A picture is worth a thousand words, ¿verdad? Therefore, this is a twelve thousand word post!
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.
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.
“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. “
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.”
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.
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.
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/
**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.**
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.
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!
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.
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!!
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.
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:
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!
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!)
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.
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.
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.
We just said good-bye to a team from our home church that visited to see and learn more about our ministry here. It was a wonderful, blessed time that we are very thankful for. Some of the members shared their pictures with me, so I thought I would use them to put together a photo-post of some of the things we have been doing. (Roll-over picture to see caption, click on photo to see larger image with full caption.)
The first Sunday the team drove a couple hours to attend the village church in Checalte. Some of the ladies wore Kekchi outfits they had purchased the day before at the market (except Esther who insisted on wearing the skirt we purchased for Abby three years ago. It was a bit on the long side!) During the service, Pastor Gene shared a short sermon that Ted translated to Spanish and our friend Rigoberto translated to Kekchi. Some of the team also sang some hymns. The congregation wanted to share with us as well and sang a couple songs of their own including “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” in English.
Throughout the week we visited several villages where we have built relationships. We started the week with a coffee tour. The team learned about how coffee is grown and processed.
Another day, the team travelled a couple hours to Chisec to visit and pray for a church in the process of constructing a new building. The pastor here, Pablo, was one of the first Kekchi Mennonite believers back in the 1960s.
We also visited Chiquixji to meet Felipe and his son Wilmar and family. Ted and I first met this family when we visited on our vision trip three years ago. We continue to be blessed by this relationship. We also visited a nearby benefício, or coffee processing facility, to see possibilities for future work.
Near the end of the week we travelled to a village garden that Red Paz (Peace Network)–an organization that Ted works with quite a bit–helped to initiate. Red Paz goes into communities and works to teach helpful skills both in agriculture and in peacemaking. They are the group that has partnered with Ted and the national organization Anacafé to help teach good coffee-growing techniques to Kekchi farmers.
This visit was followed by an uphill hike to visit some friends–Federico and Marta and their two boys. They are a wonderful family that has seen many challenges in the last several years. We had a very special time of prayer with and for them and enjoyed shopping Marta’s beautiful weavings–bags, placemats, table runners, and more.
We ended the visit Sunday by visiting our local church in Chamelco. The team again shared in song, but the most special part came after the service and after lunch. Rigoberto’s family joined us to go down to the river and fulfill a request Abby made several months ago that we thought would have to wait until next summer.
Although these were the scheduled events, there were many other special moments throughout the week, some captured on film and some not. We were truly blessed by this visit and praise God for everything coming together the way it did.
Our special visitors:
I’ve been writing down a few thoughts over the past several months and thought I’d share some of them. Here are several unrelated stories of our lives in Guatemala.