Getting to Work (July 26-28, 2010)

I think this is one of my favorite pictures of all time--
kids working together.

I got kind of a late start getting to the orphanage today, because I went with Dick, Leo, Manuel, Fernando, and Cesar to take Dick's car to Leo's shop in Guatemala City.  Dick has been having trouble with it for a few weeks now, and has seen a number of mechanics, all of whom wanted to do something different to the car, including putting in a new motor!  Dick has thought the problems was electrical, and Leo agrees, so Dick's giving it one more try to get it running smoothly again.  It seems Leo has the problem figured out, and his diagnosis makes sense to Dick.  Now if they can just find the part they need.  Dick's Land Cruiser is a little less than new!

The last three days, I've introduced "work" to the kids, and they've loved it.  I've managed to put together about 15 different task for the kids, and a number of adaptations of each for the differing skill levels of the kids.  I can hardly keep up with them. I continually hear a chorus of  "Paty" (how my name is spelled in Spanish!) as each of them wants me to look at what they are doing, and give them praise.  The teacher in me wants them to be more independent, but the mama in me loves that they want my attention.  These kids have gotten so little affirmation and have had so few opportunities to do anything that would earn them praise, that for now, they're gonna get all the praise and encouragement I can heap on their darling little heads.

Even Gloria, a Guatemalan lady who volunteers at the
orphanage 3 days a week, is joining in the fun!

One of the neatest things that has come out of this is seeing the kids work together.  Yesterday there were about five kids around one small table, each doing something different, but working cooperatively.  I don't think I've ever seen this much interaction between kids.  Of course, some of it is "fighting," like when Ervin tried to touch the blocks Heidi was using.  She's normally so quiet and passive, but boy, can she let out a scream of protest when she wants to.  Even this, though, is so good for her--to be able to assert herself in some small way and have it respected.  And, believe it or not, Ervin did back off and leave her stuff alone!  We'll work on sharing later.  It's hard to ask kids to share when they've never had anything worth sharing before.  All things will come in due time.

Reaching My "Woe Point" (July 25, 2010, Sunday)

Today I listened to the worship service from Westside via the Internet. I was privileged to hear the founding pastor of my home church, Dr. Calvin Miller,  preach this morning. The closest I can come to a sermon title is “Reaching Your Woe Point.” When he first began talking about this, I thought he was going to preach on brokenness. Instead, he preached a sermon on completeness, using 1 Corinthians 9:16-17.

Paul says:
“16Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.”

Some of Pastor Miller’s thoughts on this passage follow, primarily the ones that have helped me understand my call to Guatemala. He says, “None of us are worth our salt before God until you can finish the statement, ‘Woe be unto me if I do not. . .’(finish this statement in 25 words or less).” I realized even while he was speaking that in some ways my move to Guatemala was selfish—I would never have been truly content if I did not make this move. I can truly say my life would have become increasingly frustrating if I had remained comfortable in my job at Westside and in my home in Omaha. I could feel the frustration building as I waited to make the move—even as I grieved leaving those I loved. My work at Westside was no longer fulfilling to me in the way it once was. Maybe this is Bill Hybels talks about in his book Holy Discontent. That sometimes God actually uses our restlessness to move us where He want.

Pastor Miller also said: “You need to have a sense of calling on your life. You cannot know this sense of calling until you get to the point of saying ‘Woe be unto me if I do not. . .’” Every time I’ve made a major transition in my life, I think I’ve had this experience. When I came to Westside, I knew I would never again be content working in the schools. Even when I made the move from Preschool Ministry to Care Ministry, I felt as if I was being compelled to make the move. It was more than just the next “logical” step in my ministry career. Without making the move, I was not sure I would still have a career in ministry.

So it has been with this move to Guatemala. If I had not made the move, would God still have used me? I think He would have, for the sake of the people I ministered to. But would I have been in the center of His will for my life? I think not—I think I would have progressively become less of the woman He created me to be. I would not have been obedient to what I know He had called me to next.

Pastor Miller gave me a much needed reminder when he said, “Obedience is more important than performance.” I know this, I’ve taught this, and I forget this. This past week I’d been feeling very inadequate to meet the needs I see. What do I really know about deaf children? What do I really know about best practices in feeding kids with severe disabilities? For that matter, what do I really know about the lives of the women who work at Hermano Pedro? (I believe I have come to minister to the nurses as much as I have to the kids.) I was not feeling overwhelmed (yet), but very inadequate for the task set before me. Calvin reminded me that I don’t have to be the best at what I do (Paul wasn’t necessarily the best preacher) for God to use what I do for His purposes.

Bayron, my first deaf "client"

Bobby, an extremely bright young man, striving for independence, hampered by extremely limited motor skills.  What he lacks in skills, he makes up for in determination.  One of my "heroes."

Melvin, my novio (boyfriend).  Melvin cannot even move
but his eyes speak volumes and his smile lights up the room

So as Paul was compelled to preach the gospel, I am compelled to share the gospel through acts of service and through sharing what skills I do have to improve the lives of the people I serve. This is freeing (since I’m not responsible for the results, only the obedience) and yet an immense responsibility at the same time. I know I would not be true to who I believe God has called me to be if I were not here.

Will I spend the rest of my life here? I hope so. I’ve learned, though, that God can and will change our “compulsions” for the sake of the Kingdom. When I went to work in the Omaha Public Schools, I thought I’d retire from there. When I came to work at Westside, I was sure that was where I would finish out my career. However, looking back I can see how each of these positions was “training” for what I would be doing now. So do I think this is the “great call” on my life? Yes, but I know God well enough to know He can change this any time He wants to. But for now I can say:

Yet when I serve in Guatemala, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to serve. Woe to me if I do not serve here! If I serve voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. (1 Cor. 9: 16-17 revised for Guatemala, 2010)

Feast of St. James, patron of Antigua (July 24, 2010)

Cathedral in Antigua

This has been a week long celebration of the feast of St. James, culminating tomorrow, which is the actual feast day.  Antigua was originally named Santiago de los Cabalerros (St. James of the Gentlemen), and still holds St. James in a place of special honor.

I'm learning that every festival here has three constant components:  food, music and dancing.  Once again, we ate "street food" from a vendor Mari knew.  The ever present elote (corn on the cob) was supplemented with wonderful pork and beef  "tacos."  The drink was the traditional arroz con leche (rice and milk).  This may be my favorite part of the festivals.

The music this time was provided by four marimba bands, playing the same music in unison.  It's like having live stereo.  And the dancing this time was a bit different.  Los Viejitos (The Old Men) did their own version of  "line dancing" with the added attraction that they were all dressed up as old women.  This was really fun to watch, as they circled Central Park, performing different dances on each side of the park.  I had no idea these were men dressed up as women until Mari told me so--I thought they were young girls!  Their dancing was very entertaining, and we followed them as they moved around the Park.

The evening was capped off with fireworks.  Though I missed them on the Fourth of July in the States, I got to see some great ones up close and personal.  They were set off from the street on the north side of the Park, and we were standing in about the middle of the park.  Better view than I ever had at home, and not nearly as crowded as Rosenblatt on the Fourth!

The lives of the people of Guatemala seem very difficult to me.  I've noticed, though, that they never miss an opportunity to celebrate life.  Maybe that's why walking through the streets of Antigua is so enjoyable--they are filled with life.  What a wonderful way to live.

Work and Play (July 23, 2010)

Today I got to spend quite a bit of time with a number of kids working on a simple task.  The job I brought today was working with plastic cubes.  A couple of kids could take apart a stack stuck together, one could snap the blocks together, but, for most it was a challenge just to pick them up one by one and put them in a container.  This sounds like such a simple task, but for many of our kids, just this basic use of their hands is a challenge.  Once again I am amazed at the effort they are willing to put into doing something so difficult for them.  We had a great time, though, as you can see from these pictures.

To give you an idea just how challenging it is for the kids to do this, I shot some video.

Now this is what I call DETERMINATION!

Some new friends, Dave and Lou, who live in Ontario were visiting Hermano Pedro yesterday with their daughter.  Together with Dick we took a few kids to lunch.  Again, this simple activity which we take for granted (going out to lunch) was a huge treat for the boys.  I took Carlitos, and I wish I'd had a video running when we entered Pollo Campero.  He recognized it from his first trip there a couple of weeks ago, and let out such a whoop when he saw we were going in!  I don't think I've heard him vocalize as much as he did on this outing and even when we returned to the orphanage.  He's quite the kid.

Carlitos usually eats pureed food and drinks from a bottle at the orphanage.  As you can see, he's very well able to feed himself, if given the chance.

As always, Ervin had a great time and cleaned up all the leftovers for us!

Dave and Lou graciously invited me to dinner with them, Dick and their daughter.  We ate a Picadilly, a restaurant here in Antigua that has great pizza, as well as pasta dishes.  This was a great way to celebrate the end of another week, and my "one month anniversary" living in Antigua.

The Daily Routine

At home in Antigua
A normal day here begins with breakfast around 7 am. For those of you who are worried about my nutritional needs, you should know I eat better and healthier here than I ever did in the States. Breakfast always includes fruit and bread Most days there are eggs (scrambled or in an omelette), or pancakes (the lightest and tastiest I've ever eaten) or Avena (an oatmeal "soup" much richer and more flavorful than any oatmeal I've eaten at home).

The morning
When I'm home here in Antigua, I usually spend some time with Jesus after breakfast, and then check my email and sometimes Facebook. I have to admit that I enjoy keeping up with what everyone is doing back in the States.

After getting dressed, I head over to Hermano Pedro, usually walking the 10 blocks to get there. (If it's raining I'll indulge in riding a tuk-tuk.)

I bring with activities that I hope to do with certain children each day, but these are quickly put aside if a more "urgent" need appears. Usually, this is one of the kids who seems particularly sad or lonely that morning. In this case we sit and talk, and, if they are small enough for me to carry, we also rock. This is one of the things that can make me feel a little guilty. Did I really come all the way to Guatemala just to sit in a chair and rock a child? My blog entry about Patita gave me a clear answer to this questions.

Activities with the kids
I've discovered that an even greater need than communications systems is finding ways for many of the kids to do more than vegetate in their beds or wheelchairs. Hermano Pedro is designed to give custodial care to the kids, and they do this quite well. Few kids, however, receive any kind of schooling--most who do are taught by Ninette, the Bethel Ministries teacher at the orphanage.

So the "non-academic" types and I do "chores" together. Stacking cups, sorting silverware, matching socks, etc. seem to be great fun for many of the kids. While not "real" work yet, I look forward to the day some of the kids will bein to help the nurses with folding laundry!

Lunch and Siesta
Most days I help with feeding lunch to the kids. This is one of my favorite parts of the day. As I've come to understand how "therapeutic" meals at Mari's are because we take time to visit while we eat, I try to do this with the kids as I feed them. I have to admit that it can be challenging to find things to talk about with a non-verbal child who takes 20 minutes to eat a bowl of pureed food. A few days ago, I was "inspired" to start telling Bible stories to the kids at this time. Its fun to see how engaged they become, and even more fun to see some of the nurses and volunteers "eavesdropping" on what I am saying.

About 1 pm the kids are put to bed for a while, and I return home for my lunch (the main meal of the day). I often take a little time to "recharge" and return to the orphanage between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. When I first came the kids were usually gotten up around 2, now it seems the time has consistently been creeping later and later. If find, usually, if I ask the charge nurse if I can take one or two kids out and put them in their wheelchairs, I am given permission. This is a good time for me to work one-on-one with some of the kids.

I hate the fact that the kids seem to remain in their beds longer and longer each day. I can somewhat understand the reasoning of the nurses. It takes so long to get the kids cleaned up from lunch, changed, and into their beds from their wheelchairs, that it feels like you no sooner put the kids to bed than you are taking them out. At least now, though, the kids are just about all put in their chairs for at least a portion of the afternoon.

The Afternoon
This time of year there seem to be a lot of volunteers both in the morning and in the afternoons. Some come for a single day, but others are here for a week or more. I’m trying to invest some of my time in helping those who are here for a while understand the needs of the kids, and find things to do with them. This isn’t as much fun for me as working directly with a child, but, I can either work with one child, or help five volunteers give effective attention to five (or more) children. This part of my “job” was not expected, but I think is important. Often now the nurses will also use me to interpret as they explain something to one or more of the volunteers. I try to find time each afternoon to spend an extended period of time with at least one of the kids, though. It’s good for them and even better for me!

At about 4 pm, we begin feeding supper, and changing the kids for bed. Do I change diapers? Yes. I think if any one thing has earned me the respect of the nurses, it’s my willingness to help with this task. Is it my “job” as a volunteer? No. Is it “ministry” to the kids? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. I feel this is my special way of “washing the feet” not only of the kids, but of the nurses. If I ever begin to think I am too good or too important to do this simple act of caring, I’ll know it’s time for me to find something else to do.

Returning home for the evening
I often walk home from the orphanage, usually about 5 o’clock. If I have any shopping to do, I do it on the way. Though I’m usually tired from the day, I find this walk a good time to talk over my day with Jesus. It’s also enjoyable to be part of all the other people who are going home at this time of day.

Whenever I walk into the house in the afternoon, I can be assured of Mari coming to me, asking, “Cafecito?” This is the time we drink coffee and just talk about anything and everything. Many times we are joined by one of Mari’s many friends, and I am enjoying getting to know folks in this informal way.

Supper is between 6:30 and 7:00. This is usually a vegetarian meal, though if I have missed the larger noon meal, I’m given the “leftovers” from lunch to eat. We eat with the students, and this is a very enjoyable time, as I mostly get to listen to the stories of their day and their studies.

After dinner, the rest of the evening is my own—to journal, read, pray, study (yes, I try to study a little Spanish grammar and vocabulary each day), listen to music, Facebook, or really do whatever I want. Television is available, even some channels where the program is in English and subtitled in Spanish, but I seldom watch it. I’m finding I’m staying up way too late in the evening, and am trying to develop some kind of discipline in going to sleep at a reasonable hour. I know I’m sleeping much less here than I did in the States, but also find I never want for energy when I need it. This yet to be a day when I’ve gone to bed not looking forward to the day to come. Thanks be to God for giving me this experience.

Special Delivery to Santa Maria de Jesus (July 21, 2010)

Dick called this morning to say he'd be taking a power chair up to Luis in Santa Maria de Jesus, and wanted to know if I'd like to ride along. This very traditional Mayan village was my first introduction to the "real" Guatemala when Dick took me there four years ago. I was anxious to go back and see it again, so of course I agreed.

I did get to spend some time at Hermano Pedro while waiting for Dick to get into town. Ervin and I worked together on a number of tasks, and, though at times he wanted to do things his own way, he was pretty willing to follow directions if I was firm with him. One of the greatest compliments I've received I got yesterday from a retired nurse volunteering at the orphanage when she said, "I've never seen him (Ervin) so engaged in anything before!" That's exactly my hope in being here and the confirmation was great to receive.

Dick arrived and we were soon on our way. This chair was for Luis, a young man who attends a private special school (New Life School) in Santa Maria de Jesus run by two Americans. Judy is a nurse, and Amy is an occupational therapist, and together they have managed to build an amazing three story building in which many kids who would not otherwise be in school receive a quality education. I finally got to meet Judy yesterday, and hope that I'll be able to work with them a bit in their school.

Luis has difficulty propelling himself in a regular wheelchair so Dick wanted to give him more mobility with this power chair. In addition, Luis, is kind of an "underdog" among the children at the school, and we're hoping having this chair will improve his status with his classmates. The power chair will remain at school, since Luis lives a number of blocks away, over some very rough terrain. His younger brother has to push him to school each morning, before he himself heads off to another school.

After many adjustments and refinements, Dick decided it was time to give Luis a "test run" in his chair. We all had a blast as he learned to maneuver the chair around the school. His best teacher was not one of us "professionals" though, but the school custodian, who seems to have a great relationship with him. This man was able to direct and encourage Luis in a way none of us "gringos" could. Both he and Luis enjoyed themselves immensely.

First atttempts at "driving" 

Getting the hang of it!

I was truly humbled by this man when I spoke to him later. I thanked him for helping Luis, and told him he worked very well with him. He responded, without hesitation, "These children are a gift from God to me." I almost burst into tears right there. To truly understand the significance of this statement, you need to know the history of this school. When Judy and Amy came her a number of years ago, kids with disabilities were totally shunned in this village, and were primarily thought of as a curse upon their family. To hear this indigenous man from the same village describe them as a "gift from God" is truly a work of God in this community. Dick reminded me on the way home that our titles and our accomplishments don't really mean much. When God wants to use someone for His purpose, he will pick the best person for the job--and often this is the most willing rather than the best qualified. Our new friend demonstrated that for us today.


To avoid losing Dick's friendship (and to avoid being bugged about this for the rest of my life), I want to make clearer what I wrote yesterday. The added material is in red.

It never ceases to amaze me the patience of the Guatemalan people, and their good manners, while waiting so long. Dick got stir crazy after about 5 minutes of waiting in his third line of the day, after having been "at" this for three and a half hours before I arrived at the hospital, and went to take one of the boys back to Chimaltenango for school. I on the other hand am known to be much more patient--it took me a full 15 minutes before I wanted to start banging my head on the wall!

I would NEVER want to imply that Dick was impatient.  Those of you who know him know that his patience is exceeded only by his total truthfulness with never an exaggeration. And his love of standing in lines is exceeded only by his love of shopping.
There, now Dick.  Is that better?

Navigating the Clinics (July 20, 2010)

Maria (on the left) with her father and mother

When I got to Hermano Pedro today, Dick asked if I would help Maria, a young widow with four children, work her way through the clinic process.  I'd only done this once before, but that was one more time than Maria had.  Her mother and father had come with her from Comalapa, a small aldea (village) about an hour and a half drive from Antigua.  I was particularly happy to help Maria, since the Josiah Foundation has taken a special interest in this family over the past few years.
I didn't know much what to expect from the clinic, except long lines and lots of waiting.  I wasn't disappointed.  First Maria had waited for the doctor, then for an ultrasound.  I joined her when she was waiting for the doctor a second time.  This time I went in with her to make sure everyone knew what was going on.  Dick had asked me to do this, but why he thought I'd understand with my limited Spanish was beyond me.

I soon learned why I was there.  The doctor spoke quickly, giving much information in about one minute.  Maria sat there smiling and nodding her head.  When I asked her if she understood, I received a "deer in the headlights" look.  So I began asking questions, and you could see on Maria's face that things were becoming clearer to her.  We also needed this information for a sponsor from the States who has offered to help pay for her surgery.  So I learned why I was there--because I was not afraid to look stupid by admitting I didn't understand what was going on.  Of course, I've had years of practice at this!

We stopped at a secretary's desk, and she wrote down some information in a ledger, and we were sent to another secretary's office.  Here there was a 30+ minute wait, to get a piece of paper to take to the office of a third secretary, this time on the second floor.  (For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to get to the second floor, and then I realized there were clinics up by the malnutrition ward.)  This time we received an appointment to see a surgeon--Sept. 12th! 

I asked Maria if she would be able to wait this long, as she's been in a lot of pain.  She replied that really wasn't a long time at all to wait for a doctor.  So she'll come back down then, and hopefully receive surgery the following week. 

It never ceases to amaze me the patience of the Guatemalan people, and their good manners, while waiting so long.  Dick got stir crazy after about 5 minutes and went to take one of the boys back to Chimaltenango for school.  I on the other hand am known to be much more patient--it took me a full 15 minutes before I wanted to start banging my head on the wall!

So why do we do this?  Picture a young woman, who until only a few years ago spoke no Spanish but only Katchical (one of the 26 Mayan dialects in Guatemala).  A woman who seldom has gone outside of her aldea, and never had been to the city.  Picture her coping with a large hospital, multiple secretaries, unfamiliar doctors, and the fear of having to have surgery.  Can you imagine what it would be like to go through this alone?  A couple years ago it became clear to me what was a distinctive part of how Bethel Ministries offers medical care.

Most mission organizations tell folks they will pay for medical care if the person can figure out how to get themselves to the city and the hospital, and then navigate the "system of care" of that particular hospital.  And we wonder why these folks don't take advantage of this generous offer.  It would be like me going to the moon to get medical care from a martian--the environment of a city and large hospital is just that unfamiliar to these people from villages.  (I need to point out, however, that most of us from big cities wouldn't survive 3 days if we had to live in a small aldea on our own!) 

Bethel is different, though, thanks in large part to Dick Rutgers who picks up or meets many of these families at the bus, and walks them through the clinic process. I am grateful that I can be part of this important ministry to the sick and injured. To many this might seem like a waste of our time, but without this individual attention I believe many would not receive the care they need. It kind of reminds me of the Good Samaritan who didn't hand the injured man some money and tell him where he could get help. He engaged with him and brought him to where he could receive care. A good reminder to all of us that we are called to invest personally in those we seek to help.

Pictures from January, 2009, the first time I was with a family in the clinics.
Unfortunately, Lisvi died shortly after these pictures were taken.

Doing Business in Guatemala (July 19, 2010)

I spent the morning at Hermano Pedro and was able to work some more with Ervin.  All the kids were inside today because it was too cold and rainy to go out in the courtyard. (It was about 65 degrees and only cloudy, but here in Guatemala, that's "nasty" weather to be outside.)  Ervin was one of a few kids left in bed today, and that proved a perfect place to work.  Today we began sorting silverware (plasticware, really) and he seems to be catching on.  I'm still amazed at how excited he is to do these simple tasks over and over again.

While I was working with him, a young Guatemalan woman named Flori came looking for me.  Flori is a volunteer with Faith in Practice, and had brought seven people from Oratorio (where we did a wheelchair distribution last week) in to see the doctors and Hermano Pedro.  She came to say hello, and find out if I knew when I would be returning to help with the deaf children I met last week.  She said that their families are so excited that someone is willing to come and help them.  Oh, how I wish I knew more about teaching the deaf.  Really, the teachers in the regular school seem to be doing an excellent job.  It's more difficult for the parents at home, though, to communicate with their children.  These kids can read and write, but unfortuantely, the parents do not.  I'm trying to figure out some way to bridge this gap using line drawings.  I think, though, it will take spending some time in Oratorio to be able to work this out.

While we were visiting, Flori showed me an article about her in the Faith in Practice newsletter.  She was so proud of this.  After I read it, it occurred to me to ask her if she knew what it said, since it was written in English.  She said no one had ever translated it for her, so I got to share with her what the article said about how important she is to the work of Faith in Practice in Santa Rosa.

After feeding a couple of kids lunch, I went home to mine.  This afternoon was spent on business.  First, Mari took me to a computer outlet where I bought a printer/scanner/copier.  I think I got a pretty good deal because, for the printer, paper and extra ink, I paid about $20 less than what the same printer lists for in the States!  I can never figure out why some things like this are so much less expensive here, and others, like Ziplock baggies are three times as much as in Omaha.  I am particularly pleased to announce that I managed to set up the printer and get it working all on my own.  Jeremy (my oldest son) is usually my computer go-to-guy, and I hope he's proud of me!  It is so much easier, though, when he's around.

We also went to a bank near Hermano Pedro where I openned an account.  It was really a very interesting process, and it only took about an hour and a half to accomplish.  First, Mari had to write a letter vouching for the fact that I was living with her, and explaining why I needed to have a bank account in Guatemala.  I kind of felt like a little kid who needed a note from "mommy" giving me permission to open an account.  Next, there were multiple decisions about what kind of account to open, and again, I deferred to Mari's experience here.  She really is quite the business woman, and I was rather surprised to find that this account pays 4% interest. 

Next there were multiple papers to sign, and I had to have my index finger and thumb prints scanned into the bank's computer system.  Then, I had to go back and actually put my left and right thumb print next to each signature.  Finally we were ready to actually make a deposit.  Unfortunately, one of the three $100 bills I'd planned on using was "rejected" for deposit because it had a small tear in one corner!  I'll have to trade out this bill when I visit in September, because if a bank won't accept a bill because of its condition, I'm sure no one else will! 

Depositing money here is a two step process.  First you take your bank book and money to a bank officer, who writes down you account number and the amount of your deposit on a scrap of paper.  Next, you take your deposit to a teller, who once again asks you for your account number (even though it's on the paper) and once again inspects the bills that the officer has just approved.  The teller then enters your informaiton into the computer, and prints out two separate receipts for the same transaction.  Finally, he had writes the information in a ledger book, and your deposit is complete.  What the purpose of all these steps are, I don't know.  What I do know is that when I need to make a deposit, I need to allow half an hour for the process.  I can't wait to find out how long it takes to make a withdrawal!