My friends in Tecpan

I first met Maria almost eight years ago when I visited her small community with a service team from my home church in Omaha. She had four children, the youngest only a new-born. Only a few months before we met, she had been widowed when her young husband was killed crossing one of the treacherous highways we have here in Guatemala. She was timid and scared and cried easily. Though I spoke limited Spanish, I could not really communicate with her, since she spoken only the Mayan language of Kaichikel. She had never been more than a few miles away from her small village in the highlands of Guatemala. She was timid and scared and cried easily. My heart broken for her and her children.

When I moved to Guatemala in 2006, one of the first places I visited was her home. By this time she had learned to speak limited Spanish, and with my limited Spanish, we somehow managed to become fast friends.

Over the years our friendship has continued to grow. I participated in the memorial service for the second anniversary of her husband's death. I was with her as she navigated the process of receiving surgery at Hermano Pedro Hospital to repair a hernia. I have watched both her and her children grow and develop over the years. I have purchased her beautiful weaving regularly to help her provide for her family. I am privileged to call her friend.

Over the years I have gotten to know her neighbors, many of whom are also widows, and they have become my friends, too.

When Dick Rutgers and I visited in November, we were distressed to find how conditions had worsened in this area. Though they live in the middle of some of the most fertile fields in Guatemala, they own only the small plots of lands in which their corrugated tin houses sit. They struggle to keep their children in school, and unfortunately many of them, such as Samuel and his brother Josue have had to quit school before graduation to work in the fields to help support their their families. My heart continued to break, now more profoundly, for these are my friends.

Samuel & his brother Josue who we hope will help with our project
In talking with the ladies, I discovered that a ministry which had been helping them had discontinued bringing them food to supplement their meager earnings. While they have continued to provided school scholarships, it's pretty hard to concentrate on your studies when all you have had to eat is a watery soup brewed with herbs they have savaged from the hillsides.

Dick, some of his boys, and I went back Christmas Eve, bringing each of the widows' families a small chicken and some basic foodstuffs for their Christmas dinner. It was nothing compared to what most, even the poor, would be a eating that evening, but the rejoiced as if it was a feast.

I longed to do something more. Our ministry was pretty strapped financially at this time, and I wasn't sure what we could do. I knew, though, that I could pray. As I did, an idea took shape. I have friends who have been working in sustainable agriculture in Nicaragua. As part of their work, they have been helping the women develop "kitchen gardens" so they can supplement their diets with fresh vegetables and even some fruits. Would thus work in Tecpan?

You can see these women don't have land to make a normal garden.

Talking with Dick, he didn't think the women had enough land to make this worthwhile. I didn't know enough about even backyard gardening to make any helpful suggestions. While my desire to help these women didn't dimish, I had no real idea what to do. I couldn't get the idea of small gardens out of my mind and prayers thoguh. How could I interest my Omaha friends in this project when they were already committed in Nicaragua?

But God knew what he had planned. A few months ago I received an email out of the blue from Mike Williams, one of the men working with the project in Guatemala. Would I "allow" him to stop in and visit us for a few days on his way home from Nicaragua? Of course he got an immediate and enthusiastic "yes!"

In early April, Mike spent four days learning about our ministries.  Mike fell in love with these women, too, and immediately began to strategize how we could make this work. He has a plan, and we are actively engaging others to join us in this ministry. (If you're heart is touched by these women, email Pat to find out how you can become part of what God is doing in this poor community.)

We hope to begin our first gardens next October. While this won't solve all the nutritional problems of the area, it's a start. Until this takes off, however, we would like to provide monthly donations of beans, rice and corn to these five women.

While they live amid some of the most fertile land in Guatemala,
these women do not own more than the small plots
on which their homes sit.
I realize that this is a bit outside of our usual focus of serving those with handicaps, but, because of our long time friendships with these women, I am stepping out in faith and expanding our work to this area. Do I expect to expand this aspect of ministry to other areas? Probably not. I know if we spread too thin, we become ineffective. (I know better than to pretend to know what God has in store for us, though.)

But could you see your friends with nothing substantial to eat, unable to spend their children to school, and stand by and do nothing? Neither can I. Would you join us in prayer that God will provide the funds (about $125 a month) to pursue this?

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? …~~James 2:14-16