Meet the Family

Meet the Cujcuj Family! To see the full list, along with videos, please click here. Ursula is 41 years old, and has been a widow for 4 years now. Her husband was an alcoholic who never took responsibility for them. She has 6 children: Reyna Claribel is 21 years old (works in the fields). Armando […]

Mission work is like gardening!

Posted by Brad

Worship from Brad Clark on Vimeo.

We have been back from Guatemala for two weeks.  Each man has re-entered American life, and began to process all that God did on our trip.  Gale, Rick and Dan have shared their closing thoughts from the trip.  I highly encourage you to read their posts.

Mission work is kind of like gardening.  You have to start with good seed.  Then, you have to plant the right way.  You must faithfully water.  It seems to take a lot of time to see any growth.  When you do see something, it is very tiny.  There can be severe weather and damage to the crop.  Weeds are a never-ending threat.  Will there ever be a harvest?

Over the years, we have been able to look back and see productivity in Guatemala.  Many people have been clothed, received new homes and gotten a good education.  But, what about what “really” matters?  What about changed lives, changed relationships and changed souls?  Each year has given a little clearer reflection, but nothing profound.  Has there been a harvest?  It makes me think of what Jesus said:

“The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields. (Luke 10:2)

Many years ago, Scott Graves and I had to decide how best to invest our time and efforts in Guatemala.  We loved working with Bethel Ministries International.  They worked in so many great places in Guatemala.  But, we did not want to bounce around, helping here and there.  We asked Chris if we could work in Tecpan, where Pastor Juan had a small, but amazing church.  It was not normal for a group to want to do this.  Many want to keep moving.  But, it is difficult to ever look back to see whether you are actually making an impact.  We knew that the risk was we could look back and not see success, and possibly feel that our efforts were in vain.  But, we ultimately knew that it was not “our efforts”…it was God’s.  Nothing rested “on us”…it all rested “in Him”.

In America, we are really good at scattering our efforts, but never putting down roots.  We have a lot of good intentions, but we fizzle pretty fast.  If we can’t see fruit from our efforts in a fairly short time period, we move on.  We want it NOW.  Ever watch late night TV?  All the fad diets, get rich quick schemes?  They promise maximum success with minimal effort.  We want the diet that allows us to eat with no restriction, the workout with no sweat and the wealth with no investment.  Unfortunately, we often times do mission work the same way.  Let’s reach as many people as we can, as quickly as we can; get them to make any kind of commitment, count them as reached and then move on to the next place.  Real relationships take time.  The reality is that sharing life together can get complicated and messy.  We can enjoy success, but there will definitely be major setbacks.  We knew that working in Guatemala would be the same way.

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This year was one of the smallest teams we have had.  I was a little concerned about fundraising.  For much of the build-up to the trip, it was only Rick and I doing the fundraising.  God has always been faithful, but I must admit it seemed pretty insurmountable.  We had more projects planned than ever, which means the largest fundraising need.  I did the only thing I could do…place all my faith in the fact that God would provide.  Rick and I laid our financial needs before our friends, family and co-workers.  It truly was a miracle.  So many people opened their hearts, and financially supported us. Many of you have supported us every year.  Thank you for your faithfulness.  The success we enjoyed this year clearly allowed me to see that our “faithfulness produces fruit.”

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We try to leave on a Saturday because it allows us to go to church on Sunday.  It is our first chance to see the people we have been investing our lives with.  Who will still be there?  How are their lives?  Is there fruit?  Pastor Juan often asks us to stand up and say hello to the congregation during the service.  When it was my turn, I looked out and saw something that made my heart happy.  I saw the fruit of our efforts, and beginnings of a harvest.  I told them how happy I was to see “family”.  These are my brothers and sisters.  It was a cool way to start the week.

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But, as with gardening, there are setbacks.  At times, there are “weeds”.  My heart broke when I discovered that two of the teenage girls in a family we have grown close to, now have little babies of their own.  I shared in another post how I grieve for them.  It seems that girls grow up faster than they need to (just like in America).  Many men have rebelled against the responsibility God has squarely placed on their shoulders (just like in America).  The path that seems easy and feels good is the one that is chosen (just like in America).  Choices have consequences.  These two girls now see that.  I love them like daughters.  I pray they see that God can use this in their lives in a way that will make them stronger.  They have a difficult path ahead of them. But, in the midst of brokenness, God proves most faithful.

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Over they years, I have developed an appreciation for the house building process.  I do not allow myself to get lost in the “building” and miss the “knowing”.  I am intentional in spending some time with the family, talking to them and asking questions.  It was a joy to build a house for Etelvina’s family.  Even though their lives have been fractured by abandonment, they remain strong.  Their faith in God’s provision sustains them.  They knew the blessing of the house came from God.  They joyfully worked side-by-side with us both days.  They sang a song of faithfulness at the dedication ceremony.  They read some words of hope from the Bible.  They know that all things are “from Him, through Him and to Him”.  For the first time in their lives, they had a dry roof over their heads, cooked inside with a good stove and slept warmly in a soft bed under warm blankets.  I look forward to visiting them next year to see how they are doing.

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The chicken coups have been a mixed blessing.  At the peak, Viviana’s chicken business was thriving.  She had begun to sell other items as well.  But, despite our warnings, she had not saved money to ensure she had enough food to properly feed them.  Her desire was there, but she needed direction and encouragement.  We gave her more money to buy the proper chicken food and more items to sell.  We now have safeguards in place and supervision to make sure she understands and follows through with what is necessary to keep her business healthy. She is a special woman with sweet children.  While she is from a very broken marriage marred by spousal abuse caused by drug addiction, she remains faithful in her devotion to God.  What she has to offer God is her heart and voice.  She sings at Juan’s church and is devoted to the One who cares for her.

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We installed stoves in several homes.  We went to the home of one mom whose husband drank himself to death many years ago.  She has two mute daughters.  They make a living weaving clothes.  While installing a stove should only take about 45 minutes, we spent about two hours talking.  We spend a lot of time getting to know her situation.  We tried to find a way to build their business.  In the midst of this, we met Reina.  She is a very bright and sweet young girl who has an amazing sense for business.  What she did not have was a relationship with Christ.  She had a sister who wanted the hope brought about by an education, but also did not know Jesus.  Chris and Pastor Juan spent much time sharing the Gospel with these young girls.  You could see God working in Reina’s heart.  While she already had young men trying to date her, Chris told her to put her faith in Christ, not the promise of young love from a teenage boy.  At that point, I could only imagine what the young man must have thought when he heard of Chris’s advice!  I did not know what kind of fruit to expect from our time with them.  Only time would tell.

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We also met a couple named Odilio and Maria.  Both sets of their parents died early in their lives.  They have had a troubled and rocky life.  But, you can see the spark in Odilio’s eyes.  He desperately wants to be the husband and dad God wants him to be.  He is working hard to provide for his family.  We invited him to church and also our men’s Bible study.  We were so excited when he showed up.  Even more amazing is that Odilio can’t read.  But, that didn’t stop him.  He still showed up and listened.  How many excuses have we all made in life to not go study the Bible.  “It’s too early”, “It’s too far away”, “I’m too busy”, “They don’t provide snacks”!  This man can’t read!  He still came!!!

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We also hosted a wheelchair distribution where 31 people received the gift of mobility.  Bethel is primarily a wheelchair organization that collects used equipment from volunteers in the US and Canada, then refurbishes it in their shop in Chimaltenango.  They employ several disabled Guatemalan men and women who take each chair, and get them into “like-new” condition.  They have a network of volunteers in Guatemala who identify people who need mobility.  We raised the funds to help 31 people.  Rick and I have been collecting chairs for quite a while.  It is so encouraging to meet some of the people who receive the chairs we collect.  Each person has a unique story on how they get to that point.  It truly blesses us to see their lives changed in such a short period of time.

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We got to spend a little time with Juana.  My life has been blessed simply knowing her.  I count her as a friend.  We have laughed, cried and made tortillas together.  I have heard Juana pray for God’s salvation in her life.  She is my sister in Christ.  I know God has much planned for her life.

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We are seeing much success in the life of Johanna as well.  We have seen her come so far in her life and education.  She is graduating this year from high school and hoping to move on to college to be a lawyer.  Also, her older brother Tulio is in aircraft mechanic school.  He is doing great as well.  The future is bright for both of them.

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The men’s Bible study is where we saw much fruit and progress.  Men don’t usually get together and study the Bible.  There are a host of reasons.  But, God has brought a core group of men who are willing and excited to meet together in Juan’s church to study the Bible in two languages with us each year.  They are also beginning to meet even after we leave.  That is really encouraging!  The most amazing moment for me was when the Guatemalan men opened the meeting by singing in Spanish.  It was like the sound of men worshiping God in Heaven.  I have put the song within the video at the top of this page so you can hear it.  We were not expecting them to sing, so it really caught me off guard.  These men were worshiping with passion.  I still listen to them singing almost every day.

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Our final night in Guatemala was spent the same way it began…worshiping at Juan’s church.  The greatest joy for me was looking out at the faces in the crowd.  There were so many old friends such as Blanca, Juan, Viviana, Naomi, David, Esdras, Danny, Anna, Paula, Sandra; and so many more.  But, the cool part was all of the new faces as well.  There was Etelvina and her kids, the mom and her mute daughters, Reina and her sister (also the young, awkward boyfriends who must have been cursing us), Odilio and Maria, and one woman who said she never goes to church.  Right in front of us, a garden in full view at every maturity level.  There were seeds and soil.  There were weeds and thorns.  I could see sunshine and rain.  There were sprouting plants that needed tender care, and mature fruit ready to be harvested.  It has taken a lot of time, sweat, tears and prayer.  But, it has totally been worth it.

I also saw two new workers in the garden (Dan and Gale), and two old faithful hands (Chris and Rick).  I am fortunate to have served with them during the week.

I always like to end with a challenge: “Where are you in this process?”

Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?  Do you believe that He is your only hope…your only way of being made right with God?  And, have you willingly submitted your life into His hands?  If not, please do not let another day go by in your life without making this choice.  Not too long ago, I was talking with another pilot I was flying with.  I talked about the joy of “being born again”.  In all genuineness, he asked me what that really meant in someone’s life.  It was a wonderful opportunity.  If your heart is just now opening to this truth, but you need to hear more, I would gladly meet over a cup of coffee and share this hope.

If you have made this confession, and salvation is a reality in your life, then where are you in the “gardening process”?  Are you even on the field?  Are you sowing seed?  Are you helping harvest?  If not, I would love to have you go to Guatemala with me.  It is the most rewarding week.  Seeds will be planted in your own heart as well.  One day, you will be able to look back and see the harvest in your own life.

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Thank you again to all of the people who donated this year.  Thank you for helping.  I can already tell you that we need your help again next year.   The fruit from this trip would not be possible without your faithfulness!

Gardening is good!  God is Great!  It’s all in His Name…it’s all for His Glory!

Until next year!

Brad

Gale – Closing thoughts

Posted by Gale

A New Perspective

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This was my first mission trip, something that has been on my heart for some time. Rick invited me to participate, and honestly, I don’t know how it could have been more rewarding. The week was very challenging physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I wrongly thought that somehow we could be a blessing to the people of Guatemala. It was just the opposite. The people of Guatemala blessed me infinitely more. And now I have been spending the past week reflecting. I have sifted through the pictures and videos and am so stirred. Even the people I share highlights of the trip with are moved to tears.

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The week gave me a completely new perspective as I get back into my routine. I saw an empty wheel chair at the airport recently – something that happens every time I travel. But now it means something different. It reminds me of the people of the world that need wheel chairs and the incredible wheel chair ministry of Chris Mooney and Bethel Ministries. And I think of all the work Rick and the other team members are doing to help collect wheelchairs. I will never forget the wheelchair distribution and the people that received them during our visit. Many times during the course of a day, I see something like a new house, etc. and immediately think of Guatemala. These are just a few examples. My prayer is that I do not lose this perspective; that I will not become less mindful of the blessings in my life six months from now.

Our pastor recently started a series in 2 Timothy. He preached on 2 Timothy 1 this week. As he read verse 4, it reminded me of our week in Guatemala: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy”. The context is different, but I could not stop thinking of our week in Guatemala.

And it was great to be part of the team. Brad and Rick had previous experiences in Guatemala. Dan participated in other mission trips. But this was my first – it was great to be with some experienced guys. Our days were filled with laughter, crying, working, prayer, and worship – now that’s a full day! Brad led us in a way that not only allowed us to serve, but also balanced this with devotion, worship, and prayer. Wow! And I am amazed at how the Spirit transcends language. Bonds were not only formed with team members, but also with people that spoke little or no English in ways only the Spirit can enable. This was so evident with Pastor Juan and his family and some of the people we served.

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Thank you for all the prayers. And please continue to lift up Chris Mooney and Pastor Juan – for their continued strength, passion, and zeal to deliver the gospel and minister to the people of Guatemala; seeing unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus.

Dios te Bendiga,

Gale

Rick – Closing thoughts

Another amazing opportunity to serve in Tecpan is now behind us.   Time flies so fast.

Thank you to all who were praying for our trip.   I know I had many specifically praying for the team to have good health.   I know it worked, because NONE of us had any of the much-feared intestinal issues!

This was my second “January J127 Mens trip”.    You really can’t compare experiences, but this one was truly phenomenal.   Each day we were amazed at what God had in store for us.

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The team gelled together perfectly.

Gale – Gale’s contributions at morning devotions were ALWAYS spot on!   It was almost as if his morning reading in Charles Spurgeon’s  “ Morning and Evening” (edited by the pastor of Gale’s church  “Allistar Begg”) was written specifically for our day that was ahead of us!  Gale had such insight and humility.    I was especially moved by his words addressing the church our last night.   He referred to Revelations 7:9-12…noting that there was a great multitude from another nation (Guatemala)……………….he said to the families that he didn’t know if it were in God’s plan for him to come back, but he knew that he would meet them again ONE day!

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Dan – Another new team member added great flavor to the trip.  Our resident horticulturist,  always delighted in seeing the familiar trees and flowers.    We even adjusted placement of one of the stoves to lessen smoke damage to an overhanging peach tree!     Dan’s building skills were a definite blessing!   He and Juanito had a great day in constructing the base for the Bano!    At one point they both were singing praise songs, in Spanish!

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Brad – What a great team leader!    From his planning to the daily porch time with the families to uncover their needs, to wrapping up each day with “debriefing” to compare notes on what we experienced…his heart for Tecpan is enormous!    It is so moving to be a part of “Brad’s Tecpan-team”.    Reinvesting in this community and church is a blessing to the community AND the team-members!    Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this team!  TWICE!!!

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There were too many amazing moments to list.    To me one of the biggest highlights, Brad referred to in his post “Iliana”.  This family, who scraped to get by, took in an orphaned baby.   The sisters worked while in school to help pay for the little “brother’s” school, and to put food on the table.   Selfless!   Truly, James 1:27 in it’s purest form!    “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you”.  It was an absolute blessing to meet this family!

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The other image that will never leave me is seeing Chris pick up the woman who was crawling to the wheelchair distribution!    He was truly the “Hands and Feet” at that moment!

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The final night at church was both the best night of the week, and the worst.    It was the worst, because we had to say goodbye to our large new Family!    The amazing blessing that made it the best was that ALL the families we helped during the week that lived in the area were at church that evening.    We found ourselves on the receiving end of countless hugs and tearful whisperings of “Dios te Bendiga”.  (God bless you).   What a fantastic finale to the week!

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Pastor Juan (Juanito)  – An amazing man of God!     He serves his community and his church in such awesome ways!     We would work hard in the day, and each night he would lead his church with such passion and enthusiasm.   It is truly inspiring!     I am so honored to be able to call him “Hermano”  (brother).     His family is such a strong core of God-Loving people!   He is a Blessed man!

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It was truly a blessing to again serve alongside Chris Moony.   I often wonder if it is POSSIBLE for other missionaries to truly LOVE the people they serve as much as Chris.    He is always in the trenches with these families uncovering their needs.   He also isn’t afraid to challenge them with the issues they deal with.  But it is done with such LOVE!    The “porch time” we spent with the families this week was unforgettable!

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As I am back home again,  in the routine daily life, a large part of my heart remains in Guatemala!  How can you walk away from experiences like this and NOT be changed.   It is always a reminder to me how we should be more THANKFUL for what we are blessed with.    It puts it in perspective for me when we give a family in a ramshackle shack a bag of food (rice, beans and tortillas) and they Praise God for 5 minutes.   How many times have we unloaded the trunk with $100 (or more) worth of groceries and simply put them in the cupboard.    Most of us take our comforts for granted.    I need to work on that!

Dios te Bendiga,

Ricardo

Dan – Closing thoughts

Posted by Dan

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Most of the people we came in contact with while in Guatemala were very poor. A lot of their homes were in such poor condition that we in the states would probably tear them down because of not meeting insurance standards, or simply being eye sores. Although this was the case, people were not complaining about their circumstances. We fail to thank God for simple things like having a place to go to the bathroom, or being able to get a clean glass of water. We should be constantly quoting and living by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.”

The people we came in contact with showed a lot of gratitude towards us for helping them. Some felt they needed to give or share gifts with us. That was very touching. They were different then people here at home. I’m not sure how Pastor Juan got in contact with some of them, but it didn’t seem like they were looking for a handout. People here seem to think they are entitled to receive help, and many don’t want to do anything to assist themselves.

Family seems to be an important part of many of their lives. Although MANY of the men are not in the picture, mothers make sacrifices for their children. Children help their siblings to receive a good education by giving up their own. When we were doing the wheelchair distribution, there were a lot of family members there to assist loved ones.

God was able to use the people in Guatemala to leave an impression on my heart of thanksgiving, even when it may seem like ordinary day to day things.

Dan

My prayer for the last day

Posted by Brad

Well, we all made it home.  Gale flew through Houston and Rick, Dan and I went through Dallas.

I have a quick compliment to make.  I like to give credit when it is due.  Normally, the U.S. Immigration lines are enormous.  It’s kind of like getting to the Post Office to mail Christmas packages moments AFTER a tour bus full of people arrived before you.  Long lines…always!  Well, I have to give credit to the people at the DFW airport. We walked off the airplane and made our way down the long halls.  To my surprise, the lines were short.  In fact, you don’t even need to fill out a blue customs card anymore.  They have a new computer system.  With a few presses on a touch screen, you answer all the questions you used to check on a form.  Rick and I passed through easily, but the officials obviously realized how shifty Dan is, as they picked him off to have his bags screened.  Shifty I tell you!   No, actually, they told him they have quotas to keep of people they select.  Dan just happened to be the lucky winner.  Some people have all the fun.  We had one last lunch together at the DFW airport.  I wish Gale could have been with us, but he was fortunate enough to fly out a couple of hours earlier than us.

Speaking of home, while we are all very happy to be home with our families, we are at the same time sad to leave our old and new friends in Guatemala.  It is amazing how deep a place a group of people can make in your heart in such a short time.  The need is so immense in Guatemala.  There are so many people in a life and death struggle each and every day.  Moms struggling to be the sole provider, helplessly watching as their children are sick and going hungry; generations of men who continually fail to be responsible in their actions and unwilling, or unable to be the physical and spiritual leaders God designed and commanded them to be.   There is an easily correctible lack of education for the children, and men and women perishing from a lack of knowledge about the Man, Christ Jesus, who died to set them free from sin and death.  As we leave, the question is before us all, what can be done?  Is there any hope?  Can anyone really make a difference?  The answer is a resounding “YES”!!!  I am so thankful to have gone many years ago on a mission trip to Guatemala with Robbie and Lori Wheeler.  It was my introduction to missions in Guatemala.  It was also my introduction to the man I consider to be one of my closest friends…Chris Mooney.  Every day, Chris and the wonderful people of Bethel Ministries International, take the Hope of Christ to the people.  They take people like you and me, involve them in taking help to people in need.  They provide food, clothing and shelter.  They find disabled people who need the gift of mobility; people who are hidden away in homes around the country.  They find caring people in the USA and around the world who are willing to sacrificially give part of their material blessings to allow a child to go to school in order to break the cycle of poverty.  They take volunteers into the homes of single moms to provide food, encouragement and a hug.  Even more importantly, they tell them about the Hope that is only found in Christ, a hope that will transform their hearts and lives.

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One cool thing that happened on our last night was that the little girl from last year who thought Chris was “Michaelito” showed up to see him.  She and her brother sat with our group through the entire service.  She was the same adorable little girl.  Just looked up at him and smiled.  There are so many children in Guatemala that are without a dad.  You can read about her here.

As we re-enter life in America, I am reminded of the words my good friend Ronnie once prayed after we returned from the trip with the Wheelers, “Now that we have seen the need, may our hearts never be the same again”.  That is my prayer for the men who went on this journey over the past week.  It is my prayer for all who read this blog.  The other night, I saw Etelvina at church.  She is the mom who we built the house for.  I asked her what she thought of the house now that she has been in it for a couple of days.  Know what she said?  “For the first time, we were not cold last night when we slept”.  Look at the pictures I have included.  One is of their old bed.  Another is of the wall in their old house.  Notice how the wind would just blow through.  No wonder they were cold.  When was the last time that was a concern for you and your children?

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As we all go to sleep tonight (me included), may we think of all the people around the world who will not be able to say the same thing.  We know about the need.  We cannot look the other way.  We cannot pretend it does not exist.  We have the resources to solve the physical needs.  We have been commanded to help spread the Gospel to solve the spiritual need.  Do we have the will and resolve to do anything about it?

Quite honestly, it takes time to decompress after returning.  I challenged each man to reflect on what happened in their hearts over the last week.  And if possible, write about what occurred from their viewpoint.  I will share those insights as they provide them in the next week or so.  After they give input, I will make one final blog entry to summarize the trip.  The best way to keep track, is to click on the bottom right of the computer screen and “follow” the blog.  You will be automatically notified as we post entries.

Thanks to everyone who helped us reach the people of Tecpan.  Your financial and spiritual support has meant so much.  Thank you to all who have emailed and commented.  It does make a difference.

Dios te Bendiga,

Brad

My heart is full

Posted by Brad

I am finding it hard to know where to begin.  So many wonderful things happened today.  All I can say is, “My heart is full”.

It is always bittersweet on the next to last day in Guatemala.  You know that “this is it”.  The next day is all travel.  These would be the last projects, places and people.  We drove to Chimaltenango to host our wheelchair distribution.  Our plan was to give 30 wheelchairs.  Bethel had already selected the people.  We fundraised to supply a chair to each person.  For many, this was their first wheelchair.  For some, it may very well be their last.   Many were old and physically fragile.  I was excited to meet all of the people we had pictures of.  I recognized so many faces.  The distribution was about 100 feet from Bethel’s wheelchair shop.  We immediately began preparing the chairs for the people.  Many were there before us.  They were excited!

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As the four of us walked up, Chris Mooney was carrying a sweet woman in his arms.  He was carrying her because she literally had no legs.  She had the biggest smile on her face.  I hoped that I would get to be the one to fit her for her chair.  Chris opened the distribution with an explanation of the process and a prayer.  We then jumped right into fitting the people.  Each person is given a chair that fits their needs.  The right size chair is critical.  We would also put leg supports behind to make sure their legs were supported.  Also, we put seat belts on many to prevent them from falling out.  I can say one thing confidently, each person was grateful beyond imagination. Yes, grateful for us being there.  More importantly, grateful to God for His gift!  Without fail, all of the people I worked with praised God the entire time.

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Dan and I worked together at one station, while Gale and Rick worked at another.  My prayer was answered…Dan and I got to work with the woman who Chris was carrying up to the distribution.  She was sitting in a chair.  We pulled the chair right next to her.  I bent over to pick her up.  She was so light.  She was probably 30 years old.  Her young son was watching everything, taking it all in.  We found the perfect chair for her.  She had the best smile.  She was so excited!  We ended up giving 31 wheelchairs (Chris says that there is always someone extra that shows up).  I had the chance to visit with Tulio.  He is the young man the Henderson family is sponsoring in aircraft mechanic school.  He is doing very well and is learning English.  After we packed up and cleaned the church, we walked back to the wheelchair shop. I looked up the street and saw the most heartwarming sight.  The young son was pushing his mother with no legs up the street in her brand new wheelchair.  Wow!

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We then drove to see Juana.  For all of those who have been either able to meet Juana or hear her story, you will know that much prayer has been lifted over her situation.  Chris was able to contact her to make sure she was there.  As we pulled up, Jackie and RosaLi ran out to greet us.  They have grown up so much.  We went inside and shared the gifts that the Shutt family sent.  Chris read their letters and cards.  We were able to talk to Juana about her life situation.  It was a great conversation and there is much hope for her future.  It was so good to see her again.  I missed her so much.  Her 15 year old daughter Diana was there as well.  She got married many months ago.  She says that her husband is good to her.  He does have a job.  They are living with his family.  She is pregnant.  That’s right…she is two months pregnant.  Just as with Blanca’s girls, I am sad that a girl so young is in the position of having children at a time they should be enjoying her teenage years.  But, I hugged her a lot, and told her that we all love her.  She smiled a lot, and looked very good.  Juana’s eye was doing very well.  She had recently run out of drops, so there was discomfort and redness.  In addition, the sun is very bright.  But, the Shutt family sent more drops.  She said her vision is still very good in the eye she had the procedure done while in the USA.  It was difficult to leave.  I do miss Juana and her kids.  I know I will see them again.

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We then drove to Antigua.  I typically do not go to Antigua on my trips.  We are there to work, and I don’t really like to spend time shopping.  But, Antigua is a special town, and since we were so close, Chris and  I wanted them to see it.  We had a delicious lunch, and we finally had the chance to have wifi…praise God!  We walked around town and did some shopping.  We drank some delicious coffee (and purchased some to bring home…I got some for you Scott…HueHue).

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The time was getting late, but we did have one more stop to make, and that was to see Luki and Johanna. We have been supporting Luki and her family for many years.  Chris has known the kids since they were very little children.  When we arrived, only Johanna was home.  She was so happy to see us.  Her mom Luki was run over many years ago.  The thought she was dead.  In fact, they had a sheet over her waiting for the coroner to come.  Before he arrived, they saw her fingers moving.  They said, “Look, she’s alive”.  That should tell you something of how tough Luki is.  She has been having problems again with her leg for the last eight months.  Her 19 year old daughter Johanna has been carrying all of the burden of caring for her mom.  Luki has not been able to work.  Johanna has been going to school, cooking for her mom, caring for her brother.  It was a huge burden.  In fact, she failed last year in school.  But, to show how determined she is, she went to summer school.  Not only did she pass, she did it with flying colors.  She is now in her last year of High School. She plans to go on to college to become a lawyer.  As her education sponsor, I am so proud to hear her dream of great things.  She is truly excited about her future.  Now that Luki’s leg is doing better and she is working part time again, Johanna can put all her focus on school.

We then headed back to Tecpan to have our final night at Juan’s church. It is always a very special night.  It is a regular church service, with music and a sermon.  But, they always have a celebration at the end for our team.  When we arrived, my heart was completely overwhelmed with joy.  Our prayer is always to not just meet people’s physical needs, but also their spiritual needs.  We want to show them God’s love and encourage them in life.  We always invite them to Juan’s church.  Some of them have no relationship with God.  Others have drifted very far away due to various circumstances.  Some attend other churches.  I was not prepared for what we saw.  With the exception of one family (who lives very far away), all of the people we worked with this week came to church.  They, and their extended families, were all sitting in the church waiting…everyone from Etelvina and her two kids, to Reina and her mute sisters.  My heart was overwhelmed.  It still is.  Thank you God!!!  This is why we come to Guatemala. This is the most encouraging thing to my heart, and the hearts of all the men on the team.  After a great service, Juan and his wife Anna presented us with gifts.  We each had the chance to speak.  Gale read Revelation 7 to the church.  He said that while he does not know if he will ever see them in Guatemala again, he looks forward to seeing them in Heaven, where there will be people from every tribe and tongue.

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We then took a group photo.  I wanted to make sure we captured the moment we were cherishing.  All four of us were overwhelmed with the hugs we received.  These were not light hugs.  These were hugs of love.  These people were now family to us.  It was an incredible moment, and I did not want it to end. I was also able to get a picture of the children with the origami that Andrew sent from Kentucky.  We were able to share that with many children over the week.  Thank you Andrew!!!

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It is around midnight, and we are waking up at 2:45 to drive to Guatemala City.  God willing, we will be home tomorrow night with our families.  Everyone is healthy.  We are thankful for a week of praising God, and bringing glory to His Name.  What a trip.  My heart is truly full!!!

Dios te Bendiga,

Brad

A family of amazing women

Posted by Brad

There are those times you come across a group of people you know are amazing.  There is something about them that just tells you they are special.  We met one such group of women today.

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We went to install a stove at the home of a woman whose husband had passed away many years ago from drinking himself to death.  When the husband was alive, he pulled her away from her Christian faith.   They had a couple of daughters with special needs.  He was not supportive.  His death brought even more pain as she was now the sole provider for her children.  In spite of all the struggles, she did an amazing job of raising her daughters.

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The two oldest daughters are mute.  They can hear, but cannot speak.  Finding a job is hard enough when you are fully physically capable.  But, having a disability like this in Guatemala is not good.  These two daughters are so sweet, and they have incredible drive.  They sew traditional Guatemalan dresses for a living.  A woman comes to their home, gives them a picture and some thread and then hires them to sew.  There is no pattern, just looking at the picture.  I am amazed.  The project takes two months, and they get paid 150 Quetzales ($19) each month.  They do incredible work.  As we were standing there, we decided to hire the girls to make table runners.  We wanted to pay to have them buy the thread, and make the runners for Bethel.  Chris would then offer them to teams when they come from the USA.  As Chris was working out the details, a young girl walked up that changed the entire morning.

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Reina is a truly special girl.  She is the granddaughter of the mom.  She is 14 years old, and wise beyond her years.  She confidently jumped in and began negotiating.  She was ensuring her cousins were getting paid fairly, and that the thread cost was accounted for.  We all just looked at each other and smiled.  Dan said it made him think of the woman in Proverbs 31.  I will let you read that for yourselves, but Reina is a great business woman, is a blessing to her family, and will one day be a blessing to her husband (which hopefully will be a very long time from now).  For all of her confidence, Reina does have some difficulties.  She had been attending school.  But, because she was born with a cleft lip (now repaired), she has difficulty with certain kinds of speech.  She decided to drop out of school to learn to speak better.  The problem is, that will never happen.  We discovered she also sewed.  So, we hired her as well.  This is the point where Chris was able to pour into her life.  He asked her about her relationship with Christ.  You could tell there was so much pain in her life.  She seemed very interested in giving her life to Christ.  But, she was not as interested in school because of her speech difficulty.  She had a sister named Maria who was very interested in education, but seemed much more distant on making a decision for Christ.  On top of everything, Reina has a boyfriend.  We all made certain that these girls saw their true value should be seen in God’s eyes, not a teenage boy.  Chris spoke much wisdom in their lives.  We prayed with the girls, and their eyes seemed to be opening spiritually.  They will both be able to go to school for free at a local church school program.  Next year, they will enroll in public school.

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There was also a wonderful older woman standing there who occasionally lives with them.  She has the sweetest face, and precious way about her.  I found myself taking a million pictures of her.  Her face shows the years of difficulty.  Her children are not interested in her living with them.  She ends up having to bounce from place to place in order not to be a burden.  She is 77 years old.  Her husband drank himself to death as well about 4 years ago.

I truly loved spending time with this family.  The women have so much going for them.  They are hard workers and have great hearts.  I pray that Chris will be able to purchase many table runners from them over time.  I also pray that Reina goes back to school and stays away from those pesky boys for many years.

We then visited a woman who lives in a flood zone.  Her house is about 30 feet from a creek bed that always has water running through it.  She said the government officially condemned this land many years ago.  But, she chose to stay.  She has three young children.  Sadly, her husband’s life ended abruptly as well due to poor choices he was making.  Life is so difficult!

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We had the most delicious lunch at Pastor Juan’s house.  His wife Anna makes the best Chow Mein.  We all felt like we needed a nap afterwards.  But, we knew we had much to do.

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Our next stop was in some ways the most heart breaking of all; yet, had a happy ending.  Maria’s parents were very physically abusive.  They were alcoholics.  They died when Maria was 11 years old.  She and her sisters were scattered apart from each other.  She was pregnant by age 12.  Twelve years old!  Can you imagine that?  Children should never have to think about something like that at that age.  The man she was with had the exact same family background.  His family was abusive and died.  He was 16 at the time he got Maria pregnant.  They had another child together.  Then, their relationship took a difficult turn for some time.  Her husband (Odilio) left.  In his absence, she had a son with another man.  Odilio later returned and their relationship was restored.  Odilio forgave Maria.  He has accepted and loves the son as his own.  They had one more child together.  She is now 26 years old.  While they have made some poor choices in life, Odilio is now a very fine man.  He loves Jesus, is a loving husband and father.  Sadly, these are rare qualities in a man here in Guatemala.  It makes Odilio shine!  We encouraged him to come to our men’s Bible study tonight.  Amazingly, he did come.  It was so exciting to see him.

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We then had our men’s Bible study at night.  Rick led this year.  We discussed spiritual growth.  Picture a tree, where there are branches above the ground, but the real growth happens below the surface.  It was a great discussion and time of fellowship.  There were 5 Americans and 8 Guatemalans.  A picture of what Heaven will be like.  People of different nations, tribes and tongues worshiping and glorifying God together.  The music leader in the church is Misraim.  He has a daughter who is having seizures.  It is a difficult time for them.  They think it is treatable.  But, he will need to go back and forth to the City every 15 days.  It is a huge financial burden.  We gave some money to help offset the costs.  Please help us in praying for their family.

Tomorrow is another busy day.  We will host a 30 wheelchair distribution in Chimaltenango, see Juana and Luki, visit Antigua and then come back to Tecpan for church.  Time for sleep!!!

Everyone is healthy and happy.  It is a great team of men and God is really opening great opportunities for us.  Thank you for your continued prayers.

Dios te Bendiga,

Brad

Some gifts take time

Posted by Brad

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I am like so many other people in America…I find it hard to wait when there is something I need.  We gather our list of “really need” items to God, and wait impatiently to receive them.  The truth is, some things take time to happen.  There are many prayers that may take years, if not decades to be answered.  Today, we built and finished the home for Etelvina.  We knew this was an answer to a prayer that she had been lifting to God for a very long time.  I must admit they were extremely patient, as the house and bathroom took much longer today than expected.  Just for the record, Chris Mooney thought we would be done by 12:00-1:00.  Hah!  I think we finished around 4:30.

We got to the work site and everything got going very quickly.  We had our first walls build in no time.  Everyone worked so hard today.  Gale, Dan and Rick really did a fantastic job.  Everyone floated around and helped where needed.  Sometimes putting screws in the metal, sometimes cutting metal for the walls; other times running to get tools for other people.  We all worked well as a team!

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We were also finishing the bathroom at the same time.  As I wrote yesterday, this bathroom is a huge blessing.  They can now have privacy when going to the bathroom or taking a shower.  The toilet is not a flushable toilet.  There is no running water.  You use a bucket and pour water in it to “flush”.  The shower is an area where they will be able to pour buckets of water over their head and the water will go down the drain in the floor.  Privacy is so rare!  Also, we painted the house this year.  I say “we”.  That was actually Chris and Saul.  I told Chris that he resembled Papa Smurf afterwards.

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We had Pollo Campero for lunch.  Juan’s family brought it to us.  We made sure to have them buy enough that everyone would have the chance to eat.  There were some happy kids there.  They were all so polite and well behaved.  It was a great first lunch in their house.

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The best part is always the dedication to the family.  It is a time where we get to hear more of their personal story.  Rick was in charge of decorating the home this year.  He did a great job.  It looked so festive.  He had balloons, streamers, soccer balls and other great items.  We put the sheets and blankets on the beds.  Some of our friends in Louisville donated backpacks and a purse.  Also, we purchased a dresser for them to put their clothes in.  Wow, was that a hit.  Not only do they have a very nice place to store clothes, the mirror front adds so much light to the room.  They were shown how to use the ONIL stove.

This dedication took a wonderful turn that was much different than many past years.  Etelvina was literally speechless at first. She was crying so much.  One of her sisters was there with her.  She explained how Etelvina never gave up hope.  She always told her children to dream (way to go Etelvina!)  While her children had gone without good shelter for so long, she knew that she had to keep praying.  Etelvina finally gathered herself enough to talk.  She said how thankful she was for her sister.  That she never gave up on her, even when the times were tough.  Then she did the coolest thing.  She sings a hymn to her children at night.  She opened her book and her entire family began to sing for us.  That was so awesome.  They sang, “Jesus is my Pilot” in Spanish.  Her nephew stood up and read Psalm 23.  Then, they presented us with gifts.  The sister gave each of us a cool bag that goes over the shoulder.  They are NOT purses…they are MAN BAGS.  This was a huge financial sacrifice.  They do not make much money.

She thanked everyone in the States for their prayers.  She asked that you continue to pray for them.  She knows her family is in desperate need of God’s mercy every day.  Actually, so are we!

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We took a million pictures and gathered our tools to leave.  Etelvina and her daughter gave us amazing hugs.  They kept crying, hugging and thanking us.  God is the Giver of all good gifts.  We just got to deliver them!

We ended the night by going to church at Pastor Juan’s church.  It was the prayer night, so a little singing…and a lot of prayer.  Man, do they know how to pray!!!  It is an encouraging, yet humbling experience.  I envy how purely that pray and worship.  I always look forward to this night.

I took many things away from today.  One was that we must be patient and faithful in our prayer life.  God does work all things together for our good.  Sometimes that may be the way we were hoping, often times, it is completely different.  In all cases, it is in His timing, which is the very best timing possible.

Well, tomorrow is a busy day as well.  We will install three stoves and visit many families to talk and pray with.  We will then have the men’s Bible study at the church.  Pastor Juan invited 20 men to attend.  Rick is leading it.  It ought to be really good.

Thank you for all of your prayers and emails.  We miss you all very much.

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Dios te Bendiga,

Brad

Where's the bathroom?

Where’s the bathroom?

OK, you are really excited.  Your family has been invited to dinner at your friend’s house.  In your rush to be on time, your daughter left the house without going to the bathroom.  As embarrassed as you are, the first thing you do when you arrive is ask, “Where’s the bathroom?”  Simple question…right?  You would expect something like this, “Go down the hallway, when you get to the end, it’s on your right.”  Instead, you hear, “go outside, walk until you find a bush high enough to stand behind, then use the ground right below you.”  What would you do?  Tell your daughter to “go find that bush”?  The truth is, as Americans, we would be shocked.  Unfortunately, that is the everyday reality of life here. Every time they go to the bathroom, they have to find a place outside.  The fortunate ones have put a few pieces of metal around a hole behind their house.  But, not for the family we are building a house for.  When we showed up on Monday to pour the base of her new bathroom, one of the guys on the team asked the mom, “Where does your family go to the bathroom right now?”  Her response?  She looked out to the field in front of her shack and just nodded in that direction with her head.  In other words, “wherever I can find a place.”  Well, we were about to change that.

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When we found out we were building a house for Etelvina and her children, we were excited.   The personal story we were told pulled at our hearts.  Until you actually get to Guatemala and meet them, you really don’t know the full story.  It’s impossible to find out everything.  There is so much pain here.  There are so many tragic stories.  Despite that, they smile so much.  They laugh, sing and praise God for the few things they do have.  I did not know what to expect with Etelvina.  I knew she had at least two children, Rosemary (15 years old), and Antony (12 years).  I wondered, “What would they be like in person?  Would they stay at a distance while we were there?  Would they talk to us when we asked questions?”  When we pulled up to the house, I had all those questions answered immediately.

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As we walked up to their house, Etylvina walked right up to all of us and began to give us hugs.  She immediately began to praise God for the fact we were there to help her family.  She welcomed us as if we were family.  At that moment, I felt they were family as well.  Rick had purchased some fresh tortillas to give to the family.  We also bought some drinks as well.  After giving us the tour and us realizing they did not have a decent place to go to the bathroom, we were motivated to get to work.  Pastor Juan showed us where Bethel had paid to have the toilet hole dug next to the old house.  It is a very deep hole.  Our job was to construct the footing which the bathroom and toilet would sit.

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Every year, it is so cool to see how each man on the team has different skills to offer.  This year, one of the men is Dan from Iowa.  Dan is in the landscaping business.  We have been impressed with his knowledge of the local trees and flowers here.  He is our resident arborist.  What I did not realize was how skilled he is at taking what supplies lay before him and turning it into a work of art.  He and Pastor Juan jumped right in and stared building the footing.  The hard part was, the bathroom was on the side of a hill.  They had to build up the entire bathroom using blocks.  They were a great team.  Rick began cutting the block and rebar that they needed for the footing.  Gale and I worked with Chris doing what I love best…mixing concrete!  It’s hard for you to hear my sarcasm.  For some reason, I always end up with a shovel in my hand.  It’s actually rewarding…just tiring.  The cool part was, all of the family helped us…the entire day.  Etelvina has a sister who lives close.  She showed up with her children.  So, two women and four children grabbed shovels and moved dirt.  They also carried very heavy supplies.  They smiled the whole time.  Give them a task, the kids ran with purpose.  They also had a dog.  Not very helpful, but very cute!  Many of you will remember that several years ago we built for a family who had a dog named Rambo.  Rambo was not so nice.  He had to be chained. Every time I would walk by, Rambo would try to take a bite out of me.  Fortunately, this dog likes people and does not want to eat them.  Good boy!!!

I brought an external speaker to play music.  I played Christian music in Spanish for quite a while.  I then played it in English.  All of the sudden I heard a woman’s voice singing in Spanish.  I looked over and saw Etelvina singing along with “Come Thou Fount” in Spanish.  What a sweet voice.  I filmed her singing.  There we were, two followers of Christ standing on a hill in Guatemala enjoying the praises of God in two different languages.  Does it get any better than that?

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The most heart wrenching moment happened when Chris Mooney’s son-in-law “Saul” pulled up with all of our building supplies.  We began to unload all of the metal, food, stove, etc.  One of the last things to come off of the truck was the mattresses that will go in their bunk beds.  As the mattresses came out, one of the girls standing there began to cry.  She knew what the mattresses were going to mean to her family.  Three mattresses, three bunks, a soft, comfortable place to sleep, a pillow to lay her head on…  no more dirt!

While the project took a lot more time that Chris projected, the bathroom footing was complete.  We will put the walls, door and window on today when we build the house.  All of the kids had to go to school, so it was only Etelvina with us when we were leaving.  As we walked to the van to leave, she gave each person a hug.  I was the last one to pass by her.  As we began to hug, Etelvina began to cry.  She squeezed very tightly.  She began praising God.  She knew the gift was from the God who loves her.  These are the moments I love most.  Getting to be a part of God blessing people.  Getting to feel the hugs and share the joy.

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We then went to eat at my favorite restaurant in Guatemala.  Fresh tortillas and guacamole…delicious!  We then headed to install the stove at Iliana’s house.  I will let you read her story in the other blog post.  Please read it.  She really does need our help!

Thank you God for allowing us to be here.  I praise you, and give you all the glory.  It’s all for Your Name…it’s all for Your Glory!

Dios te Bendiga,

Brad