Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas in Guatemala

DSCF5063I am taking some time off to rest and enjoy the holidays with my family, but I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about our first Christmas in Guatemala. While this year has been very different for us, it has also been one of our best Christmases ever as it has fulfilled a dream for us.

Some of the differences this year are as follows:

  1. Temperatures in the mid to upper 70’s (No need to check the forecast for a white Christmas)
  2. But the song “White Christmas” playing in Spanish from the local Catholic church
  3. Christmas shopping in Guatemala City (Not a pleasant experience)
  4. No traveling to visit family (We miss the family, but not the driving)
  5. Fireworks, lots of fireworks

Christmas here begins at midnight on Christmas Eve as people set off fireworks. We stood on our roof and watched the show as they were shot off from all over the community. Imagine a 4th of July grand finale that lasts for 20 minutes, only this one covered an entire town. It is the Guatemalan way of welcoming Christmas and is quite awe-inspiring.

Many families then go door-to-door bringing food and greeting their neighbors and then return home to open presents. Our family, however, decided to go to bed.

DSCF5020The next morning our family arose early and started our day as we always do, with the story of Simeon from the book of Luke. This tradition started when Brittney, Krishauna and Carissa were very young and has continued. We then opened presents and had a great time together.

DSCF5075At around 9:30 am, Dick Rutgers, Pat Duff and Dave Black showed up with four of the kids from Hermano Pedro. Dick had checked out Louis Andres, Julio, Carlitos and Leonel to spend the day with us. This was, by far, the high point of our Christmas! To see these kids celebrate Christmas in a real home and receive presents along with a home cooked meal made our entire move to Guatemala worthwhile. Several times I found myself overwhelmed with emotion as I looked around our home and saw the smiles on the kids faces.

We opened presents and enjoyed a wonderful meal prepared by Wanda. Somehow we were able to move the furniture in our living room and put two large tables together and fit everyone around them. Everyone enjoyed the food. Brittney was even able to get Leonel, who will not eat and is on a feeding tube, to eat six good bites of cheddar mashed potatoes.

The afternoon was spent playing and, all too soon, it was time to take the kids back to HP. Once again, I was overcome with emotions. This time it was because I looked around and realized how many more children there were who spent the day in the wards. I have a dream of seeing more and more families who live here and work in HP open their homes to the children and adults who reside there for Christmas each year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some day every ward was empty and the nurses could take the day off?

I want to thank each and every one of you who pray for us, support our ministry, and enable us to be here. It is the greatest privilege we have ever known.

There are more pictures below. Have a very happy New Year!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew


Friday, December 23, 2011

A Thought for Christmas

I should be sleeping now, but my mind is preoccupied. All evening long I have been contemplating the Christmas story and one person’s role within it. Namely, Joseph. When you stop and think about it, he was a pretty remarkable guy.

I think our familiarity with the story (along with the commonness of modern day promiscuity) has blinded our eyes to the drama of it all. An unmarried teenager from an upstanding and spiritually faithful family turns up pregnant. Can you picture the scandal of that for Mary and her household? Everywhere she, her parents or her siblings walked they were followed by condemning eyes and accusing whispers. Former friends distanced themselves, shopkeepers gossiped and we don’t even want to think about what it must have been like for them to walk into the synagogue in Nazareth.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for that poor teenager, Mary. But, at least you can make the point that she had no choice. It was thrust upon her by God, Himself, and she seems to bear up willingly and with a faithful heart.

But Joseph falls into a different category. His situation was far different than Mary’s in one key area…he could have walked away. I mean, after all, it wasn’t his baby. Even after it was revealed to him that the child was from God, he was under no obligation to hang around. But he did. We are told that, after a visit from an angel, “he took Mary home as his wife.”

It is easy to breeze right past that little nugget and not even notice it, but this is incredible. By making that decision, Joseph not only chose to honor his betrothal to Mary, but he chose to accept Jesus as his own son. And, in so doing, he implicated himself in the whole baby-making process. This man who seemed to consistently do the right thing suddenly became the guy who got his girlfriend pregnant, thus immersing himself as a key player in the scandal. Overnight, he became the guy that everyone thought had done the wrong thing simply because he did the right thing.

And that has me thinking, would I make the same decision as Joseph? Would I be willing to do the right thing even if it meant that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) would think I had done the wrong thing? Or is the opinion of others too important to me? Would I be willing to let everyone think that I had blatantly sinned and be content with knowing that God knows the truth?

I hope so, but I wonder. I can be so hung up at times on what others think. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a follower and I have no problem going against the flow when I think I am right. But I have a handful (okay, a large handful) of people whom I respect and want them to respect me as well. And I find myself wondering if I would be willing to sacrifice their respect and friendship in order to simple obey God and do the right thing. Would I be okay standing solely in the approval of One? I want to be a Joseph kind of guy. I really do.

In light of Joseph’s story, I also thought about the child who caused the scandal…Jesus. About 33 years later He found Himself condemned, beaten, and nailed to a cross for doing the rightest thing that anyone has ever or could ever do. He was accused of being an ego-maniac, even as He made the most selfless sacrifice in human history. He was accused of being a cult leader, even while leading people back to the only true faith. And He was accused of being a liar, even though He was the Standard of Truth wrapped in human flesh. And, long before He stepped from eternity into human time, He knew that would be the response.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the fact that He chose to make that step anyway. And, in so doing, has given us the opportunity to know Him and, through that relationship, become the kind of people who will live for the approval of One and only One. Lord, help this to become true in me.

Merry Christmas!

Daryl, Wanda, Brittney, Krishauna, Teisha, Carissa, Taryn, Jeremiah, Joshua, Kimmie and Jonathan

Christmas Card 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pilar Passed Away

CIMG5778We just received a call informing us that Pilar passed away a few hours ago. You may remember the she was an elderly lady that we found in Las Palmas who was very malnourished. We have been providing Ensure for her and visiting regularly with her and her family.

Two visits ago I realized that she was declining, so I shared the gospel with her through Gerardo. She assured us that she knew Jesus personally and looked forward to seeing him. I told her that soon her suffering would be over and she would never be sick again. I remember her smile upon hearing those words.

Last month when I saw her she had deteriorated badly. She had an intestinal blockage and had a severely swollen abdomen. Her family asked if we could help them pay for surgery. As hard as it was to tell them no, I had to. Such a surgery would have cost $3,000-5,000. In a pinch, we could have raised the funds, but in a country with no health insurance and no medical safety net, we have to prioritize our resources. She was very elderly and weak, and even if we could have provided surgery that would have saved her from this crisis, she would have died soon. We have to use the little money we have wisely and in such a way to make the most impact. So, when I said goodbye I realized that it would likely be the last time I saw her.

Even as I read over what I just typed, I realize how horrible it sounds. It makes is seem as if I don’t value the elderly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pilar was my friend. She was sweet, kind, and had a beautiful smile and incredible stories to tell. I will miss her greatly. I have spent much time questioning my decision to say no, and after this news I will likely lose some sleep tonight and in the coming days questioning it more.

For now, I take comfort in knowing that, whether my decision was right or wrong, Pilar is with her Jesus in a place where there is no malnutrition and illness. I am confident that she is dancing with Him tonight. And I bet it isn’t just slow dancing, either.

We were scheduled to head back to Las Palmas to visit with her and several others tomorrow. We will be taking flowers and grieving with her family. Please pray for all those who loved her deeply.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Very Special Praise for God’s Protection

DSCF8635I have a major praise to share. I broke a tie rod in my 4-Runner! What? That doesn’t sound like a praise to you? It is, and let me explain why.

Over the last seven months I have driven that vehicle thousands of miles with many of those miles being over extremely rough and remote roads. It has been pounded by rocks and ruts and crossed dozens of streams. Some of the miles have been in the mountains with treacherous curves and no guardrails separating us from steep edges. During the far majority of these travel times, the breaking of a tie rod would have been catastrophic, resulting in serious injury or loss of life. In many cases, even if I had avoided an accident, I would have been left stranded for hours (or even overnight) with a long walk or wait for someone who could help.

DSCF8636Yet with all these possibilities and rough miles, the tie rod in my vehicle snapped AS I WAS BACKING OUT OF OUR COURTYARD. I heard a loud pop and suddenly realized that I had no steering. So, I pulled forward a few feet, put it in park, and took the van instead. I have called my mechanic, Ali, who is coming to my home on Monday to make the repairs. While he is here I am going to have him check out the rest of the suspension and steering to look for other potential problem spots. Not only did God help me realize that there was a serious problem, but he did in in a way that created almost no inconvenience.

For our rural village ministry we pray several things:

  1. That Jesus will receive all the glory and that we will receive none
  2. That we will share Jesus boldly and with sensitivity to the movement of the Spirit
  3. That God would guard us from those who would do evil to prevent His work
  4. That God will protect us as we travel, keeping us free from accidents and breakdowns

This last request was answered yesterday right here in our courtyard.

To all of you who pray regularly for us, I want to say a very heart-felt “Thank you!” Your prayers are being heard and answered.

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Friday, December 9, 2011

Road Trip to Peten

DSCF8550Last Friday my beautiful bride celebrated her 45th birthday with gifts and cake. All during that day I kept thinking how glad I was that she had robbed the cradle and married a younger man. I don’t know why she didn’t take that as a compliment when I mentioned it to her. Seriously, I am so grateful for such a wonderful wife who somehow manages to love me and get more beautiful with each passing year.

DSCF8592Earlier in the week I was able to get a new wheelchair to Joel in San Antonio. His old chair was starting to fall apart and was not a good fit for his needs. The Ecklebargers had brought a wheelchair when they moved from the States that they no longer needed, so they donated it to the cause. I spent about two hours making repairs and adjustments, and it was a perfect fit for him. He beamed as he sat in it for the first time.

DSCF8519Since Gerardo began working for Hogar de la Esperanza full-time, he has been such a blessing to me. He has been doing a wonderful job of checking in with families and doing much needed work. He has turned our ministry into a much more personal outreach as he is able to visit families several times a month instead of my normal once a month drop-ins.

DSCF8634His help has also freed me up to spend valuable time in my office getting better organized. As our ministry has grown, it has become increasingly difficult to track families and needs and to make sure that the appropriate follow-up is done. So, last week I was able to spend two full days organizing a database that enables me to track families by towns, needs, or dates. I was also able to clear about a three-inch stack of work from my desk.

Another benefit is that Gerardo has managed to find a doctor in our town, Dr. Agusto, who will treat the special needs children that we send to him for free. In addition, he is willing to give any samples he has to our children for free, saving us a lot of money on prescriptions. Finally, he has also agreed to treat any non-special needs person we send to him for half-price (Q.45 instead of Q.90). I am so thankful to this doctor and to Gerardo who found him for us.

IMG00503-20110616-0838You have heard me talk about Kids Against Hunger and their food packets numerous time on this blog. Over the last several months I have been rationing those packet carefully as we were almost out. This past summer Dr. Coral Matus and her family came down and spent a week with us. During that time she mentioned that they had started a KAH branch in Toledo, OH and were sending shipments into Peten. She readily agreed to share those packets with us, but it has taken us some time to put together the details and arrange the trip to pick them up. Early this week, we finally managed to do it.

IMG00111-20111205-1434On Monday morning bright and early Gerardo, Jeremiah and I picked up Dick Rutgers and started on what I thought would be about an 8 hour trip to Peten. Just over 11 hours later we finally arrived. The trip was only 350 miles according to my GPS, but that same unit also let me know that our average moving speed was only 34 mph. Driving in Guatemala is not like driving in Ohio at all.

IMG00105-20111205-1004Along the way we stopped in to visit Marta. You may remember that I wrote about her in my last blog, but I called her Maria there. It seems I have trouble reading my own writing at times. She has a nasty ulcerated sore on her left leg that she has had for 20 years. Dick had seen the photo in my blog and knew exactly what it was. He had a special wrap that is used to treat it and donated it to the cause. When we arrived she told us that she had seen the doctor who had prescribed two kinds of antibiotic. As a result, her wound was looking better. The bad smell was gone and it was no longer oozing green. Dick cleaned and wrapped it and she told us it felt better. I will be checking back in with her next week.

By the time we arrived in Flores we were all exhausted, but were very happy to find a motel that had a grand slam of services (a clean room, air conditioner AND hot water)! And the cost was only Q.100 (about $12.50) per person. We checked in, took a brief break and headed to meet Coral and her team and pick up the food.

IMG00117-20111206-0735We met them at the Nazarene Church District Headquarters in Santa Elena and began loading KAH food packets. I had expected to receive 30 boxes, but when we hit that amount we were told to keep loading. I was thrilled. When we hit 40, they again told us to keep loading. We finally insisted that we take no more at 50, and I had tears in my eyes. These 50 boxes represented 1,800 packets of food or 10,800 meals. In dollars, this is $2,700 worth of food. I was overwhelmed by what this would mean to our needy families. I am so grateful to Kids Against Hunger, Coral and her ministry, Sew Hope!

Afterwards, their generosity continued as they treated us to supper at a local restaurant. They had brought a team that included Coral, a doctor, Gary, a pediatrician, and Jenny, a nurse, and have been running a clinic in Peten all this week. Their ministry is a real blessing to the region, and it was great to spend some time with them.

We finally returned to the motel, showered, and hit the sack at almost 11:00 pm that night. We slept peacefully to the sound of Dick’s coughing and snoring that reminded me of a slaughter house and rose early to hit the road again.

IMG00119-20111206-1141On the way home we stopped by to visit some friends of Dick, Mike and Karen Rhea. It only took about three minutes before I considered them my friends as well. They run a ministry in Rio Dulce called Rancho Esperanza (Hope Ranch) that takes in children and teens that have been emotionally or physically abused. They are somewhat isolated (about 5 hours north of Guatemala City), so it is difficult to attract teams to help. Most groups do not want to spend so much time traveling once they arrive on the ground, so they get overlooked in favor of other ministries.

However, their ministry is worthy of support. They are making an incredible difference in the lives of these children and teens and they desire to expand their work in the name of Jesus. They are currently praying for house parents who would come work with them and enable them to open another home (already partially completed) on their property. They also hope to open a school and a clinic, so they need medical workers and teachers. And, like all ministries, they need additional funding. Would you prayerfully consider if God might have you come and work with them, either as a short-term or long-term worker or if he would have you support them financially. Click here to visit their Web site and learn more.

After that we finished our journey, which included an encounter with a speed bump at which I attempted to fly and our battle with rush hour traffic in Guatemala City. I think we all slept well after spending 22 out of 36 hours traveling.

That’s all for now! Blessings from San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew