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.

The Lake with Laurie and Dick

After picking up my friend Laurie at the airport in Guatemala City, she, Dick and I headed for Lake Atitlan.  I wanted to show her one of my favorite places in Guatemala, and both Dick and I were due for a rest break.

We were a bit disappointed to find out that, though we had reservations at our favorite hotel, we would be staying at the building across the street which the hotel had just purchased.  Our disappointment was short-lived, however, when we saw the beautiful view of the lake from the porch outside our rooms.

Of course, we can't take a fun trip without visiting some of our friends in the area.  Sunday, we took a boat ride to San Marcos where we visited Nathaniel, and were happy to find he and his family were doing well.

We then took a tuk-tuk over to Tzunana, and stopped in to see Joaquin.  Visiting his family is always quite a challenge, since most of the family members speak only Tzuil, one of the 26 Mayan languages we have here in Guatemala.

We managed to find a neighbor to translate for us and had a great visit.  We discovered that while Joaquin primarily uses a walker, his mother said she could use a new wheelchair to help transport him longer distances.  We promised to return Monday with a chair on our way back to Antigua.  We also, discovered that, thanks to his attendance at Centro Maya in San Juan, Joaquin has learned a significant amount of Spanish and understood most of what we said.  He is a bright young man!

Our next stop was to Santa Cruz, a town on the Lake we had been told could only be reached by boat.  We stopped for a snack at the Hidden Iguana Restaurant, and Dick was challenged to find something on the menu he liked, since it is mostly vegetarian.  He managed to discover a sandwich with bacon and decided that was good enough.  Laurie and I just had wine and coffee, respectively, and enjoyed the view.

Side note:
Dick kept asking people if there was a way to get into Santa Cruz by car.  He had seen some trucks in town, so knew there had to be a route in.  Last week he studied Google earth, and found a trail in down the side of the mountain, and took it the other day with Marcos.  Never tell Dick he can't do something.  As they were trying to leave, however, the discovered that a back-hoe had dug up the trail, and it took some fast talking on Dick's part to convince the back-hoe operator to let him try to get out of town.  If you're friends with Dick on Facebook, you have to check out his post.  It's a good read!

While we were traveling, I received a call from the mother of Jessica, a little girl who spent almost a year in the malnutrition program.  She had been running a fever for the past week, and mom had no money to take her to the doctor.  We promised to stop there on our way home the next day.

So, after an early breakfast on Monday, we set off to run our errands which had accumulated during our two day "vacation" at the Lake.  First stopped at Joaquin's and delivered a new chair to him.

Next we dropped by to Centro Maya Linguistica in San Juan La Laguna to drop off some dried food and vitamins.

While there, I met the new physical therapist, and also met a little girl who would be perfect for a Mulholland walker.  Dick agreed, and soon we hope to return with one for her.

Our final stop of the day was to see Jessica.  This was a nice side trip for Laurie, as she had gotten to see the mountainous part of Guatemala.  Now we were descending to the flat lands.  Quickly the crops turned from coffee to sugar cane, and the temperature rose rapidly as we came down to almost sea level from about 5000 ft. in the course of an hour.  It still amazes me how you can drive a short time in Guatemala, and feel like you are in a totally different climate (because, really, you are!).

We had stopped and picked up some Tylenol and a thermometer.  We were pleased to discover Jessica's temperature was only about 101 degrees, and she was bright, alert and responsive.  Since she had had the fever of over a week, though, Dick did give her mom money to take her to the local doctor we had used for her in the past.  There are so many mosquito borne illnesses in this region and we wanted her checked just ot make sure.

Not a bad couple days work for a "vacation" trip.  You should see how much we do when we are actually planning on working!

Visits from (US) Friends

This past month we had short visits from two of our friends and supporters in the US.

Joe Turner, a.k.a. Grandpa Joe, was down with a team working with Hope for Home ministries and our friends Daryl and Wanda Fulp.  We met Joe about four years ago when he was down on a team, and he became one of our faithful supporters ever since.  We were so happy that he was able to join us for lunch one day, and get to know our guys.  Thanks, Daryl and Wanda, for making this happen!

Lida Merrill, from Heritage Homes in Rochester, New York has been a long time friend of our ministry.  She had a team down working with Bethel Ministries, and managed to break away for a Saturday afternoon to visit with us, bringing with her Pastor Todd from her home church.  Lida is a wealth of information about programs for those with disabilities.  Her area of specialization is the spiritual development of people with special needs, and ways in which the church can become more inclusive and welcoming to those who may not fit our current programs and facilities.  It is always a joy to visit with her, and it was fun to share our vision for the future and get her and Pastor Todd's feedback.

Finally, Laurie Voss, a long time friend and fellow teacher from Omaha Public Schools, spent a little over a week with us.  Laurie and I taught together for many years at Jackson School, working with mentally ill and behaviorally challenged children and youth.  Working in that tough an environment forges fast friendships, and ours has endured over the years.  Laurie took early retirement this year from teaching English as a Second Language, and wanted to be away when school started this fall.  Coming here was a perfect fit.

Dick and I picked her up at the airport in Guatemala City on Saturday, and we headed for Lake Atitlan for the weekend.  Usually we do a "fun" trip at the end of a person's time with us, but we decided that we better do it first or we might not get it in.  Both Dick and I were ready for a break, and this was a great excuse to take one.

Monday we returned to Antigua, after making a few ministry stops along the way.  (Click here to read more about our weekend.)

Laurie got to spend time with me and my kids at Nueva Vida in Santa Maria.  As a English as a Second Language teacher, she was anxious to spend time with Sandra, our English teacher at the school.  I think they had a good time together.

I know I enjoyed having her in the classroom with me, and the kids did, too.  While her Spanish is not fluent, Laurie was easily able to communicate with the kids, and that meant a lot to them.  I enjoyed having another teacher around (besides our Speech Therapist, Jennifer) who actually understood what I was trying to do.  Was hoping for some suggestions, but Laurie declined.

The rest of our time together we spent doing some tourist shopping, running my regular errands (yeah, I know how to show somebody a good time) and hanging out with the boys.  Laurie taught them to play Farkle, and they enjoyed playing war with her.  They seemed to like playing table games with her more than me, but then, that's no surprise.  Anyone who knows us knows she's the fun one!

Thanks, Laurie for spending your time, money and energy on us.  It was so good to have you here.

Youth Group Connection

The beginning of this month, a youth group from a local church came to do an activity with our young men.  Sandra, the psychologist at New Life, and Nisza, one of our teachers, are a regular part of this group, and they have wanted to bring the group to meet the guys for some time.  When they chose the date, however, I didn't realize that they also had plans to celebrate my 63rd birthday with me a few days early.

Sandra sharing with Roberto
They planned a number of activities, and one of the young men gave a short but effective teaching on the life of Paul.  While all our young men believe in God, they are each struggling in their own way as they each decide what this faith means in terms of how to live their lives each day.  Having contact with other young people who are completely sold out to Jesus is important for them as they try to discover who Jesus is in their lives.  I am grateful to the group for caring about our guys.  It made me realize we need to have more opportunities like this.

Fidel enjoying Nisza's company
Gustavo, a friend who works at the Hope Haven wheelchair factory outside Antigua, and his wife Marleny, happened to stop by and joined the party.  Of course, when Roberto mentioned that one of the sides on his wheelchair did not lock properly, Gustavo went right to work to fix it.  Another way in which our guys felt special and cared for this night.

This experience reminded me once again of the importance of the "ministry of hanging out."  The group didn't come to "bless" our guys, and, while they had a teaching, their main goal was not to "convert" our young men.  They came, really, just to share life with them and get to know them.  The talk of Jesus sprang naturally as they shared with our guys who they are and what's important to them.  This is the way outreach was meant to be done!  Thanks, Templo de Cordero de Dios, for sharing your lives with us.

Miguel Marries Mirna

Sr. y Sra. Jose Miguel Sirin Ambrocio
On August 1, our family was able to celebrate the wedding of our former companion-caregiver, Miguel, to his girlfriend of seven years, Mirna.  It was such a special time, made even more special because we were all able to go to the ceremony and reception, thanks to Dick.

He arranged to borrow a wheelchair van from Hope Haven International, so our three guys could attend, along with Rigoberto, who was working that day.  It was quite a feat to transport three guys in wheelchairs, even with the lift, but it was well worth it to see their enjoyment at celebrating with Miguel.

Miguel's invitation was touching because, while Fidel was the only resident with whom he had worked, Miguel invited our whole family.  It brought tears to my eyes to see the invitation addressed to Pat and familia (family).  I have so wanted us to be seen as a family, both by those who live here as well as by outsiders, and this was an indication to me that this is what is happening.  Miguel could easily have invited just Fidel and me, but chose to recognize us as a family and that meant a lot to me.

I had the honor, along with Dick, of being the two non-family members to be official witnesses and sign Miguel and Mirna's marriage certificate.  I was so very pleased to be asked to do this, and we have promised that we will do whatever we can to support them in their life together.  Miguel has built a small, one room house on the land rented by his parents, and the couple will be living there.  Mirna's family, though, lives only across the street, so they will have plenty of family support as they move forward.