Saturday, July 22, 2017

Prayer Cards

I can do without flushing toilet paper now. I've become accustomed to mudslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. The crushing poverty that is the norm here is at least familiar and no longer quite as overwhelming to my senses as it was at first. And, I've made my peace with only getting to see my family and friends once a year. So, you want me to tell you what really, truly, and honestly is the hardest part about life on the mission field?

Are you ready? You sure?

Lean in a little...

Prayer cards. 
It's prayer cards.

Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but there is some truth to it. Missionaries are called to be a lot of things to a lot of people. We stand daily (hourly!) on the promise that God will equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17), 'cause there's always a lot of work to be done.  We pray, worship, preach, teach, cry, build, encourage, disciple, clean, fix, create... Oh, and then there's also the PR side of this "job." Newsletters. Flyers. Blogs. Emails. Fundraisers. Communication of all sorts. Honestly, that is one of the most time consuming and challenging parts of the work we do. At least I've done all those things before, but but this is my first go around with prayer cards. 

Prayer cards are those glossy, pretty cards that missionaries hand out like candies when they're on furlough so people can put them up on their refrigerators and remember to pray for their friends in the field. All the ones I've ever seen are stunning and clever and crisp and lovely and even seem to smell faintly of exotic locales. (Can you sense the envy?) In theory, I love this idea for our ministry. There's something very appealing about knowing people are seeing us and thinking about us and praying for us every morning when they get milk for their cereal or are indulging in a midnight snack. The problem is, I'm not sure we're cute enough for a prayer card. 

Don't get me wrong - I don't mean our looks. Granted, we don't have grinning toddlers or wide-eyed babies anymore, which automatically raise the cute factor of any picture. Still, I like to think we're a pretty darn cute family anyway, if I do say so myself. No, the kind of cute I'm talking about is the coordinated sweaters, adorable fonts, burlap and lace, Pinterest pro, essential oils type of cute. 

I know you know what I mean. 
That's just not me. 

So, I'm trying to put together a prayer card, 'cause I believe in them and I want to be on people's fridges and I'm getting ready to go on furlough and the clock is ticking! But, we don't have services down here that do cute stuff like that, so it's all on me. How do you make a good prayer card? Well, it has to start with good pictures. Unfortunately, professional photography is not widely available, and not in our budget, so all pics for this project are selfies or photos taken on the run on my cheap cell phone camera. Hmmm... So far I've pulled a blurry pic of a volcano for our backdrop and a smattering of closeups of our more-or-less in-focus faces. <sigh> This is where I start thinking I should be doing a better job of documenting and photographing our life instead of just focusing on, you know, living it.

Still, I am trying to remind myself that I'm not trying to sell an image, literally or figuratively. In fact, I'm not selling anything. I'm giving people the chance to pray for us. To join us in the often not-so-glamorous trenches here. I'm good at a lot of things that matter to ministry. I teach well, including Bible classes that change lives and eternities. I pray with people readily, frequently, and fairly comfortably - in two languages no less. And, I am big enough (a giant here, really) to wrap my arms around people and give hugs that make them feel safe and loved. Those things are what are important, not my lack of tech skills or resources when it comes to making these prayer cards.

Right?

So, despite the fact that I have neither essential oils nor an avid and sizeable Pinterest following, I'm going to finish these darn cards. Whether they will be stunning and clever and crisp and lovely, I don't yet know. (I will spare recipients the smell of Guatemala, though, since it is more pungent than exotic, to be perfectly frank.) They might not be super cute, but they will be from the heart, filled with love, and hopefully appearing soon on refrigerators all over as a reminder that we're here and we do so appreciate your prayers and support.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Perspective

Sooo.... here's something to think about: Our oldest daughter, who is 17, just returned to the States to go to college. She searched diligently for well over a month and applied to dozens of jobs, eventually landing a fantastic one as a housekeeper at a bed and breakfast. She makes $15 an hour, which is AWESOME and she's super duper grateful for it, but it's also not that much above the going hourly rate for the many other entry-level jobs she applied for (most were between $10 and $12). 

Here in Guatemala, the official minimum wage is 2,500 quetzales a month ($342.47), but many, many, many people (including a whole lot whom I personally know) actually only make 2,000 quetzales a month. It's pretty standard, actually. This includes entry-level workers, certainly, but isn't exclusively the young or unskilled. I have a friend who is a trained teacher with20+ years of teaching experience working full-time at a private school who makes 2,000 quetzales.

That's $273.97 a month.
$68.49 per week.
$13.70 per day.
$1.71 per hour.

Now, of COURSE, plenty of people do make more than that, and do not ever think that there aren't wealthy people in Guatemala! But, 2,000Q is the norm for a vast, vast, vast number of Guatemalans trying to feed their families and keep roofs over their heads. Keep in mind, this doesn't include the huge percentage (probably majority) who can't get steady jobs. They farm, sell products on the streets or markets, and (yes) work as housekeepers, though they're not making $15 an hour. Or even 2,000 Q a month. These people usually make even less.
 
Granted - some things are cheaper here. Fresh fruits and vegetables, for example, are less. Whereas an avocado in my local grocery stores in Iowa often ran $1 each, I can buy 7 for $1 here. A big head of broccoli is $0.68. Onions are sometimes as cheap as $0.21 per pound. Housing, too, is a LOT less. You can rent a 3 bedroom house here for $150 a month, though it will most certainly leak in the rainy season, not include a place to park, have no closets or cabinets or appliances, and be in a very questionable neighborhood. Still, it is possible to rent a perfectly respectable and safe (though by no means luxurious) 3 bedroom house for $350 a month, plus utilities, of course. (Electricity - $62.00, cell phone, single line - $27, gas - $28, etc.) Clearly, some things cost much less here. Then again, others cost more.

Luxuries like electronics are a lot more. Computers, for example, tend to run 30 to 40% higher here than in the States. But, the prices of things we consider normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill stuff can be quite startling sometimes. A 750 ml (25 oz) bottle of mid-range shampoo (Pantene, for example) is $10. Butter is almost $2.00 per STICK. Gasoline (regular, not premium) is $2.74 a gallon right now, down from $4.38 a year or so ago. 18 regular rolls of toilet paper - the kind that is not so thin that it disintegrates on contact, but not plush by any stretch of the imagination, either - is $8.90.

Honestly, I don't know how people do it. We are really frugal people, stick to a strict budget, try to steward what we've been given very well, and are supported by many very generous folks in the U.S. Despite that, there are still challenges even for us to make it here, and we receive far more than 2,000 Q a month in donations! I try to imagine what it would be like, though, if I was like so many women here, abandoned by husbands who have either left for the States, died, or just walked away from their families. I just don't see how they manage.

Even IF a single mama can get a job making 2,000 Q a month, and IF her kids (let's say there are 3) can attend school for free so she doesn't have to pay for childcare, and IF everyone stays healthy, she will spend 55% of her income ($150 a month) on just putting a very, very modest roof over their heads and having basic utilities. That means she's already down to less than $125 for EVERYTHING else. For the whole month. $31.00 a week. $4.43 a day.

A bag of beans, a bag of rice, a couple veggies, a dozen tortillas, and one egg per day for each member of the family will cost her $3.25 daily, or $22.75 per week, or 73% of everything she's got left after paying for shelter. (Yes, people can and do sort of survive on that diet, but it makes sense why Guatemala has the 4th highest rate of chronic childhood malnutrition in the world.) Remember, though - this doesn't include soap, toilet paper, bus fare, laundry detergent, school books and supplies, clothing, healthcare, or anything else. For allllllllllll that and more, she has to use her remaining $1.18 per day.

But here's the real kicker - that mama, statistically speaking, is almost equally likely to be happy as the average American mama. The U.N. surveys 155 countries and creates a comprehensive raw happiness score which combines many different factors. The 2017 report rated U.S. as the 14th happiest country, and Guatemala as the 29th, but there was only a difference of 0.539 in the overall scores. Guatemalans had higher happiness scores than France, Spain, Italy, and Japan, among 120 others, despite having FAR lower GDP, life expectancy, fiscal mobility, etc.
So - here's my take away message for today - 

1.) Be happy with what you have. You can do it. Honest. You probably have more than you realize.
2.) See #1

That's it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Brain Dump

Hey. Life is busy. Time is precious. Thoughts still happen. Here are some of mine recently:

  • Our early missionary photos were mostly us taking smiling selfies with whatever / whomever on whichever mission project we were doing. Lately I've noticed that we just don't seem to be in the picture that often any more. I really haven't worked out a commentary on it, except that I found the presence of the 'smiling missionary self' vaguely troubling when I saw it recently in pictures taken by a short-term mission team. Is that rumbling feeling of unease justified? Have I just become too sensitive or jaded? How much of ourselves should we be inserting in the midst of what we do, and how we present our work on the mission field? Hmmm.... 
  •  I'm so grateful for technology. I have heard stories of missionaries who had to pay hundreds of dollars for a 10 minute phone call to loved ones. I can use email, Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, Google, or a myriad of other options to communicate and even have real-time video chats with my friends and family. It truly is astonishing, and I don't ever want to forget it!
  • I, personally, am in a season of contemplation and transition. That's hard for me. I don't like it. I'm most comfortable when I am throwing all of my emotional, social, intellectual, and physical energy at a project I believe in. When God asks me to withdraw all of that and sit.rest.listen.pray.heal.wait. - ugh. It's not my favorite. But, I know He's got plans for me that are better than what I could come up with for myself. So, I'm sitting. Resting. Listening. Praying. Healing. Waiting. It feels, in a strange way, like both self indulgence and self discipline or self denial at the same time. Maybe that's the point - to let Him strengthen and renew my true self, and discipline or deny the things I think to be true about me, but which are really distractions that I've allowed myself to carry but were never meant for me.
  • We had a job offer (of sorts) in the States last month. It made us really, really dig deep and consider what we want (people to know Jesus!), how we're doing here (mostly well, with some sort of hard stuff mixed in), and what we want to do with our lives (something that matters for the Kingdom!). On the mission field, there is ALWAYS the nagging question and possibility of, "When are we going to go back?" I still don't know the answer to that (maybe next year, maybe never), but I can say we've at least looked that giant square in the face one more time and felt the odd comfort of knowing the answer is, "Not right now. This is where where we're supposed to be."
  •  We're coming up on the end of our 3rd year here. (Wow!). One thing we've learned is that year 3 is very different from year 2. Most mission organizations characterize a person as 'short term' if they are on the field for 2 years or less. At first, this didn't seem right or fair to us. I get it now. There really is a significant difference between year 2 and year 3 in your effectiveness, your connection with the culture, your commitment to and understanding of missions generally and your calling specifically, and your emotional and social comfort on the field. I don't know if that's always true, but it certainly seemed to be a sentiment echoed by many 'old timers' around here. 
  • If you're a missionary parent (especially a missionary mama) please here this: investing in your kids is valuable. Investing in your kids is important. Investing in your kids is the right thing to do. Yes, it seems logical, I know. But, trust me - it's hard to walk out. I feel guilty for taking more time for my kids because it means less time for "ministry" work. I'm telling you, but I'm also giving myself a much-needed reminder - your family, regardless of where you live - is your primary ministry in life. 
  • So, we're doing furlough in a month. This year we're doing it differently, and not going as a whole family, and not going to make it a six-week, 10,000 mile marathon, and not going to feel like we have to connect with every person / church / relationship / place.  It's still going to be long and busy, but hopefully less challenging than furloughs in the past. The folks we don't get to see this year, we'll try to see next year. Or maybe they can come see us here!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Never Alone

My baby just left home for good.

She's the one who made me a mom.

Of course, like everything, this is infinitely more complicated on the mission field - logistically, financially, emotionally. Even though the baby she once was still peeks out in her smile, and she has only just celebrated her 17th birthday, she is also tenacious and strong and driven, and we've known this has been coming for a long time, which helps. She's getting ready to breathe deeply the air of her own dreams, and I'm so excited for her.

That doesn't dull the hurt, though. It has, however, allowed me to participate in an interesting phenomenon. Friends and family - the older, wiser women in my life - have circled my emotional wagon, as it were, in a new and different way recently. Just as women stick close to a new mom with a watching, knowing gaze when a baby is about to be born, they almost do the same as that baby is being birthed into adulthood.

They know the pain I am feeling. They see the restless shifting of emotional weight I am doing as the waves of joy and pain crash and reside during this transition. They know what it is to try to hold on to what is right now even as I seek to embrace a reality I have never experienced and don't understand. But they do.

As with labor, this is a shared and careworn pain. It is as personal and individual as any experience can be, yet it is also universal in an uncanny way. The rip of the fabric of our family being torn in two is fresh and sharp for me, but the edges have already frayed for the wise women who have come alongside.

This gives me hope.

I see the fabric of these women's lives frazzled but not undone, and I know the edges of my pain will soften as well. I am grateful for these women - these mothers - who have been where I am and have done what I am doing and who silently, knowingly come alongside.

I can sense that it costs them to do so.

Last night - my last night with all my babies sleeping under my roof and close enough to touch - I know the women who love me were also hurting. They, too, grieved a little all over again for their babies who have gone on and moved out and who are far away. They count the time since last their babes were gathered and when they might gather again. I feel it. These women's hearts rebreak a little each time they rush to try to soothe another's. The ones whose children haven't yet left join in, too, thoughtful and contemplative and pulling the covers up a little more snugly under little chins.

They do this because mothers are tough and brave and strong. We each hurt alone, but we always do so together, too. Fraternity is important - that great brotherhood of fathers, who have their own hurts and struggles and pain, but maternity also births us into a great sisterhood. I'm grateful for it right now.

I know that the edges of my pain will also fray and soften, and it will be yet another mark in the tapestry of my identity and motherhood. And, when it has softened enough, I will be able to be a watcher and a waiter and wise woman for some other mom in my life. Then, too, I will revisit this place of knowing and grief and in-between-ness. I will count days and mark time once again. Even though right now I would never want to experience this ache again, I will. And it will be good for me, and remind me that I have healed - if not completely, enough - and that will give someone else the hope that they will someday heal as well.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

San Pascual el Rey

If you think witchcraft is dead, you're wrong.

When we moved here, we knew that locals venerate and worship a pre-conquest Mayan god called Maximon or San Simon. There is an idol that is passed around among devotees, and they make offerings like alcohol and tobacco in exchange for favor, health, and good harvests. There is also a lot of belief generally around here in things like evil eyes, curses, superstitious practices, etc. There are caves in the mountains from which you can frequently see smoke from animal sacrifices being made.  In short, witchcraft happens.

Today I encountered a new example. We were shopping at the market in a little town near us called Olintepeque. Amid the usual colors, sights, smells (!) and sounds was the music of a mariachi band. We discovered its source - a little chapel just off the main square and behind the city's main Catholic church. We'd walked by this chapel dozens of times before and never noticed it. This time, the music and all the colored candles inside drew our attention. The sign read, "San Pascual el Rey." To have a saint's day celebration is not unusual at all. The difference was what kind of saint this was. I asked the vendor just outside the church about this 'saint.' She grinned and held up one of the candles she was selling. On the glass was a picture of a skeleton in a crown. That's who San Pascual el Rey is. He is rey (king) of the graveyard.

When I got home, I did some checking. It turns out that this ghoulish saint is worshiped in our part of Guatemala and the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Deathly saints are much more common in Mexico than here, hence the abundance of skulls in Mexican iconography. However, they're relatively rare here. That little chapel in that little town just a couple miles from my house is the main shrine to this skeletal saint. The story goes that in the 1600's a particularly nasty sickness swept through the Mayan countryside. A dying man supposedly had a vision of a glowing skeleton in a crown and cape claiming to be associated with a dead friar who was (or had been?) canonized by the Catholic church. In all probability, this bony vision was yet another attempt to cross Catholicism with pre-Columbian religion. The skeleton told the man that he was going to intercede to stop the spread of the disease. He said that the man would die in 9 days (which he did), and then the sickness would abruptly stop (which it did) IF the people would continue to worship him.

And worship him they did, and still do, almost 400 years later.

There are special prayers to be said to this saint, and the color of candle a worshiper burns corresponds to their request. One color for love. Another for health. A different one for revenge. All to a skeletal saint and king of the dead. This is witchcraft, pure and simple, and it's still very much alive and well. I know it's out there. I see hints of it woven throughout the culture and celebrations here all the time, but it is strange to encounter it so openly and unexpectedly in daily life. Thankfully, the official celebration for this dude isn't until tomorrow, so we were spared any further introduction. Personally, that's just how I plan to keep it!


Friday, April 21, 2017

Visa Runs

Oh...Visa runs. They're a curious type of travel, and one which we've gotten quite familiar with. You see, our way of staying legal in the country is to leave it every 90 days. Now, laws are tricky things in developing nations, and we've *heard* (though been unable to confirm anywhere in writing) that it's required that we stay out for 72 hours. Of course, that might not be true, but it's what an immigration lawyer and border agents tell us, and generally keeps us from being harassed for a bribe when we leave. So, 72 hours it is. Because Guatemala shares open trade with most of its neighbors, it also doesn't count to go to those countries to fulfill the law. We can either go to Belize (expensive and much father away) or Mexico (only 3 hours up the road). We choose the latter.

A lot of missionary friends of ours tell us they absolutely hated border runs, and did what it took to relieve themselves of the requirement as soon as possible. We're leaning toward doing the same ourselves, but I must admit, I've kind of come to enjoy our Visa runs.

First off, they're not as scary as they used to be. Crossing the border used to be (and sometimes still is) an intimidating process. You have to go up to the immigration window in Guatemala - all the while having people yelling at you, tapping on your car window, and otherwise aggressively trying to "help" you and/or sell you things. At first, I used to be able to go and take all our passports, but they've tightened security lately, and each person must be present with his or her own passport, so we all pile out of the car, wade past the money changers, and go to the window. It is agony and torture while you wait to see what will happen. Usually they scan your passport, find your last stamp, scrutinize it for a minute, and then give you a new exit stamp. Sometimes they ask for a "fee" for each passport. Once I got pulled in to the supervisor's office for a 30 minute lecture from two different agents about how I could save money by just paying a fine to them instead of leaving for 72 hours. Generally, though, we've been getting to the border earlier lately and haven't had any issues.

Next up, you drive across the bridge to Mexico. (There's a 5Q fee to drive over it.) It's a strange thing to not be anywhere, at least on paper in your passport. They've changed our border recently, so now we can do a drive-through insecticide spray, and pay at the window immediately after. (They also raised the fee, from 75 to 95 pesos.) The next part can get a big dicey. The girls and I are told to exit and walk to the immigration office by the first guard, who then waves Mark, the driver, on to the next guard, who does a check of the vehicle. Sometimes it's barely cursory. Sometimes it's every nook and cranny of the vehicle. You never know what you're going to get. That's part of the fun. When he's done, he parks on the other side of the building and then walks back to the office to fill out paperwork, which is a standard immigration form and not challenging. We get our passports scanned and get an entrance stamp, then are given the bottom half of the form (DON'T LOSE THIS!) and sent on our merry way. The town we go to, Tapachula, is just 10 minutes or so up the road.

Now, I love, love, love saving money, and this is where the fun part comes in. Yes, it costs us money in going out to eat, getting groceries (we get a room with a kitchenette so we can cook most of our meals) and for our hotel, but everything in Mexico is so much cheaper than in Guatemala that I can save a bit of grocery money each week between Visa runs and really stock up. Also, the exchange rate from dollars to quetzales has been really bad lately (7.3 instead of 7.5), so the money we receive hasn't been going as far. BUT, the exchange rate between quetzales and pesos is really good right now (2.5 instead of 1.9). Already lower prices and a great exchange rate makes me very happy!

On this trip alone, for example, I spent about a week and three-quarters' worth of grocery money - approximately 1750 quetzales, or 4,460 pesos. If I would have purchased all the things I bought in Mexico at our usual places in Guatemala, it would have cost me 3,850 quetzales. (That doesn't even count all the things we buy in Mexico that we just can't find in Guatemala, like canned clam chowder and liquid coffee creamer.) In other words, I save enough money in groceries to pay for our three nights of hotel, we get to enjoy some foods (sushi!) and experiences (beach!) we wouldn't otherwise get to, it's quality family time together, and it keeps us legal so we can continue doing good work for Jesus in Guatemala.

The border process of getting back into Guatemala is pretty similar to the process of getting to Mexico. You start in the Mexico office, where you give back the paperwork and get an exit stamp. Next, we lumber over the bridge (no fee this time) back to Guatemala, where we once again wait with baited breath at the mercy of the folks in the immigration window. It's never been an issue, but it always feels dicey, and we're always super happy to be through. Then it's simply a bug spray (sometimes - if the guy is there) and a car inspection (ditto, though this one *could* be rigorous and the agent might decide to charge taxes on what we bring in), and then we're on our way. To be honest, we always breathe a sigh of relief when it's all said and done and we're back on the familiar road to Xela.

And just like that, the visa run is over! Granted, it's our only "vacation" time (unless you count furlough, which is a whole other beast), we always have to go to exactly the same place no matter what, and we have to take it every 90 days whether we want to and it's convenient or not. Still, I've grown to love our Visa runs (or at least not dread them like I used to) and I'm grateful that God allows us the blessings that we have on these trips.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Love Me? Love My Kids!

Before we made our final decision to move to Guatemala, I sat down and had a long talk with God. I was okay with not flushing toilet paper (you get used to it),  having to learn a whole new language (still in progress), and even facing the possibility of getting amoebic dysentery (not fun, but we survived). I was okay with all that stuff for me, that is. But, as any parent will tell you, it's a lot harder to watch your kids go through rough things than it is to go through them yourself. That's why I had a heart-to-heart with God.

I reminded him that he promised to lead gently those who have young (Is. 40:11). He reminded me that he loves my babies even more than I do. Chit chat. Yada yada. You get the idea. It didn't take long before I felt at ease taking my kiddos to Guatemala, and I've never regretted it for a second. (Although, I will say that since living here I can confirm a thousand times over how hard it is to watch your kids go through really rough times. But, I digress...) Part of what's made it do-able is that there have been people along the way who have loved my children well, and I'm coming to realize just how much that means to a missionary momma.

How do you love an MK living abroad well? (I'm so glad you asked!) Here are a few suggestions I would offer:

1.) Support MKs specifically. I cannot overstate how much financial and prayer support mean to missionary families. It is literally what makes our work possible. Finances are usually reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallly tight. One of the things that a friend of ours did was donate an extra $30 so our girls could each have $10 in allowance per month. It made me cry when he did that. Up to that point, we were scrimping to save 15 quetzales ($2) for our 15-year-old, 11 quetzales ($1.32) for our 11-year-old,  and 8 quetzales ($0.96) for our 8-year-old. Per month. That extra money - $10 per child per month - made them feel like they had some independence. Some options. Some freedom. Remember - there is no chance to get a paper route here, so they couldn't even go out and get a job if they wanted to. They usually use the money for practical things, but sometimes pay to have some comfort food that reminds them of home or to rent a movie that they really want to see. It's awesome that they can do that stuff because someone thought of them specifically.

We have other friends who pray for our kids, and they tell me so. They ask, "How can I pray for Rachel today? For Rebecca? For Sarah?" They remember what we discussed in the past. They ask about progress in certain areas. They connect personally via email or FB (when possible) with my girls to let them know that they are being looked after and cared for. You want to bless a missionary family? Support MKs.

2.) Visit, but thoughtfully. Home sometimes seems like a loooooooong way away, and having people from there come to visit means so much to missionary families, including MKs. BUT... with some caveats. First off, if you're planning a visit, ask ahead about accommodations. Often, having guests means that MKs end up giving up their rooms, spots in the car, precious time with parents, etc. I'm not saying you shouldn't come, but try to be sensitive. Ask if it would be easier if you stayed in a hotel room instead of with the family. Offer to sit in the back of the car. Give kids time with their parents. Make sure they have space and time to keep up their routines. Of course your visit is a blessing, and of course you (and the missionary family) will want to maximize every moment you can on the trip. But, being an MK can be rough, so try to be thoughtful about their needs, including asking the parents ahead of time what you can bring along that would specifically bless the kiddos.

3.) Recognize that they're missionaries too. I hate to say it, but one of the things that MKs struggle with is people trying to tell them about their host country. Or missionary life. Or travel. Or... you get it. I think one of the phrases all MKs dislike hearing is, "Did you know that <insert random, often wrong, fact>?" I'll let you in on a secret - it's one of the things they talk about when they get together, because it's so frustrating for them. I know it comes from well-intentioned people who are just trying to find ways to connect with an MK, but it's way better to ask and listen than to talk and inform. Try, "Tell me about...." rather than "I read on the internet..." Yes, MKs are just kids, but they've also had real-world experiences that most adults can't even imagine, both in regard to cross cultural travel and living and ministry. Missionaries work hard to teach their kid how to be polite and respectful, especially to adults, but it can be legitimately difficult in light of ignorant and dismissive comments. If you get the chance to chat with an MK (which I highly recommend), ask them about their lives (politely, of course). I bet you'll be surprised at how many interesting things they have to say.

4.) Give them space on furlough. Furlough is rough, folks. It is often week upon week of strange beds, unfamiliar foods, visiting tons of churches, way too much time in the car,  no privacy, busy schedules, and more. It's especially hard on kids. Don't get me wrong - we LOVE getting the chance to connect with friends back home, and the generosity that people show us by opening their homes to us is humbling and amazing. One way to make things even easier on MKs is to try to be clear about your expectations if they're staying with you. Set out a basket of snacks and tell them they can eat whatever they want from it, whenever they want. Tell them when meal times will be. Whenever possible, give them their own space where they can hang out. Don't judge them for just wanting to play on electronic devices or watch TV. A lot of times there are options available in the States that they can't get on the field, and they're trying to soak up as much of that as they can while they have reliable wi-fi and down time, two things that can be REALLY hard to come by. I once had someone lament that our kids wouldn't be around during their church's VBS because the church "could really use the help." My kids were polite about it, but I could tell that they were cringing a bit inside. Furlough is no vacation. It's already a really challenging work trip, so if you have a chance to give kids worry-free relaxation, it will mean a lot to the whole family.

5.) Ask them what they need. The best thing of all is helping MKs remember they're not forgotten. Let them know you're thinking of them. Ask MKs what they need. A friend of mine once blessed my socks off just by offering to take my daughters shopping for clothes. (I cried then, too.) The key here is to ASK, though! Remember - parents have specific things they need for their kids. Let them tell you what is needed, and then let the kids pick the items out if they're old enough. Take into consideration that there may be cultural factors, tax issues on purchases, space and weight limitations, etc. that you're not aware of. Sometimes we've had people get frustrated at us for not taking gifts along that they've purchased for our kids, not realizing that we didn't need that stuff or that it would be difficult or expensive to transport it. Just a simple thing like offering to buy shoes or get haircuts for MKs can be a tremendous financial blessing for the family, but it's also a chance for the kids to feel special and have their needs met in a personal way.

There may also be things throughout the year that parents don't mention in the monthly newsletter but that kids would really appreciate. Maybe there's a camp they could go to if they had the funds, school supplies they need, a musical instrument that they'd like to try, lessons they want to take, etc. Missionaries are often reluctant to bring up the 'extra' things like this because they don't directly relate to ministry work, so they don't want to ask for money for "personal" things. If you ask specifically what MKs need or want, it will help parents feel free to bring those things up. Trust me - this is a challenging, stressful thing for missionary parents, and they'd love it if you were the one to ask.


Of course, there are a lot of other ways to bless MKs. You know, the normal things that bless any kid - remember birthdays and special events, take them seriously when they talk to you, notice what they do well and tell them, be interested in what they're interested in, pay attention to their pets or stuffed animals, etc. Also, don't forget that your outdated technology might just be a huge blessing for an MK. If you have an old smartphone, tablet, portable DVD player, or laptop THAT STILL WORKS WELL but you no longer need, consider offering it to an MK (with parents' permission first, of course)!

It really doesn't take much to make a difference. Just doing the simple things listed above will guarantee that you will bless the MKs in your life, and by doing so, you'll bless their parents, too. Want to love a missionary well? Love their kids! That's the truest way to anyone's heart no matter where they live.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What Am I Doing?

Andrea just wrote a really great blog. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It is the one before this one.

I decided to write a similar blog to hers, but from my point of view.

My main job here in Guatemala is to work for the Bible school Manos Que Cosechan.  I have taught a couple of times, but mostly my job is administration, maintenance, and helping with whatever needs to be done.

The hardest part of my job is my own thoughts.  I often wonder if I am doing enough. Am I making enough of a difference?

I see the homeless every day. I hear stories of orphans, the sick, widows, and I think, "Should I be helping them more directly?" The answer is usually no.  I give to the homeless when I can and pray with people, but God has placed me in the Bible School. 

Anything else I would add would take away from what I am doing there.  I am generally at the Bible School six days a week, between six and eight hours a day, sometimes more.  So, I could do more things in the evenings, but that is family time, and I really feel that family time is more important on the mission field than it was when we lived in America.  That is not to say I don't do some things in the evenings, but I try to keep them limited.

The Bible School is a long term investment in ministry. Much of the time we don't even hear how our teaching has affected people until years later. Most of the time we never hear.  We are teaching students the word of God. Not only that, but the practical word of God!  We teach them things that will help them in everyday life.  Things that will help them be better parents, spouses, community members, and church members.  Our school is for the everyone everyday.

So, am I helping the orphans? Maybe not directly, but what if out of our 380 students  a year, one student or five students or more get a heart for orphans because of what we have taught them? That is more than I can do by myself.

If an abusive alcoholic husband learns his worth, his wife's worth, and his kids' worth and gives up drinking and begins to treat his wife and kids as God wants him to because of what he has learned at the Bible School, how much does that change a community and a nation, and especially the lives of  his wife and children?

What about someone who gets on fire and preaches the Word in another country.  We know one of our former students did just that - got on fire and moved to Argentina, sharing the Word of God with whomever they can.

Is it still hard for me sometimes when I see all the need? Yes! Extremely!  Sometimes I can't sleep at night because I'm thinking about all the people out there who need help.  Knowing Andrea gets to go out and try all these different ministry experiences - I admit to being a little jealous.

She comes home telling me about them and it is easy for me to feel like I am not doing enough.  But, then I remember that she has her current journey with God and I have mine.  At some point she will find something Jesus lays on her heart and she'll stay there. Of course, maybe she won't.  Andrea has always had a gift for filling in where needed and maybe that will always be part of her ministry here - being exactly where she is needed. Never permanent, but always making a big difference.  Who knows except God!

I guess that is why each journey with God is so unique, and why it is hard to sometimes feel satisfied with where I am at.  But, then I remember I am following God, and He knows the best and most effective place for me, regardless of how it feels to me.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Weary

I'm feeling just a little weary this evening.

Today was our day to visit the women's shelter. Going there is always an emotional challenge, but it was especially poignant this time in light of this week's events. You see, yesterday was International Women's Day. It was also the day that an "orphanage" in Guatemala City burned down, killing "at least 22" according to international news reports. The problem is, it wasn't an orphanage, at least not exclusively or in the sense that many of us think of an orphanage. It was also a shelter for underage girls who had been abused or neglected, just like our shelter. Many of these girls had kids of their own. The official news reports are saying 22 died, but the number I have heard is 31, with many more in critical condition. This shelter was notoriously overcrowded, housing dozens and dozens (possibly hundreds) more than they had capacity for. There are many reports from knowledgeable sources that there was most likely terrible abuse there as well, with older kids preying on younger ones, a lot of gang activity, and even workers abusing residents as well.

Many of the girls in our shelter had friends or relatives there. Because there are so few shelters in the country, I would say it's likely that our shelter will be absorbing as many new girls as possible as the government scrambles to re-home those who were displaced. (This, of course, is a challenging prospect, since our shelter doesn't even have enough soap, toilet paper, diapers, etc. for those who are already living there.) The mood today was somber, with a palpable undercurrent of stress among the ladies and the kids. I know there was no more important place I could have been today than there, sharing the powerful Word of God and our love to the ladies at our Bible study and rocking an 8 year girl who just could.not.pull.it.together until I finally sang her to sleep on my lap.

Then again, there was also no more important place that I can be than at the school where I spent 2 hours helping to straighten out yet another challenge with teachers who have been woefully unprepared for the task of educating young people, and students who come to school woefully unprepared to learn. If we can teach these kids to think, to know, to care, to pay attention, to find their voice, to speak out for others - then we can stop the kind of abuse that caused those 31 dead girls and the hundreds others at that home to have needed shelter from their own families in the first place. With education, we can get competent, effective, noncorrupt officials into positions at schools, orphanages, shelters, and government agencies.

Then again, the school where I volunteer is a private school (albeit not a super expensive one), and those kids already have advantages that most don't, so the most important place I can be is at our friends' biweekly after school program, which reaches kids from very challenging circumstances who already face an uphill battle,  including often not even having enough food and basically no support or supervision from parents. Showing up, taking time to listen to them, giving them the most basic of Biblical information (which they all so clearly lack), helping them with their homework, seeing to it that they have a healthy, filling, hot meal and a backpack of food to take home - these are things that will make the difference for those kids and could end cycles of poverty, ignorance, and illiteracy that may go back generation upon generation in their families.

Then again, those kids are young, and their ability to make an impact at best will be a decade or more off, so there's no more important place that I can be than our Bible institute, where we train almost 600 students around the country with the truth of God's Word and equip them to be leaders in their own homes, churches, and communities. If we can touch their hearts, and they can touch the hearts of those around them, then the gospel can be shared until the whole nation is truly walking in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and all the blessings and protection that provides.

Then again, there is no guarantee that these students will choose to be doers of the Word rather than just hearers, week in and week out in our classes, so there's no more important place that I can be than giving English lessons to dear friends who are already so faithfully walking out God's plan for their lives, but yearning for the ability to make more impact, have more opportunity, and gain more resources to give away for God's glory through the acquisition of a second language.

Then again,  there's also my own home, which is also the most important place I can be. You know, with the husband and children God has given to me and which I believe wholeheartedly is my primary and most important ministry.

The problem is - all of those things are true. All of those places really are the most important places I can be, but I'm struggling to find ways to be present in them all, let alone to be present in them all well. I'll be honest with you, I'm still finding my way as a missionary, and I certainly don't have all the answers. Is it best to focus on just one thing and do it with all you've got? Even though I'm not being as effective as I'd like to be or making the impact I'd like to make in any of these one places, is the something that I have to offer better than nothing at all? Or, by showing up, am I doing a poor job, but filling a vacuum that otherwise might draw the perfect person for that need? I would like more resources - time, money, and talent - to do all that I would like to do down here.

Sorry, all - no neat, tidy ending for tonight's blog post. I guess I'm back where I started - feeling kind of weary. Then again, I know better. I know the things I'm doing are for His benefit, and He tells me not to grow weary from doing good on His behalf (Gal. 6:9) Thankfully, my savior also calls to me on just such occasions - when I am weary and burdened (Mt. 11:28). I'm headed to bed now, and for a little time with Jesus. Tomorrow will be another long day - starting at 6:00 a.m. and ending at 10:00 p.m. - and will include time at the private school and our home school, giving English lessons, and being at the Bible institute. I don't know that I'll have any more answers or resources tomorrow than I do tonight, except that God is always faithful in His promises, and I know He'll be with me and give me rest. It's always been enough so far, after all, no matter how overwhelming life may feel at times. I have no doubt He will continue to be more than enough.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Paches!

When we go back to the United States, people often ask about Guatemalan cuisine. Sadly, all I've been able to make for folks so far is the typical supper of scrambled eggs and refried beans. (It's authentic, but not very exciting.) However, today we got to have a lesson from a neighbor and friend who is a great cook. She often makes and sells food at break time in the Bible institute, so we got the benefit of learning from a pro!

This cooking lesson was all about paches, a traditional Guatemalan food that goes back to the Mayans and quite probably predates Spanish colonization. Most people are familiar with tamales - made with masa (corn flour) and various types of stuffing - because they are common in many Central American countries. However, I was told today that paches are almost exclusively found in Guatemala, and are unique because they're stuffed with mashed potatoes. They're also delicious!

Patty bought the ingredients at local markets and grocery stores, so everything was ready when we arrived around 9:00. She had started at 7:30 or so in the morning and already had the chicken breast cut up into chunks, the potatoes on to boil, and had started washing the mashan leaves. She uses a toothbrush to make sure that the leaves (especially along the central rib) are free from dirt. A note about this - in Mexico, people usually steam tamales in corn husks.  In other places, it's common to use banana leaves. Here in our area of Guatemala, however, we export the banana leaves, and use the leaves of a local plant called mashan, instead. Patty said she buys them in bundles of 20. The larger leaves are 2.50Q a bundle, and the smaller ones are 1.50 a bundle. (For reference - a  is approximately 13 cents.)



Next up we got started on the sauce. I am learning just how amazing and nuanced different sauces can be, so I was excited to learn her recipe and technique. This is the same sauce that they use on tamales as well. The flavors are complex and deep, and I am hoping to be able to make this frequently. Honestly, I think it would be good on just about anything! We started by cleaning two different types of dried peppers. The first is called chile pasa (raisin pepper), and the dried chili did look and feel sort of like a giant raisin. The second is called chili huac. These were smaller and drier. We opened the peppers and removed the seeds and membranes.
Chili Huac - whole

Chili Huac - seeded

Rachel removing seeds from the chili pasa
After our peppers had been seeded and prepared, we put them in a large pot with halved tomatoes, a small onion, three cloves of garlic, a very coarsely chopped red pepper, and a couple tablespoons of salt. After everything had been added, we filled the pot with water until the ingredients were just covered, and then set it on to boil.

Sarah preparing the tomatoes
Before cooking 
Next came some aromatic fun. Patty and I had gone to our local market the Tuesday before, and she had purchased 4 ounces of ajonjoli (sesame seeds) and 4 ounces of pepitoria (like dried pumpkin seeds, but a little different flavor). We washed them thoroughly (it's surprising how much dirt came loose), and then toasted them in a hot skillet. The ajonjoli had a nutty smell. The pepitoria jumped in the skillet over the heat. Lastly, we toasted some whole cinnamon sticks to add to the sauce. As you can imagine, all of these different smells made the kitchen so fragrant!

Ajonjoli (sesame seeds)

Washing the pepitoria
Toasting 
 While things were toasting, we peeled the potatoes. Patty cooks her potatoes with the peel on and then peels them after they're cooked. The potatoes here are very thin skinned, so they're easy to peel post-cooking. She then mashes the potatoes. However, these aren't Granny's mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. She doesn't add anything - no milk or even salt.The texture we were going for was a coarse but consistent mash, NOT a puree.



Now the sauce!! We started by putting the toasted ajonjoli, pepitoria, and cinnamon in a blender and then added enough of the liquid from the cooked vegetables to make the mixture easy to blend. It took a while to get the mix smooth, but once we did so we added it to the potatoes, and then blended the remaining veggies and liquid. Because of the mix of peppers and tomatoes, the color of the sauce was a deep, ruby red. It was beautiful, and smelled fantastic!

Blending the seeds

Vegetable mix after cooking
What a pretty sauce
After adding the blended seed mix and sauce, we stirred well. That's no easy feat with such a big pot! Next up we added salt, pepper, consomme, oil, and masa (corn flour) in just the right proportions to make the mixture taste and feel right. The consistency upon finishing should be somewhere between a puree and a thick mash.

 Now it was time for the magic! Patty took 2 leaves (a small and a large) and put them front side together, so that the backside of the small leaf was ready to receive the mixture and the back side of the large leaf would be on the outside while cooking. She placed about 3/4 cup of potato mixture in the middle of the small leaf, and then put a chunk of chicken breast and a whole, small, mild pepper next to that.

chicken pieces
Peppers
All the good stuff!
Then, we folded! First up, we took the top of the small leaf only, and folded it down over the mixture. 

Next, you fold both layers of leaves over from the sides. Right first, then left.


 Then, you fold the single leaf left on top down, and then gently tap the folded end down on the counter to move the contents to the bottom. After that, all that's left is to fold the remaining 2 layers of leaves on the end over the whole packet. (You'll probably need to break the rigid center stem of the leaf to get the bundle to lie flat.) Voila! You have a wrapped pache ready to be cooked!

 

Before we started folding, we prepared the cooking pot. For this size of recipe, we ended up making around 60 paches! (That takes a big, big pot!) Paches need to be steamed, so we put metal steamer inserts from a different, smaller pot at the bottom, just to get some height. To increase the distance between the bottom of the pot (where the water will be) and the paches, we stacked all of the stems that Patty had cut off of the leaves.

 
 

We stacked all of the wrapped paches inside the pot and then added our water - just enough to thoroughly cover the bottom without drowning any paches. At the end, we used the extra leaves to create a layer on top to help trap the steam, and covered it all with a piece of plastic and a lid. This giant pot of paches was then set on the stove over two burners on high and cooked for about an hour and a half.

 
 

Then came the best part - EATING! Paches are best enjoyed with friends, which we were able to do this afternoon. They're traditionally served with little pieces of French bread so you can soak up all the good stuff from the leaf. We finished the afternoon with many games of Dutch Blitz and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this delicious day.

Worth the wait and effort
NOT lettuce!
Que rico!!
Friends gathered for good food!
Finishing off the day with a fun game together