Saturday, January 20, 2018

Feel the Pain

Living on the mission field, you get used to certain things. You have to, or you may go crazy.  You learn to ignore the street kids trying to sell things on the side of the road.  The woman with scars all over her face, most likely from an abusive husband, selling from her basket of candies, gum. When I first moved down, I thought I would never get used to this stuff. It’s everywhere, though, and there is really nothing I can do about it. 
Every once in a while I will buy some things I don’t need from the kids or a couple of candy bars from the lady with the basket and not take any change.  It is hard to figure out the level to be involved.  Do I stop and talk to the lady with the basket? But, I am from the wrong culture and have the wrong skin color to do much.  Me trying to help in my broken Spanish may seem like a threat. There are still people here in Guatemala who have misconceptions of gringos, one of which is that we will eat their children. And, since many Guatemalans have a big belief in dispensing immediate justice, sometimes by lighting people on fire, it is best not to make too many waves.
It is even harder to not help with the kids. On the main street of town, kids are always begging or selling products or cleaning windshields.  These days, I almost never give to these children. This may sound heartless, but I do so for two reasons: 1. You could go broke giving to all the kids begging (this is minor compared to the second reason).  2. Many international aid groups have documented what happens to kids who beg. If they get money, the likelihood of them going to school goes down because their parents see them as a potential way to make money instead of focusing on their education.  Many of the kids are also forced and abused into working/begging. Giving to them reinforces that. (See here, here, here, here,and  here for a few articles about this.) 
So, I have gotten used to seeing but not processing. How to give here and there but not do more. This is one of the reason I love the Bible School.  Since the people are coming to us, it gives us an opportunity to help them more substantially and removes many of the risks and uncertainties of helping people on the streets.
But, every once in awhile something gets through the shell I have created. Today it was a girl, most likely in her early twenties, who was passed out on the sidewalk.  She had no pants on and was wearing only a dirty, stained pair of underwear, combat boots with no laces hanging off her feet, a ripped shirt, and a dirt-caked sweater.  Her face and hair were filthy and around her mouth there were stains, most likely from huffing to get high.  She was not there when I went into the store, but there she laid when I came out.  As I waited for my passenger, I watched person after person just walk around or step over her, like a crack in the sidewalk.
I wanted to pick her up (she couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds) and take her home.  Help her get cleaned up. Tell her how she has a Father who loves her and wants her to have a better life.
But I can’t. It's not that easy. A foreigner placing a young girl in his van is going to raise suspicion at best, imprisonment at worst.  The police don’t care about things like this, so I can’t call them.  There is nowhere I know of where I could even take her to get her help. 
So, I looked out the window, shedding a tear and saying a prayer for a woman I couldn't help.  When my passenger got in, we headed back to the Bible School.  Six hours later, in my warm house, I wondered where she is at. Is she selling her body to get enough money to buy more glue?  Did she head to her home where she is getting something to eat before huffing again?  Is she dead?  I’ll never know. All I do know is her life on earth is hell and I do not seem to have the tools or skills to help her.
One of the worst things is that this young girl's situation isn’t even unique. Here in Guatemala, it is just more visible than the United States, but there are women and men and girls and boys like this in every country in the entire world.
Sometimes it is good to have your heart broken, though.  It is a reminder of the need, and especially how people really need Jesus and to be reconciled to the Father.  If that young woman knew the love of her Father, she most likely would not do those things to herself or let other people do those things to her.  So, we train people at the Bible School to know Jesus and be reconciled to the Father and to teach others to do the same. Hopefully, one of them will get something in their heart to do something, and they know the systems of their country so they could be effective in ways I cannot.
Tonight, though, the only thing I can do is be willing to feel the pain, and pray earnestly for her and that she can know her Father and His comfort.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Memories

I'm pushing 40. I don't know if that makes a difference, but lately I have found myself  really missing the things that I have loved in the past. Sometimes I will get flashes of memories - poignant but brief impressions, really, rather like those left in the sand after a retreating wave - that warm my bones and make me happy on a sort of primal level. Of course, that happiness quickly evaporates at the realization that its inspiration was from a time gone by. In the past. Not going to happen again.

Sometimes the memories are impossible to recreate because the ones who made them happen have died. I suppose it should bring me a great degree of comfort to have loved and been loved so well and deeply that the passing of those close to me - even many years later - brings a twinge of pain. I have experienced loss as a child, a teenager, and an adult, and was even privileged to feel the last heart beat under my hand of someone whom I dearly adored. But, the ceasing of that heart, like the ceasing of all the others, signaled the end of life and all the experiences we had shared together. That is sobering, yet it makes the memories all the more precious.

Sometimes the happy memories that drop into my conscience and then slip away again are impossible to recreate because of choices or circumstances of the others who were involved. People move. They change. They get healthy or regress into sickness. They draw closer or retreat from relationships. Their tastes and habits evolve (or maybe digress!). Some of these are positive on the whole, and the net benefits overshadow the loss of activities we used to enjoy together. I am thrilled for the people whose lives are moving in a positive direction. Some changes or circumstances, however, are not positive, which only adds to the heaviness of the loss of our shared endeavors. It is, in a way, even more sad than a death to know the shadow of possibility or engagement still exists, but not its fulfillment.

And then, of course, there is the loss of things that I have loved that is solely and completely of my own creation. This one hurts the most, because I know it is a deprivation I am inflicting on myself and others. The vast majority of these losses are because of our decision to move to Guatemala. Every holiday I miss, milestone I'm not there for, family health issue I can't help with causes a flood of... of... of something I'm not sure how to name. It isn't doubt exactly, because we believe so strongly in our call to be here. It isn't regret, or uncertainty, or even something as simple as sadness, but a strange amalgam. It is a heavy feeling, and easy to get wrapped up in but hard to wear.

Truth be told, though, the losses are hardly ever the simple result of one person's death or decision - neither someone else's nor my own. That helps with the unburdening a bit. Even if we hadn't made the ridiculous choice to move to a far-flung locale, many (most, if I'm honest) of my treasured memories would still be just that. And, if I'm being totally honest, the treasured memories might not have been totally and completely treasured experiences when I was in the midst of them. Time does have a way of fuzzing things up.

I'm banking on that - the sort of felting of the strands of life that makes things tangled but cozy upon retrospection. It is what causes my memories to be so brief, fleeting, and transient. But, it's also what causes the hard edges that make life rough, like pebbles tossed in the surf, to get smoothed and softened over time; the intensity of life's problems, like the power of mighty waves, to fade over time; the ugly pits and chasms of day-to-day self doubt, like footprints on the beach, to fade over time. It allows growth and regression - for ourselves and others - to happen without entirely blotting out the memory of what came before. That is a comfort to me because I know the people who are gone or different will never fully be gone or different to me as long as the impressions and memories remain. It also means that our decision to be here has moved us, but not fully removed us from the hearts and minds of our loved ones, either. I like that.

(For what it's worth - it's not just nearing 40 or being on the mission field that has caused me to suddenly be introspective about such things. As I was nearing 30, I did the same thing, even blogging about my impressions and musings then, too.)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Year in Review

How can it be that this year - 2017 - saw the completion of our 3rd entire calendar year in Guatemala!? It hardly seems possible, yet the difference between how we felt our first and second years (terrified and overwhelmed, respectively) and our third year is tremendous, and makes it obvious that we really are growing into our roles and realities of life on the mission field. It is at once bittersweet, strange, and comforting that Guatemala truly is become home in a more tangible way with each passing year.

Sometimes it's good to take stock of life, and this seems like a logical and fruitful time to do so. In light of that, below are some highlights and stats about this past 12 months.

In 2017, we:

  • Hosted 27 dinners in our home for people
  • Did 16 prayer and/or Bible study sessions at the Bible school
  • Said goodbye and sent our oldest daughter to college 3,000 miles away
  • Taught 14 four-hour classes at the Bible school
  • Renewed visas six times and renewed two passports
  • Gave 37 English classes and took 25 Spanish lessons
  • Attended three missionary potlucks with others who serve in our city
  • Participated in five teacher and/or board meetings for the Bible school
  • Helped with 140 class days at the Bible school
  • Did Bible studies at the women's shelter 25 times
  • Assisted with running an after school program 23 times
  • Spoke at nine different churches, small groups, Bible studies, etc. in the States
  • Took one scouting trip to check out a new ministry opportunity God put on our hearts
  • Volunteered more than 250 hours with a K-12 school
  • Participated in the Bible school's graduation, with over 120 graduates from 7 locations
  • Hosted six groups (nine people in all) in our home for a total of 24 nights
  • Finished homeschooling 4th, 6th, and 11th grades, and started 5th and 7th grades
  • Helped with one children's outreach and one youth outreach 
  • Attended our first wedding shower, baby shower, and wedding in Guatemala
  • Translated and assisted with one wheelchair distribution
  • Met the U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala 
  • Spent 41 days/nights in the U.S.
  • As a family, got 96 new passport stamps 

It's fun to look at how God has used and moved us in simple yet profound ways this past year. We are super pumped and energized about a big vision God is revealing to us about our ministry in the year 2018 and beyond. (More on that in upcoming posts.) Beyond everything, though, we are so grateful that God allows us the privilege of sharing the good news here in Guatemala, and for all of those who are partnering with us in this work. Here's to the next 12 months and all the awesome things that Jesus has ahead for all of us!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Adventures with Baby Beluga

Never have I loved a set of struts more!
We started this blog wanting people to get a glimpse into what life is like on the mission field. One of the things that can be really tricky is car repairs.

First off, no one likes having to find a new mechanic. They rank up there with proctologists and OBGYNs - the types of folks where you want to be sure to find a great one for emergencies, and then never, ever have to search for a new one again. Now take that "fun," but in a foreign nation. There are hundreds of tiny, one-man mechanic places here. I'm sure there are some great ones, and some not-so-great ones. Our quest to find a reliable place to take our car started with checking word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and trying a couple locations out before settling on our current place. They were good to us when we needed new brakes in a hurry, did good quality work, were less expensive than others, and the front-desk guy is nice. Bingo. I think we've found our people. 

The next hurdle, though, is that every new experience here requires us to check and double check our Spanish. As the designated speaker in the family when push comes to shove, this lot often falls to me. Now, this is fine, except that I don't even know car part names or understand their functions in English, let alone Spanish. Mostly, a trip to the mechanic ends up being Mark (who was a mechanic for three years, and really does know what he's doing) being under the car and pointing, while I attempt to identify and understand the non-technical words enough to be helpful. 

Now, for easy car repairs, this is where the challenge ends. But, we're dealing with not-so-easy things on both our vehicles, including our current challenge of trying to get new shocks and struts for our van. (For those who are interested - the word for both is simply amortiguador.) Now, we drive a 2006 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. It's silver. We lovingly named it Baby Beluga. If you live in the U.S., and were on the road for more than five minutes, chances are good that you saw about a dozen of these today. In the States, they're everywhere. Here - not so much. Monday two weeks ago, we were told by our mechanic that he was sure he'd be able to track down and have the parts by that Wednesday at noon. I called on Wednesday at noon, only to find out that there were only 3 of the 4 parts that we needed in the whole country. No problem. He was going to widen his search to southern Mexico as well. Thursday I called. His connection hadn't called him back. Friday morning I called. No parts in Mexico, either. 

<whammy>

This is where creativity and problem solving are really required. I made a flurry of phone calls (thank you Jesus for the limited international calls we get per month!) to find the parts we needed in the States, near a friend of ours, who was actually flying down the following day. (It's asking a lot of someone to scurry at the last minute, but missionaries' friends are accustomed to being put out when coming to visit, unfortunately.) Found the parts! They were about 40% cheaper than the quoted price for here! They were in stock and could have been picked up within the hour! Turns out, our friend had already left the area to be closer to the city where she'd fly out. So, then what? She was willing to look around in the place they're staying tonight. (We are literally less than 17 hours from her leaving at this point.) After her own flurry of phone calls, she found out from a relative who works in a manufacturing plant that you can't take struts on an airplane because of the compressed oil inside. 

<double whammy>

I'm telling you - sometimes the most mundane parts of life become exhausting emotional roller coasters on the mission field! The drama continued with emails back and forth with a mechanic in the States who tried to figure out what it would cost to ship parts down. (That was a no go.) We thought about friends or ministries who would be driving down within the next month or six weeks who might be able to bring parts. (That was a no go.) We checked websites and made more international calls and finally <insert the strains of angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus> WE FOUND OUR PARTS!!!! So, our friend, who had arrived by then, got a whole new country in her passport and a glimpse into life in the fast lane as we headed down the mountain and into a southern Mexican border that had three Auto Zones, one of which had our parts.

<sweet, sweet success>

Two days later we had our mechanic install the parts, and we've been gleefully driving terrible, pot-holed, speed-bump-laden Guatemalan roads without dragging bottom ever since! Oh, thank you so very much, Jesus!! Like so many other things on the mission field, what should have been a simple drop off / pick up situation turned into a couple weeks of a lot of effort and tracking down leads, but IT WORKED OUT! Funny how things have a way of doing that, even if the road to success (literally and figuratively in this case) can be a bumpy one! 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Brain Dump

Alack and alas... we started out so well on writing on the blog regularly. :) But, these things tend to happen. Lately it's been hard to find inspiration and time, and especially the two simultaneously. We've also really hit the wall where our daily life is, well, just daily life to us now, so we don't ooh and ahh over the little things nearly as much as in the past. However, it is important to keep our faithful readers updated, and to ruminate on our ministry and all of its blessings and challenges. So, here goes - another brain dump of ins and outs of our life on the mission field.


  • This year we've had more visitors than ever before, and we're super stoked about it! It started with fun times with some old friends from a church we attended several years ago, continued with an amazingly encouraging time with our dear pastor friend from our home church, then the fun kept rolling with an impromptu visit from the son of a friend of  friend. (You know how that works...) Within the next week we're having family friends (including kids - yaaaaay!!!) visit us, and then another faithful servant of God a month later. What's so fun is that all of these folks come with a heart for (or at least curiosity about) missions. It's really cool that we get to be a link in the chain of God's plan for their lives and in wooing them into walking out the Great Commission even more. We hope the visits can continue!
  • It took us 12 hours to drive 306 miles last week. Part of it was rough mountain roads. Part of it was construction. Most of it was the fact that most Guatemalan drivers don't follow rules or practice courtesy. That gets old. 
  • Graduation for the Bible school went super well - the best of the four we've attended, in my opinion. Honestly, there is a sense before that it is soooooooo much work, and can be something I kind of start dreading a little bit. BUT - there is nothing quite like the looks of pride and accomplishment on the faces of our students as we help them into their robes and hats and see them walk across the stage and receive that diploma. For many, this will be their only graduation. In Guatemala, only 59% of people finish the equivalent of 9th grade. The disparity between rural and urban populations, indigenous and ladino, and male and female is especially alarming, with only 30% of poor, rural, indigenous girls enrolled in junior high or high school. (Source) Our Bible school is rare in that it accepts people regardless of education level, so our graduates are defying the odds in earning a diploma, and choosing to do so in the most important area of all - the Word of God! 
  • Our Thanksgiving will probably be just another day of home schooling, etc.. Or, maybe we'll buy a live turkey at the market and butcher it. Could go either way. 
  • Having a kid in the U.S. is strange - for her, and for us. She's currently being drenched in the decadence that is America. The struggle is real. Sometimes she feels like she's drowning in it. It is hard for any parent to see a child experiencing the bumps and bruises of early adulthood, but our situation adds another dimension. Some days I am tempted to pray she can just "fit in," but what I really pray is that she never will. I don't mean that as a judgment, but the reality is that third-culture kids (TCKs) learn a lot of things that many adults never do, and I don't want her to lose that bone-deep wisdom, even though it makes life harder there. I am afraid that we've made our kids perpetual outsiders, yet I rejoice that we've made our kids perpetual outsiders. Hmm...
  • The money part of ministry is still hard. I was hoping at some point it no longer would be, but that's not the case. Prospective missionaries - just be aware, prepare yourself, build your faith.


  • God is expanding our vision. Refining? Clarifying? Not sure which verb to use - probably all of these and more.The long and short of it is that we wake up every day increasingly aware of the people who need Jesus in the world, and we ache to do something about that. To do more. Always more. We pray for more resources, more wisdom, more time, more spiritual gifting, more open doors to walk into the areas He's showing us. The mere fact that we own Bibles (let alone multiple Bibles) is an absolute miracle, and knowing our Bibles well, and having had the chance to study and teach the Word of God, and being able to gather and talk about it with others - these are rare, precious, amazing things. May we never, ever take that for granted!
  • Xela is cold in the winter. Today I left at 7:15 in the morning to go deliver bread to the shelter, and it was 39 degrees. It does get down cold enough to frost. That's not awful compared to where we come from, but it does make for a cold house when you have no heat or insulation or carpet. 
  • I'm super pumped about what's happening at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala! We have a friend who used to work for the State Department whose job it was to visit and assess embassies. She told us about two years ago that Guatemala ranked way down the list in terms of service, and we had experienced that ourselves and heard MANY horror stories from friends as well. This weekend we attended a meeting of the ambassador and embassy staff here in Xela. They are all new - there's been a lot of turnaround the last few months - and they are awesome! They listened. They cared. They are already making changes. It's super comforting to know that these folks in particular are there for us if we need them. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Happy Reformation Day!

Yeah - I know. Today is more commonly recognized as Halloween, and not Reformation Day, but the former is not exactly a holiday I embrace. (Not judging - just stating. For what it's worth, I am still a bit unsure of Christmas and don't even observe Valentine's Day at all, so holidays and I have a complicated relationship in general.) However - one holiday I'm excited about this year (by which I mean I'm blogging, not making special food or dressing up or anything) is Reformation Day - and I'm not even Lutheran!

I am a home schooling mom, though, and we're knee-deep in European history right now, so the battle for the very hearts and minds of medieval European people has been a big topic around our house and table lately. You can't study Europe without studying the Reformation after all, and our timing couldn't have been better. (Totally didn't plan it, but will totally capitalize on it, like any home schooling mama should.)

You see, it was 500 years ago TODAY that Martin Luther - a man totally and completely devoted to God and the Roman Catholic Church - nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, and changed everything. What would prompt a man like this to do such a thing? In short, the Bible. It was not long before this that Luther was tasked with teaching Biblical studies at a religious institution, and was given the right/responsibility of thoroughly reading the Word of God himself instead of just repeating and teaching church doctrine. And what was he so upset about? Briefly, the corruption of the Roman Catholic church, starting at the Vatican (which he had visited and was shocked by the decadence he found there) and filtering all the way down to local monasteries and churches, at which he had lived and labored for many years. Most specifically, he railed against the practice of selling Indulgences, or papal-approved pieces of paper that people could buy to save their own souls or those of their loved ones.

In some ways, what Luther did was inevitable. After all, the runaway train of debauchery and anti-Biblical teachings of the church at the time were bound to be noticed and stopped, on a natural level if nothing less, but especially because of God's desire that people should know the truth of salvation and have access to it. Jeremiah 1:12 says that God watches over His word to ensure that it is done, and He is not endlessly patient with those who stand in the way of that happening. On the other side of the coin, though, what Luther did was impossible. The Church was wrapped up in, nay, at the very heart of literally everything then. Government and politics. Birth. Marriage. Death. Planting and harvest. The natural, spiritual, and eternal were all absolutely controlled by the Catholic church throughout all of Europe. When the pope excommunicated Luther for his refusal to recant, that left him destined to hell, but also open to arrest at any time and for any reason from any religious OR secular law enforcement body or official. I'm sure there are better ways of putting it, but I can't help but think that Luther sure did have a lot of chutzpah! 

So, now I'm pondering, on the 500th anniversary of this important event - do I? Do we? As Christians, do any of us still have that chutzpah today? After all, we have unfettered access to the same life-changing Word of God that stirred Luther to radical change, and there is certainly still room for improvement in the modern church. Please don't misunderstand - I'm not saying that we should head to services this Sunday with a hammer and nails. But, maybe there are things we can do and places we can start to at least keep that same spirit of reformation alive and well in our times just as it was in Luther's heart five centuries ago.

Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Write your own theses about things you know you can improve or change in your own life. (Note - this is NOT about changing others...)
  • Create a family purpose statement together. Stir up your vision!
  • Read (or re-read) your church's mission or vision statement or statement of belief. Pray over it, and get behind it with your time, talent, and treasure. 
  • Write a scripture-based declaration that you read aloud each morning. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ and the promises He has for your life. 
  • Be honest about the things you've been critical about in your marriage, family, or church, and then commit to praying instead of griping or gossiping about those things. 
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if you're are trying to "buy" forgiveness for something instead of taking it to Jesus. 
  • Consider what unBiblical or unspiritual "indulgences" you have in your life. Are you willing to let God show them to you? Are you willing to give them up if asked? 
  • Nail (or tape) scriptures up around your house - even on your front door! - as a reminder of what matters most in your life. 
It may have been 500 years ago that Luther changed the world, but that doesn't mean we can't continue to do so each and every day! 

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.