Children's Ward Anniversay, Sept. 16, 2010

I spent this morning doing laundry and cleaning my room in preparation for my trip to the States next week. It doesn’t seem real to think that in just a few days I’ll be in Omaha. Am sad to leave the people I love in my “home” here, but happy to see the people I love at my “other” home. I’m still trying to get used to how much of “missionary” life is the mundane things you do no matter where you live!

Today is the 26th Anniversary of the existence of the children’s ward at Hermano Pedro. The nurses have been preparing for this for weeks, and in a way I’m glad it’s finally here so many things will get back to normal. I can’t help but wonder what this place would be like if the workers put as much effort into everyday care as they do into special celebrations.

Nurse working on decorations for celebration while the kids are in bed

The orphanage is not a horrible place. As Dick reminds me, many of these kids would not be alive if it were not for Hermano Pedro. The people working here are not horrible people. The longer I’m here the more I see the real affection most of the caregivers have for most of the kids. But there are horrible things that are done here.

Not the active abuse we sometimes hear about in homes in the US—but a kind of “passive abuse” by clinging to ineffective and sometimes harmful practices for the sake of “tradition.” I know the caregivers believe their ways are the best (at least for them). I cringe, however, every time I pick up a bottle to feed a kid, knowing that if I’m not careful, I’m just as apt to pour the liquid down the child’s airway as I am their esophagus. I often bring in nipples with smaller holes and use these when I feed a child, but that only addresses the problem for those particular children on that particular day. I want to scream every time I hear a kid choking from the liquid flowing too quickly—and it’s getting worse for me, not better. The more I get to be friends with the caregivers, the harder it is for me to watch them do things that I believe are harmful to the kids. I like these women, I know they care, and I believe they are sometimes dead wrong.

The American in me, wants to confront this directly and forcefully. But I’ve seen others try that, and believe me, it only makes things worse. The last thing to do is come in as a foreigner and try to tell the nationals to change things they’ve been doing the same way for decades. But I am not Guatemalan enough to be content with the status quo. I DO want change, but am not sure how to bring it about. It seems like some of the staff who have been fighting for years are just tired and overwhelmed by what they have to do each day. So I pray, asking for not knowledge of what is best, but wisdom in how to initiate changes. I’m beginning to think that the only way to get the nurses to try something different is to appeal to our friendship. . .but that only works when I’m physically there. Come, Lord Jesus, into this situation. . .come in Your power and authority. . .change us all (both the nationals and the Americans) to do what You know is best for the kids. Help us remember it’s not about us, it’s about Your children.

I did go in for a little bit, and fed cake to Delmi, one of the least popular kids in the orphanage. This young lady spends much of her time with her arms splinted, or tied, so she cannot bite herself. There’s nothing I enjoy more than spending time with her, because when she is given just a little attention, she blossoms, and I can “turn her arms loose” without fear she will self-abuse. . .There are a couple of songs she loves to “act out” (with help) and she begins laughing immediately when I start to sing them. Delmi is one of the kids it’s so easy to forget about, and it was worth going in today just to spend time with her!

I also went upstairs to malnutrition to see Jessica/Vanessa. Every time I see her, I marvel that she is still alive, she is so frail. Every time I see her she is absolutely alert and usually active. I fear she burns every calorie she consumes. But she’s a fighter, and it’s a good thing, or she probably still wouldn’t be alive. Mom had called first thing this morning, to make sure I was going to check on her daughter. . .the more I talk to Mom, the more I realized how very difficult this is for her. It was so nice to call her back and tell her Jessica is eating and sleeping, and seems content enough. It was great fun, to hold her and play with her and discover that she babbles when she’s content. Again, something I didn’t expect, but was delighted to discover. I can’t bare the thought of leaving this little one for two weeks, though I know Dick will be checking on her. I’m hoping I won’t recognize her when I get back, because she will have gained so much weight!

Taking Mom Home (September 15)

Home to the 7 people in Jessica's family

Today is "Independence Day" in Guatemala.  On my way to Hermano Pedro, I got to see a small part of the 3 hour parade taking place in Antigua today.  Somehow, though, knowing I was going to meet Dick and Jessica's mother, to take mom back home, put a damper on my desire to celebrate.  And, when I arrived at Hermano Pedro to find all the kids lined up along the wall, I couldn't help but think that they have no reason to celebrate this day--they have virtually no independence.  Except for the choices we give them, they don't get to decide anything for themselves.  Many can't move by themselves, and some of those who can have the wheels on their chairs tied so they don't get "into trouble." 
I hadn't planned on taking out any "work" for the kids this morning, because I knew we'd be leaving shortly after Dick and momma arrived.  However, after about 5 minutes of continual requests for "trabajo" from the kids, I broke down and brought out the boxes.  Today I decided I really need to make a picture schedule, to help both me and the kids make sure everyone gets their time.  It is so easy to spend time with the kids who "demand" it, forgetting about those more withdrawn who probably need the stimulation even more.  Though it's hard to have 7 or 8 kids all calling for attention at once, I could help but enjoy the contrast from them sitting along the wall when I arrived.

I went with Mom up to malnutrition to see Jessica.  Since there is another Jessica who recently came in to the unit, it was decided that our Jessica would be called by her second name, Vanessa, to keep things from getting confused for the nurses.  I think it was hard for mom to come in and not even see her daughter's real name used to mark her crib.  I have a hard time understanding why it would be too confusing to have two Jessica's, but I just chalked this up to one more thing I don't understand about how people think here.  This one is not worth fighting, though mom brightened considerably when I told her that her little girl will always be "Jessica" to me!

Mom's time visiting with Jessica was all too short, and I had the distasteful task of telling her it was time to leave to take her home.  It was so hard for her to leave this precious little one behind, but she kept telling me that she knew if Jessica was going to live, she had to get help.  I thought back, almost 30 years, to when I had to leave my newborn daughter, Mikayla, in the hospital because she was premature.  I understood how hospitals work, had the ability to drive to see her each day, and still didn't think I'd survive this part of my life.  To be a single mom, with no experience other than living in a small "finca" (farm), leaving  your daughter with total strangers, took great courage on the part of this mother.  

I promised mom I would check on Jessica each day, and that I would look after her as if she were my own granddaughter.  When I said this, Mom burst into tears and just held my neck, thanking me for caring for her and her daughter.  In my limited Spanish, I tried to explain that we consider it a privilege to support them through this.  On the two and a half hour ride to their house, Mom would often say to me that Jessica now had new grandparents in Dick and me.  That's one of the best compliments I've gotten since I moved down here, and I know Dick feels honored, too, to be "grandpa" to this little one.

Two of Jessica's brothers visiting with us
Jessica's grandmother, who lives up the hill

Dick had prepared me for the very poor conditions in which this family lives, but it was still hard to walk into this one room where 7 people eats, sleep, and live.  When I asked Mom what happens when it rains, she matter-of- factly answered that they get wet.  I could see the holes in the tin roof, and imagine the water from the hillside flows right through the house when it rains hard--which it does almost every afternoon during this time of year.  The fact that Jessica was still alive, and as healthy as she is, seems even more of a miracle after visiting the conditions in which she was living. 

This is the stove in a corner of their house

The boys carrying the wood needed to
fire the stove

And this was just one of many families who were "squatting" in this somewhat defunct coffee plantation.  I asked Mother how she supported the family, and she said she sells bananas when she can, and that her mother-in-law sometimes gives her a little corn to make tortillas for the family.  (Since you can buy a dozen bananas for 10 quetzales (about $1.20) I can't possibly imagine how this family has survived.)  Mom was thrilled with the sack of groceries Dick brought with from the Bethel shop, and, at least for a few days, this family will eat well.  We need to find a sponsor to provide food for them on a regular basis, though, if Jessica is ever to be able to return home.

We really wanted to visit longer, and were just going up the hill to see Jessica's grandmother, when it began to rain and Dick told us we needed to leave NOW.  Living here has given me a new appreciation of the saying, "The Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise!"  That was the only way we were going to get back home in the rain.  And, God was willing, and the creek didn't rise (at least not before we got to the highway), though we went over a couple of rather interesting bridges on our way out.

This was a difficult day, but a good one.  Today was one of those days when I felt privileged to be a woman in ministry.  I could relate to Mom and the family in a different way than Dick could.  I could receive the friendly touches and hugs, and even kisses.  Mom asked if I would call her to let her know how Jessica was.   I now have a new friend in Jessica's mom, and feel like I'm now part of another Guatemalan family. 


Meet Jessica Vanessa (Tuesday, Sept. 14)

Got up early this morning and went with Dick to pick up Jessica and her mom at Casa de Fe.  Mom said Jessica had hardly slept at all last night, and she would cry if anyone but mom held her.  I did manage to get an almost smile out of her, though.

We got to the hospital about 7:30, and thankfully were #1 in line to see the pediatrician (due to the efforts of another Jessica, the head therapist at the hospital).  This meant we only waited until 9:50 for the doctor to come in.  He seemed to give her a pretty thorough exam, asked mom a lot of questions, and then sat down his desk and began writing for about 10 minutes.  I can't get used to how medical treatment is given here.  Not once did he speak to Jessica, and he only spoke to mom when he was asking a question or telling her to do something.  No explanation, no reassurance, no humanity.  I finally could stand it no longer and waited for him to pause writing for a moment to ask him if he was going to admit her to malnutrition.

He looked at me as if I had fewer than 3 functioning brain cells, and slowly explained that that was what he was doing.  Evidently, it didn't seem important to him to discuss this decision with mom, or anyone else. . .luckily this mom was prepared for Jessica to stay, but I had to wonder what would have happened if Dick hadn´t done such a thorough coaching job with mom before we saw the doctor.  But mom, who is a widow raising 6 kids, is willing to do whatever it takes to get her healthy, so Jessica was admitted this afternoon.

As I watched the doctor examine Jessica, I couldn´t help but think of the verse in Ps. 22, that says, "I can count all my bones."  I literally could count the vertebrae in her spine without even trying.  What shocked me more than anything, though, was when Dick reminded me that most of the kids we find who are starving have cerebral palsy or another health problem that makes it difficult for them to eat.  He reminded me that this is not the case in India, Africa, or many other places where healthy children are starving for lack of food.  And I know that even here, for every one Jessica we find, there are a dozen more dying in hammocks in back of their homes.  And I can't help but ask why.  It would be easy to blame God, but I also know that if everyone who claimed to be a Christian fed just one starving child, there would be no starving children.  I think of the jokes I've heard around many dinner tables, when parents tell their kids to eat because there are children starving in India.  I pray that God convicts every parent who has ever said this to their child (me included) to actually DO something about a starving child.

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'  (Matt. 25:41-45)

Sometimes I don't like to take Scripture literally. . .

Another Not so Normal Day (Sept. 13)



and Elmer making good use of  "crib time

The pictures of the kids working during their time in their cribs says more than anything I can. . .They are becoming increasingly patient waiting for me to get around to them with new "trabajo" (work).  Today Heidi came back from "school" (really arts and crafts) and while I was outside with the other kids, dumped all the activities looking for the beads she likes to do.  This is pretty good for a kids with autism who rarely initiates anything!  She looked absolutely ecstatic when she found what she was looking for!  The other kids were telling me I should scold her for getting into my stuff, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to tromp on her initiative!

Shortly after lunch, Dick called me from Mazatenango where he'd been on a Hope Haven wheelchair distribution.  He told me he was bringing in another six year old to the malnutrition ward, and would I be available to meet them when they arrived in Antigua.  We both were "flashing back" to about a year and a half ago, when we brought in Lisvi, another six year old, who is now with Jesus.  As much as I wanted to "hide" from getting close to another starving child, there was no way I could say no when I heard the pain in his voice as he talked about her and her family.

While waiting for her, I took a number of kids out of their cribs and let them crawl around, or race in their walkers.  Ervin made his way over to the wheelchair swing, and had a great time climbing on it.  It was pretty amazing to see this kid who can't walk on his own, standing up, swinging, and loving every minute of it!

Tonight I met Jessica Vanessa and her mom.  I am always shocked when I actually hold these little ones. . .there was literally nothing to this child.  Our guess is she is somewhere between 15 and 19 lbs. at age six.  And she's beautiful.  And she has more energy that anyone in her condition should have, and she has the sweetest smile.  Mom is a widow, who was brave enough to come to the city with a man she had never met before, who didn't speak her language because she wants help for her daughter, and could see how much he cared.  I can't imagine how scarey this decision and trip were to her, but Dick said she never hesitated once she found out there was a place to help her daughter grow.  And Dick, I know, never hesitated to make this trip into the middle of nowhere to bring them to Antigua. 

So tonight she is in Casa de Fe, a hostel for those receiving treatment at Hermano Pedro.  We will be meeting her there early tomorrow morning, to begin the process of seeing a doctor and hopefully having Jessica approved for admission to the malnutrition unit.  We're praying tonight that she stays healthy (no fever or diarreah) or they won't admit her.  And she needs to be here now.  And mom is ready for her to be here, though I know it will be very difficult for her to leave Jessica to return home to her other five children.  Somehow this seems like a lousy time for me to be going to the States next week. . .yet I know she will be well cared for at Hermano Pedro, and I imagine Dick might find his way up to hold her once in a while during the time I'm gone.

Another Weekend (Sept. 11 & 12)

Spent this weekend with my new friend Elizabeth and the folks at the house.  Saturday we did some shopping in the markets, and if Elizabeth weren't a confirmed vegetarian already, she would have become one after visiting the area in the municipal market where meat is sold.  Quite the experience, seeing your prospective dinner hanging covered with flies.  (Before any of you write concerned, Mari buys her meat from a private vendor who delivers it to the house. . .frozen!)  I have to remind myself, though, that this is the food most of the people in Guatemala eat, if they are lucky enough to have meat at all.  I guess, if I think about it, I've eaten some of this meat when families in villages have been kind enough to feed me.  It's just not something I try to think about too often!

We also spent part of the afternoon with Andrea, one of my housemates who has been unfortunate enough to catch whatever it was I had last week.  We watched movies and relaxed.  Then, in the late afternoon, we had "cooking class" using the recipes from the cooking school I went to a few weeks ago.  It was fun just to spend time with the other girls living in the house.  I love it, too, when they talk with me about how I don't seem like a "missionary."  I think it's a good thing. . .they tell me I'm just like a "normal" person.  I tell them I am a "normal" person, who is just sold out to Jesus.  It always amazes me how folks expect me to talk religion and doctrine, and seem really surprised when all I want to talk about is who Jesus is.  I figure if someone meets Jesus, He and the Holy Spirit can take care of all that other stuff without my help.

Today (Sunday) Liz and I went to church, and then went with Dick over to the clinic at Hermano Pedro to check on Maria, the young widow from Tecpan who needs hernia surgery.  Despite being told only one person could come with her, the better part of the family came.  They are all so worried about her having surgery.  So we did some arranging, and Maria and her sister will be returning Friday night and surgery will finally be done Saturday morning.  I am once again struck by the amount of effort it takes to get medical care if you are poor.  A wonderful friend in the US is covering the cost of the surgery, but Maria and her family have had to put quite a bit of effort into this, too.  Not to mention the early morning trips Dick and his boys have made to bring them to the clinic.  But, a week from now (well, maybe a few weeks from now), Maria will once again be able to carry her little ones without pain.

While Maria was seeing the doctor, I snuck away to spend some time with Carlitos.  I haven´t seen much of him lately, as the more vocal kids have been demanding quite a bit of attention.  He is such a cute little guy, who seems willing to entertain himself most of the time.  Today, I held him and talked with him for about an hour, and then put him to work for a bit.  He loved the little frogs I gave him to play with, even if he did need to check out their flavor, too.  What a great kid. . .

Am spending tonight home with the "family."  We've had quite a few people in and out of the house the past week, so tonight we will get reacquainted.  It still seems strange to be part of a large family once again, and I'm learning just how self-centered I've become living only with Joel the past few years.  God is stretching me, as I try to understand how the other people I'm living with think and feel.  I have to admit that the "world-view" of my "family" here is very different from how I usually think.  Once again, God is reminding me that just because I have an opinion about something, doesn't mean I'm right. . .and even when I might be right, He doesn't always ask me to share my thoughts.  I guess He had to take me to a country where I still struggle with the language to learn to listen more and talk less. . .

Back in the Swing of Things (Sept. 9 & 10)

FINALLY, my cold is over and I'm back with the kids.  Yesterday I started out slowly, or planned to, but the kids had other ideas.  It brought me to tears how excited they were I was back, and we spent quite a bit of time just visiting.  I got to hold Leonel for the first time since he and I had both been sick, and it was sweet.  After a while, though, the other kids got bored and I put him back in his wheelchair but sat him at the table working with the kids.  He loved watching, and I finally thought, what the heck.  He usually doesn't use his hands very deliberately, but thought we'd try.

Once again, I was amazed by one of the kids.  He "came alive" with work to do.  His hands are pretty weak, but he had great fun pulling clothespins off a container and putting them inside.  I was dumbstruck by the control he had over his hand.  I guess he hasn't done much with his hands before because there wasn't much to do with them.  I don't know who was more proud, Leonel, me, or the rest of the kids who were applauding for him. 

I'd planned on spending time with Carlos this morning, but he was in therapy when I arrived, and Leonel just about jumped out of his chair when I walked by.  We found a quiet corner by ourselves, and he worked and worked and worked.  I'd brought small plastic animals with me, and he LOVED them.  He would reach out in different directions to grasp them.  You can see how hard he has to concentrated to get his hands to open and close at will, but he manages.  He also managed to grasp, rotate and stack small cups today.  Now do I sound like a proud mama, or what?  Seriously, I am realizing just how much I've underestimated not only his desire to do meaningful work, but his ability, too.  I need to remind myself what someone wrote to me a while back--that ALL of the kids are more than tears and smiles. 

A friend from the city was coming for the weekend, and I was going to meet her in Central Park.  After putting Leonel through his paces this morning, I figured we both needed a treat, so I signed him out and took him walking with me.  Since it was about lunch time, I wanted to get him something to eat, but he doesn´t do too well eating chicken from Camperos.  So we went to a "real" restaurant, and I ordered the fruit plate to share with him, and he had a vanilla shake.  Man, did that kid love smashed fruit!  Especially papaya (sorry, Dick, but it's true).  We had a great time just visiting. Though he doesn't speak in words, Leonel's eyes, face and smile communicate volumes.  This was one of the most fun lunches I've had here in Guatemala.  And for dessert, we had the best flan I've ever eaten.

Our timing was perfect, as we finished lunch just as Elizabeth's shuttle arrived from the city.  The poor girl had waited over an hour for the shuttle to be full enough to leave Guate City, but appeared no worse for wear. 

Elmer showing off on his horse
Henry doing his "wild man" impersonation
We went straight to Hermano Pedro, and she went straight to work with the kids, though she had never met them before, and hadn't had any lunch yet.  They fell in love with her as soon as they saw her sweet spirit and her genuine interest in them.  It was really cute the way Elmer and Henry wanted to "show off" for her, refusing to sit in their wheelchairs, and wanting to sit independently on the stairs while they worked with her.  They had a great time doing puzzles with her, and even let Ervin join in a little. 

By about three o'clock I figured I'd starved the poor girl enough, and we reluctantly packed up and headed out to get her something to eat.  As much as I love working directly with the kids, I think I enjoy it just as much when I see someone like Elizabeth open her heart to them so easily.  I think I'm sometimes so much the "teacher" that it's good for them to have someone just come and play!  Thanks, Elizabeth, for jumping right in and not holding back your love from the kids one bit!  What a great afternoon!

Downpours and Landslides (Sept. 3 to Sept 6)

Dick wrote:

This morning [Friday] we headed for home. I would like to say that it was a leisurely drive but it rained all of the way home. This was no ordinary rain but a downpour. I was glad that the wiper blade that broke yesterday managed to stay together and that the allen wrench that I used as a splint worked out so well but as hard as it was raining it was still difficult to see all of the hundreds of pot holes that were in the road.

When we finally reached Esquentla we discovered that the road to Antigua was closed. In the past few weeks several cars have been washed over the cliff due to the heavy rains and it sounded like that may have been the case again today.
The rout that we took home is usually a much better road but today it even had a lot of mud slides that were threading it's closer.~~Dick

As much as I love to give Dick a hard time about his Guatemalan driving habits, I was sure glad he knew what he was doing on this drive.  Think I only let out one "whoop" on this trip, and that wasn't due to his driving, but to the bus coming at us in our lane.  Is traveling on the highway in Guatemala dangerous?  Yes.  But, if I were to stay home and "safe" out of fear, what kind of a life would that be?  I stand on the fact that there is no safer place to be than in the center of the will of God.

We got back home in time to avoid the worst of the landslides and flooding.  Both Antigua and Chimaltenango (where Dick lives) are faring pretty well, but the highways are still a mess.  The road to Guatemala City only reopened yesterday [Sunday] afternoon, and in many areas is only one lane.  There have been many people killed in landslides once again, though no accurate numbers are yet available.  This bus and its passengers were trapped on the road outside Chimaltenango.  A subsequent mudslide buried  many of the relief workers.  This is all too common here.  Please pray for the survivors, and the families of those who died trying to rescue others. 

Jojo (March 1998 to September 2, 2010)

On August , 30, 2010 I wrote that both Jojo and Leonel were seriously ill. Jojo had begun receiving intensive treatment after Dick noticed that  he was stuggling to breathe even more than usual.  I had shared that Jojo was suffering so much that I could not bring myself to pray for healing, but only "Come, Lord Jesus."  And Jesus came, early in the morning of September 2, to take Jojo with him to heaven.

This whole experience is bittersweet, as I know now that Jojo is free to breathe.  I laugh inside when I picture him running and playing with Jesus.  Somehow, it seems incongruous to picture his enlarged head supported by his tiny body, his tiny legs flying as he runs in heaven.  But this seems to be the picture God has given me in my head as I think of him.  I think the heavens much be echoing with his infectious "Hola!" and contagious laugh.

As Dick wrote in his journal:

Friends have been telling me that he will now have a new body and will no longer suffer. I am happy when I think about the no suffering thing but have a hard time picturing him looking any different than he did when he was here with us. Those of us who were fortunate enough to really get to know and love him know that he was already one of the most perfect little boys that God has ever created.~Dick

I have received emails from people from all over the US who have been touched by this dear one's life.  It reminds me again that God creates each of us for a plan and a purpose.  Jojo fulfilled his, and I'm sure got to hear Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."  I'm grateful God shared him with us.  As Cathy, who visited here just a few weeks ago, wrote to me:
God used him mightily when our first team visited Hermano Pedro in June of 2009. His laughter and smile calmed nerves and removed any fear from some of our [team members]. When I informed them almost every one of them shared a Jojo story, which did a lot to console us. They are heart sick from the news, but all know that Jojo is in a far better place where he is not only being cared for for eternity, but is in the presence of the very one who made him so beautiful here on earth.

He is beautiful!  And he is missed.  And I am a better person because I knew him.

(If you've ever struggled to understand God's plan and purpose for those who are less than perfect {all of us} you might want to take a minute to read this devotion from Our Daily Bread: Learning from Erin.)

Dick takes me the nicest places (August 31-Sept 2)

It’s been sort of a standing sarcasm between Dick and me, because of many of the roads we’ve traveled here, that he takes me the nicest places. This trip has caused me to revise my statement slightly. He DOES take me the nicest places. . .even though getting there sometimes stinks. While the roads we've been on the last few days haven't been the most dangerous we've ever traveled, they sure have been the most interesting.  From drop-off where the road has been washed out by storms (Melissa there was only one bridge washed out!) to driving through heards of cows, to trying to avoid potholes where there is no avoiding them (this makes Dodge Street in Omaha after the winter look like a superhighway in good condition), to traveling through mud holes whose depth you only discover when you are in the middle of them, the travel the past few days has definitely been an adventure.  I have learned that Dick does not exaggerate about road conditions as much as I thought he did.  Sorry for doubting your integrity, my friend! I gotten to go camp recruiting with him in the coastal area. I have met some of the most amazing people. While I can’t possible share all the contacts we’ve made, I will give you “highlights.”

Tuesday, we began in the Escuintla area, stopping first at the home of Carlos. This man is getting around quite well, although he now only has one usable crutch. Dick promised him a new pair at camp. Carlos also agreed to help by getting camp invitations to two of the people who live in his area. As we were leaving, Carlos’ 23 day old grandson woke up, and his wife hurried to the car to hand him to me to hold for a few minutes before leaving. This shows how much these folks trust Bethel and Dick, that they would hand a brand new baby to a gringa they’ve never met before, who was sitting in a truck ready to leave—all this in an area where rumors still circulate about North Americans kidnapping children. I felt greatly honored.

Our next stop was at Maria Magdalena’s. While she wasn’t at home because she had gone to therapy, her grandfather warmly welcomed us. He took great pride in showing us the pictures of them from every year she had attended camp. These were kept with other important papers in a special place and handled almost with reverence. The tenderness of this moment almost reduced me to tears. I saw first hand how right Dick has been when he talks about how much camp and these personal visits mean to the people. We left with a large sack of “limones” (limes). Sure hope Dick remembers to take the out from behind the seat of the truck when he gets home.

We also stopped to visit Rony’s family who lives in the area. While Rony is becoming too weak to really enjoy camp, and his parents can’t figure out a way to get him there anyway, Bethel wanted him to know that he was wanted. Also, Dick and I had talked with the kids a few weeks ago about some type of “field trip” as a reward for good grades. At that time both Orlindo and Estrellita had “reds” (bad grades) and I was absolutely thrilled to see that this grading period all of the children had passing grades. Estrellita couldn’t wait to show me her work this time, though she had hidden it last visit. We had had a long talk about school then, and I was overjoyed to see the improvement.

When we visit, I really try to key in on the girls in this family. This is one family where I can really see that, though they love all their kids, the boys come first. Whenever there is a problem with schooling, the family looks at taking the girls out of school. I was pretty outspoken with the parents about this on this visit, and was afraid I might have overstepped my bounds with them. Dick assured me though, that the girls need to be stood up for, and this family knows me and accepts me well enough that they are not offended by my opinion. I have loved these girls from the day I met them in 2008—and first heard their dreams for the future. I pray they hold on to these dreams in a land where women, especially among the poor, have a hard time following dreams.

After agreeing that Dick and I would return as soon as possible to take the kids for an outing to a hotel with a swimming pool, we were on our way. I’m excited about this, because, in the past, the boys have been able to have over-nights with Dick, but the girls have been left out. They are so excited to come spend a night with me. . .I hope we will sleep as well as visit, but, what the heck. They’ve never experienced anything like this, so maybe it’s a good thing if we stay up all night.

The next few days become a blur, so I think I'll just introduce you to a few of the people we visited through pictures:

Irma is a single mom and grandma, who Bethel built a house for a few years ago.

Jason is a little guy who used to live at Hermano Pedro and now is home with his family.  He loves Dick (leaping out of his wheelchair to "attack" him with hugs) and you can see the feeling is mutual.  We're looking for a teacher to tutor him at home, since he is no longer allowed in school.

Sergio, who attends private school (thanks to a sponsor), but has not been feeling well enough to go a over a week.

Lillian is a young lady who is non-verbal, but who has eyes which speak volumes. 

Leslie, who at 22 is in the 4th grade, receiving teaching in her home.  She could not wait to share her work with us.

Owen, who, on his way to his business school graduation was run off the road on his motor cycle.  While he has a electric chair to enable him to get around town, he seems to prefer using his walker.  A bright young man. While I don't have a picture of him, I also met Frolian, a young man with spina bifida, who was lying in bed reading his well-worn Bible when we came in.  He would has graduated and would like to work in marketing.  Unfortunately, both these men live in remote areas, where the likelihood of them finding meaningful work is slim. 

I learned a lot on this trip, realizing first hand how important not only camp is, but the visits Dick and Chris and Donna make yearly to invite people to camp personally.  I focus so much on children, that it was very good for me to meet Owen and Froilan, learning how much camp means to these men.  One of the first things Owen asked us was for the phone number of a friend he'd made in camp the year before.  Knowing how isolated the homes are where many of these campers live, the friendships made a camp are even more vital.

I also learned that, when someone tries to "help" me climbing a steep hill, I tend to lose my balance even more (it was a nice thought, Dick), that my Spanish is becoming more "passable" daily (I love it when Dick orders something in a restaurant, and the server looks puzzled, and I repeat the same thing, and they "get it"), that there is such a thing a sitting too much, and finally, when one is walking in areas of mud, it's a good idea to make sure your shoes are tied tightly.  It's been quite the trip.

Yes, Dick takes me to the nicest places, even if the way there is a bit of a challenge.