Daring Driving with Daryl (May 23, 2011)

IMG_0152  Well, now that Dick seems to
  be settled in with the Fulps in
  San Antonio, we decided it
  was time to set out on the
  road without him.  Daryl has
  been itching to try out his new
  Toyota 4-Runner, and we
  needed to take a wheelchair
  back up to Ponciano in the
  community of Las Palmas.  So,
  today, Daryl, Paul Branch, and
  Jessica Huwer ( a visiting
  nursing student) set out.  It
  felt strange to be traveling
  without Dick.  While I trust
  Daryl greatly, I realized how
  much I have come to depend
  on Dick’s judgment when we
  are out in villages.  It was good to travel once without him. A fringe benefit was that Daryl’s teasing was much gentler without Dick, or perhaps it was Paul’s good influence on him.  I do have to admit, too, that riding with Daryl is a bit less exciting than traveling with Dick, but with a little practice, I’m sure Daryl will learn Dick’s tricks for keeping his passengers on the edges of their seats (while clinging to the “sissy bars” for dear life!).

David Garcia (2)We stopped first at the Garcia home to pick up Guadalupe.  She is the mother of a young man we have come to know and care about named David.  While in a wheelchair and suffering from a painful pressure sore, David continues his studies, and will graduate in November with a diploma in computers.  In addition to caring for her son, Guadalupe is a resource to many of those in her community with disabilities and other medical needs.  I am privileged to call her friend.


  Our first stop was at the home of
  Ponciano, who we had just visited
  about a week ago.  We’d promised to
  bring him a wheelchair, and today
  Daryl was making good on that
  promise.  After adjusting the chair and
  comfortably seating Ponciano, Daryl
  was also able to show him and his
  father some exercises which may help
  to strengthen his legs.

IMG_0177Jessica got to practice her nursing skills a bit.  It seems that in the villages, whenever anyone with any medical knowledge is present, people come from every direction for help.  Today was no different.

Some of the people who came had chronic pain, either from arthritis or previous injuries.  These are very difficult situations, since we could easily provide a month’s supply of Ibuprofen, but we are not able to promise to provide this on a regular basis.  We just don’t have the funding to do this. 

The elderly women we met on this trip seemed to “get to me” the hardest.  Since my first mission trip years ago to Nicaragua, God has given me a special affection for the “ancianas” (older women). 


The first was Ponciano’s grandmother.  She was so frail that it looked as if a strong wind would blow her over.  She was in great pain from arthritis, and with the way her hands were bent from this disease, it was surprising she could work at all.  At 83, though, she still keeps her own house (in back of Ponciano’s) and tries to cook her own food.  We decided this was one person we could help, and did drive to the nearest pharmacy (about 30 min. away) and got her some Aleve and a large can of Ensure.  Hopefully, the Ensure will give her a little more strength and energy, since her family has reported she hardly eats at all.  If anyone would like to help “sponsor” her by providing Ensure for one or more months ($25), please email me and I’ll give you information on how you can help this sweet woman.

Reina  Our next stop was right next
  door, to visit another older
  woman named Reina.  She
  also has not been eating, but
  we discovered her situation
  was much more complicated. 
  In addition to being diabetic,
  she was dehydrated, and
  appeared to have
  pneumonia.  It was a hard
  decision that we made after quite a bit of discussion, but we told her family the best thing would be to take her to the local Centro de Salud (Health Center) where a doctor could adequately assess her condition and prescribe proper treatment.  Daryl was able to give the family enough money to cover the transportation to and from the clinic and enough Pedialyte to help rehydrate her.

I think we all left this house feeling somewhat confused if not a little defeated. It was tempting to give Reina antibiotics to try to treat her pneumonia.  But, with her not eating, she also needed her blood sugar monitored and her oral diabetes medication possibly adjusted.  With her level of dehydration, any antibiotics we would have given may have done as much harm as good.  I longed to have the resources to take her to a private physician, since we know that some of the public health doctors here have questionable skills and even more questionable commitment to patient care.  But this just is not realistic. . .

It was hard to face the reality of where we are living.  Most people will have to use public health centers and national hospitals.  The care they receive there is not what we would like to see.  But, like we saw with Rony, people do recover in these places (at least for a time), even when we do not expect that they will.  It’s hard to trust that God knows these people, knows where they are, and knows their need better than we do.  It’s hard to feel so helpless in the face of sickness and suffering.  Sometimes, it’s hard, too, to remember God has not sent us here for “fix” every need we come in contact with.  He has sent us to walk beside those we meet, offering support and helping them in the areas they cannot help themselves.


Our final stop was a blessing and encouragement.  Guadalupe took us to visit Naty, a little girl who could not speak.  She appears to have some cognitive disability as well.  After talking with her mother, we decided I would return in a few weeks, bringing with a communication system for the little one, and would work with her mother to teach her to use it with Naty.  We also met a young man there who is deaf, but has developed his own way of “signing” with the kids in his neighborhood.  Guadalupe told me there were many more children in this area with similar needs, and I hope to be able to provide some level of support and encouragement to these children and their families.

Week of May 16, 2011


Well, I guess I’ll break my resolution and journal a bit about Dick’s surgery, since he’s been writing some about it. Also, I keep getting emails asking me how he is, so I figure writing one entry should answer a lot of people’s questions. A couple weeks ago it was decided that he needed prostate surgery, and Monday, May 16 was the day.

While I’ve spent many hours sitting with folks in hospitals during my “previous life” working in care ministry, this really was different.  For one thing, I was his interpreter.  Luckily, his surgeon and the anesthesiologist both spoke some English, so that helped.  But none of the nurses spoke English, and I was a bit surprised at how responsible I felt for making sure he was well cared for.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in a hospital and not feel fully able to advocate for myself.

The surgery went well, but the recovery in the hospital and a home have been a bit rough.  When the spinal was wearing off, Dick began to shiver so violently that I was worried he’d shake himself out of bed.   (Sorry, no pictures!!!) The doctors assured us this was only a “normal” side-effect of the anesthesia, but it sure didn’t feel normal while he was going through it.  After this passed, he was drenched in sweat and babbling in Spanish, if you can believe it.  For a short time I was really worried that he’d had a stroke—and had lost his ability to speak English.  I was relieved when I told him I didn’t understand what he wanted, and he finally replied in English, “I know you don’t understand, but I’m making perfect sense!”  Now that’s the Dick we know and love!

DSCF5331_thumb1  After a few days of severe leg
  pain, and frequent calls to the
  doctors, and even more
  medication changes, Dick went
  home to recover at the home of  
  Daryl and Wanda Fulp in San
  Antonio Aguas Calientes.  They
  have a wonderful home in a
  quiet village, and plenty of kids
  to help care for Dick.  He continues to stay with them, as he is slowly regaining strength and energy. 

IMG_0688_thumb[1]The Fulp Family
Raising 10 kids has been a good preparation for Daryl and Wanda as they care for Dick!

DSCF6451_thumbThe biggest challenge is keeping him from going stir-crazy.  I think the kids are helping with that, though, and they really enjoy the attention they are getting from their Uncle Dick.  I think it’s good, too, for him to be part of a family for which he’s not responsible. 

Hanging out at Hermano Pedro May 15, 2011


After church today, we decided to go and just hang with the kids at Hermano Pedro for an hour or so.  Dick had to get back to Chimal by 4 for a soccer game, but, since he’s scheduled for surgery tomorrow (I’ll let him blog about this—since it is his body!), it would be the last time he would see the kids for a while.




It really was fun just to be with the kids, not trying to DO anything, but just hanging out.  Since the nurses were going to wash the wheelchairs, we were asked not to put the kids in their chairs, but had a lot of fun playing on the ground and using the walkers.




IMG_0137  Julio, who has been one of
  the brightest kids around, is
  really having a hard time
  sharing attention with the 
  other kids.  It seems like
  during December and
  January, when he first came, 
  he was kind of the “star of
  the show” since most of the
  other kids were home for the
  Christmas holiday.  Now that they are back, and others compete for attention, he’s really having a hard time.  Dare I use the word “spoiled” about a kid in an institution? 

But I guess it’s all relative.  He doesn’t demand more than any child living in a family probably would.  But in this setting it’s hard to give him all the attention he wants.  There are so many who get no attention, that I find myself telling him he has to wait many times while I spend time with the other kids.  It sometimes hurts my heart to see him rejected.  But it also hurts my heart to see those who lie in bed all day with no love or affection.

IMG_0131One of Nelson’s rare smiles. . .

More and more volunteers are coming, and the kids who can “ask” for attention in one way or another seem to be getting it.  I still ache, though, for the forgotten ones.  Those who seem so unresponsive, until you spend enough time with them to learn their “language.”   And it seems these are the kids that surprise me the most.

IMG_0133While I have spent quite a bit of time with Leonel, I was really excited when Brittany Fulp (a wonderful young woman studying special ed. who is living here now) told me that Leonel was beginning to raise his hand to say “yes.”  He’d pretty much been able to shake his head for “no” but this is a great step, since for the longest time he has not been moving his hand at all.  If it weren’t for Brittany’s perceptiveness, I fear I might have missed this all together.  I fear I fall into a “rut” of thinking I know what the kids are able to do.  Thank God for those who shake me out of my complacency!

Stories from Hope Haven (May 12, 2011)


Once again today I was able to help with a wheelchair distribution at Hope Haven Guatemala, sponsored by SOSEP, the social work organization under the First Lady of Guatemala.
A number of the workers at the shop are hospitalized or recovering from surgery.  Gustavo, our national wheelchair “artist” had cataract surgery, Freddy is receiving treatment for a bedsore, and Omar is recovering from surgery to remove his gall bladder.  All of these fellows have had complications, and I’d ask you to keep them in your prayers as they recover.


Since Omar usually does the administrative stuff for these distributions, today I tried (pitifully) to fill in for him with Isla’s help.  The up side of this, though was that I got to visit with each of the families and spend some time, too with the social workers who brought them in.  These two particular workers are among my favorites, and I enjoyed spending time with them.
There were some remarkable stories to be told today from this varied group of families, and I want to share some of them with you.


First, meet Jennifer Paola, age 9.  This is actually her second wheelchair from Hope Haven.  Her first, received only a few months ago, was stolen from the top of a bus as she traveled with her caregiver.  She is a delightful young lady, and her mother was so proud of her, and extremely grateful to receive another chair.  When they were leaving, her mom handed me the blanket she had used to carry her to the distribution.  When I said I couldn’t take it from her, she said, "Please.  I  don’t need it now—I have a wheelchair to carry her in.”   I received this gift as I broke into tears at her generosity.  The willingness of these women, who have so little, to share what they do have continues to humble me.

IMG_0097cr  Next, there is Ivan Estuardo.  His tiny
  mother carried her good sized 17 year
  old son on her back to get him to the
  distribution.  While hardly able to sit up,
  she told us how he insists on going to
  church, and someday hopes to be a
  pastor.  As he was lying flat on his
  back, waiting for his chair, he sang a
  praise song for us that once again had
  me in tears.  I was convicted how often
  I complain about minor aches and
  inconveniences.  Here was a young
  man with a bright mind and a severely
  limited body, desiring with all his heart to use what he has in the service of the God he loves.  Wow!


Nineteen year old Darwin was Dick’s last seating of the day.  Darwin has muscular dystrophy, though still is active and attending school.  He had a broken down wheelchair which his mother used to push him the 4 km (one way) to and from school each day.  He hoped to receive one in a little better condition.

Since this looked like what would be an “easy fit,” Dick shared with me that he had thought about leaving a little early and letting one of the Hope Haven workers fit this young man.  Something inside him, though , (I think the Holy Spirit) compelled him to go back to seat him.  As he heard his story, Dick began evaluating Darwyn to receive a power chair.  Swiftly, Dick decided he was an appropriate candidate for one.  After searching the warehouse for one small enough to fit though the doorways of Darwin’s home, Dick managed to find one, which also just so happened to have good batteries (no small feat), and Darwin was soon driving around with as much pride as any young man would have when obtaining his first set of “wheels.” 

It was a pretty incredible surprise for Darwin who was hoping to maybe get a new “push” chair, and receiving a power chair.  I can only imagine the difference this will make in his life, and the life of his mother, who will no longer have to push him to and from school each day!

Visit to David’s & Jessica’s family (May 11, 2011)

Today Dick, Daryl, Daryl’s in-laws Chester and Ruth, and I set to visit a few families in the Patulul area.

Our first stop was at David’s home.  (Sorry, not pictures this time.  Maybe I can get some from Dick and post them later.)  David is a twenty-something year old young man who is finishing his bachelor’s degree in computers.  David is also in a wheelchair, and has been fighting bed sores for more than the past year.  He was to have surgery a few weeks ago at Hermano Pedro, but it was postponed because there were complications with another operation his surgeon was doing.  Now it seems his mother has managed to get the sore greatly reduced in size, and he’s hoping he can wait for surgery until after he graduates in November. 

His mother, Guadalupe, is another of those remarkable women I’ve met here in Guatemala, who, in addition to caring for her own family, has a heart of compassion for those around her.  Today she introduced us to a forty-five year old man and his parents.  He has been unable to walk since he was five years old, and a while ago, David’s mother gifted him with David’s old wheelchair, and he’s thoroughly enjoying his new mobility—even though there is not rubber left on his wheels.

So today we went to measure him for a new chair.  Good thing, too, as this is one of the tallest men, with the longest legs, that I have yet met in Guatemala.  A proper size chair will do a world of good for his health.  So, we hope to return in the near future with a donated chair (someone has already given the needed funds through Hope for Home Ministries) and get him properly seated.

The walk to his house and back gave me ample time to visit with Guadalupe, and it was such a pleasure to walk through her village arm-in-arm with her.  It is amazing to me how quickly these women become not just acquaintances, but friends.  My life is so much richer because of the impact they have on me.


Virginia’s daughter, Blanca, next to the tank

As clouds rolled in we decided we better leave before the rain started (we had to cross through a river) and get on to visit Virginia, Jessica’s mother.  (Jessica is in malnutrition at Hermano Pedro.)  A couple weeks ago, while I was in the States, Daryl and Dick put up a water tank for her (they only get water one hour a day) and they were anxious to see if it was working.


Always excited to see us, the welcomed us all with open arms.  Virginia had not received the current month’s food support yet, and so she pretty much had nothing to feed her children.  Daryl had just so happened  to take with us some food concentrate meal in a bag, and we were able to give them enough to sustain them until the money for food arrived in their account.  Godincident?  I think so.


We could not stay long, however, as the rains had held off enough for us to make the steep climb on what might be called a dirt road (path, trail) up to their house.  We had no desire to try it on slippery mud however.

As we were leaving, Virginia pulled me aside and handed me two homemade gifts her children had given her for Mother’s Day.  She wanted to share them with Ruth and me.  It was amazing to see not only her generosity, but the willingness of her children, who had made the gifts, to share them with us.  I did manage not to take the basket she offered me which had been made by her youngest son.  I could see in his eyes how much he wanted his mom to have it, so asked them to “guard” if for me, and to remember me when they see it.


Irma holding the gift she’d made her mom for Mother’s Day

As we drove back, Dick, Daryl, and I reflected on the day.  We had felt somewhat guilty that we were taking a “day-off” just to show his in-laws the backcountry.  We should have known better.  I’m learning that gestures of friendship are ministry in this land.  I’m also seeing more frequently, that as we “hang out” with those we already know, God continues to bring us those we have not yet met who are in need.  He takes us to just the right place at just the right time. . .and I love going along for the ride.

Mother’s Day (May 10, 2011)


Here in Guatemala, Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10, no matter what day of the week it is.  Women with children are allowed a day off from work to celebrate (though most do not get paid if they don’t work.) The celebration takes on a little different flavor, here, too, in that women together celebrate the day, rather than expecting their children to create a celebration for them. 

(Most children do, however, and the children in the Hernandez family hosted a “refaccion” (tea) for us on the following Sunday.  The entire family came it for this!)

So, Tuesday morning, I set out with Mari, Maria (her daughter-in-law) and a friend of hers, whose name for the life of me I can’t remember, and her daughter.  Mari loves a very fancy restaurant up on one of the volcanoes near Antigua, so we headed up there for breakfast.


I have to admit that as much as I love Mari and Maria, the high point of my morning was spending time with Mari’s friend’s four year old daughter, whose name I also can’t remember!  While we waited more than an hour for a table (this is a very popular place), the little one and I walked and talked and played and took pictures and had a wonderful time.  I haven’t decided, yet, if this made me miss my grandsons more, or lessened some of my homesickness for them.  Probably a bit of both.

IMG_0058  What surprised me most, though, was
  how surprised the other women were
  that I wanted to spend time with the
  little girl.  I am seeing more and more
  that Guatemalans, while they love their
  children dearly, have very different
  relationships with them.  They may
  play with them, though rarely, and
  almost never carry on conversations
  with younger children.  I think this is
  what this little one was thriving on—
  someone talking with her, and
  following her lead as to where she
  wanted to go and what she wanted to
  do.  And I have to admit, I thrived on 
  having her undivided attention, too!



  And, as I prayed this evening, I  
  couldn’t help but pray for all the
  mothers I know here in this country
  who are struggling on their own to
  scrape out a subsistence living for
  their children.  (At left, Beatriz,
  putting her daughter Luisa into her
  wheelchair for the first time.)




I think of the mothers who must leave their disabled children at Hermano Pedro because they cannot care for them.  (At right, Saundra, a single mother who must work each day to support her family, and her daughter Jessica, on the day she was admitted to Hermano Pedro.)


I can’t forget the women who must leave their children in the malnutrition ward here at Hermano Pedro, often while they are just newborn.  I remember the pain of the 7 weeks my own daughter spent in the hospital because she was born prematurely and pray Jesus will soothe their hearts which ache to just hold their child.







(Virginia visiting her daughter Jessica in
the malnutrition project at Hermano Pedro.
To see more of her story, click here.)









(Week old Valentina, in the arms of
her grandma, before admittance to
Hermano Pedro. To read her story
click here.)

rony on gurney w mom  Lastly, today I grieve
  with those mothers who
  have lost children this
  past year, due to
  disease, disability, or
  simply to lack of food or
  adequate medical care.

  (At left, Rony and his
  mother at the National
  Hospital, a few months
  before his death last

As one young Guatemala girl (actually, it was Rony’s sister, Jessica) said to me a few years ago, “The life of a mother in Guatemala is not easy.”  Writing this, I could almost feel overwhelmed at the suffering of these women.  And then God brings me back to my prayer for this year—to love the one person before me at any time.  And I praise Him for allowing me the privilege of bearing these women’s burdens with them, and pray for the next woman He will bring to me. 

Please join me in this prayer.

Honey, I’m Home May 6-8


I arrived at the Guatemala City airport about 9:30 on Friday, May 6, and was greeted by Dick and a bunch of the kids from his neighborhood in Chimaltenango.  Dick had said that there were even more who wanted to come, all claiming they had missed me so much while I was gone they couldn’t wait to see me. (Personally, I think they just wanted a trip to the city, but Dick disagrees.)  The kids had actually given up going to Youth Group at the church to come and meet me, and it was really neat to hug each of their necks (or at least the necks of the ones that would let me!).  Wish I’d taken a picture of them standing there, but was too busy trying to juggle the suitcases on my luggage cart to take out my camera.

Spent Saturday morning unpacking, and around 4 Dick came over so we could catch up.  Mari had invited him for dinner at 7, and after we talked for a while decided to take a walk and explore a part of Antigua I had not really walked through yet.  I’ll let Dick tell the rest of the story. . .

Actually it was only 4 PM when I got to Pat's house and we were not scheduled to go over to Leo and Mari's house for dinner until 7 PM but I needed a kid break.  (And here, I thought he’d just missed me.  The truth always comes out!!!) Pat and I had a good visit and then went for a walk. Our walk took us past a the home of a Gustavo, a man that I had brought an electric scooter to a few years ago. Today as we walked past their home I asked Pat if she wanted to stop by and visit Gustavo and his family.

Gustavo at his home

Gustavo had suffered a stroke a few years prior to the first time that I met him and even though his family had somehow found a manual wheelchair for him it was of little value to him during the day when he was left alone while his children were at school and his wife and mother were at work because he had no use of right arm.  Gustavo was a bit hesitant to use his power scooter when I first gave it to him but within a week his family had phoned me telling me that he was going all over the neighborhood with it. I must admit it has had a few break downs and a few months ago I had to replace it with a different one that Bethel Ministries graciously provided but having mobility has changed not only Gustavo's life but the lives of his entire family.

Today his wife shared with us just how much it has changed their lives. She told us that before he received his power scooter she dreaded having to leave him at home alone even though she had to in order to provide for her family. Gustavo who use to suffer from a lot of depression is now an outgoing happy individual as he no longer feels that he is a burden to his family. Not only can he accompany them when they go to see friends or go to church but he can now help out by going to the store on his own and doing some of the family shopping.

Today as the family once again thanked us for giving Gustavo this life changing gift I reminded them that we had just been the delivery boys and that the gift was from God. They told us that they were aware of that but that they were thankful that God had directed us to them. More and more I am becoming aware that sharing Christ with people involves a lot more than simply telling them about Jesus.~~Dick

Dick holding childWhat Dick did not share here was the depth of the love these folks have for him.  Not because he brought them a wheelchair, though they are very grateful for that.  But because he shows such love and compassion in the way he gives chairs, and gets involved in people’s lives.  There was no reason for us to stop today, except Dick wanted to check that everything was going okay with the chair.  I know he wonders sometimes, if he’s making an impact with what he does.  Today should have answered that question for him, I hope.


Kimmie Fulp, going up to receive her “badges.”

Sunday, Mother’s Day in the States, was the day our church here acknowledge the progress of our kids in Sunday School.  (They are, after all, the ones who make Mother’s Day possible, aren’t they?)  I am so pleased to be part of a church that places such a high value on it’s children as to take 20 minutes out of their worship service to celebrate the children learning their Bible verses.  I am teaching the elementary age girls, and am getting pretty attached to them.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taught this age, and since we’re a bi-lingual church, get to teach in both English and Spanish, but I’m coping. 



  After lunch with Dick and the kids at
  Martha’s (a great Guatemala buffet)
  we headed out to watch some of the
  boys play soccer.  They got pretty well
  creamed by a team of adult men, and
  were feeling pretty down about the
  whole thing.  I’m glad we went,
  though, so they know we love them
  whether they win or lose!

Stateside Visit—April 19 to May 6

Gma and boys j  April 19, I once again, made a visit to my
  family in Omaha and Chicago.  This time
  I was returning for my grandson
  Zachary’s fifth birthday.  It seems
  incredible to me that he’s already 5, but
  the calendar tells me it’s so.


An added bonus this trip is that Jonathan, my middle son who is a Marine, just so happened to be home on his pre-deployment leave. (Thank you, God, for unexpected gifts!)  He returned a short while ago after spending about 9 months shipboard, in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Now he will be leaving shortly for Afghanistan, and this was his assigned time to return home before departure.  When I moved to Guatemala last June one of the hardest things was not knowing when I would get to see all my kids together again.  So this was a real treat!


The Forster Kids
Mikayla, holding Nate, Jeremy, Joel, Jonathan, holding Zach

So, for Zach’s birthday party, we had the whole family together again.  And Zach reaped the benefits in terms of his gifts.  There was plenty of time to play with his gifts, afterwards, too. 

Zac stomping rocket

I had Easter dinner with Jeremy and his family, and then he and Lindy took off for the Amana Colonies for two days, giving Grandma a chance to spend extended time with her boys.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the time with Zach and Nate, I understand even better why God gave me children while I was younger.  Man, after two days, I was beat! I sure enjoyed the time with them, though.  Zach is such a conversationalist now, and Nate has changed so much since I was back last November, that I realize even more the wisdom of these semi-annual visits.

Gma and zac jc  This year, for the first time, Zach had a hard
  time understanding why I had to leave
  again.  When I explained about “my” kids at
  Hermano Pedro, he responded, “But you’re
  MY grandma, not theirs.”  Explaining to him
  that the kids in the orphanage didn’t have
  any other grandma helped a little, but he 
                            only settled for saying, “Okay, Grandma, but 
                            I not happy!”IMG_0026cr 

On my way back, I’ve spent a few days with my brother and sister in Chicago, catching up and sorting through some of the belongings still left from my mother.  We shared a number of meals and laughs together, and I got to see my great-niece Elayna, and found out she would be welcoming a brother or sister in October.  Why does “great-aunt” sound so much older to me than grandma?


I may not have a granddaughter,
but having a grand-niece comes close!

In all, it was a great trip to the States, but I’m anxious to get back home tomorrow.  I miss my friends and family in the US, there’s no doubt about that.  But home, for me now, really is in Guatemala. . .

(I’ll be back in September, and hope to see everyone then who I missed on this trip.)

Cuaresma (Lent) and Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua


In Guatemala the forty days leading up to Easter is called the Cuaresma, or what we would call in the US, Lent.  The traditions for the celebration of this solemn time, though, could not be more different.  While my experience with the Catholic commemoration of this time tends to be spiritually serious and somewhat solemn (albeit, many churches do host Friday night fish-fries which can be quite raucous), these forty days are truly celebrated in Guatemala.

It’s taken some getting used to for me to appreciate anything about the processions and church celebrations here, but living here has helped me better understand the heart of some of those participating in these festivities.  For some here, it is a time of great superstition and ritual importance.  For others, however, I have come to see that their involvement in the vigils (velaciones) and processions grow out of a deep and abiding love for Jesus and gratitude for what He has done in gaining their salvation.

My friend, Daryl Fulp, put this into some perspective for me when he reminded me of our “celebration of the Easter bunny” and I remembered one particular Easter worship in my own evangelical church in the US where the bunny made a rather abrupt appearance in our service, ruining a particularly spirit-filled time of worship.  I guess we all blow it, sometimes, in our attempts to merge the secular with the sacred.

So this year, I’ve resolved to open myself up to what God has for me during this season.  And I’d like to share with you some of what He’s revealed to me (or at least I think He has!).



Each weekend during Lent, a velacion (vigil) is held in a different church around Antigua.  These begin on Friday night, and culminate in a procession on Sunday.  The church hosting the procession and vigil is decorated to commemorate a Biblical teaching or event.  One I visited this year portrayed the resurrection of Christ, another the last judgment.  The entire church is rearranged to accommodate the display, and an elaborate alfombra or carpet is constructing in front of the display using flowers, fruits, vegetables and saw dust.  The atmosphere inside the church was reverent and people struggled through the crowd to get close to the display.


These amazing renderings of Jesus and the Lamb of God are done entirely with flower petals.


Outside, the tone is quite different on Friday and Saturday, with a street festival taking place in the church square.  The rich aroma of street food pervades the area, and there are a multitude of people selling trinkets and cheap toys for the children.  This is like an American carnival, without the rides!

Semana Santa


Workers carrying palms into Antigua in preparation for Palm Sunday.

IMG_0685Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday and runs through Easter Sunday and the folks in Antigua, Guatemala cram a lot into that week with dozens of processions at all hours of the day and night and thousands of participants of all ages. The processions often overlap and traffic comes to a stand still throughout the week.  If you are planning on going anywhere from Wednesday through Saturday, chances are you won’t make it, or it will take you literally hours to get through the city. Streets become parking lots!

IMG_0664  The religious processions are organized and
  carried out by the brotherhoods, made up of    
  either men, women, or even children.  These
  brotherhoods are responsible for planning and
  orchestrating the vigil as well as the procession
  for their church.  Each church carries it’s own
  distinctive statues (some dating back to the
  17th Century) through the streets during the
  procession, with the most famous being that of
  Jesus the Nazarene, and the Sorrowful Mother

procession 1Each procession leaves its church, usually led by incense carriers, and the banner of the particular brotherhood.  Cucuruchus, or carriers, dressed in purple or black robes, will take turns carrying the anda, or platform carrying the statue, for about a block at

Jesus carrying cross 
  a time.  At each corner, a new group of
  carriers takes over, since it is difficult to carry
  these heavy platforms (some weighing up to
  7000 lbs.) while walking in synchronized


People participate in these processions for varied reasons.  The best explanation was given me by Leo, Jr. (a son in “my” Guatemalan family) who participates in some of the processions.  He says, “Some people think that God forgives their sins if they walk [in the procession].  That’s not true.  God forgives us when we are sorry and ask forgiveness.  Me, I walk, to show my gratitude to Jesus for all He has done for me.  It’s what little I can do.”

Leo Jr. and his son, Alejandro


In addition to the alfombras constructed in the churches during the velaciones, carpets are also constructed along the processional routes each weekend.   Varying from simple to extremely elaborate, these are generally constructed by the families living along the procession route. The construction is timed so as to be completed just before the procession arrives, so the alfombra is at its best.


Sand or sawdust is generally used to level the cobblestone roadway.  Sawdust is then collected and dyed in different colors.  Favorite colors are purple, green, blue, red, yellow and black.  Flowers such as bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, carnations, roses and other native plants and pine needles are also used.


Immediately after the procession passes these beautiful street “paintings” are swept into garbage trucks and taken away.  I’ve come to think of them as “performance art” designed in many cases solely out of devotion to God.  It still pains my heart to see these beautiful works of art so roughly discarded, though.



By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert on these ancient traditions.  Nor can I say I am particularly comfortable with the ritual and symbolism of many of the things done during this time. 

Talking with my Guatemalan Catholic friends about the celebrations this year, I’ve come to a little bit of a better understanding of all of this.  I’ve discovered, for instance, that not all the processions or celebrations are sanctioned by the church.  This includes the ones which in the past I have considered bizarre and even demonic.  Yes, there is a large intermingling of Catholic and Maya traditions, but many of those who participate in these ceremonies seem to have the right motive, even if I would disagree strongly with some of their doctrine.  I’m still wrestling with what this means. . .but find if I talk about Jesus, rather than dogma, we find a lot more common ground.  Often, it seems, the blending is due to lack of proper instruction rather than a firm commitment.  I’ve been so happy to find that most Guatemalans, if I talk with them about what the Bible says, are open to sharing. 

What I have come away from this Lent with is a somewhat embarrassing conviction of how little preparation and reflection I have put into my own celebration of the Resurrection many years. If nothing else, experiencing Lent in Guatemala, I have been more aware of my own role in Christ’s crucifixion, and cling more tightly to the promise of the Resurrection.  And that’s a good thing. . .