Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Children and Challenges

Since my last update to this blog we have added two new children to our home. I want to take a moment to introduce them to you and then will give you further updates on our home and life in general.

SAM_3593On Monday our local judge appeared at our door. She wanted to visit our home and inform us that she was sending a child to us that afternoon. So, at around 1:00 pm Yenni showed up at our door. She is 11 years old and has been living with her grandmother and little brother for the last year. Her mother died about four years ago and her father passed away last year. Since then her grandmother has been struggling to take care of her.

Yenni has an undiagnosed syndrome that has caused both cognitive and physical delays. She is very assertive (and apparently undisciplined) so she has been a handful since her arrival. However, with each passing day we see her behavior improving. She has an infectious laugh, and our biggest challenge is trying not to smile when disciplining her. Even with her behavioral issues she is incredibly charming. But, for the moment, she requires lots of supervision.

Yenni arrived with a head-full of lice, but unlike Rafael we could not shave her head. So, Wanda and our staff have treated her twice for lice and are taking time to pick nits every day (there are hundreds of them and it takes hours and hours to completely clear her head of the eggs). We take lice very seriously because if it comes into our home it will be a nightmare to get rid of it.

Just a few hours after she arrived Yenni had a massive grand mal seizure that left her unconscious for 15 minutes. We called our doctor who is contracted to work with our home and he came immediately to our door. He examined her and prescribed anti-seizure meds until we can get her examined by a neurologist.

SAM_3601We had no sooner completed her registration into our home when a judge from Guatemala City called asking us if we would accept an emergency placement of a girl with cerebral palsy. We told them that we would receive her as long as they would bring her to our home. (My 4-Runner is still down for repairs and the van was in use.) So, at around 7:30 that evening Alejandra entered our home.

There is no way you can meet Alejandra and not fall in love with her. She is a happy child with a beautiful smile. She loves the attention she is receiving in our home and soaks it up like a sponge. She has some hand usage and will spend hours playing catch with us. Like Yenni, her laugh is infectious and fills our home. We have yet to hear her cry.

She also came to her home filthy and desperately in need of a bath. But, thankfully, she had no lice.

One of the heart-breaking moments of the day came along with Alejandra. The social worker who delivered her to our home also had a van full of children that were being taken to different orphanages. She apologetically explained that none of them had eaten supper and wondered if we could give them some cookies or crackers. My beautiful bride, Wanda, would never settle for giving hungry children a few cookies, so before I knew it we had a table full of children feasting on soup and french bread.

The hard part of this story is where these children were heading. You see, orphanages in Guatemala are crowded and there are very few decent places to put them. As a result, they were being sent to three different crowded, state-run orphanages, two of which have 300 children and the other has 700. Among the children who ate with us that evening was a young 15 year old mother and her young daughter(about 18 months old). The mother was sexually molested by a family member and got pregnant at age 12. This young lady was being taken to one orphanage and her child was being taken to another. She was not yet aware that she was losing her daughter.

I cannot describe how badly I wanted to just throw open our doors and have them all stay with us. But I know that our call is to children with special needs (whose circumstances are even worse than these). So as they left later that evening we wiped some tears and prayed for them.

SAM_3638It has been remarkable seeing the changes in Rafael, Yenny and Alejandra in the short time that they have been with us. Each day brings challenges, but also confirmation that we are doing what God wants. Rafael is becoming more interactive and communicative. Jenny is learning to use a quiet voice and extend basic courtesies. She is also becoming more curious and seems to learn quickly. Alejandra is soaking up the attention and trying new tasks for herself, including some basic sign language that Brittney has been teaching her. We are seeing God’s healing flowing into each of them in significant ways.

IMG_2032[1]At the same time, our home has become an exercise in controlled chaos. Wanda and Carissa have done a fantastic job of establishing structure and organization, and Kristin and Kathlyn Beyer, Emilee Stagnaro, Emily Abner and Aura have been doing fantastic work in the home and with the children. But even with all their excellent teamwork we are still facing major adjustments in schedules and the accompanying kinks that come with them. We are now adding a doctor, social worker, psychologist and physical therapist to our schedule and they are all coming and going with regularity. Meanwhile we have added medicine charts, stretches, exercises, appointments, diaper changing, developmental activities and much more to our lives. Plus I still have much to learn about effectively managing our growing staff (pictured above during a training session). And yet, somehow, it is all good.

Our days are longer than ever now, and we end them exhausted. But even as our lives and schedules are so very full, so are our hearts. This is why God has put us here, and it is good to be living life to the max.

There are a couple of ways that you could help us if God should so lead you. First, you could pray for us through these days of massive transition. Our home will likely continue to fill rapidly, so the changes have just begun. Please pray that God gives us unity and good teamwork and that He fills our home with His presence and power. And please pray for Rafael, Yenni and Alejandra that God will continue to bring healing to their lives.

Also, would you prayerfully consider sponsoring Rafael, Yenni or Alejandra? (Rafael already has a sponsor for 1/3 of his needs.) The expenses of doctors, medicine, physical therapy and the required psychologist and social worker are not small. We estimate all of these things to cost around $150 per child each month. So if you are willing to sponsor one of them for whatever amount you can, it would be greatly appreciated. If you are interested, please write me at

That’s all for now! Blessings from the chaos!


Friday, August 23, 2013

Our First Child!

IMG_2011Yesterday Hogar de la Esperanza welcomed our first child. Rafael is seven years old and has cerebral palsy. Our ministry has been working with him and his family for around 18 months, providing food and medicine for them, so he is not a stranger to us at all.

I have carried a huge burden for Rafael because his home situation has not been good. His father abandoned his mother when he was a baby, and he has been living with his mom, grandmother and older sister in a dark and dirty home. He spent most of his time lying in his crib and the back of his head is misshapen as a result. Each time we visited him he was dirty and smelly and I wondered what he could achieve with love, attention and some education and therapy.

So, when our home received authorization we approached his mom to ask if she would like to place him in our home. We brought them to our house and let them see the place and his mother immediately agreed. So yesterday she went to PGN with Rafael’s paperwork and a letter from us stating that we would take him into our home, and everything went quickly from there. Yesterday afternoon we drove to the court and brought him home.

IMG_2014The first thing we had to do was clean him up. He was infested with lice and filthy and smelly. Add to all of this his malnourishment and you get the picture. We gave him a short haircut, lice treatment, two baths, trimmed his nails, and fed him a nourishing supper. We also took him to our doctor to treat a rash and an infected ingrown toenail (which is going to require surgery).

Last night we just spent time holding and loving on him. As I held him for about 30 minutes, he seizured three times, so we will be taking him to a neurologist next week for testing and medication to control these.

In addition to Rafael, there are two other children who will likely be added to our home soon (in the next week or two) and several courts that are working to place children with us. So, our home will be filling up quickly. Please pray for us through this transition.

IMG_2028Last night as Wanda and I were laying down in bed, I turned to her and said, “Well, we made it…to the beginning!” After all the work we have done to get to this point, we have to keep reminding ourselves that the work and this ministry are only just getting started. I am thankful for my Jesus that has walked with us through each step and who promises to stay close in the days ahead.

Blessing from Guate!


Monday, August 19, 2013


burning-churchThe other day I had a fellow Christian tell me, “Go easy on the church. It’s the only one we’ve got.” I had to smile when he said it, because I understand his meaning. At times, I can be very critical of the American church, to the point of making some wince. I am very outspoken about the materialism, self-centeredness and shallow discipleship that frequently characterizes churches in the US. So, allow me a moment to clarify with the following points:

  1. I speak as a part of the problem. – For almost 20 years I served in leadership positions in Stateside churches, first as a youth pastor and later as a church planter and pastor. It breaks my heart to say it, but during much of that time I modeled the very characteristics I now despise. I was frequently self-centered, materialistic and shallow in my discipleship. As a result, the churches under my care were as well. I wince when I think back on the missed opportunities of those years and wish that I could have a “do-over.” If I was given that chance, things would be very different. But, since that is never going to happen, I can only change the present and the future. I have learned (and continue to learn) from my sin and desperately want others to learn those same lessons sooner rather than later.
  2. I love the church! – I believe the church of Jesus Christ holds the hope of the world. I believe that within it lies the capacity to change the world, both physically and spiritually. I recognize that since the church is filled with imperfect people, such as myself, it will never be perfect in this life. I do believe, however, that it can do and be much better. And because I love it and bear part of the responsibility for its current state, I feel a passionate desire to call it back to the biblical standards of discipleship and stewardship. Sometimes I do it loudly with fire in my eyes, but I do it out of love.
  3. I speak not of the church specific, but of the church in general. – As I write and speak about the failures of the church I am not talking about every body of believers. I know that there are good congregations that do not fit into the stereotypical churches with a 2% conversion rate and 8-10% giving to missions. I know that there are missional churches in the US that are filled with disciples who lay down their lives and their pocketbooks for the sake of Jesus and His kingdom. I praise God for them and pray that their numbers will increase. However, when you look US churches AS A WHOLE the numbers and reality are discouraging. Instead of growing through the making of new disciples and influencing the culture around us, we are diminishing is size and impact. A few churches buck this trend, but the large majority are living examples of the decline and the unbiblical priorities that have caused it.
  4. Serious conditions require drastic responses. – If your doctor realizes that you have cancer, what response would you want from him? Should he give you a pat on the shoulder and some ibuprofen and tell you everything will be fine? Or would you want him to be honest and lay out a plan for aggressive treatment? As I speak with most people regarding the state of the church, the general consensus is that everything is, overall, good. Sure, we could use some work in a few areas, but everything will be fine. Every time I have those kinds of conversations my mind goes to another church which felt the same:

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

- Revelation 3:14-19

Those are hard words. In fact, some might be tempted to say that the speaker (Jesus) didn’t love the church in Laodicea because He spoke so harshly. But nothing could be further from the truth. He saw the cancer in his bride and He addressed it.

If we truly love the church we have to be honest about the cancer that exists within it. We have to recognize that we have allowed the culture that surrounds us to shape it more than Scripture. We have to look, not to the cultural understanding of what the church should be, but to the Word of God to determine our true condition and then allow God to do the work required to conform us into His image. In many case, I believe this will require a tear-down and rebuild, but the results will be worth it.

It is so easy for us to divorce ourselves from the church and speak of it in third-person. But, in reality, we are the church. So, as we seek to address the cancer in the church we must start with ourselves and our own families. Are we modeling true discipleship and biblical stewardship, or are we living the American interpretation of those things? If the entire church was a macrocosm of our lives and priorities would it be healthy, caring about the things for which God cares? If not, let’s start in our own hearts and own homes and let it spread from there.

Okay, that’s enough! Thanks for letting me clarify and share my heart!

Blessings from Guate!


Friday, August 16, 2013


SAM_3526As I shared in my last blog, our group home is now officially licensed. As a a result, the calls are coming in seeking placement for children with special needs. On the day we received the resolution back from CNA we were called about two children needing a home. Since then we have received two additional calls and have gone to visit one of the children awaiting placement with another child to visit on Monday.

Whenever we receive a call from another group home, we have to visit the child, ask to see his/her paperwork, and determine if they are a good fit for our home. While our official license states that we are equipped to accept children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and down syndrome, we are better equipped to care for most special needs than the typical orphanage here. Our ministry works with all types of special needs, and we have been told by CNA  that we are not limited in the disabilities we can accept.

On Wednesday we went with our Social Worker, Edy Tum, to visit some of the local judges and courts to introduce our home to them and show that we are a safe place for children. In each place we were greeted enthusiastically. We are the first ministry licensed to care for children with special needs in quite a long time, and the only one within the department of Sacatapequez. So, it appears our home will fill-up quickly. Therefore, we are trying to discern which children can most benefit from our home and care.

IMG_1962In addition to the children about which we have been called, we are also visiting with two other children whose families are unable to take care of them. One is Rafael, who is one of the sponsored children in our ministry. His mother and grandmother are unable to provide the care he needs, and he spends most of his time in their cramped home in a small crib. We have spoken with his mother and she is coming to our home tomorrow for a tour and to make her final decision. If she agrees, she will sign the necessary papers to allow the courts to place him in our home.

IMG_1272The same is true for Jenny, a little girl who was orphaned last year when her father passed away. (Her mother died 4 years ago.) Currently her grandmother is caring for her, but she no longer feels able to deal with Jenny’s special needs. So, we are hoping that Jenny will be a part of our home soon. Her grandmother lives right here in San Antonio, so this would enable her and Jenny’s little brother to visit her regularly. Please pray about these situations. Ask God to guide the right children into our home.

SAM_3524Over the last 16 months I have fretted and complained to God about the slowness of our licensing process. I cannot tell you how frustrated I have been as we experienced delay after delay. But looking back I now see (Surprise!) that God’s timing is perfect. Because of those delays Wanda and I were able to enjoy a wonderful time away celebrating our 25th anniversary before facing the increased work-load that the group home will demand. In addition, two wonderful young ladies, Emily Abner and Emily Stagnaro, came to us on Saturday as a part of the current team. When the rest of the team departs tomorrow they will be staying behind for the next nine months to serve with us. Their presence as volunteers will enable us to delay the hiring of additional staff and save money during a time that money is tight. God’s timing is, indeed, perfect.

SAM_3523Meanwhile, the rest of our ministry here is hopping. Currently we have the last team of the summer season with us, and they will be flying out tomorrow. We welcome teams year-round, but during the rest of the year they tend to be much fewer and far between.

April Clark has done a fantastic job this year of overseeing our teams. She has handled all the communication, scheduling and leadership in this area of our ministry and that has been a HUGE blessing to our ministry and me personally. Due, in large part, to her oversight, we had the best team season ever this summer. Even in the midst of our growing pains and learning to work together she kept things running smoothly and efficiently.

As a result, we have decided to up the volume of teams we accept each year. Since I am now able to step away from much of the hands-on work with the groups and focus on other areas of ministry, we can handle more groups. We are passionate about short-term service trips because we believe they open the eyes of believers and the church to the world around them and motivate them to live missionally. In the next year we hope to double our number of teams from around 12 – 14 a year to around 24. So, if you would like to put together a team for your family, church, or youth group, please write to April at

In the last month we have done our normal visits with families while also delivering seven new wheelchairs to children and adults. This is my favorite part of this ministry as we see people gain a new element of freedom. Four weeks ago we delivered wheelchairs to two adult siblings who had been unable to leave their home for years. When we visited them yesterday, they were thrilled to tell us that every day they get to go outside now that they have chairs. Their family was even able to take them to a local soccer game last week, and they were still beaming about it. It is amazing what a simple wheelchair can do to change a life.


One area in which we need prayer is for our vehicle situation. I am currently shopping for a new 4-wheel drive vehicle as I can no longer put off the purchase. (A special donation designated toward this purchase will cover the cost.) Please pray that God will lead us to the right truck quickly as my 4-Runner is gasping what may be its last breaths. Meanwhile, we are seeking God for His provision for a second van as we are out of passenger space and have not even received our first child. Please join us in praying for God’s provision in that area. (And you might want to pray for additional parking space as well!)

That is all for now. As the children begin arriving in our home I will take the time to introduce them to you here.

Blessings from Guate!


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Big News!!! (At last!)

I realize it has been a while since my last blog update. I apologize, but everything seems to happen at once, and I have been trying to keep up with life and ministry. So, without further ado...

Our group home, Hogar de la Esperanza has been licensed!!! After over 2 1/2 years on the ground, piles and piles of paperwork, and more meetings than I care to count, we have finally received authorization! As I understand it, we are only the 24th home in Guatemala to receive full authorization, and many of the homes that are currently operating have not yet been authorized but are simply allowed to continue as they work on the process. Our success in this goal is largely due to the work of our social worker, Edy Tum, who has guided us step-by-step through the process and fought constantly on our behalf.

In the next few weeks we will be meeting judges to introduce ourselves and our home, and the placements should begin as we receive children with special needs through the courts. So, now the real work begins. As mentioned before, as of this month our operating budget increases by around $1000 a month as the psychologist and case worker come on staff and our medical and food expenses increases. Please pray with us for God to provide.

God's timing for the licensing was perfect as it enabled Wanda and I to celebrate our 25th anniversary in style before the opening of our group home. Last week we splurged on a very nice motel suite in Guatemala City for three nights and enjoyed some nice meals, swimming and a wonderful time together. God has taught us to be thrifty with our resources over the years, but this time it just felt like God was blessing the splurge. It was so nice celebrating our relationship and the journey on which God has taken us over the last 25 years. We would have been terrified had we known what we were facing ahead as we stood at the altar on July 23, 1988, but looking back now we wouldn't change a thing.

Speaking of changing things, it appears that it is time to change vehicles as my faithful 4-Runner seems ready to be put out to pasture. The years of hard miles have taken their toll and its aches and pains seem to be overwhelming its ability to function. It is still a good vehicle for gentler driving, but needs a retirement from the rural and hard roads to which I have subjected her. In addition, we simply need a vehicle with more cargo space. On a recent trip to Las Palmas, La Gomera and Sipacate we were fully loaded down both inside and out as we carried food baskets, diapers, medicine and three wheelchairs. Our ministry will be receiving a donation to cover the cost of a vehicle upgrade minus the projected profit we will receive through the sale of the 4-Runner, so we are currently shopping for a 4-door pick-up truck. We are looking for a used 4-wheel drive diesel as the cost of diesel fuel is cheaper here and it would get better fuel efficiency with more power. We expect such a purchase to save us around $1500-2000 in fuel cost each year.

One of the reasons for the need for more cargo area is our increase in new families with which we work. With each passing month we are fitting more wheelchairs, delivering more food and supplies, and transporting more people. On Friday we delivered four wheelchairs to some folks who desperately needed them. It is not easy fitting all those chairs in a 4-Runner, but the smiles on the faces were worth it all (and then some).

One of the children who recieved a wheelchair is Maria Jose. Her family fishes for a living, and they wanted to share what they had with us in gratitude for our help. So they prepared a wonderful seafood lunch for us that rivaled the best restaurant I have encountered. Fish, shrimp, crab, ceviches...we were stuffed "to the gills" and enjoyed the incredible company of a wonderful family. So often we seek to bless families but usually end up being more blessed by them.

As I write this blog I am sitting outside my hotel room in San Pablo La Laguna. We have had a long day as we traveled up and visited with six families. One of the families we visited was little Michael and his mom, Juana. This handsome three year old has Down Syndrome and his single mother struggles to provide for them. We have been providing some food and the bus fare for her to take Michael to therapy, thanks to a generous sponsor in the States. Today we were able to deliver a special treat for them...a real bed! Until now, they have been sleeping on a crib mattress that they place on their dirt floor each night. This is a challenge that becomes even more difficult during rainy season as their floors often turn to mud. For the first time, they will sleep on a real bed tonight thanks to another generous sponsor in the States. As we carried the bed in Juana began to cry. She told us, through our Tzutujil translator, Michel, that she was overwhelmed with gratitude because no one had cared for them before. As we told her about the sponsor in the US her tear increased and she asked us repeatedly to tell them "Thank you!"

The longer I live here and do this ministry the more I realize the difference a few dollars can make. The cost of a simple meal at McDonalds for a family of five each month can literal save and change lives. And the more I see that lived out in front of me, the more grateful I am for all of you who pray and give to make this ministry a reality. Many of you are making real sacrifices to support this work because you realize how much God loves the whole world, not just your little world. For that, I thank you...from the bottom of my heart!

Blessings from San Pablo La Laguna!