Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fathers Day and "Vacation"

What a busy summer, I can't believe it's already half-way over with. Just a few mid-summer notes.


Fathers day was perfect, nothing over the top, just right. At church, Briggs made me my favorite card thus far, it reads "I love my Dad because we giv esh othr shrog hugs", whish of course translates to "I luv my Dad because we give each other strong hugs". I don't think I've documented this before, but one of our "things" is him giving me strong hugs, we've been doing it for a looong time now. As he's gotten older he's gotten obviously a lot stronger but any pain is worth it. When he deals them out to others we sometimes have to tell him to tone them down. Max is following in his foot steps with our welcome home routine now including both of them taking turns running to me from across the house and jumping onto me to give me a strong hug, it's great. As I'm writing this Max came in the room chattering in some foreign language and mixing in that "i'm a squar-rall (squirell)", funny thing is that he's pants-less because he's potty training and being half naked seems to help, the half naked squar-rall was pretty funny. Later fathers day night Briggs made a chart of things to do for Dad; him, Max, and Leslie setup a "movie theater" for me. They made popcorn, drinks, and setup a family movie to watch. It was a good night.


(the lady in the background is trying to tell the cops about a 5 ft monkey being loose on the premises..."he went that a-way")

This past week I had a work trip to Knoxville that I was able to take the family on. It was a short trip but a lot of fun, we had a rented mini-van that Briggs raved was sooo much cooler than Mom's car, even if it didn't have a dvd player. We stopped at Chattanooga there and back to visit the aquarium and a science museum. The science place had a Curious George exhibit that both boys loved. We were able to go to a water park in Knoxville with some pretty wild slides. Briggs and I rode all the slides we had time for and even Les jumped on one with Briggs; that was all she needed to meet her excitement quota. Max wanted to keep riding the lazy river ride over and over. He still hates getting splashed so that pretty much ruled out just about every other attraction there. With that, Guatemala, and a couple of trips to Dothan, half the summer is already over. It seems we've had a lot of nights working outside where the boys get filthy with sand or just playing in the sprinkler, invariably they both end up stark naked running around in the front yard with me washing them off with the water hose before they come inside. Currently Briggs and I are dismantling Leslie's old vacuum cleaner so that he can build a "robot", I'll have to make that another post. No lazy days of summer around here...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't Just Do Something, Stand There



(the title is from Henry Blackaby, our motto for the week)

Wednesday



Wednesday morning we were scheduled to do VBS at a church/school in the morning and paint on the school's roof in the afternoon. When we drove up at the church, our contact, Carol turns around and says she needs to tell us something very important. She proceeds to tell us, through our translator, Patty, that we are in the "Red Zone," the most dangerous part of Guatemala City. It is run by drug traffickers and is a violent area. She also told us that most of the students' parents are drug traffickers and that a couple of them had been targetted over the last couple of weeks, as in someone had come there to shoot them.

I wanted to add,"so go have a great day at VBS and duck if you happen to hear bullets!"
Honestly, after all we had been through, I was not scared at this point. It just seemed par for the course.

We had a great time doing crafts, singing and acting out "Jonah and the whale" with the kids. As we were leaving the church, our driver began to yell at us to open the windows of the van immediately. We complied and then our translator told us that, "they need to see your faces, that you are not a threat." Apparently we had been in some danger, but I never saw anyone/anything threatening. As soon as we were out of the Red Zone we were told to close our windows, because it was safe. I think God shielded our eyes from even seeing anything.





That afternnoon, some of us went back to paint and others stayed at the seminary to rest, since we were not all needed to paint. I stayed behind to rest. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I felt so guilty, but I really needed a little break. I had not talked to the boys all week. I had only talked to Rod once when we got there because my cell phone did not work (although AT&T said it would). To be honest, I was feeling a little panicky; I just needed to hear their voices and I could go on and finish out the week. Here is a little excerpt from a prayer I wrote in my journal that day:

Lord,
I am so tired and I miss my family so badly. I feel so drained and have nothing more to give. It is so hard for me to keep my eyes focused on you...........
I give you all of these broken pieces and ask that you give me your strength, your power, your healing so that I can perservere to the end. Give me a love for your people and help me to finish well. I love You.


Wednesday night the girls sat around working on our testimonies and sharing Scripture with each other. It was such a precious time together and God reminded me of Hebrews 10:23-25. The theme of our sermon series at church says, "The covenant by which we belong to Christ creates a community by which we belong to each other." We experienced this all week and it was awesome.
Thursday








Thursday morning I felt so refreshed. The Lord had indeed given me His strength to perservere, as I wrote in my journal that morning:
You have shown me that to live is Christ and to die to myself is gain. I desire to abandon it all for your sake.
We did another VBS at the church where we worshipped on Sunday. We ate a homemade lunch at the pastor's house, which we the best meal we had while we were in Guatemala. Then in the afternoon, we went into two different schools to share the Gospel, openly, unashamedly. It's sad you have to go to a developing country to be able to share Christ in a school. Anyway, a few of us shared our testimony and then our leader shared the Gospel using a Spanish tract that opens out into the shape of a cross, which incidentally, is the most widely recognized symbol in the world. We did this altogether in five classrooms. Many raised their hands to say they had accept Christ. The pastor told us that he had talked with the students after we did and about 38 had accepted Christ. What an awesome day!
Friday










Friday was our "day off." It was a day spend going to Antigua to see the ruins of Columbus era churches and monestaries. We went up a mountain and had a beautiful view of the city and three volcanos. We shopped a little at a market, ate lunch at a fancy hotel restaurant, bought some coffee, and packed for the trip home. Friday was also sort of a transition day to help us get prepared mentally and emotionally to go back home after all we had experienced. It was a fun day and I really enjoyed spending it with all of the girls and Patty, our translator, who was so much more than that; she instantly became like a like a friend that we had known forever.




Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dios Bendiga a Guatemala

(God bless Guatemala)



This post is going to take a while to write, as I am still trying to process all that has happened in a mere week. I saw God work last week in a way that I have never experienced before; and despite my nerves about going, I am so humbled and grateful that God allowed me to be a part of His work there. I must go ahead and summarize the take-away from the trip:

God is faithful

Well, I guess I shall start from the beginning:


Saturday


Our plane was scheduled to leave Birmingham at 6 a.m. so we had to be at the airport at 5, which meant leave my house at 4:30, which meant get up at 3:30. I said my goodbyes to my boys and rode with a friend to the airport. Everyone made it through security and onto the plane, but somehow the plane missed the clearance for taking off and we had to wait for about 30 to 45 minutes for clearance again. This put us getting to the Atlanta airport with just enough time to run through the gate as they were saying "final boarding call" for our flight. Thankfully they held the flight and we made it just in time. We arrived in Guatemala City and were picked up by our drivers and taken to the Baptist Seminary, where we were going to be staying.








The remainder of the day was spent getting settled and preparing our VBS materials for the week. We assembled grocery bags full of rice, beans, sugar, oil, and cereal to take to Tabitha House, the ministry we would be working with. Tabitha House is a ministry began by Carol, a Guatemalan believer to help mothers and children in the most poverty-stricken area of Guatemala City, known as the "dump." It is quite literally a community that has been built up around a landfill. Tabitha House is right on the edge of the dump, in a rented building that Carol uses as a day care for children and a sewing center for the mothers. She has been teaching them to sew in order to bring them income and also to fund the ministry. We were told that it costs around $2000 per month to run this ministry and that Carol uses much of her own income to run it. She took us to Tabitha House to drop off the 40 grocery bags we made and to look at the area we would be working in. Upon arriving, I was completely overwhelmed with what I saw. When we pulled up in front of the Tabitha House, there were children playing in the dirtiest street I have ever seen. They were so happy to see us and appeared starved for attention. Inside Tabitha House was not much cleaner. It mainly consisted of one long room that served as the day care for the younger children, a bathroom and sink area, and then a small room in the back with about three cribs in it. Upstairs there was a kitchen area, a partially open area (with no complete roof) and another classroom that was used for the older children (about ages 4-8). These pictures do not accurately depict what it was like, but they give you some idea.


The peach colored building is the Tabitha House



Inside the main room at Tabitha House & the Kitchen at Tabitha House




Upstairs at Tabitha House




The sink at Tabitha House. God have mercy on me the nexttime I complain about doing the dishes.



clothes dryer on the roof!



Sunday



Sunday morning we went to worship at Jerusalen Baptist Church (spelled correctly). I was not sure what to expect, since I have never been to a worship service in Spanish. The congregation was very welcoming and made us feel at home. They sang many of the same songs we sing at Brook Hills, in Spanish of course. A woman, who spoke almost no English, sang "Open the Eyes of My Heart" for us in English and it was very moving. I was surprised at how worshipful the service felt to me, even though it was in another language. I thought about when people from every nation, tribe, and tongue will worship together around the throne with glorious diversity and perfect unity! Oh that that day would come!





After going to a restaurant (above) for lunch, we divided into groups, according to what we would be doing the following morning. I was part of the group taking groceries to the "dump" area. We got together and prayed that God would give us the faith that we needed to do the work He called us to do. No one (other teams or other Guatemalans) wants to go there and our translator told us that she had never been because her husband would not let her. She told us that it is a dangerous area where people are using drugs (mainly "huffing"). They huff to numb themselves to the pain of daily life and of hunger.
To be honest, I was afraid but I never thought of backing out. I knew this was what we came to do and God would either protect us or take us home. I was going whether I was afraid or not. That night I prayed so hard that God would take that fear and give me peace about going.


Monday



I woke up with complete peace. Really. I had total peace about going and even was excited about it! When we arrived, we began walking down the street and alleyways between the houses, trying to comprehend what we saw. Many of the houses only had dirt floors, as in dirt on top of garbage on top of dirt. The walls were made out of anything and everything, plastic banners, pieces of tin, whatever. Some with no running water or electricity. I don't think I want to know about the bathroom situation, but I only remember seeing one. Most of the houses did not have a complete roof, meaning there was some portion of the house that was open to the elements. One woman, one of the first we visited, said that her house floods every time it rains. She and her husband and six children slept in one tiny, dark room. They had no running water or electricity and they paid $100 a month for this place. There were chickens in a corner of the uncovered part of the house, just off the little area where she prepared food.

The other woman we visited that stands out in my mind had two children, ages 3 and 1 who were both very sick. She appeared as if she had given up hope. She looked so weary, as if she did not have the desire to go on anymore. Just about all that she had was a bed and a chest of drawers. There was no where else to sit and the floor was dirt. There was garbage from the dump everywhere. It was no wonder the children were sick. It was awful. We brought medicine and gave the children antibiotic shots (in Guatemala, you do not need a prescription for almost any kind of medicine, just the money to buy it.) The next day, we did see the younger one and she looked a little better.



In the afternoon, another group went to the dump, while we painted the Tabitha House. When they returned, they told us about one of the worst situations we witnessed the entire time we were there. They had visited a home in which they met two children, Alfredo, age 5, and Katherine, age 2. There mother is a drug addict and physically abuses them. They have also been abused in other ways. The whole group broke down and could not go on for a while, they were so saddened and struck by this situation. They met and talked to their mother, who was described as not caring about her children.
Just yesterday, I received an email that this mother had brought the children and left them at Tabitha House while she was high. She had burned Alfredo's face and they had been abused again. The ladies at the Tabitha House were happy to take the children and keep them safe. A couple of days later some people that they had been living with came to get the children. The ladies knew that these people wanted to SELL THEM and would not let them have the children. The people threatened to go to the authorities because they had the children and were not related to them. I tell you this not to make you sad, but to ask you to pray every time you think of this situation. We need God to intervene in this situation to prevent these precious children from being another statistic of children sold into slavery.

This first day was very hard to process. The dump was so much more.....everything......than we could have imagined. It was hard to see any hope there, but that night, our leader J.T. challanged us to pray that we would not just focus on what the enemy is doing at the dump, but what God is doing there. We all earnestly prayed that night that we would see God, that He would reveal Himself in that place and we would see hope.


Tuesday


Inside Josephina's house, one of the better ones

God answered our prayer! His presence and His work was evident in every home we went in. From the woman who asked us to pray for her extended family, to meeting her family and being asked to come inside and pray over a newborn baby, to a father who loved his family and desperately wanted to provide for them and be the spiritual leader in his home, to a teen who had injured his knee and couldn't go anywhere while we shared the Gospel with him!! He did not accept bacause of what he would have to give up to become a Christian, but we know that the Holy Spirit will work in his heart. Everywhere we looked, God was at work.
The most evident was in the home of Virginia and Melina. Melina was a believer, but Virginia was not. They were both prostitutes and Virginia was pregnant. We shared the Gospel and our testimonies with her and Virginia gave her life to Christ. We also prayed over her, that God would free her from the bondage she was in. As J.T. was praying, the dog outside went completely crazy. I have never heard such a frantic, urgent, panicked bark in my life. The louder J.T. prayed for the enemy to flee, the louder the dog barked. We all knew that the evil that had been in that home had gone into that dog, without a doubt.

As we were leaving, Melina asked us if she could go with us. We had no idea why, but we said "sure." We visited a couple of other homes and she stayed outside. Then we went to visit a woman named Catalina, After she told us her story and asked us to pray for her family, she told us that we also needed to pray for Melina. She asked Melina to come inside and tell us her story. Melina came in and began telling us how she and her children are mistreated living with Virginia. She has no where else to go and feels like committing suicide often. Virginia's father built the house and is also very mean to her and her children. We could see the pain on her face and in her tears and she poured out her heart to us. Then J.T. encouraged her to pray about it, while we interceeded for her and supported her with our prayers. As Melina began to pray, another dog outside began barking wildly. I know it sounds crazy, but at that point, it all made sense to us. I know that the demonic oppression that woman had been under was lifted that day. We knew exactly why Melina asked to go with us, God had already known, He just let us in on it!


Melina and Virginia (holding Bible)



This is such a long post and there is so much more, I'll do the rest soon in another post.



Me painting!