Friday, May 20, 2016

This is Only a “See you later” Until Our Next Adventure.

                Well, it is the end of the week. If I were to attempt to even begin to describe all the adventures we have had here and everything that we have learned, I would have to write a 1,000 page novel.
                  I will start with today. Mikayla and I took a tour of a coffee roaster. I have to say, after listening to Edwardo (the owner of the roaster) talk about the process of making a few pounds of coffee, I definitely have a new appreciation for going to Starbucks and ordering a cup of coffee. There is so much work that goes into it, from picking the beans of the leaves, to skinning them, to roasting them, and how many trees it takes. Of course I was drinking a sample of coffee at the time, and Guatemalan coffee is hands down the best I have ever had.
                  After the tour, we had lunch as usual, and prepared for our faith lessons. This lesson in particular was different, because we did not venture anywhere, this time the lesson was in the mission house. I feel that this made the lesson much more personal and real. The place that we have been staying at was opened to all these people waiting to hear the word of God, and it just proved to me more that you can truly woirship anywhere. The church is not a building with four walls and a steeple. The church is US. Our faith, our love, our words. Something Ryan said tonight during the devotion really stuck with me. He said that language barrier is not an issue here. The language of love is one that knows no traditional language such as Spanish or English, it is much more powerful than that. Today, I definitely saw that as I have all week. I know barely any spanish, but the way that these kids who have NO idea who I am will run up to me and hug me, or strangers here will smile and say Buenas Dias shows that God is so unbelievably powerful in this place, and I love it.
              Thinking about going home tomorrow almost breaks my heart. But I know I will be back. Believe me when I say that there is no way I could not return.
              Andy also has mentioned several times that we build relationships with people here in one day. Just one day, you meet wonderful people and make such strong connections with them. But, our time here is fleeting and we have to leave those wonderful people. However, we cannot measure impact (something else Ryan has said, of course). What we do, whether to us may seem small, makes a big difference to these people, because all they ask for is LOVE. To love and to be loved in return.
          I am coming home from this trip with a bigger heart, and a strong desire to help those who need it. God has restored my faith in his love and grace, and that is something that needs to be shared across the globe. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations.” Psalm 57:9
          All in all, what I have learned in this trip is this: Love others unapologetically. In whatever way you show love, do it. You never know who may need it. Do not be afraid of rejection, because avoiding those people and closing yourself off makes you miss opportunities to love others who so desperately need love. Go forth in love, friends. -Ari

 “Let all that you do be done in love.   1 Corinthians 16:14

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fun at Gonzales Park

¡Buenos Días! Today we adventured off to Gonzales Park, another location where we did faith lessons and house visits. I have to say that today was probably the most spiritually satisfying for a majority of us. Five people in the group sponsored children in this area, and it allowed for some powerful house visits with these children and their families. 

When we arrived in Gonzales Park (which, by the way, is not even a park but this small square between two main roads), we split up into three groups to go on house visits. I went with Ari, Mikayla, Ryan, Sandra (one of the Guatemalans), and Rudy (a Guatemalan from the organization ´Only a Child´) to visit Ari´s and Mikayla´s sponsor children. Ari decided to sponsor Evelin and Mikayla sponsored Damaris. They were very excited and nervous to meet their children!

After a little bit of walking, we arrived at Evelin´ house. We went into her house and we talked with her mother, Ingrid, for a while.  She explained that she was 33 and had three children and a husband. She told us how blessed she felt because God kept providing for her and her family. She appreciated getting to know us and she enjoyed hearing us talk about what we were studying in school. She explained talked a little bit about her children and she showed us a few pictures. After we talked for a while, we all prayed together. During this time, Ari said a short prayer while Sandra translated. Then, Ingrid started to pray for us. She went to each of us individually and she laid her hands on our hearts. I´m not 100% sure what she said during the prayer, but I definitely felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was amazing because by the time she had finished praying for us, most of us were in tears. Ari told me after the prayer that she knew she made the right choice to sponsor Evelin. The prayers were so powerful and she knew that God brought her there for that reason. It was such a fantastic moment to see because I was able to see God working through her. The whole experience at the house was amazing because God´s presence was beyond evident. 

After that, we ventured off to Damaris´ house. She answered the door when we knocked, and when she found out that Mikayla was sponsoring her, she immediately gave her a hug and let us into the house. When we were there, we were able to sit down and have a conversation about Damaris´ life. She has a brother who is six, and a mother and father at home. Her brother and mother were home, and they joined us for the conversation. They were really nice and they wanted to know all about Mikayla. They asked her many questions, and eventually Damaris talked to us about school. She is in 7th grade, so she had various classes she had to take. Her favorite were art and communications. She showed us her artwork, and it was fantastic. She recieved 100% on all of her artwork. She also loved talking about God and appreciated when we all took out our Bibles to share verses with her. She was so happy for us to be there, and it was very evident. We actually overstayed our visit by 45 minutes (whoops... but the only ones that were not happy were our grumbling stomaches), but it is ok becuase people aren´t really concerned with time here. 

During the rest of the day, we completed our faith lessons, ate some great (gluten-free) mac and cheese, and played Dutch Blitz. It´s been very relaxing, and it also gives us time to think and pray. This is the second time I have gone on the trip, and I have to say that Guatemala sincerly feels like home. Part of it is because I feel God´s presence so strongly here, but another part of is is because I know God is calling me to serve as a missionary in Central America after graduation. It feels so weird to think that we are going home in a couple of days, espeically since it feels like we just got here. I know that this will not be the last time I will be here, which gives me great comfort as the mission trip starts to come to a close. I have been so grateful to come on this trip, and it is always a life changing experience to love God´s people here. Until next time, ¡adios!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Buena Vista: Blessed Beyond Our Vision

Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ, and warm (in more ways than one) greetings from all us here in Guatemala!

Today has truly been a blessed day, filled with laughter, tears, and the unbounded love of Christ. Though it is easy to perceive this mission trip as us touching the people of Guatemala through sharing the Word of God, their sincere acceptance of Christs love and mercy in their lives serves is an eye opening testimony to the power of God and His constant presence in our lives.

The day started out pretty rough, having to wake up at 6 am in order to enjoy some breakfast "just as you like it", get prepared for the hottest day of the week, and be on the road by 7 am for our 2 hour drive to Buena Vista. Though the accomodations in the buses were less than comfortable, the view that was offered out of our windows was breath taking. The beauty of the mountains, the lush green of the forest, and the incredible blue of the sky were the least impressive of the sights. The volcanic peaks of Agua and Pacaya standing majestically over the landscape, the endless farms of sugar cane and rubber trees covering the horizon, and the water covered bridges through which we had to drive through, were breathtaking and exciting to us, silly tourists.

After going through the challenge of unpaved roads, we reached Buena Vista. As we entered village, it was unbeleivable as to the amount of natural beauty the people live in. The picturesque violet, yellow, pink, and red wild flowers, growing alongside the banana, avodacodo, and mango trees, stood in stark contrast with the poor living conditions that the people were subject to. Their walls were, at best, made out of metal roof sheets, having their floors made out of compressed dirt. As we walked out of the bus to our Faith lesson location, we were greeted by confused stares of the Guatemalan people, who were unsure as to what we were doing there. However, we did not lose heart, and continued with our service to them.

The first place we visited was the elementary school in Buena Vista. The school offers education up till 6th grade. As the houses, the floor consists of compressed dirt, while most of the rooms are blessed to have concrete walls. Though the school is surrounded by a chain linked fence, stray dogs are not uncommon here. Bugs fly through the windows and doors, which are kept open in order to provide some sort of releif from the heat. Even with the heat, the kids are still required to wear uniforms and be attentive in the sweltering heat of their classes, many of which do not have teachers. Though the description of the school might be disheartening to a kid, or a parent back home, the kids are as cheerful as can be. Upon seeing us they were so excited to hug us and talk to us, whether we understood Spanish or not. They were so open to play and wanted to spend time with us, which was evident by having our departure marked by dozens of kids climbing up the chain linked gate in order to say good bye as we departed.

After touring the school, we started on our Home Visits, specifically the sponsor kid of Deaconess Betsy, Exequias. Having entered the home with a fence of new barbed wire, it was evident we were up for quite a visit. The mother of Exequias, Angelita, though genuinely happy to see us, was greived over the death of her brother in law that happened last Friday. In addition, it had become difficult for Exequias to keep up with his studies, since he needs internet to study, having to take an hour bus ride once a week in order to maintain adequate grades for his scholarship. The family asked for us to pray for Exequiss studies and to have strength in the difficult times that they are having in their greif and loss of a family member.

After the House Visit, we headed back to the location of our Faith Lessons. After the adult Faith Lesson, led by Oscar, we quickly filled up on our PBJs and chips, and started getting ready for the kids and the youth. As the kids gathered around the fence, some of us began inroducing ourselves to them, learning the names and ages of those most comfortable sharing them. As the faith lesson went on, it was a pleasent surprise to learn that our fear of the kids being shy and introverted were more a less uncalled for. The kids were very polite and actively participated in the clapping with the music, watching the skit, and enjoying the craft. After the kids had received their snack, it was time for us to head back "home". It was hard to say goodbye to the kids to whom we were able to share the grace and love of Christ to, having seen the change of fear to joy in their eyes in the long day that we have had. And, as a reward to our service, we had quite a relaxing 2 hour nap back home.

To top of a day of adventure and witnessing the Holy Spirit at work with the people of Buena Vista, we ended our devotion with affirmation and appreciation of every individual in the group. It is often easy to feel insignificant in a culture where many of us do not even know the language, feeling as if we do nothing but clap to the music and hand out crayons for crafts. However, God has brought us here for a purpose. Though we often do not see His plan, we must not doubt that we have purpose. That purpose being the light to the lost, the literal hands and feet of love to a nation that is in need of Christs love and His saving grace.

Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tales of the Adventerous El Rincón

Buenos noches to all those tuning in back home. This is Amanda and Courtney with the Tuesday scoop from Guatemala.

Today we had breakfast just the way we like it... buffet style. Manuel led our morning devotion challenging us to really be intentional about relationships with other people and meeting them where they are. We then headed out to El Rincón, about 45 minutes from the mission house.

Upon arrival, we took a group trip to the bathroom we would be using for the day. Margarita's family graciously accepted us into her home... and that's when we met Carlos. Carlos had a rough past and due to an accident lost one of his legs and function of the other. Margarita willingly brought him into her home and helped to care for him. Through this experience he became a christian and now enjoys witnessing to all the visitors that pass through Margarita's home.

After the interesting experience that was the bathroom (aka a hole in the ground in a shanty type hut with a sheet for a door) we split into three groups and went for house visits. In El Rincón every group had a sponsor child's family that they were going to visit. (Courtney here) The house visit that I was on, was for the sponsor child of team member Melissa. It was an awesome experience to see Melissa and her sponsor child reunited after a year apart. (Amanda Here) The house visit that I was on was for the sponsor child of team member Kyle. Kyle just decided the night before to sponsor his child and it was amazing to see the joy on the child's face when Kyle would offer his hand to him.

We then ate our very well prepared lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwitches and were ready to start our faith lessons. We were both in the group (there were 7 of us in total) that helped to teach the kids faith lessons. We started off just hanging out with the kids... reading books, learning their fun little hand games, just getting to know them. Then when the faith lesson actually began we started off with music. We sang about 6 songs in spanish (including "Jesus Loves Me" and "I Got the Joy"). After music we taught them the memory verse. Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.

After our memory verse we performed our skit. We had a lovely script (written by yourse truely (Amanda) and Melissa) but... somehow it did not make it on the ride with us that morning. For going into the whole skit kind of blind and having Oscar translate for us... I don't think our first try turned out all that bad. After we got through our skit we passed out the craft we had prepared for the kids. Many of the hearts seemed to mysteriously go missing because we ended up short by quite a few. After our craft we passed our snacks and said adiós to the kids of Rincón. Needless to say, our first faith lesson was a little bumpy but, we have three more to go and it can only go up from here.

We returned home to a waiting dinner of pasta and salad. George from the Only A Child ministry stopped by the house with samples of the wooden boxes and more stories about the young men in his ministry. Then we prepared a devotion for the night with some encouraging verses to try and help people stay positive and realize God has a plan for them this week. Now with our free time we write to you about the day as the house winds down.. and our team members wind up with a very loud game of dutch blitz in the next room.

This is Amanda and Courtney finished filling you in on our Tuesday in Guatemala. Buenos noches, heading to bed soon and not just because breakfast is served at 6am.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Monday We Will Not Forget

Greetings from the Guatemala mission team on this Monday evening!

Today we visited a ministry in the city that works with youth who have lived on the streets and have  a history of bouncing from place to place. George Leger, the leader of the ministry, is a Boston native who felt a call to be here in Guatemala to help youth who live on the streets. We met a few of the youth, but most of them were at school at the time, so we primarily met the young men who have stuck around to help with the ministry. They mostly focus on giving the youth structure and teach them life skills that they will need when they become independent. We were amazed by the carpentry skills of many of the people at the minstry. As a part of the ministry, the youth are taught how to work with others as they are taught how to create amazing designs in wood boxes and crosses. While they are wood working they are also required to be in school and also making money so they can start working towards independence.

Once we left the ministry, we got in our vans to drive to a cemetery and the Guatemala City dump. As we drove past a large wall that cut the city off from the dump. Groups of men were traveling through the entrance with large tarps wrapping up anything valuable they could find to sell in the market close to the dump. When we arrived at a cliff overlooking the dump, our senses were overbarred with the smell of the garbage, the sight of about a thousand vultures scavenging for any food, and the sound of large machinery moving the garbage as people picked through it. We has seen people living in filth and garbage on the streets of Chicago, but this is something that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. There are houses that are built on top of older areas of the dump that are no bigger than a bedroom in America. We thought we knew what poverty and hardship was, but this is something that is beyond soemthing we have ever seen. Cesar, a missionary who has been showing us around the area, said that people will pan for gold and search for gold in the sewage that has accumulated in the valley the dump is in. We wish we could describe it more clearly, but there are no words that can.

After we spent the morning taking in all of our new expreriences, we were thrown into a whole new form of ministry. We split into two groups of six and walked to a stranger´s home to simply listen, offer prayer, and share God´s word with our brothers and sisters in Christ. One of the hardest things for so many people to do is knowing when to close their mouth in order to open their ears. Opening your ears to a language you do not even know is a huge barrier. However, God made the stories of the Guatemalans clear as day. We can all agree that God intervened multiple times through His word. He knew what they needed to hear, and He revealed himself through giving us the words to say and the prayers to pray. People in America always seem to have their guard up and they don´t like to share their faith from fear of judgement and persecution. However, here in Guatemala, they tell their life story and testimonies after a few short minutes of introductions because sharing your faith is more common here.

We have been thankful for the patience and understanding of the Guatemalans and their willingness to help us learn Spanish. Cesar, Sandra, and Aracely have been very patient even though we sound like niños to them. There is nothing like being able to talk to someone in their native language. Many of the missionaries are learning English and some of use have been learning Spanish, so we have had many exchanges that have been mutually beneficial for our language acquisition. Many of us have taken Spanish classes throughout school, but this is nothing like the classroom. The ministry and life in Guatemala has been the ultimate classroom for our growth.

During the time we have been here, there have already been so many times that we want to help children and missionaries, but we have no idea how we can. That was until tonight when Ginny talked about sponsorships. The sponsorship program is when you pay a certain amount every month to help your child get school uniforms, supplies and in some cases even physical therapy when they can´t do so themselves. God has placed this program on the hearts of many on our mission team. When we decide to sponsor, Ginny sets up a home visit for when we go to their communities and we get to actually meet the child that we sponsor and we get to form a personal bond with them and their family. If you feel that God has placed this same thing on your heart, you can get in contact with Groundwork Guatemala by emailing: If you are on the fences about this step, pray about it!

Dios le bendiga (God Bless),
Ryan Weseloh y Kyle Heath

"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."
                                                                -Colossians 3:17

Sunday, May 15, 2016

United as the Body of Christ

Stardate: Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Captain's Log

This morning we went to church at Sendero De La Cruz, which was just a short walk away from the house. Sandra and Cesar, two of the Guatemalan missionaries, led the way and helped translate the sermon, as the service was entirely in Spanish. It was a eye-opening experience; so many people were so open with their emotions even in public, which is often something we seek to conceal in America. There were people dancing, crying, singing, and praying opening and often simultaneously. The message the pastor gave was on the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13. There is a strong sense of community and love for all believers across cultures and countries as people smiled and greeted us even though we could not necessarily communicate in the same language.

After walking back from church, we enjoyed so delectable grilled cheese. Ginny shared a lot of cultural insights with us to further help us prepare for the week ahead. We planned out our Faith Lesson crafts and skits, which we will use throughout the week. Our memory verse that we're focusing on this week is Ephesians 2:8-9: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." We want to share the message of justification through Christ's sacrifice as well as the importance of sharing that message with others.

We closed out our day with a devotion led yours truly (Mikayla and Dorothee) in which we read from 1 Corinthians 12, talking about spiritual gifts within the Body of Christ. This is a good reminder for us going into the week as many of us will be leading and serving in ways that are new and unfamiliar to us. God is using us all in incredible ways, some of which we might not see the results of yet, but that does not mean He is not working through us, and He will continue to do so throughout this whole week and the rest of lives.

-Cap'n. Mikayla Engel and Cap'n. Dorothee Belli

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Bienvenidos a Guatemala!

Friends we made it! Thank you for all of your prayers and support.
This morning our team met at Concordia for the ever important task of packing in-kind donations before our departure. After lots of shifting things around we managed to pack all of our donations AND stay under our weight limit for our checked baggage! Thanks to everyone who donated supplies.As a side note: I have to say that I don't think I will ever forget the memory of Kyle arriving on campus in all his grandeur. I'm not sure if it was the sheer look of joy and pride on his face or the look of Andy trying not to laugh as they walked in together. I'll preface this by saying Kyle is wearing a Hawaiian shirt every day while we are in Guatemala. Today's choice was a bright yellow one and the outfit was completed with a straw hat that I thought was a sombrero at first. Out of all the people on our team though, I'm pretty sure he got the most complements on his outfit during our trip! Let's just say, I don't think there will ever be a dull moment. Hahaha!
With everything packed our team of 12 made our way to the airport. Thanks Pastor Jeff and Mason for driving! Overall, we had a pretty great day of travel. Besides a little turbulance taking off and landing, everything else was smooth sailing; check-in, security, layover, immigration, baggage claim, customs-they all went off without a hitch. When the last person cleared customs, we eagerly stepped outside the Guatemala City airport and quickly found the familiar faces of Ginny, Cesar, and Sandra amidst the sea of eager taxi drivers, tour guide operators, and souvenir vendors.  It's always like coming home to family in Guatemala. Julian and Manuel were at the ready with the vans and before we knew it, we were on our way to the house. Even though it was dark and the ride was short our team learned a bit about the Guatemala culture already...mainly the driving culture. Guatemalan driving makes Chicagoans look like student drivers, but don't worry moms and dads, Julian and Manuel are the best.
When we got to our home for the week, Ginny gave us the grand tour of the house. We left our donation bags in the office to unpack tomorrow, claimed our bunks, then we learned how to use the pila or the sink that pretty much every Guatemalan home uses for everything from dishes to laundry to toothbrushing. The girls learned how to use the shower in our own "executive" bathroom. We found out that there is a new shower head, so now it shouldn't be so difficult to get all the hot water we could ever want!
Our introducotry orientation continued on the roof where, during the daytime, we might be able to get a view of a few nearby volcanos. Ginny gave us a heads up that the neighbor's new rooster is quite annoying, so be forewarned. Another neighbor owns a parrot that can impersonate the Three Stooges and sometimes sounds like a baby crying or a dog barking, in addition to the real dogs in the neighborhood who also bark. Perhaps the most important lesson for the day though was about "brushing but no flushing" aka, brush your teeth only with bottled water (as well as drink) and don't flush the toilet paper or you'll have to go 'fishing'. Breakfast, 'just the way you like it' is at 8:30. More indepth orientation tomorrow.
To end I'll say I can already tell our team is quite a unique group of individuals, and I'm excited to see what a difference a week together makes. There are some familiar faces and some new faces; some quiet and reserved personalities and some "no holding back" personalities. Most importantly by the end of the week there will be no strangers, and a lot of wonderful memories to share. Even with one day of travelling together under our belts those friendships are already starting to develop. We ended the evening by playing Four on a Couch with Cesar, Sandra and Julio (Manuel's son), which put us off to a great start.

That's all for now friends! Stay tuned for more!

Blessings In Christ,
~Deaconess Betsy