Thursday, March 11, 2010

Love in Action

My bag is unpacked, I have gotten some sleep, and I am well on my way of catching up on the mound of work that was waiting when I returned. I have also had some time to reflect on our trip and gain some insight that I would like to share. Specifically, I want to share a powerful truth and give you several examples to illustrate that reality.

The powerful truth is this…love in action can heal wounded hearts. How do I know?

1) Ervin

DSCF3204Erving suffers from CP and is rather large and strong for his age. As a result, he is not seen as cute by the nurses who keep him tied to a pole much of the time he is out of his crib. His anger is revealed when he lashes out at his captors through hitting, kicking, and biting. He is not liked by most, but I absolutely love the little guy! When I am at Hermano Pedro he follows me closely and clings tightly to me…unless Dick Rutgers is around. In that case, I am quickly discarded and Dick is his #1 buddy! It has been very difficult getting him to interact with anyone else except the two of us.

Last week, something amazing happened. After the first two days of working at HP with our excellent team, I noticed that Ervin wasn’t stuck to my hip. When I looked around for him, I found him playing with another team member, giving her hugs and kisses and having a grand time with her. By the end of the week, he was freely moving through the courtyard loving on children and team members alike! I have never seen him happier! The simple reality was that Ervin knew that he was loved by our entire team, and he was eager to love back.

2) Estuardo

DSCF3556 Estuardo has Autism. He stimulates himself by making noises with his mouth that are amazingly loud. He also likes to spin in tight circles using awkward steps. He, too, is known for lashing out through hitting and biting and has a reputation of displaying massive temper tantrums. Whenever there is a special event, the nurses like to drug him and put him in his crib so he doesn’t disrupt the party. He typically does not bond with anyone, but that changed last week

Early in the week my daughter, Brittney, pulled him from his crib and started loving on him. While she readily admitted that he was quite a handful, she also saw past his behavior and fell for this little guy. Through much patience and some frustration on Brittney’s part, we all began to see a change in Estuardo. Gradually his behavior improved and he became more affectionate. By our last day, he was hugging on anyone who would accept it, including Ervin! (Estuardo and Ervin could be considered arch enemies. I have seen them both clobber one another in a moment of conflict, leaving one or both in tears.) I choked up watching these two guys hugging and laughing together.

3) Delmi

DSCF3154 You have read about Delmi in my blog before. This young lady has very little that is attractive in her outward appearance. She is often ignored and passed over by both staff and volunteers as they move on to the cute children. As a result, Delmi is not a happy teenager.

In our last several trips, I have spent time with Delmi trying to coax a smile. And I have been successful in that effort. But it has always taken a lot of effort to achieve the smallest of smiles.

Early in the week one of our team members, Marisa, began to invest in Delmi. She spent long hours talking to her, stroking her hair, feeding her, and being her friend. I noticed her work and was excited to see the two of them bonding. But I was surprised at the results she achieved. At the end of our second day I stopped by Delmi’s bed to say “Buenes Noches” and, as soon as I did, she broke into a huge grin! The joy on her face was so evident and I was caught completely off guard. This girl from whom I had always struggled to coax even small smiles was literally beaming…all because of Marisa’s love!

4) Paulo

DSCF3543a Paulo is a teenage boy with pronounced CP. He struggles with chewing and swallowing and cannot speak at all. He is also a very unhappy young man. Prior to this trip the only noises I have ever heard from him was moaning and crying.

One day as I was playing with several of the kids in the courtyard I heard the sounds of laughter coming from behind me. I turned to find Don, one of our team members, pushing Paulo around backward while he laughed aloud! I was so surprised that I went over to double check and make sure that it was Paulo. I had never seen him smile before, much less laugh! I can honestly say that it made my trip!

Don and Paulo became buddies and spent a lot of time together. And I am happy to report that I saw lots more smiles and laughs throughout the week!

There are more stories that I could share with you. Each of our team members did an excellent job of loving on the children, and the results were astounding. As I shared in an earlier blog, I have never seen Hermano Pedro more filled with joy than on this trip. And the reason for that joy was the obvious love of Jesus displayed through our team to each one of these children and teens.

What a difference love makes!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Coming and Going

This posting was written on Sunday evening, March 7th but not posted until Monday due to lack of internet connection.

DSCF3518 Our team’s last day-and-a-half in Guatemala was spent with the kids of Hermano Pedro. As happens each trip, our group fell in love with those children and treasured every moment we had with them.

Saturday morning was a little tense when we arrived at the orphanage. Apparently the nurses were upset that we had insisted on the six children being fed the night before. I was told by the head nurse that we were mistaken and that all the kids had been fed earlier because they were on a special diet. However, there were a couple of holes in that story. First, we know the children and their eating habits and none of those kids were on special diets. Second, we were with the kids all afternoon and would have known if they had received food. I spoke with a long-term volunteer at HP and explained to her the situation and provided a list of the kids who were skipped during their feeding. She took it to the nursing supervisor who said they would have a meeting early this week to develop a system to assure that no kids would be skipped. Then, at lunch time, the nurses were carrying lists and checking children off as they were given food. So it looks as if things are changing, even if we had to tick-off some nurses to make it happen.

DSCF3549 That afternoon we took a group of the younger kids to Central Park in Antigua. We had a blast taking off their shoes and socks and letting them splash their feet in the fountains. We purchased ice cream from a street vendor and let the children enjoy that rare treat. We then returned to HP, after allowing plenty of time for their clothes to dry. (Apparently most Guatemalans believe that children will die of pneumonia if their clothes get wet, even on an 80 degree day, so we could not let the nurses see the children with any dampness on their outfits!) We also returned with ice cream for all the nurses which seemed to make peace with them.

DSCF3615 This morning we said goodbye to the kids and left. Most of us did so through tears. I can’t begin to describe how difficult this is. Each trip, as we leave behind the children, we feel as if we are leaving behind a part of ourselves. And each time our urge to get there full-time increases. How much longer will we have to wait until we can move their permanently? We know God’s timing is perfect and keep reminding ourselves of that truth. But, as we drove out of Antigua, I found myself for the first time feeling like home ownership is a curse. If only we could simply call up a landlord and let him know we were moving.

But, for now, we are simply waiting and praying for our house to sale. And while we wait, we continue to face life with part of our hearts in Guatemala.


DSCF3523 Update on Byron’s chair: Thanks for your prayers for Dick’s work on Byron’s chair. He has determined that the head control unit is not damaged, but the problem is instead with the computer. He is hopeful that he can get Byron back on the road by Thursday or Friday. While that seems like an eternity to Byron, it could have been much worse.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fighting for Food

The last two days have been very full for our team. Interestingly enough, there has been a common thread that has run through our work. That thread…food, or the lack thereof.

DSCF3404 Yesterday we spent the day at Casa Jackson which is a malnutrition home on the edge of Antigua. Currently it houses 14 children who entered the facility greatly underweight. We helped with bathing, feeding, and holding the children as well as some basic cleaning. The entire group greatly enjoyed the day they spent with these little ones.

DSCF3440 I spent much of the afternoon with a very serious little girl named Mirna. Throughout the first part of the day she observed our group with large brown eyes, but never once cracked a smile. At around 1:00 pm I took her in my arms with one goal in mind…a smile! Using silly voices, “gotcha” fingers, and assorted props, I gradually saw a smile develop. Then, at around 3:00 I actually heard a giggle! It seemed like she actually learned to smile and laugh for the first time that afternoon. I imagine she hasn’t had much to be happy about thus far in her short two years of life.

DSCF3465 We spent today at Hermano Pedro loving on the kids. Once again we filled the courtyard with every available child. We blew bubbles, played games, and sang songs, and as we did we saw the same marvelous transformation occur. Joy replaced sadness and the entire place brightened.

DSCF3473 For lunch we took a group of the older teens and two young ladies out to eat at Pollo Campero. Stomachs were filled with food and paper airplanes made from placemats filled the air. We had so much fun with this group!



My  buddy, Elmer, and I put on our special hats and struck a gangsta pose together while Dick hit us with spit wads. In other words, the adults were worse than the kids!

We returned to HP at 2:00 pm to find almost all the kids back in their cribs. We held another jail break, liberating most of the children into the courtyard where we spent the rest of the afternoon.

DSCF3508 Things went well until supper. As usual, the nurses brought out food for us to feed to the children. We all fed the kids assigned to us and the nurses came back around to brush the children’s teeth. At that point, various members of our team began to point out different children who had not received food. After discussing it with everyone we determined that six children had been skipped. When we pointed this out to the nurses, they tried to argue that they had received food, but we were sure they had not. We stuck to our guns and insisted that they be fed. Eventually they relented and food was brought out. However, they had already cleaned up after dinner, so those remaining only received bread mixed in warm milk.

But for our team’s alertness and intervention, six children would have gone to bed hungry tonight. Why? Because of a failure to create a simple checklist that would assure that all the kids receive a meal. I confess that this angered me. How many other nights do they miss feeding some of these little guys? And how long will it be until someone cares enough to change things?


DSCF1688 On a side note, Byron’s head-control unit for his wheelchair shorted out today. This young man is a wonderfully active guy thanks to the mobility provided by his chair, but until it is repaired he loses that mobility. Dick is working to repair it, but is not sure he has the necessary parts. A new unit is expensive and would not work as well for Byron’s needs. Would you please pray with us that Dick will be able to scrape together the parts necessary to get him back on the road quickly? Thanks!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


DSCF3215 Our team spent today at Amor del Nino, a Christian orphanage near Guatemala City. This is my fourth trip there, and each time I go I am struck by the contrasts between this loving ministry and Hermano Pedro.

The first thing you notice as you enter their home is how open, bright and cheery it all is. The kids have room to play and wonderful playground equipment. The entire place screams “We love children!”

DSCF3265 But that is not the most impressive part. What stands out more than any of that is the care provided by the nannies. When a child is wet or messy they are quickly changed. When an infant cries, the caregivers drop their tasks to give attention. And the care provided is done with joy and playfulness.

DSCF3336 These differences produce remarkable results in the children. They are open, friendly, and joyful. Our team was overwhelmed with hugs, kisses, and playful giggles. I laid on the ground laughing as toddlers piled on top of me shrieking for joy. And children who entered their walls with deep wounds have shown great progress and healing.

DSCF3319 And as I sat loving these wonderful little ones, I was struck with the awareness that Hermano Pedro could be like Amor del Nino.  It, too, could become a place of hope and healing. It, too, could be filled with laughter. And it would only require a change of mindset.

At the heart of the problem at HP is the failure to recognize the treasure of each child. Instead of being viewed as priceless human beings created in the image of God, they are viewed as damaged goods. As a result, they are often allowed to sit in their own feces and urine and to lie in their cages 20 hours a day with little human interaction. They are treated as objects that need to be fed and cleaned instead of divine sparks to be cultivated and loved.

If only the administrator of Hermano Pedro could see each of those children through the eyes of Jesus, everything would change. And, over time, HP and Amor del Nino would become very much alike.

Lord, please move hearts and change attitudes to make that a reality.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fresh Eyes

DSCF3195 This morning our team spent time observing and helping at The Scheel Center in Jocotenango. This is an incredible facility that ministers to street children who are three or more years behind in school. This accelerated program helps to catch them up and provide a quality education and career training to improve their future and break the cycle of poverty.

In the afternoon we returned to Antigua and spent more time at Hermano Pedro. As usual, we returned to an empty courtyard as the children had been placed in their beds for the rest of the day. That quickly changed as we liberated them from their cages and filled the courtyard with laughter and squeals (of both the children and our team).

DSCF3209 My day was made as I exited a ward to find little Louis in Wanda’s arms. When we arrived on Saturday, we found out that he had never returned to his ward following the holidays and our hearts were broken. We have fallen in love with this little guy and were extremely sad not to see him during this trip. That despair quickly returned to joy upon find that he had returned this morning! Thank you, God, for that gift!

DSCF3202 I have never seen the kids of Hermano Pedro as happy as they were today. Paulo, who rarely smiles or even makes eye contact, was laughing aloud as Don, one of our team, played with him. Delmi was smiling broadly as Marisa talked and played with her. And Ervin, who rarely has anything to do with anyone except Dick Rutgers and me was crawling around generously dispensing hugs and kisses to everyone who would have them! Love flowed freely and the place was filled with joy. As I looked across the courtyard I couldn’t help but feel that it was a little taste of heaven!

DSCF3205 As I share this with you, I have to make a confession that shames me. I have gotten used to the living conditions of the children at HP. I bring team after team into those wards and explain the conditions and introduce them to the children. And I tell them, often through tears, how hard their lives are. But there are nights that I tuck the children into their cribs and walk away without stopping to remember how wrong it all is.

DSCF3207 Tonight was not one of those nights. As I was preparing to place Lionel back into his stainless steel cage the Holy Spirit nailed me right in the heart and I saw that place anew. And as I laid him in his bed and kissed him goodnight I broke down and wept like I did the first time I entered those wards. It continued as I laid Jo Jo in his bed, and Miriam in hers. I lowered the side of Ervin’s crib and hugged him, and as he held me tightly and would not let go, I wept again.

DSCF3111 I cried for two reasons. First, because no human being should ever, ever, ever have to live that way! It is a violation of all that is holy and good. I was weeping tears of sorrow and frustration that our sinful world has fallen so far.

Second, I wept out of shame that I had allowed myself to ever get used to that abomination. I cried because I fail to cry every time that I say goodnight. Lord, please forgive me for not being broken every day by the things that break your heart.

And so, I will go to bed tonight with a fresh commitment to my Jesus to remember to see each day and each need with His eyes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spotting the Need

DSCF3127Our team just completed our first full day at Hermano Pedro. The team was excellent as they rolled up their sleeves, embraced the children, and spread love generously. I am so proud of all of them.

When you enter an institution like HP, it is completely overwhelming. There our 240 children, teens, and adults who desperately need attention, yet only 12 people on our team. In a situation like that, who do you choose to embrace? Do you spend all day hopping from child to child, or do you simply pick a few?

Over my numerous visits here, I have finally arrived at an answer. My time is best spent by choosing the ones who meet the following criteria:

DSCF3154 1) The ones that I do not find attractive at first glance. If, at first, I don’t find them attractive, it is likely that none of the other volunteers that regularly come through find them attractive either. The ones who are not cute, from a human perspective, are most often overlooked and ignored. And even though many of them are cognitively delayed, they eventually learn that they are ugly and embrace that identity. They suffer the most and need my attention more than the others. And, once I get to know them, I realize how beautiful they have been all along, but my sin-blinded eyes couldn’t see that truth.

DSCF3148 2) The ones that are angry. If there is a child who lashes out in anger and frustration, they have good reason to do so. Trapped in a steel cage day after day, treated like an object, and seldom spoken to, they tend to be little vessels filled with hurt, loneliness, and rejection. If we were in their place, we would likely act the same way. It is often hard to earn their trust because their trust has been betrayed so often, but when you do, it is worth it. These little guys and girls are like sponges who are eager to soak up love once you break past their defenses. Plus I have come to realize that they are much like me before my Jesus broke through my defenses.

DSCF3125 3) The ones that will not initially respond. These are the ones that have shut down and simply stare into space. They may have cute faces, but their faces are blank and lifeless. They have received so little stimulation in their short lives that they no longer attempt to engage people with their eyes and expressions. They are in a coma-like trance, so people assume there is no one inside and walk right past. But there is someone there. Behind those blank expressions are seeds of life waiting to be nurtured and cultivated if someone is willing to take the time.

Now if I take these three criteria and apply it to the residents of Hermano Pedro I have narrowed down the need from 240 to about 150 to 170 people who are created in the image of God but are ignored and overlooked. So the need is still overwhelming for a team of 12. We need so much more help.

Lord, please awaken your church and light a fire in them to care for the unattractive, the angry, and the unresponsive. And please do it soon.

Mixed Feelings

Note: This blog was written on February 27th but not posted until March 1st due to internet connection problems.

As I type these words, I am flying over the Gulf of Mexico en route to Guatemala. Wanda and I are once again leading a team of 12 people to work with orphans and street children, and as always I can’t wait to get there.

Our time away from Guatemala is always difficult. We miss the children from Hermano Pedro and the other ministries so much. We are always concerned about the attention they receive (or don’t receive) when we are not there, and we find ourselves aching to hold them. So, as we begin another ministry trip I am exciting to see my kids and love them in person again.

But there is another feeling that is always present each time I return. It is fear. As I prepare to once again walk the wards of Hermano Pedro I am afraid of what I will find.

I am sure that Big Melvin has lost even more weight. Each time I see him he is thinner, and he is already a skin covered skeleton. I am  afraid to see how drugged Ervin will be. Dick has told me that the staff has upped his medication to keep him subdued and I don’t want to see this wonderful little guy in a drug induced stupor.  I am afraid to see Delmi. This often ignored and neglected girl becomes very withdrawn without loving attention, so I am afraid to see how long it will take for her to smile at me again.

And the list goes on...Louis, Gloria, David, Roberto, Diego, etc. What have that had to endure in the three months since I was last here? How much of life have they missed while imprisoned in at three by five foot cage?

But my excitement far outweighs my fear. And for the next nine days our team will love these kids with the love of Jesus. And they will have more of an impact on us that we will have on them. So we plunge in, with both excitement and fear as to what we will find.


Note: We have arrived in Guatemala and spent time at Hermano Pedro. One thing we did not expect was to find Louis not there. He has apparently not returned to HP after his time away and is still with his mother about 5 hours from here. The same is true of little Brenda. We are deeply concerned about their well-being. Please pray for Louis and Brenda.