Sunday, April 5, 2020

When A "No" Can Mean Starvation

As I type these words, all my devices have been set to Do Not Disturb. I had to. I was reaching a breaking point at which I could not face any more needs.

For the last three weeks, all nonessential work has been suspended in Guatemala. Two weeks ago a 4pm to 4 am curfew was implemented. And, as of this afternoon, inter-departmental travel is banned for Holy Week. We are not supposed to leave our department of Sacatepéquez.

Because of our humanitarian work, we have been told that we can have an exemption and be allowed to travel for the purposes of delivering food and medicine. But we will see tomorrow if they will, indeed, allow us to pass.

This shutdown has created a humanitarian crisis. In Guatemala, many people live hand-to-mouth. They depend on what they make today to feed their family tonight. And with so many being suddenly unemployed, families are hungry.

For the last two weeks, the calls and messages have been coming. And with each passing day, their frequency is increasing. This morning we took part in our church’s live streamed service, and during that one hour I received three requests for assistant to feed starving families.

In the last two weeks, we have distributed almost 3.5 tons of food to assist almost 2500 people. But by the time we meet one need, another five requests for help has arrived. So, I snapped. I put my devices on Do Not Disturb and walked away for a while. 

Don’t worry, I will turn them back on again. And we will do all we can to help. But this situation is completely overwhelming.

Please don’t write to me and tell me that I can’t save the world. I know that already. I have no illusion that I am some kind of savior. I am not. There is only one Savior, and I follow Him. I am just Daryl. Tired, overwhelmed, and very insufficient Daryl. 

I am surrounded by an incredible team, both in our homes and in the field, and they are doing a fantastic job under the worst of circumstance. They are fighting every day to keep families fed and to make sure that children are receiving the meds on which they depend. They are delivering babies, running feeding programs, and fighting malnutrition. I could not ask for a better group of people to be in this foxhole.

But we are tired. And the needs are increasing. And people are afraid. And the requests keep coming.

Have you every had trouble saying no to someone? A friend asks you for a ride to the airport or help to move. Maybe they need to borrow money or a babysitter for their children. You don’t want to do it, but you don’t want to let them down or leave them in a tough spot. It can be hard to say no.

Now imagine if your saying no means a family or multiple families will not have food. Tonight people will go to bed hungry because you told them no. And, eventually, that no means that malnutrition will come, followed soon by starvation. These days, that is what it means when I say no.

Jeremiah and I have been on the road almost constantly since this crisis erupted. We have not traveled this much since the volcano eruption in June of 2018. We have been traveling to pick up food and deliver it as fast as we can. Jeremiah is 19 years old and has a heart of service and seemingly endless energy. But even he is tired. 

On Thursday we purchased another ton of beans and rice, and on Friday we weighed and bagged them in 10 pound portions. This coming week we will need to do more.

Yesterday (Saturday), Jeremiah and I were scheduled to do a quick run to Jocotenango, a town about 10 miles from our home. We were supposed to pick up boxes of concentrated soup from a ministry partner and then deliver some of it to another ministry partner. But when we showed up at the second ministry partners home, there were 80-90 people waiting for us. They had heard that we had food and had walked in to see if we could help. So we spent time passing out the soup to these people, each of whom represented a family in need. When we arrived back home, we were too exhausted to unload my truck.

Out of sheer necessity, we chose to not go out today, even though people are waiting. We have to get some rest. But tomorrow we will hit it again hard, providing help to three other towns. Then on Tuesday we will head to Jutiapa to provide assistance to another 70 families. The entire week is filled.

Meanwhile, we are getting calls from families requesting acetaminophen because their children have cough and fever. And our supplies are low. So this morning I spent time trying to track down channels to get some. I can purchase from our pharmacy, but it is expensive. But we have some donations coming our way, and another friend is working to get us the meds at a cheaper price. I estimate that we need around 300 bottles in total.

In just a moment, I will turn off the Do Not Disturb feature on my devices and see how many messages are waiting. And we will get back to work. But I ask you to please not forget the people of Guatemala. I know the world is suffering now, and everyone has their own battles to fight. But in the developing world, lives are literally hanging in the balance. Please pray and do what you can to help.

Tomorrow, beginning at noon EST, some dear friend of ours will be offering a matching campaign for every gift given to our Coronavirus Relief Fund up to $2500. If you visit you can donate to that fund via PayPal. EVERY PENNY OF YOUR GIFT WILL GO TO PROVIDE FOOD AND MEDICINE TO THOSE AFFECTED BY THIS CRISIS. NONE WILL BE TAKEN FOR ADMINISTRATION EXPENSES OR OTHER COSTS.

Please pray that we will be able to save lives and proclaim Jesus during this time. Pray that we can say yes instead of no.

Blessings from Guatemala,
Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Why Keep Fighting?

There are periods when I feel like giving up and surrendering. At times, it just feels like the fight is not worth it. So much of this life feels like a multi-front battle in which all the enemies have the high ground. I am not complaining or whining. I do not want your sympathy of pity. It’s just how this ministry often feels. Every day we face the battles, usually multiple.

We fight battles with grief and fatigue, some of our greatest enemies. We have lost so many children that we love. And some of them were lost through traumatic fights for their lives that involved CPR and frantic ambulance rides that left us traumatized and broken. And, following these times, we have had to find a way to get out of bed the next morning and face tiny bodies in tiny caskets. Sometimes we are just tired out, from long days and short nights and the never ending list of questions and challenges that are constantly brought to us. Fatigue takes its toll, and can be our greatest battle. Yet, somehow, God has given us the strength to take one breath and one step at a time.

We fight battles against the culture that surrounds us. We fight against the mindset that children with special needs are curses that are better off dead. We fight against stereotypes that assume that people with disabilities cannot learn or be productive. We fight against a culture that seeks to set unnecessary limits on people with special needs because they refuse to see their potential. We fight against traffic, crowds, and long lines. And we fight against a negative mood in the midst of it all.

And we fight battles with government agencies all the time. Just like in every nation, government bureaucrats are often more concerned with wielding power than acting justly. Instead of being public servants, they see themselves as lords who need to control their subjects. And they make our lives and work exponentially more difficult.

Yesterday I sat with our wonderful Coordinator of Homes, Claudia Escobar, as she went through a list of things with me that CNA (the government agency responsible for the licensing and supervision of private homes) is insisting we need to change. Some of these include hiring addition staff. Some are demands for more paperwork. And most of it is foolish and completely unnecessary. So we have to fight some of the demands while trying to accommodate others. And both of these require time and resources that would be better spent on caring for children. But we have to spend it fighting with an agency that should be helping us.

We fight battles with PGN (think Child Protective Services). We regularly show up for hearings in which they were supposed to have done home studies and investigations, only to find out that, once again, they did not complete their work. So, we wasted another trip to another hearing. We will report a child to them that is in imminent risk of death due to a lack of care, and they do nothing. Two months later they have not done even a basic visit to check on the child’s welfare. And, with increasing frequency, the courts are asking us to do CNA's work for them, because the judges know they will not do it. So we are doing home studies and supervising placements that PGN should do.

We fight battles with the courts, who are returning children to horrifying conditions at a rapid pace. Last year we lost two children who were returned to their step mother. And that step mother is a sex trafficker. We presented evidence to the courts showing that was true, but that evidence was ignored. Meanwhile, the wicked stepmother made ludicrous accusations against us, and the judge chose to investigate us instead. So we faced more inspections to show that we had, in fact, done nothing wrong. And we wonder how those two sisters that we love are doing.

This weekend we were told that the judge was considering returning our little Olimpia to her biological parents. We had previously been told by the courts that she was with us permanently, and we had celebrated that decision. She arrived in our home at the age of five and a half months of age, weighing only five and a half pounds. We nursed her to health. We watched her grow and learn to crawl and walk. And while we saved her life, this little girl with Down Syndrome saved our broken hearts. On the hard days when we were broken by fatigue, frustration, illness, and/or grief, she would crawl into our laps, and the broken pieces would come back together again. We have often told others that she has the magical power of healing. And now, almost six years after receiving her in our home, they are saying she may leave us and be returned to parents and a home where she will lose access to therapy, doctors, and education. She might leave the only family she has ever known and go live with strangers. And when I heard this news, I broke.

Wanda followed me into our ministry’s office where I was trying to hold it together. I was grieving, I was angry, and I was ready to give up. My beautiful wife reached out to me and hugged me while I vented. “What is the point of continuing to fight?!? At any moment a corrupt court or agency can make their wicked decisions and strip away everything we have done! I don’t know how long I can keep fighting!” (This is a general summary. Due to the pain and stress of the moment, I cannot give your a verbatim script.)

At that moment, I felt like a punch-drunk fighter who did not want to leave my corner for another round. I wanted to throw in the towel, head to the locker room to wash off the blood, and go live a normal life far away from the battle. And, if I am completely honest, there is still a part of me that feels that way.

But I know that I won’t. I will not walk away from the fight. And I have been asking myself, “Why not?” Far better men and women than me have walked away and gone on to easier work and ministry. Why can’t I just turn around and walk away from the fight? I have spent a lot of time over the last few days asking that question. And here are my answers:

  1. My heart will not let me. I know that this is what God created me to do. My life, experiences, and relationships all prepared me to do this work. And I know that if I walk away, I will not be happy. I might be more comfortable, and life might be easier, but it will be empty. What is the point in living an easy life is you aren’t living your purpose? At the end of the day, the battles might leave me broken and bleeding, but God redeemed me and called me to this fight. And I will not walk away.
  2. Obedience is my call, not results. I often forget this. God calls us to hear His voice and follow. The results, or the lack thereof, are up to Him. And those results will not be known in this life. I often think that some of the accomplishments of which I am most proud are not even a blip on God’s radar. But there are likely moments that I would label as failures that have produced eternal results. I cannot know the consequences of my obedience. Only God knows and measures those. My responsibility is to hold tightly to my Daddy’s hand and do what He asks.
  3. The alternative is to surrender to evil. If I walk away from the fight, I am telling the enemy that I surrender to him. I am surrendering these children and families to him. I am leaving behind those who cannot fight for themselves and giving them over to the evil one. And that is just not in me. No matter how many times I am knocked to the ground, I will find a way to stumble to my feet again and taunt the enemy, “I can do this all day.” Not by my strength, but by my Jesus, who is strength in my weakness.
  4. Even if I lose the battles, I want these children to know that I at least fought for them. I refuse to leave them to fight alone. I refuse to surrender them to the evil of government orphanages. I refuse to let them live and die alone, forgotten in some hellhole. I refuse to quit on them. At the end of the day, they will know that I fought for them because they are worth fighting for.
  5. I do not fight alone. I am blessed to be surrounded by family, missionaries, and staff that refuse to quit as well. I am blessed to be surrounded by supporters and prayer partners that fight at my side every day. And, most importantly, I am blessed that the Lord of heaven’s armies fights with me.

One of my college profs said something that has always stuck with me. “Until you find something for which you are willing to die, you will never really live.” And he was right. I am willing to die for my Jesus and these children. And, as a result, I have a reason to live.

So, I will get up tomorrow morning and keep fighting. And the next...and the next...and the next...until God takes me home or I decline physically to the point that I can no longer fight. I will never surrender. I will never walk away. This is the hill on which I will keep fighting, and eventually die.

So, bring it on, Satan. I can do this all day.

Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Valleys that Prepare

My faith has been tested over the last two months. And, as a result, it is stronger than ever. Let me share that journey with you.

Almost three months ago, our ministry hit a financial crisis greater than any we have faced before. Literally, our group homes were out of money with our monthly wire transfer to Guatemala coming quickly. We have faced financial crises before, but this was a new level.

We are used to trusting in God for what we need. Wanda and I have done that for our entire married life. We never pursued money, instead pursuing Jesus, trusting Him to provide what we needed as we served Him. We have faced financial need more times than I can count, and each time God showed up, usually in just the nick of time. So, I rarely worry about money, focusing instead on ministry.

But this most recent crisis was the biggest I have ever faced. And fear threatened to take me down. What will happen to these children? What about the faithful workers we employ and their families? They are not just employees, they are family. What if we can’t pay them? It was a dark valley of fear and self-doubt.

But, in the midst of it all, I would remind myself that God has always been faithful. He loves these children far more than I ever could. He will not abandon or forsake them. And I would lay my fear at His feet and experience peace and joy. But a day or two (or maybe only an hour or two) later, I would realize that I had picked it up again.

We had enough funds in our overall bank account to transfer what we needed down, but it would throw our group homes’ account severely in the negative while draining our other accounts. But as I prayed, I sensed God asking me to trust Him. Order the transfer from the US and trust Him to replenish all the accounts by the next month. So, I did. And I waited, prayed, and surrendered. And then would find myself carrying fear and worry again. That cycle repeated itself several times.

About halfway through the month, I was spending time with God in prayer. And as I was openly confessing my fear and lack of faith, I heard Him speak. He said this: “Daryl, your faith needs to be bigger for what lies ahead. I need you to trust me more than you ever have before.” It was not a harsh voice spoken in anger. It was gentle and loving, like a father encouraging his child’s toddling steps. And it took my breath away. Suddenly, I understood the purpose of this trial. And I was finally able to lay my fear and doubts at His feet…and leave them there.

And, over the next two weeks, I enjoyed peace and joy in a powerful way in my life. God began a process in me that I can only describe as revival. My relationship with God became more intimate than I have ever known, my hunger for the Word exploded, and my joy began to overflow. And, with a snap of His fingers, the financial crisis was resolved. God met our needs in a way that was exceedingly and abundantly more than I would have ever imagined.

And my passion for Jesus and His Word has continued to grow. And He has continued to speak more clearly than ever before.

Last month, Wanda and I were given an opportunity to spend two nights away in a little cabin on a mountainside. It is only about a 40 minute drive from our home, and it is beautiful and quiet. So, we pulled together a last minute retreat.

We needed the time together, but we also needed time to talk and pray together about what God is doing. And, during the time, He confirmed what He had been saying for the previous three weeks: “Prepare yourselves.” He is getting ready to call us and stretch us in ways that are unlike anything we have experienced in the past. So, we are buckling our seatbelts and getting ready.

At the same time, I have been hearing another message. It is not really a new message, but it is louder and more urgent: “Stand with the broken!” And I believe this message relates to standing with the least of these both physically and as an advocate. Where there is suffering, I need to run to it and help. But I also need to cry out on their behalf to a church that is distracted by everything from politics to comfort and security.

Three weeks ago, we received word that the town of Florido Aceituno, Escuintla had been flooded. Homes had been destroyed and hundreds had been displaced. This is the town in which we run our Aliento Feeding Program. In fact, our team had just left the town when the rains began. And the river spilled over its banks just a few hours later. 

My truck was in the shop when I received the news, so I called my mechanic to see how soon he could get it ready. He pushed it through quickly so we could hit the road mid-day, and we gathered food and supplies while we waited for the repairs to finish. Then we headed out.

When we arrived we found a town that had bonded together to help one another. They had opened a shelter in the school and the Catholic church across the street. Neighbor was helping neighbor. Those unaffected by the flood were bringing donations, preparing food, and helping with childcare. But there was very little assistance from the outside.

CONRED, the nation’s disaster relief organization, had come that morning and taken photos for their website. I confirmed that they had posted the pictures and were asking for donations, but they were not there. They did nothing to help. Likewise, the Red Cross had shown up for a couple of hours and then left, the only evidence of their visit being a Red Cross banner hanging outside the school. We, along with one other Christian organization, were the only outside presence in the town.

They needed food, and we were able to provide them with 2160 meals of fortified rice. We also had several large boxes of donated clothes. When we realized that they had no toilet paper for the shelters, Jeremiah and I made a run to a store to buy 240 rolls. The next day, we returned and moved the feeding program from the health center to the shelters. We also delivered enough water filters to assure both shelters clean drinking water.

And I was grateful to see more assistance show up. The Church of the Nazarene had shown up with a doctor and supplies. Another Christian group was passing out excellent hygiene kits to families. CONRED and the Red Cross were still not found there, but the church was stepping up.

And that is the key. It always has been. The church is supposed to STAND WITH THE BROKEN. We see it in both the Old and New Testament. We see it clearly in the words of Jesus. Our Savior is the hope of the world, and we are His hands and feet. It was God’s plan from the beginning that we be His channels of grace, mercy, and hope to a suffering world.

But we have gotten distracted, and the enemy is delighted. 

In the days since, God has continued to unfold opportunities to stand with the broken. So, this ministry is continuing to expand. Here are a few examples:

  • In the next year, we have numerous children in our group homes turning 18. Our plan has always been for them to remain in our home after they age out. But some of the courts are making it clear that they have to be in a separate area for adults only. And we have no space for such an area. So, we are faced with a choice. Do we surrender these young adults that we love to the system to be placed in an institution, or do we open a home just for them? If you know us at all, you know the decision we made. So, we are beginning work to open Hogar Nueva Esperanza (New Hope Home) for adults. No, we don’t know how we will do it. But we know that God would not have us allow these young men and women to move from our family to a crowded institution. So we are confident that He will provide.
  • The Aliento Feeding Program in Aceituno is going wonderfully. But there is a spiritual darkness that we are fighting in the town. People are trapped in cycles of poverty, abuse, and addiction. And the local school is a nightmare that is feeding the crisis. Crowded classrooms and burned-out teachers lead to a setting in which very little learning occurs. But we now have an opportunity to make a difference. One of our ministry partners, BuildingGuate, has been used by God to transform the local school near our birthing center. The Departmental Superintendent of Schools has asked them if they could reproduce that program in other schools. So, our ministry will be stepping up to provide a sponsorship program for students through which we will pay for additional teachers and provide incentives for current teachers in Aceituno. In exchange, we will be allowed to provide Bible and character development classes to address the systemic issues of physical and sexual abuse and the identity crisis that many children face. Again, we are not sure how we can make this work, but God does.
  • Our home’s school for children with special needs has outgrown the single teacher system that is currently in place. We have three more children from our homes who need to begin classes in January, as well as families in the community asking for admission. So, we need to add an additional teacher and expand. Here we grow again!
  • And we just made contact with a ministry in Chiquimula, Guatemala. That department borders Honduras and has the highest level of malnutrition in the country. In some communities, stunting malnutrition tops 90%. I have wanted to begin ministry there for over four years, but God kept closing the doors and telling me to wait. Now we have an opportunity to begin a formula program for malnourished children and for pregnant and nursing mothers. This will be our third formula program in our attempt to fight the growing nutrition crisis in Guatemala.

And there is more coming. I can feel it in my times with God. I can sense His hand on my shoulder and His voice in my ear telling me to prepare myself to see His wonders revealed. I praise God that he saw these expansions coming long ago and is sending help, with three new couples and a single young lady joining our team in the first half of 2020.

Pray for our faith, that we will continue to trust the One who is more that trustworthy. Pray for wisdom to recognize God’s guidance and hear His voice. And pray that God will do God-sized works that are above human understanding and imagination, so that He will be made famous!

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Person in Front of Me

I can be impatient, and I am usually in a hurry. These two facts are a deadly combination, especially living in a country like Guatemala.

Before moving to Guatemala, we lived in Troy, Ohio. My ideas of a traffic jam were rooted in my regular trips to Dayton. During rush hour, the amalgamation of roads known locally as “malfunction junction” could cause a traffic jam that could delay you for up to (gasp) 45 minutes. Until I encountered traffic in Guatemala City, I had no idea what a real traffic jam could be. Now I know that if I leave for the airport at 4:00 am it will take me 55 minutes. If I leave at 5:00 am, it will take me two-and-a-half to three hours.

Guatemala is crowded. If you go to most restaurants over lunch time, you will have to fight for a table. And don’t even think about going to a mall’s food court during a heavy traffic time. A trip to Walmart in the city on a Saturday can look like the last shopping day before Christmas in the States. And a simple visit to the bank can leave you standing in a line that extends out the door and down the street. In other words, this is not a good place to be either impatient or in a hurry.

And God, with His infinite sense of humor, sent me to live and serve here. I can picture Him laughing so hard He has to wipe tears as He watches me in another line of traffic. And I think He especially likes it when I, the guy who refuses to leave my house on Black Friday, find myself pressed into a massive crowd at the Pricesmart checkout area. He enjoys highlighting my weaknesses to keep me humble and reliant on Him.

But the big problem with my whole impatience/hurry problem is the way it causes me to see people. In those moments when I am looking impatiently at the time on my phone and then looking at the people in front of me and calculating how long it will take me to get done or arrive, the people in front of me become an obstacle. They become “things” that are standing in my way. And I just want them to move and let me through. After all, “I have ministry to do.” 

In 1991, when I was in one of my first youth ministry positions, I was preparing for our annual winter retreat. It was a big deal that attracted lots of teens and required lots of work and planning on my part. There were lessons to plan, activities to schedule, youth leaders to coordinate, and more. I had set aside a full day to work on just the retreat, but I was constantly interrupted. The parents of one of the teens who was dealing with depression stopped by to ask for counsel. A teen who was struggling to fit in at school stopped by to just visit. My phone was ringing frequently with questions about the retreat and other events (this was before the days of e-mail and texting). And I was feeling the pressure of another short night of sleep due to my “unproductive” day.

So, I went down to complain to the Senior Pastor, Clark Miller. I leaned against his doorway and explained how lousy my day was going and how little I had gotten done. I told him about all the people that had interrupted me and kept me from my important ministry work. He smiled and nodded, even as I did the same to him. Then, as I turned to go back to my office, I heard him yell out, “Yeah, Fulp! Ministry would be great if it weren’t for all the people!” I returned to his doorway with a pained expression and mimed pulling an arrow from my heart. 

His words were true and powerful. The very people who I had seen as a barrier to ministry were, in fact, crucial ministry

I have had to re-learn that lesson many times over the last 28 years. And it seems I have to re-learn it daily here. These people that crowd me in traffic and lines and stores are not obstacles on my way to do ministry, they are my ministry. In fact, God is showing me that my most important ministry is whoever is in front of me right now. No person is an obstacle, they are someone created in the image of God for whom He died. And yet, I often fail to even notice them on my way to “ministry.”

I shudder to think of how many times I have likely rushed past a person whom God has led into my path. Even worse, how many times have I frowned or rolled my eyes at them in frustration? He put them next to me and slowed me down so that I could acknowledge them, engage them, listen to them, and extend love to them. But I was too busy checking the time and calculating an exit strategy to notice them. One of my great sins is that I am often so far-sighted that I fail to see the person right in front of me. Jesus, please forgive me!

Busyness and rushing is the enemy of love and ministry. Which means, all too often, I am their enemy, as well.

I keep reminding myself of some basic truths: 1) I have no control. I cannot control the traffic, crowds, or lines. 2) God IS in control. He is sovereign over all those things, and uses them for good all the time, even when I don’t see or understand that good. 3) I do have control over my response and attitude in the midst of them. When my attitude goes south, I bring harm instead of the healing and hope God intended. 4) Every person that God puts in front of me is my most important ministry in that moment.

Recently I began to pray a prayer each morning as I walk out of my bedroom door to face the world. I am making it into a little sign to post next to the door to keep it in the forefront of my thoughts each morning. It goes like this:

Lord, with your help, today I will be last and least. I will not demand my rights, but will lay them aside to bless and help others. I will be a servant, and expect no one to serve me. I will remember the mercy I have received and extend it to others. I will notice the person in front of me, and I will honor and love them in Your name. With your help, I will be more like you than yesterday. Jesus, please help me. Amen.

As soon as I finish typing these words, I will leave this place and head to another in order to minister. But every step and mile along the way, there will be lots of ministry waiting in the form of people. Please pray that I will notice and minister. And I will do the same for you.

Every person we encounter every day needs more of Jesus. Let’s slow down and give Him to them.

Blessings from Guatemala!
Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew

Friday, May 10, 2019

Grief and Grieving

We lost another child last week. It was not a surprise, but it still felt like a kick in the stomach.

Little Edy had been struggling for most of his time with us, which was over three years. He was missing a large part of his brain, and his brain stem was damaged. As a result, he would stop breathing on a regular basis. At some point, he stopped swallowing, so he had to be put in an NG tube. We never bothered having a G-tube installed because we were told that he did not have long to live, and we did not believe he would survive the surgery.

But day after day and month after month, Edy continued to fight. Many times we thought the end was near and we would say goodbye. But, in typical Edy fashion, he would turn a corner and improve, moving from near death to laughter in a few hours.

Over the last year, he had declined significantly. His bad days outnumber his good days, and we all began to pray that Jesus would take him home. But he continued to fight.
Wanda and I flew to the States on April 25th. The night before we left, I said goodbye to each of the children, and when I came to Edy I stayed with him a little longer. He was looking bad, and I wondered if he would live out the week. But, since I had thought he was dying so many times before, I shook it off and told myself he would fight through it, as always. But, as I said goodbye, I told him, “Little buddy, I will either see you in eight days, or when I get to heaven. Either way, I will see you soon.” It was the last time I saw him.

Wanda and I flew into Pennsylvania and participated in a family wedding that Saturday. On Sunday, we drove to Ohio to see our daughter, Ashley, and her family, including our new grandson, Sonny. We also visited with friends and spoke at a church. And on Thursday we drove back to PA. Before we left, I received a message from Katie Riley saying that Edy was not doing well. He had not been conscious for three days and was bloating badly, a sign that his internal organs were shutting down. While in the States, our Guatemalan cell phones do not work, so we rely on WiFi for communications. We committed to connect every time we stopped to check for updates.

At around 11:00 am we stopped for gas, and Wanda’s phone connected with someone’s WiFi. The message arrived then. Edy had passed away at around 10:25 am.

I had listened to his struggling breathing for the last two years. I had seen him worsen, and I had prayer that he would go to Jesus. Many times I held him and comforted and told him to stop fighting. Yet, when Wanda told me he was gone, it felt like a ton of bricks hit me. The grief of losing him, combined with the reality that we were not there and could not make it back by his funeral, completely overwhelmed me.

We stopped shortly after for an early lunch and to use WiFi to connect, comfort, and make sure the details were covered back home. Then we drove to get back to PA so we could fly out the next morning.

The next 36 hours until we were home with family was a blur. Grief, traveling, concern for those back home, thoughts of the funeral…they all came together in a fuzzy ball. When we were finally able to enter our home and hug our children (by blood, adoption, and internship) I finally felt like I could breath again.

For our family, grief can be difficult, because we are not allowed the same space to grieve that others are given. We have lost nine children from our two homes. Each time, the grief threatened to overwhelm us. And, in some case, the grief was accompanied by the trauma of sudden death and the frantic activity of CPR. And, each time, our family and interns grieved deeply.

But, in many cases, there is a failure to understand our grief. While it is never spoken out loud, the attitude is regularly conveyed that it is not as hard for us when we lose a child because they are not really our children. They are just children in our group home, and we signed up for these kinds of things. So we are not given space.

I am not trying to complain, just making an observation. More is expected of us than would ever be expected of other parents and siblings that had just lost a son or brother. Whereas other parents who had just lost a child would be visited, comforted, receive food gifts, and be encouraged to grieve and talk about their loss, we are not. Brief words are exchanged, and the conversation moves on.

We moved to Guatemala to be a family to children without a family, not to be an institution. Ever child in our home calls us mom and dad, and we call them our sons and daughters. Our biological and adopted children call the kids in our home their brothers and sisters. We love them as our own family, because they are. Yes, our family is way bigger than most, but the size makes us no less of a family and does nothing to diminish our grief when one of them leaves us. It does not make it easier when we prepare their little bodies for burial and place them in little coffins. It does not diminish the grief of standing beside their tomb. It wounds us to the core of our being.

When this happens, I want to be able to take a week off to be with my family and grieve. I want to be able to talk with friends about it instead of receiving a cursory condolence and moving on to the next topic. But I don’t have that freedom. Nor do Wanda and our children.

My friend, Drew, helps me a lot. He listens and understands my need to grieve. He keeps encouraging me to talk and let it out. I met with him two days ago and told about my fear. I am afraid that if I let down the spill gate on the dam that is holding back my grief of all the children we have lost that the flood would drown me. That, once it starts, it might never stop.

At the same time, I realize that holding back my grief is ugly, as well. It bottles up inside me and comes out in the form of anger and impatience. I lose my joy and begin to isolate myself. Even small tasks seem overwhelming. So, I have to let it out. But I have to find people who understand and will give me room to grieve. Drew is one of those people. Wanda is another. Dick is another. And I am learning that they have to be enough.

People often tell Wanda and I how strong we are. They really have no idea how weak we are. If they could see us in the privacy of our room as we struggle to figure out how to keep going, how to keep our marriage and family healthy, and how to get up the next morning…they would not call us strong.

So, we can only throw our tired and discouraged selves into the arms of Jesus and trust God’s promise that in our weakness, He is strong.

A song that has ministered to me over the last week has been “See You In a Little While” by Steven Curtis Chapman. I will leave you with the lyrics.

I hold your hand and watch as the sun slowly fades
Far in the distance the Father is calling your name
And it’s time for you to go home
And everything in me wants to hold on
But I’m letting you go with this goodbye kiss and this promise

I’ll see you in a little while
I’ll see you in a little while
It won’t be too long now
We’ll see it on the other side
The wait was only the blink of an eye
So I’m not gonna say goodbye
‘Cause I’ll see you in a little while

And just one more thing before I let you go
Please tell my little girl I love her
Though I’m sure she already knows
And ask the Father to please tell the Son
That we’re ready and waiting for Him to come

I’ll see you in a little while
I’ll see you in a little while
It won’t be too long now
We’ll see it on the other side
The wait was only the blink of an eye
So I’m not gonna say goodbye
‘Cause I’ll see you in a little while

Maybe you’ll teach me all the songs they sing in heaven
Maybe you’ll show me how you can fly
And I’ll hear you laugh again
And we won’t remember when
We were not together and this time it’s forever

I’ll see you in a little while
I’ll see you in a little while
It won’t be too long now
We’ll see it on the other side
The wait was only the blink of an eye
So I’m not gonna say goodbye
‘Cause I’ll see you in a little while
I’m gonna see you in a little while

Blessings from Guatemala,

Daryl, Wanda, and the Crew