Visiting near Chilmaltenango (Feb. 16, 2011)

Last night we returned to Chimaltenango, to prepare for our visits to three families today.  Caleb and Thor wanted to interview the folks they hope to build houses for in October, and each of these families was visiting us today. 

Our first stop was to an older single woman who had never married.  She is the oldest of ten children in her family, and had cared for her siblings and distributed the family land among them.  In the past she had a house, but it was destroyed in the 1976 earthquake that hit his area.  Since she had no husband or sons, there was no one to build a house for her on the small plot of land she owned. 

She had been saving corn stalks to build a small hut for herself.  She was overjoyed at the thought of having a real house to live in.

The kids in this area were unusually friendly, and loved having their pictures taken.  I spent most of my time during this stop playing with the children. 

Our next stop was to a young single mother with three daughters, who was living in one room of her mother's house, literally on the side of the mountain.  She had recently begun working to pay for her two oldest daughters to attend preschool.  You could see her deep love for her children, even through the veil of weariness covering her face.

We then stopped at a home of a single mom, who had a seizure disorder.  To get to her house, we had to go through a maze of winding corridors, and through what appeared to be someone else's kitchen.  She and her son live in this one room, and the only land she owned was what was under this room.  The back wall of her home actually belonged to her neighbor.  After seeing this dwelling, Chris realized there was no way to build a house in this small, confined space.  He hopes to send Pastor Juan back to help cover some of the wholes that allow rain to enter the house, but decided that this space was so compact a team could not work there. 

Always prepared, Pastor Juan had the paperword for another family in need of of house.  They were not expecting us, but we decided to stop there anyway.  When we arrived, we were greeted by the widow's four daughters.  Mom was out working--selling tortillas and doing laundry to try to earn a little money to feed her family of seven (the oldest daughter (16) was working as a housekeeper; the one son was out in the neighborhood playing).  As we waited we talked with the girls about their school work and their hopes for the future.

When Mom arrived, she was somewhat taken aback to find 5 gringos and Pastor Juan waiting for her in her home.  When asked if she would be willing to share her story with the Westside folks, she somewhat reluctantly agreed.  We all sat dumbfounded, however, when she began to speak.  She was one of the most articulate women I've ever met, and told her story susinctly and completely, without even needing any prompts.  She shared her stuggles, and her desire to protect and care for her children as best she can.  We were all in tears by the time she finished speaking.

Building Bayron's House, Day 2 (Feb. 15, 2011)

The Morales Family in front of their new house

We we back at Bayron's bright and early Tuesday morning, ready to put up the house.  The houses are pre-fabricated and remind me of playing with the old erector set building toys, only on a larger scale.  Once the pieces are sorted, the construction really goes pretty quickly.

I think the best way to describe this process is with pictures:

Assembling the frame

And the walls go up. . .

The windows and door go in. . .

The stove is built in the kitchen. . .

The beds were a big hit. . .

Bayron and Edgar claimed the top bunks. . .


                The house is blessed. . .

 God is praised. . .                    

When asked what she liked best about her new home, Dona Maria, the grandmother and head of the family, replied, "The beds and the stove." 

While the team was working on the house, Dick, Thor and I managed to slip away for a couple of hours to check on Walter's family.  We had taken Walter into see the neurosurgeon a few weeks ago, and had promised to bring some nutritional supplements and vitamins on our next visit.  We didn't have a lot of time to visit, but we were warmly welcomed by the whole family.  We had called  yesterday to tell Mom we were coming and the whole family was there to greet us, including Dad who had stayed home from work to see us.

Dick had also brought a water filter for the family.  These filters purify water as it flows through a filter tube, containing the same type of filter tubing used in kidney dialysis.  These particular filters require almost no maintenance, and are very easy to use.  It is important to fully explain why and how to use these filters to the families who receive them, and Dick did an amazing job of teaching the family to use these filters.  He also explained that while this water will satisfy their thirst for a short time, the Living Water offered by Jesus will satisfy their deepest thirst forever.  This was really a "holy ground" moment, as we felt the Holy Spirit in our presence.

Building Bayon’s House, Day One (Feb. 14, 2011)

Current home for the seven members of Bayron's family
I managed to get a few hours sleep Sunday night, after going to the airport with Chris Mooney to pick up two guys from my home church, Westside. Caleb Smagacz and Thor Johnson have come down to prepare for a family mission trip the Children’s ministry is sponsoring as part of VBX (Vacation Bible eXperience—not your grandma’s VBS!). This week the guys will be helping to build a house for Bayron and his family, as well as video-taping much of the work we do here in Guatemala.

I’m never too comfortable with people coming in to video, but I know these guys and trust their hearts to tell the story of what God is doing here, and of the many here who are in such dire need.  (Any fears I had about bringing video cameras into the homes we visited were unwarranted.  Thor did a great job not only of being sensitive in the way he videod, but involving the kids in the process!)

After a two and a half hour drive and a quick breakfast at Camperos, we arrived at Bayron’s home. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the family had totally leveled the land where we would be building, and had taken down the lamina that they had been borrowing since moving to this land. Four large barrels of water were also waiting for us, as we had requested. This family had done all that we had asked and more to get ready for the construction of their new home.

We unloaded the truck, including the metal bunk beds we had brought, and Chris began apologizing because we were short one mattress. Dona Maria quickly explained that this would not be a problem—since yesterday someone just so happened to give her one mattress, which just so happened to fit the bed we had brought perfectly. Another Godincident that reminded us this was His work and not ours. He had it all under control.

As we were getting started, Chris had the opportunity to sit and visit with the family for a few minutes. After sharing with them that the house was a gift from God, not from us, he asked them, “How is your life with God?” Every time I have heard him ask this question of someone we were visiting, I could feel the power of his words. Today was no different. After sharing with them about the life Jesus was offering them, four of these young women committed their lives to Jesus. God had readied the soil of their hearts even as they had readied the soil for their home. And now the seed was planted.

I was really quite honored, as well as more than a little panicked, when Chris asked me to sit and visit with these women about how to walk with Christ. I still worry about my inadequate Spanish in situations such as these, but, of course, God came through and we had a wonderful visit about the life set before them.

The Proclaimer
When I asked if they had a Bible, Dona Maria excitedly ran into the house and immediately brought out a small box. In it was a solar powered audio Bible which Melissa and Ryan McCue had brought to the family last July. It was well cared for, but obviously well used, too.

Dona Maria explained that her father had taught her much of the Bible, but she had wandered when she was married to her husband. After his death, she returned to the Lord, but had not been able to really share this with her daughters. She was overjoyed to know they now had a relationship with Jesus.

This was Day 1 of the construction—preparing and pouring the foundation. Pastor Juan and Saul, who are part of Bethel Ministries, expertly measured and strung the foundation.

Cement block was layed along their string lines, and the real work of leveling the earth inside the “walls” began.

All of us, both the visitors and the family, began shoveling dirt into the outline of the house, while Dick and Chris leveled the terrain, working from one side to the other, using only a line strung between two poles to guide them. This was a bit chaotic, with so many people working, but it was wonderful to see the family, even Dona Maria the grandma and the kids, taking a part in building their house. You can get a taste of the action from the video Bayron took with my camera. . .

After lunch the guys began the process of mixing the cement by hand, getting a good bit of help from Bayron. The wet cement was moved by wheelbarrow into the foundation, where Dick leveled it, Thor and Benjamin (Chris’s son) smoothed it with a metal bar, and Chris put the final finish on it. It was astounding to watch this whole process, all done without the help of any heavy equipment, but with a huge amount of team work.

I got to spend much of my time just playing with the kids in the family. . .and was pleased to see just how friendly they had become. Bayron and Edgar had always been comfortable with us, but some of the younger children had been pretty shy on our previous visits.

Today, all of them enjoyed our company, and approached us freely. We spent a lot of time just sitting in the back of the pick up talking, and especially Edgar really enjoyed it when I told the story of Jesus and the children. We then play about an hour of “you can’t catch me,” and I think I was more worn out by the game than I would have been working on the foundation!

As we readied to head back to the hotel, Dick invited Bayron to go with us. We had been a little concerned about how Edgar would feel about this. Our worry was in vain. Edgar explained that he couldn’t come with us, because he had school tomorrow and had already taken one day off to help us with the house! Pretty awesome words from an eight year old. Words that give us much confidence in his future.

Am I Any Different? February 13, 2011

This Sunday the children were recognized for
their hard work in Sunday School
Pastor Mike at Iglesia del Camino has been preaching on the truth: “God loves you just the way you are, and refuses to leave you as He found you.” Today, his question, asked within the first 30 seconds of his teaching was, “How are you different when you leave this place [the church] then when you walked in here today?” Yeah, he doesn’t tend to mince words.

I think it’s worth sharing and reflecting on some of his points from today. Have I made worship a predictable experience? I know many Sundays (more than I like to admit) I struggle for just “15 minutes more” in bed. How quickly I have become accustomed to sleeping in on Sunday. (At Westside I’d be at church before 8.) Though worship here isn’t until 10:30, it’s so easy to just want to lie at home doing nothing. I want to make Sunday MY day instead of HIS day.

I need to stop and say, none of this has anything to do with the quality of worship or the teaching at Caminos. I have yet to worship there where I have not had a powerful sense of the Holy Spirit falling on us. It has more to do, I think, with the fact that the “old man” in me has not fully surrendered to the “new creation” I’ve become in Christ. For a long time, I just thought I was lazy. I’m realizing that anytime we go to meet God we will face opposition—for the world, from our enemy, but even from ourselves. Not our redeemed hearts, but the old man that wants to pull us back into the slime Jesus saved us from. As I reflect on today’s teaching, I realized that much of what is going on here is a battle in the spiritual arena. It’s so much easier to flight when you have identified the real enemy.

So how am I different? Am I more like Christ when I leave worship than I was when I came in? How? If not, why not?

Pastor Mike raised the question, “Do you live your life with anticipation for what God is going to do next?” And I sat rather complacently, thinking of the experiences I’d had the week before in Santa Rosa. Find a child who “just happened” to come to the home we were visiting who desperately needed to be in the malnutrition project. How it “just so happened” that we stopped at a used clothing store where I found exactly the shoes I had been wanting. I felt pretty good about my ability to recognize the hand of God working.

After church we went to lunch with Daryl and Wanda Fulp and their 9 kids. Then we headed over to Hermano Pedro, where we visited Valentina (the little girl from Santa Rosa who had just been admitted) and and Jordan (who had come into malnutrition weeks ago. Neither Dick nor I thought he would make it, and now is chubby and active). I spent a good deal of time with Jessica, fighting with her to keep her into a sitting position. (Literally, fighting. I was dripping sweat when we were done.) And I left the unit praising God for what He had done and again, feeling pretty confident in my ability to see the hand of God at work in all these situations.

After Hermano Pedro, I went back to Chimaltenango with Dick and the boys. I would be staying the night at a hotel there, so I could go with Chris Mooney to pick up the two friends from Westside in Omaha, who were coming on a “vision trip” to prepare for a family mission trip from the church in October, 2011. As I was praying for the guys who were coming, I prayed that this trip would be a life changing experience for them.

Suddenly it hit me. What was I expecting God to do in MY life because I was on this trip? I realized that these trips into the field were becoming somewhat routine for me. . .I knew what I thought would happen on a trip, and it usually did. Once in a while God would shake me up by making His hand so obviously present that I couldn’t miss it. But how many other “God-incidents” did I miss because they were not dramatic? How many times did I ignore God’s attempt to change ME through what I was experiencing, because I didn’t expect to be changed. After all. . .this is what I do all the time. Why would I expect to be changed by my daily routine.

I think, though, that this is exactly the way God usually works on changing us to be more like Christ. Not in big dramatic acts, but in the simple experiences of daily life. After all, Paul says “day by day” we are being transformed into the image of Christ. How often have I interfered with this transformation because I was indifferent to what God was doing in me?

I went back to my sermon notes to look again at Mike’s advice about being changed by worship. He said, “What you look for you will find. What you pursue will reveal itself to you.”

The same advice, I believe, will help us be changed by our daily life. Each day come before the Father:
  • Hungry for what He wants to do
  • Willing to be changed by Him through our experiences
  • Expectant that He will change us, each day, to be more like Jesus.
I resolve to remind myself of this as I start each morning. I will come before Him with a hunger, a willingness, and an expectation that He is at work in my life. I can’t wait to see how this will impact my walk with Him.

New Shoes (February 11, 2011)


You're probably wondering, "Why on earth is she posting about buying shoes?" Well, let me explain. . .

When I was preparing to move to Guate, friends at the church told me I HAD to buy a pair of "Clarks" sandals, as they would be wonderful for walking on the cobblestone streets in Antigua. I thought about it, priced them, and true to my frugal little heart, decided not to spend the money.

The more I walked here, the more I wished I had a pair, so I began praying about it, but still was too frugal (cheap?) to buy a pair. When I was last in the States, I was looking for toys for the kids at Goodwill, and thought I'd look at shoes. I saw a pair of sandals that looked sturdy enough for the wear and tear of Guatemala, and, lo and behold when I turned them over, saw they were Clarks. I rushed to try them on and they fit perfectly. I claimed them, especially the way I found them, and the fact that I only paid $3 for them, as a direct blessing from Jesus in answer to my prayer. I wear them almost every day, and they are wonderful.

Today I found out that was not the end of the story. Dick and I have been traveling in the Santa Rosa Department of Guatemala. Have been wearing my athletic shoes, but somehow they just aren't as comfortable as my Clarks. As we were driving today, I just happened to mention to Dick, almost in passing, that I thought when I was in the States in April, I might break down and actually buy a pair of Clarks loafers for those times I really need closed toe shoes. I joked about praying for another pair, but then said I didn't want to be greedy! LOL Both of us forgot about the conversation, and we finished taking Walter and his mom back to heir house in the mountains.

We had decided to spend the night in Cuilapa again, since we have to be in Guate City early tomorrow and both needed the time to catch up on journalling. On our way back to the hotel, Dick saw a used shoe store and wanted to see if he could get some used p.e. shoes for some of his kids. While he was checking them out, I saw a pair of black loafers that looked about my size, and thought, "Well, maybe I don't need Clarks after all."

Then I turned them over. "Clarks" it said on the bottom of the pair. And I stood there, in a used clothing store in the middle of a Guatemalan village that seldom sees white people, and felt very foolish fighting back tears. Surely God would not have done it again. . .

When Dick walked over and I showed him the trade mark, he, too seemed to fight back tears, so I didn't feel quite as foolish. All he said was, "Guess He heard you." And I humbly believe He did. . .

It is absolutely amazing to me that the Lord, God of the Universe, would listen not only to the prayer of someone in Guatemala, but would actually listen in to our conversations to hear us express our desires. A part of me wants to believe it was just coincidence. . .it almost seems to fearful to actually experience God listening to our every word. But, intellectually I believe He does, so why would I doubt it? But for him to bother with getting me not just shoes that would suffice, but the very kind of shoes I desired, absolutely blows my mind.

I learned first hand today that God cares about the little things. . .and I stand amazed.

Surprise in Santa Rosa, Feb. 9, 2011, Part 2


We started off early this morning for Barberena, in Santa Rosa, thinking we were coming here to do some prep work on Bayron's house (that two friends from Westside are coming to build next week) and tomorrow take Walter to the neurologist (to see if he has hydrocephalus).

We finished at Bayron's in record time, and headed for the hotel for a leisurely afternoon.  In the car I casually asked Dick if he wanted me to call Flori (a social worker friend here) and see if she was free to visit Marcos Saul.  We had given him a chair a few months ago, and are providing medication for him to help stabilize his seizures.  We had promised to visit him the last time we were here, and ran out of time.

I called Flori, half-heartedly hoping I wouldn't reach her.  She answered and was happy to accompany us.  Only in Guatemala can you be told, "Meet me at the gas station" and, miraculously to me, actually end up in the right gas station in a town you hardly know.  I guess there is only one gas station in her town, but we had no way of knowing this.

We headed off up the mountain to Marcos' home, driving most of the way on loose sand.  I was grateful for Dick's 4-wheel-drive and his driving competence each time the wheels slid.  We could look down over the side of the road and see a sheer drop to the valley we had left below.

We arrived at Marcos' without problems, and were warmly greeted by the family.  Dick was able to make some adjustments to Marcos' wheelchair, we visited about an upcoming appointment he has with the neurologist at Hermano Pedro, and were wrapping things up to leave.

Up the drive came a lady carrying a small baby.  She had heard Flori was visiting Marcos, and had come hoping she could help her get surgery for her 20 day old granddaughter who also had a cleft lip and palate.  We talked a little bit, and while the baby seemed tiny, grandma said she thought Valentina was heavier than she was at birth.  They knew she had to gain at least 10 lbs. before the doctors would consider the surgery, and were waiting for that.  (Grandma is Valentina's primary care-taker, as Valentina's mother, has a severe seizure disorder and mental illness.  Grandma said she is afraid to leave the baby with Mom for fear she'll kill her. Talk about a difficult situation. . .)

Then, Dick asked to hold her.  The look on his face when he picked her up sent my heart into my stomach.  He said, "I don't think she weighs 5 lbs."  We gently began talking with grandma about the malnutrition project at Hermano Pedro, and she was interested immediately.  We asked her if we could take a picture of Valentina without all the clothes she was bundled in, thinking she could come to the clinic the 22nd of February when others from her area would be coming to Antigua.

I think both Dick and I caught our breath as soon as Grandma removed Valentina's cap--somehow she hadn't looked quite as tiny wearing a hat, and we could see that her sparce hair had already lost color from malnutrition.  As we removed her sleeves and pants, we could see that, despite the best efforts of Grandma and Dad, this little one had wrinkles betraying how much weight she had lost.
We began talking about the possibility of bringing her in to Antigua when we return next week to build Bayron's house.  The more we talked the sicker each of us felt, fearing she didn't have a week to spare before getting help.  And, she's healthy now.  No fever or diarreah, so could be admitted immediately to malnutrition.  In her weakened condition, we didn't think that would be the case in a few days.

We asked Flori if there was any way she could get them in sooner. . .we were committed to Walter already, and he had waited more than 6 months for this appointment.  I think we both felt a little helpless.  Flori reluctantly said she would be going to Antigua tomorrow, but they were leaving at 4 am and there was no way they could possibly pick up this family in such a remote place.
Immediately it was decided that, if they were willing, we would bring Grandma, Dad, and Valentina back with us to our hotel, which would be on Flori's way to Antigua tomorrow.  Grandma agree instantly, and was off to call Dad and get ready to come with us.

So, tonight we had a lovely dinner in the hotel with Grandma, Dad, and this darling little girl.  For as tiny as she is, she's so alert, and makes such great eye-contact that she's stolen both our hearts. I'm proud to say that Dick and I didn't fight over who would hold her more, but shared her attention pretty well.  I got tears in my eyes watching my bachelor friend walk the floor with this crying baby, looking for all the world like he had done this his whole life.  What a sweet moment.

I have to admit,  I feel somewhat sad that I can't just drop everything and go with them to Antigua tomorrow.  I'm learning more and more, though, that I don't have to do everything, only my part.  And tonight our part is just to get them to where Flori can meet them tomorrow.  I'm so honored to have Guatemalan friends and colleagues here who are competent to help their own people, they only need our support.

Was it a random thought that made me ask Dick to go to visit Marcos?  I'm sure it was the Holy Spirit, and for once I heard His voice, even if somewhat reluctantly.  Just like it wasn't a coincidence that today was the day we visited them, that Grandma just so happened to bring Valentina while we were there, that Flori just so happened to be going to Antigua tomorrow, or that our hotel was on their way.  I sit and marvel at seeing the finger-prints of God all over these events, and am humbled to be a small part of this.
How many days can you say you got to trade an afternoon of leisure for being a small part in saving a life?  Thank you, Jesus, for today, and be with them tomorrow as they travel.


February 9, 2011 Bayron's new home

Written by Dick

This morning Pastor Juan, Jorge, Pat and I all headed out to Santa Rosa to get things set up for a teem that is coming in next week to build a house for Byron and his family.  Actually Pat and I headed off in one direction with my car while Pastor Juan and Jorge headed the other.  Both roads lead to the same place but the rout that Pat and I picked is a little longer but it is much more scenic and it  bypasses Guatemala City. 
After rendezvousing at Camperos in Barberana the 4 of us headed up to where Byron and his family live.  Byron and his brother actually live with their grandmother ever since one of their parents died and the other deserted them.  Grandmother is making payments on a small parcel of land and the family has built a small dwelling on it but the dwelling has no floor and is not nothing more than a wooden frame with some rusty tin nailed to it.  Grandmother informed us that some of the tin was loaned to them and the owner is wanting it back.  Not only that but Grandmothers sister in law recently died of cancer so her brother and all if his children will be moving in with them as well.  In all there will be 13 people living in the old structure and the new house.  It will be a bit cozy but everyone living there is nothing but thankful that they have a place to live. 
Thanks to a sponsor Byron who is deaf is now receiving an education.  Every Thursday he rides a buss in to Barberana where he attends a school that has a special needs teacher, and on Fridays that same teacher goes to his home and teaches him there.  Finding this teacher has been a real Godsend not only to us but to the teacher as well.  Little did we know that while we were praying for a teacher for Byron.  This Christian Lady was praying that she could find other Christians that she could work with.


Since Byron had no school today he  helped us unload the housing materials from the truck and then went along with us to to buy cement and gravel.  I think that he enjoyed the fact that the other kids were in school so that he could have us all to himself.  At noon Juan, Jorge, Pat and I headed in to Barberana to get some lunch.  Since Byron was still the only kid at home we invited him along.  Some times I feel like a grandparent.  I get to spoil these kids rotten and then bring them back home where there families have to deal with them.


Actually I don't think that I spoiled Byron to badly this time though, after all I only let him steer my car part of the time and since he was running a bit of a fever I am not letting him stay at the motel with us tonight.

After lunch Juan and Jorge headed back to Chimaltenango.  Pat and I are staying here for a few days though because we are planning on taking a little boy that lives about an hour form here in to Guatemala City to see a neurosurgeon tomorrow.  

We got checked into a motel (Yes - separate rooms) at about 2 and then decided that we had time to visit Marcos another  little boy that we have been working with.

I am going to let Pat tell you about what took place at the home of Marcos. 
Yours in Christ: Dick