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




Sunday, February 12, 2017

Brain Dump

Once again, we've left this blog blank for a long time. <sigh> Sorry. Originally, we started it in hopes that it would be discovered by others just starting out on the mission journey and could help them with insight and information we had trouble finding. Now, it sometimes feels more like a tool for us to keep our friends and family back home informed about what we're up to. Then again, it's also a public blog, so (the internet being what it is) there's no telling who might stumble across it. Hmmm - place to guide others in practical matters?  Personal space for our loved ones? Platform for preaching and teaching the truth of Jesus Christ? Maybe it's all of the above. Or none! For now, here's just a little bit of what's been on my mind recently:

  • Missionaries - your kids must be a priority! Before we left for the field, I reminded God that Isaiah 40:11 promises that He leads gently those who have young. In essence, I was reminding him that my kids were a priority for me, and He has reminded me many times since that they must be a priority for ME as well. This year we chose to home school because the educational options available to us weren't the best fit for our kiddos. There have been times that I've felt a little guilty (and gotten some flack from others, to be honest) for spending so much time focused on my own children's needs. After all, we are here to help others, right? Listen - the truth is that regardless of where you live, your own family has been given to you for a reason. God knew what He was doing when He gave them to you. Family is important to Him, and it should be important to us. No matter where you are, but ESPECIALLY on the mission field, you can, should, and must make sure your own family unit is intact and cared for emotionally, spiritually, and physically. 
  •  Politics stink! I vacillate between being incredibly relieved to be far from the circus that seems to be the U.S. political arena these days, and wishing I could be back in the fray lobbying and involved in local politics once again. What I REALLY wish, though, was that people would, um, I don't know - be reasonable? I've lost friendships because of politics. I can't believe that's true, but it is. I have found myself cringing when it's time to read the news or check social media, not wanting to learn more bad news or (even worse) see more people behaving badly. Heaven help me if I try to read the comments section of an article or comment! It makes me all the more grateful that the answer for the world's problems won't come from the political sphere, but already came 2,000 years ago as the adopted son of a carpenter. Still, I struggle in knowing how to have wisdom in what to say and when/where to say it, and when it's best to keep my mouth shut. Sometimes it's harder to love people the more you know about their political beliefs (and how they choose to express them), honestly, and I long to love all people well. I also don't want to be guilty of the same ignorance or bias or blindness that so infuriates me when I see it in others. Oh, Jesus - help us all!
  • My baby girl is almost all grown up. Our oldest daughter is looking at the strong possibility of starting college a year early, pending only sufficient financial aid, which we are excited to see how God will provide. What that means is that she'll be leaving not just our home, but the country in which we serve. We'll be 3,000 miles and 2 countries apart for much of the year. This is the point at which a lot of parents start wringing their hands and fretting. Honestly, though, all I feel is excitement for her and for the world that she's about to take on. We've made a lot of mistakes are parents (as all do), but it's been a delight and a pleasure to parent her and her sisters. I have loved each and every age in its own way, and encourage all of you to forget that tired old lie that the teenage years have to be awful and filled with strife. Our experience has been just the opposite, in fact, and the only regret I have about her leaving is that I will miss her cheerful, capable, insightful presence in my daily life. At what is nearly the end of this process of getting her raised up and ready to be on her own, I feel totally confident in my teenage daughter's abilities to make good choices, be kind, follow her convictions, and honor Christ in all she does. It's been a blur, but an honor, and I'm all the more encouraged to soak up what time we have left with her and her siblings in our home, and to rejoice in the victories I know they all have ahead. 
  •  Ministry work doesn't always look like what I thought it would. the past year has been filled with challenges and changes, as I know we've alluded to in past posts, but one of the beautiful things that's come out of it is more intimacy with God, which has enabled us to hear His voice and learn His ways more and more. Before we left for the mission field, my impression of mission work was that it was almost exclusively evangelism, often in the street with strangers. And it is that, sometimes, but not always. Once we got here, we both plugged in to established Christian organizations and lent our energies to their work, which was mostly discipleship and training. We're still with one, but not with the other. Lately, I've felt more convicted to connect with individuals rather than organizations. I found a Christian friend who leads a Bible study at a women's shelter, so I asked if I could help. I met a Christian man who runs a school that needed help with its English program, so I asked if I could help. I have three Christian acquaintances who really want to learn English, so I asked if I could help. Ostensibly, I suppose, some of my activities don't look overtly 'missionary,' except that they are. In forging relationships with these folks, I can pray for and with them and strengthen their faith. In teaching them practical skills, I can help them widen their own sphere of influence and gain resources necessary for outreach. In many ways, it feels like one of the keys to ministry work is to equip locals to spread the gospel and not rely on outsiders to do it, so it feels good to be doing what I'm doing. To be honest, I'm still learning what it means to be a missionary, but for now I'm glad for the new doors God is opening and ways He's allowing me to expand my vision and understanding of this calling He's given me. 
  •  Just so you know, I still don't miss winter and snow. At all. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas



Today is the day that Jesus was born. This is the season when Christ came onto Earth. This is the time of year that... Oh, heck, I guess all I can really say is that the calendar says today is Christmas, and that is when Christians these days traditionally celebrate the birth of Christ. It also seems like a good occasion to set some thoughts down on this blog. 

As you can probably tell from the intro, Christmas and I have a long and challenging history together. Please don’t get me wrong, it’s not the miraculous story I struggle with – the why behind Christmas - but the when and how that are tough to reconcile for me.  I was a faithful and enchanted celebrant as a child, but the tinsel lost its glitter when I became a young adult, and I spent several years avoiding the holiday and everything associated with it entirely, much to the chagrin and heartache of my friends and family. Eventually I came around to seeing that causing them pain and confusion and missing out on the chance to exalt Christ with my fellow believers was at least equally as unchristian as participating in traditions that I knew were not Biblical and were a troubling mix of different faiths. So, we once again began to partake of the good things that Christmas has to offer, despite the fact that it has become so incredibly commercialized and I still believe that many of its trappings (time of year, tree, decorations, etc) do undeniably have their roots in pagan religious habits. This is where the problem lies for me.

Deuteronomy 12:29-32, Jeremiah 10:1-5, and Colossians 2:8 (among many, many other places) are a warning to us about not mingling our faith in Christ with the faith and traditions of other religions. On the other hand, Romans 14 (among many, many other places) tells us to chill out, pray and think for ourselves, and do everything as a celebration to Jesus. Thanks, Bible, for leaving things just a wee bit ambiguous once again. When I sought the Lord for answers, I couldn’t help but be struck by the dichotomy that we’re not supposed to get religious and legalistic about our faith, but we’re also supposed to be pure about how we live it out. Hmmm…

So, I always find myself a bit uncomfortable this time of year as I try to negotiate the best path forward. I need to honor my God above all else, but in order to be a good witness I have to consider the needs of the people and culture (micro and macro) around me as well. It’s not an easy balance to find, so I always approach Christmas with a bit of confusion and dread as well as excitement. Then again, maybe that’s an integral part of the story of Christ coming to Earth, after all – discomfort. 

Don’t get me wrong, even as I write I am safe, full, comfortable, and looking forward to a big bowl of chili and a slice of pecan pie for supper. (Yum!) However, I’m also uncomfortable as well. It’s not easy to be away from my friends and family. Even though we love, love, love our new country (and new house, since we just moved 5 days ago), I feel further from home than ever during this time of year. I know I was called here. It’s where I belong. I understand that its many discomforts will be temporary (even if they last my whole lifetime), but I’m not even sure exactly what God will do through our mission work, though He’s revealed glimpses of it to me. There are promises I believe He’s given regarding our ministry that are bigger than what I can imagine happening, but I hold on to them with awe and wonder nonetheless, though I don’t know how they’ll come to pass. 

I guess that’s a bit like how Mary must have felt - far from home, carrying the savior of the world, and not even given an easy place to bring Him forth. Yet, the Bible tells us in Luke 2:19 that she treasured up the promises God had given her and pondered them in her heart. There’s a great degree of discomfort in that picture – a young girl, away from everyone she knows, surrounded by the unfamiliar, experiencing great physical and emotional challenges, but holding on to the promises of God anyway. If Christmas is  when we celebrate the story of Christ being born, then I guess that’s what Christmas looks like.

The wise men, too, knew what it was to be uncomfortable. In the whole Christmas story, they are the figures that are often viewed as the most mysterious. Not much is written about them except that they came from the East, brought interesting and expensive gifts to the Christ child, and knew enough to not trust Herod. (After all – they were wise men, remember?) I’ve heard a lot of preaching about this subject, and the nearest I can tell is that the Magi were probably part of an exclusive Babylonian/Persian/Median priesthood, meaning their predecessors (by a lot of years) would have known Daniel – the same one from the lion’s den, and all that – and would have had access to his and other Jewish writings, including prophecies about the coming messiah. (You know, stuff like Daniel 9:24-27.) Their physical journey would have been arduous. They would have been away from home for a long time, surrounded by strangers, facing dangers and discomfort, and they would have done it all because of promises God gave long before that they chose to hold on to and pursue. Sound familiar?

Then again, the whole reason for the season (as repeated by bumper stickers and wall hangings) is the Messiah himself. This was the ultimate example of discomfort (to say the least) regarding Christmas. It couldn’t have been easy for Jesus Christ to set aside his deity to become Emmanuel – God with us, and all of the messiness that entailed. After all, who would want to be restrained to being a tiny, helpless baby, complete with soggy cloth diapers and the inability to communicate? More seriously, though, Jesus knew what He was coming to do. He knows the whole end from the beginning, not just the painful end of his physical life on Earth that awaited Him, and He came anyway. For the sake of humanity, for the sake of people who would make His life hard and reject Him, for the sake of the fallen and imperfect, He was willing to face physical, emotional, and spiritual discomfort for 33 long years. For the sake of the salvation of the very people who would cause him that discomfort, He was willing to suffer it. It’s easy to recognize the suffering on the cross as a part of His story, but what about all the discomfort that came from the moment he stepped into human flesh? That’s part of the Christmas story as well.

I guess, in the end, Christmas still doesn’t look any easier or less confusing than it ever did to me, but that’s ok  Now, at least, I know more authentically what celebrating the birth of Christ should look like –whether you celebrate and honor it on December 25th or every single day of the year. It looks like entering in. It looks like making the effort and taking the long trips and wading into the messiness and confusion of life for the sake of bringing forth the Messiah, sharing Him with others, and giving Him all of your gifts. It looks like doing things that may seem crazy to the world around you, but that you somehow know are right because of promises from an eternally faithful God that you’re holding on to. It looks like taking the opportunities you’re given – whatever they may be – to bring Christ ever more into the world around you. It looks messy. It looks uncomfortable. It looks, in its own small measure, like the story and life of Jesus Himself, and I can totally get on board with that!