June 28, 2009--Wheelchair distribution in Champerico

We met at the hotel's poolside restaurant at 7:15, and were immediately served the breakfasts we had ordered the night before. The eggs were cold, but nutritious, and the bread and cookie served along with them were wonderful. And I was very grateful for the cafe con leche, since I would have taken the caffeine intravenously this morning if I could.

After breakfast it was just a short drive to the Municipal, or "city hall" where we would hold the wheelchair distribution. By the time we arrived, there were already people waiting under the canopy that had been provided by the mayor.

As soon as I walked up, my eyes immediately went to Magdalena, a frail 6 year old, who looked more like a 3 year old. This little one was obviously malnourished. It was like I was taken back to my January trip when I had met Lisvi, a severely malnourished 5 year old. As with Lisvi, I hoped my initial assessment was too harsh. Our little Lisvi had died shortly after Dick and I met her and took her and her parents to Hermano Pedro. They could not bear to leave her there, and she was just not strong enough to survive, though her family loved her much and cared for her well. She was so weak by the time we met her it was doubtful if she would have lived even if she had been left in the malnutrition ward for treatment. I still have not been able to let go of the fact that there was nothing we could do for this precious child except love her and support her parents in their decision to care for her at home.

Dick soon confirmed that my fears for Magdelena were warranted, and when we asked her parents if they would like her to be seen by a doctor, there was not a second's hesitation before the both said yes. So Dick will be returning soon to Champerico, to take them to Hermano Pedro for treatment.

I stood on the side, watching Dick talk with her parents through Saul, and was more than a little perturbed with God that He led me immediately to another malnourished child. I don't handle holding starving children in my arms very well. And after Lisvi's death, I'd pretty much decided that I wanted nothing to do with this part of the ministry. But as I held Magdalena, and watched her move about as she was fitted with a chair, God gave me more peace about His decision to take Lisvi home. Lisvi had been so weak she could hardly change facial expressions, let alone move her arms and legs or cry. Magdalena is much stronger, deliberately reaching out with her arms, and even more deliberately crying in protest while being fitted for a chair. Magdalena still had fight. I pray that I will get to see her again when I return to Guatemala.

I don't know that I can put into words what holding a starving child does to my heart. It seems to confront me full in the face with my helplessness; boldly demands that I trust God's will for each little one, accepting His soverignty when I'd rather have my own way and see them not suffer. Of all the suffering I see, this is the one that breaks me the most. For I can't help but think of my own grandson, Zach, a three year old who has non-stop energy, more food than he could ever eat, and who wants for nothing. Why does God seem to "play favorites" with children? Why do some have too much, while others have nothing?

It was a pleasure to watch team partner up to fit wheelchairs, some helping Dick & Saul with the specialty chairs, others pairing up to fit chairs on their own. It was wonderful to watch as their confidence grew in knowing what to do, and they were more and more able to focus on connecting with the person who they were fitting. A couple of times, there were
challenges in giving a person what they needed, rather than what they may have wanted for a chair, and again I saw the team's confidence grow in this area. I circled the teams and helped with translation, gathering parts, getting water, etc. God had led me to prepare for ministering more to the team on this trip rather than to the Guatemala people directly, and today I clearly knew why. While maybe not as personally fulfilling as having the memory of someone I personally put into a chair, I was able to see that, in supporting my team, I was able to support them in reaching many more people than I could have if I were directly fitting chairs. More and more God is teaching me I must learn to love and serve without consideration of my personal fulfillment, but solely for His glory. One more way I'm starting to learn that it's not about me!

Because I was able to communicate directlly with the Guatemalans, I often received the thanks that was really due to the team members working on chairs, the staff of Bethel, and those of you who supported our trip and enabled us to minister to these people. Another reminder that ministry is not about me. So I want to communicate to each of you, whether you supported us through prayer or finances, what the wife of one of the men who received the chair said to us. "Thank you for letting us know that God has not forgotten us!." That pretty much says what missions is all about.

I also received some more confirmation of the need for communication systems as I watched many of the children respond to being spoken to, but only with their eyes since they have no oral language. One of the sweetest moments on this trip was when Dick and Chris were talkingwith a teenage girl who had received a walker, and who they were discussing receiving medical treatment for her misshapened foot. I was talking with a elderly couple, when I heard Dick call out, "Pat, this one's for you!" It felt like a direct affirmation that I have recognized real need, and have something unique to contribute to the ministry in Guatemala. I can't wait to be able to get started with this, and hope someday soon to return to Champerico to give this young woman a system she can use. She is so bright, has never been to school, and is eager to learn. What a privilege if I can help her do this.

There were so many stories of this day, but what I once again realized profoundly is that in providing a wheelchair we minister not only to the individual with a disability but to the entire family, especially the wives and mothers and children who no longer have to carry their loved ones everywhere, or constantly live in fear of them falling. Today, through our team and Bethel, I got to watch Jesus as he set captives free.

After each person received their chair, they also received prayer, either from Chris, or later in the morning from Dona Mary. Dona Mary is a Guatemalan woman who works tirelessly for her people. She was instrumental, I believe, in arranging for the wheelchair distribution a year ago in Retalhuleu, which led to our present distribution. She is a beautiful woman, with tremendous faith and a servants heart. She is another Guatemalan who is dedicated to serving her people and her God. She is a woman I can learn much from.

This trip has been very different from most of my mission trips. After lunch we headed back to the hotel, and had plenty of time for a swim. Each night we ate dinner at the restaurant on the beach, and watched the most magnificent sunsets I've ever seen.

June 27, 2009--The Road to Champerico

I've been spending so much time working on the team blog, that I still haven't done much on my own. Traveling with this group has been pure pleasure, and I'm so grateful for the team God put together.

I do wish some of our younger members would learn about time zones, however. We were to leave for breakfast at about 7 am, which was early enough for me, given the long day of travel and the time I finally got to sleep yesterday. I did not need near "heart failure" when Rachel showed up at my door, fully dressed at 6 am, staring at me, still in my pj's in disbelief. "Aren't you ready to go?" After 15 seconds of panic, it occurred to both of us at the same time that they had forgotten to move their clocks back an hour to Guatemala time!

After a good laugh about this, I went back into my room to shower and dress. In the middle of brushing my teeth, there was another knock on my door. Toothbrush in hand, I opened it, expecting the girls. Imagine my embarrassment when I was greeted by the smiling face of a young man. This was John, who was joining our team today. He'd arrived from Chicago late last night, and had met a few of our ladies out walking who told him what room I was in. Today must be my day for making good impressions!

I finally was able to dress and we all had our bags waiting in the courtyard when Saul and Chris arrived with the pick up truck and van to take us to breakfast. Of course, we went to Campero's--where else would a mission team eat in Chimal? Domino's wasn't open until later! The menu at Campero's includes breakfast foods, as well as their lunch and dinner options even at this early hour. I was made fun of for ordering eggs with rachero and tomatillo sauces, with some of the group telling me they felt queasy just looking at my food. I was quite tastely, however. I, frankly, was more concerned about some of the team who ate fried chicken so early in the day!

Right after breakfast we set off for Champerico. Since none of us had ever been there, including Chris, Donna and Dick, we weren't really sure what to expect on the way or once we got there. Lorrie and I rode with Dick, the rest of the group with Chris and Donna in the van. Dick takes a lot of teasing (even from me) about his driving, but today Lorrie and I were glad we'd driven with him. We had thought that we were going to meet up with Chris and Donna outside Mazatengango, but they got ahead of us when we stopped for a restroom/snack break. Since Dick had just been to this area the week before, he knew there was a construction jam, and thought he had a way around it. Unfortunately, by the time we got to them, the others were past the point where Jorge could turn the truck around and they sat about 5 hours in a traffic jam. For those of you who think traffic in the States is bad, these folks sat still long enough to actually take a nap, and at one point get out to buy ice cream. While they described it as a wonderful time of bonding, I'm glad us old folks took a "short cut"/long way around through a village and got to the hotel about four hours before the rest of the group.

For those of you from Westside, you know how I torment our men's group about the "Wild Beast Feed" (really the Wild Game Expo) the church hosts every February. Our senior pastor is a serious hunter, and you can't walk into his office without having to cope with dead animals hanging on his walls. I have been known to be a bit critical of this decor. So, when we stopped at a gas station outside of Mazatenango, and we found these displays hanging in the "picnic" area, I had to include them for our guys. Are there actually deer in Guatemala?
We arrived in Champerico without too much difficulty, and, after a quick call to Nan and Howie, who were already down there working on the foundation for the house we would build tomorrow, found our hotel without too much difficulty. We were quite relieved to find a nice hotel, with an even nicer pool. We got keys to a couple of rooms, and settled in to wait for the rest of our group. Dick, who was lucky enough to have his suitcase with him, was able to take a swim. Lorrie and I decided, wisely, that since our swimsuits and extra clothes were in the pickup with the rest of the group, it was probably wise only to dangle our feet in the water. It felt wonderful, though, like warm bath water.

As dinner time approached, Dick got a call from Chris saying that they were FINALLY free of the jam and on there way to Pizza Hut for dinner. Nan got directions to a restaurant on the beach owned by our hotel, and we set off. Again, we were very pleasantly surprised by the accommodations. We literally ate dinner right on the ocean, and the food was really tasty, if a little greasy. The ocean was beautiful, the waves high and the undertow a bit strong, but sitting there was a truly amazing way to end our first day on the road. And the sunsets in this place are the most remarkable I've ever seen. As Dick has said to me before, here in Guatemala we get to experience sights most people only get to see in National Geographic. Tonight was one of those experiences.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God!
~~Gerard Manley Hopkins

June 26, 2009 The Trip Down

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Getting to the airport at 3:45 am was no small feat, but everyone made it with time to spare. Almost no one on this team knew anyone except me, and I didn't even know some of the team very well. To say I left a bit apprehensive might have been an understatement. Silly me! I should have figured that God had it all under control (if I'd just stop trying to run everything!).

The representative at the Continental ticket counter could not have been nicer, and helped us rearrange seats so we could actually all sit together or near each other. Poor Shannon. She had a different confirmation number than the rest of us, so often was seated far away from us. At least she got some studying done (I think).

Our flights went off without a hitch, and soon (by international travel standards, anyway) we were in Guatemala City. After getting through immigration, baggage claim and customs, we exited the airport to find Chris Mooney, one of the missionaries we would be serving with this week. I almost cried when I saw him and my friend Dick Rutgers standing right up against the fence waiting for us. Though I'd only left Guatemala 3 weeks ago, I'd not seen Chris in a year and "coming home" felt soooooo good.

We headed to Chimaltenango, to prepare for our trip to the coast. After a quick lunch at Burger King, we headed to the first of two warehouses used by Bethel Ministries. Here we loaded the house we would be building on Monday. Next we went to the main shop used by Bethel, and loaded wheelchairs and sacked food for our distribution on Tuesday. To say that these were bonding experiences for our team was an understatement. It never ceases to amaze me that, when God brings people together, they almost automatically seem to know and love each other. That's what I saw with our team this week. They were amazing women who love Jesus and His people and understand what Paul meant by "think of others more highly than yourself."

When the truck was loaded, and we were dirty and tired, we headed to our hotel, Santa Emelia in Chimal, to clean up and go to supper. Many on the team were suprised to find a modern mall right in the middle of Chimal. This is where we ate supper, and had our first ice cream in Guatemala.

After returning to the hotel, we all met in one of the rooms to begin a tradition that would prove to be one of my favorite things on this trip. We would daily share our best and worst experiences of the day, look for how we had seen God working each day, and end in prayer thanking Him for letting us join Him in what He was already doing in Guatemala. This truly "tied the ribbon" on the gift of a beautiful day from our God who longs to bless us!

June 2-5, 2009

Dick and Cesar, with the help of Ronnie’s dad, were able to trade out batteries in no time at all, while I got to visit with his mom about the family. Orlindo, the 6 year old boy, had just “made” his school’s soccer team and was so proud. All the children were doing well in school and Dick was happy to hear that Jessica, the oldest daughter, was still in school. She had been having some problems with her teacher because she was often late, after helping get Ronnie ready and to school. It seems her parents have resolved this issue with the school at least for now. It is so good to see these parents willing to advocate for their daughter.

Mom told me that Jessica would turn 15 next year, which is cause for a great celebration when a daughter hits this milestone. Dick tells me the families often make a bigger deal about a “quinsinera” than they do a wedding! Evidently Mama was already starting to dream about what she would like for her first daughter’s “coming of age.” I’m hoping I’ll be here to attend Jessica’s party. The two older girls were excited when Di gave them a dress and blouse she’d brought with her. She literally gave Clara the “shirt off her back” and the two girls tried on their new clothes and looked like princesses.

Since it was getting late and threatening to rain, we cut our visit with this family short and started back for Antigua. We did have time to stop at a clinic operated by a doctor from Cuba and his nurse Walter. They help with providing food for some of the children in the area who have returned home from the malnutrition program at Hermano Pedro. Walter updated us on Julio and Milton, two of these children. Dick was not sure that Milton would still be alive, and was pleasantly surprised to hear that, at least for now, he is doing well. Even though it was after 5 in the afternoon and there were still a number of people in the doctor’s waiting room the doctor came out to greet us in between patients. He is such a kind and gracious man.

As we finally headed back for Antigua, I was pretty well exhausted. But Dick’s day was not nearly over. He still needed to connect with Roland who had brought a young girl with spina bifida and clubbed feet down to the hospital. Roland needed money for some tests the girl has to have done in Guatemala City next week. Dick provided these funds from his own resources, but had to firmly explain to Roland that Bethel’s medical fund was completely out of money. With all the things I’ve gotten to watch Dick do, having to say no to helping someone always seems to take more out of him than anything else. From the little I’ve been here I can understand this. There are so many people in need. How do you decide who gets help and who does not? All they can do is pray and trust God to show them who to help. When there is no money available, however, this makes the decision easier, but even more painful. If you’d like to donate to this fund, please click on the link on this page to Bethel ministries or email Dick at dick@dickrutgers.com to find out how you can help. I know Dick doesn’t like to ask for donations in his journal, but I’m hoping in this case he’ll make an exception and allow me to make you aware of this

great need.

While I’m sitting here writing this, I have (finally) realized just how different my experience of Guatemala has been because of my friendship with Dick. I first met the kids at Hermano Pedro through him, went into a traditional village for the first time with him, and have gotten to tag along and meet countless “real” Guatemalans over the past 2 years and even have the privilege of sponsoring a wonderful you man named Miguel so he can stay in school. I probably would have been very satisfied to stay with the “traditional” volunteer activities here in Antigua, were it not for his encouragement to step out and try something different. When I first thought of moving to Guatemala, he was one of the first people I talked to abut this, and his belief that I could actually pull this off gave me the confidence to take the risk of pursuing this dream. And if I “fit in” with the Guatemalan people, so much of this is due to what I have learned watching him and from his stories. Little did I know a few years ago what would happen when a young man in the Guatemala City airport told me that I needed to meet “this guy” in Antigua who makes and fixes wheelchairs. Thank you, God, for all the “Godincidents” you’ve given to show me the way, and thank you, Dick, for letting our Father use you in growing me.

June 1, 2009

Today I finally got to spend the day with the kids at Hermano Pedro. I was walking around saying hello to the kids, and came upon little Brenda. As I said hi, and tried to walk by to see other kids, she quickly lost her smile and began to cry. All she wanted was a little attention, and was happy to be wheeled around with me as I saw some more of the kids. Shortly after I got there, Dick came in with Di, a nurse/paramedic from Australia who is down doing volunteer work in Guatemala. Di is a very interesting lady who has quickly become bored with the tourist activity of Antigua and was looking for something more challenging to do with her time here. Dick immediately invited her to go with us to Esquintla tomorrow to visit some families in that area.

It seemed that as soon as Dick got into the children’s ward, there were constantly staff members coming up telling him about one child or another who needed a chair fixed. His goal for today was to fix Fidel’s power chair, but before he got to that, he fixed a walker, two head rests and was told about a new boy who needed a wheel chair. How he manages to keep all this straight is beyond me. He even took time to show me how to fix a few things on chairs. He has much more confidence in my mechanical ability than I do, but, if I can tighten a few screws to keep things from totally breaking, and maybe lighten his load a bit, I guess it’s worth stepping outside my comfort zone. My biggest fear is that I’ll mess things us more than I’ll help, but I guess that’s how I’ll learn.

Dick also walked me through the process of signing out kids for lunch. Since there were only two of us here today, we could only take two kids. You could see the inner struggle Dick was having deciding who to take. This was one time I was more than happy to be “submissive” because then I didn’t have to carry the guilt of the sad faces of those who could not go. Moises had been promised a trip out a couple weeks ago, and then the orphanage was “closed” to volunteers and outings to keep out the swine flu. Today was the first day kids could go out, so Moi needed to go with us for sure. Henry was our second lunch guest. He’s a really bright 5 or 6 year old, who only recently returned to Hermano Pedro after being at home with his family for a number of months. Dick said he just doesn’t seem to be himself since he returned, so we hoped a trip out would cheer him up.

Our original plan was to go to Campero’s, but when Dick asked him if he wanted to have lunch at Camino’s Café (run by the church), Moi jumped at the chance. As we were walking there, Mark Richard, from Hope Haven Guatemala drove by, and decided to join us. With him was a gentleman (whose name I can’t remember, but you can feel free to fill in, Dick, if you do!) from Hope Haven in Rock Valley, Iowa. This is the second time I’ve met someone here in Guatemala who lives only about 2 hours away from me back in the States! They joined us for lunch and I got to hear a bit more about what Hope Haven International is doing here in Guatemala.

The boys had a chance to wheel around while waiting for our food and enjoyed the freedom. There was a little boy about 3 years old in the café, who you could see was fascinated by the boys’ wheelchairs, but was too timid to come over to them even with encouragement. Moi and Henry seemed to enjoy “showing off” for him a bit. When lunch came we all settled down to eat, though I think Henry was a bit disappointed that he got stuck with me helping him rather than Dick, but we managed. He did get to sit on Dick’s lap for a bit, and I think that satisfied him.

After lunch Moi wanted to take pictures with my camera, so we started taking pictures of flowers and the garden area. There was a young woman (the three year old’s mom) sitting on the couch and Moi wanted to take her picture.

I told him he would have to ask her permission, and I swear he blushed. But he did, and she was happy to “pose” for him. We began talking and I discovered that Rosa Angelica was born in Antigua but was married to an American and has lived in San Diego for the past 20 years. She was interested in finding opportunities to do some volunteer work with her children (Lauren, age 10 and Christopher, 3) and was very interested in knowing more about Hermano Pedro.

After he had his fill of photos, Moi decided he wanted to get out of his chair onto the grass in the garden area. Henry didn’t even have to think about joining him, and soon the two boys were crawling around and playing with Lauren and Christopher. It was a delight to see them interacting so “normally” with kids who could walk. And, to their credit, Lauren and Christopher seemed totally comfortable with the boys. A couple of times we had to reign in Henry because, though he’s only a couple years older than Christopher, he’d actually get a bit rough with him. If I didn’t know them, I’m not sure I would have been able to tell which of the four kids on the grass needed the wheelchairs. When we talk about “normalization” for individuals with disabilities, we get all technical and theoretical. This was real “normalization,” just letting the kids BE normal and getting out of their way! I’m grateful we met this wonderful young family who was willing to reach out to our two kids

Dick doesn't do too badly
for someone his age!

Having a more tranquil personality,
I opted for calmer activities. . .

When we got back to Hermano Pedro, Dick finally got to fixing Fidel’s chair, with Moi’s help as “tool handler.” I went and got Brenda and we just rocked and rocked and talked. She would just light up with the least bit of attention.

Dick then introduced me to Eduardo, a new boy at the orphanage. He literally looked like a tiny little waif, and almost appeared to be “shell shocked” in his responses. What happened next is one of my best memories from this trip. Ervin, whose nickname used to be “monster” wheeled over and tried to play with Eduardo. He didn’t get much more of a response than Dick and I did until he starting clapping, and Eduardo brightened and imitated him. Ervin kept this up, and Eduardo came out of himself more and more, even beginning to vocalize a bit. I haven’t seen him smile yet, but am hoping this will come if Ervin keeps “working” with him. I don’t think that there is anything that touches my heart more than to see these kids reaching out to each other.

After helping Moises with his homework, it was time to head home. I still had a couple of errands to run and it was getting late. This was a full day, but a satisfying one. It seems every time I am here, each day is better than the last. After a day like this, I fall into bed exhausted, but I wouldn’t trade this exhaustion for a week in the Bahamas!

May 31, 2009--Part 2

Dick invited me to lunch with him and the 8 boys who had come along with him to church. If I’d thought there was too much testosterone in the car the other day, I was “swimming in it” today. Am so glad that God had me raise 3 sons, because the teasing and the horseplay brought back fond memories. These are great kids, and Dick is a great mentor for them. You can see how much they love and respect each other, and for young Guatemalan males, as for teenage boys in the States, this is a critical need that too often goes unmet.

After lunch we dropped off the boys and went to Fernando’s house so I could say hello to him. (He’d traveled with us when I was here last January.) As we approached the house, he came running out telling Dick there was an emergency, that his “mother” was sick. (I think this really is his aunt, but she’s the closest thing he has to a mother in Guatemala. His mom is working in the US.) As we entered her bedroom, I became grateful for Dick’s EMT experience, since she was having chest pains and difficulty breathing. Dick checked her over and she began to settle down and breathe more easily. She was adamant that she did not want to go to the hospital, though her children were scared and encouraging her to do so. Dick asked me to talk with her about this, and then suggested that if she was having no further pain it might be better to wait until tomorrow and go to the doctor then. The look on my face must have told him I thought he was out of his right mind, so he went on to explain that on Sunday, in the national hospitals, there are few doctors and they would probably admit her and she would not really be examined or receive any treatment until tomorrow. (Later, in the car, he explained that she didn’t seem to be experiencing the typical symptoms of a heart attack, and he didn’t think she needed critical care so he suggested this.) We also talked with her about the possibility of seeing one of the doctors at Hermano Pedro, but she was resistant to this also. We made sure they had “minutes” on their cell phone, instructed the kids to call an ambulance and Dick if the pain returned, and left. As we walked out the door I was wondering what on earth we were doing, but trusting in Dick’s assessment of the situation. I have so much to learn about the realities of life in Guatemala. . .and am grateful God has given me some good teachers. It was still hard though to walk away not knowing what was happening with her. Dick promised he would check back with them tonight, and when he called at 4 this afternoon, Fernando said she was doing better. So my anxiety level is a bit lower, but I pray she will decide to see a doctor tomorrow.

We returned to Antigua, and Dick thought I could probably get in to see the kids at Hermano Pedro if I went with him. Did I want to? This was what I’d travel 1900 miles for. Don’t get me wrong—I love going on the road and doing other things here, but the kids are the ones who have grabbed hold of my heart. I figured it was worth a try.

I did get in and was grateful I went. Moises and Sonia remembered me immediately, Henry, who I’d not met before came up wanting to know my name, and David, who does not speak much, came wheeling directly over to me. I don’t expect that the kids will remember me, given the number of visitors that come through Hermano Pedro, so I’m always humbled and grateful when the do. I was surprised to see a number of the kids up in their chairs, though there were many more stuck in their cribs. It is so hard to decide who to take out when we’re only here a short time.

Dick got Byron up (supposedly his chair hadn’t been working, but worked fine when we were there) and predictably went over and got Leonel out of his crib.

Leonel came to the malnutrition ward at Hermano Pedro about 9 months ago now, at age 9 weighing, if I remember correctly, about 17 pounds. Skin and bones does not begin to describe how he looked. By January when I was here, he’d doubled his weight and was moved down to the regular dormitory. When I saw him today I was sorely disappointed to see that he’d lost weight since then, and did not seem as bright and responsive as he had been. Dick explained that he thinks Leonel is missing his family tremendously, and we are seeing the results of his homesickness. Dick has been gone a lot, too, so he hasn’t gotten much attention here either. Whenever anyone asks me how just holding children is a ministry, I always tell them about Leonel. If you could see the difference just a few minutes of individual love make in the appearance of this little one, you’d never question that Jesus calls us to be his arms here. I’m afraid for Leonel, this attention may literally make the difference between life and death.

I predictably went over to Ervin’s crib. Ervin is quite a handful, so spends way too much time in bed. The rebelliousness in me comes out each time I walk into the dormitory, and I’m bound and determined he will get out for at least a little while when I’m here. Last January I didn’t get to do much with him, because he had a skin infection they were concerned might spread to the other kids, so it was especially sweet to get to spend time with him today. Ervin can walk, but often refuses to do so. I explained to him today that I didn’t know where his wheelchair was (this wasn’t a lie, since I hadn’t looked and therefore truly didn’t know) and that if he wanted to come out, he’d have to walk. As I lifted him from his crib, he tried to get me to carry him, but I told him (truthfully, he’s gotten to be a big kid) that I could not. So he walked. . .and walked, . .and walked. Around the dormitory, outside in the yard, even through the small hallway where the nurses were trying to work. I figured if he was willing to walk, I was willing to go wherever he wanted. While his gait is still awkward, his balance and stability have improved a lot. He then stood by Dick for a long time, just watching him and teasing him by snapping Dick’s suspenders. He even showed off by standing on one foot part of the time!

Dick was worried Ervin would fall and we'd
be in trouble. But he had a blast!

Since Ervin was walking, a number of the other kids wanted to get into their walkers. So Moises and Elmer, and Henry, and Maynor were all up and playing kickball before we knew it. At one point I looked up and it seemed like there were kids scrambling everywhere! What a great experience. I don’t know if they enjoyed it half as much as I did, though.

I wish I could write about each of these kids, but no one would ever want to read that much. But there are so many amazing stories here. Sonia, a beautiful young woman who goes to regular school each day, was working on her homework. I was pleased to see a number of staff members stop from time to time and help her. Then there’s Veronica, who seems to be the “mother’s little helper” of the group—wheeling around today with a small pan of water, a rag and a scrub brush, cleaning whatever she could find. Dick tells me that she often helps feed the other children.

And Miriam, who is quite disabled, but beams whenever you walk over to her bed, and cries whenever you walk away. And I can’t forget Melvin, a.k.a. Romeo, who loves to flirt and cackles with delight when I call him “mi novio guapo” (my handsome boyfriend). His condition seems to be deteriorating and I fear this may be the last time I get to visit with this dear one.

I couldn’t help remembering today that Jesus said He came to set the captives free, and that’s the ministry we seem to be doing here. Whether it’s free to move through a wheelchair, free to communicate though pictures, or just free from imprisonment in a crib, I see captives being set free, if only for a time. But each time matters to the one who is given freedom. And it matters more to us who follow Him in setting them free. . .we get to experience being Jesus to the least of these. We get to touch Jesus in each of their frail bodies, see Him in each of their eyes, feel His heart beat in each of their chests. I can’t help but stand in awe each time I experience Him in their presence.

When today started, I had no real plans except going to church. Am glad I didn’t because, it seems, my lack of planning gave God more freedom to work. I’m not saying we should be irresponsible, but I am saying that we always need to leave room for Him to move, and maybe even change our direction. I feel much more comfortable now, when people ask me what I’m going to do, with responding, “Whatever God tells me to!” I’m sure I’ll be with the kids at Hermano Pedro, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be working with communication systems, but beyond that the field is wide open. I have to keep reminding myself
that God didn’t give Abraham much information until he got up and went—even though he had no idea even where he was going. Or, as a friend of mine says so aptly, “You can’t steer a car until it’s moving.” So, I’m glad my car is moving. Now I need to make sure I’m not His back seat driver!