Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Janelle's Christmas Update 2015 - Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. (Month 17 at MCC)

Merry Christmas 2015!

As many of you know I've spent the past year living in Akron Pennsylvania and working for Mennonite Central Committee (  It's been a major transition moving from the Dominican Republic back to the States. I've missed my prior work, my co-workers, and many friends in the Dominican Republic. I was glad to get to go back to visit in March 2015, and I hope to go back to visit them soon again in 2016! Here's an update on my past year :).

Here are a few quick photo memories of Decembers in the Dominican Republic:

But it has been nice to be closer to my parents here in Pennsylvania over the past year too, and to get caught up on their lives.

I've had a few adventures at MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) over this past year as well!

At MCC I get to support Humanitarian and Development work around the world.  This year MCC has walked alongside local non-profits doing sustainable development work in 60 countries. We've  responded to major disasters like the earthquake in Nepal, and the refugee crisis in Syria.  In my position I've had the opportunity to support a Haitian non-profit organization building earthquake resistant houses in Haiti, a Zimbabwean non-profit that's teaching farmers new agricultural techniques in Zimbabwe, a Chaddean non-profit that is creating jobs through new locally made products that are good for the environment in Chad, and a Congolese peace-making organization that's part of the Congolese Christian churches, that is risking their lives every day working to prevent an escalation of violence in Congo -- and more.  So it's been an interesting year.

 As part of my work at MCC this fall I spent several weeks of September and October in Central Africa, (in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo).  I plan to post more about some amazing people I met on that trip, here on the blog, soon. But for now, here are a few photos:

Kids in Burundi

Refugee Family living in a Refugee Camp in Congo. 
They've lived in the camp for 7 years with no option to return home safely anytime soon.
During my time in Central Africa I was inspired by the work of MCC's Rwandan, Congolese, and Burundian colleagues and partners, as they work to help needy people in their communities and countries to obtain food, safety, improved education, healthcare, and peace.

We spent time with refugee families who had fled violence in Congo, (pictured above), and I was amazed by their courage in the face of having lost homes, possessions, family members killed in war, and currently living and raising their children even now in a place that isn't completely safe.  I was impressed by their welcoming smiles and their dreams for better days to come, even while they have with no clear hope of being able to return home safely anytime soon, as the violence continues around them.
This Christmas I am reminded that Mary, Joseph, and little Jesus lived as refugees too, when they fled to Egypt to escape from King Herod.  I'm praying for Peace and Justice around the world this Christmas, and I'll post (here) a few stories about some amazing Congolese people making a difference in Congo, soon!

May you, your family, and friends be blessed with Peace and Love in the New Year! -  Janelle

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Day in the life -- Back in the Dominican Republic -- A Belated Post! (June 2015 Month 11 at MCC)

In March I was blessed to be able to take a trip back to my recent life in the Dominican Republic.  Though I was only there about a week and a half -- not nearly long enough to catch up with everyone I wanted to catch up with, I did get to see a lot of good friends, hug a lot of little ones from the neighborhoods, and hear a lot of updates and stories of what is going on in people's lives.

I was struck by the continued serious needs in communities close to my heart (Like Pancho Mateo, in the photos below) - needs for specific support related to increasing deaths from HIV, increasing concerns about immigration and the rights (or lack thereof) of Haitians and other foreigners born in the country, etc. I spent a lot of time hugging crying people -- hearing stories of friends (of mine) who had unexpectedly died, sharing the tears of families who had lost loved ones to sickness or violence, hearing about ongoing issues with domestic violence, and the ongoing need for increased employment opportunities, and I observed the lives of economically-forced prostitution lived by  some women as a difficult but necessary source of family income when jobs and funds are scarce (an issue that's been close to my heart since I first arrived in the D.R.).  I felt the many hopes and fears for the future from home to home and town to town, as I visited, related to all of these issues, and it was a wonderful time of catching up with friends, but also an unexpectedly heavy emotional journey.

In the midst of much hope and much fear regarding immigration and deportion, I loved seeing little friends like this below (one of Dominican ethnic background and one of Haitian ethnic background),  both growing up in the same town, hanging out as friends with no differences between them. As always,  children are a source of hope!
But please do continue to pray and advocate for immigration justice in the Dominican Republic        
(and in the U.S. as well.) Human rights is a big issue right now, affecting many lives.

 I was reminded again of some of the most important things in life when I saw this wall-hanging (above) in a friend's home in Pancho Mateo.  It says:  "Where there is faith, there is love. Where there is love, there is peace.  Where there is peace, there God is.  And where God is, you don't lack anything."

I was thrilled to be able to hold my friends Carlito and Claudia's "Miracle baby" - a child we all thought might never be born. Yet there he is -- alive and well. :) Welcome to the world, Yan Carlos!

I was also thrilled to re-connect with old missionary neighbors from Canada and Haiti. These guys live in Canada now, and I currently live in the U.S. So it was wonderful to all three be back on Dominican turf, at the same time, on the porch of the home we shared for more than 2 years of my past few years in the D.R.  

Below is a photo of us 4 muskateers -- some of the people I lived in the same building with for much of my time in the D.R.  We were glad to all reunite for Sadrac's Party, for his Graduation from University in the D.R.!

It was good to go back to visit New Life Church (Nueva Vida) just in time to participate in the "sending prayer" for several missionary friends who had spent the past few years in the D.R. and are now heading "home" to the States to work in other types of ministry and service. The concept of 
"Home" can be a very complex thing.

Below is my little friend, Wilmery, pretending to take my photo (completely her own idea,) with a broken cell-phone carcass she found. This hug-savvy 2 year old is one of my favorite sweet kids in Pancho Mateo, and with that fake camera, she showed why she's truly a girl after my own heart! :)

Below, the youngest Elementary and Preschoolers of Pancho Mateo are loaded into the back of the pick-up truck that will take them to school 

My friend Mecho's littlest son, a new kindergartener (in the blue shirt with football, below) apparently wasn't too excited about about leaving mom for the day to head off to school.  :) 
But go he did.  
God bless the Samaritan with the pick up truck, who has set aside time and gas on a regular basis to make sure these kids without transportation have no excuse not to be in school.

My heart certainly remains in the Dominican Republic. To show you one reason why these folks have captured my heart, I'll end with this great little video (Sadly, it seems the video is too big to post. So I'll leave you with this photo.) It's of a family who are friends of mine from Pancho Mateo.  The father is blind, the mother is deaf and mute, the grandma (as you could observe if you could see the video) is a matriarch with a lot of family members sometimes in need of assistance.  Here the elementary aged daughter of the mother and father, who has a lot of  responsibility to be helpful at home as you can imagine, was determined to learn to tie her father's tie as they prepared to head off to church. This video only shows one segment of the attempt. But it was a really beautiful 15 minutes of tie tying trying! They asked if I could help, and I sadly had to admit that I'm inept at tie tying! :) After multiple attempts, and with Grandma giving guidance, she eventually got the job done well! I love the humor and patience they all exhibited. (Wish you could see the video!) Applause -- for a family that patiently struggles and laughs together!


Friday, May 1, 2015

MCC Responds to the Earthquake in Nepal -- April 2015, Month 10 at MCC

 On Saturday, April 25th a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal.  As reports of damage and fatalities began to filter out to the world through various media venues the staff in the main offices of MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) in Akron, PA, and in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, thought about the situation in Nepal on a more personal level. We have MCC staff living and doing humanitarian work in Nepal year round.

As we all came in to work on Monday morning at the MCC office in Akron (and likewise at the office in Winnipeg,) the email went out. " Everyone in the office is invited to come to the center of the building at 10 am for a time of prayer and updates on the situation in Nepal."  In the MCC Akron office more than 50 staff members (including me) from all departments -- staff from accounting, the reception area, the IT department, the staff who maintain the building and grounds, the staff who handle shipments of humanitarian aid, the HR team, the staff who provide support to our international staff in more than 60 countries, -- we all came together to pray and to hear updates. We heard reports on the status of MCC's staff currently living in Nepal ("all are safe and accounted for") but we also heard that MCC partner organizations have been affected by the earthquake, and that as thousands of people are reported dead, injured, or still missing, the MCC Nepal staff and partners are already working to respond to the many needs around them.  We prayed together for the situation and staff in Nepal. Then we went back to our desks to continue moving forward the work of MCC around the world -- including supporting the response of the MCC Nepal team as they provide help to people struggling amid the crisis around them.

Please continue to pray for the MCC Nepal team and partners, and for the many other MCC staff working and supporting local partners in equally difficult humanitarian situations all around the world.

Nepal earthquake

Click the links below for info shared by MCC's Nepal-based staff describing what's been going on already this week in MCC's response to the unfolding situation in Nepal:

1.) The Most Recent Update on MCC's Disaster Relief Work this week in Nepal.

2.) MCC Responds with Food, Shelter, and Supplies in Nepal (article on MCC website)

3.) VIDEO INTERVIEW with MCC's Country Representatives in Nepal

4.) An Update and Photo on the MCC Response (article in the patriot news)

5.) Click here to read: an article (with photos of the earthquake) from the Huffington post.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

An Insider's View for You! -- Month 9 at MCC

I get asked this question a lot. "What's it like working at the MCC office?" 

Well, with workers and volunteers from all over the world coming and going through these hallways every day, MCC can't help but have a great office environment that really reflects what we do!
You're welcome to come visit and take a tour to chat and ask questions and learn more about what MCC does!  Many MCC supporters and other interested people do this every month - just randomly, when they're passing though Pennsylvania, and we all stop what we're working on briefly, 
to say hello!
I'd love to see you!

But here are a few photos to take you "inside" the US's headquarters of MCC.

I love this wall of photos, (above) taken by the MCC photographer,
showing some of the work we do!

Straight ahead, at the tiny end of the hall in the photo above, you can see the offices of "Mennonite (and Brethren) World Conference" which is sharing office space with MCC this year, as they gear up for the 2015 World Conference events this coming Summer -- bringing the world to PA! 

 Though the office is amazingly decorated, MCC's financial supporters will be glad to know that most of the decorations were thank you gifts to MCC -- wall hangings, art pieces, posters, photos, quilts, pottery, etc -- gifts from international partners and international friends and beneficiaries who have known and worked with MCCers in their home countries around the globe for years! What a great way to decorate an office. I love it!

Another way that the the office is decorated is with the photos of MCCers who are serving now in various MCC service programs around the world! In the photo above is the Global Service Learning Department. They coordinate the service programs for young adults from around the globe who come to do service in the U.S. (IVEP and YAMEN,) and the programs in which young adults from the U.S. and Canada spend 1-2 years each volunteering in other international countries -- supporting the work of MCC in those places (these programs are called SALT and SEED).  You can see photos of some of this years volunteers below! If interested, check out the videos and stories about each of these programs by clicking the colored names of each program, above!

Every few weeks the MCC Library - which houses many books, videos, photos and old letters related to the broad variety of work that MCC does now and has done over the years -  sets some of the library's books out on a book table in the hallway, reminding staff and others that we can borrow them and read them. 
This was one of the recent displays in honor of African-American History Month (February). 

Above is a section of wall in the communications department -- the group mostly responsible for the great photos and stories you can find on the MCC website, and in the A Common Place magazine (that you can see online at the link here and can also sign up to get mailed to you by clicking the link above.) This wall is where they hang up photos that represent stories of MCC work they're considering highlighting that month in the magazine and/or online. I always enjoy swinging by to see what's hanging there each week!

(above) These are more great photos of MCC's work -- pages out of the 2014 MCC Christmas Gift Catalogue -- hanging on the wall in the Donor Relations Department. (That's who you contact if you want to financially support the work of MCC).

And this (above) is the department I work in:  "PLDR: Planning, Learning, and Disaster Response."
As you can see we have no walls between our desks anywhere in the building. So... we all hear each other's work phone calls all day long. There are no secrets at MCC! LOL.

And this is my desk. (above). See the wall behind my chair?

 Yep.  : ) Like many of my MCC co-workers, who have posted photos of friends and communities they know and love from when they lived and served with MCC in other parts of the world -- I'm glad to have posted photos of my friends and colleagues who I got to work with for the past 3 years in the Dominican Republic! Love you guys!

And this poster below isn't an MCC document, I don't believe.  It's just a poster hanging at someone's desk here in the office. But it has a lot of great advice on it, so I'll end this month's post with it -- for your deep-thinking pleasure!

Have a great month building community wherever you are during this March 2015! 
And please do come visit me at the MCC office anytime you're in the area!

Friday, February 13, 2015

MCC in the U.S. -- Peace for Soldiers, Hope for the Elderly & Opportunities for YOU.

Did you know that in addition to international humanitarian and development work MCC has projects helping neighbors and strangers across the U.S. and Canada as well.  In this post I’ll highlight 2 of the many diverse projects that MCC works with in the U.S. and that I’ve had the chance to learn about or support in my job this month:

   1.)    The Phone that Rings to 20 Phones at Once:

There is a phone number in the U.S. that, when dialed, rings to as many as 20 phones at once! More than 20 trained people all across the country can hear their phone ring or vibrate, and more than 20 can reach for it, ready to help the person who is struggling on the other end of the line.

It’s the GI Rights Hotline (1-877-447-4487), a hotline to help U.S. Soldiers who need to know more about their rights related to various types of complicated discharges from the military – medical or disability discharges, conscientious objector discharges, psychological discharges, and more. The hotline provides support, counsel, and a listening ear to thousands of current members of the U.S. military and U.S. military veterans every year. The team of trained people who answer that phone range from military vets to others who simply cared enough about military staff as people to take get trained on the ins and outs of the laws, rights, and support services that are available to and affect the military community and veterans.

One of those more than 20 phones across the country rings to the desk of MCC U.S. Peace Education Coordinator, Titus, at the MCC U.S. main office, where I serve, in PA.  Titus, who has spent a record 30 years working with MCC promoting peace and justice both in the U.S. and around the world, can often be found with that phone to his ear helping members of the U.S. military who are struggling with life and work issues, and who have thus called the GI Rights Hotline for help.

It may seem odd to some – especially those of us who feel that peace is best created by activities other than war -- that an organization that has as its purpose “Relief, Development, and Peacemaking in the name of Christ” would support a staff member using his time to assist and support military members, veterans, and their families in crisis. But to me, this is the perfect example of Peacemaking. Peace comes from increasing justice and safety for all the people in the world.  No two people on earth see the world quite the same way but each of us needs hope, support, and justice. If you know a military member or veteran in need of help or information about their rights feel free to share with them the number of the GI Rights Hotline as an option. (Info Website:     

Other Veteran-Support Info and Resources from MCC:

 A.) Article from MCC Washington Office on "Increasing Suicide Rates Among Veterans:"
B.) "Returning Veterans. Returning Hope." Sunday School Curriculum Available to Churches:


 house under construction

    2.)  Re-Building Homes & Re-Building Lives:

What else does MCC do in the U.S.?  Well, in Philadelphia, for example, the East Coast MCC office supports a number of small non-profits that help low income neighborhoods within the city.  This fall and winter I’ve had the opportunity to help support the work of one of those programs called Kingdom Builders.  Kingdom Builders repairs for free or at very low cost the homes of low-income elderly Philadelphians whose houses are old and in disrepair.  Simultaneously Kingdom Builders  helps non-violent offenders who are getting out of jail in Philadelphia and have limited opportunities to stay out of jail by getting employment and transforming their lives -- since many employers won’t hire someone with “a record” and with limited or no job skills. Kingdom builders employs several post-release inmates each year, teaching them carpentry skills and providing on the job supervision and mentoring, while the employed mentees help Kingdom Builders staff repair the homes of those in need. What a great idea!  Kingdom builders also helps repair church buildings in Philadelphia, and provides construction service trip opportunities for rural church youth groups that want to come to the city to learn more about urban issues and to help.

3.)  Links to some work of MCC that You  Might Want to Participate In -- in the U.S. -- this Year:

As you can see, there's never a dull moment -- Globally, or in the U.S. -- for those of us working and serving with MCC. :)

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's a New Year -- 2015! Here's a belated photo "Christmas Letter" celebrating highlights from 2014!

Oh, yes it's true.  I'm late again. But this is my New Years post and Christmas letter in one. It's a photo journey of the hotter half of my 2014:

 Here we go...

 2014 seemed like two years in one!
I lived the first 6 months in the Dominican Republic - finishing my final (3rd) year of service with Health Horizons International (  Then I moved to the U.S. in late June, where I now  work at Mennonite Central Committee (  I have a lot of stories to tell about MCC and the work I'm getting to do this year (2015) with MCC -- all over the world. But for this first post of 2015 I want to look back on just a few special highlight moments of 2014 
in the Dominican Republic!  

So, here is my 2014 summery -- in Photos!

(The photos above and below show me at work in the D.R., teaching and supporting the Community Health Workers in 4 communities as they cared for their patients).

 Carlito and Claudia, pictured above and below, became Community Health Workers after their young son died of leukemia. Like many of the HHI Community Health Workers they heroically decided they wanted to help other families dealing with illness. Carlito and Claudia became some of my great friends in the D.R.  
I am excited to hear they're expecting a new baby now!
- due in Feb. 2015!
Congratulations Carlito and Claudia! 
So glad to see a new joy in your lives!

Above and below, my friend Elisa, one of the Community Health Workers, shares info about High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and Healthy eating and exercise, with her neighbors in Pancho Mateo. Like many of the Community Health Workers she hopes to go on to 
work full-time in Healthcare someday! Go Elisa!
(one of my other great friends, Dania, another Community Health Worker, is there in the background too, in the photo below).

Here we're decorating the little fake Christmas tree at my house in the D.R. last Christmas :) 2013.

 Celebrating Easter (and Semana Santa) 2014 with my Friend Dania's extended Family -- including our second "annual" Easter Egg hunt in a row! This year it rained, so we had to
hide the eggs up off the ground -- we hid them amid the leaves on the banana trees. :)

 Riding up and down the Sugar Cane Road on motorcycle to visit the communities we served.

 Boys playing baseball in the street in Pancho Mateo.

One of my favorite young patients "Luis-a" (age 7) learning to color - taught by her uncle and her HHI medical case manager Willy,in the hospital waiting room.
I love this smart and brave little friend!
She's reportedly having major surgery again this month (Feb 2015),
so please join me in sending prayers her way!
This little artist's got a really tough medical road ahead of her.
(Luckily she's a really tough cookie!)

  Above and below, participants in the Type 2 Diabetes Education and Support Group I was so honored to be able to help start in 2014 in Pancho Mateo!  As a person with type 1 Diabetes myself, seeing these neighbors and friends start getting control of their Diabetes was such a delight for me this past Spring!

I was also honored to collaborate (above) with the Dominican Ministry of Health to find funds and help initiate a new training program helping Doctors and Community Health Workers in the Puerto Plata Province learn more about proper cutting edge diagnosis and treatment for 
Diabetes and other related medical conditions!

 This is the team of Community Health Workers I worked with and supervised!  I'm so proud to know them! While many of these folks and their spouses struggle financially, striving to find enough work to put food on the table for their families and manage the costs to keep their kids in school in an area with 90% unemployment and low wages -- instead of sitting around giving up in despair they all volunteer to serve with HHI, spending hours every week providing free first aid and health education in their communities, helping seniors in their communities understand how to take their blood pressure meds, preventing the spread of disease, assisting during outbreaks of Cholera and Dengue, advocating to bring clean water to their communities, and helping people in medical emergencies get down the mountain to proper hospitals for life-saving care.  They are truly amazing and they are the kind of people I want to be every day!

Kids I love in Pancho Mateo, Montellano, Dominican Republic

 My "Secret" work Good-Bye Party in the Dominican Republic in June. (This one was after and even better than the official "office" one, of course,) thrown by my Co-workers in Pancho Mateo right before I moved back to the States. 
Thanks so much for the love, guys! I love you too!

Here's that always beautiful and dangerous road I had the opportunity to ride up and down, in sun and rain, (thankfully mostly sun,) on motorcycle to reach the communities we served
-- so full or rocks and holes, 
yet so beautiful.

 Here are some of my many friends from the Missionary Community in the D.R.!  
They're a good representation of where Missionaries and Humanitarian Workers in the D.R. 
come from:
Jody = U.S.   Perla = Dominican Republic   Sadrac = Haiti   Leeann = Canada
(Oh, and that's me in the middle)

Here's one of my favorite "Babies" -- Wilmery.
I met her, and her mom and Dad when she and her mom both came to the clinic, sick.
She and her parents welcomed me into their family, and when my parents and aunts and uncles came to visit me in the D.R. this past Spring (definitely one of the biggest highlights of 2014 for me!) Wilmery's (and also Willy's) house was definitely one of the first places I took them to visit!

Carlito and Claudia's house was another important stop of many:

 Here are my parents, Aunts and Uncles visiting at Carlito and Claudia's house in Pancho Mateo.
Thanks to my Parents and my Aunts Sue and Fern and Uncles Rich and Marlin for letting me drag them all over the North Coast of the D.R. meeting people and seeing sights!  They munched on sugar cane, got hugged by everyone, rode up the bumpy sugar cane road to visit my friend Estela, and even got an unexpected first-hand lesson in cock fighting!  

 I was a member of the leadership team at New Life (English) Church 
in Sosua, Dominican Republic, until June when I returned to the States.

 Here are my closest Co-workers at work in the D.R.
There's something about working 24/7 in rather unpredictable conditions, and often without electricity, that really bonds one to their co-workers and neighbors, that's for sure!
 I definitely love
and miss all of my friends, co-workers and neighbors in the Dominican Republic! Transitioning back to the U.S. (and all of this snow!) has been a big adventure of it's own!

So, now I'm living in PA and working at MCC (Mennonite Central Committee -, and I have more upcoming stories to tell about that too...

but that will be for the February Post!

A belated Happy New Year to All!

May God send you Peace, Joy, and Love, in the coming year!