately they are His plans, dreams and goals and when I trust Him with mine, the result is always greater than I could have ever designed for myself.
You may or may not know that I used to be very involved the horses. Horses taught me so much and grew a confidence in me I didn’t know I was missing. Through horses, God has given me life long friends, instilled confidence, developed leadership skills, led me to youth ministry, opened conversations to learn about Third Culture Kids, and so many other aspects of me I probably still don’t even realize. But when I was in high school, I didn’t know all God would use horses for. I just knew it was a fun challenge. I knew the barn was my “safe space”. Snowie’s mane absorbed many teenage tears. My parents knew as long as I was in the barn with horses, I was staying out of trouble.
I was a typical horse-crazy little girl with close to 100 model horses and posters everywhere. I learned everything I could about them and watched anything I could find with a horse in it. So when it came to the Olympics, of course I would watch! It was one of few times equestrian events would be on the TV (pre-cable days!). I have always loved the Olympics. I remember the first time Germany competed as a unified nation; seeing North Korea and South Korea next to each other in the parade of nations. Recognizing how many countries are at war with each other but they could come together to compete in fun and good sportsmanship. It has always brought me to tears. As my horse interest and skills developed in high school, I asked my dad one day if he thought I had the talent to compete in the olympics someday. Being the wonderful, supportive dad that he was, he said he thought I did. With big dreams of just the opportunity (I didn’t need a medal!), I started doing research… what would it take to actually make it happen? I quickly realized this dream would take a financial miracle to happen. The optimism of this dream quickly passed but the dream has stayed deep rooted in my heart.
When I was in high school, I knew God wanted us to use our gifts for him. The only gift I recognized in myself was riding horses. So after completing high school, I went to work in the barn at Cran-Hill Ranch. I thought I was just going to use my gift of working with horses until friends opened my eyes to my gift of working with the kids, especially patience with the new riders. God was leading me into Youth Ministry through horses. I still loved the horses and was very involved, but I recognized I had other gifts too! I sold Snowie after high school and bought Topper, a yearling I had hoped to pursue higher levels of competition with (only showed her one year). I started a 4-H horse club with a friend, advised the Calvin College Equestrian Team where I met a few TCKs and opened that passion, and now play with a 20+ year old Topper with my nieces and nephew.
It has now been three years since I have even been on a horse. I have only seen four horses in Tanzania in the three years I have been here. I still have Topper at my parents and cry when I pet her for the first time when I get home in the summers. But at this time, horses are no longer able to be a regular part of my life. The olympics however, are still very much a part of my passion! As I watched dressage this year, as the first rider came out, the commentator said, “This is our oldest competitor in this event at 61”. I was chatting with a student at the time telling him about my dream to compete in the olympics and excitedly told him what the commentator just said. His reply, “20 years. Start!” I laughed and said that would mean I would need to leave Tanzania and need LOTS of money to which he said, “Stay.” Haha, I thought is what he would say.
Many of us as we plan our future, make decisions based on financial stability and wealth while maybe consulting God in the process, but do we truly allow him to lead us? I had Olympic sized dreams for my life. God’s dreams were even bigger! I might not be financially rich, but the conversation with my student reminded me how much richer my life is because I did my best to followed God’s plans for my life. I asked a few students earlier in the year to comment on what having me at HOPAC as meant to them. Knowing God is using me in this way has made me richer than I could ever imagine. Here are their words:
“Miss Laarman or my teacher or my academic counselor or my friend or my mama (white mama)is a person of unique character. Honestly, she has been there for me, from the day I stepped at the school. She is the number on teacher I find myself comfortable with. And that doesn’t just come from nowhere. It come with a heart that welcomes, a heart possessed by my mom, Ms. Rebecca Laarman. Her office, her home, and everywhere I meet her was a time of laughter, literally always (well just a few emotional moments).
She took care of me, I can say she was a path of God’s message to me in so many things… she understands what I mean… She is among the people I will never forget my entire life, she will forever have a safe a lovely place in my heart.
Miss, thank you for the man I am today. Forever your son. ” 2016 Graduate
“Miss Laarman has been exactly what I needed to get through HOPAC and prepare for university. She has been a person I could go to for help at any time of the day, LITERALLY. I have never had a doubt to ask her any question because she would always give a significant answer. When I look back at the previous two years at HOPAC, I don’t see how I could have done and achieved what I have done and achieved without her help. I thank God for her because she influenced not only my academics, but life in general.” 2016 Graduate
“It will not be fair to address Miss Laarman as my home room teacher and life skills teacher. She started her influence in my life 2 years ago, made me more courageous and helped me become more confident. Watching her help others, random hang outs with her, birthday dinners, these are just a few of the good deeds I’ve got to see from her. She has been more than a mom to me, my life at HOPAC wouldn’t have been this awesome without her in it. I’m so thankful for her.😄😄” 2016 Graduate