Saturday, May 24, 2014

Packing Up

Buenos dias! Today's post will be a little different as it is morning and we are packing up to leave, so I do not have an entire day's worth of experiences to share with you. We are currently packing and cleaning, because within a few hours of our departure a team from the seminary in St. Louis will be arriving and we are trying to leave the house as clean as it was when we arrived.

At breakfast this morning we said goodbye to the two Guatemalan missionaries (Caesar and Sandra) who stayed in the house with us the entire week. Our team formed especially close relationships with these two missionaries due to the fact that they lived with us the entire week.

Throughout the week it has been amazing to see how God has equipped each of us for different roles. Many members of our team connected to local Guatemalans during the home visits. God used me to connect with numerous teenage boys in the locations we visited, including Luis whom I will be sponsoring. Though I learned enough Spanish throughout the week to hold a basic conversation, I was still sometimes frustrated by my inability to share everything I wanted to say due to my limited Spanish. However, God created avenues for us to connect that went beyond language and conversation (which on one very rainy day involved a large amount of water being dumped off of a tent onto me and one of the boys). Most of these boys do not have fathers or other positive male influences in their lives because the culture discourages men from valuing these roles. I look forward to keeping in touch with them through the local missionaries who meet with them every week.

We will be leaving for the airport in about an hour and a half. Please pray for a safe return to the United States. When you see your loved one, be sure to ask about their experience in Guatemala and be very attentive to what they share, as this has been a very meaningful time for all who were here.

Thank you for your prayers throughout this week and for following us on this blog. We look forward to seeing you soon!


Friday, May 23, 2014

Guat? It's Friday Already?

Hola Mis Amigos!

It was a fantastico last (and full) day in Guatemala. We started off with the world famous continental breakfast "just the way we like it" at 7 o'clock, courtesy of Kevin and Ginny. Once the rest of the Guatemalan missionaries arrived, we all headed upstairs for some time in God's Word. Manuel led discussion, and started off by asking us, "What should a Christian leader do?" He selected passages from many places in the Old Testament, like Deuteronomy 4:23-29, 2 Chronicles 14:4, Psalm 105:4-5 and Jeremiah 29:11-13. He connected each passage to each other and elaborated on how they apply to our specific circumstances today, and ended discussion with Micah 6:8. The whole discussion was really thought-provoking and just the right way to start the day.

The next step of the day was a bittersweet one, as we Gringos and the Guatemalans all gathered on the balcony/roof for some picture taking. All the pictures we took today and throughout the week should be available on the Groundwork Guatemala Facebook page. And even though the goodbye tears were flowing early, this was a great way to capture all the deep relationships that were formed in such a short time. 

Not surprisingly, we were forced to "choose wisely" for our last adventure outside of the house. We had the option of visiting either a local Guatemalan coffee roaster, Godoy's Gourmet Organic Coffee, or to visit some nearby Mayan ruins. At Godoy's we learned many ins-and-outs of coffee roasting, and even got to try some freshly roasted, ground, and brewed complimentary coffee. For once we did not need a translator for our tour, regardless of Kevin's instinct to have Evelyn translate the owner's Californian accent. This allowed for an in-depth explanation from the owner about her journey to Guatemala and her involvement in coffee roasting. Those who ventured to the ruins really enjoyed it. The first thing they did was make clay objects out of similar clay to the Mayan artifacts on display. Then the crowd viewed four Mayan ceremonies which would have been performed when the Mayan culture was at large, and even were able to see Mayan artifacts and a house.

Lunch involved leftovers from the week, and was sadly our last lunch with our Guatemalan friends. Kevin showcased his "Vino Palmer," which was nothing more (and nothing less) than grape juice with sweet tea. Once lunch was done, we started preparing for the faith lesson, which was to start around 2 o'clock. Unlike other days which involve traveling to various locations, Fridays are when Ginny and Kevin open their home to city residents. Numbers were sparse at first, but local Guatemalans of all ages came for fellowship and time in God's Word. Ana, Michael, and Brian even ran a clinic within the house for those in need of medical attention. It was as edifying a time as ever, and everything eventually wound down around 3:30. With some time to spare before most of the Guatemalans (besides Cesar and Sandra) left, a small group of us taught Oscar (Guatemalan missionary) the card game Euchre, and he picked up on it before the last hand was played. He claims he will be a Euchre champion for next year's game. We have no doubts.

Once final goodbyes were said to Carlos, Odie, Ana, Julian, and Oscar, the details of our super secret, exclusive dinner extravaganza were unveiled, our expectations were exceeded as dinner was enjoyed "just the way we liked it"- pizza on the balcony. Andy got his much needed pizza fill (devouring an entire pizza) and we all enjoyed the laughter-filled conversations, especially from the banter of Ginny and Kevin. The day couldn't have ended better, as Kevin had us meet in the infamous upper room for some reflective thought and discussion. He posed 4 questions to us, which were: 1) What surprised you most from the week, 2) What frustrated you most from the week, 3) What did you learn about yourself, and 4) Where did you see God this week, and the optional fifth question 5) How will you use what you've learned here at home? Discussion lasted two and a half hours, which may give some idea to how comfortable everyone felt with both talking and listening to one another discuss the very personal reflections each of us had. 

We finally dismissed and were off to bed at 10. Tomorrow we will be heading to the airport at 10 a.m. sharp, after we take care our final packing and cleaning. God was with us and among us this whole day and week, as all of the bonds which had been made between us at the beginning were strengthened all the more with a full day of laughs, tears, and thankfulness to God.

Dios de Bendiga,

Maria y Pablo (Mary and Paul)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Quinto Dia in Guatemala!

Hola friends and family! Praying that all is well in the states! Another spectacular day has been completed here in Guatemala!

We started the morning with french toast and fruit for breakfast (Muchos gracias, Ginny!) and a wonderful bible study led by one of the Guatemalan missionaries, Julian. Then we traveled to another small village outside of Amatitlán called Gonzalez Park to do more house visits and our faith lesson. Unlike our other locations throughout the week, Amatitlán was more urbanized. The houses had more structure with cement walls unlike the tin walls that many of the houses we visited were made out of.

We started our visit by splitting into two teams and making our house visits. My team made a very powerful visit to a terribly sick elderly woman, Maria, and her daughter, Elsa. When we arrived, Elsa broke out in a huge smile because she was so grateful that we were there to pray with her. Manuel, one of the Guatemalan missionaries, led most of the discussion as he talked to Maria and Elsa about what was going on. We learned that Maria is very ill and is experiencing a lot of pain throughout her body. She told us that she feels as if God has forgotten her and does not care about her. We spent a lot of time encouraging her to live each day and to trust that His love for her is steadfast. Elsa expressed her frustration with the situation and told us how sad she was about her mother's sickness. She spent much of the time that we were there praying and crying. Manuel and a few other people read some Bible passages and we spent a lot of time praying for both of them. At one point, I reached over to give Elsa a hug as she was crying and she was so grateful for us that she tried to offer me some chicken feet, which I of course had to decline. As we prayed for the last time before we left, I noticed that Elsa's prayers were pure thanks to God for the blessings He has given her. This is something that I have noticed every single day while here in Guatemala-- that all of their prayers are filled with immense gratitude and respect towards God. Despite all of the troubles they go through and the pain they are faced with, they still thank God. I think this is a really important lesson for us to take back with us. It was a very difficult house visit to make, but it was encouraging to know that God was using us at the perfect time to help these two women gain strength in hope in a very unfortunate and difficult situation.

After the house visits, we had another wonderful PB&J lunch! As the kids began to trickle in, we started to read books with them. Once I ran out of books, I tried talking to the kids. Although my Spanish is extremely limited, I have learned enough throughout the week to tell the kids that I only know a few phrases. Today the group of kids I was sitting with understood that I only knew English, and they helped me to learn some Spanish! We exchanged some words in each of our languages, mostly colors, and then I taught them how to say "God bless you," which is "Dios le bendiga" in Spanish. After that, they taught me how to play a really fun game without using any English, which was an exciting experience for all of us! Today was the first time that I had been able to connect with the kids, despite my language barrier, and I was very blessed by the experience.

The faith lesson went very well today. There were about 175 kids and several youth and adults. The kids were very energetic, which helped the team to be more energetic as well! They enjoyed our skit and had a great time making the craft. One of the difficult parts of today's location was that we had one large cement slab that needed to be split into three different areas, one for the adults, one for the young adults, and one for the children. That meant that after our faith lesson was completed, we had to find a way to keep the children contained so they didn't disrupt the other groups. Fortunately, just as we were finishing the craft, it started to downpour! So all of the kids worked very hard to stay under the tent to keep from getting wet and laughed hysterically as members of our team got drenched by the rain that came off of the tent. We packed up in the rain and headed out after another successful faith lesson!

We then headed to a "super secret, undisclosed location" which happened to be Lake Amatitlán. It was a stunningly beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and hills. Another part of God's beautiful creation here in Guatemala! We then returned for a spectacular mac 'n cheese dinner with devotions later to wrap up the evening!

Today was a huge blessing to the entire team as we all experienced something unique and memorable. Personally, this entire trip has been a blessing beyond what I expected and imagined it to be and I am so grateful to God for the opportunity to have this experience, despite some of the hardships that it brings. It's not always easy to sit in someone's home and try to help them with difficult situations and it's sometimes frustrating to not be able to communicate well with children who don't speak the same language as you. But each experience has taught me how important it is for us to show God's love to everyone we meet because He works through us to heal and encourage others. Even though I can´t use my words to tell them about God's love for them, I have been able to see how God can use something as simple as a hug to encourage and help someone.

Looking forward to tomorrow as we have our last full day here in Guatemala! Especially looking forward to coming home and sharing what I have learned with my friends and family!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

In Christ,

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Curentra Dia

Hola Todos!

Today we woke up an hour earlier (5:30!!!) in order to eat breakfast and then head off to our third ministry location called Buena Vista; a small village in the country located in the middle of sugarcane fields on an old abandoned railroad. The people of Buena Vista are very poor and because of their remote location, tend to be self sufficient. After the two hour ride our team arrived and quickly got to work. The first visit was to the 1-6 grade"school" located in Buena Vista. By US school standards, this school is lacking in many areas and has a great deal of need. Resources are very limited which makes learning very difficult to happen. Yet God has seen fit to bless with community with this place, and His Children work hard to provide for the children and families here.After the visit to the school the group split up to go on house visits, while Michael and myself stayed behind to work with Ana and Julian in the Medical Clinic. The two groups visited various houses. One group visited a family who just had twins, and who's mother had needed a blood transfusion. She was able to do this with the help of Manuel, Ana, Julian, Kevin and Ginny, the leaders of Groundwork Guatemala. We were sad to hear that one of the twins is still in the hospital, and the other actually died a couple days ago. This is a common occurrence in Guatemala, due to the limited medical resources. I was told that our group offered comfort and shared God's Grace with this grieving family. The other house that was visited was the family of Exequias, the young boy that Deaconess Betsy sponsors. They were experiencing a very difficult time in their family, and our group was able to talk with the mother Angelina to offer her comfort and God's Love in his Word!

Now for the medical clinic. Ana and Julian weren't able to help yesterday due to the fact that they were helping the family that needed a blood transfusion, so Brian and I were on our own to help with some patients but only a few. However, today was much different with Ana and Julian back! There was alot of work to do, and our first patient was an abuela(grandma) who remembered us from lat year! She had some minor wounds that just needed dressing on her foot and we handled it accordingly. Also, we dressed a machete wound of a young nina(little girl) which had started to fester, but through our work and God's guidance we cleaned and dressed the wound perfectly. Many other young children had yeast infections of the skin, or strep throat and one infant had chicken poxs, all of which we treated with medicine and God's Love so that the children will recover soon. One 7 year old girl had split her head above her eyebrow and needed stitches, which we could not provide for as we had no anesthetic and could not stitch in fear of make a severe mistake. So, the young nina was sent to the nearest hospital (1 hour). All in all it was an eventful day at the clinic, with young boys screaming as I applied topical hydrocortisone cream (pediatrics scare me), the whole medical team taking 10 minutes to translate and understand Miguel a 76 year old man who had only a sprained ankle, to Diana foregoing her second house visit to help translate! We can't wait to see what God presents us with tomorrow and we know he will provide and bless us with all we need.

After lunch we continued with the rest of our day. The faith lesson also went extremely well! The children were very responsive, and even after the house visits, the hot and humid day, my translation and Michael working at the medical clinic, our team still had strength, thanks to God, to keep the kids entertained in order to respond to God's Word. The songs went along as usual, as did the skit, both of which had the kids cheering and yelling. The youth lessons also went well, for the children were again very  responsive and after awhile did actually respond to God's Word with earnest. Overall the day went extremely well, and with a closing deviotion highlight How Jesus is the Light of the World and He uses us as His Mirrors, it was a Day that God should be Praised for! To top it all of it was Cesar's 23rd Birthday! So Glory to God in the Highest! His Grace and Love are the only reasons why we are able to do such wonderful work. He loves all of you and may He bless you!

Brian and Michael


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

El Tercer Día en Guatemala

Greetings from Guatemala!!

What a wonderful third day! This morning we enjoyed breakfast sandwiches, bananas, and melon (Thank you Ginny!) before gathering for a devotion led by our Guatemalan missionary, César. After the devotion, we headed out to El Rincón, the designated area for house visits and faith lessons today. El Rincón is just outside the city of Amatitlán, where we will be going Thursday.

Upon our arrival, us 'gringos' were led by Kevin to talk to Carlos, a man the missionaries have known for many years and have given assistance to over time. The house visits then took place, before lunch; our team split into two groups to share God's Word. The team I was a part of went to two houses where Jennifer and Andy from our team met their sponsored students and had the privilege of learning more about their personal lives. In general, these house visits are especially meaningful because they allow us to communicate with the Guatemalan people and give direct comfort based on their individual needs. Frequently, there are cases where people experience financial struggle, depression, loneliness, and general concern for their given living conditions. However, what always amazes me is the immense amount of love and compassion these people share. They are always ready with a smile, hug, and kiss! It is so inspiring to see that despite the small amounts these people have, they ability to give is exponential.

After the house visits, we ate lunch (a fancy PB and J with chips and cookies!!) before the slew of Guatemalans arrived for the faith lessons. The adults were with the Guatemalan missionary, Carlos, the whole time, participating in their own bible study. The children were entrusted in our team's care, all 100 or so of them! We started our portion with singing, clapping, and in some instances, shouting. All praises to God, of course! The rest of our lesson consisted of a memory verse, a skit (created and performed by our team), a question and answer time about the lesson and skit, craft, and snack. The whole experience was quite chaotic, and we're told it will only get worse, as the number of children in attendance the next few days will expand rapidly. The more, the merrier, ¿verdad? During the question/answer portion and craft, the youth were split from the younger children so their needs could be more easily addressed. Fun was had by all!

I personally worked with the kids, and it was such a blessing for me to see them so energetic and enthusiastic about God and what we had to teach them concerning His undying love. Despite the language barriers  many of us experience in some variation, love and compassion transcend all these frustrations.This graciously allows us as a team to (hopefully) impact their lives as much as they, in turn, change ours.

The time thus far in Guatemala has been one of surprises, humbling feelings, excitement, and a joy for sharing God's Word. It would seem the rest of the week promises to have similar wonderful experiences in store!

Buenos Noches,

Evelyn Yee

Monday, May 19, 2014

Guatemala: Segundo Dia

What an exciting second day! We were up bright and early at 7am for another delicious breakfast along with our first clear view of Volcano Agua. The Lord has blessed us with beautiful weather thus far, clear, warm and sunny. After breakfast we met the rest of the Guatemalan mission team: Ana, Carlos, Oscar, Ody and Julian. Ana led us in devotion, reflecting on God's faithfulness despite our circumstances.

We then piled in the van and headed to Only a Child, a ministry for disadvantaged young men. We were able to meet some of the young men that this ministry serves and listen to their stories. They've all made incredible changes for the better in their lives. They now provide for themselves by making beautiful wooden boxes with ornate designs and smooth finishes. This gives them a sense of purpose and is good training for their future in the work force.

After that, we went to the public city cemetery. Unlike American cemeteries, the graves are all above ground in compartment-like structures for rent or for sale. The size of the cemetery itself was shocking, with two-way streets weaving through it. Equally shocking were the graves that were not well-cared for or worse yet, broken into. We were then able to view the city dump, where, sadly, hundreds of men, women and children spend their day scavenging for goods to recycle and sell. This was a sobering sight to see as we stood on the cemetery's cliff, overlooking the depravity below. The surrounding neighborhood is built on the old portion of the dump, without any infrastructure, making it dangerous and susceptible to cave-ins large enough to swallow trucks and large groups of people. Hundreds of people and animals live in or surrounding this dump and use it daily as a source of food, clothing and income.

After lunch we were given the opportunity to go back to that area to visit with some Guatemalans in their home. We were able to bring the Word to them and pray with them, encouraging them to be in the Word and trust in God and His plan for them. It was eye-opening to see the absolute poverty that these people live in. Yet we couldn't help but notice how quick to smile and genuinely happy these people are. We broke in to small groups and so each Guatemalan missionary had a few of us Americans in each home. This made for a very personal connection with each family. Many of the Guatemalans expressed that we were an answer to their prayers. In the end, they were a blessing to us as well. The language barrier can be frustrating for some of us, but we know that God will work through that, using the missionaries who translate.

The rest of our night was spent in fellowship with one another and studying God's word. We can't believe how fast the time is going by and are amazed by the strength of the bonds we've built with each other and our new Guatemalan friends. We can't wait to see what God has in store for our team tomorrow. God is good!

-Rachel y Cassandra

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Primer Día

Hola from our first full day in Guatemala! It is only day one and we already have stories and adventures to share! How does one sum up an entire day's activities in this little blog...

This morning we went to worship a couple blocks down from the house. We were debriefed about the service by Ginny and Kevin before we left, so we all knew that this would be nothing like a traditional LCMS service. We were not disappointed! It was such a unique and awesome experience! The service began with about 45 minutes of praise songs led by a band in the front of the area their congregation uses for worship. At first we kinda awkwardly stood there while trying to follow along to the unfamiliar songs on the screen, attempting to blend in as best as we could. Then, much to my surprise and happiness, we started hearing some recognizable tunes! The band played "I'm Trading My Sorrows (Yes Lord)" and "You Are Good" (the Gospel song, a personal favorite) both in Spanish. However, knowing the tunes made it much easier to follow the words and even sing along in Spanish! The band also played "Lord I Give You My Heart" in Spanish, but at one point, the song leader looked straight at our group and told us (in perfect English!) to sing the following verse in English:
Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone
Every breath that I take, every moment I'm awake, Lord have your way with me

Needless to say, it was awesome. The song leader telling us to sing this part in English really showed how much the congregation cared about making our group feel welcome. Besides the songs, the rest of the worship time was a message, lasting about another 45 minutes. The sermon texts included 1 John 4:8-18 and Luke 17:7, focusing on obedience and God's love. The native people at these worship experiences get immensely emotional and physical. It was not uncommon for people to be praying out loud, raising their hands high, crying, screaming, clapping, or any combination of these during the song and prayer times. Definitely way different from traditional services. At the conclusion of the worship time, we greeted each other (those in and out of our team) with 'Dios le bendiga!', or 'God bless you!'. The genuine happiness and care from the faces we saw I think touched each and every one of us.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. After lunch we had a good amount of time to relax. The vast majority of us found our ways onto the roof to write in our journals and soak up some Guatemalan sun (pass the aloe!). Later in the afternoon we met as a team to go over our faith lessons to be used during the remainder of the week at the different towns. It was a little challenging trying to memorize the memory verse and the songs in Spanish, but we are making progress! We also took time to rehearse our skit, which ended up being both productive and very entertaining! I'm sure there will be many photos and videos to come...

All in all, it was a fantastic first day. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the week holds for our team and the rest of the missionaries. To God be the glory! Dios le bendiga!
Jennifer Becker