My body is tired, and as I begin to sit down to record today’s events, my eyes are beginning to fill with tears. It has been a day full of heartbreak, healing, restoration, joy and love. I almost don’t know where to begin. The events are actually so intertwined that it is difficult to separate them in a single blog.
We started the morning with a delicious breakfast followed by a devotion led by Tom. Last year we had Gale lead us. It was incredible how each morning’s devotion was exactly what we needed. As our day would unfold, we were blown away by how it fit in with the events. My hope was that Tom would be able to bring that same insight. He had us study from John Piper, and we began to talk about the power behind the Name of Jesus. That is the Name that is above all names. It divides the human soul at the most intimate level. Not only does it decide men’s eternal destinies, it also has the power to change people’s daily lives here on Earth. He is the Great Healer! That is what we would need in the day ahead. Plus, for the first time in seven trips, we actually sang songs at breakfast. Wow, it may not have been the best sounding group, but Tom chose a song that united our hearts. Well-done Tom!
We walked to the local outdoor market to purchase blankets for the families we will visit, in addition to the tables and chairs we will give to Ursula tomorrow after we build her house. Good thing we had pastor Juan with us. He was able to choose the best blankets, as he knew certain ones were well liked by fleas. We stayed away from those! We got a great price for them, as we purchased 26 of them.
Next, we went to visit Etylvena, who we built a house for last year. What happened next was truly emotionally draining and amazingly uplifting! Etylvena was married to a man many years ago who mercilessly beat her. The physical and emotional scars are still very visible in her life. She lost her home, and for a time, her children as well. Her heart’s cry to God was to deliver her from that circumstance, and bring her children back to her. God answered both of those prayers. She has three children, but only two are still at home. The oldest is a 16-year-old girl named Rosemary, and a 14-year-old son named Antony. Etylvena works in a couple of ways. She sells fruit in the local market, but she also gives medical shots and pulls teeth in her own dental chair. That’s right…for 30Q ($4), you can have those bad teeth pulled from the comfort of her front porch.
Etylvena had a cousin who called her and said she needed to go to a program in Chimaltenango that would teach her to be a hygienist. She graduated and now extracts teeth. She only has the tools to pull front teeth on adults. She desperately needs more tools so she can pull back teeth as well as other procedures. We have some friends in Louisville who are trying to get this very thing started with their charity http://opendoorministriesoflouisville.org/ I was so encouraged to hear of her success. But, she does not have enough business right now, so she is struggling to feed her children and continue their education. What happened next was extremely powerful for everyone.
My whole goal throughout the trip is to get Pastor Juan and Chris into the opportunity to discover people’s spiritual needs and help them find the solution through Jesus Christ. There is so much pain and suffering in Guatemala. Etylvena began to cry about her children. They are such wonderful children, but have been without a dad for so many years. And when they did have one, it was an abusive situation. They have never had a good father modeled for them. Rosemary appears to have seen much more of the situation with her dad. She loves God, has committed her heart to Jesus, but is trying to keep a wall up on her emotions to stay strong for her mom, and protect her heart from more pain. Antony was also trying to stay strong, but had not given his heart to Jesus. Most likely, much of that came from a poor picture of what a father’s love can look like. This is where Pastor Juan came into the picture. Juan was kicked out of his home at around 13 years old because he became a Christian. Just like Antony, he never knew a father’s love. He had to grow up fast, but he committed himself to not grow up to be like his dad. He asked Christ to give him the strength and will to raise his future children in a loving home, centered on Christ and dedicated to his wife. Antony was trying not to break, but the similarities between Juan’s life and his were too much. Juan could speak with absolute authority that Antony could break this cycle. He could be the man that God intended for him to be. But, he could not do it alone. Without Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of his heart and soul, it would be an impossible task. This is where the morning took the best turn. Juan asked him if he wanted to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Antony said “yes”! Juan began to lead Antony in a prayer to do that very thing. I will never forget the sound of Antony’s voice during that moment. The words were from the heart and the tears were flowing. It was an amazing moment for us all. We knew that they needed shoes and backpacks, so we took them outside to the van. They got what they needed for school and the local ice cream cart pulled up. We bought ice cream for them and began to say goodbye. But, before we left, we needed to go inside one last time to give them money to pay for Rosemary’s school uniform and shoes. As we were leaving, Chris reminded Rosemary that God does love her and hears her prayers. And, that no matter how she may feel, Jesus does love her unconditionally. When Chris began to talk about that “unconditional” aspect, Rosemary could not hold her emotions back any longer. It was like a dam breaking, and she began to weep. She so desperately needed to hear about that. Despite her earthly father’s failure, her Heavenly Father will never fail or forsake her.
One last thing happened here. Etylvena’s cousin (a man) was visiting from a distant village. He is a leader in that village. He had been listening to everything that had been said. He never really spoke. As we began to leave, he pulled Chris aside. He told Chris how messed up his life had become. His marriage and life were shattered. Just two days before our visit, he had asked that Christ forgive him, to restore his marriage and his heart. When he heard all of Chris and Juan’s words, it was an answer to his prayer. He heard of forgiveness, and the unconditional love of God. He told Chris it was a Divine meeting. Here is the coolest part…none of them knew we were visiting today. Etylvena, Rosemary, Antony and this cousin had no idea we would be there, or what we would talk about. So, I agree with the cousin...this morning was Divinely orchestrated. I wouldn’t have it any other way! Restoration for Antony…restoration for the cousin!!!
We then went to Juan’s church/house to eat lunch. Their church was cooking 100 plates of food that they were selling as a fundraiser. It was absolutely delicious! A special moment happened while sitting there. Juan’s daughter Naeomi was sitting with us. As Juan walked by her, he leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the side of her head, said some encouraging words and then walk on. You might be asking why that is so significant? We do that all the time with our kids…right? It was the first time I have ever seen that in 7 mission trips. Affection from a father is not something you see often. I try to do that as much as I can with my daughters. I was proud to see Juan do that very thing with his precious daughter.
After a brief return to the hotel to get cleaned up for church, we stopped at a local bakery and purchased 8 cakes that would be used for the upcoming wedding celebration.
The church service was part anniversary (22 years as a church, and 16 years for Juan as pastor) and part wedding. Chris led the wedding ceremony. The young man was named Cesar, and the girl was Irma. Irma happens to be the sister of a young girl named Iliana that we all fell in love with last year. She had stopped going to school to help this sister (Irma) go to school. We immediately put the plea out to friends to step in and help sponsor Iliana for school. Some of our friends in Louisville gladly stepped in and committed to sponsor her. It was so good to see Iliana again, and we were so happy for her sister.
It was a beautiful wedding, and they are an adorable couple. We had asked Juan to find couples who were in love, living together and who had never gotten married. This couple had a 2-month old daughter who was so precious. It was awesome to see this couple do the right thing, and get married. We then cut the 8 cakes and began to pass it around. What none of us fully realized was the amazing gift Tom has with children. Besides looking somewhat like Santa Claus, I am told he does in fact play the role some times. All the moms were coming up to Tom to have him hold their kids. Tom gladly accepted. They were pulling on his beard, laughing and smiling. Tom was a hit!
Some of you may remember a little girl a couple of years ago named Claudia who kept calling Chris “Michaelito”. It was a cool time, and we thought she was adorable. She has a younger brother named Angel that came up to Chris today to ask for help. His mother was not able to pay for his education. She made him stop going to school to pay for his sister’s education (Claudia). Chris and I began to consider how we could help. Chris asked a teacher named Florey, and pastor Juan what we could do. Florey knows Angel very well, and said that if he committed to work hard, get extra tutoring from her after school, that she would try to enroll him tomorrow. He said he would commit to that. This is where I need your help. If she is able to enroll him, we will need financial sponsorship for him. It will be $25 a month, as he is in 5th grade. At a minimum, a one-year sponsorship would be needed. But, I would ask that you consider making a long-term commitment in your family. Education sponsorships are Bethel’s greatest financial need right now. Children like Angel need your help. There are so many special kids in this town. If you think you might be able to help, please email me.
Our last stop was Blanca’s house. Blanca was the first person we had a chance to build a house for in 2009, when we went on a mission trip led by our friends the Wheelers. Blanca and her children are so special to us. This is where the heartbreak comes in. As the children have matured, the problems of life have grown as well. The oldest daughter has now been married for two years (I think she is 19) and she has a child. Her husband seems OK. He does have a job operating heavy equipment in Chimaltenango. He seems so young! Scott and I told him (in a somewhat light-hearted, but very serious way) that we considered Paula to be a daughter to us. That she is a very sweet and special girl, and that he had better treat her with love and respect. That we would be coming back every year to check on her as well. The Army side of Scott came out, and I think this young man was a little nervous. Paula smiled…and he tried to force a grin. I don’t think he will forget Scott. We then asked another daughter about how she was doing. She is 17, and has a one year old. She immediately broke down and began weeping. She makes Guatemalan traditional clothing for a living. Her boyfriend/husband does not have parents or a family, so they are living with Blanca. We asked if he treated her well, and she hesitated. It seems he is not necessarily physically abusive, but most likely verbally abusive. He was not there for us to pummel, I mean, talk to. Scott and I looked at each other, and this is where Scott’s love for these girls kicked in. He reassured her that even though we only see them once a year, we continually think about them and pray for them. That her problems in life can only be solved one way, giving her heart and burdens to Jesus Christ. He is the only solution! Instead of isolating herself from Pastor Juan’s church (which the family has done), she needed to connect with them, be a part of a church family that can surround her with true love and help mentor her to be the woman of Christ that God intends. I think these words were exactly what she needed to hear. Unfortunately, we needed to go, but we will have a couple of more opportunities to see them this week. We are praying for all of those girls. They mean so much to us.
We came back and had a late dinner and talked about our day. Two of Juan’s sons came to visit and we talked to them about their hopes for the future. I have found that the children in Guatemala do not easily understand what “dreaming about the future” means. I greatly care about what hopes they have. After several ways of asking (through Chris of course) we finally discovered that one of them dreams of being an architect. That is so cool!
Well, it’s time to get some sleep. We build the house for Ursula in the morning. It will be a long day. We finish the night with the men’s Bible study, where Scott will lead us.
By the way, the water in the shower has been hot…the Internet in the hotel…not so hot! 🙂
Dios te Bendiga,