Moving in

Under construction

All Nations Church Omaha, Living Up to Their Name

Mike, Ben, Bailey, Dave, Ryan, Maddie, Mark and Sam
getting ready to leave Omaha.
On October 24, Causa de Esperanza welcomed our first large mission team.  This group of amazing folks traveled to Guatemala to help us move into our new home, as well as join us in different ministry activities with our various ministry partners.

Dave Penner visiting with Fidel and Osmi in front of our new house.
This team was led by Dave Penner, the founder and president of the Josiah Foundation.  The fact that he was with us for the momentous transition in our ministry was an added blessing.  I always enjoy time with Dave, and he was able to provide encouragement and wise counsel to me while he was here.

Bailey and Maddie took on the enormous task of packing up the kitchen.  The guys loaded the furniture onto pickup trucks.  There are cement posts on the street in front of our former house to prevent buses from entering the block.  They also effectively keep out any type of larger truck which would have made moving a bit less complicated!

You can see, Guatemalan style of packing a truck is a bit different from how we do it in the US.

I just stayed out of the way for the most part, and let Dick struggle to make sure nothing fell off as we traveled the cobble stone streets to our new location.

This move proved more personally challenging than I had expected, and I can't imagine what it would have been like without the help of the team.  Mark and Mike became my personal "handy-men" and did everything from hang curtain rods, to hook up the washer (which was no small feat!).  They were my personal heroes of the day, accomplishing many of the tasks I otherwise would have had to do myself. I can do it, but I hate "mechanicking."

The team had a time of prayer with us, praying for our new town and blessing our home.  This was very special.

With the mess we had to unpack, we needed all the prayer we could get!

The next team activity was to sponsor a wheelchair distribution with Hope Haven International.  While we had planned to give out 15 chairs, the generosity of this team enabled us to also provide mobility to five people who just so happened to walk in to the factory (which is located in a pretty isolated area) during the distribution.

Each team member was paired with either Dick or a Hope Haven staff member who oversaw the construction of each chair.  These are not "one size fits all" wheelchairs, but are specially designed and fitted to each individual.

We often say that the distributions are not really about the wheelchairs, no matter how much they improve the quality of life for these individuals.  We hope to impact the families that come for chairs by showing them the love of Jesus in action.  We want to honor them and value their children.  Ryan and Maddie really "got" this.

Ryan sat and held and talked to this young man for more than an hour while other team members worked on his chair.  He could easily have left him to lie on a mat, but understood that the time he spent with him would be remembered by him and his grateful mother long after this wheelchair wears out.

After the work was done, a few of the younger and more adventurous team members joined some of the workers at the factory in a game of pick-up wheelchair basketball.  It provided more challenging that the guys expected, and Sam walked away with blisters on his hands for the friction of the wheels.  Needless to say, the workers "skunked" our team members in the game.

The next day found us heading to the small village of Santa Cruz Balanya to work with our friend Pastor Reynaldo Raxjal.  Rey had served as the teacher for Fidel and Osmi during the last year and has become a part of our "family."

Wonder what the local folks thought of this group of gringos
invading their local supermarket!
We would be visiting five families and bringing them food supplies and encouragement.  The families had been selected by Rey as those most in need in his poor village.

I have been on any number of home visits with local pastors, but never experienced anything like our visits with Pastor Rey.  We began at the church, Vida en Libertad (Live in Freedom) with a time of worship with the team and the members of his church, many of whom we would be visiting.

Rey shared the gratitude of the congregation for our visit, as well as his dreams for the future of his church.  He has made the preliminary arrangements to begin working with Compassion International in his area.  To do this, the church must be recognized by the government of Guatemala, which costs about $1000 in legal fees.  This is far beyond the budget of this little congregation.

During this time together, Ben messaged the senior pastor of All Nations, and here was happy to announce that All Nations would be donating the funds to secure the government recognition and bring Compassion to this area.  The team itself raised an additional donation of $1000 more to enable Rey to form a non-profit association to carry out the humanitarian ministries of the church more effectively.  I stood amazed and was over-joyed to be part of this amazing day.

After seeing how far we would hike in to see some families,
the team now understood why I had insisted we pack the groceries
into two bags, when they could have fit into one!
Rey then took us into some of the poorest homes I have been in. I had been concerned about taking such a large group of  "gringos" into individual homes. Too often this can feel like "poverty tourism."  My fears were allayed when I discovered that the church members would be accompanying us to the each home we were to visit.  It was truly the Body of Christ ministering to its members in need.

 In one family, the father was dying of cirrhosis as a result of alcoholism.  He had recently come to Jesus, and shared with us his concern for the future of his family.

Rey has since told me that our friend has gone home to Jesus.

Some of the team also joined me in visiting three widows and their families in Santa Maria de Jesus.  Here we worked with Pastor Carlos, who visits our young men weekly for discipleship.

Once again, we were faced by poverty, but also confronted with the violence that is all too prevalent in this village where New Life School is located.

The first home we visited housed a widow and her son, daughter and grandchildren.  Her husband had been murdered only last April.  The son, 16 years old, had to quit work to support this family.  He earns about 150 quetzales a week ($20) working in a small textile factory weaving belts.  The groceries we brought were surely needed by this family.

It was obvious the love and affection these families have for Pastor Carlos, and he for them.  It was an honor to serve with him.

We ended the week full of hard work, unusual experiences, and new friends with at trip to Lake Atitlan where the team could de-brief and get ready for their return to the US.

This was an amazing week with an extraordinary group of people.  I would love to serve with them in the future.

Thanks, All Nations Church, for loving the people of Guatemala!

God Still Speaks Through a Carpenter

My carpenter friend, Manuel, and his family
A couple of weeks ago, there was a knock at our door while we were eating lunch on Saturday.  I opened it to find a family: dad, a very pregnant momma, and two children--carrying a high stool they were trying to sell.  I had just been thinking/praying about where to get one.  Feeding Fidel would be so much easier from the height of a stool than from a chair.  The workmanship was good, and the price reasonable, so I decided to buy it.

As I talking with the man it became evident he was a Christ-follower.  He had a small carpenter's shop in a near by town from which he was trying to support his growing family.  We talked about what I was doing here in Guatemala, and when he discovered our house was full of guys in wheelchairs, he asked if I could get one for his mother.  She had recently fallen, and though the hospital said her hip was not broken, she could hardly walk and was house-bound.

He asked if we had any more work for him, and I couldn't think of any right then.  He returned about a week and a half later to tell me he had a new daughter, Deborah, and the family would like me to come to meet her and "bless" her.

Angelica and baby Deborah
We arranged to do so the following Friday.  During the intervening week, I had thought of a project for him (a raised treatment/exercise table to use with the guys) and he immediately sat down and started drawing the plans. We agreed that we would pick up the wood for this when we went to see his mother.

He arrived a bit early Friday morning, and sat and waited in the living room while I finished up things in the house to be ready to leave with him.  While he waited, he wrote the following:

In English, it roughly translates:

Hope is the beginning of the way, and patience it's companion.  In hope we come to faith, because though we don't know what is to come or what will happen, it is our way.  The way is narrow, but secure.  The way is sweet with the love with which it is filled.  Jesus Christ, the God of Love.  The beginning of hope is born in you.

When I returned, he asked permission to share with me what he had written, that he believed he had a message from God for me. As I listened to him, I became quite tearful.  He had no idea our home was Casa de Esperanza (we don't hang out a sign!) when he wrote this.  Without being superstitious, I feel confident in saying that God spoke to me through this humble man, a carpenter.

As we have pursued the purchase of the house and the move, the monetary cost of all this has at times been overwhelming.  At those times, I have returned to the promises I believe God gave me in Scripture this past year.  That He will do more than I can ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20)  That He will complete what he has begun. (Phil. 1:6)

But it is so easy to hear another voice, the voice of doubt.  Did God really say this to me?  Or am I just selectively using Scriptures to support my decisions?  Will God come through?  Or am I out on a limb by myself?  I hate to admit how often I have had to fight these thoughts to stay faithful to where I believe He has led us.  Looking back at my journals has helped, but it's scary.

So hearing this, then reading it for myself, was like a kiss from God, letting we know that He knows we're here.  That He knows the path we're on (that of bringing hope) and that He is with us.  I never would have expected this encouragement to come from my new friend, Manuel, but that is what makes it even more special.  The "kiss" from God came from somewhere I never would have imagined.

So we set off for the local lumber-yard, and picked up what wood we needed.  I was also taking Fidel's chair up to Chimaltenango, but somehow we managed to fit it all in.  (I can't believe that I ever questioned whether or not I needed a van!)

I visited his family and prayed with them.  It was a delightful time.  It still humbles me that families here in Guatemala are honored when I come to visit.  They honor me by welcoming me into their homes.

His daughter was fascinated by my camera.  
Here we were having great fun teaching her how to take a "self-ie."

She insisted, too, that I take a picture of her with her little brother and their dogs.  

We went on to his mother's house, and she got a wheelchair to use.  She was so excited that she would once again be able to go to the market, the park and to church.

I look forward to seeing what God does with our friendship in the future.

Rods and Reasoning--How Different Education is in Guatemala

Last month I was able to attend a training with some of our teachers on using concrete and representational objects to teach mathematical concepts.  This was old news to me, but entirely new information for our teachers, and I went mostly to encourage and support them.  Math here is primarily taught in a rote manner, with the students writing/copying numbers from the board.

For example, when the students learn the concept of the number 2, they copy the numeral a multitude of times in their notebooks, perhaps having one or two pictures drawn to illustrate the quantity.  They seldom write 1, 2, 3, etc., nor do they practice discriminating numerals from each other.  Math facts are pure rote memory and copying, with little understanding of the processes involved.  This is slowly changing with our younger teachers (who are some of the best and brightest in the country), but this abstract presentation is pretty much the rule all over the country.

In this workshop, we learned to use colored rods (similar to Cuisenaire rods, for you old time educators who are reading this) to help students understand number concepts and relationships between numbers.  While I use a variety of manipulatives to help my students learn math, I have not used this technique, primarily because I didn't have the materials to do so.

As a perk of attending the workshop, we were able to purchase a set of these rods for a reduced price, and I couldn't resist. (If you know me, you know I'm a junkie for hands-on ways of teaching the kids.)

While I believed that the purchase was worth it, I had no idea just how valuable the rods would become in my classroom in such a short time.

We started off just exploring the rods, building with them, and seeing how they fit together to make equal parts.  The kids had a blast with them, and I don't think I have ever seen them so engaged in an activity.

Next we worked on sequencing the rods by size and making "trains" of rods that were equal.  

At this point I wasn't too sure exactly how I was going to present the concept that each rod had a different value.  Silly me!  I didn't need to.  The kids picked it up on their own!  

The ones who caught on faster began to "teach" the concept to the others, and I could sit back and watch learning taking place!  And the kids who are not working with me are asking when they can come to work with the "regletas."  

What I would like to do next is purchase a classroom size set of these rods that the teachers can check out to use in their classrooms.  The cost for this would be $150 US.  Since this is not in my budget for this year, if you would like to donate toward this purchase, please let me know.  I think it's an investment well worth making.

Nino de la Independencia

I have to admit, I almost dread the arrival of August at the school.  So many things are happening in preparation for the celebration of Independence Day, September 15 that classes and even school get canceled more than my North American personality finds comfortable.  The kids I work with need so much help, and the time we have is so short.  But, when in Guatemala. . .and I am learning that there are things just as important as academic learning which occur in our school.

Every year students are chosen to represent the school in the local Independence Day parade.  This year was very special for me, as a number of my students participated in the competitions for the various "titles."  My kids are the ones with the most obvious learning problems and disabilities, and it was wonderful to see the time and effort their teachers and classmates invested in helping them prepare for the presentations.

This year, our "Nino de la Independencia" is one of my students, Emerson.  Emerson came to us two years ago, in first grade.  At that time, he had difficulty with all things academic.  He still struggles with his assignments, but was recognized for his determination, hard work and progress.  He is one of the most pleasant kids I have ever taught, and is the first willing to help out when needed.

Some of my other students participated also, trying to earn the various titles awarded each year.  Azucena, who is in fifth grade but working at a first grade level, was her classmates choice to represent her grade.  It was touching to see the other girls in her class working so hard to make her costume and help her get ready.  They also participate as "back up" for the presentation she did in the competition.

This is even more surprising when you realize that Azucena, only a few years ago, got on a bus to Antigua, and was "lost" for a couple of weeks before being found in an orphanage in the city.  This was because she could not even tell the police her name or where she lived.  Now she was able to give a five sentence presentation telling about herself in front of a school full of people!

Anyely, one of my kindergarten students, came to school last January, talking gibberish.    She knew what she wanted to say, but her brain and the muscles of her mouth could not coordinate for the words to come out.  After only eight months of working with our excellent speech therapist, Jennifer Giesemann, she, too, was able to introduce herself and say a few words to the student body.

Damaris (l) and Karen.  Aren't they beautiful!
Damaris, one of our third graders is also working with me.  She has moderate cerebral palsy and walks with a pronounced limp.  She, and another of my students, Karen, performed a dance as part of their class's presentation.  While it was a challenge for her, she did beautifully, and you can see how proud she is of herself.

To see more capable students supporting and rooting for those with more severe difficulties was beautiful to see.  It was evidence that we are succeeding in our mission: to love God and love our neighbor, and for our students to achieve whatever of excellence is possible for them.

I love our school, our kids, and our exceptional staff!s

Side note:  Our wonderful speech therapist, Jennifer, is returning to the States to pursue further training when the school year ends this October.  She will be sorely missed.  Jennifer has been a good friend and faithful colleague, and my teaching will not be as good because she will not be here to bounce ideas around with me.  (Watch out, Jenn, Skype still works!)  While I will miss her , I pray God's best for her, and look forward to her return visits. (You will visit us, won't you?)

If anyone knows a Spanish speaking speech therapist who would like to donate their time for one or more semesters, please let me know.  I'd love to visit with them. While we have Guatemalan trained speech therapists, their training and focus is much more limited than what our students require.  Praying God provides this need for our students.

Functioning as a Family

I realized I have written so much lately about Roberto, our new resident, that I have neglected to mention much about Osmi and Fidel.  I apologize, and aim to correct that.

Fidel with Miguel at his wedding
Fidel will be finishing "tercero basico" or 9th grade this October.  This is the equivalent of graduating high school here in Guatemala.  While he was resistant to continuing his education when he came here, he is sure proud of himself now that he has accomplished this.  He still wants to be a DJ, but is looking at other options for his future, too.

One of our desires is, after our move to San Pedro, to open a computer center targeted at the special needs population in the area.  A neighboring village, actually only about six blocks from our house, has a school for students with special needs, and we hope to partner with them to open the center.  Hope Haven Canada has already donated about ten computers which will be used in the center.  While able bodied children will be welcomed, the center will be designed specifically for children with physical and cognitive limitations, and they will be the first to be invited to participate at no cost.  Fidel will be in charge of this program, and I think he is looking forward to it.

Osmi is finishing sixth grade in primary school this year.  He will continue on to basico (junior high) in January.  We are hopeful that we will be able to locate a private school in San Pedro which will allow him to attend.  If not, there are correspondence programs we can use.  I am impressed that given his age (though he looks much younger) he is willing to attend a school with younger students, but believe the socialization will be good for him.  I anticipate he will be a leader in the group if allowed to attend.  He is still studying computers and English on the weekends, and I am looking at ways for him to continue to do this after we move.

Roberto has begun studying with Claudia, a teacher from Hermano Pedro, who comes to our house twice a week to tutor him.  He seems to be enjoying the process, and I have to give him credit for his willingness to do work normally done by young children.  It's part of the process, though, and there's no way to bypass the basics to move on to the more interesting topics.  He is catching on very rapidly.

Roberto's father and brother-in-law visited him August 6.  Unfortunately I was at school and they did not stay long, so I did not get to visit with them.  They did bring his national identification card, however.

When he came, Roberto had said he was 18 years old, but did not know when his birthday was.  Imagine my surprise when I looked at the ID card and discovered his birthday was the next day, August 7.  He had never had a birthday party, and his choice was for us all to go to Pollo Campero for lunch to celebrate. Dick came along with us, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

It seemed incredible that, in his whole life, no one had ever bothered to celebrate his existence.  He was neglected by his family long before his accident.  Our staff reported that Roberto's father was pleasant, though somewhat gruff with him.  Maybe it was a good thing I wasn't around to react.  I am praying for compassion for this man who apparently has cared so little for his son, but it's hard.

Moises, left, visiting with Osmi at Hermano Pedro
Moises, one of the young men at Hermano Pedro, turned 18 in July.  His first act as a legal adult in Guatemala was to ask if he could come to live with us!  I have known Moi for almost ten years now, and have longed for him to get old enough to be with us.  We are in the process of transitioning him from Hermano Pedro to our home, and the plan is for him to move in with us when we take up residence in the new house in October.  This will allow him to finish out the year in his current school.

Please pray for Moi as he makes the transition, and for the other guys as they welcome one more brother into the family.  I have realized with the arrival of Roberto, that each new personality that enters the home brings with it challenges as well as blessings.  It is hard for young men, who never have lived in a family, to learn to function as one, but we are all making progress.