Saturday, January 27, 2018

"I'm Just Not Comfortable"--a response and a challenge

"Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed
by the renewing of your mind." Romans 12:2a

This blog has been in my mind and heart for a long time.  I have avoided it for a number of reasons, but primary among these is I don't want to offend my friends who have said this to me. (I'll explain later.)  More and more, especially through Scripture and reading the books written by Francis Chan, I have realized that being comfortable can be, and usually is, the enemy of being holy--more Christ-like.

Please know that I am not writing this from a position of judgment.  I struggle on a daily basis with my desire to be comfortable rather than obedient.  I even wrote a recent journal about it.
 "And my comfort is NOT important.  I have a decision to make.  Will I follow my feelings, or will I follow the Holy Spirit's lead?  We are not called to be comfortable but to be Jesus to those around us."

One of the biggest struggles I have in sharing our ministry with those in the US, yes, even my friends, is that I am often met with the reaction, "I'd love to serve with you but I AM JUST NOT COMFORTABLE around people with disabilities." Sometimes they even say "people like that." This breaks my heart, and if I can be so bold as to suggest it, I believe it breaks the heart of the Father, and of the Son who came precisely for "people like that."

Think about it.  How many of the miracles Jesus performed were aimed at those with special needs?  To perform these miracles He and His disciples had to be around "people like that."  Can you just image the reactions of fishermen and tax-collectors when confronted face-to-face by ten lepers?  Do you really think they were comfortable? 

No, we may not be able bring physical healing to most of  people with physical limitations, though I do believe that God still heals and have seen Him do so in this country. We can, however, bring Jesus to them.  And I believed many of us are being called to do just that but our COMFORT is drowning out the voice of the Holy Spirit as he beckons us to come.



I recently listened to a short sermon by Francis Chan on Hebrew 13:12-13:
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 

Chan goes on to explain that the garbage was put outside the city gate, along with those people who were found to be unacceptable, often including the ill and disabled.  So that's were we can find Jesus--outside our city gate--outside of our comfort zone.  I think this is the greatest benefit of good mission trips which challenge our comfort, and even security. (Security is, after all, an illusion, but that's for another post). 

I believe in 2018, God is directing much of my ministry effort toward the American Churches, while continuing to serve the "least of these" in Guatemala.  There are many churches that feel they are meeting the needs of those with special needs, but few which really are.  The questions to ponder are these:

What is my church doing to DISCIPLE the those with special needs?

What is my church doing to involve the them fully in the life of the church through SERVING OTHERS?


How does this discipleship model for the disabled fit in with the rest of the discipleship done by your church? 

Is it considered enough for your church members to be pew sitters on Sunday morning?

Is it enough for your church members to sit passively in Sunday School classes, and pretty much be ignored by those around them?

Is it enough for your church members to be served, but never invited to serve?

This is the experience of many of those with disabilities who I know.  And they attend what we would consider to be good churches.

This year I will be exploring and challenging you with these questions.  Besides talking with churches, I will be sharing with you as individuals much of what I am learning through my exploration.  

You see, I believe the solution lies not with church programs for those with special needs, but for individuals who are willing to be uncomfortable, and go outside the city gates to come along an individual with disabilities and learn how to disciple and engage them.

I will be sharing stories of individual Christians who have done just that. . .out-reach to a person who may be sitting right near you in church.

Don't know how?  We'll help you.  My biggest suggestion is just talk to them.  

Are they non-verbal?  So are animals and we feel perfectly comfortable talking with them!



I AM NOT FOR ONE SECOND SUGGESTING WE TREAT THOSE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS AS "PETS."  I AM AFRAID WE DO TOO MUCH OF THAT ALREADY.  I AM CONVINCED THAT MANY OF US, HOWEVER, SHOW MORE INTEREST IN THE ANIMALS WE ENCOUNTER THAN WE DO THE DISABLED WE MIGHT MEET.

I AM NOT COMFORTABLE because I fear I have offended you.

Have I offended you?  I'm not sorry.  The gospel is offensive, and I believe Jesus sent us into the WHOLE world and that includes the world of those with special needs.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Life Change Stories~~New Life School Partnership

This is Us~~New Life Students and Staff

The partnership between Reason to Hope and New Life School began about six years ago.  New Life is a very special school for very special students located in the Mayan Village of Santa Maria de Jesus, on the side of the Agua Volcano.

Reason to Hope provides support services, educational resources and specialized training for the staff of the school.  In addition, we have worked directly with about thirty of the 100 children who come to the school.  I'd like to tell you about some of them

Griselda


Griselda in kindergarten
Griselda today

I first met Griselda when she was in kindergarten.  While her learning abilities are limited by Down Syndrome, this has not affected her personality or her ability to love.  Her home life is difficult and for Griselda New Life is not only a school but a safe place where she is wanted and accepted.


She has only begun to speak in the last two years, largely due to the volunteer services of Jennifer Giesemann, a speech therapist from Georgia who served with us.  Beginning with the use of pictures and symbols, Griselda could communicate her wants and needs for the first time in her life.  We worked with Gris to generalize this ability to communicate to settings outside of the speech therapy room.  

It has been a delight to see Griselda bloom with the ability to communicate orally.  This year Griselda was voted by her peers as "Nina de Deportes" (The Sport's Girl) representing the school in the Independence Day celebrations for Santa Maria.
We have worked with Griselda this past year to develop life skills to equip her to care for herself in the future, as well as social skills to enable her to participate in the life of her community.  We continue to work on survival skills in reading and math to prepare her for the future.
We are not sure what the future holds for Griselda.  She is one of the young people for whom Reason to Hope would like to develop an adult living day program.  She has taught us that the ability to serve and love is not determined by IQ but by the size of one's heart.



Josef



In August of 2013 my friend Donna Hultman came to visit us in Guatemala.  As a specialist in teaching the visually impaired she brought a skill set we were sorely lacking.  We called in a number of preschoolers who were known to have vision problems, and Donna evaluated then and recommended ways be could better meet their individual needs.



One of the children we brought in was Josef, who was three at the time.  Never having been to school, this was a somewhat strange experience for him, but we came away with ideas to help him when he began kindergarten the following January.

Well, we were in for quite a surprise when he finally came.  He was not used to being around other children, became easily frustrated and agitated.  If the other children got too close to him, he would become aggressive.  He was not toilet trained.  Clearly, he had more than a visual problem affecting his development.

It was quickly decided that he could not remain in the kindergarten class.  But requiring him to stay at home wasn't the answer either.  Why would we think he would improve his behavior if kept in the same environment which continually catered to him to keep him happy.


So, he joined my class for two hours, three days a week.  He needed close supervision and one-to-one attention and we did not have the staff to do this.  We solved this problem by recruiting one of our older students to work as his assistant. (You can read more about Ronald in this post.)  Given a high amount of structure and limited interaction, Josef progressed in his skills and abilities to complete tasks, but did not make much progress in getting along with other children.

The following year, after a brief trial in kindergarten, Josef again returned to my room.  Ronald, however, was no longer attending school, so we had to make significant changes.  Josef could now work alone to complete his tasks.  He tolerated progressively longer periods working near and with the other students.  He learned to accept "no" without tantruming, and would cooperate with "time out" when needed.  All of these were necessary pre-requisites to joining the kindergarten class.

After much discussion, his mother agreed to work on toilet training, after we told her Josef could not return to school in diapers.  Within a few weeks over the holiday break, he had this down.

This past January Josef was fully integrated into kindergarten with support from us and visiting Occupational Therapy practicum students. Francisco (you can read about him here) began working with him to compensate for his vision loss. Josef still has a long way to go, but now is ready to learn.

















Life Change through Casa de Esperanza

Casa de Esperanza, begun in 2014 has drastically changed the lives of our residents and staff.  These friends have changed my life, too.


Residents

These young men are technically residents, relationally, they are my sons.  Like my own children, they bring unique joys and challenges into my life.  Unlike my own adult children, they will need support and assistance for the rest of their lives.  For this reason they are central to the ministry of Reason to Hope.


Fidel has been my friend for more than ten years and was the reason we began Casa de Esperanza.  He has Cerebral Palsy and has lived 21 of his 32 years of life institutionalize.  Fidel has changed from being and angry "patient" watching the world go by into a delightful young man who has recently started his own small recycling business.  His dreams for the future are to expand his business and someday have his own home. If anyone can do it, Fidel will.





When I first met Osmi about five years ago, he was dying in a bed in Hermano Pedro Hospital.  Through the grace of God he has made a miraculous recovery, and three years ago came to live with us. Having developed a life threatening muscular disease at the age of 8, he spent many years hospitalized and unable to attend school.  With us he has completed primary school and is pursuing his secondary education at a local private school.  He is living a "normal" life in every sense of the word.  He even has a girlfriend.  His goals are to attend university and study drawing.


We met Roberto in July of 2015.  We were asked by a local pastor to visit a young man who was paralyzed and abandoned by his family.  While we had no intention of bringing Roberto home with us that day, that's exactly what we did.  The conditions he was living in were so deplorable we could not leave him there another night.  Roberto came to us with a number of medical problems including horrendous bedsores and malnutrition.  Over the past two years and a number of surgeries he is finally healthy.  Having been sent to work in the rubber plantations at age eight, he is now beginning to learn to read and write.

I have know Moises, who also grew up in Hermano Pedro Hospital, for the same amount of time as I have known Fidel--but Moy was only 9 years old when I met him.  I have watched him grow from a little boy into a sometimes challenging adolescent, and have enjoyed (almost) every minute of it.  The day after he turned 18 he called to ask to come to live with us.  Still facing the challenges of adolescence, Moy's goal right now is to finish junior high.  School is a challenge for him, so he studies in a special weekend program in Santa Maria de Jesus.

Staff

Again, while these people work for me, they are so much more than employees.  They are the heart of Casa de Esperanza and my friends and support team.  If not for them, Casa de Esperanza could not exist.  Here you can meet three of our seven staff members.

Brenda is the House Manager for Casa de Esperanza and one of my closest friends.  I can confide in her and receive her wise counsel in navigating the systems of Guatemala.  She is my strongest and ever present prayer-warrior.  She has had numerous health problems in the past, but for the year and a half she has been with us, she has been remarkably well.  She credits that to the love she has for her job and her "kids" (our guys).  Besides providing a regular income for her family, I'm not sure how we have changed Brenda's life, but I know she has changed mine.

Cesar is another long-time friend.  We sponsored his tuition to attend elementary school, and he even lived with us for one year of high school.  Now he is grown, married and has a family of his own.  We provided tuition assistance for his wife, Gema, to continue her university education and recently they both graduated as fully accredited physical education teachers.  Cesar is our anchor staff for weekends.




Mario, a young man from Santa Cruz Balanya, a village about two hours from our home, came to work with us at the recommendation of his pastor.  Mario's parents are divorced, and he was caring for his alcoholic father.  While not physically abandoned, he surely was alone, bearing burdens no twenty year old should have to face.  An excellent companion-caregiver to our guys, Mario lives with us four days a week and has found a family among the staff and residents of Casa de Esperanza.  We love him, too.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Life Change Stories

Meet some of the individuals who have been personally impacted by the ministry of Reason to Hope, Inc.


Casa de Esperanza

Resident Stories
(Click on the name to read their story)



Fidel

















Roberto
Moises











Staff Stories
(Click on the name to read their story)


Mario
Cesar, Gema & Baby Cesar














New Life School Partnership

In 2013 I wrote:  "I teach in a language foreign to me, in which I make many grammatical mistakes.  Spanish is actually a second language to many of my students who speak only the Mayan language of Kaqchikel at home.  I work mostly with home-made materials and supplies, and my methods are seen as strange, if not downright ridiculous to some of the teachers with whom I work." 

I am so happy to say that now, as we look to begin the 2018 school year, I still make many mistakes in speaking Spanish, and have not been able to learn even a little Kaqchikel.  Most of my materials are home-made or recycled, but I am happy to say that the teachers now learning how I teach. They have seen the results with some of our most difficult children, and want these same results in their classrooms.  This alone will change the lives of many children in Santa Maria.  Here are a few of them.


Josef
    

Griselda

















Family Support and Scholarships
  • Miledy
  • Carlitos

GUATEMALA #GIVING TUESDAY





Partner with us to empower the poor and disabled in Guatemala to achieve their potential through the ministry of REASON TO HOPE, INC.

To help you understand our specific needs we have developed a 


Christmas Catalog 
(Click this link)

to share with you our specific needs at this time.  The year 2017 has been a challenging one for us financially due to unexpected expenses and significant medical needs on the part of the residents of Casa de Esperanza. We need your help to continue and expand our services in 2018.

Will you partner with us to bring HOPE to these neglected and forgotten individuals?

Send your tax-deductible donations to:


Reason to Hope, Inc.
PO Box 284
Elkhorn, NE 68022

or donate on line at:



Reason to Hope, Inc. is a registered 502 (c) (3) charitable organization in the State of Nebraska.  All donations are tax-deductible.