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Home is where the heart is…

Whew…. what a few weeks.  I guess you can tell by the extreme lack of blogs that I have been swamped.  Crazy times… but great times.  Its been 10 weeks and we are still going strong.  There are times of happiness,  times of extreme exhaustion… times of tension…. times of irritation… times of frustration….  but even through it all our spirits remain very high here at “Club Doppenberg” as Tim so affectionately called it.  Sure we all get on each others nerves especially when fatigue is running high but overall its great times… communal living is like that.  I am so behind on blogging that I am trying to figure out a place to begin… there is so much to tell…. I know today I could definitely write a huge blog… maybe I will…. so um, settle in haha.

When I last left you Marquito had just arrived home.  What a whirlwind couple of weeks its been since.  So much has happened… especially in the lives of Marquito and his parents Marco & Doris and their 2 young daughters.  Marquito has pretty much completely recovered from the surgery.  We visit him and the other kids at the ‘hospitalito’ (little hospital as it is know in El Progreso) every day and we like to think that based on the reception we get, the kids look forward to our visits.  It has become clear that Marquito has a very special love for Geoff.  It is quite beautiful to see.  No matter who is holding or playing with him, at the mere mention of the name “Geoff” or the sound of his voice, Marquito stops whatever he is doing and just listens intensely.  Within seconds he begins smiling and bouncing… he knows what is to come.   A while ago, all Geoff could do was hold him and give him rides, but now that the surgery is completed on the exterior of his cleft palate, the world has opened up so much more for him.   He is finally, at the age of 3, (almost 4…he will be 4 on April 8th) he is allowed to learn to walk.  Up until now, he was never allowed because he is also blind and if he had fallen and damaged that tiny bit of nasal bone he had left, the surgeons would not have been able to work the miracle surgery they did.  So walking, or anything that could put him and that nasal bone in jeopardy was strictly off limits.   One of Geoff’s favorite things to do now is to walk the hospital with Marquito… over and over again.  He never seems to ever get tired, Marquito that is… he is like the energizer bunny… he goes and goes.  Geoff is worn out long before Marquito ever wants to stop….  What an amazing young boy… and he captures the hearts of anyone who comes here and meets him.  All the other kids there are so precious too… We were joined last week by little precious Lade (prounounced Lady)… she is a year and a half old and is the size of a preemie… so malnourished she needs the constant use of a light to provide heat because her tiny body cannot regulate temperature…  so sad and yet so hopeful because if little Lade was not in the hospitalito with these amazing Hermana’s she would most certainly be dead.  And that is no understatement.  At least with them, she has love and a fighting chance at life.

This past week we were joined by a dentist from Hamilton, Dr Laszlo Szoke and his team.   Rita a dental hygienist, Debbie, Dr Laszlo’s assistant and Ursula an administrator from St Peters in Hamilton that served as another assistant.   They were joined a couple days after arrival by the Doctor’s wife Sophia and her friend Katherine.  Together they put together a dental team of epic proportions.  Just for clarity though, I want you to imagine a single dentist…. just one…. with a single hygienist… just one… working their way through 186 patients, 170 cleanings, 343 extractions and 295 fillings  in 5 days…. Perhaps that looks a bit more do-able written down than it is do-able in real life, especially if you are not a dentist…. trust me when I say, God was with them… because without God giving them the strength and fortitude to carry on I think they would have dropped on the floor from sheer exhaustion…. But I digress….

One of my jobs this week was to assist the dental team along with Matt and Zack.  So I looked in mouths trying to do a bit of makeshift triage…. I learned dental tools and did my best to muddle through getting what the doctor needed when he needed it (yay CH… haha).  Mostly though I did what comes naturally to me… what God built me to do… I “mothered”… Patients this week ranged from 3- 77 years old…  I held scared children… I held hundreds of hands….  I held wet cloths on the warm foreheads of the elderly… I fed applesauce to those that came in hungry and felt ill after dental work.  I learned a great deal about myself this week…. I learned that if I had it to do over I would become a nurse of sorts.  I never thought I had it in me…. but God used this dental team to not only help the poor Mayans… but to teach me something about me.  I was tired…. bone weary fatigued…. but the entire experience was something I would do over again in a heartbeat.  I have to say….  We became a family with those wonderful people who gave of their time, their money and their energy to come here and serve alongside us… and I will be forever grateful to Laszlo, Sophia, Rita, Debbie, Ursula and Katharine…. You all are in our hearts and in our prayers… and we will see you when we get back to Canada and look forward to lifelong friendships!   And I would like this opportunity to give you all the award for “the best suitcase packing I have ever seen”  Way to Go!! haha.. In all seriousness…. Te Quiero Mucho a Todos!!….  I have to also say on behalf of all of us serving here… thank you very much to Kindness in Action for the loan of the dental equipment for the week… and to Dr Luis…aka Dr Taz…. thank you… you gave of your time to help the Canadian’s when you could.. you did a good thing for your people here.  God bless you all.

During the chaos that was the dental clinic, I got a gift from my husband… a priceless gift… one that I will never forget… one that I will be hard pressed to repay.   I was helping an elderly patient off the dental chair and into a makeshift lawn chair recovery corner we had when Geoff came in and called me outside.   There, waiting for me, was Marco & Doris and their 2 young daughters…. Geoff went up the mountain, got them and brought them down so they could see their son Marquito for the first time since the surgery….  Tears filled my eyes as soon as I saw them.   I could never imagine not being able to see my children whenever I want…. especially if they were in the hospital.  But that is the sad reality here…. if your child is in the hospital you will be lucky to ever see them.  Simply put, they do not have the money to get to them.  Sparing the few quetzals for bus fare is not an option…. the money simply isn’t there.   Having the opportunity to get a ride down the mountain and a 30 min drive further was a huge blessing to them… and to me… because after more than a year I had the privilege of witnessing this reunion.   They were tentative at first…. almost seemed afraid to go in.  They have had 3 years to mourn their son…. they never believed their prayers would be answered….. they had only known to fear the worst….

Marco was first to his son… who stood in the crib jumping up and down waiting to be picked up when he heard his father’s voice.  He pulled his boy out of his crib and placed his arms around his neck…. Doris was next…. I have a very short video clip of this moment…. but I shut my camera off and left the room…. Even through my tears I could see that this family deserved private time.   I wept in Geoff’s arms for quite some time.  Tears of pure joy… tears that were a long time in coming…. stored up for this day…. and what a day.    After a bit I calmed down… I took a photo of the family together.  Geoff and I then went to a small photo shop in town and got it blown up and framed as a gift for them.   We drove them home after a few hours (and some dental work on Marco while he was there) and presented the gift in the truck.  Doris held the photo the entire way…. they all stared at it… over and over… they couldn’t stop looking at their family….  together for the first time in over a year….

On the way home we had one more surprise for them.  Before we even began construction on their new home we arranged for a water line to be run to the property.  So they now have running water… but no sink.  We overheard Marco telling Doris several times that someday he was going to get her a sink… it was her dream to have one.  So, this day, on the way home we stopped at a small sink maker and let them pick out a sink.  Doris & Marco were both so incredibly happy…. walking around picking out the sink of their choice…. but as Doris was walking around looking, she stopped and ran back to the truck.  Neither Geoff nor I knew what she was doing…. she had gone back to get her family photo… she carried it around, clutched to her chest as she made the decision on what sink she wanted.  Such a cute and priceless moment.

Many other things are going on here…. Construction at the hospital continues… the addition is totally complete so the dorms, bathrooms and closets are finished…. a new kitchen is almost done… 2 new pantries are finished and waiting to be filled…. Vanessa has painted a beautiful new sign & mural on the hospital wall…. english class continues when time allows… Marco’s home will be complete today…. we are gearing up for the next projects….  life is busy…. but life is amazing.   One other thing I have to tell…. Yesenia.. she is a sweet Novitiate here… she calls me Mother Rita… I love her so much.  Some of the money we send here every month pays for education and Yesenia came to me a few weeks ago while I was painting a pantry and gave me a hug… she was wearing her new nurse hat and name badge… she graduated from nursing school that morning…. and she said a heartfelt ‘gracias’ and through the hug a heartfelt, ‘te quiero mucho madre Rita’  (I love you very much mother Rita)…. Oh the tears I shed here…. let me tell you….

The Hermana’s have become our family…. we spend so much time together now and all of it is filled with love… with laughter… with hope.   They have put on major ‘goodbye’ parties for both Geoff’s parents and the Dental team…. We are all now such a tight family unit that even the slight language barrier that was once a source of frustration is now a source of intense laughter.  God Bless Google Translate for those tough words haha….

Dr Laszlo said something during dinner here on his last night… that he ‘got’ way more than he ‘gave’…. such a true statement.   I am getting so much more than I am giving here.  People always say they don’t understand how I could ‘give up’ so much of my life.  I have to tell you…. I am giving up nothing.  I am only gaining.    I am afraid… terrified actually of my return home to Canada.  While I miss my family & friends ‘back home’…. I have built a ‘home’ filled with family and friends here.   I think my heart will be torn in 2 in May when the time comes to leave this home and go home.   Hermana Veronica sent me a beautiful email this morning, Valentines day.  Here it is the Day of Friendship.  I love these ladies with all of my heart and soul… and it will be very tough to leave them.  Add into that equation… Fernando and his family.  He got married this past weekend…. the first of 2 ceremonies.  In Guatemala only the civil wedding is legal… so they have 2.  One civil and one church.   Geoff and I were asked to be Padrino’s for them… which is basically Godparent’s…. best man/matron of honour etc.   It is one of the highest honours a Guatemalan can bestow upon someone to welcome them into a family.  We are family…. Fernando, his new wife Elisa, his mother Vilma and his father Chico… they are our family… and it will be so hard to leave them as well…..  Home is where the heart is…. I will literally have to split my heart in two in order to leave here….

But leave here I will…. because there is much that needs to be done in Canada for the 6 months I am there, especially in the fundraising department… we are finding that when we are down here the donations slow to a trickle….. this is where you come in….   Funds are running low… there is much yet to be done…. much yet to be paid for… mouths that need food and medicine…   So we need more help this year yet…. but if that is not possible I am going to let you know that we have already begun planning things for 2013 (remember, I work with Mayan’s everyday… they are alive and well… and they all want homes that will last 100+ years… so if they aren’t worried about their own prophesy of the end of the world in 2012, neither am I hahaha).   Some things to think about and prepare for next year… We need:

– Eyeglasses… we will be collecting old eyeglasses to distribute with the help of an optometrist (see below)… people here don’t have much access to eye glasses or eye exams.

  • An Optometrist to come on board, sort glasses and hopefully run an eye exam clinic here.
  • Pediatricians to run clinic’s up in the mountains
  • General Practitioners to run a clinic based out of the hospital
  • One time donations to help fund construction projects for next year… especially the construction of a second location of the hospital in Jalapa
  • Monthly partnerships so that the hospital’s monthly budget can be covered and the hospital can be used and run at full capacity… right now it is running at around 1/10th of what it can… the more money, the more kids, and the more lives that will be saved!
  • Volunteers… I encourage you to begin planning to come here, see for yourself and experience all it is that we are doing.  Its not too early to contact us about next year!

Think about the above… pray about it…. talk to your friends… talk to your co-workers…. talk to your companies…. talk to your churches…. talk to your doctors… together we can spread the word and make things happen.  Our job is to tell people…. its God’s job to touch hearts and spring people into action.

We just finished a lovely visit with our CTEN pastor couple Stephen and Tammie.  What an honour it was to have them stay with us and see our ministry first hand.  I have to take a moment to thank them and CTEN for all they do for us here on the field.  I cannot tell you what it means to have your love and support…. and even validation.  I know that  validation is not what Stephen and Tammie were here to do… but it is so amazing when people come and truly ‘get’ what we are doing here… why it has become our lives… why we will stop at nothing and fight for these people until our last dying breath….  And to you at home that send support, that comment, send emails, facebook messages etc of encouragement…. I cannot tell you how much it means for us to know that you are out there praying, thinking about and loving us from afar.

Much love to all of you & God Bless!

Dr Laszlo, Rita, Debbie, Ursula, Sophia (Katharine was ill that day) and Dr Luis who popped in to help when he could.

Madre Rita and Yesenia at the clinic

Nurse Yesenia

Me and one of my dearest friends... Hermana Veronica

The new sign for the hospitalito that Vanessa painted

Fernando & Elisa... Senora Vilma & Senor Chico.... Geoff & I

Precious little Lade..... A year and a half old and severely malnourished... safe and loved at the hospitalito

Marquito on his daily walk with Geoff

Marco & Doris reunited with their precious son Marquito

A cherished family photo... the first ever....

Hope……

Not to sound like a broken record….. life here is tough…. but…. it never fails to bring me more moments of joy in mere weeks than I have experienced in my entire life.  Today was so incredible I just have to write….

Today began, like any other day with basic home chores in the morning and then we were off to the hospital after lunch.  Geoff’s mom, Leny was giving another day of crochet and knitting lessons to the Hermana’s.  His dad Bill was busy tending to their new garden.  Justin was hanging drywall in the new pantry.  Matt went up the mountain to work the afternoon and relieve Zack who had been working all morning with Senor Chico on Marquito’s families new home.  That left Geoff, myself, Zack and Dave to tackle what was for me, the worst job yet.   It was time to paint the inside of the new cistern tank that is underground.  I do not know if you have ever seen a cistern but it is basically a bomb shelter underground with a man sized hole at the top and about 5 ft tall.   I am claustrophobic so it was not one of my top 10 favorite things to be doing.  It was very necessary to get this completed because the hospital does not have water every day.  In Guatemala, especially in the dry season the water supply is on a rotation.  Some people only get water every 8 days!  Just imagine that!  Water is a precious commodity here.

We had hoped to take 5 min shifts one at a time inside the bunker because the paint to seal the concrete is highly toxic.  We all paused to mourn for a few moments that our masks from last year are safely tucked away in my closet in Beamsville….

As it turned out we were only able to stay inside the sistern for under 15-20 seconds each.  Yes it was that bad.  Eyes burned instantly and if you dared to take a breath….well lets just say it was horrific.  It took myself, Geoff, Zack and Dave by surprise how incredibly difficult this task was.  I understand all the warnings from people that someone had to stay up top and watch that the person inside didn’t pass out or they would die in minutes.  Scary….

When we were about 3/4 of the way through painting we heard one of the Hermana’s yell…. When Luke and Gabe turned to look they yelled that the ambulance had arrived…… We all jumped up and ran…..

There are times when I feel like we are ‘spinning our wheels‘ here in Guatemala.  We celebrate victories… we mourn losses… we teach, we learn, we triumph, we fail, but through it all we hope and we love.  I realized that I have been deeply afraid…. After wanting to help a boy who touched me, Estuardo who I met 2 years ago and finding out upon returning to Guatemala last year that he had died (previous blogs).  A big part of me had lost hope….  Today was the fruition of the hard work, perseverance, hope and love of a young girl back home… Rachel… and after waiting and praying for 1 entire year it came.  And it came with more hope and joy than I can even explain.  Inside that ambulance was more joy & hope than I have ever known.  Marquito.  Precious little Marquito.

The first of many surgeries are done and he was returning to the hospital.  One look at his precious face had every single one of us in tears.  I cried like a baby seeing the miracle that perseverance, hope and love can bring.  He looks amazing.  The first surgery was to fix the outside of severe cleft palate.  Inside there is still a hole but these things take time and must be done in stages.  But his outward appearance … unreal.  I cannot explain…. just look at the pictures… see what I see… and understand…. and please, remember Marquito… remember his story…. and always, always have hope…..

Marquito before his surgery....

Marquito home after his first surgery!!

After a 1 year wait... a near fatal illness... He is home, first surgery done & is doing fantastic!!

Why is everyone fussing over me & crying? hahahaha

How it must feel to eat semi-properly for the first time in your life....

Lessons learned…. so far….

This Wednesday we will have been here in El Progreso, Guatemala for 7 weeks. Hard to believe its been that long… and yet at times it feels like I have always been here. Funny how things that at the beginning are so foreign to you, become the new normal. Washing dishes with paste… filling a resevoir with water for the days when you have no water out of the tap…. having no hot water & learning to shower in cold…. sleeping in a kitchen with no privacy whatsoever…. driving in the chaos that at first made my heart almost stop…. roadblocks of livestock on the highways…. construction tie ups that last 30+ minutes at a time…. etc etc… the list is long. I’m learning so much here. Patience is a big one. Everything here takes a long time. Guatemalan’s are famous for “10 minutes” which in our terms means an hour or more. I am also learning humility. My way is not always the best way. There are other ways of doing things… better ways in some cases. Learning to un-Canadianize myself is a tough one…. slowing down… enjoying the little things… stopping to smell those proverbial roses…. very foreign concept in Canada, even if we think it’s not… trust me, it is! I find myself not just learning from the Guatemalans though… I am learning from the visitors we have coming and going here. I find it fascinating how each individual that comes here has a certain gift. Everyone brings something so different to the table. Honestly it is so refreshing to see things differently… through the eyes of the diverse fellow humans we have had here. As hard as it is to live in community at times, I have truly learned that I was made for this!

My blog has had a lot of my personal thought thus far. Let me fill you in on some details on what is going on here: We had 4 students here from Canada…. Rachel, Jazmin, Juan David (JD) & Jessy. Oh the youthful exhuberance they brought with them. We worked hard and we played hard… and we miss them terribly even now, weeks after they have gone.

Dave and Justin arrived a short time after the above gang. The house became a bit more challenging to maneuver because it is fairly small. We managed and it was great. Dave is doing weekly videos and working hard here. Justin is a carpenter by trade and his skills are ones we simply cannot do without!

Fast forward a bit and Tim & Matt arrived. Matt is our Chef. Simply stated, he saved me. I can cook, but not very well for larger groups. He is feeding us way better than we deserve! He rocks! Tim, we barely knew before he arrived. What a guy, and we were very lucky to have him here.   Love him to pieces with his friendly attitude and quick, sarcastic wit. He kept us all smiling even when we truly didn’t feel like it. He passed along some fantastic business advice for our fundraising efforts. Look out people… you don’t know what you are in for in the coming months!

As I am writing this, there is only my family, Matt, Dave and Justin here. It is quiet here now. Geoff’s parents arrive this afternoon. So looking forward to having them here and see first hand what we are doing here. Many more people will fill our house in the coming months… including a team of dentist’s that will be running free clinic’s up in the mountains. The house will be full, challenging and fantastic!!!

Work wise, we have many projects on the go. Exciting times filled with great things happening here like:

First and foremost… Marquito had his surgery 3 days ago!!!! After a year of waiting, hoping and praying, thanks to Rachel it is done! Marquito is recuperating nicely at a hospital in Antigua. Thank God for this little boy and all he has taught us, and continues to teach us.

Secondly, we have begun construction on Marquito’s family home he will share with his parents and 2 little, precious sisters. The current state of his family home was such that he could not return there even when he is better. They live in a one room mud brick home with no electricity and no water. Upon completion, the home will be 3 rooms, a fenced in play porch (Marquito is also blind) and running water & electricity. They will be able to care for Marquito and his sisters so much better and live as a normal, happy Guatemalan Mayan family.

Thirdly, the hospital renovations are still under way. The new bathrooms, showers, closet and dorm rooms for the novitiates are almost complete. The study/living room is also complete. We are in the process of finishing up minor renovations to the kitchen and a new pantry. The garden is dug…. the chicken coop is finished and Geoff’s dad will soon begin planting corn, beans and other vegetables for the hospital to grow to help them become even more self-sustainable. The construction of a new second kitchen will begin shortly.

Lastly, construction will hopefully begin on a new home for another family during March Break. Jazmin’s family is hoping to take on fundraising for this corn stalk home to be replaced. The family that lives there is so amazing… but so very poor. The condition of the existing home is deplorable and no one should ever have to live that way. If you are interested in donating to this home visit http://www.ctenc.ca/ritadoppenberg

We have spent time doing other things here as well. Justin, Tim and Geoff spent time helping Fernando’s family build some closets and minor renovations to help the family prepare for the arrival of Fernando’s new wife Elisa after their wedding in Feb. This family has helped and continues to help us so much we were happy to be able to help them. We have had many trips to the Jalapa dump and meetings with the people there. We did find out that no one actually lives there in the shanties. They live off site and return there every day to work. In the big picture, I suppose that is good news… however after touring their homes we quickly saw that the situations were still desperate. We hope to work together and come up with a solid plan of helping these people become more stable and self-sustaining. We have helped and will continue to help Mynor, Vincenta, Claudia and the boys. We are in the process of finding him solid, sustainable work that can improve their standard of living. We have toured villages and continue to make notes and plans for next year or when more funds become available. We have met several times with Hermana Mercedes and hope to shortly begin planning the next Nutrition Hospital that will be in El Salvador… In our down time, we have enjoyed touring Esquipolas, Antigua, Ziplining and visiting villages to play with kids… (my idea of Disneyland.. so fun).

We truly feel we have accomplished so much already…. we try to not get ourselves down that there is still so much left to do. People here are incredible. JD learned something when he was here…. how incredibly difficult it is to walk away with your head held low saying, “I’m sorry, there just isn’t enough money for us to help you this year”. Its a tough, tough thing to do. One of the hardest things you will ever do in your life. Imagine looking into someones eyes… eyes filled with hope and desperation…. eyes filled with thirst and hunger and saying… “I can’t help you yet”. It’s funny that the lesson lies in their response…. It’s always the same…. “Thank you, I will pray for you”…. Wow…. that hurts… hurts deep within… I cannot help you and still you pray for me….? …. and yet I am understanding more and more.  And let me tell you,  It changes you… those simple words… changes occur very deep within yourself in a place I would call your soul…. it changes you so much for the better… I know each and every person who visits here, including myself will go home a much better person than the one who arrived. And for that I want to say to each and every Guatemalan that we have met, helped or said no to… “Thank you, I will pray for you… ”

Me and Marquito a few days before his surgery

12500 mini bags of water we bought to hand out in the mountain villages

Matt handing out bags of water at the dump

Mynor & Vincenta's little boy Jose David & his healed arm!

Construction begins on Marcos's home (Marquito's dad)

Planning the second room addition for Marquito

Hermana Mercedes & Marquito's precious baby sisters

Tim handing out water at the dump

Me and Andrecito... one of our favourite kids at the dump

Jessy & Andrecito

This little one is now at an orphanage after her mom tried to sell her for under $30.00 US. Desperate people are forced to do desperate things....

Rachel getting mobbed handing out treats at the dump

Hanging out with the kids at Yolanda's village... my Disneyland!!!!

Its been so fun for our family to watch these kids grow up... especially Zack... they love him!

The Zip lining gang

Jazmin taking it all in

Our friend Ceasar had a special birthday quesedilla ready for Zack's birthday

The cornstalk home that we hope to build during March Break with Jazmin's family

The mom of 10 & owner of the cornstalk home... so amazingly loving .... pure joy despite having nothing....

JD explaining to the people that we simply don't have enough money to help them this year... toughest day yet....

Having to walk away from these kids... looking into their eyes is the hardest thing we have ever done. No one should ever have to do that....

A Call to Action….

Firstly I would like to introduce our brand new YouTube Channel!  Thanks to Dave Tebbutt!  Dave arrived 2 weeks ago and is documenting our experiences for us so that you can see in short 5 minute video’s what’s going on here with us!  Please check it out at:  http://www.youtube.com/doppenbergrita

Secondly,  I have to say, thanks for all the words of encouragement these past 7 weeks.  It has been rough at times but overall life here is amazing.  I love the place… the people… the work we are doing…. I love it all.   Sure it’s tough to be surrounded by so much poverty… but it is also so uplifting to be surrounded by so much joy.

When I get down its mostly because of frustration.  There is so much to do here and we are held back by the constraints of money.   We are at the mercy of the donations of others…. and that is a very difficult place for us to be.  Many people have never been here… and they have not seen what we are surrounded by every day and thus they do not fully understand.   People who are so full of a joy that we hardly know in Canada and yet living a life so full of hardship we can barely comprehend.

I see people every single day that look 50+ when they are 30 due to hardship… I see people every day who work hard for next to no money…. I see people every day that want to work and can find no work and therefore cannot support their families…. I see people every day that are hungry and have no means to eat…. I see people every day that are tired… hungry… thirsty…. …… What I do NOT see every day is people who are sad…. They are happy… they are full of joy…  they are full of hope….

What I want is to not only give them hope… I want so desperately to give them a future…  I listen to Hermana Mercedes and her dreams… dreams of a future for the poor.  Dreams of hope and equality for all…. I share that dream.  I want to put a call to action out there to anyone reading this…. Will you consider sharing that dream with us and becoming a part of bringing hope for the future to those that need it…. ?

http://www.ctenc.ca/ritadoppenberg/

Reality is….

Sometimes everything here gets to me.  I find it so hard at times just to keep it together.  A very good friend said a few weeks ago that he wanted to know the hardships… basically the bad stuff… to feel a part of the “real” – ness of this whole thing.  A way for him to follow the story of life here and see how the conflict within us gets resolved etc.  I find that hard to do for many reasons but the most important reason is that its way too ‘real’ here at times.   So much of the time I feel so raw that I fear if I wrote about it I would never stop writing.  But the bottom line is that for every 10 things that are hard, or go wrong here there is 1 amazing experience that completely makes you forget the bad stuff and feel totally rejuvenated and sure that its all worth it.

But…..

At times…. It’s hard to be a ‘gringo’… it’s hard to live with people… it’s hard to sleep on cots in a kitchen and have zero privacy…. it’s hard to sacrifice money and comforts…. it’s hard to be exhausted almost all the time…. it’s hard to eat things you don’t like…. it’s hard to handle the stomach issues that go with the territory here…. it’s hard to be itchy 99% of the time from the bugs….it’s hard to be patient….  it’s hard to miss friends and family and be away from home… etc etc etc… the list is long …. trust me.

But….

It’s also hard to watch people suffer… to see need but have to say “no, we are so sorry but we cannot help you this year because we simply don’t have the money and there is someone else with just a bit more need than you that we have to help instead so we will try for hopefully next year…”….  This is the most trying part of doing what we are doing.   This trumps all the inconveniences of living here.   Being the one in charge here is something neither Geoff or I was prepared for in a way.  The feeling of wanting to help everyone but being totally helpless in certain situations due to financial constraints is one of the worst feelings I have ever had to deal with.   Having to look at people and say no… then hope and pray that the money comes in next year… and that they are still alive to receive that help is the reality of what we face every day…. a reality that I dislike very much…. but it is a reality none the less.  It is so easy to feel hopeless at times and a quiet, near depression kicks in… having others around to share the burden is such a blessing.  A sincere hug from someone who completely understands you at that exact moment is priceless….

We are 12 here at “Club Doppenberg” as Tim (one of our guests) affectionately calls our little home… it is tight at times… and just right at others.  None the less we have done a lot of stuff in the past weeks since my last blog.  To catch you up on some of what’s going on here….  Dave and Justin arrived and we are so happy to have them here for a few months…. We visited Mynor, Vincenta, Claudia, Minito, Moso, Losevin, and Jose David last week and took them for Jose’s last doctor visit to see if he needed any more treatments.  When they walked out of the clinic we were all in shock to see his arm almost completely healed!!  It looks like there won’t even be a scar! What an celebration that was!  Later we took the gang Zip lining in Matequesquintlas (say that 5 times fast)…. a perfect relax day.   Afterward we picked up Mynor’s family for a weekend away.  After a good but crowded nights sleep at our home in El Progreso we were off with all 16 of us to visit Esquipulas. We toured the Basilica of the Black Christ and then an orphanage.  Mynor and the family had never really had a weekend away/mini vacation and it was so much fun to be able to share it with them.

Our newest arrivals, Tim and Matt came the next day and we knew immediately that they were a great fit with our team!  The past week has been so incredibly busy… We have begun construction of Marquito’s families home so that he can return there once the operations are done and  he is healthy.  Right now they live in 1 small room and have kitchen and no water.  We are adding 2 rooms for them, a bedroom and a kitchen.  We are also working with the village council to get water to the house.   We visited my “Disneyland”,  Yolanda’s village… a place where we 10 kids multiply into about 60 once the word gets out the ‘gringo’s have arrived.  We played games and had a blast.  We have also  been touring homes this week with Hermana Mercedes…. she has made a ‘top 10’  list of the most in need families in the area that she knows…This is the tough part… we can only afford to build a few homes… not all 10.   With the construction projects going on at the hospital there is only so much money to do other projects.  Some of these decisions are no brainers… others are just so darn hard.  We sit each night with our team… we talk and make decisions together… it helps, but it’s hard on all of us at times.

So many things I don’t understand… we toured a home today.  A complete and utter disaster made of cornstalks, mud, and basically scraps.  All I could think of is the 6 months of torrential rain Guatemala gets and how miserable it must be to live in this home that most certainly would leak and be cold…  The reality is a family lives there… dad, mom and 10 kids…. It’s one of the most serious needs I have seen as far as ‘shelter’ goes.   The strangest part, the mother asked if we wanted to tour the church next door… just a few steps away… she has the key so she can open it for people on Sundays.    We entered this church… made of solid concrete… a building that would be warm and dry during the rains…. Many of us talked later about how messed up our world is when a family of 12 lives in horrific conditions while a church a few steps away sits empty 6 days a week….  reality is that sometimes our world makes no sense whatsoever….

I have struggled much with this kind of thing in the past weeks…  I have had feelings and thoughts that are such a roller coaster of emotions.  It would be very easy to become a ‘hard’ person.  To become desensitized, unemotional and cold.  I think it would be a comfortable, self-preservation mechanism.  I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let that happen.  It’s so hard because there is so much need here and we can only help a few…. the desire to help everyone is so strong… but the reality is… we can only help one at a time…

Hermana Mercedes visited us unexpectedly this afternoon shortly after we dropped her off after our tour of the homes.  She had “buenas noticias” (Good News) she couldn’t wait to share so she hurried over.   Marquito’s surgery is booked!  This Monday at 4am an ambulance will pick him up and he will be off to Antigua for surgery Tuesday morning!  Hermana was so excited that she could share the news with us in person… especially since Rachel is leaving on Sunday.   The hope is that both surgeries will be done, his family home will be finished and he will be recovered when Rachel returns in March.  What incredible timing!   Hermana shared with us one more thing just as she was leaving… She smiled and reminded us all that because we had perseverance, patience and faith, its is actually happening… one boy’s life will be changed!!!   At the end of the day,  I sat and thought about everything that has happened… not just over these past weeks… but over the past years here….  I thought a lot tonight about what Hermana said about patience, perseverance and faith… I looked around at the people here in this house that have such amazing hearts…. it was one of those moments where I was reminded again that the reality truly is,  ‘help one at a time’…. and if that is they way it has to be, I am absolutely ok with that…..

 

 

 

 

Coincidences…..

The mood here changed drastically 2 days ago with new arrivals!  Four students from Canada arrived and brought with them a lighthearted exuberance that we needed here.  We loved our weeks of family time but it was becoming time to get some new blood here and get things rolling!   It is JD, Jazmin and Jessy’s first time visiting Guatemala…. for Rachel it is her second.  She was with us last year for a few weeks and it is now a huge part of her life.  Day one for them began with part one of ‘the tour’….

We had big plans yesterday…. to visit sights, friends, and show our newest volunteers some of why we are here, beginning in Jalapa.  We started at the Jalapa dump.  The dump is a place that is hard to believe when you first see it.  It is a dump like any other city has…. one can even accept the pigs and cows that are left there by rich farmers to fatten them up…. what one cannot accept is the families living there.  The laughter in the truck got quiet very quickly when these 4 realized that the structured mountains of garbage are actually makeshift shanties that people live in.  Kids and moms are everywhere sifting through garbage hoping to find a scrap of food or a treasure to sell.  It is a place unlike anything I have ever seen in my life…. and I was rendered speechless and teary…. and I had been there several times.  I can only imagine the thoughts running through our visitors brains upon seeing this horror for the first time.  I remember the first time I went, I cried for days…. and it was an experience very formative to my decision to serve here.

Having JD speak Spanish is a blessing.  Our Spanish is improving and coming along nicely but communicating with the Mayan people is very difficult due to the speed and accent they speak with.  He wandered around and talked with people… One woman told him she had been living there for 30 years…. 2 children told him their parents were killed and they had no where else to go….  So many people… so many stories… each one just as tragic as the last…. There are very few word I can write to do this place justice…. suffice it to say that with the people covered in filth, living with pigs and rats, eating literal garbage and perpetual fires burning that if there is a hell on earth, the Jalapa dump comes very close to being it.  We handed out some candy, warm blankets, hats and warm clothing and left with promises to return soon with more provisions.   The ride out the gates of the dump was quiet with everyone thinking very hard of what they can do to help….

From there it was off to visit friends… Mynor, Vincenta and their family…. I wrote in a previous blog last year of their precious daughter Claudia.  Our team last year pooled money together to buy her a mini laptop computer so she could continue her schooling and hopefully get a job to help her very poor family.  We had many plans after visiting them…. but things change on a dime here…..

I read once a few months back on a sign at a Church near our home in Beamsville…. “Coincidences are God’s way of being anonymous…”…  I truly believe that.  Especially after all the ‘coincidences’ we have experienced here, through the years in Guatemala.  Well our visit with Mynor and his family was one of those ‘coincidences’….  We were going to visit them a few weeks ago but for one reason or another never got there…. so we decided that today was the day… no idea why…. just the way everything worked out.   Well we got there and I heard a scream of delight from Claudia inside the door when she realized we were there.  She threw herself into my arms and began to cry.   I looked over at Vincenta and she was holding her youngest son Jose David who is just under 2 years old, and she was quietly sobbing.   I let go of Claudia to hug Vincenta and she pulled violently away from me.  At first I did not understand, but she quickly showed me her son.  His arm was very severly burned and looked absolutely horrific.  She was holding up his arm… and it was weeping blood and looked awful.   Apparently he had pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove onto his arm on Monday…. they took him to the hospital but had no money to pay…. so the doctor cleaned the wound and sent them on their way.   Since then she had just been holding him, keeping his arm up… fearing infection and with no idea what to do.  It was a no brainer…. none of us needed to even talk about it…. we needed to help them.  So we told them that we were taking them to the Clinic and getting Jose David fixed up and we were paying.  She tearfully explained to JD that they had been praying for a miracle…. and then we knocked on the door….

The rest of our day was instantly planned for us…. there would be no more time for visiting our other friends or anything…. God had other plans for us this day.  So off we all piled into the truck and went to the clinic.   They took the little guy right away and so we waited.  They gave him some medicine to make him sleep and they took care of his wound.  We took the others to a local restaurant for some lunch and played with the other boys in the play area.  Vincenta and Jose David joined us when all was finished with his arm nicely wrapped and safely protected from infection.  We paid the clinic for 3 more visits so that they can just take him every few days and get everything cleaned up and he can stay healthy.   Together we ate… laughed and enjoyed the blessings of the day!

It seems that every day we are here, we are reminded of why we are here…. that this is our reason for being born into a country that is so prosperous….. that this is our reason for fundraising money for Guatemala…..I am reminded of what Hermana Mercedes said to us just before Christmas through her tears that “We were all born to serve the poor”….   My prayer, and I hope your’s  is that these young people that are here volunteering are touched… that everyone who visits here, or anywhere in the world that has need, are touched…. and that they spread the word… and one family by one family, together we can change the world….

Shanties at the Jalapa dump

Perpetual fires burn at the dump

Imagine raising a child here.....

Handing out candy, blankets and warm hats

Talking with a woman who has lived at the dump for 30 years....

Some of these kids parents were killed & they have no where else to go...

Mynor explaining what happened to Jose David

Jose David getting treated at the clinic

Playing with the kids while waiting for their brother at the clinic

Mynor, Vincenta, Claudia, Minito, Moso, Luisbin & Jose David (all bandaged up!)

Claudia and me

Our family and our awesome visitors.... Jazmin, JD, Jessy & Rachel

Purpose….

Firstly, let me say…. The Doppenberg family wants to wish each and every one of you, and your family a Muy Feliz Navidad!   A Very Merry Christmas!!!   Tomorrow (Christmas Eve) I have the privilege of killing, plucking, cooking a turkey for Fernando’s family (pray for me haha).  Afterward we will walk through the town holding candles while someone carries the baby Jesus to His manger in the village Church at midnight.  We are really looking forward to experiencing this.  Welcoming our Saviour into the world the Guatemalan way.  This is a beautiful country steeped with tradition… Its quite beautiful.

I spoke last blog of the best Christmas gift I could have received… a kiss and a hug from  a group of kids in a remote mountain village… and a heartfelt, teary eyed, Blessing from Hermana Mercedes…  there was more to come…. It all began at 5am when we opened our front door to a group of nuns standing on the sidewalk so excited to begin what was going to be an adventure for them.  A kind, generous donor & friend back in Canada sent us money to help buy Christmas gifts for the Hermana’s and the kids at the hospital.  We pooled that money with the money we had set aside ourselves for gifts and we decided that toys were great, but shoes were better after seeing so many of them walking around barefoot.   We told them we wanted to buy them all shoes…. they were thrilled and timidly asked if we could take them shopping in the big capital city.   They squealed with excitement when we said sure!

Imagine being in your mid 50’s…. and never, ever going to a mall.  Imagine you’ve never been able to buy something for yourself, just because …. Imagine you have never enjoyed a meal in a restaurant with your friends… Can you even imagine that?   I know I couldn’t.  I don’t think my eyes could have gotten any wider when I was sitting in an IHOP in Guatemala City with 10 Hermana’s from the Hospital and Hermana Mercedes told me this was a day of many “firsts” for her.   First time shopping for herself… first time eating in a restaurant with the other sisters…. I was shocked…. she’s in her 50’s and had never done these things.  Little things we take so for granted in our life… like the ability to shop whenever, wherever and for whatever we want or being able to pick up a phone and say to a friend, “Lets go for wings and pizza tonight”.

The day began like that for me.  Humbled once again and yet mortified that we have so many opportunities and they have so few all because of where we happened to be born.  As the morning progressed, I watched in awe over the next 3 hours that we spent in a little Payless shoe store in a giant mall in the Capital City, as they shopped like pro’s.  Hermana Alba had brought a list of the other Hermana’s, the Novitiate’s (Nun’s in training), and all the Nino’s (Children).  Everyone got shoes… and some socks for the  kids in colder mountain climates.  This single random act made life easier here for almost 100 people!   My Mastercard actually declined when it was time for the purchase to be made.  It literally imploded and I had to call and it took more then 1/2 an hour for the security/fraud department to trust that it was actually me making what they called ‘the single largest purchase at a Payless” they had ever gotten…   Shameless plug here… but if you want to ever contribute… please do… and I promise you that the money will be spent in a more worthwhile way than you could ever imagine.   It truly doesn’t get any better than this.

Next week our first volunteers arrive… this is so exciting for us.  It has been kind of lonely here at times.  Together we will build chicken coops and plant vegetables for the Hermana’s.  They will be able to both eat and sell these.  It is our plan to help give them hope and a way to be more self-sustaining.  They want this so badly, but have never had the means to do so.  To raise a baby chick from birth to market costs around 15 Quetzals… which is approx. $2.00 Canadian.  They can then sell the chicken for around 100 Quetzals.  This is a no brainer for raising money for the hospital.  But they have, until now been unable to afford even the mere 15 Quetzals to buy the first baby chick.  Having us build the coop, provide the guard dog (even here at the hospital,  the poor will hop the fence and steal from them) and buy them the first 50 or so baby chicks is invaluable to them to get started.   It’s not just about raising money and buying things for the poor here… its about finding a way to get them on their feet and give them the little push they need by providing an opportunity to thrive.

People tell me all the time how they can’t believe that we are doing this…. moving our family thousands of miles away for 1/2 a year.  I guess after only a short time here I realize that we are the lucky ones…. the ones that get to experience this joy first hand.  A few years ago if someone told me I’d be living in Guatemala basically on a farm, I’d have told them they must surely have bumped their heads lol.  I’m just a girl who grew up in the city and look at me now…. living with my family in Guatemala… in a home that we share with tons of baby chicks, 3 bunnies, and 2 puppies.  Yet everything has a use… the chickens & bunnies will provide food for the hospital… the puppies will provide security.   There is no waste here… everything has a purpose.  And so does everyone.  I think that is what strikes me the most.  Back in Canada we struggle to find our purpose…. why is that?  Here, everyone know’s exactly where they are in God’s plan… while we read, and study and sometimes get paralyzed with fear and confusion over purpose.  I realize now that we just have too much opportunity.  It floods us and clouds our vision.  Here life is simple and there is nothing to cloud anything.  I can honestly say that it will be very hard to leave here and return home…. but I do know one thing…. All 5 of us will return home very changed people, changed for the better, and above all else THAT is the best gift we could ever receive.

Breakfast with the Hermana's at IHOP in Guatemala City

The Hermana's having a blast shopping

My Mastercard implosion reaction...

Luke and Linda (beautiful)… the hospital’s guard dog to be…

Gabe and Meeko (raccoon) ... Fernando's guard dog to be....

Zack and our bunnies... food to be.... even cute things feed hungry people....

Our baby chicks that will be food for the hospital until they begin raising their own

 

All I want for Christmas…..

Settle in…  grab a drink… I have a lot to say today….

Ah, life…. life is funny…. life throws you curve balls… life is hard… life is fun… basically life is what you make it.  The past few blogs when I read them over are so very different and yet I am glad I wrote them.  They are raw and totally capture my feelings the first week here.  Wow, what a ride.  People ask me how I am doing here… hmmmm, thats a bit of a loaded question.  Basically I would say I am happy here.  Are there times I wish I was home?  Of course.  But overall, I am happy right where I am.  It’s been a weird couple of weeks. To go from the ‘normal’ life back in Canada to the ‘new normal’ life here in Guatemala has not been easy.  Funny thing about following the so called ‘calling’… once you get into it, it feels ‘right’ very quickly.  We are all moved in and settled into our new home.  I can describe it in 2 words…. LOVE IT!  We have made it our own already and have settled into a routine of sorts.  Sure there are many things to get used to…. like the fireworks (read: mini bombs) that go off in the streets literally at all hours of the night (today was 5-6am) as people celebrate the coming birth of Christ.  But overall things are good.  We miss family and friends back home and anxiously await our first visitors due to arrive shortly after Christmas!

Speaking of Christmas…. that is a tough one here.  Sure we have our 1 foot tree sitting on our plastic dining table, surrounded by our plastic lawn furniture ‘dining chairs’…. but it simply has been a struggle to ‘feel’ Christmas here.  For me, Christmas has always been a big deal.  I spend months preparing, shopping, and decorating.  Here I have done none of those things.  I bought that tiny plastic Christmas tree at the market for a few quetzals and one piece of blue and silver tinsel to decorate.  That is it.  Nothing else.  There are no Christmas carols playing here… not ones I know anyway.  There are no big decorated pine trees anywhere except the town square.  There is a bit of hussle and bussle of shopping in the market, but for us gringo’s it’s no worse than the normal chaos the market brings.  There is no mall here…no Santa sitting waiting for screaming kids to be put on his lap for pictures… Here, there are those fireworks set off, scaring the daylights out of you all night…. in anxious preparation for the birth of the Saviour.

We have made a family decision here… to pretty much not buy any gifts for each other.  But instead to buy gifts for the Hermana’s at the hospital and the children, both there and on the mountain.  Monday I am braving a trip to Guatemala city to take the Hermana’s shopping.  They need some ‘girl’ stuff and would like to pick out specific things… that will be their Christmas gifts from us and a very kind donor back home who gave a significant amount of money for gifts for them.  During that trip we will buy toys and things for the kids.  Should be an interesting day.  Overall, Christmas has had me kind of in a weird place.  The woman who made Christmas such a big deal back home was taught a valuable lesson yesterday.  People talk about the true meaning of Christmas all the time.. as we bitch and gripe on our way to the mall to do more shopping.  We get our blood pressure up on the crazy drive there, screaming at traffic we don’t have time to be in because we are afraid the ‘perfect’ gift might be gone if we are one minute late getting there.  Then we get to the mall and whine over the line’s in the stores, or the fact that the debit machines are so slow… We chase our tails for weeks before, preparing for an occasion that will be over literally within minutes of waking up on Dec 25th.  Is that what Christmas really is?  I guess it was time for me to learn another lesson…..

Yesterday, we were invited to a breakfast at the hospital.  To meet with Hermana Mercedes about the coming months and work projects etc.   Hermana Mercedes has been burned many times in the past.  People come and people go… People make promises to her and don’t follow through.  Hermana is a brilliant woman with a Master’s degree in medicine and is one tough cookie to crack.  She has always been very ‘guarded’ with us.  Never letting her guard down one bit.  Very nice and polite but waiting for us to bail on her so to speak.  At the end of our meeting yesterday… she made a speech.  One I will never, ever forget.  She spoke of how, ‘everyone in that room was born to serve the poor’ and that God send our family at a time when she was at a low.  When her faith in God was shaken because she had literally no hope.  There was no money, there was no help, there was no hope.  But God sent ‘Angels’ from Canada… and these Angels are spreading the word in a far away country… and sending more Angels… and God, through them have restored her hope…. her faith… and for the first time in almost 30 years she can see her dreams again…. dreams of opening other “hospitalito’s” (little hospitals) for starving children in other parts of Guatemala… Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador etc.  And for our family and the people of Canada she will always be thankful.  Children are being saved from certain death and she will pray always for us…..and thanks God for us.

When I looked up, when she was done speaking, I saw she was crying.  You have to know Hermana Mercedes to know this is an incredible thing.  All the other Hermana’s were crying just seeing her cry.  Of course that made me cry… I reached my hand across the table and she very hesitantly she took my hand.  I looked in her eyes and said… “we will always be here to cry with you, to walk with you and to follow wherever God leads right beside you”….  That was all I could manage in that precious moment.  Fernando, Geoff, my boys, all the Hermana’s and me and Hermana Mercedes… all teary eyed…. all together… united in a goal… a goal that God has put on all our hearts.  A goal that my family will see through until the end….

After that incredible moment… we parted ways.  It was time for us to go to a village about 2 hours away.  The village of San Juan Las Brisas.  This village is in the Santa Rosa region of Guatemala.  A lush, green area that is famous for growing coffee and sugar cane.  A region that is also famous for their earthquakes.  Back in July they had over 500 small earthquakes in a 30 day period.  Imagine living there… imagine being poor there.. no where to go.  Simply accepting your fate and knowing that a big earthquake could hit at any time and you could simple vanish from the planet… and no one in the world would know but your village… you are the forgotten… obscure little blips on this big blue ball. Guatemala is full of them.

A big one did hit… 3 big ones to be exact… back in September.  Fernando called us.  The village of San Juan Las Brisa’s was decimated by earthquakes.  The rains were heavy in September and they were cut off from help by the fact that the one and only bridge to their village was under the river so there was no way in or out.  People were dead and the ones left were cold, thirsty and starving.  We immediately sent money down for him to buy water, blankets and some food for this village and Fernando and his father delivered the supplies once the water had receded enough to get help to them. Yesterday was the day we were invited to meet the people we helped face to face.   We loaded ourselves, a pinata, some stuffed animals that were donated, some blankets and knitted hats that Geoff’s mom made into the truck and off we went.

To make this short and sweet, it was an incredible day.  We met Carmen and her sister… Together we toured the devastation and with heavy hearts went back to Carmen’s home where all the village children had gathered to see the white people.  Everyone knew we were coming and they were all dressed in their best clothes and had prepared a meal for us.  Fernando explained that we could only eat the meat they had prepared because the parasites in anything else would be very dangerous to our health.  Carmen brought out a 2L bottle of pepsi.  I have to explain… the amount of meat they had prepared and a 2L bottle of Pepsi costs more than they make in a month.  But for us, they sacrifice.  Drives us banana’s to think they won’t eat much now for the month… but its part of life here.  Give, give… give… give…  It’s crazy.  Would any of us back home share our last cracker if that is all we had to eat for a week?  If that is all we had to feed our kids?  Think about it… would you?   Anyway…. we ate… and we set up a pinata.  The kids were so incredibly happy… we found out after they had never had a pinata before and had no idea what to do.  After some instruction and after the first piece of candy fell… they knew.   Once it broke it was instant chaos.  So fun.  Many of these kids had never tasted ‘dulces’ (candy but literally ‘sweeties) before.  Then we handed out stuffed animals, hats, blankets etc.

I sat in a chair after it was all over and watched the kids.  They all had mouths full of dulces and were clutching their stuffed animals… some were happily playing all over the dirt with their new toys.  My heart was full…. full to bursting.  Bursting with the knowledge that I am where I am supposed to be.  Then suddenly a tiny little boy came up to me… He threw his arms around my neck, kissed my cheek and said … “muchas gracias” (thank you very much)…. then ran shyly away.   My eyes filled with tears…. and I put my head down so no one would notice…. When I lifted my head once I had composed myself I saw an incredible sight… a line of children… big, small, male, female…. each and every one of them threw themselves at me with arms wide open… hugging and kissing me and saying in Spanish…. “Muchas Gracias”…  One by one they came… they went to each and every one of us after me.   My heart almost burst… and I realized something…. THIS is what it’s all about… This is why I am here… This moment and the one I shared earlier in the day with Hermana Mercedes and the others is all I want for Christmas…..

The bridge that connects the village to the rest of the world....it was totally under water during the earthquake cutting off the village from help.

 

A temporary shelter for 12 people after earthquakes destroyed homes

Zack & Fernando with a gift for us from the village

Earthquake destroyed all homes in this village.... had it happened at night many more would have died.

Fernando, Luke and Gabe with the village kids

Breaking stuff is so fun... especially pinata's full of dulces!

Once they figured out dulces was in that pinata it was pure joy & chaos!

The little guy coming to give me my hug and say thank you...

Old dog… new tricks?

Life is full of lessons… even for us “old dogs”, God can teach us many new tricks.  We have been here in Guatemala for only 5 days…. feels like 5 weeks.  So much has happened and we have learned so much already.  There is a certain arrogance that surrounds our culture.  We think we are going to come into a country as missionaries and teach them better ways.  Funny thing happens instead… they teach us VERY quickly what is wrong with our ‘better’ ways.  Pretty much just about everything.  We come in with plans… Our plans suck, for lack of a better word.  Us arrogant Canadiense’s are brought to our knees within moments of being here.  We truly don’t mean to be arrogant… we come here with the best of intentions…. but we get knocked down instantly, to their level… which quite frankly is above ours in so many ways.

If Guatemala had a better system of equality and Government they would be coming to Canada as missionaries to help us.  Of that I have no doubt.  They would teach us patience… they would teach us to trust in God and not in ourselves… They would teach us lessons that our brains need to learn.  It has taken less than 5 days for us to be humbled beyond measure.   God wanted to make sure we were in complete surrender before He made things the way He wanted them to be and not the way we had envisioned.

All the struggles of the past few days, of which I won’t go into detail but trust me they were bad… were necessary.  Necessary to teach us a lesson that we honestly could not have learned any other way.  We had that Canadian arrogance knocked right out of us and now we are truly ready to do what we came here to do… God’s way, not ours.   We are so rushed in our lives.  And I admit I am one of the most chaotic people around.  Here, there is no such thing… everything moves at a relaxed, snails pace…. it’s so tough to get used to… especially when you are in need of something… like a place to live.  We expect everything to be done NOW…. Not going to happen… no sense getting your blood pressure up.   I swear people here don’t die much of stress induced illness… simply doesn’t exist.  They don’t get stressed.  Even the ones dying of malnutrition simply wait patiently for God to help them… Sure they do everything in their power to make things happen and at the same time they joyfully trust…. completely.  They totally understand that they need Him… and His will be done.

We have a home that will be ready for us to move in on Tuesday.  The location couldn’t be more perfect… less than a 1 minute walk to the hospital.  More than we could have ever hoped for.  We have some furnishings already… We have the basic necessities of life now… and we have each other.  That is all we need.  I will be learning to cook with wood, the Guatemalan way.. I will be learning to do laundry by hand, the Guatemalan way… I will be learning to shower with cold water, the Guatemalan way…  And I will be teaching them some of our ways.   Fernando’s family has given me the honour of preparing Christmas dinner… they want a traditional Canadian turkey dinner cooked in an oven that they have no idea how to use.  They want to learn our way…. and in return they will teach me their way.  What a wonderful exchange of lives taking place.

We have already experienced so much of the culture here… Beginning with the day we got here.  Dec 7th… El Dia del Diablo.  The day of the Devil.  Its El diablo’s birthday and at 6:00 pm fires are lit everywhere to burn pinata images of the bad guy.  They roast him and celebrate a new beginning to life in the ashes… they burn the bad guy and all he brings… he has no power here…. They won’t let him have any power over them.  Out of such simple lives come such wisdom!  What a beautiful symbolic ritual that has been carried on for centuries.

And so we carry on… with lessons learned… valuable ones that we will take home and carry with us the rest of our lives.  Only 5 days in and already we are changed people.  Makes me wonder in awe of what the next 5 months will bring….

A new beginning…. again…..

Today is a new day… it’s amazing what a good night of rest can do for the spirit.  Everyone in the family woke up this morning feeling much more able to handle things.  My blog of yesterday was negative.  It was also short.  Basically if I had written about everything that had gone wrong in the past 48 hours it would have been 12 pages long…. it was about much more than just hot water.   Its amazing how one can just get hit over the head multiple times with bad things and still go on, but we are human and we can get pretty down just like everyone else when things become too much.  Yesterday we felt weary and worn down though.  It really took a lot out of us.  Basically it was a disastrous beginning.

Today, I am saying was the official beginning!  And what a beginning it was.  Early this morning we were off to the Hospital Infantil Padre Pedro for a Christmas party.  It was a ‘family reunion’ with all the children that had previously been rehabilitated at the hospital invited.  We were shocked by the sheer number of people in attendance.  Tears rose to my eyes as I saw Hermana Mercedes for the first time in almost a year.  She was surrounded by the happy faces of the little children that are now alive because she took it upon herself to follow the will of God and serve here.  Her and I shared a hug that had so much meaning behind it even though our spanish/english communication is still in its infancy.  There are some moments that are just beyond words…..

Heading into the nursery for the first time in almost a year was unreal.  Seeing all the children in their beds trying so desperately to get healthy breaks your heart.  Around the corner in his special room was Marquito…. That boy is so incredibly special…. Rachel has worked so hard for this boy and on December 15th he will have the first surgery to reconstruct his face.  It hit me as I held him and then again as Geoff was holding him and Marquito was laughing that without people like Rachel that precious boy would most likely have died.   God put him on her heart and she did everything in her power to help him… and help him she did.  I saw the proof with my own eyes… and heard his laughter with my own ears…. Amazing! After visiting the children, we shared lunch with the Monsignor of Guatemala, some other guests and Hermana Mercedes… The sisters prepared a very special lunch for their guests.  They treat us like royalty here and we do not like it.  We are here to serve them and yet they serve us so completely.  It is so humbling…. It truly is about relationships here… and we have a family here, more so than we had ever realized before.  That is a gift straight from God.

No matter what life throws at us here… we are ready for it.  This is why we are here… and nothing, not even no water (today we not only have no hot water but no water at all) will ever get in the way of what God has us here to do!   And on behalf of our family, we would like to thank everyone who is helping us financially… personally… prayerfully… etc.  Without you beside us, none of this would be happening.  We promise to stick it out and make the best of every moment and also be thankful for the privilege of getting to serve these wonderful people!

The Christmas Reunion Party at the Hospital

Fernando & Gabe

Geoff and Marquito

Me & Marquito

A wonderful traditional lunch

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