Meet Alberto, Our Newest Resident

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Since I have returned from the US, much has been happening here in Casa de Esperanza.  And, praise God, all of it’s good.

Our biggest news is that we have received our second resident with special needs, Alberto, who has come to us from his home in the Peten region of Guatemala. 

While our initial hope was to receive young adults who had been institutionalized, Alberto is a special case.  A few months ago, Cesar approached me saying that he knew a young man who lived in northern Guatemala who wanted to come to Hermano Pedro so he could go to school.  As we visited, it became apparent that the orphanage was not somewhere he would receive the kind of education he was looking for.

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Alberto is 25 years old and has been living with his aging grandmother.    He has osteogensis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. His father and brother dearly love him, but their home is on the side of a steep hill, and there is no way Alberto can move around there safely.  The slightest fall can cause a broken bone in his fragile legs.


Though he has never attended school, Alberto can both read and write.  His cousin taught him to do so.  His greatest desire is to receive a formal education and the diploma that goes with it.  His greatest concern was to be part of a church and faith community while he did this.

After talking with Dick and Cesar, it became apparent that Alberto was perfect for our house.  It was agreed that he would come down to Antigua and stay with us on a 3 month trial basis. 

The last weekend in November, his dad and brother brought him down to Guatemala City by bus, and Dick and Cesar went to the city to bring him to Antigua.  Dad and Brother we able to spend the day and night with us and get to know us a bit. 

Meeting them, I realized how great a sacrifice it is for this family to let Alberto move so far away.  They have spent the last 25 years trying to take care of him, and protect his legs from harm.  Turning him over to strangers, though he wants to be here, has been very hard on them.  I’m so glad they got to actually see where he would live and spend some time here.

It seems that Alberto has settled in quite well.  At first he was pretty quiet, but now has begun to joke and tease along with the rest of the guys.  While he can move around quite freely within the house, his mobility in the community is limited by his manual chair, which does not handle the bumps of the cobblestone streets too well.

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This should be remedied shortly, when Dick and some of the boys return from a trip to Playa Grande, where they will pick up Alberto’s power wheelchair.  While he can propel a manual chair well within the house, it is impossible in the streets.  And, given the fragile nature of the bones of his legs, he is in constant fear of the chair tipping over and him falling and hurting himself.  The stability of a power chair will give him the confidence to venture out.

If there is one prayer request I would ask for Alberto, it is that he would become less fearful.  I understand how delicate his legs are, but can’t help but long for the freedom I see in some of the kids here with brittle bone, who cautiously venture out to take on the world, accepting that the possibility of injure is always with them, but not letting it hold them captive.

Thanks to the generosity of his sponsors, we will be hiring a private teacher to come in and work with Alberto, and he will begin his formal education in January! 

The Gang from Chimal

35920_534925853201431_388243412_nAlex, Dick, Cesar, Kevin, David, Marcos, Brian and David

With the end of classes, many things have changed in our house.  Both Cesar and Fernando have returned to Chimaltenango for the vacation, and have decided they miss it too much to come back to Antigua in January.  They are looking for places to study in Chimal, but since most of the schools are closed for vacation right now, there’s not a lot they can do until January 2.  Pray that there is space where they want to go, especially for Cesar who will be in a government school.  Fortunately they are still enrolled in there schools here in Antigua, and can return here if they can’t find schools in Chimal.

DSC06994Carlin, one of Dick’s first kids, and one who has grown each day to be more godly young man, graduated from Basico this year.  He wants to study tourism, and he’s one of the few kids I would encourage to do so.  He is great with teams of North Americans, has the right personality for this work, and speaks very good English.  The bonus of this is that he wants to go to school in Antigua and will live with us, come mid-January.  Carlin was the young man who originally trained our workers last Holy Week, and I am so excited to have him become part of our family while he pursues his studies.

182540_128621713954841_1139998716_nMiguel also graduated this year, from Diversificado, the equivalent of our high school.  This accomplishment, which is my no means normal in Guatemala (most are lucky to complete Basico), is even more remarkable when you realize he has been working 5 days a week since he was 14 years old (he’s 22 now) and attending school either nights or weekends.  He would like to continue on to University, and some day hopes to be a psychologist.

Bethel Ministries and Hope Haven Ministries once again held their joint camp this November.  Many of the boys were very involved volunteering at the camp, and were a great blessing to the volunteers from North American—many of whom were a bit squeamish about changing diapers, especially on the adults.  Our guys pitched right in!  We’re so proud of them.


With Dick traveling, it’s given a number of the guys the opportunity to travel with him.  Cesar has turned into an expert mechanic and translator, and got to visit the Mayan ruins in Tikal as well as help out at two distributions.

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Marcos and David served as chaperones as Dick and I traveled to Huehuetenango.  It was fun to watch Marcos visit with the families, especially talking to the men, and he is turning into a really good translator as he gains more confidence in his English.  He is a blessing to me, because when I am translating, he intuitively knows what I’m trying to say in Spanish and helps me when I get stuck!

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Brian, David, Esbin and Marcos continue to work weekends as assistants for Fidel and Alberto.  They have been joined by Miguel and Cesar’s older brother, Tony, who will be joining our staff full-time in January.  He is currently driving a tuk-tuk in Chimaltenango, and this is becoming increasingly dangerous with the gang activity there.  He will add greatly to our family.

The guys don’t look too overworked,
do they?                 


Soccer (futbol here) continues to be a driving force in the lives ofll the boys.  I pray that someday they will invest as much energy in their future wives and families as they do in this sport.  For now, though, it’s a good outlet for their never-ending energy.  Cesar has even had the opportunity to coach a team of younger boys, thanks to Dick’s sponsorship.

You can see, there’s never a dull moment with these guys, and I am grateful for the role they play in keeping me (and Dick) young!


Hinds Feet on High Places


A few months back, Dick met Bryan and his family while visiting Maria Garcia.  Bryan had a cleft lip, and we were able to help them connect with surgeons who come into Hermano Pedro to do this very special type of surgery.  After having spent time with his family during the preop and surgery, they had asked us to come visit them in Huehue the next time we were in the area.  His dad, Santos, would call me periodically just to see how we were, and to find out when we would be up in Huehue again.

We didn’t have a wheelchair or medicine to bring to this family. This was one of those visits we did just for fun.  I have learned, though, how important these visits are to the family, and believe they are how we keep our ministry relationally focused on the people we serve and connecting them with Jesus.  But I have to admit, they are fun.


Santos met us in the town of La Democracia, very near the Mexican border, to guide us to his home.  While not far from the town as the crow flies, it was quite a trip to get into the area where they live, in the middle of coffee farms.  As we drove to their house, we passed any number of very beautiful houses on this small trail.  When I commented about this, Santos replied, in a matter-of-fact manner, that these houses belong to the drug runners who live in this area.  Gulp!  Suddenly the drug trade became very real to me, at the same time I realized how much it is (by necessity) an accepted part of the daily lives of those who live in this area.  I was glad, though, that I had not taken pictures of the houses.  (For those of you who have visited us, and have been asked not to take pictures in certain areas, this is exactly why we have this policy.) 












When we arrived at the house, I was a bit surprised (though looking at the area, I don’t know why) to see we would have to hike down the side of the mountain.  For those of you who know me, my balance is not the best and I had forgotten my walking stick!  Recalling one of my favorite books, Hinds Feet in High Places, and trusting God, as well as Santos, Dick, Marcos, and David (who sometimes held my hand at the same time they were holding on to a tree to brace themselves!), I made it safely down the trail to the house.  And it was so worth it.  The views from the “porch” were absolutely breath-taking.


Momma had prepared a simple lunch for us, consisting of guisquil and tamalitos (corn meal tamales with black beans), which we gratefully shared with the family.




As is often the case in these isolated areas (though I am still taken by surprise when it happens) the children are often afraid of strangers, especially “gringos” (white people).  The neighbor children hid at first, curious but too scared to approach the strangers. 




Then Dick worked his magic with them by taking pictures and doing a few tricks, and they were soon laughing a joking with us.  I think it helped that we had Marcos and David traveling with us, too.


IMG00698-20131202-1307Here Marcos and David are horsing around.  A few minutes later David was crying because Marcos had accidentally hit him in the head. 
Like your momma always said. . .



We were delighted to see Bryan looking so well.  You can hardly tell he had surgery.  He wasn’t too sure, about us, though, and kept his distance, safely in Momma’s arms.








As we chatted, I realized that this visit was not by accident, but another one of the Godincidents we so frequently encounter.  A few days before I even knew we were traveling to Huehue, I had received a message from my friend, Craig.  He was interested in connecting with a family who grows coffee, to possibly set up a business relationship between them and a friend who roasts beans in Texas.  At the time, I thought, “Yeah, like I’m gonna be able to help you with this.”  All the coffee growing in our area of is done by large companies, with the workers getting paid only pennies.  No way was I going to support that!

IMG00684-20131202-1231These are coffee plant seedlings which Santos grows and sells to the plantations, was well as plants some on the family’s land.

And here we were, in the middle of coffee trees.  As we talked, I discovered that much of the land was owned by large coffee growers, who the family would work for—when there was work.  But I also learned that the immediate area around their house was owned by different members of his Santos’ family, and they grew coffee themselves and could sell to whomever they wanted.  So, we are working on making a connection between this remote area near the Mexican border and Texas.  A trip that started out with only fun as it’s purpose, may turn out to be profitable not only for our friends in Texas, but for this poor family as well. This is the kind of thing only God could have orchestrated, and I’m so glad He lets me in on it!

Powering up some Power Chairs

Since we were going to Huehuetenango to visit Maria Garcia, Dick wanted to take care of a few power chair issues in the area.  We had said this would be a leisurely trip, and I feared that adding the extra stops would turn it into a regular work trip.  I was wrong, though.  We paced ourselves, only visited one family a day, and had plenty of time to enjoy visiting with them without having to rush off to the next stop.


Our first stop on the way up to Huehue was to drop off batteries with Oscar.  He is in his mid-twenties, but still is attending school, having finished sixth grade this year.  While school is not currently in session (“summer” vacation until mid-January), we didn’t know when we would be back in the area, and wanted to make sure he was ready to go when classes resumed.

I first met Oscar a little over a year ago.  Dick had just given him a power chair, and it needed adjustment.  Oscar was very used to having his own way as to how he was seated, regardless of the damage it might do to his body.  Dick was almost dreading our visit today.  All we were going to do was drop off batteries.


We were so pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the house.  The family had paved the driveway, and had cleaned up the open center of their house, and covered it with cement and grass.  It was beautiful.  And they had done this primarily so Oscar could move about more freely.  We were blessed to see a family taking such interest in providing mobility for one of their members.


We were even more encouraged when we saw how well kept the power chair was, even tough the batteries had been dead for some time.  It was a bit of a challenge getting the new batteries in (I won’t repeat what Dick said about the design of this particular chair!), but the chair worked well with the new batteries.  We figured out that Oscar’s batteries had lasted about as long as any we’ve seen here, partly due to the care the family has taken of the chair.


We were surprised again, when it came time to put Oscar in his chair.  Both of his brothers were there, and they proceeded to seat him quite properly.  Since they spoke Quiche to him, I couldn’t understand exactly what was being said, but from the tone of voice I figured out that he was protesting how they were positioning him, and they told him pretty firmly that he needed to sit correctly.  He gave in pretty quickly and Dick was happy to see him sitting better than he had in the past.


DSC07671You can see the difference a properly fitted chair makes!

After a glass of coke, and a cup of atole, we left with two large bunches of broccoli to take with us to our hotel in Quetzeltenango!



The second day into our trip we were both anxious to see Gema, one of our favorite little girls.  Since she can’t propel a manual chair, her power chair gives her the freedom to go to school, church, and move about her home.  It had been broken for a while, and we were bringing it back after it was repaired in the Bethel Ministries shop.  We knew she couldn’t wait to have it.





It was quite a challenge for Marcos and David to get the power chair down to Gema’s house—at the bottom of this steep hill.  During the school year she will keep it at another house where she can more easily drive to school.




We met Gema a few years ago at a Hope Haven distribution, and were immediately struck by her out-going personality and self-confidence. 



This is more remarkable, considering she only has one short leg and foot.  If there ever was a person deserving of the title “handicapable” it is Gema.  We have seen her bounce around on her bottom chasing her pet rabbit, watched her feed herself, and enjoyed playing ball with her.



IMAG1170Her family, too, is remarkable.  They have completely focused on what she can do, and figured out, without the help of “professionals,” how to adapt things so she can be as independent as possible.  They love to brag on her, and have her show us what new things she has learned since our last visit.

Here Gema is showing us how she can play games on her dad’s cell phone!



Today we were treated to her singing the sweetest songs as we drank our soda.  She then told us she had passed first grade with flying colors and would be starting second grade in January.  She is a good student who received no “rojos” (failing grades) this year.  We celebrated  her success with her!

IMAG1169As we were about to leave, Gema’s mom showed us the Mother’s Day present Gema had made her in school—a cross-stitched cloth to use in her bread basket.  Her needlework was as good as mine (not saying much, though) and I was amazed at how well she could sew with only her foot.

Too soon it was time to head off for Huehuetenango, but not before we were reminded that the family owed us a chicken dinner.  We promised to let the know ahead of time when we would be back through their area.  It was hard to leave such good friends.




Here Gema had just whispered in my ear that she wanted a Barbie for Christmas.  Oh, how I wish I’d known that earlier and could have brought her one!

A Freak Accident to a Good Friend

Maria Garcia 7dec08 Photo by Roland Elf 2

About a week ago, Dick received a phone call (which I translated for him) from a man in Huehuetenango, telling us that our good friend, Maria Garcia, had been seriously injured in what can only be described as a freak accident.

Maria and a friend were praying in the small church near her home, and about a quarter mile away some men were working on a bridge up the side of the mountain.  They were putting in a new approach and decided that dynamiting the existing structure would be most efficient.  As is all too often the case here in Guatemala, they evidently were not skilled in using explosives, and the uncontrolled blast sent rocks and debris in all directions.

Sadly, a four pound rock from the blast flew the quarter mile, went through the roof of the church, and hit Maria Garcia squarely in the head.  Her husband told us that when he came, she was lying in such a large pool of blood that he thought surely she was dead.

DSC03772Maria Garcia, July, 2012, standing in the church
where she was severely injured.

By the grace of God, she was not. And by his miraculous protection she stayed alive for the half hour it took them to find a pick up truck to take her to the hospital as well as for the hour it took to drive to the hospital in the city of Huehuetenango. (No ambulances in this remote part of the country.  Can you imagine the excruciating pain for traveling mountain roads in the back of a pickup with a head injury?  I can’t bear to think of it.) 

Nicolas and Maria Garcia 3oct08 Photo by Roland Elf



I met Maria Garcia on my first trip to this area, years before I moved to Guatemala.  She has been a good friend and strong example of living the Christ-life without fear or reservation.  Her dedication to her God and her people has inspired me many times.



Maria is what would probably be called a community organizer in the US.  Her late son started working with the people in their area to help them better their lives, and when he died, his mother took over his work.  She has helped Dick, through Bethel Ministries, provide food and educational support for many of the families in this destitute area of Guatemala.  In addition, she shares the love of Jesus with all she touches, both through her words and her actions.

Maria Garcia 2oct08 Photo by Roland ElfIn return for her efforts, it seems she has received nothing but trouble.  A few years ago, she was severely beaten by a group of her neighbors, who either were jealous that she was not providing them with assistance, or, we have been told, did not like a woman having the power she had.  She was left for dead, but managed to survive.

About two years ago, she was afflicted with severe sores in her mouth which took months and months to heal.  She could hardly speak, and could not carry on her usual ministry in the area.  Her daughter, Blanca, however, stepped in to fill the gap and the work continued. 

Now this.  I have no doubt that in these instances, my sister in Christ has been fighting, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.  And repeatedly, God has shown His faithfulness to His servant.

We didn’t know what we could actually do, but we knew we had to go and visit her and her family.  We did bring a wheelchair with us, but knew that the personal contact and encouragement to her and her family were the real reasons for our long trip.

IMAG1178Visiting with one of Maria’s daughters
as Maria slept in the background.

We arrived 15 days after the accident, not knowing what to expect.   Maria returned home after five days in the hospital where she had surgery to remove numerous bone fragments from her skull, received a metal plate to cover the damaged area, and left with more than thirty stitches which span from one ear to the other, across the whole top of her head.

When we arrived we found Maria in bed sleeping.  She has been told she will need to be on bed rest for six months.  As we sat visiting with her daughter, she soon awoke.  I was amazed to find that she recognized us, and could speak to us, though barely above a whisper.  She is able to move her entire body, and even sat up a bit to visit with me.  Though she is in intense pain, she did not speak a single word of complaint, and joined in as we prayed together for her recovery.

As I stood there, staring down at the huge wound on her head, I couldn’t help but praise God for His faithfulness in the face of this disaster.  My common sense tells me that she should be in a coma, if not completely paralyzed.  And here she is, talking to me, thanking us for visiting her.  I am standing in front of a living miracle.

Please continue to pray for Maria, her recovery, and her family.  They are very poor themselves, and the almost $100 a month she now needs for medicine is almost impossible for them to raise.  We were able to provide for one month’s supply, but if you would like to contribute to help the family pay for her medical expenses (they borrowed over 50,000 quetzales or about $6500 to pay just for her surgery and hospital care), please email me and we’ll arrange it. 

Please keep Maria Garcia and her family in your prayers.  Her daughters have agreed to continue serve as the liaison with the families in this area who are served by Bethel Ministries.  In addition to caring for their mother, this will be quite a job for them.  We are grateful for their willingness to serve their people.

Fidel—His Family Finds Him

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One Friday night, Fidel received a message on Facebook, asking if his cousin could come and visit him the next day.  Of course, he could, and early Saturday morning we welcomed Fidel’s uncle, cousin and nephew who had come from Totonicapan for a visit.

Fidel was so excited he just about jumped out of his chair.  It had been more than ten years since he had had a visit from anyone in his family!  He had been in contact with his sister, who lives in the US, through Facebook, but never imagined his family would visit.

photo (44)Fidel’s Uncle Valentino sharing his faith with us over breakfast.

During the visit, Fidel’s uncle shared with me that they had been told that Fidel had died in the orphanage.  When he showed up on Facebook, they couldn’t believe it was him.  In fact, they admitted that part of the reason for their visit was to find out if it was really him, or someone impersonating him who would then try to extort money from the family.  It never occurred to me that this would be a concern for them, but, knowing the conditions in Guatemala, it is  more than reasonable for them to think this.  They were overjoyed to find out that he not only was, in fact, alive, but living where he is well cared for and loved.


photo (45)Fidel enjoying meeting his nephew. 
His mother, Fidel’s sister, is in the US.

We had a wonderful time visiting with the three of them.  Fidel’s nephew, who was nine years old, couldn’t understand what was wrong with his uncle, so I was able to explain a bit about cerebral palsy to him.  Fidel’s uncle, especially, kept repeating, “You mean his mind is okay?  His mind is normal?”  It was such fun to share with them all the things that Fidel is able to do in spite of his physical limitations.  Fidel beamed with pride as we talked about him.

While I had hoped his family would begin to take an interest in him, I never imagined that they would want to become involved in his life again.  They are unable to care for him themselves, but you could see their concern for him.  They brought him a few small gifts, including a new set of clothes, and gifted him with some spending money.

Though I offered for them to spend the night, they said they needed to return to Totonicapan quickly, because they had commitments the next day.  They had traveled more than six hours by bus during the night, just to see Fidel.  And they were making the return trip after only a few short hours of visiting with them.  I hope they can stay longer next time, and we promised to keep in touch by phone.

It was a good day!

Graduation at Santa Maria

The school year at New Life in Santa Maria de Jesús ended while I was in the States, but I through my friends, I was able to share a bit of the Clausura (closing and graduation) this year.

Kinder gradsMarlin, the kindergarten teacher, and Judy Kerschner, the founder of the school, with the kindergarten students

For the first time this year, our kindergarten students “graduated” to first grade.  They are so darling, and this was such a exciting time for them.  In the group picture, though, they look a little tired out from all the activity this day.  Many of them will be moving into a special transitional kindergarten-first grade class.  I am honored that Marisol, the Director (principal) of New Life has asked me to help them develop the curriculum for this new class.

Happy Yudi & Jennifer compressed[2]
I remember so well Yudy’s (on right) first day of school two years ago.  She was so afraid of the “gringas” (white women) that neither Judy nor I could enter her classroom without her crying or hiding behind her teacher.  She’s come a long way!


Graduation from 6th grade is a big achievement in an area where 3rd grade and an illiteracy rate of 44% is the norm. Many students come to us after failing in public school several years. This is why our graduates are older. A number will continue their education through high school correspondence classes, working with Profe Manuel in the afternoons.

good of grads & staff compressed[7]

Our sixth grade graduates, with Marisol, the Director of New Life, and Profe Manuel, their teacher.

I have to admit that sometimes, here in Guatemala, we measure progress a bit differently than in the US.  Below is a picture of one of my students, Joel, right after he was caught saying a naughty word in Kaqchikel (the Mayan language spoken in Santa Maria).  The good news is that, thanks to the hard work of our Speech Therapist, Jennifer Giesmann, we were able to understand what he said clearly!  I call that a win!

Joel naughty word

Time with Family

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One of the best parts of returning to Omaha is getting to spend time with my kids, and especially my grandsons.  They are at ages now where they are growing up so fast that it seems they are each a different person on each visit.

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My son, Jeremy, is traveling a lot for his work these days, so I was tried to help out Lin, my daughter-in-law whenever I could.  She had her wisdom teeth removed while I was home this time, and I was so glad to be there to pitch in a bit.

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One of the reasons I pick this time of year to visit is to be here for Nate’s birthday.  This year he turned 4, and has become quite the little man.



As usual, the boys did a bit of “grandma-sitting” while I was there.



Nate driving his car.  Should I be worried that he wears a “crash helmet” when he does this?  This is one of his favorite things to do, along with calling, “Grandma, look at me!”






I don’t know if you can read this, but Zach, who is in second grade this year, decided I needed to take a spelling test—in English and in Spanish.  Of course, he would have to ask me how to say the words in Spanish.  I passed and even got a sticker to prove it!


And both are getting old enough now to go on “grandma dates.”



Nate is content to hang out wherever, and loves to go to McDonalds.






Zach, on the other hand, has definite preferences.  One time we went to Dave and Busters and played Ski Ball.  He beat the pants off me.





He also chose a trip to the Jocelyn Art Museum (where did this kid come from?).  Guess he really is growing up!




We packed in as much as we could into the short time I was in Omaha, including a trip to Nebraska City to pick apples.  (Apples are mainly imported here in Guatemala, and it was so nice to have so many varieties to choose from, at decent prices!)  I even bought some apple butter to introduce my guys to this American delicacy.









Mikayla even managed to join us for the morning.

Since I didn’t go to Chicago this trip, my brother, Jim, came over for a weekend visit.

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And I got in on the last of the season’s soccer games.


Leaving the boys was a bit harder this time.  Zach now understands how long it will be until I come back again.  He had a long talk with me, explaining all the reasons why I should not go back to Guatemala.  I tried to explain to him why I am here, but that’s quite a bit for a seven year old to understand.  I pray he will one day.

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