Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Crimemas: Day 1,158

So, after 1,158 days (or 3 years, 2 months, and 2 days) of living in Guatemala, I finally had my bag slit in the Antigua market.  I was pretty much the only person I knew (Guatemalan or American who lives here) who hadn't had it happen; so I consider it to be a right of passage of sorts.  The would-be thief cut through three layers of my bag but didn't manage to find anything worth stealing.  Joke's on them, but I'm the one left with a bag to repair.  *sigh*

I guess the bright side is that I was carrying my recent purchases of flour and oatmeal in my hand.  If I had put them in my backpack as I typically do, I might have made a nice little white trail behind me through the market...and arrived home without any more flour than I woke up with.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

FINALLY! : Day 1,149

Today I took a semi-planned trip to Solola.  I call it "semi-planned" because I didn't really know what I was doing until yesterday and today.

First, I had to drop off all of the information about the doctors who will be there through COTA in January.  "Just drop it off at the mayor's office," they said yesterday; so that's what I did.

Then came the fun(ner) part for me.  We--Edgar went with me--had to locate and talk to Manuel who I apologize for not introducing you all to sooner.  As far as I can figure out, Manuel works with the mayor's office as some sort of liaison for the indigenous people.  He went with me as chauffeur, guide, and translator on my trip in June.  I had sent him a letter in September detailing some information which I needed him to find out for me, and somehow it only made its way to him a couple of weeks ago.  (*sigh*)

Anyway, Edgar had his phone number but was out of minutes.  I had a few; so we dialed in Manuel's number.  Edgar talked to him for a couple minutes, but my phone ran out of minutes.  So, we contemplated what to do.  Manuel called back, but after about two sentences ran out of minutes as well.  So, we headed back into the mayor's office to borrow their phone.  We met up in Los Encuentros where the three of us chatted in Manuel's pick-up until Edgar had to leave for a meeting (back down in Solola).  Manuel called his wife and asked her what she wanted us to do, and she said to bring me back to the house.  We could continue chatting there and she'd make sure I got a good lunch.

On the way, we stopped and visited David's family...or most of it.  This time we didn't run into David, but we saw his mother, two sisters, and his older brother (the latter of which I had not met on our first visit).  David was off helping his father apparently.  The older girl, Wendy, will be going back to school in January.  I consider this the first of many small victories; perhaps the only to be had today, but that's not important.  Today both Floricelda and her mother gave me gifts.  Floricelda gave me a little doll with a magnet on it to attach to my fridge. (I didn't mention that I don't have a fridge, and it is now stuck to my stove.)  Her mother gave me a nice bag that says "Guatemala" on it.  It's actually the perfect size for carrying stuff in; so I can stop feeling like a tourist with my backpack.  (Yes, the irony is that the Guatemalans use the "Guatemala" bags even though they sell them to tourists.)

Then we continued on to Manuel's house where I met his wife, father, four sons (ages 8 to 13), and one daughter (age 6)...oh, and their parrot.  We had a nice visit.  I got the kids to practice their English a little; the government now requires it in the school, but as in most places in the country, the education is particularly poor in that subject.  We had a nice lunch of what I think was pepian (probably my least favorite of Guatemalan dishes, but particularly yummy today).  I'm still trying to figure out what can only be a cultural thing: making the guest sit alone.  The three adults sat around the stove.  The five kids sat around one table.  And the white girl sat by herself at another table.  I showed them pictures of my family.  And, about an hour and a half after arriving, Manuel, his wife, and his daughter drove me back to Los Encuentros to catch the bus where, surprisingly, his daughter gave me her weaving.  (Yes, the 6-year old is learning to weave, and she had told me it wasn't her first piece either.)

So, what's next?
-Edgar is going to find out the cost of school supplies for next year.
-Manuel is going to talk to Ismael to figure out what day we'll get the families together.  Manuel will host one meeting in his town and translate for me in the morning, and hopefully we'll have the other meeting in the church of Edgar and Ismael's father in the afternoon and Ismael will translate for me.
-Annalisa (that's me!) will be counting up the number of students in each grade to figure out how many school supplies we need.  She will also be working on a surprise Christmas bag for each family with food to help them celebrate in style this year.  ('s a secret!)  I (yes, I got tired of third-person) will also be working on either forming my own non-profit or joining what I do with an existing one.
-Two of the girls are special needs, and one of the boys is missing a hand (since birth, never grew).  I'm working with another organization to help them, and Manuel said that early- to mid-January would be best; so that's on hold for the moment.

So, I'm off to compile data and make a shopping list.  Yay!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Issues: Day 1,131

I don't see myself as a highly vocal person.  I don't speak out on a lot of issues.  Sure, I have opinions, and sure, I'm pretty set on them.  However, I typically believe everyone is entitled to their opinions and don't try overly hard to convince them that I'm right.  I think to some extent this is more pronounced in Guatemala than it was before, but at the same time, I think that sometimes I do try to influence people more here.  (After all, I'm a missionary, right?)  However, in a matter of about 10 minutes, one person managed to hit two of my three big issues by doing something which I felt was not correct.  What are my three big issues, you may ask?  In no specific order they are racism (bad), littering (bad), and education (good).

As a white person in the States, you don't really know what racism is.  Sure, it's this thing that happened to black people a long, long time ago.  No, it really wasn', isn't.  Yes, in the US there is still lots of racism against black people and also hispanic people.  I actually find this theme of racism really interesting because in the US it is the upper classes (or at least the white upper classes) with their racism against the poor, blacks, and hispanics.  (Yeah, it's not just a color line being crossed there.)  Here in Guatemala, I can only speak as a white foreign person who has roughly assimilated into the culture.  There are people who charge me more money for products because of the color of my hair (or skin or eyes).  And when they tell me the price, I kind of just look at them and wonder how much they think I can sell each strand of hair for because I certainly don't have that kind of money to spend lavishly.  So, I typically do without or have one of my Guatemalan friends buy for me. (Yes, trusting someone else's judgement since I obviously can't window shop with them either...)  How do I know that this is happening?  Well, quite simply put, I speak Spanish and I understand Spanish.  So, when I've already asked you about the price on something and someone else comes along and asks for the price on the same thing and you give them a lower price (even though your body language and form of speech shows that you don't know them), well, I'm kind of guessing it's a white person thing there.  So, through the years, I've stopped shopping with those people.  I get the haggling thing, I really do; however, your starting price should be about the same if you're dealing fairly with people.

I'm not really an environmentalist.  I burn things; sometimes I accidentally burn plastic.  I've got about the blackest thumb I know.  (Admittedly, my cats do a great job of killing anything I don't manage to kill. I'm not taking all the blame on this one.)  I sometimes eat tuna which doesn't have "dolphin safe" on the can.  However, I cannot stand people littering.  Now, I get it, their parents and grandparents threw wrappers on the ground...but their parents' and grandparents' wrappers were leaves and paper, not aluminum and plastic.  So, when the times changed, they just kept throwing the wrappers on the ground without realizing this bit about biodegradable materials.  And I hate this.  When I was teaching at the school, I'd be very frank with my students.  "Your country is not a trashcan.  If you throw trash on the ground, you are making it a trashcan.  You are giving permission to every other country to throw trash in Guatemala. [translated, of course]" I don't know if you've ever seen pictures of dumps, but that's what I imagine the entire country of Guatemala turning into if someone doesn't stop these people from littering.  I hope in some small way I'm making a difference by helping every kid I deal with on a personal level with their littering habit.

Finally, I believe that education is the best way to escape poverty.  I don't believe it's so much knowing things as it is knowing how to think.  With logic and reasoning, I can learn a whole lot of things on my own without anyone actually teaching them to me.  If I know how to read, my knowledge base is pretty much limitless.  Uneducated people are taken advantage of every day.  Perhaps in some way it's related to the racism: "If we can keep x group illiterate and stupid, it is easier to subjugate and take advantage of them."  I feel that no person or group of people is better than any other person or group of people, and I feel that no one has a right to try to make anyone feel otherwise.  (Of course, if what I just said makes you feel like I'm saying I'm better than you, you may want to reconsider how you treat people.)

So, today, less than 3 minutes after leaving the bus stop (where the bus stops for about 10 minutes and there are trashcans and stores and whatnot), the ayudante threw one wrapper and two bottles out of the bus (LITTERING!!!), and then as he went through to collect bus fare, he tried to not give me my change of Q2 which, considering the correct fare is Q3.50, was more than half of my fare back home (RACISM...he gave change to everyone else from the moment they paid).  So, since it seems that the buses are no longer numbered, I'll be boycotting the entire Brisas bus line.  (Not a big deal since there is Rutas Santa Fe [the largest], Lillian, and Ruiz as well as maybe one more I'm not thinking of right now.)  You all can do what you want with your money, but I'm not going to give money to someone who is against two of the three things which I feel most strongly about (or even someone who hires people who act that way).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Patience is a Virtue: Day 1,113

I've never been a patient person.

Growing up, my folks had a couple large gardens.  I was okay with the planting part of it, and I was okay with the picking part of it, but I don't recall enjoying much the time in between the two.  I mean, of course I enjoyed it, because it was the time of swimming lessons and swinging on the swing and whatever else I did when I was a kid, but the pulling of weeds and whatnot?  It didn't really interest me.  The plants didn't do anything.  They just sat there.  And looking at them one day to the next and seeing no change was completely boring.

Fast forward about 20 years, and here I am living in a culture where people don't operate much on schedules.  Here I am teaching English to people.  Here I am working with community leaders (who don't see any need to hurry) to try to create a program for the poorest of the people in their community.  And here I am planting my own SMALL garden.

Sometimes I think God sends you places not only to serve others but also to make a change in yourself.  I won't say I'm much more patient that I was before, but He's taking the time to mold me and shape me. And, admittedly somewhat begrudgingly, I'm thankful for that.

One of my favorite prayers is the following:
"Dear God,
Please teach me patience NOW.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Educating a Girl: Day 1,102

I'm really bad at making posts for significant marks; so, today is the 3 years and 1 week post.

Today a fellow missionary here in Guatemala contacted me about a rumor she had heard that involved the school where I used to work.  She was unaware that I no longer work there.  However, I had had the good fortune of running into the principal this week on the bus and chatting all the way home; so I was able to give her some details.  This invariably led to me asking her about quite possibly the brightest student I have had the pleasure of teaching.  She doesn't know the girl, but she said she could ask around.

Ana is a really smart young lady.  She was the only one in the entire school who had passed my class by the third marking period.  (You need an average of 60 for the year to pass the class; even if she had gotten a 0 in my class the last marking period, she would have passed.)  But she is not just smart; she is also kind.  A lot of smart kids are ostracized or picked on by their classmates, but Ana was well-loved.  There was never a question of who had achieved the highest grade (in pretty much any subject), but no one seemed bent out of shape about it.  However, Ana's mother (don't know if there is a father in the picture or not) doesn't believe there is value in educating girls.  Ana only arrived to my class through a generous scholarship...or two.  In her 9th grade graduating class of 12, ten continued on to 10th grade.  Only the top of the class and the bottom of the class were kept home by their parents.  Ana could become anything she wants to be if she were only allowed to continue school.  She could be a teacher, a doctor, an astrophysicist, or even the president of Guatemala.

And then I apply that to my own life.  Actually, first I'll let someone else apply it to hers.  Addisyn is a missionary kid (MK) here in Guatemala.  Her family attends my church.  I don't really know her, but I know who she is.  In that link, she shares her thoughts about going to college, about the worth of an education.  And reading her entry a couple weeks ago (and the short exchange I had today with someone else) made me reflect upon my own education.  My parents always told me I'd need a degree to do anything with my life.  With all due respect, I am probably "over qualified" for what I do...or at least my degree probably isn't the right kind of training.  Admittedly, having a bachelor's degree (regardless of major) has been important, or more correctly, going to college for the time I went there has been important.

While I could not have taught middle school English as a foreign language (EFL) in a private school without my bachelor's degree (which is in religious studies, by the way), the mission work I do does not require any special college degree.  God prepares those He sends out, not college, not a degree.  However, He prepared me in college.  He worked to put me in a strong Christian community my sophomore year.  He introduced me to amazing faith-filled people, people who did mission work at least for a time, people who would unknowingly validate the calling I felt to become a missionary.  He also sent me one other important person.

When I was growing up, there were lots of things I wanted to be.  I wanted to be the first female president of the United States. (Annalisa Simmer for President 2020!)  I wanted to be Santa Claus. I wanted to be a lady farmer.  I wanted to be a trapeze artist.  I probably wanted to be lots of other things that only my mother remembers.  And, well, most of those don't require degrees.  In fact, not one of them absolutely requires a degree.  And as time went on, it became obvious to me that what I really wanted to be was a wife and mother.  Yes, I am a person with many talents who could probably do most anything she puts her mind to, but I don't consider being a wife and mother a less worthwhile pursuit than being the president.  The other person I met in college was my fiance.

When you lose someone like a fiance or spouse, you sort of feel like your entire future disappeared with that person.  And while I can't say this in retrospect with 100% certainty, I think I felt like that was my one chance at love, marriage, and children.  I was 22; it was 3 years before I came here to do full-time ministry.  Twenty-two year old single women with nearly $10k in student loans (all paid off due to two people who I love and respect a whole lot) do not receive foster children; they can't get approved for adoption.  And I'm certainly not one of those women to use a guy just to get an offspring.  So, as I saw it, all hopes of being a wife or even a mother were cut off.

Love is a funny thing.  It hits you where you don't think you'll find it.  It comes in unexpected ways from unexpected people.  I more or less have a family here in Guatemala.  I have 4 brothers, a set of parents, 3 nephews and a niece in addition to the church family that I have here.  (I may potentially have more than that; it just depends on how people are feeling and how willing they are to claim the crazy white girl.)  They have chaperoned me, invited me to weddings and birthdays, defended me, visited me, and helped me with manual labor.  They have loaned me money.  They have watched my animals.  They've been wonderful people.  And the children who I help work to get a better education?  They're kind of like my kids.

I may not be a wife and a mother, but I am a woman very much loved.  I thank God for the blessing to be able to live among and serve these people, and if He only gives me another 3 years and one week to serve them, I'm not sure it will be enough for my overflowing heart.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mission Moment: November Newsletter

As a reminder, these are the updates I write for my sending church.  They need to be turned in by the middle of the preceding month.

Today (October 11th) is the last day that I'll be watching my little charge. His older sisters have finished school for the year; the school year here runs from January to October. For two barely teenagers, they shoulder an incredible amount of responsibility. As for their uncle, Carlos, he has undergone surgery. His sister, Mari, says that he is being incredibly stubborn about not staying in the hospital. Yes, hospital says are costly, but so are hour-long ambulance rides every one or two days.
The good news for me is that this means I can get back to the work in Los Encuentros. I have a lot of people to meet with as I've been delegating work during the past month and a half. So, now it's time to collect the results of that delegation and see what's what. In reality, I try to stay as uninvolved as possible because my physical presence often causes prices to rise; it's racist, but it's the reality that I deal with. However, some of the people I delegate tasks to don't always see the urgency; so, I am sometimes forced to wait or do things myself.
October 19th is the completion of 3 years here in Guatemala. I feel that God still continues to mold me to serve the people better. Recently that has come in the form of literature. My reading list for the month of October includes: “Toxic Charity” by Robert D. Lupton, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire, and “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. They arrived yesterday, and I've already found parts of “Toxic Charity” to apply to the work in Los Encuentros, Solola. Feel free to check these books out from the library or buy them to read along with me!

The Care and Keeping of a Missionary
This month I ask for your continued prayers for the family of the little boys who I was watching. I would also like your prayers that the work which I delegated during the past month and a half has been completed.

Thank you for your love and support over the past 3 years. As always, you can contact me via my e-mail:, and you can read more about the adventure—because life is an adventure when you're not the one steering the ship!—on my blog:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mission Moment: October Newsletter

 One thing which I have learned over the years is that God will guide me no matter what the situation. Sometimes I misunderstand what He wants from me, and I have to refine the plan and try again.
The day after I submitted the last newsletter article, I received news that the house where I had been planning on living would only be available to me for 4 months (but rent free). A couple days later, I found that the cost of moving would be 2 months-worth of my current rent. So, I weighed and measured the situation, and decided on August 30th to stay where I am living. A few days later, one of the few neighbors who knew I was moving saw me in the street. And on September 8th, the daughter (Mari) of that neighbor showed up at my door. It seems that her brother is quite ill and may die. Her mother has gone to care for her brother (who lives in another town), and Mari's two sons have had to care for themselves during the day. The two boys are aged 2.5 and 6 years. The older one attends school in the morning meaning that the younger one was left alone in the house. The God-part in all of this is the date that the boys started this: August 30th. So, for the past week, I've been a nanny; end date is undetermined and based on whenever their uncle gets better or dies.
When you look at this, it's easy to see the hand of God in it all. He knew that this family would need me, and He knew that I didn't have obligations in Los Encuentros until October. He gave me a reason to not move...and then He showed me why.
So, while the move has been called off and I'm temporarily doing something else, plans to help in Los Encuentros have not been canceled. The new plan is to commute out to Los Encuentros every other week and spend 2-3 days in the community at a time. It will result in a slightly modified plan involving less English classes for the kids, but other than that, it remains the same. I would like to live closer to the community which I am serving, but it seems that for now that's not in God's plans for me. Right now He needs me to serve where I am to a family which is hurting and in need. For now, I'm delegating some work in Los Encuentros seeing about school costs in the area as well as looking at the costs of building a house for Maria and her children Elena and Juan who I wrote about in August.
Additionally, Guatemala dealt with a fairly strong earthquake on September 6th. I already had some houses on my list which were damaged. I need to make sure that those houses are still standing. If they aren't, houses need to be planned for them as well; in fact, if they aren't, the money which was proportioned for a house for Maria and her children may need to be redirected to other families with more urgent needs. I don't like to do that with money that was given for a specific family or purpose, but sometimes it is a necessary reality of the work here.

The care and keeping of a missionary

This month, I'd just like to ask for a lot of prayer. I'd like you to be praying for the families whose homes were in poor repair that the houses keep holding together. I'd like you to be praying for the family of Mari as they deal with the financial and medical needs of her brother and the possibility that they might lose him. (He is 29 years old.) I'd like you to pray for Mari's two sons—Jonotan and Otto—as they deal with spending time with me. I'd also like you to pray for Mari's two daughters who are 2 of the top 6 students in their 7th grade class (in a public school which has more than 200 7th graders) but who may have to drop out of school if their family can't find the money to send them to school. I'd like you to pray for all of the families which I work with in Los Encuentros as they deal with the confusion of me not moving out there like we all had planned on. Finally, I'd like you to pray for some patience in all of this for me. I know God has a plan; sometimes I wish He'd just spell it out a bit clearer for all of us.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On Being a Missionary: Day 1,063

I was very frustrated by something that a fellow missionary said on Facebook tonight, and I responded poorly.  He stated the following: "We could really use a visit from good friends from the States. Fun together, laughter, cards, a few good conversations and a few tears followed by an intense time of prayer. Any takers?"  Now, the reason I responded poorly may have something to do with the fact that I've lived in the same town as him and his family for 2.5 years and we have never done anything together despite the fact that we were the only missionaries in the town until recently.  However, much more than that, it has to do with the fact that we're missionaries.  I don't know if he reads my blog, but I do read his.  I know what his family is going through right now, and I have been praying for them in all of this.  The fact of the matter (i.e. my opinion) is that we are both missionaries (as well as the other family who has moved in to town who I assume knows about his current situation as well).  We are Christians.  We may be "divided" by what church we attend or by what population we serve, but we are all Christians.  That means we should stand together and not be divided.  That means in times of struggle we should stand together...without needing something or someone from the States.  Yes, I have my community I serve, but if my brother falls down and I do not pick him up, what kind of person am I?  What kind of ministry can I claim to be serving in?  I can take time for you so that you can keep doing what God sent you here to do.  I hope you can do the same for me.

That's all for my rant for tonight.  If any missionary or even any Christian out there wants me to take time out of my life to help him or her through a struggle, I'm here for you.  Please just don't piss me off first.  We're all in this together.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A little more of the reason: Day 1,048

It's not often that I share my personal life with you, especially not parts that don't apply to the ministry.  However, there is another factor which plays into my decision to not move (or rather another little inconvenience which made it look like God was saying, "Not this, not now.") which I'd like to share with you and have you praying for.  Those of you who are my friends on Facebook already know about this, but I'd like to share it with the rest of you.   Back in March I was diagnosed with two problems which interact with each other resulting in a mess which is quite difficult to untangle; it seems as if neither one can be fixed without the other one being fixed first.  As a result, I--with the help of some friends and doctors--have decided to go on an elimination diet, a fairly strict one.

Elimination diets are pretty unheard of here in Guatemala, and due to the very precise nature of them, they can pretty much only be accomplished in places where there are lots of foreigners because the stores in those areas cater to foreigners and their weird whims.  Moving to Los Encuentros would have made this a little more difficult as it would require figuring out where to buy the stuff on my diet all over again (and turning down lots of invitations--extremely rude--from my excited new neighbors).  Staying where I'm living with all my old neighbors and easy access to Antigua (tourism capitol of Guatemala) is going to make this much easier.  And while in some ways this diet would be easier done in the US, it really wouldn't be.  I already eat a 95% "natural" diet, none of that prepackaged stuff or preservatives.

So, why am I telling you about this?  Well, I'd like your prayers and your recipes. This is the diet which I'll be following with a few other changes.  There is no fruit allowed on my diet, and many of the allowed foods are not accessible in Guatemala (although my odds are higher in Antigua).  I'll be making a pretty exhaustive list of what is allowed later today once I buy my notebook for the diet.  I'll also be starting the diet on Thursday, September 5th, for those of you who want to be with me on day #1.  Thank you in advance.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mission Moment: September Newsletter

 The end of August will mark the closing of one chapter on this mission journey and the start of another. It will also mark the 1-year anniversary of living in this house, and we've just passed my 2-year anniversary of living in San Antonio Aguas Calientes by a few days. So, all-in-all, I can jokingly say that the time is right. However, it's not with a little sadness that I'll be leaving this town. I've made many good friendships here, some even recently. It's conveniently located. It's tourist-friendly. Its roads are all on maps (at least the parts of town that I frequent). And yet, looking forward to the future is also positive. My new “next-door neighbors” are people who treat me like a daughter. I'll be able to visit Antigua (and many of my old friends) pretty much every weekend. Kaqchikel—the native Mayan language—will ideally become second, er, third nature to me. I don't really know what the future will hold for me, though; so I'll take the rest of this to tell you about this past month.
On July 22nd, I welcomed a young woman named Madeline into my house. She is from the Ann Arbor area, and has a cousin who attends the school where my mother works (which is how she learned about me and what I do). She has a heart for helping people, especially kids, and has felt drawn to Central America. We have spent the past month allowing her to explore mission opportunities near Antigua and even took a trip out to let her see what I do in Los Encuentros, Solola. The first two weeks, she served at a project in San Felipe de Jesus called God's Child Project. This organization has many different projects which it runs including a malnutrition center, a homeless shelter, and an after-school program. During her two weeks, Madeline got to experience each of the different projects that they have there.
After that, Madeline has spent these next two weeks working at a project here in San Antonio Aguas Calientes called Paso a Paso (Step by Step). This project is much smaller (and much younger), but it operates an after-school program as well. However, it offers additional support to the families as well. The children here receive lunch 3 days per week. They're offered a safe and structured environment with discipline. And, most importantly, they are offered a lot of love. This program could do a lot more if they had a little more funding, and Ana Luisa, the founder and coordinator, is going to work to set up a sponsorship program for the kids.
Besides the work that Madeline has been doing, we've also taken some time out to see a little bit of the country (nothing I haven't seen before), a bit of the crafting (we're even learning to weave), a bit of the culture (we attending a VERY traditional wedding), and a bit of the food (some of which I have prepared, and some of which I've commissioned a friend's family to prepare). Right now, she's learning how to sweep with a spray bottle in one hand. (Sweeping a concrete floor seems to send very fine cement dust into the air unless it is sprayed in advance and kept wet during the sweeping process. This dust then settles on and sticks to EVERYTHING.) She has also learned to wash clothes by hand. Yes, there are things which frustrate her now and again, but as I have told her mother, I believe Madeline will be back.

The care and keeping of a missionary
I especially ask for your prayers this month as I start up in a new place and get situated in the community. I ask for your prayers for Madeline as she goes back to the States and considers everything that she has seen and done and asks for God's direction for her life. I ask for your prayers for Antonella who has been my “guard dog” over the last two years as we look for a new home for her. (My new home comes pre-guarded and wouldn't be safe for a new dog who doesn't know the area.)

My mother mentioned the possibility of her sending a care package to me in October. I know not all of you do e-mail, and I'd like to mention again that I love hearing from you and how you're doing. Also, for those of you who do use the internet and e-mail, my e-mail address is, and I have a blog (like a journal, and it doesn't require you to log in) at in case you want to hear stories and get updates more often than once per month. Thanks for being you, for your love and support. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Quick Update: Day 1,046

There were a lot of things which people wanted to happen before I left where I'm currently living.  Antonella, my dog, needed a new home.  My landlady wanted me to find someone to live in the house.  (She's big on references.)  And I had a few other things to do which required cooperation of a few people...who either never seemed to have time or be around.

The cost of moving seems like it would come out to about 2 months of rent in the house where I currently am.  And, after 4 months in Los Encuentros, I'd apparently have to move again; so that's 4 months rent spent on moving.  So, despite that I'd be getting the house for free, it doesn't seem financially responsible for me to move at this point.

However, I would like to see this project off of the ground and then mostly be able to step back as community members step up to take it over.  So, pending a discussion with a few people, I'd like to travel to Los Encuentros every other week to deal with a lot of the details there.  I would do home visits and run meetings.  I'd stay 2-3 days and come back to my home.  It's a $6 round trip; I think I'm okay with that.

There will be another updating coming in the next few days as details are hashed out about this new idea.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Disappointing Situation: Day 1,041

So, let me whine and complain a bit.  It's not something I usually do, and I'll try to not take up too much of your time.

About a month ago, I talked to Ismael about renting a few rooms in his house to live in while I worked on the community project that we're starting out there.  He said that I was free to name my own rent price, and so I've just been waiting for him to be around to see if the price I named was okay with him.  Today, I finally succeeded in talking to him.  Today, one of his little brothers also succeeded in talking to him.  It turns out that his little brother (who I will leave unnamed) is going to start building his own house there in January and has asked if the mason can live in Ismael's house.  Apparently, blood is thicker than sentiment.  The only good thing that comes out of all of this is that Ismael is willing to let me live in the house rent-free for 4 months starting September 3rd.  The bad news is that I'm supposed to be out of this house August 31st.  So, I need to talk to the landlady and see if she'll let me stay 4 extra days without charging me an entire month of rent.  If she does, I kind of just want to throw in the towel on this entire thing.  I was okay living in Ismael's house because it is so close to his parents' house.  I don't want to live anywhere else around there; I don't feel comfortable living anywhere else around there.

What I really want to do right now is cry and scream like a baby.  It will make me feel better and burn off the stress that I'm feeling.  What I want you to do is pray for guidance for me.  So much preparation has been put into this move and the project that I was starting that I feel like there must be some detail that I'm not seeing.  Thanks.  (Don't worry.  I'll be praying too.  Just give me some time to cry myself to sleep first.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Unexpected Gift: Day 1,030

Every once in a while there is something that just completely humbles me...

This week I've been helping out at Paso a Paso, a program here in San Antonio Aguas Calientes.  I was asked to go to Antigua to pick up a family and bring them out to the project...except there had been a mix-up.  The family only had a donation for the project as they hadn't heard back from their contact until that morning and had made other plans for their afternoon.  I invited them to come out a different day, and we chatted for a bit.  People always seem interested in me and what an "American" is doing down here; so I shared with them a bit of my ministry and the whole transition I'm in right now.  As they sent me on my way, one of them put $100 in my hand and told me it was a donation for the work I do.  The suitcase of stuff was for Paso a Paso; the cash in my hand--with no strings attached, no tax slip, and only a name (Carol) to attribute the money to--was for Los Encuentros.  That's a stove or two water filters!

When I was younger, I used to help my mother with her donations for the year.  We would pick out goats and pigs and Bibles for far away places.  I always loved deciding what to order for these people.  However, now that I see their faces and know their stories, it's harder to make those sorts of choices.  I see two families with a great need.  I have the money to buy a stove ($100) for one family--or the other--which would mean that neither families would get water filters, OR I could get water filters ($50) for both, but who knows when they would get a stove because, let's face it, it's easier to get $50 than $100.  And, to be brutally open with you all, I hate sitting on that $50 I have to help the people (a water filter for a third family!) until I get another $50 for that other stove.  I could be improving the quality of someone's water now, and instead I'm waiting to improve the air quality in their home.  Sometimes it makes me feel like a bad person.  It is times like this that I need to remind myself that all good things come from God.  When we need it, the money will be there to make positive changes in the lives of these families.  For that, I give thanks just as I give thanks to Carol for her donations, not only to my work in Los Encuentros, but also to Paso a Paso.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mission Moment: August Newsletter

Welcome back! I promise you I was not just taking a break during our newsletter hiatus. During the last 2 months I have been translating for Now is the Time (the mission team which I used to come with in the summer), preparing my house for my guest, Madeline, who will be spending a month with me and working at a malnutrition center, and taking multiple trips out to Solola preparing for the program I'll be starting this fall. With the help of local leaders, I have visited 45 families in the area, and I still have 6 to visit. Of those 45 families, 21 have been approved for full-inclusion in the program. Others may receive partial assistance.
The main focus of the program is to break the cycle of poverty. The best way to do this is through education. The idea is to either get the children in school, keep them in school, or get them back in school. However, if their bodies aren't receiving the necessary nutrition or if the children are always sick from their living conditions, the education received won't be as effective. So, there is also an interest in improving their nutrition and hygiene standards.
The majority of this work will be done through the help of donors who feel a desire to help these people; this includes the money that you as a church donate through the mission fund each month. Additionally, if you have friends or family members which might be interested in sponsoring a family, please get them in contact with me!
Finally, I want to share a few stories from my visits, one funny one and one a little more difficult. First I'd like to share with you the story of David. David is only a year and a half old. He is the youngest of four children. The oldest, Carlos, is 16, finished 7th grade, and works during the harvest (and at other odd jobs when they can be found). Wendy, age 12, also finished 7th grade and now works full-time making crafts to sell. Floricelda, age 8, is in second grade but helps her older sister make crafts in the afternoons when she gets home from school. This is just some of the information I collect about each child.
When I arrived at their home, Wendy and Floricelda were busy with their work. Carlos and his father were away, and their mother was cooking some beans for lunch. David was toddling around grabbing onto the yarn which his sisters were trying to weave into their baskets. However, they all sat down to chat when I showed up with my small group of translators and community leaders. As I worked my way down the sheet filling in information, we shared a nice camaraderie. David was pleasant and cheerful. However, when I said, “And David doesn't do anything yet because he's too little” (in Spanish, of course) and put a line through the space where I note if they work or study, he let out a howl which made most of us jump. “Okay, okay,” I said (in Spanish), “David works in artisan work as well with his sisters” and wrote through my crossed out line. He instantly burst into a smile which made us all laugh. As we got ready to leave, Floricelda gifted me a little basket; she said, “David wants you to have this to remember what good work he does.” We still call it “David's basket.”
The other story is much more sobering. While trying to find one of the houses—there aren't really addresses—we ended up visiting the next-door neighbor of the house we wanted. It was not hard to get confused. The house we visited was made of metal. It had metal walls and a metal roof. Outside we met Maria and Elena. Maria is a widow with two children: Juan and Elena. Her husband committed suicide a few years back. Maria couldn't support the family; so she sent her children—now ages 10 and 11—to work. She tried to get Elena a job making tortillas, but the people at the tortilleria said that she was too little and couldn't make tortillas good enough to sell. (I believe I was told that Elena was 8 at that time.) Juan sells gum on buses. They have no electricity or water at their home. Their “bed” is a few wooden planks on cement blocks; it has no mattress. They cook over an open fire on the other side of their room; the only way for smoke to escape is through the door or at the corners of the room where the metal sheets don't come together completely. Fortunately, they own their land, and they are able to rent some of it to a potato farmer just to have a regular income.

The Care and Keeping of a Missionary
As I enter the next phase of the ministry which God brought me down here for, I'd like to take the time to thank each and every one of you for the support you have given me. Without your prayers and financial support, I might have given up a long time ago. As we enter this next phase, I ask that you keep me and these 21 families in your prayers. Please share this ministry with others who you encounter as we'll need 21 sponsors. The full program outline is available upon request. I'm still working out a few final details; so any thoughts and suggestions (as well as questions!) are more than welcome. Keep me in your prayers as well for my health and that God removes any roadblocks which may show up.

Remember that I update my blog as well at for additional stories and updates which don't always make it into the newsletter, and also I love to hear from you; so feel free to write to me at I hope you are all having a safe and wonderful summer!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Introducing Kindred Hearts and an Unexpected Change in Plans: Day 1,013

This weekend, something really special happened: two families separated by two countries and a small language barrier but joined through a mutual love for their children met one another.  If you remember, at the end of March, Juana's family got a new roof.  One week ago, Daniel and Madeline (the husband and one of the daughters of Christina) came to Guatemala.  They spent the week with me, and on Friday we went out to Solola to visit Juana's family.  We brought a birthday party including the cake, a piñata, and presents for everyone.
In rural, impoverished families such as this one, it is unusual to know one's birth date.  Juana, on her information sheet for the program, gave us some dates, but I doubt most (if any) of them are correct.  However, that wasn't about to stop us from celebrating life and years of life.  I'm fairly certain that this was the first birthday party the family has ever had.
Sitting around later with Ismael, I learned more about Juana's financial state.  They were speaking "Kaqchiñol" (Spanish--español--and Kaqchikel mixed), but there was enough Spanish in it that I followed the situation.  (And I verified that I heard what I thought I heard with Ismael a little later.)  Juana's husband mortgaged the house before he abandoned the family.  And as it is Juana and the boys who live there, she's the one who needs to pay it off before the only home they have known gets taken away. Juana makes payments of Q300 every 2 weeks and has 9 payments left to make.  Until recently, this wasn't too taxing.  The two oldest children were making Q700/month and Q400/month respectively.  So, the family brought in a regular salary of Q1100/month and paid Q600/month on their mortgage leaving Q500 for regular living expenses.  However, recently the eldest got laid off from work, "downsized."  You can see that this math does not add up, nor does the family have any handicrafts ready to sell at the moment.  So, we told them to see what they can make in the next few weeks.  I look at the cost of the party--including our bus fare out and back--and feel heavy-hearted because that was an entire mortgage payment, but you can't buy the kind of happiness that those boys had destroying that piñata or eating that cake or unwrapping those presents.  And the family will get past this because they always do.

After that, we went to visit the twins.  I'm pleased to report that Ingrid is MUCH better, and both girls actually ran down to the car when we arrived.  Laura's stomach doesn't even look as bloated.  I forgot to bring another bag of incaparina for the family, but they say they enjoyed the first bag a lot.  Madeline and Daniel had brought sweaters, stuffed animals, and hair bows with them; so we took advantage of the situation and gave a few out.  The girls each got sweaters (although they were a little big on them, but that's better than too small!), and all three of the children got stuffed animals. We had also planned on giving a hair bow to each girl, but we managed to lose one somewhere; so we just gave them one and said we'd bring another one the next time.

On the way to visit a new family, we saw a woman weaving, and because Madeline has such an interest in handicrafts, we stopped to watch her weave for a bit.  The woman even let Madeline pose for a picture with the weaving, but Madeline didn't want to mess up the woman's work; so she didn't take up the offer of doing a few rows.  I'm going to see if I have a friend close by who will teach her during the upcoming weeks.

Then we visited the new family.  It happened to be the family of Ismael's sister-in-law (his wife's sister).  Her situation is that she has 5 children and with her husband's work as a "round up worker," she can't afford the education of all 5 anymore.  The oldest girls are in their teens (7th and 8th grades), and are old enough to work in this culture if the family needs money.  However, they're both smart--neither has failed a grade which is much easier to do here than in the States--and want to work with numbers.  ("Perito Contador" is the career they want to study.  I haven't yet figured out what that translates to.)  So, she's hoping that I'll be able to help with the educational needs of the oldest girls, nothing more.
For me, this is a difficult situation.  I obviously want to help the poorest families, and based on my criteria, this isn't one of them.  However, it's the family of someone who I consider to be part of my family, like if one of my biological (or legal) cousins said that they could no longer care for their child and would have to put him or her up for adoption if they couldn't find help.  If nothing else, I'd say, "Let him or her come and live with me.  I don't have the money to help you there, but here where things cost less, I can feed an extra mouth.  He or she will learn Spanish and maybe even Kaqchikel; he or she will be bilingual or maybe even trilingual.  That will help in the future."  But we already are here.  With your help, I can send hundreds of kids to school.

On our way back to the car after visiting Ismael's sister-in-law's family, Camilo and Ismael mentioned to me that Camilo and Cristina wouldn't be going to Antigua on Saturday as they often do.  They had a wedding over the weekend, and asked if the three of us (Madeline, Daniel, and myself) would like to attend.  On Saturday morning would be the final asking of the groom for the bride's hand, and on Sunday would be the wedding.  I felt a little uncomfortable with that as I only had jeans with me, but Camilo assured us that as his--the pastor's--guests, we didn't have to be dressed up, that "observers" don't have to participate, just observe.  This was a pretty exciting opportunity, and after a lot of reassurance that it would be fine, we agreed to it.  They got us checked into our hotel--the same one where I stayed about a month ago when I was visiting families--and the three of us went out to dinner.

Saturday morning we had to wake up early to meet Camilo and Cristina in Los Encuentros for the trip to the bride's home.  In the U.S., asking the bride to marry you is somewhat a private affair typically involving just the groom and the bride and, occasionally, the bride's father.  In Guatemala, a traditional marriage proposal involves both families, three askings, and lots of gifts.  Marriages often involve two ceremonies--civil and religious--or just one really long ceremony which will include both as ministers here can't legally marry people.  So, Saturday was the final "asking."  And, besides being really long, it went quite smoothly...until the end.
Most of the asking was in Kaqchikel, but there were some parts that were Kaqchiñol.  And, as often happens with multilingual people, when the pressure rises to communicate clearly and effectively between people who speak the same multiple languages, whatever language works for any given word.  There is a word in Kaqchikel for "bus," but "camioneta" is much clearer for the people.  In Kaqchiñol, many of the Spanish words lose their gendered ending because there are no genders for objects in Kaqchikel.  "Camioneta" became "camionet," but I'm so used to this (and do it a lot myself when genders in Spanish frustrate me) that I understand just fine.
The two families don't live incredibly close to each other.  It would not be practical to walk to the wedding, and, in Guatemala, very few families have their own vehicle.  Apparently, Luis (the groom) was supposed to arrange for buses to take the bride's family to the wedding...and he hadn't done that.  So, the father of the groom said that it was obvious that Luis didn't respect Ana's (the bride's) family and didn't want them to be a part of his life.  So, the bride's father was all about not allowing her to go to the religious wedding the next day (and possibly even annulling the civil wedding which had happened the week before, unknown to me at the time).  A lot of yelling and haggling later, they settled on two buses to take the family and other church members to the wedding.  We and the groom's family went back to the groom's family's house to celebrate.

That afternoon, Madeline and I went to the market while Daniel took a nap.  I had something in mind that I wanted to look for, but Madeline found a corte (a traditional skirt) and faja (the belt to hold up the skirt) she wanted to buy.  The asking price for both was more than we had; so, I pulled all the money out of my pocket and said that was how much we could pay.  I was a little surprised she said yes, but Madeline got her skirt and belt.  Broke, we walked back down the big hill to the hotel, got Daniel, and went to visit Panajachel.
Panajachel has always been one of those places that I have avoided because it's a tourist hot-spot, but because it is Daniel and Madeline's first visit to Guatemala, it was one of those things we just needed to get out of the way.  In the 5 years since my first visit to Panajachel (and even in the 1 year since my last visit there!), it has just exploded as far as tourism goes.  I hardly recognized the boat docks where I once collected real pumice stones floating in the water.  We were able to do a lot of cheap tourism shopping there, but besides seeing the lake and buying stuff, there wasn't much to do.  Within about 2 hours, we were on our way back up to Solola where we ate dinner and spent another night.

Sunday morning came early.  We opted out of going to kidnap the bride with Camilo and Cristina.  However, I had a very unwelcome surprise in the morning: Madeline's corte was a style I was only familiar with in name.  The people here call it "tipo bolsa" ("bag style").  That's not what they use in San Antonio.  So, I made it work as best as possible.  We ate breakfast at the hotel, took the bus to Los Encuentros, and then we walked to the church.  Madeline felt a little awkward, and after she admitted she'd feel better if someone checked her skirt to make sure I did it okay, we went to a nearby tienda (small store) to see if the woman working there would fix it for us.  She did, and now I know how to put on a corte tipo bolsa as well.
Besides starting about a half hour late (hora chapina: everything starts late), the wedding went smoothly.  The bride and groom got married, and then we ate carne guisado for lunch.  (This is apparently the second most common wedding food for the area.  The most common is pulique.)  And after that, we headed for home...tired, wearing dirty clothes, but considerably more educated than we started out.

Oh, and I now have somewhere to live in Solola starting in September.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A little over a decade ago: Day 1,005

I suppose for lack of a better plan, we can consider this my special "Day 1,000" post.  These last couple days I've had something on my mind that I can't really shake.

When I was in high school, I was apparently really well-known.  In our mock elections my senior year, I won three different categories.  One which seemed appropriate, one which I no longer remember, and the final one which confused most everyone to the point where Fr. Joe, the disciplinary principal at the time, came down to ask my permission for it to be published...which is the one I want to talk about now.

I was voted "Most Likely to Drastically Improve."  My mother's take on this is that my classmates had confidence that I could accomplish such a feat unlike any other female in our class.  I don't know if I accept that or not.

In high school, I was an odd sort of person.  While most girls wore skirts, I was one of one or two who almost always wore pants.  I was the first female to ever be on the wrestling team.  I took all three languages offered (at that time) during my senior year.  I think I took about every art class the school had.  During an honors biology class game, I managed to pick the only female plant part listed when the clue said "male part of a plant."  I was a middle-class kid in a sea of upper-class kids which made me "the poor kid."  I didn't wear makeup; I didn't even know how to put it on.  And, yes, I managed to trip over a painted line.  To top it all off, I'm an introvert, and the world isn't particularly kind to introverts.  This is just a small smattering of what I was like.  I'm sure my former classmates all have their own memories.

So, I'm not entirely sure what they wanted me to improve in.  I'm still friendly and helpful.  I've only gotten poorer. I'm still learning weird languages.  I'm still stepping up to challenges which often surprise people (sometimes even myself).  I still trip over weird things...or not so weird things.  I've had a weird rash on my hand twice which I can only figure is caused by touching some plant.  And I still don't wear makeup.  (Although, I do own some.)

But I have improved.  You see...for me, all those things I was in high school weren't really bad things.  In fact, most of them were really good things, but they needed to be strengthened and cultivated.  In high school, I was growing into who I am now.  God used every weird and embarrassing thing which happened to me back then to mold me and strengthen me.  And He has allowed me to become unstoppable.  There are obstacles and there are roadblocks, but high school (and the decade since) taught me to work around them.

So, maybe my mother was right.  Or maybe high schoolers are just petty.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When "Poverty" Starts to Mean Something More: Day 974

In short, I have never seen the level of poverty I saw today, not on any trip with any person or group ever.  you all are familiar with Juana de Leon.  Today I met two families which make her seem rich...economically speaking.  This is not anything a person could say lightly because Juana de Leon is far from rich; in fact, she's pretty happy to just have a roof over her head.  All this being said, I want to share those two families with you.  I'm just going to copy and paste from the report I just typed up of today's activities because I fear that a "cold, detached look" into their lives is going to be about all that most of you can stomach.  (I'm sparing you the pictures because a) I didn't bring the camera cable, and b) if you haven't noticed, I'm not really sure how to get pictures onto my blog...but the second is something I'll be looking into in the coming days.)

Camelina C. T. – This family lives at the very end of Juana de Leon's road. It is a very young family. There are twin 3-year old daughters and a baby boy of about a year and a half. It is also a very poor family. They have two rooms in their home. One is a small kitchen/bedroom, and the other is a storage room (wood and clothes). The twin girls are fairly ill. Laura was up and greeted us, but she shows obvious signs of malnutrition and parasites. Ingrid, however, was laying in bed with a bottle and barely opened her eyes to acknowledge our presence. Camelina does artisan work, and her husband is, what I will call, a round-up worker (meaning that when someone needs to do a big project, they round up workers). Their floor is made of dirt. Water hardly ever reaches up to where they live; so they carry water up and store it in uncovered 3 liter pop bottles. Their kitchen has a stove, but they don't really have much in the way of pans/dishes. Camelina's clothes were in very poor repair, and I was actually a little embarrassed that I had two men—Camilo and Ismael—visiting her with me because of the threadbare state of her clothing.

Maria C. X. – This visit was completely unplanned. We were headed to another house, but weren't sure which one it was when we stopped to ask for directions. Maria's husband committed suicide by drinking poison at some point. They have two children: Juan (age 11) and Elena (age 10). At some point, Elena tried to go to school, but it was too expensive for the family; so her mother sent her to work in a tortilla stand, but the people there said that she was too young and didn't make tortillas well enough; so now she stays home and helps care for the “house.” Juan sells gum in the buses. Their mother makes baskets. Their house is one room made with metal and wood walls and a metal roof. The metal seems to be in fairly good condition. They cook over an open fire in their room, and the “bed” is literally elevated planks of wood. They have a good sized piece of land which they mostly rent to a potato farmer for a very low price just to have a little steady income.  

To me, these are two very different situations, but both are going to be handled similarly.  These two families--barring any grand disagreement from anyone (which I don't imagine I'll get)--are going to be accepted 100% into the program.  Obviously Camelina's children are not yet ready for educational support which is fine.  The main focus with Camelina's family will be nutrition and health standards.  Both of the girls show signs of illness, and I worry that the only reason the little boy does not is because he only drinks breast milk and is probably still carried everywhere.  This family needs help.  

Maria's children, on the other hand, will benefit greatly from being able to go to school.  Per the program guidelines which I invented, only Elena will automatically be enrolled in the program; my cut-off was age 10.  Children aged 11-14 would be enrolled only if they did not work; however, I do not consider Juan's employment to be very significant at least as far as help goes.  When a family makes maybe $1 per day, your son's 25-cent contribution is obviously very significant; however, if I can find someone to sponsor this family, those 25 cents become very insignificant, and an education becomes entirely possible.  (Also, the boy is no longer spending time on buses which can be very dangerous.)  We obviously did not meet Juan, but we did meet Elena.  She seems to be a bright girl with a lot of potential.

These two families redefined poverty for me.  I have no doubt that tomorrow will prove to be just as educational and interesting for me.  Kaqchikel still makes my head spin.  

The original plan was to take on the 15 families which Ismael identified, but after visiting and understanding the extremes, some cases just don't seem that bad.  In addition, early this afternoon, the mayor of Solola asked me to take on 15-20 more families.  So, at that point I was "committed" to 30 families.  After 7 home visits, I don't feel that the initial number will reach 30 because I don't think we'll come up with 15 from our "home area."  However, as the program expands, I imagine that more people and families will be included.  Additionally, tomorrow I will head out with Edgar and a friend of the mayor (Manuel, I think) to visit the 10 additional communities where he would like me to take on 15-20 more families.  I think we'll easily find even more who need help.  Let's just say that this is so much bigger than myself now.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A big little trip: Day 966

Plans are moving forward to develop a program in Solola for the 15 poorest identified families in the area.  I have to say that I'm really quite excited about this.  I've spent the last two days building an outline for the program which is multi-faceted and pretty inclusive. So, next week I'll be headed to Solola to meet the 14 additional families (as well as see Juana and her family who will be the 15th family in the program).  We will spend the first morning in a meeting with all the families, and then the afternoon of the first day and all the next day will be spent visiting their homes and learning their stories.  I'll be posting more details as they become more official.

I'm excited!  If you're only half as excited as I am, you're pretty excited too!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mission Moment: June Newsletter (Stateside)

 My clock reads 8:30 am, but I know to add 2 hours. I have found the large jars of pickles waiting for me in the cupboard, but can't seem to find cereal. I'm listening to the CD which I purchased from At some point later today, I'll have to try to find my keys to the house and car which we keep in the same place. In some ways, it's strange to be in this place that I still call home when I'm here; I won't go into all of the ways, but let's just say that sometimes I pause and think, “Something isn't right. How/What do I...?” However, this post isn't about the United States.
The past month has offered a wealth of experiences and has helped shaped my future. May 13-15, I was delivering water filters with Iglesia del Camino (the church I attend in Guatemala) donated by Compassion International and provided by Sawyer. These filters cost Q400 (about $50 each), and I'm looking at providing some of them to the families with which I already work in Guatemala. I think that God is using Solola to provide me with an area that is in need of help both economically and spiritually. He has provided me clear needs which can be quantified and categorized. It's a structure which I appreciate and feel able to work with. Additionally, the political and legal structure in the indigenous community of Solola is, in a word, “fair.” I have heard and seen many examples of their judicial system in the area, and I'd like to share a couple of them with you.
Story #1: A woman stole a chicken so that her children would have something to eat. The woman is caught, but the chicken is already dead. The woman has no money to pay for the chicken and it can't be returned as it was. The reason why the woman stole the chicken is because her husband is a drunk who works but doesn't provide for the family, instead spending his money on alcohol. Who is guilty? Well, the woman is guilty of robbery, but her husband is as well. (Most of the country is rooted in the idea that the man needs to provide for the family, and if his provision is not enough then, and only then, should the woman take work outside of the home.) The woman, whose job it isn't to earn money for her family, is sentenced to a half a day of washing clothes for the family whose chicken was robbed. The man, whose lack of care for his husbandly and fatherly duties caused the robbery, is sentenced to a week of work in the fields with part of his earnings going towards paying for the chicken and the other part going straight to his wife; he is also given a stern warning about responsibility. Should the situation occur again, the wife would serve the same “sentence” while that of the man would be heavier.
Story #2: Juana is a woman I work with. She was abandoned by her husband when she was pregnant with their 7th son. He mortgaged the house and land to the bank and took off. 5 years later, the bank wants payment or the land. He isn't interested in paying off the mortgage because he lives somewhere else with another woman. Juana was able to raise some money to work on paying off the mortgage. (I am unsure if she has completed that or not.) However, her husband—having the mortgage paid—said that he now wanted to sell the house. Basically the indigenous legal system told him “You can pay child support (including 5 years in which you have not paid anything) and the property will stay yours. Otherwise, the deed is being transferred to Juana's name.”
The plan is to move out to Solola sometime in September-November. This is still a recent decision, and I will of course be praying about it over the course of the next several months; I invite you to join me in prayer.

The Care and Keeping of a Missionary

I hope to see you all in church! I fly back to Gautemala on June 6th. I look forward to this time of sharing with all of you.

More Little Faces (and updates on a lot of things!): Day 955

Ismael and I regularly meet to discuss the situation in Solola.  We always start with and update about Juana so I can understand her situation better.  I realize she has become my "poster child."  Ismael says that there are 15 more families in Solola who are in the same or a worse condition than she is.  All, or almost all, of them have similar stories to that of Juana.

But there comes the problem of how I learn about the needs of 16 families when I live all the way near Antigua.  It is a 2 hour ride from my house to hers, and that's if the bus driver is driving a little wildly--most of them do, though--and Ismael's parents are waiting for me with the pickup when I arrive in Los Encuentros.  As there is no longer any need for me to live in San Antonio and as all of my work is slowly pulling on me to move to Solola, I imagine that sometime this fall I will be moving to the area and getting down to business.  I will ideally be able to visit each family once per month, and work on setting up a sponsorship program for them.  I will start to work with the leaders in Solola to try to bring tourism to their area (which is what they say they want; although, I have cautioned against this.)

It will be a change from everything I have known up to this point.  For the most part, I will stop speaking Spanish and take up speaking Kaqchikel.  (For those of you who were curious about those Kaqchikel classes, I bought a book off Amazon which I'm going to use with Edgar's assistance.  It was a whole lot cheaper and a whole lot more logical considering my situation.)  I will likely find a new church to attend; although I haven't ruled out spending the weekends in Antigua.  New neighbors, new place to buy bread, new place to buy everything.  Let's just say, it's going to be interesting.

God has given me all sorts of new experiences here, and sometimes I can't help but wonder if Guatemala is it for me.  Although I love where I live and what I do, some of the things I go through make me lift an eyebrow and ask, "God, this is...weird.  Are You...?  Do You have something bigger planned for me?  Because, if not, this is weird."  I recently watched the movie "Taken," and a line that resonated with me was "I can tell you I don't have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills."  Mine is a set of skills that God started putting in me long before my birth and has only continued to cultivate as I've grown.

Anyway, it's big.  It's exciting. And it's the update.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Thank you, Salvation Army: Day 954

For those of you who are unaware, I am in the States for a few weeks, or at least I was.  I return to Guatemala fairly soon.  Anyway, as necessitated by my constantly shrinking waistline, I need to keep buying new clothes.  Every time I circle back to the United States, I visit Salvation Army and buy myself a new wardrobe.  I realize that sounds incredibly shallow, but in the last 954 days, I have gone from wearing L/XL shirts to S/XS.  I have gone from a size 16 pants to a size 4. (Although, the pants may be as a result of stretching. Since I wash clothes by hand in Guatemala, they don't tend to shrink back down in the dryer.  Size 6, upon buying them, tend to fit quite well; three months later, they're a bit loose.)  Anyway, this isn't a post about how Guatemala is the best diet-and-exercise program ever; it is a post about my visit to Salvation Army today.

Today I visited the Salvation Army on Sashabaw Road in Clarkston.  Fridays and Saturdays at all Salvation Army stores are 5 for $5 on one certain clothing tag color.  However, today was a very special sale.  It was not only 5 for $5, it was also 6 for $6, 7 for $7, 8 for $8, 9 for $9, AND...wait for it...10 for $5.  No, that's not a typo.  Buy 5 items at sale price, get 5 items free.  I called my mother, "Is it usually '10 for $5'?" I asked her.  "So that's why the guy looked at me funny today when I only had 5 items."  Bingo.  I had already put 10 items in the cart for me (as I try not to spend more than $10 on my wardrobe each time), but armed with this new information, I started filling my cart (and hanging clothes off the sides) for my kids.  You all are familiar with the story of Juana and her 7 boys if you aren't just tuning in for the first time; however, you aren't aware of some new changes which will be coming up.  (I will probably post about those tomorrow; so stay tuned.)

At any rate, I wanted to take this opportunity to THANK Salvation Army for the sale they had today.  I know they didn't do it for me, but through their generosity, I was able to buy 30 sweaters and sweatshirts for only $15.  7 of those already have a home they'll be going to; the other 23 soon will. Thanks for making sure my kids stay warm.  I appreciate what you do.  (And thanks to those who donate clothes to Salvation Army as well.  I appreciate you as well!)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Surviving: Day 924

Someone commented to me the other day that she didn't know how we--her friends and acquaintances here in Guatemala--live day to day with the extreme conditions around us.  No one had ever said this to me.  No one had ever made me think about this.  And until that moment, I hadn't thought about it.

Growing up in my family, we basically did without things unless they were a necessity.  Now, "necessity" had a very liberal definition.  We had a television, but we did not have cable.  I don't know of anyone who needs a television, but it sure helped us not get completely shunned by our classmates for being odd.  And we took family vacations every (or almost every) year, but they were road trips to interesting and educational places around the United States.  I didn't fly on a plane until I was around 15, and besides Canada (which, when you live 1 hour from the border crossing, doesn't count), I didn't leave the US until the day before my 18th birthday.  My brother bought our first video game system (an N64. You do the math.).  Our first family computer was an Apple IIe; our second family computer was a Gateway 2000.  (We may have had a Tandy in the middle, but that might have been my brother's computer.)  Basically, trips, electronics, clothes, whatever, never really happened.  One of my last Stateside memories of not spending money on something that wasn't necessary was going to a Lansing Lugnuts game with my then-boyfriend and his mother.  We got there a little bit early; so we went window shopping in the store.  I was told that if I wanted anything, that I could just ask and they'd get me a present with it being my first game and all.  I really don't know what it is to "want," and I'm still pretty clueless.  So, I politely said I didn't need anything and was just looking, and then we went to take our seats.  (There had been a hat I had been looking at and liked, but since I couldn't justify its purchase, I didn't ask for it.)  Well, from the moment we sat down, I knew I was going to have a problem.  The sun was in our eyes, I couldn't see the game, and, most important of all, it's dangerous to go to a baseball game and not be able to see...never know when a foul ball will take you out.  So, we went back and got the hat...not because I wanted it but because I needed it.

So when I came to Guatemala, I never thought about what I had or didn't have.  There is very little in the life that one actually needs.  And when we're talking about the people who live below the poverty line, those were the people who my friend was referring to when she said "extreme conditions."  People in extreme poverty live on less than $2/day. I personally live on $6.25/day. ($1 of mine goes to bus fare each day.)  I don't know what people in regular poverty live on, but I know I earn less than the minimum wage; so I think I might be in regular poverty.

So, what am I trying to say with all of this and how did I reply to my friend?  The secret to living in the midst of these "extreme conditions" is not living in the midst of them; it's becoming a part of them.  I deal with the same things my neighbors deal with.  We're all just here trying to survive one day at a time.  I feel I am a better advocate for them because I not only have the passion I came with, but I also know what it is like--as much as possible, anyway--to be one of them.  I don't only fight for a better life for each one of them, but for us as a community, as a whole.  When you truly understand who or what you're fighting for, you're better equipped to fight for it.

Mission Moment: May Newsletter

Sadly, the past month has little to report about my work here in Guatemala. If I were to pick one word to sum up the past month, it would be “sick.” I was blessed to meet a doctor here in Antigua about 2 to 3 months ago. She’s a nice person and gives me my consultations for free. So, when I started having debilitating abdominal pain about a month ago, I knew who to talk to. Long story short, I’ve been treated for parasites (which it turned out I didn’t have) and for a bacterial infection of my large intestine (which I actually did have). Between the exhaustion of the infection and the side-effects from the medicines, I’ve been sleeping 12-14 hours per night. In short, I have nothing to report except that I am slowly recuperating.

I can also report that I do have a date for my next trip to the States: May 21-June 6. I look forward to seeing you.

The care and keeping of a missionary

I just ask that you keep my health in your prayers. This infection and the treatment have set my immune system back a bit, and while I have faith that God will heal me, the waiting and lingering pain are annoying and discouraging. As always, I invite you to read my blog at and to e-mail me at (Admittedly, not much has been posted on the blog since I got sick.) I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mission Moment: April Newsletter

 March has been a busy month for me so far. I have gotten involved with a lot of things here in Guatemala, and at time I feel like maybe I've extended myself too far. I have a job working as a manager in hotels which pays my bills. I've also started helping out another missionary couple expand their project to include a school. I'm planning a trip out to Solola to visit Juana de Leon and her family on March 19th to help get a new roof on their house, and I also have a meeting with the mayor to see what can be done to help the economy of the area. At the end of February, accompanied by a friend, I made the trip into the capitol to renew my visa for another 3 months. Basically, God is moving in a big way and I'm so excited to be a part of it!
John and Judy Prim (One Hope Ministry), originally from Chicago, are a missionary couple who are serving down here in Guatemala. They have a home in which they accept girls from poor, rural families. They provide these girls a place to live, teach them about sanitary living (drinking clean—not bacteria-infested—water, bathing one's self regularly, cutting/cleaning nails, cooking with gas instead of wood, and so on), and pay for the girls to attend a school which will provide them with the education to get a good job and help their family escape from the extreme poverty in which they live. Up until now, they've had about 12 girls living with them at a time. This year, due to a few health concerns, they scaled back on the number of girls with them (they have only 5) and are gearing up to build their own home to ideally house up to 100 girls and school which will also accept outside students as well. While helping them, I've managed to make a few contacts of my own which will help to ideally bring short-term groups to Guatemala.
You may recall the pastor couple with whom I was working out in Solola. Last I mentioned them, the situation was a little uncertain. I won't say that it is any more certain, but there is a family in the United States which has decided to sponsor one of the families (Juana de Leon and her seven sons) in Los Encuentros. Ismael, one of the sons of the pastors, is a community leader in the area, and he has been in contact with Juana. After visiting her, he went to talk to the mayor in Solola about this “activist” (me) he knows, and during the course of the conversation, Juana was brought up. As a result, her family will also be receiving 10 pounds of nutritious drink mix each month from the local government. Studies have shown that children who have a nutritious diet do better in school. I'm hoping for big things out of Juana's boys! Also exciting is that I am planning for the visit of two of the members of the sponsoring family who hope to come down at the end of July.
Additionally, the mayor would like to be able to send small groups of artesans to the United States to be able to put on shows (display and sell their wares, and maybe conduct some demonstrations of how the crafts are made as well as share a little about their culture). If you are interested, know anything about this, or know someone who might be interested, please contact me! Maybe a school district would like them to come in and do some demonstrations in each school. Maybe a community center would like to have them for a week. I don't know. I do know that as they are from a high-flight-risk country, they will likely not be allowed without an invitation.
Finally, I have plans to be in the area for a visit near the end of May. Actual dates have not yet been decided yet.
The Care and Keeping of a Missionary
You all take very good care of me, and I am blessed to have you as my sending church. I keep you in my prayers as I know you keep me in yours. Specific prayer requests are for the growth of the ministry which has been entrusted to Judy and John, for the family of Juana, for the residents of Solola, for my general health and well-being, and that God might work through all of us in at least a small way during the coming month. Additionally, I ask that you keep your eyes and ears out for opportunities for the artesans of Solola. If it is in your ability to look for opportunities, please do so.

As always, you can read more at my blog and you are always free to e-mail me at I love you all, and I am glad to call you all my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter! (Day 893)

I hadn't planned on this post, but every once in a while something is said which sparks a connection in my brain.  Last night, a friend of mine was upset that he had been asked to clean up a mess which wasn't his.  It had been a long day, and he was tired.  And, perhaps most of all, he knew whose mess it was and felt they should clean it up.

Yesterday at work, I had a bottle of pop which I normally drink with my lunch.  The one time that I don't actually watch myself open my pop, it explodes.  Fortunately, none got on my light blue shirt I was wearing.  (The pop is red.)  It got on the desk.  It got on the floor...and it got on the yellow chair cushion.  A little also got on my dark gray pants, but you couldn't tell.  Well, my paid employment is at a hotel; so the yellow chair cushion having red spots in the reception area was just not possible.  The receptionist did me a favor and grabbed me a white washcloth to mop up the mess.  I did the best I could with that.  Then the cleaning lady walked in and started cleaning.  When she noticed what had happened with me, she came over and started cleaning up my mess, even to the point of putting her clean hands on the dirty mop to make sure the side of the desk wouldn't be sticky.  Later, I took the chair cushion and washcloth to her and asked her what to do because I really wasn't sure.  She simply said, "Give them here," and walked off to make sure they got washed.  I was a little embarrassed, but mostly I was humbled.  This was not her mess.  This was my mess, but I didn't know the best way to go about cleaning it up.

Those nearly 2000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross, he was cleaning up my mess.  In Matthew 5:17-18, we read, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.   For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."  So, what is the law?  The law is about cleaning up your own messes.  In Leviticus chapter 4, we can read about the sin offering, what had to be done to atone for sin.  A person had to sacrifice a bull, a goat, or a lamb without defect in order to purify them from their sins.  But what is really "without defect?"  When has your dog eaten your homework or thrown up on your rug?  I know little about livestock, but I imagine that they're much like dogs, not perfect, defective.  So, basically, all these offerings to God just weren't cutting it. (Reference Hebrews 10; it was too long to include here, and I'd like you all to get some exercise pulling out your Bibles...or googling it.)  Which is why Jesus, a.k.a. God, had to take on a human body and have his blood poured out for our sins.  God, being the guy who sets the standards, is the only one who can be without defect.  (It's a little like "keeping up with the Joneses.")

I am not perfect. I make messes.  Often, I am not adequate to clean up my own messes.  I am humbly blessed to have Someone who cleans them up for me.  Happy Easter!  Your messes are cleaned up!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Learning to Speak (Day 884)

I don't usually ask for money directly; however, I'm searching for donations to help me learn Kaqchikel. The cost of classes here in Antigua is $250/week (6 hours per day, 5 days per week) or $200/week (3.5 hours per day, 5 days per week). The former obviously appeals to me more due to the value (hours/$). I am theoretically only looking at 1 month of intensive classes, and then using my Kaqchikel to communicate with everyone around me (who speaks it) in order to further solidify it. Anyone have $1k to help me become trilingual and better serve the people I'm here to serve?

Normalmente, no pido dinero directamente, pero estoy buscando donacions para ayudarme aprender Kaqchikel. El precio en Antigua es $250/semana (6 horas/dia, 5 dias/semana) o $200/semana (3.5 horas/dia, 5 dias/semana). El primero obviamente me parece mucho mas por el valor (horas/$). En teoria, solo estoy viendo un mes de clases intensivos y dispues usando mi Kaqchikel para comunicarme con todos (quienes lo hablan) a mi alrededor para permanecerlo en mi cerebro. Alguien tiene mil dolares para ayudarme ser trilingue y servir mejor a la gente?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bring on the Rain (Day 882)

Yesterday was a big day for me.  Yesterday was a big day for a lot of people.

Some of you may remember Juana.  In case you don't feel like viewing the YouTube video, she's a mother of 7 (all boys) whose husband abandoned them all.  The oldest two boys--still minors--work to help support their family.  I took Juana's story back to Michigan with me, along with some of the crafts that she and her sons make.  This story, through a really strange route, made its way to a woman named Christina.  Christina is a mother of 8 whose husband is very much in the picture.  And Juana's story touched Christina's heart.  So many people want to help and don't know how, but Christina took a step and asked me what could be done.

In the year and a half since I met Juana de Leon and her family, their condition has worsened.  Their roof had significant leaks.  They had no bed. (The bed in the video is reportedly just a few elevated planks which they were sleeping on.)  They had no money to celebrate Christmas (until I returned in late November with some money from items which had been sold).  It seems as though only two of her children are in school this year. The oldest one of the five who I met on my last trip has a large open sore on one of his hands.  In fact, none of the three boys who were present at the house when we arrived yesterday seemed to have grown an inch.  (We can probably attribute that to some low-level of malnutrition.  The boys don't look malnourished, but they aren't growing.  And considering that the three who we saw were aged 13, 10, and 5, they should have grown in a year and a half.)  And, perhaps worst of all, a large crack has formed in the side of their adobe house.  (It is slightly visible in the video, but now it is pronounced on both the front and backside of the house.)

However, one thing had changed for the better: Juana de Leon had a peaceful smile on her face which didn't seem the least bit strained.  Yesterday, she received a new roof through a donation made by Christina and one of her daughters (really, in a way, the whole family).  Sadly, the donation did not quite cover an entire new roof, but that was partly due to the decisions which I ultimately made.  In Guatemala, there are two thicknesses of roof.  The thin one is cheaper, and the thick one is more expensive.  I'll give you one guess as to which one holds up longer.  (This is part of the reason that the poor stay poor.)  Luckily for us, the man who runs the only hardware store in Los Encuentros is a member of the church where Camillo (Ismael and Edgar's father) is the pastor, and he was able to sell it to us for less than he would normally.  Even so, in the end the decision was made to use two of Juana's existing roof pieces which weren't in too bad of shape to finish covering the roof.  The even better news is that we had estimated a little poorly, and we only ended up needing to use one of the existing roof pieces.

Juana had a basket which she had woven and presented it to me.  I had a loaf of bread I had baked (especially for her family using incaparina in place of 1 cup of flour) which I presented to her.  I was also able to present her with a Spanish-English New Testament which came to me in August 2012 complements of some Gideons.  (Please, bring me more Bibles!)  And if that wasn't enough, Juana's day only got better...

...And my day only got more crazy.  You see, we were slated to talk to the mayor of Solola concerning the formation of a group of artesans to travel to foreign countries.  I'm supposedly the one who is supposed to make this all happen.  Anyway, Ismael called to double check about this meeting.  We were supposed to bring the artesans to the meeting!  So, we drove around to the houses of the two other artesans in Los Encuentros and advised them to pack up a sample of their work and get to Solola (the capitol of the department of Solola...I know, confusing), and then we drove towards Solola and picked up another artesan.  Shortly thereafter started a series of meetings which lasted about 3 hours.  The main language in which these meetings were conducted was Kaqchikel, the native language in Los Encuentros, Solola; and San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Sacatepequez (where I live).  However, my neighbors don't speak anywhere near as much of it.  I don't understand Kaqchikel.  I speak about 20 words of it (11 of those being numbers).  It really is on my list of things I urgently want/need to do.  Let's just say that meetings of any length being carried out in a language you don't understand are exhausting.  I was asked to share a few opinions which I Spanish.  And then I was asked to name their artesan group.  Wow.  Talk about an honor.  But no one had warned me and I was supposed to come up with a name on the spot?  So, throwing a random idea out there, I said "Artesanos de Solola Internacional."  They seemed happy with it, and it describes the group perfectly.  Then they said I needed a name.  I don't know.  I think my parents gave me a fine name.  They said I needed an organization.  So, apparently, I need to become an NGO.  I've had a day to think about it, and I think I've decided on a name; I just know nothing about becoming an NGO.

As I said, Juana's day got better.  At the first meeting, we discussed Juana's situation a little.  At the end of the day, she not only had a loaf of bread, a New Testament, and a roof, she also had 2 foam mattresses, and a (supposedly, but I think more) 10-pound bag of healthy food for herself and children.  I was also able to talk to the woman who was in charge of our first meeting and share with her about the wall at Juana's house. She explained a little about a new kind of house that some people are trying to build in the area which looks a little like an igloo.  She asked me to send her the pictures, and she'd add them to the list of cases to try to get the project funded.

Things are going to get better for Juana and her family.  This weekend I will be sending some toothpaste, antibacterial cream, perhaps another loaf of bread, and a couple toys to the family.  Sadly, I don't think I have any spare toothbrushes sitting around.  A lot of the time, we say that there is nothing to be gained in just giving to a family.  They don't gain anything because they get used to receiving.  However, Juana didn't ask her husband to leave her pregnant and with 6 boys under the age of 10.  And yet, for 6 years, she has managed to the best of her ability.  I know very little about the oldest two boys and haven't seen two of the other ones in over a year and a half, but I do know that none of the boys have ever appeared neglected or unloved.  For a woman who likely had no schooling to have to suddenly provide for so many by herself, the woman hasn't done so poorly.  She is one of the 19% in Solola who lives in extreme poverty.  If you recognize those who are willing to put in the effort and you give them a hand up to get to even ground, that's when you can see them fight a fair fight.  It's not about giving her a car and a TV and a laptop to each child.  It's about putting a roof over their heads, a meal every day to take the edge off, and a place to sleep at night.  Once they have that, they can work to get the other meal or two per day; they can work to put the boys through school, and they can mend the clothes and buy new-ish ones (and no, we're not talking Abercrombie & Fitch here).

And today, it started to rain at my house.  I think God was waiting for the roof.