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 marry...at 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.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The First Saturday Session! : Day 1,721

Two days ago, my handsomer half and myself went out to Solola for our first "Saturday Session" with the kids.  Because it was the first one, we invited the parents to attend with us as well and gave away points a little liberally.  (The Saturday Sessions, because of my lack of Kaqchikel, are designed only for children in third grade through ninth grade.  This Saturday we gave away points to some of the younger students as well.)  However, the day went really well, and I'm looking forward to the next one.  Any suggestions about lesson ideas are welcome!

Upon arriving, we took attendance, and I gave some of the older children some tasks to complete involving passing out things and the like.  Upon finishing with that, we started our first secular lesson.  When I was last visiting my parents, Clarkston Family Dental donated some toothbrushes for the kids, and the dentists with Children of the Americas (COTA) donated some toothpaste in January.  So, it just made sense for basic dental health to be our first lesson!  We talked about healthy food choices and the importance of brushing twice daily.  One little boy kept answering all of my questions at which point Manuel, the community leader, got on the middle schoolers' cases.  (It was pretty funny, but everyone else started participating more.)

After we talked about the basics of brushing and watched a few videos (link is to the site in Spanish, but the same videos are available in English), we had a snack of carrots, banana bread, and atol de incaparina (a vitamin-protein drink) which a couple of the mothers prepared for us, and can you guess what we did after snack?  Yes, we all brushed our teeth!

 While we waited for the kids to finish brushing their teeth, they started on their craft projects.  This month's craft wasn't as much of a craft that they could take home as it was administrative stuff.  The kids decorated thank you cards and created a large banner which we will use periodically for donors to the project.  They also filled out some information sheets about themselves and their dreams for the future.  Once the banner was made, we took our first pictures: for the two donations listed above and also for the backpacks which various team members from this year's COTA team donated to us.
The sign reads "Thank You" and below, "Matyox" which is "thank you" in Kaqchikel, the primary language of the children at this site.
Once we had taken pictures, we settled in for our Bible lesson.  As it was the Saturday before Palm Sunday, there was really no lesson more appropriate than the Easter story which was lots more fun as told with a set of plastic eggs that Moving Mountains gave me in July.  I was actually really bummed at the time because I wouldn't be able to use them for about 9 months!  It was worth the wait, though.  The kids really enjoyed opening each egg to find out what was in it, and I sure got in a lot of practice reading Spanish aloud!  Once we finished, I gave them a Bible memory verse for our next Saturday Session, and we sent the kids home to eat lunch.  As I had hoped, the entire session took about 4 hours.  Depending on content, we can probably whittle it down to 3 hours in the future if the families think that is a better time frame.  Additionally, in the future it won't be necessary for a parent from each family to come unless they don't want their children walking alone; so they can be at home preparing lunch without worrying about getting back from the meeting.  Most of the children either don't have far to walk (by Guatemalan standards) or they are old enough that it isn't a big concern.

For me, the biggest excitement of all of this is that Educacion con Esperanza is now operating at 100% in its first community.  That means that around September, I'll start the process of considering a new community.  I have about 3 communities which are interested in having EcE work with them; so please be in prayer that God shows me where He wants us next.  Also, I'm still working on that whole non-profit thing; so please be praying for a breakthrough there as well.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Blind Faith: Day 1,661

Some quick updates before what I came here to write:

1) My computer died at the beginning of January and I've thus far been able to find a good fix for it, but I'm working on it.

2) Yesterday I passed out school supplies and backpacks in Solola.  (More on that in a post a different day.)

On the bus yesterday a song came on the radio which I distinctly remember dancing to with my fiance...which made me remember where we were when we danced to it.  It was the birthday party of one of my neighbors.  She had turned 90-something, and, of course, everyone has a DJ come in for their 90-somethingth birthday, right?

My handsomer half has never had any formal dance training as far as I know, and any formal dance training I had was at least 7 years ago (more if we're talking about any style of dance they do down here).  However, when we dance, people stop and watch, even people who are long used to the blonde girl who lives in their midst.  We receive comments about how well we dance together.  And when I dance, I close my eyes; if I open them, we start messing up and tripping over one another.  When my eyes are open, I try to lead, and there can't be two leaders.

It made me think about the phrase "blind faith."  While I will agree with my apologetics-fan friends that one must be able to defend their faith, I also believe that faith itself must be blind.  I equate faith in most cases with trust.  If I need to oversee every detail, am I really trusting my partner or my God to lead as he (or He) sees fit?  If I feel that I need to watch my every step and everyone else doing their thing around me, and I having faith that another person is leading me in the path I should be in?  To have faith, I must relinquish control; I must close my eyes and go where my Lord leads me without trying to correct His steps.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mission Moment: January

Mission Moment
I hope you all had a wonderful Christ-filled Christmas and a happy New Year. I will be spending Christmas with the future in-laws, joining in their holiday traditions and sharing with them some of my own.

As for “Educacion con Esperanza” (“Education with Hope,” it needed a name), I had some great end-of-year visits with the families. Manuel—the community contact with whom I work—drove me around to each of the houses. Each family received homemade Christmas cookies and a Bible for Christmas.

As with almost every visit, there were some highs and some lows. One girl did not pass her classes. She says that she likes school, but her parents say that she doesn't do her homework. Her brother dropped out this year because he felt stupid being a 15-year old in 4th grade. I hope that both of his younger sisters don't follow his example.
Ronaldo holding the Bible we distributed
to each family with his prosthetic hand.
(Yes, it's white.)

We visited another family who has two “special needs” children; one suffers from multiple seizures, and the other was born without his left hand. I found out that my suspicions concerning the educations of their sons was probably correct. The boy without a hand, Ronaldo, just finished 7th grade this year. His younger brother, Efraim, just finished 6th grade. While we were talking, their father stated that Efraim would not be returning to school in January. (Remember: The school year here is from January to October.) He would instead start working in the fields with their 3 oldest brothers because the family can't afford to keep sending him to school. Ronaldo would continue schooling because even with his prosthetic hand—which we obtained via another organization in March—he is not strong enough to do a lot of field work. So, we talked some more. Efraim has the best grades in the family. Via the program, he easily earns more points than are necessarily spent on him alone. In the end, dad decided to send both of the boys back to school in January.

One family prepared a special lunch for us. It was such a special lunch that they laid fresh pine needles on the floor. This is something reserved for only the most special of occasions—such as weddings—or the most special of guests. Our lunch was “caldo de gallina criollo” which roughly translates to “virgin hen broth.” It is completely delicious; it's actually my favorite dish that my future mother-in-law has prepared during my visits to their house. Basically, this family took one of their egg-laying hens which had not yet laid an egg and killed it and made soup with it. That hen was worth a lot of eggs still. So, when it came time to tell them—all of us sitting there in that beautifully pine-covered room—that they did not have enough points to buy school supplies for both of their daughters through the program—a fact I didn't know before eating lunch—I wanted to cry. In the end, I let them borrow points. It's not something I'd do for everyone, but as children who cannot go to school because of their age or physical/mental limitations receive 5 points every marking period, I knew, because of their youngest daughter who turned 3 this month, that they will soon “repay” the points. How did this happen? Well, the short version is that their family felt the need to buy more with the points than their daughters earned during the school year. This either means that the family's financial situation is really bad or that the girls simply aren't getting very good grades. Neither situation is ideal, but now that we've gotten through one year, we'll see how they improve.

We made one surprise visit during our trip. There was a family who had been selected to be in the program which had never come to a meeting. Supposedly, they had been informed of the meetings and simply not come. I know Guatemala, and I was a little skeptical that I was getting the whole truth. So, armed with just the family's name and a vague memory of where they live, Manuel and I set off to find them, and when we found them, I was glad we had gone to look for them. Due to a family emergency, they hadn't been able to attend the first meeting, and after that, they were never informed of any other meeting. It is interesting to me to compare our visit with them with those of the other families who have spent the last year getting to know and trust me. If I weren't used to it by now, it really would have been off-putting how closed they were to my presence.

Wendy, who I mentioned to you all in August 2013 when I first met them, and her family were excited to see me as always, and I was out of breath when I got to their rented house as always. Wendy will be starting 9th grade in January, and the question of what to do with her and Mercedes (who I'll talk about in a bit) is troubling. I won't say much more about them in this newsletter, but Wendy was very happy to receive the Bible. She said that she just started going to the youth group at church and that she felt it would be very useful to her.

Mercedes and her brother Luis are already signed up for school, something most families won't do until January. My fiance, during his visit at the end of September, had had a man-to-man talk with Luis about the importance of education and promised him a soccer ball if he would go back to school. It's not my style, but it was out before I could stop him. Luis agreed. (I just hope we don't have to buy soccer balls for all of the 7th graders.) I was a little chilly having left my coat in the truck; so they decided to give me a beautiful Christmas scarf that Mercedes had made. I was so cold that it didn't make much of a difference, but it is gorgeous all the same. I think in the future I'll use it with a coat.

So, this year Mercedes and Wendy will be the first two to graduate from 9th grade. Mercedes wants to go on to become a “secretaria bilingue” (a bilingual secretary, which is, by default, Spanish/English, not Kaqchikel), and Wendy wants to go on to become a “licensiada” (which is actually just a level of education that allows a person to be titled; I have yet to figure out in what subject she wants to have her “licensiatura,” but the most common is as a lawyer.) However, there are a couple of bumps in this path. First of all, there is no school in their immediate area which provides for schooling above 9th grade. They would have to pay around Q20 (round trip) and travel an hour (each way) to be able to attend high school. In one week, that would be Q100 for each of them. In a month, that would be Q400. In 9 months, that would be Q3,600 or $480 just in bus fare...just for one of them. Second of all, their education up to this point is probably a little lacking. One boy in the second grade told us that he hasn't yet learned how to read. Manuel says that's common which is why he actually moves his family into the city during the school year. However, these two girls have already accomplished more schooling than any of their parents and most of the village; so helping them catch up to where they should be to attend one of these school isn't something that anyone is very capable of.

All of that is why I'd like to bring them to live with me in 2016. And for 2016, that's fine if the families are interested. I have a spare room with a spare bed in my house. The girls could help me with my Kaqchikel, and I could help them with their English and any educational issues in general. However, at the end of 2016, Ronaldo will graduate from 9th grade. At the end of 2017, Efraim, Estuardo, and Luis will graduate. At the end of 2018, Marta Lidia and Olga Maria will graduate. So, if their families are willing (and I think they will be), in 4 years from now, I will have a household of at least 10, counting myself and my husband-to-be. There's a house here in town that would be perfect for housing us, but it's way out of our price range and your price range. However, this situation—specifically this house—is something I'd like to ask your prayers over in the coming year. In the past four years, I've found that if I am in a situation where I don't see the solution and suddenly all the pieces fall into place, that's typically the solution. I have at least two years before I would need something larger than the house I rent right now.

If you want to read more in-depth stories of my visits with the families, you can check out my blog: http://GringaOnTheGround.blogspot.com, if you have any questions, comments, life updates, or just want to get a hold of me, I can be reached at asimmer@gmail.com.

Language Learning
In November, we learned how to say “Good morning” in Kaqchikel. As most of my visits to families took place in the afternoon, I had to learn how to say “Good afternoon.” In Kaqchikel, this is spelled “Xqa q'ij.” The apostrophe in Kaqchikel is a glottal stop. I really wasn't sure what that was or how to do it until someone pointed out to me that Michiganders use it all the time in words such as “kitten” or “button;” it's that little stop that you do right about where that first t should be. If that doesn't do it for you, try “uh oh!” Try saying them out loud. Still not sure what I'm talking about? I'm betting you're probably not originally from Michigan or you've spent a considerable part of your life outside of Michigan. Anyway, back to Kaqchikel. My second struggle with this “word” was the space. It makes the glottal stop nearly impossible to hit; so forget the space is there. “Shcack-eeh” is about how it sounds, so incredibly different from the “buenas tardes” of Spanish or the “Good afternoon” of English.