Be Ye Transformed--Sixth Grade Graduates on Retreat

On Oct. 30, fifteen sixth graders graduated from New Life School, our ministry partner in Santa Maria de Jesus.  This class was special to me, since it was the first group of students I have watched progress from pre-school through graduation.  As a final gift to them, Reason to Hope sponsored a retreat day for the graduates and many of the staff, so that their final memory of New Life would be that we want them to remember Jesus.

This retreat was completely planned and implemented by the Guatemalan staff at the school, under the capable direction of Seno Sandra, our school psychologist.  They provided our students with a memorable sent-off.

Sandra submitted this report (which I have translated into English) to summarize the events of the day.

We thank God for the opportunity to share the Lord with our sixth grade students, and because New Life is a light in the lives of each one of them and in Santa Maria de Jesus.

The day began with the students being divided into two teams, and each team had to develop a team cheer, and particpate in other team-building activities.

This was followed by a time of praise and worship. Each student received their own copy of the Bible during this time. 

During the teaching time, the students were challenge with the truth that they can have a personal relationship with God and can depend on him to make wise decisions.  He can help them change their way of thinking.  

Seno Nisza, our fifth grade teacher, translated the day
into sign language to enable our two deaf graduates
to fully participate in this activity.

During the second teaching,  the pastor who was leading the retreat invited everyone attending the retreat to have a personal encounter with the Lord.  When asked if anyone wanted to make the decision to follow Jesus in their life, eight of the students indicated their desire to do so. Each of these students were prayed with and counseled by one of the Guatemalan leaders responsible for leading the retreat.

There were many other activities in which the students could participate, including sports, physical challenges, and art activities.

During the art activity, the students were divided into three groups.  They were given large sheets of paper and asked to write on one side what important events had impacted their lives up until now.  On the other side, they were asked to envision what lies ahead for their futures.  Many students opened their hearts during this activity.

One student said that the most important thing in his life had been God, and that in the future he hoped to become a pastor.  Another mentioned that New Life School had been an important part of his life, because here he had been treated differently than anywhere else.  Many mentioned that what had affected their lives most to this point had been difficult family situations, and that they hoped to overcome their past as they look to the future.  Some hope to become professionals, one a chef.  All shared their dreams and desires for the future. It was difficult for many of the students to share their past, but they did.  You could see their faces change as they shifted their focus from their past to their hopes for the future.

The day ended with a time of prayer.  Each student received a key chain, with the school logo on one side.  On the other side were mustard seeds, to help them remember the teaching of Jesus about how a small amount of faith can change their lives.

Best end of school year ever. 

Can You Believe They Did It?

This October will go down as a milestone in the history of Casa de Esperanza.  Both Moises and Osmi have graduated from Basico (9th grade) in a country where many able-bodied people never study past sixth grade.  To top it off, they both completed the regular Basico curriculum in school settings designed for students without physical challenges.

It is times like this when I look back in awe at what God has done in the lives of our young men during the eight years Reason to Hope has been in Guatemala.  And I have a front row seat to see what He is doing.

Moises and Osmi on their first day of Basico
January, 2015

Osmi studied in San Pedro at Liceo Antigueno, one of the oldest private schools in the area which prides itself on providing a strenuous course of study.  He attended five days a week for three years to receive a regular education diploma.  He would like to continue studying graphic design or architecture.  Click here to see more pictures of Osmi over the years, and hear his thoughts about graduating and his future plans.

Osmi with his teachers and graduating class

Moises completed his Basico in an Institute for adult education in Santa Maria de Jesus. He and one of the companion-caregivers would travel to Santa Maria each Saturday for the past two years, often taking the chicken bus, to allow him to study in a program which best met his needs. This program is run by Reynaldo Raxjal, who is a pastor and educator.  Rey served as our in-home teacher at the beginning of Casa de Esperanza, allowing Fidel to graduate Basico and Osmi to graduate sixth grade.  We are so grateful for the support he has been to us over the years.  Click here to see pictures of Moy growing up (I have known him since he was eight!) and learn what he thinks about completing his education.

Moy receiving his diploma
from Profe Rey

Of course, such a momentous event requires a celebration, so after Osmi's graduation ceremony the graduates and some of our staff, along with Dick Rutgers, went to Pollo Campero (where else?) to celebrate.

Moises is alway overjoyed by a good meal!

We were happy to have Ali, Osmi's "friend" join us to celebrate.
Don't worry.  We didn't forget about our other guys.  They were excited to get take-out chicken and Coca-Cola when we all got home.

Fidel returning home after collecting recycling from the community

Roberto enjoying a game of Jenga with our friend Olivia
as Mario, Fidel, and Moises look on.
I am so proud of these young men and enjoy watching them grow and develop with the support Reason to Hope is able to provide.  Thanks for being part of their lives.

Moises All Grown Up!

I met Moises on my first trip to Hermano Pedro Hospital.  He was about 8 years old at the time and already had cultivated the heart-capturing smile which has become his trade-mark.

He was such a little boy back then.  I remember him siting on my lap!

Futbol (soccer to those of you in the US) has always been Moy's passion.

And he never let his inability to walk independently 
keep him from playing his favorite sport!

Fine motor skills have always been a challenge for Moy.

Moises with Sonya and his teacher Nineth
at his sixth grade graduation

Moy on the day he left Hermano Pedro Hospital
to come to his forever home at Casa de Esperanza

Moy wasn't too keen on helping with chores
when he first came to us, but he's adjusted and 
now takes pride in helping out.

We soon discovered that Moy could actually walk
with support, though he still is insecure just using a walker.
You can see that he has no problem using Cesar
for support though!

And here is our graduate--21 years old and so proud.

Moises has been part of my life for so many years now--I almost didn't realize just how long until I went back and looked through pictures.  He really does feel like part of my own family and I believe he feels that way too.  One day when he was wanting me to do something for him that he could do himself I said to him, "I'm not your momma."  Instantly he replied, "Here you are."  I can think of no greater honor than to hold this title!

Osmi through the years and looking at his future

When I first me Osmi, in 2013 he had been sent to Hermano Pedro from one of the national hospitals.  There was nothing more the doctors there could do for him medically, and quite frankly, he had been sent there to die.

When I first met Osmi, he could only lie in bed and was on a feeding tube.  His personality immediately captured my heart, though I never dreamed that one day he would come to be one of "my" guys.  (Click here  and go to the end of this article to read about our first encounters with Osmi.)

Dick Rutgers gave Osmi his firs power wheelchair (which was more of a bed on a wheelchair power base) and this gave Osmi the freedom to move about independently for the first time in many years.  He soon became known as the "Mayor of Hermano Pedro."

Here is Osmi at Hermano Pedro shortly before he moved into Casa de Esperanza in 2014.

Here he is in 2018, able to sit up independently on the side of his bed.
God is so very good!

This fall, Osmi needed to have his appendix removed.  We were concerned he would not graduate with his class, but Liceo Antigueno made adjustments so he could meet this long sought for goal.

Here Osmi receives his diploma from his homeroom teacher.

Ali, a young woman who became friends with Osmi when we moved to San Pedro was able to celebrate this special occasion with us.

Through God's grace, and what has been nothing short of a miracle, Osmi has been substantially healed from the effects of the degenerative muscle disease he has, and is living life to the full.

What I'm doing at New Life

While my main responsibility is directing Reason to Hope in Guatemala, I  continue to partner with New Life School in the Mayan Village of Santa Maria de Jesus, just "up the volcano" from our men's home in San Pedro. This school serves approximately 95 children in grades Pre-K through Sixth who, because of a variety of special needs, cannot receive an adequate education in other private or public schools.

So, what do I do here? Honestly, I think I do a little bit of everything--or a least of everything that no one else can do or has time to do!

In the past, I worked directly with the students, providing more individualized special education services than their classroom teachers were able to provide.  I am overjoyed now to be transitioned from providing direct services to students to a "coaching" role with the teachers.  This enables me to share with them the skills and expertise I have developed over 35+ years as a special education teacher.  They, in turn, can better serve more students than I would be able to reach single-handedly.  I think this is a win for students and a win for the teachers.

Our behavior chart

The most exciting thing I have done this past year was to design and help implement a school-wide behavior management and discipline system.  Through this process we encourage students to make good decisions, reinforce them when they do, and encourage them to problem solve when the do not.   This is an important part of our vision to "develop leaders with integrity" who can then impact their village with Christian principles and faith in Jesus.

One of our students problem solving
to learn to make better choices

I also help with getting children from the school with special medical needs in to see the appropriate doctors.  Often times their families only have recourse to the national healthcare system, which is woefully lacking.  We partner with their families to provide the funds needed to see and, when necessary, receive treatment from private physicians.

I have been privileged to support our school psychologist as she works with our mothers to increase their parenting effectiveness and improve their quality of life as women and as Christ-followers.  This past year I facilitated a trauma healing group with these ladies, using the materials developed by the American Bible Society.  It was amazing to watch as God worked in the hearts of these women to bring them healing and wholeness as they came to better know the Father who loves them in their struggles and wants only the best for them.

When wheelchairs or other mobility devices are required, I can serve as a go-between for families with ministries such as Hope Haven International to provide just the right equipment for each child.
Finally, with Judy Kerschner's move to Houston, I have become, since I am the only driver, the official "go-for" when food and other supplies are needed at the school.
So, with all the other things I have on my plate with running Reason to Hope, why do I choose to continue working with another ministry?  How can I say "no," to such sweet smiles!

Why I'm still at New Life

As our ministry continues to grow beyond our community living home, I am sometimes asked why I continue to volunteer at and support the teachers at New Life School.

Damaris, who graduated Oct. 31, would come
in to hug me everyday during recess for the last week
of school.  She wanted to make sure I wouldn't
forget her--as if I could!
First and foremost, I love them and I love the students.  Can you imagine walking into "work" every day and being greeted by a chorus of "Hola, Seno Paty!" and receiving a mountain full of hugs?  This is my experience every time I walk into the school.

New Life Staff 2018
I am also drawn by the desire of the staff to provide the best possible educational experience to children who would be otherwise neglected, if not abused, in their community.  I believe our students fall into the group of the "least of these" who Jesus spoke of.  How can I not respond to the Jesus I meet daily in my brothers and sisters?

All our students gathering around to pray for Seno Nancy 
who is leaving us this year to work in ministry with her husband.

In this community, I experience the People of God in a way I experience it no where else.  Every teacher desires nothing more than for her students to come to know and love God.  Our students and their families know that is the only reason we are here.  Every interaction is covered in prayer and shot through with Scripture and Biblical principles, especially at those times discipline is needed by a child.  We seek not to punish them into compliance, but change their hearts by changing their thinking to enable them to live out gospel principles in their daily lives.

Seno Nancy reminding our students that all of us
who follow Christ will be reunited in heaven one day.
And there is no better feeling than the satisfaction of watching these children grown into young men and women who will serve God and their community to whatever extent they are able.  I believe this is what it means to "make disciples of all nations" and I'm privileged to be part of this!

Kindergarten and Sixth Grade Graduates

Meet some of our graduates

Griselda, 18
We hope she will transition to
Reason to Hope's adult transition program
Damaris, who wants nothing more than
to become a veterinarian

Yovany, one of our deaf students,
"singing" a praise song in sign language
Yamelin, our blind student, will continue to
work with Frank, our blind teacher, to improve
her daily living skills.

Christian, a student with autism, will pursue an
adjusted curriculum designed to meet his special needs.
Eme, who has spina bifida, will move on to a
regular first grade program at New Life.