Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mission Moment: September

These are the articles I write for my sending church's newsletter.  This one, in place of being titled "Mission Moment" was titled "Political Panorama."  Guatemala has been undergoing a lot of changes in the last few months which has caused a slow season for my project.

Frustrating.  That’s a word I don’t use a lot, but that’s the word I’m using to describe right now.  This article will have nothing to do with actual mission work and a lot to do with why things sometimes don’t work.
In February of this year, it was discovered that money was being stolen from the country of Guatemala via a customs scam.  When goods are imported to the country, the importer has to pay taxes.  The customs scam was allowing importers to pay much lower taxes for their goods with a nice “donation” to someone else.  In April, it was discovered that that “someone” was probably a couple high-ranking government officials, specifically the president and vice president of Guatemala.  And so began the protests.  Since April, people have been protesting at least once per week all over the country.  In May, the vice president resigned saying that she had nothing to hide and that by resigning she was allowing herself to be investigated.  The Guatemalan people called her bluff, and she went on the run.  The president said that despite the pressure of “a few” people, he had been charged with the post of president by the Guatemalan people and that he would not let them down by giving up.
Jump forward to August 21st.  Protests have become daily but remain peaceful simply blocking vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  In a moment of bad luck, the former vice president checks into a hospital, and she leaves in handcuffs.  Protests become constant with travel becoming essentially impossible.  The president sticks with his resolve that he has a job to do and will complete his promise to the Guatemalan people.  Then congress votes to remove the president’s political immunity meaning he can now be investigated as part of the custom’s scheme which has robbed the Guatemalan government of hundreds of thousands of dollars which affected the salaries and resources of hospitals, schools, and police among others.  The president resigns the next day, apologizing to the Guatemalan people, saying that he has some personal situations he needs to take care of.   The new vice president steps up to become president, and as he was one of the judges who overturned the ruling concerning General Rios Montt of the genocide cases during the Guatemalan civil war, no one is really sure if he’s just going to complete the last 4 months of the term he has been granted or if he’s just going to overthrow everything and turn the country back into a military dictatorship.  Indigenous people are not impressed.

One week later, normal elections are held to pick the new president of the country.  (Don’t be confused.  This has nothing to do with anyone resigning.  Just like the US, presidential elections take place every 4 years.)  A man who no one expected to win 4 months ago becomes the front-runner…probably solely because he’s not a politician and has no history of corruption anywhere in his family.  The fellow who everyone expected to win is in third place but demanding a recount of ballots.  If no candidate wins 50.1% of the votes, a run-off between the top two candidates follows in late October.  (Guatemala has somewhere around 18 political parties; not all of which necessarily had a presidential candidate running this year.)  But Mister Third Place was not the only one upset.  In many places, the vote was close, and in the weeks following, those who were not happy with the outcome had less-than-peaceful protests.  Ballot boxes were burned.  Police were shot.  And the mayor’s house in Solola might be torched for the third time in ten years and my community contact, Manuel, isn’t answering his phone…which is why I’m not traveling out to Solola to visit my families.  I don’t consider myself to be at any risk; however, the people in Solola are swift to carry out justice (i.e. lynching) against anyone they feel has wronged them…and Manuel is an advisor to the mayor.  So, until I can get a hold of him and until things have calmed down, I have no plans of going anywhere.

Please note: In most places, things are calm and orderly at this point.  Mister Third Place has dropped out.  However, many higher-ups are still being arrested as the story opens wider and wider.  Please be praying for Guatemala, but in no way, shape, or form should you think that I am in any danger.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fluency: Day 1,892

Things are still on hold as we wait to see what is happening with elections and the new government; however, that hasn't put my brain on hold.  As I rode back home with my handsomer half yesterday, I reflected on language fluency and what it means to be fluent.  And it's something I think about more as I start to incorporate a third language into my brain.  A long time ago, I studied German, and it was probably my #2 language.  I won't pretend that I was ever as good at it as I am with Spanish today, but it was enough there that I don't anticipate a hardship at putting it back in my brain.  However, both times I have learned it, I have learned it as an English speaker.

I've come to the conclusion that being bi- (or tri- or quad- or whatever-)lingual is not about constructing language but rather about breaking it down.  There are things I can say in English that I cannot say in Spanish, but there are also things I can say in Spanish that I can't really say in English just because the sentiment doesn't exist or because it is complicated and contorted.

So, when I consider German and the small amount of German which I do know now, I struggle because my German is tied to my English, not my Spanish.  My handsomer half has two nieces, and the younger one now calls him Tio Ente.  "Ente" in German is "Duck" in English.  And when it made me giggle, and he asked me why, I told him, "Ente es aleman para duck, er, pato."  (My handsomer half speaks only Spanish; although he is trying to learn English.)  And I realized that learning German as an English speaker is not helping me to break down the language.  If I can't go from German to Spanish without English in the middle, can I really claim to be fluent in Spanish?

What is it?  Duck?  Ente?  Pato?
It's all of those and none of those.
It's a bird that swims and goes quack.

I don't expect to need my German and my Spanish in the same place at the same time, but as a result of my discovery, I'm planning on studying German as a Spanish-speaker as well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Putting Things on Pause: Day 1,870

Activism in Guatemala is pretty strong.  People are passionate about their country and their government.  This can be a good thing, and it can also be a dangerous thing.  For the last 20+ weeks, there have been protests, mostly in the capitol.

First, they were just about the president and vice president being corrupt.  The VP resigned.  But as the case opened up more and more, Guatemalans became outraged at the extent of the corruption.  Now the protests are against the national elections (and still against the president) which will be held on September 6th.  The people do not want elections under these conditions.  They want the corruption to be wiped out of Guatemalan politics before making a new start in January 2016.

And, at this point, the protests are no longer just in the capitol.  They are on many different roads in various parts of the country.  And so, without having my own vehicle, my handsomer half has asked that I pause my work in Solola.  Under normal conditions, I do not feel it is dangerous.  (To be fair, I don't feel it's dangerous to me right now either; I'm not a politician nor do I represent nor support any political party.)  However, he feels that traveling on public transport could result in me (and fellow passengers) being abandoned on the side of the road in some remote area of the highway between here and Solola.

So, for now, I'm staying close to home and getting stuff organized.  We have been looking at potentially changing houses; although, our eventual hope is to buy land to build on or a house.  Just keep us in your prayers, please, especially as my handsomer half works in the capitol.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Doing What You're Called to Do With What You Have: Day 1,827

There are days I get frustrated.  There are days when I say to myself, "I could do so much more good if I had X."  Some days "X" is "a bigger budget."  Some days "X" is "more man power."  Some days "X" is "a vehicle."  Some days "X" is "a large house either owned or rented with a contract."  Some days I look at other missions which I deem to be "more successful" than my own which usually means they have one or more of my Xs...and get frustrated because I see them wasting what they have been given.  But then I am reminded of a lot of wisdom from various places in my life, some of which I don't even remember the source of.

1.  Be still and know that [God is] God.

2.  While many men who have shown a romantic interest in me during the last 5 years have had only one thing on their mind--going to the US--my handsomer half has never had that interest.  In fact, he has only changed his mind about that since getting engaged to me because he knows that much of my family cannot or will not travel, and he knows that I want them to meet him.  Why is the US of no draw to him?  Because he is tired of seeing his countrymen (and women and children) making an expensive and dangerous journey to a far away country all in search of "a better life" which involves sending money to the people they abandoned back home.  He wants to prove that a Guatemalan can make it in Guatemala.  How does that apply to my situation?  Well, I have what I have...and while things of this world could make my ministry easier, Christians aren't necessarily called to an easier life.

3.  Matthew 25:14-30.  Brief summary: Rich guy gives his servants various amounts of money to invest for a certain amount of time.  Each was given a different amount.  Two of them invest the money and double it.  The last one hides the money in the ground and gives it back when the master comes back.  Sometimes I feel like that last servant.  I imagine we all do from time to time.  It's a plateau we hit where we doubt our abilities and become content with where we are or become scared of taking that next step.  We just want to hold on to what we have and try to not lose that...but that's not the point of life nor the point of ministry.

4.  Getting frustrated because someone isn't using what they have properly won't change my situation any besides giving me high blood pressure and raising my stress levels, and that has never helped anyone.  Stress less.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Day 1,815

There are some words I hear so very often and hate to hear: I could never do what you do.  Now, I know I'm not the only person who has heard those words.  I know a few mothers I know have heard those words as well, and I'm sure there are others.  And, to be completely honest, I have said those words myself on at least one occasion.

The fact of the matter is that you could probably do what I do.  Sure, it's harder if you have a house, spouse, kids, and a job in the United States (or wherever you happen to live).  Sure, it's harder if languages never interested you.  Sure, it's harder if...a lot of things.

The one occasion that I recall saying "I could never do what you do," I was talking to a friend of mine who has twins.  I really don't know how she does it.  But, you know what?  It doesn't matter.  She didn't know how to do what she does before God handed her those girls either.

If you think I could never do what you do, you're probably wrong.  You probably have never tried.  You probably have never needed to.  But when the time comes to step up to the plate (to whatever it is), you will succeed if it is worth it...because failure is not an option.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Marriage and Culture: Day 1,813

Before you decide this has something to do with a certain Supreme Court ruling, it doesn't; although, to some extent, it might have been more on my mind because of recent events in the United States.

In Guatemala, it's common for people to not least not for a long time.  Often, they "unite;" a woman--typically pregnant, sometimes with a baby--moves in with her boyfriend's family.  At that point, they start calling each other husband and wife or man and woman.  When I mentioned to people that I was engaged, a common response was "Oh, I didn't know you had a baby!" or "When is the baby due?"  One family member even went as far to put her hand on my belly and say, "May there be many more blessings!"  As a white, conservative (but independent) American, I was mortified.  (Please note that what I am about to say is different for each person and is in no way judging anyone else.)  To me, a man marrying me after I am pregnant with his child (or having had given birth to it), would border on obligation; I don't want a man to marry me because he feels obligated...or because I feel he feels obligated.

Here it is different.  Many Guatemalans, including my significant other, believe that a baby is a sign that God has given His blessing on the relationship, that this is the person that you are supposed to marry.  If a baby isn't born before either of the adults (or teenagers) in the relationship find someone they feel more strongly about, then it is decided that, despite however much sex they have had, the pair wasn't meant to be.

Handsome (my significant other) took a lot of convincing, but in the end, "I'm pretty sure my father would disown me if I had a baby before getting married" was what did it.  Family is important here, and he didn't really want to drive any wedges between myself and my original family.  And his mom loves me too even if we don't have a baby, and considering my past track-record with relationships, family and guy both loving me seems like divine blessing enough.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What to Pack for Long-Term Missions in The Highlands of Guatemala: Day 1,801

You may recall that quite a few months ago I responded to a writing prompt from Velvet Ashes.  Today, I am responding to another one.  The prompt for today is the following:  Make a packing list of items that people should bring when moving to your area of the world. 

So, since I live and work in the Highlands of Guatemala, I'm tasked with making a packing list, and here it goes.

1. Underwear.  Gotta start somewhere.  Might as well start with practical stuff.  While underwear can be bought here, it's not as good of quality.  Neither are...
2. Shoes.  You'll want at least one pair of good tennis shoes.  The shoes here aren't as good of quality as shoes from the US, and if you wear much larger than a 9.5, you probably won't find anything in your size even if you shop in the men's section.  Most of the time you'll wear sandals; make sure it's a comfortable pair, preferably one that straps to your feet.
3. A Heavy Jacket (and a light one).  Depending on how high into the Highlands you're going, you'll probably want a heavy jacket, something waterproofish with a warm lining to it.
4. Ziplock baggies. They'll come in useful and they aren't readily available here.  Just trust me on this one.
5. Tupperware. These will help to keep bugs out of your food.  (Doesn't have to be name brand stuff, but I figure you know what I mean this way.)
6. A Dual-SIM phone. There are three phone companies in Guatemala.  They vary from low-service/low-cost to wide-service/high-cost.  A Dual-SIM phone will help you get the best of two services.  (If you get a Triple-SIM phone, you'll never have to make decisions ever again, but it would be overkill.)
7. Laptop (and relevant electronics). Electronics tend to be better quality in the US and are about the same price.
8. Power Strip. Many places will only have 1 outlet per room.  There will be times that you need more.
9.  Extension Cord. Sometimes that one outlet won't be where you need it to be.
10.  Pressure Cooker. Not easy to find and important for high-altitude cooking.
11.  Three-hole Punch.  They sell 3-ring binders here, but I haven't found any 3-hole punches.  Useful for organizing.

Obviously this list will vary depending on the needs of the missionary.  There are other things that a person may not be able to get here, but it depends on the individual.  If you are planning a long-term commitment to Guatemala, feel free to ask about any specific items you may feel necessary for your personal life or your mission work.