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Lonely….. but with a purpose!

Wow… 2 weeks today my family & I landed back in Canada.  Complete with warnings from so many people that our transition back into the Canadian culture would be difficult.  Well I have to tell you that difficult does not even come close to describing what me and my family have been going through these past weeks.  Incredibly, inconceivably brutal might be a tad bit closer to our reality right now.  Every single thing about Canada feels foreign… even our own home feels a bit unfamiliar.  It seems full of meaningless junk.  Stuff…. tons of stuff that does nothing but weigh me down like I have an anchor tied to my neck.  Stuff I have to clean and dust but serves no purpose.  All seems pointless….. As I sit and think about it…. nothing has changed here… its all still the same… its us who have undergone a total and complete transformation.

I have at times been completely surrounded by people these past weeks.  All with the best of intentions.  I love them dearly.  Make no mistake, I love my people here with all my heart.  And I have loved every minute seeing them and catching up.  But I find myself quiet now.. (and for those that know me, that is very unusual).  I sit and I listen… its like my brain is moving in slow motion and it takes me a while to truly focus.  Its only been 2 weeks and everyone says, don’t worry this will pass.  Its the foreign nature of my surroundings that has me … um… weird I guess description for lack of a better word.  Someone said to me, “perhaps its just too soon to be with people”.  I took that to heart and have tried basically becoming a hermit this past week.  Still feel the same.  I finally pegged it down.  I am lonely.

People in Canada are surrounded by people… they gather, they meet at Starbucks to talk, they communicate electronically through social media like Twitter and facebook, they text, they email etc etc…. but there is something missing.  Community.  True, REAL community.  THAT is what I am missing.  I can’t explain it unless you’ve lived it.  But its real… and no matter how much you think you have community here, you do not.  We segregate ourselves and our lives… We compartmentalize.  We live in our homes…. we might chat with our neighbours, we gather with our friends…. but we do not have community.  I miss community…. North America is a lonely place.  Its not just me…. Geoff feels it… my kids are a mess right now.  Surrounded by friends, school, family etc but they are so missing something that they cannot quite put into words.  They don’t have to… I get it… I know what it is… and we together as a family have found an answer…..

We don’t want it to pass, we don’t want it to go away.  We want it to thrive in us.  We don’t want to be lonely anymore.  Solution?  Simple!  We are going to follow where we feel we are being led.  It doesn’t get any simpler.  We have made a decision to turn our ministry into a full time, forever thing.  Not a year or 2…. nope.  We are going “ALL IN”.  Our house will be sold, our belongings sold…. we are going to keep only the real memorable things that we simply cannot do without.  Basically what can fit into a few meager boxes.  We don’t need any more than that…. we have each other and our community.  Good enough for me.  Our plan right now is to live in Guatemala for 10 months of the year and return here to Canada for the summers.  Simple as that!

Now, in order to go “ALL IN” we are going to need tons of help.  We are still hoping for now to cover all our living expenses ourselves.  I will be teaching english in Guatemala, that is already arranged.  My boys are already all set up to do homeschooling.  Geoff will be working on projects etc.  We will find our way.  Where we need you is where we always need…. financially.  Every few days I get emails from Hermana Veronica… more kids have arrived… more on the way…. the rains are full force… the hospital is filling…. there isn’t enough money to help them all… etc etc…  Oh how I wish I was there right now to help… I feel so utterly and completely helpless.  We simply do not have the means to help by ourselves…. helpless is not a good place to be…. so here I am, taking the reins and making things happen.  I cannot sit idly by anymore without asking people to make the tough choices… to commit.  Words are great and we love and appreciate all   the moral support, but we need so much more than that for the kids…..  We need people like you to search your hearts and your lives and see if there is anything more you can do to help them.

The Hospitalito right now has well over 20 kids and more arriving weekly.  We need to cover the hospital budget.  They cannot function without money… they cannot serve…. they cannot save these kids if they don’t have the money to buy food.  We need people to commit.  To go “ALL IN” right along side us.  We need people to say, enough, I am totally going for it.  A monthly pledge can come right out of your bank account…. you won’t even notice.  But others will notice.  The precious kids will notice when more nutritious food shows up on their plates at meal times saving their lives.  Im not guilting here… nor over-stating.  I am merely stating the facts.  If the money does not come in the kids will not have a shot.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve paid for funerals…. Trust me when I tell you I do not want to ever have to pay for another one.

In the next month or so we hope to have a website up and running.  There will be options there too.  Sponsoring a child that is currently in the hospital.  Sponsoring a Hermana to get an education that can aid her to serve the poor better.  Nursing, teaching, agriculture etc.  Sponsoring a specific project that we can discuss and arrange, like for example an outdoor playground for the kids… etc.  You could be responsible for saving a child’s life in any of these 3 ways for less than the cost of what we spend on things like Starbucks in a month.  Doesn’t sound like too huge a sacrifice to me…..

In the mean time, if you want to get started right now… that is totally what we are looking for.  The form to fill out can be found here…. click on it, … print it out….  fill it out… put “The Doppenberg’s in Guatemala” at the bottom & mail it to CTENC at the address on the form,  and just sit back and enjoy the pictures and updates we will send you regularly so you know exactly where your money is going.  You will totally be a part of something that is beautiful beyond your imagination.  Coming to Guatemala in person is something we always encourage so you can see and experience for yourself.  Talk to someone who has come… we hosted 51 amazing people this year and every single one of them has been touched by the experience in some way.  Consider coming down and seeing for yourself!  The time is now!

There are so many plans in the works… a farm to provide fresh food and jobs… a new Hospitalito in El Salvador…. so many new and exciting things….  But we cannot move forward yet.  We cannot until we have the existing hospital covered.  Renovations are mostly complete on the building.  It is up to snuff so to speak.  This year was about getting it in better working order so that they could function better and save money.  The time has come to get their financial situation in order.  The monthly hospital budget is under $5000.00 for operating costs…. Imagine running a hospital in North America for that much?   We need this budget covered by the people of Canada together with the people of Guatemala so that burden can be lifted from all of us and free us up to proceed forward on the path to El Salvador.  Malnutrition knows no borders and El Salvador is not immune to this epidemic.

The average cost (without meds or medical tests etc) of having a child in the Hospitalito for one month is 1000 quetzals, which is $135.00.  That is nothing!  What would that number be in North America.. I shudder to think?  I am not asking for anyone to pledge that amount of money, although it is totally do-able for most, we do understand that it may seem like a hefty number for one person… What I am asking is that you cover, monthly, a portion of that.  We need to go to Guatemala and know that the Hospitalito is covered monthly.  They have costs like lights, power, food, water, etc just like the rest of us.  What they do not have is payroll.  The Hermana’s and us are doing what we do because, in the words of Hermana Mercedes, “Some people were just born to serve the poor”.  We will do without a paycheck… We will do without the luxuries.  We will do without the commercial Christmas… we will do without whatever it takes to help.  We are willing to do without stability in our lives in order to follow the path that we feel God has put us on.  But we cannot do this alone.  I have said it so many times before, “Will you help us, help them?”.  Many people read this blog… many people watched the weekly videos we posted…. this stuff is not for entertainment.  We do this so you can understand from afar exactly what we are all about.  What it is that we do.  We want to make it personal.  This is NOT our families thing.  This belongs to everyone who wants to be a part of it.  Together we can walk, hand in hand, with God in the lead and make a difference.  It is a choice… and the time has come to choose.  We have now stood up and declared that we feel its not right to have these kids dying of starvation while our fridges and cupboards are full.  There IS enough to go around.  I am asking you now to stand with us and say, NO MORE!



Yesterday was a tough one.  We booked our flights home.  We have been here for just over 4 months now…. The day we leave will mark 5 months exactly that we have been in this amazing country of Guatemala.  Every single one of us sat in a state of mini-depression as we watched me press that little button on the computer screen that says “Book Now”.   After all was said and done, the 5 of us sat in complete silence with glazed eyes.  It’s real now.  It’s over…..

When we told the Hermana’s at the hospital they all refused to listen.  “May does not exist in our world” they all laughed.  No May.  May is “malo” (bad).  They don’t want us to leave any more than we want to.  It’s actually devastating to all of us.  As we tell our new friends here, they all just shake their heads in sadness.  I feel their pain.  It is truly bittersweet.  We miss our friends and family back home, but we will miss our friends and family here too.  It’s certainly tough living in 2 very distinctly different worlds.  Somehow I thought it would be easier…

We have accomplished so much this year with the help of so many people…. We have hosted 51 people here. Incredible!  When I think back it’s hard for me to even remember what we did and who was here.  It all seems so distant….  But I have to say Thank you…. “Primero Dios” … God first.  I have to thank God… for putting this on our hearts and then making it possible… His way.  His way was was so much better than ours.  He “had our back’s” so to speak.  You know that old saying: “if He brings you to it, He will pull you through it”… that was so true in every aspect of our journey here in Guatemala.  Without Him, I think this would have been a bit of a disaster haha.  We have been along for the ride, watching our Ministry change so drastically.  What we thought we would be doing was not what we did.  It has evolved…. We laugh all the time at the sense of humour God has.  Geoff does not do well with crowds & I do not do well with little children.  Here we are in a ministry full of people and children.  We have watched our Ministry evolve into primarily medical.  As I said before, it’s great to build homes, but what good is it to have a home if there are no healthy people to live in it?  But I digress…. Also I have to say, Thank you so much to:

Matt (with us through thick and thin for 4 months… as much a part of our family as a volunteer… we love you Mateo!), Dave, Justin, Tim, Rachel, JD, Jazmin, Jesse, Vanessa, Laszlo, Sophia, Katharine, Rita, Debbie, Ursula, Bill & Leny, Natalee, Mike & Jess, Andrew, Sophia, Alana, Chanel, Madison, Jon, Kyle, Jared, Trish, Aileen, Gerry, Ang, Jessica, Rachel, Natasha, Kate, Erwin, Linda & Rachel (Rachel’s 2nd visit), Jaclyn, Lindy, Sandra, Justin, Kathy, Jazmin (Jaz’s 2nd visit), Kayden, Kenzie, Frank, Lori,  Ben & of course Stephen & Tammie from CTEN.   We love you all and thank you so much for all you did and continue to do.

A huge thank you to the Hermana’s & Noviciates of the Obras Sociales Padre Pedro.  You women are an inspiration.  You gave up everything to serve with everything.  We love you all so very much. Thank you to our family & friends here… we love each and every one of you.  I have to also say thank you to everyone who donated.  Without you and the people who came, none of what we did would have been possible.  Absolutely nothing.  Our family is not rich in the North American sense of the word.  We were able to pay only for our personal expenses to come here.  We could not afford to pay for what was done.  And so much was done this year.  Much more than I had ever imagined….

  • A new classroom
  • A new computer for the student Noviciates
  • A new kitchen at the hospital, including new appliances
  • A new bathroom area with 4 showers (previously all the Hermana’s shared one bathroom & one shower)
  • 2 new food pantries
  • 2 refurbished food and misc. storage rooms
  • a refurbished kitchen for the Hospitalito
  • A new dorm area for the Noviciates, featuring 12 new bedrooms
  • New internet availability
  • New crops were planted for food in several new gardens
  • A new sewing machine, material & supplies for knitting & Crocheting
  • New wiring throughout the entire hospital to replace the old and dangerous fire hazard wiring
  • A Hermana earned her Nursing degree
  • Several other Hermana’s are studying for various things such as Phd’s & Nursing degrees.  All others are able to now attend school.
  • The children in the hospital received lab tests, food, vitamins, toys, and love from Canadian supporters.
  • A few of the children now have monthly sponsors ready to help support them throughout their lives (there are still many without monthly sponsors so please consider this)
  • 186 people both from the mountains & hospital received dental care through the kindness of our dental team led by Dr. Laszlo Szoke from Hamilton.
  • Marquito received the first of several major surgeries to fix his severe cleft palate.
  • More children were able to be taken in by the hospital for much needed care.  (there is still room for dozens more, but more money is still needed)
  • A new chicken coop was built at the hospital to provide meat
  • A new Hen house was built at the hospital to provide eggs daily
  • A new pig-pen was built and pigs were bought to provide meat.
  • Marco & Doris received a new home.  Built by our teams to provide a safe and good environment for Marquito to return to when he is healthy.  Our teams also provided, water lines, a sink, beds, a corn grinder & a tortilla stone to help this family become self sufficient for Marquito’s return someday.
  • The Ruano family received a new home for them & their 10 children.  It replaced an existing home made of corn-stalk & garbage.  This new home gives them a safe & dry place, free of bugs to raise their lovely children
  • Dozens of people from the mountains were seen by Dr. Milton.  People who otherwise had no way to receive medical care.  Medications are continued to be paid for.  (more are needed so consider this as a way to help)
  • We paid for a funeral… for a young girl and her unborn baby that we were unable to help…. (this one hurt…. a lot)
  • Various families received water, food and provisions (clothing, blankets, tarps etc).  These are people that we simply don’t have the money to help right now.  This is with a promise that we will try our best to help them further in the coming years.
  • Hermana’s received lessons in English, Cooking, Nutrition, Sewing, Knitting & Crocheting to help them make their own things & not have to send them out to be made.
  • Visits to villages to assess children and their needs.  Several were taken immediately to the hospital for care.

Whew!  While there is so much more that was done, little things…. this list above about covers the major stuff that was accomplished in 4 months.  Incredible.  I am humbled so much when I read that list…. Without God, none would have happened.  Without prayers none of this would have happened.  Without donors, none would have happened.  Without volunteers, none would have happened.   So many small pieces to a puzzle had to fit perfectly in order for this picture to be complete.  God is good.  So Good!

We are gearing up already for the next time.  While I do not know yet when that is.  There is talk among my family about returning in October or November.  Every one of us wants to come back… every one of us wants to come back soon.  Every one of us wants to come back for longer.  I am reminded of a blog I wrote a couple years back on here… A blog where I spoke about Guatemala leaving scars on your heart.  Beautiful scars that I cherish.  Now that I have lived here, really LIVED here I still agree with this statement.  But it is so much more than that for me now.  It has not only put scars on my heart…. it has enveloped my heart…. become a huge piece of it.  Every aspect of life here, from the friends, to the villagers, to the Hermana’s, to the kids in the Hospitalito. Every single thing.

I am not home yet and I already know the Canadian life will be foreign to me.  There won’t be cows to stop for on the highway… there won’t be chickens rambling around a restaurant I am eating in…. there won’t be Hermana’s to sing me random songs in the evening over coffee…. there won’t be the family talks every single evening around the table out back on our porch.  My family will scatter.  My boys will be off doing their own thing or consumed by tv which we haven’t seen in months.  I am scared to return to Canada… scared to lose what I have here.  I think that is what bothers me most about returning to Canada.  My family will lose the closeness that we have here.  We have been together, every waking moment for months…. with none of the distractions that North American life brings.  If I have learned one thing here it’s that the people here have it right.  They spend time together… all the time… and it’s resulted in a closeness that we don’t have in Canada.  Family is everything… not money.

However, money is necessary.  And here is where I send my plea.  Once again…. Rest assured that we are coming back here.  Rest assured that we will be doing more.  Rest assured that we will be coming at you hard and strong for money.  There is so much more to be done.  It doesn’t stop at kitchens & bathrooms.  Basically its a matter of saving lives.  I don’t want to have to pay for any more funerals.   We have had a taste of what we can all do together to help people and that has made us more resilient.  So if you haven’t already donated… or considered coming and seeing for yourself, now is the time.  Even if you have donated, I am asking that you consider giving more.  “Give until it hurts, then give some more”.   Great quote!  People here are hurting…. and for the cost of what we spend on cell phones or coffee each month you could help so many here.  So much has been done… yet so much left to do.

I take back what I said at the beginning of this post.  It is not over. It is just the beginning!  Children need sponsors…. What the hospital does is great, but what happens to the children when they return home?  Their families have not changed.  There is still no money to feed them.  So one of 2 things happen, the children either return to the hospital after a short time, once again malnourished, or they die.  Harsh but true.  Over and over again I have watched children come, be rehabilitated, and return in worse shape several months later… We need to help the families through money, jobs and education to provide the basic necessities for these precious children.  We need money to buy the available land for a farm.  This would provide jobs, food, and education opportunities for the people here.  The Hospital needs their budget to not only be covered but to be increased so more lives can be saved.  The Hermana’s need their schooling paid for so there can be more doctors & nurses available to help.  New malnutrition centers need to be opened across Central America so no more children will die needlessly.  The villages need clean water, food and shelter.  I just returned from yet another visit to the doctor with MRI results we had done earlier in the week in the Capital.  The diagnosis I saw a few minutes ago, with my own eyes.  The results glaring at me from a cold white backed screen holding the MRI pictures.  This precious 9 year old girl named Leydi  has parasites in her brain.  How does that happen?  From vegetables contaminated by the dirty water they use.  The dirty water they have no choice but to use.  Tragic… This should NOT happen!  The people need regular visits to the doctor, especially the children.  If we can head off things like parasites, juvenile diabetes, kidney problems etc early enough, then we won’t need to pay for funerals.   In Canada we enjoy the luxury of clean water & doctors at our disposal.  Here it is a thing only for the rich.  That is not right.  Every single person on this planet deserves the right to be healthy.  To have a chance.

Geoff, myself, Zachary, Lucas & Gabriel have all worked very hard both in Canada and in Guatemala to see our vision come to life.  We have learned Spanish, given up our comforts of home and put in the blood, sweat and tears here in the thick of it all to be the hands and feet of Jesus on the ground in our broken world.  Visit our website at and click “one time gifts”, or better yet, click “Recurring gifts”, fill out the monthly form & mail it away.  Give yourself the gift of knowing that money will be deducted from your bank every month toward helping these wonderful Hermana’s, strong & powerful women, who gave up everything to serve God and the poor.  Give yourself the gift of knowing deep in your heart that you are helping fellow human beings live…. because everyone has the right to life…. Please, Help us… help them.  Now is the time….


Wow… what a week we have had here…. sometimes things here are so amazing… and sometimes they are so difficult.    There are times when I have trouble here… but not with being here…. I have trouble thinking of my life back home.  My comfortable home… my car…. my closet full of clothes… my tap that dispenses hot or cold water on demand… my knick knacks strewn about…. my computers, my tv’s, my furniture… etc etc… the list goes on and on…. weeks like this sure make me reflect on my life and my needs….

Sandra & Lindy are working at the hospital.  Playing games with the kids…. teaching them songs… circle time…. etc etc.  The rest of us, (My family & Matt, Erwin, Linda & Rachel Fast, Jessica & Rachel VanGeest and their cousin Nataschia Buys, Jaclyn Duffy & Kate Cresswell-Turner.. yup it’s a full house) are all spending tons of time at the hospital as well.  It’s so important that people spend time with these precious little ones.  Culture here is different and kids are a commodity… they are rarely held or played with… sometimes they are hardly interacted with at all.  They crave the attention… and we lavish them with it as much as we can.  We can see major differences in the kids already.  Some that were shy and withdrawn run up to us now… some that were downright terrified of human contact actually not only let us hold them and feed them, but actually laugh and giggle with us.  So much joy to see them getting better and accepting the love that us strange white people have to offer them….

The Thielmann family arrived this past week and took over from us building the home for the Ruano family of 12 that they fundraised back home for.  Their daughter Jazmin was here with us in late Dec/early Jan and was touched.  She went home and talked with her family and together they made a decision to take on a project of their own.  How incredible!!  We along with our friends, Trish, Gerry, Aileen & Angie began buying and gathering the materials…. demolishing the old cornstalk home and digging the foundation until they arrived.  Once they got here they took over and in one week the progress on the house is amazing.   Senor Chico & Hector (they build Marquito’s parents home a few weeks ago) are building this home for us, with the Thielmann’s helping until they return to Canada and then we take over again…   The Ruano family is pitching in as well.   I have to interject here that this family is one of the sweetest I have met in Guatemala.  Mama & Papa are always there helping, smiling and encouraging… and the kids…. oh the kids… Pulling the truck up to the site is one of my favorite moments.  The kids all come running with beaming smiles on their faces and ready with huge, warm hugs.   What a total joy this family is!!!

We are working extra fast because it is so important to get these people into a warm, dry place and out of their temporary shelter before the rains arrive.  All of Guatemala is preparing right now for the rainy season.  Its a bustle of activity everywhere… highways are being reinforced for mudslides… ditches are being dug everywhere to divert the torrents of water….. retaining walls are being built…. its quite something to see.

One of the things that our March Break visitors have been treated to that others have not is the scurrying that goes along with the onset of the rains.   Just about every day that we have been working at the Ruano home someone comes… they come carrying a note that they wrote… or they simply come and ask…. either way it all says the same thing… “Can you help my family?”   If you have never experienced this… you cannot understand.  They look at us missionaries, “Senor Geoff & Senora Rita” & the family as though we are some foreign dignitaries.  They always wear their best… and they come prepared… and they come with stories.  How do you feel back home when someone comes up to you on the street and begs for money?  Do you give?  Do you walk away?  Do you feel anything?   I can tell you that here, its like nothing you’ve ever experienced.   They want you to come and look at their situation…they want you to sit and just listen to their story….  and if you feel that God is calling you to help then that’s great… but if not, that’s ok too…. just please pray for them.   It is so incredibly difficult to hear and see such extreme poverty… you just want to scream at how unfair it all is….

This week, we have toured several homes and one village.  What a tough thing it is…. to hear peoples literally gut wrenching stories of poverty, illness, death and yet they keep their faith in God… and they are convinced that God brought us to Guatemala as ‘angels’ to help the people here.   I will give you one example… in the village we met a woman… she is a missionary.  She is so poor that she may only eat one tortilla a day that she puts a drop or 2 of water on and then some salt for flavour.  That’s it.  Now this woman lives with her daughter…. her 1st son died at age 13 by drowning in the river…. her 2nd son died also by drowning… and then her eldest son died by a rock falling on him from the mountain above…. and then her husband died of a heart attack.  Her and her daughter were left alone… and now they are missionaries… visiting the sick and elderly in surrounding villages… offering hope and encouragment… praying with them… sharing what little they have with others.   This woman asked us for help.  And we had to look into her eyes and tell her that we will…. but we cannot right now, because we have to raise more money.  It is so hard to look into those big dark eyes full of hope and ask her to wait… a woman who has lost so much already… Geoff had to walk away for a moment to compose himself…. these are the moments that tear your heart out of your chest and shred it.

Just a few moments later,  we met the lady next door… who’s 28yr old daughter was in the hospital with some unknown illness.  Since they had no money for extensive medical care she was sent to the ‘public’ hospital…. the free one…. the one with the lousy medical care.  She asked for help…. we had to say the same… “we will see what we can do”.   It hurts so much to have to make people wait… the situation is dire now… its quite honestly the hardest part of being here…. The heavy labour at times is nothing compared to looking someone in the eye who is in desperate need and telling them to wait….  The village visit was long and so many asked…. we became overwhelmed at the sheer poverty & need we saw.  All of the Canadians were eerily quiet as we toured home after home and heard story after story of things that I can quite frankly say would have broken my spirit.  We heard laughter and joy throughout the village though… they have hope.  It is truly quite incredible.   As we finally cut the tour off…. partly due to time and partly due to the fact that we honestly couldn’t take much more emotionally, we headed back to the truck to hand out some toys, clothes and water we had brought.   As we began to walk down the hill into the clearing toward the truck I looked back…. The sight was incredible… people… so many people…. coming out of the trees… coming over the hill… coming from all directions… hundreds… men, women, children, young, old, infants…. you name it.  It was like a scene from a movie.   When we got to the truck people lined up to receive whatever it was we were giving… when you are poor you don’t care what you get… anything is welcome.   Over an over we heard “Dios les bendiga”  (God Bless you)… it took time, a lot of time but once we were done everyone had received something, even if it was something as simple as a t-shirt or a bag of water.   I can honestly say it was one of our best, and yet most emotionally draining days here thus far.   We packed up…. received our gift from the village… a delicious bag of mango’s and left for the day.

The next morning Geoff, myself and the boys left for the city.  It was time to drop off & share a tearful goodbye to our friends, Trish, Aileen, Gerry & Angie at the airport.  Our trip was also to bring Jessica, Rachel and Nataschia to see Ray, Jessica’s son that is serving here with another organization.  He has been here for a few months like us and has a few more weeks to go.  As a mom it was my pleasure to take Jessica to see her son… how can you travel thousands of miles and not see him?   On the way to the airport, the phone rang.  It was Fernando.  He gently told Geoff he had some bad news…. the 28yr old girl that was in the hospital had died…. she left behind a husband and 2 babies… and a grieving mom, dad and 3 sisters…. Immediately my mind crashed on the fact that her mom asked us for help yesterday… and now we were too late… she couldn’t wait…. we had told her mom that we would see what we could do… and now we could do nothing.

But there was something we could do… as little as it was… it was all we were left with… everyone, including those that we were driving to the airport and the Thielmann’s pitched in and we paid for the funeral which was the following day.   In Guatemala, people are buried very quickly… bluntly put, there is no embalming and no refrigeration so……   We woke up early the next morning, loaded everyone into the truck and headed to the cemetery to make sure the crypt (a cement, above ground box) was built and ready. Then we visited Marquito’s home so Rachel & Jazmin could see it finished and the Fast family could deliver some gifts like a tortilla stone for Marco & Doris… We planned that visit for that time so we could strategically end up back on the main road at a certain spot at just the right time.   You see, in Guatemala the funeral procession leaves the church and goes to the cemetery, just like home… the only difference is they walk…. miles and miles…  and sometimes they carry the casket the entire way with 4 men… sometimes the casket rides in the back of a pickup…. either way, all the people walk.   Yesterday was sunny, dry and hot, just like pretty much every other day and walking here is tough.  So we made sure we were in the right place to catch the procession so we could hand out bags of water.   After everyone had water we joined the procession and went to the cemetery for the burial ceremony.   Everything was very similar to an internment in Canada with the exception of the fact that they mix cement & seal the crypt right there….. we quietly left knowing that we would see the family the next day… we wanted to pay our respects but be as non-intrusive as possible.

The next morning (today) we all got up at 5:30am…. and we were off to visit the family so we could bring a meal, some corn, some water and make arrangements to give them the only help we can now…. money to pay for the funeral.  As soon as we got there, only Geoff and I went in with Senor Chico at first.  We didn’t want to overwhelm the grieving family with 20 random Canadians.  As soon as the mama saw me she gave me a hug…. she clung to me and wept… a hug that only 2 moms can share…. one that needs no words…. just pure grief and pure love….  It was then that I finally cried… with her.   Once we were calm and had made arrangements with the family and explained how sorry we were that we were too late to help the way we wanted, we invited the rest of the Canada group in to pay their respects.   One by one we all shared hugs… and encouragement…  then the mom spoke…  she said that she understands why … and that she knows we were too late to help her daughter but that she knows that God sent angels… angels to help others live… and she would always pray for us to continue… and that seeing all of us and the work we do, makes her know that Jesus is alive and living through all of us.  I could not translate what she was saying until later because the tears were flowing for me yet again.   It was a truly hard but touching few days….

I just returned from paying the funeral home a few minutes ago… Geoff & I drove to Asuncion Mita to do this wretched task… Once it was done and we were on the way home we made a pit stop at the tienda (store)  to buy some supplies for the house… a friend here Ileana owns it, and when she saw me, she ran into the back and got something… she brought it out to me… it was a small, carved wooden cross on a string. The cross had an inscription of her brother “Fray Madeo”… Brother Matthew… He was a priest and a missionary here in Guatemala.   He died 1 year ago and she wanted me to have one of the crosses as a remembrance of him and of her.   Here the dead are remembered, respected and honoured.  It is an honour for me to wear this carved cross bearing his name… It was a symbol of respect and friendship between me & Ileana…. Perfect timing for me…. The timing actually brought tears to my eyes.  It made me more aware than ever that we are indeed building relationships and a life here.  The death of the young lady from the village bothered me, not only because it seemed like a waste of a young life,  and that we were too late to help, but it also bothered me because I am becoming protective of my “family” & friends here…. and I grieve with them… and I celebrate with them… and I love them…..


I can only imagine…

Sometimes I am shocked at how difficult life can be…. I am writing this blog with a heavy heart,  from my car… traveling home through the Canadian Prairies… while at home a funeral is going on… a funeral I should be at but cannot make…  My family & I left home just over a week ago on our way to Western Canada for a couple of weeks to visit some friends throughout Alberta & then off to Northwest Territories to see a young adult from Southridge in Yellowknife.  About 1/2 way through our drive we couldn’t find a room… severe flooding in the mid-west had all the hotels full… the night got later and later.. at 2am my phone rang.  No call at 2am is good news….  Actually Im not sure if there is anything more dreaded than a 2am phone call….  Before you even answer your heart begins to beat fast… its just the knowledge that something very, very bad is about to be known….  One of our best friends Dave was on the other line when Geoff answered… then bam… the news… one of my youth girls, Arlynne Holyer, who had just turned 16 a few days before, had been killed in an ATV accident.  She was in the far north of Ontario on a ministry trip for the summer.  Earlier that day she had been out on an ATV delivering flyers to people inviting them to attend a bible study.  Details are not needed… bottom line, she was out serving God and she died.  Sounds harsh, but that is the bottom line.  I will say, the news struck me speechless.  I had just emailed her… for her recent birthday… telling her how proud I was of her… Now she was gone?  I thought instantly of her family… as a mom, my heart broke instantly… We continued to drive…. I cried quietly, I prayed, Geoff prayed…. what do we do, do we turn around and go home?  Do we carry on?  My boys were quiet… very quiet…. all the youth at Southridge take a very active part in the life of my boys… All part of the “It takes a village to raise a child” ideal… they all are so great with my boys and they know most of the youth very well… tragedy hits them too… very hard…  At 4am we finally found a room… Out of sheer exhaustion we all slept.  In the morning Geoff and I talked and both felt that we should carry on.  There were people counting on us out West too, and somehow we just felt deep down that we were supposed to carry on.

Basically I cried quietly inside and out several times this trip…. I didn’t understand why I had to be so far from home when my other youth girls at home would need me and quite frankly I needed them just as much.  After a short time in the Rockies it was clear why God wanted me to carry on.  I needed the time to grieve.. my way…. to get myself in order before attempting to help anyone else.  One afternoon we stopped at a very beautiful place on Medicine Lake.  The boys wanted to hike and swim.  I decided to stay behind and I just sat on a rock for 2 hours alone, staring at the mountains.  I cried, I prayed,  I reflected and I got angry…. I felt God there, holding me when I cried and listening when I was angry… I felt peace come over me finally.   It was then that I felt it was time to cut the trip short and go home to my youth family.  So with heavy heart but inner peace, we cancelled all the rest of our visits, postponed Yellowknife for a while and began our trek home.

I’ve had so much time to think on this trip it isn’t funny.  Hours and hours in the car… hours of reflection on the mountains… its been an amazing journey.  Arlynne’s death weighs heavy on my heart but I rest easy in the comfort of knowing she is with God.  I sat one day in the car and re-read 2 years of text & facebook conversations between me and her… Our relationship was a complicated one.  Arlynne of 2 years ago was nothing like Arlynne now.  I have to admit, 2 years ago, she drove me crazy.  She was kind, thoughtful and loving,  but defiant, rebellious, strong willed, stubborn, and dramatic . But there was a beauty inside of her that kept me trying so hard with her. I was very drawn to her instantly.   If I am to be truthful, I would say that she reminded me so much of myself at her age…  Over the past year, Arlynne grew up… she found her faith and her passion for God.. She served and she worshipped with everything she had… She laughed, she smiled and she danced with a beauty that I will never forget. I will always picture her dancing her heart out to “Happy Day” at youth.  I think it was after she left my group that our relationship blossomed into a mutual love and respect for each other.  I think then she could stop seeing me as an authority figure of sorts and begin to see me as a friend who loved her.  She began to talk with me differently, better… more real and honest.  I will miss her… her huge smile bounding toward me every Sunday at Church… the huge hugs every time we saw each other… hearing her giggle during winter retreat… the random texts… the talks, the everything…. I have to say, watching her grow over the past 2 years has been a privilege I will cherish forever.

Watching the different youth communities, from afar, band together through this tragedy has been a thing of beauty.  They have all been there for each other and have now committed to carrying on Arlynne’s passion to serve others in the name of God.  I am so truly proud of all of you… loving one another through this!  I personally do not believe God caused Arlynne’s death… I don’t believe God is there with his cosmic lightning bolt picking and choosing who dies… but I do believe that God knew it was going to happen, and wrapped us all in that ‘blanket of grace’ that Bob spoke to me about a few weeks ago (see previous blog) and fills us with His presence so we can feel peace.  His ways are beyond our understanding and that is so hard sometimes but He is there to help us through times like these!   He is ever faithful!

One major thing Arlynne’s life and death has taught me is that these young people are such an integral part of my life.  I love them… fiercely!  I would fight for any of them with every fibre of my being…. I need them, just as much as they need me… They are a huge part of my family, and I feel so honoured to have the privilege of watching them grow up and walk beside them through their tragedies and triumphs!   There is no question that youth is my ministry… and I love how God has partnered that into our vision for Guatemala.  My life is so amazing that I get to serve both youth and the people of Guatemala together and intertwined at times.  My one regret is that Arlynne will not be joining us in Guatemala this year as she had hoped to… but she will be there in my heart and the hearts of the other youth that will be joining us there to serve.

One of my favorite songs is … I can only imagine….

“I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by Your side… what my eyes will see, when Your Face is before me!…. Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?  Will I dance for you Jesus?  Or in awe of You, be still?  Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?  Will I sing “Hallelujah”?  Will I be able to speak at all?  I can only imagine….. I can only imagine….”

…. and I imagine Arlynne dancing…. dancing like she did every youth service!!!   Godspeed Arlynne… my newest twinkling star in the sky… thank you for all that you did for me and others….  dance on in paradise beautiful… for you it really is a “Happy Day”…. I love you … xoxo

Arlynne at winter retreat last year ❤

Most of my girls... my original life group 2 yrs ago. Olivia, Breanna, Rylee, Arlynne, Amanda, Rose, Ali, Me, Rachel & Cyeira laying across everyone lol... Love you all ❤

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