Independence Week

Last Saturday, September 15, was Independence Day here in Guatemala. Thus, the kids had several non-academic school days last week. Starting Wednesday, the whole school went to the muni stadium (muni=the town of Chamelco) and played basketball and soccer against other schools from Chamelco. (no pictures 😦 )

Thursday they had a ‘Festival de Comidas Típicas’ (festival of traditional food) at their school where each class sold several different Guatemalan foods and all the kids dressed in ‘traje típico’ (traditional clothing).

Friday was the ‘traída de la antorcha’ where the school went to Cobán (9km/5.5mi from here) and lit their torches from the central torch there and ran it back to Chamelco. This is done by school children throughout the country to symbolize the spreading of the news of the country’s independence from Spain. There is also a large torch run from Guatemala City all the way through Central America to Cartago, Costa Rica to follow the route of the original mail that shared the news with all the freed territory. Jacob got to be one of the original lighters of a torch and Nathan also had the opportunity to carry it for a short distance. Esther started the run with her class, but then fell and ended up in the truck with Ted who was leading the run with speakers of praise music to keep them going. She slept the whole way. 🙂

Saturday was the official ‘desfile’ (parade) here in Chamelco. Ted again was asked to lead the school’s contingent with his truck playing music. Abby, Luci, and I went to watch and enjoyed seeing all the kids in the different traditional clothing and other costumes. (Well, Luci lasted through about 2 schools and then wasn’t interested anymore…we didn’t stay for the whole parade.)

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The kids didn’t have school Monday so we took a spontaneous trip to a local swimming hole for lunch. Tuesday was back to school–just over a month remaining!

 

And one more freebie picture, because who can resist this cutie?!

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What’s in Your Hand?

Last summer I, Ted, attended a training with Global Disciples Small Business Development. The curriculum is focused on helping people in poor, developing countries start their own business. It gives them tools and knowledge on how to plan ahead, to budget and save, and to manage the risks. The main idea is finding what each of us already “has in our hand,” and how we can take advantage of our assets for the benefit of ourselves and our community. Not only is it good material for starting a business, but it contains excellent advice and tools for any of us making a family budget while saving and preparing for unexpected expenses.

I presented the material to the leaders of Red Paz AV, an organization that leads many trainings and projects in various K’ekchi’ communities. I learned a lot of things as I tried to teach the material to my companions at Red Paz.

First, it is difficult to teach in a foreign language. It was a challenge to keep the atmosphere fast-paced while trying to respond to questions and think ahead in Spanish. I found myself needing to prepare far more than I’m used to.

Second, it didn’t matter so much that my teaching wasn’t super engaging because the material is already so profoundly relevant. The “students” were constantly applying the material to their lives and imagining how to present it to the K’ekchi’ communities.

Ted teaching the lesson on cash flow

Third, their reaction was the same as mine as well as those I took the training with last summer: this material is life-giving and God-inspired. It is more than simply business training. Scripture is woven throughout, clearly pointing to the way that Christ expects us to steward our resources and to be loving and respectful in all aspects of our lives.

Fourth, I was once again reminded of the depth of the struggle here. It was eye-opening for me to try to make a family budget work when a good monthly income is around $90 in the villages. People have to choose between eating less, keeping their kids at home from school, or going another year without buying an outfit to wear.

The four students: Federico, Carlos, Reina, and Maria

We are working on translating the material into K’ekchi’ and modifying it to the specific needs of the communities. For instance, some are illiterate and there are some chapters that will take many weeks to get through. We are eager to begin presenting the material after the April/May corn planting season.

We are excited to get the material into the hands of those that need it most. Please join us in praying that God will speak through us and inspire new hope and that we will see new fruit spring forth.

Photo credits: Abby Smoker
Categories: Red Paz | 1 Comment

Doce Mil Palabras

A picture is worth a thousand words, ¿verdad? Therefore, this is a twelve thousand word post!

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An early January supper at our home with visiting friends and the Vida220 Guatemala team.

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Several little girls who missed Esther at church one Sunday when she was sick.

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Friends of ours lost their husband/father last summer. Hermana Patrona demonstrates a waist loom they use to make ‘designer’ huipils (the blouses Kekchi ladies wear) as a source of income.

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Ted with the four graduates of his small business class “What’s in Your Hand?” in January.

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Ted and Abby visited Tikal in February for Abby’s birthday. They also met some fellow missionary friends from Belize.

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Pastor Abelino leads a Bible study in a community.

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We picked the kids up from school one day and went to a local river for some wet, cool fun…with crabs!

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At the end of March, we enjoyed several days with fellow missionaries around Central America at the annual EMM Retreat. Our days were packed with fellowship, prayer, swimming, worship, learning, sharing, and just being together.

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We were also able to spend an afternoon with the O’Connors, a fellow missionary family from Upstate New York who came to Guatemala last year. We’d been trying to make this meeting work for almost four years!

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A beautiful garden in San Pablo Chicoc.

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In the communities, the children participate in all the activities attached to their mother.

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…and this is what keeps me busy most of my days. This little one doesn’t take a break very often!

Categories: Around home, school | 6 Comments

WALC with Abby

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This is a guest post by Abby about the experience she was able to participate in during November. We are very thankful not only for this opportunity, but also for the amazing young lady she is becoming.

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Abby with Ingrid and the other “gringas:” Miriam, Sarah, and Taylor.

When I was first offered the chance to volunteer with the WALC program* for twenty-five days of November, I nearly said no. I’d been hoping to do NaNoWriMo again that month, get ahead in schoolwork, and prepare for the holidays, and I didn’t want to leave my family or my kitten for that long. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the month in a place I didn’t know, with new people, and a hundred Q’eqchi’ girls talking to me and asking the same questions every day, and then laughing to themselves in a language I didn’t understand. But God reminded me how I’d prayed for Him to take me out of my comfort zone. He softened my heart to see my stubbornness. My selfishness. In my notebook I wrote:

“Don’t I know that by following Him, His voice and His call, and leaving this bubble of comfort –don’t I know there is so much more to be experienced outside my desires? I claim my greatest desire is to follow Him- but does comfort mean more to me?”

“If it weren’t for You,” I wrote to God, “I’d choose no.” And so, though I was still nervous, I chose yes.

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Abby and her friend, Heydi.

“You will be my strength- all of it, for I have none of my own for this- and You will be my song, even on the hardest days. You will be my shield- all around me, protecting me, upholding me, and You will be the only reward I ever need. “

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Working on and showing off their orchid embroidery.

I stayed at the site of the program five days a week, coming home for one night mid-week and for the weekends. On November 6th, the day we picked up the girls and checked them all in, the day the program began, I found these words playing over and over in my head.

“God of the skies
You are watching over me
Every moment of every day
You are by my side.”

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Planting cebollines with Ingrid’s (back left) gardening class

The adventure began. There were twelve classes, twelve groups, and twenty-four workdays, meaning over the course of the month, each group spent two full days in each class. For the first week of the program, I helped with the hortalizas –gardening- classes. We planted cilantro, kale, onions, and peas, all in the first few days. We harvested malanga root from taro plants with machetes, and spent the majority of our time weeding.

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Organizing tree bags with Cleydi’s reforestation class

After that, I joined the reforestation classes for a week and a half. We spent four hours every day organizing tree bags in the nursery, rain or shine, and more often than not, it was extremely muddy. I discovered most of the girls were afraid of earthworms and centipedes and snakes of any kind, to the point where they would simply stand still for several minutes until it disappeared back into the soil, or scream and cause the whole group to gather around. It became part of my job to move the earthworms out of the way whenever they were spotted so the girls could continue with their work.

For the last week or so I helped out the cocineras –cooks- in the kitchen, and I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed those hours most of all. The days were spent chopping, peeling, and grating various vegetables, cooking rice, fetching tortillas from a nearby few families who worked together to make them for us every day–300 every meal, and collecting leaves from a certain plant called rok’tix in Q’eqchi’, to fry with eggs.

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Helping distribute ingredients for making a rehydration drink–a very important recipe for rural communities where health care is hard to reach.

Over the course of the month, I learned the importance of choosing kindness before preference or comfort or judgment. I become excessively thankful for those who have been kind to me after I wasn’t to them, and I learned so much about just how connected I still am to my comfort zone, even when I thought I wasn’t. I met a hundred and thirty beautiful souls and got half a hundred hugs every day. I got to hear them sing, I got to dance with them, and I got to learn bits and pieces of their lovely language.

I’m so thankful God didn’t let me choose no.

1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

*WALC stands for Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conservation. The program is for teenage Q’eqchi’ girls, focusing on agroecology but also teaching them about nutrition, cooking, health, hygiene, self-esteem, and various life skills. The program is made to empower the girls and to equip them so they can improve the agricultural practices of their own villages. Some teachings are based on historical practices of the Q’eqchi that have been lost over the years. When they complete the 25 days of training, the girls receive scholarships to go to school, since dropping out is extremely common for girl in their age range otherwise. More about it here: http://cloudforestconservation.org/our-work/walc/

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Pilot Project

**This article is from a recent newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter and receive more about our work, use the sign-up link on the right.**

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Overlooking the village of Muyja with the new coffee plants in the foreground.

As I drove out to the small village of Muyja, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Federico had called me a couple days earlier and said the community would really like to invite me right away. I hadn’t visited this place in about six months and the urgency of the request made me nervous. We had been praying for this village especially since it was a a pilot program for growing coffee. We provided a business loan for this community and I thought they probably wanted to ask for an extension on the loan since the coffee trees would be too young yet to get a good harvest. In the Spring of 2016, we had planted coffee with them and helped them buy the fertilizer they needed.

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Alvina showing her coffee trees.

A K’ekchi’ woman named Alvina greeted Federico and me; she was eager to show us the coffee trees. I was amazed to see strong healthy trees with unblemished leaves shimmering in the sunlight. Not only did the trees look healthy, but they were also heavy with fruit. Even though it usually takes about 3 years to get to a full harvest, these trees that were seedlings a year ago were already producing coffee.

I work with Federico in the Red Paz organization. This organization works with several villages in Alta Verapaz each year. In the first year they teach peace and reconciliation from a Biblical standpoint, helping the people in the village learn to work together and resolve conflict. In the second year they teach health and nutrition. In this phase the community works together to grow an organic garden of vegetables that provides nutrients that are often lacking in the local diet. Following the success of accomplishing these together, the community is ready to begin working together in the business of coffee. I believe God called us here to help and encourage the K’ekchi’ people as they try to escape the trap of poverty.

Federico and I returned from our tour of the coffee trees to meet together in the house of Angustia. We sat together on wooden benches on a dirt floor with coffee in hand and waited for the others in the community to arrive. Not only was everyone ready to make the first payment that we all agreed on, but some paid their entire balance!

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Ted with Federico, Alvina, and Carlos.

We are planning to present the Global Disciples business training early next year. I received the materials and training myself this summer and I am looking forward to the tremendous impact I’m sure it will make with the people in the villages.

It is encouraging to see people who have felt the weight of oppression for so many years finally able to make a difference in their lives. Their excitement is contagious as we celebrate the literal fruit of our labor. Continue to pray for us as we seek God’s will for the K’ekchi’ people.

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Summer 2017, Where are we?

Come see us this summer:

May 28: 9:45am Equipping Hour, Ephrata FIRST UMC Church, Ephrata, PA
June 4: 10am West York Church of the Brethren, York, PA
June 4: 6:30pm Franklin County, location TBA
June 11: 10am Yorks Corners Mennonite Church, Wellsville, NY
June 18: 10:30am Bell Run Union Church, Shinglehouse, PA
June 25: 11am Lowville Mennonite Church, Lowville, NY
July 2: 11am Ellisburg Union Church, Ellisburg, PA
July 9: 6pm EMM Worker Commissioning, Mellinger Mennonite Church, Lancaster, PA
July 9-14: EMM Oasis Retreat
July 15: 11am-3pm, EMM Global Fair, Hans Herr House, Willow Street, PA
July 16: 6pm Ephrata First UMC, Ephrata, PA
July 23: 9:30am Alden Mennonite Church, near Buffalo, NY
August 6: Rochester Area Mennonite Fellowship, Rochester, NY
August 13: Friendship Mennonite Church, Cleveland, OH
August 20: 10am Clarence Center Akron Mennonite Church, near Buffalo, NY
August 27: 10:45am Chenunda Creek Fellowship, Independence, NY
August 27: 6pm Ice Cream Social, Yorks Corners Mennonite Church, Wellsville, NY

September 10: Return flight to Guatemala! Thank you for your support!!

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Snip-its, part 2

Going through my drafts today, I discovered this gem that never got published. It’s well over a year and a half old now, so I’ve added a few notes:
Another few chapters of our adventures in Guatemala.
Have you ever wondered what happens to clothes that don’t sell at Goodwill? They get shipped south! There are stores on virtually every corner here called “Pacas.” They get leftover thrift clothes and other items from the states and sell them here. We have truly appreciated this as the younger two kids have outgrown almost everything we brought with us from the States last year, and although they did have thrift stores (“Ropa Americana”) in Costa Rica, they could still be rather pricey. Here, depending on the store, prices can range from 1 Q ($.13) to 75 Q ($10). This past week they came in especially handy as we are in need of some warmer clothes. I brought no long-sleeve shirts for me and very few for the kids. Not sure that we’ll be buying the snowpants or boots that I keep seeing, though the kids would sure love if we did need them. [Still very thankful for these as we have replaced more than just the younger two’s clothes (now the middle two!). They were/are a great place for maternity and baby clothes too! Occasionally, I even find some nice curtains or other things to decorate with.]
We have met a handful of other missionary families around Carcha and Coban and have been blessed by our times with them–and the chance to speak English outside our family. An older couple has supplied us with some puzzles and English magazines, which were quickly devoured. Another family, with a son about Esther’s age lives near a nice park and so we have enjoyed some outings with them there. One family lives in the country–a Guatemalan husband and American wife with a 2 year old daughter. They own a nice finca (farm) outside Coban and have been here about four years. The kids love to visit there. They have a wonderful time running around and enjoying nature and animals (turkeys, chickens, rabbits, dogs, goats, chicks). Ted has learned a lot about the area and farming practices from Antonio. This family tries to do a lot organically and help their local community as much as possible. We all (except Esther who rode most of it) got a wonderful workout one afternoon as we hiked around their various fields. It is amazing the places they plant their crops. What I would call a straight drop-off, they climb up and down and plant coffee plants on…and then later again to harvest them by hand! We took a shortcut home through the jungle and were climbing up muddy inclines that I didn’t think we’d ever make it up. I’m amazed we brought home as little mud as we did on our clothes! The area is also called Siguanja because of the many “siguanjas” they have–places where there is just a hole in the ground, some deeper and wider than others. Many have weeds that have grown across the tops so you don’t notice them, or they look shallower than they are. They taught us to throw a rock in first to see how long it takes to hit bottom; they can be very dangerous.   [Par for the course in missionary life, some of these families have now left Guatemala, though we have also met a couple others. Life here is constant transition.]
If legends are to be believed, chocolate was first discovered in Guatemala. That said, there is surprisingly little of it around, in my opinion. 🙂  However, we found raw cacoa beans in the market and brought some home to do some experimenting. Ted put on his coffee-roasting hat and pulled out the handy coffee-roaster (aka popcorn popper) that we found at our neighborhood Paca, and roasted up a batch. We soon discovered that the process of making cocoa beans edible is not near as easy as the process of making coffee beans drinkable! However, we have enjoyed the testing, and Ted has re-wired the popcorn popper to make it work even more efficiently at its new purpose. I’m fairly certain there will continue to be more efforts in this regard. If nothing else, it makes the house smell amazing (unlike roasting coffee beans, which I have relegated as being an outdoor activity). [We haven’t done as much of this as I thought we would, mostly because the post-roasting process is a bit tedious. It’s almost worth it just for the smell though. 🙂 ]
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Día del trabajador

Labor Day is celebrated on May 1 here in Guatemala. Since it is a federal holiday and most things are closed, the boys’ school had a family festival at a local ‘balneario’ (swimming hole) today. Not having any idea what to expect, we weren’t quite prepared for the day, but it was a fun time.

They split everyone up into ‘families’ (teams) and each family had to go through the 14 stations surrounding the river–some of them in the river. It was a wet and muddy experience, but enjoyed by all and we also got to know some of the parents of the boys’ classmates.

Here’s a few pictures of the day. As the designated ‘dry-person’, I had the camera, but also the baby, so I didn’t get to all the stations before they had already finished and were on their way to the next one! Each station was named after something in the Bible (Nile River, Red Sea Crossing, etc) and had a Bible verse to go with it.

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When I’m found in the desert place…

Blessed be your name!

We spent the week before Easter getting to know a new part of Guatemala–the desert! This year’s EMM Central America retreat was in Chiquimula, at a World Vision center there. Five families, including 18 kids (13 of them boys!), joined together in wonderful, precious times of worship, prayer, fellowship, teaching, and a little fun. It’s hard to say if the adults or the kids enjoyed it more. Friendships were forged and renewed and I think it’s safe to say we all left feeling very encouraged by our time together.

The adults discussed healthy marriages and parenting in the context of ministry as well as being passionate Christ followers. It was refreshing to discover that we all shared similar struggles and to discuss various solutions and just to know we aren’t alone. Some of the most special times were in the evenings when we spent time praying over and blessing each family including each individual family member. God knew what we all needed and his presence and faithfulness in providing it was soo good!

Here is a slideshow of some highlights from the week:

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On our way home Friday, we stopped in Coban to check out the ‘alfombras’ or ‘carpets’ being made for the Good Friday processions. It is amazing the amount of work put into these just to have them trampled on hours later. Here is a time-lapse video someone did where you can see the whole process (in Antigua, Guatemala).

We enjoyed a relatively quiet Easter after the full week, and this week the boys started the second quarter of their school year and the rest of us are working on what needs to be done before heading to the States for the summer…a lot!

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Fun Easter picture…keeping it real!

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A City Trip

Every few months, we have the opportunity to take a trip to Guatemala City for one reason or another. This past week required a trip to finalize the residential visas for two of the six of us. (Luciana has dual-citizenship and so needs no visas!)

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Desert sunset — Photo by Abby

We started the five-hour trip early Wednesday afternoon. We usually prefer to leave in the morning, but with the boys in school now 7:30am-12:30pm, we wanted to minimize the time they would miss. Between construction, an accident, and a dinner stop, we made it to the Anabaptist guest house, Semilla, in the city around 8pm that evening. We enjoy having this little “oasis” in the midst of the city. Thursday morning we had some time to relax before heading out for our appointments at 11:30am. During the previous month, we had scrambled a bit after being told I would need a certified copy of our marriage certificate or I would appear single on all my Guatemalan documents. We got the certified copy (four different steps in the US) with a week to spare, which allowed us just enough time to have it translated and get an authorized copy here. The long-awaited appointment took about 15 minutes for both Jacob and I and then we were done. In five days, the person helping us will pick up the final documents and we will be official! No more having to get visas coming or going. The other four are still in process. There is a small chance they could be finalized before our home leave in May. If not, they will have to apply for simple visas to be able to leave the country without having to restart the whole process when we return.

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Early morning “exercises” at Semilla

Thursday afternoon we did a little shopping to pick up some North American foods we enjoy that are hard to find in Coban. Later, we had the first chance since last July to visit the family who so generously shared their home with us when we stayed in the city awaiting Luci’s birth. It was wonderful to be able to chat with them again, and the boys really enjoyed renewing friendships with others in the same community. To top it all off, this week was the spring musical at CAG (Christian Academy of Guatemala–a private Christian school in Guatemala City that is in English), so we were able to go to a showing of Cinderella Enchanted. The kids loved and it were very excited by not only the show, but all the instruments in the orchestra as well. It was a late night, but very much worth it. Esther especially was thrilled to meet “the princess with the cape” (fairy godmother) and “the girl who lost her shoe” (Cinderella) afterward. 🙂

Back to Semilla for the night and we had a sleepy drive home Friday morning. On the way home, we had to stop a while for construction. Since this has been ongoing for a year, there are people that bring their goods and walk up and down the stopped lines of vehicles trying to sell things. You can buy some nuts for a snack, a cold drink, some ice cream, a cell phone charging cord, some cut-up fruit, and the list goes on. A couple of the ladies that came by were enchanted by Luci and enjoyed talking to her.

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Luci talking to las vendedoras

It was another successful trip to the city, bringing us one step closer to permanency. As usual, we enjoyed the trip and community it offered, but it can be exhausting as well and requires some recovery time.

One more week at home and then we will head out again for our regional EMM retreat where we are looking forward to four wonderful days of fellowship with the other EMM families around Central America.

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