Update on Roberto

Roberto with David Dean, a good friend of our ministry
Many people have been asking how Roberto is, so I thought it was time for an update.

He has adjusted well to living with us, and I am astonished at how well his bedsores are healing now that he is receiving proper care and nutrition.  The swelling in his legs is decreasing, and we can tell by lifting him he is gaining weight. His face is filling out nicely, and we have discovered that he has a delightful smile which we see more frequently each day.

Roberto the day he came to us

Roberto the other night at supper
What a difference a month can make
I know some thought he would be better off in a hospital or at Hermano Pedro, but we were strongly convicted that he should be here with us.  Our experience is demonstrating the wisdom of this decision.  We did take him to see a local doctor who I trust, and he checked him over, agreed with our course of treatment, and said to come back in two months if there weren't any new problems.  This was quite reassuring to me.

Roberto is increasingly becoming part of the family, though it's taken him some time to understand how we interact.  He was very concerned that when we would joke around we were either angry or disrespectful of each other, and not teasing each other out of friendship.

At times he would misunderstand conversations and think we were not all happy to have him here.  This has taken quite a bit of counseling on my part to help him interpret our interactions correctly.  I didn't realize how very wounded he has been by his experiences.  He has not lived in a normal family environment since long before his accident.  He was sent to work in the rubber plantations at the coast when he was only 8 years old, and lived with an uncle who it sounds was not too welcoming.

His recent experiences have only compounded his woundedness.  If he were at Hermano Pedro with 42 other young men in the same ward, I don't know what he would be thinking.

He is learning to make decisions, and take the consequences of them.  If he sits in his chair too long and begins to ache, he is realizing it was his choice to do so.  Some of the companion-caregivers have struggled with this, but I firmly believe he is a young adult and needs to learn to take responsibility for himself as much as he is able to.

Don't get me wrong.  We are not going to allow him to do things that will injure him or put him in danger.  I believe, though, that small uncomfortable consequences are the only way we learn to make better choices, and he is no exception.  It's hard, though, at times to know what really is best.  I am trying to concentrate on the majors, and relax on the minors.  The trouble is, the minors are things that would be so much easier to change.

He seems to be feeling more at home here.  It has taken him a while to get used to asking for things he needs, or, if he is able to, just getting them himself.  Fidel and Osmi had a long talk with him that it is okay just to take and eat the fruit or snacks we have on the counter.  He said he was uncomfortable doing that since they weren't his. They guys did a really good job of convincing him that he was welcome to all the food we have here, and he is beginning to believe them.

First taste of pizza
Thinking about it. . .

I think I like it

Yep, it's a winner!

He still does not go out of the house very much--the cobble stone streets and uneven sidewalks are very hard on him.  The only place he insists on going, though, is to church with us on Sunday.  While he doesn't have much Biblical or theological knowledge, he has a deep faith, which is what I think has sustained him these past four years.  He is so grateful to God for all he has, when he could be so very angry at him for all he has suffered.  I think this is where he is most inspiring and challenging to the rest of us here.
Pushing himself down the street to church

I have been surprised at how affectionate he is, especially with me.  If I am sitting next to him watching TV, he'll reach over and take my hand and hold it for as long as I am there.  He asks for a kiss on the cheek before I go to bed at night, and continues to call me "Mamita."  I am a bit concerned about how he will do when I go to the States, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Roberto enjoys drawing, coloring and puzzles, as well as games such as Connect 4. He also enjoys television and watching DVD's and listening to music.  It is very different, in that, since he can't read, the computer does not hold an attraction for him.  He has been a good influence on the other guys in this regard and draws them into more social interactions.

Claudia, one of the teachers from Hermano Pedro, has volunteered to come twice a week after her workday to teach Roberto to read and do basic math.  I love watching them work together.  She is so kind and gentle with him, and he just beams at the attention he receives.

The extensive care Roberto needs has placed extra demands on all our companion-caregivers, but especially Tony.  It's been tough for him at times; he's not a nurse and I know few young men his age who would be willing to change colostomy bags or help with bedsore treatments.  He has not complained even once, and I so appreciate him.

Juan Carlos with our guys in the part after church on Sunday
Rigoberto is now working four days a week to help out with the extra work load.  Juan Carlos has been coming in almost every afternoon to help with the treatment of Roberto's pressure sores and relieving me of the total responsibility for this.  I am grateful to them both.

Moving Towards Moving

This is our wonderful realtor, Tere, walking down the front steps of  "our" house.
I have been posting updates on the house purchase on Facebook, but have come to realize that often I miss peoples posts, and perhaps some of you have been missing my posts, too.  A good number of my supporters, also, do not use Facebook.  I apologize for not keeping you all better informed.

About a week ago I went to do a walk through of the house, and took Dick with me so he could finally see the house.  I had been the only one here who had actually seen it, and I was a bit concerned that maybe it was not as good as I thought it was. (You know how easy it is to come to doubt yourself---or at least for me not to trust myself and/or my memory!) I am happy to report that Dick fully approved of the house, and, after measuring doorways and rooms agreed that it would serve us well.  We found a few things we asked to have fixed by the owner, but we are moving toward the date of our move which we have set for the last week in October.

This pool is right outside our front door.  It has a shallow seating area in the circular part that will be perfect for our guys.  We we somewhat surprised to find that the water was fairly warm on the day we were there!
Dave Penner, founder and director of the Josiah Foundation, and a team from All Nations Church will be coming down Oct. 25 (or there abouts) to help us with the move as well as work with one of the churches we partner with.

Before all this can happen, though, we have another payment to make, due August 1.  We have the majority of this payment as cash in hand, but still need around $1000.  Please pray with us that God will provide the extra funds needed to make this payment on time!

If you have ever thought of supporting us, or Casa de Esperanza, this would be an excellent time to do so.  For just $85 you can purchase one square foot of our new home.  Would you consider helping us give our guys a permanent home?

We already have 471 square feet paid for, and will be paying for at least 153 more square feet in August.  That leaves us about `1375 feet to pay for before February, 2016 when our final payment is due.

We would like to have as much of the house paid for before we move in to lower the rent we will be paying between move in and the final payment.  The rate we will be paying is 1% of whatever balance is due at the time we take possession.  The more we have paid off, the lower will be our rent.

I have to be honest.  If I let myself think too much about this, I start to wonder if I have made a colossal mistake.  Yet, whenever I pray about this, I get prompted to move forward with confidence. When I talk to more experienced missionaries here in Guatemala, I am told that they can't believe what a good price we got from the buyer.  It still is $30,000 less than anything else I have seen come one the market which might even be comparable.

The somewhat discouraging part is that as I am looking into the possibility of taking out a mortgage if we don't raise the full amount by February, I am finding it to be complicated.  First, the house is in a condominium, and even though we will own the actual land the house sits on, the banks are hesitant to give mortgages on these properties.  I'm still talking to different companies, but, since I don't want to take out a mortgage right now, they are not very helpful.

Secondly, the owner of the land lives in the US and the payments are made by transferring funds from one US account to another.  This makes Guatemalan banks hesitant to even talk about giving us a loan, even though we will have a valuable piece of property to use as collateral.

Third, I'm not sure that I am always totally understanding these conversations.  I need to find an good accountant here who speaks good English and can help me with this.  My Spanish is so much better than it used to be, but while I have learned the vocabulary for car repairs and educational concepts, my financial vocabulary is lacking, and in Spanish, the ending of a single word can significantly change the meaning of what is said.

Ideally, we will find one or more people in the US that will give us private financing if we need it.  I can't imagine how this would work, but I know it can if God moves in this way.  Please pray that if God is moving anyone to do this, they will come forward.

Of course, I know God can provide these funds in an instant.  (Who would have thought that, though His people, he would raise $50,000 in one weekend?) I don't want my preparations for "what if" to get in His way.  On the other hand, I don't want to be irresponsible.  Pray for balance in the way in which I am dealing with this.

So there you are.  This is where we are currently standing with the house.  I am anxious to see what God will do next.    I want to be open to whatever He leads us to do in partnering with Him to make this happen.

How about you?

Settling In

Roberto likes to draw and one of his desires is to learn to read and write.
We will begin working on this and will keep you appraised of his progress.
Roberto has been with us about a week now, and we are settling into a new routine.  I can't say enough good things about how Tony, Juan Carlos, and Rigoberto have risen to meet the extra demands and special care needs he has.  They have all gone over-and-above in pitching in this week.

Monday I went to the Hope Haven factory in Xenaco, and picked up special cushions for both his chair and bed.  These cushions should help prevent further damage to his skin, and hopefully will help the bedsores he has heal more quickly.

We are using a special cream donated by some nurses from the US who specialize in wound care.  It is extremely expensive, but I am told is the best there is for healing his type of wound.  Juan Carlos and I are sharing the responsibility in treating the bedsores daily, and I have to admit that this is one of the hardest things I have ever done.  It's not the sores themselves which bother me, though I have to admit they are pretty disgusting to look at.  (Sorry if that's insensitive, but those of you who have ever seen bedsores know what I'm talking about.)  It's more the emotions involved in treating them.  I hate the fact that I am causing pain to this young man who has already suffered so much, but he's a real trooper and cooperates fully in his treatment.  I am so grateful to Tony who helps me with this, not only for the extra pair of hands he provides, but for his emotional support, too.  Please pray that these sores will heal "supernaturally quickly" and Roberto can start more normal activities.

Roberto is enjoying having enough to eat for the first time in almost four years.  While I am not playing the food police, I am encouraging him not to eat too much at any one time, and to eat more often.  He is gradually becoming less timid in asking for a snack. We also have him on three daily servings of Ensure daily, following the doctor's suggestions.

There are so many foods that are new to him, not just North American style dishes, but even those commonly eaten in Guatemala.  We introduced him to pizza one night, and I have to share the pictures of this experience.

Getting ready for the first bite

Thinking about it. . .

A smile is emerging. . .

Pizza wins a thumbs up!

Friday, Juan Carlos, Tony and I took Roberto to see Dr. Bocaletti, one of the few private doctors I trust here in Antigua.  He did a general physical on him, and gave recommendations for his care and diet.  I was so pleased that he did not immediately order a large number of lab tests or medications.  He likes to treat things more naturally, and also was very sensitive to not wanting to put Roberto though any procedures that were not necessary at this time.

I was so very encouraged after our visit, since most of his recommendations were of things I had already done, even with my limited knowledge and the wonderful coaching I have received from Dick Rutgers and Judy Kerschner.  I am feeling a bit more confident and we move forward making decisions for his future care.  I was so grateful that the doctor did not think that in any way he needed to be hospitalized, and believes we can provide more than adequate care for him in our home.

Roberto leading the way to church Sunday. . .his first real outing

Many of you have emailed or messaged on Facebook to ask what we need to be able to care for Roberto.  General donations for his care through the Josiah Foundation are our biggest need.

We have increased Rigoberto's work hours to provide some extra hands for the extra care Roberto requires.  We have also had to buy Roberto clothing as he came with next to nothing.  We will have to purchase some specialized equipment to care for him, such as colostomy bags and catheters, as well as the supplies and medication we use in treating his bedsores. We are going through a large number of vinyl exam gloves daily as we care for him. He is currently taking three servings of Ensure daily, and this is quite expensive here (as I know it is in the US).  In addition he uses adult diapers at present, and though Daryl Fulp and Hope for Home Ministries is helping us get them at a reduced cost, they are still expensive.

If any of you have connections to medical supply houses that might be able to donate some of these supplies, please email me and I'll give you more details of what our specific needs are.  These significant expenses were not anticipated when we set our 2015 budget.  Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

The Peter Principle--or What Happens When You Jump Out of the Boat

The sermon preached by my pastor here in Guatemala, Mike Watkins, helped me pull together the random thoughts that have been bouncing around in my mind recently. . .

In the secular culture, the Peter Principle simply states that we rise to the level of our incompetence.  I definitely have done so!  I'm out a a limb these days. . .spiritually, emotionally, and financially.  The demands of my ministry have definitely exceeded my competence.  I am being stretched to and beyond my limits.  It's scary!

But I am not alone.  For I believe in another Peter principle.  It is found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 14, verses 22-32.  To many of us this is a familiar story of  Peter being ridiculous enough to actually think he could walk on water! To some of us, it may be new.  

The main points are: 

  • The disciples are in a boat, on a lake, at night during a storm.  Jesus had stayed behind to pray.
  • Suddenly they see a figure walking toward them.  Some thought it was a ghost.  Peter, however, recognized it as Jesus and calls out, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you."
  • Jesus says, "Come," and without hesitation Peter jumps out of the boat and begins walking on the water. (I often have thought that Peter should be declared the "Patron Saint of ADHD--who else would do this without a second thought!)
  • Peter is doing just fine until he realizes what he has done.  He begins considering the wind and the waves, rather than the Savior who had called him, and begins to sink.
  • Of course, Jesus comes to his rescue and pulls him out of the deep and brings him safely to the boat.
This is the Peter Principle I want to be living; I feel like I am living.

One area of my life where I feel stretched to my limits is in helping our young men deal with life.  I know I have experience working in mental health, but this is a whole new ball game.  This is a different culture where people believe and think and act differently.  They are young men, and much of my recent experience has been with women.  They are held prisoner by bodies which do not allow them to be who their mind tells them they were created to be.  They have experienced the ravages of poverty beyond my imagination.  What do I possibly have to give them.

Juan \Carlos, our nurse, with Osmi, Roberto and Fidel

If I am honest, though, the area of my life where I feel most over my head,is fund-raising.  I've never been one to take much of a risk financially.  Maybe it's because for most of my life we had just enough to get by and save a little.  I learned early on not to use credit to buy more than I could pay off in one month--and I learned it the hard way.  So my financial decisions have been conservative, to say the least.  Now I have until February. 2016 to raise about $120,000.  

In both of these parts of my life, I called out to Jesus, "If it's you, tell me to come.  If you want me to start a community home, tell me to.  If you want our ministry to buy a house, lead me to it."  And I believe His direction was to move forward in both of these areas.  I have to admit, jumping out of the boat and into these commitments was not easy.  It was done after much prayer and counsel from those much more spiritually mature than I am.  It was not impulsive.

But I have to admit that actually DOING these things needed to be done without logical thought and in pure obedience.  If I had thought about the implications of what I was doing in either circumstance, I would have been paralyzed by fear.  I could only look at Jesus and trust He had said, "Come."  

Starting Casa de Esperanza what a leap of faith, stepping out onto the water. With each young man we have accepted I have gotten farther away from the boat, and at times it seems the wind has picked up.  Making the decision to purchase the house in San Pedro has caused the wind to pick up substantially.  And there are days that, like Peter, I take my eyes off Jesus and begin to sink, some days deeper than others.

When this happens, I hear His voice once again, telling me to "Come," come into even deeper waters to see what He can and will do.

I hear it through Scripture.  I hear it through listening to good teaching.  I hear it from my brothers and sisters in Christ, who not only encourage me with their own words, but remind me what Jesus has already done in my life and in the lives of others who have trusted him.  And I hear it deep in my heart when I spend time alone with him.

I have never been one for praying set prayers, but find myself frequently praying, "Lord, guide my steps and guard my path.  Help me be obedient to your leading."  This helps me most when I feel anxiety rising, and need to reclaim my focus. I am spending more time praying the Psalms, such as Psalm 14 and Psalm 17.  I am learning to quiet my mind, heart, and soul in His marvelous presence.  And I am at peace. In Him I find joy.

So why am I writing this?  First, I think I needed to remind myself that Jesus has led us to do what we are doing.  The provision has come for what we have needed so far.  I need to trust Him to come through with the rest!  

But I am also writing this for you who read it.  Selfishly, I ask for your prayers that I will keep my eyes on Him alone, and that He will provide what we need, especially for the completion of the purchase of the house.

I am also writing to you, though, to encourage you to jump out of the boat when He calls you to.  I am more certain that there is no "safe" way to be a Christian.  The waves and wind we each face is different, but they can bring us to Jesus if we let them.  We will never see miracles without stepping out into the impossible.  

Finding Roberto

I had just showed Roberto pictures of the house
to which he would be moving momentarily.

This has been a difficult post to write; in fact it has taken me more than a week to do so.  This has been a time that has broken my heart, even while I have been called to stay strong and serve.  

More than a week ago, I was asked by Marisol, the principal of the school in Santa Maria where I teach, if there was any way I could meet her brother-in-law and go to visit a young man who was paralyzed as a result of a fall from a tree more than four years ago.  The more she told me, the more I felt I was in over my head:  he lived alone in a small room; his father brought him food and cleaned him once a week; he had a colostomy and catheter; he had bed sores.  With each fact I felt more and more fear, yet knew I had to go to meet him.  

A pastor and some men from a church in Patzicia, a small town about an hour and a half from here, had been visiting him.  They wanted to find help for him.  They would go with me to see him, but they had no resources to help.  Could I?  I said yes, fully believing that we would visit him, and recommend he either go to Hermano Pedro or the hospital for treatment of his sores.

I asked Dick if he could go with me.  I didn't know what I would face, and knew his experience treating bedsores would be valuable as we decided what to recommend.  I was counting on his detachment and cool head to keep me from making any impulsive decisions about caring for this young man.

So, Saturday morning we set off for Patzicia.  Marisol met us at the entrance to the town (she had traveled a good distance by bus to get there, but wanted to introduce us). We met Edwin, her brother-in-law, Byron, a doctor/pastor in Patzicia, and Diogenes, a man from the church who had been visiting Roberto.

We set out of town to go to the aldea of El Sitan.  I was grateful Dick was driving, because I don't know that my van would have made it through the dirt path that led to the house.  We were met there by Roberto's sister and step-mother.  

Roberto was lying on a plastic covered mattress in the corner of a small room make of concrete block.  There were only openings for a door and window.  There was no electricity in the room.  It was full of discarded items and trash, and we were told that at night the rats would swarm in looking for food.  I couldn't imagine what his place would be like after dark.  He was severely malnourished, and understandably sullen.

I hung back a bit and let Dick and Dr/Pastor Byron examine Roberto.  They discovered he had quite a bit of swelling in his legs, and pressure sores covering the majority of his backside.  Miraculously, though, he had no fever, and the bedsores were not infected.  I'm sure the fact that he has a colostomy helped this, since his family only would come once a week to change and bathe him.  I'm even more sure, however, that this was the hand of God protecting him and preparing for us to come and care for him.  

Dick called me over to translate and talk with Roberto. Roberto began to tearfully tell me his story, which I shared with Dick. After no more than three sentences, Dick looked at me in tears saying, "He belongs at your house."  I knew this, too, though was taken back a bit at how quickly Dick reached this conclusion, and the force with which he shared it.  (So much for relying on Dick's cool-headed detachment!) I asked Roberto if he would like to live with some other young men who were also in wheelchairs.

He immediately broke into a huge smile, and crying, said yes.  

God had been preparing me to invite Roberto to live with us, but I had anticipated it being in a week or two.  The Lord, however, had prepared the way.  Roberto was 18 years old, and had a DPI (national identification card) and was therefore an adult capable of making his own decisions.  There would be no need for any legal process, since he could live wherever he wanted.  Edwin, who works for the local court in this area assured me of this.  

His sister and step-mother were happy to see him come with us, and called his father, who gave his approval--he could come, as long as the family didn't have to pay anything for his care.  There is so much more I would like to say about this father, but won't.  It is enough to say that he had badly neglected his son to the point of abandonment, and will one day answer to God for his actions.  

We got him into his wheelchair, and the four men got him up the steep incline up to the road.  I now knew why God had sent four men with me this day!  He had it all planned out.  While the movement was very painful for Roberto (though he is paralyzed from the waist down, he does seem to experience pain in his hip and buttocks area) he never complained and cooperated with the transfer into the car.  We discovered his arms were surprisingly strong given his condition.

We headed back into Patzicia to take the men from the church back to their car.  We stopped by Dr./Pastor Byron's clinic, were he gave us saline solution, diapers and five injections of an antibiotic to prevent infection.  With as little as he has available for his clinic, he didn't hesitate to share with us what he has.  (I hope to partner with him more in the days to come.)

On the way back to Antigua, we passed the town where Roberto's dad was working. Roberto asked if we could stop so he could say good-bye to his father.  I went up an rang the bell of the shop where he is the guard.  He opened a small window in the door, and I explained who I was and that Roberto wanted to say good-bye to him.  With little expression on his face, he said the owner did not allow him to leave (he'd only have had to walk across a narrow road) and he'd talk to his son another time.

I could hardly bring myself to walk back to the car and tell this to Roberto.  He, however, did not seem surprised by his father's reaction, and took it in stride.  I had a lot of repenting to do, though, for the thoughts I had about this man.  

We stopped at Pollo Campero in Chimaltenango, and bought Roberto some chicken.  This was probably not our wisest choice, given his frail condition, but sometimes the heart needs to over-ride caution.  He eagerly wolfed down two pieces of chicken, fries, and some soda.

Fidel and Osmi were just starting to eat lunch when we arrived home.  I went in and explained the situation to them, and why we had brought home Roberto without any warning. (They had been praying for him for a few days, however, so they had some idea of the situation he was in, so this wasn't a complete shock.)  I was so very proud of how they welcomed him into the house, and began sharing their stories with him.  

Rigoberto had made a beef soup for the guys, and offered some to Roberto, who replied, "I'm so ashamed, but yes I want some.  I'm still hungry."  He downed the soup, meat and vegetables, along with more to drink, and began to settle in as part of our family.

This all happened so quickly I didn't have time to really think about what I was doing in bringing him home.  As I later sat in my room reflecting on the morning, the extent of the care he would need began to sink in.  The cost of his care became apparent.  The emotional support he would need was clear.

Still, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that we had done the right thing in bringing him to live with us.  We knew it was God's call, and I trust He will be faithful to supply everything we need materially, financially, emotionally, and spiritually to care for Roberto.  

We estimate the cost of his care will be about $500 a month over our current budget.  We don't know where this will come from, but God does.  If you would like to help care for Roberto, as well as our other guys, you can send a check to:

The Josiah Foundation
Attention: Mission Guatemala
2112 S. 163rd Circle
Omaha, Nebraska 68130.

If you prefer to make an on-line donation, you can donate through the Josiah Foundation website, using the link for Mission Guatemala.

The Josiah Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization – donations are tax-deductible. Receipts will be emailed to all online donors.  All donations are solicited with the understanding that the Josiah Foundation has complete control and discretion over all gifts received.  The Board of Directors of the Foundation has instructed that your preference for Mission Guatemala be used in determining how your donation will be directed.