Monday, February 23, 2009

Window Watching...

After church yesterday BJ and I were able to go to Antigua. I had been feeling a little homesick and BJ ha suggested we go to Antigua, since I find it to be very calming. (He is such a loving man. I love it when he knows what I need before I do. Isn’t it cool how God does that?) Once there, we were very delighted when BJ’s roommate, Wosebli, and his new girlfriend, Gabby (Gabriella) were able to meet up with us and spend the day with us. The couple is native Guatemalans and to my pleasant surprise Gabby is my age and speaks almost perfect English. I was so relieved because I desired some female bonding. God is so good. Gabby allowed me to practice my Spanish with her and was able to correct me and encourage me as well. I, in return, enjoyed letting her speak in English as she said she has not done it in a while and enjoyed doing so. This couple was more than happy to show us more ruins, markets, and churches and explain a lot of the history. It was exactly what I needed.

They took us to a church ruins and we all enjoyed taking many pictures of each other. As we were exiting one part of the garden, a wooden window looking into a separate courtyard caught my eye and I stopped. At the time it was a beautiful scene to look into and just seemed a perfect picture opportunity. I asked my wonderful loving photographer, BJ, to take a picture for me and he kindly did. When I saw it this morning I knew the Lord had BJ take this picture for the purpose of speaking to me. The picture is a perfect example of how I feel as I experience Guatemala and the areas around here. I commented on his picture (via facebook)

“This is what it is like for me to not know the language. It’s like being on the outside looking in at something so beautiful. You can’t' help but want to do everything you can to be on the other side...”

Pray for me as I continue to look through this window begging to be let in. I will find the door someday soon but for now “window watching” has become my newest hobby.


“Thank you Father, for caring so much about me to use Your creations to encourage, refresh, captivate, and speak to me and show me Your continuous abounding Love.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Culture Shock Week

Once again I sit here at Café Barista and try to formulate my thoughts into words to properly describe what I have seen and the emotions I have felt in the past week.

This week was culture shock week. I must admit I have never been this stressed, more uncomfortable and insecure than I have in my entire life. Fear of the unknown had run its course and I broke several times this week. As the week started BJ and I had begun to plan out the next couple of weeks. As he described the places we would go and some precautions to take, my fear just overwhelmed me. I am a plan A, plan B, and Plan C, type of person. I am more comfortable and feel more in control when I am aware of all aspects and have time to weigh all decisions before making them or at least know how I will react when problems arise. Being here there is no way to do that nor is it smart either. My fear is not too much of being robbed but more of traffic accidents and the pure terror of the unknown. Being robbed is something that I feel I have a little more control over. It is one person against me whereas when we are driving it is me Vs. hundreds of cars! Cars and tour sized bus’ filled with more than the maximum amount of people that should be allowed coming within a mere 2 inches of our doors. All the while we must stay aware of the little motorcycles, with 2+ people on them, zooming in and out of all the cars, riding in between lanes with their little horns that you hear when usually it is almost too late. Pray for me on this as I know traffic and the driving style here will not change.

Here, everything runs by time or traffic. Traffic and time are openly at war and you just happen to be caught up in the middle of it. Your opinion does not matter and neither time nor traffic is on your side. However, you must drive to get to wherever you are going and therefore have no choice but to take part in the whirlwind of chaos. BJ has been so observant and knows when it is time to push me a little more or time to call it a day and let me wind down. My steady reassurance is that everything I do each day is never left to chance. Everything in my path is “Oked” by God.

The Oasis Home Visit

The Oasis Visit was this week an a welcomed one at that. As BJ and I arrive to a secluded area of San Lucas there lay the massive doors of the Oasis. As we waited for someone to let us in I looked around. The walls were at least 15-20ft tall and topping off the walls were two rows of barbed wire with electric cables running alongside them. These wall were obviously built to keep the unwanted out and the wanted in. the doors opened and we were greeted by Kimberly Glick. She is an intern working through C.A.M. at the Oasis. The Oasis is a girl’s home that have about 40 girls currently living there. The girls were all taken by the police from abusive families. Some were only beaten and other were beaten and sexually abused by a family member. As Kimberly began the tour I was shocked by the American style living. There were obviously some Guatemalan aspects but the well manicured green grass, large trampoline, basketball court, soccer field with netted goals all said American run facility. Now, these girls have gone through a lot in their short time of living (the oldest being 20 and youngest being 2) and do deserve to know there is a better life than what they were going through at home but I think there is a fine line to this. The girls are being taught at a school there on the property including English. There homes and play are all done on the property. There is no need for them to leave unless it is for a court hearing. I worry about the assimilation process these girls will have to deal with once they are no longer able to stay at the Oasis.

The homes are run similar to the World orphans model in that they have 10-12 girls per home and also have a live in house mom to help and aid them. They have found that the sibling living is very hard to deal with in that most of the younger girls will only listen to their older sisters and not the house mothers. Therefore, they believe separation is the best thing for both children. As I asked Kimberly what some of the girls stories were my heart broke as she told me the story of a perious 2 year old girls being stabbed in the arms and legs of their father. The same little girl who would reach out to touch me as we talked. Who smiled at me as if these things had never happened. Then another story of a girl being sent out to collect money for her parents and when she continued to return with not enough her parents would be upset and often angry. The girl then decided that to come up with the right amount of money to please her parents we go and sell her body to filthy men. This girl BJ sat next to and she openly accepted his tutoring in math with a grateful smile. Another of a pair of sisters who would watch as their father repeatedly would rape their mother in front of them and often times the eldest of the two girls. All of the girls currently still have families and therefore are not considered orphans. Because they are not orphans they are required to have court dates in which parents attend and are asked to right their wrongs so the girl can come home or permanently stay in the Oasis. In which case all the girls know are the terror of returning home to the Americanized style living which could be considered as detrimental to their assimilation.

There are no father figures at the home and my fear is that as these naive girls age out of the system and are no longer able to stay at the oasis the first “nice” man to come along they will attach themselves to and return to the circle of abusive, negligent, and unfaithful husbands who desire for their wives to birth their children and make their food. Pray that the Lord opens up doors for the male leadership and the girls discernment above all else.

City Cemetery & City Dump Part 2

As we made our way through one of the gravesite rows we came to the edge of the cemetery and my eyes tried to grasp another form of death, decay and destruction- The City Dump. The City Dump is a mass of land that only can be described as a canyon. This canyon is an endless pit with one way in and one way out. However, this cruel canyon was home to many of the homeless and destitute. Due to the landslide last year, many of the people living in there were injured, killed and left missing. The city has forbidden living inside the dump and has begun to take necessary precautions to prevent another tragedy. The lingering scent is not as bone chilling as is seeing the thousands of black vultures swooping behind the bulldozers and cover the women, men, and some children who are also walking behind the bulldozer hoping the machine will turn over some food, clothing, or anything worth what they would deem as salvageable or will attack the garbage trucks as they attempt to sweep the trash out of their trucks and trying to avoid hitting one of the people below hoping to find “fresh” food and clothing.

As we looked out over the dump on the edge of the cemetery BJ pointed out a wooden coffin that sat a few yards below us amongst the heaps of trash, uprooted trees and groupings of rocks. What a stark contrast it made against two types of decay. These two places are both storing “trash”. Some trash is more valuable but in which location is up to the individuals in each place. And at which point does a piece of matter become useless trash?

Imagine taking your daughter to the cemetery to see your mother’s grave and as you walk up to the gravesite it stands empty, the plague missing, and the hollow sense of your mother’s body no longer being kept safe is as hollow as the tomb in which you placed her at her death. As short distance away from you your young daughter bends over and starts to play with some trash she picked up. Confused and angry of your mother’s missing remains, you look over to your daughter and find that she is drawing circles in the sand with a piece of trash. You walk over to take it out of her hand and the sun hits the piece of trash in her hand and metal reflects into your eyes. You tenderly take the piece out of your daughters hand and look into the medal plaque you had placed on your mother’s grave the day you buried her. You look around where you both now stand and see shattered concrete bashed and mutilated by a shovel and a small attempt to scrape the remains off the edge of the cemetery into the city dump. Heart aching, you walk over to the edge of the cemetery, daughter in hand, and see the coffin you laid your mother in cast carelessly into the slanting belly of the city dump, bulldozers shoveling the heaps and mounds of trash in the background, the clear sky clouded by the mass amounts of buzzards swooping in to perch close to where your mother’s coffin now lays. “Abuela?” (Grandma?) your child innocently asks as she looks at you… “No, chica” (no little one) you say “solamente otra pieza de basura.” (Just another piece of trash)

My intention for this post is not to disgust you or make you think I am against the tradition of honoring the dead. My hope is that as you become aware and pray for the hearts and souls of the people who daily live out their life thinking they are going to heaven because they honor their dead, worship and pray to dead people. My desire is to give them the hope that death has been conquered and that the treasure they seek is in heaven not in earthly traditions or false regions. Treasure is our salvation and that can never be chiseled out or cast out as trash...

Matthew 6:19-21 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

City Cemetery & City Dump Part 1

This week were also able to visit the City Cemetery. The cemetery is a city in and of itself- Home of the dead. There are house size grave sites built in honor of each family member that has ever passed on and places even built for those who will someday pass on. The cemetery is a beautiful place to go, somewhat calming to walk through but the harsh reality of so many lost is indescribable. As we parked and walked alongside some of the rows and rows of condominium style graves (graves of poorer families that are stacked several stories high) I became more aware that death is a huge part of this culture. Some people spend thousands of dollars to build more elaborate gravesites than their own homes. Others, whom do not have the money to build such places, spend money on flowers, bus rides, and candles and visit the the graves each day. I was somewhat shocked and nauseated that so many of the people that are lying in that cemetery have lived their lives in vain for the mere thought that tradition is religion and that alone is salvation. I realize the people who build these traditional grave sites or visit daily to adorn the graves and pray to the dead continue to do what those who have gone before them did. Tradition is religion and that “religion” is believed to be the way to eternity. Please do not misunderstand me and think that I am saying going to gravesites and honoring those who have passed is wrong. I hope that when I die my children will visit my gravesite at times but not to pray to me or pray for me. No, I hope that they go in memory of how I lived my life for the Lord and know that now I am sitting at the feet of my Father rejoicing and praising Him.

Unfortunately the cemetery is also a business. As we walked through the cemetery we heard an echo of chiseling. We rounded a corner and saw a man chiseling out a headstone in one of the “condominiums” style gravesites. That is the price you pay for not paying rent of the deceased-removal. BJ then explain that the coffins in the lots that cannot be paid for are usually dug up, brought out, and disposed of. That space then becomes available for the next paying customer. My heart dropped as I remember the children on the corners begging for money and some probably selling their bodies for prostitution. Are they begging for the money to pay for a gravesite? Can you imagine fretting over a gravesite payment so much that you would sell, or send out your little boy or girl to try to come up with money to pay for a person that is already dead?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Update from Guatemala

I am currently sitting in a coffee shop called Café Barista in Guatemala City. The sky is cloudy and a few raindrops have been scattered over the city. I sit here in awe of how life has change dramatically over this past year. I am in engaged and moving to a developing third world country. Who would have thought?
I arrived late Friday night and Guatemala took my breath away. However, this breathlessness was not just because I saw my finance, BJ, for the first time in a month, nor was it just because the sights of the streets or very different architecture. No, this breathlessness was also because of my first ride in the streets of Guatemala City. What we (Americanos) would consider a 2 lane capacity road quickly became 3, cars were mere inches away from your mirrors, motorcycles zoom in-between and here I am grasping my seatbelt with my left hand, the passenger’s door handle with my right and trying push my foot into the floorboard for bj’s truck. All the while BJ calmly maneuvers through these hectic streets with ease and a sort of sophistication. He calls it a video game. A GAME in which you try to get ahead of everything otherwise you quite literally will never make it to your final destinationwhen we finally made it to the home I am staying at I found a magnificent bouquet of roses, chocolates, and a sweet valentine’s card from BJ. We then decided since it was after midnight we would go head and exchange gifts. Afterwards we talked for a short while and then we decided to call it a night and bid each other goodnight. I settled into my room a little more after BJ left and soon crashed into bed falling asleep midway.

Saturday. That morning we ventured out again and headed to Antigua for a day of sightseeing and cultural education on the type’s of people in the surrounding areas. The city was beautiful. From the cobble stone streets to the rustic ruins my eyes strained to take every detail in. there 2 main groups of people here, the Mayan Guatemalan and Spanish Guatemalan. Therefore, a lot of the building structure and ruins were able to help me grasp the difference between the two cultures. Later that night we set aside the history lessons and went to a quaint romantic restaurant that we had made reservations at earlier in the day. It was the perfect Valentine ’s Day Dinner.

Sunday. We went to BJ’s home church and met several of the church members. They all had heard of me and I was so touched most remembered my name. BJ continued to translate for me as I have not learned very much Spanish YET. We had the opportunity to tour the church grounds. The church is actually one of BJ’s most recent projects and openly seeking to work with World Orphans in hopes of someday having an orphan home built on their property and has been involved in orphan care for many years. Currently, they have several children from a nearby girl’s home that attend the church regularly as well as several family members that also have been taking care of orphans for at least 2 generations. The orphans that have been with one family now actually have children of their own. It was such a neat experience to see where one of our homes could possibly be built and meet the families that already are taking care of the orphaned and abandoned.

Later that day we met with the pastor’s son and a CAM missionary and went to pizza hut for fellowship. The CAM missionary was a young woman named Kimberly. She works at a girl’s home called OASIS. The OASIS home is where the girls who attended church that morning are from. It was a great experience and I was able to connect with Kimberly. She has been able to offer me a few tips on how to deal with some things around here and practice my Spanish as well. BJ and I will be visiting the “OASIS” home on Thursday to see how a typical orphan home, run by mission organizations, is set up. Kimberly will give us a tour and hopefully see the girls living situation as well.

Later this week I will also be visiting a orphan home with BJ and his roommate, Wosbeli. Wosbeli volunteers at several catholic orphanages that allow him to teach the bible. It will be a good idea to be able to compare homes and see the difference between ours and other organizations. My mother asked me what the hardest or most difficult things going on so far and I really only had two. So if you would please pray for me on these three things:
1.) The language barrier- I am certain I will learn a lot here but the constant reminder that I do not yet know the language is very heard at times
2.) The car rides- my uneasy, queasy self is not enjoying the car rides.
3.) My molar- one molar has decided to make himself known and is now entering the top of my pallet and headed straight for the middle of my tongue- painful to say the least.

This week looks to be exciting but I have to run now and practice my Spanish lessons…your prayers are felt and greatly appreciated…
I learned 2 Spanish saying that sound very similar to each other but mean very different things:
Tengo hAmbre= I am hungry.
tengo hOmbre= I have a man
tengo verguenza= I am embarrassed
estoy embarasada= I am pregnant
I was glad to learn those because knowing me I would have said the wrong words. :)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Guatemala here I come!

I am off! Well, technically tomorrow but who really thinks about those details. GUATEMALA and BJ here I come! I have spent the last couple of weeks packing but not until these recent couples of days has the realization sunk in and weird things have happened. One night I was so geared up I had to take a sleeping pill to make myself go to bed. I had been waking up every hour wide awake to then jump out of my warm bed and check my bags to see if I forgot to pack something. So weird I know, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind. Then this past Tuesday night I woke up with a terrible headache, runny nose and about cried. The Flu Bug or something very close to it has been going around work. I had hoped I wouldn’t get it but nonetheless when I woke up feeling yucky I was beside myself. So needless to say I am ok now, I hope. I took some decongestant and sinus pills and with a prayer I took the day off yesterday and slept, ate soup, slept, drank tea, slept. Fun day huh? I was determined to not be sick when I travel down to Guatemala and I think that determination and prayer has been answered. BUT here is the funny part. When I finally came out of my sick sleep yesterday and actually had a look around I realized sometime in the night I had unpacked all of my clothes! I don’t know when and I don’t know how but they seemed to be folded nicer than I remember and actually to my surprise, a little more organized. They were lined up in a neat line alongside my dresser on the floor. My shoes were nicely set out side by side, pants were set together, shirts and blouses were separated, etc. you get the idea. I just kind of laughed pathetically and went to get some tea. When I came back up to my room with some tea I just sat on my bed and looked at these clothes almost as if it were a faceoff. Moments like this I think back to my mom, brothers and sister telling me I sleep walk and talk in my sleep. I used to say they were just teasing me or making it up. Well, I apologize here and now to those people who have ever told me I sleep talk and walk in my sleep and I didn’t believe them. The proof is sitting on my floor and no other way to describe it… I then burst into a cackle and would not stop as I realized that bj might not have any clue as to what he is getting into…

Stay tuned for Guatemala updates and pictures!

Beej- Baby, I’m coming home! I can’t wait! I’ll be there soon… I can’t wait to see you and explore all you have for me to see! Our journey together has just begun and I am so joyful and thankful that God blessed me with you… you are much more than I could have ever imagined God blessing me with as a husband, best friend and co-worker. I can’t wait to get started!
Dad- I hope to hear from you when you return safe from Ghana! I know you are such a blessing to anyone you encounter and I am so glad God gave me to you! I love you Daddy, I always will.
Mom- thanks for coming up last week and making my weekend oh so special! You are such and encouragement to me. I LOVE that we are planning my wedding together! Another adventure for the books and this one is much better than the last!
Julie- my sweet Maid of Honor, I love you and cannot wait to go Bride’s maid’s dress shopping. Don’t fret about a job! You will find one in time. Behave and keep up the good work at school! I am so proud of you.
Dusty- dude, stay in touch and keep working hard. I can’t wait to hear where you will be stationed for firefighting! I love you!
Joni, Kimberly, Elizabeth, Aunt Terry, Aunt Candy and all my faithful prayer warriors- I love you all and feel your prayers daily! May the love that God gives so abundantly to us be made real and clear, and refresh you each day!