Monday, October 5, 2015

Round 2 of serving in the PI. Current and Future Projects. Sept 2015 and Beyond.

Welcome to the latest post.

If you have not read our previous post that reviews March through September of 2015, you may want to go to that post first.  This post followed it by just a couple of hours. That is incredible, isn't it? Two posts in a couple of hours and no posts until now for 2015.  My apologies.

We have spent a serious amount of time getting back into the swing of things here.  We sorted and sifted through everything in our apartment, store and storeroom.  I would say we are up and running and being efficient again.  Our inventories are taken, or spreadsheets are tweaked and we are moving forward.  Stabilizing one area, does not however mean that we have nothing to do.  It means that we can change our focus to other projects that have been neglected due to lack of time.

NEW STORE

The major projects for the next 8 months will be quite varied and VERY important.  They will probably all happen simultaneously. In an effort to prepare for the future opening of the high school, we need to design and build a new store so that we can vacate the current spot in the high school that we use for our store and storage.  We need it to be a building that can also be used for housing that would produce potential future rent income for the ministry. The future principal of the school is well into raising support and he and his family should be here in the next couple of months.




COLLECTIONS

Another major project that we are working at launching is a system that will allow us to remind customers that they have a balance due and need to return their outstanding products and/or pay off their balance.  We have never had a real collections system in place.  We need a system that will automatically send out reminders and give us a list of what needs to be done to close out our old open accounts.  I have literally been researching that system for years.  We now have a system identified and purchased and we are trying to get it launched.  I anticipate it taking us a year to clean up our books from the past.  We should be able to keep the present and future accounts under control at the same time.

MARKETING

We are also in the middle of having a company help us get more visibility on the internet.  We are re-branding, improving the website and exploring some other marketing strategies.  We have never done any sort of mass marketing before, so this is another new area of improvement.  In order for the livelihood project to continue into the future, we need to have a market for the product.  Therefore making Threads of Hope more visible will help the longevity of the livelihood project in Aninuan as well.

FAMILY DEMOGRAPHICS

Yet another project we need to complete is a change in the way that we handle giving the bracelet makers orders.  For close to the past decade, the requirement to get an order has been to attend a church service on Sunday and a prayer meeting on Wednesday night.  That was a way to give the people the opportunity to hear the Gospel. That leaves us with a couple of problems to solve.  We found that during the "no tourist" season we could have up to 1000 people showing up to get orders. The attendance could literally double during this time, which also means that the orders we could give based on the fact that our budget doesn't change with attendance levels would be half of what it had previously been.  So our regular, faithful, all-year-round attendees are getting hurt by having to "share the pot" with the people who show up only when the tourists are gone.

We spent months before we went back to the States collecting family demographics.  We now know the number of people per family, whether they have another income, what their other incomes come from, whether we are dealing with any medical issues, the number of bracelet makers, what kind of bracelets they can make, and whether we are working with a widow or a single parent.  Our next step is to turn all of that information into a monthly order that meets the needs of the family and removes the requirement to attend the chapel to EARN an order.

The outcome of the change in the way we assign orders should change the attendance at the chapel dramatically. When 1000 people show up at a church service and only one third of them (potentially) are there because they want to learn, it is very loud and chaotic.  When you remove the attendance requirement, only those who WANT to be there will come to hear the word of God.  We are hoping for spiritual growth to take hold in the lives of those who remain and want to seek after the Lord.

MUSIC MINISTRY

As of mid September, Jim has started teaching guitar to students.  We purchased 6 guitars through money that was donated to Threads of Hope for that purpose.  There are two levels of students being taught, beginners and intermediates.  The first week there were 8 beginners and 3 intermediates (including our very own Jojo).  The second week the numbers jumped up to 18 beginners.  They are going to share the guitars to practice.  The music ministry Jim wanted to start is officially launched. We will see where God takes it.

Week 1 Beginning Students...And Growing
PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

There are several products that we are working on improving or creating for the first time.  It is sometimes very difficult to find just the right components to complete the task.  You can't just jump onto e-Bay here and find what you need.  We also need to find just the right person to design a pattern that all can follow.  These key chains are the perfect example. There have been MANY designs submitted.  But none of them are exactly what we are after quite yet.
Trying to Develop Philippines Flag Key Chains
(Still need the BEST design.)
We are also working on finding the proper components and seamstress to make camera straps out of our headbands.  Marina told us about a woman near us who has an industrial sewing machine.  Last week I gave her the components to make two camera straps using my Nikon camera strap as a model. She did an awesome job.  We still need to order the right buckles, but we know where to find them. So soon we will be able to add some camera straps to our list of available products.

Camera Straps from Head Bands (Almost Ready)
















The picture below is of several bags that we sold at festivals this year.  They went like hot cakes and they were great conversation starters! Our favorite question was "SO,,,what are they made out of?" Common answers to the question were "duct tape or gum wrappers",  Wrong answers!  They are made out of drinking straws.

During a pay day one of our leaders came with one of these bags.  Her family had started to make them.  They were so adorable I had her make one for me.  I chose the colors and the size and she went from there.  I have had that bag for well over a year.  I have not babied it in any way.  It has been to the States and back again. In fact, I carry my Bible around in it and it is heavy.  That bag is still wearing very well and it is a head turner even here in the Philippines.  

We can not sell the bags and make a great rate of return on the investment like we can with our bracelets. We may never carry them as a product line for everyone, but they will probably continue to show up on our festival tables.  They are so cute!  Not to mention waterproof, light weight and durable. 

Drinking Straw Bags made by Locals

Ok, you made it through another post.  Thanks for joining us.

Stay tuned for "Reflections of Last Year" and "Modifications to This Year" for our next post.  I am on a roll.  I hope to do this once a month.  My strategy is to put pictures in a newsletter folder as I take them so I don't spend hour upon hour searching for just the right picture to share with you.
There I go again doing that organizational/administrative thing.  That will be good for all of us.

Tomorrow we make the 48 kilometer, 1.5 hour trek (one way) over the mountains to Calapan to make a 5 minute bank deposit (and go grocery shopping and hunting for things we can't buy here because we had to go make the deposit any way).  I'll take you with us some time soon.  It will give you a glimpse of what living in the provinces is like.  But to us, that is a better place than the big city of Manila that was just rated the #1 place in the world for horrific traffic jams.  We travel for 5 hours to go there on Sunday so we can make.....another bank deposit.....that can only be made at the branch of the bank where the account was opened, even though there is a branch in....Calapan.  Banking in this country is our nemesis, that is for certain.

Tata for now!
Love you all!
Julie (and Jim)






To the States and Back Again. A summary of March through August 2015

Oh my!  I shocked myself today as I made my way out to the blog to discover that there are no posts here for 2015 at all.  That is NOT good.  I guess this is not my strong suit.  Technically, a post to the blog means that life doesn't feel so hectic at this moment in time.  So I will write quickly, while it remains that way, because it will not last long I suspect.  There is a lot of ground to cover here, so I will focus on the major highlights.

We are already a month into our second leg of service here in the Philippines.  We have been home and back again.



When I left here, in March, I knew I was headed home to pack up the house.  I was not sure whether it was to rent the house or sell the house. Jim stayed behind to hold down the fort until June 1.   Based on the fact that Will moved to Tennessee in April to pursue his music career and Ben was headed to Virginia to go to school full time to expedite the completion of his Bachelor's degree, we decided we would try to sell the house again because our kids were moving on and moving out.

When you live in a house day in and day out, you don't notice the toll that time takes on it.  But when you leave for a year, the snap shop is pretty vivid of all that has deteriorated in your absence.  I spent about a bazillion hours fixing, painting, purging, and packing just trying to get the house on the market.  Many thanks go out to the Asia Team, the Smiths, Driscolls, Dorises, CTEAM and family members who helped us along the way.

On Memorial Day I had to put our 10 year old Cocker Spaniel down. On Sunday at noon she was limping and by 8 pm she couldn't stand on her back legs at all.  I knew then that Monday was not going to be a good day.  We loved that little fur ball so much.  She was the cutest puppy on the planet.  She was scheduled to be moved to Tennessee to live with Will.   We did not think she would fare the move very well.  God had that situation under control too.  We sure didn't see it coming though.


Upon Jim's return to the States we stepped up the house project, and listed the house on the market on June 8th.  We went through room by room and put away every thing that was not furniture.  We painted and painted and painted and neutralized most of what showed personality.

Some of June and most of July was spent doing festivals to share Threads of Hope with those who don't know us yet, or were our previous customers from a festival the years before.  We have also historically used the festivals to help us raise financial support for ourselves.  This summer proved to be a poor season for us to boost our support this way.  The return on our invested time was very low. We will need to decide if manning festival booths is a wise use of our time in the future now that we have so little time in the States to visit family and friends and our ministry supporters.


We are currently operating at 75% of our budget.  We can only continue to operate at this level for a period of time, so raising more support is a serious concern of ours.  Our thanks to those of you who have supported us financially in the past.  If you would like to partner with us in the future please contact First Love International to get signed up.  You can go to firstloveinternational.com, click on DONATE then SUPPORT A MISSIONARY, then follow the prompts from there. You will need to specify Jim and Julie Marsh as the missionary who will be the recipient of your tax-deductible gifts. Even if you can't help financially, we would really love your prayer support.

We made several trips to Marinette to see my Mom and one of my sisters and her family, and one of my brothers and his wife. They even had a bonfire for me on my birthday surrounded by cousins, siblings, my Mom and her twin sister.  One of my sisters from Colorado was there too because she had just helped us to do EAA in Oshkosh.  That was very special.  You see, since my Dad passed away while we were here in the Philippines in May of 2014, frequent bonfires have been used to burn up much of the scrap wood my Dad left in his outbuildings and as a way to get the family united for a time of just hanging out together. The night my Dad's funeral was the beginning of many subsequent bonfires.  My Mom even threw firecrackers into the fire "To make sure Dad could hear them in Heaven", she said.


In August we continued fixing things up and packing and purging on the house.  We took a day and snuck away to go to the Renaissance Fair in Bristol with Ben and Mike. There were many hours invested in these Viking costumes.  We were quite impressed with the craftsmanship the two them displayed as they worked the leather and designed their costumes.


In mid August, we finally took a long overdue break.We don't have a single picture to show for it however, because the camera was getting repaired.  We traveled to Nashville,Tennessee, to see Will and my younger brother's family, then we headed to Lynchburg, Virginia, to move Ben to Liberty University. Then back to Wisconsin we went to continue plowing through the house to get ready to return to the Philippines.  Sydney, our "pseudo" son, moved out of the house and into his own apartment after 5 years of living with us.  We sold him our truck.  We sold our van to some friends. On August 30 we were still packing up things in cupboards and filling closets with boxes so the house would remain show ready. We had a team of 6 people working well into the wee hours on August 31 to continue to pack the house and to finish packing for our return to the Philippines that day.  I thank God for all of the angels that he sent us in the process. We accomplished a great deal of work.

It was our hope to have the house sold in June, or atleast over the summer.  We didn't know what to do if it didn't sell by the time we had to return. So on August 31 we locked the empty house up behind us and left a set of instructions of things that needed to be done in our absence.  We left the country being very disappointed that the house had not sold, and not knowing if we would ever step foot in it again.  One more challenge we felt like we could have done without.  We have told God that we are very disappointed and we don't understand why we still own the house.  We are trying to be real about our emotions  Obviously, His plans are MUCH different than ours and fortunately He is big enough to handle our disappointment.  We will continue to WAIT on Him to see what He is up to.

Then, after we were back in the Philippines for a couple of weeks, Kelly Mercer entered onto the scene.  She asked if she could live in the house while it is still on the market.  She is keeping things ready for walk throughs and open houses.  Another guardian angel thrust into our lives.  We have actually had a decent amount of activity on the house, but no offers.  It appears that HGTV has damaged the housing market because everyone wants a perfect house with all of the latest upgrades and they want it cheap.  We have a nice house, but of course there are things that it NEEDS and some things that would be nice to do to renew it; neither of which we can afford on our current missionary income.  We bought and remodeled and added on to that house at a time when our income matched the task.

This concludes the review of our whirlwind lives from March through August of 2015.  Thanks for sticking around long enough to get to the end.

The next blog post will give a glimpse of  what we have been up to since we came back to the Philippines and what the primary projects should be for this year.

After that, we will post our observations about last year in the Philippines and how we plan to improve our approach to and execution of life as we move forward in our spiritual journey and in the operation of the Threads of Hope ministry.

Thanks for dropping in.
Many Blessings,
Julie and Jim