Blog Archives

Come Join us Saturday September 15th, 2012

As you know our family is very involved in helping to abolish malnutrition in Central America.  The only way we can do this is with your help.  Precious little children die every day from the totally preventable condition of malnutrition.  There are so many ways you can help….. On Saturday September 15th 2012 we will be hosting our 2nd annual Fundraising Dinner Banquet!  Please come out and join us for what we promise to be an evening of great food and great entertainment!  Tickets are $50.00 each.   It will be a night where you can find out exactly how easy it is for you to help us help the people of Guatemala and Central America and have a fantastic time doing so!   Contact us for tickets at (905) 563-1020 or email us at info@thedoppenbergs.com.   You can always visit www.thedoppenbergs.com to find out more information about who we are and what we do!   Thanks and we hope to see you there!!!

Introducing……

It’s arrived!!!   The Doppenberg’s have launched a brand new “official” website.  Visit now to find out everything you need to know about who we are and what we are doing…. and how we can’t do it without you!   I will be continuing my blog here… this place provides me with an outlet to write and share my emotions and feelings of what I am doing… and how I am feeling…. and the website will be there so you can personally get involved and keep up to date on how projects are progressing…. how the kids are doing etc etc!   It’s also the place where you can set up partnerships in projects… plan trips and set up child or Hermana sponsorship!  Thanks for all your love and support…. God Bless!

Visit:  www.thedoppenbergs.com

Me, Hermana Veronica & Hermana Yesenia with some of the kids of the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro in El Progreso, Guatemala

Hope Rise

So, I have some exciting news to share!!!   Hope Rise is a new CD by a great musician and friend of ours by the name of Andy Tallman.  All proceeds from the sale of this CD goes to the building of the new Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro in El Salvador!  How exciting!!!

What’s even more exciting is that it’s available on iTunes for download.  So head on over to iTunes right now,  buy your copy and support a great musician and a great cause!  If you want a hard copy of the CD as well, you can email me at ritadoppenberg@cten.org and I will arrange to get one to you.  CD hard copies are $10.00.

Hope Rise

http://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/hope-rise/id533147057

It is so remarkable that this is available today of all days, a day I needed some hope… iTunes had experienced some technical difficulties and the launch of the CD on their site was delayed until today.  Last night I had received an email from Hermana Veronica at the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro in Guatemala…. with some photos and some very bad news.  She asked me to pray… and get others to pray for a new patient they had arrive on Monday….

Precious little 9 month old Esteban is in very bad shape.  He was abandoned at and then released from the Jutiapa Hospital. He has been put in the care of the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro and the loving Hermana’s.  He is suffering from a very severe case of Kwashiorkor & Marasmus malnutrition with extreme muscle wasting and psychomotor retardation.  He is in the final stages of severe malnutrition where even hospital care with a feeding tube has not helped.  There was nothing more the hospital could do so they sent him to the Hospital Infantil.   Not much can be done, even there, for him now except to love him and pray for him.  The Hermana’s are keeping hope and doing all they can for this precious boy.  It is for children like Esteban that the Hospital Infantil exists, even at times when all they can do is hold and love a precious child until they are called home to Heaven.  For the time being, all we an do is pray…. so join us in praying for Esteban…. and let Hope Rise…..

Precious 9 month old Esteban…. in the final stages of malnutrition… Please pray for him…. ❤

Hermana Veronica comforting Esteban

Its all in the …. details!!!

Ok… its time… time to put aside the “how I feel” stuff…. (I am doing much better by the way).   I’m getting really excited for the coming months… Gearing up to return to Guatemala in the fall…. and getting to work here putting together all the intricate puzzle pieces that need to fit together in order for things to happen when they need to and how they need to.  This blog is a bit different.  Since coming home and re-connecting with everyone many questions have arisen… Great questions about the details and its time to be clear on exactly what is happening with the Doppenberg’s & the ministry we hope you want to be a part of both here and in Guatemala!  We are in the process of putting together a website…. but in the meantime…..Time for a little Q & A…. So here we go….

Question:  What projects do you currently have on the go in Guatemala?

Currently there are 4 major things that we are working toward.  There are many minor ones but we have narrowed it down to 4 major.  We have tried to narrow things down as much as possible.  Things that people can choose to get involved with based upon their hearts but without spreading ourselves too thin so to speak.

1. Now that the renovations at the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro in Guatemala are pretty much complete and the building has been made more energy efficient etc.  We need to get the monthly budget of around $4000.00 covered.  A hospital can only function if the lights are on, the food can be bought etc.   A functional building is only functional if the funds are there for it to be able to be utilized for the purpose in which it was intended.  You get the point.  🙂

2. We are looking to buy a plot of farm land.  To grow nutritious crops to sustain the hospital and provide jobs for locals.  Having the kids at the hospital being rehabilitated is fantastic…. but if their parents cannot make money when the kids go home they end up right back at the hospital in 1 year or less.  We have seen this happen several times.  Buying this piece of land would give the Hospital one more way to become more self-sustaining AND help local families become self-sufficient.  Win/Win!

3. Sponsorships.  These are so important.  We have in place a monthly sponsorship program for both the kids in the hospital AND the Hermana’s.  For the kids, people can donate monthly while the child is in the hospital and then continue that long after the child is home.  Monthly sponsorships will provide care for a bright future for each child.  To ensure that the child’s best interests are served, through sponsor donations we will be providing the sponsor child with a basket every month in lieu of just giving the family actual cash.  In the basket will be all the medicines that he/she needs for the month plus high protein foods and vitamins geared specifically toward their nutritional needs.  It will also contain school supplies, books, Bibles or other things geared toward whatever specific needs that particular child has in order to further their mental & spiritual development. For school age children, a portion will be used to fund school costs which are typically around $80.00/year to ensure that the child can attend school.   Parents will be provided bussing to come to the hospital with the child every month to pick up this basket and that will allow the hospital to do a physical assessment on the child to make sure that their health continues to steadily improve.  Monthly sponsorships will ensure that the kids are well provided for while in the hospital and when they are out through the basket program.   If you want to visit, on the month you come visit your child, we will deliver the basket to their home so you can see your child, their family & see where they live.  We will also be providing people with the opportunity to sponsor a Hermana.  These women give up their lives to serve and we feel that it’s only right that we help them.  One of the requirements of joining this particular order of Hermana’s is that you get an education.  Theology is obvious but they are required to also study something that you can use to glorify God and better serve the poor.  Many choose things like nursing, doctor, translator or teacher.  We helped one young Novitiate (a younger girl who is studying to be a nun) earn her degree in nursing.  What a blessing this was to us to know that we helped her realize one of her dreams and enable her to serve in a way that is much needed.  She now serves full time in the hospital tending to the children and has been such a blessing to everyone.  Sponsorships for Hermana’s will cover the cost of their education or in the case of some of them who have already obtained this degree, a sponsorship can cover things like monthly medicines etc.  They have health issues themselves just like everyone else and these costs can be expensive… many times they do without and this is no good.  They are the ones who run this hospital and they need to be taken care of.  Ever been on an airplane?  They tell you in the safety briefing to put your own oxygen mask on BEFORE assisting others because how can you help those in need if you are not healthy.

4.  And finally…. malnutrition knows no borders.  El Salvador, a small country who’s border lies 40 minutes from our little town of El Progreso is no different than Guatemala.  Hermana Mercedes has always spoken of walking hand in hand with the people of Canada, with God in the lead, across Central America serving the malnourished children.  El Salvador is the first stop in our walk.  We have had the plans drawn up to build a new hospital!!!   A facility that is small but efficient.  There are 2 Hermana’s that have completed their studies in medicine and they are ready to go and begin a 2nd location of the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro!   This has been a dream that God put on Hermana Mercedes heart over 30 years ago… the time is now and we hope to help this dream become a reality!!!

QUESTION:  You speak of sponsorships.  What is the minimum that I can donate monthly as a sponsor of either a child or a Hermana?

We know that times are tough here in North America and it is tough just to make ends meet.  The average cost per month to have a child in the Hospital is approx $135.00. That includes things like medicines, food, tests, lights, water etc.   That is a large amount for one person to cover.   No amount of monthly partnership is too small…. It is our hope that each child can have many sponsors.  Some of these little ones have no family…. some have families who love them dearly but that are truly powerless at this time to help them in any way…. what a blessing to have many families that they can be connected with, write to, draw pictures for etc.  We would love to see their beds filled with pictures of families that are loving them, supporting them and praying for them from all over the world!  We offer trips too…. so you can always know that you are free to come and visit!   Same is true for the Hermana’s.  They have the heart and the desire to serve…. what they need is a hand up…. a hand of help with finances and prayer.  Even if you cannot support financially…. every child and Hermana would love a prayer partner from another part of the world that they can connect with and write to.

QUESTION:   It seems as though a lot of this is about money?

Unfortunately money is a crucial part of this.  God is what drives all of it…and God is necessary.  In our world,  money is not as important as God but it is necessary in its own way.  None of what they do… what we do… or what you do is possible without either.  It is NOT all about money however.  It is about love… about prayer… about hope… Money is simply something that is necessary to physically accomplish concrete things.  People call money the “necessary evil”… it doesn’t have to be evil.  Money spent in a responsible way can be a blessing.  There are reasons that we were born where we were…. “For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” — Luke 12:48    Giving is necessary…. and we ask that you give.  If this is not what God has put upon your heart to give to… and there are many choices out there… we understand… but give… somewhere.  Give of your money, of your time… of your heart… with gladness!

QUESTION:  I get that people there need help…. but what are the Guatemalan’s doing to help?  Surely this can’t be totally Canada’s responsibility?

I love this question.  It makes me so excited.  Excited to go back to Guatemala and get to work.  This past year we have made connections with not only the poor and marginalized people of Guatemala but with government officials, decision makers and people of means.  We have been working hard at getting the Guatemalan people involved in a real way.  We have been able to secure help from the mayor and several families in the region.  It takes time to build these relationships but we are making great strides in ensuring that the people of Guatemala and the people of Canada work together, serve together and give together!  Exciting times!!!

QUESTION:  What happens to the extra money?  Say a project I want to donate to is fully funded already…. what do you do with the money then?

Legal disclaimers…. gotta love them.  Every single organization needs them… To me this is the necessary evil hahaha.  Here goes…. Your donation will be used as designated with the understanding that, if the project is fully funded or discontinued, the remaining donations will be used for another ministry project.  The best example I can give here is, say you want to partner with us to build a new hospital in El Salvador.  By the time we get your contribution we have the hospital building already fully funded.  Well then the money would be used in a different way.  It would be used to fund that hospital’s operating expenses.  Make sense?  We will ensure that the money is used for as close a purpose as to which it was intended.  Most charitable organizations operate this way… and it is a good model in which to follow.

QUESTION:  What is your plan… as a family?

Our plan is …. well, we have learned many times to not rely on too much planning… our plans and God’s plan quite often do not mesh.  But since banks, mortgage companies etc do not really accept the “We are waiting on God” answers we have to have some sort of flexible direction.  Flexible being the key word….  Overall, our flexible plan is to sell everything…  Reduce our stuff down to a few boxes of only the most important sentimental keepsakes and sell all the rest.  Liquidate all of our monetary worth here in Canada and live very simply.  It is our hope to spend the next few years living 10 & 2.  10 months there and 2 here (give or take).  It is very hard to live in both worlds both mentally and financially.  We find that for our family it is very difficult to fund our work with mortgages and such weighing us down.  We need the freedom to take whatever path God puts before us.  It seems that the past few years, doors have closed and others have opened that puts us in the very unique position to “GO”.   It’s scary & exciting… but our entire family feels that this is the best way for us so we are going for it.

Question:  What about your people here… you have an active role in peoples lives here… how will that continue with you gone?

Gone is a very black and white term.  We won’t be gone.  The world has never been smaller than it is right now thanks to technology!  While we won’t be physically in the same room on many occasions we will never be gone.  Keeping in touch and loving people is do-able via skype, phone calls etc.  We offer trips so it is our hope that people will come to Guatemala when they are able.  We will be returning back here for the summers and will be free to spend quality time with people here in Canada.  A big factor for us in our decision was, serving at a pediatric malnutrition hospital is so amazing… but things must be taken into consideration.  Some of these kids are there very long term… away from family who cannot afford even the bus fare to come and visit their children.  Some of these kids have been left behind by their families etc.  So they become very attached, very quickly to those that surround them.  It has been a very hard transition for them to have had a family come and love on them every day and now just be gone.  Also with the plans I laid out in the first question, we feel it is very necessary to be there.  New hospitals, monthly sponsorships etc, are all very difficult to manage from a far and we want to make sure things happen as they were meant to.  Bottom line is that, Our ministry is simply better served with us being on the ground there at this moment in time.  Who know’s what the future holds.  We are trying to not look further ahead than a few steps.  This is right for us for now… but we are very aware that God may have other plans for us and we are very open to that.

QUESTION:  Aside from giving…. how can I help, how can I get involved?

We have so many needs…. we need you to be involved and not only in a monetary way.  We need prayer… we need you to keep in touch with us.  We provide blogs and regular updates…. and that keeps you in the loop with what is happening with us.  What seems to happen is that we get VERY out of the loop in what is happening here with you.  We need you to keep in touch and send us your prayer requests and simply treat us as though we are here…. regular emails, messages etc.   When we were got home this time, many said, “I was going to write but I knew you were busy and didn’t want to bug you”…. nothing could be further from the truth.  Bug us!!!  Nothing helps more when you are away from those you love than hearing from them…. Sometimes you feel pretty alone and isolated when you are away serving and even our boys need and crave the familiar at times…. so keep in touch…. always!

One other way you can help is by spreading the word!  Tell others of the opportunity to get involved with us.  Together we can make this grow and grow…. By making the decision to serve on a more full time basis on the ground in Guatemala we don’t want this to stagnate here because of an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.  Help us to keep things going here… in new and fresh ways.  Fundraising will still need to be done whether we are here or there and we will need all the help we can get spreading the word!!!

One example of what I mean is…. Andy Tallman, a very talented musician and friend of ours,  has been looking for a way to use his talents in a way that can further God’s Kingdom.  He met and is now dating Rachel Fast.  Rachel has been serving with us in Guatemala 3 times over the past 2 years.  If you’ve kept up with my blog, you know exactly who Rachel is.  Andy and Rachel have together decided that Andy’s newest CD which is set to release on iTunes tomorrow and on hard copy CD this Friday, will be used in a Kingdom furthering way.  They are donating the proceeds from the CD and the merchandise to the El Salvador Hospital Project!!!   Visit www.hope-rise.com for more details on these amazing young people who together are trying to be the change.    And don’t forget to get your copy!!!  What this does for us is gets people involved in very real ways… People that we never would have known… it spreads the word and gets people involved without us having to even be in this country.  God is directing this and people are learning about it when we aren’t involved directly.  Its not all about in person presentations and pie charts anymore.  God is leading it to have a life of its own so it can grow and flourish through others.  It’s how we always wanted it.  This ministry might have our name on it…. but that is ONLY because the governments of both countries say that it has to bear the name of someone who can be legally on paper.  This ministry is God’s… and we want all people who have a heart for it to take ownership of it in whatever capacity they want.  We want this to be something that we all do together…. in solidarity… hand in hand….

If you are interested in more information you can contact us at any time via email at ritadoppenberg@cten.org  or  if you are interested in supporting any of the above projects you just read about you can fill out the monthly partnership form from:    http://www.ctenc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Commission-To-Every-Nation-Canada.pdf … 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.   You can also make a one time gift at http://www.ctenc.ca/ritadoppenberg/   Keep an eye out for our website too… we hope to have it up and running in the coming weeks!

Thanks and God Bless!

Lonely Part II …. Clarification

It seems as though I have caused a tad bit of confusion and quite honestly I have offended some with my last blog post.  Please understand this was not my intention.  When I speak about Guatemala I always say I learned so much there.  One thing I have learned upon coming back home is that I should not say or write anything while my mind is so clouded.  Things do not seem to come out of my mind in the way I mean them right now.  They lack clarity and they have a harshness to them that I do not mean.  Those that know me are shocked by my attitude.  I have been approached by so many telling me that my last blog was harsh… or mean… or offensive.  I feel terrible that people have taken it in a way it was not meant.  I am trying to articulate feelings and thoughts that cannot be articulated yet.  They seem harsh because I just came from a harsh place.  Thoughts are muddled in my own mind and if I cannot totally make sense of them, how can I expect others to?  That is my fault and I should have known better.

I re-read my blog…. several times… What offended some the most was how I came across.  That Canada sucks and Guatemala is amazing.  People here suck and people there are amazing.  That could not be further from the truth.  But in my re-reading I see now how it was worded.  I did not do a good job in articulating what I was trying to say.  What happened in my writing was me trying very hard to compare apples to oranges… it simply cannot be done. The problem with my last blog that got to so many, was my use of the word ‘community’ and how we don’t have it here in Canada.  I overstated the point… in a way that made sense in my head and does when I explain it face to face with people…. but totally gets misinterpreted in the semi-impersonal world of writing.  Happens so often when we write… without expression & body language and a forum for others to jump in and ask questions,  things get jumbled…. Compound that with the thoughts being jumbled in my head, and that is not good….. lesson learned…

There is community here… strong, solid and good….  it is just a different type of community for a different part of the world.  Apples to oranges…. I stand by what I feel in the way that it can be at times an unhealthy type of community.  I love the people that surround me.  None of what I do or pieces of who I am could be without them.  But people, me included, sometimes seem discontent… busy… distant… it makes me sad…   People… friends, family, neighbours, strangers,  in our community live with loneliness and despair and we are clueless to their plights at times.  People in my own community are clueless to my plight… both my fault and theirs….  We are all guilty of it… whether here or in any other part of the world.  It is a broken world… everywhere… filled with broken people… everywhere…

Coming back from a mission experience of any kind, whether short term, or long term has its pieces.  Pieces of beauty and pieces of ugliness too.  You return with an extreme desire to fix things…. to fix people… to fix problems… to fix everything.   You want to scream from the rooftops how everything you see seems out of sync.  Make no mistake,  that is MY problem and not YOURS.  It is something that those returning have to deal with.  They have counsellors that deal only in this specific type of reverse culture shock for missionaries.  There is a very good and valid reason for those counsellors.  You cannot hold a dying child in your arms and not be affected… not be different… not be harsh at times.  I have had people say to me, “you have to be patient with us back home… we cannot understand”.  I have to say the same things to you… “Be patient with me…. you cannot understand…I have held the dying child.”….. Everyone is unique… and we all process things differently.  No one can totally understand how I personally process things.  And I cannot expect anyone to.   Its like I have been blindfolded and spun around.  Someone has stopped spinning me and removed the blindfold only part way and placed me in a place that is familiar yet unfamiliar.  Now I am dizzy &  disoriented and trying to find my way.  But I am only sure of one direction…. forward… but forward seems unattainable while my brain tries to re-orient itself and my eyes can’t really focus yet.

The bottom line is…. love one another… those that are close to you… and those that are distant.  Reach out to those you don’t know in small ways… they mean so much.  Take time away from completing tasks, from work… from extracurricular activities… from your “stuff”… whatever your stuff is…. take time from it and love on someone.  From the outside looking in (which is where I feel now at times both here and in Guatemala) it seems to me that people have been so busy with their stuff that they have lost sight of that.  I was one of the worst people for that… always surrounded by ‘have to’s’ … drop some have to’s and live… and love.  Yourself… and others.  It’s a lesson I learned during my time away.  And one I am still struggling to process completely.

Let me clarify things…. I love my life here.. I love my life in Guatemala.  I love my people here… I love my people in Guatemala.   There are so many things we do so much better here… there are so many things they do so much better there.  Apples to oranges….  People ask me, will you miss here at all?  Of course I will.  But, I know that this is the path that God has me on and I accept that.  Gladly and with a humble heart….. I am very passionate about this ministry that God has put on our hearts.  BUT, I am terrified.  Packing my life into 10 boxes … leaving family and friends… leaving my community…. starting over.  Terrifying stuff.   But I am also excited to begin a new adventure.  One that I want every single one of my community here to be a part of… because I cannot do this alone.  None of my family can.  This is not our thing… this is God’s thing…. and it can only work if we do it together, however that looks.

Once again, if you are one of those I offended… please don’t be offended… It was never my intention to hurt anyone… don’t give up on me.  I have changed in many ways, but I am the same person inside.  Many who have seen me personally have said I seem lost… I am lost.  About that I cannot lie.  I need you…. I need prayer… I need help… I need time… I need so many things.  Its not easy for me to say these things.  I am inherently a very independent person and admitting my need is a tough thing for me.  One of the biggest things I need is your understanding…. your patience and your love.

God bless you all!

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, http://www.ctenc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Commission-To-Every-Nation-Canada.pdf … 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!

 

“When you give love, you get love back….”

Here I sit on an early Sunday morning… I have just said goodbye to Mateo (Matt) who was by our side, serving for the last 4 months.  Somehow, hugging him goodbye made leaving here more real for me.  I have been dreading leaving but somehow I am coming to terms with it.  These past few days have helped.

Several times over the past few days I have found myself sitting somewhere with friends… receiving… People say, “It is better to give than to receive”.  And that is a true statement.  One I have really learned over the past months.  We have given… we have given of our money, of our time, of our blood, of our sweat, of our lives, of our hearts.  We have given gifts, hope, life, love and so much more.  But, when you give a strange thing happens… You receive.   And what you receive is precious and unexplainable.  You get filled up so to speak.  When you pour out, you must fill up and that is what has happened to us these past days…

On Friday we visited Ileana, Hector and their family.  When we arrived they sat us immediately in their outdoor courtyard.  Their son Samuel (16) appeared with a guitar and as a family they began to sing… songs of love, songs of friendship, songs of God.  It was their gift to us…. it was so beautiful.  There is no shame here in not being able to sing well or anything.  You just put your heart into it and let go.  As I sat listening, I thought of what it would take for my own family to do the same?  Could you just break out a guitar and sing for people as a parting gift to them?  The answer for our family is, no, we would buy them something.  Some random trinket…. something that will be long forgotten after time…. This is so much more… something never to be forgotten and is etched in my heart forever.

Last night was our ‘not goodbye’ party with the Hermana’s at the hospital.  We arrived a bit early so Hermana Mercedes quickly ushered us into the dining room where we were not allowed to move so we didn’t spoil the surprises they had for us.  When it was time we were ushered into the formal classroom that had been transformed into a “Grand Fiesta” (Big Party) room complete with a homemade Canadian Flag poster on the wall attached to a homemade Guatemalan Flag poster in a sign of true solidarity!  How wonderful!

The night began, we were all asked to stand, they all put their hands over their hearts and began with a heartfelt Guatemalan Nation Anthem.  It is a long one… but it brought tears to my eyes to hear it and watch them sing it with such heart and pride for their country.  The night progressed with a beautiful hand made booklet of songs and prayers that we could follow along in for the evening.  What a great keepsake!  Groups of Hermana’s and Novitiates came out in turn singing different songs, doing traditional Guatemalan dances etc.   So much fun.  Then dinner arrived, PIZZA!   This is a huge deal here.  No one orders food in the hospital.  NO ONE.  There is not money for that…. but this was a very special occasion and was treated as such.  There were even 2 large Chocolate cakes from Florencia bakery in Jalapa over an hour away.  Hermana Mercedes remembered us mention that it was Zack’s favourite cake.  How special.  During dinner some disappeared to get ready for the Grand Sopresa (big surprise).  As we sat and waited we were all curious as to what was in store.

When they came out, they were dressed in these beautiful handmade, traditional white skirts and blouses.  They explained that they made them in secret with the sewing machine that my in-laws, Leny & Bill had bought for them.  They went on to explain that every time we walked in they had to hide them so the surprise wouldn’t be ruined… and that was a difficult task because we are always freely coming and going there.  How difficult that must have been!  But oh so worth it… they were so stunning!!!

We were asked to stand and it began.  Their hands went over their hearts in a show of respect and out of their mouths came…. “O Canada, our home and native land…..”….  Immediately tears came to my eyes.  I need to explain here…. english is hard.  Learning english is so incredibly difficult.  I have been teaching english sporatically to these ladies for months and quite honestly they have learned very little.  (A side note here, I have enrolled with Zack in a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate course and we will be offering classes full time next year here due to the huge demand.  So many have asked so we will do).   Anyway, as I was saying, pronounciation of english is so difficult.  As I stood there, crying and trying to sing our anthem along with them, all I could think of was how long it must have taken these ladies, with their crazy busy schedules to learn our song…. By the end, most of them were standing with tears rolling down their faces…. but they had been faithful and completed the whole song.  And it was time for them to move… they had their long skirts clutched to the side, folded across the front and with the last note of our anthem they dropped their hands, letting their skirts fall…. and there it was…. spelled out in huge letters across the front of them…. one simple word with a Canadian flag (homemade) in the middle…. “Gracias”  (Thank you).   That finished me and the tears flowed freely now.  For them too.  Hermana Mercedes began to speak…. they had all been narrating the evening with talk of our family (and Mateo)… and how we are an example to them etc etc.  Hermana didn’t get far before the tears stopped her.  Mostly all she got out was basically, “Thank you to your family, for your example… for your love… and to the people of Canada who bring love and hope… without you we could do nothing for the children…. “

Crazy night… all we really said in response was thank you.  Even Geoff couldn’t get too in depth before his voice cracked.  I managed through tears to say that they are our family, and we will always be beside them…. doing everything we can to help them…. and that we love them… and that the people of Canada will never abandon them…. we will see to it.  We are family… all of us… always….

After it was time to lighten the mood again…. so they all did a beautiful dance and song just for me in honour of El Dia de la Madre (mothers day) that we will not be here for.  Some of the novitiates call me “Mother Rita” so it was fitting.  Yup, you guessed it, I cried again hahaha.  During this they brought out an extra dress… for me and I was outfitted then pulled up on the floor to sing and dance with them.  Definitely out of my comfort zone but I let go and had the time of my life.  After a few wardrobe malfunctions where my skirt fell to the floor, lots of mis-steps in the dance, lots of singing and laughter, it was over.  We left and they followed us to the gate as usual…. Screaming and waving our entire walk home from afar.  If you have been here, you have experienced that goodbye and it is so fun and full of joy and laughter.

It is so much better to give than to receive, but in giving you receive…. My dear friend Linda wrote on one of my pictures on facebook, “When you give love, you get love back”.  So true.  And I have gotten the best gift here… love…. There are many people here that I love and that love me and my family… and will forever…. I know they will pray for us… and love us all, no matter how far apart in the world we are…. that my friends is the best gift I could ever receive… they bring ME hope… and I know in my heart that our family will never stop trying to bring them hope… and help.   So be prepared…. the Doppenberg’s are coming back to Canada… all filled up… and ready to fight for what we believe in…. Dios Quiere (God Willing) …..  Are you ready?

Solidarity

The Hermana's singing a song about friendship

The Novitiates dressed as children, singing a beautiful song about reaching out to the poor children that have no voice

Intermission... PIZZA!!!

A heartfelt "Thank you" from the Hermana's to the Canadians

Me and my precious ladies... I love you all....

My family....

A heartfelt "Thank you" to all who help support this ministry through prayer, donations & love... "Gracias" from all of us!

Bittersweet…..

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 www.ctenc.ca/ritadoppenberg 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….

That’s what friends are for….

The chaos has come to an end…. all of the Canadian volunteers have come and gone…. that part of our journey is done…. for this year.  I am both sad and elated at this fact.  While I miss the hustle, bustle and noise of a full house I am relieved that it is over in a way.  I feel that our hosting teams was successful.  I believe in my heart that everyone that came here had a good time and their hearts were touched by this place and its people.  I know that people at home write me now… saying things have changed for them just by being here.  It seems they have changed in the same way I was a few years back after I visited here for the first time.  God has touched them through what they saw and experienced here in Guatemala…. in a way that only seeing with your own eyes and touching with your own hands can.  Now I can sit here and breathe…. I have time now to see and feel again… in a way that is harder for me now.  It’s not that I am hardened to what I experience here…. but there is something that happens to you when you are responsible for dozens of people from home.  I became a leader…. and a strong one if I do say so myself.  I kept it together through the annoying…. through the hard…  through the happy…. through the sad….through the fantastic….through the miracles, and I did it for the sake of my friends from home.  I loved every single minute of it too!  Showing people that I care about something that I believe in so strongly truly was an amazing experience for me.  There is something to be said about friendship…

Frank & Lori visited us this past week…. and what a week it was!  It began on their first full day here, a Monday, when we went to dig a trench around a home in the village.  The family would have preferred a new home but unfortunately due to financial constraints all we could offer this family, whose home floods completely during the rainy season was a drainage pipe underground to help disperse the water.  The family was happy for this as it will help immensely with the torrent of water that comes down the mountain straight into their home.  They dug the trench themselves so all we had to do was put in the pipe and carry the gravel to the ditch for the base & then the covering.  It was hard work but with Frank & Lori’s help we were done in a morning.  During our break people came to us… they heard that we had been taking people to the doctor and they wanted help.  This happens all the time…. whenever we are working in a village, word spreads like wild fire and people begin arriving one after the other asking for help.  It’s so overwhelming at times to see this much need.

After digging the trench we were off to the Ruano home that the Thielmann’s built and just simply pulling up to the gate there we knew we were in for quite the afternoon…. Dozens of people were there waiting for us to see if they could see our doctor… all with a very specific need…. all worthy… all legitimate… all next to impossible for us with our limited financial resources…. This is the hardest part of this….  So we sat… we listened… we took notes… and it came down to the fact that we could only pick 5.  Five out of dozens… all with legitimate needs for the doctor…  I cried…. How do we choose?  I am not God.  I am not worthy to choose…  I looked at Lori and her eyes were as full of tears as mine.

The woman who had asked for help for her daughter .. and we ended up paying for a funeral instead was there.  She came right up to me… she told me that she just walked here to thank us… for the kindness we showed her family by helping with funeral costs.  She said she knew that she had said it before…. but she wanted us to know that the hospital did an autopsy on her daughter and found she was pregnant… and that we had 2 special angels looking down on us…. and that …. well that’s about all I heard to be honest.  I cried like a baby…. this woman wiped the tears from my face and held me tight… and assured me, with tears in her own eyes, that I have a friend here in Guatemala that will always love and pray for me.

Friend is defined by Oxford as: a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection

A bond of mutual affection…. true, but a friend is so much more to me… a friend is a person who ‘gets you’ .. the real you… the good, the bad, the ugly…. and that is what I have had here…. That Monday was a day I could not have done without Lori… my friend… beside me… ‘getting me’.  Even though the day got so hard that at a point we simply could not look at one another without crying… that’s how much she ‘gets me’.   People ask me all the time, how I can deal with having a house full of people here constantly…. My answer is simply, I couldn’t do this without them.  I need to be surrounded by ‘friends’… people who get me… people who support me… people who know me and love me anyway…. Even people who aren’t here in body…. but send encouraging messages or comments through email, facebook or by phone.  Your messages surround me like a warm hug…. even when I can’t reply right away, I read every one… I read them over and over… when times get tough they bring me encouragement to carry on…. When things are fantastic they make me feel like I have people to celebrate with beside me, even when I am alone….

That Monday night with Frank & Lori was a quiet one.  Some of us broke down at the dinner table during high’s and low’s…. After,  I sat up on our roof with Zack.  He was pretty much destroyed by the day’s events.  There were a lot of “why’s” floating around in his head.  Gabe followed… as did Luke.  Geoff went for a walk to be alone with his thoughts and sort things out.  I sat on the roof with my boys for hours and talked… sorted… shared… they get me and I get them.  Things flew out of us in a torrent.  All we had held in for months came out… We got angry… we were sad…. we celebrated our victories and mourned our losses… When Geoff returned, we sat again and our family shared a moment that night that defined us as not only family… but friends….That is rare in many families…. I am so thankful for the privilege of being here… getting to do what I do… share it with my friends from home…. and my family.

After Frank & Lori left…. Ben arrived.  He is a young man who is living in Columbia right now teaching English… he is a friend from home.  He wanted to spend the Easter holiday with some friends from home… I get that… and we are loving having him.  He isn’t here to work… he is here as a friend to spend time together.  People need people… I get that….I am one of them!

As a treat we booked a bus this week…. and loaded the Hermana’s and our friends from here into it and went on a road trip to Esquipulas.  Esquipulas is home to the Black Christ… a statue from hundreds of years ago that is said to have healing powers.  Most of the people had never been to Esquipulas before… and those that had, like Hermana Mercedes hadn’t been in 30 years.  People come from all over the world to visit this sacred Basilica and yet those that live only hours from it simply cannot afford the money to go.  We did this as a thank you… a thank you to our friends here.  The Hermana’s & Novitiates for all they do, not only for the kids and the poor but for us… supporting, loving, helping… befriending….  Ileana, Hector and their family for opening their home and theirs hearts to us…. being our friends and loving us for who we are…. Sr Chico, Sr Vilma & Fernando for always being friends & family and helping us however we need… and loving us…  The support staff at the Hospital like David, Dominga & their family for always being there with a kind, knowing smile…. Hector & his family….Albero & his family…. Elias and his family…. Caesar and his family….  Mynor & his family… the list goes on and on.  So many people… so many friends… There was a part of me that upon coming here I wondered how I could ever stay for 5 months…. now I wonder how I am ever going to leave….

As I said, I could not do what I do here without my friends from home…. but I have learned something… I can not do what I do here without my friends from here either.  I have formed relationships here… priceless ones.  Other organizations distance themselves from the locals a bit.  I am not sure why… I simply know that we chose a different path… we chose to immerse ourselves completely in the culture… in the neighbourhoods… we jumped in with both feet and hoped for the best.  We chose to not insulate ourselves…. so we feel… and we feel so much that it leaves us raw and broken at times… but we never feel alone… and that is what is important.  We got the best… the best of both worlds… we have friends in Canada… we have friends in Guatemala… real friends… true friends…. friends that will be there for us through thick & thin…. I have to admit it feels good…. all warm & fuzzy to be very cliche.  I could do this no other way…. Thank you to my friends… far and near….  You give me strength… you give me hope… you give me encouragement…..you give me love…. and that’s what friends are for….

Me & Lori

The crowd waits to see who gets medical care today....

The woman on the left is the girl who died's mom.. my new friend

Listening to each person tell their story of why they need medical care....

The trip to Esquipulas with a busload of friends!

Ileana's family & mine together at Esquipulas Basilica

Me & Ileana & the ridiculous traditional Esquipulas hat she bought me as a souvenir

Grief…

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…..

 

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