Cucumber Connections

A few weeks ago, I (Julie) was at the grocery store grabbing a couple things quickly before picking up the kids from school. I was carrying Malakai in a baby carrier on my front. In the process of picking out some cucumbers, a few rolled down onto the floor. As I started to bend over and pick them up, a lady came up behind me and said, “I’ll get those for you.” As I turned to thank her, she continued, “I don’t know why I said that in English.” We continued chatting a bit and I found out she was from Pittsburgh, but has been here over 15 years and has 4 kids. Her husband is Guatemalan. They are missionaries, and one of their activities includes purchasing coffee cherries and processing them and then roasting and selling them locally. We exchanged numbers and the desire to get together soon.

A couple weeks later, I needed to go to the town where they live (about 40 minutes away) for something else and so we arranged to get our families together at the same time. It was a wonderful time of connecting. Not just for connecting with other English speakers, but also for Ted and the husband to talk about coffee and processing and how that can be done here. Definitely a God-thing!

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WALC with Abby

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.


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.


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. “


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.”


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.


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.


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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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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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!


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!)


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.


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.

nuts lady

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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A Welcome Visit

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.

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Our special visitors:


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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.

In Costa Rica, the exchange rate was about 500 colones to $1. It was very easy to convert, even though you ended up paying for everything in thousands (of colones–we were literally millionaires 😉 ). In Guatemala, the exchange rate is 7.6 quetzales to $1–much harder to convert on the fly, but I’m learning, mostly by having set amounts that I know what they convert to and estimating the rest (i.e. 100Q is around $13 and 1000Q is around $140). One of our first weeks here I was at the market buying vegetables, and trying to be a good barterer, I countered their price of 2.5Q/pound with “dos mil,” or 2,000. Whoops! I got some strange looks on that one…but I did eventually get my tomatoes for ~$.26/pound and not $330/pound.
Street market

Street market

They sell almost everything...

They sell almost everything…

Picking out our meat

Picking out our meat

Recently, Daisy and I visited a local libreria (small book store) to pickup some school supplies. I asked for “cartulina” which I thought meant cardstock. After agreeing on 12 sheets because it was cheaper by the dozen, she returned with 12 huge pieces of posterboard! Ooops again. It took some discussion, but I finally did end up with 10 sheets of heavier paper, though it was more textured than normal cardstock. Maybe we’ll try again when I figure out another word for cardstock. I do miss stores where you can just wonder the aisles and pickup what you want after looking at all the options (or pickup things you didn’t even know you wanted when you entered…maybe this way is better after all). After that, I asked about some other items and the owner made sure I knew exactly what each thing was before selling it to me. (I wanted a pack of pens–the ones I could see under the counter, but she kept asking if I wanted pens or markers. I didn’t know which she considered the ones I wanted, but I wanted those ones! I also saw some sidewalk chalk I wanted to get to keep the littles busy, but she didn’t think I understood it was chalk. I explained I wanted it to write on the sidewalk. No, no, no. I guess they don’t do that here–even though it says it on the package (in English and Spanish). She went so far as to pull out a regular-size piece of chalk to make sure I knew what I was buying. I knew what I wanted; I just didn’t know it it Spanish. The good thing is, I’m sure she’ll remember us next time we stop in!
Rainy day in town

Rainy day in town

San Pedro Carcha from a hill south of town.

San Pedro Carcha from a hill south of town.

Walking down the street (Rosebud is singing on daddy's shoulders)

Walking down the street (Rosebud is singing on daddy’s shoulders)

Here’s something I truly appreciate here and I’m not sure why it hasn’t caught on further north. Many of the traffic lights have counters on them. They count down exactly how much time is left for your green or red light, so you always know how long you will be waiting–and if you have time to take another sip of your hot coffee before having to shift. 🙂






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As our family celebrates one year on the mission field today, I did a little reflecting:
Two years ago when we visited, we fell in love with this country and the Kekchi people, having full assurance of God’s calling on our lives. Throughout the challenging time of fundraising and language study when I needed encouragement, I repeatedly recalled the many ways God had restated and affirmed his call. Shortly after we returned to the states after that 2013 visit, I heard the song “Never Once” by Matt Redman, and it really spoke to me. Some of the words are:
Standing on this mountaintop,
Looking just how far we’ve come,
Knowing that for every step
You were with us.
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
I envisioned us, shortly after our arrival, standing on a mountain here in Guatemala and listening to that song, really feeling all the meaning of the words. But that didn’t happen.
Instead, when we arrived, I was incredibly overwhelmed. I did recall this dream of mine a few times, but always with the thought that it was too much to do, too much to consider.
Now that we are a couple months in, I could probably do it, but I don’t feel it in quite the same way. Where once I saw this as the end point–the end of fundraising, the end of language learning, an achievement–I have discovered that it is truly only the beginning–the beginning of our work, the beginning of relationships, the beginning of a growing trust in God. Rather than looking back, I feel the need to look forward and grow my faith to a “trust without borders.”  Coincidentally (or not), we were introduced to a song with those words in language school, and it has since played repeatedly on my Spotify playlist here as well as at a couple public places we have visited (in both English and Spanish).
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Wherever we are, it is true that we are and never have been alone, and that is a great encouragement, but my focus needs to be in the other direction. Looking forward, looking to grow in whatever way God has for us. Trusting HIM to keep me above water when sinking into myself seems so much easier. The more I focus on this, the more I see the extent of God’s faithfulness to us each and every day.
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Catching Up

On our way to church

On our way to church

As of today, we have been in Guatemala for two whole months!  And on Friday, we will celebrate our one-year anniversary of leaving the U.S., I thought it was about time to update this blog. If you would like to be updated more frequently, you might want to sign up for our newsletters (see sidebar) as we try to get one of those out every 4-6 weeks. Or you could check out our Facebook page which gets mini-updates from time to time (you can view this page even without a Facebook account).


Graduation from The Spanish Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica

Ted and I graduated from language school after two semesters in late April. Ted continued some classes/tutoring for 6 weeks until the kids’ school year finished in early June. Both of us received diplomas, which are only given to those students who are able to meet a certain level of achievement demonstrated through a half-hour oral interview and a 3-hour written grammar test. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate directly to entering another culture and understanding everything that is said or done!
We arrived in Guatemala the evening of June 18 after another round of rushed good-byes with many special friends we had made in the previous 10 months. God truly used our time in Costa Rica to bless us and prepare us. The relationships we made there with so many others in such similar circumstances will be treasured forever.
All our belongings...in the back of one van.

All our belongings…in the back of one van.

A rest stop on the way to Carcha

A rest stop on the way to Carcha

We're home! After 30 hours of being homeless.

We’re home! After 30 hours of being homeless.

After doing a bit of shopping Friday morning in Guatemala City for some things to set up our new house, we drove the 5-hour trip to our new home–San Pedro Carcha, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. We are truly blessed by our house here which came available in perfect timing. It has room for Ted to study with a Kekchi tutor downstairs while I continue to do school with the kids upstairs and even has a walk out roof from which we often enjoy the surrounding country. We spent our first weekend here visiting the Kekchi Mennonite Church and other surrounding places with Galen and Phyllis Groff, our regional representatives with EMM, who had lived here for 20+ years. Monday morning, Ted, Galen, and I headed back into the city to return the rental van, pick up some more things for the house and buy a vehicle for our family. What was to be a one-day trip turned into an overnighter when we ran into a protest blocking the road partway to the city. It delayed us several hours. Phyllis stayed with the kids and was a true blessing to us and them. After accomplishing the needed tasks we headed home. I have never outfitted a house entirely from nothing before, so our first several days were quite overwhelming as I determined our needs and where to find things here or in the city.

San Pedro Carcha, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

San Pedro Carcha, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

Galen with Rosebud and Chimp

Galen with Rosebud and Chimp

What was left from the protest by the time we passed.

What was left from the protest by the time we passed.


Julie & Silvia

After a few more days of showing us around various local spots, Galen and Phyllis left to return to their home in Belize, and we were on our own! God has been faithful and we are slowly building confidence and relationships in our community. Phyllis introduced me to a Kekchi sister from church who has been helping us learn to navigate the market and local foods as well as helping me learn a bit of the Kekchi language. I was too overwhelmed at first to take in much of yet another language, but am starting to pick up more words now.

Ted visited a coffee nursery as part of the conference.

Ted visited a coffee nursery as part of the conference.

Ted dove right into studying Kekchi and has had two different brothers offer to come to our house weekly to work with him. He also has had a couple opportunities to drive local church leaders out to villages they needed to visit and thus gain relationships and understanding of the area. Last week he attended a teleconference in nearby Coban (15 minutes from here) put on by Anacafe, the main coffee growers association in Guatemala.

Fellowship time outside the church after a Sunday service.

Fellowship time outside the church after a Sunday service.

The local church has services in Spanish with a Kekchi translator for most of it. It took the kids a couple weeks, but they now look forward to going to their Sunday School classes each week. The services are something new for us to get used to. The churches in Costa Rica mostly had services very similar to those we were used to in the U.S., down to using the same hymns/choruses just in Spanish. The Kekchi have developed their own personal style of worship and music. It is good to see them worshipping in their own way and not just copying the North Americans, though it does make it more challenging for us to pick up on things.

The kids are adjusting. It has been rough in some ways as they haven’t had a built-in source for friends at school. Cub and Chimp have enjoyed playing soccer with some kids down the street, and Rosebed has made herself a favorite of both our next-door neighbors and the ladies in the tortilla shop down the street. Daisy really enjoys the nature here and all the new bird and flower species that she has seen.
A visit to the market

A visit to the market

A little bit of street soccer

A little bit of street soccer

A package from home can brighten up even the worst day!!

A package from home can brighten up even the worst day!!

Visa paperwork

Visa paperwork all signed & sealed

This week we are taking our first trip back to Guatemala City. The documents for our permanent visas have arrived and we need to get that process started. The MCC office in Guatemala has agreed to help us with this process and have been a blessing in helping us figure out what all we needed and where to get it. Now we need to get everything to the City so it can be translated and go through some more levels of authentication before we can actually apply. We would appreciate prayers for this process. We can renew our tourist visa one time, giving us until December. If we are not far enough in the visa process by then, we will need to travel to either Mexico or Belize to gain another 90 days.

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God’s faithfulness in a year of change

We began fundraising a year ago this January. As we look back on 2014 it is amazing that we have come so far and accomplished so many things during those quick 12 months.

It has been an exciting time, seeking partners and meeting many like-minded friends for our mission. We’ve worshipped with many churches in New York and Pennsylvania, sharing how God has called us and how he continues to provide for us. We’ve fellowshipped with many wonderful people at the mission conference in Bell Run and at various events. We’ve rallied together for God’s cause to bring hope and justice to the wonderful K’ekchi’ people in Guatemala.

Saying good-bye

Saying good-bye in August

We’ve also had to say good-bye to a lot of friends and a lot of the things that are dear to our hearts. We remember the tearful good-byes at church, the last Christmas with family and the last picnic and bonfire with friends. We’ve sold our possessions and our house and land, and brought our children to a different land with new people and customs.

We’ve been in Costa Rica now for 5 out of 10 months, learning Spanish and adapting to the culture of Latin America. In a way it feels like we’re in a holding-pattern, in between the excitement of being sent and the compelling work of being on the ground in Guatemala. At times it can be discouraging and uncertain, when our resolve is tested and the mountain of spanish verb conjugations piles up endlessly, or when our children deal with culture change in different ways.

However, we know how important this time is for us as a family. We are growing in ways we didn’t foresee, drawing closer as a family as we draw closer to God. We have learned how to be a witness in our community, even when we are unable to communicate the language. The children have made friends with our neighbors and with the local kids at the park. We shared in the joy of providing Christmas for a nearby orphanage and we spent a number of mornings after the New Year picking up the trash in the playground.

Cleaning up the playground

Cleaning up the playground

At first we didn’t see the need for so much time studying in Costa Rica, we were eager to get on the field as quickly as possible. But we’ve come to appreciate this incubation period, this time for God to work in our hearts and teach us to be humble and patient, allowing Him to work through us instead of trying to rely on our own strength.

We are thrilled that you have joined us on this journey of the past year. We praise God that with your help we have 98.5% of the needed funds for the coming 2.5 years. With $5,000 left to raise, there is still an opportunity for you to join us by donating if you would like to join us in what God is doing among the K’ekchi’ in Guatemala.

Christmas for the orphanage.

Christmas for the orphanage.

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