February 1, 2009

We were joined this morning by Roland’s friend, Amanda and some of her children. She had some folks in the area who she wanted us to visit to see what we could do for them. This lady has lost her husband, has four children to care for, and yet asks nothing for herself, only for those who are ill. I am coming to realize that this compassion is not unusual among the very poor people in Guatemala, but is the norm. They are constantly looking for ways they can help each other.

At breakfast, Dick proposed that we ask Roland to call Lisvi’s family one more time. This is a delicate decision, because generally, no means no, and we want to maintain good relationships with the people in this area. We can’t afford to come across as “know-it-all” North Americans. All of us have prayed during the night about this situation, and the three of us felt peace at making this call. We decided to call Dad, and make sure he understood that they could come with us, see a doctor, but it would then be solely their decision as to whether or not Lisvi would stay at the hospital. I don’t know if it was this reassurance, or the compassion with which Roland made the call, but he walked back to us beaming. The family would be coming after all.

This will change our plans slightly. We had planned on heading back to Antigua today. With the time it would take us to pick up the Perez family, we would need to stay in Huehue another night. Not one of us, even Fernando who would now miss a day of school, seemed to mind. Roland, however, needs to be back in Xela in the morning. He is more than happy to take the bus tonight.

So after breakfast, we set off on our visits. Our first stop took much longer than we had anticipated. At this home, there was no need of a wheelchair. Rather, there was a very ill young man, Estaban Roberto Cruz Alfaro who lives with his mother Rosalina. This young man was in kidney failure. Twice a week he needs to go by bus to Guatemala City for dialysis. Since the trip to the city would take us about six hours by car, I can’t imagine making that trip on the bus. Especially with the weakened condition Estaban would be in before dialysis. The family had been paying 1000 Q for each dialysis session (approximately $130 US). Even for an uninsured family in the States, this would be a lot of money. For a family in northwest Guatemala, this is an impossibility.

Amanda had hoped there was something we could do to help. Dick explained that this was beyond the scope of his ministry, but promised to post the need in his blog. He said that if someone responded, wanting to help provide for this dialysis, he would immediately let them know. It seemed a small hope, but, with our God, there is no small hope. As Thomas Merton once wrote, God does not expect us to be successful, only faithful to what he calls us to do. So now the need is known.

A beautiful part of this visit was to see Fernando playing with the children in the family. He has worked so hard translating on this trip, that it was good for him to have time to be a kid. Even as a kid, though, he has one of the most generous hearts of anyone I’ve ever met. I’d given him a deck of cards this morning, and he, in turn, gave them to the children in this family. Fernando is not a child who has much himself, but frequently gives, not of his excess, but his best to others. After Amanda explained that the other families she would like us to visit were also in need of medical treatment, rather than wheelchairs, we all decided that Dick and Roland would visit them on their next trip up north. We needed to get to Lisvi’s home and return down the mountain before dark. The roads there were treacherous enough in broad daylight. None of us wanted to try them in the dark.

Sr. Perez would be waiting for us in the town of La Libertad and direct us to their home. The only problem was, none of us had ever met him, so we didn’t know who we were looking for, other than that he would be wearing a large white cowboy hat. Only about 90% of the men in the town wore them, so that was a big help. Through Roland’s excellent phone negotiations skills, however, we met him with little difficulty and were off for the home.

Their house turned out to be in one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever visited in Guatemala. Their home was stucco, and they had a number of out buildings, as well as a variety of animals. This family is not rich, but they seem to be doing better than many of the families in the area. So lack of food did not explain Lisvi’s starving condition.

It was immediately apparent, too, that her condition was not due to lack of care. Upon entering the house, we found Lisvi sitting in an “infant seat” which her father had made for her. She was right next to the stove where she could see all the action in the kitchen. In many ways, she seemed to be the center of attention. I began to realize the sacrifice this family was making even taking her to the hospital to be examined. This child is well loved, both by Mom, and, it seems, especially by Dad.

We were informed that Francisca (mom) was preparing lunch for us. Since it was not yet ready, Sr. Perez showed us around their ranch. Roland explained that this area was a bit more “affluent” because the land was so fertile in this area. Even in the middle of the dry season, everything was wonderfully green. As in other homes we had visited, this family could not do enough for us. Fernando and Amanda’s son mentioned that they would like to “sled” down the steep hillside, and Sr. Perez immediately produced a board, pulled out the nails stuck in it, and helped the boys do just that. When the board did not work out well, he went and found a burlap sack which proved to be a more than adequate “sled.”

After lunch, we reluctantly left for Huehue where we would spend the night. We still had to get Roland to the bus station, take Amanda and her son home, and get supper for ourselves. I rode in the back seat with the Perez family, and got much Spanish practice as I learned about their life and their family. Lisvi, was not their first child with malnutrition (and probably cerebral palsy). They had already lost two other daughters to starvation despite their best attempts to care for them. They did not really seem hopeful that anything could be done for Lisvi, but they needed to do what they could to help her. The tenderness with which they cared for her, gently passing her back and forth on this difficult drive, brought tears to my eyes. When they finally trusted me to hold her, the tears overflowed.

As I held her, I couldn’t help but think of my almost 30 lb., two and a half year old grandson back home. As I prayed over Lisvi, I also prayed in gratitude for Zach’s health which I too often take for granted. And, as I struggle with the contrast between these two precious children, I had to remind myself that God loves each of them unconditionally. His ways are surely not my ways. . .

January 31, 2009 evening

Tonight just before supper Roland received a call from Lisvi’s father. The family has decided not to travel with us to Antigua. Apparently they can’t bear the thought of leaving Lisvi there, so see no reason to come.
I’m not sure I can describe the emotions welling within me. I want to respect them and their decision. I want to believe that this father is acting in the best interest of his daughter. And I want to live out my belief that God’s will in this little one’s life will be done with or without our help. And it’s hard.

I can’t begin to understand, though, what we are really asking them to do. To us, it’s just a trip to the hospital. To this family, who probably has never been out of their area, we are asking them to leap into the unknown. They have never even seen a doctor (except maybe the “healers” in the area), and how could they imagine a hospital. If they know anything of hospitals, it is probable that they believe that they are where people go to die. In this area, that is too often the case.

I hate this feeling of helplessness. I ask God why, if we can’t help them, that He brought her into our lives. Then I remember Dick holding her, and know, if nothing else, we did communicate that God cares deeply about her. Maybe, in this instance, that is more than enough.

January 31, 2009

[Another long entry. . .but so much to see and learn and do.]

After another good night’s sleep in a very modern hotel, we once again set out into the back country. Today we would be going to the villages around Colotenango, again a good drive out from Huehue. The roads today, however, were “good” compared to what we had traveled yesterday.

Roland had received good news this morning at breakfast. Lisvi’s family, who we met yesterday, had decided to go back with us to Antigua to see the malnutrition ward! We set out in high spirits after receiving this information.

Our first stop was to pick up our interpreter, Maria Garcia. You see, today we would be visiting areas where little Spanish is spoken, and then usually only in the schools or to outsiders. The Mayan dialect in this region is Mam.

I guess Maria Garcia would be considered a local leader in this area. Her son, who had recently died from an undiagnosed illness, had begun efforts to organize the community. Since his death, Maria Garcia has stepped in to carry on the work he had begun.

As we drove to the first home we were to visit, Roland told me a bit of the story of Francisca and her son Rodrigo. Rodrigo is severely handicapped as a result of an assault on his mother when she was pregnant. Rodrigo’s father had severely beaten her, and attempted to slit her throat. Somehow, by the grace of God, she managed to get to a neighbor for help, and survived. Rodrigo, though, bears the effects of the “sins of his father.” Francisca, too, bears scars on heart as well as her face from the beating she took. This man still lives in the area, and I can’t imagine how she can feel safe even for a moment.

After fitting Rodrigo with a wheelchair, and showing his mother how to use it, we traveled on to the home of Maria Garcia. Here we were met by two families in need of wheelchairs, as well as the family of Maria Garcia. On the way to her home, I had complimented Maria on her “huipil,” the traditional blouse worn by Mayan women. I told her I had two, but none were as pretty as hers. Shortly after we entered her house, I was pulled aside by one of Maria’s daughters, Aura. She took me into the rear of the house to measure me, as she wanted to make me a huipil for the next time I returned to there village. Once again, I was humbled at the hospitality of these people. I explained that I didn’t know when I would be back in the area, but she said not to worry. It would take her two months to complete the project on a backstrap loom, and it would be waiting for me whenever I returned.

Dick and Fernando were hard at work fitting three young people with wheelchairs when I returned to the group. Arnoldo and Irenia were brother and sister. They had been carried here by their mother, who was so thin she looked as if she would blow over in a strong wind. Again, I realized that in this country a gift as simple as a wheelchair impacts not just the individual, but their whole family. I hope Elena’s life will be much easier now that she can push, rather than carry, her children.

Olga was the other teen in need of a chair. Dick and Roland had met her on a previous trip to the area, and she was one of the reasons we had come here now. She patiently, if somewhat sullenly, waited her turn to be seated, sitting in the dirt. I was frustrated by my inability to communicate with her (she spoke only Mam) as she looked so forlorn. The change that came over her face once she was in her very own chair was amazing. She has a beautiful smile.

We ended this visit with a cup of coffee which the family took great pride in telling us had been grown, harvested and roasted by them on their own property. No matter where we went, or how poor the family we were visiting was, we were always given at least either coffee or a pop. By the end of the day, both Dick and I agreed that we would explode of we drank any more pop, but knowing the sacrifices these families made to provide this for us, we gratefully drank every drop (if we could not find a nearby child to help us out!).

With great excitement we headed for our next stop. We were going to the home of Rudy, a little boy who had been born without the bottom half of his left leg. On an earlier visit, Dick had made a cast of his stump and sent it to a man in the states who makes prosthetic limbs. Loren had graciously donated the time and materials and produced the cutest artificial leg I’ve ever seen! I was privileged to be able to bring it down with me, and now was going to get to actually see Rudy as he walked with it the first time.

Arriving at the home, we were immediately ushered inside to eat the lunch that Rudy’s mom had prepared for us. A rich chicken broth with carrots and a potato-like vegetable was served to us with the ever present corn tortillas. Dick explained this was the meal traditionally served to honored guests. As I ate I wondered if we were being served the meal that would ordinarily have fed this family. Again I reflected on how humbling it is to accept a gift from someone who has so little.

There was great excitement after lunch when Dick brought out the artificial leg, and began to fit Rudy. This is not something he ordinarily does, but, with a few adjustments (and the help of directions we finally found in the bag!) Rudy was able to stand on his “own two feet.” It will take some practice on his part, but I’m sure that within a few days Rudy will be running around with the other kids.

After an all too short visit, we again were on the road—we still had two more stops to make. It is incredible how much we were able to pack into one short day. Our next stop was at the home of Lionel, one of the children who Dick had previously brought into the malnutrition ward at Hermano Pedro. Lionel was doing so well Dick hoped he would soon be transferred to the dormitory downstairs, and we wanted to share this good news with his family. Dick also wanted to check and see about the possibility of putting the older two children in the family back into school. We were disappointed to find out that these two children had decided not to go to school. They felt they needed to work in the fields with their father to help support the rest of the family. As sad as this made us, we understood their reasoning, in a land where many families earn less than $200 a year.

Our final stop this day was at the home of Rolando, a twenty-something young man who has Cerebral Palsy. Because of his handicap, Rolando had never been allowed to attend school. Obviously intelligent, Rolando spends his days supplementing his family’s income by selling pop and cookies by the road. Today we were coming to meet a teacher Roland had found to work with Rolando. Through the sponsorship of someone in the States, Dick would be able to pay this young man to teach Rolando the basics, twice a week, for the next year. Rolando’s excitement was indescribable as his dream of learning to read and write is beginning to come true.

After dropping off Maria Garcia, we headed back to the hotel in Huehuetenango. Once again it was dark when we pulled into the parking lot. It was somewhat difficult to sit down to the substantial buffet offered in the restaurant after what we had experienced today. Fernando didn't join us this evening, opting to watch cartoons instead. This gave the three of us adults time to plan and reflect. It also provided me the opportunity to get feedback from my friends on my plans to move down. In my spirit, I know this is where God is calling me. In my flesh, I want nothing more than to protect my heart. These last two days had been wonderful. They also had been two of the most emotionally challenging days of my life. Would I really be able to handle this life? My friends reminded me that we only do so in the strength of Christ, and I trust this answer. Once again, though, I went to sleep with the prayer in my heart, "Lord, I want to serve you, but it hurts too much."

January 30, 2009

[Warning: this blog entry may be hazardous to your time, as it's way too long, but I just didn't know what to leave out! This single day is probably the best explanation I can give for why I KNOW I am called to Guatemala.]

Today was a difficult day to describe. It’s not so much that I saw so many things I’d never seen before, though there were many new experiences. It was more that I never saw so MANY people living in such difficult circumstances and facing such significant challenges. I also have not gotten to know them as personally as I would some of them on this trip. I believe this day has impacted my heart as much as my first trip to Central America almost ten years ago.

As we gathered this morning in the hotel restaurant, we were joined by a young man who teaches at a school in the area north of La Libertad. He would be our guide today, and a critical piece of our ministry. Not many gringos go into this area, and those who do are usually met by distrust. Today I learned first hand the truth of the statement, “If you are a friend of my friend, then you are my friend.” Even with the support of the teacher, we were still met by a number of people with fear and concern about why these white folks were really here.

The time we spent on the road gave me a chance to get to know a bit about this young man who has taught the primary room in a school “near” La Libertad for ten years. He hardly looked old enough to be teaching now, but explained he was actually 28.

I put the word “near” in quotes, because I’ve also learned on this trip what a relative term that is. In this case, “near” meant an hour and a half drive on what Dick described as some of the worst roads he’s seen in Guatemala. Steep hills and curves and “switchbacks” seemed to be constant on this narrow, dirt road through the mountains. The “road” was peppered with small monuments. When I asked the teacher what these were, he explained that these were memorials to people who had driven off the road and fallen down the mountain and died. I had to ask!

Since our guide had ridden a “chicken bus” into Huehue to meet us, I asked him how he got from his home in La Libertad, up into this remote area each day. I was expecting him to say by horse or motor scooter. I was astounded when he explained that he WALKS to get to and from school. He reassured me, however, that it really wasn’t that bad. He spends every other night sleeping in the school, going home only on alternate days! I remembered all the times, when I was teaching, that I had grumbled at having to return to school at night for a meeting—and I’m sure I was paid much better than he. My new friend doesn’t seem to mind this, though, as he says he loves teaching and obviously loves the children.

Arriving at the school, we were greeted by a group of about 20 people, many of whom needed wheelchairs. One by one, Dick patiently and compassionately measured each and found out something of their background. Finding out their medical condition, though, was impossible. It seems almost no one had ever seen a real doctor, and those who had knew only that they had been given medicine which had run out long ago. A number of these were children. The best way to give a “face” to them is to try to introduce you to each of these wonderful people:

First is Noe Abidail Gomez Martinez and his parents. I don’t remember his age, but I do remember his mom carrying him in a sling on her back as if he were a baby. This was their only way of travel, but it was causing his back to become curved and compromised his ability to breathe properly. As “luck” would have it (Dick calls these “GODINCIDENCES” and I’m going to take the liberty of borrowing his term) Dick had “just happened” to bring an extra wheelchair. This chair also “just happened” to be the right type and size for little Noe, and after Dick and Fernando made a few adjustments, his mom no longer will need to carry him everywhere she goes.

As Dick was measuring Noe, I walked over to a lady with a “baby” on her back. I hesitantly asked if it would be okay for me to hold the “baby.” Mom gently placed her in my arms. This was my introduction to Lisvi Escalante Perez, and her mother Francisca. Lisvi, however, is not a baby, but a marvelous little girl of SIX who could not have weighed over fifteen pounds. I thought I was familiar with starvation, but as I held this precious little one in my arms, my heart sank to my feet, and tears welled in my eyes. Lisvi will forever “haunt” me. This was not some abstract, starving child in an ad, but a flesh and blood little girl God had permitted me to hold.

I waited for Dick to finish with Noe, and walked over to him with Lisvi. I desperately needed him to tell me that my inexperienced assessment of her condition was wrong. The immediate look in his eyes told me I was not. As he tenderly took her to measure her for a wheelchair, he carefully invited Francisca, her husband and Lisvi to accompany us back to Antigua in a few days. He explained the malnutrition ward at Hermano Pedro, assuring mom that it was their decision whether or not Lisvi would be admitted. Watching Dick protectively cuddle this frail child, I couldn’t help but think of our Heavenly Father holding and loving us. Once again I experienced “Jesus with skin on” through the ministry of my friend. This was a “holy ground” moment for me.

With a look of fear in her eyes, Francisca explained that she would have to speak with her husband about the trip to Antigua. She did not know his cell number, but we could contact her through the teacher. We also gave her Roland’s cell number. I walked away downhearted. There was so much more I wanted to say, but knew I needed to be silent. This was one of many times on the trip my flesh struggled to let God be God. I stood alone, muttering the prayer, “Lord, I want to serve you, but it hurts too much!” We would have to await papa’s decision.

We next met Samuel Lopez Gomez, a timid and shy little boy who sprang to life when Dick handed him this tape measure. We’re not exactly sure why, but Samuel needs a wheelchair. We do know, however, that Samuel enjoyed playing with our “kid magnet,” Fernando.

Another very quiet and shy child was Irenia Samayoa Perez. She clung to her mother and hesitated to speak, no matter how much we coaxed. I finally asked her if she would help me play a trick on Dick, and she reluctantly agreed after much coaxing from her mother. I then taught her the nickname the children at Hermano Pedro (and I’m told others throughout Guatemala) call Dick—“Dick-a-loco.” Out of respect for my elders, I will withhold comment on the accuracy of this nickname. We practiced this a few times, and then called Dick over. When she called him this name, Dick, of course, produced an appropriately dramatic response. Both Irenia and her mother roared with laughter. Seeing their enjoyment made it worth the slap in the head I received for expanding the use of this term of endearment to yet another Guatemalan village!

Adults were also in need of wheelchairs. Eufemia Lucas Morales walks only with difficulty after breaking her ankle and having numerous surgeries. She wants nothing more than to be able to take care of her home and her family without pain. She also was promised a wheelchair.

We also saw another woman, whose husband had brought her in on horseback. Her feet were so twisted she could not bear any weight on them. Her fear was so evident that Dick asked me to talk with her first, thinking perhaps she would be more comfortable with a woman measuring her. For one of the first times this day, I actually felt like I was accomplishing something; being more than a tourist. I don't think I ever did see her smile, however. The tenderness her husband showed in caring for her was touching in this country where so many men are at best harsh with their wives.

Our last “customer” for a wheelchair here was Manolia Lopez Perez. This beautiful young woman of 22 is unable to walk because of swelling of her legs and sores on her feet. Once again, we were limited in knowing how to best help her, as we really didn’t know what was wrong with her. We pray that one day soon Dick and Rolando will be able to return to this area with a physician who can at least assess these cases and give some direction for the best course of treatment and care.

As we were about to leave, I was approached by a young mother with a 3 month old. The baby was not growing, and seemed to be spitting up most of what he was eating. Mom also described, with great distress how he would cry almost continuously. She had heard that we had offered to take Lisvi to the malnutrition ward, and wondered if we could take her little one also. While this infant obviously needed medical attention, it broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes to explain to her that her son was not yet sick enough to be treated in the clinic. The mother in me was crying out at the injustice of a small child having to get weaker to receive help, but I realize there are more needs than can be met. I did pray with her and the baby, but left with James 2: 15-16 ringing in my ears:

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,'
but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

January 29, 2009

The day has finally come for us to travel “up north” to Huehuetenango. Dick and Fernando, a young man from Dick's neighborhood, picked me up about 7:30. We were not able to leave, however, until Mari made sure Fernando had a “snack” for the road. She’d already given me provisions for Dick and myself. If you are getting the idea that food is a large part of the hospitality of the Guatemalan people, you’re right. And to refuse is considered rude, if not an outright insult! (I wonder what I’ll weigh when I go home. Gaining weight on a trip to a Third World country would be absolutely embarrassing!)

I had been a little worried that, out of kindness, Dick was making this trip to show me the back country. I know how he hates being a “tour guide.” All concern was erased when I got to the Land Rover and saw the back and top loaded with wheelchairs and other paraphernalia, and realized we three would all be riding up front on the six hour trip. This was definitely going to be a working trip.

The first part of the trip was already familiar to me. I’d been on the winding, steep roads which lead to Lake Atitlan. Little did I know that would be the easiest traveling for the next five days! As we traveled northwest, the scenery became more beautiful as the drive became more challenging. I am proud to say that I did not scream or try to grab the wheel from Dick even once. I was too busy praying!

Along the way to Huehue (way-way), we made our first wheelchair delivery. Dick and Fernando, on an earlier trip, had “stumbled upon” an older man being pushed along in a go-cart type of contraption by some friends. This is not unusual for these two, especially for Fernando who seems to have an eagle eye and a compassionate heart for those in need. The stop was more challenging, however, as it was pouring down rain. Nevertheless, measurements were taken, and Dick promised to return as soon as possible with a wheelchair for the gentleman.

Now, in Guatemala, no one seems to use addresses, and many houses and turn offs look the same. Getting directions is an art form, and Fernando is highly skilled in this area. After just a few stops, we were directed to the home of the man. He was down at the local “tienda” (store), but his daughter was home. After some negotiating it was decided that it would be easier to take the chair to him, than bring him to the chair, so we set off down the road.

The man could not have been more excited. He seemed to be somewhat surprised that Dick had actually kept his word. With a few minor adjustments, the chair fit the man just right, and we were able to sit down and visit with him. I feel badly calling him the “go-cart man” but even Fernando could not seem to catch his name, as he spoke so rapidly! He did listen intently, however, as Fernando translated for Dick, giving instructions on how to care for the chair. (In actuality, Fernando could probably have handled this alone, he’s done it so often.)

This was the first of many times on this trip that we were able to share the good news: the wheelchair was not from us, but from a loving God, given through the work of Christian people, many of whom lived in the United States. Each time we explained this, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit descend as we shared the love of Jesus and reminded ourselves what a privilege it is to participate in His work.

All too quickly we were back on the road. After a slight detour when Dick tried out a new road that did not go where he thought it would, we made a quick stop in Nebaj. Here we dropped off therapy equipment with Don, a man who had started a school for special needs children in that town. In addition to his ministry to these children, he runs a restaurant in the village, and I can testify that he makes the best peanut butter cookies I've found in either Guatemala or the United States.

After another hour and a half or so on the road, we finally made it to Huehue as it was getting dark. One of the kids had made reservations for us at the Hotel San Francisco. Dick had promised it was a comfortable place to stay, but I was happy to see just how nice it was. It would surpass any of the Motel 6’s I stay in when traveling in the States, and, for a little more than $20/night, it could not be beat. It even had a restaurant on the grounds.

At supper I met my third traveling companion, Roland Elf. Roland is from Sweden and has lived in Guatemala for a number of years. He lives in Xela, in the northwestern part of the country, and appears to be Dick’s “contact” in the area. Roland speaks a number of languages, including Spanish and the Mayan dialect Quiche, so was a valuable interpreter. He is also a meticulous record keeper, but most of all, he has valuable relationships with people in many of the villages which we would be visiting. So our small team was now complete, even if I did feel a little like a woman in a man’s world.

We all turned in fairly early this night (at least I did--guess I really don't know what the "boys" did in their room) as we were to set out for the village of La Libertad early the next morning. I couldn’t imagine what we would see the next day, but was eager to begin the “real work” of our trip.

January 28, 2009

Mari supplements their family income by housing students who come to Antigua to study Spanish—as well as those of us who just come to Antigua because we love it. At breakfast this morning I met my “housemates.” They are quite a diverse group. We are a collection of occupations, nationalities and ages. I’m pleased to be able to say I am not the senior of our group.
After breakfast, I ran errands with Mari. One of my goals for this trip is to become more familiar with the demands and rhythm of day to day life in the city. Mari is a great teacher for this. As she went to the bakery, pet store, and shoe shop, I remained in the car, so we could be “somewhat legally” parked in a city where there are few parking spaces. As with driving, you make up the rules as you go along in finding a place to park. I am more sure than ever before that I will make use of buses, taxis, and “took-tooks” (motor scooters with passenger compartments attached to the rear) when I move down.

As we shopped, Mari insisted on buying me a “cafecito” (coffee) and sweet bread. I guess she was afraid I would become weak if I did not eat at least every hour. The coffee here is wonderful, and I’ve been unable to locate “pan dulce” anywhere in Omaha, so I gratefully accepted this gift.

We then went grocery shopping at my favorite store, “La Bodegona.” This is comparable to almost any grocery store in the States, except much more crowded. Prices surprised me. Some items, such as paper products, seem more expensive than at home, others are much less. Avocados were 3 for $1! Meat and cheese are about the same.

My friend, Bill Pearson, who is a missionary in the Dominican Republic, has told me that most of the life of a missionary is taken up with the mundane tasks of everyday life. From today, it appears this will be true, since our few purchases took a full morning to accomplish.

After lunch, I went over to see the kids at Hermano Pedro. Hermano Pedro houses about 240 individuals with physical and mental disabilities. People refer to this place as an orphanage, but it seems to me to be more like our state institutions for the handicapped in the ‘70’s. Most of the kids there have families, and many are just returning from visiting and home over the holidays.

I knew that in the afternoon many of the children would be confined to their cribs, and I was not disappointed. A few, including Elmer and his brother Minor were up in their wheelchairs. Though they didn’t remember me from previous visits, they immediately recognized a sucker for play, and we soon had a “train” of wheelchairs traveling around the courtyard area.

When I grew tired of pulling/pushing the train of boys, I went to the bed of one of my favorites, Melvin, or as he is commonly known, “Romeo.” Cerebral Palsy has left him unable to speak, and with a twisted body, but a beautiful heart! Whenever you speak to him, his eyes dance and his face comes alive, and despite his limitations, he is quite the flirt. He is one of the young men I hope to be able to develop a communication system for in the future.

As I stood by Melvin’s bed, I heard someone call out, “Quit spoiling those kids!” I knew it was my friend Dick Rutgers, who had originally introduced me to Hermano Pedro about four years ago. Dick had spent the morning preparing for our trip to the mountains tomorrow. Now he was ready for some R & R with the kids. Predictably, he went straight to the bed of Ervin, aka “Monster.” Ervin is a delight and a destruction rolled into one. Since he can be quite something to manage, he unfortunately spends most of his afternoons in his crib. Dick changed that immediately. Together, we coaxed/forced Ervin to walk. I was pleasantly surprised at how much better he could get around with support than he had been able to even last June. I really believe if someone worked with him daily, he would soon be able to walk. I don’t know if the nurses would appreciate this or not, but this is definitely at the top of my “to do” list when I move down.

Dick then took me up to the malnutrition ward to meet Lionel, one of his favorites. Lionel came to Hermano Pedro five months ago, a ten year old weighing about 17 lbs. Since then, he has doubled his weight and gone from being somewhat of a “rag doll” to a delightful boy with a quick smile. We also visited Alex, who had been moved to malnutrition a few weeks ago from the dormitory downstairs. Our time feeding and cuddling these two ended much too quickly when Dick invited me to watch a soccer game his neighborhood kids were having in Chimaltenango.

We arrived in the middle of the game, played, believe it or not, on a concrete court. The kids didn’t mind, and almost seemed to “bounce” when they hit the ground. The game was under the supervision of Ben and Andy, two young men visiting from Canada. They were absolutely amazing with the boys, and allowed Dick and me to remain spectators rather than participants. Activities like this are so important for the kids, who otherwise would be left to roam the streets.

A treat for me was getting to meet Miguel, a young man I am sponsoring in school. I learned of Miguel from Dick’s blog a few months ago. He is about 15 and was working all day in a bike shop and going to school in the evenings. Talk about burning yourself out early! This was necessary, though, because he wanted an education and his father, who cares deeply for him, just doesn’t make enough money to provide food AND schooling for his family. Now, Miguel helps Dick repair wheelchairs, and still goes to school at 6 pm. In fact, we visited so long, he was already late for school, and it was only the second day of class. (In Guatemala, the school year runs from the end of January through the end of October.) Before leaving, though, Miguel thanked me repeatedly for helping him with school, and promised to study hard. I have no doubt he will, and can’t wait to see what God does in the life of this amazing young man.

After bringing me back to Antigua, Dick and I had a quiet dinner to plan our trip to Huehuetenango, in northwestern Guatemala. After all I’d experienced in the past few hours, it was nice to just sit and reflect on all that had happened, and anticipate what was to come.