Friday, June 29, 2018

viernes: Shortest long week

Dear family and friends,
This has been the shortest long week of the year . . . or rather, it has been the longest short week of the year. I don't ever remember a year when that has not been the case. The trip is at times hard and the week is long but is happens fast. I guess it is the new surroundings each day, and even when you know what is coming, you never know what might happen. (Wow, I just reread that. What did I just say?)

Our day began as they do every day with Guatemalan led devotions. Because our day today was based in Guatemala City, we were offered the opportunity to go to Godoy Coffee to see how coffee is roasted or to the Mayan Ruins down the street, yes, down the street. There are Mayan mounds and ruins everywhere. The Mayan Empire was massive and its artifacts in many instances are unprotected here. After, we had the opportunity to eat lunch in the mission house with all of the Guatemalan missionaries and Ginny and Kevin, we prepared to once again present our faith lessons. The number served is smaller in Guatemala City, so it is all done in the mission house, the adults in the garage, the teens around the table, and the kids outside the house but inside the gated yard. We had another opportunity to talk with another student , Libny, sponsored by Trinity and Bequer, sponsored by my family. Trinity also sponsors Oscar and Julian, two exceptionally gifted, Guatemalan missionaries.

It is much harder to say goodbye to the Guatemalans and to Ginny and Kevin than 8 days would suggest it would be.  I think it is because every day we are in surreal, real world situations with these people without our technology. Tonight, we spent time debriefing and tomorrow we look forward to a side trip to the colonial capital of Guatemala, on our own, before our departure on Monday. 

I am so sorry this is brief.  I'll be honest, we are really tired. Perhaps I can revisit this later. We are all well. We have all independently expressed our thoughts about how we have been changed by this opportunity to serve with Groundwork and how each of us has grown. I can't wait to see how God will use each of us as a result of what we have experienced and learned this week. 

Blessings and good night,
Sally and the 2018 Mission Team of my dreams

Thursday, June 28, 2018

jueves: Thankfulness

Dear family and friends,

Trinity, you have been thanked. All day long, you have been thanked.  All week long you have been thanked by Guatemalan teenagers and their mothers.  The 14 high school students Trinity sponsors are genuinely grateful for the opportunity to attend a good high school.  Their mothers who get what that education means for their child and their family's future are profoundly thankful for all of you. My response was the problem.  I really did not know what to say because as usual, they were unknowingly teaching me something I should have already known, and that was, first and foremost, thank God. All day long, as we had the opportunity to talk with these kids and their mothers, it was "Thank God," first, "Thank your church," second. At the same time, I was struggling with what to say in response: "There is no need for thanks," or "Your hard work is the only thanks we need," or even, "you're welcome." I started listening to them and realized, once again, they were teaching me. I had all day to get it right and finally settled on, "Thank God, we are 'blessed to be a blessing'."
I hope this makes sense, but these Guatemalans who have so little, always thank God first and then the secondary giver, secondarily.  It was a whopping important reminder of the source of all blessings.

Our day was spent in Amatitlan. (Sorry, I don't know how to put the accents in on this keyboard.) Amatitlan is not as large as Guatemala City but shanties and homes are wall-to-wall cement block and corrugated metal on its narrow streets. The population density is high. It was there we spent the morning visiting with the families of some of our personally sponsored children. Lauren, Alaina, Adam (on behalf of Emily and Blake), and I had the chance to sit and talk with Maria, Kimberly, Victor, and Joel in their homes. We talked about everything . . . favorite foods, favorite subjects in school, favorite Bible passages . . . yes, I know there is a pattern here. It is hard because none of us is fluent in Spanish, but we persevered with the help of translators. It was equal parts stress and wonder.

There were lots of highs this afternoon.  Megan got to spend some time with Anna and Julian during their medical clinic, and I got to watch Megan's face when they pulled a winged mosquito (Is that a thing?) out of a woman's ear. I suspect Megan will make an excellent doctor, but she may need a little work on her bedside manner/reactions. By the way, the other ear had a seed pod in it. And every mothers knows that stuff happens in the U.S., too. Dylan and Megan had near record attendance at the teen faith lessons, 57, and there were almost 200 at the children's lesson, and I would guess between 150-175 at the adult lesson. Mona and I finally found our groove. We had a wonderful time with the adults. Alaina and her fearless music/dance leader, Lauren, along with Lexi, Ryan, Marisa, and Adam rocked the kid's lesson and the soccer ball. We were working in different parks. These parks have no grass; they are just a square of cement between cement block houses on either side, but they come alive as hundreds show up for faith lessons and the clinic. Tents are erected, molded, plastic stools strategically placed, a microphone jimmy-rigged, attendance taken, and away we go.

Today is a hard day to describe. Admittedly, as the week progresses, it gets harder and harder to find the presence of mind to write. We are tired, but really not that tired. We are somewhat emotionally spent but still completely engaged. I think this is my way of saying I can't describe places today, just a feeling of thankfulness, to God, first, and to all of you, the Guatemalans, and the ministry, second.

Blessings and good night,

Adam, Ryan, Marisa, Lexi, Dylan, Alaina, Megan, Lauren, Mona Lisa, and Sally

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

miercoles: Deet, Volcanoes, Pigs, Domingo (not the day of the week) and Humility

Dear friends and family,
Open up a National Geographic, and step in. That was our day in Buena Vista. I never get over the wonder of 10 yahoos from Michigan walking down "Main Street" in Buena Vista. I guess you could call Buena Vista a village, or a hamlet, or a gathering of shanties in the middle of a sugar cane and rubber tree finca/farm. Plants, animals/critters of all kinds, children... the place teems with life. Pineapples, mangoes, cocoanuts, turkey's, ducks, cows, "free range"chickens and chickens on tethers, and my personal favorite the bevy of pigs who attended the adult lesson and who paced the entire time, kind of like me; we bonded.

Again, today, we were privileged to teach faith lessons and go on home visits on this small piece of the Pacific coastal plains, in the rainforest, in one of the most beautiful places  imaginable; however, it is remote and it is extremely poor. The homes are bamboo, rusted corrugated metal, with wood fires for stoves. There is no running water; well, it is running ... it runs in a nearby stream where Buena Vista baths, washes dishes and clothes, and drinks. As Americans, it is hard to imagine the hardships that exist day to day there. But, life happens anyway and we got a glimpse of it. Even as we departed Buena Vista in the day time, who can imagine life in Buena Vista in the dark. It is unimaginable.

It was again a privilege to talk and laugh with the adults, primarily women, the teens, and the children. Again, our similarities rather than our differences even in this exotic yet tragic location seemed to shine. And nothing captures that better than Dylan, Adam and Ryan playing soccer with the kids and having to pull out their best stuff to compete. These are tough people, as you can imagine, and they hang on to their faith for dear life.The children who are sponsored by Trinity and others are attending school, even high school, although they must travel long distances to attend. There are even high school graduates. The sponsorship program is changing lives but that does not happen without the tenacity of some pretty tough kids and their moms.

In addition to Groundwork's faith lessons and home visits every week day, they also travel with a nurse and her gifted assistant, Julian, a true jack-of-all trades. At every ministry location there is a medical clinic each week, and today I was allowed to accompany Anna and Julian on a medical visit to Xaya.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Domingo in the village of Xiya located about 20 minutes from Buena Vista. To get there, it takes a second trek on a rutted and rocky road through the sugar cane past Mayan mounds and wide open fields with trees that looked like those often associated with the African bush. Last year, Domingo had experienced a stroke in his mid-twenties. Neighbors had shared the news of this young man who was need of care. I met him about a month after his stroke. Anna had initially evaluated him and determined, at the very least, he was severely diabetic and dehydrated. Then, she and Julian began the weekly process of Domingo's care in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Anna demands that Domingo works to recover. She researched the kind of physical therapy equipment that might afford him improvement, and Julian designed and built it right under the trees next to his grandmother's humble home in Xiya. Each week Anna and Julian make the extra trip to provide his diabetic medication and check on his progress. They encourage him but also demand he exercise regularly so that he does not end up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Seriously, in the middle of nowhere, there is somewhere where people of God do the impossible for one of their brothers because they can. Domingo has miles to go, but has come miles from where he was a year ago. God placed Anna and Julian in Domingo's extremely challenging life and they stepped so far up it is dizzying. These are the kind of folks we have been allowed to serve with this week.

I can't close without touching on the topic of volcanoes. The drive to Buena Vista took us by Pacaya, Agua, Acatenango, and yes, even Fuego. Fuego is massive and it and Pacya were pumping out smoke today. No, we were not right next to them, but they are huge and can be seen picture perfect from quite a distance. It was a graphic reminder of the fine line between nature's beauty and its fury.

Again, thank you for coming along with us this week. Everyone is healthy and, I believe, extremely happy but after today, tired. It was HOT today and still, everyone did their best. We were fortunate to have so many God sightings (Emily Wright's term, not mine) today.

Ryan, Dylan, Adam, Mona, Lauren, Lexi, Megan, Alaina, Marisa, and Sally

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

martes: Roaring rain and more

Dear friends and family,
Today, like most days during the rainy season, it rained. No, it was not rain; it was a deluge of Biblical proportions. I honestly had the thought that if one of the volcanoes erupted, there would be no way we would hear it. Yes, you think of some pretty wacky scenarios down here. Needless to say,  we experienced the tropics up close and personal today. We were in El Rincon which is nestled at the base of several volcanic mountains. There were horses on the mountain sides, cattle roaming the dirt roads, indigenous women carrying goods in plastic bowls and bundles on their heads, women wielding wheel barrows down the rutted, dirt roads, rings of barbed wire strung along the the top of cement block walls, dogs of every size, shape, or condition, garbage, motorcycles, also, in every size shape or condition, cornfields which rose at 70 degree angles across the sides of mountains, chicken bus graveyards, a boneless chicken farm (several of my people actually fell for that one), women in indigenous dress, and lots of folks on foot going about their days in the heat and humidity.

Today, we did home visits and the first round of our faith lessons. The deluge occurred during our lessons and the dirt road which separated the adult and youth lessons from the kid's lesson flooded so much we could not regroup after. It looked like the muddy/mighty Mississippi. Mona and I were so concerned about our adult lesson premier, that we were metaphorically high-five-ing each other because we thought the roar of the rain would drown out the mistakes we made; we soon discovered there was a microphone. Oh, well. It was an extraordinary experience talking with the women and despite my missteps in Spanish and our need for translation, it was just an awesome time spent with these adults talking about how all of our families are complicated. . . Biblical families, their families, and our families.

The teen and children's lessons were well done by our kids.  I witnessed every single one of our teens reaching out to talk with, and not talk at, everyone they came in contact with. They took a lot of pride in doing the work well and enthusiastically; they were engaged and caring. We also met extraordinary parents of students that Trinity sponsors as well as the students themselves.  Over and over we heard how thankful each student and parent was to God for the educational sponsorship support Trinity provides, and over and over they additionally expressed how this assistance had enabled them, instead, to use more of the money they earn for needed medication, more and better food, and badly needed improvements to their homes. Their lives are so incredibly modest that sponsorship seems to have an enormous impact on the entire family, now and into the future.

It is difficult to capture what went on today. It is better suited for a conversation rather than to struggle to describe it here when we have to be up at 5:00 tomorrow morning. Please have conversations with your people when we return.  We will need to talk about where we have been, what we have seen, and what we have done.  More importantly, we will need to tell you about the people we have met.

Before I post this, there were many funny things that happened today in the midst of some pretty weighty  experiences that I want to share, but the funniest had to be the verse on our shirts.  A certain unnamed Lutheran High School North valedictorian ordered our shirts with the wrong verse on them; however, most of us did not realize it until today. The verse that is cited on the shirt is absolutely abysmal for a team bent on spreading the love of Jesus. It was supposed to say I Corinthians 13:13, a classic verse about love, but instead it reads I Corinthians 3:14, basically fire and brimstone. Well, it really did not bother any of us  that much once we recovered, although we did recognize how ridiculous it had been that we had been wearing the shirt in Michigan at church repeatedly, but the unnamed valedictorian was beyond mortified, and that was the truly hilarious piece. In addition, Mona keeps forgetting she has had a name change so it is funny to watch the reactions when she introduces her understated, sweet self as Mona,  the Monkey. And finally, there are endless stories about mishaps in the bathrooms. (There are some pretty firm necessary regulations about bathroom operations here.) Last night I was trying to quickly get in and out of the shower and because I basically can't see without my glasses and things are pretty dark at night,  I applied toothpaste instead of body lotion and had to revisit the fairly arduous process of showering in the "electric" shower agan. Maybe that isn't that funny; its probably pitiful.

Again, everyone is pulling their weight and then some.  This team is  funny, kind, and great to be with. The Guatemalan missionaries are beyond admirable and great role models for all of us, and Ginny and Kevin continue to run a tight ship full of love, buckets full of wisdom, and kindness.

We are well.
Blessings and love,
Marisa, Mona aka Lisa, Dylan, Ryan, Alaina, Adam, Megan, Alaina, Lexi, and Sally

Monday, June 25, 2018

lunes: too much to process

Dear family and friends,
We have just returned from our first home visits to the shanties in La Liberated just outside the Guatemala City Garbage Dump. Our day began with a visit to Only A Child, the shelter and carpentry shop begun by Boston native, George Leger, followed by a visit to the entrance to the Dump. There is no way I can adequately share details of this day with you. You would think that being a veteran on this trip, I could process it a lot faster than it seems to be happening. In fact, I think it is getting harder.

When I first arrived in Guatemala 14 years ago, everything was new; it was exciting; it was shocking. I am embarrassed to say it was even revolting on many levels. I still love being here; it is still exciting, but I am no longer shocked or revolted, and that concerns me. I suppose it is good that I am no longer thrown  by the level of poverty and despair that pervades much of Guatemala. I wondered if I had become desensitized by all that I had seen, but instead, I think I have accepted it. I know that may sounded twisted, but one of the many lessons I have learned during my time here is that not all problems can be fixed, and that beneath those first shocking impressions is so much more. From time to time, Kevin and Ginny, the long term American missionaries/administrators of Groundwork in Guatemala,  point out that Americans want to fix impossible problems and upon occasion, in the process even create others. Trust me, there are some whopping' problems here, and yes, I know there are some whoppin' problems at home, too. However, Only A Child and Groundwork solve problems by establishing relationships and sharing the good news of Jesus and his resurrection with folks with struggles, in most ways, far beyond ours. Today, we talked with George about his call to provide a home for boys living on the streets, as well as his desire to  provide them with the opportunity to pursue an education, develop a work ethic, and grow a faith that would ultimately lead them to be Godly young men and fathers. We talked and laughed with the boys and watched Ryan, Dylan, and Adam try to glean as much info about the World Cup as they could get from former street kids who love soccer as much as they do. We listened to Marvin, a long-term resident of the program, joyfully translate for his fellow residents after years of keeping a quiet, almost somber presence in that ministry. It was exhilarating to see the profound good that flows from those who invest their lives into a call to serve.

We talked at length about the dump and the many folks who make a living recycling anything they can find in the filth. We reviewed the relative recent history of Guatemala and the aftermath of Guatemala's civil war; the shanty towns outside the dump are a part of that aftermath as native peoples were driven from their land in the countryside to become squatters on a former dump site. And we met, talked, and prayed with families who live and survive with faith intact in these areas. It was a privilege.

The sights and the sounds in these areas is unlike anything you might find in the U.S. Between the corruption, power struggles, violence, and an exploding urban population, we saw the human toll up close and personal. It was a breath-taking day of learning and service. We were exposed to sights, sounds, and smells that were previously  unfamiliar, and we are left to process it while preparing for the next, new day's experiences. Almost everyone here seems to get the one way out is Jesus. It is a lesson not as readily embraced in the North.

Most of all, I want you to know that we are thinking. We are being changed by this experience and what we may be doing for others, pales in comparison to what they are doing for us. We are doing our best, but we want our best to be better. Does that make sense? Tomorrow we head to El Rincon to teach our lessons and attempt to be "courageous." I wish I could tell you more; it is just too much to express tonight.

I have to end with one quick story. Mona's name in Spanish translates to "monkey." Introducing herself as "monkey" was not really working, so I thought it might be cool to call her Mona Lisa because her middle name is Lisa. Turns out that was even worse. The Guatemalans actually blushed when I suggested it, so our friend, formerly known as Mona, is now affectionally known as Lisa. Good stuff!

Again, thank you for your interest. We sense your presence with us.

Lexi, Megan, Marisa, Adam, Alaina, Ryan, Mona, Dylan, Lauren, and Sally

P.S. As you can tell, we are photo challenged. Our flash drive disappeared in transit, so for the time being, please go to the Groundwork Guatemala Facebook page for pics.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


For those who drink coffee, you can understand the collective comfort it can provide a mission team early on a cool Central American morning. Freshly ground, Guatemalan coffee becomes a gathering cry in the mission house. The day starts early in Guatemala, and it is easier to ease into those mornings because of the coffee and the two hour cushion provided by the time zone change. We all slept well last night on hearty air mattresses placed on sturdy bunk bed frames. Today, we were up and ready to roll.

Mona mentioned this morning how exciting it was yesterday to exit the airport in Guatemala City into a sea of aromas, colors, sounds, and humanity.  I had forgotten how that had hit me, too, on my first few trips here; it is an exhilarating and slightly frightening introduction to life in Guatemala City. Urban chaos is probably similar in every large, third world country, but I suspect it occurs in different flavors depending on where in the world you are. Guatemala City is flavored by diesel fumes and particulate, chicken buses, the roar of motorcycles, the aromas of street food, Mayan fabrics, rain, ferocious thunder, and lots of folks. Every place we will go this week has a slightly different flavor.  It is thrilling to be exposed to it and have the opportunity to make sense of it.  This of course applies to worship styles, too.

It's so easy to assume "our" way of doing things is the "right" way. One of the first lessons Americans learn here is that there are other ways of doing almost everything, and on Sunday, worship style was one of those first lessons. Psalm 25 is all about trust. In verse 4 is says,

"Show me your ways, O Lord,
teach me your paths,
guide me in your truth and teach me
for you are my God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long."

Our day began with a look into His ways at Ministerios de la Cruz, a store-front church unlike most in the U.S. We were welcomed like brothers and sisters, and like our brothers and sisters, here we worshiped for two and a half hours. I'll be honest, it's a long time. We stood and sang for at least 45 minutes whiles liturgical dancers performed perfectly choreographed moves, non-stop. We worked at standing that long, while the dancers moved with ease in long-sleeved long white dresses with little regard for the humidity and rising heat. We know that we have much to learn. There was a lot to take in, but it did strike me that faith life here is a predominant thread in the fabric/culture of Guatemala. In our country, it seems sometimes as if it is has become more of an add-on or adjunct to our culture.  Not sure if that is a correct characteriazation but there does seem to be a profound difference.

Our minds are racing. There is so much to process in an experience like this. Motorcycles speed by during the service, cell phones ring quietly, babies fuss, "tweens" laugh and chatter, and we are trying to soak it all in; and. . .  it is all so familiar. One of the many lessons today may be that we are truly all the same in every imaginable way that matters. I have a mental picture of God looking down on us and asking, "What took you so long to figure that one out?"

This afternoon we assembled 200+ hygiene kits to help those individuals who lost their families and communities as a result of the volcanic eruption. We will meet folks this week who have almost nothing, but these victims of the Fuego explosion have exactly NOTHING. Thank you that we are able to help in this small but basic way. Groundwork will work through their connections to place these supplies into the actual hands of those in immediate need.

I know I ramble sometimes when I work on the blog and recognize I likely lose some of the readership when I do. So, to the point, I want you to know we are well; the kids are great. Mona and I feel fortunate to be having this experience together and with these eight, special kids, some of the many great kids we all know and love through Trinity and our neighboring schools and churches. Thank you for following our days here.  Every hour is something new and challenging in our faith walk together in Guatemala.

Megan, Alaina, Lexi, Mona, Ryan, Dylan, Marisa, Lauren, Adam, and Sally

Saturday, June 23, 2018

We have arrived . . . hooray!

Dear family and friends,

After a bit of a delay in Atlanta, and a 757 filled with American mission teams, at least five, we arrived in Guatemala City late Saturday afternoon Michigan time. "Almost" everyone had a great flight, caught up on some sleep, and experienced the thrill of arriving in Guatemala City with all of our bags intact. (Some of our boxes were questionable leaving Detroit.)

The number of American down here right now is impressive. There are so many who wish to be a part of the solution in Guatemala; it is evidenced in the airport by the number of duffle bags filled with supplies from every corner of our country. Furthermore, there seemed to be a pronounced shift in our reception by customs and airport officials compared to previous years. This year officials seemed to sense we wanted to help and many even seemed appreciative; that has not always been the case in the past.

After loading our 41 bags of all sizes into two 12-passenger vans along with Ginny, Kevin, Manual, Bequer and all of us, we made are way to the mission house and began to unpack and organize supplies. There is a system in place here, for everything, and once you understand it, it's all good. Ginny and Kevin put us through the paces on everything from the "electric" shower, to the "rules" on toilet paper, brushing your teeth with bottled water, passport copies, and so much more.

We are exhausted but happy to be together, here, in Guatemala. We are hoping to be courageous in all things this week. We look forward to sharing this adventure with all of you, as best we can, and when we can't, please check the Groundwork Guatemala Facebook page for additional pics of the our activities each day.

We are humbled to represent each of you in this experience. Your generous support of and prayers for Groundwork Guatemala and the Trinity mission team make you as essential to this effort as any of us.   The medical supplies, the school supplies, the crafts, the office supplies, the Thrivent shirts, the pillow case dresses, the hygiene kits, and let's not forget those pesky bottles and cans are all thanks to you; thank you for talking this faith walk with us.

Blessings and love,

Sally, Mona, Lexi, Marisa, Adam, Ryan, Dylan, Alaina, Lauren, and Megan