Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. . .

I think my honeymoon has lasted longer than it does more most missionaries.  I had been warned that the first year living in a different culture would be the most stressful of my life--but it wasn't.  God has gifted me with a wonderful ministry, great fellow missionaries, and good friends.

I have to admit that the the first few months of 2014 have been a challenge.  My good friend and fellow missionary Judy Kerschner is always reminding me that we need to live each day with peace and joy to glorify God.  I know she's right. I've learned living in peace and joy is not a feeling but a decision not to let our enemy ruin our testimony.  Some days it's easy.  Often, it's a struggle.

It was a bit of a surprise to me, when, after three and a half years in Guatemala, I felt like I hit a brick wall.  I never doubted my call here, never really wanted to leave here, just wanted to go somewhere and hide indefinitely.

Life in 2014 has been a struggle.  I've had recurrent bouts of stomach problems which wore me down in January and early February.  Finally I got rid of the little beasties that were causing my discomfort, but I felt like I had wasted the whole first month of school not being well.

Some of the things about living in Guatemala that had been somewhat romantic, had become more than a little stressful.  Waiting in line for an hour just to withdraw money from the bank on the 1st of the month, having to go to four different offices to pay four different bills, and the challenges of driving in a place where traffic laws are no more than suggestions, all seemed quaint at first.  Recently, I have found these things getting on my last nerve.

Financial concerns arose in our ministry for the first time.  No, we are not in danger of closing our doors, but our promised donations fall far short of our monthly needs.  Each month God fills the need, often through generous one time gifts of friends.  He always comes through.  Often at the last minute.  And when a large bill comes due, or medicine needs to be bought, it is hard not to stress as I wait for Him to act.  I admit, I'm am learning what it means to live in TOTAL dependence on God while others (the guys in our house) are totally depending on me.

To top it off, after making some updates to my computer, I find myself locked out of my primary email account.  The extra security measures Gmail has put in have backfired on me since I live out of the country.  I can still access my email on my iPad (at least until I update it!), but it is much harder to keep up on things that way.  After two weeks of trying,  I still can't convince Google that I am who I say I am.  Another time eater. . .

And living with six other people, all of whom depend on me not just financially but for leadership as well, has worn me out.  Even acts of kindness on the part of the boys can be difficult given our different cultural perspectives and beliefs.  (For example, when it is very hot as sunny, the boys insist I wear at least a light jacket to protect my skin from the sun, when I already want to remove rather than put on more clothing.)  What one of our cultures sees as an act of kindness, the other can find annoying.  This goes both ways, and I am continually monitoring my attitudes, words and actions to make sure I don't offend unintentionally.  We are forgiving with each other when this happens, but it's still hard and sometimes hurtful.

The final blow was discovering, through a series of Godincidents that a Guatemalan I had thought was a good friend, was not as trustworthy as I had thought.  This incident has taken me through the range of emotions from disbelief, to disappointment, to anger, to sadness.  While I have forgiven the person, I grieve that I cannot continue a relationship with them.  I also feel a little stupid for being duped for so long.

About the time I was ready to hide, the week of the surgeries in San Lucas came around.  I had planned on going only to the pre-op visits on Saturday and teaching in Santa Maria during the week.  While in San Lucas on Saturday, I just had a strong prompting that I should stay for the week of surgeries.  I couldn't explain why, but felt like I needed to be there.  So I made arrangements to stay.

I wish I could say God needed me there to minister, but I think more than anything, He had me there to recapture my first love and remember why I was sent here.  While teaching, running a community house, providing scholarships, etc. are the tools we use, they are not my main reason for being in Guatemala.  Christ is the reason I'm here, and my primary purpose is to make His name known and glorified.  During this week, I was able to spend time with, get to know and share the gospel with so many folks who were here for surgery.  I got to know better families I had already met, and became acquainted with new friends.  I prayed with patients and their families, and I felt God move.  This week, I practiced the present of being present to someone, especially in times of suffering.

One incident stands out.  In the children's ward, there was a little girl named Wendy who was so scare and cried ALL the time.  This was a strain on the other patients trying to recover from their surgeries.  I got to talk with her mom and encourage her that Wendy would get better.  At the end of the conversation, I told her that I would be praying for them.  She gave me the strangest look, and I thought I had probably overstepped my bounds.

The next day, however, showed me how wrong I was.  The minute I walked into the ward, Mom came and got me and asked me to come and pray with her and her daughter.  Not for them, but with them.  Mom said she had been somewhat surprised at my offer of prayer the day before, because, though this was a mission hospital, no one had prayed with them.  I don't know their faith background.  Many from their remote area of Guatemala have a strange religion which combines parts of Catholicism with Mayan religious beliefs and practices.  But I do know that Wendy and her mom have now heard the gospel.  They now know of God's great love for them, which does not need to be earned, only accepted.

Through this week I regained some of my lost focus.  Has this made it easy to live "with peace and joy?"  I wish.  I still need to decide daily not to be discouraged by the struggles we face.  I have learned that the greatest threats we face as missionaries are not the ones that can harm us physically (though most of us live in places wracked with violence), but to our hearts and minds and souls.  As Paul warned us,  our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil which seek to discourage us and render us ineffective for the kingdom.

Not surprisingly, at the same time I have been processing all of this, many postings on Facebook and other mission networks were dealing with this very topic.  Isn't this just like our God to bring encouragement when it's needed.  I am doing my best to live each day in peace and joy, clinging to the truth of 1Peter 5:9:
Resist him [the enemy], standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  
I have written these things not to garner your sympathy, but to help you understand how to better pray for those of us on the mission field.  I want you to know why we so desperately need your prayer covering, and ask you to pray for us regularly.

(If you would like to read the thoughts of other missionaries on these topics, you can go to my friend Deb Smith's blog where she has complied a number of these articles.)

A Look Back at 2013

I know it's already March, but I feel I owe it to those of you who support this ministry through your prayers and donations to give you an overview of our work this past year.  None of this, of course, would be possible without the power of Our God going before us, and following behind us.  But I am grateful to those of you He has used to enable us to serve the disabled and needy here in Guatemala.

I've broken this down by areas:

Nueva Vida

In January, 2012, I began serving three days a week at Centro Educativo de Nueva Vida (New Life School) in Santa María de Jesús, a small Mayan village on the side of the Agua volcano near Antigua.  Nueva Vida is a Christian school for children with a variety of special needs, founded fifteen years ago by a fellow missionary, Judy Kerschner.

I work with groups of 10-12 students for one to one and one-half hours, three days a week. These are students with significant academic and/or behavior problems, as well as six students who are deaf.  I served 22 students during the 2013 school year.

Teachers at the school have been coming to me with questions and concerns about individual students on a more regular basis.  They have begun borrowing materials from me to use in their classrooms. They also have come to talk about personal concerns as well as ask for prayer.  It has been an honor to be able to pray with these folks. In addition, I have begun doing formal in-service training in coordination with Sandra, our psychologist, and Jennifer, our speech therapist.

Speaking of Sandra and Jennifer, during October and November we worked together to evaluate more than 40 students who wanted to attend Nueva Vida.  We looked for students who for some reason (physical, cognitive, or emotional) would not be successful in a government or other private school.  We accepted 27 of them.

Through the ministry Latin Deaf Services, I am learning  Guatemalan sign language to better serve our deaf students.

Hermano Pedro

During 2013 I worked closely with the administration of Hermano Pedro to facilitate Fidel's transition   to Casa de Esperanza.  With the opening of the home, I have had to limit my service at Hermano Pedro to focus on the needs of the residents in the home and the children in Santa Maria.

Whenever possible, we have tried to include some of the Hermano Pedro residents in activities here at Casa, including Easter, birthdays and Christmas.  

Casa de Esperanza

In January, 2013, Cesar and Fernando, two of Dick's boys from Chimaltenango, moved into Casa to enable them to go to school in Antigua.  Cesar wanted to attend a pre-teacher training program here, and Fernando needed a family atmosphere in which he would be held accountable.  Both of these guys have become like my own.  With the delays in moving Fidel into the house, it was good to have company.

During Holy Week (the last week in March), 2013, when most of the residents at Hermano Pedro return home for a few weeks, Fidel, Moises and Don Antonio came to stay with us.  this was our "dry run" to see if the house really would serve as a home for the disabled, and to discover what, if any, additional training would be needed by the young men who would staff the home.  Our guys were wonderful, and with this experience under our belt, we were ready to approach the administration an Hermano Pedro to begin the transition of Fidel to Casa de Esperanza.

Fidel arriving for the first 
time as the first permanent
resident of Casa de Esperanza

Miguel began working for us July 1, and spent his days with Fidel at Hermano Pedro, learning to care for Fidel's physical needs, and     
providing Fidel the freedom to go into the community as he wished. 
During August, Fidel spent Monday through Friday with us at the 
house, and returned to Hermano Pedro for the weekends.  

Dick holding the legal papers
giving Fidel his independence!

This was a challenging time for all of us, but we were delighted when he moved in permanently, becoming our first resident on August 28.

During the “test week,” it became apparent that with four young men living full-time in the home, I needed help with the household, if I would be able to continue teaching at the school.  In June, in preparation for Fidel’s move into the home, I hired a part-time housekeeper/cook to work mornings while I was at school.  After a number of unsuccessful trials of workers, we are delighted to have Flor Ramirez working for us 20 hours a week.  Flor is married with two children, one of whom has Cerebral Palsy and because of his needs she had not been able to work previously.  This has been a win-win for both of us.

In October, I was approached by Cesar who asked if I would consider accepting a resident from Peten, who had been living with his aging grandmother is severe poverty.  Alberto, age 25, is a young man with brittle bone disease who has never been able to attend school in his area due to his handicap (the schools would not accept him).  With the help of his cousin, he has learned to read and write at do basic math, but wanted to receive a formal education along with a diploma.  After talking in over with our staff, we decided to accept Alberto on a trial basis, and he arrived in late November.

Hope Haven Guatemala

Due to the demands on my time from the house and from school, I have not spent much time working with this ministry.  I have been able to attend about six of their distributions this year, providing communication systems for the children who would benefit from them.  

Hope Haven, through Mark Richard and Ilse Caballeros, has been a great supporter of Casa de Esperanza in offering counsel and support.  They have also lent us their lift vans on occasion so we can take the guys on outings.  They are good friends of our ministry.

Short Term Mission Teams

While it has not been our calling to work with large mission teams, we have been blessed often by teams who come down with other organizations who want to spend a day or two working with us, either at the house or in Santa Maria.  We also often connect with teams which are serving at Hope Haven Guatemala.  Above is a particularly fun group from Louisiana, who knew how to both work and play hard.  

Another such team was a group of Occupational Therapy students from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.  They spent an entire week working with us at the school, and they contributed immeasurably to our program for our students with occupational therapy needs.  I can't wait for them to come back.

In mid-March, I was delighted to spend a day with a team from my home church, Westside Church in Omaha.  They had been down working with Bethel Ministries building houses, distributing food, and giving out wheelchairs.  They spent their last day with us here in Antigua, and, since it was during the height of the procession season here, our options were pretty limited for what to do.  

We did manage a lovely lunch at Cafe Skye after church, and spent the afternoon visiting with the kids a Hermano Pedro.  That night, I was able to share a "tipico" Guatemalan supper with them.  Having them visit was such a blessing.  I got to see old friends and make some new ones.

These teams encourage us greatly, and provide valuable opportunities to connect with others in the US.

We do, however, greatly enjoy hosting individuals, families or small teams who would like to shadow a missionary for a week or two.  These weeks may included projects such as home visits, food delivery, or even house building, but will be part of our regular ministry activities.  We had two such visits this year which were, I think, quite successful.

In February, Alexi Treu and Kathleen McGlynn from Omaha spent ten days with us, working at the school and visiting some of our families near Lake Atitlan.  They accompanied us to a feeding program sponsored by another ministry with which we collaborate.  I think they had a good time.


In June Donna Hultman, a vision specialist from Omaha, and Vicki Shurmer, a pharmacist at the Med Center in Omaha, spent two weeks with us, consulting at the school and working with some of our blind students as well as training our speech therapist and myself in techniques specific to the needs of these children.

Village Ministry and Sponsorships

While difficult to travel with my other responsibilities, I find that often the village ministry component is where I feel most like a missionary.

One of the places I don't get to visit as often as I would like is a small community
 outside of the town of Tecpan.  I met Maria, a young widow, on my first team trip
here, and have fallen in love with the women who live in this community.
While not directly related to our ministry to the disabled,
the six widows all living within walking distance of each other
have become very dear to me.

Visiting Jessica who has
successfully returned home
from the malnutrition project
We cannot keep up with everyone who asks us for help, and our ministry limits our assistance to families with a disabled family member.  There is so much need here that otherwise we could dilute ourselves to the point of being ineffective.  Often times, though, we go just to visit, to share Christ's love with the families and receive a large dose of His love in return from them.  These relationships are so important in building the kingdom of God, and often a part of ministry which is overlooked.  I love the way a friend puts it, "We're not interested in filling their bellies while they're on their way to hell."  We want to give that which will last for eternity.

We as missionaries and teams can bring many gifts.  I have learned, however, that the most powerful and most need gift is the gift of ourselves, our time, and our undivided attention.  Material gifts are soon gone, but families remember for years that we cared enough to come, visit, talk and pray with them.  When I need a reminder why I am really here, I go out into the field.  God always shows me "why" right away.

A critical part of our ministry continues to be helping people receive the medical care they often so desperately need.  Most often, this is through the clinics a Hermano Pedro.  We have, this year, also taken a few children to see a neurosurgeon in Guatemala City, and will be following up on Gabriel as we look for surgery for him for his unresolved spina bifida. 

This year we also worked with Alma, a thirteen year old young lady and her family, to help her get surgery from a missionary team which came to San Lucas Toliman to work with our friend, Dr. Will Bogler.  She will need another surgery in early 2014, after which it is hoped that she will be able to walk comfortably for the first time in her life.

We do, however, provide material assistance when we believe God is leading us to do so. Currently we are providing food sponsorship to a ten year old in Santa Rosa who lives with his grandmother and has severe malnutrition.  It is our hope that he will either begin to thrive, or we can convince her to bring him in to the malnutrition project at Hermano Pedro.

We are providing a scholarship for a young man named Gustavo whose father is in a wheelchair after having a stroke in his early forties.  He is unable to work and his wife works as a teach, but is unable to educate all of her children and provide for her family at the same time.

There are many others who have asked for help, and some we would like to help.  At present, though, our budget is stretched to its limit, and we need to maintain what we are doing before taking on any more commitments.  This is, I think, one of the hardest parts of the ministry.  Learning to say, "no," when we see so much need.  I have learned, though, that I must be faithful to do what God calls me, specifically to do.  No more, no less.  I can trust that He has called others to do what I can and should not.