Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Elections and Kingdoms

Today is election day. The midterm elections are happening as I type, after weeks of acrimony and turmoil. In about 14 hours it will all be over, thankfully. Then we can begin treating each other badly in anticipation of the 2020 election.

Every election cycle, I see the words repeated. They are spoken, typed on Facebook, and broadcast on Twitter. It has become a part of Christian culture, like the words “amen” and “after-church potluck.”

"It’s our Christian responsibility.”

“This election is crucial. It’s our Christian responsibility to vote.”
“The future of our nation is at stake. It is our Christian responsibility to be politically engaged.”
“The fate of the church is at stake. It is our Christian responsibility to elect leaders who will defend it.”

But is it really our “Christian responsibility?” Or is that simply a product of cultural Christianity instead of biblical discipleship? (And with those two questions, I have just touched the third rail of US evangelicalism. To question that core belief can get you excommunicated from some churches and cause many to call into question your very salvation. I know, because I would have been outraged by those questions not that long ago.)

But can we lay aside what we have always been told for just a moment to ask the questions? What can it hurt to check make sure that what we believe and live is actually true to the Word of God?

So, allow me a moment to give you the following arguments again a Christ-follower’s political involvement:

1) There is no Scriptural basis for it. 

Jesus stepped onto a first century scene that was a political incubator. The Jewish nation was living under an oppressive Roman government that had stripped them of their rights and was taxing them into poverty. They were no longer allowed to practice some of the Torah commanded practices, and the people wanted political change.

In fact, as they anticipated the coming Messiah, they were looking for a political one. They believed the Messiah would enter Jerusalem, establish an earthly rule, and place Israel at the top of the pecking order. Over time, many who had heard Jesus’ teaching and had seen his miracles believe that He was that Messiah, which explains their jubilation when He entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They believed He was getting ready to establish the new kingdom. And He was. But it was not the kingdom they expected. So, when He died five days later, most of His followers walked away. 

We know now that Jesus did not come to be a political savior and establish an earthly kingdom. He came to establish a spiritual and Eternal Kingdom. And He had told them that repeatedly through His teaching. But they were so blinded by their own opinions of what they needed that they could not see what they really needed.

Twice we see religious leaders asking Jesus politically charged questions. But maybe you missed those:

1) Should we pay taxes to Caesar? There was a political movement afoot in which some Jews wanted to arise and refuse to pay taxes to the Roman government. After all, they were corrupt, wicked, and using the funds to oppress the people paying them. They wanted that movement to gain enough critical mass so that the people would rise up as one and refuse to pay. The endorsement of this popular teacher would go a long way in achieving that critical mass.
But notice Jesus’ response: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s.” In essence, He told them to give to the temporary government the temporary things it asks for. But give to God the eternal things that really matter. They wanted political answers, but He used the opportunity to turn the question around to address the spiritual issue that would really make a difference.

2) Should we stone this woman? - You have heard it countless times. The story of the woman caught in adultery, dragged into public with angry men holding stones. And they ask Jesus the question. 
The question was not a spiritual one. It was a political one. The Roman government had stripped the Jews of the right to dispense capital punishment, and they were angry. Again, they were seeking an uprising to overthrow Roman rule. They wanted political solutions. Plus this question would give them opportunity to accuse Jesus, no matter His response. 
And, again, Jesus took the political and turned it to the spiritual. “Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And suddenly those men were not looking a Roman law or the sins of the lady, but were instead examining their own hearts. 
Jesus, and the first century church that He established, had a disregard for the politics of their day. Believers were arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and put to death for their faith, but you do not see them complaining about the oppressive government that did it. You do not see them seeking to change earthly rulers or kingdoms. You instead see them obsessively seeking to bring glory to Jesus under whatever rule they found themselves. They understood that the endorsement and protection of the government was not important, because God was in control. Their only concerns were making disciples and honoring God with their lives, regardless of who ruled the earthly kingdom in which they lived. Why should it be different for us today?
2) We do not know what is best.

Each election cycle I hear it spoken: “We need to elect godly leaders!” And we advocate, endorse, and defend the ones we believe fits that description. And, if they appear to be losing or lose, we panic and wail. And if they appear to be winning, we rejoice (and often gloat). But here is the problem: We actually have no idea what God wants.
The Bible makes it clear that God raised up and tears down leaders at will. They wither and fade under His breath. And they rise to power just because He thinks it. 

We also know that, at times, He raises up good and noble leaders. He also, at other times, raises up wicked and corrupt leaders. Both serve His purposes and accomplish His will. And both will quickly fade when that purpose is complete.

So, how do we know who God wants in power? Many times, we have actually fought against the will of God and have done so with passion. How do I know? Because “our guy or girl” lost.

That is why the only clear instructions we as the church have regarding earthly leaders it to 1) honor them and 2) pray for them. We are not instructed to celebrate their rise or their fall. And we are not instructed to endorse or attack them. We honor them, we pray for them, and we do the important work that this world’s rulers cannot do.

3) It is not our kingdom.

At the moment of our transformation through faith in Christ, we become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We suddenly find ourselves living as foreigners and strangers in a temporary and fallen land, while our citizenship is in an eternal and infallible Land. And we are ambassadors of the Kingdom. And that new Kingdom should have our loyalty and allegiance. And our focus should become expanding that Kingdom.

We, as followers of Jesus, should be consumed and obsessed with His Kingdom. Our mission is to make disciples for that Kingdom. Our hearts are to long desperately to see that Kingdom come. And we know that we cannot serve two masters.

And so, while we may have gratitude for the earthly nation in which we live and the benefits of that residency, we know the true Kingdom for which we live, fight and die. And it is a Kingdom that is built on love, mercy, grace, service, and sacrifice. We fight in an entirely different way using entirely different weapons. And it directly conflicts with the way earthly and political battles are fought.

We know that every earthly kingdom and nation is destined to fall. It will happen, sooner or later. So we focus on building the only Kingdom that will last. And we certainly should not engage in any earthly battle, political or otherwise, that will cause us to compromise the love, mercy, grace, service, and sacrifice of our true Home.

4) Politics are a symptom, not a cure.
I often hear believers discussing politics and the need to change the government. This has become a focus of the evangelical church over the last four decades, beginning with the Moral Majority of the late 70’s. The idea is that if we want a godly nation we need to elect godly leaders. And the idea is completely false and equivalent to trying to make the tail wag the dog.

In a democratic republic such as the United States, the politics of the nation are simply a reflection of the hearts of the people. Fallen and unredeemed people elect godless and corrupt leaders. And, as the church has focused more and more on political solutions and less and less on disciple making, we have seen the nation decline, along with the quality of our leaders. Increasingly we find ourselves holding our nose while we vote because the quality of the candidates of both parties have declined horribly. We tolerate words and actions from our leaders (and even defend them) that would have been absolutely intolerable 30 years ago. Yet the church continues to insist on political solutions and engagements even as it makes itself increasingly inefficient at reaching people for Jesus.

The only hope for our nation is Jesus Christ. And not Jesus Christ dictated from congress or the White House, but Jesus alive in us and our neighbors. And the only way for that to happen is for you and me to focus on making disciples by loving and reaching to people of all walks of life and background, regardless of their lifestyle, choices, or political opinions. And, in order to do that, we have to tone down our politics and turn up our Jesus.

5) It is robbing us of our love.

Recently I sent private messages to 10 of my friends who are unbelievers. I chose them because I believe them to be rational people with genuine skepticism about God, the Bible, and/or Jesus. And they are all people with whom I can have authentic conversations without hostility. I asked them, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘church’?" Every one of their answers related to politics. Every one.

Not one of them answered loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, or self controlled. Several of them did use words such as “angry”or “harsh.” Two mentioned political double standards. Three mentioned that they would never be welcome in the typical evangelical church because of their politics. Two mentioned being recently attacked by professing Christians on Facebook because of their political opinions.

On a regular basis, I see professing believers attacking non believers on social media. Sometimes it is directly, sometimes indirectly. If a politician, athlete, musician, or actor expresses an opinion we don’t like, we feel free to demand a boycott and delight if their careers suffer. We see them as enemies and we go after them. Which is a direct contradiction of the commands to love, forgive, reach, and make disciples. And it is destroying our ability to build the one eternal Kingdom. It is destroying our ability to love.


So, there you have it. My arguments for why a Christ-follower should not be politically involved. Am I saying that a Christian should not vote? No. As long as you can do so with love, humility, a spirit-led conviction, and without alienating the ones you are called to reach. 

But I will say this…if the church, as a whole, continues to engage in politics the way we have in recent decades, the nation will continue its decline. And we will one day answer to God. And I believe we will not be happy with His response.

Okay, I have dug my grave deep enough. More importantly than whether you vote today, I pray that you will love God, love your neighbors, love you enemies, and make disciples.


Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew

Friday, August 31, 2018

When Enough Is Not Enough

Wanda and I have been sensing the move of God in our lives. It is hard to describe, but I will do my best.

It is a subtle ache in our souls that we are missing something. It is an awareness that there is more that we need to do and be. It is a stirred dissatisfaction that seems to be calling us forward to something much bigger than us. It is the deep-seated knowledge that our “enough” is not enough.

We are regularly told by others how wonderful this ministry is. People are “amazed” and “moved to tears” by what we do. They speak of our “sacrifice” and love for the children of Guatemala. And they regularly encourage us not to “stretch ourselves too thin.”

But, through our life together, we have learned not to listen much to the words of people. Even those with the best intent often do not reflect the opinion of God. Our supreme desire is to hear God’s voice, because His is the only one that matters. And we are hearing Him speak strongly now, though His end goal is still not clear.

You see, while many see our lives and ministry as a great sacrifice, we do not. In fact, it is our comfort zone. No, it is not easy. Yes, it is heart-breaking. Yes, it can be exhausting. But it is not a sacrifice. In fact, everything I sought for my entire life I have found in this life. No real sacrifices have been made. And we are very comfortable sticking with it forever. While many people would consider this ministry way outside their comfort zone, it is where we have found our hearts’ desires. 

Meanwhile, even though we recognize the great needs of children in Guatemala, especially those with special needs, we also realize that there are children with special needs and those that have been orphaned in other parts of the world whose plights are far more desperate. Yemen, Somalia, Northern Uganda, Syria, and many more countries are facing desperate humanitarian crises that are taking lives by the thousands in places where the Gospel is unknown. And, in many of these places, missions groups have withdrawn out of concern for the safety of their missionaries.

Yet I know that Jesus is there in the form of the least of these. He is the little girl whose family was killed by the bombing of their apartment building in Yemen. He is the little boy who was maimed and disabled by a mortar in Syria. He is the teenage girl who is selling herself to soldiers to survive the drought in Somalia. Jesus is there in the form of the least of these.

Meanwhile, the church is, in large part, running away. Mission boards have withdrawn workers. Ministries have ceased. And, in many cases, the people have been abandoned and left alone with their hopelessness. And Wanda and I are not okay with that. God won’t allow us to be.

Two nights ago, we sat and talked and prayed together. We spoke of how difficult it is to get people to come to Guatemala long-term to ministry, even though it is one of the easier mission fields in the world. Yes, there is suffering and crime and violence, but it is not a war zone. And it is, in large part, friendly toward missionaries. If we are struggling to find workers for this field, how many are willing to go to the truly hard fields of ministry? How few will be willing to walk into a war zone to save lives?

And, at the heart of it all was this question: If not us, then who?

I am not announcing that we are moving our family away from Guatemala to Yemen, Somalia, or Syria. I don’t think God is asking that right now. But if He does, we will. Yet I know that God is calling us to do something, and to do it soon. Because our enough is not enough.

I don’t think I am a brave person. But I do believe in heaven. Therefore, I know that the day I die will be the best day of my life. And I believe that God is sovereign. Therefore, until the moment Jesus calls me home, I am invincible. I need not fear, and I can go where others fear to tread with boldness and confidence. That might be up the side of an erupting volcano or into a war-torn country. So, I will go, without regards to safety and security. And my wife is of the same heart and mind, as are my children.

So, we are seeking God and asking Him what He wants us to do. Every time He has stirred our hearts like this, it has yielded incredible results. So, we anxiously await God to reveal our next step. But I expect I will soon find myself on a plane that will carry me far outside my comfort zone to a place that is far from safe. And that is good.

Because our enough is not enough.

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Note: The photos from this post are not my. I came across them as I was researching need in Yemen, Somalia, and Syria. 

Also note that if there are any of you who might be feeling a similar call in regards to these regions, you can contact me at daryl@hopeforhome.org.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

When My World Changed

The first time I held a starving child, my life changed. But, even as I type these words, I know the fruitlessness of trying to explain this to you. For many years, others tried to explain these truths to me, but I dismissed them. In my mind, they just didn’t understand the real world. I attached the labels to them that I kept readily on hand, and moved on. And yet, here I am, trying to share the same heartbeat that others tried to share with me.

It was February of 2009. I had made two previous trips to Guatemala with Wanda as we were adopting our son, Jonathan. And, during those trips, we had brushed up again the needs of this country. But this trip was different. I was leading a ministry trip under the newly formed Hope for Home Ministries, and we were spending nine days immersed in the needs of children with special needs. Much of our time was spent at Hermano Pedro, a hospital/home for children and adults with cerebral palsy. We held the children, read to them, and took them out to eat. And, on one of our days there, I met a man named Dick Rutgers.

Dick’s love and playfulness with the children touched me from the first moment. Despite a huge lack of Spanish, he communicated volumes with each person. He helped us check children out to go to lunch, and he taught me how to truly connect with those we served. And then he invited us to join him for a trip to a rural village. We readily agreed.

So the next day we found ourselves crowded into his Land Cruiser with him and two of his boys. We visited several communities, but one stands out strongly in my mind. We pulled into a village that was located in the midst of a clump of trees as the rain fell. It was a gathering of 10 or 12 shacks with hand-dug wells filled with ground water. We were approaching one of the homes when I first saw him, lying in a hand-woven hammock strung between two supports for the roof that extended past the front of the home.

I had never seen a child so skinny. Wide eyes stared at me over jutting cheekbones. His arms and legs were thin reeds and were twisted from cerebral palsy. As I stood looking down at him, I wondered how he could still be alive. But Dick walked over and scooped him up into his arms, and he smiled a radiant smile. I could not speak.

Dick spoke with his parents for a while, using his boys as translators. I learned that he was 12 years old and weighed 18 pounds. And then...Dick turned and handed him to me.

And my life changed. In that moment, as I held his feather-light body in my arms, I knew I would never be the same.

Under the pretext of talking him on a short walk, I took him a short distance away and stood under a tree. In reality, I just did not want his family to see me cry. And I did not want anyone to hear the words that I would say to him:

“I am so sorry. Until right now, I have not cared about you or so many others like you. I was so ignorant and blind. Please forgive me!”

He could not speak or understand a word I was saying. He just smiled at me as my tears flowed. And then I spoke to my Jesus:

“Please forgive me! I have been so blind! So stupid! I am so sorry! I vow to you, Lord, that I will do something! I will care about the things that you care about and I will do something!”

Most of you know the rest of the story. Four months later, on another ministry trip to Guatemala, Wanda and I resolved to move here. We sold everything and landed as a family in this country on January 25, 2011. And, to the best of my ability, I have sought to honor that vow to my Jesus.
Since that time, I have lost count of the number of starving children I have held. I can tell you that it is far too many, though. I have sat with grieving families in their poverty and seen the desperation in their eyes. I have spoken the truth of God’s Word and His great love to so many families who had long believed that God had forgotten them. I have helped dig graves and carried the caskets of their children. I have wept with them, prayed with them, and sat silently with them. And I have only scratched the surface.

I live in a country that has the sixth highest malnutrition rate in the world. Around 47% of Guatemala’s children experience malnutrition to such a high degree that it stunts their growth and development. In some parts of the country, that number tops 90%. And our current drought is making it far worse. Already this year we have seen a 79% increase in deaths from malnutrition over last year. This year, 256,000 Guatemalan families have lost their crops due to a lack of rain. More deaths are coming. Lots more.

Combine that with a lack of decent healthcare and access to medicine, and I am surrounded by need. We are working as long and as hard as we can, but it is still getting worse, and more and more are dying.

And here is where I try to explain to you how that has changed me. I will pour my heart out, and most of you will shake your heads and dismiss me. Some will even label me with a derogatory title before moving on because my observations don’t fit with your worldview or politics. I understand. I truly do. And I don’t blame you, because I did the same for the first 41 years of my life. But I have to try and hope that maybe a few will hear and look past their knee jerk reaction and see my heart. So, here goes...

There is very, very little that matters in this life. Far less than most of us realize. When you strip away all but the things that are truly important, you are left with a small handful on which we need to focus. Everything else is just straw men that have been set up to distract us or sell to us. And the problem is, the church, myself included, has followed the distractions for far too long.

So, what is really important? Here is my list that is radically different than it was nine years ago:

  1. To love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength - I know. That’s obvious, right? But is it really? Because I am not sure we are really doing it at all. It seems to me that God stands in line behind a lot of the things we adore. He fits in somewhere behind our family, our security, our politics and our pursuit of comfort. Which means He does not fit in at all, because He cannot be placed in our boxes. Love is just a word until it is lived, so to love God will be displayed in the way our lives reflect the things that are important to Him. That is what the first century church did well, and what we can’t seem to do today. But if we find a way to do so, we will see first century results. In a world that is so turbulent and hate-filled, we desperately need to fix our eyes on Him and love Him with everything we’ve got.
  2. To love our neighbors as we love ourselves - Again, read my last point. Love is just a word until it is lived. So, love for neighbors is not just words or token sentiment, it is love in action. And, remember how Jesus defined our neighbors? Anyone, regardless of location, nationality or tradition that needs us. (The story of the Good Samaritan was painful and offensive to the devout Jews of Jesus’ day. And it should create a great amount of discomfort in us, as well.) For those of us who follow Jesus, the world is our neighborhood, and every skin color, language and nationality is our neighbor. And we have a lot of neighbors who are broken, bleeding and starving on the side of the road. It is time for love to become more than a word we speak.
  3. To care for the poor, oppressed, orphaned and widowed - I grew up in a couple of churches and an elementary school where they used to scoff at the “social gospel.” For those who don’t know, that phrase has been used in a derogatory manner by some branches of fundamentalism. The gist of their argument is that we should be concerned with preaching the Gospel to save eternal souls instead of involved with temporal tasks such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and giving shelter to those without a home. To this day, I don’t understand how people who were so insistent on telling others that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God could forsake such a central teaching within it. Are their extremes? Of course. But both the Old and New Testaments teach the importance of caring for those who are oppressed and in physical need. In fact, numerous times we see the primary symptoms of true faith listed as caring for orphans, widows, foreigners and the poor. Jesus, in fact, told us that when we care for the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, and shut in, we are caring for Him. But the same people who insisted that the Bible is true and should be followed instructed us to forsake those commands. Of course we are to teach the truth of the Gospel, but it must go hand in hand with caring for the least of these. I am ashamed that I lived so long without learning and living this truth. But now that I have, trust me when I tell you that the tangible presence and power of God that the church is seeking will be found in the midst of them.
  4. To run toward pain and darkness - I remember watching the coverage of the 9/11 attacks. I had tears in my eyes and a deep sense of respect for the first responders who ran toward the danger to save others. And many men and women gave their lives that day doing so. But that is a beautiful picture of what God created the church to do. When others are running away, we should be running into the pain, suffering and darkness. How else can we truly be the light of the world? We have been trained to a cultural faith that tells us to spare ourselves and our families. It’s not good for our children to be exposed to suffering, death and darkness. We have to guard our sensitive hearts. Over and over I am told by people that they could never (fill in the blank) because it would be too painful. Have we ever considered that it hurts us so badly because God has broken our heart for it as a part of His calling? It is time for the church to move beyond words and run toward the brokenness. 
  5. There is only one hope - This is one of those points that everyone agrees with...until you discuss the specifics. Do we really believe that Jesus is the only real hope for the world? Then everything else should take a back seat to the mission of showing and proclaiming Him. And anything that interferes with that mission should be discarded. The church has been pulled into false hopes (gods?) to which we are giving our time, money and energy. We insist it is not true, but it is. Politics is one of the biggest false hopes (gods?), but it is not the only one. For much of my adult life, I spoke the words that Jesus was the only hope for our nation and world, but my life reflected something very different as I foolishly pursued other false hopes. With God’s help, no more. I have sat in mud floor houses, spoke of the true Jesus and seen hope rise on families. I have spoken of Jesus’ great love to the grieving mother and seen her eyes come back to life. I have held the hand of dying children and told them of our Savior’s sacrifice and the life that awaits them, and saw them smile. Jesus is our only hope. Let’s stop pretending and living as if He is not.
  6. There is not much time - No, I don’t know when Jesus will return. That is not what I am talking about. I am simply stating that for millions of people in this world, time is running out. Many people will not see another sunrise before they step into eternity. Children and adults will die who could be saved by what is in your medicine chest or kitchen cabinets. In the next 24 hours almost 99,000 people will die of starvation alone. And many will enter a Christ-less eternity. And, for too many years, I knew that truth in my head but denied it with my lifestyle. No more. I am not saying that you need to move your family to a foreign country to work with the poor (although you better not assume that you shouldn’t without honestly checking with God). What I am saying is that all Christ-followers should examine and adapt their lifestyles to live with that awareness and make a difference. And every church should do the same regarding its priorities and ministries. For many, time is running out. And for every day we wait to change and act, more will be lost.

That’s it. Lots of folks stopped reading a while ago and moved on to other things, so if you are still reading at this point, I am grateful for your time.

I don’t want this to be a guilt trip. That serves no purpose and quickly fades. I can only pray that at least a handful will be shaken and awakened by my feeble attempt. And for the others, I pray that they one day soon will hold a starving child so that my words will become more than just words.

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Fire and Loss

I have been silent for the last month, and by now most of you know why. On Sunday, June 3rd, the volcano Fuego erupted more ferociously than it had in over 40 years, throwing this country and our lives into turmoil.

Every Sunday, we send about half our group to church, and the other half stays home to have worship and watch a teaching video. Wanda and I were at home that day when she came inside at around 12:30 pm and announced that it was raining rocks. Sure enough, small lava rocks that were about 1/8 inch in diameter were falling to the ground. And, over the next half hour, the intensity and size of those rocks increased. The largest of these were over 3/4 inches in diameter.

Meanwhile, our group in Antigua was encountering similar weather as they tried to drive home. Tiny rocks combined with an oily ash rain was falling. Eventually, due to low visibility and slick roads, they had to stop and wait it out.

We have had numerous eruptions that have resulted in ash fall over the last seven plus years, but nothing like this. Over the next two days we removed an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of rocks and ash from our two homes. But during all the previous eruptions there was no loss of life. We were soon to learn that this eruption was not like the others.

Lava flow combined with mud and was joined by pyroclastic flows (super-heated gases) that completely destroyed the community of Los Lotes and the majority of El Rodeo. Six people were killed in the nearby town of Alotenango. A major route to the department of Esquintla was covered in lava, and chaos ensued.

The official count is over 110 people dead and around 200 people missing. But most, including myself, do not believe these numbers to be correct. The total population of Los Lotes and El Rodeo was over 26,000. In spite of repeated warnings from the the National Seismic and Volcanic Institute that informed CONRED that they needed to evacuate, they did not begin until shortly before the eruption. For almost six hours they waited, choosing only to evacuate a wealth country club, but leaving the villages in place until only moments before the volcano blew. And those below were killed by the pyroclastic flow and covered by lava and ash. This eruption was very similar to Pompeii.

Recently they called off the recovery effort. They have led us to believe that only about 200 are left buried. But many believe the number is actually in the thousands.

On Monday morning, we loaded up the ambulance with medicine, medical supplies, and water and headed to Escuintla. Taryn, Jeremiah, Kevin, Katie, and Stephanie joined me. What was previously about a 50 minute drive is now over 2 hours, as a portion of route 14 is now covered by lava.

We went first to an emergency shelter and were sent from there to the main health center. We had a conversation with the doctor who was heading up the medical care, and he told us we were not allowed to go into the affected area. He explained that it was too dangerous. I watched with pride as my 17 year old son and 19 year old daughter explained to him that we knew the risks, but were willing to take them. Taryn told him, “If we die, we die. Our lives are in God’s hands.” Finally he shook his head and had us write down our names and phone numbers and told us we could go.

We took the back way in, driving through several rivers. When we were several miles deep in the back road, we were waved down by a lady in another vehicle. She told us about two villages up on the side of the mountain that were without electricity and water, and wanted to know if we could help. At this point, we had been told that we could not get into El Rodeo, so we decided to drive up the mountain to find them.
We arrived to find that we were not dealing with two small villages, but instead around 7,500 people. Their power was out, they had no water flowing, and they were collecting rain water. But the rain water was filled with ash, making it dangerous to drink. We were told that people were coughing due to the ash and that they needed water badly. Needless to say, we all felt overwhelmed.

Before we knew what was happening, a pastor had drug out a battery powered speaker and microphone and a crowd of several hundred had gathered around us. A microphone was shoved in my hand, and I was asked to address the crowd. I told them that we had some medicine and masks that we could distribute to the elderly. I told them that we would come back the next day and bring some water filters. And I told them we would pray for them. And we did.

As we left, I was calculating in my head. I had about 10 water filters, and I was figuring flow rate and how many people 10 filters could serve. And I came up far short of what we needed for 7,500 people. So, I prayed. And here is what happened...

Before I was off the mountain I had received a call from my friend, Brian Spence. He and his wife, April, had talked to their friend who owns the Ecofilter company and arranged a discount. They also had enough donations to purchase 100 Ecofilters, and had arranged with their friends, Paul and Bethany Hardison and Matt and Michelle Tumas, to provide trucks to carry them all in along with drinking water. So, plans were made to head back in the next day.

The next day, we decided to go in the front way. In order to do so, we needed to clear through two road blocks that had been set up and then drive through El Rodea. But when I explained what we were doing, they cleared us through. Right after we passed through the town, they shut the road down and evacuated the rest of the town because of additional eruptions that were expected.

We made it safely up the mountain and, as we were pulling into El Ceylan, we met a large truck leaving from CONRED. I waved them down and asked them if help was on the way to those communities. But they had actually only been there to warn the town of additional eruptions. So, when we arrived, we found a town full of terrified people who had been told that pyroclastic flows could come their way. (Please don’t ask me what benefit it was to tell them this, when CONRED had no plans or means to evacuate them.)

Over the next hour or so, a large crowd gathered around as we distributed 75 water filters and set them up as filtering stations in the town. Each church, the school, and the health center received five filters so that families could come and filter rain water. When we were done, the rest of the group headed back down the mountain, but our team from Ministerio de Esperanza hung around and visited for a while. While we recognized the danger of additional eruptions (there was another eruption while we were on the mountain) we also recognized the fear in the people. I kept wondering how I would have felt if I lived in that community and saw gringos coming to help but then fleeing quickly. How would I feel, knowing that I had no way to run and no place which to run?

So we visited for a while, distributing more medicines. We prayed with some people, and took photos with them. And when we left, there were smiles and laughter. Children lined up and waved as we pulled out of town.

We had been alerted that our way onto the mountain had been shut down while we were distributing filters, so we drove down and took the back way out, crossing three rivers as the rain began to fall. Unbeknownst to us, right after we crossed one of the rivers there was a flow of heated gas and mud that came through behind us, making the road impassable. We are thankful that we were not trapped on the mountain, and we are even more thankful that we were not caught in the river when the flow came.

Around that time, donations were flowing into the shelters from both Guatemalans and from international aid. When we visited the shelters, we saw mountains of bottled water, food, clothing and medicine. Meanwhile, we were hearing contradicting reports regarding needs. For example, some were saying that the shelters were needing medicine. Others were saying that they had more medicine than they could use.

At the same time, people began to see the relief work we were doing, and Hope for Home Ministries began receiving donations to help. Over $10,000 arrived in just a few days. And other missionaries began contacting me because they were receiving donations to help as well. They wanted my guidance because they did not know the best use for those gifts. In a two day period I received over 150 messages asking for guidance on how to use donations. So, I was working furiously to get solid answers.

We visited one of the largest shelters and spoke with a friend who is a doctor working in the shelters. We visited the distribution center for donations and went through the medicines to see what they had. We spoke with everyone who would speak to us, and a picture and plan began to form.

The shelters had plenty of food and clothing. And they had lots of medicine, but not all the right kinds. And we also began to see the other needs that people were overlooking. So, here is our current course of action regarding volcano relief:
  1. We are working with my doctor friend who is serving in the shelter to provide specific meds and supplies that are not being donated.
  2. Through that same doctor, we have provided dental supplies so that those in shelters can receive dental care.
  3. And, again, through that doctor we are providing medical imaging and lab work to those in the shelter as it is needed.
  4. We are working with health centers and nurses in communities affected by the volcano, but not evacuated, to provide medicine and supplies that are needed. These include antibiotics for respiratory and intestinal infections that have been caused by the ash.
  5. We are focusing on using these resources carefully, hoping to be able to help with rebuilding of homes when that begins.

In the midst of this chaos, I received the heartbreaking news that my dear friends, Guy and Amy Fraley, had lost their six year old son, Xander, very suddenly. The Fraley family has fostered and adopted several children with special needs and have opened their home and hearts to some very fragile children. They have a son, James, who has been very sick for quite a while, and he was in the ICU in Dayton at this time. But Xander went into respiratory distress at home very suddenly, and they were unable to save him. This family shares our heart, so when Guy asked me to come and officiate the service for Xander, I immediately said yes.

So, exactly one week after the eruption, Wanda and I found ourselves on a plane to the US. At this point I was dangerously sleep deprived and struggling to focus on simple tasks. So, when we arrived at our friends home after midnight, I fell into a coma-like sleep. (This is a special thank you to Jeff and Donna Kephart, who hosted us in their beautiful Oasis of a basement! You have no idea how badly we needed that refuge!)

Our time with the Fraley family was a sweet time of healing. It is always good to be around people who understand, and Wanda and I understand very well the pain and trauma of losing a child. At the same time, after the trauma of the past week we had experienced, it was good to be with our friends. I believe it was a healing time for all of us.

The memorial service for Xander was beautiful and gave glory to Jesus. Many lives were touched by his story. And, even as we grieved our loss, we celebrated his gain. As I looked at Xander’s wheelchair and braces at the front of the church, I wept tears of joy. Xander no longer needs them, and is running free!

We returned home to Guatemala on Friday evening and got right back to work. And the work continues.

In addition to our volcano relief work, our ministry continues to stay very busy. Here are just a few things that have happened:
Birthing Center - Escuintla
  1. We welcomed Emanuel Alvarez and his daughter, Millie, to Guatemala. His wife, Shannon, and other four children will join us in the next two weeks. They will be providing support to our group homes in preparation of opening our third group home soon.
  2. We added another Toyota Hilux pick-up truck to our rural village ministry fleet. Our Mitsubishi truck just has not been able to handle the abuse of the roads we drive, and was spending way too much time in the shop. So, it was time to replace it with something more durable.
  3. We received another child into our home. Little Ana came to us from another home yesterday. She is not quite three months old, and has a seizure disorder. But we quickly realized that she also has cerebral palsy and is not responding to stimuli as you would expect. We are not sure if this is due to congenital brain damage or due to severe abuse she experienced. But we are working hard to get her all the help available.
  4. Our birthing center is nearing completion. Meanwhile, Stephanie and Taryn have a growing prenatal care ministry in the area, as they have been invited by two other health centers to do prenatal exams in their towns.
  5. And there is lots more happening, but this post is already too long.

Please pray for the people of Guatemala as they continue to recover from this eruption. There is much work ahead and still grieving that needs to be done. I have met people that lost their homes and entire families on June 3rd. We need the healing of Jesus Christ to flow through this nation.

Blessings from Guate!
Daryl, Wanda and the Crew