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Reunited!!

Today (12/27/16), we had the opportunity to meet with Hannah, whom we hadn’t seen in a year. She was here with a group from her church to check out the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. Since we had wanted to check these out for a long time and we had the chance to see Hannah, we woke up early headed for Kentucky.

First floor of the Ark

We arrived at The Ark Encounter before it opened, bought our tickets ($40 for an adult, but $60 for a combo ticket with the Creation Museum which is normally $30 itself).  It seems a bit pricey, but if you’re able get there before the year ends, the Ark is half price admission (5-9 pm) and the Creation Museum is $5 (5-9 pm). Having seen both, I’ll try to highlight what I appreciated about each.

Feeding the dinosaurs

The first thing I appreciated about The Ark was the sheer scale of the exhibit.  The first floor of this Biblically scaled model was filled with cages for animals, supplies needed for the voyage, etc.  But, the most fascinating thing for me came on the second level.  Here was the collection of animals reproduced from the fossil record.   To be able to see life sized editions of these animals was truly incredible.  They also had some amazing comparisons between the evolutionary account and the Biblical account.  The displays discussed the fossil record, other flood stories, and a variety of other comparisons.

Ham and his wife (theoretical rendering)

On the third floor were two major exhibits that I especially appreciated.  The first was a rendering of the living quarters of Noah’s family.  They speculated how each might have looked (in order to provide the races we have today) and the various skill sets they would have brought to the ark.  There were also different speculations about food sources.   It was very fascinating.

Chinese section

The final section was on the spread of the gospel.  Displays showed various countries where missionaries have traveled, translations of the Bible from that culture, and different artifacts from one of the missionaries who ministered there. Having Hannah and her friends with us, we particularly enjoyed the section on China, complete with Hudson Taylor’s chair!   The section ends with a map of the world and information about which areas still haven’t been touched with the gospel.  A great ending!

Entrance to the Creation Museum

While The Ark focused on just one area of the Bible, the Creation Museum focuses on many.  By exploring 7 different areas from creation to Revelation, the museum truly offers something for every interest.  I loved the questions they wrestle with.  Right when you walk in, you encounter the question of whether or not dragons ever existed–historical stories, biblical accounts, and arguments.  Next, you see the creation of the world with comparisons between Biblical theories and evolutionary theories.  This also was fascinating as we considered Darwin’s finches, the blind cave fish, and a number of other “hot topics” of discussion.

What you believe shapes what you find

One of my favorite sections was the discussion of “Lucy.”  In this section, both creationists and evolutionists gave their theories of who or what Lucy was.  In the middle of these two opposing views was this display.  It shows many different renderings of Lucy based on what the creator believed about the bones they were given.   I think it was so poignant because both sides believe all evidence supports their theories and the opposing view is distorting facts–facts that obviously support their own view.  This is the reason world view and beliefs really matter–they shape everything!  Ape, human, or transition?  You can examine the evidence and decide.

Finally, both the exhibit on Judaism and the exhibit on insects and butterflies were incredible (No pictures in either.). For me, one of the biggest proofs for the existence of God is the variety and intricate beauty of nature–design that serves no practical purpose (survival of the fittest), but shows such personality and creativity.  Being able to see these insects from all over the world–both modern and fossilized–was amazing!

In final analysis, it’s a tough choice, but when it’s all said and done, I think the variety in the Creation Museum makes it the better value, but if you can do both, it’s well worth it!

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Today (3/26/15) started out early with the need to get our Chinese friends taken care of.  They had called last night with the decision to scrap the car and ride back with a friend from Alabama who had rented a car to come pick them up.  To be honest, we were a bit disappointed they would not be spending the next few days with us!

We awoke early (well aware that our late nights and early mornings were catching up to us) and headed down to the hotel to pick up our new friends to take them to arrange the details of the sale.  I had been a bit nervous when I looked up Carr’s Auto Sales and Service and a negative review came up.  However, in his “negative report,” this man mentioned how Carr’s sent someone to Florida to tow his car back to Tennessee to fix the problem.  He claimed this was to cover up shoddy workmanship, but the condition his “expert” described his transmission being in would have rendered the car impossible to drive even one day, much less 6 months.  For his one negative review, there were countless others sharing tales of how the owners had gotten out of bed to come out at midnight to help get their car out of a perilous situation or that they always stopped here for a check-up while on vacation.  It definitely restored my confidence, as did their help today.

Saying good-bye to the car--Thanks, Carr's!

Saying good-bye to the car–Thanks, Carr’s!

We collected our friends, asked if they had the paperwork, and proceeded to the shop–only to learn they had no idea what the correct paperwork was, and therefore, did NOT have it.  So, we headed back to their motel and looked through their stack of car documents to eventually find the RIGHT paperwork.  I remember a friend of mine telling me the biggest need her Mexican immigrant friends had was someone to help them know what they needed to know–to understand the process of how we do things in America.  I’m so glad we were at the right place at the right time, but what about the countless others who don’t  have someone there?  It was a wake up call for me to be more aware in my own community of those who might not know how to accomplish things.

We proceeded to complete the transaction with Carr’s.  The receptionist not only gave us the best possible scrap price for the car, but also gave her 1/3 of the money in cash up front–the rest to be sent when the title is mailed to them.  She did this simply because “this is a bad situation, and I don’t want her to have nothing to go home on.”  Additionally, one of the mechanics took time to ask her how to pronounce her Chinese name, actually say it correctly, and say, “It’s nice to meet you.  I’m so sorry it turned out like this.”  Just these little acts of kindness reminded me how often we get so stuck in our own business to be accomplished that we forget to take time for others.  If there’s anything I should have learned in my stay in Tennessee, it’s to slow down a little and enjoy the ride–hard to do for a Chicagoland resident.

Saying good-bye after making the best of a traumatic experience

Saying good-bye after making the best of a traumatic experience

We said farewell to the car, and headed back to pick up the rest of the group.  We made a side trip to our condo (to explain how a condo is different from a hotel), and headed to a Chinese restaurant for lunch where they gave us the special blessing of treating us.  One thing I had noticed the night before is that one of the ladies would always pull out a chair for my mom.  These little tokens of respect are too often lost in our culture. Throughout our time, we had the opportunity to learn so many interesting things about China.  When we were discussing family, we shared that my sister has seven children.  The lady who’s car we had just sold shared that she only had her one son–China’s one child policy.  One of the other students with them was from a family with two girls and a boy–they live in the country and were able to have more children due to family connections rather than a fine.

Rainclouds moving in

Rainclouds moving in

We also discussed the thing they missed the most from China–the food.  When  we got to the Chinese restaurant, I asked the boy if it was like the food at home.  He said Chinese food is more spicy, but they’ve made it sweeter for Americans.  We Do like our sweet things.  The hardest thing for them to get used to in America?   The culture.  One woman shared her fear of doing something wrong.  We explained that as a whole, American’s are remarkably helpful and forgiving–and we’re also incredibly diverse.  Finally, it was time for them to return to Alabama.  We were sad indeed that we were losing more time with these dear people, but after hugs, promises to keep in touch, grateful thanks, and invitations to visit China, they headed for home.  (We just got the text that they made it safely!)

We went home to catch up on our sleep.  I awoke to the rain clouds moving in over the mountains.  Since tomorrow promises to be a rainy day, we’ll see if we venture out or just enjoy a quiet last day in Tennessee at our “home away from home.”  Either way, I’m glad our plans changed to help out some dear new friends from China–we’re definitely richer for the opportunity!

Visiting friends

Visiting friends

When long time family friends called last night to say they were coming to visit and had planned on going to Dollywood, we together decided to spend today (3/25/15) with them.  Though they are “ride people” and we are “show people,” we decided to do a bit of both, and everyone had a wonderful time.

We first went to ride the Thunderhead–They rode, we were the supportive people waving on the ground.  Then, since we still had time to kill before the show we both wanted to see, we headed down to the Country Fair area.  We never spend a lot of time in this area, so it was neat to check it out.  We even joined them on the “moderate thrill” rides like Skyrider, the Scrambler, the Wonder Wheel (Swings), and the Carousel–and it was actually very fun.

Next, we headed to The Rhythm of the Dance, which we had both wanted to see. The crowd was better, but still not as “into it” as I would like.  I also realized how much music (without dance) is in the show.  I think almost half the numbers are strictly musical–a lot more than I had remembered.  But, we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Los Pampas Gauchos

Los Pampas Gauchos

We got out in just enough time to make it over to Los Pampas Gauchos (My recommendation).  Having seen the show previously, I noticed they showcase different dancers in each show, so it is possible to see the show multiple times and see something different each time.  They also came out to the lobby to take pictures with audience members, but we were moving on, so didn’t take time to do that–a neat opportunity, though. Our friends agreed, they are a definite favorite! (Maybe we’ll get to see them one more time before we leave…)

One thing I love about Dollywood is their partnership with The American Eagle Foundation.  So far, they have provided a sanctuary for wounded eagles who would not survive in the wild.  These eagles are kept safe and are still able to breed.  At the time of our visit, over 133 eagles have been released back into the wild from this sanctuary, and eagles have moved from around 400 pairs to over 1500 pairs, allowing them to be taken off the endangered species list.

One of the rescued Eagles.

One of the rescued Eagles.

What an amazing opportunity to preserve this symbol of America!

After browsing in a few stores, we ended the day with the Alash Ensemble.  My mom recommends this group to everyone she possibly can–mostly because it is something you have to see to believe.  This show was also different.  For the last number, one of the band members recommended they teach the audience a song.  It was such a fun experience to learn a little bit of the Tuva Language–albeit a phrase with no English translation.  The audience here was incredible, and everyone participated well.  I think it’s a tradition that should continue!

We thought we were finished for the evening–we were all happily exhausted. So we parted ways with our friends and headed for home. Along the side of the road, we saw three Chinese ladies and a fifth grade boy in various positions around a car with its hood up. “Do you think they need help?” I asked. My mom pulled the car over, and I got out to ask. Their engine had started shaking, so they had called a repair place and were waiting for the tow truck to arrive. We decided to wait with them, since they might need a ride somewhere if the car were really in trouble. I’m so glad we did.

Map at Dolly wood showing the represented nations

Map at Dolly wood showing the represented nations

One example my parents have consistently set for us is to help out those in need–it’s something that was not just an idea in the Bible, but something they lived out in front of us. And here was our opportunity to serve. When the tow truck arrived and led us through varying degrees of not so nice neighborhoods to arrive at the ultimate of stereotypical hillbilly garages (looking like a used car lot), we were skeptical, and didn’t want these kind ladies and boy to get “taken for a ride”–especially when we found out that same garage had worked on the car just that morning. To make a several hour story very short, the car had a ruined oil pump. The diagnosis was it had probably ruined the engine. Not knowing much about cars, I snuck off to Google the information. Unfortunately, the diagnoses sounded logical. So, these dear Chinese ladies, one of whom has only been in America for three weeks, are stuck about 5 hours from the colleges at which they are studying with a car they can either sell or pay $2500 to fix (to replace the engine.) Not a nice time.

Blooming trees at Dollywood

Blooming trees at Dollywood

But, we spent a lovely meal with them, took them back to their hotel, helped them negotiate a way home, and discussed with them the different options they had to choose from. We were so blessed to meet them and were hoping they would get to stay with us while we waited for the repairs to be done.

For me, it was another reminder that, just as God has put people in the right place at the right time to help me navigate through many other countries, He also chose to honor us with the privilege of helping out these wonderful visitors to ours. What a great way to celebrate the Festival of Nations!