Stories from Wahiawa: Nebi Silk

Praying for Nebi and her girls

Praying for Nebi and her girls

Less then a week ago we tragically lost a former Ulu Pono Kid, Jay Nihoa Baird. Jay was only 14 years old and his death was alcohol related. Over the past days so many emotions have spiraled through me; anger, sadness, guilt but also a spurring to share the incredible, but too often heart breaking stories of the people I work with here in Hawaii. The story of Jay is still too raw for me to write about quite yet, but it has encouraged me to share the story of others.

 

Two years ago I jumped into the position of Ulu Pono Director at Surfing The Nations. Taking on this role began me on a path of deep relationship with many of the local people. I vaguely remember meeting Nebi Silk, Marshallese mother of six for the first few times when I would pick up her then 9 year old Bryant, 4 year old Akiko and 2 year old Queeny for Ulu Pono. My first distinct memory of her was a Wednesday some time in February 2013 when I first noticed an unusual bruise looking mark covering half of Queeny’s midsection. Immediately assuming it was a bruise, and knowing her boyfriend, Queenny’s father Alex had been known for being violent in the home, I burst into tears and sought out Jeremy, my department head at the time. We visited the home and asked Nebi about the bruises and she laughed at us. I was fuming, how could this mother laugh when we asked her about this bruise, didn’t she know how serious this was. Jeremy and I prayed for many hours together in the office that night. We prayed for the family, for Queeny and Nebi and we prayed about contacting child services. Over the next week we monitored the mark, which never changed and when we were finally able to speak to Alex he explained it was a birth mark, one Queeny has to this day. But why did Nebi laugh? A resentment grew in my heart against her for this, a resentment that wasn’t eased by her mess of a house, poor parenting skills and all over lack of responsibility.

 

Nebi and Queenny

Nebi and Queenny

But I also wasn’t ready to give up on her. I started spending more time at their house, basically inviting myself in, playing with her kids while she sat, she really didn’t seem to do much else. I would chase her kids down when they ran out of the house, pick them up when they fell head first off of a chair all while she sat...and sat. But after months of sitting on the floor with her and trying to talk with her in her non-existent english there was one thing I realized, she laughed when she didn’t understand me. So all those months ago when she had laughed when I had asked about the mark, she simply hadn’t understood me and that was her defense mechanism. When she didn’t understand, she would laugh. 

 

But even after months of sitting with Nebi, I still felt a wall between us, one that I just couldn’t seem to clamber up and one she seemed to have no intention of taking down. Sometime over the summer Nebi and her family moved out of their cousin’s apartment and in with another Marshallese family. Jemity, the mother of this family had grown up with her grandparents in America and spoke fluent English. Because of this we were able to communicate with her with obvious ease, and began spending much more time in their home learning all kinds of stories about the Marshall Islands, their traditions and cultural  differences. 

 

In September of 2013 my year long commitment on staff was up and many of my friends and classmates were moving on, but I felt God prompting me to stay and I will always be so thankful for deciding to follow His prompting. It was as if, by making the decision to stay longer than my commitment, so many walls began to crumble. My relationships with the families and specifically Nebi began to grow and grow. Nebi would come and hang out at our apartment and I remember so many amazing and joyful times of drinking tea, watching Bollywood movies and “talking story” with her. Her girls began to spend the night with us and go to the beach with us as Nebi began to trust us more and more. Nebi began to be more responsible and even began to dream about the possibility of her and Alex having their own home. I would encourage her to get her youngest daughters in pre-school so she could get a job and help make this dream a reality and she would laugh and say maybe later.

 

Brittany, Kirsten and I with Nebi and her daughters Queenny, Jina and Akiko

Brittany, Kirsten and I with Nebi and her daughters Queenny, Jina and Akiko

By the spring of 2014 the family had moved about 40 minutes away to live with Nebi’s parents and then moved again to live with cousins. I was so disappointed for them to be so far away as we began to see them less and less. In the summer we began to see a change in Nebi, she seemed heavier and lazier than before. We would arrive at their house for a visit at 2pm and she would just be waking up. We began to wonder if she could be pregnant, but every time we asked she would deny it, laughing.


But she could only deny it for so long and a week before Christmas she told us she was 8 months pregnant, although she hadn’t seen a doctor yet. She also told us that when the baby was born he or she would be given to a cousin. I was crushed. All that time and trust I thought we had built seemed to have taken a big step back. Why had she lied to me for so many months? I still don’t have an answer to that question. Maybe she was ashamed that she hadn’t visited a doctor? Maybe she didn’t want us fussing over her? I don’t know if I will ever understand, but on January 6th Nebi gave birth to her seventh child, daughter Tarlia Marisa. She was born in Nebi’s mother’s home and given to Nebi’s cousin, who is married with her own home and one child of her own. We visited Nebi just a few days after she gave birth and she seemed tired, a little disconnected emotionally but overall well. She had visited a doctor after her birth and even been put on a five year birth control method, an amazing step towards not having her eighth child. 


A few weeks later we visited her again and she seemed more energized than I had seen her in a long time, which makes sense now that we know she had been pregnant! I was asking her about Tarlia and how things were with Alex when she interrupted me to excitedly tell me that she had gotten a job! For the past week she had been taking the bus on a two hour journey to the mall to work as a cleaner there after hours! I could barely believe what I was hearing when she tells me she had actually really enjoyed working and was disappointed because she may have to stop as there was no-one to take care of Queeny and her 2 year old Natasha. Even though she may have had to stop working I am insanely proud of her and feel so blessed to have been an influence in her life in encouraging her to work and take responsibility for her family. A week ago Alex called me to ask me to help them find their own home, preferably in Wahiawa. I am not really sure how I can do this, but I hope and now truly believe that one day they have their own home!


Please continue to pray for me and my relationship with Nebi and her beautiful family!


Mahalo!

God's Peace Amidst Turmoil

It was a regular night just like any other. I lay in my bed trying to figure out the medical mystery on House faster than the doctors, some clue in the first few minutes must give me some insight....BRIIIIIIIING I jolted out of my focus as my phone rang. To be honest I'm terrible about answering my phone, especially when I'm trying to relax, but I felt urged to answer this time. I wouldn't say I felt an overwhelming sense of God's spirit pushing me to answer, but looking back He was definitely already moving. 
 "Katie, some of your girls (from the kids program) are crying down the street saying their cousin sexually molested them."
 I sat up abruptly swung my leg out in one swift motion and jumped off my bunkbed before she finished the sentence. I was down the street in a matter of minutes, nothing could stop me not even Victor yelling after me that I shouldn't be walking alone. 

Two cop cars. One boy already inside. "What's going on?" I asked the first person that I knew. Crowds had already formed, it seemed like everyone on Ohai street was on their porches or on the street watching the nothingness that followed the action. After gaining information on who the girls were I charged down the street. I'd barely known one of the girls two weeks but when she saw me she ran to me and my arms were ready to embrace her. "What's going on?" I asked her and through tears and whimpers she began to tell me the story of being cornered and touched against her will behind some parked cars right here in the neighborhood. Then she told me the names of the two boys. My heart sank faster than an anchor at sea. I knew them both. The older I had known well for years and he and some friends had watched a movie at my house just earlier that day. The younger big, his cousin had immigrated from the Marshall Islands just nine months earlier and I learned he was the boy in custody. 

After further talks with the girls and their mothers and as many hugs and reassuring words as I could think of, I headed back down to the boys house. I walked inside the families home to a grim scene. Heads down held in hands, somber faces. I talked to the dad who's son was currently in custody and he told me the police had told him he was not allowed outside as a fight had broken out earlier when the angry uncle of the young girl came after him. I told him I'd go to the police station and find out what I could and that if the older boy came home they must bring him to the station, it would look worse if he ran. 
As I walked to the police station my colleague and friend Aquila and Mitchell picked me up. We drove the rest of the way and received no information other than the father would be called when he could pick up his boy. We decided to begin to search town for the older boy, the one we knew so well, the one we had loved and mentored for years. I was determined to find him before the police did or before her made a run for it. We searched the park, the grocery and were headed somewhere else, we didn't even know where yet when I got a text from my roommate "He is at our house" Keep him there, I told her and the moment came when I was going to have to make one of the hardest phone calls of my life. 
"Wahiawa Police Department, how can I help you?"
I explained to them what was going on and that the boy they were looking for was at my home. "Will he run?" They asked me. I didn't think so. "Bring him outside and we will be there in a moment." I've never wanted so desperately to stay away from my house. Yet I had to walk in. There he was sitting on our couch, no idea of what was about to happen. "What happened tonight?" I asked him. He tried to deny, tried to ignore, never making eye contact. I told him the police were on their way, an anger sparked in him and he jumped up and I thought he might run. "You must be brave" I told him "and above all you must tell them the truth!" We walked outside as the police exited his vehicle. They immediately cuffed him and sat him on the ground. He tried his best to act tough, act like he didn't care. I had to write a statement and after two cops cruised by with bright lights shining in his face in order to identify him he was formally arrested and placed in the back of the car. "Please, can I speak with him?" I asked the police. They agreed and opened the car door for me. I saw that anger spark for a moment again as I leaned in toward him. "I love you buddy, we all love you. Nothing you could do would make us stop loving you. I know you're mad and don't understand why I had to do this. But please trust me. Please be brave and tell the truth! We love you" his eye twinkled with tears he would not let fall. 
As the car drive away I walked in the other direction towards the boys' house to update the dad and other boys step mom. I feared they would be angry with me but they understood.
The next day we went to visit the boys. Again I feared he would be angry at me for calling the police. But I didn't mind his anger because I knew he'd see that I cared. But there was no anger when we arrived just a mask of fear and a genuine lack of understanding. We talked it through with him what court might be like, that he needed some nice clothes and that the reality was he might go to Juvi. We talked through the events although it took us about an hour to get to the truth. He had done what the girls claimed he had. We told him he had to be brave and tell the court and the judge the truth. 
As I walked away I waited for tears to come. I thought I would cry at some point. But through it all I felt God's peace above all. I was so thankful to be placed in such a special role in this boys painful life. It. Doesn't mean I wasn't sad and broken but those emotions were held at bay, cradled by the peace of God that told me I would make it through. He said Katie I have equipped you with the love you need to conquer this battle and stand by this guilty boy in love. Without God I would be nothing a mess amongst a messy situation, lost in grief. He is victorious. 

Please pray for the youth of our country. Sexual assault amongst peers is most often started when a youth is sexually assaulted themselves by an adult. Pray for the boys and girls that I work with and pray for overwhelming wisdom as I live life in and amongst these desperate people. 

Joy !

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For the past two years I have been working directly with families almost exclusively from the Micronesian, Chuuk and Marshallese islands. Most of the parents have come over here as adults sometimes bringing their children with them, sometimes leaving them with family back on the islands and then sometimes birthing children here in the states. With them come their different backgrounds, culture, parenting style, foods and many other things. Sometimes it is very hard to understand but we strive to do our best to learn about the families specific island and stories.

Many of the families are very blended and live together or apart like puzzles built out of many random pieces. Sometimes there is abuse and neglect within the homes and other times there is much love and loyalty. There is one family I have grown particularly close to that is very blended, and I don't think I could even explain it if I tried. But one of the daughter/cousins that I will call Lily for this blog, is a particularly sweet one with a sad but redeeming story.

Two years ago when she was around eight years old she had gotten her hands on a lighter somehow and while playing with it she broke it and spilled lighter fluid on herself. Somehow in the moments after she was able to start the flame of the lighter and the fluid that had soaked her clothes went up in flames. These injuries resulted in third degree burns that covered more than 30% of her body including her entire upper legs and torso. 

Obviously the weeks she spent in the hospital were horrifically hard and painful, and the two years to follow were as well. For a year she was on a restricted diet to make sure her new growing skin did not rip and she became very thin. She was also never allowed in the water, although she would often sit by the waters edge with us building sand castles and getting her feet wet.

This Wednesday she had the all-clear from the doctor to go in the water! So when we took her to the beach her little body shook with excitement and some hesitation. She was obviously self conscience of her scars and had title desire to be fully exposed. She also had no swim ware as it had literally been years since she could be in the water. Thankfully thanks to many kind donations we had a nice one piece swimsuit and some shorts she could wear. Nervous but excited she walked down to the water hand in hand with Brittany and slowly waded in, to her tummy, her chest, her neck before dunking her entire head under. Coming up from the water she proclaimed "This feels like a dream" and continued to say things like "It doesn't hurt, it doesn't hurt!" and "God is so good! I love Jesus for healing me!"

Learning how to float again!

Learning how to float again!


It was a beautiful thing to see the joy in her eyes! Tonight at Jesus Saves our Youth Group for local kids we talked about "Joy" the second of the fruits on our series of the fruit of the spirit and she shared with her small group "I felt God's joy when I went swimming!" 

Imagination

Over the past year I have begun to ponder the imagination. Can one simply develop their own imagination or does it at some primary level have to be taught to a child?

My little sister turns 21 today. Unbelievable. Being two years older than her I have known her for as long as I can remember and our childhood was full of the imagination. From playing house with Playmobile or American Girl Dolls, to building forts and playing rock band it seemed we were always using our imagination. I have also always loved to write. I remember writing a story when I was probably around six about a girl that was sucked down her bathtub as it emptied and landed on a pirate ship. Around nine I began to read the Harry Potter series which quickly became an obsession of mine. I remember sitting in the drawing room for hours reading the newest books and desperately waiting for the next book to come out! In high school my use of imagination and writing was somewhat stifled. But in college my love for writing and using my imagination came alive again with creative writing and Shakespeare classes. Throughout my childhood I always had parents that supported and pushed me into using my imagination. My parents would help me build forts, buy me toys to play with and help me with my English assignments. The imagination was something that was encouraged and rewarded.

But something that I noticed with the children I have worked with over the past few years is their lack of imagination. They like to play, and are often found riding bikes and playing with balls, but what their playing has in energy it lacks in imagination. They don't play house or animals, they don't have many toys to play with and their parents are not very involved with their playing. I have seen this lead to such a lack of imagination within the children. They can't even imagine their futures, or what they would like to be when they grow up. That breaks my heart.

Yesterday we took 8 of the elementary aged children from our street to the Hawaiian Discovery Center a small science and discovery center in Honolulu. The first half hour of our visit they demonstrated their lack of both fear (bordering on bullying other children) and attention span. They ran from station to station literally knocking down anyone in their way spending just a few moments pulling on levers and looking at lights before they ran off to the next station. About 45 minutes in I sat exhausted watching them pull on and rip off costumes in the small mock theatre. Still there seemed to be no imagination, no taking on the persona of the character their costumes portrayed just spastic running around the stage screaming for more attention then myself or my two other staff girls could give them. But after the theatre station we broke into groups, mine consisting of 4 year old Miracle and 5 year old Toddrick. We made our way over to the mock kitchen where they donned chef coats and hats and began to play around with plastic food and pots. 

All of a sudden I saw the imagination begin to break through. Carefully they placed the food into the pots, turned the dials and wait for the food to "heat up". Then they brought the food to me, carefully to wear their mittens and poured the "hot" food onto my plate. They busied themselves around the kitchen for almost 20 minutes putting things in and out of the oven, stove, fridge and plate. Finally I made them move on to the next station so a scared but adorable little girl with pink glasses could have a turn. We continued on to play doctor and they checked my heart and took x-rays for another 20 minutes. 

It was a beautiful thing to watch their imaginations come alive. I love the Albert Einstein quote "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Yesterday watching the beauty of imagination and the way it bred learning within the kids stirred me to continue to read them fairy tales, build forts  and encourage their imaginations. I am so thankful to have had a family who was committed to taking the time to give life to my imagination and I hope to be someone who encourages the imagination of kids wherever I go.


Bangladesh: Story One

25 days. 14 team members. One nation. 

How could I possibly sum up my trip to Bangladesh is one blog post? It is a feat that is completely impossible no matter how hard I would try. Having been home four days I have barely begun to process the stories, memories, new friends, new passions and heartbreak that were all a part of my trip. But as I try to break down the trip into specific memories meaningful stories appear and I will do my best to share those stories.

Ou first day in the city of Cox's Bazar was full of action. The morning started with a surf session, which is a succession of adventures. From wearing boy's board shorts and dark baggy tshirts, to hailing a rickshaw, paying the rickshaw, carrying our boards down the beach, paddling past many staring men to finally catching some small but very fun, very warm waves in the Bay of Bengal. Next was the adventurous trip back to the hotel and then breakfast as a team with many street kids in tow at Poshe, a local restaurant. After a Bengali breakfast we headed to the fish market, the former working place of our Bengali STN Staff Member Aziz. As we walked around we marveled at the swift work of the men in the market. Fish were flying everywhere in some kind of organized chaos like a choreographed dance happening all around us. The men were pounding large chunks of ice into smaller chunks and carving the skins off of eels. As we watched the men work, staring in amazement and trying to hide any expression that revealed our feelings about the fish stench the men would notice us, our white skin and fair hair and stop and stare. Like some kind of strange show, we would look at them, and they would look at us. 

I realized that this must not have been too different from the fish market that Jesus would have visited. Were his disciples much different from the men who were looking up at me? When Jesus walked in and said "follow me" what made them leave it all behind. These men were no doubt working just to stay alive. Too keep food on the table and maybe their kids in school, if they were that blessed. How many would walk away to follow the savior. That takes guts.

Sometimes I envy the disciples, they were able to walk and talk, dine and rest with the son of God, savior of the Earth. They were there when he healed and there when he was crucified. But as I walked over past the men pulling in nets and stepped down into a wooden boat I was sure was going to sink I realized that the moment they walked away from the fish market took more guts than maybe anything else they'd ever do in their life. They left behind their family, their guarantee of financial stability, their life's work and their friends. All because one man beckoned them. I want to be that brave. To know the voice of Jesus and leave everything behind when he beckons me. It's scary to leave your family, it's absolutely terrifying to have no financial stability and walk away from all you know, but look at what the disciples got to experience. Look at where God has taken me so far, to Hawaii and then to Bangladesh I wouldn't give up those adventures with God for anything, and I hope this is just the beginning. 

Don't worry: more stories to come!

Ohai Family Festival

Do you remember your first piano recital or football game? The weeks of practice and the butterflies in your stomach. Do you remember looking up into the bleachers or squinting from the bright stage into the dark crowd. And there they were. The people who had pushed (maybe slightly forced) you to be there. They looked at you with love and pride, trying to mask their own anxiety for you. They were yours, belonged to you, your parents.

I remember many moments like this growing up and I long for those moments now living thousands of miles away. But the kids I work with don't ever get moments like that. Maybe mom and dad are too busy, or gone completely or just uninterested. Many of the kids have never been to a soccer practice or a ballet class. The street is where they spend their afternoons. The street and the Ulu Pono Kids Program. They may never hear their parents tell them how proud they were or that it was okay that they dropped the final pass. Often times it just isn't a part of their culture. But that doesn't mean that we can't tell them we are proud of them! So this weekend that is exactly what we did!

The Ohai Family Festival was a dream that we had cultivated for over a year before it came to pass. Many hours of dreaming, hoping, wishing and planning came to life in a beautiful afternoon. For four hours last Saturday everything was about the kids. The games, the prizes, the music, the shave ice. All because we were proud of them and we loved them. 

Half way through the afternoon, we awarded each child from the program a "Character Award" they were called up on stage in front of everyone and amazingly there were even some parents in the crowd. They got a hug, a certificate, encouragement and an affirmation by different staff members. Most of them got really shy about it, red cheeked and squirming they got on stage and while they acted like they wanted to run off the stage, I know them better than that. They love, love. Don't we all?

It's hard to gauge the success of working with kids. How do you measure "getting into less trouble" or "headed on a better path!" But today, three days later, I went to pick up a 5 year old boy from his home. I know his parents well and his mom had come to the festival. I walked through the living room that consists of several mattresses and barely enough room to walk and picked up his baby sister out of the crib. That's when I spotted it...his purple certificate pinned amongst the mess up on the wall. My heart swelled with pride and I choked up as the reality that his parents had taken the time to make sure his award was hung really sunk in. That is the kind of "success" I want to see. The kind that transforms an entire family from the inside out. 


Freedom Skate Club

Aquila David is an amazing man of God. I get the pleasure of having him as a part of the Ulu Pono team! He has more energy than anyone I know and that's just half the reason he is so good with the kids. His passion for skate boarding overflows into everything he does and he is truly changing the lives of the kids in the Freedom Skate Club.

"Go Big"

24 days.

I can hardly believe I have only been home for 24 days, in some ways it feels like I never left.

I traveled to the mainland with a very thorough and well-planned schedule. Yet almost every day turned out to look different than I expected. Thank goodness all the glory in my life goes to God rather than myself because His plans for my trip home were much mightier than my own. Some highlights from my trip were: visiting my grandparents in Washington, visiting my aunt, uncle, cousins and sister in California, spending amazing time with my family snowed in over Christmas, sharing about my life in missions and raising monthly support and visiting family and friends in Illinois.

It is amazing how many people I got to see and visit with despite the frigid temperatures and heaps of snow! I am so thankful!

But it is also great to be home in Hawaii! I could not have had a sweeter homecoming than having the kids waiting for me at home ready for hugs and love after a long six weeks away. At Surfing The Nations our motto for the year of 2014 is “Go Big!” and I am excited to go big in both the work and personal sense over the remaining 11 months of this year! The last 24 days have already proved to be very adventurous. Some highlights have been trying new Hawaiian food, singing kareoke for the first time, going late night bowling at a very “local” Hawaiian bowling alley and spend EIGHT HOURS at a Marshallese Church service!

There are many more adventures to come and today I would like to share about three!

First: I have been invited to help lead the Internship Program’s inter-island 10 day trip to Maui. I am so honored and excited to be invited to lead, and to return to Maui which is the island where I did my Internship Trip. I will be responsible for all finances and church connections on the trip and am excited to be stretched and grow in both areas! I will also be helping lead outreaches, organize food and housing and planning day to day activities. It will be an exhausting but fun 10 day adventure and I am sure I will return home with many stories to share.

Second: In April I will be heading to the beautiful and broken nation of Bangladesh on a three week missions trip. This is a trip I have hoped to go on for two years now and could not be more excited about if I tried. In Bangladesh we will be connecting with the local surf clubs, experiencing and learning the culture and giving back to the people in any way we can. My personal goals while there are to show God’s love to the very oppressed women of this nation, empower and encourage the girls to surf and enjoy the ocean and teach swim lessons to the young children. It is really exciting to basically take all the things I do here in Hawaii and do them in a very different and challenging culture. In order to go on the trip I need to raise $3500 in funds. Raising funds is one of the most terrifying and thrilling things I have ever experienced! It is so encouraging to have someone invest in you with their personal finances but it is terrifying to ask!

Third: My hope and desire is to be able to buy a car this year. I really believe that I am called to be here in Hawaii and I am committing to investing into my life here. In order to live sustainable and have the opportunity to travel and bless the children and women of my community in a greater way I need to invest in a vehicle. I am so excited to see how God pulls this one off. I believe it is God’s heart for me to have transportation here in Hawaii, but in my mind it seems like such a great expense it seems impossible! But I serve a God who works in the impossible and miracles are everyday occurrences in His kingdom, so I can’t wait for he day I write a blog all about how God blessed me with a safe and reliable vehicle.

I have no ability to “Go Big” on my own, but God is a big God, beyond our understanding even! So join with me in going BIG in 2014 and praying BIG and bold prayers!

Mahalo.