Thursday, July 9, 2020

Helping the Hungry

We began giving out food to the hungry is a "small" way, focusing on the 100 seniors adults in the breakfast program in Santa Lucia, where our woman's home and our tutoring center are located. A home church felt led to donate to our ministry and we decided to use their resources in this way rather than saving it for future needs.  We worked through the social service office there, and we were able to personally deliver the food bags to each person with the help of the Women's Office, under whom we work.  

Our food staging area,
a.k.a. the guest bedroom in my home.

Food bags waiting to go out

Then the staff working in our homes began taking food to those in their home towns who they knew were hungry.  

Little did I know that was only the beginning. Supporters sent in special donations and we prayerfully decided as a local ministry team, how we would use these special donations.  

People who need food are placing white flags outside their homes.  Some are standing on street corners with flags, begging for food.  In one afternoon we gave out over 15 bags.  We have learned, though, that this is not the best way to help, since some are exploiting the system and selling the food they have received, or are paid to stand on the street and beg, and then turning the food over to their "employers" who would in turn sell it.  I still, though, carry food with me when I travel because I can't pass by some who are frail and elderly and not help.

Gradually, people started coming to my door asking for food.  We began giving what we had.  After one afternoon in which I gave out 27 bags of food in an hour and a half, it became apparent we needed a more structured approach.  We started "sign ups" and people were assigned days and times to come for their food.  These people are our neighbors, and we could not turn them away when we had the means to help them.

This last week has been the most intense yet, and I have to admit the most tiring.  In 8 days we have given out over 350 food bags to residents of our town, but because of the large amount of need, most of these only contained about 5 # of beans and rice and a bag of enriched hot drink.  These bags cost us about $10 each.  We did this entire distribution from the door of my house, if you can imagine with the help of the residents of our men's home and their staff.

I can hardly get my head around the idea that in 8 days we spent over $3500 on this project, but God has provided and we will give as long as possible.  Going forward, we have decided to only continue to give only to the elderly, 65 years old,  on a bi-weekly basis unless we receive a special large donation to once again bless our town.  We identified these elderly through our large distribution and have invited them to come every other Saturday for a food bag, as long as we have funds to do so.  You cannot imagine their gratitude and the tears that come when we tell them we are giving them food to remind them that God sees their need.  Humbling beyond words. 

We are also working the the sub-mayor in a village near here which is part of Antigua.  His area has not received any help from the city, and he knows his people well and they have been in desperate need.  

Here Oscar and Officer Cifuentes are bringing diapers
we have donated to a home for the elderly because
Oscar had heard they had none.
Though the police are in short supply these days, they have been serving as our go between with this public official, taking out bags of food to those in need at night after our 6 pm curfew.  To do so during the day is too difficult, since they are instantly swarmed by people asking for food, some of who undoubtedly need it but others who do not and just see an opportunity to get something for nothing.  Working with the sub-mayor has been very helpful in this regard.  They are concerned that I believe they are actually taking the food to people who need it, so each night they go out they send me pictures or video of each stop they make, as well as calling me on the phone when some of the recipients want to thank me personally.  

We send out about 20 bags each week with our police friends, and these folks receive a bit more, including salt, oatmeal, sugar, soup mix, pasta and oil.  Still not a lot but the basics of food here.  These run about $15 a bag, since prices here have shot up considerably since this started.

Just yesterday I went with Doña Betty, the cook at our men's home, and Rosey, who is married to one of our caregivers, to a Colonia far behind one of the towns near here.  I didn't even know this place existed until Betty told me about it.

We are so grateful to everyone who has made these food distributions possible through your generous donations.  If you have thought that your $10 or $25 couldn't do much to help, you now know that it will help feed a family for at least a week.  It does matter, and like with the fishes and the loaves, God multiplies what we have.  I have yet to run out of food when there is a need, though sometimes we get down to the last bag of beans before more come in.

If you feel God is leading you to help feed our friends here in Guatemala, you can donate through our website, or send a check to Reason to Hope, Inc., P.O.Box 284, Elkhorn, NE 68022.  Your donations is tax-deductible, and will go straight to us in Guatemala.  

Monday, June 15, 2020

Current conditions in Guatemala

Most of this post was written by my friend Daryl Fulp. He explains the situation here accurately and eloquently:

Daryl writes:

This is our second straight weekend without complete lockdown of the country. Prior to that, no one was allowed out of their homes from 6pm Friday until 5am Monday. They are opening select city bus systems this weekend for the first time since early March, but chicken buses are still not permitted. A curfew remains in effect every night from 6pm until 5am. Many businesses are still prohibited from opening, but in lots of regions they are ignoring the orders. Masks are still required, and failure to wear one can result in a substantial fine.

In spite of months of restrictions, the cases of the virus continue to spike, averaging over 300 a day and usually between 15 and 25 deaths. Yesterday we had 421 new cases and 17 deaths. There is a scramble now to keep the national hospital system from collapsing. The most critical cases are sent to Roosevelt and San Juan de Dios in Guatemala City, with the less severe cases sent to temporary hospitals. 

The previously pathetic ICUs are completely overwhelmed, and they have no where near the number of respirators needed. The respiratory therapists working with the more severe cases are threatening to walk out unless they receive more protective equipment and more help, as they are overwhelmed and working long hours. The government is prioritizing supplies for the above named hospitals, but that means the other hospitals are being shorted while also receiving additional non-virus cases that are redirected from the other hospitals that are treating the Covid 19 patients. In addition, local health centers are being shorted on both staffing and supplies.

Meanwhile, because of the crowded conditions in the hospitals, they have announced that families who have a loved one die only have six hours to make arrangements to remove the body, or the government will dispose of it. The problem is that, due to the hospitals being overwhelmed and inefficient, some families are not receiving calls at all, and their loved ones are buried before they know.

We are encountering many families with sick relatives, but they are afraid to go to the hospital lest they catch the virus. As a result, we will never know the true death toll of this illness from both direct and indirect cause.

So, we continue to keep our heads down and serve, one day at a time. This is not a time for the church to argue and complain. It is a time to shine in the darkness. Please pray that we are faithful in reflecting our world’s only Hope: Jesus. Thanks.

We have partnered with Love Guatemala Canada to provide supplies and encouragement to our local national hospital, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the great need.  Please pray for our health care workers, as they are overwhelmed, under equipped and tired.  In some villages, doctors and nurses are impeded from returning to their own homes because the townspeople fear they will bring the virus with them.  Unfortunately, this has been the case in some areas, including the town where 3 of our workers come from. 

Line to get into banks here, which are normal, have grown to unreasonable lengths, making a simple withdrawal take up to an hour or more.  There are lines to enter grocery stores, since only a limited number can enter at one time.  There are lines to get gas, and lines to enter towns and cities.  All of which, coupled with the strict curfews, creates a lot of impatience and frustration.

An update based on the President's address last night is that we are now only allowed to drive our vehicles 2-3 days a week for the next two weeks, based on our license plate numbers.  Travel outside our department (think country) is prohibited and many towns are closing their entrances to those who do not live there.  

Saturday I was advised that the factory next door to our men's house has been closed because 19 workers have been identified as having the virus.  It now literally is at our front door.  The residents have been "sheltered in place" since this began, but this is putting new challenges before us in terms of bringing in supplies and food.  Our small village is not closed down, but the folks are scared.  People continue to come to the door for food, and we have packs prepared that we can give them with minimum contact.  

But this is hard.  Our work is intensely relational, and it is difficult to build and maintain relationships when you cannot have contact.  Unfortunately this is necessary for the safety of all involved, but again, it is hard.

Friday, April 24, 2020

But what can I do?

During these times of uncertainty, God is calling us to stand firm on His promises, and respond as those who love our neighbors as ourselves. Hard to do when facing the great unknown, but, really, each day we face the unknown, only this pandemic has caused us to realize how little control we really do have over our future. Today is not any different than 45 days ago when things felt normal. We cannot add a minute to our lives by our worry, so let's focus on what we can do.
If you are fortunate enough to have resources, share them. Just that. I would encourage you not to respond out of fear of not having enough. Enough for most of us in the US is way more than what we need. (I say this because I have realized how much I live like I did in the US, and have more than what I need.) God promises us our daily bread, but I have been living on cake and ice cream. I have made some changes and encourage you to consider how He might be asking you to change your lifestyle.
I know many of you are financially challenged at this time, and wondering what you can do to help others when you are struggling to care for yourselves. First, I would encourage you to ask God for direction.
Do what you can to help those around you who are struggling. If God brings someone to you, respond. He knows your needs as well as theirs.
But I caution you not to fall into the trap of thinking only about material help. Emotional support and encouragement cost nothing and are vital at this time. Look for the positive in what is happening around you, and share this with others. Let your social media posts glorify God and what He is doing, rather than predict doom. Nothing is changed by social media venting, and much damage can be done both to yourself and others. Be careful.
Take a minute to thank the person at the cash register for coming to work. If you have contact with "front line" workers, tell them they are appreciated. Look for how others are kind to you and thank them. Write notes or emails of encouragement to those who God places on your mind.
And, above all else, cover these things in prayer. Let it be said after this that those who follow Christ have brought Him honor and glory in these times. Others have before us, and let us honor them by doing the same.

Friday, February 14, 2020


If you have been following my posts on Matthew through Facebook, not much of this is new, but there are a few added details.

 This is Matthew a 20 month old who is our newest and youngest client at our center in Santo Tomas.

Matthew arrived with a variety of needs, including cerebral palsy and crossed eyes.  Born prematurely along with his brother, Jeremy (yes, the family likes North American names!), his family reports that his problems really began after he suffered respiratory arrest when he was 3 months old.  As is typical here, it is impossible to get medical records, but, whatever the cause he has significant developmental delays.

I love this picture which shows the close bond
between Matthew and his mom.
Though his mom only has a sixth grade education, she has diligently searched for help for her son.  Through the internet she has found exercises to do to help strength his muscles and stimulate his mind.  Everywhere she looked for help she was turned away.  Then she heard about our program through the city hall in Santa Lucia and was the first to see me when we opened our doors for the new year.

Our first step was to send him to Hermano Pedro to see a pediatrician and be evaluated for possible eye surgery.  This had been recommended to the family in the past, but at the cost of over $1000 was far beyond their means.  After receiving my referral, Mom and Grandma had Matthew at the doors of the clinic at 5 a.m. to make sure he could get in to see a pediatrician.

At the time we had no idea how important this connection with a doctor would be (more on that later).  The pediatrician did in fact recommend he see a neurologist at the hospital, as well as one of the ophthalmologists who would be coming down with a surgical team.  

Matthew, Jeremy, and their older sister Karen

I began working with Matthew at his home a couple of afternoons each week, since it is nearly impossible for his mom to wrangle him, his twin brother and his 7 year old sister Karen for the 3 km trip to the center in Santo Tomas.  He loved these sessions.

The whole family gets involved in Matthew's education

One of Matthew's needs was a wheelchair, since his size was making it harder and harder for his tiny mom to carry him. 

In his typical manner, Dick Rutgers was right on top of this request, and only a few days later, he and Bryan joined me in measuring Matthew for a chair.  Dick thought he had the perfect chair for Matthew in the warehouse, and the next week we were back at the house, fitting Matthew with his new wheels.

Matthew wanted to make sure Dick adjusted the
chair "just right" so decided to help him out.

The following week, Matthew saw the neurologist and was scheduled for an EEG and also a hearing test.  Matthew does not speak or imitate sounds, and mom rightly has been concerned about his hearing.

Before he could even be seen for the EEG, Matthew had the first of what would be a series of seizures.  This is where God's Providence in having us already connected with a pediatrician and neurologist was so very important.  While I don't quite understand the diagnosis of "structural epilepsy," and while no one can explain why his seizures only started now, we are grateful for these connections to help his family manage this new challenge.

As is often the case, it took a bit of trial and error, but Matthew is now on medication which is controlling his seizures.  These medications, however, make it hard for him to sleep, and he is unusually irritable.  This has been so challenging for the family, but they are hanging in there.  Just yesterday the doctor prescribed something to help him relax and hopefully the whole family will get some sleep soon.

So for now, our infant stimulation is on hold while we resolve his medical issues, though we continue to visit the family a few times a week and are in frequent phone contact.  

In the midst of all this, Karen started first grade
and we made sure she felt special with a
bright new backpack.
Eye surgery is in the distant future since his seizures need to be under control before he can undergo anesthesia.  We are praying, too, that we can find the trigger which started the seizures, but we may never know.

Please keep this family in your prayers, as well as the doctors and those working with him.  These kind of medical issues are never easy, but for me, watching Matthew and his family face this has been especially hard.  

These parents are amazingly dedicated to Matthew's care, as well as the well-being of their other two children.  They appreciate every small thing that is done for them, and, except for asking me to work with Matthew, expect nothing of us but our friendship and encouragement.  

We have chosen to help with Matthew's medical needs as much as we can.  If you would like to make a contribution to Matthew's medical care, you can donate through our Reason to Hope website, or send a check to the address on our donation page.  Please note that the donation is for Matthew's care, and we'll make sure it is directed appropriately.