Posts Tagged With: Guatemala

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. ūüôā

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 Anacaf√© 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 ūüėČ ). 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. ūüôā






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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 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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They make it look so easy

One of the things that everybody we’ve talked to who’s been to Guatemala has told us about is the tortillas, how prevalent the food–and the sound of them being made–is. They are THE FOOD of Guatemala. You are not eating if there are no tortillas present. With that in mind, I was very excited to be invited to watch a Kekchi woman making the tortillas for our lunch on our Sunday visit. And now you can join me:

She makes it look so easy, yes? Well, today I bought some corn flour and gave it a try myself. Let’s just say it’s not as easy as it looks. They were eaten and tasted fairly decent (as decent as you can get without their freshly milled corn and wood fire), but their shape, or lack thereof, left something to be desired. I think we’ll be asking for some lessons on this once we get there. (Oh, and I didn’t use my fingers to test doneness/flip either!)


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Guatemala Day 6: Wrapping Up

Wednesday we started the day enjoying the city skyline and seeing the four volcanos near the city. One of the farther ones has actually been sending up some smoke recently.After breakfast, we were able to skype with Amos from EMM. He had been planning to come on the trip with us, but was not able to last minute due to various factors. It was great to share with him the things we had learned and how we felt God leading us through our time here and in the future. We were also able to discuss some of the concerns we had about certain issues that need to be worked out before we return.


We were then on to the airport to begin our 11 hour journey home, during which Rosebud did not sleep at all on the planes except the last ten minutes of the second flight.
We packed so much into the little time we had there, but there was so much more we would have loved to do if we had the time. We are very thankful for all the people and places we were able to visit. It was truly a blessing.IMG_20131002_144205208 IMG_20130927_054151673

The language of Guatemala is Spanish, but the Kekchi people also have their own language, derived from an ancient Mayan language. Most of the Kekchi, especially the younger ones, also speak Spanish. It was encouraging that although Ted and I have been studying Spanish for just short of two months at this point, we could usually understand the gist of most conversations. We even managed to fend for ourselves a few times when making purchases. The Kekchi language is totally different, though it does borrow some words from Spanish that it didn’t have before such as days of the week.

These posts have just captured what we did in Guatemala, but the trip was so much more than this. It was experiencing God’s work and meeting His people. It will take some time to truly process everything we experienced. The Kekchi people are an amazing people who have carved their living out of the hillsides. They face severe opposition to any development or growth in their economic status and are viewed by the non-indigenous people of their country much as our country viewed our own black population less than a century ago.IMG_20130929_170405 IMG_20130929_121015513

We feel very blessed to have had this time to explore the vision and work God has for us. Although very short, this trip was strong confirmation of what God has called us to and has helped us to better understand the call. We are now faced with the challenge of working with EMM and the Kekchi church to put this calling into words as part of our ministry agreement. In our many discussions the last few days, we have already noticed ways that God has been going before us and preparing the way–even in ways that appeared to be drawbacks initially. Our God is good!

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Guatemala Day 5: Culture and Travels

Tuesday morning we got ready to go on our planned visits, but just as we were heading out the door, one of the Mennonite pastors stopped by for a visit. In Guatemala, when you have a visitor, you take the time to sit and visit with them–you do not tell them you have to leave. Saying, “I had a visitor,” is an acceptable excuse for being late for something. Galen and Phyllis made up some coffee and visited with the pastor a while. After we packed up for our return to Guatemala City, we went to visit Bezaleel, a Mennonite boarding school secondary grades and vocational training. We also were able to visit the home of another missionary family that is just heading back to the states this week. They live a bit further out in the country from the Groffs and it was nice to see other options for housing. As they also have four children, we had a nice time talking about life with children in Guatemala.IMG_20131001_112635097IMG_20131001_111802040

Back in the city five hours later, we spent the night at Casa Ema√ļs, a guest house associated with the Semilla Anabaptist Seminary.


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Guatemala Day 4: More Coffee

20130930_121020 20130930_09004220130928_152638Monday Wilmar road a bus in from his village and joined us for the day. In the morning, Galen had to take his car to the garage for a small fix before driving us back to the city and then on to Honduras the next day. So we dropped the car off and walked around Cob√°n. First we visited a local coffee shop so Ted could try some fresh roasted local coffee. I tried a hot chocolate, which they make there with ground cacao beans, water, and sugar–no milk (though that can be added at additional cost). We then wandered back through the markets to get the car. With Wilmar as our personal shopping assistant, we were able to pick up several gifts and other things. The markets are quite an experience with live turkeys and chickens, food of all shapes and colors, toys, skirts, fabric, tortillas, and all sorts of smells.
IMG_20130930_163316620 IMG_20130930_164027479 IMG_20130930_164022754After lunch and a short rest at the house, we visited the Mennonite Church offices in Carcha. There we were introduced to the president and spoke briefly about our desire and calling to come and help. We then met another pastor/coffee farmer named Francisco who was in town for a meeting and drove back to his coffee farm. He is a very progressive farmer who has worked to bring people together to improve their situation. He recently tried a new spray for his coffee crop to combat the fungus and that day was the first time he had been to the field since he had sprayed it to see if it had any effect. His fields are a half hour from his house driving on very rocky roads; he usually has to walk to them–at least an hour one way. His fields are on a steep hill that we had quite a climb to get to, but the spray appeared to have been quite effective and the bushes were covered with lots and lots of green cherries and the leaves were nice and green. Harvest seasons is November through January, so by February, we will know if he has found a workable solution! Ted enjoyed talking with Francisco about coffee and the potential for bringing farmers together to process it themselves and export it. Even if they can get it processed themselves, there are several levels of corruption that will need to be overcome.
We ended the day with dinner at a nice area restaurant with another missionary couple in the area (non-Mennonite).

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Guatemala Day 3: Meeting the Kekchi

IMG_20130929_113804657_HDRIMG_20130929_111403018Sunday we attended a Kekchi church out in the country. Phyllis shared with me a Kekchi skirt and shirt she had been given, so I was even able to dress the part. Rosebud was too, as we had purchased a shirt for her from the weaving co-op we visited the previous day. (The Kekchi ladies’ skirts consist of EIGHT YARDS of fabric and a drawstring. It is quite a feat to deal with all that fabric to put the skirt on, let alone wear it around all day!) We drove 45 minutes or so through more gorgeous land and then had to hike 10-15 minutes up a narrow trail to the church. The Kekchi have learned from their Latino neighbors, that louder music is better, so they have pretty big speakers in their churches. As each person enters the church (which is just one large room) they go to the front or their seat and kneel to pray before doing anything else. The service is similar to ours with singing and announcements and prayer and a message. All visitors are invited up to give a welcome. Since the Groffs had prepared us for this, we were ready. ūüôā Ted also played and sang a short song for them, and Galen was asked to give the message in Kekchi (which he had also been prepared for). Rosebud was again quite an attraction with the children, and she enjoyed interacting with them too.


IMG_20130930_131627 After the service, we were introduced to the piano player, Wilmar. He spent a year in the United States a year ago with MCC and is now back with his family and working to discern what to do next. Since he speaks English, Spanish, and Kekchi he was an immense help to us during our trip. We had lunch with Wilmar’s family. His father, Felipe, is a relatively wealthy farmer in the area who has quite a bit of coffee. Following our lunch of Caldo (a traditional Guatemala soup with chicken, g√ľisquil, and other vegetables) and, of course, corn tortillas, the men gathered to discuss coffee and roya and what opportunities there were that Ted could assist with. On our way back to our car, we looked at Felipe’s crops. He has quite a bit of coffee (with various effects from the roya) cardamom, and 28 varieties of fruit. We also stopped and visited a nearby coffee beneficio (processing plant) that has been out of use for about 5 years.IMG_20130929_113914972 IMG_20130929_093850068 IMG_20130929_124634190_HDR IMG_20130929_120952614 20130929_134320 20130929_142918

Back at the Groffs’, we spent some time talking about what we’d seen so far and what we felt our mission would be and our vision. We ended that evening with a great time of prayer together.

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