Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just some reflections on being a missionary (Day 794)

When you're a missionary, you live this different life in (often) a different country with different people who speak (likely) a different language than you grew up with, have different customs than yourself, and live in a different way than you're used to.  The most difficult part of the job is deciding if you're okay with "different."

The greatest gift that God gave me when preparing me for mission work was not my compassion and heart to help people.  These are the greatest gifts a humanitarian could have.  (Admittedly, my work often has a humanitarian bend.)  The greatest gift that God gives missionaries is humility.  People come to us in need of help--usually material--and thank us for it; we have to remind them that the real help does not come from us but from God who, regardless of what we suffer in this world, has something even better waiting for us.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No news = good news? (Day 783)

Coming back was quite difficult for me.  I don't mean that from a cultural, logistical, or emotional least not in the actual arriving part.  I mean that when I got here, my animals had not been cared for for the 38 (or so?) days that I had been away by the person who I thought was going to care for them.  My house had rotting food and fleas all over it, and I still have not managed to clean up all the dog poop.  Nor do I have my full set of house keys yet (and I've been back about two weeks!) from the person who was supposed to care for my animals.  Then I find out that the school where I have been working hasn't issued paychecks for October or November.  I knew the situation was rough before I left, but I didn't think it was that bad; I brought back checks from the United States and turned them over to the proper person my first week back.  We have still not seen checks nor had a meeting to talk about whether or not there will be a school next year.  Long story short, I may be moving again.  

In my fantasy world, some large sum of money would be donated so that I could buy a house and do mission work full-time, that I could translate when it was asked of me and that I could teach classes to pass the time.  And, quite frankly, I wouldn't mind opening up a school to help children who can't afford school, but as I don't have much access to communities that rural, it's still just a dream.

However, don't think that only bad things have happened since my return.  I took a few things with me to the US which I managed to sell--and I'm working with some people there to try to sell more--for the people down here.  Two of the families were without food when they were handed their money.  Maybe it hits deeper because it's just before Christmas, but that has to be a rough situation when you have a responsibility as the provider of your family.  A third family had just started making their house a little bit safer when they found out that the girlfriend of their youngest son is pregnant.  There will be a shotgun wedding before the end of the year; the money will probably be used to help fund it so that construction doesn't have to be halted.

So, for those of you out there who are praying types (I know some of you are non-believers who just like keeping up with me), please keep my entire employment situation in your prayers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving, Going back, and the Future (Day 764)

Thanksgiving seems as good of a day to write as any.  I have survived almost all of my 38 day trip to the United States.  While it had been intended to be a working trip, I have spent a lot more times in my pajamas than I cared to, but perhaps that is what God wanted of me.  Perhaps He wanted me to just take it easy, recharge, and think about myself for a bit.  I know He will provide for my every need; so I don't typically think about me.  But I know that He provides for every single one of the people I serve as well.  Typically, He provides me, but in my absence, I know He has provided someone or something else.

I will not say that this trip has been without its work successes, mostly for the girls' home in San Lucas which I visited just days before leaving and didn't even tell you all about!  It is a home for girls (and some of their brothers) who have been sexually abused.  It's actually connected to the school that I worked at for a week my very first trip to Guatemala in 2007.  They are seeking funds and long-term volunteers. I think I may have found them both which is a very good thing, but we'll save the celebrating until these things are fixed in place. In the meantime, just keep them in your prayers.

This Thanksgiving, due to various health issues in my immediate and extended family, I will be spending the holiday with a friend of mine and her family.  They are, admittedly, a different kind of extended family as I have always called her mom "mom" as well and my friend's twins who were born in July are told "Look, Auntie Annalisa is here!"

I return to Guatemala on Monday.  Since we're on school vacation there, I will be taking advantage of the time to do some traveling and ministry work. Normally my time to expand ministry is limited to a couple days at the end of every week; so, school breaks are a blessing.  Ideally I'd like to be able to do ministry full time--admittedly teaching English in the school is its own form of ministry--but due to my typical feeling of unworthiness at asking for other people's hard earned money, I just don't have the support to be able to do that.  If I can get this teams thing off the ground, I would be able to earn a little more money off of translating, but at the current time, I am unable to get by without the tiny stipend from the school.

It really is a vicious cycle.  Due to the need for money to pay my rent and buy food, I am unable to leave my job at the school (besides the sense of needing to help the children).  However, because of my job at the school, I am unable to take translating jobs which would earn me enough to stop working there (because of the week-long nature of the work which doesn't cotton to taking days off to teach).  So, I'm very pleased to have the month of December to get out and work in the communities...and maybe take a translating job if one comes up.

In other financial news, I was able to work at Oakland Community College during my time here.  It was just a few hours per week tutoring Spanish, but it was better than nothing.  It will make my pockets a few pennies heavier, and, for the most part, my parents were willing to foot my gas expenses while I was here; so  I might actually come out ahead.  I also had someone approach me and tell me that her company would like to help support me on a regular basis which I felt quite honored about.  It will certainly make me feel a little less guilty about withdrawing money from my bank account but never putting anything in myself.  I am, however, incredibly humbled, honored, and thankful that someone would consider me when deciding where to use their money.

And the final part of this note: the future.  There have been a lot of things that have happened over the last week or two.  Someone suggested that they saw an opening for my ministry in California or Texas, that people will come from there to serve in Guatemala.  Then, a day or two ago, without even knowing about this other person, my mother mentioned that I wouldn't have to come back to Michigan every time I have to leave Guatemala, that I could go to other places such as California or places that I could get to without a layover (Houston TEXAS!, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale).  And, as I said in my last entry, I don't know who else is called or where they will come from.  So, when three people come up with the same thought at the same's usually a God thing.  (Admittedly, my mother reads this blog, but why she would come up with California or Texas--which are the same two the other person mentioned--I don't entirely know.)

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. :)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Visiting Stateside (Day 720)

Normally my visits to the US are a time to spend with family and friends, getting a little bit accomplished, but mostly just taking a break.  My upcoming visit--just a week away!--is something different.  Or, at least, that was the plan.

I had planned to visit the US and speak in a number of churches, schools, and groups about possibilities of mission work in Guatemala.  I e-mailed about 30 churches and have addressed 3 schools about the possibility of coming and speaking with them.  Of those churches, two have replied: one to tell me that they already work with an organization here in Guatemala and that, no, they do not want any information on short-term mission opportunities nor just Guatemala as a country.  The other replied to tell me that they'd pass on the information to their missions person whom I have not heard from.  Many churches hold their council meetings on the first Sunday of each month; this lack of response didn't bother me much until yesterday.  Of the schools, 2 have responded and both asked me to speak during some religious meeting that they hold.  I really am okay with that.  What I do is religious in nature; although some might just write me off as "a good person."

So, I'm throwing this out there: if you, your group, your school, or your church would like me to come speak to them about Guatemala and/or mission/volunteer opportunities in Guatemala, please, contact me.  You can leave a comment here; all comments are screened and private.  Only you and I can see them.  I only ask that if you, your church, your school, or your group is outside of SE Michigan that you do a bit of fundraising to help with my transportation costs...or we can do something via Skype.  Technology is a wonderful thing.

I only know that I was called.  I don't know who else is to be called and where they will come from.  Maybe I was just thinking too small.  Additionally, if you are from one of the 30 churches I wrote to and are reading this now, please get back to me.  Thanks!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Unexpected Gift (Day 699)

On Sunday, I was given a gift.  Its value was equal to a month of rent on the house where I now live.  It came with no directions as to how it should be used; just my name on the outside of the envelope.  To me, this is a large amount of money; it's nowhere near what we need to equip the health center in Los Encuentros nor enough to buy a 4x4 vehicle to transport injured people, but it was significant enough that I couldn't just think, "Wow!  Thanks! I think I'll go get an ice cream cone with this!"  So, I contacted the giver and asked what it was for.  This person told me, "It is a personal donation for whatever you need."  Wow.  I mean...what do I do with that?

With the way I was brought up, there are very few things that I need in life. Food on the table, yes, but it doesn't have to be meat (expensive), and it certainly isn't going to be McDonalds (expensive and bad for the health). Clothes, yes, but it doesn't have to be the newest or most stylish clothing; hand-me-downs and Salvation Army have always been good enough for me. Water, okay, but that's Q9 which will last me a whole month. I have most everything I need. Sure, there are things I'd like, but I don't need them.

So, I thought about it a good while, and for now I'm saving most of it.  However, each month I pay Q145 for internet access.  It lasts me about a week at good speed (tops 10 days), and then it reverts to a slower speed.  This slower speed does not allow me to upload pictures or videos; nor does it allow me to study Spanish at Duolingo.  Now, I haven't yet decided if I'm happy enough with Duolingo to give it an endorsement or not, but the fact of the matter is that although I've picked up a lot of my fluency in the street, there are a few finer points that because of my years of formal education I'm probably not going to pick up in the street.  That's why I've shifted to try a program.  So, yesterday I bought my new month of internet service, but instead of picking out the Q145 plan, I picked the Q199 plan.  It allows for 3 times the amount of upload/download and it's 4G instead of 3G.  It's not a need, but it's something that I can use for the ministry that actually affects me.  I spent the gift for me on me, but it will benefit them as well hopefully.

Thanks. :)  You know who you are.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

More needs (Day 689)

This actually happened about 2 weeks ago, but I've just been slow about posting it.  I was talking to Ismael the other day, and he had a few more things to add to his list.

1. It really isn't anything new, but he felt the need to reemphasize the importance.  The universities here will place medical students in their final year in rural clinics IF the rural clinics are properly stocked.  The community has a clinic, but as I believe I mentioned before, it is not stocked.  I do not have a list of what is needed to stock this clinic (beyond a scale), but I will get that list.  This seems like one of the best projects we can do for the community.  (More about their processes in a bit.)

2. He wants a playground for the children.  As you may have seen in my video, the children go to school, but then they come home and work.  Part of the reason is because the family needs the money.  The other part of the reason is because there really are no organized activities nor places for the children to play during the vacation months.  Ismael has already organized a hike for the children, but he'd like more.  For now, we're looking at a swing set and a slide; he also drew something that looked like a merry-go-round.

3. This sort of ties into #1, but it is a separate issue.  The community is looking to "pave" the road to the medical center.  It currently has a dirt path that leads to it.  It has been reinforced with a little bit of gravel, but if the medical center actually gets stocked and can be used, vehicles will be driving over this path.  Between the mud and just the spinning force of the tires, the fear is that the path will be destroyed quickly and it will be more difficult to get to the center.  What Ismael explained to me is that if they can get brick pavers, the road will last.  The community council has apparently already had an engineer in to give them a quote.  He named a price of Q600,000 (roughly $77k).  I looked at that price and said, "That can't be right;"  Ismael agrees with me but says it is what the engineer told him.  We would need to purchase the pavers and we would need to hire someone who knows how to do the job, but I think with a good team of volunteers we could do the job for much less.  We need to find out the base price of pavers and work from there.

4. The final thing on Ismael's additional list is an idea that I like, but I don't like his anxiousness with it.  Let me explain.  Ismael is concerned about the number of women in his community who don't own a güipiel.  This is the traditional top worn by the women.  He thinks they are losing their culture by dressing like Americans.  And, you know, I agree.  He wants to set up classes so that these women can learn how to weave and make their own clothes.  And, you know, I agree.  He wants to purchase the supplies for all of them at the same time (Q100,000), and I don't agree.  Okay, to be fair to him, after debating about this for a good half hour, he told me that the guy would give him a 10% discount on materials if he bought them all at once.  So that is really just Q90,000.  I think it's a good deal to get that discount.  However, I see it as the women learning in classes and then selling what they make to help buy the material for the next women to learn.  A "pay it forward" kind of thing.  The women sell all of their "learner" crafts to support the project, and then they keep their final project--the güipiel--for themselves, their own graduation present.  He still sees them as doing this in groups as I do and them giving back as I do; however he just wants to purchase the first set of materials all at the same time so that they can get the discount.  Maybe I'll acquiesce on this one.

One thing that groups often struggle with is whether or not the resources they bring to a community will actually be used for their intended purposes or if they'll get sold off for parts.  Ismael explained the method which his--and other--communities use.  For example, the medical center is for everyone.  Therefore, they wouldn't just want people to go into the center and take things to sell.  Also, the chicken coops from the other post, while they aren't for everyone, have an intended purpose.   Basically, a community meeting is called.  Everyone who wants to benefit or have a say is required to attended.  There is one person leading the meeting, but everyone has the option to speak and vote.  When they've reached an agreement, they write up the terms of the agreement and everyone in attendance signs the paper.  If anything goes missing or isn't where it should be, the paper is taken to the authorities.  "Here is this person's signature.  They are violating the agreement."  And the matter is dealt with either by repayment of materials or funds to the community.

Last note: Don't forget about the vehicle they hope to have for the medical center!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Paying less than you bargained for (Day 688)

I was corresponding the other day with my mother (via e-mail as almost always) when I said something that struck me a little funny. I had gotten the tires on my bike changed as well as a patch on one of the tubes. All of that had cost me Q80. To me, this sort of a small fortune. To you, it probably isn't. For two brand new tires and a patch on a bike tube, I paid $10. I quickly forgot mentioning this to my mother until I was cooking vegetable soup this morning. I recalled how much I had paid for my vegetables the day before and how stressed out I was over the price. I knew the guy was overcharging me, but I just didn't feel well enough to fight him about it. (I've been having some trouble with my digestive track and needed to purchase a whole new set of vegetables to deal with the issue.) So, when the guy totaled my celery, 3 bell peppers, bag of bean sprouts, 2 zucchini, 1 cucumber, 1 eggplant, and 5 avocados and came up with Q28...well, let's just say that in America you can't get all that for $3.50, but for me it was expensive.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Culture Clash (Day 661)

Some days I feel completely torn between cultures.  This is not an enjoyable sensation.

Here in Guatemala, you have the Catholics and the Evangelicals.  Beyond that, there isn't much of any note.  Some of the Evangelicals will say "Those Lutherans are just Catholics who don't want to be Catholics; they're just as bad."  Some of the Evangelicals will say, "At least those Lutherans aren't Catholic."  Because I'm a missionary who was sent by a Lutheran church and who works in a Lutheran school, I am typically considered Lutheran by anyone who doesn't bother to ask me.  If you do bother to ask me, I'll tell you that I'm a Christian, a disciple of Christ living each day trying to do as Christ would have me do (and some days failing COMPLETELY MISERABLY!).

I am officially Catholic by baptism and confirmation; however I have some issues with the Catholic church in America and therefore don't typically affiliate myself with them. (However, when in Rome, I can do as the Romans do.)  Here in Guatemala, the Catholic church--as a whole--is even less of something with which I would choose to affiliate myself with.  I don't dislike the Catholics, and I have no problem with them; I just have no desire to practice their Catholic beliefs personally.

Actually, I dislike organized religion in general.  The first believers met in the homes of people.  The Lord's Supper was literally a potluck dinner.  Due to the nature of the times and region, wine and bread were always a part of that.  There was no pastor which had attended years of seminary; there was simply a teacher.  The authority to speak came from God, not from some board or by some vote.  The purpose of these meetings was to gather together, to spend time with fellow believers.  For this reason, I have no problem associating with believers of any denomination, even including Jehovah's Witnesses which some will argue aren't Christians.  Personally, I'll leave "who's Christian" up to God to figure out.  I am not here to judge, just to spread the Good News of Jesus the Christ and to discuss that in detail with anyone who wants to hear about it.

My methods of creating personal bonds with these people are through English classes and massage therapy.  When a person knows another person well, they are more open to hearing what the other person has to say.  It's a matter of trust.  If I can trust you to teach me something or to help me heal, I am more likely to trust your teaching of the best healer in all of existence.

I was told last night by someone who is rather annoyed with me to define myself.  I told him that the Bible doesn't have Catholic and Evangelical.  He wasn't impressed.  I told him that I am a disciple of Christ, that there is no further definition needed.  My Bible is my handbook.  I refuse to be less, and I can be no more.

Another post coming within the next day or two.  Also, I'm going to start adding in my previous church newsletter articles; so you may need to read back some.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Exciting news! (Day 627)

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, this is the exciting news that I was talking about 3 weeks ago...and never got around to writing about.  Sorry, but here it is.  For those of you who get the church bulletin, you've already seen most of this; although the wording might vary a bit.

The opportunity has come up that I could start arranging mission groups to travel to Solola from the United States (or wherever) to work with the same area in which Camilo Tuy and his wife, Cristina, serve.  This seems to be a long awaited answer to prayer as they approached me on day 407, and, as you can see, we are now on day 627.  Admittedly, this has been in the working stages for about 25 days for sentimental reasons, we can say day 607.  For 200 days, help for this community has been in my prayers.  How and when were questions not yet answered.

The answer came to me one day as my mother was signing up for this year's Now is the Time mission.  When Shawn Smith originally started taking mission groups to Guatemala in 2007, they were smallish groups made up of people he had met on his travels.  He knew each of those people by name and asked them specifically to come and serve with him.  And sure, some word got out as people asked their best friend or relative to go with them, but there was always room for everyone.  Everyone had an even shot at going.

As the years have progressed, people who came once have gone back and gathered a group from their congregation, fundraising together.  Because of this, Shawn feels a certain necessity to allow these groups first dibs.  I could be wrong, but I see it like this: these are groups which want to come and make a difference but have no way of setting up lodging, transportation, and finding a place to work.  So, they take advantage of the fact that there is already something set up for this...but they also take spots away from people who want to go on a mission trip and have no one else to go with.  The idea is not to take away from what he does.  I know the groups which already go with him enjoy the places that they work, and Shawn knows the community leaders in these places.  So, in a way, I'm looking for completely new groups of people.  Anyway, I'm diverging from my original thoughts that I wrote down for the church bulletin (or perhaps elaborating on them as I only get one page there).

Camilo and Cristina have 5 sons: Ismael, Silvestre, Josue, Edgar, and Jhonotan.  Edgar is the one I have spoken about a lot in this journal as we have a lot in common (a love of travel, degrees in religion, passion for languages, and board games); however today I'm going to talk about the oldest brother, Ismael.  Ismael is part of the community council in Los Encuentros.  (Think "town council" in a place that is too spread out to be considered a town but too populatively significant to be ignored.  Yes, I made up the word "populatively" right now.)  His parents had asked for professionals to come and train their people, but that was a nearly impossible request.  I haven't rejected the possibility of it happening, but I wanted some way to help them now.  I asked Camilo about the possibility of groups coming to do projects in the community.  Unfortunately, he didn't understand me all that well; so he asked Ismael to speak with me.  Once Ismael understood what I was requesting, he got excited.  He started making out a list of projects which the council has asked the government to do something about (and to which the government has replied that they don't have the funds to invest in a place so irrelevant).  This list is not extremely pricey or complicated, but the main "problem" I see with it is that much of it will affect the lives of individual families for the better and it will respect and value the traditions of the indigenous people. (Edit: I should clarify that this is not a problem for me or the people.  I put it in quotation marks because there is still a very strong discrimination in Guatemala against the indigenous people.  The place isn't irrelevant; it's just indigenous. Remember that there are people in this area who don't speak Spanish.)

Here, I will present Ismael's list.
1) 250 pilas--This is a type of sink that I have raved about probably every 2 months or so (if not here, then on Facebook).  It is basically your utility sink which you might have shoved away in your laundry room, basement, or mud room.  Here, they are the center of the home where all clothes, food, and dishes washing is done.  In typical good homes, it is one of three places where there is running water, the other two being the toilet and the shower.  In the pila, there are three spaces.  Two shallow ones for washing clothes and dishes and one deep one which the family will typically fill every day and use as their supply of water for the day.  In the plan of the community council, the pilas will be built in the homes (instead of being pre-fab like many are). It would take a bit more work, but it would also ensure that the pilas are used for their intended purposes.
2) 250 letrines--Change that first e to an a and you'll understand what we're talking about here.  These people need some place to go to the bathroom.  The style of most homes in Guatemala is a big fence around the property and then various small buildings on the property, including an outhouse.  If you need more information about this, you can consult the video I did while visiting Caserio el Paraiso (one of the many communities affected by this community council); their bathroom is near the end of the video.
3) Reparacion del techo de una escuela o pintar de escuela--Agatha hit this area pretty hard.  The roof and paint on the school got pretty battered from the weather.  Paint isn't a BIG deal, although it does add one extra layer of insulation and protection; however a roof full of holes isn't conducive to having class and keeping students and materials safe and dry.  (And a nice paint job cheers up the school's appearance too.)
4) Donation of school computers--There is actually a non-profit here in Guatemala which does this sort of work.  I'm going to see if I can get them connected.  But if the roof leaks...
5) Centro de Convergencia--This is basically a medical center.  It has the same paint and roof problems as the school.  It's also missing basic supplies such as a scale.  Ismael told me about how the last time they wanted to check the children for health, they used a butchers hook with a meat scale and a sling for the children to sit in.  It works.  It's not highly accurate.  And, well, it's a child hanging from a meat hook...
6) Construccion de gallinero--chicken coops.  Who wouldn't want to ensure that a child has a meal of eggs every morning before leaving for school?  Instead, these children often go to school hungry or perhaps with a few pieces of bread.  (Note: Protein is better for learning and retaining information than carbs are...especially when it's white bread with nearly no nutritional content.)
7) Toldos--These are essentially tents, the type you might use for an outdoor party/reception with the fold down sides.  They can use these as emergency housing.  Unfortunately, I spent most of Ismael's explanation trying to figure out what a toldo was (and didn't really get it until I came home and googled a picture on the internet).
In addition to the written list, there was also a drawn list and one other item which sort of goes under "basic supplies" for the health center but not entirely.
8) Stone pavers--the roads are really bad where they are at and it is difficult on vehicles and people.  Some stone pavers would help both...including the people who don't have shoes and must walk barefoot.
9) Moving a well--also something I'm going to talk to a group here in Guatemala about.  The well they have now is currently infected.  Clean drinking water is hard to come by in Guatemala.  The well is too close to a polluted river.  They hope by moving the well 400 meters (yards, roughly...or 1200-ish feet) further from the river that the water will be cleaner.
10) A vehicle for the medical center--Sometimes someone comes to the health center with a problem bigger than the, uh, person there can handle.  Sometimes a hospital is necessary.  The nearest hospital is an hour away.  The nearest ambulance is about 45 minutes away.  If the health center had its own vehicle, anyone who was gravely ill could be more rapidly transported to the hospital.

Anyway, while it is big news it is also very exciting news.  I know I have a lot to learn, and I would continue to teach English for as long as it is required of me, but I am VERY excited to be helping out a community which has been planted so firmly in my path.  What I need help with is finding groups of people--churches, schools, other groups, families(?)--which would be interested in doing something like this.  I'm not really sure where to find them, but I believe they will come.  I also have some more planning to do on my own end, but the plan is really just to facilitate in finding acceptable communities: communities with a genuine need for help, with a council (elected by general vote, popular vote, or open to anyone), with tangible projects to better the lives of the people.

If you know of or are a group of people who may be interested in coming to Guatemala to do mission/service work, please get in contact with me.  All comments on this journal are screened and not automatically visible.  If you're a prayerful person, please keep all this in your prayers.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cultivating a Christian Attitude (Day 558)

Here in Guatemala it is quite common for a couple to have a baby, live together, and get that order.  (Although, sometimes they live together before having the baby.)  I have one co-worker in such a position.  She and her partner have a son who is a little over a year old.  Because I don't have all the details, this won't be a very long story.  Basically, his parents don't like her, and her parents don't like him.  And if this were a simple question of boyfriend/girlfriend, this culture would tell them to leave it alone; however, there is the baby involved, and because of that, my friend and her partner seem determined to make it work.

My friend told me the other day that her parent was upset because he hasn't had time with the baby in a long time; so she (we?) concocted a scheme to let daddy see and spend time with his son.  It was apparently not as well-concocted as my friend would have liked, and we returned home to a very upset mother.  (Although, based on the circumstantial evidence the mother used against my friend, it would not have held up in the court of law.)  What bothered me was not so much that my friend got "caught," but how her mother talked about my friend's partner.

The family is supposedly Christian (Evangelical Lutheran).  I sat with them in church yesterday morning.  And I realize that Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven.  I have my own sins which I struggle with too.  However, what I witnessed last night coming out of my friend's mother's mouth is part of an attitude which I think would not be difficult to change.

I think all parents want their children to grow up and marry good people and live happy lives.  Since there's already a baby involved, I think my friend's mother would be much better off praying that this young man will change AND acting as though he has already changed.  I think she would find much better results.  But my friend has just shown up for work; so I think I'll go say "hi!" :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Blessed (Day 548)

I had someone call me on the phone yesterday and ask me if I was supposed to be here, maybe I was supposed to go back, etc.  This was a very difficult conversation for me to have because there are very few things which I am sure about in this world, but to where I have been called is one of them.  So, for this person to insinuate that I shouldn't be here--or to even question MY calling--was pretty offensive to me.  God made my calling to Guatemala very clear to me, and every step of the way, He has led me very clearly and very surely.  He knows my tendency to get side-tracked and stray from the goal and has therefore made things very, very clear to me.  He has put things in my heart and taken things out.  He has put people in my life and taken people out.  It has come to the point where I wonder if I have free will or not, but then I realize that I don't mind.

I have been blessed by so many people in my life.  On Facebook, I tend to list the people who I am thankful for on a semi-random basis; however, I am so overwhelmed by how blessed I have been that I felt the need to share about some of these people in a more public place: here.

First, I am thankful to Heidi A. It is because of her (with God's divine direction) that I moved from the Hogar in Mixco to Antigua.  It is because of her that I no longer live alone and therefore have a safer environment.

Second, I am thankful to Carmen and Daryl.  They are the owners of Hotel Casa Rustica where I lived for 3 weeks.  They not only helped me in those early days when I didn't have 2 pennies to rub together, but have continued to help me through hiring me to teach English, gifting me a guard dog, and many other reasons which I won't all list here.  They know what they've done for me, and I just wanted to say "Thanks."

Third, I am thankful to Shawn Smith.  Through his work in Guatemala, he helped me obtain a job in the school where I still work to this day.

Fourth, I am thankful to Nury who has helped me from time to time to make a little extra money through massage or translation.

Fifth, I am thankful to Annette who, although I've never taken her up on the offer, has said that I'm always welcome at her table should I find myself in need.

Sixth, I am thankful for Juana who was my next-door neighbor in my first few months of living in San Antonio.  She made sure I never went hungry...or at least not any hungrier than herself.  She, her daughter, and her daughter's four children have brightened my life immeasurably.

Seventh, I am thankful for Saul, another one of my neighbors and really the first person I knew in San Antonio.  After Juana moved out, he made sure that I still didn't go hungry and had something besides bread to eat every day.

Eighth, I am thankful for Saul's sisters: Livny and Merly.  Livny entrusted me with teaching her daughter English who, we found out, does not like to learn alone.  Oops?  Livny and Merly have walked the streets with me and racked their brains helping me find a new place to live.  They are also available just for chatting from time to time.

Ninth, I am thankful for Klemente whose friendship has been invaluable.  We have shared everything from Bible study to revival concerts to money.  When in need, ask a friend.

Tenth, I am thankful to Antonio and Sonja S.  They are my spiritual and moral support around here.  If there's anything going on, I can call them.

Eleventh, I am thankful for all my co-workers at the school, especially Conny.  They've always been there for me whether it was sitting and talking with me on the bus so that I didn't look like the crazy gringa who no one wants to be around or looking for houses for me, sharing food with me, inviting me to festivals, or paying my bus fare.

Twelfth, I am thankful for my Guatemalan "brother of the heart" Jorge and his family.  They have invited me on family vacations, taught me how to drive a motorcycle, been there when I needed someone, invited me to family parties, and scared off more than one Guatemalan suitor for me.

Thirteenth, I am thankful for the Tuy-Bixcul family (and Carlitos who, for all practical purposes, I lump with them even though he is not related).  They "don't see" skin color.  When I first met them, I paid the same price as any Guatemalan.  Now that I know them, I typically pay less (the family price).  I've helped name one of their family members.  I help in their stores, often working the cash box by myself.  It's a confidence that I have no desire to break ever.  And while, at times, I fight a bit with one of their members, as a family, I feel very much a part.

Fourteenth, I am thankful for my vet.  So are my animals...I think.

Fifteenth, I am thankful for the couple from whom I buy my bread.  They are amazing and sometimes give me a little extra when money is tight for me.  They also helped me find the house that I'll likely be moving into in a week and a half.

I'm sure there are more here in Guatemala, and I haven't even touched on those of you in the United States for whom I am thankful.  Maybe in my next post.  This post took a lot longer to write than I had planned (because of unplanned interruptions), and I am tired...with so much still to do before tomorrow.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Is it difficult to trust God? (Day 537)

Daniel asked me tonight if it is difficult to trust God.
"Many people have trouble with it," I replied.
"Why?" he asked.
"Well..." I hesitated, trying to figure out how to explain it, "in life, many of the people we know, that we trust, let us down.  You spend so much time with a person.  You think you really know them.  You say that you'd have their back if they ever needed anything, but then times get rough, and that person vanishes or doesn't want to help or something.  So, when someone who you can actually see and visit and talk to lets you down, well, many people find it so much harder to trust and invisible being that they can't exactly meet."
"And what about you?" he asked.
"For me it's not too hard," I responded.
"Why not?" he inquired.
"Well," I began as I sat down, "He has been there for me every step of the way.  Yes, things have gotten tough for me from time to time, but God has always been there for me and I've never had too little.  Been close, though...."

At the end of 2007, God taught me what love really is.  Throughout 2011, God taught me to trust in Him.  One really amazing lesson every 4 years?  Can't wait to find out what the topic will be be for 2015!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Visa War: Part 2 (Day 533)

(A friend of mine decided that I should call my struggle with this display of American superiority "The Visa War;" so, there it is.)

Dear U.S. Government,
You make my job as a missionary quite difficult.  I try to teach the people to "respect the rulers of this world," but they reply "The rulers [especially the American government] don't respect us."  Admittedly, I didn't sign on for an easy job, but if your goal is to keep people from illegally entering and working in the United States, do us both a favor and don't keep out the ones who just want to legally visit.
The Gringa on the Ground

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

With Liberty and Justice for...well, not you. (Day 532)

(Para leer en español, siga hasta la mitad.)

The United States of America means something different to every person.  To many children growing up in Guatemala, it is this country of opportunity--opportunity to get the best education, opportunity to buy the latest technology at the lowest prices, opportunity to experience snow--which they will never be able to legally visit.  In fact, this idea that the United States is unreachable legally is the reason that many don't bother trying to go legally.

To me, growing up in the United States, it obviously meant something quite different.  It was a country of freedom and equality, innocent until proven guilty, everyone has an opportunity to succeed, and--maybe more than anything else--a melting pot of cultures.  Through my life, I have heard of injustices done by the United States (some which have struck Guatemala quite hard), but I had never actually experienced an injustice by the United States until today.

Today, Edgar--the young man whom I have written about--was denied a visa to visit the United States.

If I may borrow a few lines from some well-written writers: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Wait, what?  All men are created equal.  The "Americans" were saying "We're equal to the British."  So, if you don't mind, please tell me why a Guatemalan should be treated differently?  As an American, I can travel to almost ANY country I want without having to apply for anything in advance.  I simply have to buy a plane ticket and go.  And the majority of countries that I actually do need to apply for something, it's a simple matter of informing the government of that country that I wish to go, and I'm granted the right to go there.

Now, forgive me because I've always done poorly with history, but I'm pretty sure there was some Monroe Doctrine written in the 1820s that basically told the rest of Europe to stay out of the Western Hemisphere, that their oppression wasn't wanted here.  Does that give the United States the freedom to oppress these people?  Oh, in case you're wondering what definition I'm using of "oppression," I'm pretty much pulling those "inalienable rights" from the paragraph above.  Anyone (or any government) which does not allow people the rights "endowed by their Creator" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is oppressive.  What is happiness?  To my friend Edgar, it was (is) to visit the United States, to see where I grew up, to meet my friends, and to attend the wedding of our friend Christina.  That was (is) what he wanted (wants).

I would now like to present two conflicting legal ideas in the United States (again, forgive me as I didn't study law either): Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat and Immigration and Nationality Act section 214(b).  Now, seeing as I doubt many of you have studied Latin or are familiar with INA 214(b), I'll give you a brief overview of each.  You are all familiar with "Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat" as "Innocent until proven guilty."  INA 214(b) is as follows:  "Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa, and the immigration officers, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status under section 101(a)(15)."  Or, as I read it, "Guilty of illegal immigration without any proof or fair trial."  If you asked a jury--considering all "evidence" that was presented--Edgar could not be found guilty of this non-crime which he didn't and wouldn't commit.

In conjunction with this, I would like to address the $140 non-refundable application fee.  That's completely ridiculous considering the US's completely discriminatory policy on giving visas.

So, to the United States of America, I only have this to say:  Any faith I had left in you or your legal system has just failed.  Any confidence I had in you has just been lost.  What some immigration officer in the US Embassy in Guatemala did today has confirmed that the United States of America is an egotistical and racist country who one day is going to run into a lot of problems and not have anyone to turn to for help.  Don't you get it?  You "help" (interfere) with other countries and ignore your own people.  And then when you do bother to pay attention to their needs, you have no clue what they want because the "ruling elite" of the United States is so out of touch with the common man.  Fix yourself...please...for the good of everyone.

And, as a final note, I am proud to be an American, to be a member of a country where I am allowed to tell the government that it has serious problems with its policies at home and abroad, to be a member of a country which allows me to travel quite freely to countries where there are people much better than ourselves (as a country).


Los EE.UU. significa algo diferente para cada persona.  Para muchos niños, creciendo en Guatemala, es un pais de oportunidades--oportunidades para recibir la mejor de educacion, oportunidades para comprar la tecnologia de moda con los precios mas baratos, oportunidades para tocar la nieve--que nunca podran a visitar legalmente.  En verdad, esta idea que ir a los EE.UU. legalmente no sera posible es la razon que muchos no intentan irse legal.

Para mi, creciendo en los EE.UU., es obviamente algo muy diferente.  Era un pais de liberted y igualdad, innocente hasta demostrado culpable, todos tienen la oportunidad para triunfar, y--talvez mas que todo--una gran mezcla de culturas.  Durante mi vida, he escuchado de injusticias hecho por los Estados Unidos (unas que han afectado a Guatemala mucho), pero nunca habia estado afectado personalmente por las injusticias de los Estados Unidos hasta el dia de hoy.

Hoy, los EE. UU. denego una visa visitante a Edgar, el joven de quien he escrito.

Si puedo prestar unas palabras de autores buenos: Sostenemos como evidentes por sí mismas dichas verdades: que todos los hombres son creados iguales; que son dotados por su creador de ciertos derechos inalienables; que entre estos están la vida, la libertad y la búsqueda de la felicidad. Espere, que? Todos los hombres son creados iguales.  Los "estadounidenses" estaban diciendo "Somos iguales con los ingleses."  Pues, si no le molesta, por favor explica a mi porque un guatemalteco debe estar tratado diferente?  Como una estadounidensa, puedo viajar a casi qualquier pais que quiero sin solicitacion.  Unicamente tengo que comprar un boleto de avion y ir.  Y para la mayoria de los paises con quien necesito una solicitud, es solamente un aviso al gobierno de este pais que quiero visitarle, y me dan permiso.

Ahora tengo que pedir perdon porque la historia me costo, pero creo que habia algun "Monroe Doctrine" escrito en los 1820s que mas o menos dijo a todo europa que "alejense de el hemisfero oeste," que su opresión no era bienvenida aca.  Eso dio la derecha a los Estados Unidos que pueden oprimir estas personas?  Si quieren saber cual definicion de "opresión" que estoy usando, estoy halando los "derechos inalienables" del parafo anterior.  Alguien (o cualquier gobierno) que no permite gente los derechos "dotados por su creador" que son "la vida, la libertad, y la búsqueda de la felicidad" es opresivo.   Que es la felicidad?  Para mi amigo Edgar, era (es) visitar a los Estados Unidos, ver donde yo creci, conocer a mis amigos, y asistir a la boda de nuestra amiga Christina.  Eso era (es) lo que el queria (quiere).

Ahora quiero presentar dos ideas legales contrapuestos en los EE.UU. (otra vez, pido perdon porque no estudie derechos tampoco): Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat y Ley de Inmigración y Nacionalidad ("INA," en ingles) seccion 214(b).  No creo que muchos de ustedes han estudiado latin ni conocen INA 214(b), entonces, les doy un resumen de cada uno.  Creo que todo conocen a "Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat" como "presunción de inocencia," un principio jurídico penal que establece la inocencia de la persona como regla. INA 214(b) es como asi: "Cada extranjero estara presumido ser inmigrante hasta establezca a la satisfecha del agente consular, en el momento de aplicacion de la visa, y los agentes inmigraciones, en el momento de admision, que tiene derecho para una visa no-inmigrante por seccion 101(a)(15)."  O como yo lo leo, "culpable de inmigracion ilegal sin prueba o proceso justo."  Si preguntaria un jurado--con toda la evidencia que era presentado--no puede establecer la culpa de Edgar para este no-delito que no ha cometido y no cometeria.

Juntamente con esto, quiero mencionar el $140 tasa de solicitud no-reembolosa.  Eso es completamente ridiculo con la politica descriminatoria de los EE.UU. sobre la entrega de visas visitantes.

En conclusion, a los EE.UU., tengo solo esto que decir: El poco fe que todavia tenia en ti o tu sistema legal ahora ha fallado.  La poca confianza que tenia en ti ahora has perdido.  Lo que algun agente consular en la embajada de los EE.UU. en Guatemala hecho hoy ha confirmado que los Estados Unidos de America es un pais egoisto y racisto quien un dia va a encontrar muchos problemas y no tener nadie para ayudarles.  No entiendes?  Tu "ayudas" (interferes) a otros paises y no pones atencion a tu propia gente.  Y cuando, por fin, pones atencion a sus necesidades, no tienes una idea que quieren porque el "elite en el poder" de los EE.UU. no conoce el hombre comun.  Arreglarte...por favor...por lo bien de todos.

Y, como un punto final, estoy orgullosa para ser una estadounidensa, para ser una miembra de un pais donde tengo permiso a decir el gobierno que tiene problemas muy graves con sus politicos alla y aca, para ser miembra de un pais que me permita viajar con libertad a otros paises donde hay gente mucho mejor que nosotros (como un pais).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Common, minor setbacks (Day 525)

Don't worry.  I haven't forgotten about you.  I just haven't had much time to write recently.  There have been a couple small changes in my life and a couple big changes in my life.

First of all, before I confuse anyone, I need to note that I did stop the fast.  Why?  Well, because in order to keep the fast, I was drinking a lot of liquids, and the liquids I was choosing to drink were not always the healthiest choice: soda pop.  (I can tell you that I like Fanta Strawberry better than Fanta Grape now...)  Anyway, the Bible says that our bodies are the temple of the Lord, and I said to myself: "Self, why would you put junk in the temple?"  So, about two weeks ago, I stopped the fast and decided to eat healthily instead.  What I am about to say next won't confuse you now.

So, a small change in my life is that I think I have parasites again.  I first had parasites in January.  (Admittedly, I must have had them since before then, but they were discovered in January.)  Anyway, the effects that parasites have on the body makes sitting down and writing a blog entry about the last thing a person wants to do.

We're also in exams right now at the school in the village.  I've never really written exams before; so this was a first.  I'm constantly learning as a missionary.

I also have a new housemate, but more on that later.

Also, the young man I have mentioned at least once--Edgar--is looking to get a visa to travel to the United States in June.  I have helped him fill out his application and written a letter of recommendation.  Christina, the young woman who stayed with me in December, has sent a letter of invitation to her wedding.  So, now all that is left is his interview at the American embassy at 8:30 am on April 4th.  (This is 10:30 am for those of you in the Eastern Time Zone; 9:30 am for those of you in the Central Time Zone.)  Please, please, PLEASE keep him in your prayers.  He is an exemplary young man who will not violate the boundaries of his visa should it be granted to him.  Many Guatemalans never try to get a US visa because of the natural assumption that they will violate it and work illegally in the United States.  Edgar--a 21-year old male Guatemalan--is exactly the profile that the USA doesn't want to give a visa to.  However, with his educational history and his current income (equivalent to what the Guatemalan government requires that anyone who wants residency earns in US currency), I feel like he has a chance.  So, we'll see.  Just please keep him in your prayers through the next week.

And as a final quick note (the intestines are burbling), this is an interesting article that a friend posted on Facebook and I thought I'd share with you all:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Help where I probably won't (Day 505)

In the past, I have introduced you to groups like Children of the Americas, Hogar de Esperanza/Hope for Home, and even Iglesia del Camino.  I've introduced to you places such as Caserio el Paraiso, Antigua, San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Aldea Aguacate, and Santiago Zamora.  But in this post, I want to introduce you to someplace I haven't been and a group I haven't worked with for one very simple reason: they need help too.

There are places in Guatemala where it is unsafe for a single woman to go.  Admittedly, as a semi-known translator around here, I sometimes get invited to go places that I otherwise wouldn't go with groups I don't really know.  However, there are other organizations that have just never crossed my mind to assist; one such organization is Forever Changed International.  Besides being an established organization with a permanent location in Guatemala City, they also serve in places such as ghettos and the garbage dump.  For a single woman in Sacatepequez, that's just not on the line-up for me.

However, it is on the line-up for others.  From July 21-28, a group of 14 people from Believer's Fellowship Family Church will be serving with Forever Changed International.  How do I know this?  Well, I have a friend who is going to be a part of this group.  I met Bill on-line many years ago--I'm no longer sure quite how many--and we've been e-friends ever since.  He told me a month or so ago that his church would be coming down to work with Dorie's Promise (a branch of Forever Changed International), but this was so early in the planning process that their trip was not even on the FCI website!

Now, however, it is.  If you, either from your own experiences or from viewing Guatemala through my eyes, have developed a heart for Guatemala and would like to help in a part of Guatemala that I will likely not reach physically, please feel free to help support the hands and hearts of my friend Bill and those from his church who will be serving in Guatemala this summer.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fasting and More Fasting (Day 501)

First, a few more notes on my fast.

1) It came to my attention that if I eat absolutely nothing for 40+ days that I could actually screw up my, um, eliminatory system.  Now, I believe that God protects those who do things to walk more closely with Him, and that I wouldn't have any problem; however, so as to not stress out other people, I've decided to eat a little one day every week.  The Sundays during Lent are actually excluded from the 40 days of Lent (because they are supposed to belong to the Lord anyway).  As the goal of my fast is to spend more time in the Word and focused on God, I've decided to exclude Sunday from my fast as on Sundays I go to church, listen to a sermon, and spend time fellowshipping with other believers (both in and out of the church)...and maybe share a meal with other believers as well.

2) Some people do fasting the "easy way."  They completely eliminate the distraction from their life: clean the food/meat/CocaCola/computer out of the house.  Instead, I've decided to step it up a bit.  Every day, I cook.  Last week, I cooked for a neighbor of mine who often works a 12-hour day.  I got out of bed at 5 am every day so that the food would be cooked and packed (and I'd be dressed to take it to his house) by the time he left for work at 7:30 am.  This week, I might cook dinner every day for my former neighbor (Juana, whose grandson celebrated his 1st birthday in November) and her family.  I don't have a lot here in Guatemala, but what I do have, I try to share because that's what we're commanded to do.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fasting and the IdC (Day 498)

I grew up Catholic in a mixed denominational home. As a Catholic, I was supposed to (usually forgot outside of the house) give up meat on Fridays in Lent. It was also generally expected that I would give up something else for all of Lent. I also usually forgot this as well until a brilliant day sometime in my teen years when I decided I'd give up chocolate for Lent. (For those of you who don't know me or may have forgotten, I have a strong allergic reaction to caffeine. I can't eat chocolate.) And chocolate is what I have given up for Lent pretty much every year since.

I read an article within the past few years discussing the Islamic Ramadan. (Unfortunately, I do not have the link; so you'll just have to go look for your own article.) Fasting has never made much sense to me. I mean, your body needs energy to run. Why would you deprive it of necessary nutrients? Also, from the viewpoint of a Christian, there is nothing I can do to obtain salvation; so what does fasting really do for me anyway? But there were some points in the article and some experiences I've had within the last year that have helped me understand fasting a whole lot better...or at least find a purpose for it.

Fasting, in my opinion, is NOT about doing something for God or trying to get His attention. He's always watching you and caring about you; you don't need to get His attention. You've already got it! No, fasting is for the believer. Like God, hunger doesn't leave you. Normally, when one is hungry, they eat. But if you are fasting, hunger makes you think, "Why am I hungry? Oh, that's right. I'm fasting. And I'm fasting to remind myself to spend more time with God." Fasting brings believers closer to God, not because He sees us fasting and thinks we're wonderful to be around, but because we spend more time thinking about Him and reading His Word (the Bible). "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut 8:3 and Matt 4:4).

My Bible is my daily bread. This year for Lent, I've given up food. (Before you freak out, I have not given up juice, milk, atol, milkshakes, broth, tea, pop, or water. I'm already naturally dehydrated enough.)

My other thought is about the IdC or "Iglesia del Camino" (Church of the Path/Way) which is where I attend almost every Sunday while in Guatemala.  Back in the day when I was engaged to a man who had plans to become a pastor, I thought a lot about having children and that if we could have them while he was in seminary, that would be best.

A common view of pastors (and missionaries) is that they are perfect, the best Christians.  They will have perfect children who never get in trouble, and the parents themselves will never sin.  Guess what?  We're all sinners.  We should do the best we can every day, but we are all sinners.  We will never be free from sin, and our children will not be either.  Freedom will come with salvation which will come at the end of time.

I know that I'm a missionary and I feel that my sending church in the States expects great things from me.  Sometimes that puts a lot of pressure on me.  I feel afraid to show failure and struggle to them and to you, my readers/supporters.  However, the church I attend here is a bit different.  We're a church of missionaries, pastors, evangelists, and the occasional seasonal Spanish student.  We have a pastor who will admit almost weekly that he is not perfect.  The regular attending congregation (normal attendees minus short-term missionaries and Spanish students) also admits their faults to one another.  I mean, there are certain levels of confidence, but I have a couple with whom I can really be open.  I talk to them about everything, and they talk to me about their lives too.  We share our burdens, our joys, our sorrows, and sometimes a meal or two!

I'm a sinner.  I sin.  I bring those sins before my God with confidence that He will pardon them all.  It's this world that scares me.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Seeing my World with the Eyes of Others (Day 492)

Yesterday I had an opportunity which was not really unique for me.  I had the opportunity to meet a small group of short-term missionaries.
"Where are you from?"
"Oh, I live right around the corner, but I'm from Michigan."
This sort of conversation starter is not unusual for me, but it made me pause a moment and wonder why I never ask them where they are from.  Is it that I think I'm so much more interesting?  No, not really.  I mean, I got my start in short-term missions too.  The team gave me a ride to Antigua afterwards and I thought about it all the way back.  It's not because I don't care or am so egotistical; it's that I'll likely meet hundreds of thousands of them during my time here.  I won't remember all their names, all their stories.  And, to be completely blunt, most of their stories follow these lines: "My church was offering a mission trip, and I thought it would be interesting."  Good for you?  I mean, I am grateful for those who do come down on short-term mission trips.  Many of them can do things for the people that I just can't do.  I'm no doctor or surgeon.  I'm not a dentist.  I can use a hammer, but the idea of actually building a house is somewhat daunting.  I'm not a fire fighter, police officer, emergency medical personnel.  There is so much that I can not do for these people that I really do value short-term mission volunteers.  But there are so few whom I actually talk to, get to know.  The ones I do get to know tend to come back.  I think I get to know them because they do come back, not the other way around.

But what if it was the other way around?  What if they were coming back because they actually knew someone down here who knew them too?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Give us Today our Daily Bread (Day 489)

First thing I want to mention is that the kitten did die.  It managed a week with me.  We buried it at the school.

Second thing I want to mention is that per a suggestion by the headmistress of the school where my mother teaches, I have opened a YouTube account.  Via this link, you should be able to view videos of some of the work I do here.  However, due to the speed of my internet connection, you may wish to wait a couple days for the first video.  (It has been uploading since about 2 pm today.  5 and a half hours later, we're at 75% uploaded.)

Third thing is that I had an opportunity to talk to the woman from whom I buy bread nearly every day.  I had just left the pharmacy which is right next to her house/store after buying some "pomada."  (I was after some cortizone, but this was the best they could offer me.)  I showed her my hand and what I had bought, and she used the expression "primero Dios" which I would mostly call a "catch phrase" around here used by just about everyone.  For the English equivalent (not translation), it would be "God willing."  However, the woman said something that really struck a chord in me.  She said that even though this wasn't what I had been looking for, if I asked God to let this medicine work, He could use it to cure my problem.  (My problem is what we hope is an allergic reaction on my hands, primarily on my left hand but also affects my right hand.)  So, we got to talking about religion.
My bread lady is Catholic, and I identified myself as Christian.  Due to my mixed denominational background, "Christian" is about the only thing I'll call myself these days.  I even explained the mix to her, and she said that her family is the same way.  She wondered if she should be upset that her daughter-in-law goes to her Evangelical church while the bread lady goes to her Catholic Church.  I expressed my opinion that, in the end, it's all about the same, that the denominations are mostly a method of expressing one's faith.  And, for me, the only ones who might have a problem in the end are those who have been nominal Christians/Catholics/etc.  In both the United States and Guatemala, there are lots of people who claim to be Christian (for me, this title encompasses all denominations and will use only it for the rest of this entry), but there are many who don't know the least bit about the religion that they claim to be a part of.  What's the holy book? The Bible.  Who is in it?  Jesus, Mary, Adam, Eve, Peter...maybe some other people.  REALLY?  And I don't mean to rag on the Catholics here or in any country, but the woman who I talked to tonight knew so much more.  She actually READS her Bible, studies it.  Bravo.  And bravo for talking to someone about your faith too. :)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jesus loves the little ones (Day 479)

I have returned safe and sound to San Antonio and to my regularly scheduled activities.  I also returned to a killer cold.  (I've actually considered the possibility of having a cold and the flu at the same time.)  It put me out on Wednesday night and has pretty much kept me out for the last 3 days.  A few other things happened on Wednesday as well.  I'll start with the shorter story:

As I was waiting for the bus in Santiago Zamora, I saw someone washing their laundry in the public sink.  (Not unusual.)  The female was barefoot.  (Also not too unusual.)  The girl of about 3 years old managed to climb up on the edge of the sink and used a bucket to help her little arms reach down into the water.  She would then proceed to scrub her little clothes using a tiny chunk of soap (which was okay because her clothes were tiny).  I watched for long enough to know that she was not being assisted by any adult and, in fact, probably did not have an adult responsible for her within 75-100 feet (about as far away as I was seated).  Children like this are not the reason I decided to come to Guatemala, but they are the reason I came; I just didn't know it yet.

Another little thing which happened on Wednesday was the potential addition of another member of my family here in Guatemala.  Up until this week, we were a family of 6--myself, 3 cats, 1 dog, and a chicken--and if the newest member lives through the weekend, I might call it a family of 7.  Sometime this week, a litter of kittens was born at the school in Santiago Zamora where I work.  My co-workers and students tell me that there were 5 kittens.  Apparently, on Wednesday morning, there were only 3 kittens still there (in this space between the ceiling of a classroom and the roof).  By afternoon, two of those three kittens had died.  It was decided by my students and co-workers that the kittens had been abandoned and that the remaining one would likely die when the cool of night set in.  At 3:45 pm, my co-workers informed me of all of this.  "Annalisa," they said, "you like cats, right?  Wouldn't you like one more?"
Okay, for the record, I LIKE cats.  I think they're wonderful creatures.  I wanted ONE.  I have THREE.  So, when you already have two more than you wanted, what's one more?
I pulled out the screaming and hungry baby using two brooms strapped together, proceeded to teach an hour of 9th grade, and then headed home, stopping to pick up a small package of powdered baby formula on the way.  I didn't figure this kitten would last the night, let alone long enough to use up much formula.

Thursday, I was supposed to be translating for a mission group who came through the church I attend here, but I woke up feeling like a semi-truck had somehow managed to park completely inside my head. (Remember that cold I was telling you about?)  I was also running a fever, and my throat--while I had managed to squeak out a few words in English the day before during classes--was not going to allow talking.  That being said, I canceled my translating plans at 6 am.  Around 10, I started feeling okay.  I mean, I still wasn't sure about the talking thing, but I figured I was strong enough to take the kitten (and Mia, one of my older cats) to the vet in Antigua.  I got to Antigua on the bus, walked 8 blocks to the vet's office, and after about 5 minutes of being there, nearly blacked out.  Anyway, long story short, cats all taken care of for now.  It is Saturday morning.  The baby is still alive, and my mucus isn't such a disturbing color.

And...that's the update for now.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A worm, a cold shower, and dealing with drugs (Day 464)

I love having a USB modem.  It allows me to update from anywhere I can get signal.  I'm currently sitting on a bus waiting to head back to Antigua (and, ultimately, San Antonio Aguas Calientes).

I've spent the last week in Zacapa, Zacapa, Guatemala.  I've heard that this is a very dangerous area due to how many drug lords supposedly live here.  However, just as with most places in Guatemala, I have very little qualms about walking around familiar areas in the daylight.  I've been here with a group called Children of the Americas, translating for their medical clinic.  I start back at school on Monday.

The week has been fairly uneventful, but certainly not without things of note.  
First of all, Zacapa is one of the hottest places in Guatemala.  At first, the idea of a cold shower scared me.  However, I've been living in cold places where the water is typically colder and the mornings are typically colder.  A cold shower in Mixco is cold as you might recall from one of my journal entries about a year ago.  Cold showers in Antigua and San Antonio are about the same.  However, a cold shower in Zacapa--besides a tiny moment to acclimate the body to the water temperature such as wading into a swimming pool--is really nothing to fuss about.  In fact, it's quite welcome.

Faint of stomach will want to skip the next paragraph...

Second, I have worms...or had worms.  On the 25th, I woke up at 3:30 to go to the bathroom, and pooped out what looked like an 8-10" earthworm (along with my normal poo).  Needless to say, within 5 hours I was on anti-parasite medication.

Third, Klemente--one of my best friends who I met on my birthday last year--came to surprise me.  He is from La Union, Zacapa, but he works in Sacatepequez (currently in Sumpango).  He took some time off of work special to come up and spend some time with me and help with the clinic.  He isn't bilingual, but in the pharmacy, we mostly just need to read the Spanish labels to the people.  After about 4 or 10 medications, it becomes easy; you start recognizing the medications and what they're good for.  We found that I was best in the pharmacy because of my lack of patience.  Here is something that actually happened with me in the clinic (translated):
Doctor: Let's talk about her bloody nose.
Me: We are going to talk about the bleeding from your nose.
Patient: Yes, my nose.
Doctor: What other symptoms do you have with your bloody nose?
Me: What other symptoms do you have when your nose bleeds.
Patient: Yes, I have a bloody nose.  And my back hurts right [grimacing, as she moves to point to a spot at her back] here.
Me: No, we're talking about your nose, and your nose is not bleeding right now.  So, the back pain is not another symptom of the nose.  We want to know what you have at the same time as when your nose bleeds.  Do you have a headache?  Do you have a sore throat?  We are ONLY talking about the nose bleed.
Let's just say I was relieved when I was able to go back to the pharmacy.  It seems that my patience begins and ends with my English students.  Besides, where else can I use a toucan ring to explain medications to a 4-year old?

Klemente treated me to dinner, and then we took a walk to a school here in Zacapa where he attended middle school and high school.  I got to meet the headmaster of the school and his wife.  The interesting thing about this school is that it is, in a way, attached to the school where I work in Santiago Zamora.  Both schools are assisted by Children's Christian Concern Society, and since learning about this school, I've felt a special attachment to it.  Anyway, the bus is about ready to roll; so I guess I'll get going for now.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I am not in Honduras. (Day 457)

Although I have not heard anything directly from any of you about the Peace Corp pulling out of Honduras, I do know that some of you also read the news, and since (according to the world wide web) this story was published in some form in 463 newspapers, I can't help but imagine that some of you have heard about this and are wondering about Guatemala.  For those of you who haven't heard the news about Honduras and the Peace Corp, I offer you the following article:

For those of you looking for a response (especially you, mom), I offer the following reply written by a Peace Corp worker here in Guatemala and echo his sentiments:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Good golly! I'm a teacher! (Day 455)

We are in the early days of the new school year here in the village.  Students (and their parents) are still wandering in to register for school.  And me?  Well, I came back prepared to teach 1st-6th grades with some ideas about what I'd do with preschool and kindergarten.  However, I received quite a surprise.

Upon arriving for the teachers' meeting on Monday, I was informed that I would be teaching 7th to 9th grade as well...alone.  Last year, I helped another teacher from time to time as well as individually taught 3 periods.  However, the school decided to let her go for reasons which I won't go into in this journal.  Fortunately, I had offered a series of English learning books that I have to the other teacher as curriculum for this year.  So, implementing the curriculum myself won't be too hard.  Unfortunately, the problem I dealt with last year was teaching the students without knowing what they had and hadn't learned.  Therefore, I stuck to mostly simple topics with a heavy focus on pronunciation.  Now that I will have the students 100% of the time, I need to evaluate where they are at in their English studies, at least on a written basis.  And while I have classes planned out for the 7th graders (assuming no or very little previous education of the language), I need to pre-test the 8th and 9th graders before I can make plans for them which means that I will have about 1 day to review their pre-exams, find some sort of happy medium between the top students and the bottom students in each grade, and plan an entire year's worth of lessons.  I know that to some teachers that might sound a little unnecessary, but for me, if I don't plan the whole year (or at least three of our four terms) now, I'll allow the students to drag in their lessons telling myself, "Well, I didn't have anything planned for next week yet; so they can just continue this then."  This would become a vicious cycle for me, and when I have to write exams, I would have very little to test them on which would result in a lot of points based on very little information.

Elementary school started this week, but as I'll be spending the next week in Zacapa translating for Children of the Americas, I'm not starting English classes officially until January 30th.  I'll have 3 morning periods (40 minutes each) with the elementary students in 3/4th and 5/6th grades on each of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  The 1/2nd graders will receive English on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the Preschoolers/Kindergarteners will receive English on Tuesdays.  Monday afternoon, I'll have 1 period (30 minutes each) with each of the basico (middle school) grades.  Tuesday afternoons, I will have 1 period with the 8th graders, and 2 periods with each of the 7th and 9th grades.  And then on Wednesday afternoons, I will have 2 periods with each of the 7th and 9th graders and 3 periods with the 8th graders.  (I could have had 2 each Tuesday and Wednesday, but the social studies teacher didn't want to leave a half hour later on Tuesday or come in a half an hour earlier on Wednesday. Yes, that was a co-worker grumble. Making a schedule isn't very easy, and to be completely fair, my class would still be interrupted by recess even if he would switch; so the 2 periods together wouldn't be a reality anyway.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Fond Farewell (Day 447)

Today the world says goodbye to a great man.  He is a man who fought against poverty in the Great Depression, against Axis powers in World War II, to win the hand and heart of the woman he loved, to build a business from the ground up, to raise five children, for the American economy, to achieve all that he ever dreamed, and to live (and die) how he wanted.  This man is my grandfather.

I remember my grandfather differently than most people, probably than anyone.  Grandpa and I had different experiences together than he had with the rest of his family members.  I lived in his apartment for 5 months (back in 2008 and 2009); he was, at the time, "dying."  You have to realize that I believed that to be complete poppycock, and that he just died this morning is proof that I was right. I also attended church with him for the greater part of the last 4 years, and I tend to think of his church as my church even though I'm not a member there.  (They are my sending church and through whom my fundraising is collected.)

I described my grandfather last night as a bouncy ball.  You are likely familiar with the idea that if you drop, not throw, a bouncy ball, it will fall to hit the floor and come back, but not quite as high.  My grandfather's health has been that ball over the past who knows how many years.  My very first memory of my grandfather is from when I was about six years old.  He, my brother, and I were going on an outing.  I'm not sure if we were going to the circus, the fair, or maybe just out to eat.  We had a vehicle with a bench seat (perhaps his old pickup truck which he eventually gave to our cousin Sarah), and Justin and I were seated next to my grandfather.  I remember my grandfather explaining a little bit about the car to my brother.  He said something about how if anything should happen to him (Grandpa) while driving that all my brother had to do--and do quickly!--was to get our grandfather's foot off the accelerator, that the vehicle would slow before too long.  Perhaps my grandfather has been bouncing for the greater part of my lifetime, but it didn't become obvious until the last few years how low that ball was bouncing.  He has always said to "Spend each day as though you'll live forever, but keep your bags packed."  Basically, live as sin-free as humanly possible, ready to meet your Savior, but don't dwell on death.

I wrote a poem in March.  I wrote it about my grandfather and the wife (who died a few years ago) of a friend.  I would like to share that with you here:
By Annalisa Simmer

Death is a funny thing.
All bodies die,
But not everybody dies.
Some people--
Many, in fact--
Are immortal.
We do not truly die...
At least not for a long time after we are dead.
Every photograph with a name scribbled on the back,
Every memory,
Every family story passed down from generation to generation,
Every life changed,
Every heart touched...
We do not die at our deaths;
We are only judged as to how we have influenced the world.

I don't cry today because my grandfather is not dead.  His soul is in Heaven with God, and who he was--his influence on the world--lives on.  I may no longer be able to give him hugs and introduce him to new people, but otherwise, nothing has changed.  I still hear his words of wisdom in my head.  I still hear the stories of his childhood as I read them written down.  I can still go visit him (or his earthly remains).  I can still see him in my photos.  And, most of all, I can continue to love him.

Anyway, this entry gets put in my blog because my grandfather has long been a supporter of my mission work.  He has taken every chance to tell me that he's proud of the work I'm doing in Guatemala.  From a man who I love and respect so very much, it was an honor to hear that.  I know he missed me.  I'm well aware that there are others among my family and friends who miss me as well.  It was my grandfather's support--letting me know how proud he was of what I'm doing--which has helped me along.  The man with the biggest pull in my life is the one who gave me his blessing and love to go do what I do.  For that, I--and those whose lives I have touched in Guatemala--are grateful.

Dear Grandpa,
Thanks for being who you've been.

Dear God,
Keep taking care of him as You have been.