Reflections on Semana Santa and Pascua and the Catholic/Evangelical Divide


At no time of the year, is seems, is the distinction between Catholic and Evangelical more apparent here in Guatemala than during Holy Week and Easter.  This is my fifth year to spend Holy Week here in Antigua (2 as a visitor, 3 living here), where the largest Catholic celebration in the world of Lent and Easter takes place.  Each year, I feel God teaches me more about Him and His truth through the experience.


The first year I have to admit I was a bit “weirded out” by the statues.  I was not used to seeing actual hair and elegant cloth robes on a statue.  It was creepy, as were some of the “floats” they carried. 


Easter StreetsFor a number of years, my reaction to the processions was annoyance.  The streets become parking lots, and the sidewalks become impassable in some areas.  The vendors hawking their wares seem to make a mockery of anything religious about the celebrations.

The past two years, God has been challenging me more personally to come closer to Him during the processions.  To intercede for this country, but in a different way than ever before.


Last year, God showed me who the processions can be used to “teach” the Passion of Christ to an illiterate people, in much the same way the Morality Plays taught during the Middle Ages.  Not an all together bad thing.  He also taught me to build on what folks experience in the processions to spark discussions about the truth of the Gospel.  “What did you think of the procession?” is much less threatening to locals and tourists alike than, “Do you know if you are going to heaven if you die tonight?”  What a challenge to speak the truth in love to people who are here only to experience the crowds and the pageantry.

This year, God has used the Guatemalan Lenten and Easter traditions to contrast the country where I serve as a missionary with the country that has sent me.  And my heart has grieved more for the US than for Guatemala this season.


While here there is much misunderstanding and confusion, even distortion of the truth, Guatemala consistently acknowledges God and his central role in our lives.  Jesus is not an offensive word here, but treasured.  Government offices display Nativity scenes, and in an number of offices, under the portrait of the chief of that division, I have seen their favorite Bible verse imprinted as their “mission statement.”  Schools here begin their parent meetings and graduations with prayer; pastors are often the speakers.  I can’t help but contrast this with what is going on the in US, not only in terms of morality, but even more in light of the back seat into which we have pushed God.


Do the Catholics here have some weird and even mixed up theology?  You bet you!  But do they love Jesus and the price He paid for our salvation?  Many of them do.  Have I talked with Evangelicals who have mixed up theology?  Surely.  More sadly, I have talked to many who have correct theology but little passion for Jesus or the Gospel He brings.  That saddens me even more.

cross vs crucifixMany missionaries (and Evangelicals in the US, too) condemn the Catholic world view, often without ever having directly talked with a Catholic to learn what they believe.   (I had a visitor, Kathleen, down the first week of Lent, and she is a devoted Christ follower who happens to be Catholic, and wanted to attend mass, so I went with her.  I heard one of the best homilies (sermons) explaining the true role of ritual in the Catholic Church, and admonishing the congregation that if their hearts were not united with Jesus, all their actions during Lent were worthless.  I was blessed by this teaching, and more than a little surprised to hear it preached from a Catholic pulpit, but also overjoyed that Christ was being lifted up so clearly.)

And Catholics cannot understand why we do not love and cherish their “Papa” (Pope) as head of the church.  We emphasize the differences, and make a mockery of Jesus’ Last Supper prayer that “all may be one.” 

Pope Francis and disabled manIn the midst of so much Facebook conflict about the new Papa Francisco (Pope Francis) I was feeling guilty about how much I was liking everything I was reading about the type of man Francis I is.  Then, a pastor friend posted this link What the New Pope Means for Evangelicals, and my heart rejoiced that two internationally known men of God, Pope Francis and Luis Palau, could “keep the main thing the main thing” and work side by side to celebrate Jesus and serve His people.

On a different note, I have to admit, I was very interested by all the controversy, again on Facebook, about the attempt to eliminate the word Easter from the  secular celebration.  I much prefer Resurrection Sunday anyway. Have you ever researched the origin ofEaster bunny the word Easter?  It’s an interesting read if you do.  No way is it the same as Christmas, which comes from Christ’s Mass, and I think it would be good for our kids to get baskets of candy from the "Springtime Bunny”,  and put to rest the idea that bunnies and eggs really have anything to do with the Resurrection of Jesus.  (For another blog: this is syncretism—mixing Christian and pagan beliefs and traditions—done American style.)

Well, if you’ve managed to wade through all this rambling, I can only assume that you share with me Jesus’ desire that “all may be one.”  Let’s pray together for this unity, and work together to make it a reality.  To God be the Glory!

A Full Week with a Full House

dinner tableWe had not really planned “activities” for this trial run week, wanting it to be as much like a normal living situation as possible.  I quickly discovered that with a bunch of young men in the house, I would not need to plan much, only hold down the lid on their activity.

IMG00452-20130326-1028Yep, that’s right.  Fidel operates the computer using his feet.

Both the TV and the computers got a real work out this week.  I was a little lax with this, since neither Moises or Fidel have much opportunity to use a computer or TV whenever they want.  I did chuckle, however, when Miguel, who would live on the computer himself if Dick let him, came to me asking if I had a ball they could use to play “futbol” (soccer), since he was concerned Moises was on the computer too much!




Thanks to a Ivy, a young lady from the Westside Team, we had the perfect ball with which to play soccer in my house, with it’s numerous windows.  She had sewn fabric covers into which you could insert and inflate a balloon.  These were perfect for safe soccer in the house. 


Much of my week centered around food—preparing it, serving it, and cleaning up after it.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed cooking for a big family, but was happy to have Mari’s help with the typical Guatemalan dishes served during Holy Week.  The guys each washed their own dishes, but I took care of the kitchen clean up—mostly because I’m a bit compulsive about making sure everything is really clean!  They did pitch in willingly, though, whenever asked.  And

I think the favorite activity, though, was baking Oatmeal Scotchies Cookies. (Thank you Kathleen McGlynn for bringing the chips and brown sugar that made this possible!) Baking at home is not common here in Guatemala (few homes have ovens), and none of the boys had ever done this. They all are anxious to do it again, however.




Calin helped Moises mix the sugar into the butter.







Fidel’s job was to mix in the chips—which he did enthusiastically with a little help from Esbin.






And Esbin and Calin took care of scooping the cookies out and baking them.  Sorry, no pictures of us eating the cookies.  We were all too busy enjoying the fruits of our labor!

I am so glad I like being “la alma de la casa.”  This phrase translates, “the soul of the home,” and I like that so much better than our English term housewife or even home maker.  It really is my desire to set the tone for a spirit of welcome and hospitality in this place and I got plenty of practice this week.  It seems that this, along with the ever present need to raise funds to sustain us, will be my major role here at the Casa.

IMG00453-20130328-0854The boys did an amazing job of helping Don Antonio, Fidel and Moises with those things they could not do independently.  They came up with very creative ways of caring for their personal hygiene needs, and we discovered that our house really is quite functional in that area.  I did virtually no care-giving this week (I even had to fight for a turn to feed Fidel, who cannot use his arms), but just had time to enjoy the guys. 

I don’t remember my own kids being so much fun, but maybe because I way younger and WAY more intense than I am now.  (Sorry, Jeremy, Mikayla, Jon and Joel, but I’m grateful for what you all taught me along the way that prepared me for where I am now!)


We shared a number of meals with Dick, the boys from Chimal, and our friends the Senesacs.  It was so neat to see the boys enjoying a normal family setting, especially at mealtime.  Fidel, especially, was so happy to get to decide what he wanted to eat, and Moises took full advantage of having the liberty to eat seconds (or thirds, or fourths!).


For me, the high points of the week were the times we spent together talking and praying.  I am moved to tears every time I hear Fidel struggle to form the words to pray aloud, remembering so clearly the times in the past when I would mention God to him, and he would drive his chair away in disgust. 

We watched a number of videos from Life Without Limbs, the ministry of Nick Vujicic, and had some great discussions with Moises and Fidel, especially, about God’s plan and purpose for their lives.  Fidel was moved to tears when I told him, that to me, he is every bit as much of an inspiration as Nick is in his ministry.  And that’s the truth.

And we all worshipped together on Easter Sunday at Iglesia del Camino, and went out to lunch at Piccadilly Restaurant.  Just like a “real” family.

It is so overwhelming to see our long time dream becoming a reality, thanks God who cares for us, and you who support us.  And it’s only gonna get better!

Checking Out of Hermano Pedro


We are anxious to receive our first permanent residents at Casa de Esperanza, but we also want to do what we are doing well.  It is with this in mind that we decided to do a “trial run” during Semana Santa (the week before Easter) and invited three residents from Hermano Pedro to spend the week with us. 

The residents who have families would be spending the week at home, so it was very easy to get permission from the administration for Fidel and Don Antonio to come to be with us.  Fidel is the young man we hope to have as our first permanent resident, and Don Antonio is a mature man (a little older than I am) who is blind.  Both we excited for the chance to spend a week outside of an institutionalized setting.










                     Fidel                                                Don Antonio




Moises, a fifteen year old who attends a regular school in Antigua, had been invited, but is pretty timid about new things and declined our invitation.




This seemed a perfect time for a trial, since Holy Week is a holiday in Guatemala, and the schools are closed.  A number of Dick’s boys from Chimaltenango who have expressed interest in serving as assistants in the were free to give it a try this week.  Carlin, who has worked with the young men at the November camp run by Hope Haven and Bethel Ministries International, was free to come and help train the “newbies,” and Miguel, who may become a permanent resident assistant was able to get the week off from his current job as a barber.

So, Monday found us (Miguel, Fernando, Esbin, Calin and myself) heading over to Hermano Pedro.  This was our car’s maiden voyage into ministry, as we took her to bring back all the luggage, and provide transportation for Don Antonio.

Checking out the guys took the better part of the day, which, being in Guatemala, I guess I should have expected.  I still find myself surprised, though, that the nurses waited to pack the guys till we got there (I wonder if they weren’t sure we’d really come?), and then each of the guys needed to be seen by the doctor to make sure they were healthy enough for a week away.

Though we had obtained permission the week previously, I spent about a half an hour in the Social Work office, filling out the required paperwork, and signing forms.  This, too, was not begun until I was physically present. . .

While all this was going on, the boys who had come with me were playing with Moises.  He was having a great time, and decided he’d changed his mind and would like to come with us, too.  Ugh. . .I didn’t know if this would work. (Evidently Moi had thought it would be just he and I spending the week at the house.  I can’t imagine why he wasn’t interested in spending a week alone with an old lady! LOL)

images (4)Being unsure of how to proceed, I went and found Xiomara, the director of volunteers, and chief advocate for the residents, as well as a good friend.  We talked with Aura, the head social worker, who was thrilled that Moi wanted to go, but we would have to talk with the social work in charge of his ward.

This is where it got a bit sticky.  We were given a flat out, “no,” since we had not asked for permission previously.  Xiomara explained the situation, and did some might fast talking (I stepped out in the hall to let the social worker “save face” if she said yes), and finally it was agreed that if Xiomara could get Father Jose to approve, Moi could go.  Evidently, Father Jose had not problem with this, since Xiomara was back with the approval in about two minutes.

DSC05440Xiomara (on rt.) and her friend Vicki, when they brought Fidel to our house for the first time.

(On a side note, Xiomara is one of the most amazing young women I have met in Guatemala.  She is intelligent, educated, bilingual, and competent.  More importantly, she is totally sold out to Jesus and loves his people, especially the “least of these” who reside in Hermano Pedro.  It is not her job to be their advocate.  Sometimes I know it gets her into a little hot water doing so.  But it is her “calling” and she does it fearlessly.  How fortunate we are that she is helping us!)

Thank you, too, to Moises, the nurse in charge of the boys ward, who took so much time explaining Fidel’s diet, his medications and his special needs.  This gracious young man even took the time to show the boys how they help Fidel with his personal hygiene in a manner that is most comfortable for him.  He even gave us his personal phone number in case we needed any help during the week, or had any questions. Another staff member going above and beyond to help us make this week successful!


So, in short order, we were ready to go. Don Antonio was seated in the front, the luggage in the trunk and he, Esbin, and I were off for the house.  Fidel and Moises would walk over to the house (about 14 blocks) with Calin, Miguel and Fernando.  I have to admit, it was difficult for me to let the guys go on their own.  I could claim it was because I had legal responsibility for Moi and Fidel, but, if the truth be told, it’s just my controlling personality that was getting in the way.  I realized that if this model of community living was going to work, I was going to have to let go and trust my co-workers to do their jobs.


I joked that it was an “Easter miracle:”  Fernando voluntarily cleaning his room to make space for a bed for Moi.  Moises is special to Fernando.  They are the same age, and, as Fernando says, they have grown up together.

I am proud to say that all five young men arrived at the house safe and sound and in a timely manner.  The looks of accomplishment on their faces made me glad I had let them do this on their own.  This set the tone for the weekend. . .supported independence.

Just for fun:IMG00440-20130325-1943Since we hadn’t planned on Moises being with us, we had to borrow and extra bed from Mari, who lives about a half a block away.  The boys carried it down the street, joking that they were having a “gringo procession” to celebrate the opening of our house!  What goofballs!

We are off to a good start!

Santa Maria de Jesús/Nueva Vida Update


We began a new school year here in Guatemala on January 14, (School year, not semester.  .  .We go to school January to October)  with a parent meeting to introduce the families to the staff.  I was pleased to be included in the introductions this year, but more than a little surprised when Seño Marisol, the Director, asked me to explain to the parents what I was doing. . .I managed to stumble through a description of our “resource room” model in Spanish, and I’m told I did not make too much of a fool of myself.


My role at the school changed this year from being a consultant to a part-time teacher.  In previous years, students were grouped by their academic grade level, so, it was possible to have a twelve year old who what just starting school in the same classroom with a five year old.  You can imagine the challenges this presented for both the teacher and the student.

This year the administration decided to group the children in a more age-appropriate manner.  This, though, presented new challenges to the teachers.  Individualization is not part of the teacher training curriculum here, and while our teachers do an excellent job of meeting each individual child’s needs, having multiple grade levels of children in the same room was a new challenge.


I’ve missed having my “own” class, and, as Judy Kerschner (the founder of New Life) and I were discussing this, I suggested the idea of a “resource room.”  In this model, the children are in their regular classroom part of the day, but receive more specialized instruction in basic skills in a “pull-out” classroom.  After talking with Seño Marisol, we decided to give this a try.


I began the year working with four different groups of students for roughly 45 minutes a day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  One of these groups was our students who are deaf, and this was proving quite challenging for me, though they were teaching me a lot. 


Yovany and Wendy
two of our students who are deaf

About a month an a half ago, Judy and I were visiting, and came up with the idea that, since we now have a number of deaf students, hiring a teacher specifically trained to work with this group would be a good idea.  We agreed, but I have to admit I was doubtful of the possibility of finding someone qualified, now that school had started.

God, however had other ideas, and within two days Judy and Marisol were interviewing Gelga (pronounced Helga), who had previously taught at the school for the Deaf in Jocotenango.  They had to let her go due to lack of funding, but their loss is our gain, and the deaf children now have their very own class in which they learn not only academic skills but also sign language communication. 

The first week they were working with Seño Gelga, they could not wait for recreation time to tell me about what they were doing.  (Their little hands were flying so fast signing to me, I didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t understand most of what they were “saying”) but this confirmed for me how they needed the special skills Seño Gelga brings to us.

We have some other special staff members I am privileged to work alongside also.

Jennifer Giesemann, a speech pathologist from Tennesee, joined us last June and has become a good friend as well as a trusted colleague.  Jennifer’s parents were missionaries to Venezuela, and she is fluent in Spanish.  It is so good to have someone here who “speaks the same language” (English and Educationese) with whom to brainstorm and problem solve.  Besides that, as you can see from the picture of her with Damaris, Jennifer is just a lot of fun to be around.


I couldn’t do what I do without the help of another volunteer, Brian Taylor, a young man from California who has committed to work at the school for six months.  Judy was gracious enough to allow him to work with me, and, with all the coming and going, and different age levels with which I work, he is a great help.  He also has a genuine love for the kids that is priceless.


An added perk is that Brian has agreed to stay with the boys at Casa de Esperanza while I am in the US in late April and early May. 

Nueva Vida (New Life) has got to be the happiest place in the very poor and spiritually lost village of Santa Maria de Jesús.  I am so fortunate to be a part of what they are doing!

Pat & Roman

Our Temporary Residents

While our house is not yet full of permanent residents, God has been using it to provide housing for a variety of guests.  

Scott and Lynda with Miguel and Wilma, two (of the five) students they sponsor.

First, we have been able host Scott and Lynda Hardee, who are friends from Kansas City.  They came to Guatemala to work with the ministry Love Guatemala in Jocotenango, and the feeding center in which they served is walking distance from the house.  Their staying here was a no brainer.  Lynda has provided wise counsel and support, as well as being a wonderful prayer partner.  Scott has enjoyed being “grandpa” to the boys, and serving as part-time math teacher.  They left about a month ago, and are sorely missed.  Come back soon.


 “Grandpa” Scott helping the boys with homework.

Lynda, who is an ER nurse in her life in the States
treating an infection one of the students at Mari’s
developed on her foot (as Cesar covers here eyes!).

Alma, who had foot surgery which will eventually enable her to walk, and her mom, Patricia, needed a place to stay for a night before going to the clinic in San Lucas (read more about their journey here).  We had a great night visiting before they left and I learned much about their needs and their family.

DSC05883Next, Alexi Treu and Kathleen McGlynn came to spend ten days with us in mid-February.  Alexi was getting ready to leave for Army bootcamp and wanted to do one more mission trip before leaving.  Kathleen is a graduate student at Creighton, who is very interested in non-profit organization and management.  During their time here they got to experience a wide variety of our ministries here, as well as a trip to beautiful Lake Atitlan.  (Read more here.)
Then, in mid-March, a team from my home church, Westside in Omaha, got to spend a day with us, getting a small taste of our ministry, and a large sampling of Guatemalan culture, since they were here on a Sunday during the height of the Lenten processions.  The Wiens family (Debi and I worked together at Westside in Childcare years ago) got to stay two nights in our house, and that gave us a great time to visit. (Read more)

So, while there are only three of us living in the house at present, anxiously awaiting other permanent residents, God has been showing us that He has plans for this house even in the inter-rim.  In fact, a number of the folks from Hermano Pedro who we would like to have live here are not 18 yet, and therefore too young to move in permanently.  After our experience of Holy Week with the guys from Hermano Pedro, we are looking at the possibility of being a bit more flexible in our approach.

DSC06057Back row: Miguel, me, Kevin
Front row: Moises & Fidel

Currently, we still hope to have Fidel, and his assistant Miguel, move in when I return from the States in May.  We are looking at the possibility, though, of inviting some of the younger patients at Hermano Pedro (including Moises) be our regular houseguests on the weekends.  The more we pray about this, the more it seems like what God has had in mind all along. 

This will enable us to focus on transitioning Fidel, and allow us to gradually increase our budget and yet be able to serve more residents in a short time. 

Please pray for us as we move forward, that we keep pace with God’s plan for us.

My Time with the Westside Team

On March 17, I was exdited to welcome the FMX (Family Mission eXperience) Team from my home church, Westside in Omaha.  While they would only be with me a little more than 24 hours, we were determined to pack all we could into that one day.

The team had been working with Bethel Ministries International, building houses, distributing food, and putting on a wheelchair distribution.  


While they would not be able to actively participate in our work here because it was the weekend, I did get to introduce them to some of my colleagues from Santa Maria de Jesus.  Judy Kerschner, the founder of New Life with Education, and Jennifer Gleismann, our Speech Therapist, were able to join us for dinner on Saturday night, as was Brian Taylor, who is assisting me in the classroom there. 

group- we did it!

Mari prepared a wonderful “typical” meal for us, and after we had had our full of Guatemalan fare, Judy showed us a video about Nueva Vida, and shared her story with the team.  Not quite the same as visiting the school, but at least the group has some idea what we are doing there.  Hopefully, if the group returns next year, they will be able to meet our special kids first hand.

Sunday morning we attended church at Iglesia del Camino and then headed over for an early lunch at Café Sky.  Or I should say, tried to head over.  Each Sunday during Lent there are processions here in Antigua, and this Sunday happened to be one of the biggest.  So, part way to the restaurant, we decided we might as well just stop and watch the goings-on, since the streets were pretty much impassable.  The team really were good sports about this, and I think even enjoyed some of the “local culture and color.” 


(Which is good, since we got caught in another part of the procession, in a different part of the city, on the way home.)


Once we finally made it to the restaurant, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the city,


as well as one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a long time. . .(no offense, Mari, but this was over-the-top).


Now that the procession had passed, we were easily able to make our way to Hermano Pedro, where we spent the afternoon playing with the kids.  I think some of the team members enjoyed themselves as much as the kids did!


The “Weins boys” enjoying Henry and Miguelito


Michelle cuddling Genardo


Caleb playing with Lito

Thanks, team, for blessing the kids, and blessing me personally.  It was a taste of home that was very welcome.