Caught between two cultures

I sit in the Houston airport, awaiting the plane that will take me home to Guatemala. I fondly remember the many times I sat here, nervous with anticipation, as I set off on the adventure to visit this country which was to become my home. And I marvel at how I have changed.

These semi-annual trips have become somewhat routine. And, while I am anxious once again to return home to Antigua and my boys, I have to admit that the nervous anticipation now comes when I leave Guatemala for my visits to the States, anxious to see my family and friends, and share with them how God and Guatemala is changing me.

While in Guatemala, I don't miss the relative luxury I live in at my "home away from home." I all too quickly become accustomed to it. Decisions, such as which kind of English muffin to order with my huge American breakfast take on monumental proportions until I find myself caught short--amazed at what has become important to me in a few short days. And I repent of how fast my flesh takes over me thinking.

I  feel caught between two worlds, really belonging in neither, but partially at home in each.

In truth, I now feel more comfortable in my adopted country. I enjoy the slower pace, the value placed on family and relationships, the simple goals pursued by most of the people I live with:  to have a roof over their heads, enough food to eat, health and maybe a little left over for a "treat" occasionally.  And, while I will never be Guatemalan, I appreciate the changes my new homeland is making in me and the way I view life.

But I am still born and bred a US citizen, with all the good and bad that brings. I struggle to adjust to the differences in the activities of daily life which are so different in the two cultures.  I experience a bit of culture shock each time I move back and forth between the two countries I am bound to by love and relationships.

Nothing is convenient in Guatemala. Not grocery shopping, not bill paying, not banking, not car ownership. Everything seems to require conscious effort, planning and patience. And even then, it doesn't always work out the way I anticipated.

In the US, it seems, life is arranged for comfort and convenience. It seems everything is designed to give ME exactly what I want. Restaurant menus have pages of meals from which I can choose, and, once I decide on what I want to eat, there are still more options from which I must choose before my order is complete.

One day I decided to simplify my lunch, going to the grocery store to buy cheese and crackers. I was literally overwhelmed at the choices of crackers available to me, and, after being mesmerized by the options, defaulted to the familiar Ritz brand. Even then, there were plain crackers, butter crackers, large crackers, small crackers, crackers with peanut butter, others with cheese.

The options were overwhelming, and the choices exhausting. And I get caught up in this life-style of small things taking on great importance. As if the kind of cracker I eat with my cheese, the type of muffin with my breakfast, really makes a difference!  How quickly I get caught up in the confusion between my wants and needs.

(Side note:  This was brought home to me the other day, as a read a Facebook post from a friend I love, stating that her two year old NEEDS a tablet.  In truth, few of us actually need a tablet, but this convenience and form of entertainment has become so much a part of our culture that it feels like a need rather than the luxury that it is.  Confession:  I own both an iPad and iPhone, both of which I justify for ministry needs, but in reality use more for recreation than I do ministry.)

I laugh at myself, at the same time I am disgusted with my own sense of self-importance, becoming consumed so rapidly by my wants and appetites. I search to understand how my heart can be so deeply entrenched in Guatemala's basic way of life, while my flesh stubbornly clings to the comfort and pleasure which is the culture I in which I was raised.

As I have been struggling to deal with this conflict between my flesh and my heart, I came across this blog entry written by a fellow missionary to Guatemala which speaks to this very issue.  It explains to me why God has let me see that there is so much more than the US-desired way of life, and yet reminds me that this self-focused life style is so much a part of me that sometimes I think it is in my DNA.

You see, as I struggle not to give in to the affluence and self-indulgence which is so much a part of the US, I can be a voice reminding my American brothers and sisters that there is so much more. More to the world and the kingdom of God than we might see through our cultural filters, more need than we have ever known in most of the world, and more to learn from the Majority World than we would ever have thought.

Because of my own struggle to be more for the kingdom, I can speak these words not as an outside critic, but as one who battles to keep my focus on God's economy and what is important to Him, and resist what the world and my own flesh tells me I need.  Will you join me in this battle?

If you would like to read the blog entry that put this in focus for me, click here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

How to Keep Occupied While Visiting the US Part 3--Time with Family and Friends

My time in the US, though longer than usual, has gone all too quickly.  There are so many people I wanted to see, but time and energy did not allow me to see everyone I would have liked to.  If I did not get to spend time with you, please know it is not for lack of desire.  Each time I return to the States, I realize how richly I am blessed by those I care about and who care about me.  And each time I return to Guatemala, I feel badly for those I did not see.

The timing of my trips continues to be determined both my my need to renew my Guatemala visa and the birthdays of my grandsons.  This time it was Nate's turn to celebrate becoming five years old.  

He has grown up so much since I last saw him in April.  It has made me realize how much I miss living so far away.  

His brother, Zach, has grown up, too, but at eight, it seems he changes less than his younger brother in the time I am away.  I tried to spend as much time with the boys as I could.

I got to visit with some friends over lunch, dinner, coffee, etc.  It seems it was always over food, and I fear I have returned home with some "excess baggage" that I will have to work at to get rid of.  I realized, though, how much I really do miss spending time with English speaking friends.  I am grateful to those of you who made time to visit with me.

I had to laugh, at this help-wanted sign on a Chinese restaurant we visited,
which read "Looking for employees" in Spanish!

I was also privileged to be able to share what God is doing here with a few small groups, and meet many new friends in the process.  These small groups, and getting to share with people more personally was actually the highlight of my trip.  Thank you to those of you who so graciously hosted these gatherings.  I wish I had thought to take pictures of these groups to help me remember these special times, but they are treasured in my heart.

As our ministry grows, our need for networking grows also.  I spent a good bit of time networking with colleges and professors, to investigate ways that their students could partner with us, to gain experience in a foreign setting, as well as benefit those who we serve with their special skills.  We have made some promising connections, and I look forward to seeing what God does with these opportunities.

It sometimes seems frivolous to me, this desire to just visit.  I guess it's because if feeds my soul so well, and appears selfish.  I am greatly blessed by you, my friends in the US, and pray that my visits bless you as well.  

Until April, 2015, know I carry you in my heart.

How to Keep Occupied While Visiting the US Pt. 2--Speaking

On October 11 we were privileged to meet at Westside Church with about 60 of our closest friends and supporters for coffee and cookies.  It may sound strange to talk about 60 close friends, but, as I looked around the room at our Open House, everyone I saw was a good friend of our mission, and has supported us through their prayers and donations.  It was such an encouragement to know that they would choose to spend their Sunday afternoon with us.

One of my goals in having this open house was to answer the question often posed to me: "Why only the disabled?"  First, because that is who God has called me to work with.  Foremost must be obedience to where He leads.  I often have to remind myself of this, when faced with overwhelming needs coming at me from every direction.  It helps me stay focused, and channel our resources strategically, rather than "shot-gunning" help indiscriminately, and depleting both our funds and our energy.

From a more human perspective, I believe God has given me a passion for this people group because, among all the poor I see in Guatemala, they are the most disenfranchised, ignored and rejected.  Often they suffer outright ridicule and abuse.  To my heart, they are the "least of these" Jesus spoke of in the gospel.

To help this become real to those who attended, Dick Rutgers, a friend and ministry partner in Guatemala, and I shared two videos with the group.  If you were not able to be with us for the Open House, you can view these videos by clicking the links below.  It will take you about 20 minutes to watch them, but I promise that, if you take the time to see them, they will touch your hearts and possibly even change your lives.

  • A Traves de Sus Ojos (Through Their Eyes) tells the story of three students from the school where I teach in Santa Maria de Jesús.  When I first watched it, I realized how little I understood of the challenges our students face, even after working there three years.  *Don't worry--there are English subtitles!
  • The Culture that Crawls tells about Jessica, my Guatemalan granddaughter, who I met as she came into the malnutrition program in Antigua.  Today she is home and healthy, thanks to the teamwork that brought her to Hermano Pedro.

We were also able to share how different supporters have impacted our ministry and our journey.  One of these did not even know she was doing anything. . .she was too young.  In 2006, Kaitlyn Reeg was a two year old who her mom, Deb, had adopted from Guatemala.  Deb wanted to give back to the country which had given her a daughter, and organized a mission trip to Antigua.  This was my first trip to Guatemala, and changed my life when this country captured my heart.  We often think we have to DO much to make an impact, but Kaitlyn has done much by BEING who she is.  And I am grateful.

I am also grateful to all of you who came out to encourage us and learn more about our mission.  While we work to glorify God, it is good to know that others see the benefits of our ministry.  It validates for me that I am hearing God correctly, and it reminds me I am not alone in this work.

If you'd like to join our team, through prayer, as an encourager, or through financial support, please email me and I'll give you more information on how you can become part of the Reason for Hope.

How to keep occupied while visiting the US--Part 1 Traveling

I always wonder what I'll do when I spend my time in the US. . .

And I always find plenty to do.

Having two young grandsons helps.  If the truth be told, as much as I love visiting other family, my friends, and our supporters, these two guys are the real reason I still come to Omaha twice a year.

I started this trip with a quick visit to my brother and sister in Chicago.  I discovered, that if I book a three part ticket, I can go add Chicago to my itinerary for only about $40 more than a straight round trip to Omaha.  It had been more than a year and a half since I saw Cathy and Jim, so this stop was well worth it.

I arrived in Omaha Sept. 15, and am once again being hosted by Bo and Gail Higgs.  They open their extra bedroom to me every time I come back, and it is such a blessing to have a "home away from home."  I've been so busy, so far, that I haven't seen much of them.  We did manage to go to dinner one night, though.

Since Dick Rutgers was in the States during my time in Omaha, he decided to come and see some mutual friends who he has met through teams which have come to Guatemala, and meet my family.  We've been on the go much of the time he has been here, including a trip to Iowa to see his Aunt Hermina.  Finding her proved a bit of a challenge, but, through one of our "God-incidents" we connected with Dick's second cousin, Cathie Tien, and were able to visit her in a retirement home in Sheldon.

She is such sweet 94 year old lady.  When Dick told her that she was always his favorite aunt, she replied, "I'll try to live up to that."

I also got to visit the Hope Haven International headquarters, Sioux Falls, SD on our way back. I get to work with Hope Haven at their wheelchair distributions when I'm not teaching, but had never been to their headquarters.  I got to meet Nicole, their ministry director, and spent time visiting with her and Michael Richard, while Dick and Mark and Matt Richard, were messing around with putting a Hope Haven seating system on a power chair base.

A couple days after we got back to Omaha, we headed out again, this time traveling south to meet Scott and Linda Hardee, good friends and supporters of the ministry.  They drove up from Kansas City where they live to meet us half way for lunch.  Though the visit was much too short, it was good to see them, hear their voices, and catch up a little.  The best part of the day was discovering that they will be coming back to Guatemala for a few months this coming winter.

I enjoyed traveling (if you'd like me to come see you and/or talk with your church or small group, let me know) on flat, good roads, so different from where we live in Guatemala.  I had fun doing a large part of the driving (Dick almost always drives in Guatemala), and even got used to being harped at by the GPS on Dick's phone--especially when I took a short cut the satellite didn't know about.

I think Dick didn't mind the traveling too much, either, though he had to suffer through so much of my driving.  He only asked "Are we there yet?" or "Where are the mountains?" about every half mile!

Sadly, Adios to Alberto

Alberto studying with Profe Rey last March
This entry has been difficult for me to write for a number of reasons.

After ten months of living with us, Alberto has decided he did not want to study any more.  It was too "boring" in his words.  He did not seem to understand that to receive a diploma, he had to learn more than basic reading and math.  He also had great difficulty accepting correction, and would become easily frustrated if he did not get everything correct the first time.  While this is not unusual for a Guatemalan male, it was very disappointing since he had so fervently wanted an education.  His desire to go to school was the reason he came to Casa de Esperanza last November.  He is an adult, however, and we needed to respect his decision, no matter how much we disagreed with it.

This has been very frustrating for me, and even more so for Dick, since he was the one who asked us to take Alberto so he could get an education.  Cesar, who had been the person who Alberto had first asked about coming to Antigua to study, somehow felt like he had made a error in judgment by facilitating Alberto's move. We had to reassure him that we all did what we believed God wanted us to do at the time.  This was a good lesson for all our guys, and for Dick and me, too, that obedience does not guarantee success, at least not by our standards.  I trust, though, that God had a plan and a purpose for Alberto living with us that we might never understand.

We all spent much time talking with him, to no avail.  His family in Peten was in full agreement with his decision, saying if he was not interested, there was no point in working so hard.  Unfortunately, this is the case with many young people with handicaps in this country.  If they are not neglected or rejected by their families, they are doted upon, and no real expectations ever put on them.

After much discussion with trusted advisers in Guatemala, we gave Alberto an ultimatum. . .since our house is to enable disabled individuals to better their lives through education and employment, if he did not continue his education he would need to return to his family.  (Employment was not an option for him since he did not have even an elementary diploma and no special skills which would enable him to find an employer who would take a chance on him.  I did tell him and his companion-caregiver that if he was actively looking for work in the community, we would allow him to stay with us.  He made no effort to do so.)

Celebrating Alberto's 27th birthday in August
Please know how difficult this decision was to make.  In the almost one year Alberto was with us, he did become family to us.  As is often the  case with our own children, sometimes "tough love" is necessary, and following through, though difficult, was important not only for Alberto, but also for the other residents of our home.  Therefore, September 18, Alberto's brother-in-law came to get him and he returned to his family in Peten.  

It is my prayer that the time he spent with us helped him move closer to Jesus, and that, in years to come, he may have an opportunity to apply what he learned living in Casa de Esperanza.

Follow–up on Fidel

Fidel is continuing to study to complete his high school education.  The first semester this year he completed the work for an entire year of school, and we are hoping to find he has done the same during the second semester which is ending this month.  While I can't say that he enjoys his studies, he understands that this is a necessary step toward one day finding competitive employment.  He is facing the reality that independent adult living does not mean doing just what you want to do, but also doing what you need to do.  I'm proud of him.
IMG_0734Fidel watching “futbol” (soccer) with the guys.  Spending time on the computer, watching the action on the streets of Antigua, and watching futbol on TV are Fidel’s favorite ways to spend his time.
IMGFidel's faith walk is progressing, though he still struggles to balance the love of God with the fact that God has allowed him to be so severely limited physically.  He is no longer bitter toward God, as he once was, but has difficulty trusting in the unfailing love of God.  Through Fidel I am learning that sometimes one has to learn to trust in the love of the Father before he can trust in the sacrifice of the Son for him.  So we pray and we talk and we share.  I sometimes say that Fidel is "dating" Jesus, getting to know Him,
testing his faithfulness, and deciding 
                                              if it is safe to trust Him.
Fidel in his first wheelchair     
    at about age eight             
IMG_0631This is a slow process which I wish with all my heart I could hurry up.  I could push him for a decision, but his heart is not there yet.  It is hard for me to trust the Holy Spirit in this process, having been thoroughly schooled in the "what if he dies today and spends eternity in hell because he waited too long to follow Jesus?"  But a also know that he needs to believe in his heart as well as confess with his mouth.  I can't choose Christ for him any more than I could for my own children.  What I can do is try to reflect in my actions and attitudes the extravagant love of the Father for him, and reinforce in my words the neither he nor I would be where we are today except for this great love. 
IMG_0759Fidel celebrating his 29th birthday with his family last June.  They drove over four hours from Totonicapan to spend the day with him.
Please pray for Fidel as he walks this journey to faith and wholeness.  It's not easy for him but I truly believe what when he comes to full faith in Jesus, he will be used mightily to minister to others with disabilities in a way which none of us who are able-bodied can.  I can't wait for this day!