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…….

About ritadoppenberg

I am a wife, mom, missionary.... generally a human being who along with God, my family, friends and Commission to Every Nation (CTEN) Canada, seek to "Be The Change"...

Posted on February 20, 2010, in Guatemala Missionary, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Laurie Warkentin

    Your writing is beautiful, and having been at many of the places you are describing, I’m crying right along with you. Your heart is so beautiful and I can’t even imagine how God will refine you even more in the next couple of weeks. Love to you and your family.

  2. Angelica Hildebrand


    You have such a wonderful gift of writing. I can’t wait to be there as well. It sounds as though this trip will be in your heart and soul forever. God Bless you and your family. Please hug my boy for me!


  3. Rita,
    Wow your writing is amazing you have a real gift for writing. I couldnt stop reading and didnt want to. God bless and keep you all well. Aileen

  4. Rita, Your update from camp was beautiful. I felt like I was there with you. I am looking forward to making my journey to Guatemala in March.

  5. Rita

    Thanks for sharing your journey and providing a wonderful experience for us here at home…looking forward to hearing more stories,

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