Monday, December 1, 2014

Mission Moment: December

 I had a wonderful time seeing many of you when I worshiped with you on the 9th, and I had a really great group for the post-Bible Study meeting on the 11th. Thanks to all who came out! We had a great discussion, and we didn't have time to ask and answer all the questions that we wanted to ask and answer. So, we agreed that one of them I would answer here. It was asked "What are the three greatest needs in Guatemala?" This, to some extent, is a fairly easy question to answer, but how to fix them is a much more difficult question. (Prayer is a great start!)

First, although it is hard to quantify, I think that the faith life of these people is worth noting. Just as in the US, there are so many people who seem to be stagnant in their faith. They seem to do nothing most of the year, but then when the big holidays show up, they do them in grand style...sometimes so grand that they miss the entire point of the holiday. Additionally, many Catholics practice an odd form of Catholicism mixed with their traditional Mayan faith practices. Essentially, when the first missionaries (Jesuit priests, I believe, but don't quote me on that) came over, they found it easiest to tell the people that the practices that they were doing were actually commemorating Catholic saints and holidays and that they were simply doing them wrong...rather than risk telling the people that their gods were false and everything they knew about religion was false. It has created a fascinating but dangerous mix.

Second is a living wage. Minimum wage is about Q2,300 (roughly $300, but completely irrelevant as the economy is different too) per month, but most people don't earn that, especially the families I work with. All but one of the fathers is a day laborer; when there is work, a truck drives down the road picking up anyone who wants to work until the limit is reached. Anyone else goes without work for the day. If there is no work, everyone goes without work for the day. (The other father works in a barber shop where he pays most of what he earns to rent a clipper kit; that problem is already being worked on.) Just so you understand how quickly that Q2,300 for the month can disappear, let's assume that I get a minimum wage job in Antigua (pretty much the only place to get a minimum wage job around here) 6 days per week.
Public Transportation: Q4 (one way) x 2(ways) x 26 days = Q208
Lunch (chicken sandwich and tiny pop, the least expensive option): Q9 x 26 days = Q234
Other meals (beans and rice with tortillas, the least expensive option): About Q6 x (31 breakfasts + 31 dinners + 5 lunches) = Q402
Clean drinking water = Q9
House rent = Q600
Electric bill = Q30
Water bill = Q5
That's Q1,488 right there. And I am one person. Imagine supporting a family off of that. Two people (spouses, with only one working) would spend Q1,813 (doubling the water—both drinking and washing—bills and having the other person eat 93 meals of rice and beans during the month and adding in 4 weekly trips to Antigua for the second person to potentially buy vegetables and other necessary household supplies). And neither of those figures is including the soap to wash dishes and clothes nor toilet paper or any other household consumable. What about if they need to buy a uniform for their job or just need another piece of clothing in general? If their shoes wear out? If someone invites them to a birthday party (and have to buy a present)? There is only a Q500 barrier; there is no room to get sick or injured. Now consider the multitude of people who don't make minimum wage. There are no consistent government programs to help them. There are no food stamps. There is no Medicaid. There are no after-school programs. There are no free or reduced-price lunches. So, for people who don't earn minimum wage and for people with families, cuts have to be made somewhere. (For the record, my housing rent is extremely low; even if people owned their own land and house, they would probably be paying some reasonably similar amount on property taxes.) And if cuts aren't made, more people need to work to support the family. This second issue actually covers a great deal of issues, but let's press on.

I suppose the third issue would be the lack of education. Here I'm not just talking about going to school, although that is part of it. However, many professionals are lacking the knowledge and skills to be able to do their job properly. I have a very sadanecdotefrom a missionary in a nearby town. He works with special needs kids and even has a home for orphaned ones. A few months ago, one of his special needs girls went into respiratory distress. Two of his kids started driving the van for the hospital but called an ambulance on the way while he sat in the back with the girl monitoring her situation and eventually starting CPR when her heart started failing. They met up with the ambulance, made the transfer, and as her legal guardian, the missionary went with them in the back. It was soon quite clear that the paramedics had no clue what to do for the girl; so the man made them step aside and went back to caring for the girl. She arrived at the hospital dead. I'm not saying that she would have made it if they had known what to do, but I am saying that without the CPR there is nothing short of a miracle that would have gotten her there alive. The police and hospital staff face a similar problem; they are terribly under-equipped (sorry, that's a snuck-in, piggy-back #4). In the hospitals, it is sometimes the case of doctors taking the hospital goods for their own private practices, but—not to approve of their actions—the reality is that they probably couldn't get those supplies for their patients otherwise. However, I've also heard that some of the Guatemalan doctors have asked to work alongside the medical team that comes down every January in hopes of learning some of their techniques, and I know that US Border Patrol comes down to work with the Guatemalan police to make them better. Now, if only I could get past the fact that a university graduate didn't know that a raisin was actually a dehydrated grape...

The Care and Keeping of a Missionary
It really was quite a pleasure to be in fellowship with all of you in November. Thank you for that time. Thank you for your kind words. Thank you for your encouragement. I ask for your prayers for the 3.5 situations I've mentioned in this article; prayer changes things. Pray for those who are actively working to make a change and pray for the places where there is no one to help that change happen. Pray about being that change.
I look forward to hearing from any and all of you via e-mail: Please feel free to send me questions about what I'm doing here, and I can try to answer those in future articles. And, although it hasn't been updated in a while, I also have been a bit better about making more regular updates on my blog which can be found at in case you don't want to wait for the next newsletter to come out!

Language Learning
If you remember, working with the families I work with, they don't always speak Spanish. And they CERTAINLY don't speak English. They speak Kaqchikel which is a Mayan language. Many people assume that it is a derivative of Spanish, but the Kaqchikel were living in Guatemala and communicating long before the Spaniards ever showed up. It was not a written language; so even today there is some disagreement about spelling, and there is some pronunciation variation between towns. Not that I've studied Korean, but Kaqchikel sounds like Korean to me.

This month's phrase is “Shoe-la.” (I have no clue how it is spelled, but that's how it is pronounced.) “Shoe-la” means “That's all” or “No more.” If you are eating at someone's house and they ask you if you want more food but you don't, you'd say “shoe-la.” If you are buying things at the market and you've checked off everything on your shopping list and the store attendant asks if there is anything else you want, you'd say “shoe-la.” I think the expression most similar in Guatemalan Spanish would be “Ya no,” but that's very Guatemalan and doesn't translate very well literally to English.

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