Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Ten Highlights of 2013

I laid in bed this morning listening to the rain on the metal roof of our home, thinking about the past year and one thought kept resonating in my mind.

We are crazy.

Or at least this year almost made us that way. 

But by the grace of God, we are different people today that we were twelve short months ago—a little wiser, a little stronger, with a little more faith… and a little thinner.

Here are the top ten highlights of 2013, in no particular order:

1) Go West Young Man
Back in the spring we made the move from the east coast of Brazil (Recife) to the western border, where Colombia, Peru, and Brazil collide. We had every intention of moving into an Indian village, but literally two weeks before we moved, God slammed that door closed via the village chief changing his mind, leaving us with $3,500 worth of wood we had already purchased to build our home and 46 people with plane tickets ready to come help with the construction. You can read more about that and the details here.

Looking back, we see clearly how God orchestrated every detail to bring us right to the home we are in now. Thank you, Jesus.

2) Jungle Hosts
This year we had a total of 64 visitors from the US of A, from work teams to young couples exploring missions to friends wanting a good dose of Jungle life and lending a helping hand. Forty six of those were in a four week stretch! These teams were able to accomplish many work projects that we could not have finished on our own. They also provided spiritual encouragement… and a chance to speak English!!

Thank you to all who came and served. We hope that you left with more than just sunburns and worm meds ;)

3) A Teensy Tiny Dose of Aviation
We don’t yet have a helicopter down here (stay tuned for future plans!!), but Richard had the privilege to fly our partnering missionary’s airplane on two separate occasions. He very first jungle flight was to deliver water filters to a village in Peru. It “just so happened” that we had 17 filters to deliver and there were 17 families. (Pretty sure God had that planned out.)

The second was a medical flight for a woman who had had a c-section because her husband had kicked her in her belly, killing one of the twin babies inside. She was bleeding at the incision site. Richard was able to bring her to a hospital where she could receive treatment.

While it’s been challenging for Richard to be absent from aviation for this long, we know that God is cooking something up for the future. Doors are opening and we are praying for wisdom as we raise the necessary funds in 2014.

4) Putting That Medical Training to Good Use
We were blessed to be able to go through Equip International’s Missionary Medical Intensives course before we came here to the Jungle. The knowledge we gained from those twelve days has been invaluable during our time here. We have treated deep cuts, rashes, tropical ulcers, parasites, tropical diseases, whooping cough, monkey and spider bites, aided in the treatment of Tuberculosis and the list goes on. We have used countless band-aids and yards of coban wrap. We’ve had the opportunity to teach natural alternatives to medicine and health and hygiene for community health.

It’s been a humbling experience to be the hands and feet of the Great Physician, the only one who can truly heal. Amazing.

5) Disciples Making Disciples
Back in January, Richard met a young couple who welcomedtheir first child at the Indigenous Seminary. We had no idea at the time how God would weave this family into our own. 

In June, we received word that Alberto, the father, was nearly dead with TB. Prompted to action by the Holy Spirit, we paid to have him brought here to Benjamin to get treatment. We are friends with the owner of the hotel here in town and she allowed him to stay for three weeks where we used natural treatments to get his body in a state to undergo the antibiotic regime he needed.

Fast-forward to August and we felt God leading us to hostthem in our own home, to do life with them, teaching them, learning from them.

Five months later, we praise God as we see how we have all grown spiritually through this time together. We see how they have overcome cultural hurdles to show physical affection to their daughter. We have seen them open up to us as friends and fellow believers. They have watched us stumble and we have watched them fight against what the Holy Spirit is leading and we have seen how those experiences have been used to mold us more into the image of Christ.

It’s been hard. I won’t lie. You take two COMPLETELY different cultures and put them in the same house, you’re going to have struggles. But how amazing to watch as God conforms us more into His image through these trials and experiences. Only a God as big as ours could pull that one off.

6) House or Hotel?
There have been times throughout this year that we have asked ourselves, “Is this a house we live in or a hotel?” Between the teams, our discipleship family, and our Indian friends, we have had visitors all but about 4 weeks out of the entire almost ten months we have lived here.


But we praise God that we have the capacity to host, especially to our Indian friends who need a safe place when they are passing through. What an INCREDIBLE opportunity we have had to sit on the floor and listen to the stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ from cultures so different from our own. From what we can count, we have had Indians from three countries and seven different tribes sit and share a meal and a story with us. Unbelievable.

It’s been a stretching experience, no doubt. There have been times I have thought I might lose my mind. God is constantly teaching us selflessness, to have a servant’s heart, and patience. Worth it, for sure.

7) Our Brown Eyed Daughter
We’ve always wanted to adopt. We’ve talked about it since we were teenagers.

But we sure didn’t expect to do it during our first year on the mission field!!

That’s how God works sometimes, though, and we are so thankful. When this little girl first showed up at our front door, I fell in love. Richard knew it and he too was soon smitten. Don’t ask me how a dirty, disobedient, smelly, nearly toothless little girl off the street with life experiences no one should have could capture our heart, but she did.

Through a series of events, this little girl took up residence in our home on August 23 and we began the process to give her our last name. It’s been, without a doubt, the most difficult months of our lives. There have been days that we have asked ourselves, “What have we done???”

But what a transformation we have seen!! That dirty little girl from the street is now a beautiful, loving child whose heart has beentransformed by the Holy Spirit. 

A beautiful picture of God’s redemption story in each of our lives.


8) In Our Spare Time, Let’s Start a Children’s Home
While we have had the privilege of making Mariclene our own, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other kids on the streets of this small town in need of a safe place. Not long after we moved here, we met our neighbor Rosa. She has been a GOD-SEND in our lives and we, quite frankly, probably wouldn’t have survived this long without her and her servant’s heart. True story. Anyway, she has a heart for children, so our wheels started turning.

For months we planned, prayed, schemed. Fast-forward and earlier this month God miraculously provided the funds to purchase a small home to start the first ever children’s home in Benjamin Constant. WOOHOO!!

We have a ways to go before it will be an operating home, taking in abused and abandoned children, but the work is underway. God is so good!!

9) A Trip to the States
In July we were able to go to the States for a 10 day visit. We are so thankful that God gave us this time with family and friends since our furlough that was planned form October was delayed due to the adoption.

God’s good to give us those little blessings.

10) We Survived
That’s sort of how we feel at this point.

They say your first year on the mission field is hard. They are just being nice. It’s harder.

But looking back at all that we have gone through, learned, experienced, we can truly say that we are thankful for the trials because without them there is no victory.

We’ve cried. We’ve been overwhelmed. We’ve been lonely. We’ve wanted to give up .

We’ve had people we thought were friends turn their backs on us. We’ve had things said about us that weren’t true. We’ve poured ourselves into others just to watch them go down the wrong path...

And it taught us to forgive. It taught us to love better. It taught us that we are sinners, too.

It taught us that it is God that sustains us.

Through the tears and laughter, trials and victories, ups and downs, God is good.

Thanks for walking this journey with us. 

Here's to another great year in 2014.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Finally Let Myself Say It

I finally let myself say it.

I've been waiting for someone else to say it. Another mom. Another missionary. Anyone really.

But no one ever did. They'd say, "Wow, how do you do it?" or watch while I fumble--oh how I fumble--at trying to control screaming, whining, disobedient children, be a “good” missionary, maintain my sanity.

A house full of sinners just like me.

And all the while I kept thinking, "I don't know how I do it. I just know I do because I don't have a choice." I have been in survival mode for months now and I just wanted someone to take my stubborn, I-won't-ask-for-help-but-please-offer-it-and-I’ll-take-it-in-a-hartbeat hand and say, "It's ok. This thing you're doing, it's hard work."

I wanted permission to feel overwhelmed and burnt out. I wanted to hear that this "if-I-can-just-get-through-the-day" mentality is normal at times—or almost always—and does eventually pass.

But no one ever said that. Which in my mind just confirmed that something was wrong. I should be able to do this with a smile on my face and patience in my voice.

Then I read this book and I felt the greatest sense of relief because finally someone said it.

This is hard, overwhelming, exhausting work.

And I'm doing just fine.

I'm doing just fine because I realize I can't do it right on my own. And I'm learning—learning to lean on the One who can make all things right and new.

There are days I can muster up just enough strength to get out of bed after a long night with my one year old who still wants to nurse and stumble to the kitchen as I remind my whining, apparently famished older children that, yes, they will get breakfast this morning, just like every morning.

I go through my days of washing dishes piled high and sweeping the floors for the umpteenth time and wiping noses and settling disputes and running to grab the laundry off the line because its starting to rain again. Somewhere in there I mean to sit down and practice the alphabet with my oldest and work on numbers again with my boy, but my littlest is tired and now it's time for lunch and I need to pump more water and my washer is beeping at me and a family of Indians just showed up and well, I'll just remind myself that my kids won't be 30 years old and not know their numbers and letters.

I look at my life and remind myself of this:

Raising little humans is hard work.

Being a wife is hard work.

Living in the jungle is complicated, hard, exhausting work.

Constantly thinking and speaking in your second or third language is mentally exhausting.

Adopting a child out of birth order, with a traumatic past, and that doesn't speak your first language is exponentially challenging.

Rarely getting to speak to or see family and friends is emotionally taxing.

Living in another culture is frustrating, lonely, exhausting at times.

Now take all these and add them up and you get a messy, tiring, hard job.

So I'm trying to lighten up a little myself. Let myself mess up every now and then [or often, as the case may be] and rather than beat myself up over it, I'm learning to slide back under that umbrella of grace and say, "Thank you, Jesus, that your mercies are new every day and that your grace endures forever".

I'm so thankful that God is sovereign and that He has a plan for my children, my husband, and me that can't be thwarted. I can freely acknowledge my incompetence and failures and it is in that freedom that I find the motivation to try again.

To lean on the One who makes all things new.

To let my failures be growing moments instead of defeating mountains.

To trust Him as he takes me through the fire to make me pure as gold.

To stop worrying about what others think and say, because God knows me.

God knows me.

This is hard work. Just like Jesus promised it would be.

But oh how sweet to know He also promised He'd walk us through it, patiently, lovingly, always.

Is it time you let yourself say it, too?

“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; 

All my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.”

Psalm 139.13-16

Monday, October 21, 2013

Broken Teeth and Broken Lives: If We Weren't "Just" Moms

We read the document line by line, our plea to the judge to make this brown-eyed girl our own.  Our lawyer had drawn it up for us, ensuring that while this would be a lengthy process, it really was not all that complicated.

“Richard Whittemore, married, pilot, resident at….”

So far so good.

“Ashley Whittemore, married, just a mom, resident at…”

I paused.

“Just?” I said. “Just a mom?”

It was clear that the irony of the situation was lost on our lawyer. But because my third language is not yet apt to communicate emotions appropriately, I chose to let it go.

But later I began to think through the implication of that one little word “just”, tossed in there, seemingly out of habit. After all, this is not normal legal lingo. He didn’t say that Richard is “just a pilot” or that we were “just married” or “just residents”.

He was, knowingly or otherwise, communicating a common perception that this whole thing about raising up little humans is “just” something to be done.

Something we take care of in our spare time.

I decided to flip the situation around so maybe we can get a better idea. Maybe we can see what happens when someone is not “just” a mom.

I can do this because I am living it.

Because our adopted daughter’s birth mom JUST didn’t brush her daughter’s teeth, my daughter now has an ongoing gum infection. Several of her adult teeth are now mere fragments and she will have to have crowns to replace them. We have to do a mouth treatment several times a day, just to try to keep the infection at bay.

Because she JUST didn’t watch out for her daughter, but left her in the streets as a vulnerable little girl, my daughter now has scars from experiences that no adult should endure, much less a child. These will affect her for years to come and we will constantly deal with the psychological effects.

Because she JUST didn’t feed her child, but left her to eat candy and Cheetos all day, my daughter looks like she has highlights in her hair, but it’s the effects of malnutrition. For the first two weeks she lived with us, she asked us every single day if she would get to eat.  She didn’t know the word for dinner. Before bed she would ask if she could eat again tomorrow.  We had to teach her to chew thoroughly, take reasonable sized bites, eat slowly, enjoy the food because she devoured every meal as if it were her last.

Because she JUST didn’t bathe her daughter, my daughter had a massive scalp infection that required two medications and a special shampoo for two weeks to heal the infection and kill the unbelievable amount of lice that had taken up residence in her hair.

Because she JUST didn’t care about the educational needs of her daughter, my daughter now struggles to learn, period. She is almost seven years old and doesn’t know her basic shapes, doesn’t know the difference between a number and a letter, has difficulty remembering anything, and struggles to understand basic concepts.

Because she JUST didn’t teach her daughter to speak her emotions and work through them in a healthy way, my daughter literally has the capability to shut off completely. Her blank stare will pierce right through you. It takes hours upon hours to break down the walls that she has built up.

Because she JUST never said “I love you” to her daughter, my daughter looked at me with surprise the first time I said it to her and said, “You love me?”

And the list goes on.

So if being “just a mom” means I brush my kids’ teeth, keep them away from people and situations that will physically and/or emotionally harm them, feed them nutritious meals, give them baths, teach them, guide them, love them—well, then that’s what I’ll be.

Because I’ve seen what happens when someone isn’t “just” a mom. I see it every single day in my oldest daughter. I see it on this street and in this town while twelve year old little girls walk around pregnant, young boys steal and lie. And worse.

And I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, if Mariclene’s mom had had someone that was “just” a mom to her, things could look a whole lot different.

This mom business is hard. It is exhausting and draining. There are nights that I collapse in bed and feel overwhelmed with the job that I have been entrusted with to raise these little people into adults that fear the Lord. It requires great sacrifice.

Whether you have one or twelve, this is a hefty load we “just moms” carry. So lets be gracious to one another.  Let’s carry on another’s burdens. Let's encourage and build up. Let’s teach our children to value this mom gig so that the next generation will have a greater understanding of the importance.

But most of all, let’s rely on the God’s grace and do this “just mom” job well.

It’s just so important.

{Side note: I wrote this from a mom’s perspective because I am one and the thought was sparked by the “just a mom” comment. I want to say that the father’s role is EQUALLY as important in a child’s life. God created the roles of both Father and Mother and while they vary in many ways in how they play out day to day, neither is more important than the other and this is a value that should be taught to our children. Much of society’s issues also stem from the lack of godly fathers and role models.}

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Glimpse at the Good

In the midst of the hard, like little beams of light breaking through the clouds, God gives us little glimpses of what He’s doing here to keep us going.

Here’s a list of some of the great things God has and is doing in our part of the world.

--We are facilitating the start of the very first children’s home in Benjamin Constant. It will be called “Bendita Esperanรงa” (Blessed Hope) and is an extension of the Blessed Hope ministry of The Common Thread Community, our mission board.

Pray for this project. We must act to break the cycle of alcoholism, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, abortion, and prostitution in this small town, and it starts with reaching the next generation for Christ.

--We are discipling a young Jagua Indian couple that is living in our home.

Their tribe consists of 6-8,000 people. They’re passionate about reaching their own for Christ. We’re pouring into them so they can pour into others. We are working to get the Jagua Bible (partially translated) onto audio devices so that every single Jagua family can have access to the Word, regardless of their reading abilities. Pray.

--Richard is coordinating the Indigenous Seminary--started by Indians, attended by Indians. They have asked Richard to organize and structure the ins and outs as that is not a strong point in Indigenous cultures.

Lord willing, more than 160 Indians from 5 different tribes will gather together for the entire month of January to study God’s Word, many for the first time. Professors from four different countries will teach courses in two different languages, all with the goal of equipping these young men and women to go back to their own people to disciple new believers.

--We are adopting a little girl who, without the hope of Christ, was on the track to become a drug-addicted prostitute like her birth mother. God has brought her into our family, a beautiful depiction of the Gospel.

We meet with the Judge during the first week of October. Pray for a smooth process.

--Richard will be in the States for two weeks in November to raise $300K for the helicopter.

With this tool, we will be able to reach more tribes deep in the Javari Valley who are dying from preventable disease and treatable injuries in an effort to demonstrate the Love that motivates us. It’s a lot of money, no doubt. But we serve the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills… and the hills the cattle are on… so He’ll provide it all in His timing.

--Marcos Mayoruna continues to disciple young men (currently there are 15) from the Javari Valley who have come to study in a small town not far from us. Through Marcos, they receive biblical training and discipleship as well as lodging, food, and other basic needs.

The Javari Project continues to help provide many of these needs, freeing Marcos to do more ministry in the Javari. Thank you to those of you who sponsor these young men through this project.

Thank you for your prayers.

Thank you for your encouragement.

Thank you for your giving.

God is at work.

If you would like to donate to our ministry or any of these projects, please visit

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