Monday, May 30, 2011

STARS at Eiffel Tower in Paris

We enjoyed a delightful tour of Paris today. Saw many of the sites you read about. Now the STARS have seen them! Enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Hard Rock Cafe. Continued our tour in the afternoon and the climax was a stop at the Eiffel Tower. It's as beautiful as can be. What an amazing structure. And it was especially spectacular today with nine wonderful STARS standing in front of it. A grand finale to a wonderful trip where God has stretched us, carried us through difficult times, given us much joy, and worked in and through all of us. We're excited to share some of our experiences with you when we get home to the Wheaton area. Thank you again for standing with us on this STAMP trip. It's been spectacular.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Strasbourg Special

On Saturday we had a wonderful lunch with all of our host families and then set out for Strasbourg for our final concert. We arrived later than we had hoped and were admittedly tired. We arrived for our sound check an hour late. Yet, God was so faithful and many of the STARS parents and others said it was perhaps our best concert.

Daniel from the Protestant Coalition on Human Dignity, told the audience about the 96% abortion rate for babies with Down Syndrome in France. Once again we sang with the Nancy Gospel Singers and our concert was part of the initiative to show the value of people with intellectual disabilities. STAR Karilyn, STARS Mom Brenda Kopp and STARS Dad Jim Davis gave their stories of faith as well. Following the concert, serveral families who had children with Down Syndrome came up to meet the STARS. One teenager, Melodie, was so pleased to meet the STARS. She loves to sing as well and her mother was so encouraged to see the STARS singing. Following the concert, Daniel asked Sara if she have another concert with people with special needs.

On Sunday morning, we walked around Strasbourg and saw the most beautiful cathedral. We arrived as the organ was playing and it truly was heavenly music. At 11 AM we headed for the train station and I don't know what we would have done without the help of all the Nancy Gospel Singers. It was a tearful farewell as the Singers stood on the platform singing "You Raise Me Up" while holding up the following signs:

We had a nice time of debriefing in the eveing and sharing stories and thanking God for all the ways he had provided and all the doors that he had opened.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sharing the STARS Story

Friday afternoon we had a group interview with Denis and Jean Pierre (Dennis and John Peter). Jean Pierre works for a Christian organization that services about 2000 people with special needs, mostly around Paris. This organization is about 50 years old. Denis has also worked for this organization for about 20 years. They wanted to network with us and had five questions: 1) What are some concrete things people are doing for the rights of the disabled in America, 2) Why did College Church start the STARS ministry, 3) How did College Church do it, 4) With what did we start, 5) Now, years later, what lessons have we learned. We had almost two hours to share the STARS story. Some of the STARS even shared what the programs mean to them. Was great. Who knows how God will use this iterview. Denis will try to consolidate this interview and will be posted on their website.

Last night we had a concert at a large church with the Nancy Gospel Choir, Kaleidoscope (the quartet we performed with on Tuesday) and Africarel (the percussion group we visited on Wednesday). What a great evening. There was so much energy in the crowd. The STARS did a great job. As David said afterwards, "God was here". That He was.

We had rain off and on today but that couldn't dampen the spirits of the STARS! Now tomorrow (Saturday) we head to Strasbourg for another big concert tomorrow night.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

STARS at Work

Thursday we had the opportunity to visit another workplace here in France for people with disabiities. There were 180 people employed at this site. Some of the different things they were doing were printing logos on t-shirts, a wood working shop, a gardening team, and assembly work.

After a nice tea break we divided into two groups. We all saw the sane thing, just in reverse order. We went to the publicity workshop where we saw some of the projects they have done - logos on soccer balls, t-shirts, etc. This day they were doing a large order of logos on t-shirts. A machine layed down the stencil, a worker painted on the logo, and then took it off to ¨dry¨ it on in another machine. Was very interesting. Then we went to the sewing area. There were sewing machines - one making blue plastic skirts to protect some piping during transportation (these were going to Kuwait). Another machine was making plastic coverings to protect scooter handle bars in transportation. Another machine was sewing the cardboard on packets of sample ladies' hoes that you see in stores. Then we went over to an area where they were cutting boxes out of large pieces of cardboard. Another area was vacuum wrapping some items and then putting on prices. Saw another area where they were assembling drawers. Saw their stockroom. Quite extensive. Then had a small appetizer before a delicious lunch in the dining room. In the afternoon our group went to the woodworking location. The buiding is about a 10 minute walk from the main building. The first stop was where they were using an electric staple gun to assemble boxes to hold beer. Any STARS who wanted were able to try that. They did a great job. We've helped the French economy! Another guy was taking apart old car CD's and sorting them between material that is recycleable and not recycleable. Then we all got our ear plugs on and went in to where they were putting grooves into wood to make boxes. Again any STAR who wanted too got to help cut a few pieces of wood. Very fun! Some were hesitant to try, but then really enjoyed it. At this point all the workers at the workplace came outside and we gave a mini concert with chimes and some singing. Was so neat to watch everyone.

The workers were so excited. I don't know if they ever got them back to work! A delightful day.

When we got home we had our team meeting. Syvie (Sylvia) has been a large part of the planning during our time here working tirelessly on meals. She gave us her story. Got has used our time here to challenge her to think of her story and put it down. We were all touched. It was wonderful to have a time of prayer for her.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Von STARS Family Singers

Tuesday, May 24,  was a great day with a train tour of the old part of the city of Nancy, a visit to the  ESAT workplace in Lunneville, walking the grounds of the Chateau in Lunneville, and finally performing in a concert which was part of the Festival P'artage.  

The ESAT workplace in Lunneville was very interesting and very well run.   120 adults with intellectual disabilities work there and are paid minimum wage through subsidies from the government.   We had a nice exchange with the director.   The pastor of Sara and Manu Klopfenstein's church accompanied us and served as my interpreter.  The facilities cares so well for the physical needs of the residents, including special sports activities and other social events, that I asked the director how they address the spiritual needs of the residents.   He replied, "We are a secular country.  We do nothing."   This opened the door for the pastor to talk about the Disability Ministy Sunday evening service we did in Nancy.  We ended the concert by inviting them to our concert that evening.  

Following our visit at the ESAT workplace, we went to see an incredible Chateau.  As we looked at the size of the place, one parent remarked, "Think of how many STARS could live in that house!"  

By 6:30 PM we were at the Festival P'artage, doing our sound checks and making preparations for our set-up. This has been a week long Festival where there have been activities to support and encourage the integration of people with disabilities.  Our concert was one piece of their Festival.   To say we were a little overwhelmed would be an understatement.   The hall was much grander than we had anticipated and had an incredible sound and light set-up.  We felt pretty small, so we all gathered before hand to pray and ask Jesus to help us to sing for him.   God answered in incredible ways.  The STARS connected with the audience on many levels.   Sara Klopfenstein's trio sang with the STARS on a few numbers and then performed some great gospel songs.  At the end of the concert the audience of around 100-150 people gave the STARS a standing ovation.  It was exciting to see that one of the directors at the workplace we had visited that afternoon, came to the concert and was very touched by the STARS expressions of faith through their singing and playing of the chimes and autoharps.  After the concert, STARS Mom, Brenda Kopp thought that we should nickname our group the Von STARS Family Singers! Check out the STARS French blogspot to get some great pictures of the evening.

Wednesday, May 25, had a little slower pace and we didn't gather until 11:00 AM, since we hadn't returned home until after 11 PM the night before.   We visited a specialized school for students with intellectual diabilities, agest 13-20.   They had a great woodworking shop which STAR Gary really enjoyed.   They were even making a harp at the woodworking shop. 

Then we went with the Africal percussion group from the school. These are 6 high school students with intellectual disabilities who do percussion music using African drums and percussion instruments.   We had a delightful exchange, where the STARS learned some of their techniques and the Africal group tried their hand at playing the chimes.    This group will perform with the STARS and the Nancy Gospel Singers at the Friday night concert.  

While the two groups were practicing together, Sara and I were interviewed by a journalist from the Reformed Magazine, a Protestant national newspaper that has a circulation of about 5000.  We were able to share the purpose of our trip and how people with intellectual disabilities can be disciplies of Christ and the importance of making the gospel message accessible to them. 

The day ended with a visit to the Basilique, one of the largest cathedrals I have ever seen.  Inside the cathedral it was great to see a replica of the empty tomb.   Jesus is Risen Indeed!

Dawn for the entire STARS STAMP FRANCE Team

Monday, May 23, 2011

STARS Disability Sunday in Nancy

Words can hardly express our service last night at Nancy Church. God was truly there and working. Dawn opened the time explaining our STARS ministry. Then each of the STARS introduced themselves in French! The chimes did two numbers. They were fabulous. Cheryl gave her testimony. So many people in attendance commented on the strong faith expressed by our STARS. The STARS Chorus sang two songs ¨He is Exalted¨and ¨God is so Good¨. These are songs they sing in France too so it was so neat singing together as one Body! Kristin and David shared their testimoies. So powerful getting a sibling perspective. Then the autoharps did two numbers. They were right on! Kristin and Daniel did such a super job singing ¨The Servant Song¨. Our rendition of the Good Samaritan is like no other! There is always much laughter seeing the STARS add their personal touch to the story. Two French families, touched by disability, shared their stories of faith as well. It was so neat hearing them tell how God has helped them. We continue to pray our time here will provide the encouragement and resources needed to further meet the spiritual needs of individuals with special needs here in France. Singing ¨We are One in the Body¨at the end was powerful realizing we are one. Seeing Sara and Manu's daughter with disabilities crawling up to join us just was so unplanned but so powerful. May God receive all the glory!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

STARS and Host Family Party

At 4PM this afternoon the STARS team and their host families gathered to get to know each other better and to celebrate the birthdays of three STARS moms.    Karen Sutherland and Nita Newing both celebrated their 70th birthday today and the French team had balloons and streamers decorating the room.  We were served delicious French pastry cakes and they made a &) out of Rice Krispie Treat.   It is a birthday they will never forget.  

Then we celebrated Brenda Kopp's birthday, which occurred the day before we left.   It was a wonderful time to get to know our new friends.   Gifts were exchanged and greeted each other with kisses on the cheeks.   One STAR remarked, "I think we should do this at home."  

After the party we met together and celebrated God's goodness.  We are studying the 23rd Psalm in our team meetings and have rejoiced over how the Lord has been our Shepherd these past days and taken care of all our needs.   

The STARS practiced chimes and autoharps in the church and we are getting ready for the service tomorrow night.   Kettingers share their faith story in the morning service and Cheryl Newing, Kristin and David Brinker will share their stories at night.   The team will also present the drama of the Good Samaritan and Kristin Knosp and Daniel will be singing the Servant Song.     Please pray that God will use this time.