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!


Easter Joy, Peace, and Community

Last year I got to share my thoughts of peace and beauty during Semana Santa (Holy Week) as I spent it in the Corn Islands. This year the focus was also the pursuit of peace and beauty, but in a much different climate! We headed up to the Nicaraguan mountains and rainforest. It was windy, cloudy, and rainy every night. I had on all of the layers I could possibly find and could usually be found curled under a blanket or two. We stayed at an ecolodge coffee farm. Only our group and 3 other people were there. The only electricity came by way of solar panels and was strictly used for lighting. It was inaccessible except by 4×4. There were a few hammocks, lots of comfy chairs, and miles of trees. The peace that I was seeking (and that I found) this year was very different than it was last year.

This year, I sought to find peace in the midst of mess. Peace with who I am. Peace with what I am doing and with how I am doing. Peace with others. Peace in chaos. Restoring peace. Grasping onto God’s promise of peace. Allowing peace to reign.IMG_3628

Imagine perching on the lodge’s porch, watching toucans, butterflies, hummingbirds, and parakeets, then the sunset, then the fireflies, then the stars. Or nestling into a perch on a high hill amongst the wildflowers, gazing upon the coffee and banana fields with the wind blowing through your hair and the warm sun on your face. How can one not feel peaceful in those? But I didn’t. So, I set out to discover why not.

What I found was: it’s not about the place. So, I thought about the moments from the week where I did feel most peaceful. One of those moments was sharing a hammock with one of the loveliest people I know who I also have the privilege of calling “friend.” I could rest in the fact that I am well-loved, known, prayed for, and invited into friendship exactly as I am. This is community.

Here are some words that help highlight how vital this community is (from “Community: God’s Design for Growth“)

“The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a lived reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.”

“One of the most important ways the community helps us is by embodying Christ’s continuing presence on earth.

SO good, right?!


Two of the amazing members of Jesus’ community who evidently show his joy and peace really well.

However, this general lack of peace led me to feeling guilty. Easter is the biggest holiday of the year for Christians. We are meant to sing for joy that our God reigns, that our King lives. And I didn’t feel very peaceful, let alone celebratory, even though I believe these things with all my heart. However, someone shared a profound insight with me about this today. When Jesus rose, there was no huge church service or jubilant party. There was doubt. There was uncertainty. There was confusion. There was desperation. Here are some examples:

“They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” (Luke 24:37)

“They still [after seeing the empty tomb] did not understand…” (John 20:9)

Yes, there was hope when they heard the news. But I imagine there was also exhaustion. Frustration. Probably some fear.

And yes, there was also joy and amazement (Luke 24:41 & 52), but there was a whole lot more than that, too. And Jesus was absolutely okay with that. Jesus met all of these emotions with immense love. He treated the doubter the same way as the joyous worshipper. With love. And peace. “Peace be with you” he says over and over again. And don’t even get me started on the evidence of community throughout these days following the resurrection. I’ll save that for another day.

And so, this Easter season, I do joyfully acknowledge that my God is a living and God who has overcome death itself, but also this joyful worshipper is learning how to let Jesus love the doubtful, fearful, frustrated spots as well. And a big part of that is gathering up the peace that He shows in the community that He has given me. So, thank you, Jesus, for your death and resurrection and for the fact that this means you are incredibly tangible in the community of people who surround me.

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Posted by on April 17, 2017 in Nica Life



This past month there have been several surprises (is there ever a month without them though?) Two main ones really impacted me though.IMG_2629 (2)At school there is a man named Jorge (we all call him Don Jorge – like Mr. Horhay). He is a general services staff member. He is incredibly well-known around the school because he takes the kids to the nurse when they need to go for medicine, he refills our water jugs when we run out of water in the classroom, he brings the students and the teachers messages from the office, and he does countless other things. He finds missing lunch cards. He accepts student-made cookies even when he doesn’t want them. He smiles the sweetest of smiles. He corrects my Spanish in the kindest manner (or knows that I didn’t really understand what he just said, so he just lets it slide and then he goes to find my assistant and tells her instead). He has an amazing heart and is very loved by everyone at the school. This month he was hit by a drunk motorcyclist going 70 km/hr when he was crossing the street to enter the school at 5:50 in the morning. It was really, really, really bad. The doctors said he would never make it, but they did brain surgery anyway. He was resuscitated three times after surgery. The hospitals here are not anything like the 17190748_10154224128711712_9113907768247292720_nhospitals at home. It is a third world country. For some of them it’s joked that you can go in just to visit and you’ll never come out because you’ll get an infection and die in there. Don Jorge was taken to a relatively decent one. The mood at school all week was very somber and all of the students and staff were praying nonstop. The most heartfelt prayers I’ve ever heard come from my students came that week. Don Jorge miraculously survived surgery, woke up, remembered most things, and was sent home a week later. I went to visit him at his house a few days later to take a meal and a book that my students had made for him called “Los Animales de Don Jorge” (Mr. Jorge’s Animals). He and his family live in a tiny tin house with no windows, a dirt floor, no fridge, a tarp to separate the bedroom from the entry, and we needed to hike up to it because the car couldn’t go up the path. He talked for half an hour about his testimony in this season and at the end of every sentence he would conclude with, “Thanks to God,” or “Praise God.” He said that before this accident he felt unknown to God and insignificant. And yet, when no one thought there was any possibility for survival, the doctors stood amazed that he survived and called it nothing short of a miracle. God deemed him significant and worthy enough for this miracle. He deemed him worthy of all of this love, support, and prayers that his school and church are pouring into him. He feels so grateful, blessed, and alive. We prayed with him and his family before we left, and I shared his story IMG_1022with my students the following day and they, too, were touched by his miracle. It has shaped all of us, formed us into a closer community, and reminded us of God’s goodness and power.

The other thing that influenced me was a wee little orphaned kitten. She was found in the music closet at school sick and beyond the point of hungry. Alex gave me permission to bring her home until she was healthy and a permanent home could be found for her. I named her Ely (I hoped Alex would just grow attached, too…!). Little Ely and the care that she required were so good for me. To see her growing stronger and more adventurous each day was wonderful. I had to give her up only a few days later, but wee Ely gave me purpose and joy in her sweet snuggles and cute mannerisms. It was such a simple thing, but really was a big part of my month.

Other adventures that happened this month:


How you flush the toilet, wash dishes, cook, rinse veggies, and “shower”: fill up all the containers you can, when you can, from wherever you can.

I ran my first half marathon. We haven’t had city water for 6 days and counting. Uncle Richard came to visit me! I got to go up north to the mountains for the first time. I requested to move from Grade 1 to Grade 5 next year (and was accepted, so I’ve agreed to at least two more years!)


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Posted by on March 18, 2017 in Nica Life


A Day in the Life of Miss Van Kannel

I didn’t quite know where to start for a blog post for this month. Then, Auntie Debbie asked for a “Day in the Life of Miss Van Kannel.” Perfect! So, here you are:

4:50 – Alarm goes off.

5:00 – 5-ish km run (This doesn’t sound all that exciting, but trust me, it can be. Dogs of all sizes and demeanors run out after us at any given time. You run in groups for safety (not just from the dogs), yell “HEY!” and slow to a walk until you pass the dogs. Also, the roads along our route are a mix of pavement, brick cobblestone-type things, and dirt with MANY potholes and deep ruts (think: completely impassible by most vehicles). There are also countless strange smells. Most not good. Then the mystery liquid puddles (sanitation isn’t the same here by any stretch of the imagination). And sometimes people who like to call encouragement at us (admittedly, we stand out – 7 white girls running in Nica draws some attention).

6:20 – Leave for school. Prepare for the day in the quiet classroom.

6:50 – Prayer/fellowship/testimony time that I take with an amazing Nicaraguan woman in our school’s prayer garden

7:00 – Whole staff devotions (I have to lead one week each year.)

7:20 – Kids start entering the classroom. We do morning calendar, jobs, and prayer.

7:45 – Some of my students leave for English Language classes. While only 7 out of 27 of my students are native English speakers, some of the Spanish kids no longer require intensive, small group language practice, so I keep 16 kids.

8:30 – Reading! My favourite time of the day. The students work at various centres and I get to meet with students in groups of 2-4 to focus their reading instruction.

9:15 – Writing, Snack. Woo. Normal stuff.15086200_10211452959829872_971651933_n

9:45 – Spanish. My students have 50 minutes of Spanish each day. They split into classes depending on their level of Spanish (native speakers, intermediate, and Spanish as a Second Language). This is when I do the vast majority of my prep (responding to emails, planning, cutting, photocopying, researching, and any other number of duties).

10:30 – Snack and Recess

10:45 – Math – I have a Grade 12 student assistant in my classroom during this time. She wants to be a teacher when she’s done school, so I am trying to mentor her and give her some small teaching opportunities. She is amazing.

11:45 – Bible – One of the kids’ favourite times of the day. We do worship, prayer, stories, service projects, reflections, and much more.

12:15 – Story! Another good time of day!

12:30 – Lunch & recess

1:00 – Science or Social (I teach each for half a year). Also pretty normal.

1:50 – “Specials” – it rotates as to what the kids have during this time (Computers, Art, PE, or Music). I usually have one meeting or another (with parents, the Special Ed team, or admin) during this time.

2:30 – Prayer & dismissal

2:45 – Depends on the day. I tutor a Grade 4 student on Mondays and Thursdays, attend a Spanish class on Tuesdays, and am starting an after-school dance class on Wednesdays. Fridays I usually hightail it out of there!

13958142_10154469457802276_7538222767385952983_o4:00 – Head for home

4:30 – Repack my lunch and get supper on

6:00 – Do schoolwork to get ready for the next day.

8:00 – Get ready to wind down and relax.

9:00 – Sleep.

And get ready to repeat!

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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in Blogging Adventures


A Year in Review

It’s been too long. I know. And many of you usually receive a Christmas letter from me, too, and you may have noticed that your card got “lost” in the mail this year… So, two birds with one stone, I hope you can take a moment and enjoy reading my year-at-a-glance. Just click on the link below and it will open a PDF file with the letter:


Since I last posted, I have also tobogganed down an active volcano, my kids have done amazing presentations for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and they led chapel, we built models in Social Studies, went caroling around the school, got a new student, and so much more. Here are a few pictures:


Being silly and showing how ridiculously excited we are that “God gives me grace!”


Some of my more advanced English language students learned about plays and wrote and performed their very own jungle play.



“Miss Van Kannel-in-Training”                   This was “Dress Like a Teacher Day.” I dressed in a student uniform and they dressed like me. Note the buns and ponytails, dresses, and OF COURSE the glasses!





Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Nica Life


It’s Not Just Temporary

The last three weeks have been pretty up and down. Overall, things are peachy keen. I am feeling a lot more settled this year than I was at this time last year, I will tell you that much! As I’ve started writing this, two iguanas have run past me seeking shelter as another mid-day tropical rain settles in.IMG_0822.JPG The neighbour scrambles to get her laundry. I hear fires crackling with lunch preparations, worship music blasting, and birds chirping. It feels normal and good. I’ve even gotten used to squishing the ants off of my hands and double-checking my coffee mug for bugs before I take a sip of my tea. I can kill a tarantula without flinching. I’ve started attending a Bible study with some lovely girls, running regularly again, striving to eat better, working towards building better relationships. And yet… Something feels off some days. This work and this life are still really, really hard some days.

A friend here is quite literally the exact opposite of me, so I trust her to be a good perspective for me in many things. After spending an evening together talking, she says, “I think this is what it is: You can do anything for a year. We are past that. Now this is real life. This is where many tensions and realities come out for the first time.” Yes. That’s what it is. This is not an adventure. img_0802This is not a trip. This is life. I am here for living. And this life gets just as messy as anyone else’s. I am planting roots. And that is sometimes painful, awkward, impossibly hard, and it reveals the less-than-glamourous sides of people and situations. Being able to recognize that has been really helpful and offers me a new hopefulness. These are just the growing pains of digging and settling into real life here.

I continue to learn more and more each day and God is shaping me and revealing Himself to me in absolutely astounding ways all the time, but this month He’s especially shown me that I just need to keep myself healthy. I don’t need to work and goal-set and practice and force growth every moment of every day. I can just keep myself healthy and He will do His work in growing me. So, I am simplifying expectations and guess what? After too long of feeling guilty for not loving well enough, forgiving often enough, or trusting deep enough, I took a step back and quit trying so hard. And I am better at those things now.

I. Did. Nothing.

I just let myself be open (by praying, learning, reading, and listening) and let God flow in and out and do all that hard work of loving. Because I sucked at it, but He is so, so good at it!


Some Fun Highlights of the Month:

Fiestas Patrias (this year we did a dance from the Atlantic Coast – much different from last year) – I also celebrated the holiday at the beach with lots of friends

Parent Conferences – one parent told us NCA is her son’s favourite school because he gets to worship there, and, “How cool is that, Mom?!” It is a lot of work, but I love conferencing with parents and sharing in conversations with them. This year I understood a lot more of what was being said and didn’t need all of it translated back into English for me. Success!


15 of the 25 lovable rugrats. This is the best picture we got from the day!

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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in Nica Life


(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.