Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Wizard of Oz

I mentioned in a previous post that I would write something about the play our twins were involved with.  For several months now Nico and Ellen have been practicing for many hours for the Wizard of Oz musical play that the school put on.  Especially during the last few weeks leading up to the performances they spent countless hours at school rehearsing. They were pretty exhausted from all the late nights and so were we from having to drive them back and forth and bring them supper. Thankfully we live just a few minutes from school. We were actually tempted to pull them out because it was getting too much, but the twins said that they wanted to finish. We were proud of them for that especially since they did not really want to be part of the play in the first place. Ellen was much more keen on being part of a play than Nico, but we made him go and in the end they both enjoyed themselves and said that they want to be part of a play again next year.  We will see!  They ended up doing the play three nights in a row last week from Thursday till Saturday.  It was around 3 hours long and it was pretty well done. I was in Colombia most of last week, and so I missed the first two nights of the play. However, I made sure that I was on the early flight back to Guatemala so that I would make the last play on Saturday night.  Again we were proud of our little troopers for hanging in there and going through with it with good attitudes.  See if you can find them in the photos!

Answered Prayer!

Several weeks ago I brought our Nissan Patrol to the garage for a regular checkup.  I told the maintenance guys that it has some problems starting, but I assumed it was a problem with the battery and perhaps some dirty injectors since the fuel here in Guatemala is not all that clean.  The servicing was going to cost a few hundred dollar which was normal.  However, a few days later the garage phoned me to tell me that the problem was not the battery but that there was some water in the engine.  They said it would cost some $3,000 to get fixed since they would have to take apart part of the engine.  They told me that if this was not the problem it would cost more.  Another week went by and they told me that the engine would need an overhaul since they had found a crack in the head and some of the cylinders where damaged and that it would cost $6,000.  I had already almost had a heart attack after the first quote since it was not some thing that I had taken into consideration when preparing the budget for this year.  With this latest news I felt sick to my stomach.  I received the news when I was in Colombia so I told them that I wanted to meet with the manager on Monday to discuss working out some sort of deal.  
So Monday morning I went to the Nissan garage to speak with the manager.  I explained how disappointed I was since the vehicle is a 2008 and only has 65,000 kms.  The warranty on the vehicle had only just recently expired and I had always brought the vehicle in to the dealership to get serviced.  I explained as well the work that we are doing in Guatemala and that this is a big financial hit for us.  I explained how this bill would affect our programs and also where the money was coming from.  People give of their tithes and offerings to support the work here.  The manager seemed to understand where I was coming from and said that he would review the service history of the vehicle and see how they could lower the cost.  He told me that he would call me in the afternoon with the final verdict.  The afternoon rolled around and there was no phone call.  In a way I did not mind since I was not ready to hear the verdict.  Too be honest I did not expect much.  In the mean time (as well as before) I spent time praying for this situation asking God to touch the hearts of this company and help us out.  Although I prayed I must admit that I did not pray with a lot of faith and hope.  The most I expected was for them to knock of maybe $1,000 of the total cost.  
Well, Tuesday rolled around and still no phone call.  Yesterday I spent part of the day writing a letter of complaint to the Nissan dealership here in Guatemala appealing to them for understanding and help.  They did not respond to the letter on Tuesday.  This morning at around 8:30 my phone ran and it was the manager from Nissan who I had spoken to on Monday.  I braced myself for the news. This is what he said..... "We have decided to deal with this case as if the vehicle is still under warranty and we are going to replace your engine".  I was stunned and did not really know what to say.  I asked him what he meant and he repeated what he said and told me it was not going to cost me anything.  They had decided that since they could not determine the cause of the damage that it was better to replace the whole engine rather than just parts and have the same thing happen again.  The only hitch is that I will be without the vehicle until the engine arrives from Japan which will take at least a month.  I thanked him profusely and told him that we could wait and would make arrangements for a vehicle.  AMG is helping out and is lending me a vehicle for the time being.  I also promptly wrote a thank you letter to Nissan Guatemala for their understanding and help.  I am not sure if my letter helped, or if the decision had been made with out that.  Regardless, God answered my prayers and the prayers of others who were praying for this situation in a way that was far beyond what I was expecting.  It was humbling to experience this and it definitely gave me a spiritual high.  I had been feeling very down for several weeks when I first heard the news till today.  I felt bad that it was going to cost so much money since I have always been frugal and careful with mission money.  I was also the one who bought the vehicle so I guess I felt that pressure that I did not make a good decision.  What a relief this news was to me and what an unbelievable answer to prayer!
Often you hear that you need to pray with faith in order to receive an answer, but this is a testimony to God answering prayer even when we lack faith.  God remains God in spite of us.  This example in my life reminds me of the story in Mark 9 when Jesus comes down from the mountain after being transfigured and is met by a father of a demon possessed boy who says to Jesus "have mercy on us and help us if you can".  Jesus kindly rebuked him and says, "what do you mean, ‘If I can'? Anything is possible if a person believes.”  The father replies....  "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).  I felt this kind rebuke today and praise God for His goodness and patience!  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Colombia Part 2

In my previous blog I wrote about the first days of my visit to CDA Colombia.  I spent the next 3 days in meetings and exercises in data collection and monitoring. As organizations we want to collect data in order to be able to improve or change our programs. The data should influence how we run our programs.  I learned a lot during those three days and it was good to share with my peers of CDA Colombia our experiences, struggles, frustrations and successes.  We could also share tools that will make our organizations stronger and more professional.  On Friday morning we visited a school of CDA in one of the slums of Bogota. We spent the first part of the morning visiting different classrooms and interacting with students.  We were also part of a short interview on a student run radio station that operates out of the school and is used to broadcast to the school and if necessary to the whole community.  The rest of the morning was spent looking at how the school collects data and information. It was neat to see that the school still had the information from when it began some 19 years earlier. They still have the original enrollment forms and the grades of the students who attended during that time. The school also keeps track of the students who graduate for one year to see how they are doing. This kind of information is important because it is a way of measure the impact you have in the life of individuals, families, and communities. 
Since I was in Colombia for business and not pleasure I was not able to do much sight seeing except for when we saw the projects.  However, on the last evening we went by gondola up 700 meters to a Catholic Church which sits high on a mountain top overlooking the city of Bogota.  The elevation was almost 3,200 meters or 10,000 feet. The view was absolutely breathtaking. On the one side you could see the city of Bogota the home of some 8,000,000 people while on the other side you could look off into the Andes mountains.  It was quite the contrast.  
On Saturday morning at 6:00am I boarded my plane to go back to Guatemala. At 9:30 I was back in Guatemala and reunited again with Lia and the kids.  I chose an early flight so that I could be back in time to see the drama that Nico and Ellen were involved in.  I will write about that another time.  I am grateful for the opportunity I had to visit Colombia and be a part of the exercises and workshops. It was a beneficial time for me.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Colombia Part 1

CDA Head Office
Monday afternoon I flew from Guatemala to Bogota, Colombia for a 4 day workshop related to my work with AMG.  The flight was uneventful and quite short.  It was a 20 minute hop from Guatemala City to San Salvador and from there it was a 2 and a half hour flight to Bogota.  I arrived close to midnight and it was cloudy so I was not able to see a whole lot of the city as we were descending.  
We spent Tuesday visiting 3 of the projects of CDA Colombia so I was able to see a good part of the city and the area north west of the city.  CDA is a Christian organization that receives funding from Word and Deed Canada and Woord en Daad Nederland.  I was invited to come to Colombia by Woord en Daad Holland to take part in a few workshops and exercises on PMEL which is related to my position and work at AMG.
As mentioned I spent Tuesday visiting a number of projects.  We first were welcomed at the CDA office which is in a historic part of downtown Colombia.  The architecture in this part of the city is European so I felt like I was in Europe. After the welcome and a devotional we visited the first project which was a vocational training center.  At this center students from all ages can come to learn a vocation like baking, beautician (hair stylists, manicurists, etc), jeweler, web page design, computers, and sewing.  After that we went to former CDA school that was recently converted into a community center.  This was also interesting to see.  It is similar to what AMG Guatemala does in the sense that it is an after school program where kids go to the local public school, but after classes they come to the center to receive help with their homework, spiritual guidance, and some vocational training like baking.  
Could be Chilliwack!
In the afternoon we drove some 2 hours through the beautiful country side to a protection home for abused girls. The scenery and the weather reminded me BC and Holland.  Many of the girls at the home, if not all, are victims of some sort of sexual abuse.  This abuse comes in the form of the actual physical sexual abuse or being exposed to explicit sexual content.  What one needs to remember is that many children live in homes that house several families.  Each family might all sleep in one room so kids often witness adults having intercourse.  I asked the director what the hardest thing for her is working with these girls and she said that these girl are not innocent anymore.  These girls have lost their innocence because of what they have experienced or seen.  These girls do not have an imagination or are not able to dream.  The director said that when she tells these girls a fairytale they usually say that the story can not be true.  This of course is true, but most children at that age have a wild imagination and "believe" fairytales.  The age of the almost 50 girls at the home range from 6-15 years old, although the majority of them young girls.  It is sad to see.  Having said that they are now in a safe environment and are receiving psychological and spiritual help. They are also sent to local schools in the area to receive an education. One of the things that impacted me was that even though these girls have been abused they still want to receive affection from people that visit the project. It was hard to leave since they did not want to let us go and constantly wanted a hug. I have noticed the same thing in Guatemala that many of the abused kids crave affection.  Please pray for the children in countries like Colombia and Guatemala.  Many are victims of abuse and that is why also at AMG we are making a real effort to intervene when made aware of abuse. Pray also for AMG and CDA as they are faced with many challenges and dangers in the fight against child abuse.
The Director of the Protection Home

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Intermissions 2012

Lake Atitlan
Lareau Lundquist- main speaker
A few weeks ago we attended a conference for missionaries who are serving in Guatemala. This type of conference is quite rare because in most countries you would not see a whole group of missionaries getting together to enjoy a time away from their labours and get ministered to.  The first missionary conference held in Guatemala was around 1935 and they have continued to hold a conference most years since then. Several hundred missionaries and their families attended this conference which lasted from Friday afternoon till Sunday afternoon.  The conference was held in Panajachel a small town on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan. The theme this year was "thriving through tough times".  The series of messages was delivered by Lareau Lindquist and was simple but profound.  It was good to be reminded that tough times are part of the life of a believer.  Jesus never promised that life would be easy after becoming a child of His.  He did promise that the Christian life would be filled with suffering and hardship, but that this would serve to mold us into the children that He wants us to be. This Bible truth is not heard all that often anymore in the church today anymore (other than the persecuted church).  The church of today prefers to talk about health, wealth, and prosperity.  Sadly this is also very evident in Guatemala. It is important that as church and as believers we understand that suffering is part of the Christian life and is not a sign of spiritual weakness or lack of faith.  One could argue that the opposite is really true that a life of ease is a sign of spiritual weakness and lack of faith. I some times wonder when going through tough times whether what is happening to me is like what happened to Job where Satan the Accuser makes claims that I serve God because of what I can get from Him and not because I am committed to Him.  God therefore, gives Satan a certain freedom to allow me to suffer to prove that "though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him".  
The weekend was a great and many people contributed to making it so. Our children where taken care of during most of the conference time by volunteers from a church in the US who gave of their time and money to come down so that we could concentrate on being at the plenary sessions and the workshops. There were also counselors available, computer techs for those with computer problems, hair stylists, massage therapists, optometrist, free book and medicine, a book store, and much more. We learned a lot and enjoyed the company of other missionaries.  This conference is always a highlight of our year and it is always somewhat disappointing when it ends.  We can not wait for the next Intermissions Conference in 2013!  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Visit to the Cemetery and the Dump

The tomb of one of the wealthiest families in Guatemala

Not that long ago I had the interesting experience of seeing first hand the cemetery and the dump which lie side by side in the middle of Guatemala City.  During all the years that we lived in Cubulco when we would come to the city we would stay at a seminary guest house which is very close to the cemetery and the dump.  When the winds were favorable we would not be able to smell the dump which was usually the case.  But every so often the winds would change and some times the smell would be overpowering.  I remember one time waking up in the middle of the night from the stench.  Imagine working and living in or near the dump which is the case for many Guatemalans.  
This is the case of many of the children that attend one of our main schools in the city called Verbena.  Verbena has 800 children that attend classes each day of the week.  This is also where the central AMG office is located and that is where I go almost every day.  I have had the privilege to visit some of the homes of the kids whose parents work in the dump.  However, it was not until recently that I actually could see the dump with my own eyes. 
A looted tomb!
A few months ago I went with a group of people to look at the dump.  I went again before the New Year with my parents and family.  The easiest way to see the dump is to go through one of the main national cemeteries in Guatemala City.  The cemetery is like a small town (except of course that no one is living there), and you see even there the stark contrast between the rich and the poor.  The rich have built themselves beautiful, ornate tombs, while the poor are buried in "apartment" like tombs where if you do not pay the rent the body is removed and discarded somewhere or the poor are buried on the outskirts of the cemetery at the edge of a ravine bordering on the dump.  When the edge of the ravine gives way the tombs falls down into the dump.  Grave robbing is also common so many of the wealthy have built fortresses to keep these grave robbers from entering and stealing any valuables that might be buried with the deceased.  For those who can not afford to make their tombs theft proof they have a good chance of having it opened up and desecrated by looters.  It is solemn to see this.  

The edge of the cemetery borders on a deep ravine where the dump is located.  As we stood there overlooking the dump we could see hundreds of people picking through garbage trying to find discarded treasure. People recycle not out of a desire to be eco-friendly but out of a need to survive.  These people called "scavengers" pick through garbage in order to earn a little bit of money to be able to put some food on the table.  It is estimated that around 11,000 people make a living from the dump. It is a sad reality and one that is not just seen here in Guatemala, but in many developing countries.  AMG is trying to help some of the families who live off the dump by providing children with an education, food, safe environment, and the only answer to all of life's problems which is Jesus Christ.  True transformation or holistic development can not be done apart from Christ.

Trip to Tikal

As mentioned in my previous entry, I was going to write a little more about our trip to Tikal. The Westeringh's generously invited us (Lia and I and Rick and Dianne Postma) to visit Tikal with them which was nice since it is one of the must places to see in Guatemala.  After more than 11 years of living in Guatemala we never had the opportunity to visit this beautiful, historic place.  Tikal is situated in the department of the Peten which is the biggest department of Guatemala although one of the least inhabited because large parts of it are jungle.  (Guatemala is divided up into departments which are like provinces or states.) The trip by vehicle is some 10-13 hours from Guatemala city and the road, although good, is not the safest.  The Peten is known for being full of people with shady pasts. If people commit a crime they often flee to the Peten out of the reaches of the law.  
Huge Ceiba tree- Mayans believed it holds up the sky.
We traveled by plane instead which was around a 1 hour flight from Guatemala City.  From the airport we had to drive an 1.5 hours to get to the park.  Once in the park we spent the next 5 hours touring with a guide who shared with us the history of Tikal.  People started settling in Tikal and building there around 400 BC and this continued on until 900 AD.  It was for many years a flourishing center of the Mayan empire.  The site measures some 16 sq/km and has over 3,000 structures many of which are still covered.  There are 6 large temples the tallest of which is 70 meters high (230 feet). 
We were able to climb two of these temples.  Temple 2 was an interesting climb because the stairs we very steep.  Temple 4 which is the highest one was a much easier and gradual climb.  It was very neat to be at the top of temple 4 and be able to look out over the jungle vegetation.  From there you could make out just the tops of the other temples.  Apparently when the Spanish entered Guatemala they passed close to Tikal but did not see it because it was hidden by the jungle.  You definitely would not want to get lost out there.  
In the later afternoon we returned to Guatemala City again while the Westeringh`s stayed behind and spent a night at a hotel in the park. It was truly a great privilege to be in Tikal and experience its grandeur.  It is amazing how a civilization like the Mayas where able to construct such buildings and a society equal to other ancient civilizations like the Incas and the Egyptians. 

On top of Temple IV
Very steep climb up and down.
For more information on Tikal look it up on the internet.  The history of the place is fascinating.

Visit of the Postma's and the Westeringh's

Rick and Diane Postma along with Dick and Mary Anne Westeringh and their two sons Nick and Nigel and Kaitlyn (Nick's girlfriend) came down to Guatemala for the inauguration of a new school in Monjas, Jalapa and to tour some of the other projects and to see other parts of the country.  Word and Deed Canada through the generous donations of a number of people in Canada provided the funds for the building of this school.  The community of Monjas also helped by donating land and by waiving the taxes that one would normally have to pay.  The local church was also very involved and came up with a substantial amount of money to help off set some of the building cost as did the parents of the children who attend the school.  This was a joint effort and it was truly a model as to a better way in which to do development work.  
Visiting an old Monastery turned into a Hotel

Lake Atitlan- Panajachel
In the coffee shop in Panajachel
The Westeringh's and the Postma's saw a lot of Guatemala during the next week.  Rick and Dianne arrived on Friday night.  Lia and I together with Brian and Mary Dennett (AMG missionaries) and the Postma's spent most of the day in Antigua on Saturday.  In the evening the Westeringh's arrived. On Sunday we went to the Central Presbyterian church were we worship as a family.  This is the oldest evangelical church in Guatemala.  On Monday we left early and drove 3 hours to Monjas for the inauguration of the school (sorry I have no pictures of the school at the moment).  After the ceremony we spent the rest of the day visiting a few homes of some of the sponsor kids and the bridge that Word and Deed helped fund.  In the later afternoon we drove to Cubulco a drive which normally takes around 4 hours.  It ended up taking much longer due to the heavy fog that we encountered along a high mountain stretch of the road.  We could only crawl along since we could barely see a thing.  We spent the night in Cubulco and the following Tuesday spent the day touring town and the projects of AMG and the Free Reformed Mission.  We also went and saw what was left of the bridge.  Dick of course had an interest in seeing the bridge since he helped build it.  On Tuesday afternoon we drove the back road to the city which was a very steep and winding dirt road for part of the way, but definitely with a breathtaking view.  This road climbs from 3000 feet to over 7200 feet in a matter of 30-40 minutes.
Downtown Xela

On Wednesday we had the privilege of being invited to go along to see Tikal which lies in the jungle in the north of Guatemala.  (I will write more about Tikal in another entry)  Lia and I along with Rick and Dianne Postma just went up for the day while the Westeringh's spent two days there.  It definitely was one of the highlights.  After coming back on Wednesday evening I dropped the Postma's off in Antigua so that they could spend the night there and the following day touring this old historic town.  I picked them up later on in the afternoon after which I also went to the airport to pick up the Westeringh's as they returned from their trip to Tikal.
In Xela with Ken and Nigel Herfst
On Friday I dropped the Postma's off early at the airport for their flight back to Canada.  I picked the Westeringh's up after that and we drove 3.5 hours to Quetzaltenango (or Xela) where Ken Herfst lives.  On the way to Xela we stopped in Panajachel to see the lake and to visit a local coffee shop run by a missionary family who use it as a way to reach out to the many tourists that visit the lake. After Panajachel we drove the rest of the way Xela.  This road to Xela goes through a pass call "Alaska" which is the highest road in Central America at over 3,000 meters or around 10,000 feet.  We spent a night in Xela visiting with Ken Herfst.  The following day we drove back to the city but instead of taking the highland road we drove the coastal highway which takes you through huge sugar cane plantations.  On our way down we stopped at a place that does zip lining which was a lot of fun.  There were a total of 11-12 lines some short of some 75 meter while others we around 250 meter long.  This was the first time I had ever zip lined and it definitely was worth the $20.  After a 3 hour drive through the heat of the coast and burning sugar cane field we arrived back in the city in the early evening.
Truck carrying sugar cane.
The following Monday the Westeringh's flew back early to Canada and life for me returned to normal.  It was a busy trip with a lot of driving, but it was great.  I could not have asked for nicer people to be with and people who are so interested in the country and supporting the work here.  The Westeringh's of course have a close tie with Guatemala not only because of the projects they support but because one of their adopted children Nigel is Guatemalan.