Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Violence Hits Closer to Home!

Guatemala is a beautiful country filled with lovely and friendly people.  It is also considered one of the most Christian countries in Latin America boasting an evangelical population of around 30-50% who attend one of the almost 20,000 churches present here. At the same time it is also one of the most violent and unsafe countries in the world with anywhere from 17-20 murder per day. Gangs and drug cartels have overtaken large parts of the country and neighborhoods. There are parts of Guatemala City where even the police can not go into.  To make matters worse often the police and other government authorities can not be trusted and many have links to criminal organizations.  The slogan is more or less "if you can't fight them, join them".  The ones that can be trusted and want to make a difference often have their hands tied because of human rights laws protecting civilians and in a way criminals. To cap all of this off, the decades of civil war has created huge slums and settlements filled with people who are full of resentment. Resentment because of what happened to them during the civil war (being misplaced, losing their possessions and land, and seeing family members get killed or disappear) and resentment because of the lack of opportunities and services available to people living in slums. For many people their future appears bleak.  They do not have a vision for the future, because they can not see past their needs for today. This lack of vision and hopelessness become the arteries that feed the criminal organizations since they offer "opportunities" and short term solutions and hope to the desperate. Stories of extortion, gang violence, drug turf wars, murder, rape, femicide, etc are what fills the newspapers and airwaves each and every day. And while much of the violence is targeted innocent people often become victims. Missionaries also are not exempt because of the work we are doing here. It is not that God always spares us from the violence. Yesterday this became alarmingly clear as we heard of the shooting of a fellow missionary who lives in our neighborhood. While this missionary is in critical condition and we are praying that God will spare his life, we were all reminded again of the fact that this could happen to anyone of us. It hit very close to home and many of us felt a certain sense of fear. It is one of the realities of living in this country. Death constantly stares us in the face. All of us have seen more murders than we would care to recount. Some might ask, "why don't you leave?  Go back to North America where it is relatively safe"! The reason why we do not leave is because we feel we have the unique answer to many of the problems and that what we are doing is making a difference. Thankfully the answer and the making a difference is not from us since we are all failures in our own way. The answers lies in Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead. This means that we must willing to give our life so that others may live. For this reason the Apostle Paul referring to striving to reach the lost and broken writes......
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man (body) is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" 
(2 Corinthian 4:16-18).

This is of course not an easy thing to do, and it is something we often struggle with. God created us to live and as human beings we cling to life. It is only by the grace of God that we are able to give our life so that others may live. Please pray for the safety of the missionaries in Guatemala and for them to be bold and courageous and not live in fear. Also pray for this missionary that God will not only spare his life, but heal him completely.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Year End Activity with FRMI Employees

Pastor Edgar, and almost all the employees.
Around 6 years ago we started doing year end activities with our employees to show our appreciation for their work.  Over the years we have gone to water parks, an auto-safari and done things locally in Cubulco.  The employees decide on when and where the activity will be held, and understand that if the activity costs more than the amount in set in the budget they will have to cover the rest themselves. We encourage them to take the opportunity to go somewhere where they have not been before so that they can have new experiences. 
This year they decided that the activity would be at a mission camp/retreat center called El Faro (Lighthouse) situated on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean roughly a 5 hour drive from Cubulco.  For transportation the group rented a mini-bus from Cubulco for the day and left at 2:00 AM.  Since it was a long drive drove from Guatemala City, I decided to drive half way the day before to avoid being tired for the long drive back home.  (You have to remember that driving here is much more challenging and tiring than in North America).  Our linguist Jorge who was in the city joined me on the trip together with his sister and a friend who wanted to tag along.  We spent the night in a town around 3 hours from the city and while we were there Jorge's sister had the idea of going to visit a local Presbyterian church since she knew the couple who were pastoring there (most churches in the rural areas have a service almost every night of the week).  I must say that we were not all that keen on going because we were not dressed for church, but we decided to go anyhow. The service was already underway when we got there, but we were privileged in being part of the majority of the service.  Since it was a thanksgiving service (a common service often done once a month and not related at all to NA Thanksgiving) several members of the church participated by singing or reading Scripture. We were also asked to come up and share a bit about ourselves and the work we are involved in.  For me it was special to get to know another group of believers in a different part of Guatemala.

After spending the night we met up with the group from Cubulco at around 5:00 AM.  We drove to the Camp.  The road to the camp was in bad shape, but the scenery was beautiful.  We drove through lush tropical jungle, past volcanic rock formations and a boiling hot spring. When we arrived at the Camp our breath was taken away. The grounds were immaculate and the buildings well maintained. 
Hot spring
The first thing we did was have a devotional time after which I addressed the employees and thanked them on behalf of the mission for their dedication and work. Many of them will cease to be employees of FRMI this year since next year they will be working for AMG through the support of FRMI.  After that we went to the soccer field and played for a couple of hours in the heat and humidity.  This field was the nicest field I have ever played on in Guatemala. Then to the ocean we went to cool off.  For some it was the first time they had ever seen the ocean. For others they had never swam in the ocean before.  Some said... "it is true, the water is really salty".  For me it was a neat experience since it fulfilled one of the purposes of the activity which is to get people from Cubulco to experience other things in life.  After a delicious lunch, a nature walk, and some more swimming in the ocean we packed up and headed back home.  
Although most of our employees will not be working with us next year, I will continue to be in contact with the majority of them in the coming years. I am very excited about them working with AMG and the opportunities that AMG can offer them and hope that each one of them will continue to grow in wisdom and knowledge and that God will use them as instruments of transformation in the communities they work in.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Signing of Agreement with Guatemalan Bible Society

Saul Sosa- Exec Director, Fernando Mazariegos- President, Nico Kattenberg, Marco Vinicio- Project Director.
Early this morning I was invited to breakfast at the offices of the Guatemalan Bible Society in order to sign a strategic agreement between the Bible Society and the FRC mission as to the work of the translation of the Bible into Cubulco Achi.  
Around 7 years ago Pastor Evert (who was working in Cubulco at that time), our linguist Jorge, and myself had gone to the Bible Society to explore possibilities of working together.  However, nothing came of it as the Bible Society was not in a position to help at that time.  In the following years the Bible Society evolved as did their policies and vision and new people entered in positions of leadership.  One of the changes in their vision was to support communities and organizations who were working on translating the Bible.  Among the new people in key positions of leadership were several men from the Presbyterian church who knew of the work that the mission was doing in Cubulco.  Around two years ago we renewed discussions with the Bible Society of working together.  They had started supporting the translation work in Cubulco by providing us with Paratext (translation software) and with training for our translators in the use of this software and also in other areas.  Paratext was a huge blessing as it helped us drastically reduce the time it took to complete a number of steps of the translation process.  Before having Paratext we projected being finished with the majority of the translation process by 2015.  By using Paratext we were able to finish this past October which saved us around 2-3 years of work.  
Even with Paratext we still faced one major hurdle which was finding a consultant who could validate the translation work. This kind of consultant is hard to find since there are very few of them in the world and these few are very busy and sought after. For around 5 years we have been using a consultant here in Guatemala. However, this consultant is very busy and can only work in his spare time so he is able to do around 35-40 chapter per year. If you do the math you will soon realize that at this rate it could possibly take around 30 years to do the almost 1200 chapters of the Bible. 
With the agreement that we signed today, the Bible Society will assign a consultant to work full-time on the Achi translation.  Part of that consulting work will include traveling several times a year to meet with the translation team in Cubulco. The Bible Society will cover all the expenses of the consultant during that time which could take anywhere from 2-5 years.  The Bible Society will also help in the promotion of the Bible in Achi not only when it is completed but starting next year to try and get especially the churches to support the work. This has been a big concern of mine for many years, that there has been very little interest from the churches including our own church in Cubulco as to the translation of the Bible. Having the support of the Bible Society will go a long way in that it will give a certain level of credibility to the translation work that we ourselves can not give.  
The signing of the agreement took close to a year to complete as there were some discussions as to what it should contain. The mission wanted certain points to be added with regards to the infallibility and accuracy of Scripture.  The Bible Society not only accepted these additions, but also applauded them as it conveyed that our convictions were the same.  
I ask that you pray for this relationship between FRMI and the Guatemalan Bible Society and for the continued work of the translation of the Bible into Cubulco Achi.  It is my hope that in less than 5 years we will be able to present the people of Cubulco with copies of the complete Bible in their language.  


Thursday, November 8, 2012


Yesterday morning at around 10:35 the ground shook all over the country of Guatemala and parts of Mexico as an earthquake with a magnitude 7.5 was triggered off the coast of Guatemala. While we were sitting in the AMG conference room having a meeting with the city school directors, the building started to sway from side to side. It started gently, but soon you could feel and see the building moving under our feet.  It last for over 30 seconds although it felt to last much longer.  Initially, we all stayed sitting thinking that it was just a powerful tremor, but as the intensity increased we got up and left the office. When the quake stopped all of us were on our phones calling home and then the projects to see if everyone was okay. We received word back from most of the projects that all was well except for some damage to things that fell off shelves and desks.  However, as we left the office yesterday, Orfa who is the AMG director of our camp Canaan in Chimaltenango said that her daughter in law lost several family members as the house they were in collapsed. Please pray for them during this time of grief and for those who were injured!
In the city there was some damage in some of the squatter settlements where houses are built in ravines and the quality of construction is not good.  West of the city, which was closer to the epicenter there was a lot more damage reported. So far the death toll is at around 50 and over 20 people are unaccounted for.  150 people were injured and 17,000-20,000 people have been affected. Although this is minor compared to the major quake of 1976 in which around 20,000 people lost their lives, many people (especially the ones who experienced the 1976 quake) have been affected not only materially but also psychologically. There were many incidents of people fainting and needing medical attention due to stress as the quake jolted back terrible memories. Pray for Guatemala and those affected! 
As I may have mentioned in a previous blog Guatemala is one of the most natural disaster prone countries in the world. The country is lined with fault lines and quakes are very common; there are numerous active volcanoes and dormant ones that dot the country; hurricanes and tropical storms wreak havoc each year causing widespread damage to homes and infrastructure because of flooding and mudslides. Also conditions in the country vary from lush, tropical coastal plains prone to flooding, to the cold highlands prone to mudslides, to hot, semi-arid prone to drought.   
Living in a country prone to natural disasters remind us that this earth is not our home and that we need to be prepared to meet the Lord at any moment. Please pray that during times like this people will turn to the Lord and look to Him for help and comfort and that the church will be ready to receive and disciple those who come seeking for answers and support. 

For pictures check out this link.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reformation Day in Cubulco

On the 31st of October we had a special Reformation event at the church in Cubulco. I believe this was the first time we ever formally celebrated the Reformation with the church in this way. Several weeks prior to the date, at a meeting I attended with the leaders of the Cubulco church Pastor Xicara had brought up the idea of doing something special on Reformation Day. He proposed an all day seminar and a church service in the evening.  This was approved by the committee and I was asked to be the main speaker at the seminar.  I agreed, but also suggested getting someone else to come in to teach on the history of the Protestant church in Guatemala.
Although, I love history and have a good grasp of the history of the church, it still took me several weeks to prepare for the seminar.  What complicated things for me was finding the Spanish equivalent of names, places, and concepts. I must say that I learned a lot of Spanish in the past few weeks and I also learned a lot more about the history of the church.
For the seminar I expected perhaps 20 people, but we had a turn out of around 45. We had a number of people from other churches attend which was nice to see as well as the teachers, translators, the obreros, and members of the central church and the aldean churches.  Although the focus of the seminar was the Reformation period, I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing the history of the church since the time of Christ. I felt that it was important for people to understand that the church started out following the example of Christ and that it was not until the church became powerful that it started to deviate from the what the Word of God teaches. Most evangelicals (this is what they call Protestants here) in Guatemala come out of the Catholic church and reject anything and everything associated with their religious upbringing. This includes things that are good and that precede the Catholic church like the Creeds. 
I also spent some time talking about the invasion of the Moors in Europe and the 800 year struggle Spain had against driving the Moors from their country and how this affected their colonization of the New World and their view of those who held to different beliefs and religions.  It is interesting to note that Spain finally drove out the Moors in the year 1492 which is when Columbus discovered the Americas.
After I spoke for most of the day, Carlos Palaez a professor from the Presbyterian Seminary finished of the seminar with a history of the Protestant church in Guatemala. The Presbyterian church is the oldest church in Guatemala and just celebrated its 130th anniversary.
An hour after the seminar ended we had a service in the church to commemorate the Reformation and Pastor Edgar preached on the need for us to continue on with what the Reformation started and continue to reach out to those who are lost and to ensure that the church stays on the right path.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tristan is 3!

Today, is Tristan's birthday. He turned 3 and we celebrated it by having a small party together with a few of his friends.  We had ate hotdogs, chips, and cake, and a lot of candy. He got some cars from his best friend Micah, and from Mom and Dad he got a nice blue tricycle. We are thankful for our little boy and hope and pray that he will grow up to love the Lord and serve him with his whole heart.

Monday, September 3, 2012

New Bible Story Book in Achi!

Since the year 1995 FRMI has been involved with Bible translation work in Cubulco, Guatemala. During those year much has been done in translating the Old Testament into K'ub'ultzij (the correct name for Cubulco Achi). We hope to be be finished by the end of this year with most of the steps in the translation process. However, we still have a few bottlenecks that we can not seems to get around very easily.  One of them is finding a consultant to check and validate the translation. We really need help with this since it has to be an external expert, which are not easy to find.  
Apart from translating the Bible we have also been involved with producing other material that will help promote the language and can be used in the churches. For many years we worked on producing a hymnal.  We had one printed a number of years ago with less than 200 hundred songs in it. In the mean time we worked on translating more songs.  We decided that we would stop at 250 songs, and so in the year 2010 we had the final version of the hymnal printed with 250 songs in it. We also worked on producing a dictionary and grammar book and initially we printed the books separately.  However, after selling all the books and making changes and adding more words to the dictionary we decided to print the dictionary and grammar book together. This book is very much sought after especially by students and teachers. Another book we recently produced has been a illustrated Bible Story book. We had a printed the first edition a number of years ago, but what we did not know was the it only had 20 stories from Genesis till Ruth. Regardless of being incomplete the book sold well and it was necessary to print the second edition this time with 50 Bible stories: 30 Old Testament stories and 20 New Testament stories. Just last week we received these books from the printer and will begin promoting and distributing them in Cubulco. The books are relatively inexpensive ranging from $3-5/piece.
I ask that you continue to pray for the translation team as they are finishing up their part of the translation work. Pray also that we will be able to find a consultant or two that can help with that step of the work so that in 3-5 years we can completely finish the translation work. We currently have one consultant doing some work for us, but since he is busy he can only do several chapter per week.  We need someone who has more time so that the work will go faster. The consulting work can take anywhere from 2-5 years.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

This is not our Home!

One of the struggles that I have is that I feel I often live my life like there is no other life after this.  Sure I know that there is an eternal destiny for every person, but I find myself often not living that way. I often live for this life and not for the life to come. At times when life becomes a struggle or when facing difficulties I get angry or frustrated with God.  I some times wonder why God does not make my life a little easier. I wonder why mission work can not be a little easier. While we do see blessing on the work, it is often overshadowed by pain, heart-ache, frustration and difficulty.  I do not understand God in so many ways especially when difficulties arise. Although I do not hold to the wealth and prosperity gospel which is so prevalent these days, as I find it unbiblical and damaging, I do find myself at times living like it is true. I wrongly assume that because I am a missionary and making sacrifices by being here and serving the Lord, that He will make other parts of my life easier. This of course is not the case and I need to be reminded of that.  Earlier this year, or perhaps it was even at the end of last year, I heard a song that really brought these things in perspective and has been a huge blessing for Lia and myself. This song helped us to focus on the fact that God's "love is way too much to give us lesser things, that this world is not our home, and that the trials of this life are God's mercies in disguise"!  What God has in store for us is so much greater and better than what this life and this world have to offer us. The song is called "Blessings" and I highlighted the parts that have really impacted me. I hope it does the same for you and that we can remind each other that when struggles and difficulties arise God is allowing these things to happen in order to mold us more and more into His image and to make us yearn for our heavenly home. 


We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Day at the Office

Some of you might wonder what a "typical" day at the office looks like for those of us missionaries that work at the AMG head office.  After dropping the kids off at school at around 7:45 we drive from San Cristobal (a suburb) to Verbena which is in Zone 7 of Guatemala City (considered one of the more dangerous zones of the city).  The distance from the school to the office is perhaps only some 13 km or 8 miles, but it can take up to an hour/hour and a half to get there although most mornings it takes around 30-45 minutes. The biggest problem with traffic is getting out of San Cristobal.  Once you get closer to the city traffic thins out a little as people go in different directions.  
We arrived at the office around 8:30 and spent the next hour or so answering emails before running off to a special event in the chapel of the school. August is the "month of the Bible" here in Guatemala and so AMG had set up a special event celebrating the Bible through presentations and Bible memory recitals by students from the various AMG city projects.  This was neat to see.  A little 3 years old girl started off the program by reciting a whole Psalm.  It was very impressive! Each city project participated through drama and dance and there were also awards given to those students who excelled in Bible memory.
We could not stay for the whole program due to a meeting we had to attend and a skype call to do with one of our donors. Today's conference call was with Rick Postma and John Otten from Word and Deed Canada to talk about the hospital and the education program in Cubulco. The call was very positive and hope will lead to a fruitful outcome.
As the morning and the afternoon wore on the skies darkened with ominous looking thunder clouds.  During our skype call with Word and Deed Canada it started to pour and it became hard to continue on with the call as the rain drowned out our voices. It continued to pour for several hours and soon the streets turned into rivers as the storm sewers were overcome by the deluge.  Needless to say the drive home was interesting and fun (when in a 4x4).  

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Great and Interesting Trip to Cubulco

I went to Cubulco this past week for several days together with Brian Dennett (director of AMG) and Alex Orellana (administrative director of AMG) to meet with the teachers and the church regarding takeover of the education project by AMG.  For those who do not know, FRMI (Free Reformed Missions) wants AMG to take over the administration of the education projects in Cubulco although they will continue to fund them.  The reason for this is that AMG has been involved with education in Guatemala for many years and have the resources to do a better job than we could do on our own. The meetings we had were very fruitful. On Monday afternoon we met with the teachers from the center and from the aldeas.  Brian Dennett explained to them some of the history of AMG and what AMG stands for.  He shared with the teachers the Theory of Change which basically explains how AMG would like to transform individuals, families, communities, and whole regions through its programs. This transformation is centered around the Word of God and Christ since no true transformation can be achieved apart from Christ. The teachers seemed to be excited about the possibility of working for AMG starting 2013.  On Tuesday we met with the steering committee of the church and Brian once again explained what AMG stands for.  Alex Orellana also briefly covered some administrative areas. The committee responded favorably and enthusiastically to what was presented to them. I see many possibilities and opportunities with AMG taking over the program and I think we will be able to accomplish much more in Cubulco than if we would do it on our own.  
On Wednesday I took Brian and Alex to visit Pichal and meet with our teacher there and the students from the school.  We drove 45 minutes to Chitomax which is where the road ends.  This is also the place where the bridge used to be. The government promised to rebuild the bridge and construction appears to be under way.  The bridge will be bigger than the previous one.  After a tranquil river crossing we hiked up to Pichal. On our way up to Pichal we veered off the main path to witness an exhumation of a man who had been murdered 31 years ago during the civil war.  The family has been looking for his body for many years and it appears that they finally have found him although DNA analysis will need to be done to confirm that. I knew some of the extended family of the victim as some of them are part of the church in Pichal.  We stayed for some time until the body was uncovered by the forensic anthropologists and then we left. It was obvious from the remains that the man had died a violent death. It was disturbing to think that several decades ago some one did an evil act in that place. It brought home again the fact that many people in Guatemala are still dealing with the aftermath of the civil war. Many families are still wondering what happened to their loved ones. Many are still searching for clues. Many are also still demanding justice. From what I have read, only 2 Guatemalans have been convicted of crimes against humanity stemming from the civil war.  None of the masterminds have ever been brought to justice. I ask that you pray for justice and healing in Guatemala.
The beginning of the construction of the new bridge
After the exhumation we hiked the rest of the way to Pichal to meet with our teacher Juan and the students of the school. Juan is the son of the obrero Santos from the church in Pichal. We spoke to them for a while explaining who we were and what we are doing in Guatemala and in Cubulco. We also spoke of some of the opportunities that these kids might have to be able to go to the AMG camp which would be very special for these children since none of them have ever been to Guatemala City.  We hope and pray that we will be able to work something out so that we can provide this service to the children in the aldeas.
Our trip to Cubulco was very fruitful. The highlight was going to aldea of Pichal. I think that through this trip to Cubulco and Pichal we clarified and shaped our vision for the future of the ongoing work there. Please pray with us that God will continue to shape that vision and that the people as well will capture the vision. One of the challenges I left with the teachers and with the church committee was to dream and be visionary. This is some times hard for the people to do since they often have daily struggles that keep them from dreaming. As I mentioned before, I see so many possibilities with the education project being in the hands of AMG, but as nice as that may be, I want the people to see that for themselves. I want them to dream and envision the future for Cubulco and be an active part in carrying out this vision!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jesse's First Day of School

Eve is one of Jesse's best friends

Today was an exciting day for Jesse. Not only was it his 5th birthday, but it was also his first day of school. Jesse started kindergarten today and he was very excited. Although he went to bed quite late he was up early getting ready for class. That was very responsible of him. We took him and then twins to school at 7:40 and brought him to his classroom. He quickly fit in and left us to play with some of the other kids. He knows several of the other kids in the class which of course made it easy. At 10:00 Lia brought cupcakes to class to celebrate Jesse's birthday and at noon we picked him up again together with Nico and Ellen. Today was just a half a day of school, Tomorrow they will have their first full day of school from 8:00 till 3:15. We ask that you pray for our kids as they start another year as well as for the teachers.
Ellen and one of her classmates

Back In Guatemala

Chilliwack Lake
We are back safe and sound in Guatemala. We had a good time in Canada visiting with family and friends and being with our sending church. We greatly appreciate the support that the Chilliwack FRC gives us and we enjoyed sharing about what the Lord is doing in Guatemala. We also enjoyed the beauty of BC and the smooth, straight roads and being able to do some fishing. We fished the icy waters of Chilliwack Lake and although we did not catch too much we enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Other than going on some drives, day trips and fishing we did not do a whole lot. I spent a few days working with my brother in law putting trusses on a monster of a house. I enjoyed doing some physical labour and the weather was perfect for it. The rest of our time was spent shopping, visiting family and friends, and getting things arranged for another year away. We stayed with Lia's mom and the kids enjoyed riding their bikes and going on walks through the forest (where the bad wolf lives- according to Tristan).
Our flight to Guatemala from Seattle left at around 12:20 am Friday morning. The flight was more or less uneventful except for the lack sleep and the rough landing in Guatemala City. The airport here is considered one of the more difficult places to land because of the surrounding mountains and the fact that it is in the middle of the city. We arrived at 11:00 am and were picked up by Alex an AMG worker who brought us home. It was nice to come home to a spotless house thanks to our maid Maria.
We spent Saturday doing some grocery shopping and we were finally able to pick up the Nissan Patrol from the shop. The engine had finally arrived the middle of July and so it was finally ready for us to use.  The Patrol had been in shop since the beginning of March. Even though it took so long we are grateful that they gave us a new engine with another 3 year warranty. God has been good!

On Sunday we went to the Presbyterian Church and enjoyed the worship service there. On Monday I went to the office for a while to do some work.  On Tuesday I went to the office again for a meeting with some members of the medical faculty of the largest private university in Guatemala and other AMG workers. Several blocks from the office I saw my first murder since being back.  A man had been shot and was lying on the side of the road and people were milling around to get a look.  It brought home again the reality of living in Guatemala.  Having said that we had a great meeting with the university and we look forward to working with them in finding possible solutions to some of the problems children and young people face in Guatemala. The university is helping AMG do a study to better understand the context and barriers children and young people face as a result of living in the slums.
We ask that you continue to pray for Guatemala and also for the organizations like AMG and FRMI who are working hard to bring about lasting change through the sharing of the Gospel.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Visit to Pacux

"The voice of the grandchildren and children will never forget the terror".
I ended my last post mentioning that many of the challenges and deep rooted problems in the lives of many people in Guatemala are caused by their upbringing and the social-political context. One of example of that is the settlement of Pacux a small community on the outskirts of Rabinal.  Rabinal is the next major town over from Cubulco (13 km), and is a town with a violent past. Although we lived so close to Rabinal and had heard a little of the history of the town, we never really looked into the violent history until recently. Rabinal is a town with many social problems and these problems are largely a result of the civil war in Guatemala. Even though we did not live in Rabinal, over the years we got to know a number of people who live there since it was/is a town we pass through every time we go to the city or go to Cubulco. Through them and their personal tragedies we were made more aware of the issues that this town faces. One of the people we got to know quite well owned a grocery store.  Several years ago one of the local gangs started extorting them for money. Since the owners refused to pay, the leader of the gang walked into the store one day and shot the owner in head and killed him. Recently the same gang killed the armed guard of the store. This incident is not isolated and almost daily people are murdered in cold blood. One of the latest victims (a woman) was gunned down in the middle of the day and the wall of the cemetery bears her bloody hand print.
Last year we found out that a single American missionary woman (Mary Purvis) had recently moved to Rabinal and was working in Pacux. We contacted her and since then have become good acquaintances. During my recent trip to Cubulco I visited Mary in Pacux together with the director of the Cubulco hospital to see how the hospital can assist them in their nutritional program. The initial plan was just to meet with her briefly and look at her project, but in the end we were asked to be part of a meeting with community leaders and give them advice on how to best run a nutritional program and how to select the children. It was an interesting meeting and a privilege to be a part of it although just momentarily.
Because of my visit to Pacux, I decided to do some more research on the violent past of Rabinal. I had always been aware of one of the massacres that took place in which several hundred people were killed.  However, since then I discovered that there were numerous massacres and that close to 5,000 people where killed. Many of the massacres were motivated politically because certain people in power wanted to construct a hydro electric dam on the Rio Negro also known as the Rio Chixoy. To compensate the people they were offered something of equal or greater value. When the people went to look at their new land they realized that the plots were very small and not worth what they were supposed to give up. The people who lived in the proposed affected area refused to move and as a result the government resorted to intimidation. Later on, this intimidation resulted in the murders of leaders and then the massacres of entire communities. In one of the communities called Rio Negro around 444 of the 800 people living there were murdered. Eventually the people all fled and the government could carry on with the building of the dam. The people who fled had no choice but to settle in Pacux and live on small plots of lands (10-30 meters). Several years ago some of the people who carried out the massacre were tried and convicted, but the ones who were really responsible and masterminded the whole thing (certain people in the army, government, hydro company)  have never been arrested nor accused. All of this has created resentment within the people and this resentment often comes out through violence. Many young people have grown up with this resentment and now turn to gangs to give them "purpose" in life. Also many young people have grown up without a father since many fathers were murdered. This also creates huge social problems and hence the problem of gangs. This has been a reality in many places in Guatemala as there were many massacres during the civil war mostly directed at indigenous people. There is a lot of resentment built up in the lives of many people and because of that people are mistrusting and suspicious. This of course affects the church as well since the relationships within the church are often very fragile and gossip is rampant. Although Cubulco did not experience any massacres people did lose their lives during the civil war and some people in the aldeas (like Chirramos and Patuy) were misplaced because of the Chixoy hydro-electric dam.and the compensation package was never fully given. Ironically enough, many of the communities that were started as a result of the flooding of the valley for the hydro-electric dam, do not have electricity. Would you not resent that, let alone the host of other things?
It is important to understand all of this when working in Guatemala. Understanding this also allows you to be more patient and gracious with the people as they struggle with their baggage and "demons". It is also enforces the idea that only the Gospel can bring about change, forgiveness and healing. My purpose for writing all of this is not to judge who is responsible for the violence. It is more to help you, the reader, understand a little more what deep rooted problems and challenges we face working in Guatemala which is a direct result of 35 year civil war. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories and unfathomable how low humanity can stoop with regards to treating fellow human beings who bear the image of God. Humanity, in many cases, acts worse than animals. When seeing all of this one can see Satan's hand in all of this as he goes out looking to destroy the bearers of the image of God. That is what Satan delights in and that is why he wages war against humankind. Thankfully, the power and grace of God is able to overcome all of this and bring about eternal change even in the lives of those who are responsible. Only this power and grace of God can bring about a true and lasting change in Guatemala.  Therefore, I ask you to pray fervently for Guatemala and other countries that have been ravaged by civil war and hatred. Pray especially for the church and her witness in such difficult circumstances. Pray that the church will be an agent of change and healing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Cubulco Church

During my latest visit to Cubulco I was able to spend a considerable amount of time with the church and the pastor. I enjoyed being involved in the different activities that the church had during the week that we were there.
On Monday morning the church was responsible for the devotional time at the hospital in the morning. We sang a few songs and then shared a portion from God's Word with the people that were waiting to be seen by the doctors. Around 40-50 people were there and it was a privilege to be able to share the Gospel with these people. In previous years the hospital invited the different churches to do devotions only during the visit of surgical teams from North America. However, since recently the hospital has asked the churches to be involved more in sharing the Gospel and visiting the in-patients. Sadly to say most of the churches have not responded to this invitation since many churches do not have the practice or custom of visiting the sick in the hospital. Thankfully, the Reformed church of Cubulco through Pastor Edgar Xicara has answered the call and is regularly and faithfully visiting the sick every Thursday. Pastor Xicara has experience with this kind of ministry as he was involved in visiting the sick in the hospital in the city when he attended the Presbyterian church there. 
On Wednesday and Thursday, as you already know from my previous post, Pastor Xicara and I were in the mountains visiting the church in Los Pajales.
On Saturday afternoon at 5:00pm we had a prayer meeting the home of a young couple, This couple is once again faithfully attending church thanks to the pastoral visits of Pastor Xicara. One of the things I did after coming back from our year in Canada was make a list of the people who attended church while we were still living in Cubulco and who were no longer attending. I had asked the leaders of the church to make one, but for some reason they left out a lot of people. I also went around with Pastor Xicara and visited some of the homes and introduced him to these former members. Often the introduction was on the street as we ran into former members. Pastor Edgar since that time has gone and visited many of the people and some have returned.  David and Lina where one of those that have returned and have involved themselves once again in the church. The prayer meeting was at their house and after a time of singing and listening to a meditation from God's word we prayed in a circle with each person taking a turn. One of the neat things that Pastor Xicara does is keep a record of the prayer requests. After several weeks he reads the requests out and discuss how God has or has not answered the request. This is a practical way in which one can keep track of God's answers to prayer.
After the prayer service we went and visited a member who had strayed for several years away from the Lord. This man has been an alcoholic for many years and for a time while he attended our church he was able to stay sober. However, he fell back into it and stopped coming to church. I visited his home several months ago with Pastor Edgar, but only his wife was home. To my surprise Pastor Edgar some how got in touch with him and has been visiting him regularly several times a week and praying with him so that through the power of the Spirit he is able to overcome this vice in his life. For me it was nice to sit down with the family and pray with them. I also felt a little guilty since I feel I did not do enough "pastorally" when he stopped coming to church around 5 years ago. 
On Sunday we had the privilege of worshiping with the believers. We had Sunday school from 9:30-10:30 and then the worship service from 10:30-12:00. We commemorated the death and resurrection of our Saviour through the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It was good to see that many participated. It was also good to see that there has been some growth in the church. Around four families have been added to the church most of which used to be members in the past. There are also a number of children who are attending church thanks to the witness of the learning center. 5 of these children have expressed a desire to be baptized and are currently in the process of being prepared for that step in their lives. It is beautiful to see the Spirit of the Lord moving and seeing fruit on our labours.
On Monday, Pastor Xicara left early to go to the city to be with his wife (Ericka) who had just lost her aunt. Ericka had been very close to this aunt as she had been her second mother and had raised her for part of her life. Our family also prepared to go back to the city, but before we could go I received a frantic phone call from a widow in the church whose 15 year old daughter had just run away with her boyfriend. She was worried since she did not know where she was and she was also deeply disappointed and troubled that her daughter would do such a thing. We postponed our trip by a few hours in order to be able to visit the family, listen to them, pray with them, and give them Biblical counsel. Although this was a difficult moment I was thankful to be able to be there. The beautiful thing about being part of a church is that we do not only share in each others joys and triumphs, but also share each others pain, burdens and failures.
In closing I would encourage those who read this blog to keep the Cubulco church in your prayers, as well as Pastor Xicara and the leaders. There are many challenges and many deep rooted problems. Many members of the church have a lot of baggage and this is often due to their upbringing, cultural norms, and social-political context. I do not blame them since they often do not know any better. It makes me also reflect on my upbringing and how blessed I am for this upbringing. It is a tremendous blessing to be raised on Christian principle and with Christian ethics and also live in a country that was founded on many of these principles!