Monday, July 13, 2020

Our response

The main part of this post is from an update to the board of Reason to Hope.  It gives an overview of how we are responding to the great need we see, and also a glimpse of how we are not able to respond.  It may be redundant if you have read my other posts, but is a good summary of our responsibility during the quarantine of Guatemala.

The situation here continues to be serious, if not worsening.  We have had 30+ doctors die from this disease since March 13.  Thirty doctors!  That number astounds me.  We have no number on nurses who have died, but I know many have become ill.  They are finding out that repeated exposure to the virus increases not only the likelihood of contracting the disease, but also how serious it will be if you contract it.  We just spent $500 to buy surgical masks for the local national hospital since they were running out.  



Another friend, Judy Bergen who heads Love Guatemala Canada is bringing clean drinking water for the patients and staff.  



We have not yet peaked in terms of new cases, and our department (county) is second highest in incidence.  We are limited in only driving every other day, based on our license plate number, and on Sunday's the country is completely closed.  Last night the president outlined a reopening plan to begin July 25, which will gradually reopen areas with the fewest cases.  It looks like we will be restricted for a long time yet in our town.


The airport remains closed indefinitely.  I could take a repatriation flight to the US, but the cost is exorbitant and it is uncertain when I could return to Guatemala.  God did not call me here just for when it was convenient, but I miss my family.  This is the longest I have gone without seeing them, and while virtual visits are great, it is not the same.

I can only go into the town of Santa Maria with special permission
to pick up our staff.
Even then, I must go through a "car wash" of bleach and cannot leave my car.
I go out only on the days when I have to provide transportation for our workers (there is currently no public transportation), and then limit where I go.  A small store next door to my house is doing our marketing for us since I am not allowed in the market because of may age.  It is the place most likely to contract the virus since "social distancing" is impossible in the tight spaces between market stalls.  

The husband of one of the staff at the women's house
is a tailor, and he is keeping me supplied 
with a variety of masks, including cartoon characters!

I have been living pretty isolated and not spending much time with the residents since I am the one going out and have the highest risk of bringing in the virus.

Visiting our women's house
enforcing "social distancing."
We have an entire police station near here which is under quarantine for 15 days because some of the officers have tested positive.  The impact that is having on the other police in the area is significant.  The officers in quarantine need food, since they are not being paid since they are not working, if you can imagine that.  No workman's comp here.  We have sent a about $250 in food to this station alone.


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.  To pull off this distribution the residents and staff, have been busy bagging bulk purchases, and Fidel and Moy, who are more physically resilient have helped with the distribution as well.  They are truly incredible. 





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 deliver as long as possible.  Going forward, we have decided to only continue to give to the elderly about 65 years old on a regular 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.

I wasn't sure what God would do with the extra rooms in my home, but I never expected He would turn a bedroom into a storage and packing room for food.




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.  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.















Additionally, we have provided food through our regular staff members to those in need in the villages in which they live.









I have received enough requests to accept new residents during the quarantine that it would mean opening another women's house.  I can't see this happening given our current finances, but the need is more evident as the situation becomes more critical.  It has broken my heart to say no, but until our regular donations increase I think it is irresponsible to do so.  One of these requests comes from a missionary family who took in a special needs young woman and now find themselves in over their heads.  I don't want to be in that position ever and am committed to maintain the quality of care needed for our residents even if that means turning away some who are deserving.  It's hard though, really hard.



Current conditions in Guatemala

I originally published this June 15.  Now, almost a month later, the situation is more serious.  Last week our numbers averaged over 1000 new cases daily, which may not seem like a lot, but, since we are the size of Kentucky, I think that would give you a frame of reference.  The last couple of days we have seen our numbers go down, but are still running between 750 and 900 new cases daily.  Last night another doctor died.  

Our department (county) is the second highest in the country in terms of incidence of new cases.  While we are one of the most populous areas, it is apparent that many here are not taking precautions seriously, especially in the municipal market.  I have managed to avoid going there as the small store next door to me will pick up whatever I need.  

We still have "lock down" on Sunday, which which will now begin at 2 pm and go until 5 am Monday.  Yesterday, however, I saw quite a bit of movement in our streets.  People are tired of staying home and getting restless.  When they do go out, they comply by wearing masks, but these masks are often under their chin.  Until someone you know dies from this, it doesn't seem real to many people.

My friend Daryl wrote this a month ago describing the collapse of our medical system.  If anything, it is worse now.  Those of you in the US can't imagine having patients sleeping on the floor in the corridors, but that is now common place here.  Medications are given sporadically, not for lack of concern, but because the meds are not available.  Situations in private hospitals are better, but few except the most wealthy can afford private care and must rely on the free national healthcare system.

We have been providing surgical masks to our local hospital.  It isn't much but masks, even inadequate ones, are the first line of defense for health care workers.  Can you imagine, medical staff, needing to beg for the most basic supplies, and yet continuing to come to work?  That is what we see daily.  Please pray for Guatemala, and especially those in the health care field who are valiantly fighting under impossible conditions to give what they know to be inadequate care because they have no other options.

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.

Police Partnership

At a time when there is much discussion over the role of law enforcement in the United States and the integrity of those who serve, I have felt God strongly calling us to support those who work in the National Police of Guatemala.  The needs of the community here in Guatemala, and the inability of the police to meet these needs, has forged a strong friendship that began years ago.

Our relationship with them began when a little girl with Down syndrome showed up alone at our house a couple of nights in a row.  I got to experience with them the frustrations of a broken Child Protective Service system, and their pain at having to return this girl to her neglecting family.  This was a glimpse into the hearts of some of these men who serve in a police department known for its corruption.

As we talked, I was able to ask them about their lives with God.  Some were Christ followers who told me how hard it is to live as a Christian while serving in the National Police.  Others were interested in Jesus as a concept, but were confused as to what it meant to follow Jesus as a disciple and not just a fan.  I didn't meet any, however, who were resistant or disinterested.
That surprised me.



When one commander stopped by to get some information from me, I asked how I could pray for him.  He asked for prayer to be a man of integrity when he was often not able to feed his own family because they police do not always receive their pay (this has gotten better since then) and have to pay their "expenses" (these include the gas for their patrol truck, its maintenance and repairs, its tires.  After getting to know more officers, I have learned that they even need to buy their own bullets, as well as their guns, uniforms, protective vests, and hand cuffs. This still is true and leaves me speechless.)  I had intended to remember him when I normally prayed, but he insisted that I pray with him right then and there.  This began a tradition of some officers coming to me for prayer.

Since I have moved back to San Pedro, which is right next to the substation of the police for our area, I am finding that a couple of patrols will stop in to check on me, visit and ask for prayer.  There is always a cup of coffee and some cookies waiting for them.  I have gotten used to them taking off their equipment and laying their weapons on my dining room table.  This shocked me at first, but they tell me how good it is to relax for a few minutes in a "safe place." While I sometimes feel my alone time is interrupted, I see this as a new ministry God is giving me.

Two days ago, my friends Carlos and Maynor stopped in for their coffee break.  As we talked, they shared that Carlos' family had a medical emergency, and they had both sent all their pocket money to his family who live about 90 minutes from here.  This meant that they had not eaten all day.  They did not share this asking for money, but only to share their struggles with a friend who cared.

As God would have it, I had just made a batch of chicken fajitas, and had a lot of leftovers, and was able to give them a late supper.  They kept telling me I didn't need to feed them, but if anyone knows what I learned from my Polish grandma, no one goes hungry if they come to my house!

Before they left, we prayed for them, and especially for the situation in Carlos' family.  There, in my living room, I witnessed a strong, macho police officer break into tears.  Carlos then proceeded to tell me how they had written out tickets for over $40 in fines that day, and what a temptation it had been to ask for a bribe instead of doing their job.  He said that he felt like God had seen their moral struggle , and provided them with supper and support so they would know He is with them.  What a honor to watch God work in the lives of these men.

Our police are also very short handed since a number of them are hospitalized with the Corona virus. A friends's husband who serves as an officer in Guatemala City spent over 6 weeks in the temporary hospital in the city.  He was finally discharged and returned to work the following day!


A whole substation near us is under quarantine since some of the officers tested positive for COVID.  This means 15 men are living together in barracks, and are not being paid since they are not working. No workman's comp here, though they undoubtedly contracted the virus while on duty.  We are helping to provide food for them through our friends at our substation.

While I have always respected the work the police do, I never imagined I would become their confidant and prayer warrior.  I wish I could say they always make good decisions and treat citizens with respect, but I know this is not true.  However, God has not called me to judge them but love them, and hopefully the power of His love will help them be better men and women and public servants.


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.  

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.