Tuesday, March 23, 2021

New Town, New House, New Opportunities

 


As you may know, our women's house, Hijas del Rey (Daughters of the King) was located in a town about 30 minutes away from our men's house and from the town where I live.  It was a small house, but served our needs.

Brad and Shawn Johnson
Directors of Recycling Lives Ministry
which owns the new women's house

A few months ago, however, I received a call from two friends who run another ministry here in Guatemala.  They had a mission house, located about 8 minutes from our men's house, which they were trying to sell or rent without success.  Would we consider looking at it for our women? 

My first reaction was, "I don't want to move."  They then told me that after much prayer they really felt like God had told them to offer us the use of this house, at a reduced rent.  Their desire was to keep this building in use for ministry, and they really believed it was for us.  I somewhat reluctantly agreed to look at the house, and after seeing it one Sunday morning my attitude changed to "Let's do it!"


After consulting with our Board of Directors, we signed a lease for a year (with an option to buy the home for $85,000--a real "steal" given the prices of lands and buildings in our area.)  


We recently moved our women in to the mission house.  It is twice the size of our previous house, though the rent is approximately the same amount.  


In the short time the women have lived in their new home, we have seen remarkable changes in their levels of independence and their "ownership" of caring for the house.  They are so happy here!


Dani and Rosi Juarez Gomez
Our Residential Directors

This change has allowed us to reorganize our staff and the programming for the women to help them achieve individual goals and increase their independence.  


It is an exciting, if challenging time for us, but we are embracing these opportunities to improve our services to the women and create an even better family structure in which they can live and grow.



We are so grateful to you who support us and empower us to make these changes.  You are making a difference in the lives of our ladies, one success at a time.

Out of Darkness and Into Light

 


 Literally.  Nothing ever seems to be easy in Guatemala, and everyday I learn this lesson more personally.  This month it was electrical wiring, and dealing with the city and electric company to make repairs.  What would have taken a few days in the US turned into a month long ordeal for our men.


Almost a month ago, the staff at the men's house called me at 11 pm one night to say that the ceiling lights were dimming and getting brighter, and finally went out all together.  We shut off the main power and called an electrical technician (trades are ranked differently here) the next morning.  Daniel came, and replaced the circuit breaker box, thinking the connections there were the problem.  After reconnecting, the lights now were at full strength, but only flashed on and off!

Our technician knew he had reached his limits, so we called an electrician who had helped us in the past.  Don Toribio came immediately and discovered that the problem was below ground.  Our wiring to the meter (at the other end of the condominium property) had never been properly installed when the house was built, was aluminum, and was deteriorating.  This would require running wire below ground, almost a full city block.  His suggestion was that we move our meter to the wall immediately outside of our home.  

This proved to be a long, complicated process dealing with the electric company, which did not want to move our meter closer to our house since we were part of a condominium.

Receiving authorization to do this required trips to city hall with our deed (to prove our land ownership, as well as owning the building), a trip to Guatemala City to get the deed "verified," another trip to city hall to get the work permit, and finally another trip to the electric company.  They then approved moving the meter, and our electrician did the necessary installation of the wiring and conduit.

 


However when the workers from the electric company came almost a week later, they refused to install the new meter and insisted that we had to use the old meter even though we had a work order from the company to move the meter.  They said we couldn't prove that we would only be using the meter for our own property! 

So, once again, our electrician went back to the electric company, which told him he would have to get authorization from the central office in Guatemala city--even though they had approved this and given him a work order previously.  So after a couple of trips to the city, and involving our attorney in making a number of phone calls, the company agreed that yes, indeed, we could move the meter, but only if we painted the wall outside our property a different color from the rest of the condominium! 


 


They were satisfied with the "strip" we painted, and finally, last Wednesday, installed our new meter and the men once again had lights.



Because our house is located in the Y between two roads, trailer trucks and buses often use the roads to turn around, and have occasionally backed into our walls, leaving large chunks of concrete missing.  Here in Guatemala, the only recourse is to take the companies to court to get damages, and the cost of an attorney and the court fees amount to more than fixing the damages ourselves.  This is soooo frustrating, but one of the realities of living in a different country.  

We decided to make these repairs and paint the full exterior of the wall which runs around our house to match our new stripe of paint.  This has finally been done, and life at the men's house has returned to normal after almost a month without electricity.

Looks much better, don't you think?

Neither our residents nor our staff have complained during this challenging time.  This shows the quality of character of those we have living and working with us.  Think about it.  A full month with no refrigerator, lights, or hot water.  Seems like an impossible situation.  One of our men, however, reminded me that this is exactly how most of the people in this country live their entire lives.  

If you would like to help us cover these unexpected expenses, please make a contribution to Reason to Hope.  You can do this on-line or mail a check for your donation to:

Reason to Hope, Inc.
P. O. Box 284
Elkhorn, Nebraska 68022.

All donations are tax-deductible, and we appreciate you helping us "keep the lights on"--literally!


Monday, December 21, 2020

Fidel's Journey to Faith

 He yelled at me, “I don’t believe in God.”

 

This was a conversation I had with Fidel, who had significant cerebral palsy and had spent most of his life institutionalized after he had been abandoned by his family. 


Fidel in the orphanage in Xela

It was during the first Christmas season I spend in Guatemala and was serving at Hermano Pedro Hospital at the time.  Fidel was an adult resident there, and he was curious to know why I was not going home to spend the holidays with my family in the US, since most of the volunteers did so.

 

My immediate response was, “Because God sent me here to spend Christmas with you so you would not be alone.”  I was actually shocked when he shouted at me, “I don’t believe in God,” and drove off angrily in his power chair.



Little did I know at the time that this conversation would change my life, and Fidel’s.  After about 18 months of volunteering at the orphanage and traveling with other missionaries around Guatemala, God changed the direction of my ministry and my life.  That conversation grew into a “relationship” (I’m not sure I would call it a friendship at this point) that bonded us together and led eventually to the founding of Casa de Esperanza.

 

While I wanted him to be able to live a more typical life than he could in an institution, my heart’s desire was for him to come to know the God who created him and loves him.  This first conversation was in December of 2010.  I had no idea at the time how difficult it would be for him to realize these truths.


Fidel on the day he "officially" moved into Casa de Esperanza

Since he had grown up in institutions, it finally became clear to me that Fidel had many of the characteristics of someone with reactive attachment disorder.  Talking with him about God as a loving Father made no sense to him, since he had never known a human father.  Talk about a God who loves him and uniquely created him, only left him resentful and angry because of the physical and social limitations imposed on him by his disability.  Our normal methods of "evangelism" did not make sense.  Additionally, he had not experienced much genuine love from those in his life who had called themselves Christian.



But ten years of prayer, many godly folks in our ministry who have consistently loved him and challenged him to open his heart to God, and more than one tearful conversation, are bearing fruit.  We began to recognize a change in Fidel first through his Facebook posts.  


A little more than a year ago now, he wrote: "I admit it. Sometimes I want to talk to God, but my heart and mind are made of stone, and that makes me doubt a God.  Maybe it is because of my idiocy.  I hope that one day God will remove the ignorance from my soul."


Then, on Christmas Eve, 2019, Fidel posted: "I do not know if God listens to me.  I do not know if God understands me.  I do not know if God loves me a little.  I do not know if God wants me to be happy."


Last August he wrote asking that God will "soften my mind and heart to know everything that is good."


Fidel and Moy 

Slow change, but progress. So, can you imagine the tears that flowed when I asked him to write a message to our donors, and he sent me the following:


"Hello and good morning.  My name is Fidel Hernandez and I live in Casa de Esperanza.  I want to thank you for the help you have been sending to us, especially during the pandemic.  We have received everything we need to live and move forward, even though there have been many changes.

Recently, I have come to realize that there is a Supreme Creator of all things, who cares about you and about me.  He has sent Pat to us, and she cares very well for our needs.

I want to personally thank you for all you have done for us.  I know I cannot repay you, but our Heavenly Father has seen your good hearts, and He will repay you for alll you have done for us.

God bless you and it is my desire that your life will go well."



Ten years, hours of prayer, and multitudes of conversations are making an impact.  The Holy Spirit cannot be rushed, but each day we plant and water the seeds of faith and hope in Fidel's life and the lives of all we serve.  Please continue to pray for Fidel's spiritual growth, and that we as a staff remain faithful to the call to bring Jesus into our homes and encounters daily.





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.