Alex Smiled, November 24

After spending time working with many of the kids today, I went to stand by Alex's crib.  This dear little one has spent most of his life struggling just to maintain enough weight to keep him alive.  And, the last few weeks it seems that he has been losing the battle.  Each day when I leave, I say good-bye to him, not sure he will still be here when I return the next day.

It has been days since he has responded or shown any awareness that we were with him.  Today, as I stood aching for him, I began to talk with him about how much Jesus loved him, and how precious he was to Him.  I could hardly believe my eyes as he broke into the biggest smile I have seen from him in a long time.  As I continued to talk with him about Jesus and how He is always with him, he continued to respond, more and more readily.  He even began responding when I would say his name.  This may not seem like much, but it was more than enough to break me into tears as I stood by his bed and prayed over him. 

Is he getting better?  I don't know.  I do know Dick and I have been expecting him to go to the Father for a few weeks now, and he's hanging in there.  It's hard to know how to pray in these situations.  All I can say as I stand by him is, "Come, Lord Jesus."  I believe He came to us today.  I believe Alex felt His presence as much as I did.  And I pray Alex was blessed by this holy ground experience as much as I was.

You can't see them in this picture, but
Jessica now has dimples!
Since I hadn't seen Jessica in a couple of days, I decided to go up to malnutrition for a few minutes.  A few minutes turned into about 90, but it was a sweet time up there as well.  Jessica is so much stronger, and is more and more able to control her head.  It makes my heart leap when I walk over to her bed and she begins to bounce up and down with excitement.  I continue to be amazed by this marvelous little girl.

I also spent some time holding one of our newborns.  She is colicy and cries and cries.  I know the nurses don't want the babies to expect to be held all the time, but I also know if this little one was at home, she would probably spend a good part of her day wrapped to her mother's back.  So today we rocked and rocked and she finally fell asleep.  After four kids, and two grandkids, there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than rocking a little one to sleep!

There are a couple of little ones up in malnutrition who especially need your prayers.  One little girl who appears to be about 2 came in recently and we have yet to see her smile.  Today, as I walked by her crib, she reached out to me and cried.  I couldn't help but rock her for a while, as she clung tightly to two stuffed animals.

Jordan is also new to the ward.  I don't know how old he is, but he is so fragile and tiny.  He desperately needs to gain some weight and strength. Please pray for him and all our little ones and their families.  I often think of how hard it is for these parents to leave their children with strangers, so far from their homes.  I can't help but admire their courage!

Visit to "Campamento" and Orphanage, Nov. 23

Today I went to visit the Hope Haven-Bethel ministries camp in Chimaltenango with Walmer and his family.  Walmer was born in Guatemala, and now lives in the U.S. but has a passion to help his people.  His family is especially committed to the children at Hermano Pedro. We were accompanied by Romie, a man from Holland who works for the Red Cross and is in Guatemala for only a few days.

This week is children's camp, last week the youth were at camp, and next week the adults will come.  Camp is held in a Bible Institute in Chimal, and people with disabilities and their care-takers come from literally all over the country to participate in this special time of fellowship.

Camp activities range from crafts, to wheelchair races, to zoo trips to chapel.  For one week, the campers live together in community and it is powerful to watch the bonds that are made.  A key goal is to help the campers grow in their relationship with God as well as with each other.  It really is amazing to watch.

Craft time in the gym

And the race is on!

When we arrived we were immediately greeted by Henry from Hermano Pedro.  Dick had just put him into his walker, and he was running around like a maniac and having the time of his life!  It was neat to walk in and hear a number of kids call, "Paty."  I couldn't help but contrast this with my first visit to camp about 4 years ago, when I knew no one.  Now I knew many of the kids not only from Hermano Pedro, but also from villages I have been blessed to visit.  And I finally got to meet Erica, a young lady with a severe skin disease. I've heard about her for years from Dick, and it was so neat to be able to visit with her.  She has a voracious apetite for learning, and would love to be able to speak English.


Christopher and his mom

As I was wandering around talking with campers and their care-givers and volunteers, I was suddenly "attacked" from behind.  It was Moises from Hermano Pedro, who was beaming ear to ear.  At the orphanage he often shies away from talking to me, and never wants his picture taken.  Today he couldn't be more outgoing, and even posed for a snapshot!  His hug made my day.

Since there were almost more volunteers than campers, we decided to head back to Hermano Pedro and spend some time with the kids who could not go to camp.  Jane and Helene, two North American volunteers at camp, Dick, Carlin, Brian and I all piled into the the Land Cruiser (yes, Dick finally has his own car back) and headed for Antigua.  Though the kids were all in bed when we got there, each of them got a special serving of love and attention this afternoon.  All the volunteers joined in working with the kids on activities and in all it was a pretty productive afternoon.

The Culture That Crawls

This is from Dick's journal which he posted while I was in the States.  It was just too good not to share it with you all, especially those of you who are interested in Jessica.  If you can take the time, please watch the videos. . .they are great insights into what we do, and, for those of you who have never met Dick Rutgers, they will introduce you to a great man of God who I am privileged to call my friend. (Dick was hesitant to post these on his own website, but he has much to say that is worth listening to!)

I have done absolutely no journaling this week but I had good intension on doing so today, however now that my Mack is in the shop having the camera replaced I have found a good excuse not to journal this week. Granted I do have this Windows computer as a back up but it and I do not get along all that well. It took me nearly 20 minutes figuring out how to turn it on and then another 20 to shut of all off the warning messages.

Knowing that many of you are interested in Jessica, the starving little girl that we found at a wheelchair distribution less than 2 months ago, I have decided to post 2 videos that KOMU News in Columbus Missouri did about her. I heisted to post them at first because my ugly face is shown far to many times but I have finally decided to do it any way. I am thankful to God that he allowed me to take part in what transpired in getting Jessica and her family the help that they needed but without the help of the many people and organizations none of this could have happened. Had it not been for the people form PET International and Hope Haven International we would likely never have met Jessica or her mother and it is doubtful that she would be alive today. I also want to thank the doctors and staff at Hermano Pedro for accepting Jessica into the malnutrition ward. Two days after writing about her in my journal enough people wrote in offering to financially help this family and we not only had enough money to supply Jessica's family with food on a monthly bases but Bethel Ministries has received enough money that by the time Jessica returns home from her 3 or 4 month stay at the malnutrition ward of Hermano Pedro she will be moving into a brand new house that has a cement floor (the only hose in the entire village that has a floor), bunk beds, a cook stove and a water filter. I also want to thank my good friend Pat Duff for being at Hermano Pedro Orphanage to hold and love on Jessica and the other kids on the days that I am on the road and can not be there. The films below shows way to much of my ugly mug so please remember that it took a lot of beautiful people to make all of this happen and most of all remember that it had to be nothing less than a Godincidence that made all of this came together. "TO GOD BE THE GLORY!"

Dick Rutgers:

The Culture that Crawls, Part One

The Culture that Crawls, Part Two--Jessica's Story

Thank you
Yours in Christ: Dick

Many thanks to Sarah Hill and Alex Rozier of KOMU in Columbia, Missouri, for the accurate and sensitive portrayal of what goes on down here every day.

Back at Hermano Pedro, November 19, 2010

Each time I leave, even for a few days, seems like I've been gone forever.  One thing I noticed different about this return, however, was that it seemed that the kids expected me to come back this time and were anticipating my arrival.  That's very different from the first few times I was gone for a few days, where some of the kids seemed almost angry that I'd been gone, and others were just indifferent to my return.  Guess they are figuring out that I'm here for the long haul.

My housemate Jenny came along to Hermano Pedro today, and we took Henry and Julio out to lunch.  Both these kids are very intelligent, and we could carry on great conversations with them.  Henry even speaks quiet a bit of English due to Dick's influence.  Julio is new to the orphanage, and I was looking forward to seeing how he would do out in the community.

If I had any doubts, they were futile.  As soon as I asked him if he wanted to go to Pollo Campero, he started bouncing around, repeating "pollo."  He laughed and giggled all the way to the restaurant.  Once inside, he knew exactly what he wanted to eat.  When the food came it was a real treat to watch this young man who is usually fed pureed food eat his meal with a fork, needing only a little help.  He was so excited to have silverware that he even insisted on eating his french fries with his fork.

You may wonder why this seems such a big deal to me.  It's not because Julio is able to do this.  I thought that he would.  I am excited about him having a chance to eat on his own because he seldom has the opportunity to do so.  I was more excited that I was able to be a part of making this happen.  And I enjoyed even more his pride in doing this.  For a child who has few opportunities to exercise his independence, I was so pleased he still wanted to do things on his own.  This gives me much hope for what we will be able to do together this "summer" since he is staying at the orphanage over vacation.

When we returned, the boys wanted to play outside in front of the building for a while.  It was fun watching them dart in and out among the people standing around.  It was more fun to watch the people as they looked somewhat amazed that these two kids in wheelchairs were actually playing, almost like "normal" kids. One of the men who caught my attention was the father of a young man in a wheelchair.  He seemed surprised that we were allowing the boys such freedom.  As I spoke with him, I looked down and saw the wheelchair his son, Santos, was sitting in.  The chair was old, had only one ripped arm rest, no foot rests, and was about two sizes too large for the boy.

Dick and Santos in his old chair
Hoping they could attend a Bethel distribution, I asked where they lived.  In Patzun, Peten, many hours from Antigua.  I didn't know when a distribution would be in their area, but knew it would not be soon.  I called Dick to see what he thought and discovered he was inside Hermano Pedro.  He came out, took one look at the boy and his chair, and was on the phone to Hope Haven Ministries to see if they could bring a chair for this boy today.  Gustavo, one of the men working at the Hope Haven factory, who himself is in a wheelchair, was delighted to do so.  Within an hour the young man had a new chair, and looked as proud of his new "set of wheels" as any teen in the States is of their new car.

Trying the chair on for size

Santos with his "new wheels"
 What is amazing to me about this is the number of people and ministries involved which made this happen.  If Henry and Julio had not wanted to play, I never would have spoken to the man, or paid any attention to his son's chair.  If Dick had not been there, the call would not have been made.  If Hope Haven had not generously given a chair without any questions, the boy would have had to wait many months for a chair.  But we have a God who has perfect timing and all these things came together for His glory.  It was a good day!
(By the way, the chair Gustavo brought without ever seeing this young man fit him perfectly!  Another Godincident!)

Quick Trip to the States (Nov. 4-17)

Believe it or not, this beautiful sunset was in Chicago!
After much consternation, I decided I would attend my 40th high school reunion in Chicago, on Nov. 6.  It worked out great that I could also stop in Omaha and have a couple of doctors appointments that I was not able to make when I was in town in September.  So, once again, I was packing my bags and heading to the airport.

The trip to the States was unusually pleasant, as I had a long lay-over in Dallas, and was able to spend a wonderful afternoon with my friend Michelle who I had worked with at the church.  She and her husband Curt moved there this year, and luckily, they live only a short distance from the airport.  She was kind enough to pick me up, take me to their house, feed me lunch, and give me one of the largest cups of latte I've ever had.  It was great catching up, and Curt even managed to slip away from work for a few minutes to come and say hello.  Michelle and Curt help me realize the truth of the line from an old song by Michael W. Smith: "A friend's a friend forever if the Lord's the Lord of him. . ."  Thank you, Lord, for these good friends.

I was able to stay with my brother in Chicago for the reunion, and Jim was kind enough to chauffeur me wherever I wanted to go.  I had planned on renting a car, but when I was trying to reserve it on-line, realized I couldn't, as my driver's license had been stolen when Dick, the boys and I had been robbed.  It was good to be able to visit with him, though, not only at home, but in the car as well.  He even drove me out to see my sister Cathy and her granddaughter Ailayna.  A quick but welcome family time.

Forty "girls" from our class (Mother Theodore Guerin, and all girls school back then!) were there.  And while we all were more "mature" looking, inside we were still the same as we had been forty years earlier.  It was fun to reconnect, especially with three of the girls I'd gone to elementary as well as high school with. 

Heading to Omaha, I again stayed with my good friend, Gail. Each time I travel to Omaha, she opens her home to me, and I have to admit it's more than comfortable.  We didn't have as much time to visit as in the past (she returned froma trip to Tunisia only the night before I arrived) but what time we had together was blessed.  And, the street where she lives still had some trees that were changing color, so I got to experience a bit of "fall" in the bargain.

Zach, age 4

Nathan, 1yr.

Of course, one of my first stops is always to see Zach and Nate, and this time was no different.  I had dinner with them the first night in town, and watched a lot of Jurassic Park and Ice Age during the week I was there.  One night when I was babysitting the boys so Jeremy and Lindy could do some Christmas shopping, Zach called fromt he dining room, "Grandma, come quick.  You've got to see this!"  It had started snowing and there was a least an inch and a half of snow on the picnic table.  I just responded, "Oh, no, snow!"  (I'd wanted to experience fall in Nebraska, but definitely not winter!)  He looks at me, as only a four year old can and replied, "Isn't it beautiful!"  And it was.  I'm grateful to once again be able to see things through the eyes of a child with my grandsons.

Each time I am with the boys, I am aware of how much I am missing by living far away.  I also spend much time thinking about how much they have and how well they are loved.  They have a comfortable house, their own rooms, more toys than any child needs, plenty of food and warm clothes, and wonderful parents who provide all the attention and love they need.  And then I remember my kids in the orphanage, who are cared for physically quite well, but are starving to be known and loved as individuals.  And I know why I am heading back.

I was able to have an open house thanks to the hospitality of Westside Church and got to reconnect with many friends and share what God is doing down here.  The only snag was that the slide presentation I'd put together wouldn't play!  This link is to the pictures I promised to post for those who were interested.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed my time with friends and family, this trip made me realize more than ever, that home is now in Guatemala.  And it is good.

Dinner and Shopping with the “San Diego Nurses”, November 3, 2010

This afternoon the four nurses who had been living with us for a week wanted to do some shopping, so we took them to San Felipe to the market. Though only a few minutes from Antigua, the prices here are much more reasonable than in the tourist market in town. The girls had fun trying “typical” candies and buying some souvenirs, and they made a killing buying skirts.

Unfortunately, when we went to leave, the car would not start! We tinkered and tinkered with it, and finally Manolo, one of Leo’s sons who is a mechanic came to our rescue. His phone diagnosis proved to be correct, only poor battery connections, but it took him more than a few minutes to get them rectified.

Never ones to waste time, we took this opportunity to introduce the girls to street food. They enjoyed relenitos (mashed planatain, filled with black beans and chocolate, and then fried and coated with sugar—they taste better than they sound) and tortillas with queso (cheese). The lady making the food noticed the interest of the nurses in what she was doing, and soon began giving “cooking lessons” right there on the street!

When Manolo got the car started, we headed home to change clothes to go to dinner. The girls had invited the family, Jenny and me to have supper with them at an Indian restaurant in Antigua. Yes, more food. Yes, we do have Indian food in Guatemala, as well as Italian and Chinese (Guatemalan favorites) and even Thai cuisine.

We had a great time visiting, and listening to Leo story-tell and teach Guatemalan culture, as well as a generous helping of faith sharing. I’ve never met a man who is more of a natural teacher and entertainer at the same time! Each dinner is anticipated, waiting to hear what Leo will come up with that night.

These four ladies were only in Guatemala a short time, but I hope they will return.  They really wanted to be involved with the people here.  After discovering that there was not much work for them at the clinic where they were assigned to volunteer, they decided to come with me to Hermano Pedro one afternoon.  They then changed their volunteer site to the orphanage where they thought they could make more of a difference.  The way the loved on the kids, I know they did.

Graduation at Hermano Pedro, November 3, 2010

The kids had been looking forward to this for weeks—the day they would be promoted to the next grade! Unlike in the US, this calls for a special ceremony and celebration, and each of the four students in the Bethel classroom, as well as three who attend school in the community, could not have been more excited. Nineth, the teacher, and Chris and Donna Mooney who head Bethel, had been gracious enough to invite me to the celebration.

Each child was acknowledged and affirmed by the adult presenting them with their certificate or grade card. I don’t know who was “beaming” more, the kids, or the adults doing the presenting. I was privileged to present Veronica with hers, and it was a pretty humbling experience, since I really have not done much for the classroom.

Donna Mooney and Sonya
Chris Mooney and Henry
Next we were treated to a “dance” presented by the kids. You may be wondering how kids in wheelchairs can dance. Let me tell you, they did an amazing job, and I couldn’t help but tear up at their pride in their presentation.

Each invited adult was thanked for their support of the school program, and we were presented with photos of the entire class. Believe me, a pop-cycle stick frame has never been so precious, especially knowing the struggle the kids went through to make it. Mine proudly hangs on my bedroom wall.

One of the most tender moments of the day was when Fidel presented Chris and Donna with a picture he’d drawn for them. This may not seem like a lot coming from a twenty-something year old, until you realize that Fidel can only write, draw and operate his computer by using his foot. This simple drawing was a work of love as well as a beautiful present.

As with all Guatemalan celebrations, graduation would not be complete without food—and we had plenty. Again I teared up as I watched each adult tenderly helping the children eat their treats. These staff members are amazingly dedicated to the welfare of the kids, and know each of them and their stories. These folks make it a joy to go to the orphanage each day.

This may have been the first time I was able to participate in this ceremony, but I surely hope it will not be the last! Thanks, Nineth, Chris, Donna, Fidel, Sonya, Veronica, Moises, Byron, Henry and Maynor for including me. I love each of you!

All Saints Day (Oct. 31 to Nov. 2)

All Saints Day, Nov. 1, is a holiday in Guatemala that I can compare only to Thanksgiving in the US. Much of the celebration centers around food and family. The entire family seemed to be involved somehow in the preparation of “fiambre,” a salad of meat and vegetables, which is prepared only once a year and eaten on Nov. 1 & 2. Preparation begins almost a week ahead of time, when numerous trips are made to the “mercado” (market) to buy the multitude of vegetables used in this dish.

Days before the celebration, the preparation begins, with many family members coming over to help cut up the vegetables. The night before, Halloween, when many in the US are out collecting candy, the entire Hernandez family comes together for the final preparation. Cooking the meats and some of the vegetables, cooling them, cutting them, preparing the dressing for the salad takes up most of Halloween afternoon and evening.

There are a few trick-or-treaters here in Antigua, but mostly junior high age kids. Young adults here studying Spanish often dress up for this American holiday, and celebrate mostly in the bars in town. Interesting to observe, but too rowdy for my taste!

The morning of Nov. 1 begins with most of the family remembering those who have died. The process begins with another trip to the mercado, to buy wreaths and flowers, with which to decorate the graves.

We then walked to the local cemetery, and I experienced a type of family reunion. Extended family, who may not have seen each other in quite some time, are excited to see each other at their family’s graves. Each group brings flowers, and the family works together in decorating the headstones and grave markers. Those who can afford to are buried in mausoleums, due to the high water table in the country. Some are interred in what look like “coffin condos,” boxes built on top of each other, with the coffins inserted in each opening. Finally, the poor are buried in shallow graves, heaped with dirt to cover their coffins. Unlike in Mexico, food is not brought to the cemetery for the dead to “eat” as their spirits return to earth.

This process took most of the morning, and we arrived home just in time to prepare for the family dinner. The entire family as well as guests were each served a plate of fiambre, and for some this proved a challenge. There are some unusual vegetables and meats in this dish, but it proved to be quite tasty. After all the work the family had gone to over the previous week to prepare this, I think I would have choked it down even if it tasted horrible.

When I thought I could not eat another bite, the “postres” (desserts) were brought out. Molletes, fried bread filled with cheese, candied pumpkin, and “manzanias” (small berries similar to cherries, with multiple seeds) were the treat of the day. While the pumpkin looked somewhat forbidding, it proved to be rich and tasty. And the molletes are always my favorite!

After lunch, the kids in the family headed out to fly kites. This is a tradition carried over from the Mayans, who, believing spirits returned to earth on these days, used the rumpling sound of the kites blowing in the wind to scare away the “evil” spirits, while permitting the “good spirits” to enter into their communities. Now, though, it seems much more a time for parents to take a break and spend some time with the kids. And, as with kids everywhere, they are enchanted by the kites flying as high and fast as possible. A good way to work off dinner. . .

Since our last experience flying kites left us somewhat poorer, Dick and I decided to spend the afternoon with the kids at Hermano Pedro. We had a blast just holding, talking to, and playing with the kids. Though it was a holiday, they kids began demanding “trabajo” (work) the minute I appeared, and they were more than content to spend their holiday afternoon “working” with their activities.

Reflecting on the day, the theme of this celebration is community—whether family, extended family, friends, or the community at large. These rituals bind the Guatemalans in a common celebration of their heritage.