Monthly Archives: February 2010

Should I stay or should I go now….

Something has stuck with me…. something I heard … It has been in the back of my mind since I arrived here.  My lifegroup leader Laurie told a story more than once of her experience here in Guatemala.  She said that there were times that she didn’t think she could go on… she just didnt have the strength to lift that pick axe one more time… but one look into the eyes of a little Guatemalan girl that was watching her and she somehow found another swing.. then another… then another….  I totally understand now what she was talking about…. Today I knew that kind of determination.

Today we left the camp at 8am as usual.  We were off to Antionette’s home.  Martin (the mason) needed more mud bricks so we were there to supply him with more.  Trip after trip we carried brick after brick.  I’ve already told you how labour intensive that is… totally draining.  In the end we carried 500 mud bricks to Martin.  We made the best of it… We taught Martin some english phrases like “Goodbye” and “Excuse me”… we had some fun listening to him say our names.  It took him a long time to understand mine because when I was trying to tell him I had forgotten to roll my R…. Rrrrrrrrita… Once I rolled my tongue he got it right away.  We were all totally fed up with the whole brick thing so to make it more interesting we made it a competition to see if during each trip to the brick making yard and back we could beat our previous time.  Normally as you get more tired you slow down but this gave us the determination to push ourselves harder and harder and beat our last time.   We took it from 30min… to 28min… to 20min… to our final best of 15min right on the nose!!!  After our last trip Antionette made us lunch again.  Rice and beans this time.  Geoff, Dave H and myself took a pass on lunch this time… as appreciative as we were we were unable to handle it today… our tummies have been a tad fragile lately so we took a quick walk to the tienda (store) and got some cookies instead.

After lunch we were off to visit Pavlo and Cantidad…  They are an elderly couple that have been requesting help from Wells of Hope for the past year.  They live in a cornstalk home and its honestly no place for an animal to live let alone an elderly couple.  On the way we made a stop for … you guessed it… more mud bricks because as a group we had discussed and decided to build them a new home!  All the students wanted to give these people a home quite badly.  When we had visited earlier in the week they all said that we have a moral responsibility to take care of our elders so we must help them get better living accomodations.  So here we were now making this families dream a reality.

The look on their faces when we arrived carrying bricks and tools was priceless.  The realization that they no longer had to suffer cold at night with bugs and spiders climbing and biting…  One realization struck me… if someone were to show up at your home and say “We have a tent for you to stay in while we build you a home,  how quickly can you move out?”, how long would it take you to pack up everything you own and move out?  One day?  Three days?  One week?  How many trucks would you need?  One pickup truck?  One large size U-haul?  Two?  Let me tell you, it took them less than 15 minutes to gather everything they own and move it up the mountain to a flat spot out of the way where Greg and some others were setting up a tent like carport for them to live in temporarily.  Fifteen minutes!  They have viturally nothing… and there are others living with them a niece and a couple of children.  Yet they have almost no personal posessions.  One lonely tooth brush hung from a string by a small cosmetic mirror hung on the inside wall of the cornstalk sleeping area.    In the one corner was a small open fire.  The entire room was filled with smoke.  There was virutally nothing else in the room but a few tattered blankets and some clothing.  In the kitchen was a stove area that expels smoke into the room.  A few old pots and several machete’s.  Imagine living life in 2 rooms.  No real beds, virtually living outside with very little to block the rain and wind… No tv, no diswasher, virtually no dishes… no washer, no dryer… no knick knacks, no radio, no computer, no cd’s, hardly any clothes, no toothbrush… and NO washroom… no toilet, no tub, no shower, no toothbrush… bathing is done in the nearest puddle of dirty infested water and washroom business is done in the jungle.  Life is labour intensive and tougher than you could imagine…. but it is simple…. people are happy… they are people just like you and I… but there is a sparkle in their eyes that we lack.  I am learning that in some ways despite the intense poverty they experience, despite the hard, intense labour they must endure every minute, despite being thirsty and hungry and having very little shelter, I find myself being just a bit envious of them and their happiness… their simplicity… their faith, their hope, their spirit.

We began demolition of their house within a few minutes of getting there.  We ripped down the walls, tore off the roofs and pulled up all the support poles and within an hour it was all gone.  The roof inside was covered with a thick layer of creosote so thick it was like stalagmites hanging from the ceiling.  It was from the cooking and the fires that are done inside the house.  I cannot even imagine what these poor people’s lungs are like.  Breathing that in day after day, year after year… with children being raised in these rooms.  Tarantula’s crawled out of the cornstalk walls as we moved them.  They were huge, black and hairy… not poisonous but they were still ugly and scary none the less.  I was helping Geoff take down a beam and one of these beasts flew at me and hit me in the face.  That was an experience I’d prefer to never have happen again to be honest.   They were everywhere and they bit.  We couldn’t help but think of the fact that these creatures would be crawling over these people and biting as they slept.  When Ted asked us if we were willing to stay the whole day and work instead of returning to camp (this meant the students would have a double lesson tomorrow) everyone agreed.  We were all incredibly tired and worn out but looking into the eyes of these people and thinking of them being cold at night and being bitten by these spiders gave us all the determination to go on… to get this house built as quickly as possible.

So off Ted went to get Martin and pull him off of the building of Antionette’s home so he could come and mark out the location of the new home so we could begin digging the foundation.  It took Martin about an hour so we got almost too much of a break.  It was enough to let stiffness and fatigue settle into us.   By the time he was done and the foundation was marked no one wanted to move.  Especially me… I admit I felt near to dropping.  All those bricks, all that demolition, not much lunch and just plain fatigue had all played a part in making me feel like I could not go on.  Ted took me for a walk up the mountain to see the temporary home of the Pavlo and Cantidad.  They were  sitting around a fire with family members and the children.. Cantidad approached Ted and even though I could not understand what she was saying I understood enough to know she was thanking him.  After that I found some determination to continue.  So down we went, picked up the tools and got to work.  We all dug and dug and dug… pickaxes, shovels, hoes and sheer determination getting it done.   I am telling you to trust me when I say that work down here is brutal.  The ground is not soft… the weather is hot… the bugs bite and even petting a dog here can get you a nasty bite.  But the work is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done before.  Pretty much every muscle I have hurts, even some I didn’t know I had.  I’m tired because the animals make so much noise its hard to sleep.  I’m tired because I’m working harding physically than I ever have before in my life….And yet, I go on… I work hard… everywhere I can see the eyes of these people looking at me full of hope.. full of life… and I keep going…

Geoff and I have been walking the property here several times a day… talking and trying to process the things we have seen here.  A visit to Nico’s house yesterday put us all in a mood.  Those children have no laughter in them.  I can’t image the horror of their lives.  Nico is not doing well and seems to have been shirking his responsibilities as a father.  He has been drinking.  Its frustrating to see those kids cry in fear of us as we are handing them gifts…  There is no joy, no hope, in their eyes… as a matter of fact there is nothing in their eyes but fear and a certain deadness.  Its heartbreaking to watch knowing all that Ted and Wells of Hope has tried to do to help this family.  We as a group are still brainstorming what to do about this.  Trying to find a way to help them become more self sufficient.  Trying to find a solution to Nico and his drinking.   A trip to Nico’s house equals a definate tearfest for those that visit.   Alley has a special place for Nico and his family in her heart.  She was very upset after we left there.  So upon returning to camp that afternoon Geoff, Dave and I convinced her to join us in Jalapa for an hour.  We needed to get out of here and clear our heads.  So off we went and it was a great time.  We hung out in the cafe, had a snack and just laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.  It was much needed and very therapeutic.  It felt good to be silly and laugh for a while.

Its Saturday now…. This morning Geoff and I walked the property again… we have been struggling with going home.   Walking the property singing… “Should I stay or should I go now…. “….  Back and forth, back and forth… We are changing our ticket… we are not changing our ticket…. We have had some long talks with Ted and I have to say, I admire the van der Zalm family very much.  What they have done here is amazing.  I understand now why Ted says it isn’t about coming down here to appease our personal guilt.  To do a semi-tourism sort of thing and help out so that we feel better once.  Coming down here and truly seeing with open eyes and an open heart makes you need to come back again and again.  The desire to help here and commit to continue to help is what is needed.  Its more than “short term mission” or whatever phrasing you prefer.  Need has a name… need has eyes, noses, mouths and heartbeats… need has feelings… need laughs, cries just like us… Those who need are people just like us… its simple… we have need too… we NEED to help!   Its about commitment.  Its about knowing whats out here and having a moral responsibility to keep coming and helping.  And that goes for anywhere in the world where there is need… and that is worldwide… here, Africa, India, New Orleans …. and yes even St Catharines.  Even people who do not have the ability to travel can be called to help… financially, through fundraising, through helping families or individuals who can travel however they need.  You get my point?  The bottom line is everyone has a place in this world and a way to help, everyone just needs to figure out how they can help.  You know, BE THE CHANGE you want to see in the world….

The draw to stay here is very strong.  Its so hard to think of leaving… to leave these people and their need… to leave projects unfinished….to leave the simple beauty of this place…. to leave these students who we have grown so close to.  We have so many reasons to stay.  Yet the draw to go home is strong too… I miss my home… I miss my family and friends… I miss my lifegroup girls….  so many reasons to go home.  We are so torn… I think we have decided to not change our ticket home… I am not sure though… That decision seems to change almost hourly…. I am sure… absolutely positive that we will be returning in April.  We have to… its that simple…

Dancing in the rain….

Well its Wednesday… Its been a pretty easy day for me. Im not feeling all that well… I have pushed my body harder than I ever have before and today I am taking a day to recover. I really, truly need it. This morning the students hung around camp doing some trench digging and painting so I did not miss much… Had it been work off site I would have gone along and probably ended up making myself sick so Im thankful today was quiet. Funny thing, I get up between 5-5:30am here every morning without an alarm… for those of you that know me that is a miracle in itself… I think God is truly giving me the strength to get up early, go all day and rest easy at night. But even God lets me know when I’ve pushed my middle aged body to its limit. We have been here 1 week… incredible. I can’t fathom the fact that an entire week have passed… The sheer thought of going home in 8 days actually terrifies me. I can’t imagine to going back to life at home… Our modest century home is nothing special but here it would be a mansion. I think of what we waste in our society… our food, our water, our time etc. I know that “To Whom much is given, much will be expected” and I am doing my best to think of things that way and not feel ashamed… to not feel guilt. Ted has explained it to me over and over that guilt is counter productive and its not what God means for us. We simply need to help and keep it simple… Serve the poor… never mind what we have… and why where we are born controls our wealth… simply serve the poor. I get it… but its still hard sometimes.

We are getting a bit more of an experience than the typical teams that come down here to Campo Esperanza do. Most teams do not come down until March break at the very earliest. By that time Ted has had time to line up work, meet with village leaders, make decisions along with the board about who they will be helping this season, touring the area’s looking for need and checking in on previous people they have built relationships with. Teams who are here later in the season and for only 10 days miss out on the dynamic of how it all begins. We were so blessed to be with Ted here from day 1… to journey along with him and see everything he is seeing for the first time. Things like Nico’s family not doing well is something that most teams would not see because they come here, do a project, do a tiny bit of visiting and then go home. Being here from Day 1 is a very hard thing but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It makes the experience so much more personal… so much more…. well, just so much more! I will never be able to thank Ted enough for trusting Geoff and I enough to ask us to come and help right from the beginning to help get the students set up, into a routine and mentally handle things they will see. Being a youth leader has definately helped me. I wonder if God has been prepping me for this kind of thing my whole life but I have denied it up until now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the path of my life today. How the youth leader thing is something I’ve always been good at but never was willing to commit to… Now look at the path my life has taken. Im more involved with various aspects of youth ministry than I ever thought possible. I am going with Ted later in the week to visit a Nutrition centre in El Progresso. Ted told me that they are interested in perhaps working toward having one here. Immediately my interest was piqued. When Zack was little and was diagnosed with so many severe food allergies I began to research nutrition like a madwoman. I had to find ways through homeopathy and nutrition to get Zack the nutrients he needed through sources other than the traditional. The doctors had told me that he probably wouldn’t make it to age 6, because I would most likely make an unintentional error and he would be a victim of it. I swore to myself I would never let that happen… I worked so hard and I am happy to report that he is now a healthy and happy 15 year old boy and has grown out of most allergies. We still carry Epi-pens but have only had to actually use one once. I joined associations, I wrote letters, I worked closely with people to help raise awareness for allergies. I even began to visit people in their home who had children who were newly diagnosed and helped their parents grocery shop and outfit their cupboards with suitable food. I had to stop that because of liabilities issues. My lawyer nearly had a heart attack when I told him what I was doing… he said I was a walking multi-million dollar lawsuit waiting to happen. So I stopped helping people out of fear. For myself, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes that I have managed to control through research of good nutrition. Maybe God is putting me here and putting this Nutrition thing before me out of the blue… I admit I had given up on aspiring to work with people in the field of nutrition… maybe I wasn’t meant to do this at home… maybe I was meant to help turn this into a reality here? Hmmm…. things aren’t clear but perhaps they aren’t quite as blurry…. God’s plan remains a mystery but perhaps Im taking more time to listen while Im here… hmmmm….

I know there are some of the co-op students parents reading this… let me take a moment from a parents perspective to explain life here. Your kids are safe, and healthy. Miriam spoils us with foods you wouldnt imagine. Yes there are scorpions but they are non-poisionous. We have killed a few and no stings. There sting is like that of a wasp so no worries. Everyone is happy, well cared for and working hard. When Ted or Miriam feels that they need a break they must take one. Those who tried to be stubborn and ignore the sun warnings the first week were made to say home from working the next day and not even allowed outside. Ted and Miriam are such amazing and wonderful people… your kids couldnt be in better hands when they are away from home!! Now I must also take a moment to say that your kids are absolutely amazing young people. You must already be so proud of them for undertaking this program… surely there are much easier ways to earn 6 credits! Every day spirits are high, conflicts are resolved quickly and with the upmost of courtesy for the feelings and opinions of others, they are working so hard and really learning to feel. I mean really FEEL… let themselves feel… put aside that teenage angst and become the adults they are meant to be. But let me tell you, nomatter what pride you must feel in them will be magnified tenfold once they come home. They are already changed … and its only just the beginning.

Part of my responsibility here is to be a youth leader. Im here for them for whatever they need. A few nights ago we began ‘testimonies’. If you are not familliar with that concept it is simply sitting around in a circle with all 11 of them, Ted, Miriam, Alley, Nicole, my oldest son Zack and Dave and telling “your story”. When we first got here just about every one of them approached me and said they had absolutely NO intention of doing it. No way, no how! I sat with them each night for the first few days, let them get to know me and who I am and I explained to them that its just a way for them to get rid of the junk they have. Everyone has ‘junk’ and its always good for people to share burdens and they may be surprised that others share the same struggles. Its a great way for them to get to know one another, break down the walls that separate them… to get them to stop facing each other fake and with a facade…. to help them not freak out at others because sometimes if you know a bit about the other person you wont be so quick to anger over things. Maybe it will give you some insight into why people say and do the things they say and do.

Slowly but surely I convinced them this testimony was not something to be feared but something to be embraced. So every night we have been sitting around in a circle under the starry sky listening to each other’s story. I had to begin, they simply werent that brave… but soon they were all wanting to go and they are sharing so well we are only getting through a couple a night… These last nights have been spent listening to each other, laughing with each other… crying with each other… and encouraging each other. After a few testimonies, we break for the night with about an hour left before lights out. Everyone hangs around in small groups and talks it all out. They pretty much all say that these testimonies have helped them so much both by being honest, getting stuff off their chest and by listening to others and realizing that they are not alone in their struggles. Its been a beautiful experience as it always is. They truly are becoming a family.

As far as my family… this experience has been the best thing that ever happened to us. We have always been a very close, tight knit family but this has brought us closer. We are all happier… more open with one another. Geoff and I have held each other as we both have broken down (ok me a lot more than Geoff but you get my point). We are all more vulnerable to one another… our walls have been broken down.. funny thing is we didn’t really realize any existed. But believe me they did… they are just the kind of walls that are transparent but there. Even Zack went for a walk with me into the jungle and we sat under a banana tree for an hour just talking… I can’t remember the last time I spent an hour in deep conversation with my 15yr old son. Sure we have talked… as I said we have always been close but this is different…. this is that sort of intimate no holds barred conversations about life, self and God that are so very rare. Zack is more patient with his brothers… and more protective (see my last post about losing Gabe in the jungle). Lucas and Gabriel are happier… and more giving… they want to raise money for that school classroom but they also want to work and save all their allowance money to raise $1000.00 each to finance the building of a mud home for a family here. Im so incredibly proud of my boys. My heart is broken here every single day by what I see and the community of blood and extended family I have here mends it by the end of each day….

Its the end of the day now… dinner time… the students have returned from teaching english classes in various villages for the afternoon. It has begun to rain… hard. Rare for this time of year… seems you eat dust driving everywhere here because there is no real rain until May. This is apparently a fluke. I was writing and the kids all ran past me and burst out the door… I got up to see what on earth they were doing…. pretty much all of them were outside with my boys.. dancing in the rain… laughing, carrying on…. something so simple can bring smiles to those that are dancing and those that are merely watching… I have to admit… I think it looks like a lot more fun to be dancing than watching…. don’t you think perhaps we should all take some time to do some dancing in the rain… with our kids… by ourselves… with our spouse… I think so….so thats exactly what Im going to do… Im going to go and dance in the rain….

The inconvenient truth…..

**This one is long folks… sorry but Im not getting to the internet as often as I thought… sorry… = )  **

I’ve tried to write this blog 3 times over the past few days.   Everything I write seems to be inadequate to express what I am thinking and feeling.  It’s Tuesday and 4 days have passed since I last blogged.  I have to admit Im a little bit concerned about writing this then typing it out on the computer.  It loses data at the most random times and I have had to re-type things more than once.  How inconvenient!!   Thinking on it, living communally inconvenient.  You can’t always have a shower at the exact moment you want.  You may not get seconds of your favorite dish because everyone seems to like the same thing.  Personalities clash and to be frank certain people drive you nutty.  People may be loud and you may not get the exact amount of rest you need.    But you know what else is inconvenient?  Having to walk several kilometres through the mountains to carry dirty, parasite infested water that will most likely kill a few members of your family (specifically your children) on your head.  Its inconvenient to run out of food and feed your dirty, naked children a bowl of leftover sugar (you know the kind that is stuck like cement to a bowl after it has gotten damp and sat for days).   It’s inconvenient to sleep on the dirt floor of a cornstalk hut when the temperatures dip to single digits in the mountains at night.  You see where I’m going with this?  Inconvenience moves beyond slow internet connections… beyond flight delays & lousy movie choices on a plane… beyond re-runs of tv shows… beyond long lines at the store… beyond traffic jams that make us late… beyond just about every scenario our North American pampered brains can comprehend.

I’ve watched and participated in so many things these past days alongside the co op students.  We visited an insanely crowded and chaotic market in Jalapa for R & R (yeah, ok…).   We went to Church Sunday morning at 8am passing tons of people who had to begin their walk at 4am to arrive on time.  Standing room only when we got there and by the time the service began there were hundreds outside unable to hear but still worshipping with a smile.   We visited Nico & Yolanda’s home that was built last year by the Southridge groups (shout out here to members of my life group… I miss you guys!)  Nico and Yolanda have 12 kids, the youngest of which Baby Daryl was named by Ted.  Sad situation there that made pretty much everyone cry that night… Emotions ran high.  Kids everywhere, dirty and naked with nothing much to eat but that crusty sugar I talked about earlier.  It showed everyone that these people need so much more than just a house built.  They need to be taught how to become self sufficient and earn a living etc.  High’s & Low’s (we do a High & Low part of your day discussion at dinner time) consisted almost totally of Nico’s house visit being the group low that night.   We are spending the next few days brainstorming with the students ways to help them get it together.   That day we also visited one of several cemetaries on the mountain.  75% of the graves were about 2ft long… basically an entire cemetary filled with children… looking around at the surrounding mountains made us all realize that the scope of this extends way beyond just this mountain.

All the above was just the weekend… let me tell you there were tears shed all around.  We spend a lot of the time here crying, holding each other and talking it all out.  Sometimes its hard to see God here but it seems just when you are at your ultimate low He shows up.

This group is getting so close.  Bonds are being formed.  Unshakable, unbreakable, lifelong ones.  Its impossible to not bond.  You cannot go through this experience alone.  It would break your spirit if you couldn’t share this in community, in relationship.  Its a beautiful thing and it changes you in your core… who you are… you will never be the same you just know that.  I honestly do not know how I am going to go home… how I am going to leave the people, the students, the community here.  I wish so much my life group girls were here to share this with me.  (Shout out to you guys… I miss you and love you very much!)

Yesterday, (Monday) we began work on a home that Wells of Hope began last year but managed to get no further than the foundation because the rains came.  Not much can be done here in the rainy season.  Agriculture is about it, the ground becomes too saturated for any type of building to be done.  We had visited Martin the mud brick mason on Saturday and ordered the 500+ bricks we would need for the home.  Just so happened that Martin had enough mud bricks already made so Monday we began the monumental task of moving them.  We had to load them onto the truck one by one (each mud brick weights approx. 40lbs and are about 4 times the size of normal bricks.  Those of you that have been here know exactly what I am talking about when I say these bricks are awkward, heavy and fragile!  Somehow we found the strength to do several trips and by lunch we had moved just over 300.  While the trips were going back and forth some of us remained behind to pulverize the broken bricks (and we unfortunately broke quite a few) to mix with the water (which we had to walk and fetch bucket after bucket) to make mortar.   Pulverizing with makeshift hoe’s was hard work… Fetching water was hard… Everything here is so labour intensive… everything is hard… absolutely everything!  Well, actually if I am honest I did get to spend a short time taking the mortar (mud) and help build a row of the house.  That was not that hard… that was downright fun!  All of it was quite fulfilling.  Once its all done we can all say that we literally built Antionetta and her children a home with our bare hands, our blood, our sweat and our tears!

We were all exhausted, sore, cut up, bruised, sunburnt (despite the 30-50spf lotion), and hot but a wonderful thing happened…. Antionetta brought us lunch.  A chow mein filled with noodles, native Guatemalan veggies and chicken, tortilla’s and some sort of milky white rice sort of drink (Thanks Ted for drinking this for us so we wouldn’t have to risk getting sick).  It was delicious (well except for the beak that was in mine and Zack’s), and such an honour to be fed knowing the cost it was to her.  Truly these people are so giving!  As I was sitting in the shade under a tree eating I watched everyone.  I noticed the happy chatter and the laughter in our group.  Spirits were so incredibly high despite all the physical aches and pains..  It felt really good to work hard and it truly is better to give than recieve.

Today (Tuesday) we all began the day a bit sore but eager and quite pumped.  You see today we were to help a village of about 15 families get water.  This particular village has no access to water and asked Ted to run a pipeline from an existing well approx. 2km down the mountain to provide them running water.  Ted wants the Students to help with the decision of whether or not to build this pipeline so he wanted us all to experience fetching water by bucket  traditionally by carrying it on our head. So off we trekked to the water source (dirty infested surface water) carrying our buckets.  Downhill… VERY steeply downhill we trekked through the jungle about 10 minutes dreading the trek back uphill.  Only a few of us were able to fill our buckets here because the source was drying up (within a month it will be totally dry). Only a few of us (Ted & Miraim’s son, and my 2 sons Luke age 9 and Gabe age 8)were able to get water here because the source was drying up (within a month it will be totally dry).  So those 3 began the climb back while the rest of us trekked to another source much farther away.  The walk was brutal… the sun was intense… the heat was severe and at an elevation of approx. 8000ft the air was thin.  This was brutal with EMPTY buckets!!!  Once our buckets were full we perched them on top of our heads and the realization set in immediately that getting them back was going to be a task like one we have never undertaken before.    Have you ever heard the saying “Uphill.. both ways”? Well in Guatemala that is very true.  The rocky mountainous terrain is full of ups and downs in every direction.  I myself began to pray immediately after I took one step with that bucket on my head.  “God help me with this… Im not going to be able to do this on my own… help me to not fail… give me strength”…  The pain in my neck and arms was so intense I cannot describe it.  You have to experience it.  Try it!  Fill a 5 gallon pail with water… perch it on your head… hold onto it with arms fully outstretched upward for balance and then go up and down a flight of stairs about 400 times.  Go, do it… I’ll wait…..  I mean it… Go!   Sound silly?  Well the women of Guatemala do this several times a day….

Think about how much water you use in a day… bathing… laundry… cooking… drinking… etc.  How many buckets would you need in a day for your family?  You see now why I was praying?  I refused to give up… I made it just over 1/2way back with the bucket on my head.  Some students made it less… some made it more… some hung back to encourage the others and this 40something mother of 3 and in the end some helped me and each other.   We all eventually made it to the village… less water in our buckets than when we began but we did it.   I was exhausted, sore, semi-defeated yet semi-elated that my asthma stricken body managed to make it back at all and I kept up with some of the others very well.  (*Note: People with Asthma here do not have the luxury of inhalers, they merely go slower).

It truly was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, no question… it was also the most humbling thing Ive ever done.  It provided clarity of what these women endure several times a day to get water that we totally take for granted.  It was also one of the most beautiful experiences of my life watching all of us and the co-op students encourage & help each other.  Faster ones came back down when they were finished to help those that were struggling… etc… We truly do share everything here, including each others burdens.

When we returned to the village I immediately looked for my youngest boys that had returned ahead of us & I was informed that Gabe had wandered off the path and was still on the mountain by himself, lost.  We had been gone 1 1/2hrs and the fear and panic that struck me at that moment was indescribable.   Zack, my 15yr old took off like a bullet and was down that mountain before most of us hit the gate.  Seeing my boys fight like brothers do… the harsh words they exchange all the time and yet when Zack heard his baby brother was lost on that mountain he was gone faster than Geoff and I.   I ran down as fast as I could calling out his name.  I turned and saw all the students running behind me spread out in a search pattern.  Before any of us even got to the bottom I heard Zack yell he had found him.  Relief washed over me then I saw them coming out of the jungle.  Zack was half carrying a sobbing, shaking Gabe.  I ran to him and he clung to me.  It seems he had searched the path up and down but then he had fallen down and was too upset, hurt & tired to go on. Miraculously he had fallen on the path where we could find him easily.    Its blurry now in my mind but I can tell you that coming around that gate and seeing the miles of jungle on that mountain I prayed like I have never prayed before.  My prayers were answered.  It breaks my heart to think of Gabe lying on that path scared, crying and alone but he is safe.  My boys learned a valuable lesson in listening to your parents instructions… All that I know is God was with us on that mountain.

I’ve saved the best for last… Today we took some time from our work day to do something awesome.  Luke and Gabe did a sort of fundraiser at their school (St. Mark, Beamsville).  They challenged the students to bring in 1 small toy, a hot wheels car, a small doll etc.   The students rose to the challenge and we paid for 3 extra large suitcases jam packed to fly here with us.  Today was the day we had the privilege to visit a village school and hand out toys.  We toured the school and the conditions are deplorable.  One of the classroom for 25 students is smaller than the JK/SK coat rooms I’ve seen.  The roof is slats so when it rains the kids get soaked.  It would take very little to build proper classrooms but there is simply no money.  Luke and Gabe were shocked and have decided that their new project will be to fundraise money and build a new classroom.  They felt awful seeing the kids in those conditions.

We set up the suitcases in the yard and the principal led the classes out one by one.  The children lined up and were so excited to see the white people handing out toys.  They were peeking around the corner as they waited grinning ear to ear.  It didnt matter what they got, they were so incredibly happy.  Everyone was laughing and having a great time.  I cried from the sheer enormity of it all… the joy and happiness was tangible.  A few of the students had stayed with our family to share in this experience.  It was beautiful.

I cannot help but reflect on the events of the past few days.  To be amazed at what God is doing here in all of us… how we are changing…   I admit I was afraid of the change.  Now I seem to be welcoming it, anticipating how life will be different for myself, Geoff and our boys once we get home.  I look at things differently already and I know that sometimes things wear off after a while, but I truly dont believe this experience will ever leave me.  Ive shed way too many tears in the past weeks to ever let it change back.  I think that now that my eyes have seen.. my ears have heard… and my body has felt some of what they do I have a responsiblility to be the change… even just one tiny speck of it.   I have a very funny feeling that my life is going to get a lot more inconvenient but for different reasons than before!

The language of laughter….

Well… today is Friday… The students are gone to put a roof on a home.  I have stayed behind to get this “school” routine started.  Im feeling a bit humbled because I cannot seem to access certain aspects of the periodic table in the archives of my mind. 

I have had no internet access before today (and today is pretty sketchy), and considering my thoughts are so all over the place, its not a bad thing.  Trying to process things in my mind is something Im struggling with big time.  This experience is both beautiful and hard.  Quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done.  My family has served before… Katrina relief, Alaska etc.  but this is different.  Our first experience serving in a developing country.  This is different… this is brutal… this is REAL!   This is not some TV infomercial or a postcard with a picture and an address to send money… This is “NEED”….  NEED with big brown eyes staring at you… NEED with hands that wrap themselves around you and cling to you.

Ted took us all and the Co op students on a tour yesterday.  We had the privilege of meeting Sylvia and her daughter Jenny.  Sylvia is a single mom with several children the youngest of which (Jenny) has a serious brain condition.  She is such a sweet little girl full of smiles but she is quite ill and in need of an operation asap.  After that we saw Shelley who is epileptic.  Because her family could not afford medication to control her seizures when she was little she has been left brain damaged.  She is an amazingly beautiful young lady… simply stunning….  I heard words like sexual abuse being said… Watching her I immediately felt the tears come.  I thought of my own sister who like Shelly is epileptic.  Its such a controllable disease.  There is no reason on earth why this should happen.  Emotions coursed throught me…. Tears came harder, my voice cracked.  Ted looked at me and said quietly, “Rita, you havent seen anything yet”…  <sigh> at that moment I realized none of my previous experiences had prepared me for this. 

We also met with the leaders of the villages water council.  Some of these men had travelled hours and crazy distances by bus and on foot to be there for this short meeting.  The meeting began with these men praying for us… and thanking God for us…. One man had tears streaming down his face during that prayer.  The students were touched and some cried they were so humbled.   Just after the prayer 2 men left and a short time later we were startled by the sound of fireworks.  They set off round after round of fireworks to welcome us.   After the meeting they gave us 3 chickens and 3 cases of pop to thank us.   This is a cost to them that we cannot comprehend.  They most likely wont be eating chicken for at least a month as a result of our gift.  Quite frankly it is going to be difficult to eat those chickens knowing how high the cost to them was, but to not do so would be insulting so we will eat them out of respect. 

We made various other stops at villages, a school and various Wells of Hope projects that have been completed in years past.  Every stop children came running from everywhere, smiling, laughing and immediately surrounding us.  One little girl came to me and held my hand… she walked with me everywhere and when we stopped she simply clung to me like a child clings to her mother.  I cannot begin to describe how this child made me feel and if I even attempt to write it down I will be crying yet again & I’ll be unable to continue writing… emotions are running very high here. 

I cried four times yesterday (and for those of you that know me, I don not cry easily).  It was my first full day… I can already see changes in the co op students, in Dave, Alley and Nicole, in my family and in myself…. Subtle changes but changes none the less.  Im growing attached to the students.  I love talking with them and watching them.  I guess being involved in youth ministry makes me this way.  I love watching relationships form.  I know the youth trip to New Orleans last summer created bonds that will never be broken and we were only together for 10days.. these kids have 3 months!   I feel the pull to return here at the end of the program to see the changes in them first hand.  Im already praying for God to open a door to make our return possible. 

I took a break from writing just now… a time for a walk through the banana field to try to gather my scattered thoughts.  You know what I heard on my walk??  Laughter!   Thinking back to yesterday’s tour… the villages, the school… I heard tons of laughter.  It surrounds us…. its infectious… and glorious to hear.   It makes you laugh right along in its simplicity.   Its not the fake, forced, under the surface laughter of children back home.  Its the deep down, soul healing laughter.  It comes from the children… the poor ones… the ones that live in the mountains… the ones that live on the camp year round… the ones that live at the bottom of the hill here…. it literally surrounds us.  Funny thing is…. its infected my boys… Ive listened to them laugh like never before.   They have made friends with the Guatemalan kids here…. language is no barrier…. they share the common language of laughter!  You know the one… the universal language of laughter that signifies joy…  The language that exists in the simple things.  It knows no poverty, no stress, no junk.  We have too much junk!  We need to return to simplicity… to laughter.  I want to laugh more… I need to laugh more… like the children here do…. and they are slowly teaching me how….

……………………………………………

*NOTE:  Since I didnt get the internet up and running until late Friday night I decided to update you on something that happened today.

Have you ever seen or experienced something so shocking, so against the grain of what you imagine the world should look like that you cannot even begin to comprehend?  Something that literally hits you in the face to show you how broken our world actually is?   I had one today…

This afternoon Don took  Geoff, myself, the boys, Dave and Nicole out to the orphanage to visit with the kids and to check on the status of the roof.   After Geoff finished and we played with the girls (including the infamous Norma) for a while we were on our way.  We stopped at the market in Jalapa to get a snack for the ride home.   After that we were set to return to camp but Don said he really wanted us to see something before we left Jalapa.  After a short drive we were in a cemetary with above grade colourful crypts all decorated with paper flowers.  We thought this was what he wanted us to see… Little did we know….  We drove a bit further and just over the rise of the hill we saw it… A tent village of sorts complete with shanty’s, draped sheets, and lean to’s … right smack dab in the middle of the dump.   Children playing in the mountain of garbage… throwing it at each other… doing flips into it…. moms and other kids using their hands and hoes to sift through the garbage looking for treasures.    Huge pigs & dogs were everywhere scavenging right along side the people.  They live there and ran to the truck as soon as they spotted us hoping to be the first to claim whatever garbage we brought and see what treasure it held….  They looked truly disappointed when we told them we had nothing.     We sat in total silence watching this scene…. we put aside our snacks, too ashamed to eat them anymore.   No one spoke for a bit… and in that silence I head the strangest noise coming from outside the truck…. the children were laughing…….

Almost there….

Thanks so much to everyone for all your kind words, prayers and support…  Its such a blessing to have so many people that care about us!

Well yesterday was challenging… to say the least.  Having returned from the youth retreat I (and Dave, Alley & Zack) were all running on about 3hrs sleep Friday night… 4hrs Saturday and Zero on Sunday.  I figured I could sleep on planes and in the airport between connections.  Well apparently not haha….  Without bothering with every detail of our horrific day yesterday suffice it to say in summary… it sucked!  haha…   3 airports, 3 missed flights, 1 lost bag…. sleeping on the floor of various airports etc.   Crazy day…  It took us from 1am until 11pm last night to get to Atlanta but we truly felt awesome to actually get there.

There is something about travelling that brings out the best and worst in people.  Especially when there are problems.  Yesterday was awful and yet we made the best of it.  I am filled with a pride in my kids.  Wow, this could have been a disaster of epic proportions travelling with kids but they were patient, courteous and just all around great.  We all ran yesterday on no sleep and again Im struck with the feeling that it has brought the 7 of us together even closer than before.   I truly feel that this trip is going to be amazing beyond our wildest imaginations.

So… Im writing this from the floor of yet another airport… my flight to Guatemala city is boarding in 10 minutes.  We will be spending the day & night in Guatemala city while we wait for Ted and the Students to arrive tomorrow so we can all head to camp together.  Exciting!!!   Zack said something to me yesterday… after Delta airlines in Detroit had a computer glitch with our rebooked flight from Buffalo that made us miss yet another flight…. He said,  “Its like God is testing us to see just how bad we want this…. “….  You know what?  Yesterday watching Zack, my family, Dave, Alley and myself I realized…. we want this… and we want this, bad!    God Bless!

….. almost too much to comprehend….

Well, the time has come… the bags are packed… the drive to the airport looms ahead…  I have just returned a couple hours ago from the Sr. Youth Winter retreat.   What I experienced there has not even begun to sink in yet and I am almost off on another adventure.

Youth… its what its all about to me… the future… the present… the now and the soon to be…  I did alot of watching and listening this weekend.  I watched … I payed attention… I opened myself up… and I was witness to real life miracles.   Youth… young adults… struggling… broken and so, soooo beautiful.   I cried alot this weekend.  Openly, in private and deep inside my soul.  Tears of joy, tears of sadness but mostly tears of hope…..   I held alot of broken youth while they cried this weekend… embracing and letting them know that I am no less broken myself… This is all a jouney we are on together.  A tough one when you choose the path we have…  the hard path.. but the one that is so worth it.

Youth… They laugh… they cry… they hide… as we all do… If people will just listen to them, they have so much to say.  So much to learn… so much to offer… so much to teach each other and us older generation.   All they want is to be heard… they dont even care if we understand… they just want to be heard… I am making it my top priority to listen… to them… to myself… to God….   I know this makes little sense… but I just am writing what I feel and Im still so raw… my emotions are running very close to the surface.  Chalk it up to perhaps being tired if you will… but I know its so much more than that.

Im off to spend 3 weeks with some amazing young people who have begun a journey with Wells of Hope… a co-op experience…. I feel so blessed to share this with them… and Im going to listen… alot… and Im hoping to be witness to some amazing things that God has in store for them… and for me…..

Not Quite the beginning… but its a start of something

Hey everyone….

So, its Tuesday… I leave on Friday for the youth retreat… and then early… very early Monday morning with my family for Guatemala. Everyone wants updates, and regular ones… this is the only way I could think of to do that efficiently considering how busy we will be and sporatic internet connections. I don’t know if anyone will actually read this and if you are… Im sorry hahaha…. My thoughts might tend to be all over the place. I’ll be using this as a bit of a journal for my own benefit as well. As my wonderful lifegroup girls can tell you, when I get lost in a random thought.. look out. So bear with me… read if you want… don’t read… whatever, its all good.

I’ve spent alot of the past weeks trying to figure out what God is doing with my life… exactly who I am and why I am where I am. Had anyone told me a few years ago that I’d be a youth leader… heavily involved in a community (Church… but I love the word community so much more) … talking major stuff about myself with a random group of people (my own life group) and on my way to Guatemala… well I would have called you nuts. The Guatemala part seems to me to be just about the only part of my life that makes sense. Its kinda the thing Geoff, me and the boys have always done… We’ve been doing Katrina relief work with various organizations since the hurricane… We’ve been to Alaska to build homes…. so Guatemala fits… sort of. The rest it occurs to me has happened because I finally stopped doing life my way and have embraced letting God do it for me so to speak. And look where I am now .. (see above haha). And you know what? Life is so much better. I have a sense of finally kinda being on the path I was always supposed to be on… again I say finally!

I see now that meeting Ted and getting involved with Wells of Hope is no coincidence… becoming a youth leader for Southridge is no coincidence…. meeting and marrying Geoff was no coincidence… Alley and Dave ending up going to Guatemala with our family is no coincidence…. there simply is no such thing…. its all part of a plan… a plan that includes so much pain sometimes its unbearable… but in the end it all somehow works out. Its taken me a very long time (41yrs) to realize that and somehow the realization makes it all seem so much better… I am only one person…. but I can make a difference…. nomatter how small that difference is… I CAN be the change, even if only a tiny speck of it… I CAN!

Much Love & God’s Blessings….
Rita