Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Turmoil in Guatemala! Part 3

To add to the social unrest in Guatemala, there has also been a lot of political instability during the past 6 months. An international organization that fights corruption and impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) uncovered a massive tax evasion and bribery scheme involving high ranking government officials and influential members of the public and private sectors. This came on the eve of decision the president had to make whether or not to extend the agreement with CICIG to continue working in Guatemala. Initially it appeared that the president (Otto Perez Molina) would not renew the agreement, but when the evidence came out he did agree to allow CICIG to continue operating in country. He is probably regretting the decision now because of what has transpired since then. Initially, the secretary of the vice-president was implicated, but he disappeared without a trace. Some say he is in hiding while others suspect he is dead. After this the vice-president was implicated and she resigned and is currently awaiting trial. With her a number of key government officials and heads of the public sector where implicated and are awaiting trial. With all this coming out, Guatemalans started to protest by the tens of thousands in the streets demanding that the president resign. In his campaign he had promised to be tough on crime and corruption. However, his government has probably been the most corrupt as to date. It is estimated that they stole more than $100 million in taxes and bribes from the country. Even though people were demanding his resignation the president refused to step down. However, after months of weekly peaceful protests (sometimes more than 100,000 people) the president stepped down shortly before the national elections. By this time his immunity had been stripped away and he was left with no options. He is currently in custody awaiting trial. One wonders what will all come out in the trial and also what the West's involvement has been in all of this. Otto Perez Molina was a general in the US backed Guatemalan army during the civil war and was involved in several massacres of indigenous villages. One also wonders what arrangements have been made for him and others involved and whether or not they will ever be sentenced for their crimes.
Por Andrea Orozco y Byron VásquezRegardless this was an historic event in Guatemala. Never before had the pressure of the people of Guatemala been able to lead to a president resigning from office. Never before had the protests been peaceful and orderly. It seems that Guatemala might be turning a corner politically and socially with regards to democracy. It appears that God had also heard the prayers of thousands of Guatemalan Christians who have spent the past months praying and fasting for the country. Please join them and us in prayer for Guatemala and its government.

Turmoil in Guatemala! Part 2

A few days after the killings of bus drivers and their helpers, a banner was hung from an overpass in San Cristobal close to where the killings took place. The banner supposedly was hung during the night by a prominent drug cartel family or group of families. The banner had the following strong message to local criminals and gangs: "we would like to inform the residents of San Cristobal that the united cartels will rid this place of rats. Delinquents, extortionists, or kidnappers who are caught will be decapitated"! Many people living here applauded the message and were supportive, because the government has not been able to do anything to stem the violence. This response is rather disturbing, but at the same time people live in such fear that they are willing to "support" criminals who might deal with part of the problem. Drug cartels consist of dangerous criminals who also commit terrible acts of violence. Having said that, in Guatemala City it is a fact that neighborhoods controlled by drug dealers and cartels tend to be much safer than ones controlled by gangs (MS13, 18th Street). Most drug dealers do not like to attract attention to themselves or their neighborhoods. Drug dealers often deal with local criminals in their own quiet way to avoid the presence of police in their neighborhoods. However, in other parts of the country mass murders have occurred as rival cartels try to establish control and take over territory from others. Over the past 10 years, thousands of people have been killed by drug cartels and gang violence.

Turmoil in Guatemala! Part 1

Our first few days in Guatemala were filled with some disturbing events. On one day 4 bus drivers and their helpers were killed. Three of them were killed on the main road close to where we live in San Cristobal (a suburb of Guatemala City. Lia passed by the crime scene shortly after it happened with just the police on the scene. Like most crime scenes in Guatemala, people flock to the scene to be able to see. As the day wore on more people started gathering and protesting in the street and eventually the protests turned quite violent. Protesters blocked the road by burning tires causing huge traffic delays for motorists.

They demanded that the police and the government provide security and deal with the gangs who are killing bus drivers because the owners have not paid the extortion fees. The mob also attempted to “lynch” one of the suspects (some witnesses claimed that they were not the right ones), but the police were able to take them away. Lynching is quite common here especially in more rural areas,
A burned out police car in the after math of a lynching in San Miguel.
because people are fed up with the lack of justice. In many cases, criminals are able to bribe the authorities and get released from custody. For this reason, people decide to take justice into their own hands. If  the suspect is caught he/she is first beaten, then doused in gasoline, and set on fire. This of course is a cruel and horrible way to punish someone and it makes those involved with the lynching no better than the criminal. Also at times innocent people are killed. Recently in a town (San Miguel) close to Cubulco two suspects were burned alive for killing a bus driver.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Furlough 2015

It has been quite a while since we last updated our blog. We apologize to those who follow us through our blog for not being more regular. Some times there seems little to write about and other times we were so busy that we did not have time or the energy to write. In this post we want to update you on how we are doing and what we have been doing during the past few months.
As family we are doing well. We have been relatively healthy for which we are thankful. The kids finished school at the end of May and they did well. We are grateful that our children do not have any learning problems and that they do well in school.
Although we are doing well health-wise, Lia's mom was not doing well. In April we heard the news that she had suffered a severe stroke and was in the hospital. Lia immediately flew back to be with her for 10 days after which she returned to Guatemala. Her mom appeared to have stabilized but several weeks later she took a turn for the worse and it looked like she might pass away. Lia again flew out to be with her and to say her last goodbye. However, during her time there and the weeks following her mom's condition improved and she was moved into an assisted living home from the church that she attends. There they take excellent care of her and she has made a lot of progress. She still does not have feeling or movement in her left side, but her mind is sharp and she appears to be in good spirits. We ask that you remember Lia's mom in prayer.
In June we were able to go to Canada for a 2 month furlough during which time we could see Lia's mom on a continual basis and help in different areas. During our time in BC we only had 2 days of rain which is unheard of so we could do many outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, fishing, and sightseeing.  We also were able to connect with family and friends and were able to visit several churches. We did several presentations in churches which we had not visited for many years like Abbotsford, Monarch, Calgary, and Lacombe. In each church we were well received and people where interested and appreciative of the work that is being done in Guatemala. We are grateful for the support the Free Reformed Churches provide for the work in Guatemala. During our visit to Alberta we were able to stop in Banff and Jasper and see the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed the turquoise waters of the rivers and lakes. We loved seeing the wild life. We had a close encounter with a young black bear which sauntered out of the bush close to where we were standing. Although he was not shy, he walked less than 10 meters by us and left us alone. On our way back from Edmonton we stopped at the old gold mining town of Barkerville which was interesting to see. Lia and the kids got gold fever after that and had to buy gold pans and try their luck in several rivers and streams. We did find very small flakes, but not enough to strike it rich.
During our last week of furlough we enjoyed a week with Lia's brother and his family from Belgium. We had not seen them in over 10 years so that was nice. I also had the privilege to speak at a youth camp although I did not feel that my speech went as well as I would have liked. Thankfully God who used a donkey to bring His word to Balaam, can use even our "poor performances" for His glory and to further His kingdom.
Finally, on the Sunday before we left our church in Chilliwack closed the morning service by giving me the opportunity to share with the church what has transpired in Cubulco over the past few years. During my report of the work I shared some of the difficulties and deep disappointments that we have faced during our 15 years in Cubulco. We feel that we have seen very little fruit on our labour which we have done with convictions and zeal even though we have also made many mistakes along the way. During this time I shared the story of Henry Morrison (versions of the story vary) who together with his wife laboured for 40 years in Africa with little fruit to show for their work. Although we would not say that our situation the same since we have a church, family, and friends that support us there are things that resonate with us like the bitter disappoints of spending many years being obedient to God's call and seeing little fruit. As I was sharing this story, I became quite emotional which is not like me. It must have been God, because we felt that people in our church really responded to our being vulnerable and sharing our hearts. 

After forty years of faithful service to the Lord as a missionary to Africa, Henry Morrison and his wife were returning to New York.  As the ship neared the dock, Henry said to his wife, “Look at that crowd.  They haven't forgotten about us”.  However, unknown to Henry, the ship also carried President Teddy Roosevelt, returning from a big game hunting trip in Africa.  Roosevelt stepped from the boat, with great fanfare, as people  were cheering, flags were waving,  bands were playing, and reporters waiting for his comment, Henry and his wife slowly walked away unnoticed.  They hailed a cab, which took them to the one bedroom apartment which had been provided by the mission board. 
Over the next few weeks, Henry tried, but failed to put the incident behind him.  He was sinking deeper into depression when one evening, he said to his wife, “This is all wrong.  This man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody throws a big party.  We give our lives in faithful service to God for all these many years, but no one seems to care.”
His wife cautioned him that he should not feel this way.  Henry replied “I know you're right, but I just can't help it.  It just isn't right.”
His wife then said, “Henry, you know God doesn't mind if we honestly question Him.  You need to tell this to the Lord and get this settled now.  You'll be useless in His ministry until you do.”
Henry Morrison then went to his bedroom, got down on his knees and, shades of Habakkuk, began pouring out his heart to the Lord.  “Lord, you know our situation and what's troubling me.  We gladly served you faithfully for years without complaining.  But now God, I just can't get this incident out of my mind...”
After about ten minutes of fervent prayer, Henry returned to the living room with a peaceful look on his face.  His wife said “It looks like you've resolved the matter.  What happened?”
Henry replied, “The Lord settled it for me.  I told Him how bitter I was that the President received this tremendous homecoming, but no one even met us as we returned home.  When I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and simply said, 'But Henry, you are not home yet!'”

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fijese que.......

"Fijese que" is an expression used in Guatemala a lot. Literally translated is means "pay attention to", but as I recently read in a travel magazine on Guatemala it really means "bad news". When someone starts off a sentence with those words you can expect bad news. Lately we have been receiving a lot of bad new with regards to some of the papers work we have been working on.
In 2006 Lia and I and our twins were given resident status in Guatemala. Since that time we had two more kids and we assumed that they would automatically also be awarded resident status. However, that was not the case and to avoid the hassle and costs of getting a normal residency we opted for a special residency which was easier to get and much cheaper. In 2013 we were awarded our new residency and we thought we were done. We asked at immigration what our next step was and they told us that there were new rules and because our children are under aged they did not need to do anything else. Well, apparently that was not the case and we found that out when Lia tried to leave the country with the kids several years ago. They detained her and the kids for an hour while I talked to them on the phone to explain what had happened. They thankfully let her go. Since then we have been trying to get this paper work filed, but first Lia and I needed to get our new ID cards. This took close to a year because they had made a mistake on one of Lia's name. They had put an accent mark on one of the letters of her name and they said that needed to be changed. Lia was asked to fill out a form which was so badly copied that she could not make out what the questions were. After weeks of hassling with making this change, Lia finally received her new ID card. Well, I wish that I could tell you it was smooth sailing from there on, but this is Guatemala. Things that appear to be routine quickly become complicated and time consuming. When we went to file the paperwork for Jesse and Tristan we were told that the document we have for their residency has "expired" and we need to go back to immigration to get them to put another stamp on it. While this seemed simple they wanted to see the original receipt of payment which we did not have on us. We are currently still working on this and hope that we will soon have this document and can finish this paper work so that we can go to Canada this summer.
Another issue Lia and I have been dealing with has been the renewal of our Guatemalan drivers license. Again we assumed that this was going to be a straight forward process since the time before it went smoothly. However, this time around it has been a real hassle. Lia and I received new ID cards several months ago, but these ID cards only have one last name on them. In many Latin American countries people have both their parents last names on their ID card. Our former ID cards had both names, but the new ones only have one. While this might not be an issue in NA it is an issue here and we found that out while trying to renew our license. Our license has both our last names on them so they told us that we needed to go to the government office and get a document stating that we are the same people whether with one last name or two. I went to the government office to get this document and they told me it would be ready in a week. A week later I went back and they told me they did not have it and that I should go to the central office and ask for it there. Lia and I went last week and spent 3 hours waiting in lines for this document which they said would be ready in 5 days. I went again a few days ago and after waiting for 5 hours I walked out with the document. Now with this document we were supposed to go to the ministry of transit and get them to make the changes. Well... what do you know, we get there and they told us we needed to go to a lawyer and get him/her to draw up a document stating that we are the same people with either one or two last names. With that document we have to go to another office and get them to add that to our file and with that document they will make the changes and then we should be able to renew our license. This is going to take several weeks for this to all be done and by that time some of the other paperwork we had done for our license will have expired and we will have to redo that again. In the past we could hire someone to do a lot of this work for us, but the government does not allow that anymore. These things have to be done personally and it is something I just hate doing. It is frustrating work as they send you from here to there and each person will tell you something different.
I just read Jaco and Andrea Devisser's blog about some of the challenges they have adapting to a new culture and the things that "irk" them. We can relate to that and there are things that still "irk" us even after 15 years. Perhaps they do not "irk" us as much as in the past, but they still do and I doubt I will even get used to it. I guess the biggest issue is the feeling of being powerless. Please pray for missionaries as they deal with these kinds of frustrations and challenges in their life abroad.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Family Update

I just realized that four months have gone by since we last wrote something on our blog. It is not like we had nothing eventful happen during that time. It is more a question of finding the time or when you do have time.... having the mindset to write.
As some of you know, I spent 10 days in Canada in the month of November doing a speaking tour together with Brian Dennet (director of AMG). The tour was sponsored by WD North America and we had the privilege of speaking at several events. It was a whirlwind tour that started in Ontario and ended in BC. Brian and I arrived in Toronto on Thursday, November 13. The next Friday and Saturday we had to speak at two dinner evenings in Hamilton and Jordan. On Sunday I had two presentations to do in the Free Reformed Churches of St. Thomas and Mitchel, although these two presentations were more connected to the Free Reformed Mission work in Cubulco. On Monday we had a meeting with the Free Reformed mission board and in the evening drove through a blizzard to Grand Rapids. Conditions were less than ideal, but we had a good vehicle that handled well in the snowy and slippery conditions. On Tuesday we had a dessert evening in GR and afterwards drove back to London. The road conditions on the way back were a lot better, but it was chilly out. Since we live in Guatemala we do not have any winter clothes. We layered as much as we could, but it was still cold out.
On Wednesday we boarded a flight to Abbotsford and because of the snow our departure was delayed by an hour. The ground crew could not back up the plane to where they de-ice it. Thursday off we had the day off and I was able to visit family (although my parents were gone) and we drove around to show Brian my neck of the woods. We ate at an A&W to bring back some childhood memories for Brian. There are no A&W's in his part of the US anymore. On Friday and Saturday we had to speak at two dinners in Chilliwack and Langley and we left for Guatemala on Monday morning early.  We felt that the tour was a "success" as we received a lot of good feedback. It was nice to be able to share the work that God is doing through AMG, FRMI, and WD in Guatemala to help change the lives of individuals and their families.    
As a family we are doing quite well. Lia and I both had birthdays in the last few months and we appreciate all the birthday wishes and cards. Nico and Ellen will be having a birthday at the end of this month. Health wise we had no issues for quite a few months until last month where we were all (except for Lia) hit by the flu. The kids were sick for close to two weeks and they missed quite a few days of school. As they started to mend, I got sick and I was in bed for quite a few days. I am finally starting to feel my old self again although I still do not feel 100% yet.   
The kids are doing quite well in school although Nico and Ellen have this bad habit of not always handing in their homework on time. However, their grades are quite good so we can not complain too much. School will be finished by the 21st of May so they are looking forward to that. This summer we hope to be in Canada for a while which will be the first time in two years for the kids. However, we can not book our tickets yet nor make plans until we have some paperwork filled out and accepted. We have been having issues with some Guatemalan legal paperwork of Jesse and Tristan for some years now and it is a hassle. I will write about that in my next post to give you an idea as to the hassles of doing legal paper work in a country like Guatemala.
We appreciate all of you who pray for us and support us and we hope to see some of you this coming summer. We are looking forward to a break and change of scenery.