Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Since moving to Guatemala our lives have become a lot dirtier. One of the things that we find ourselves laughing about is how germ-a-phobic the typical American is and how one must surrender those fears if they are going to survive in Guatemala. As I have worked in rural village ministry over the last 2 1/2 years I have crawled in mud, drank contaminated water, and eaten food that made me sick. I have had dirty children’s hands stroke my face and have been peed, pooped and puked on more times than I would care to count. This dirty existence has been a part of my life as I have gone out into other people’s homes.

IMG_2014Recently, however, we have gone through a transition. As we have opened our group home we have found that we don’t have to go out to get dirty, because the dirt has come to us. As we have brought in these wonderful eight children, we have dealt with the following:

  1. Lice
  2. Super lice (resistant to the strongest of lice shampoo)
  3. Scabies
  4. Mites
  5. Gallons of drool
  6. Lots and lots of pee and poop

SAM_4218I personally spent a large part of yesterday in a dermatologist’s office with a family member getting treatment for mites and learning how to eradicate them completely from our household. (Fortunately, it is not hard to treat and get rid of this type.) When I finally returned home I was greeted by Brayan (age 12 with cognitive delays) who proceeded to pee and defacate his pants in copious amounts. So, I spent a half hour helping him get cleaned up and showered, followed by another 15 minutes trying to get myself clean.

Simply put, our lives are dirty by choice. Don’t get me wrong, we face these sanitary issues vigorously. We treat lice, scabies and mites quickly and fiercely until not a single nit or mite remains. We sterilize bedding, spray furniture, bag toys and pillows, pick nits and declare war on these invading forces. We purchase anti bacterial wipes and soap in bulk. But we have learned that life and ministry can, and should, be dirty.

SAM_3636Face it, we could clean up our lives real quickly if we were to leave behind this ministry. We could live in a much more sterile environment if we would keep these little ones out. Or, we could continue to take them in but do so at an arm’s length. I will admit, when the courts bring a child to our door it can be tempting not to embrace them until their head has been checked and treated and rashes have been examined and cleared. But when they come to us, the last thing they need is a clinical exam. The first thing they need is love. So we hold them, hug them and sit them on our laps, even if they are still wet with urine and stink from days without a bath. As a result, we get dirty.

NativityAs we approach Christmas, I have been thinking a lot about the dirtiness of ministry. Why? Because Jesus knows what it means to get dirty in order to love. After all, that really is what Christmas is all about. Jesus left heaven and came as a urinating, defecating and drooling infant. And when He was born He was not laid in a sterile hospital bed, but in an animal feed trough, surrounded by the stench of manure. Can you imagine the parasites and bacteria that surrounded him as he lay on his birth bed? His first visitors were shepherds who were not welcome in most places because of their smell. He made His entrance into our fallen world in the dirtiest of locales to the dirtiest of people.

This was a foreshadowing of His life. As he grew and began to minister, we see a man/God who walked into the mire of this sinful world in order to lead people out. He broke the spiritual cleanliness laws of the Pharisees over and over again. He touched the dead and the leprous. He walked through Samaria and spoke and socialized with Samaritans. He went to parties hosted by tax collectors and seemed more at home among the lost sheep of prostitutes and thieves than among the the ruling religious class of His day. He wore the accusation “friend of sinners” as a welcomed title. Jesus walked right into the filth of both humanity and its sin in order to love, serve and save. And it all began in a dirty manger.

DirtyHandsLoving and serving people in this fallen world is not a sterile undertaking. It is messy, even filthy, at times. We cannot remain in sterile churches singing praise choruses and waiting for those outside to clean-up and come to us. And, face it, if they come before they are clean they are, too often, rejected. That is not love and ministry as God modeled it. If we are to reach a dying world we cannot shy away from disease and dirt. We cannot run away from sin and its effects. We cannot stand at a distance while shaking our heads at things like drugs, prostitution, abuse, dysfunction, alcoholism and abortion. We have to run toward them and wade into the lives of those held captive. We have to get dirty as we embrace them, love them and lead them to freedom. And any church that tells us to do otherwise is not preaching the true Gospel.

(Before you write me to correct my theology, let me clarify…when I say “get dirty” I am not speaking of indulging in sin. Obviously, God’s Word teaches that we are to be holy as God is holy, so I would never encourage anyone in sinning. I am speaking of the messiness that comes from engaging and loving those ensnared by sin and brokenness. And I am speaking against the false theology of churches that promote isolationism of both the church and believers from the very sinners we are called to reach. Like Jesus, we should also be called “a friend of sinners” and wear that accusation of the religious as a welcomed title.)

We are Christians (little Christs) and are to walk in His steps. So, if we really want to honor Him this Christmas we should wade out of the safety of our churches and into the messiness of this world in order to help others see and know Him. After all, that is exactly what He did for us.

This has been just a few ponderings from the midst of this very dirty ministry. Blessings from Guatemala as you get dirty for the One who got dirty for you!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Obstacles and Fears

Why do we do this ministry? There have been quite a few people who have asked me that question. It has been asked by both Guatemalans and Americans and is usually stated with a look of confusion. I have been planning to answer that question in this blog for some time, but I am only now finding a chance to do so. So, here goes…

IMG_2334To best answer this question I want to help you step into the lives of a Guatemalan family that has a child with special needs. Maricio and Lydia are a young couple that lives in a remote village in Guatemala and they are starting out their lives together. Recently married, they don’t have much money and struggle to make ends meet. Maricio works 10 hour days on a local avocado plantation when they have work for him, but his pay is very low and work is infrequent. Lydia contributes by weaving fans that are used to start fires and selling them in the local market. Together, their income is about Q800.00 ($102.00 US) each month.

When they found out that they were expecting a baby they were both excited and scared. It was difficult enough to feed themselves, and now the task will get more difficult with another mouth to feed and another body to clothe. But, as usual, the excitement overcomes the fear and the father begins to look for other work he can do when the avocado plantation has no work for him. He begins doing odd jobs and they see their income increase to about $120.00 a month. That should help.

Their daughter, Maria, is born six weeks early, but she seems healthy. She is tiny, but begins to grow and they believe everything is fine. However, at five months her mother begins to notice that she is not developing at the same rate as her nephew who lives nearby. She is still not lifting her head well and her limbs seem to be stiff. Her tiny fists curl into a tight ball around her thumb and her feet tend to point downward.

At first both father and mother tell themselves that she is fine. Children develop at different rates, and she will soon catch up. But as more time passes their concerns increase. At her first birthday she still cannot sit on her own and is unable to crawl. So, they catch a bus to a nearby town to visit the health clinic.

DocsThe doctor examines her and tells them that she has a vitamin deficiency and writes a prescription for a special vitamin (B6 and B12). They stop at the local pharmacy and discover that the cost for the vitamin in suspension is over Q200.00 ($26.00 US). They borrow the money to buy the medicine and begin giving it to their daughter daily, praying for and expecting improvement.

At age two, they have seen no improvement and, in fact, she seems more stiff than before. Her legs and arms will no longer straighten fully and they have noticed periods in which her eyes roll back in her head and she trembles and becomes more tense. So, they take a two hour bus ride to the national hospital. After waiting four hours to see the doctor, they were finally ushered into a room where the doctor did a cursory examination and told them that they needed two tests. The total cost for the tests was Q1100.00 ($140.00 US).

Meanwhile, their extended family had continued telling them that their daughter was cursed by God and the only way to lift the curse was to let her die or abandon her.

When we met them their daughter was 2 1/2 years old and they were still giving her the vitamins while praying for the money to have the tests done. They were desperate and very much alone in their plight. Out of both money and vitamins they were hoping we could help them pay for the tests. That was a difficult conversation. I sat and explained to them that their daughter had cerebral palsy and that there was no cure. I also had to explain that the vitamins that they had been buying at great sacrifice for the last 1 1/2 years would not help at all and, while the tests would show them what areas of the brain was damaged, there was nothing that could be done to correct it. Both Maricio and Lydia cried as the truth became clear.

This wonderful little family was surrounded by obstacles. They faced a financial obstacle as they could not afford the medical care their daughter needed. They faced the obstacle of ignorance in much of the medical community that spoke of vitamin deficiencies instead of the real cause of their daughter’s illness. They faced the obstacle of indifference that caused a doctor to send them away with orders for tests that he knew they could not afford.  And then they faced the obstacle of isolation, believing that no one could or would help them in their plight, and knowing their families did not support their love and fight for their daughter.

If I could use one word to describe the lives of families in Guatemala with children who have special needs I would use the word “obstacles.” On a daily basis they are surrounded by obstacles yet have few or no resources with which to face those challenges. That is why so many children with special needs end up in institutions. Often they have loving families that have no means of caring for the children they love.

Put yourself in the place of Maricio and Lydia. Imagine it is your child that is suffering and you are desperate to find help for them. For just a moment, feel their anguish and desperation. What would you do in their place? The answer is this: Nothing. There is nothing you could do more than what they have done. There is no government program to help. There is no means of increasing your income. There is no recourse available.

That is why we do this ministry. We are here to help families tear down the obstacles that are surrounding them.

This is where the story begins to take a happier turn. While the Maricio and Lydia were still crying, we were able to comfort them. We told them that, while their was no cure for cerebral palsy, there were some ways we could help. I explained that their daughter was not cursed, but both she and they were loved by both God and us.  I showed them a picture of my daughter, Kimmie, and explained that she had CP as well. I then explained how she had blessed our lives and family.  And we then began to talk of how we could help with physical therapy and anti-seizure medicine.

But, above everything else, we told them that they are not alone. We promised that we would walk with them and face their obstacles at their side. We also told them that Jesus would walk with them if they would allow Him to do so. At this point, Lydia began to cry and told us that she and Maricio had felt so very alone for so long, but now, for the first time, she felt like there was someone with them.

IMG_0732Now, I have a confession to make. The names in the story I just told you are not their real names. The names are fictitious, not because the story is false, but because the story is so true of so many. I could have told the same story about a dozen different families who have faced nearly identical stories of obstacles, frustration and desperation. I could also tell you a different story of different frustrations and obstacles about another dozen families. And then I could have told you another story about another dozen families. We see the same stories repeated in different villages by different families over and over again.

IMG_0708And, if you were to visit us here, I could take you to numerous institutions and introduce you to child after child that has a family that loves them deeply. But desperation led his/her parents to take the only step they could to assure their child would have the best care they could find. These stories bring me to tears of both sadness and frustration.

And so, my family and I live our days surrounded by wheelchairs, formula, braces, crutches, doctors and therapists. The same is true of all those who work with our ministry, including the Beyer family, Gerardo Hernandez, April Clark and Aura Monroy. We do that because we never want these families to face these obstacles alone. We are also working hard to make Hogar de la Esperanza a safe and loving place for children with special needs who still end up in the system, and our desire is to open additional homes like this one to accommodate more children. We do all this to bring glory to Jesus Christ by caring for those whom others have written-off.

AngelitaBut now I have one more confession to make. Some days it is very hard to do this ministry, and today is one of those days. As I type this we are awaiting the arrival of two families from San Pedro La Laguna with children who need medical attention. They will stay with us tonight and in the morning we will take them into Hermano Pedro to see the pediatrician and receive testing. Meanwhile, the doctor just left our home after examining both Thania and Angelita and determining that both of them need to see a specialist and undergo a barrage of testing. Tomorrow morning one of our children has a hearing in Guatemala City which will occupy most of my day. And, for some reason, today I am seeing the bills and the hours involved in all of these situations instead of the children and their families.

ThaniaIn addition, each month we face a rapidly dwindling bank account and increasing bills. And we continue to fight a governmental system that serves as more of an obstacle than a help.

There are moments when I just feel overwhelmed and scared. (I know, not the kind of thing you want to hear from the missionary you support and pray for.) But before you write, I want you to know that I do have faith and trust God…most of the time. Most days I have a bounce in my step and most nights I sleep like a baby (actually, better than most of the children and babies in our house). But there are moments, hours and even a few days when the fear creeps in and robs my joy and my sleep. The e-mail messages from encouragers slow down and stop, the work and financial load increases, donations dwindle and the enemy shouts doubts at the top of his lungs. It’s the perfect storm, and its effects are terrifying.

That is the real reason I am writing about all the Maricios, Lydias and Marias today. I think it is really more about answering my own questions than answering yours. Some days I just need to remember why we do this ministry in order to get my bounce and peace back. Today is one of those days.

Blessings from Guatemala…

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew