Friday, July 7, 2017

Day 7: Guatemala City

Dear friends and family,
We are terrific but the blog has an issue. I cannot get onto the blog on my computer; I am left to hunt and peck keys on an iPad. Bienvenidos a Guatemala. I will post photos tomorrow if I can resolve the problem. In the meantime, please know that we had another meaningful day filled with new, rich experiences and that we are healthy and safe.  More importantly, today and all days this week, we saw God everywhere!

Before I sign off tonight, I want to tell all of our former team members you have been missed. The Guatemalan missionaries wanted you to know they are praying for you and all you do in your lives in the States. They remember each of you fondly.

Blessings y buenos noches,


Well, the issue is resolved, and now I am too fried to write.  Please forgive us if we just post a few photos.

Trinity and the Guatemalan missionaries this morning from the roof.
Johnny (soon to be the birthday boy), Megan, and Deb at the Mayan ruins just down the street from the mission house.
This is a team tradition. Note, my friends are spelling "JESUS."

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Day 6: Amatitlan

Adult lesson in Gonzalez Park
Dear friends and family,
This was an extraordinary day, but honestly, I have no idea how to muster the energy to write about it.  I am going to start with photos and hope that a guest blogger will jump in. We are all in great spirits and excellent health, just a little tired. We met with sponsored students, went on home visits, and again, held faith lessons for hundreds with our ever able partners, the Guatemalan missionaries.  It was an exhilarating day with meaningful, new experiences we will never forget.

And now... for tonights guest blogger, Ali Corace.

Hola a todos. My name is Ali and I am beyond blessed to be a part of Trinity's 2017 mission team here at Groundwork Guatemala. Guatemala is an extremely special place to me. I had my first experience in Guatemala 7 years ago, on one of the first teams to work with Groundwork. After trying to find time to get back here for the last 7 years, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to a gap year program for medical and nursing students and lived in Guatemala last year for 6 months. So for me, it has been an incredible opportunity to return to a place that has had such an impact on me.

Today our group visited a community called Gonzalez Park, which is in a city called Amatitlan. Amatitlan is a smaller city about an 45 minutes from the capital where the mission house is. After a devotion led by one of the missionaries, Carlos, we all piled into two vans to start our journey. Apart from our official activities of home visits and leading lessons, van rides are my favorite part of the day. You may think that squeezing 18 people, craft supplies, medical clinic supplies, and lunch supplies into two van would be a nightmare, but you would be wrong. For us, it is a time spent overcoming language barriers, getting to know each others quirks and getting to see more of this beautiful country. 

After arriving at the site, we unpacked and immediately began home visits. Home visits are an incredible part of the day because people invite us into their homes to offer prayers, words of encouragement and bible verses. Each situation is different but it is a very powerful thing to watch the missionaries minister so well to each person and have the opportunity to gain insight into the struggles that many people face here in Guatemala. 

After returning from home visits we sat down to a very traditional lunch of PB&J before getting ready to present our lessons. Different members of the group have put together lessons for different age groups and I have been lucky to work with Sally on presenting a faith lesson to the adults. I wish I could say that I am always excited to present the lesson, but my experience (and Sally's for that matter) is with kids and teens. So while each of us are happy to serve in whatever area we are asked, it has stretched our gifts to say the least! But after we have presented, and Carlos, the missionary who works with the adults, has cleaned up any issues created by our Spanish language barrier, it is such an  honor to spend time just talking with them. 

My favorite part of the day definitely has to be when we have the opportunity to talk to the children that Trinity sponsors. My ability to communicate in Spanish has been a blessing because I can speak directly to the kids and really let them know how proud we are of them and how grateful we are that they are taking this opportunity to work hard and better themselves and their communities. I even found out that one of the boys we sponsor has straight As! As we all know, a good education can open so many doors. Here in Guatemala it is even more important because it can literally change the trajectory of a life from that of poverty to one of opportunity. Even more impactful was meeting with the mothers of some of these children. Like many of the moms on our team have said, no matter what country they are from, all moms want the same for their kids. These moms were no different. They thanked our church for providing their children with an education and also praised God for blessing their children with the chance of an education. 

So, as you may be able to tell, I am not at a loss for words about my experience here so far. God has blessed our team, this ministry, Ginny, Kevin, and the Guatemalan missionaries with an incredible week so far and we are so excited to see what tomorrow will bring. Thank you to our Trinity family for all that you do to support this ministry and thank you to God for all he is doing through it. 
Buenas Noches. 
Jen, newly sponsored Kimberly, and Alaina
Deb and newly sponsored Melody and her family
Joel (Sally's sponsored child), Sally, Ali, and Joel's mother, his niece, and sister.
Joel had grown about 6 inches since last year and his voice was at least an octave lower.  He still wants to be a doctor!
Seven of Trinity's sponsored students in Amatitlan. Guatemalan students must wear uniforms to go to school, so they looked much more pulled together than we did.  Seniors in high school must wear suits. Three of their mothers found Ali and me later in the afternoon to thank all of you for your support for their children.  Without you, these kids would likely not still be in school. It was an honor to be on the receiving end of those thank yous. We are blessed to be able to do this as a church family.
Children's lesson under tents on a new slab of cement at John the Baptist Park.
Teen lesson with Julie and Leyna

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Day 5: Buena Vista

Dear family and friends,
Two hours west of Guatemala City, about 45 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, is the village of Buena Vista.  Buena Vista is indescribable and that explains, in part, why Leyna and I had such a difficult time getting this started. I am going to post photos and perhaps explain more later.  The photos make everything beautiful, and it is, but those who live in Buena Vista are merely subsisting or less, if that is possible, and that makes life brutally harsh here. . . and that points as well to the problem with our photos.  You will never see what we saw looking at these images.  On the surface, it was hot and exotic, but behind that, it was complex and devastating. It is a place where you must have a clear message because lives depend on it, and yes, I know that sounds dramatic, but I am telling you, it is the truth.  We ministered along side Guatemalans who comforted the critically ill, the malnourished, and the injured.  We witnessed women washing clothes, dishes, and bodies in nearby streams;  we hiked among rubber tree plants with their drip collection cups by the hundreds; we walked along side ducks, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, horses, turkeys, and cows in various stages of vigorous life and death. We stood in smoke filled shanties that were set in dirt and mud, with sides of bamboo lashed together on three sides.  We walked along side mothers and grandmothers caring for family members in dark shanties with very little hope for a better day, and we prayed with children, teens and adults, knowing we were privileged beyond words to walk among these Guatemalans and share our faith as they share theirs with us.  It was a day none of us will ever forget.  And as is always the case in Buena Vista, mountain top experiences are coupled with strangely odd occurrences. Today it was an angry possum on a leash being drug home for dinner.  The photos will illustrate many of the life changing experiences we had today, but after careful deliberation, I have decided, once was enough with that stinkin' possum.
Sally y mi amigos
(See Leyna's post below.)
Turn right at the tree and you arrive in Buena Vista.
A "better than most" kitchen in Buena Vista
Seriously ill Domingo and his caretaker, his 80 plus year old grandmother, with nurse Anna. Notice the height difference between Domingo's grandmother and us.
The children's lesson
Levi and Leyna

Hola! It's Leyna Gatti. I'm 14 and a sophomore at Lutheran High North. It's my first time in Guatemala, but I don't think it will be my last. This trip so far has been the craziest thing I've ever experienced. There is no way to explain the views and conditions I've witnessed here. Getting out of the van in Buena Vista, I felt like I had walked into the butterfly garden at the Detroit Zoo, but with a few more pigs (and an opossum on a leash)! There are flowers and animals everywhere. It is the most beautiful place I've ever seen, but the nature's beauty pales in comparison to the people. Today I had the privilege to meet the boy I sponsor, Levi, and his mother. Levi was so sweet and getting to know him has been my favorite part of this trip so far. When I went to leave, Levi asked me when I was coming back and told me that he would be waiting for me, but I don't think he'll be waiting that long. The places I've seen and the people I've met have had a massive effect on me, and I know a piece of my heart will always be in Guatemala and with Levi. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Day 4: El Rincón

Jen and friends (Living the Dream!)
Trinity with Sonya, Dulce, Gerson, and Gustavo, students sponsored by Trinity and on their way to school.
Dear Family and friends,
You know that time you committed to do something you knew was outside your comfort zone, but you did it anyway? That was today for most of us. We were off to El Rincon about 45 minutes into the mountains outside Guatemala City.  It is an incredibly beautiful setting with equally beautiful people, but the life is hard and the poverty pervasive.  Each of us were placed in situations that were new for us. I am a firm believer that God has a sense of humor, but He is also faithful.  The combination worked for us today.

Our morning was spent visiting the homes of children who had been newly sponsored by team members.  Half of us visited Megan's newly selected 14-year-old, Nelson, and the other half visited Debbie's recent selection of 17-year-old Melody to replace a previously sponsored child who had graduated from high school this year.  Megan, another Lutheran North senior, will describe her experience in her own words, below. I also discovered that Johnny and I can be extremely cool customers when the need arises.  During our time in Melody's home, a rat literally ran across the cinder block wall behind the rest of the team and off onto the roof; neither of us even flinched. A lot is happening in those home visits. We did not even realize the other one had seen it until we got back to Guatemala City. At the same time multiple roosters were crowing, and there was an extremely big, bad dog being held back with an extremely big stick because he has been known to bite strangers. It was a joyous experience all around, really.  In the afternoon, we took on our respective faith lessons. Those of you who have been here know how stressful that can be.  It is ridiculously stressful! I know everything went well, but I can only speak first-hand about the adult lesson.  I loved working with Ali and watching her reclaim her Spanish after her 6 months in Guatemala last year.  I was also thrilled to be silly with the 110 women as well as remind them we are all sisters and struggle with the same challenges. It was truly a privilege to speak with these women and share our lives and God's word, and thanks to Ali and Carlos, they may have even understood us! LOL

It was an exhausting day, but it was filled with experiences we could never have imagined even one day ago. We are well, happy, and focused.  Thank you for your prayers and interest.

Megan and Nelson
El Rincón

¡Hola todos!
This is Megan.  Last night I picked out my sponsor child, and today I had the opportunity to meet him! His name is Nelson and he is just the sweetest boy.  He is 14, a student, wants to become an electrician, and has a real passion for music.  He was pretty shy, but it was so sweet to hear him talk about his music, and how blessed he feels to have his talent.  His mom shared with us how their situation had made her want to leave the family, but then she saw Nelson playing his keyboard in their kitchen and crying.  When she asked him why he was crying, he said it was because he knew she was sad, and he wanted to make her happy, and the only way he knew how was to play his keyboard for her.  It was so amazing to see people who have such pure hearts.  They have next to nothing, but their relationships with each other and with God are everything.  It is truly a blessing to be a part of their lives.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Day 3: Only A Child y La Libertad

Daniel carving a cross
Home visit with Lydia and Aida

Dear family and friends,
Today was a gut check day. We spent the morning with another ministry, Only A Child, which ministers to street/homeless/hopeful boys.  George Leger, a pastry chef from Boston, gave up his life in the U.S. to reach out to these kids in profound ways.  Over time, he has established a shelter, carpentry workshop, and opportunities for an education for these deserving kids. Responsible young men are a rarity in many communities in Guatemala.  George told us his fascinating story as well as introducing us to the boys and men who make Only A Child their life's mission.  I will include photos of our morning at the end of the blog.  We also drove by the Guatemala City Garbage Dump to see where many of the people Groundwork serves and many of the young adults who work with the ministry live.

Our afternoon started with more work on our faith lessons with the Guatemalan missionaries.  Later we broke into two groups and returned to the Dump area to a network of shanties called La Libertad. La Libertad was built on top of a dump by squatters who had no where else to live after leaving the countryside as a result of Guatemala's 30+ year civil war. Many spoke Mayan dialects rather than Spanish and as a result of that and racism, were left with scavenging in the garbage dump to survive.  A couple generations later, it is the unspeakably desperate home for the poorest of the poor.  Today's guest blogger is Julie Gatti. Even the returnees were staggered by today's experiences. It will be powerful to read her impressions. More photos to come at the end.

Hello All,
I fear that there is no way I could ever find the words to adequately describe the poverty we experienced today. The first place our group visited at La Libertad was the home of Lydia, a 19 year old mother of a sick 11 month old child, Aida (sp?).  Tiny Aida, who looked no older than 4 months, clung to her tiny mother who stood in the main living space in her slides with flies landing on her toes and legs and face almost constantly during our visit.  Lydia had just lost her mother, Maria, to an illness, most likely related at least in part to her use of alcohol.  Clothes lines hung throughout the space which was barely large enough for the seven of us (Kevin from Groundwork, Carlos, a Guatemalan missionary, Jen, Alaina, Megan, Leyna and me) to stand.  Thousands of flies flew around, landing on the drying clothes, swarming on the floor, and creating a buzzing cyclone around the opening to the home from the alleyway.  There was no door.  Cats and kittens dashed in and out.  Aida's stroller was piled with clothing covered in flies.  Two sewing machines sat, unused for now, as Lydia could not put down the ailing Aida without her immediately wailing.  Aida little ears were pierced with pretty little earrings and her big brown eyes, while wet with tears, could not be more beautiful.  Lydia showed us a framed picture of Maria.  Her eyes were full of sorrow.  Both she and her sister, Graciela, were sponsored children of Groundwork Guatemala, but only Graciela followed the stringent rules of sponsorship through high school graduation and became a mission success story.  Lydia became pregnant, dropped out, and lives in the tiny shanty with 13 others, including her drunken father and elderly grandmother.  She spoke of her father's addiction with open disdain, even in his presence upon his arrival to the home.

As hopeless and heart-wrenching as the scene would seem, quite remarkably, Lydia was very open to praying with us and sharing Bible readings.  When Kevin asked if she wanted to read the Bible, she immediately said, "Josue uno nueve." She read from Kevin's Bible in Spanish with perfect diction, Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  Jen's words when we arrived back at the mission house described the thoughts of all of us.  No one should have to live like that.

While we certainly appreciate your prayers, please include the people of Zone 3/La Libertad - that they would not be discouraged.

On a personal note, Scott and Julian, Leyna and I miss and love you.

Only A Child and Trinity
Home visit with Maria
Note from Sally: I know the photos did not load in the right order, but honestly, I am just happy to get them posted at all.  It is extremely hard to manipulate.  Buenas Noches.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Day 2: Ministerios Sendero de la Cruz y mas

Dear family and friends,
I am a little bit of a control freak about some aspects of the Guatemala trip, but I am trying to back off a bit. . . well, a little bit.  We have never had a team that was not up to the experience and this team is no exception, so I am going to ask other members of the team to write about some of their impressions each day.  Not willing to give up the entire ship, I will set the stage and then ask a team member to remind you who they are and what touched them on that particular today. I am not sure if they have been dying to wrestle this thing from me for years or if this is more like an unwelcome, eighth grade writing assignment.  Either way, I know you will enjoy hearing from them. Again, I will set the stage, and then you will hear from a team member about his or her thoughts about the day. To that end, our day began as follows.

After at least nine hours of welcomed Guatemalan rest (in addition to dogs, roosters, fireworks, motorcycles, thunderstorms, leg cramps, falling flashlights, bunk beds, air mattress squeaks, misplaced glasses, and a moth the size of my hand), we were up early and ready for our trip to Ministerios Sendero de la Cruz and more.  The church is a storefront celebration of faith and fellowship.  Each year I am always initially impressed by the teenage liturgical dancers, male and female, and the way in which the church seamlessly welcomes us into their family of worship; however, the experience is so much more.

After church,  grilled cheese, chips, and salsa (what could be better), we set about fine-tuning and perhaps even overhauling portions our faith lessons for the week.  Ali and I are preparing the adult lesson; Julie and Leyna took on the teen lesson; and Alaina, Jen, Johnny, Megan and Deb have the children.  After spending most of the afternoon working on our respective lessons, many of us independently muttered we would rather build houses. We were reminded today, however, God does not call the equipped; he equips the called.  With that in mind, we persevered . . . and laughed, a lot.

Here goes with our new format.  Out first guest blogger is fan favorite, Alaina Petzold. Alaina will be a senior at Lutheran North this fall.

The most impactful part of today for me was while we were at church. The praise band is phenomenal and does an amazing job engaging every one, even those of us who don't know the language. The second song we sang was "This is Amazing Grace." This is one of my favorite songs that we sing at Trinity. It captures God's unfailing love for us in a way that moves my heart every time I hear it. Singing this song in Guatemala was beyond special and opened my heart in a way I haven't experienced. I felt an incredible connection to the Guatemalan people as well as the Trinity congregation. It reminded me that we all worship the same God and are all united in His family. Though we may have different cultures, skin color, and experiences, we are ALL children of God. Please continue to pray for us while we share God's love to the Guatemalan people. I know the kid's lesson could use some serious prayers, and I'm sure the adult and teen lessons could as well! Thank you so much for all of your support!
I miss and love you, dad.


Alaina Petzold and Team

P.S. We all would like to wish Megan's little sister Rachel a very happy birthday!

This is Sally again. As I post photos, I am watching Johnny, Alaina, Ali and Megan do planks and sit-ups before bed.  I don't think it has occurred to them how sore they will be tomorrow and how difficult it will be to sleep tonight.  You have to love their "enthusiasm!"

Leyna and Julie working on the teen lesson.

Johnny, Alaina, Jen, and Deb recreating a whale of a tale for the kids.

Ali and Sally pretending to have a solution to their problem.

Megan apparently does not eat vegetables, but did!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Day 1: It was an early one.

Megan, Alaina, Jenn, Ali, Sally, Deb, Johnny, Julie, and Leyna

Today began at 3:00 A.M. when most of us got up to be on the road by 3:30, so we could be at the airport by 4:30.  We all arrived within seconds of each other and everything went extremely well.  Most of our bags were within a pound or two of the 50 pound limit so there was virtually no repacking required.

The flight to Atlanta was smooth and quiet. We landed and took off from the same terminal which never happens, and we arrived in Guatemala on time and ready to go.  Ginny and Kevin Holmes along with  Guatemalan missionary Manuel picked us up, helped us load our 18 bags of supplies and 18 carry-ons, and we were off on the relatively short ride to the mission house.

After getting the lay of the land, we unpacked and sorted the supplies you so generously provided, made hygiene kits for the young children of Buena Vista (Wednesday's destination), and counted what seemed like millions, but perhaps only thousands of children's vitamins and placed them in baggies.  After a wonderful dinner of fruits and vegetables, we are winding down/crashing for the night.  We are exhausted, but gratefully this is a county that tends to go to bed early and get up early. We are all down with that, tonight.

Families and friends, we are happy, healthy, and extremely excited about our time with Groundwork Guatemala. God blessed us in many ways today. Thank you for your texts this morning and your prayers and support this afternoon.

Johnny, Leyna, Alaina, Megan, Ali, Julie, Deb, Jenn, and Sally

The view from the plane about 5 minutes before landing in Guatemala City.