Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Winter Furlough Schedule

The family will be back in the US from the end of Nov to early Jan. If you'd like to get together, let us know ( Here's our speaking schedule:

Nov 23 - Ridgepointe Fellowship, Dallas, TX
Nov 30 - New Braunfels Bible Church, New Braunfels, TX
Dec 7 - Vista Ridge Bible Fellowship - Lewisville, TX
Dec 28 - Holiday Island Community Church - Holiday Island, AR
Jan 4 - Centerpoint Church - Mesquite, TX

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Inspector PooPoo

—Warning: Proceed with caution—

Part One:
"Michael! Come quickly!" When you hear your wife screaming your name in Texas, your mind immediately turns to what you left on the grill, what you forgot to leave hanging next to the toilet (if you're a guy, the answer is toilet paper), or possibly something funny your child might have done. Alternatively, when you hear the desperate cries of your wife in Guatemala your mind imagines bludgeoning, some sort of vile stomach illness, which will certainly end in something being expelled from one of two ends (or both), or any variety of prehistoric vermin that you will soon be called on to spear, smash, or shoo out the front door. Unfortunately, on this occasion, my intuition failed me.

What stood before me that day will haunt me for the rest of my days. If you called it our introduction to Guatemala or a sick joke played on us by some nefarious succubus sent up by none other than Satan himself, you'd be dead wrong. It was real. It was a living, breathing, walking, tail-wagging nightmare. Our German Shepherd had found the surprises, which had been lobbed daily over our wall.

In order to give you a little bit of context, due to the endemic violence in Guatemala, most missionaries live in neighborhoods that have been walled off and are guarded by scary men with sawed-off shotguns. If you were to enter into one of these neighborhoods, you would most likely find more walls. Each of the houses in our neighborhood have been surrounded by walls for security reasons. In addition, our wall has two rows of barbed wire on top.

Part Poo (2):
"What about the surprise I mentioned earlier?" you ask. Here goes. Warning, danger ahead! Hanging on our barbed wire, scattered around one corner of our yard, and at times ripped open and rolled in by the wild dog who roams our property, who we affectionately call one of the family (Dublin, our dog), were grocery bags of various colors and sizes. These bags did not include groceries or even trash but instead poopoo. Daily, almost immediately after moving into our new home, we began to be bombarded by bags of feces, excrement, manure, body waste, dung, or as it's better known in our house, poopoo. What made this act so egregious was not its name but rather its source. It wasn't fertilizer or even waste from a pet. It came from an intelligent life form or as I was thinking at the moment, an unintelligent life form. I will spare you the details of how we knew it was human (smell... ok sorry for that image), but needless to say, we wanted the feces to cease.

This is where Inspector PooPoo makes his grand entrance. After evaluating the trajectory of these "presents," dangling from our barbed wire, there were only two possible suspects: (1) The Bodega (little store) or (2) The Vivero (Plant nursery). After completing a thorough investigation and completing embarrassing myself in front of the owner of the nursery ("We have a bathroom. That's disgusting!"), we concluded that these bags must be coming from the little shop where the workers all live but do not have a bathroom. After talking with the manager, our neighborhood security, which has jurisdiction over them, and the owner of the shop, management changed and the feces ceased.

You are probably wondering, "Why are we waiting a year to tell this story?" While a snowball fight might be quite a hoot, having human excrement lobbed at you and finding out that your dog enjoys rolling in it isn't exactly funny. Fast-forward a year, it's hilarious. We just want to give you a small glimpse of one of the "funny?" events that we have survived this year. As a side note, we now affectionately call the Bodega, "PooPoodega." Since we pass it on a daily basis, we now have a funny jingle that I like to sing while I watch the girls pat out tortillas by hand while we wait in line to go through security, "Poopoodega... poopoodega..." Not very catchy but funny nonetheless.

"What's the moral of the story?" you ask. I'm not sure there is one. We were calm (ok, Gina was about to lose it but didn't) and polite. We learned in our pre-field training to confront cultural conflicts with the words, "It's not wrong, just different." Some things are indeed different. Some things are just wrong... on so many levels!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Semana Santa (Holy Week)

Every year during Semana Santa, Antigua is inundated with families taking part in the processions as well as those who come to observe. We had a chance today to learn more about the Guatemalan culture by watching one of the processions. Below are pictures with commentary.
Participants dressed in white and/or black (girls) or purple (boys).

A little boy walking towards the church where the procession would begin.

A young mayan girl watching the festivities. 
An elaborately crafted alfombra (carpet) inside the church Nuestra Señora de la Merced made of fruits, vegetables, bread, and colored sawdust. These carpets mix both Catholic and Mayan traditions. When idols were transferred from one location to another, the priests would carry the idols in a solemn procession over carpets of pine, flowers, and feathers. The processions during Semana Santa carry scenes from the Passion Week over alfombras.

The picture of Jesus is actually a cake that someone brought as an offering.

The focus of Semana Santa is the death of Christ. While the resurrection can be seen in certain symbols (i.e. butterfly), the week's emphasis is on His suffering, crucifixion, and death.

Waiting for the procession.

Not everyone gets to take part in the processions. This is just another work day for this little girl.
Over 50 boys carry this float of Jesus carrying the cross. It weighs several thousand pounds, so each one is responsible for at least 40 pounds. That's a lot for these kids, which look to be between 10 and 12 years old. They carry the float over cobblestone streets while swaying back and forth. 

It looks heavy! Of course a lot of kids in the US carry 40 pounds of books in their backpacks everyday... except for the districts which have stopped issuing textbooks to kids (not that I have an opinion).

Mary sits atop the second float. The girls' float is much shorter and doesn't weigh nearly as much as the boys' float, but some of these girls probably don't weigh more than 60-70 pounds! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Having a Baby in a Third World Country (from the Father's Perspective)*

Almost nine months ago, we moved to Guatemala to begin our new life as missionaries. Along with our three year old, our killer German Shepherd, and a pile of suitcases full of liquids not available in Guatemala, we shipped a 20' container full of what remained of our earthly belongings. In that 20'X8'X8' steel box were 7 rubber-maids of our daughter's old cloths and everything we needed for a second child, from furniture down to baby bottles. In hindsight, after paying $10 for a pacifier yesterday, we're glad that we brought every ounce of reusable, slightly drooled on, baby accessories. Our stockpile of everything baby probably paid for our container to be shipped from Dallas to Guatemala. Nonetheless, the joke was on us. Welcome boy. Yes, we thought about dressing him in pink, but he'll already have to ride a pink rocking horse, sport pink covers to his carseat straps, and slobber all over himself in a pink bumbo seat. Surely that's as much trauma as a little boy could endure.

Even before learning that we were pregnant (ok, just Gina was technically prego), we had already decided to have the baby here, on the field, in Guatemala, into the great unknown, where baby food grows on trees in the form of bananas and they wrap up their babies like Christmas presents. We can be rather adventurous—we brought our 10 week old to Guatemala in 2010—but there are some things to think about before having a baby overseas. Here are a couple of things that we've learned.

1. Having a baby overseas is a cultural experience - Where do I begin? First, everything was in Spanish. When the doctor leaned over to me, seconds before slicing my wife open and extracting my son from her belly, she said, "¿Solamente cesárea o esterilización también?" It wasn't that I didn't understand the question (c-section or sterilization too?), but we have a word for that in the US—lawsuit. Can you imagine the headlines? "Husband forces wife to be sterilized on operating table." We both would have been serving time. In hindsight, it would have saved me some pain in the future. Second, we had air conditioning in our room at the hospital, but you'd have thought it was a new invention based upon the nurse's reaction. "The baby's cold." "We can't bring in your baby until you turn it off." "You need to put a hat, jacket, mittens, snow suit, etc." Gina woke up in the middle of the night, while Josiah was out of the room, to two nurses with the remote control, desperately trying to turn the air conditioning off. Apparently they didn't want her to fall ill during the middle of the night or pass some northern eskimo disease to the baby. Little did they know that Josiah is half Michigander. Surely his blood can take it. Finally, one of the funniest cultural stories happened when we were told that we should not take the baby out of the house for 40 days. Evidently the baby cannot endure the perilous outside world for the first 6 weeks of its life. However, breathing the black smoke pouring out from the tale pipe of a chicken bus, I might just be a believer. Today, we were shopping in a grocery store in the capital when a family adoringly peaked over into Josiah's stroller. "Precious! I can't believe you have him out in the street already. How brave! I stayed home for a year with my child." Don't tell the new HHS Secretary. She might just add that into the healthcare law.

2. Healthcare is different overseas - Yes, this technically goes under #1, but really everything could be written off as a cultural experience. Believe it or not, if you move overseas, you can't keep your doctor. It's not Obama's fault this time. It's just life. Nevertheless, we have found great doctors. We had two doctors operating on Gina and one was an oncologist. They must have been running a 2 for 1 special that day. But seriously, we got two and they were there for a whole lot longer than doctors stick around in the US. "Alright, the head's almost out. I've really got to get my Starbucks fix. Dad, you got this one?" That's definitely a positive. However, somethings are somewhat annoying. The fact that they take your baby away for hours to put him under the heating lamps so that he doesn't freeze to death, in the hottest month in a city that has been described as the eternal spring, is slightly annoying. The fact that they have a different immunization schedule is just smart. In the US, babies get a hepatitis vaccination early on. In Guatemala, children receive TB first, a vaccination not commonly given in the US. TB is common here and highly contagious. It makes good sense. Sometimes different is bad. Sometimes different is just different. Sometimes different is actually better.

3. Paperwork nightmares 
- When we had Emma, we automatically received a birth certificate in the mail. It was easy. After two days of bathing in a government bureaucratic nightmare Guatemala calls RENAP, we finally received Josiah's birth certificate. Being born in Guatemala, he has the opportunity to obtain dual citizenship. With the birth certificate in hand, he became a chapin, a Guatemalan. Then we attempted to get his Guatemalan passport but hit a road block. We needed a piece of paper saying that Gina and I are not illegal immigrants but in the process of becoming permanent residents. Coming from Texas, we thought that this was pretty funny. We'll try again in two weeks. Next we need to report his birth abroad at the US Embassy and apply for a passport. Why do we need two passports for a 1 week old? In order to get into the US, he needs a US passport. In order to enter Guatemala again without a tourist visa that only lasts 90 days, even though he's a citizen, he'll need a Guatemalan passport. Complicated? Yes! Worth it? Absolutely! If Josiah wants to do missions in the future, he'll have two passports and two citizenships to work with instead of just one.

4. Stuff to drool on - Every country is different in regards to pricing and availability of baby accessories, but Guatemala is on the high end. Almost everything is imported except for vegetables, sugar, and coffee. Thus, Dr. Brown bottles cost an arm and a leg. You could almost multiply US prices by 2, 3, or 4 depending on how common it is due to high import costs
. Diapers and formula are the exception. They probably cost 150% of what they would cost at Sams or Costco in the US. Clothes? Double. Rare items like Dr. Brown bottles or good pacifiers? Quadruple. We loaded up our container with everything Emma ever touched—furniture, bottles, toys, swing, wagon, strollers, car seats, and more. If we would have had a girl, we would have paid for our container in drooled-on-onesies and target accessories.

There you have it. Whether you're interested in what it was like for us, might be like for you, or needed some riveting reading material in order to induce sleep, that's our story.


* Gina is in the process of telling her story. Coming soon ...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

Today we visited an often disregarded and ignored spot on the map—the Guatemala City dump. Walking toward the overlook, our senses were going crazy. Dust infiltrated our mouths and began scratching at our eyeballs. Rotting trash filled our nostrils. Vultures circled overhead, and death saturated the air. Believe it or not, this is where many of the poorest Guatemalans rummage for something to sell in order to put food on the table. What we would think of as a health rise—simply breathing the air here takes years off of your life—is life for many of the inhabitants of Zone 3 in Guatemala City. Below are the pictures we captured from today.

The dust rises as the trucks file in to dump what has already been rummaged through by the garbage collectors. 

After the trash is dumped, men and women rummage through it again, looking for something of value.

Men and women digging through the discards of others.

A closer look at the previous picture. They are on the edge of a cliff of trash.

Vultures continually circle the dump.
In the midst of what most would regard as a hopeless situation, a ministry has arisen, founded by a SETECA graduate. It is called "Casita Benjamin." Thanks to a friend from Michael's school back in the US, we were able to bring food to drop off and love on the 45 children in their program. Each day, from sunup to sundown, the ladies of Casita Benjamin fill the bellies of these kids and nourish their minds. Their families lack money to give them enough nutrition and the adequate education to feed their minds. The ministry not only makes their bodies healthier but gives them a brighter future as well, attempting to break the cycle of poverty. Most importantly, these ladies use the ministry to share the Bread of Life with the kids and their families. In the midst of a hopeless situation, Casita Benjamin is giving hope to a group of people, who most would choose to ignore. While we all live in a fallen world, we have a Savior who promises eternal life to all who believe in Him. Truly good news!

This is just one ministry spawned by the faculty and students of SETECA, the largest Spanish-speaking seminary in the world, where Michael and Gina both teach. It's exciting to see the impact of SETECA on one small slice of Latin America.

The cook and the director. Both of them clearly love their job.
One of the kids dying to get her picture taken.

After lunch stupor. 

One of the classes of children.

"Jesus loves the children"

Saturday, December 7, 2013

La Quema del Diablo

As I type this post, the sound of explosions are ringing out from the neighborhoods around us. This isn't unusual for a weekend night here in Guatemala. But tonight it sounds like we're in the middle of a battlefield, which in one sense is true. We are in the midst of a battle for the souls of man.

Today is one day, in a long list of festivals, that Guatemalans look forward to. It's a day much like Ash Wednesday in New Orleans, minus the parades, excellent food, and debauchery during the weeks that lead up to the event. December 7th is a day to burn away the bad, the sin in your life, and to start anew. It's known here as "La Quema del Diablo" or "The Burning of the Devil." For weeks, street vendors have had little red devils lined up along the streets to prepare for the festivities. Families all across Guatemala have been buying little devils to take home to their houses. Who wouldn't want to open their home up to the devil, right? He's enjoyed his time on this Earth, eating and drinking with the families of Guatemala, but enough is enough! Without a last meal or wish, he has been executed. For all across the land, families, friends, and neighbors have gotten together to burn their "devil." He symbolizes all of the trash of the former year: the sin, the pain, and the hurt. They believe that they are burning all of the evil from the past year, starting anew, and making way for Mary.

It's a sad celebration when you think about it. They believe that there is something magical about burning a Satan piñata. A sign below the Devil statue in Antigua (pictured to the right) ends with "All of you who use your tongue badly, I will be waiting for you in Hell" (paraphrase). At the heart of this festival is a lack of hope. They honestly believe that if their "good" outweighs their "bad," they'll end up in heaven. This unfortunately isn't consistent with the Bible: 
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).
They think they need to deal with their sins by burning them away, but they don't have a sin problem, they have a faith problem. They also believe that they must continually make this sacrifice each and every year to erase their sins, but Christ's work is complete:
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:11-14).
Gina and I are excited about this next year. We have the opportunity to train pastors, who will take the world by storm, teaching and preaching the good news all around the world. Our world is in need of good Biblical teaching.