Monday, July 28, 2008

Wrapping it all up

We've been back from Guatemala for a week now. Frankly the past week was awful! The kids were all having a tough week, and I was SICK! It's hard to keep up with our life when I am well, and having me sick all week was hard on everyone! I ended up at Urgent Care on Friday evening. As I figured, all they could tell me was that it was viral and to wait it out. Today I am finally feeling human again. As I eluded to in an earlier post I had times this past week where I wondered if it was all worth it! Well I can say with confidence that IT WAS WORTH IT! I can't imagine not having had the experience that we did!
What I most hoped for from this trip was to truly experience the culture and people of Guatemala. The wonderful thing about a mission/work trip vs. a vacation is that you have the opportunity to interact with the people in their real lives. I LOVED being with the people. What I learn from them is that "things" don't bring happiness. Did I know this before? YES! But it's one of those lessons we learn over and over and at different levels. I was very struck by the sense of community at the elementary school. The place seemed to be always filled with music and laughing. The kids were so willing to work right along side of us and they worked HARD and were enjoying themselves! They don't have a lot compared to what we have, as far as possessions go, but they are CONTENT! How I long to live in a place of being consistently CONTENT!
Space in general seems so different there - personal space, home space, etc. It's all smaller - hmmm...maybe that's why their relationships seem deeper, more cherished, more prioritized. I am still processing this aspect too!
Some things that have come out of our time there -
Chris and I both feel that we'd like to try to go to Guatemala at least every other year. We see this as a long-term relationship - an on-going partnership between our family and this beautiful country. We still don't know what that will look like - at what point can we start taking the kids? Will we always do missions? Will we partner with one organization? We are still sorting through that part of it.
I am inspired and motivated to improve my Spanish skills and to have the kids learn Spanish. I was able to speak enough to communicate, but not enough to converse. I feel that I missed out on some great relational time with the students & teachers at the school and with the "mamas" at the orphanage. I am working on getting Becca started on some Spanish classes for this fall.
My heart and mind were full as the plane lifted off in Guatemala. I asked the man sitting next to me if he was from "here" or "there" - his response was "both". I have tears even now when I realize how strongly God has bound my heart to that place and how I want that to be the answer I would give as well.

Below is a 3-minute video I put together of our time there. If you have read all the posts, you pretty much have it all. I did this mainly for our church famiy, so they could see the impact of their gifts and donations!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Guatemala trip - Day 3 - Saturday, July 19th

So when I left you at the end of the last day...we had gone to bed at the apartment at Eagle's Nest in Solola. When I got up in the morning I couldn't wait to go out in the living room and check out the view of the lake! When I looked out the window I could see NOTHING! That's right - we were completely fogged in! Well, it was only 6:30am - so I figured it would burn off - more about that later. We walked over to the orphanage at 7:00am and the place was already hopping! They have about 50 kids there - most are under a year and then there are just a few older kids. I believe that about 40 of these kids are matched with adoptive parents and just waiting for the process to be completed. New adoptions are closed for now in Guatemala, but those cases that began before the end of the year are grandfathered in, although the process has been quite SLOW! Most of the babies had been fed already, but I was able to give one baby her bottle "pacha". The local women that work with the children are called "mamas". The mamas were busy one-by-one taking the children back to be bathed and changed. As the kids came out, we and the other helpers (from the church group) were interacting with the kids. Reading stories, walking around with those learning to walk, etc. Chris and I looked at the clock at 9:00 and couldn't believe it had only been 2 hours. As much as we loved it, it was tiring work! The children are very well cared for, but you can tell they just crave that individual attention. Before we left, I emailed an adoptive mom that I met at the Orphan Summit, whose son was at EN and she got me in touch with several parents still waiting for their babies to come home. We were able to hug these precious babies and take some pictures to send to their waiting parents. I remember that during the waiting every picture was like GOLD!

Around 10:00 we went over the conference center. A church plant started at Eagle's Nest last December. They currently have a pastor, 6-8 women and 20 some children. The youth group from Illinois ran a VBS from 10-12 that they advertised through the church plant into the village. Several youth had gotten sick, so they were thankful that Chris and I were there to fill in some gaps! Around 80 children came and we followed one group of 23 kids from station to station. At the first station we sang songs - I was so excited when we sang "Yo tengo un amigo que me ama". My kids know this song from the Fiesta VBS CD we love to listen to. We also taught this song to the kids at Life Church. At the next station we helped them make a craft on a Meijer reusuable bag (felt just like home). The third station they did a story/skit and explained how to ask Jesus into your life. At the last station we (we meaning Chris) played soccer (futbol). It was great interaction with the kids! Once that ended we had lunch with the Illinios group.

It had been misting during the whole VBS time, but it cleared up a bit after lunch. We at least got a few glimpses of the incredible view from the "point".

Then it was back to the orphanage. By that time, it had quieted down a bit, as many of the babies were napping. We stayed there until our shuttle came to take us back to Antigua.
It was a long way to go for a 1/2 day, but the time was full and we really enjoyed learning about the ministry there!
We got back to Antigua just in time to meet the group for our final dinner. They all cheered when we arrived at the restuarant and were anxious to hear about our time at Eagle's Nest. Then we got to hear about their volcano hike and the tour of the coffee plantation. After dinner we went back to the hotel and debriefed about the trip. It was hard to say goodbye to such a wonderful group as it felt we had connected so quickly. Everyone had to catch early shuttles to fly out the next morning.
I'll do one more post tomorrow about all my final thoughts as I have still been processing it all!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Guatemala - Day 2 - Friday the 18th

Before getting into the events of the day - I want to talk about a bit about Healing Waters and what they do. First of all, our experience traveling with them was top-notch! They did a fantastic job of arranging the schedule, the hotels, the meals and the transportation. Liz, from their Colorado office, Daniela, the in-country respresentative and Laura, an intern from Colorado, were all GREAT and we loved getting to know them. There were so gracious to help us work out getting to the orphanage and back. They had pre-paid cell phones we could use to call home and even insisted we take one as we traveled to Solola.
We learned that 95% of the water supply in Guatemala is contaminated. Even if the municipal water may be clean, by the time it travels through the infrastructure, it is contaminated coming into the homes. The solution is to buy bottled water from the stores (which is safe), or to buy water off of delivery trucks (not always safe). A 5-gallon jug in the stores costs $2 or about 15 quetzales. HW sells the same amount for about 50 cents or 4 quetzales. The systems which are built into the churches are donated by individuals, churches or businesses in the US. Of the 4 quetzales - 2 are used to cover the cost of maintaining the systems - 1 quetzal goes to cover the cost of HW adminitration and 1 quetzal is given back to the church. The churches are encouraged to use these funds to serve their communities. The pastor we talked with has used their funds to give scholarships to the Christian school that is housed in their church. They have also bought computers for local schools. HW currently has 19 systems in Guatemala. Normally they bring down teams for the inaguration of a system. We were the first team to come when they weren't doing a grand-opening, which is why they set up the service project at the elementary school.

Back to the day. Friday morning we had breakfast at the truly authentic Guatemalan restaurant named Bagel Barn! (note sarcasm here) I think it was the first time I have ever had black beans on a bagel though! Then we headed out to the school. We were able to jump right in where we had left off and knew a lot more what we needed to do this time!
I was able to help with a special project that took up most of my time there that day. HW bought a photo printer, and we took a digital picture of each of the students and teachers individually. Frames were purchased for each person and the kids each decorated their own. For many of the children, this was the first picture they had of themselves. (HW has also done this in the churches and provided free famiy pictures for the members!) It was SO much fun to work with the children on this project.

Chris was able to hang some basketball nets, and also helped with painting the lines on the basketball court and he helped paint the soccer (futbol) goals. Others finished the mural, the Mayan calendar and some more planting.

The school day starts at 7:30 and ends at 12:30. Right before the children left they did a ceremony to close out the week (they also do one on Monday morning to start the school-week). School in Guatemala runs from January to October. There are public schools but they are in VERY poor shape. Almost all the kids go to private schools, they are run by the communities and the tuition range varies greatly.
Here are pictures from the ceremony.

After that, we pumped up all the balls that our team had brought down. We were also able to present the teachers with our suitcase packed with supplies that were donated by Life Church. They were very excited about the supplies - just before we left the director of school came and when he saw all that was in the suitcase - he was also very excited! You can see the repainted basketball courts and the bright yellow soccer goals. Chris really enjoyed playing with the kids!

We had some lunch and then the rest of the team was heading to visit some ruins in Iximche. Chris and I took a taxi back to Antigua - did an hour of power-shopping in Antigua and then caught the shuttle to go to Lake Atitlan. What an amazing drive it was. I don't know if I can even describe it. For the first hour or so we drove through some smaller towns. The towns are so different from America. The streets are narrow and there are cars, vans, chicken buses, motorcycles, people on bikes, stray dogs and people walking seemingly all in the same space. It is fascinating to witness, and it doens't phase any of them to be sharing the same small place. The last hour or so was true mountain driving - hilly, curvy, bumpy - no houses or towns. The scenary is beautiful, lush and green. As we get close to Lake Atitlan it is starting to get dark. We see a few glimpses of the lake (surrounded by volcanos) as the sun is setting. By the time everyone else gets off the shuttle in the town of Panajachel it is dark and the night-life is hopping! Now it's just us and the Spanish-speaking driver and some written directions (not even an address) to Eagle's Nest in Solola. It's about a 15 minute drive and we do manage to find the place! It's about 8:00 when we get there - the orphanage is quiet and we meet the American couple that help there and get settled into our apartment. The orpahanage was built in 2004 - the other part of the property, which includes condos, a dining hall/conference center and cabanas that have been made into dormitories is a defunct time-share. It is up on a point, cliff, over-looking the lake. Our apartment has large windows that look over the lake and I can't wait to get up in the morning to see the view. There is a team of 26 people there from a church in Illinois. We meet a few of them and find out that breakfast is at 7:00am.
It was another amazing and fulfulling day!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day one - It´s ALL good! (now with pics)

We are here in Guatemala! Everything went great yesterday with our flights and the staff from Healing Waters, Aguas de Unidad, met us at the airport. We had the chance to talk with them and another couple on the ride to the hotel in Antigua. We settled in, rested a bit and met more of the group for dinner.

Chris & I in the center of Antigua

The view from the hotel balcony

We started out early this morning for breakfast. It was the same restaurant where we had lunch 2 years ago when we visited Antigua with Rebecca. I got weepy at breakfast, just being so thankful to be here. After breakfast, Daniela, who is on staff here with HW gave us an orientation about the culture and history of Guatemala and then about HW. Then we drove to Chimaltenango to the elementary school. The school has about 50 students K to 6th grade. When we arrived they had a presentation for us. Several of them played songs on the marimbas, maracas, etc. One girl recited a poem and then the children performed a Mayan dance. I can´t describe how enjoyable it was!

Then we got to work. Chris worked with a few others on recementing the entryway. A few others helped repaint the lines on the basketball court. A few others began painting a mural on the courtyard wall. I was in the group that did flower planting, ok mom, you can stop laughing. The kids all helped us, they dug the holes and we put in the flowers and plants.

I brought some little bottles of nail polish and was able to paint some of the girls fingernails and even the nails of some of the teachers. It was great one to one time to connect. A lot of Spanish has come back as I hear it.
From there we had lunch with a family that uses the water from the water systems. Their home is connected to a small restaurant and we all ate in their backyard. The pastor and his wife and 2 daughters were there and there was a lot of conversation with them about the water system and how it has impacted their church and the community. More about that later. Then we went back into Guatemala City to see a water system and how it operates. One couple from our group has personally co sponsored that system it was special for them to see it in person.

ETA: I want to talk more about the water systems and how it all works, so I will start with that on the Day 2 post!
We made a few stops for supplies for more work at the school tomorrow and then came back to Antigua for dinner.
I don´t know if I can fully put into words how wonderful today was. It was the feeling of being in EXACTLY in the place where I was meant to be. Being completely in the moment, soaking in every interaction, being at the point of tears because I am so amazed to be here and to have this experience.
We can´t post pictures until we are home, but we have many from the day!
Tomorrow we will work for a few hours at the school and then Daniela will bring us back to Antigua and we will take a bus to the orphanage which is near Lake Atitlan. We will spend the night at an apartment at the orphanage and help a group that is already there with a Bible school for the kids on Saturday.
Time to go, I can honestly say this was one of the best days of my life! I am grateful!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Catching up on Summer Fun!

Here are my 3 cuties at the Fourth of July parade in Ann Arbor!

Here are David & Becca sharing a popsicle at their cousin's house - we were there with many family and friends for their annual pig roast.

Becca with her Papa.

Here are the kids at the spraypark last night. We were there for Steven's end of the season T-ball party.

Here is Steven getting his trophy! He is SO proud of it - he won't let anyone else touch it!