We're not a "flashy" ministry. . .

We are not a very exciting ministry.  We are not called to do dangerous things or go into remote places (at least not yet).  The stories we have to tell are often repetitive and at times mundane.  I can't even often show you pictures of cute kids to tug at your heart strings because we often work with adults, or with children whose privacy we guard for one reason or another.

Sometimes I wish we were more flashy, that we were doing things that would be more exciting and interesting to those of you not living here.  I miss the days when I was free to travel around Guatemala, often with Dick Rutgers, and tell fantastic stories of God's provision.  God still provides, even in miraculous ways, but the provision is pretty low key most of the time.

It's easy for me to get my nose out of joint (a fancy way of saying resent) that other ministries often have exciting things to relate on their Facebook posts and get a lot of positive feed back. Much of what causes my heart to sing in ministry is pretty tame.  Who really cares that both boys in school passed all their classes for the first time, that Fidel is friendly and communicative now and smiles more easily, or that Roberto has gained weight so those who knew him in his previous home would not recognize him now.  What do I have to share that anyone really wants to know?

Fidel just celebrated his 33rd birthday and will
complete five years of living in Casa de Esperanza
on Aug. 28
And this is when I commit the sin of comparison which poisons my ministry and my soul.  I knew I was struggling with "something" feeling like we weren't doing enough, but not knowing what to do.  Then I read this blog post by the wife of one of the men I call "Pastor" and it became clear to me.  I compare us to other ministries and find us lacking in our activities.  I even compare myself to other ministry leaders and feel I fall short.

I see what they do to minister, the risks they take, the places they go, even the way they raise their funds (even those that claim they are not fund-raising are doing so by the stories they tell--and there's nothing wrong with that.  We need to make needs known so God can meet them).  And I feel that I am not enough, don't do enough, am not what I "should" be.  And, as Val says in her blog and my friend Judy has warned me before, Facebook can be the biggest instigator of this sin of comparison.

So, my friends, I am writing this to publicly repent and refocus and ask you to hold me accountable to be who God has called me to be, not who He has called someone else to be.  I am asking you to challenge me to hold faithful to the mission He has imparted to our ministry:  "To improve the lives of the poor and disabled, now and for eternity."  

I promise, even if I think things are uninteresting to you, to write more about what God is doing here to bring this about.  Not to bring glory to us (especially not me--please, I am no hero) but to His Name.  I promise to write and share more not to gain the approval of man but to show the faithfulness of the God who called us here.

This year, as I prayed for a word to guide my walk in 2018, I received the word persistence.  I thought, okay, that's like perseverance, right?  But I felt God in my heart telling me no.  So I began to study the meaning of the two words.

Perseverance implies not giving up, to keep on doing even in the face of opposition. Persistence can and often does have a negative connotation, implying stubbornness and unwillingness to change.  It is an inner attitude as well as a outward stance to maintain what already exists.  To keep on even when it seems that nothing is happening.  To stay the course.

I am to persist in following the first mission statement which God gave to me personally in 2010:  "To glorify God by serving the poor and disabled in Guatemala."  I promise to fight the boredom and routine that can be the enemy of this persistence and tempt me to seek out something more novel and exciting.  My goal is to live here each day in peace and joy, in obedience to who God has called me to be.  Can I urge you to do the same?

Why Bibles?

I know some are wondering why, with all the needs arising from the destruction of the villages of El Rodeo following the eruption of the Fuego volcano, we have decided to focus on providing Bibles to those who have lost everything.

The answer is easy.  After much prayer and consultation, I believe this is what God would have us do.

Many organizations and mission groups are providing for the material needs of those affected by the volcano.  Missionaries are encouraging and praying with survivors as they bring aid to them.  There are many ministries better equipped to provide humanitarian relief than we are. So I asked God what our niche would be in relief efforts.

A few days after the eruption, I received this video from our house manager Brenda. (Sorry it's sideways.  That's how I received it.) She and her family were among those in a shelter in Esquintla, having lost everything to the ash and lava covering her village of La Reina.

Her mother, my friend Rosa, worked with the local civil defense agency, and was helping to manage this shelter.

Her father, Roberto, pastored a church in La Reina and continues to try to pastor those in the shelter.

My heart broke watching this video.  Having worshiped with some of these folks in the past at there church in La Reina, I knew most of them would have had Bibles in their hands if they had them.  I thought about what it would be like to lose my favorite Bible.  My heart hurt.

As I continued to pray for my friends and acquaintances in this area (this church sponsored a concert to benefit our ministry less than a year ago), God placed in my heart a desire to replace a bit of what they had lost.  The answer I got was, "Give them Bibles."

So that is what we are doing.  Working with Pastor Roberto and the missionaries who are taking humanitarian relief to the area, we will supply them with Bibles.  We will focus primarily on the shelter in Esquintla which Rosa is helping to oversee, because we have access to the people living there, more than 600 men, women and children.  As these Bibles are given, we hope to discover other, perhaps more tangible needs, which we will try to meet on an individual basis as funds are available.

We have begun conversations with various ministries about beginning small group Bible studies developed by the American Bible Society focused on Trauma Healing. (It was no coincidence that I was in Omaha begin trained to facilitate these groups the week following the eruption.)  We will help more with the process of rebuilding than with the immediate relief efforts.

I believe this fits our ministry's and my unique gifting, focusing on restoration and healing:  Our mission:  To improve the lives of the poor and disabled, now and for eternity.

It allows us to utilize our strengths to meet a unique need--reminding these survivors that God has not abandoned him, and using this window of suffering to draw people to Jesus who may not have known him in the past. These Bibles are our first step.

Nothing's easy. . .

I'm often asked what I find different about living in Guatemala.  After my most recent visit to the US I think I have some answers.

To sum it up, nothing is easy in Guatemala.

 I begin to experience this, after only two short weeks away, when I go to the restroom in the Guatemala airport, and almost trip over the garbage can.  Nope, can't flush toilet paper here, even in the modern airport. A small inconvenience, but an annoyance nonetheless.

As I leave the airport in the back of a taxi, I am startled by the motorcycles that so recklessly weave in and out of traffic.  I am grateful I'm not driving, though this was my "normal" only two weeks ago. And, though it's 11 pm, it is hot and stuffy in the taxi (it's unsafe to travel in the city at night with the windows open) since there's no air conditioning.  I want to grumble but don't let myself.  I want to be content in all circumstances, but sometimes it's not easy.

On the hour and fifteen minute drive home we pass no less than 11 vehicles (including one semi) driving without tail lights.  As we come up on them on the highway, my heart starts pounding more than once.   I often say the most dangerous part of living here is getting in a car, and to a great extent it's true.  I sigh inwardly, as I remind myself this is normal here.

And the list can go on:

  • the only hot water comes from the heater/shower head in the bathroom.
  • to cook I have to light each gas burner manually, which still scares me.  Don't ask me about the oven.
  • wash your dishes by hand in cold water with harsh soap that turns my hands into sand paper after one application.
  • don't forget to defrost the freeze which after only 2 weeks has turned into a solid block of ice.
And the noises.  The "bombas" (think M-80's) which go off almost every morning to announce someone's birthday.  Usually between 4:30 and 5 am.  The church bells which ring for 5 minutes at 5:30, followed by the loud speaker announcement from the Catholic Church of all the people who have died on this day.  And, of course, the ever present radio blaring from the shop of the neighbor, situated about 10 feet from my bedroom wall, as he begins his early morning chores.

Oh, and while I've been away, my phone bill came due and my service lapsed.  After unsuccessfully trying to pay it on line, this requires a trip to Antigua on a crowded chicken bus. (My car has a dead battery after sitting for two weeks.)  Might as well schlep home some groceries as long as I'm here.  This manages to consume 3+ hours of my day.  

So, life here is inconvenient, loud, slow and often annoying.

But as I pray about this, I come to identify the greatest challenge of living in Guatemala:

All of these (except maybe the cars without tail lights) are really only parts of daily life here which annoy me not because of their greatness, but because of my expectations.  After two weeks of living in comfort and ease in the US, my attitude has changed from one of gratefulness, to one of entitlement.  I have come to believe the lie that my life should be easy.  When life here collides with this unreasonable expectation, I struggle not to become down-right grouchy.

Now I must repent.  No where in the Bible can I find that God promises me a life that is convenient, comfortable or pleasing.  On the contrary, one of Jesus' last words to the disciples, and us, was:

"In this world you will have many troubles."
~~John 16: 33b

Somehow I missed  that when I signed up to follow the Christ to Guatemala.  Or I've forgotten it.  That's the bad news.

But, as always, Jesus has good news for me:

 "Take heart.  I have overcome the world."
~~ John 16: 33c


"I have told you these things that you might have peace in me."
~~ John 16: 33 b

So I must repent of my selfishness and self-centeredness.  Repent of my sense of entitlement.  Repent of my false belief that I deserve a life better than the thousands of Guatemalans who frankly struggle to survive each day.  In as sense I need to repent of being an "American" who believes God should bless me more than my brothers and sisters outside the US.

It's so easy to fall.  It's humbling to get up and acknowledge my attitude which is not pleasing to my Father.  Finally, it is with hope that I begin again, knowing that He is with me and will support, strengthen and sustain me no matter what I might face.

This is how I can begin to meet Paul's challenge to be content in all circumstances, relying on the fact that I can face even minor annoyances without complaint, if I trust Him to give me strength.

No Wheels, No Water

The year 2018 is only 28 days old, and it's been a challenge already.  Last November I wrote a post on the challenge to be content.  Little did I know at the time that  I was daring myself to live up to these words.   I think I'm succeeding, but it's not easy.  The goal of every Christian, as articulated by my friend and mentor Judy Kerschner is "to live each day in peace and joy with justice."  And I'm trying.

That last part, "in justice" is important.  It helps me to focus on whether the challenges I face are "just."  The only way I can do this is to consider the lives of those around me.  Is God asking me to face any more than the people with whom I live are facing?  Almost always the answer is, "No." So how can I not respond with peace and joy?

God has helped me see this clearly by the difficulties we have faced as individuals and a ministry just since the new year began.  You know how you see posts like these on Facebook:

God is teaching me this expanded attitude of gratitude and contentment in ever new was though the events that occur.  To really be grateful, not just give it lip service.  When I'm not grateful in the midst of a difficulty, to consider those around me, who often face greater disasters than the inconveniences face.  (These are listed below)

So here's the latest:

First, our town of San Pedro is undergoing a "facelift" to our water and sewer system.  The city notifies us when the water will be turned off.  The difficulty is, it never comes back on when it is supposed to, and we have been without water in our town for the past three weekends. 

We can fill large barrels of water at the local "pila" (think and on street water faucet" and carry it back to the house where the guys live.  Thanks to the trailer which attaches to Fidel's power chair, this has been a much easier task. (Thank you, again, Mark Richard and Hope Haven). They also have a swimming pool in front of the house from which they can draw water, so flushing the toilet is taken care of, at least until the water runs out in the pool.

Last week the mayor of Antigua came out
to review the work.
It seems to be going slower since her visit!

The first weekend I would stop at one of these faucets and fill water jugs to take back to the apartment with me.  The biggest problem was filtering water to drink, because our filter attaches to the outdoor faucet at our house. . .no water, no way to filter it.  Not too difficult.  I could drive into a nearby town and buy 3 gallon bottles of water when we could not purify it ourselves.  Inconvenient, but not impossible.

Women carrying water from the public faucets
Then another difficulty arose last weekend.  On Friday I was on my way to pick up Ken Exner, a friend from Omaha who was "stopping by" on his way home from Nicaragua.  Just outside San Lucas, a city at the top of a LARGE hill, the car started making a small noise.  Within about 200 feet, the noise grew to a loud banging.  I prayed I could at least get somewhere safe and off the highway.  God answered that prayer when I came to a Shell gas station and pulled into the driveway.  As soon as I hit the parking lot the engine completely died and would not start again.

After trying a number of fixes and waiting for the engine to cool, it was apparent I wasn't going anywhere in this car.  The guard at the station gave me permission to leave the car there, and called me a taxi driver he knew to take me to the airport and bring Ken and me back to see if the car would start after it had sat for a while.

The driver who came was actually a Christ follower who attempted to teach me a song about Jesus in Quiche, a Mayan language.  I did not do well, but it helped to pass the time to the airport and we picked up Ken only a few minutes late. We then headed back to the gas station, tried to start the car, and again had no luck.

The friendly guard called a tow for us, and we road with the driver back into Antigua taking the van to my favorite mechanic.  Chalk up another first experience in Guatemala!

Maynor, my friendly car repair man, just shook his head as he tried to start the car.  It didn't sound good.  We would know more when he had a chance to look at it Monday.  In spite of this, and thanks to the buses and the chauffeur services of Dick, we had a lovely weekend in spite of this.  Every time that ugly anxiety of  "what are we going to do without a car" would raise it's head, I would verbally tell Jesus, "This is your problem and you will provide."  Miraculously, I was able to let it go.

By Tuesday Maynor called with an estimate.  It would cost about $1500 to replace the water pump and head gasket, and adjust the head.  This was actually good news.  The car was repairable and to fix it would cost much less than I would have to spend to buy another car.  So I made my deposit, and they are working on it.  Who knows how long it will take, but we will have a car again.

In the mean time, I am riding buses and enjoying the time to sight see which is impossible when I'm driving.  I enjoy talking with the children on the buses, and hearing where they are going.  I am fondly remembering the first years I lived here when I had no car and the buses and tuktuks were my only source of transportation.  It's harder than driving, to be sure, but it is doable.

While I am on the buses, I see the dozens of people walking up the steep mountainside as we go to Santa Maria.  Most of them are walking because they cannot afford the roughly 50 cents bus fare.  And I am blessed to pay this without a second thought.

Fidel goes to Complete Speech for therapy, and we have to pay a pick up truck to come for him and Mario since I can't take him.  We are blessed, however.  He is receiving free speech therapy thanks to a sponsor and we can pay the pick up to take him there.  This is only a dream to many with speech impediments in this country.

Brenda, our house manager, has to take the bus to the market and a tuktuk home.  Again, we are blessed.  We have the funds to buy more food for the house than she can carry on the bus, and we can afford the $3-5 a tuktuk charges her to bring her out to San Pedro.

All of these are added expenses which were not in our budget.  The emergency fund we were starting to build again will not be enough to even cover the car repairs.  If God would put it on your heart to help us with this financial need, please go to our website, www.reasontohope,org where you will find directions as to how you can make a contribution to offset these expenses.

But then I come to the water!!!  Without a car it is almost impossible for me to carry much water from the local faucets, and today I have used up just about all the water jugs I was able to fill the last time we had water.  I was grumbling to God about how hard it was to not be able to flush the toilet.  I was grumbling about how the dirty dishes were stacking up.  How I couldn't do my usual weekend cooking for the week because I needed to save the water for essentials.

I got on the city Facebook page to see if there was any news about when we would get water again. 

And I was convicted.  One of the first comments I read was from a nurse in town who had a patient who was on continual peritoneal dialysis.  She was concerned because without accessible water, he could be facing serious infection, illness, and even death.  I felt I had been kicked in the gut. 

Suddenly my unflushed toilet and dirty dishes were seen in a new light.  My selfishness stuck in my throat as I read her comment.  And I know we need to reach out to this situation and do whatever we can to help.  At the very least we can help this man store water when it comes back on, because the water is sure to be turned off again.  We can share what we have with those who need it more than we do.  We will survive with water shortages, this man will not.

And suddenly, I am content.  And my peace and joy will return when we are able to help him.  We can't fix this water problem for everyone, but we can for him.  As Andy Stanley says we will "Do for the one what you would do for all."

I'm STILL Not Comfortable

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how uncomfortable I am in many of the situations I find myself, as a Christ-follower and a missionary.  I needed to process some recent events and I had hoped writing would make facing these difficult situations easier.

I was wrong. . .

Dick and Ken helping me buy food at the market.

Our market lady weighing out bag after
bag of food for us.

Last Saturday I set off with Dick, Marcos and Ken Exner, who was visiting from Omaha, to take our regular food donations to the widows we serve in Tecpan.  I always look forward to this trip because it encourages me to see these friends.  This trip proved very different.

When we arrived in the village, it was silent.  Usually there are many people working in their yards and children come running as soon as we pull in.  Today we were greeted by no movement or sound.  It was eerie.  Dick commented that there was probably a funeral.  My heart sank, fearing it was the grandmother in one of the homes we would be visiting.

We went to that home first, and a few of the children came running out.  They were excited to see us, and it blessed my heart as they called out, "Patty."  They seemed a bit less enthusiastic than usual, but were happy to see us.   As we walked toward the home, Samuel's mother came out, and collapsed sobbing into my arms.  I had no idea what had actually happened, and could do nothing but stand there and hold her and wait for her to calm. I fought back my own tears. While I had no idea what was wrong, I did know my friend was profoundly hurting, and there was nothing I could do but pray.  So I did.

I AM NOT COMFORTABLE praying aloud in Spanish.  I am self-conscious enough doing so in English.  But, I knew I had to.  So I surrendered my pride and comfort and trusted the Holy Spirit to give me words.  In truth, I don't know what I prayed, the feelings overwhelming me were so strong.

As she calmed a bit, she told me her nephew had died the night before. Since many of the people in this village are related, most had gone into Chimaltenango to comfort the nephew's family.  She had remained home with grandma (who was looking good, considering) and the children.

What made this even sadder was that the nephew was murdered.  He was shot and killed near the market in Chimal, along with another man.  A woman was injured and in the hospital.  This was one of the many senseless murders that occur in this city. Often the motive is never discovered.  Even more rare is it for the murderers to be caught.  No one talks, even if they have information about the attack, for fear of retribution.  The gangs are strong in this town when Dick lives.

This violence is nothing new. but to be confronted with family affected by this most recent incident was painful.  I hurt for my friend.  Her nephew was only 32 years old, and left behind a widow and three children. She, herself a widow, knew only too well what the future held for this family.  I hurt for her and for them, without even knowing them, knowing how hard their lives would become.

Keily and her four year old sister
As we were talking a young girl entered.  She was the daughter of the man who had been killed.  Her aunt told her I was a missionary, and she immediately fell into my arms, sobbing.  A thirteen year old girl, I had never seen before in my life, was looking to me, an aged foreigner, for comfort and support.

Over the years I have comforted many families in my role as a Care Ministry Director and missionary.  But this was different.  I had known these families.  If they were not friends, they were at least acquaintances.  Many were North Americans.  I had some idea how to respond.  This was way out of my comfort zone.  Once again, I stood and held Keily, and prayed. I could no longer hold back my own tears as her sobs wracked her body.  She clung to me as if her life depended on it.

Then it became clear to me.  I AM NOT COMFORTABLE being called to be Jesus with skin on in these situations.  I have not learned how to do confront pain without feeling it myself.  I AM NOT COMFORTABLE when these people with whom I live look to me to speak the words of comfort Jesus would in these situations, just because of a role they have given me.  I AM NOT COMFORTABLE when they think I have wisdom beyond what they would have.  I AM NOT COMFORTABLE that the only thing I can do is invite Jesus into the situation. Ask Jesus to give me the words to speak and the actions to take to bring peace into the midst of suffering.

As I reflect on this, I better understand the Jesus whom I follow.  His life was not comfortable.  He was almost always right in the center of suffering, whether it be spiritual, emotional, or physical.  He never shied away from those hurting and in need to preserve His own comfort.

If I would follow Him, neither can I.  This is part of what it means to take up my cross daily.  To feel with the sick, disabled, wounded and broken hearted.  To forsake my comfort to bring His comfort into the hardest situations.  And it seems the more I respond in obedience to do this, the more He asks me to do it.

I often fail at this, giving myself excuses which seem all too valid to avoid NOT BEING COMFORTABLE,  but believe it is my call.  I believe it is the call of every Christ-follower.

How is our God and Father asking you to bring Jesus into the world in a way that makes you NOT COMFORTABLE?  How will you respond?