Vacation Time

The week of June 22 was our mid-term vacation here in Guatemala.  Yep, as those of you in the US are in the middle of your summer vacation from school, we are in the middle of our school year which runs from mid-January to mid-October.  I have to admit that sometimes, when I read posts on Facebook from in US, I become confused as to what time of year it really is!

They guys were excited to have me home more during this week, and we planned some special activities.  We couldn't travel anywhere, as most Guatemalans do during this time, but we could still have some fun doing things for which we normally didn't have the time.

We started the week off having pizza after church on Sunday with Dick and some of his guys.  While going out to eat is not a big deal for most of us, for Fidel and Osmi it is a rare occurrence.  It was so good for them to spend some time with other young men their ages, and they love being with the gang from Chimaltenango.  It also gave me a break from having to cook Sunday dinner!

Later in the week, we invited Maurico and Francisco, the two young men who help me in my classroom in Santa Maria, to have lunch with us.  Our guys were a bit amazed at the fact that both of these young men, who are gainfully employed, have disabilities.  Maurico was born missing his left forearm, and Francisco is blind due to Marfan Syndrome.

These two have not let their disabilities interfere with living life to the fullest, and they were excellent role models for Fidel and Osmi.  Maurico and Francisco freely shared with our guys the challenges they have and continue to face, but also their determination to learn as much as they can, and their desire to serve God however they can.

We got to introduce them to Taco Salad and strawberry short-cake, and they are both anxious to come and visit us again!

Our last outing of the week was a big one.  We had hoped to be able to take the guys to see our new house, but I'd forgotten that the Monday we had picked was a national holiday in Guatemala, and the real estate office was closed and we could not get a key.

We were able to follow through with the second half of our plan, however,  For his birthday present this year, Fidel had asked if we could all go to a steak house in Tecpan (a little more than an hour and a half from here) for lunch.  We invited Dick and Fernando to go with us.

With the traffic we faced going through Chimaltenango both coming and going, it pretty much took us the whole day just to go to lunch.  It was well worth it, though.  The food was unbelievable, and we even had left-overs for supper.

The wait staff could not have been more helpful accommodating our special seating needs, even though the restaurant was crowded from the holiday.  They guys enjoyed being out of the city, and we even let Tony drive them in our van while I rode with Dick in his car, so it was really a fun time for them.

Now, it's back to the "real world" a bit more refreshed and ready to tackle the second half of the school year!

Keeping (a car) Going in Guate

Keeping a car running safely here in Guatemala is a job in itself.  Twice in the last three months we have had to put a number of costly repairs into our Mazda mini-van.  At times I wonder if it's worth it.  But then, when the car is in the shop for a week as it is now, I find out just how much value it adds to our ministry. It really does free up my time to do ministry.  I can get places much more quickly with the car than on public transportation, and it's safer, most of the time.

A little over a month ago the car just didn't seem to be handling right, so I took it into Maynor, my faithful mechanic.  He checked over the front end and called me over to see what he found.

He literally could shake and wobble both front tires with only his hands.  This is really scary when you consider the roads I drive down from Santa Maria almost daily.  In a little over four miles I come down over 1000 feet down the side of the Ague volcano, on roads that twist and turn continually.  If the steering had failed on this drive, I'd have been a goner.  We're not sure what caused this damage.  I had had the front end checked only a few months earlier when I bought new tires (an annual event in Guatemala).  I do know, however, that as nostalgic as they are, the cobble stone streets here beat the day-lights out of a car.  Anyway, I am grateful God protected me and prompted me to take the car in.  So now I have basically a new front end, to the tune of almost $1000.  I know, in the States, these repairs would have cost four times that much and am grateful that the labor only amounted to a little over $100.

About a week ago, I was driving seven of the teachers from the school down from Santa Maria in a sudden downpour.  As we entered Antigua it was clear that I could not follow my usual route, since it would be under water.  Two alternate routes were also flooded, and I even had to turn around and back-track once when a normally "safe" route was impassable.

One of the men from our church helping cars
through the intersection I usually cross
There was no way to avoid driving through some fairly deep water, though, if we were ever to get home.  As I passed through one "puddle,"  the car started making a horrible screeching sound, that gave me the same reaction as fingernails on a blackboard.  And here I had more than a mile and a half to go, in a solid downpour, with a car full of teachers.  You know I prayed, and prayed hard.

The sound continued, and I thought about stopping, but with the heavy rain I knew even if I tried to get a tow to the shop, I'd be waiting in the rain forever, and the teachers would have to walk a great distance to catch their bus.  So I slowly moved on, not knowing if it was better to drive fast and get home sooner, or drive slow and hope I wouldn't do any more damage to the car.

I had a pretty good idea, from previous experience, that it was the alternator causing the problem, and that if it was making this much noise, it was already shot.  So I opted for medium and prayed the charge in the battery would be sufficient to get me home.  It was.  In fact, I started the car the next day, foolishly hoping maybe it was just something which had gotten wet and had not dried out.  Nope, same ear-splitting sound.

Faithful Maynor called a tow-truck, and got the car to the shop where he discovered it was, in fact, the alternator.  He also encountered two other parts which were on the verge of breaking and needed to be repair. And he discovered that a small plastic part connected to the motor had a small leak and needed to be replace. (Of course, this part can only be purchased at the Mazda dealership in Guatemala City--so you know it's pricey!)  In the States I might have tried to push off some of these repairs, but I have learned that it is unwise, if not down-right dangerous, to do that here. So once again my car has been in the shop for over a week.

Maynor stopped over to get the money to buy the parts, and joked with me that he felt like an extortionist!  I am grateful he is so conscientious about keeping my car safe to drive, and told him so.  I can never complain about his prices.  Once again, though this bill will be close to $1000, and has required he make two trips into Guatemala City for parts, his labor will be less than $150.

So I have been riding chicken buses and shuttles and tuk-tuks.  I am making multiple trips to the market each week since we have to carry home what we buy.  And I am sorely missing my car. I feel my age much more than when I first moved here.

 Could I get along without it?  Yes.  Is it worth the cost to keep it in good working order?  I believe so.  I've had it over two years, so need to expect to make repairs.  I couldn't buy a newer one for what the repairs cost me.  And I can't put a price tag on the time it saves me and the security it provides.

I think I may need to find one of these!

Life with the Boys

As I wrote the title of this post, I realized that Fidel and Osmi are really more young men than boys.  But, just as with my own sons, I guess they will always be my "boys."

They are continuing their classes and making good progress with their studies.  I know this is challenging for them, but I believe will serve them well in their futures.  Completing Basico (9th grade) is one of the few requirements I give them to continue living in the house.  I know, though, that like me, they are enjoying having a week of vacation for school.

Juan Carlos waiting with Osmi to see the doctors

There was recently a team of US orthopedic surgeons at Hermano Pedro, and one of the regular physicians there suggested that Osmi be seen to see if there was any way surgery could help him gain better mobility of his hands.  As I had thought, since Osmi does not have Cerebral Palsy, the typical surgeries would not help him.

Osmi with the hand surgeon on the team.
He had taken pictures of Osmi to use for teaching purposes,
so we told him he had to let us take one of him!

I was glad that we went, however, because the team from the States said that he does not have Scleraderma, but a rare disorder in which the muscles actually calcify into bone.  This is very strange to me, since he also has osteoporosis, where his bones are losing calcium!  This is so rare that the hand surgeon said he knew there was a specific name for this disease, but it was so unusual he could not recall it.  The bad news is that it is a progressive disease, and his condition can worsen in the future.  Physical therapy will not help slow the process, and, according to the therapists who came with the surgeons, will not impact his condition.

The good news was that in talking to the doctors, it is more and more probable that Osmi's dramatic improvement was due to direct divine intervention, rather than medical remission.  We look forward to see what God will be doing with his life in the future.

Both Fidel and Osmi are enjoying the new addition to our household, Charlie, a baby parrot.  He was Osmi's birthday gift from his parents.  It is a joy to see how tender the boys are with him, and, despite my early concerns, are doing an excellent job caring for him.  Now Fidel is trying to talk me into a dog!

Dick's boys still like to come and visit and talk the guys "out on the town."  Here they are just returning from getting caught in a downpour.  Gratefully, they managed to cover the controller and computer in Fidel's chair to keep it dry.

Please pray for the continued performance of the two power chairs our guys use.  They are delicate equipment, and the rough terrain here is hard on them.  Some wire or other always seems to be coming loose.  It's also impossible to purchase proper batteries here in Guatemala, and Osmi is anxiously awaiting a new shipment from Hope Haven Canada.  He now has to charge his chair a couple times a day if he goes outside our house.  We are so grateful to Dick Rutgers who do all he can to keep us going, and to Bethel Ministries who does the repairs when Dick isn't available or the required repairs are too extensive for him to do alone.

Osmi continues to study computers and English on Saturday mornings, thanks to his sponsor, David Dean, a friend from Hermano Pedro.  Fidel would like to start taking art classes and we are looking for a teacher who can come to the house for a reasonable price.  It is so nice to see them each developing their own interests in addition to the computer.  I was hoping this would happen.  Would love to have a recreational therapist come and do an evaluation of each of them.  If anyone knows a rec therapist who might be interested in coming down for a week or so, please email me.  We could put them to good use!

Fidel out cruising with David Dean in his convertible.
David is a good friend to our guys.

Our final news (in addition to the new house, of course) is that a friend of Juan Carlos who works at a local TV station has spent a couple of afternoons video taping our ministry and is working on developing one minute video spots, both in Spanish and English to help spread the word about Causa de Esperanza.  Stay tuned to see them.  I'll be sure to share them when they're ready!

Teacher Appreciation at New Life

Friday, May 19 is El Día del Maestro (Teacher Appreciation Day) in Guatemala.  After experiencing many Teacher Appreciation Days in the US, I can whole-heartedly say they are much more fun here!

The students did not have class today (imagine, having to actually TEACH on Teacher Appreciation Day!) and the sixth grade and junior high students planned a program an activities to celebrate the teachers.

We played a number of games, and I was surprised to see the competitive spirit come out in our usually collaborative teaching staff.  Don't worry, though, everyone was friends when it was all over!

Carolina and Paquita in a stand-off
as each tried to break the
balloon tied
to the other's leg.
Getting serious here!
Paquita was victorious.

A local pastor from Chimaltenango preached on the gifting and role of the teacher.  He did a wonderful job of combining his academic knowledge with practical Biblical application for our lives.

Blanky, our school secretary and graduate of Nueva Vida shared some of her diverse talents with us.  Besides beautifully singing a praise song, she assume the character of an old woman to "roast" each of the teachers as she presented them with an award.  Jennifer, the speech therapist, and I received our certificates later.  I guess she was worried about embarrassing the two "gringas" on the staff!

The men on the staff were each called on to sing a praise song in front of the group.  I felt sorry for Jerry Bush, who speaks next to no Spanish, as he was trying to figure out what the group was being asked to do.  He did a beautiful presentation of  "I Love You Lord" which brought tears to my usually unsentimental eyes!

This was the first year that my assistant, Mauricio was part of the celebration as part of the teaching staff!  He has three more semesters, and he will become a fully licensed teacher, but has completed his pre-professional training and is qualified to teach up through third grade.  I think he enjoyed himself.  He showed himself to be quite the performer, too!

As if this wasn't already enough, we were then treated to a marvelous luncheon of churasco (grilled steak) excellently prepared by our cook, Seño Lety, and Karla, another of our graduates who works in the kitchen.

As the used to say in the society column of small town newspapers, "A good time was had by all!"

Life at New Life--Moving Forward

Our staff at graduation, 2014

Things are always evolving at a school with more than 100 students.  Nueva Vida is no different.  Having just completed the fifteen years of the school's existence, Judy Kerschner began looking for ways to make a great program even better.

Last summer we spent six weeks working on a mission and vision statement for the school.  This led to the formation of a leadership team, which meets weekly to discuss concerns of the school, the students, the families and the faculty.  I am honored to serve on this team.  Our role is to bring each of our expertise to the table, to give a unique perspective on what we are discussing.  My specific function is to submit the best educational practices we know for consideration by the team, and adapt them to our current setting and culture.  I am also serving as an advocate and voice for the teachers as well as the students.

Guatemalan teachers seldom have a voice in what they do or how their school is run.  Discipline, of both the students and the staff, is often handled in a very authoritarian manner.  Teachers don't even usually consider that they should have a say.  They are grateful they have a job.

Up on the roof
Nueva Vida is different.  We believe we are a Christian community, and therefore, while there must be leadership (servant leaders), the job of the leaders is to best meet the needs of those they lead.  This is a new concept here, and we are still challenged to put what we know to be principles of Christian leadership into practice in this culture.  Many of they things we are trying are not cultural.  I've developed a new slogan:  Scripture trumps culture!  It's an exciting time.  Please keep us in prayer as we move forward.

Judy Kerschner, the founder and administrator of the school
along with Jerry and Dianna Bush and their daughter Maddie
And just last week we were blessed to welcome Jerry and Dianna Bush, who are CTEN missionaries joining our team.  Their first year here will primarily be spent studying Spanish and learning how to live in this "foreign" culture which will soon become home to them.  Their future plans include Jerry helping with the administrative responsibilities at the school, as well a sharing his computer expertise, and Dianna will help with teaching our students English.

They come to us from Olney, Illinois (Go Illini!) where Jerry just completed his term serving as pastor of Mt. Gilead Church.  We are anxious to see what God does with the unique gifts they bring to our ministry to the people of Santa Maria.  Bushes, thank you for being obedient to the call.

Life at New Life--Recognizing Ronald

One of the challenges we have faced at New Life is how to best serve our students who are the most academically challenged.  Ronald, fourteen years old and very self-conscious and insecure, is a young man who really needed something different.

While he was always a cooperative studnent,
for most of the time I have known Ronald,
he has been very timid.
It was a challenge to get him to smile,
even for a picture.

Ronald had an illness when he was three (some say encephalitis, some a stoke) which left him both deaf and blind.  Somewhere around the age of 8, Ronald was miraculously healed, and now sees, hears, and speaks.  He has had great difficulty learning to read and do math, but he has one of the sweetest spirits and one of the kindest hearts of anyone I've ever met.

Recently his mother reported that he did not want to continue coming to school.  He was self-conscious of how far he was behind academically, and apparently some of his classmates had been teasing him. (Believe me, this is being addressed!) His parents, unlike many in Santa Maria, really want him to continue in school; to at least learn to read and do simple math.  This broke my heart, since in the last six months I have seen Ronald turn a corner and begin to "get it" when it comes to reading and math.

After meeting with Seño Marisol, our principal, and his mom, we came up with a unique plan.  Mondays and Fridays he is with his grade level class.  These are days when activities, such as devotions and "special classes" are held.  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he spends in my room.  This gives me a chance to work intensively with him on his skills, but also gives him a chance to serve as an "assistant" to help some of the younger children.

Josef, our little guy who is partially sighted, is "Ronald's student."  Ronald supervises him as he does independent tasks, learning basic skills such as staying in his seat, starting, continuing and finishing a task, and following directions.  Josef can be quite a handful at times.  Ronald shows infinite patience with Josef, even when he has to implement the simple consequence of "heads down" when Josef is uncooperative.  Ronald does this with gentleness but firmness I've seen in few professional teachers.  What a gift he is to us!

We are discovering Ronald his many life skills
which will serve himwell in his future.
Here he is helping to assemble my new desk chair.
I met his mother in the street the other day.  She says Ronald is now excited to come to school and often brags about helping with younger kids.  (When she said she didn't believe this, he said, "Go ask Seño Paty--she'll tell you.  She needs my help!")  They have noticed that he now is beginning to read a bit more and is happier.  I am grateful to see him growing in self-confidence and self-respect.  I am happy to see him recognizing and using his God given talents in serving others.  This will impact his future more than any academic skill.

Proudly sitting on the chair he helped put together!
I am so grateful that Nueva Vida is a very special school which allows us to adapt to meet the very special needs of each individual student.  I am honored to be a part of it!

He thoroughly enjoys being talker than I am!

Saying Good-bye to Lusbin

A little more than a week ago, Dick showed up at school while I was in a meeting.  When I received word he needed to talk to me, my heart started pounding.  It's not like him to interrupt my school day, so I knew something was up.

He told me that one of the former Hermano Pedro patients had passed away that morning.  He needed someone to go with him to Salamá for the funeral.  Could I get away?

It turned out that the next day we were having a program to welcome the Bush's, a couple from Illinois (Go Ilini!) who had just moved down to work at the school.  There would be no classes, so after a brief conversation with Judy, I decided to go.

Lusbin had originally come to Hermano Pedro through the malnutrition project.  After a time there, he put on weight and returned home, but not before becoming best buddies with Dick.  Though I had never met him, I felt like I knew him from Dick's stories.

The red line roughly traces our route,
 though I'm sure Dick would have some corrections.
Much of the way was up and down mountain sides,
which also adds to the mileage.
While it feels like I have traveled all over the country, in truth I have not visited most of the departments in Guatemala.  This trip would take me to a whole new area--Baja Vera Paz.  Though Dick said it was only about 45 km. "as the crow flies" unfortunately we were land bound and the trip was more like 230 km since we stayed on the good roads.  This is true of many of the places we go--it feels like you can't get there from here, which is somewhat true, since you have to go through many out of the way places to finally reach your destination.

We got into town about 4:30, found hotel rooms, and went to see Lusbin's family.  They were so very grateful Dick had come, and though I had not met them before, I was immediately brought into their confidence.  Once again it was helpful to be a woman in this situation.  Both Lusbin's mama and sister poured out their hearts to me like we were old friends.  This was a traumatic time for them both, but especially hard on his sister, who was his constant companion and care giver.

On their last visit, Dick and the boys spent the whole day with Lusbin,
even taking him and his sister out to eat at Pollo Campero 
Dick had visited Lusbin only a few weeks earlier with three of the boys to repair his power chair.  At that time he could see that Lusbin, who had muscular dystrophy, was declining.  It was a surprise, however, for him to pass on so quickly.

Mama explained that Tuesday morning he had gone to the park to visit friends.  When he got home he began having chest pains, and they took him to the national hospital.  He died Wednesday morning, we are told from heart problems.  I wish we could have been there with him to help him.  His sister showed us a picture of him she took in the hospital, and he looked absolutely terrified.

We visited with the family, and were given a "refaccion" of coffee and sweet bread.  It was very strange to be seated next to a casket, eating a snack, but this is how it is done here.  Another sample of the hospitality that is so much a part of the character of the Guatemalan people.  It actually reminded me of wakes I had been to years earlier when I worked on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

The funeral would not be to 3 pm the following afternoon, so we went back to the hotel and got a good nights rest.

not the most flattering picture
of Julia, but it shows she's
not afraid to get her
hands dirty!

In the morning we went to Rabinal, a nearby town, so I could meet Julia, the director of a local school for preschoolers.  She and her husband are very involved in advocating for the rights of the disabled in Guatemala, and I had heard stories about her for years.  She was not there, but I did get to see the beautiful school, and meet some of the staff.  We then called Julia, who was actually in Salama, the town where we were staying, and arranged to meet her for lunch.

She is a delightful and amazing woman; a wonderful and committed educator.  As we visited in Spanish (poor Dick;  I only remembered to translate for him once in a while) I learned that many of the ideas I wanted to implement in Santa Maria were the same ones Julia was using in her school in Rabinal.  I was refreshed and encouraged to see this.  I don't want to turn New Life into an American School,  It was good to find out that well trained Guatemalan teachers also thought as I do, and were trying to train local teachers to use the same techniques I was encouraging at the school.

Julia had been Lusbin's first teacher, and had fought hard to get him into public school.  She was pleased to accompany us to the funeral.  Her presence was a great blessing to me.  I was unfamiliar with the local customs of funerals and grieving and it was a great benefit to be able to follow her lead through the different aspects of the funeral.

We arrived at Lusbin's house just a a great downpour began.  We were served large servings of Pozole, a rich chicken soup dish traditional in this part of the country.  I regretted eating pizza just an hour earlier but ate as much as I could.  It was important to mama to feed us well, even though I explained we had just eaten!

We waited out the worst part of the rain, and the long walk to the church began.  Dick served as a pallbearer, which was quite a challenge.  These men carried the casket to the church on their shoulders, and Dick, being almost a foot taller than some of them, was at a distinct disadvantage. We were both very relieved to see that after the church service the casket would be taken to the cemetery in the back of a pick-up truck.

Here people who can afford it are often buried in a tower of cement boxes, each casket taking one space (a Guatemalan mausoleum?)  After the casket is placed in its space, the front of the opening is closed with bricks and mortar while the family watches.  This is difficult to watch, but was especially painful for Lusbin's sister who became more frantic as each brick was added, screaming, "mi nene, mi nene" ("my baby boy, my baby boy).  This was one of the hardest things I have experienced in Guatemala.

It's not unusual for mourners to climb on top of other tombs adjacent to where the
deceased will be buried, to get a better view of the interment.
This young lady of sixteen has limited cognitive skills, though her social and daily living skills are excellent.  It broke my heart to watch her grieve for her brother.  I occurred to me that she only partially understood what was going on, and I longed to help her somehow.

I went over and prayed silently over her, and as I did, it seemed God told me to tell her, "Lusbin's not in there."  Not knowing what would be her reaction, I reluctantly obeyed.  She heard me, and clung to me. I went on to explain that only his body was being buried; that the person she loved (his soul) was now with Jesus.  I told her I believed he was not healthy and whole, and knew that his suffering was over.  I don't to how much of this she really understood, but she calmed substantially.

While intellectually limited, she obviously has a great love of Jesus, and I think the idea that Lusbin was with Him comforted her.

We returned to the home after the service for a can of pop and to visit.  We were not sure where the rest of this family was spiritually, and didn't want to miss an opportunity to share with them the good news of life in Jesus. This time was a blessing for both them and us.

They shared with us that Lusbin often said Dick was like his papa. This was a beautiful tribute to the relationship Dick had with him, but also was very sad.  Lusbin's own father is alive, but does not live with the family.  He was at the funeral, but was distant from the other family members.  The saddest thing was that he, himself, share that Lusbin thought of Dick as his father, without any resentment or remorse.

It made both Dick and me realize how what we do often seems little to us, but is huge to those we love here.  Dick would see Lusbin once or twice a year since he left Hermano Pedro, but these visits mattered so much to him and his family.

(We had seen another example of this the night before.  When we came to the house unexpectedly, we found four of Lusbin's wheelchair sitting in a row, next to the coffin, along with other favorite possessions of him.  Three of these wheelchair were no longer used, but clean and well cared for; greatly valued by him and his family.)

We were comforted to discover, too, that Jesus was walking with Lusbin during his last days.  About two weeks before he died, he had told his mother and sister that he was going to pass on.  He told them that they could cry for two days, but then needed to get on with their lives.  Dick said this sounded so much like Lusbin, who loved life to the full, despite is declining health.  Dick was also honored to hear that Lusbin had left him a message, too.  He was not to be sad at Lusbin's death, because one day they will see each other in heaven.

Please pray for us as we continue to share Jesus with and encourage this family.  His mom asked to keep the wheelchairs for 40 days, at which time they would like them to be given to others who need them.  We will be going back to pick them up, and are praying for openings to share more of the gospel with them.

Dinner with Calin (a.k.a. Juan Carlos)

You may remember that Calin lived with us here in Antigua during the first half of school year.  I was sorry to see him return to Chimaltenango, but family situations made it necessary for him to return home.  He has continued his studies, however, and will be "graduating" in October with a diploma in tourism.

Many kids want to study tourism, seeing it as an easier high school alternative than some of the more mathematically and scientifically based courses of studies.  Calin, however, has not only the skills but the personal characteristics, as well as an excellent command of English, to equip him to be successful in this career path.

In addition to general studies and business courses, students in tourism also are trained in hotel and restaurant management.  As part of his coursework this year, his class hosted a formal dinner,  and Calin invited his mother, Dick and I to be his guests.  We got to see first hand how he is applying what he has learned the past two years.

Dick with Calin's mom

The dinner was really quite elegant, having multiple courses prepared and served by the students, including a champaign (bubbly juice).  The goal was for the students to interact with the guests, not as their friends, but as the would guest at a formal dinner..  It was really fun to watch Calin as he "worked the room."  He has a natural ability to interact with all kinds of people and this should serve him well in his chosen occupation.

Calin will be doing his final practicum this August and September, and will be once again staying with us for this time.  I am hoping to get him to try our some of his new culinary skills cooking the evening meal!  We'll have to see how his work schedule pans out, but I would love a break from cooking!  Food always tastes so much better when someone else prepares it!