Category Archives: My Musical Learning Journey

Another Sort of Week

In talking to a friend from home this week I was told, “Wow. Your life is so cool.” At other times I’ve also heard, “You do such good work,” or “That’s so amazing.” Maybe. But mostly, not. I can tend towards the negative and so try to intentionally think through the positive when I write because I can force myself to slow down a bit and be grateful. But, maybe it’s time for the other side. Because it is part of the reality. The blog posts you don’t usually get. The pictures that nobody wants to see. Or the emails and messages that get deleted before I hit send. So, here is a look at a single week’s worth of the “uncool” or “not good work” or “less than amazing” stuff.

FiAA member of our church with three young children passes away in an immense amount of pain. He has been denied any care for more than 12 hours. They say it is due to the fact that no payment has been received, so it is agreed that they there will be full payment by 10 AM the following morning. However, the hospital doesn’t follow through on their end. He is not even given a pillow. No meds. No check-ins. He is ignored entirely. Then he is kicked out and sent home. Even after they pay by 10 AM. The family takes him back to the hospital several hours later, knowing he is dying. He doesn’t receive care for hours and dies later that day. His wife is told to wait outside the hospital when she goes to collect his death certificate.

On our Saturday morning run, an eight-year-old boy holding his mother’s hand whistles at us, his eyes travelling up and down our bodies, and says in English, “Good morning, hot stuff.” His mother does nothing. It’s normal. Another truck of men honk, whistle, call sexual names, and wave appraisingly.

On my walk home from my weekly grocery trip, there is a dead dog lying in the middle of the dirt path, as well as a dead frog. Last week it was a rolled car on the way home from church.Image result for dirt road  nicaragua

One of our staff members’ brothers is hit by a car while on his motorbike and is in a coma. The family is struggling financially in a huge way because of it.

My students are involved in a massive, heartbreaking issue.

A close friend here is in the midst of a destructive relationship.

My classroom loses 5/10 lights and will be replaced “mañana” (tomorrow). Every day this week I’ve taught in a partially dark room and mañana never comes.

The kids at the centre (for kids from drug & prostitution involved families) cannot think of a single kind thing to say about themselves or their friends when prompted. They degrade one another and themselves in response to my question, instead. They argue over which is a better career: thief or drug dealer.

My legs are scarred with mosquito bites and the ants invaded my cereal. I roll my ankle on the cobblestones trying to avoid the sewage.

ALL of this is has occurred in the last EIGHT days. No lie. No exaggeration.

So, yes, after looking at that list, maybe it’s been an abnormally awful week, but there are definitely more days that are not fun, when I feel that I do little good. And that’s another side of reality here that I try to hide.

Image result for moon night oceanNow, I do want you to hear about and celebrate in the goodness of this place and this life and work. It is wonderful. There are great days. But there are also way more days here than there were in Canada that are really, really hard and life is anything but glamorously adventurous. A normal week is bursting with pain, death, sickness, and challenges in a way that life in Canada never has been for me. It’s a reality here. And in this I grow. And in this I learn. But I also cry and struggle and fight. So please, just remember that this life isn’t something to envy based on the volcano hikes and beach days and cheap travel plans. Those aren’t enough. If you envy this life, envy it for the walk that I get to have with my God because of it. Because that’s the beautiful part. I get to trust, pray, and walk so closely with Him through all of this. So, don’t pity me either. In this mess is where I find the best parts of a week – an intimacy with my God unlike any other.


I Never Thought I’d Ever: Year 2 Edition

I Never Thought I’d Ever:


The ladies of Grade 1. I do not exaggerate when I say I wouldn’t have survived this year without each one of these precious, loving, Jesus-filled women.

  1. Have enough new experiences in this same country in this same job to fill another entire year with crazy experiences!
  2. Love as deeply as I have this year- both my students and the colleagues surrounding me.
  3. Want to, or actually complete, a half marathon.
  4. Hurt so terribly.
  5. Heal so carefully.
  6. Fear so greatly.
  7. Trust so wholly.
  8. Sled down a volcano.
  9. See hummingbirds, toucans, and parakeets mere feet from my face.
  10. Have my house flood so completely and so frequently with each days’ rain. Ya, I didn’t think that after last year’s flood water could keep coming!
  11. Have to deal with storms, lice, centipedes, beetles, and mice all in a single day. Not to mention the additional tarantulas, cockroaches, and other critters.
  12. Own a cat. Even if only temporarily.
  13. Eat octopus.
  14. Eat fresh mangos, avocados, and coconut from my own yard all in one weekend.
  15. Freeze my patootie off in this country.
  16. Have a parasite.

And a couple highlight stories from May:

When we learned about David and Goliath I told the kids that whoever beat Goliath didn’t have to pay taxes (among other rewards). Well, the kids had to re-enact the story and the boy who was playing Saul said, “If you kill Goliath you don’t have to pay for taxis.” HAHAHAHAHA!


This has been SUCH an adventurous, interesting class that has taught me oodles about life, love, and learning. And they’ve certainly thrown pretty much everything I know about teaching out the window!


Also, one dear student strokes my back and says, “Don’t stress, Miss Van Kannel, don’t stress,” whenever I’m upset with the boys. How can you stress with her around?!

Part of their Bible homework one week was to write a question they had about faith and ask it to their parents. One student shared with the class that she asked her mom if she had a connection with God. She told her mom, “I know I have a connection with Him because when I sing worship, I feel God calling my name, like Samuel felt. My Mom said she felt a connection too. She feels a connection to God when she reads the Bible.” WOW. What a powerful question and testimony from such a young child. I asked the kids how they feel connected to God.


Camping isn’t a thing here, so we made our own camp with a real campfire, some good old camp songs, and s’mores OF COURSE!

Oodles of hands went up and they came up with more ideas than I ever would’ve (worship, reading, talking about God, telling others about Him, praying, being with their families, learning about Him). So cool. I also had them pray for each other this week in groups of two and two boys went on their knees with their heads bowed, eyes closed, grasping one another’s folded hands, and with their foreheads touching. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I wished so desperately someone else had been in the room to see or that I’d had my phone on me to take a picture. But I suppose the moment wouldn’t have been the same then. I learn so much from them every day.

The year is coming to a close and I will be off to Canada for a short break and then back to Nica for language school and some work with some Spanish missions. Woo! Keep me in your prayers!


(Culinary) Substitutions

I lost my glasses in the ocean this month. So, I thought I was buying parsley in the grocery store. It was fennel. Very. Different. But, with a quick Google search of fennel, I ended up making us some amazing baked potatoes for supper, and even opted to have them as a late night snack one night. I also tried to buy sweet potatoes another night and accidentally bought rutabaga. Ended up with a unique, tasty addition to our roasted veggies. We decided we might even prefer it.

That’s how my month has been. I got something I definitely hadn’t planned on, but it ended up alright, and helped me to find sweetness and nuggets of goodness that I wouldn’t have otherwise stumbled upon.

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Flowers at our new house. They live by the garbage pile. Another chance to take something bad and make it a little lovelier!  🙂

Our house was a disaster when we moved in, so we ended up with an amazing maid named Mariksa. There were several things not working in our house, so we got to know our neighbours’ hospitality. My luggage was gone and I was having zero luck getting it back, so I ended up being able to experience the kindness of five helpful staff members. The storms have been frequent, so I’ve been hugged, loved, and cared for by fellow teachers who eat lunch with me in the workroom instead of outside at the lunch table and beautifully sung to (Christmas carols, nonetheless!) by a very, very patient, sweet roommate who stays up until the last rumblings of thunder pass, my heartrate has returned to normal, and the tears have subsided. My massive class size this year and hugely long list of students with a little extra need for care, love, and accommodation meant that I was granted a full-time classroom aide, as well as extra support from volunteers. We have a tiny house, so we can only invite people over in twos or threes, and thus, we get to know people in smaller, more meaningful ways. My lost glasses allowed me to experience love and sacrifice and allowed me to make a new friend when she gave up her glasses for the week so that I had at least less vision loss.


It’s been a month of surprises. None of them started as a, “Woo! This is a great problem!” kind of thing. They were all pesky annoyances, troubles, fears, or challenges. But all of them ended in “substitutions” that were so much more pleasant due to their surprising nature. Like fennel and baked potatoes.

The ocean all pleased with itself for eating my glasses.



My glasses that were lost and were supposed to be replaced in about two weeks and who knows how much money took only one week and were cheaper than in Canada! So many of you joined in prayer and I know that made a difference! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I have an assistant full-time in my classroom, and an amazing support team, and the energy and excitement to take on all of the challenges!

We have not only a Special Ed team and program at school now, we also have really, really great, qualified volunteers and a Speech and Language Pathologist for the year (Nicaragua does not really have or train SLPs, so most kids that need it have never had any support in this area). This Special Ed team is AMAZING and several of my own students use their resources daily. Nicaragua is moving towards inclusive classrooms (don’t get me started on the celebrations and hesitations involved in this…), and our school has been visited by others seeking to learn more about inclusion.

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Our very own tiny home. It’s perfect.



Again this year I have students from all walks of life, some of which are dealing with some really serious stuff for 6-year-old kiddos. Please be in prayer for them, and that they might feel love, hope, and peace in our school walls.

This is an election year in Nicaragua. There is much doubt about it being a fair election, and all opposition has been removed already. It is being said that no outside media is allowed in to cover the election.

It is becoming more difficult for humanitarian and religious workers to be granted visas to the country.



One of my students has a lot of challenges that makes school tough for him. One of these is that he has a maximum focus span of 2 minutes to the second (we’ve timed it in all activities from playing on the playground, to reading one on one, to watching a movie). However, one day he got down on his knees in the middle of writing class, bowed his head, and closed his eyes for a solid three minutes. As he was getting up off his knees I asked him what he was doing. He said, “Pray,” with the most joyful expression on his face. IMG_0613

This same student has incredibly low English and he has an extremely limited vocabulary, terrible word order, and low comprehension. But, he LOVES to pray. He is always one of the first to offer a word of praise, thanksgiving, or petition. This week he prayed for us at the end of the school day. He said, “God, you are strong. God, you are beautiful.” I don’t know where he got those words from – me, the Holy Spirit, chapel, or what. But THAT’S what he chooses to say in all of his limited vocabulary. He has immense trouble stringing a sentence together to tell me what he did on the weekend, but a prayer of praise with beautiful simplicity flows out of him with ease. What a precious moment.

IMG_0614My kids also had to vote on their favourite read-aloud for our library’s World Book Day. Guess what they chose completely on their own? The book of Judges…. We’ve been studying it in Bible class and they don’t want to leave for recess, they are so into the awesome stories.

This week we had grape juice and crackers while we sat in our community circle (a sharing circle) for a farewell party for one of their classmates and one student asked, “Is this like community at church?” I didn’t know what she was talking about and then I realized, “You mean communion?”  “Yes.”  “No. We are having a snack. Not communion.” But I turned my back for two minutes to refill cups and the whole class had their glasses raised, saying, “To Jesus! Yay! To Jesus! Yay!” Yes, we toast to Jesus in Grade 1 and pick the book of Judges as our all-time favourite read-aloud… What crazy kids I have. And these are just some of the examples. On Friday alone they immediately wanted to tie our story about a little chick who did something big to our Bible verse from several weeks ago (1 Timothy 4:12 – “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young…”) and one student applied a lesson about not giving up because God is supporting you in a very real, scary situation in her life.  

I love that my students are growing up together – from many countries, from many churches, from many perspectives, but united in Jesus. They are surrounded with prayer – from their parents, from us as a staff, from you, from me, and from one another. They are growing up excited for Jesus and prayer to be such a part of their play, their lessons, their read-alouds, their thoughts, and their day, that the transition from one to another is not abnormal to them. I think that’s because they’re so enveloped in prayer. Join with me in praying that they maintain that joy, passion, and curiosity in Jesus.

This is not mentioning the joy, the blessings, the gifts, and the miracles I’ve been apart of because of prayer this year. The examples are countless. Thank you for your prayer support of me and this ministry. The fruits are evident.


Note the “Emen!”  I didn’t say their spelling and phonics was strong…! Haha


Quiet My Heart, O Prince of Peace

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.

– Mother Teresa –


Life here is full of noise. Constant. It doesn’t help that I live on a highway across from a Nica bar. Yes, the fact that it is a Nica bar is relevant. No word of a lie, a Nicaraguan church service is a few decibel ratings (or whatever they’re called) above a Canadian bar, so now imagine what the bars are like here. We’ve had the pleasure of enjoying mariachi music, brass band music, karaoke nights, and all manner of other musical delights. The guard dogs bark, the buses squeal, the horns blare. Most of us have music playing and fans buzzing. There is a baby and a toddler that live right behind us and they both love to add a joyful noise to the mix. There are some crazy awful loud birds that take up residence here. Also, keep in mind that I teach Grade 1… And two out of four of my classroom walls are solid windows that need to be open all day, every day and for the first months of school whenever there was another class out for recess, I was so distracted by the noise that might as well have been right in my classroom that I found it hard to teach.P1050294edit

This month, over Semana Santa (Holy Week) we went to the Corn Islands here in Nicaragua, and I spent every day in peaceful, ambling quiet. I woke early to watch the sunrise, peacefully read for hours on end, prayed silently under the palm trees, snorkeled for a few hours with only the subtle sounds of the underwater world, stumbled upon deserted, wild beaches, and fell asleep to only the crashing waves (okay, that sound I can handle). It was so restorative. Another teacher and I also decided to move out next fall to a new house that is simple, tiny, and down a little bumpy dirt road. The first thing I noticed and fell in love with: it was peaceful and easy.

I need to intentionally seek moments to be slow and quiet my soul even when the world around me is busy and noisy– take slow breaths, form slow thoughts, react more slowly, talk more slowly and listen more easily. From this leads a life that is lived more deeply. Depth never comes from speed. And depth is what I want. Richness. Fullness. Overflow of grace.

IMG_0226I’ve talked a lot with friends this month about living and loving more genuinely, and how that actually occurs and what is most important. I’ve come to the conclusion that a big part (but not the only, or even greatest part, by any means) of this is to seek peace and a relaxed pace, allowing God to take the lead and to restore me each and every day in Him.

I’m thankful for quiet holidays to challenge me to seek increased peace, places of hidden quiet, and intentional silence and reflection. There is such beauty in these places and I am excited to explore them more.

“We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”   – C.S. Lewis –


Preparations & Fulfillments

Cultural Tidbits

So, today I was making Canadian-ized gallo pinto (I’ve decided that the reason mine tastes so different is because I put 1/16 of the amount of oil in mine compared to the locals) and I dumped the rice in the pot before I realized that the whole bag (even though it was sealed pretty tightly with a twist-tie) was crawling with bugs. There goes that batch… I’ve bought cream of wheat twice too. Both times FILLED with bugs before it’s even left the grocery store. Sad days. I am also an expert on what cockroach poop looks like now (note for any future ex-pats: rinse the pots before you use them).


A favourite breakfast – freshly made passionfruit juice or tea, fresh and local mango and pineapple, a nice view, a good book and a Sunday morning. Bliss.


Also, 5 out of 6 active volcanoes were currently in eruption mode. It’s crazy. All is safe still, no worries.

Lessons & Learning, Prayers & Petitions

Have you ever done something for so long with so little tangible success that you start to ask yourself, “Why?” “Is it worth it?” “Does it make a difference?”

That’s where February often sits for me for whatever reason. This February felt exceptionally brutal. If you’ll recall, I was sick for a good chunk of January (I’m feeling better and only get brief relapses for short periods now. I’m still denying that it was chikingunya…) and so by February I was already exhausted. Add to that the 100th day of school, Valentine’s Day (if you are not a teacher, you may just have to trust me on how brutal these days are), progress reports, and a freighter-sized load of other exceptional challenges and I was ready to throw in the towel.


I’ve been running for years off and on, but never with any growth. Now I have found two wonderful morning running buddies here. We have been seriously running three times a week since Christmas, and it is paying off – a fun 5 km Color Run in January with my students, the Managua Marathon 10 km in February. It was such a thrill to see the improvement in my time and distance.

I’ve also been helping choreograph for the school’s musical since October, and it’s finally opening night! Up until the last rehearsal, I was worried they were going to fall apart and there were a lot of interesting rehearsals, but they looked amazing now!IMG_0450

Since August I’ve been trying to teach my students Bible with a “faith is action” kind of lens. Yes, we believe and knowledge is important, but it means nothing without action. However, it has been hard to see that tangible evidence in them and the practical implementation. Since the Lenten season began we’ve been doing daily faith challenges in Gr. 1-3 (thanks for the lasting impression and idea, St. A’s teachers!). The challenges focus on study, prayer, and service, always linked to Scripture. The sweet stories, important questions, genuine prayers, selfless acts, and wonderful discoveries they are making are profound. Oh, the faith of a child…

IMG_0460 All three of these things have taken months or years. None have been in a week or a day. Now I continue to struggle with residency and daily interactions, but I am trying to remain focused on purpose, fulfillment, and patience.

So, the lesson: It leads to fulfillment. There is an end, there is a reward (even if not the expected one). There is purpose. There is peace. There is joy. Do I need to get better at seeking the peace, purpose, and joy in the midst of trials? Yes. Without a doubt. Do I need to get okay with not seeing the immediate successes? Definitely. There are things that permanently fail. There are things that I will never see evidence of my impact. But is it refreshing to see the very physical fruits once in awhile? Absolutely.


Baptized by Fire

Okay, so I know that verse (Matt. 3:11) is debated about its actual meaning, but it was the first thing I thought of this week as I experienced my “Welcome back to Managua and real life” gift. Only in Nicaragua can a person be literally baptised by fire. I can fully appreciate why my showerhead heater is called a “widow maker.” Do you remember that I told you about it in the first month? Well, this week, it was blissfully cool here with a wonderful breeze (don’t mistake me – still 30s, but with a wind), so I thought a warm shower might be a nice change. B.a.d.  i.d.e.a.  It started steaming.


Some of my kiddos and I at the Thanksgiving Program

I turned it off. I realized it wasn’t steam. Within 5 seconds the entire bathroom was so thick with smoke I couldn’t see. I jumped out the shower, ran out of the bathroom, and as I looked over my shoulder, the whole showerhead was a deep, fiery red. So that was that night. However, this caused a hole in the shower hose that I did not see, so the next day when I got in the shower, I got the entire bathroom soaked. Not a drop on me. Later this week I showered with a gecko. I think I may avoid the shower for a week to play things safe. Stay 100 feet away from me to avoid any smell. Which leads me to a summary of my learnings from 2015. Choose Joy. Even when you’re smelly, baptized by fire, and feeling less than joyful.


While I was at my home church at Christmas, I had the wonderful blessing to be able to prepare and share a message that encompassed my lessons, experiences, and a welcome to the new year. The theme that has continually come up over and over again during my first semester as a missionary teacher has been about choosing joy. I will summarize here:

  1. Joy is NOT a feeling. You can feel happy, and that’s fine, but happiness is not lasting. Joy is not the presence of happiness- it is a choice to focus on God’s role in the joyful gifts that I am given. It is never only a feeling. It is a choice (such as to participate in joyful worship) and a gift (such as joy in my salvation).
  2. A huge portion of verses say to be joyful in our King, have peace and joy in our Maker (Psalm 149:2), peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Countless. Always IN God. That doesn’t come from feeling good. That’s choosing to live in joy.
  3. Teaching is hard. Life is hard. Missions is hard. Schools and organizations are hard. There is so much to get bogged down in, and I can tend to. But asking for the ability to choose joy at each turn is a responsibility and a privilege that I have.
  4. Sometimes joy looks a lot like happiness – and I am so overjoyed to have been able to be loved and pampered over Christmas, coming back with my suitcases and heart full for another semester.


    The beautiful Granada

So, I would like to wish you, not a Happy New Year, but a JOYFUL one! Thanks for all you do and who you are.