Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saying "Goodbye" to 2015: Day 1,985

I am always struck by the generosity of people who have so little.  As I spent yesterday and today visiting my families in their homes, I--and the three people with me: Manuel, his son, and his son's friend--was greeted with anything from a snack to a meal in just about every home.  (At one home today, I finally just had to eat a single tortilla, thank them for their generosity, and tell them I was completely stuffed and couldn't eat anything more.)

We didn't have an end-of-year meeting like we had last year.  Between some personal issues and going to visit my folks, I had over a month that was taken up by non-program stuff.  Which is fine.  We simply asked the questions at the home visits which I do every December.

This time we started our visit with David's family.  David just turned four; so he won't be going to school this year, but he's always happy to see me.  His oldest sister is Wendy, one of the two I was hoping to have come live with me next year to continue her studies as there is no high school in their village.  Due to their mother's poor health--which is, thankfully, improving--the family has decided that Wendy will take a year off from studying on a regular basis.  She will still be taking technology classes on the weekends when her younger sister is home from school.   We all hope that their mother is feeling better next year so Wendy can continue her studies.

Then we went to visit Jesus's family.  (I know that sounds funny from an American standpoint, but it's actually a really common Spanish name.)  He's the father of the family, and their family holds a special place in my memory because when I first met the family, they had just had a litter of kittens, and while I was doing the intake paperwork, one kitten just jumped right up on my leg and made itself comfortable there.  Anyway, he has three children in school.  The eldest, Olga, just finished 6th grade.  I asked her parents if she was going to keep studying, and they said "no."  So, I asked why, and it's mostly a money issue.  When it was explained that the program helps with the costs, the "no" became a "maybe."  We'll see what happens there.

After that, we went to visit the family of Luis and Mercedes, the other young lady I was hoping would come live with me to continue her studies.  Luis failed his technology class and his Spanish class and didn't pass the make-up test for those classes; so he failed 7th grade.  He has decided to not repeat the grade and will be heading back to work in the fields.  For me, this puts a lot of pressure on Mercedes as someone has to care for their little sister Clara (a special needs child) once their parents are gone.  She is a little nervous about studying so far from her family; she feels she will miss them.  She has not given me an answer one way or another, but if she does not continue her studies somewhere, her family will forfeit their place in the program; they have no potential students left.  (If Mercedes were to take a year off and then decide to continue her studies, I would certainly give them a spot; however, she will be 18 in March.  In this culture, that is quite old to be a single female...even if the laws have recently changed.)

Then we went to visit Veronica's family.  Veronica is the girl who failed 2nd grade this year after being sent to live with her paternal grandmother's family.  Her mom tells me she is living at home again and only goes to sleep at her grandmother's house and that she will repeat 2nd grade.  Her younger brother, Adolfo, will be in 3rd grade and another brother in 1st.

Then we went to visit a family who has always weighed heavily on my heart.  You might remember Ismael who, as a 14-year old in 3rd grade, decided to drop out of school because he was embarrassed to be with classmates so much younger.  I can't say I completely blame him.  However, his 12-year old sister just finished 2nd grade this year and has gone to work in the capitol saying she's no longer interested in studying.  Now, those of you in the States and in many other countries with advanced educational systems probably find the second part of what I just said more disturbing than the first part; I assure you that anyone who lives and works in this country is more disturbed by the first part.  At any rate, we're all disturbed together.  Their 10-year old sister just failed 1st grade for the second time.  I suggested maybe they should have her work for a year and let her decide if brain work or manual work is more her style.  Yes, I'm frustrated.  Anyway, Manuel had a talk with the dad and said that as the father of the family, he needed to lay down the rules about who makes decisions in the family about work and study.  So, both the girls are going back to school in 2016.

Then we went to visit the family of Ronaldo.  He will be in 9th grade this year, and that's exciting for me, but it's also a little sad.  Because he is missing a hand, he was allowed to continue studying while his other 4 brothers had to go to work in the field after 6th grade.  This year, his youngest brother will be in 5th grade, and, quite frankly, I'm dreading the family visits the year after next.  Ronaldo really isn't that great of a student unlike his other two brothers who I've had the pleasure of knowing, but his family doesn't think he can do field work.  What his family sees as a weakness is the only thing that has kept him in school, but I think that knowing that his family feels he is less than whole is also what holds him back.  If Maynor--the youngest boy--is taken out of school at the end of 2017, I don't know who will be more crushed: Ronaldo or myself.  It feels like someone has said that Ronaldo's judgement day is coming in exactly 2 years, and I'm helpless to stop it.  I asked the mother if, after working in the fields last year, Efraim would be returning to school, and she said no.  Carmelina, their oldest sister, isn't doing too well either; however, they had lost the contact number for the organization that was helping with her seizure medication.  Fortunately, I still had it in my phone and was able to give it to them; so, hopefully that gets fixed soon.  (That was also the organization that fitted Ronaldo with his prosthetic hand; so maybe that means he can get a new one without having to go all the way to Salama in January.)

Then we went to visit their cousins.  The story is much like the story we heard about Olga in Jesus's house:  Marta Lidia--who earned the most points of any child in the program in 2014--has finished 6th grade, and they're not sure whether to send her to middle school because of the cost.  Also, apparently, Marta is afraid of not being able to finish and making me which point I yelled--she was outside--"No, this is what's making me angry!"  Of course, it was a joke because I'm not one to get angry.  But if someone is sincerely trying and falls short, I'm completely okay with it.  So, they're going to see if they can get her to go.

After that, we stopped in with our other widow, Maria.  It was a pleasant surprise to meet her eldest daughter, Feliciana.  She was a little shy and didn't want to explain who she was or what she was doing there at first, but after some cajoling--which I tend to think I'm pretty good at--she warmed up to our presence.  She has a wonderful control of Spanish, but then again, her mother's Spanish isn't that bad.  Luis and Griselda had dropped out of school about 3 months in.  I can't say that surprised me much, but it was annoying.  Some days I want to blame them.  Some days I want to blame their mother.  Some days I just want to flop down on the ground and throw a temper tantrum.  If anyone has any better ideas, I'm all for hearing them.  Their youngest sister, Amalia, will also be starting school this year.

Today we went to visit Nicolas's family.  We were concerned he was going to pull his family out of the program.  To be fair, last year was not a good year for them as far as the points were concerned.  They weren't earning enough during the entire year to even pay for their school supplies.  However, the elder daughter has improved her grades significantly, and the middle daughter's grades have stayed about the same.  It was really great to walk up to their house in the drizzle and see that they had constructed a new building with two rooms in it.  When asked if they had received help to build it, Nicolas told us that he had been saving for many years and that with the help from the program to buy food, he'd been able to save a little bit more money and built it during the year.

And then onto the house of Luisa.  You may remember that she got lost in the first year, but then last December I asked Manuel if we could go to her house just to "make sure" that she wasn't interested in the program.  They were interested, but they weren't sure how to get a hold of us.  So, this was their first year actually participating in the program.  The boys were thrilled with their Christmas present.  This year each family got a bag of marbles, some hygiene items, mini candy canes, a pen or two, and some hair ties.  After giving out 8 presents yesterday, I asked Manuel's son if marbles were popular here, and he assured me that they are.  Edgar and Cristian definitely confirmed that.  "BOLICHES!  MAMA, MIRA!  BOLICHES!!"  (They're called "cincos" where I live, but also during last night's conversation, I was informed of other potential names for them.)
Luisa confirmed that her neighbors who were also in the program have moved the entire family to the capitol, and then she mentioned another neighbor, a single woman who unknowingly got involved with a married guy, had three kids by him, and then had him go back to his "real" family.  So, we might go visit her at some point during the year and consider her for inclusion in the program.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Myers Briggs and Jung: Day 1,938

I take a M-B style test roughly every year or two.  I find it fascinating to see how a person's personality changes with time.  When I came to Guatemala just over 5 years ago, I was very much an INFP; I had ranked as that since middle school.  After being at the Hogar and being a teacher, I became an INTJ.  For a long time after that, I kept scoring as an INTJ which for someone like me is frustrating because while I think that thinking is a good thing, I also think that feeling is equally important.  And while I like to have matters "settled" (a J characteristic), I'm always open for changes in plans (a P characteristic).  For example: I go into a meeting with a list of what we're going to talk about, but if I see that there is something more important to talk about, sure, let's talk about it!  While I make plans--just to not be fumbling around at the last minute and wasting others' time--they are 100% flexible to adjust to the needs of the group.

So, I have accepted that I am an intuitive (N) introvert (I), but beyond that, I'm a little more fluid.  On the T-F scale, while at the Hogar and teaching, there was little space for "Oh, well, this person is trying hard; so they can have a better grade."  No, there had to be a separate category for that on the grading rubric, usually called "participation."  Everyone had to be treated equally so that I wouldn't be accused of playing favorites or anything like that.  In my project, there's a little more flexibility, and I think Jeanne stated it best on Thursday that there's a point when you have to bend the rules simply to encourage.  A grade of 79 is my "hard limit" for earning the first point, but when a child's report card has a 78 or even a 77 as the highest grade, I'm no longer in a position where I have to say "No, tough luck."  My goal is encouraging kids to get better grades now, not grading them.  Yes, you may have a point.

So, I'm pleased to announce that today I tested as an INFJ.  The I, N, and F were all 82% strength while the J was only 64% reflecting my flexibility.

(From my results today.)

Some famous INFJs from history for you: Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Mahatma Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson, and Ron Paul.  Interesting mix which just goes to show that one's personality doesn't dictate what side of history one will be on.

If you'd like to learn more about the general concept, Wikipedia is a good start:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What's next?: Day 1,937

This is more about the meeting on Thursday.  I had the chance to talk to Mercedes and Wendy's mothers (as well as Mercedes's brother as their mother's Spanish isn't very good).  I presented to them the option of the two teens coming to live with me next year.  It's common knowledge that the two young ladies want to continue their studies; however, to do so where they currently live is not highly practical nor financially sound...which is why they received the invites.

To be clear, I would not be inviting them to come live with me if they hadn't shown over the past two years that they are mature, responsible, and respectful.  I would not be inviting them to come live with me if they hadn't shown that they actually care about studying and believe in the importance of an education.  I wouldn't be inviting them to live with me if their families had not proven to be trustworthy.  Because, in the end, I will be the one responsible for them and anything that happens while they are in my care can be made to be my fault.  (Mercedes will be 17 next year, and Wendy will be 16.)

Do I think they will accept the invitations?  I think Wendy's family will.  In the past few months, her mother has been very sick/weak from what I understand.  The family is Q10,000 in debt and the father has been unable to work as he has taken over all of the housework.  (I'm not sure why Wendy can't do it in the morning and Floricelda in the afternoon, but I won't complain since they're both pulling good grades.)  Wendy's uncle was taken in by a relative when he was a boy, a relative who didn't live in the Solola area, and he later returned much more educated and able to earn well.  Having Wendy come to live with me would just be a different kind of "relative taking in a family member to help with finances" sort of move.
Will Mercedes's family?  I don't know, and that frustrates me because, while I believe that everyone should be able to have a quality education if they want it, I think she's the one who really needs it.  She has a special needs little sister, and someday, when her mother dies, she'll probably be the one who has to care for her little sister.  That means she either needs to earn well or marry well...both of which are more possible when one has a better education.  At the same time, though, the family depends on her to help out in the home now.  Could they do it?  Could they make it work?  I think so.  But I think it will take a lot more convincing than Wendy's family.  Please be praying.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Back to Meetings!: Day 1,936

I was finally able to get out to see my families two days ago.  (I would have written sooner, but my stalker has been on the move again; so I'm trying to keep him a fair number of steps behind me.  He recently took to social media which means I'm struggling to keep you all informed of the situation while worrying about what he is and is not seeing.)  One of my friends from COTA was able to join me, and she was able to identify some people that the team can possibly help in January.  Unfortunately, the COTA team won't be that close to where these people live, but transportation is available.

I haven't been out since mid-May for various reasons; so I had some apologizing to do, and Manuel had some apologizing to do.  But all in all, they were glad I was back...even if some of them admitted to me that they thought I had vanished.  Sorry.  Sorry.  Sorry!

We have also lost one family.  I didn't mention this to you before as I was hoping to cool down and mention it calmly, but since they left the program, it has helped me calm considerably.  This family's oldest son finished 6th grade last year.  His grades weren't horrible, but he wasn't earning much in the way of points, hardly enough to buy his school supplies and certainly not enough to pay private school bills.  I visited each family in December talking to them about the upcoming school year and getting updated clothing sizes and weights for each child, but when I visited this family, they mentioned nothing about planning to send their oldest son to one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the capitol...which is funny since you have to enroll there in November.  So, this frustrated me because I figured they had done it because of the program, and I decided I was going to force them to play by the rules...every single bill was going to cost them 5 points and the boy wasn't going to earn enough himself and they were going to use the points from every single one of their children to keep that one child in school which meant no food stuffs or anything for the family.  And if they had talked to me about it in December, I would have suggested it was a bad idea, but they didn't.  They simply turned in his long and expensive school supply list in January, and we were confused as to why we had a list with no name on it for a school in the capitol.  They came to our first Saturday Session, and then they stopped coming.  Manuel says he called their number and there's no answer.  Neighbors say that the entire family moved to the capitol.  I'm really not going to cry over it.

Last year, our highest point earner was Marta with 57 points.  She had a big lead on her cousin Efraim (37 points) who didn't return to school this year and Wendy (36 points).  However, this year there are a lot of other kids who are giving her a run for her, er, points.  Sadly, part of it is because Marta isn't earning the grades she earned last year.  After 3 of 4 marking periods, 22 points!  Yikes!  Her brother, Rolando, has 23 points after 3 marking periods.  A girl from a family that was going to drop out also has 22 points after 3 marking periods.  (That was encouraging; last year she only earned 9 points all year.)  Wendy is at 40 points after 3 marking periods and may win the "award" for the most points.  (There's so far no physical award, but I'm open to suggestions.)  I only have two marking periods of grades for Nelson, but he has 22 points; this is really good as he had a rough year last year only earning 5 points in total!  Mercedes, my other 9th grader, has 26 points after 3 marking periods; we're worried about her math grade, but otherwise she's doing well in classes.

Those are the good stories, especially for Yoselin and Nelson.  However, there are stories that aren't so good, and more unfortunately they have to do with the two widows in the program.  Maria Elena's husband died when she was about 8 months pregnant with their son.  She has 7 children ranging in age from 3 to 22.  The oldest three, all females, also work to help support the family, but at 15 and 22 it won't be long before the oldest two marry and have families of their own to care for.  Luis, 11, and in second grade and Griselda, K, struggled all of last year.  Griselda didn't want to go to school and was frequently absent.  Luis went but was not that interested in his studies.  On Thursday their mother told me that they both dropped out of school, but that she plans for them to go back next year.  I'm hoping things go better next year, but I worry about Luis as next year he'll be 12 and in the second grade; last year we had a 14-year old in 4th grade and he dropped out because he was so much older than his classmates.
The other widow, Marta, has four children who range in age from 4 to 10.  Her mother-in-law suggested that Marta send her the eldest (Veronica, the only girl) so that Marta would have fewer mouths to feed.  Families are much more connected in Guatemala, and a relative offering to feed and care for another relative is nothing unusual.  And really this should eliminate Veronica from the program as it serves households; so leaving the household would make her no longer a recipient.  But that's completely irrelevant.  In her paternal grandmother's home, it appears there is another girl around her age who does nothing but watch TV all day.  (This is, of course, second-hand information.  Third-hand if you count the fact that it was translated for me.)  Education is not important in that household.  Veronica's grades went from passing (60+) to failing.  Her report card was full of everything from 24 to 38.  It wasn't even something I looked at and thought "She must have forgotten to turn in an assignment."  I just wanted to cry.  The only way she can possibly pass the school year is to get 100 in every class this final marking period.  Marta wanted to earn a stove this year.  Instead she won't have the points for school supplies for all of her children next year.  She has one child who isn't yet old enough to go to school; so I can loan her the points, knowing that they will get repaid by her youngest, but it's just so hard to know what to do in a situation like this.  I feel like screaming "TV is the devil and it will rot your brain!  Save your daughter before it's too late!" but really the issue isn't the TV; the issue is the importance of education not being stressed in her new home.  I'd love for Veronica to be back with her mother.

There is more to say, but I think I will save it for another post.  This one is long enough.  (Also, October 19th was my 5-year anniversary here in Guatemala.  Half a decade!  Yikes!)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mission Moment: September

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fluency: Day 1,892

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Putting Things on Pause: Day 1,870

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Day 1,815

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Marriage and Culture: Day 1,813

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

The First Saturday Session! : Day 1,721

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Blind Faith: Day 1,661

Some quick updates before what I came here to write:

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mission Moment: January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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