Confidence: the quality or state of being certain; faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way.
Last month, we had the privilege of assisting TEAM Mexico with their annual conference in Loreto. Brandy and I led the teens as we explored the theme of “Confidence” from Jeremiah 17:7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” We took as the outline of our teaching, the song by Sanctus Real. Rather than just babysitting while the adults worked, we wanted to lead the teens in an in-depth study of confidence in the midst of struggle, trial and suffering.
God created each of us for a specific purpose. He has called each of us to fulfill that purpose in unique ways. In my time in the Navy, it was stressed over and again that the Navy never asks you to do anything you haven’t been trained to do. So it is in our walk with God. The challenges we face today are preparation for those we will face tomorrow. In God’s economy, trials get increasingly difficult the more successful we are. Because we have overcome much in the past, we are able to overcome even more today.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 says:
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
If we put our confidence in created things, man-made things like money, fame, power, comfort, pleasure, even our “religion” and “good” behavior, we turn away from the Lord and reap the resulting lack of God’s blessing and favor. Does God actively curse us? In most cases, I don’t think so. He simply lets us reap the harvest of our sinful actions. Like a plant in a barren land, when we choose to put our roots down in the wrong place, we will shrivel and die.
When we put our confidence in God and trust his Word to guide our lives, we thrive in good soil with plenty of water. If we follow the path that God has for us, we will be blessed. Ending there, many false teachers promulgate the lie that following God means an easy and prosperous life. But the passage goes on to say “when heat comes.” When difficulty comes, as Jesus promised it would, the one who is blessed draws water from deep roots to stay nourished and to continue to bear fruit.
How does one grow the deep roots? A plant seeks that which is most essential to its life – water. Deep roots mean that the plant has invested precious energy to find what is not available on the surface. Times of dryness, trials, struggling to survive will kill the plant unless it finds deeper water. A plant that bears fruit, even in drought, is remarkable and a stark contrast to the surrounding bleak landscape. So it is with Christians who maintain joy in the midst of trial. They stand as testimony to the love of God and peace that transcends circumstances, peace derived from close communion with the Living Water, Jesus Christ.
Is your life characterized by fruit, peace and confidence? If so, then you are likely on the right path. Stay vigilant, abide in Christ, continue to walk in righteousness and obedience. If you are not experiencing a time of trial or difficulty, use this time to prepare because I am confident that the faithful Christian will not have a life of ease and comfort.
Are you in the middle of a struggle or trial and not feeling the comfort of the presence of God? Are your circumstances overwhelming and your burdens beyond your ability to bear? Are your prayers non-existent or powerless? Then you are in a prime place to experience the freshness of the Living Water. Just as the tree sought deep waters, God is calling you to a deeper and closer relationship with himself. If we call on him, God answers. We can have confidence in his promises.
Stay tuned for the next installment: Calling: Equipped by God
We had such a great time meeting the fifty plus people at the Annual Conference for TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) and leading the youth. I wish I had taken more pictures and videos but these give you an idea of what a wonderful week we had in a beautiful place.
More videos from the talent/variety show on our Facebook group, Wherever the Wind Blows (S/V Ankyrios). The kids did some of their favorite Veggie Tales songs. The files are too big too load here but they’re worth the click over to facebook.
We made it to Puerto Escondido just before 8 on the morning of January 1st. Actually, we were a mile and a half away at 6am but we slowly rode the current while we waited for sunrise. This is not the kind of place you want to approach in the dark. We’re tied up on a mooring ball where we’ll be for 3 weeks.
The 21 hour passage was incredibly calm at first, and then much rougher than we like (starting just before sunset and into the moonless night). Right around 4pm, the wind kicked up, waves got big (the boat is covered in salt – maybe we should start a secondary business selling sea salt), we had to reef the sail (pull it down some so there’s less sail area), fight the waves that were pushing us to shore, and in the middle of all of this we caught a fish! But not just any fish, a Pacific sharp nosed shark! It was about 3’ long. We let it go because we really couldn’t handle a shark at that moment and no one was super excited about eating shark. We celebrated New Year’s Eve with the kids on the first, but Dennis and I didn’t make it til midnight. The long rough night just wore us out 😴
The wind began to pick up by the afternoon after we arrived and has been blowing strong over the last few days. It’s made the half mile ride in from the boat to the dock a bit wet. Tomorrow should be calm but then it’s going to rain for a couple of days. Our solar and wind power are doing great! We can spend time at the mooring ball (a quarter of the price) instead of the expensive dock.
We’re happy to be back somewhere familiar and plan to spend time with the missionaries we met here 2 years ago. We also have study and prep work to do to get ready for the conference which starts the 13th. Our cell service is limited because of these giant beautiful mountains. We’ll probably go ashore each day and get some marginal 3G network. Not completely off the grid, but close.
Please pray for us as we prepare for the January 13-18th conference. We will be leading the youth of the TEAM missionary families. The theme is Confidence in God, which has been hitting home during my personal study.
As an update to our finances, we have received donations of almost $6000 above our regular monthly support. This has helped so much!! Unfortunately, we had unexpected problems with our engines to the tune of $3000, but we were able to pay the boat yard bill and the credit card bill (which had all of those necessary boat parts on it). We are waiting to hear back again from the state of CA in regards to a settlement on our tax bill (approximately $15,000). We provided them with information on our current income and what we could pay per month. They don’t seem to be in a hurry to give us a decision.
We are still only about a third of the way to what we need to be fully funded ($3000/month) to continue to serve missionaries. We have exhausted so much of our own resources over the last couple of years, we are to the point that we don’t have much more to provide and now are becoming dependent on support. We know God specializes in coming through when we’ve reached the end of ourselves. He wants us to fully rely on Him, to have confidence in His faithfulness. Please prayerfully consider if God is calling you to partner with us in this ministry to missionaries.
We finally splashed the boat on the 17th and left Puerto Penasco on the 20th. We’ve been alternating between calm 1-2 day sails and hiding from 20-40 knot northerly winds for 3-4 days. We’re taking advantage of the next calm weather window and heading to Puerto Escondido (Loreto) today. We’ll be postponing New Year’s and pretending tomorrow is December 31st so we can celebrate after we arrive.
This year has been full of so many wonderful surprises and unplanned events – a few not so great, but it’s been wonderful to see how God turned them around.
We are thankful for our families and friends who are like family – all those who opened their homes and their hearts for a weekend or a month, made us delicious meals, loaned us nerf guns for necessary battles, let us borrow cars, were our personal post office (our amazon account has literally almost 2 dozen addresses where we have shipped things this year), provided amazing conversations, prayers, and financial support of this ministry God has given us.
We are thankful for missionaries around the world – we were able to meet so many this year in unexpected places. We’re thankful for what they do and the love of Jesus that they show to others.
May your 2019 be blessed beyond anything you can ask or imagine.
Well, we’re still in Puerto Peñasco, at the top of the Sea of Cortez (but not for much longer). *We* thought we’d be heading south in early November (when we left the boat in mid-May we actually planned to be back in mid-October). Between boat prep, lots of small jobs that didn’t go so smoothly, broken bolts, delays in solar panel installation, and the routine engine maintenance that turned into unexpected fuel injector pump and lift pump replacements to the tune of almost $3k, we just haven’t been able to leave.
We’ve been trying to figure out exactly why God still has us here. What’s the benefit in our delay? We have missionaries waiting for us further south in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.
A couple of weeks ago, our missionary friends in La Paz reached out to us. They have an annual retreat in mid-January for all the members of their missions agency in the area. The leaders for the youth group can no longer attend. They actually asked us last April if we would consider leading the youth, but we told them we couldn’t as we’d be far south by that point. Hahaha! After some brief discussions and prayer, we’ve decided this is exactly why (at least one of the reasons) that God chose to keep us around here for so long. The retreat is less than a quarter mile from the marina we stayed at in late 2016/early 2017. We’ll be able to stay on our boat while serving the missionary families (specifically the teens) at the retreat at the nearby hotel. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing we strive to do for missionaries. We’re so excited to serve these families! The kids are looking forward to being with “old” friends again.
Since we were waiting on the new engine parts, we decided to visit our friends in Phoenix for Caleb’s 14th birthday. I’m so glad we did! We attended Bethany Bible Church with our friends, and we were reminded that we aren’t the only ones that experience a change of plans. Two thousand years ago, a young girl named Mary was betrothed to one of the best men in town (I’m making an assumption here because God would want only the best in an adopted father for His Son). Mary had her whole life ahead of her and I’m sure she had made some plans of her own. Then one day, an angel comes and tells her she will have a baby, but not just any baby, God’s Son. Wow, talk about change of plans! What will everyone say? How’s she supposed to tell Joseph?! Will he still even want to marry her?
And Joseph, he’s engaged to marry the most thoughtful, caring and beautiful girl in Nazareth (again, making an assumption here). He’s building a house for them (Jewish custom). And then he finds out that Mary is pregnant and he knows it’s not his child. Mary has some unbelievable story about an angel. All of his plans and expectations are gone. But then an angel comes to him too. Joseph decides to go ahead and take Mary as his wife, and become the earthly father to the Son of God!
If this wasn’t enough change, just before Mary reaches the end of her pregnancy, they find out that they must travel to Bethlehem for a census. That’s 100 miles away! I think it would be easy at this point to call out to God and say, “ Uh, remember us? We thought this was going to be easy when we said yes. What’s going on?!”
Now Mary knows she won’t get to have the baby at home, surrounded by her mother, sisters, midwives. She’ll be in a strange town. But Mary goes into labor before they even arrive! Joseph goes door to door, possibly even carrying Mary, begging for a place to stay. They’re finally offered an area in the stable, next to the animals. And no one is there to help. Jesus, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, was born in a barn! Not what we would expect at all, but absolutely part of God’s plan. Jesus came to the world to be available to all people. From the shepherds to the Magi and everyone in between. Jesus is the Savior for all!
God’s plans never changed. This was all part of His plan, prophesied many years before. Sometimes it takes major events for our plans to line up with God’s plans. And just because it’s God’s plan, it doesn’t mean it will be easy.
We’ll still get to head south eventually and spend time with the other missionaries we are looking forward to meeting in person. We’re trusting that God knows better than we. God hasn’t failed us yet. We all could benefit from a little more faith and trust, and this is exactly how we build it, one step at a time along the path He sets before us.
Side note: If you haven’t watched the movie The Nativity Story, I recommend it this Christmas season. Yes, some theatrical liberties were taken, but I felt it gave me a better sense of the struggles and realities of Jesus’ birth so long ago.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.
Psalm 18:1-3 (ESV)
When it seems like the world is in ruins and everything is falling apart around us, we are reminded that there is a place of security and strength to which we can run. Even if we are far away, there is a beacon of hope, a lighthouse in the storm. The Lord stands strong in the midst of our struggles and battles. We can run to safety at his side and trust him to fight against the enemy that would destroy us.
While this summer did not look anything like we expected it to (see Brandy’s posts – France, Switzerland), it has been educational. We were able to visit with a number of missionaries in Europe, which was what we hoped for. We were also able to visit Normandy, France as well as Mont Saint Michel (definitely marked off a couple of lifelong “to-do’s”). One of the most amazing things about our travels this summer was the number of castles we have seen. The vast majority are ruins, but some have been restored or are in the process of restoration.
I found myself looking at these structures wondering about their history, about who used to live there and what their lives were like. Wondering why they abandoned such a seeming ideal structure. Had there been a family tragedy? A war? Financial ruin? Legal troubles? A move for a job that paid better than farming?
When we visited Nomandy, we saw many structures that had been rebuilt after being bombed and blown up in World War II. The reason for their destruction was obvious, but the fact that they, from their Humpty Dumpty state, had been put back together was remarkable. Restoration is an extensive and expensive process. Undoing years of neglect sometimes involves completely tearing down and rebuilding, often with the original materials. Sometimes, rather than rebuilding, the structures are scavenged for building materials for other structures, such as the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard near Avignon, France, the largest standing aqueduct that was contemporary with Jesus Christ.
Why are some structures maintained, some rebuilt, others repurposed and still others abandoned? The difference is in the level to which someone cared about and for them. In a Genesis 3 world, it takes time and effort to maintain anything. Everything is moving toward destruction, degradation or death. This is both a law of physics and a spiritual reality.
The state of Christianity in Europe can be seen literally and symbolically in the bones of churches strewn across the landscape.
Many churches have been “re-purposed” as shops, pubs and museums. I guess I am glad that some of the architecture and art has been maintained, but it is a stark reminder that it is a gravesite of a once worshipping body of Christ.
These stone and wood structures suffered the ravages of years of neglect. As I pondered the history, I imagined the process of decay. Except for cases like Normandy and the rapid decay brought on by explosive forces, the ruins were the result of small things left unchecked. Water, the universal solvent, leaking through a bit of thatched roof. If the occupants noticed and fixed the leak, further damage was prevented. Uncorrected, water gets into the walls and either begins to wash away plaster or nature begins to encroach. Soon, a stone comes loose allowing in more water or animals seeking a safe home. Fast forward a hundred years and you stand before a ruin.
Spiritually, there are many who have neglected their Christian walk and are little more than crumbled walls where once stood a beautiful cathedral. As the proverb says, “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:10-11) That is not to say that rest is inappropriate, but extended periods of laziness are.
In our spiritual lives, it looks like skipping our time in the Word once in a while so we can catch up on some sleep, followed soon after by sleeping in every morning with the intent to spend our lunch time with the Lord. Then we only read the Bible on Sundays at church, then we forget to take our Bible to church (we have it on our phone after all). Before long we are looking on Amazon because the sermon is boring and it is better to stay awake not listening than fall asleep piously.
So it goes with neglecting prayer, fellowship, giving, evangelism, etc. “Little” sins like a wandering eye, a grumpy attitude, looking out for one’s own interest grow into lust, anger and selfishness. We should not be surprised when our love for the Lord begins to wane and our faith begins to feel stale.
We need not despair when we see cracks in the walls or leaks in the roof. It does not mean that all is lost, it is a prompting from the Lord that we should attend to our house, that we need to pay attention to areas that have been neglected.
Maybe there is someone in your circle that used to be a strong Christ-follower. Have you ever wondered about their history? What happened in their lives that left their faith in ruins? What seeped into a small hole and created a crevice? A broken relationship? Lost job? Some “small” sin? When things don’t go the way we planned sometimes we assume that God is either powerless, unloving or absent. Discouragement and frustration become footholds that the enemy uses to weaken our faith and eventually breach the walls of our fortress.
Perhaps it isn’t someone else whose faith-walls are crumbling. Many Christians have lost some of the zeal and excitement of their early walk with the Lord. While everyone has days where they are anxious or discouraged, when we notice that we are having more bad days than good that is a prompting from God. When we notice that leak has made a stain, that the stain has developed into a crack, that the crack has become a gap, the Holy Spirit is giving us a glimpse of reality, a moment of clarity.
Unlike all those neglected church buildings reduced to ruins, our God cares enough for us that he will never abandon or forsake us. “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) We can run from God, or rather inch away from God, at the risk of ruining our earthly lives, but we have the promise that God will complete his work in us, working all things (including our rebellion) together for his glory and demonstrating his love for us.
The end of November may seem an odd time for our “What we did during our summer ‘vacation’” essay, but we’re finally back home (although not in the water quite yet). Looking back at our summer, it’s amazing to see God’s plans and how they overrode our plans. We thought we were going to spend the summer getting caught up on homeschool, admin, financial reports, and blog posts 😉 Dennis was going to work on research for his doctoral project. I was going to finish my certifications in counseling. We would never have bounced over the Atlantic without the promise of a few months to be still (and access to the internet). God knew that and I feel now (it’s taken some time to get here) that He used that plan to get us to Europe. After the disastrous month in France (if you missed that blog post, you can read about it here), we were searching for what God had in mind. He seemed to insist that we keep doing what He called us to do – spend our time helping and encouraging missionaries. In fact, even while we were in France, we had a missionary family spend a few days there before they headed to language school. It was a great opportunity to share our stories and encourage each other (we sure needed it at that point!).
We left France in search of peace for ourselves and the least expensive way back to the US. We knew our chances of getting a military space available flight during the summer were pretty slim, so we were looking for places to stay cheaply in Europe. Driving to and flying out of Paris was the cheapest option out of France. We searched for places to stay with many different ministries in Europe. We talked to quite a number of missionaries and ministry leaders in Europe during our search for places to stay. We didn’t get to meet most of them, but we’ve certainly made new friends through email. A 3 hour detour to Switzerland became the new plan when a family offered us room and board for almost a week (although I have to admit, I was hoping to get to go to Switzerland).
On our way to Switzerland, we made our first stop at Pont Julien, a 2000 year old bridge that was only about 5 miles from where we had been working (we just never had an opportunity to leave). We spent our “first night of freedom” near the Pont du Gard. (On a side night, if you ever think staying in a safari tent sounds like fun, maybe think again. The sheer number and size of the spiders was slightly terrifying. Caleb made the mistake of teasing Hope after she screamed when a large spider came inches from her face, and he ended up having to trade beds with her. You could tell he was freaking out a bit too, but he held it together and survived the night without any screams or bites.) The Pont du Gard is the highest and one of the best preserved ancient Roman aqueduct bridges that provided water to the city of Nîmes. It was part of the 31 mile aqueduct system that was built in the first century. First century! We’re talking about when Jesus walked the earth! It stands 160 feet high and only descends 1 inch across the almost 1/3 of a mile length. The system carried 8,800,000 gallons of water a day! Mind blowing and beautiful.
We were invited to stay at the Hotel Kurhaus in Grimmialp, a Christian hotel/retreat center tucked in the Alps about an hour south of the city of Bern, Switzerland. A wonderful family with 4 children run it. As it turned out, the husband had served as a missionary for many years in Guatemala. His first language is Swiss German (which I didn’t even know was a language before arriving in Switzerland), but his Spanish is perfect. His wife spoke some Spanish but was more comfortable with English. Our conversations together were probably pretty comical to any outsiders as we had four languages going at once, if you include the accidental French instead of Spanish! He said God has quite a sense of humor. They didn’t get to visit Mexico/Central America this year; instead God brought part of Mexico to them.
We also met other families that were there for a retreat. True to our children’s nature, they jumped right into soccer games and the playground (which absolutely would be outlawed in the US because it was too much fun, ie. dangerous) with the other kids and had a blast, even though they didn’t speak the same language. Language only creates a barrier if you let it – challenging still, yes, but it doesn’t have to separate us (and we are very blessed that most of the world speaks English). Dennis helped build a VERY large teepee for their summer programs (but sadly, no pictures) and the kids also enjoyed playing the family’s chickens.
We took a few days to relax and explore some of Switzerland, including caves, castles, lakes, and an Alpine slide (check out the full video here)! Oddly enough, I wanted so badly to be on one of the sailboats out on the ice blue lakes surrounded by the high snow capped mountains. It was just incredible. My favorite thing was the quiet evenings, listening to the cows’ bells as they wandered the hillside in the dimming pink sunlight, as the sky slowly turned to an inky shade of blue.
Words and pictures just can’t touch the beauty of Switzerland and the people there (even though I tried). Hope has decided she wants to live there and I would happily visit her often. Switzerland provided the peace we desperately needed.
Ok, so this is a very hard thing to ask. In the past four years, we have poured our lives and resources into the boat and the ministry to which God has called us. We have just received
the response from the state of California regarding our appeal.
Bottom line up front: we owe California $15,945.15 for something they call “use tax.”
When we started this journey four years ago, we had more than $50,000 in the bank (and a full-time, good-paying job). We had paid off all our debt including cars and turned around our financial world thanks in large part to Financial Peace University and Dave Ramsey. Today, not including our shipyard bill of about $3000, we have a balance in the bank of -$200. We have $4667.45 of ministry expenses on a credit card (Sorry, Dave Ramsey, life happens). The yard bill will go on the card as well.
We are extremely thankful for those of you who have supported us financially. At this point, our financial partners provide $1500 a month ($1100 after this month). This is roughly 25% of our monthly ministry expenses. To this point, the balance has come from our savings and retirement pay. The rule of thumb on boat maintenance expenses is 10% of the boat’s value per year. For us that is about $20,000. That doesn’t include other expenses such as marina fees, fuel, immigration, etc. Our boat payment alone is $1300 a month. These expenses are inherent in getting to missionaries. Once we arrive, there are the expenses of actually coming alongside the missionaries – such as transportation to them from wherever the boat is moored. Having done this for two years, our savings is depleted to $2083.38. (The kids each have about $15,000 in 529 plans thanks to an inheritance from Brandy’s grandfather.) We have nothing additional going into college or retirement savings. My monthly retirement pay is $3665.50. That goes toward food, clothing, shelter and education. We are not getting rich off of this ministry, at least financially. We are living frugally and modestly, seeking to be faithful with that which God has entrusted to us.
. It is basically sales tax for the purchase of our boat. We did due diligence for about a year to find out if we were exempt as non-resident military and had no luck. At the time of purchase, we had set aside the approximate amount, but as we never received a bill or response from the state, we spent that money on maintenance and repairs to the boat.
Additionally, last month we got to the bottom of an indebtedness to the US Department of the Treasury regarding an overpayment by the Navy. When I returned from Iraq, they failed to stop my special pays for Imminent Danger, Family Separation and Hazardous Duty. I knew I was overpaid on these and had put aside the overpayment. Before I retired, we had about $3500 deducted from my paycheck the payday before my retirement ceremony. (Ouch!) Since I no longer had access to my LES (pay stubs), I was unable to verify exactly what it was, but, since it was the same amount as my overpayment, logic said that it was my repayment. What we were finally able to discover was that was the federal tax on my untaxed combat zone pay. We hadn’t considered the federal tax. So, we still had additional indebtedness to the government of about $2000.
We know that God could make this disappear with a mere thought, but it appears that he has other plans. Part of that plan is to invite you to participate in serving missionaries in Mexico and Central America.
Here is what we need:
First, prayer for us. This is frightening, discouraging and challenging
to our faith and sense of calling. I’m sure you all know the weight that a financial burden can have. We do not think this is God’s way of telling us to sell the boat to pay off the debt and quit, but it is a storm and Jesus appears to be sleeping in the stern of the boat.
Second, prayer for our finances. Obviously, we cannot pay these debts in our financial situation. I know everyone has challenges, but we know that our God will meet our needs. We also know that he uses his children as stewards of his wealth. Please pray that those on whom God lays a burden to assist would trust and obey. We are first and foremost asking for a one-time, special gift for this specific time. Of course, we are also looking for regular giving parters. If God puts it on your heart to help, you can donate online at: SUPPORT
Finally, prayer for our ministry. We are planning to visit our missionary contacts in Loreto and La Paz as well as assist a new boating missionary family in La Cruz. Around the first of the year we will partner with missionaries in Guatemala, missionaries in Honduras in the spring and missionaries in Panama in the summer. There are many miles of open water between here and there, so we need your prayers.
The summer is almost over and we’ve yet to post anything. There’s much to say, but it’s been hard to relive some of the situations to put them into words. So, we just didn’t and instead we have been dreading this post. Today I (Brandy) decided that maybe putting it all down “on paper” might just be the therapy I need (and then it’s taken another couple of weeks before I feel ready to post it).
We had so many reasons to believe that spending a few months in France was a great opportunity (see our previous post about this), but as it turned out, most of those expectations were based on misinformation. This post is long, but I feel many of you may be wondering about all the details (well, I’m a detail person).
House sitting at a small AirBnB in France sounded amazing! We were told to expect 1-2 hours of work per day – “Just check to see that the rooms are ready and greet the guests with the keys when they arrive.” It sounded pretty simple. We felt this was quite fair, and was going to fit well with our needs to finish this year’s homeschooling with the kids and allow Dennis the time he needed to finish his dissertation during hurricane season. However, as it turned out, we were working 8-12 hours per day. We arrived to rooms that were not ready to be occupied, unkept grounds with 3’ tall weeds everywhere, a partially finished fountain with water and mosquitoes that had apparently been sitting for weeks.
We were doing laundry around the clock, waking to put another load in the washer and hang up the sheets and towels that weren’t quite dry after 2 hrs in the dryer. With inadequate numbers of linens, it took hours to wash, dry and iron before we could finish preparing the rooms. The one residential European sized washing machine and dryer were severely inadequate for running an operation of that size.
And speaking of size, the property was quite a bit larger than we were led to believe. There were four 2 bedroom cottages with kitchen and bathrooms plus 3 other smaller rooms with 2 beds and a bathroom. There were a total of 17 beds plus 4 towels per bed. The rooms were almost always full, last minute reservations were common (11pm) and a few times she didn’t even let us know someone was coming (they’d just show up with an email reservation confirmation)! In 32 days, we cleaned the rooms 80 times. That’s about 200 bed changes and over 800 towels in a machine that would only hold one set of sheets at a time (and that was cramming them in)! They also insisted that we iron the sheets with a small ironing board and one iron (I’ve never seen anything come out of a dryer so wrinkled)! Apparently the owners lived in 4 of the rooms and only rented 3. We also found out that they have never been there in the summer months either since they purchased the property two years ago. They had someone watch the property last summer and he refused to return this year. They had no idea of what we were talking about when we tried to explain that it was physically impossible to wash the sheets and towels and get them back in the rooms in time for the next check in. There was certainly no time to take any day trips, much less an overnight trip to Paris as they suggested back in April. We even had to carefully time the trips to the grocery store so no one arrived to check in while we were gone.
We were told there would be minimum maintenance, possibly flipping a circuit breaker or two. The gardener would be around to handle anything more involved. We saw him only a handful of times during our 5 weeks and he never finished what he was supposed to, much less help with maintenance. In just the first few days, Dennis fixed two shower doors (one was leaning against the wall when we arrived), replaced 2 toilet seats, cleared multiple clogged drains, purchased and replaced a door knob, repaired multiple sink drains, pulled and sprayed weeds, trimmed a huge bush that was hanging into the pool, killed a poisonous snake, and replaced over a dozen light bulbs.
Additionally, they told us they would provide a detailed book of instructions, where to find circuit breakers, simple tools, contact information, and all supplies for 3 months. There was nothing left for us in the way of instructions. We continually asked for contact information for the gardener and only had enough supplies for the first week. We spent approximately $200 of our own money on things such as distilled water for ironing, small trash bags, light bulbs, toilet cleaner/deodorizer, parts for shower door, kitchen sponges, door knob, toilet seat, laundry detergent, toilet paper, coffee pods, and cleaning products.
The living conditions we were given were quite lacking. The “fully furnished 2 bedroom apartment” contained a queen mattress on the floor, 3 twin beds, a futon, a desk, a table and 10 mismatched (some broken) chairs. No closets, no shelves, no drawers. The kitchen did have quite a lot of dishes, glasses, and pots and pans, however they were all broken, chipped, missing handles, etc. The pantry was left (3 weeks) before we arrived with dozens of open packages of cereal, flour, cornmeal, and the insects that hatched. We were constantly dealing with maggots and moths long after we threw everything away. The infestation of fleas (they had two indoor pets) made things quite uncomfortable. Without exaggeration, we had hundreds of flea bites. The toilets in all the rooms were full of tiny flies when we first arrived as well.
The small car in “good condition” that we rented from them (we were actually paying them!) turned out to be frustrating also, but a necessity to go purchase the needed supplies. They said it didn’t need any maintenance in the coming months, but we would be responsible should something break, “like a flat tire.” However, the tires were old and had very little tread. Add to that the window that didn’t roll down, key fob didn’t work, the only door lock mechanism didn’t turn, and it wouldn’t shift into second gear. Not exactly what we would call good condition.
We were in constant communication with the owners regarding the guests who would be arriving, however all of our concerns and questions were mostly ignored. We were never given the gardener’s contact information, they never acknowledged the fleas, the unfinished fountain and dangerous tools left out, car problems, or really anything. They failed to tell us that “our space” was the common area and kitchen that guests were allowed to use. That made more sense when we discovered that they lived in the 4 rooms upstairs and the downstairs (our space) was just the common area, extra kitchen and office. When I asked about extra linens or how she kept up with the laundry, her response was just that we’d figure it out. No options or even a thank you. When we asked for them to order more supplies and have them delivered (a few days after we arrived), they said to just go buy them at the store. We never were reimbursed for our gas for these trips. When we told them we couldn’t find the right parts for the broken shower track after 3 stores in 3 towns, she refused to order them. Instead their plan was that Dennis should just use the parts from another room that had the same type shower and move the pieces back and forth depending on which room was occupied. Besides being a horrible idea, the rooms were both almost constantly booked. She also wouldn’t block the room from new bookings until it could be fixed either.
After a week of this drama (yep, week 1), we let them know that we could not stay the entire summer in this type of situation. We agreed to stay a month because we knew it would be a hardship on them to find someone else (although practically 100 others responded to the same post I did). We told them we would continue to work hard to make sure the property was clean and the guests were comfortable and happy. We did our best to keep things cordial and polite since we knew we had another 3 weeks.
During the remaining weeks, Dennis reattached screens on every window, replaced another toilet seat, fixed outdoor chairs, defrosted refrigerators, fixed air conditioners, We had one night that the hot water was out on one room (with the rudest guest we had) and our kitchen sink. The 2 water heaters were working fine and the owners weren’t responding to our questions. Finally after almost 2 hours of trial and error and walking the property, Dennis found a gas water heater in the gardener’s tool shed that the pilot light was out. He relit it and half an hour later, at 11pm, we were back in business. Finally around midnight the owners responded that we should check the gas water heater. Dennis refused to take care of the roof leak and the owners still hadn’t addressed it when we left.
We also emailed them to discuss a payment for our work, reimbursement for the supplies we purchased, and especially no charge for the car. We found out through a guest that they charged a cleaning fee. They again completely ignored our email. Dennis did some research on the average minimum wage in France (for a 35 hr week and we were working more like 50-60 hrs/week). We also looked up the cost of a furnished apartment in the area. Just counting the two of us (not taking into consideration the work our children were putting in), we should have been paid about 6000 euro/month ($6970). The average rent was only 500 euros. We asked them for a payment of $1500 (the cleaning fees for the number of rooms we cleaned) to help cover our travel expenses, plus reimbursement for what purchased for their property. Nowhere near what they would pay actual workers (it worked out to about $1/hr) but still a bit to help us.
After a week, we sent another email, requesting acknowledgment that they received the first email. They had, and said they would get back to us soon. We continued to ask them every few days with the same response. We were also informed that they couldn’t have anyone arrive until Monday, the 9th, 3 days after we said we were leaving. That added another extremely difficult weekend. We agreed to stay if they would pay us what we were asking. On Saturday, the 7th, Dennis sent another email asking for a decision on the money or we weren’t cleaning any more rooms. We did clean the rooms though, and had them ready for the next round of guests, so I guess this was just a bit of an ultimatum to get them to give us an answer. I sent another message stating the rooms were clean and ready but we really needed an answer. Well, about 9:00 that night (the whole day passed!) the answer we got was that someone was coming to collect the keys, we had less than an hour to get out, and after the property was inspected for damages, he would reimburse us for the supplies we purchased!
What?! Damages?! We were shocked and angry. How many things had Dennis fixed?! Our reimbursement was long overdue and shouldn’t have been held ransom anyways. He said if we weren’t out that night he would charge us 225 euro (if I remember correctly) to stay at HIS AirBnB since we weren’t working. He completely ignored the fact that we were, in fact, still working! We hadn’t packed because we were cleaning all day, still doing laundry and awaiting another guest. I had made a reservation to pick up the rental car on the 8th so we couldn’t leave anyways. He said we could stay if we agreed to clean all the rooms on Sunday. We felt so bullied! But we did it. That property was cleaner the morning of the 9th than it had probably ever been! We were reimbursed for our purchases (not for gas) and given about 400 euros ($464, not even a third of what we asked). It didn’t even cover half of our flight to France.
The kids said they learned a lot from the summer, mostly that the world is a contrast of people. We met people from 6 continents while we were there. So many countries and languages came to our doorstep, including a young US missionary family serving in Africa. Some of our favorites were from Sweden and Russia. We had people stay 15 hours and use every possible towel, bed, bar of soap, steal toilet paper!, leave dirty dishes on the counter, trash everywhere but the trash can and expect someone to clean up after them. Others would stay 2-3 days, use one towel each, wash every dish they used and even take the trash out themselves. I know our kids will always be the latter because they know that behind the scenes is someone who does the cleaning. They certainly learned that their actions affect others.
We learned there are those that will bend the truth, take advantage, and bully to get their way. But there are many more who are kind, friendly, and love to share their lives with those they meet.
Thankfully, this was only the first part of our summer. Our God can and does make beauty from our ashes, and those stories are still to come.