please clarify

I just saw a sign that said:


... Are they selling big babies? Or just a lot of babies?


intense swinging

This little girl had this focused/annoyed look on her face anytime you put her on a swing, but she hated getting off the swing.

Also, please notice the saggy underwear of the little girl I'm holding toward the end of the video...


Also, some of you may have heard through the Bannister Family Rumor Mill - we are moving. Last Monday night we had a(n?) opossum in our bedroom, which was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Say what you will about us changing apartments like you change your underwear, but we're out of here on August 25th. We're moving about 2 blocks away - just another step in our plan to take over Old Village Plymouth!

decaying detroit

My friend Ashley posted a link of these pictures, and I wanted to share them too. 


Jamaica: Day 8 & 9

Sat. (7/18): Beach day - Seven Mile Beach in Negril. One of the top 20 beaches in the world. My camera died in the morning & I forgot to charge the extra battery. Oops. 

Check out Doug's farmer tan!! Photo by Sara VanWinkle.

Just like it sounds: we lounged on the beach all day.

At night we had dinner at a resort and debriefed the whole trip. We took a lot of pics, sang some karaoke & headed back to Sandy Bay for bed.
Ridiculously good looking people.

Sun. (7/19): We woke up at 8:00am & packed. We ate breakfast, said goodbye to the cooks, took a few last pictures & boarded the bus for the last time to head to the airport in Montego Bay. We had a layover in Memphis and were in Detroit at 9:30pm...
Photo by "Kevin, the Artist."


Jamaica: Day 7

Fri. (7/17): We got to sleep in until 8! Breakfast was back to the heavenly pancakes and at 9, we departed for Blossom Gardens Orphanage. BG is for children up to age 8, so there were TONS of infants, toddlers & pre-schoolers. Such a mixture of emotions - I loved playing with all the adorable children, but it broke my heart that they are without families! I seriously wanted to adopt all of them, but below I will introduce you to the two that were closest to my heart.

While the matrons were getting the children ready for the day, we were instructed to pick up rocks from the yard. There was another group at the orphanage that day, so I was picking up alongside this teenaged boy, so I decided to strike up a conversation because I felt awkward working in silence. So, as we're chatting, I find out that his name is Julien, he's going to be a senior in high school, and he's an acrobat (sweet!). I asked him about his college plans & career plans and this was the conversation...
Me: "So, what do you want to do once you're out of college?"
Julien: "Well, my parents own a pretty big corporation in Tennessee that I'd like to work for."
Me: "What's the corporation?"
Julien: "Well, it's kind of funny, but they make snack cakes..."
Me: "That's awesome."
Julien: "Yeah, have you ever heard of Little Debbie?"
Me: "Um, YES. Swiss Cake Rolls?! If you even knew my family... that is awesome!"

I then found out that "Little Debbie" is an actual person - his aunt! Mom - we like, KNOW them!

Anyway, then the little toddlers came out for their water play day - SWEET BLISS. I'll try to figure out how to post a couple videos later.

This is Omar. I want him.

Family portrait.

After playing for about an hour & a half, the kiddos were tuckered out - we changed them and laid them down for their naps...

The potty-trained toddlers sleep next to one another in beds that are lined up in rows... adorable beyond words.
Most of them fell asleep immediately, but others needing some coaxing/backrubbing...

After watching Omar just sleep for about 15 minutes, I peeled myself away and went to the infant room. Big mistake/best decision ever, because I met the love of my life...

Legionaire. The sweetest, smiliest baby in the world.

You would have fit so perfectly in my carry-on.

Look at that perfect little foot! 

Needless to say, leaving BG was very difficult. I've cried a lot of tears over my little boys. Between Legionaire, Omar, Wilbur & the little guy whose name I can NOT remember (he's holding the butterfly in the previous post)... sigh. 

We stayed at the orphanage until 1:00, then we drove to see the construction that our youth group worked on last year in Jamaica. They were really encouraged to see that a TON of progress has been made. We returned to Sandy Bay for a late lunch, then went to Mt. Pelier one last time to say goodbye to all the VBS kids... my heart was aching.

Photo by Sara VanWinkle.

That night they had a Farewell Service for us at the Crusade. Doug had told his buddy Malik that he wanted to pray for him before we left, so that night as we were all saying our goodbyes, we were sitting by Malik on the steps for a couple pictures & then he said quietly to Doug, "Pray for me." So Doug prayed for him and when I opened my eyes at the end of the prayer, Malik was quickly wiping tears from his eyes. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. 

Me, Malik, Ashley & Doug. Photo by Andrea Wilseck.


Jamaica: Day 6

Thurs. (7/16) Woke up at 7am, went to breakfast - which was NOT pancakes! We had fruit and these little delights called "festivals." Kind of like plain donuts, but sweeter. At 7:45 we went to the construction sites and did some work again, then at 9 we went up for our last day of VBS. Our craft for the day was coloring & putting together little butterflies.

My little buddy Danielle wrote "Today is Rachel day" on her butterfly...

I was able to go down to the field for a little bit to watch the kids play games & snap some pics...

Then we went back to lunch & did afternoon construction again.

Photo by Doug.

Then dinner, Crusade, team meeting & bed!



I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled Jamaica updates to just say... 

**prepare yourselves for some ultimate nerdom here, folks**

I LOVE back-to-school shopping! 

I'm not even talking about shopping for clothes. I'm talking about school supplies. I just went to Office Max to get some stuff for my classroom - that place is awesome. And score! As a teacher, I get reimbursed for my purchases!

Seriously though, there's just something about an unopened box of pencils, waiting to be sharpened, packages of pure Pink Pearl erasers, aisles of unadulterated pens & markers...

And don't even get me started on the notebooks. I am obsessed with notebooks. Doug has made fun of me several times because I like to buy cute notebooks and then set them aside to prolong the enjoyment of opening up to that first clean page... I think I have a problem. Also planners. I love planners & have been known to keep at least 3 at a time. (You'd think I'd be more organized, right?!)

Anyway, I just love school & office supplies. It may be a small...ish factor of why I became a teacher in the first place. 

Does anyone else share this love/madness?


Jamaica: Day 4&5

Tuesday (7/14): Woke up at 7am for pancakes. Have I mentioned the delicious pancakes yet? :) Construction again at 7:45. VBS again at 9 - our craft for the day was coloring & scratch pads. 

In the afternoon we went to an adult infirmary. I met a lady named Vida and talked to her the whole time. At her request, I read my bible to her and ended up leaving it there with her because she didn't have one. She also told me about her "gentleman friend, Gil" and said I should "go look at him - he's hot." 

Photo by Sara VanWinkle.

When we got home, we played with kids before dinner...

Doug preached at the Crusade & did a great job talking about how the whole Bible points to the central Gospel message.

We ended the evening with another team meeting!


Wednesday (7/15): Up at 7am, breakfast - you guessed it - sweet pancakes. Construction started again at 7:45. This time we split up into 3 groups - one at Mt. Pelier, one at Fletcher's Grove and one painting at the school. I was in the painting group.

Our VBS craft for Weds. was bracelets, necklaces, etc. 

In the afternoon we all went back to the same work we were doing in the morning. When we finished up, we had some time before dinner to go down to the "beach". We were probably less than 100 yards from the ocean, but we had to walk about 10 minutes to get to a place where it was semi-safe to swim. There were still tons of sea urchins, and we had a kid get stung in the foot.

Dinner, another Crusade, more time with kids, team meeting & then bed!


Jamaica: Day 3

Monday 7/13: We woke up at 7am for breakfast. Did I mention yet that we had delicious pancakes almost every morning?! So spoiled. By 7:45, we were at our construction sites. We divided into two teams - one team went up to the Mt. Pelier church and the other worked at Fletcher's Grove. Both groups were working on classrooms. Doug & I were both stationed at Fletcher's Grove. I don't know how anyone gets anything done in those temperatures and humidity.

The girls in our group!

Hauling bricks

Cement at the other site - photo by Laura Pugh.

At 9am, we met in Mt. Pelier for VBS. Our first day, we had about 90 kids - by the end of the week we had about 140. I was one of the leaders for Crafts, and Doug was the Games leader. Our other two groups were Bible and Music. Monday's craft was decorating parachutes & playing with them, which the kids seemed to enjoy immensely. 

Could this be any cuter?!

Love these little bare feet!

Favorite part is the girl in green's face!

Danielle, the girl I met at church on Sunday, was there for VBS and attached herself to me throughout the week. I also met a little guy who quickly became a favorite - Wilbur. 

After VBS, it was back to Sandy Bay for lunch, and after lunch we headed to our first orphanage, West Haven. It was an hour bus ride, snaking through the mountains, going higher & higher... when we pulled up, our PPM leader, Brien, informed us that all of the "children" (ages 10-32) were "MRDD - Mentally Retarded and Developmentally Disabled." An immediate internal panic seized our group, as we were totally unprepared for this and completely out of our comfort zone. 

On the way to West Haven...

However, this afternoon would prove to be the most powerful example of God's strength and love that we experienced. When our group walked through the gates, it was as one massive blob. However, within ten minutes, our youth group kids were totally immersed, loving the residents and having an awesome time. I know that there is no way I could have gotten past the smells and sights on my own, and I think I can speak for the group when I say that. It was incredible watching teenagers carrying people their age, getting drooled or urinated on, and just continuing to pour God's love into the residents and receive His love back from them. It was one of the coolest things I've ever been a part of.

In a quiet moment at West Haven, it struck me that these are some of the most forgotten people in the world. Abandoned by their families, pushed as far away as possible - yet they are so full of joy and couldn't stop singing praises to God. I left feeling utterly humbled. Being at West Haven revealed a different aspect of God's beauty to me. I saw that in Christ's eyes, we are all the same and we are all unique - simultaneously... if that even makes sense. It's amazing worshiping Jesus with all types of people and knowing that regardless of our circumstances, we are praising the same Creator who holds us all together.

We had dinner when we got back from West Haven and then had another "Crusade." I loved listening to our praise team and Fletcher Grove's praise team share with the congregation - just another awesome example of Christ spanning cultures! 

Terrible picture quality, sorry!

Nightly team meeting to debrief & prepare for the following day was after Crusade and then we  dropped exhaustedly into our beds!

Jamaica: Day 1&2

What an amazing trip. I'm in love with Jamaica. Thanks so much for your prayers & support - here's just a taste of our experience. I learned so much from our short time in Jamaica and will hopefully be able to put words to my thoughts in a future post. Until then, here is the beginning of our time in Jamaica.

Saturday (7/11): We departed from Detroit in the morning...

... and arrived in Montego Bay that afternoon.

Stepping outside the airport was a shock - as I wrote in my journal, "It's insanely hot & humid here." We took a bus to Sandy Bay, where we stayed at a school. Upon arriving, we set up our beds in the classrooms and went outside & were immediately flocked by children.

That evening we had a big orientation meeting where we met our team leaders from Praying Pelican Missions. We played some more with kids & turned in for the night.

Sunday (7/12): We woke up & took showers... outside in our bathing suits. I actually loved these showers - the temperature was always cold at first, but then you got used to it & it was so refreshing. Plus, showering at night under the stars is unbeatable. 

Next, a winding bus ride about a mile through the mountains to church in Mt. Pelier. It was awesome to experience worship in another culture. 

On the way to church...

Doug & Stephen.

That afternoon, we went to a local "semi-pro" soccer game. There, we were again swarmed by children and ended up barely watching the game.

That night we had our first "Crusade," as the local pastor calls them. We had these every night, Sunday - Friday. Basically a church service with an altar call each night. This church, Fletcher's Grove, was about a block away from the school where we stayed. 

After the service each night, we had a team meeting and then hung out some more with kids before going to bed. The good thing about staying at the school was that the local children were always congregated in the yard outside, just waiting for us to emerge & play. 

Duck Duck Goose with goats on a leash in the background...

A word about pictures: I took 1,135 pictures. I could have easily taken more, but I wanted to be able to play with kids and interact with people and not have a camera swinging around my neck the whole time. These pictures are either unedited or very roughly edited. Editing and choosing which to put in my blog is proving a daunting task. I will post a link to all the pictures as soon as possible and will also feature one a day in my photo blog.