Home Sweetest Home

We arrived at this most beautiful place called HOME, yesterday morning at 7:30am.
(thanks go to our three faithful drivers who switched out with each other to drive all through the night from Nashville and get us home as soon as possible!)

We unloaded and came in the front door to find a huge "Welcome Home" sign on our dining room table, along with all sorts of yummy breakfast and snack foods/drinks. (all from our church family @ MABC)
About an hour later, one of my aunts stopped by and brought a delicious lunch for us. Not long after she left, two of our cousins stopped by with fresh cinnamon rolls. One of our uncles stopped in to welcome us home. Our hired guy stopped in during breakfast and we got to hear some great stories of things that happened while we were gone. =)
Our hearts just feel so full with all the love from our "Iowa people".

It is absolutely marvelous to be back on our Iowa farm! After spending the past three months on the road, we were all just longing to come home to the country. We have settled right back into our "other life". It is actually more of an adjustment to go from home to the road, than from the road to home. This farm life is what comes most naturally to us and we all love it. Within just hours of being home there was already someone working on equipment, someone working in the field, several people choring, several people cleaning the bus, several people unpacking, and yours truly attacking with vengeance the last weeks' worth of laundry + the bus blankets/sheets. This house has been transformed in the past 36hrs! When we arrived home it was quiet and empty and clean. We changed all three of those things in no time flat. =) Our goal was to beat our previous records and have everything unpacked, cleaned, and put away before we went to bed. We didn't quite make that, but by tonight pretty much everything is finished and we are ready to once again be full-time farmers and country folk.

The picture above is from our first meal together again at our very own dining room table. Since Josh's 18th birthday was only two weeks ago, he opted to wait and celebrate it at home. So we did that last night, with homemade pizza, veggies, Izzies (thanks to our MABC friends who gave those!) and chocolate cake with homemade ice-cream. It was unbelievably good to sit around our own table together. We all went around the circle and everyone was supposed to say the best thing in their day- their favorite part of being home. Almost without exception everyone mentioned some form or aspect of WORK. (cooking, hanging laundry, feeding the calves, etc) And I was just reminded again how thankful I am that our parents have raised us to love work. We all honestly love to work, and work hard. It's one of the biggest things we miss when we are on tour, since on the bus there aren't a whole lot of opportunities for physical labor. We work hard when we're on tour, too, but there our work ends up being a lot more mental and emotional, and not as much physical.

All that said...thank y'all so much for your prayers and support of our family while we were on tour! We are forever grateful for all that Jesus did, and it is our prayer that His light would always shine through us as His children, whether we are out on tour, or home on the farm and in our community.

Because ministry isn't about one's occupation. It is about one's heart for the gospel, and letting that heart spill out into every area of our lives and onto everyone that we meet.

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."
Ecclesiates 9:10a

{posted by Chelsy}


Winter Tour//Week 13

And here we are to week number thirteen! Finally we have arrived at the last week of our winter tour. It is hard to believe that this post is the last one of this series! Lord willing the next post will be updates of home sweet home. It might not come for a month or two, though. (kidding-hopefully!)

After coming back from Mexico, we had two concerts in Oklahoma before heading to Nashville to finish up our recording. (the Sunday night concert was outdoors and is pictured above)
Our our way up from Texas to our Saturday night concert, we stopped and spend the evening with these sweet friends.
Homemade pizza was on the menu! What a treat-we hadn't had homemade pizza since we were home last December!
Some other friends took us out for lunch at Cracker Barrel on Saturday.
Yes, it seems like all of our pictures center around the table! =) Here we enjoyed a delicious Sunday dinner at one of our favorite Oklahoma places, dad's cousin's home.
We have been here at Beech Creek Studios since Monday, recording the second part of our new album. Above, is our bus parked down at the bottom of the hill from the studio. 
My view yesterday morning as I walked up to the studio. Tennessee spring is so beautiful.
No two days at the studio are the same. We rotate in and out of the studio a lot switching back and forth from various people's parts.
Our violin arrangements on this new project are more diverse than ever before. From country licks, to upbeat fiddle tunes, to orchestra-type pieces...Allison nailed it. =)
When we aren't in session, we are either "on deck" (waiting for our upcoming part) or working in the bus or studio lounge.
Our youngest five are the only ones in school anymore, which seems kind of strange! I am so proud of them-they are extremely self-motivated and do their school mostly on their own every day.
Denver is following in the footsteps of all five of us older ones and taking an online college level English course through Telos.
The drivers seat was empty, so why not do school there? =)
It has been beautiful outdoors, so some of us have moved our work stations outside to soak up some sun while we study and/or work.
In the midst of the busy studio schedule, we found some time on evening to meet up with these dear old friends whom we hadn't seen for way too long. We love these people!
Joshua, working on scripture memory in the studio lounge.
Carson is our king of copyrights, digital sales, and negotiations. We are so thankful for his expertise in these areas! Now that he has most of his recording parts finished, he has been spending time getting all of the necessary copyrights for the new album.
Taylor-letting out some energy during his recording session. =)
myself (Chelsy)
We do this.....
....and then we do this. =)
Play, then listen back and critique. 
My personal favorite song of all on this new album is our children's song, "Hallelujah, Salvation, & Glory". Dad narrates a powerful recitation at the beginning.

We are so thankful for Trey & Charlie's fabulous ideas for vocal + instrument arrangements. Their additions added so much spice to our music.

The children took their schoolbooks in with them to their little recording stations, so they could work on school in between takes. 
Rebecca learning a few different notes for her alto part on the children's song.
I love being the younger ones' vocal coach. They have so much energy and pick up on stuff so fast. 
And we have a lot of fun, too. =)

The whole crew-our family with our amazing engineer, Charlie, and our producer, Trey! (thank-you guys so much!!)

This has been, hands down, our favorite recording experience ever, and we are so grateful for Beech Creek Studios and the team of people God gave us to work with. We still have the mixing/mastering, graphic design, and duplication left, but the hardest part (recording!) 
is behind us and we are excited! Be watching for our new album, hopefully coming in early June!

On a completely different and unrelated note-we would appreciate your prayers for safety as we travel home tonight! Lord willing we will wake up in Iowa! =)

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
Colossians 3:16

{posted by Chelsy}

Winter Tour//Week 12

Week twelve! On Friday morning at 6am Dad & Carson arrived at the ranch (in Texas) to pick us up. (on Thursday they had driven to Mobile, AL and picked up the bus which was finally finished) 
Around 12pm we reached the Mexico border. Thankfully we had a safe and relatively good border crossing which only took about two hours. We were very thankful for the gentleman who came and met us at the border and was so kind to lead us through all the hoops and hurdles, and also to interpret for us!

We barely made it in time to the location for our evening service but thankfully we did make it and were still able to start on time even though we arrived later than we were hoping.
The clouds were just amazingly beautiful!  It seemed like one could almost reach out and touch them! 
And of course, theres nothing like a masked and armed friendly welcoming committee. (ahem) 
These "patrol stations" were at various places along the highways in Mexico. You never quite knew for sure which ones were legit and which ones were drug gangs. =/ 
We were so grateful for the team of guides who rotated out to travel with us from location to location. They would interpret for us and we were always allowed to safely pass through.
Our very very dirty bus. 
One day our guides took us to this overlook of one of the cities. 
Part of our crew. =)
Our services were attended by 500-2000 people every night. We sang each evening Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday.
We met these sweet people who treated us to some yummy goodness from their little ice-cream shop.
Family picture!
Our 3 favorite things in Mexico: 1. Food 2. FOOD and 3. FOOD.  We ate Mennonite tacos (corn tortillas fried in oil served with seasoned ground beef, lettuce, and tomatoes and/or onions), tortilla soup (a soup made with chicken, tomato juice, chicken broth, peppers, onions, and seasonings served with fried tortilla strips, cheese, and avocado), green verde with tortilla chips (tortillas deep fat fried------wow!), and the most amazingly, fresh fruit (mangoes, pineapple & papaya), and more.
We met a generous family who had our bus washed (it was clean for only a few hours before we the dust met that shiny chrome again), changed the fuel filter, fixed the generator fan, let us move into their laundry room, and served us a delicious supper.
At each location there was a crew of men who set up 500-1500 chairs.  In addition, many people brought their own chairs but in our last several concerts they ran out of chairs so some of the people had to stand.
It was so incredibly inspiring to see so many families-with children of all ages-so eager to listen to the music, so friendly, very hospitable, wanting to serve God more fully, some just learning about their need for salvation.
Carson's view on his walk one morning.
For Sunday lunch our guides took us to these lovely little authentic Mexican restaurant. 
Let me tell you, most Mexican restaurants in the USA don't even deserve the name. This place was the real deal!
These chips were even better than they looked! And the mexican sauces were amazing!!
Visiting over lunch at the home of more dear new friends. People were so generous to our family-we didn't have time for nearly all of the invites we received.
Mexico was beautiful. Mountains, blue skies, and fields everywhere.
A yummy spread of tacos and fruits at yet another family's home.
Another one of those infamous checkpoints!
Lets just say the Mexico roads were nothing to write home about! Our bus was constantly filthy from all the grim and mud of the roads.
More scenery from the bus window.
Another view from the passenger seat.
The mountains of Mexico are BEAUTIFUL.
There were constantly these little stands and vehicles out along the road, wanting to sell things to passersby.
We stocked up on fruit!

 A little Mexican fast food restaurant we stopped at for lunch one day. This was at a little food court inside Walmart. Their Walmart was totally different than our American ones; it really was a completely different store that just had the same name.
This meat station was literally two yards from the counter. They would cut meat off of this glob and ten minutes later it would be part of your lunch. I personally preferred not to think about it too much. =)
Dad & Mom with one of our guides and his wife and son.
There were so many amazing times of ministry that God blessed us with. We didn't get nearly enough pictures, and it is impossible to share all the incredible testimonies. 

One of our favorite opportunities was a drug rehab center we got to sing in Sunday morning. We didn't get any pictures, but it was so precious to be in there sharing with the 50ish men and women who were living there. Afterwards we had a wonderful time of individual prayer with them, and one man got saved. 

Overall the trip was just so worth it-we met so many wonderful people and experienced such an outpouring of God's grace and goodness. There were so many divine appointments. The gospel went forth every night, both through our testimonies in our concerts, and also through the thousands of family picture cards/gospel tracts that we handed out to everyone who came. Souls were saved and lives were touched by the power of the Gospel. 

We are forever grateful to the Lord for His protection and blessing on our family. Also we are so thankful to the team of men in Mexico who coordinated and arranged our entire trip and all the services. 
We crossed back into the states around 1am Friday morning. It was a little crazy on the Mexico side, getting through, but we made it. We were hoping maybe they were take our word for it that we had twelve people on board, and that they would just let us pass through without seeing each of us with our passports. They let us go right through on the Mexico side, but the USA was a little more strict so we had to get all the sleeping Bontragers out of bed. Some individuals may or may not have resisted and had to be dragged outside. =)
Funny story here-the USA side of the border followed the rules (really we were thankful they were at least doing their job-so good to be back in a land where at least some people do things legally and without constant bribing!) and we had to get rid of our mangos before we crossed. Someone had told us that it was fine to take the mangos across into the states as long as the pit was taken out, so we had cut up all these mangos the day before, planning to take them with us.
The officer who searched our bus said we couldn't take the mangos across, but that if we wanted to we could eat them before we crossed. So we all stood around in our pjs eating mangos just as fast as we could. Taylor said it was the first time he can remember that the mangos in our house haven't been rationed out, and that mom said "Eat as many as you want, as fast as you can!" =)
It was a blessed week in Mexico but....the sights and sounds of the grand old USA have never been so beautiful!! It was SO GOOD to be back in our own country again!


"Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations."
Deuteronomy 7:9

{posted by Becky & Chelsy}