Pencil in Hand

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”Mother Teresa

If you took the 600 million orphans and at-risk children in the world and had them hold hands, they would circle the globe 18 times. The need is enormous

Hunger, war, injustice, disease, abuse, exploitation, ignorance, and human trafficking are just a few of a host of other God-sized problems that roam the earth without remorse. Let’s face it: unlike those born in underdeveloped nations, people born in the United States win the geographical lottery and, for the most part, are not plagued by these atrocities – or at least have the resources, access, and/or the opportunity to overcome them.
Personally, I feel compelled to aid in the responsibility of tackling the world’s problems, and so I try to do my part and lend a hand. Your stay at Talus Rock Retreat has been a significant part of the solution cycle, for without it, we could not go out there and serve
“It’s not what you believe that counts; it’s what you believe enough to do.”
-Gary Gulbranson (friend of Richard Stearns, author of The Hole in Our Gospel)

My 17-year-old son, Kipling, and I formed the duo that spent the entire month of May and part of June traveling to the hot (105 degrees in the shade!) and humid (100% dripping sticky-wet!) lands of the Philippines and India, where we worked tirelessly on behalf of International Children’s Network (ICN) and the Matsiko World Orphan Choir.
As International Director/Asia for ICN, it is my job to carry out the usual charges of updating sponsorship pictures and letters and to make final audition rounds for the upcoming World Orphan Choir U.S. tour.
My volunteer work also includes initiating and solidifying relationships with field pastors to make sure that ICN-sponsored children are indeed attending schools, doing well, and that earmarked money is being stewarded properly with strict regard to transparency and accountability. As the person responsible for physically checking on the kids, schools, teachers and pastors, it’s a wonderful privilege to witness first-hand the effects of generous U.S. donations that change the lives of so many poor and otherwise forgotten children. 
“Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good;
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”
-Saint Teresa of Avila
I should add that our humanitarian trips are not easy and certainly not stepping-stones for a first time traveler. Mission dollars are not spent on comfort – ironically, the entire trip is much the antithesis of American comforts and conveniences – let alone the luxuries of Talus Rock Retreat.
Sometimes, as I am trying to catch some sleep on a hard orphanage bunk bed or a moldy church floor after an 18-hour day in filthy slums and mosquito-infested remote villages, the occasional rat, spider, or cockroach scrambles across my face.
My thoughts often drift back to the Retreat (mind you, these thoughts come after I fly out of bed brushing myself off like a crazy woman.) “Dang! If the Talus Rock guests enjoying the clean, hot water, soft sheets and luxury accommodations could see me now!” When I say that Talus Rock is not who I am, but what I do, I really mean it!
I’ve come to realize that poverty is an extremely complex issue – so much bigger than simply the absence of things; rather poverty is fundamentally the result of a lack of options. 
People who are poor are trapped by circumstances beyond their power to change. ICN seeks to pour hope and compassion into the poor by tangibly providing orphans and at-risk kids with an educational opportunity through sponsorship. This activism helps to end the cycle of poverty giving motivated children a chance to fulfill their dreams.
“Don’t fail to do something because you can’t do everything.”
-Bob Pierce
Our journey began in India with a community of ultimate recyclers living in tarp and cardboard shacks literally built around a local garbage dump. The children, known as ‘waste-pickers‘, are employed as early as three years old, to sort through the trash for $2/day looking for recyclable newspaper, food, tin foil, plastic bags, cans and other valuable discards. Kipling, our local pastor/orphanage contact, and I showered them with toys, clothes, shoes, and sunglasses (Special thanks to our Ponderay Goodwill and First Christian Church).
We hope that eventually, we will be able to encourage the parents to allow their children a chance to attend school; this is ICN’s key component in breaking the poverty cycle. The work is slow and the results may exceed our lifetimes but, one child at a time, perhaps we can make a positive difference. 
“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”
“Well, why don’t you ask him?”
“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”
From India, the two of us traveled to the Philippines to check up on the islanders that were so poor there was not a pencil to be found. From Bohol, three of us squeezed on one motorcycle; I was wedged in the middle like a pancake for the 120 km buzzing through twisty jungle roads, speeding past water buffalo, stray dogs, people and oncoming traffic.
To compound the issue, we were laden with the act of balancing 20 lbs of sacks stuffed with clothes, toys and sponsorship supplies. I doubled up on prayers and was glad to dismount and climb aboard the small wooden motor boat.
Penny-wise and pound foolish we did not want to be, so we splurged on the $6 for a shade tarp that attached to our boat. Despite being “shaded”, we still burnt to a crisp for the two hours under the scorching sun as we journeyed across the Philippine Sea to Cauming Islet (I could only imagine what our backs and shoulders would have been like sans tarp!) I was sure I could hear my skin crackling during the trips to 4 more islands the following day. 
Fresh water is precious, as rain water is collected and used for island cooking and drinking. While we were half-baked, parched and fatigued, it was difficult to accept any food and water from our hard-working island host families as they had so little of it. Everything (and I mean everything) bathroom and kitchen related is handled with a bucket of cold water and a cup.
Part of every evening is spent hand washing some of our 11 clothing items packed for the 6 week trip. Due to airline luggage constraints, every extra pair of anything means foregoing a toy or clothes for people in these foreign lands. That being said, we’ve learned to pack extremely light over the years. 
Between the sting of the saltwater on sunburned skin, and the lack of fresh water to wash off the sticky salt, we spent long, island nights swatting mosquitoes off sticky painful skin.
Food is also an adventure when working in the remote slums, islands, hills and mountains. Between goat brain curry and knuckle soup; chicken head, feet and intestines (kabob-style); pig blood stew (deceptively nicknamed ‘Chocolate Soup’); balut (18-day-old chicken embryos hard-boiled and eaten at dusk so you don’t see the beak, feathers and veins after peeling the shell), I thought I had eaten it all.
But on this particular trip, I ate beetles.  Large ones. The size of oval cough drops. I have been recently told that these particular beetles are cousins to the cockroach.
The children took us to the bushes, shook them, and flushed out the giant beetles. The chickens were fighting over the ones overlooked by the 20 tiny hands scrambling to collect the insects before dropping them in the net covered bucket. Fifteen minutes later, dumped in boiling water and void of their wings, head and legs, the grape-sized nuggets were deep fried with garlic, onions and vinegar. We held our breath as the kids eagerly served us up a pile of fresh beetles next to a ball of rice as they waited in anticipation for the us to indulge in the treat. Kipling adventurously downed 10, and I counted 5 for myself. While they tasted like a cross between shrimp shells and pumpkin seeds, I couldn’t quite get past the initial squish of the pasty center to the point where I wanted for more
“For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:11
So what makes it worth enduring 40 hours of one way travel; gagging pollution; a gazillion people; sleepless nights due to sunburn, mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders and grumbling stomachs; rationed electricity (5:30pm to midnight); suffocating heat that leads to dehydration; constant threat of impending theft; the lack of hot (let alone, clean) water;  and enduring the series of inoculations before the trip, the bites, rashes and sores during the journey,  followed by the swallowing the bitter deworming medicine upon return?
Other than coming home 5-10% thinner (I love a third world diet!), fresh mangoes, coconuts, chicken curry, the dramatic sites, being the hands and feet of Christ, the fabulous smells, and the pure adventure of the unknown, it’s the sense of accomplishment. It’s the obedience of doing a tiny part so that I can return Stateside humbled and extremely grateful (I tend to forget sometimes). It’s the challenge, purpose and worthwhile work. And mostly, it’s the children’s innocent faces and their unusual questions:”What is your favorite princess, Auntie Featha?”, “What does snow smell like?”, “In America, do you dream in rainbows, Auntie?”.
It’s the fawning attention of little children clamoring to hold your hand, pet your hair, learn new games, make chocolate chip cookies by twos in a borrowed toaster oven (it takes over an hour), talk about God, look deep into your eyes with sincere gratitude (a smile knows no language barriers). Or the thumb drive filled with 500 otherwise forgotten children who will now reach the sponsorship tables. And truly, you’ve never experienced such faith and gratitude until you’ve overheard the din of orphanage children fervently reciting their heartfelt prayers.
The children are delightful. Unequivocally joyful and absolutely endearing.
While some might think traveling in these conditions is pure hell (and at times, we can agree), and the magnitude of human suffering in our world is overwhelming, I hold fast to the wise words once shared: “Heather, you are not responsible for helping everyone, just the ones that cross your path. Remember that we are not asked to help all of them at once, just one at a time.”  I think God not only created our family to handle such conditions, but we actually seek out this type of adventure as a way to spend our valuable time. 
Eventually, Kipling and I poured ourselves back to base at Talus Rock Retreat craving cool shade and hot, running, clean water (oh, and a thick chocolate shake and a big slice of  Babs‘ pizza!). I remain extremely grateful to God for the people and opportunities brought forth by stewarding a place like Talus Rock affording us the luxury of overseas travel and service.
Talus Rock Retreat continues to be both a quiet respite and a comfortable social scene with vibrant conversations between our guests. Over the past year, the generous donations from guests made this journey possible, and we, as a family, are thrilled to exercise our passion in this way.  An enormous heartfelt “THANK YOU!” goes out to my husband Bruce, our kids, Rio and Selkirk, and especially Talus Rock Retreat Liaison, Stephanie Sandish, whose stellar grace and unwavering dedication kept the wheels churning and the fire burning.
Catch the 2012 Matsiko World Orphan performing an ethnically original rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on opening night featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Of course, if you miss this year’s performances, mark your calendars for 2013 Tour as the Matsiko World Orphan Choir kids are especially talented and cute. I should know…Kipling and I helped pick ’em!
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
The Festival of Sandpoint’s season line-up sparkles brighter than ever with headliners Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Johnny Clegg, Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Barenaked Ladies, Pink Martini, Counting Crows, and Kenny Loggins as well as rising stars LeRoy Bell & His Only Friends, Kacey Musgraves, Sugarcane Collins, Stephen Ashbrook, and local favorites Doug Bond and BackBeat Drum Group.

Google, Orphans, and Talus Rock! Oh My!

Matsiko's "Little Orphan Anna" performs with heart and soul!

I still find it hard to believe that last week I was boarding a plane to address 13,000 Google employees on a stage in Santa Clara, CA – the very same stage that hosted Lady GaGa, President Obama, Keith Urban and a slew of other celebrities.

Honored to be called upon to introduce the Matsiko World Orphan Choir (one of the non-profit missions supported by Talus Rock Retreat), I welcomed the challenge of the opportunity and recognized the magnitude of the task at hand. I was also charged with explaining to a significantly Indian-based audience why the India kids would not be present (The Delhi-based US Embassy denied the orphans visas citing “not enough family ties to ensure their return”. Despite a press storm, my interview on IBN/CNN,  Times Now TV, and a 12-turned-to-41 day stay fighting for reconsideration, the denial decision stood firm. I returned home to the States empty-handed.)

India's representation of the World Orphan Choir denied U.S. visas for 2012 Tour

On a last-minute request by Jennie and Don Windham, Founders of International Children’s Network (parent organization of the Matsiko World Orphan Choir), I wondered what I might say to move the brightest of minds — something that might cause them to sponsor a child to become educated through the University level and help end the cycle of poverty.  Well aware of the intellectual capital that might be listening, I struggled over every word while writing to weave an effective script in a very short 6 minute window. It’s not everyday that one gets the chance to present on the world’s platform, and I had drafted at least 8 potential speeches, belaboring over each phrase trying to choose which best expressed the call to action with regard to the world’s 600 million orphaned and at-risk children.

Matsiko World Orphan Choir (Liberia and Peru) 2012

Fortunately, I was accompanied by my friend, Stephanie Sandish and her wonderful daughter, Morgan. Stephanie is Talus Rock Retreat’s  “Keeper of the Keys” and “Goddess of All Things Good” taking full charge of the Retreat when I’m overseas or overworked. Neither of them could pass up the opportunity to tour the Google campus and see the kids perform, and I was most relieved to have the company.  They offered up more than a few speech concepts, one liners, and points of focus to my already scrambled and swimming head.

Stephanie Sandish and her daughter, Morgan

Morgan Sandish and Heather Mehra-Pedersen

ICN fell into my life in when the group was in need of choir housing during their 2009 Choir tour through Sandpoint. Talus Rock Retreat  was called to help with housing 10 or so people.  When I opened our door to welcome what I thought would be the ten orphans needing host housing for a week, I was surprised to face a doorstep full of weary adults. Shocked more than disappointed (C’mon—you think you’re getting adorable, small, brown orphan children, and instead you end up with exhausted, scruffy, red-eyed, chaperones and leaders. There’s bound to be a jolt, right?), I ushered in the group while mentally reconnoitering the sleeping arrangements.

I’ve come to believe that this was one of those “divine appointments”.

Matsiko Children’s Choir 2009

There were many late nights over the next 7 days spent holed up with the ICN Founders, their staff and choir directors since I had opened that door. Bruce and I talked with our guests into the wee hours about the team’s global vision, the choir marketing, their overall mission effectiveness, current (and past) problems and successes, and other insightful organizational highs and lows of ICN. That was to be the beginning of a mission-based relationship that would lead me to stand on Google’s stage as ICN’s International Director for Asia.

Matsiko World Orphan Choir 2012 shines at Google

While I don’t think I  hit a home run despite the practice, stress and wholehearted effort in preparation, I know that I gave it my all. The scheduled (and I do mean scheduled – even the applause was slated for 30 seconds!) 20 minute Choir performance was fantastic and the entire effort went off without a hitch. As I reflect back on the weekend ordeal, the Googleplex (Google’s corporate headquarters) was most impressive but, with the whirlwind that was my mind, it remains a blur.  I’m not sure what I liked best about the campus: the micro-kitchens conveniently located only 100 feet from any desk (chock full of organic wholesome food, milk, juice, soda, candy racks and 6 choices of water – all free for employees and guests), the colorful bikes to go from one office to another within the 3 mile campus, the ice cream cart in the lunch room, the valet parking for all employees, the outdoor exercise swim jet pool (complete with a lifeguard), or perhaps it was the convenient campus trailers for oil changes, car washes, massages and even haircuts!

Finally, a great big thank you to Talus Rock Retreat guest (and Google Executive) Steve Houtchens, and his beautiful and talented wife, Bernadette, who made it all happen. You made dreams come true!  Stephanie said it best:

“To see inside the iconic Google campus was a privilege and I count us all very lucky to have been included. Thank you both for developing such an opportunity for the choir.  We can never fully measure or be aware of the impact occurring inside another human, however, we choose to take the stand that your event can lead to unexpected results, unpredictable change and dare we say it, a miracle or two. We trust that when those tiny orphans’ palms of friendship reached across those laptops and held, for a moment ,the nimble fingers of those on the forefront of the virtual highways, an extraordinary partnership began.”

To all of you who have stayed here at Talus Rock Retreat, we thank you for your continued support of ICN,  the Matsiko World Orphan Choir, our family, and this place we call ‘home’.

Check out the World Orphan Choir’s Tour Schedule, and if you know of a church, school or an organization in your neck of the woods that might be interested in experiencing the Choir (or you or someone you know would like to house a part of the team while traveling through your area), please contact Pam at

Of course, if you feel called to sponsor a child (thank you!), please email Jennie Windham, at

I hope you enjoy these videos of the 2012 Matsiko World Orphan Choir:

Jennifer’s Song

Matsiko World Orphan Choir 2012

Skijoring UP Talus Rock!

Up, Up, and Away!

A cloudy ski day at Schweitzer didn’t stop guests or Selkirk from enjoying the day at Talus Rock Retreat. Gavin pulls Selkirk up Talus Rock to catch some air!
If it’s there, climb it! Go Selkirk!

The snow-covered rock (which is believed by many to be a large glacial remnant) known as Talus Rock made for a great ski bank with a little help from the Kabota tractor  (which accidently slid into the pond when Selkirk cut it a little too close to the edge.)  The hour the guys spent working to get the orange beast back up the slippery slope made for almost as much entertainment as the skiing itself. The kids weren’t the only ones enjoying winter at Talus Rock retreat; guests David and Shannon Dickson had a blast playing in the snow and with the pets.

Shannon and Ringo enjoy the fresh air!

David loves the snow!

The day didn’t stop when the sun went down; the kids rigged up some outdoor lights and rails for continued nighttime fun.  Catch a glimpse of 14-year-old Selkirk’s video (his latest hobby), and see the action live via another YouTube “Pedersen Production” on the SelkirkSelkirk Channel:

Skijoring at Talus Rock

And speaking of skijoring, we still have rooms available at Talus Rock Retreat for Winter Carnival February 17-26, 2012! Downtown Sandpoint  and Schweitzer Ski Mountain with events and activities including skijoring at the Bonner County Fairgrounds, fire dancers, shopping deals and a nighttime street rail jam contest! Bring your honeybun, and call 208-255-8458 to reserve a room!

All for Robin

Talus Rock Retreat is not a house that one owns in the traditional sense; while we steward its walls and land, its own charisma inspires guests and visitors to ask what they can do for the house, or how they can help with the mission.

The bronze plaque on our kitchen counter says it best...

On the spur of the moment, guest Jimmy Sauter (a young engineer visiting Sandpoint on business) invited the new veterinary intern from North Idaho Animal Hospital (lodging guest Carlyn Zylstra ) to a round of Trivial Night at MickDuff’s. They had such a wonderful visit that when he finished his work at the local lumber mill, he returned to spend the remaining afternoon at Talus eager to lend a hand. We directed him to what we call the “Mine Shaft”, where he proceeded to crack open and test stored cans of old paint (We were preparing for an upcoming Spring remodel of the Talus Rock Gatehouse.)  Jimmy didn’t know it then, but he ended up being part of “Robin’s Weekend”.

Jimmy helps test paint

Life isn’t always easy, and paths aren’t always clear.  “Robin’s Weekend” has marked a poignant one here at Talus Rock Retreat.  While we most often welcome honeymooners, star-gazers, adventurers, vacationers and business travelers, we sometimes get the validating opportunity to share God’s place with those who deserve respite  in the way that Bruce and I envisioned when we built Talus Rock Retreat – and so it was last weekend when we opened our doors to a teenage youth group accompanied by their pastor, T.J. Hahn, from Shiloh Hills Fellowship. The group is traveling a tender journey as one of their own, 16-year-old Robin (Pope) Burdick, continues to fight a devastating cancer.

Robin has osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that metastasizes to the lungs, and while she has been in chemotherapy for over a year and a half, she is now on oxygen finding it extremely difficult to breathe. The tumors have spread to her lungs and bladder.  Her parents, Jeff and Jane Pope, and Robin’s husband, friends, and family are waiting patiently for their miracle.

Robin (Pope) Burdick and Andrew Burdick - Married August 27, 2011

Andrew and Robin making cookies

Those close to Robin asked if they could come to Talus Rock Retreat a few days early to help prepare the grounds for the youth group’s visit. LeeAnn Burdick brought her sons, Andrew and Kevin, and her neighbor (Amber Sherman), to our doorstep.  The group descended upon Talus Rock Retreat like angels as they shoveled paths, swept stairs, carried logs, spread gravel and hauled trash before joining my family and Jimmy for lunch at the kitchen table.

Andrew and Kevin stack wood

Snow angels pictured left to right: Kevin, LeeAnn and Andrew Burdick with neighbor Amber

The family shared stories of Robin and honored the strength within each of us, acknowledging God’s grace and purpose though colossal trials. We realized how much hard physical work can help pass time and work through grief.  Together we searched to restore confidence and our faith in God, praising Him, in the midst of severe hardship.  I have come to believe that the Burdick and Pope families must be extra special people to God, for He has chosen them to hold Robin’s hand with the strength and faith to withstand this tremendously painful ordeal.

Burdicks and Popes, we offer up our sincere prayers and hope to God for a miraculous recovery.  Like those who came alongside of Moses, we’ll do our best to hold up your praying arms while we, too, continue to pray for comfort, healing and peace to ease Robin’s suffering.

During this incredibly heart-wrenching time, we pause and say, “We love you and thank you for using your time to serve the Lord with your talents and bless us with service in the face of extreme grief.  We honor your work and outpour of blessings through your extraordinary circumstances.”

Robin Burdick Pope passed from the arms of Andrew into the presence of the Lord, Jesus, on February 20, 2012. 


Blog Blessing from Canada

As is only fitting, we devote our first Talus Rock Retreat blog to Micheline and Shane Ryckman to convey to them our deepest gratitude.

The Ryckmans are recent additions to our ever-extending Canadian family and, as a blessing to Talus Rock Retreat, Micheline brought her graphic artistry as a professional photographer and publisher to help us to develop a blog.

As a seasoned blogger herself, Micheline’s fabulous blog Ordinary to Extraordinary featured Talus Rock Retreat in a recent post. You might recognize the artful Indian orphan montage creation in her post which is now predominantly featured on our website Mission/Goodwill page. I have to admit, it was not so much her suggestion of creating a blog (of course, what a great idea!), but it was her impetus and sheer follow-through that made this blog happen. Micheline, her husband Shane, and their 2 wonderfully talented children, Hunter and Hannah, drove just over an hour from Creston, British Columbia, last Sunday to tutor me in the way of blogs. While Hannah filled Talus Rock Retreat with joy and beautiful piano music, Hunter and Shane watched movies in the home theater and threw balls for dogs, Panda and Talus. Micheline, determined and intent to finish her intended mission, patiently walked me through the initial blog set up offering ideas, hints, wise media suggestions, and the hands on technological know-how to actually get this blog up and running. Her effort alone made the difference between another entry on a long list of things to do, and you reading this today.

We sincerely offer our appreciation to Micheline and her family, thanking her profusely for recognizing Talus Rock Retreat as a place and opportunity to contribute her considerable gifts.  To our delight, the family will return in May to take new photographs of Talus Rock Retreat to best capture the property’s extraordinary depth and charisma.  You will eventually see her photographs on our website that will no doubt help to attract even more guests to Talus Rock Retreat.  We’d like to continue to offer this place as a love letter to those in need; our front door is open to you.

Talus Rock Retreat Front Door

Come in! Come in! Come in! (Front door carved by woodworking artist, Stacey Mitchell, Utah, inspired by Robert Bateman’s work “Clear Night Wolves“)

Thank you Ryckmans and to all of you who give your gifts of time and talent to your local communities and to those in foreign lands.


Thank you for visting our NEW blog!

We thought it would be fun to begin posting some stories and highlights of Talus Rock Retreat activities and guests, and share with you about the work with the missions and causes we support here.  Please visit back here often as we plan to post on a regular basis.