Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Who Else Can Do It?

Recently, our lives seem to be a serious of hard and important decisions. I am not complaining about this. I am just stating the fact.

Here are just a few of those decisions:
  1. A few weeks ago we received call about a one year old boy in desperate need of a home. He was in the hospital due to neglect, abuse and malnutrition, and he needed a home. Because of the severity of his special needs, they had no where else to send him. No one else was equipped to deal with his needs, and everyone was full, including us. Our home is full and our family, interns and staff are stretched. But what happens to this little guy if we say no? That is a hard decision with life and death implications.
  2. About 15 minutes later, we received a call about a brother and sister in need of a home. The little brother has cerebral palsy. The big sister is severely under stimulated and very delayed. Both are malnourished. Can we please make room?
  3. Over the last three weeks we have received calls asking us to take 12 other children. All of them have special needs, and none of them have other options for a home.
  4. One of our rural village ministry teams visited one of our sponsored children two weeks ago. I received a call from the team leader asking me if we could take Paola into one of our homes. Her mother has given up and is broken. She is depressed and has stopped caring for her daughter. As a result, she has worsened significantly. She is malnourished and is fighting infection. She has become increasingly less alert. She is dying. After spending three days wrestling with the decision, Stevie and Carissa decided to take her into home 2, even though they are stretched as well. When we returned to the home to inform the mother of our decision, we find that she has changed her mind. She refuses to surrender Paola to the courts to be placed in one of our homes. What should we do? Should we report the case to PGN to have Paola forcibly removed? If we do, it could mean the end of our ministry in that community due to the possibly hostile response of her family and neighbors. We have never had a child removed before, but Paola’s life is hanging in the balance.
  5. In the past 15 days I have received calls from six new communities asking me to come and help children who are in severe or critical condition and in need of help. When do I say yes? When do I need to say no? How do I choose?

I confess, there have been a few days that these decisions have overwhelmed me. On two occasions, I retreated to my room, closed the door, and wept and cried out to God for guidance, help and strength. And there were two nights that I lay in bed awake and fretting over these decisions. And, one by one, we have made the decisions.

Answer key:
  1. We said yes, and little David is now safely in our home and arms and moving toward healing.
  2. Stevie and Carissa said yes, and little Dani and Roxy are safely under their care and improving rapidly.
  3. To each of these 12, we said no. We have 15 children in house 1 and 10 children in house 2. We simply have no more room.
  4. After wrestling hard with this decision, I chose to report them to PGN. She was removed from her mother last Thursday and brought to our home. Thankfully, PGN handled the situation beautifully and helped the family to see that we are with them, not against them, and they are not angry. But Paola arrived at our home in bad shape. She had a nasty lung infection, her O2 sats were very low, and she was unable to lift her head or arms. Our doctor came quickly, and we started her on antibiotic injections, oxygen, and breathing treatments. Praise God, she has turned the corner and is doing better. But I am not sure she would have lived much longer had we not intervened.
  5. I am still sorting through these requests and praying hard for answers. We have begun ministry in one area, but are still unsure about the other five. I know that where we choose to go, lives will be saved. Where we don’t choose to go, lives will be lost. 

Last week, as our home came together to pray before bed, I felt overcome, not with pressure, but with gratitude. As I prayed, I thanked God for putting us in the middle of hard situations filled with hard decisions. I thanked Him for the pressures we face, because that means what we do matters. For years, I prayed that Jesus would make my life matter for Him, not knowing what that prayer really meant. But I realize now that the only way we can ever make a real difference is by embracing the hard things of life.

Last week I visited with my friends, Todd and Amy Block. They have a wonderful home for children and teens that cares for the abused, abandoned and sexually molested. I was privileged to know them before their ministry opened, and I have seen it grow and blossom.

As I spoke with them, they told me how so many people told them to focus on the little children because they were “easier.” But God led them down a different path. As a result, they now have pregnant teens and teen mothers. They welcome children and adolescents with baggage and brokenness, and these often come through their door angry and defiant. And the Blocks  are seeing transformation in those that most everyone else rejects. 

And that is where the church is suppose to be…right in the middle of brokenness, making hard decisions and facing the pain of every loss. Why?  Because no one else can.

God created the church to do the things that others cannot and will not do. And He filled it with His Spirit to provide the necessary strength to do that work. We are His channel for doing the God-sized work the world desperately needs.

The dangerous, the heart-breaking, and the impossible should be the home field of God’s people, and historically it has been. Yet, over time, the church has gravitated toward the easy, the comfortable, and the mundane. And most of our time is spent doing things that anyone could do.

But the invitation remains. He invites us to trust and follow Him where others cannot and will not go. He calls us to risk our lives, our possessions, and our reputation to do the things that only God’s people can do through His power. And that is where we will find the life and significance we have always wanted. But we will never find it if we seek comfort.

That is one of the reasons why we have decided to avoid getting too close to the missions community here. We love and work with many members of it, but we don’t join their groups. Time and time again, we see people move down to Guatemala with a fresh fire in their hearts to give away their lives for the sake of the Gospel. But they plug in with various missionary groups here, and they begin to gradually change. They find themselves “needing” more and wanting more. Their willingness to sacrifice is drowned out by voices that tell them they need to “take care of themselves” and return to the States more often. “After all, God would not want you to (fill in the blank of sacrifice here).” And soon their willingness to sacrifice, bleed, and die for the Kingdom dissipates. 

Time and again, Wanda and I have been told by others that they cannot do what we do. The reasons are varied, but usually it comes down to one issue. “It would hurt me too much to do what you do.” And hidden within that statement is the lie of the enemy that says, “God wouldn’t want me to hurt that much.”

  • God wouldn’t want me to love a child and watch them die.
  • God wouldn’t want me to not be able to see my family back in the States.
  • God wouldn’t want me to be faced with impossible decisions with life and death consequences.
  • God wouldn’t want me to do anything that would cause my children pain or endanger them.
  • God would not want me to be exhausted because I poured myself out completely.

And so, we don’t. And the world dies around us while we convince ourselves that we are doing all we can do…all that He would expect us to do. And we spend our time doing what anyone can do instead of doing the things that only the children of the Living God can do.

But still, the invitation from Jesus awaits. He invites us out of the boat onto the waves of pain, poverty, desperation, and life-and-death decisions. He invites us out of the comfortable and into the unimaginable. He invites us to a life that matters, to both Him and to the world that needs Him.

But what will we choose? And if we, the church, say no, who else will say yes?

Blessings from Guatemala!
Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

And here are a couple of verses for meditation:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”
John 14:12 NLT

“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 1:19-20 NLT

Friday, March 2, 2018

Whirlwind (aka The Silence Is Broken)

News flash: I am not dead! I have just been too overwhelmed to blog in quite a while. Hopefully after reading this post, you will understand why.

Back in January, my beautiful Wanda and I took a cruise to the Caribbean. We celebrate 30 years of marriage this year, and we wanted to do something really special. So, we used an inheritance we received when my mother passed away in 2012 and booked a 10 day cruise. 

I have to tell you, it was awesome! During our time away we acted like newlywed. We swam, laid by the pool and on the beaches, slept, ate a ton, laughed, kissed a lot, and enjoyed one another in a way that we haven’t in a long time. And I fell more in love with my wife than ever before.

I am so thankful that God allowed us that time away together. The last seven years have taken their toll on both Wanda and I. We would not trade these years for anything, but we needed a time of renewal for both our relationship and ourselves. And we returned rested, tanned and ready to tackle ministry once again.

The only hard part of our trip was little Analia’s death. We had just arrived on the cruise ship when we received a message that she had passed away. For a moment I wondered if we should get off the boat and fly back, but I realized by the time we returned the funeral would be over. So, we checked to make sure that all the details were covered, hugged one another, wept, and then proceeded with our time away.

The crew here did a fantastic job of covering both her death and funeral. All the legal issues were covered, the grave was dug, and a beautiful service was held. Everyone worked together and everything flowed smoothly. I am so grateful to each of them.

When we returned it was difficult. This little girl who had been such a part of our lives and house 2 was no longer here. But Wanda and I never had a chance to say goodbye or attend her funeral. When we left, she was here. When we returned, she wasn’t. There was no closure and no opportunity to grieve properly. And yet we know that we will see her again some day. And we long for that day.

I returned to find construction on our new birthing center in Escuintla underway. But it was proceeding slowly. We originally had a foreman working on the site that came highly recommended. But we began to see that there were some major problems. He was costing us money and time, and seemed very incompetent. So, we let him go and hired Joel’s father to serve as the contractor. 

Immediately things began to progress under our new foreman. He corrected mistakes, pointed out material problems, and got the crew running smoothly. I visited the site yesterday, and they have finally begun concrete work on footers and rebar is rising from the site.

Meanwhile, our Maternity Care Director, Stephanie Konrad, and my daughter, Taryn, have begun maternity check-ups down at the site. Once a week they are seeing pregnant and nursing women for check-ups on them and their babies. They are doing a fantastic job, and we are anxious to see this ministry grow and mature.

Meanwhile, my son, Jeremiah, has been working hard to develop our prosthetics and orthotics program. In February we traveled to Guatemala City where Hope to Walk was doing a prosthetics clinic and got to see, firsthand, their process that we will soon be implementing in our ministry. The founder, Phil Johnson, walked us through the technique and explained how we would be able to produce their below the knee prosthetic for around $60.

This process is revolutionary and will enable us to carry the parts into a remote region, cast a person’s stump, produce a socket and assemble the leg onsite in one visit. We can find a person in need of a leg and give it to them on the same day. And, we can employ some of our families who have children with special needs to produce the components we need!

Below the knee prosthetics have cost us from $2000 to $4000 up until now. This will make legs affordable and enable us to give them away in large numbers. Hope to Walk will be returning to Guatemala in June and training our team fully to produce these legs, and we can hardly wait!

At the same time we are pursuing this area of ministry, Jeremiah has also been working on 3D printing of orthotics and braces. Near the end of 2017 we purchased an inexpensive but highly rated 3D printer. The goal is for us to be able to scan hands and feet to produce 3D models that can be edited to produce the braces we need at a fraction of the cost. We expect each pair of AFO (ankle and foot orthotics) to cost us around $30 to produce. At present, we pay around $208 a pair. We will also be able to produce hand and wrist braces for around $8. These will be custom printed for each child and will be durable and breathable. In fact, they will be a higher quality than we are currently purchasing. Imagine the possibilities! 

As most of you know, our desire is to eventually expand our rural village ministry to children with special needs to all 22 departments of Guatemala. Currently we work in ten departments in the southern portion of the country, and there is a lot of territory up north that we need to reach. Last week we began the process necessary to expand and open a headquarters up in Petén that will put us in a strategic location to saturate the northern part of Guatemala.

Kevin & Katie Harms accompanied Jeremiah and me on a trip to Petén last week. The goal was to scout out the area and determine a good spot for a headquarters. We also wanted to connect with people who are serving in the region and establish strategic partnerships. And God accomplished more than we ever anticipated.

Our drive up was long and exhausting. With traffic and road construction, the total drive was 14 hours, so we arrived exhausted. But we were welcomed by Barbara Stoltzfus, her daughter, Anita, and her son-in-law, Edgar. They allowed us to stay in their home that night, and the next morning Barbara went with us to San Benito and introduced us to key people.

Barbara has been a missionary in Guatemala for 46 years, and she has pretty much seen it all. She and her family were burned out of their home by guerrillas during the civil war, and had to live in tents. Anita, who is a nurse and midwife who runs a birthing center, delivered her first baby when she was 18 years old in one of those tents.

Their family has so much to teach me about Jesus, service, and missions. And I look forward to learning from them.

That first evening we toured the birthing center. Then I collapsed hard into a bed, surrounded by the warm hospitality.

The next morning we loaded up and headed out to San Benito. But before we even started, God redirected our plans. A missionary in the region, Jimmy Dinsmore, learned we were in the area and contacted me. We decided to meet up on our way to San Benito, and I am so glad we did!

Jimmy Runs a Bible Institute for pastor from the Q’eq’chi tribe. And it is hard to describe how amazing this school is. They are truly raising up men and women who will change the face of Guatemala with the Gospel. And they are sending them back to their villages, not only with knowledge, but with skills and a trade that will support them and also revitalize their communities. 

As a part of our discussion, Jimmy invited us to come to their school and teach their students how to care for those with special needs. Through that, we will be able to touch those with disabilities in even the most remote places in Guatemala.

And speaking of reach villages, Jimmy told us something that was shocking. He explained that in that region of Guatemala there were over 1100 villages that had never heard the Gospel! Many of these are hostile to outsiders who enter, and many have been killed who tried. He is planning to begin a program of dropping gifts from airplanes to make contact and establish communication, with the goal of eventually taking the Gospel to these remote communities.

We left there amazed at what God was doing and continued our journey to San Benito. There, we stopped in at a prosthetics clinic run by a ministry called Lifenabled. They have still a different process for producing prosthetics at a low cost, and we were deeply touched by their ministry. But what was truly helpful to us was their work with 3D printing.

They showed us what they are producing with 3D printing technology, and we were amazed. They also spent time showing us how to take our 3D scanning and printing to the next level. We are so grateful for the time they spent with us and their commitment to continue to walk beside us as we develop this ministry.

From there we visited Hospital Shalom, where the founder, Tim Spurrier, gave us a tour. When we met and he learned of our ministry and plans to begin work in their region, Tim shook my hand and said, “I have prayed for you to come for 20 years!” At that moment, I realized that we were all a part of something that is way bigger than any of us.

Hospital Shalom is an incredible facility, filled with quality staff. It provides excellent medical services at a low cost to people from the region. Tim agreed to partner with us to help with people we find who need hospitalization. He also agree to help us purchase medicine at a low cost. In return, we will assist individuals that he finds with special needs. (He already has a long list.) This promises to be a very strategic partnership in years to come.

The next day we connected with Harry Divido. He and his family serve in Poptún, Peten and have a ministry center there. We explained our ministry, and he invited Kevin and Katie to join him there for a few days to see his ministry and meet some families with children who have special needs. They readily agreed.

So, early the next morning, Jeremiah and I headed home while Kevin and Katie headed to Poptún. They are still in that region, seeking God’s direction for our ministry.

And that brings us to this week, which has been very eventful. And Wednesday was the climax of the eventfulness. Within a three hour period, the following happened:
  1. I received a call from the courts in Jutiapa. They had a brother and sister, both with special needs, and wanted to know if we could take them. The sister is 2 1/2 and is deaf and very delayed due to a lack of stimulation. The brother is 1 1/2 and has cerebral palsy and malnutrition. Both have been abandoned. Stevie and Carissa agreed to receive them into Hogar de la Esperanza 2.
  2. While we were discussing the case above, we received a call from another court regarding a little boy who is 2. We were told he had paralysis in half his body and they needed a home for him quickly. His condition was caused by a botched abortion. Wanda and I agreed to welcome him into Hogar de la Esperanza 1.
  3. We received a message about an 11 year old girl and her 8 year old brother who are living alone. A friend who knows them and has been trying to help them wrote me. Their mom died, and their father is an alcoholic who abandoned them. Their older sister, age 16, has left as well, and we have been told that she is prostituting at a local bar. I spent the afternoon trying to find a good private home that can take them. We have no space for older children in our homes, and we do not want to involve the police unless we have a good home for them, as they will otherwise likely be placed in a government run home. So, for now, they will be coming to our home each day to eat while we try to make other arrangements.
So, on Wednesday evening, little Jaret joined our home. And yesterday Roxana and Danilla joined Stevie and Carissa in house 2. That brings our total up to 23 children in the two homes. The adjustments of these new children are challenging, so please pray for them and our staff, interns and family.

Then yesterday I traveled down to Escuintla to visit the birthing center site and check in on a family that Stephanie and Taryn had met early this week. It was another heart-breaking visit, as we had to explain to little Sayli’s mother that the reason why she was not yet walking or talking was that she has cerebral palsy. She wept as we tried to talk her through the prognosis. But we quickly moved on to explaining that we were going to walk with them.

Sayli is malnourished, so we had brought along formula for her. But we quickly realized that her mom, grandmother, and four year old uncle were all malnourished as well. We are going to be providing them with formula and a food basket each month. In fact, as soon as I am done with this blog I will be driving back down to take them their first delivery of food. I had trouble sleeping last night, knowing they did not have food in the house. We will also be taking Sayli to our neurologist for a complete assessment. Please pray for Sayli and her family.

Well, that is it for now. And that is why I have not had time to blog. Please forgive my lack of updates.

And now…forward! God bless you as you go make a difference for Him!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew