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!