Days of Joy (Jan. 25-26) Part 2

Today (Wednesday) I encountered joy once again in a most unlikely place.

Dick and I joined Joel Van Dyke  (who works with grassroots leadership development in the faith community in Guatemala City) to take a wheelchair to a little boy living in the garbage dump in Guatemala City.  That's right, not near the dump but IN it.  This would be my first visit to this area of the city, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I wasn't afraid, except maybe afraid that once again my heart would break at the suffering I would see.

As we walked down the road into the area where the people lived, kids and adults came out to greet Joel as an old friend.  Maybe it was only in this sector of the dump, but he seemed to know the names and stories of almost everyone we met.  In a strange way, it felt like walking with Jesus through the streets of a small town in Galilee.  I could surely see the Jesus in Joel shining through as he visited with his friends here.

We soon were at Ector's house, and were warmly greeted by his mom.  When she saw we had brought a new wheelchair for her little boy, I thought her face would break she was smiling so hard.  She quickly ran to get Ector from his grandmother's house (just two doors down) where he had been visiting.

Ector came in his old, crumbly wheelchair, so excited he almost fell out of the chair (the seatbelt had long ago been broken).  When asked if he'd like a new chair, he just about stood up in his chair!  He was one exultant ten year old! 

As Dick took his measurements to properly fit the chair, you could see not only Ector, but all his family and the neighbors who had gathered, began to relax in the presence of the strange gringos. 

And then I recognized it.  In the midst of one of the most poverty stricken and crime ridden areas of Central America, I encountered great joy and a solid sense of community.  Everyone was excited about the new chair and came to watch as Dick did the seating.  The little girl caring for Ector's little brother, was really his aunt, Carmen.  When it was time for Juan David and Maria Katelina to go to school, an elderly lady came up to get them, seeing that mom was "entertaining" the strangers and could not take them herself.  Rosie, another neighbor, went to the "tienda" to get drinks for the visitors.  And all of this happened so naturally.  And I realized that the sense of community, the caring of each other (sharing each other's burdens, if you will) was the source of the joy I was observing.

In what has become common place to me now, kids crowded around Dick as he worked on the chair.  He took great pains to encourage them not only to watch, but to help him tighten bolts and hold wrenches.  Surely he could have done this much more easily and efficiently by himself, but he delighted in their involvement with him.  Again, I felt I saw Jesus, with the little children coming to him.  Except here, in the dump, the adults were wise enough not to try to send them away.  They were welcomed.  And there was joy in the welcome.

We needed to take a few pictures to document the giving of the chair, and Mom quickly gave us permission to do so.  After I had taken some of Ector in his chair, other children also wanted their pictures taken.  They beamed with happiness seeing their faces in the pictures I showed them.  Carmen, then, wanted to take pictures herself, and took my camera around taking pictures of anything and everything she could find.  She proudly came and showed my all that she had taken--beaming with joy. (Thank you, Dick, for teaching me to do this with the kids.)  Again, joy in the present moment.

When the chair was ready, Ector could hardly wait to get into it.  The other kids could hardly wait to push him around.  Mom couldn't thank us enough.  There was rejoicing, here, in the dump, in Guatemala City.

As we talked with Mom, and interacted with Ector, we could see just how much this mom loved and cared for her son.  She had made sure he receives physical therapy once a week from Fundabien, a foundation which works with the disabled here in Guatemala.  She talked with me about how Ector liked to color, and how she was teaching him to hold crayons.  She explained how she had taught him, though he can only speak a few words, to answer yes and no questions using his index finger.  She seems to see not his disability but his potential, and rejoices in each new thing he learns.  She talked with enthusiasm over her gratitude at having her own home (a small cement block stall which appeard to be open to the dirt hill in the back).

Is there still need here? A tremendous amount.  But today I witnessed first-hand the truth that joy is not found in our circumstances, but in our attitude.  And the joyful attitude of the people I met today humbled me once again.  If joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God, I was definitely in His presence with my brothers and sisters in the dump today.

(One need we uncovered today was that Ector, though highly intelligent and eager to learn is not allowed to attend school with his brother and sister because of his disability.  We would love to be able to find a tutor to work with him in his home, but first we need a sponsor.  If you or your small group would be interested in sponsoring him ($35/mo or $420/yr) please email me and I'll help you arrange this.)

Days of Joy (Jan. 25-26) Part 1

If this quote from Pierre Tielhard de Chardin is true (and I think it may be) than I have been in the presence of God a number of times in the past 48 hours.

The Nurses and the Kids
Yesterday, (Tuesday) after going to the dentist (not an all together joyful experience), Dick and I decided to stop by Hermano Pedro to see the kids.  He'd also agreed to show a group of visiting college students around the orphanage.  It was at the end of the tour that we were surprised by joy.

We had been in the malnutrition area, and were walking down the ramp to the children's area, when we heard hooting and whooping and laughing as we had never heard it before in the orphanage.  We couldn't imagine what was going on.  As we walked a little farther down, we saw all of the nurses in the courtyard, holding and playing with the children--and having the time of their lives (both the kids and the nurses, though I'm not sure the nurses weren't enjoying it more!).  We could hardly believe our eyes. . .as Dick put it, "This is an answer to 10 years of prayer." 

Once in a while the nurses will stop from their routine to love or or play with a child.  But to see them ALL engaged with the children, to see the spontaneity of their enjoyment of the kids and each other, was an experience beyond words (though both Dick and I were moved to tears.  The kids with us probably couldn't figure out what was wrong with us.).  I believe it really was a movement of the Holy Spirit, in answer to prayer. 

Amalia with Manuelito
I'm not exaggerating when I say it felt like a "holy moment" and I could sense Jesus in our midst, laughing with us.  When I went over and hugged the head nurse, and told her how great this was, she said, "We need to do this more!" At this I did burst into tears.

I don't know that I can describe it any better than these pictures do, so I'll let them speak for me.  I was so grateful, though, that God let me share this moment with them.
Dalila and Delmi

More thoughts on suffering. . .

There’s been some reaction to what I posted the other day, about the suffering I see down here. Maybe it’s just the pain meds I’m on for my tooth, or maybe it’s the irritation that I feel at being in pain, but I’ve been reflecting, once again on suffering.

When I’ve been in the States and describe the situations I meet in Guatemala, I often hear people say, “I could never handle that. My heart’s too tender. I’d be crying all the time.”

This has made me think about all the ways we try to avoid suffering—almost as if it weren’t an essential part of our lives as Christians. Do I believe Christ paid the price in full for my salvation? Without a doubt. But somehow, there is still a call for us to suffer.

Jesus Himself told us to take up our cross to follow Him. This is reported in Matthew, Mark and Luke, which emphasizes that this is not some optional exercise if we want to “excel” in our walk with Him. He calls all of us to this, most pointedly in Matt. 10:38 where He tells us, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Oh, how I want to be found worthy. . .

A pastor and friend, Mitch Rayborn has recorded a song (written by Gary Driskell) called “It’s Not the Cross.” The words from the chorus sometimes haunt me:

“And if it doesn’t hurt
If it has no cost
If it doesn’t pay some kind of price
It’s not the cross.

And if it isn’t hard
If it brings no loss
If it doesn’t crucify with Christ
It’s not the cross.”

This song has convicted me on more than one occasion when I have tried to avoid legitimate suffering for the sake of my own comfort.  I confess, in my flesh, I would like to ignore suffering whenever I can, and anesthetize it when I can't. 

I’m not suggesting that we go out looking for more suffering. Enough comes into our lives without searching for more. What I am suggesting is that we stop doing everything we possibly can to avoid feeling the pain of living in a fallen world. I am suggesting that we not turn away when we see suffering of others for the sake of our own comfort and for fear of a broken heart.

Let me be clear. While I see an enormous amount of suffering and pain down here, that doesn’t make me a better follower of Christ. I may not avoid the pain by refusing to engage with those that are suffering, but I fight a constant battle to “show up” each day with my whole heart. I struggle each day not to “harden my heart” even as I respond to the need. It would be all too easy to become “professional,” meeting needs effectively, but never really sharing in the suffering of those I meet. I know good people who accomplish much, but have disengaged from their hearts. Honestly, I think I could still accomplish much without feeling the need, but I would be missing out. This surely wasn’t the way Jesus ministered.

You see, it’s not just about meeting needs. It’s about being part of the Body of Christ which is still hurting and struggling to make it through this life to reach the next. Paul instructs us to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2) Not just help out materially, not just “fix” what is broken and move on, but to carry each other’s burdens. That implies relationship and personal involvement. I love the way it is said in The Message: ”Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

I’m afraid that we, as Christians, have not been taught how to effectively confront suffering. We avoid it (do you turn the station when pictures of starving children come on TV?). We placate it, getting superficially involved in some way with those who are hurting, but always guarding our hearts and keeping our distance from real relationship with them. Some of us even resort to blaming people for their own suffering: “If they just worked harder.” “They got themselves into this situation, let them get themselves out.”

I’m so glad Christ didn’t feel that way. I got myself into sin, but He stooped down and reached out and became sin to rescue me from eternal pain. He did this through greater suffering than I can imagine. I can’t, as much as my emotions would like me to, avoid His call to me to do the same when I meet those who are suffering. I can’t serve from a safe distance when He gave His all, His very life, to bring me new life.

So how do I respond to those who say, “I could never do that, it hurts too much.” Usually I say nothing, knowing how often that has been my own response. But I do use it to remind myself that it’s not about living a safe and protected life. He tells me, again in Matthew, Mark and Luke, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it. . .”

Confronted with suffering, and my own selfish desire to escape even second-hand pain, I reflect on a comment a friend, Daryl Fulp, made to his daughter when she was overwhelmed by the needs of the kids at Hermano Pedro:

“Weep for them. Then dry your tears and get to work. . .”

Who is God calling you to weep for today?

A Day with a Remarkable Family, Jan. 20

I went to Hermano Pedro fairly early this morning to meet Jessica #2, her mother Sandra, and her sister Vanessa. We had met only about a week ago when we visited them in their home in Vera Cruz, near Patulul. They were here to see the doctor and find out if there was any way Jessica could stay at Hermano Pedro as a resident, so her mother could work without worrying about her, and her eleven year old sister could return to school. Dick had been able to talk with Father Jose, the administrator of Hermano Pedro, and seemed hopeful that they would have a place for Jessica.

When I arrived, I found Jessica setting independently in a chair, taking in everything that was going on around her in the clinics. Sandra told me that they needed to go for a neurological exam to a clinic across town, but she had already figured out how to get there and back for a 2:00 appointment with the doctor. This lady was really on top of things, and is about the first Guatemalan mom I’ve met who knows how to advocate for her child effectively.

While she didn’t need my “help” in navigating the clinics, I believe she did need my moral support. I could see in her eyes how difficult this decision to place her child outside the home was for her. She knew it was the right thing, not only for Jessica, but for her sister, but she still was in great pain doing so. I tried to encourage her, reminding her she was not relinquishing Jessica, only allowing her to be cared for when she couldn’t. Sandra also talked a lot about how this was better for Jessica in the long run, when she would become too big for them to care for on their own. Again, I think this is the first time I have heard a Guatemalan mom think about the long-range future of their child. Sandra pretty much amazed me with her skills, insight and confidence in dealing with the system. I hope she will become a good friend.

When they returned from the neurology clinic, Vanessa, Jessica’s eleven year old sister and I got to spend some time together. I took her into the children’s area of the orphanage, and introduced her to some of the kids. She was especially delighted to meet Saul, who played ball with her (he would throw the ball out of the crib and she would throw it back to her) and with Julio, who flirted shamelessly with this pretty little girl.

We also went across the street to where the vendors sell food, and got lunch for Sandra, Jessica and Vanessa. She couldn’t believe that I was buying them EACH their own lunch, and was so excited that she got to pick the food for them. She knew exactly what her mom and Jessica would like, and couldn’t wait to get back to show them what we had gotten.

Later, when we were waiting for her mom who was talking to the social work department, I got to see first hand how well she cares for her sister. Though Jessica doesn’t talk, it seems Vanessa can anticipate her needs and wants. While many girls would resent taking care of a disabled sister, Vanessa seems to do it without any thought. When we talked about the possibility of her being able to return to school if Jessica came to Hermano Pedro, her face totally lit up. She showed just how tender and generous her heart was when she disappeared for a few minutes to talk to Mom, and returned with a pair of earrings for me. She had bought two pairs, hoping she would be able to get her ears pierced on this trip. (She asked me to do it, but I do draw the line sometimes, at giving people what they ask for! I did think, for a minute, about calling Pablo, the med. student son in my family, and seeing if he could do it, but then I thought again.) When I asked her if she was sure she wanted to give me a pair of her earrings, she replied, “Yes, because you’re helping us.” Okay, I cried.

I also got to evaluate some of Jessica’s skills while we were waiting in the halls for her appointments, much to the interest of the other patients waiting for their own appointments. I was please to learn the Jessica imitated immediately, picked up on how to do new tasks quickly, and understood directions such as “Open your hand” without difficulty. I think this little girl has a lot of potential, even imitating sounds. By the end of our time together, she was calling, “Pa-pa,” when she wanted my attention. I and choosing to think this is her way of trying to say Pat.

Mom emerged from Social Work, saying the doctor had recommended Jessica be admitted, and there was a chance she would be able to stay immediately. They would return tomorrow morning to find out the details of the admission.

As I walked home, I contemplated the strength and courage of this mother I had just met. Some mothers keep their disabled child at home, often tied in a hammock, because it is too painful for them to think of “giving up” their child. Others, quite literally “dump” their child at Hermano Pedro without a second thought—often because it is too painful to think about them. I anticipate that Sandra will be a mom who stays involved and concerned, even if she has to do it from a distance. She was happy to know that Jessica could return home for Christmas and Easter, and that if her circumstances ever changed, she is always able to take her back home. Sandra is another woman I am privileged to walk beside through a particularly challenging time in her life. I am blessed by her friendship.

The Dentist and the Mall--Reflections (Jan. 19th)

Well, my procrastination once again has caught up with me.  I’ve known for a while that I had a broken tooth, but since it wasn’t bothering me, I’ve ignored it.  Well, this last week, it made its presence apparent.  So, today, I was off to the city to check out a dentist.

Dick had given me the number of this dentist a while back, when he still had an office in Chimaltenango.  Now he only works in Guatemala City, which makes things a bit more complicated, though his office is in one of the larger shopping malls, so was pretty easy to find.

I decided to splurge on a shuttle, since I didn’t know what he was going to do today, and really didn’t like the idea of riding back on a chicken bus after dental treatment.  Riding the shuttle only turned a one hour drive into two hours, and I did get to see many parts of the city I’d never been to, while we dropped off other passengers.  Made it to the mall with about five minutes to spare!

Fortunately, the dentist speaks fluent English, and his office is probably the most up-scale one I’ve ever been to!  Very clean, very comfortable.  The best part of the deal is that the treatment here will cost about 1/3 of what it would have in the States.  So, Monday afternoon, I go back for not one but two root canals! 

After the appointment I thought I’d take advantage of being in a modern mall and look around for a while.  The number of stores was overwhelming.  Their prices are even more surprising, comparable to one of the classier chains in the US (a.k.a. those stores in which I can’t afford to shop).  The window shopping was enjoyable, but I couldn’t help but wonder at the fact that Guatemala must have enough rich people to keep these stores going.  That, contrasted with the poverty I see everyday, astounds me.  I see the very poor all the time, and really would like to meet at least one of these wealthy folks, but I guess they don’t run in the same circles I do.

It would be very easy to blame the rich in this country for not helping those in poverty.  On the other hand, even in the States we have very wealthy people who do very little (compared to their net worth) to help those in need.  It all has to do with how we view our resources and our responsibility to the poor.  Are our assets ours to do with as we please?  Or are they entrusted to us by God, to be used for His purposes?  Are the poor without funds because they are somehow morally inferior or lazy?  Or are they facing overwhelming difficulties just trying to survive.

I know many believe that wealth is the result of hard work.  And to some extent that’s true.  Other’s believe it is the outcome of high levels of skill and intelligence.  That also has some validity.  But I have to be honest.  I see people here working harder than I have ever had to work in my entire life, who earn less than $6 a day.  I see the nurses who work at Hermano Pedro, with skills I surely don’t have, making a whopping $12 a day, but working 12 hours to do so.  Then, I look at the mothers of families, especially the single women I’ve met, who both work harder than I do and have skills I don’t possess (I don’t think I could yet survive without running water and electricity, or having to cook each day over an open fire) who earn nothing a day for their efforts, and have to depend on others for their very survival.

Dick has often said that if each person in the world who claimed to be Christian would take on the responsibility for feeding just one starving child, there would be no starving children.  Today I couldn’t help but think that if each person affluent enough to be shopping in the Oakland Mall in Guatemala City, would take responsibility for one starving family, it would put a pretty good dent in the problem.

A fairly "typical" house in many villages
I have been challenged in the past as to why, when there are so many needy people in the US I feel such a passion for the people living in Third World countries (or as one book on missions calls them, the Majority World).  I know there are those hurting in the States, especially from the time I worked on the Benevolence Team at the church.  But in 5 years being responsible for that ministry, I don’t think I ever met anyone who was subsisting on a regular diet of tortillas and coffee.  I don’t think I ever met someone, even among the homeless, who had gone over a week without eating anything, and had only dirty water to fill their stomach.  I had never met a mother who fed her child dirt just to quiet their hunger pangs.

These situations are common-place here in Guate.  I only have to walk a short distance up the hill on the north side of the city to find people in this condition.  I can walk to the city dump (about 4 blocks from my house) and find children rummaging through the garbage hoping to find something to eat or something to sell for a few quetzales. 

Do I believe everyone should drop what they’re doing and rush to Guatemala?  Of course not.  Do I believe I can even put a dent in the overall crisis of poverty?  How absurd.  But I do believe I am called to respond to the need God puts in front of me each day, seeking His direction as to how best to act.  Just throwing money at a problem has proven ineffective.  While not the whole solution, funding is part of the answer.  But I believe I need to go beyond cash and into relationship.  Can I change the lives of these hurting people forever?  In a materials sense, no way. 

But I can share with them that I believe God has put them in my path for me to help, because He knows their need and their pain.  This truth can change their hearts.  Can I share this truth without tangible help coming their way?  I think those words ring hollow. 

While I cannot feed every poor person I meet every day, I can often help them fill their stomachs for the present moment.  When this basic need is satisfied, then maybe I’ve earned the right to share with them about the God who cares. . .because, at least for the moment, they have experienced His care. 

Is it painful to encounter overwhelming need almost every day?  It’s much less painful for me to encounter it than it is for those who live in it every moment of their lives. 

So what do I do with this pain?  I take it to Jesus, and I’m bringing it to you.  I’m asking you to consider what suffering person are you aware of today.  Don’t ignore their pain, but share it.  Then ask God what, if anything, He’s have you do with it.

You may not have much, but if you’re reading this on your own computer, you’re already in the group of those who “have much.”  Share what you do have.  It’s well worth it!\

Is it possible to make a difference?  I think Jessica and her family think so.  We may not be able to help every starving child, but I think her life has been changed.

Jessica on admission, Sept. 14, 2010
Jessica and her mom, Dec. 8, 2010

(Note to readers:  This isn’t what I set out to write, but as I began to write about the mall, these words just seemed to come.  Forgive me if I’ve come off preachy.  I’m learning that part of my role here is to help others see this country and its needs as I’ve experienced it.  I’m afraid I’m not very skilled at that yet.)

Santa Rosa Trip (Jan. 12-15)

On Wednesday morning, Dick, Cesar, Fernando and I set off for the area surrounding Santa Rosa. I'd visited this area a number of times in the past, and was anxious to see old friends.

While it doesn't look that far on the map "as the crow flies, unfortunately, we were in a Land Cruiser which takes significantly longer to travel the indirect and winding roads.  The drive actually took about 3 1/2 hours, taking us from the mountains, into the coastal flatlands, and back into mountains again.  This was the first time I'd traveled in this area during sugar cane harvest, and it was an experience, do say the least, as we passed trucks towing multiple trailers filled with harvested cane.

We arrived in Cuilapa shortly after noon and checked into the hotel where we'd stayed before.  Dick's been told that this area is not particularly fond of gringos, but we've never had any trouble here, and it has a great pool and a wonderful view.  This time of year, however, the view was much more inviting than the pool, which was just short of a polar plunge.

We didn't quite accomplish as much as we had hoped this trip, but it was valuable nonetheless.  We were able to visit families, check on teachers, buy shoes for kids, and have some fun in the process. Since so much happened in these few days, I've broken our experiences into separate entries:

Visit to Wilmer and Walter (Jan, 13)

Thursday morning our first destination was Wilmer's house, someplace north of Barbarena.  This is another family I've visited before and was glad Dick had brought me with this time.  Wilmer's mom is a neat lady, and does her best with her four kids.

When we arrived, we found mom was out working in the coffee fields.  Her daughter was at home caring for her three younger siblings.  We did notice, however, that the children's aunt, who lives up the hill from them, was watching carefully over the fence to see what we were about.

We had hoped to talk with Mom about the possibility of taking her youngest son, Walter, into Guatemala City to see a neurosurgeon.  There seems a good chance that he has hydrocephalus.  His head is definitely out of proportion to his body, and he is unable to walk, though he talks and has great hand use (he can pick up the tiniest bits of corn chips and get them into his mouth easily!).  With Mom not at home, this would have to wait, though hopefully not too long.  Walter was friendlier this trip than on our previous visits, where he usually would cling to Mom and cry at the sight of gringos.  Today, Fernando, our official "kid magnet," was able to pick him up without any hesitation on Walter's part.  Fernando really has a gift for making kids feel safe with him.  (Walter still was not too crazy about Dick or me holding him, but did smile and even talked with me a little.)

The trip was not a total loss, however, as we talked with Wilmer about his school work and got some information about the new teacher who would be working with him this year.  Wilmer could easily attend school, but receives private tutoring, because the teasing he took from his teachers as well as the other kids was just too much for him to handle.  He is very happy studying at home and seems to be making good progress.

We checked the fit of his wheelchair, and the tray he uses.  It was immediately apparent that with as much as he hunches forward, he will need a longer tray.  Dick took measurements, drew a design, and we were later able to connect with a fellow in town who should be able to make an extended part for the tray. 

I continue to be struck by how comfortable I am visiting these folks in their homes.  I sometimes feel like I've always been here in Guatemala.  It amazes me more, however, at how comfortable these families seem to be with my presence in their home.  When I would first visit, I sometimes felt like I was treated like visiting "royalty."  Now it's even better--I feel more like I'm visiting family.

Bayron's (Jan. 12-14)

Taken by Bayron.  He still is facinated with our cameras!

After we arrived in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, we ate a quick lunch at Camperos (where else) and went to see Bayron and his family. We wanted to check to see if his Grandma had been able to find a teacher to tutor him, and we also wanted to talk with her about the possibility of building them a house.

There were even more people at the house than usual when we arrived, and Grandma explained that her sister-in-law had recently died, and she was watching their four children for her brother who was working picking coffee. After a few minutes, we figured out that the lady who had died of cancer was the mother of Oliver, another child we had been planning on visiting. We had no idea that these two families were related.  Her brother and his children would be moving in with her as soon as they could afford to buy some "lamina" (corregated metal) to use to build on to their make-shift house.

Dick began discussing the possibility of a new house with Grandma, and she almost could not believe what she was hearing.  We were glad to find out the she was buying the land (for about Q300/mo.--roughly $40 US) and had been able to keep up on the payments.  Much of there current house is constructed of borrowed materials, which would need to be returned to their owner shortly.  Though we didn't know exactly when the house would be built, we couldn't help but marvel at God's timing in our visit.  Anxious to be able to tell Grandma more specific details, Dick called Chris Mooney at Bethel.  Chris, without much hesitation, decided that the construction would be done in February, with the help of one of the teams scheduled to come down then. 

When we told Grandma this, her response was, "I'm going to die of happiness."  A remarkable statement from a lady who has endured so much for the sake of her family.

The past few times we had been here, we had taken Bayron, and then his brother Edgar, to stay with us at our hotel where they could swim.  They were eager to come with us right now, but we explained we had other families to see, and would return for them tomorrow afternoon.


When we returned Thursday afternoon to pick up the kids, the two we had somehow had grown to four.  The boys had invited Vanessa, their cousin, to come with us, and Oliver's dad asked if he could come.  (Oliver is a little guy who uses crutches to walk, though they hardly slow him down.  See the video of him playing soccer with the kids.)  I think both Dick and I were waiting for the other to say, "too much," but we were both pretty much soft touches today, and agreed to let the extra kids come.  We did, however, draw the line at Caterina, a five year old, joining us.

Video to be posted here when my internet is faster!

We spent the next 24 hours playing, watching TV, using the computer, swimming (though it was way too cold), eating, and talking, and wrestling (with Dick, not me!). A small amount of time was also alloted to sleeping. Once again, I lucked out with having a girl as a roommate. She went to sleep by 10. I think the three boys kept Dick up much later, or so it appeared from his somewhat weary look in the morning. (Fernando and Cesar had retreated to their own room for the night.)

The kids braved the cold water and air to swim

Dick wrestling with two of the boys.
And he wonders why he has sore ribs. . .

The hotel playground was put to good use!

People who have not been here sometimes wonder at the value of these "social" outtings with the kids.  The value is two-fold.  The benefit of the kids receiving undivided adult attention, even for a short time, cannot be overlooked.  Though their families love them dearly, so much of the adult energy is invested in just keeping the family going, that seldom is their time for fun with the grown-ups.  I think, too, these adventures strengthen our relationships not just with the kids we take, but with their communities as well.  In many of these areas, gringos are still viewed with suspicion, and seeing us leave and return with the children helps build trust. 

These times with the kids are good for us, too, though I have to admit they sometimes make me wonder at what I am missing with my own grandsons in the States.  (My grandsons, though, are well loved and cared for by extended family was well as their parents, and I'm probably missing out on more than they are!) 
Honestly, it think if it were not for these times spent with the kids, I would find myself missing Zach and Nate even more.  These people are becoming an extention of my family.

After a somewhat chaotic breakfast Friday morning (these kids are not used to getting to choose what they will eat, and have a hard time sticking with their decision after they have made it!) we headed to town to buy school shoes.  This "ministry of shoes" is old hat to Dick, but somewhat new to me. 

Kids here are not allowed to attend school unless they have black shoes (among many other requirements), and the shoes the four kids we had with us were not going to work.  Just the night before, Dick had received an email, telling him someone was sending a donation to use as he saw fit.  He saw fit, today, to buy all four kids shoes. We managed to find good deals in a local shoe store, and all the kids left with new school shoes.  A small thing, perhaps, but reinforcement to me that our God cares about the details of life.


We were not done with our work here, however.  We still needed to visit with the teacher Grandma had found to tutor Bayron at home this year. (He is not allowed to attend the local school because he is deaf.)  We had discussed the possibility of Bayron attending the school where this teacher taught during the day, but the cost proved to be prohibitive.  So we were hopeful that Sra. Anna would travel to work with Bayron at home.

As soon as we met Ana, she asked me if we were Christians.  When I answered, "yes," she said she had been praying that God would bring other believers into her life and work.  She agreed to work with Bayron individually, though the cost of this tutoring proved to be somewhat higher than we had hoped.  Ana already lives a long way from her school, and Bayron's house is in the opposite direction from her home.  The cost of her transportation would also have to be factored in.  Usually when she works one-to-one with students Ana charges significantly more than we are able to pay her (she's actually a special ed. teacher with experience with deaf children), but was willing to work with Bayron at a somewhat reduced rate.  While this was not the perfect solution, it will at least provide him with some regular instruction, and a chance to actually advance in school.

After taking Grandma back home, it was time to say good-bye.  Leaving this family is like leaving old friends.  Though we don't have much in common it terms of our backgrounds, or even life-styles, we do share a love of God and a love of these kids that binds our hearts firmly together.  We both look forward to our return.