Saturday, November 30, 2019

And the other guys. . .

After the years living in San Pedro, our young men have definitely become part of the community and have made wonderful friends.  A few weeks ago, a friend from town arranged to take all four of the guys and two of our companion-caregivers to see the opening of the Transformers movie in a nearby town.  This is no small feat when you consider four wheelchairs needed to be transported in addition to six people, but they did it all on their own.  

The guys and caregivers were invited to dinner at a the house of a neighbor,
who lives across the road from us in a gated community.  They are
developing quite the social life in San Pedro.

My desire has been for the guys to have as "normal" a life as possible, and each day I see this happening more and more.

Fidel is our entrepreneur.  He saved up enough money from recycling to purchase and begin selling small electronic accessories for phones, tablet and computers.  While not having a formal store, each day you will find him at a table at our gate ready to make sales.  Again, this is something he has done on his own.  The other day I stopped over at Casa de Esperanza, and Fidel was gone, even though both caregivers were home.  When I asked about this, I was told that another friend had taken him into Guatemala City to buy more items to sell.  His initiative and independences astound me.  He has grown so much from the self-involved, adolescent to become a mature, self-directed young man.  I love it!  (And I get a discount on whatever I buy.)

A few weeks ago, Fidel was able to visit the orphanage in Xela,
(thank you, Dick Rutgers)
where he lived from the time he was 8 until 13.
Many of the staff remembered him and were overjoy to see the
productive young man he is today.
Since Fidel has given up his recycling due to being occupied with his "tienda," Roberto has taken over this activity.  While not as focused as Fidel, he is learning to operate his own "business" and make financial decisions and is learning from his mistakes as well as his successes.  Roberto has also taken quite an interest in gardening, and has assumed responsibility for the small garden in the back of the house, as well as caring for our dog, Texas.  

I laugh that Moises is 22 going on 12, but not in a bad way.  He has a number of responsibilities around the house including cleaning the bathrooms, which he HATES. (Who doesn't?) While needing reminders at times to do his chores, he more than makes up with this with his cheerful attitude and unfailing humor.  Our lives would be so boring if Moy wasn't part of them!  

He is also working more seriously at physical therapy, and is now able to stand alone, and walks with minimal assistance to help him maintain his balance.  He says he wants to learn to drive, and I've told him I won't discuss this until he can control his movements enough to walk with a walker.  I think this is his biggest motivation, as he can actually get around faster shuffling in his chair.  

What does the future hold for our guys?  I don't know.  What I do know, however, is that they are more engaged in life and productive than they were a few years ago, and much moreso than if they had continued to live in an institution.  

So, thank you.  None of this would be possible without your prayers, encouragement and support.  We are grateful.

A good investment

Last Saturday one of our residents, Osmi Alcántara, graduated with honors from high school.  I was not able to be there, since the school had only recently changed the date of graduation to be when I would be in the US, but our ministry and his family were well represented on this occasion.

Osmi with his parents (on the left), Brenda and Dylan, two of our staff members (center back)
and his brothers, sisters, and niece.

To adequately appreciate the significance of this event, you need a little context and background.

The context is Guatemala, where many, if not most, do not attend school past sixth grade.  Poverty is part of the reason for this, but even moreso, education is not valued as it is in the US.  Sadly, a higher degree of education does NOT help one get a job in a country where there are not jobs to be had.  So many have no desire to study.

This is not Osmi, however, who graduated as the "abandorado" for his class.  This means that out of the group of young people pictured above, Osmi consistently received the best grades in his class.  This is similar to being the valedictorian of a high school graduating class in the US.  One of the privileges of this achievement is to carry the Guatemalan flag into the graduation ceremony, which is a honor taken quite seriously in this country.

While I would love to take credit for his achievements, Osmi did this on his own.  Yes, we paid the bills, but all the work, effort, and stick-to-itive-ness was his.  Proud does not begin to express what I feel when I look at the accomplishments of this young man.

While the context makes this achievement impressive, his background makes it clear that this could have been done only by the power of God in his life.  

Osmi was a "normal" child until the age of 8, when he began to fall down and be so weak that he could not get out of bed most days.  This ended his school career and began a steady decline which led him to be hospitalized in a national hospital in Guatemala at around the age of 16.  Osmi relates that he told his parents that he just wanted to stay at home and die, but they would not let him.

Osmi spent 18 months in two national hospitals, progressively worsening.  In August of 2012 he was moved to Hermano Pedro in Antigua to die.  His arms were "frozen" in a bended position and he could only move his right arm a few inches.  I remember watching him use a back scratcher as he lay in bed on his right side.  He was unable to eat and was fed through a tube.  I am ashamed to say that I told God I did not want to get to know him, because I did not want to watch another young person die.  Of course, God had other plans.

Miguel, our companion-caregiver for Fidel, became friends with Osmi as he trained at Hermano Pedro to work with Fidel.  This brought Osmi into our family circle, and I got to know him.  His spirit is exemplified in an incident that occurred shortly after I got to know him.  Remember, he was on a feeding tube at this time.  It pained me to see how restricted his life was and how depressed he was becoming so I asked him what I could bring him that he would enjoy.  "Cookies" was his unhesitating answer.

Thanks to the cooperation of one of the nurses, I brought him cookies, and they would break off small pieces and let them dissolve in his mouth.  After all, as they told me, "he's dying anyway."  As people took interest in him, his depression lifted, and the gift of a power chair  (more of a cot on wheels) from Dick Rutgers drastically changed his life.
What no one can account for, however, is his progressive recovery.  I was able to get an accurate diagnosis from a visiting team from the US who explained Osmi had FOP or "Stone man syndrome" in which muscles turn to bone.  This affects about one in 2 million individuals, and there is no treatment.   The doctor explained the normal course of the disease, and how he would get progressively worse.

What the doctor could not explain, almost didn't believe until I showed him earlier pictures of Osmi, was that his condition had, in fact, drastically improved.  The doctor maintained that, while he believed his diagnosis was correct, this simply did not occur without divine intervention.  

I believe this is exactly what has happened for Osmi--a miracle.  He sometimes still struggles as to why, if God could partially heal him, He did not heal him completely.  I have shared with Osmi my firm belief that him being in a wheelchair is central to God's plan and purpose for his life.  

Recently, due to the inadequacies of the healthcare system here, Osmi's appendix ruptured. Once again we say the healing hand of the Father evidenced in Osmi's life by his rapid recovery from what is often a lethal situation here in Guatemala.

Will you join with us in praising God for what He has done in the life of Osmi, and celebrate Osmi's accomplishments with him.  (If you'd care to email him your encouragement, you can send it to my email address and I'll share it with him.  Osmi has learned quite a bit of English, so reading emails would be good practice for him!)

I can't wait to see what the future holds for this remarkable young man.,

Friday, November 29, 2019

Learning more than I teach. . .

With the move to a new locations, I was concerned about how our women would adapt, especially since they would be living away from me for the first time (though I am only 20 min. away). They love their new home, especially the outdoor areas, and, as far as missing me, the workers tell me they ask about me, but then pray that I am not lonely! They are far more concerned about me being alone than they are themselves. This is a snapshot into the character of these young women who teach me so much every day.
From Griselda, I learn what a spontaneous servant's heart looks like as she unhesitatingly steps in to care for Chepa with kindness but firmness. She has taught me so much about "innate intelligence," for though she has Down syndrome, she often is able to see a need and problem solve it without assistance. Though I had known her for years at the school, I never saw this side of her until she came to live with us. She has taught me how much I might be "missing" when I only look at our special folks though the context in which the live, rather than searching their hearts and minds for their potential.
And, oh, sweet Chepa. She has taught me what it means to quietly and serenely fight daily to accomplish things you have always believed were too hard. When she came, she would often respond, "No puedo" (I can't) when asked to do something. I would consistently respond, "Todavia" (not yet). Chepa has taught me the power of hope and "todavia." She has progressed not only in her physical abilities but in her social competence and independence in so many areas. Not one of these things has been easy for this young woman who has physical challenges as well as epilepsy, but she continues to fight and more and more wants to do things on her own. She has the heart of a warrior.
The God Who Heals is manifest to me daily in Caty who came to us from a friend's children's home. This is an excellent home where she was loved and cared for, but the staff struggled to meet her individual needs as she was the only "special" child in the home and now was more than 20 years old. Recognizing she needed more, they asked if we could accept her.
Caty had experienced a life of suffering prior to coming to the children's home. She endured every type of abuse imaginable, and was wounded to her core when she came to live with my friend Carrol. Years of patient and consistent love had brought much healing to Caty. When she came to us, however, she seldom looked anyone in the eye, rarely spoke and was so very timid. Previous attempts at placing her with families had failed, so I was more than apprehensive at her coming. How foolish I was!
Today, after living with our women, she grows daily in confidence. She communicates freely (in fact, one Sunday, we had to take her from the church service for talking too much!). She take pride in caring for herself, especially being able to wash her own clothes, and voluntarily helps with household chores. Caty has demonstrated before my eyes the healing power of Christian community through the power of the Holy Spirit. I can only stand in awe.
Petronila has taught me a lot about bicultural living and facing struggles. Though she comes from Santa Maria de Jesus, only 7 km from Antigua, she comes from an environment completely distinct from how we live in Antigua. Wood burning stoves and hauling water from the local "pila" (community water faucet) are a way of life there and the social climate is unique. Santa Maria is a community where resentment and jealousy are the norm, and if someone has a bit more than you do, you covet what they have.  Direct communication and transparency are avoided at all cost. Unforgiveness and gossip pervade the town, and it is reflected in the violence and alcoholism you see there.  You can imagine the challenge to learn to live in community with other women quite different from herself presented to Petris (as well call her.
I believe growing up in an environment like Santa Maria makes it difficult to trust enough to reach out to pursue your dreams.  Petris (as we call her at home) has many dreams, but struggles to follow them, I believe out of fear. Decision making is hard for her, and we struggle with her to help her discover what she desires for her future and what she is willing to do to achieve these desires. While living in Santa Maria severely limits her options for the future, she misses her family (especially her father) and the day to day rhythm of life in this village. She shows me the challenges of living in two cultures, and helps me with the challenges I face living in Guatemala as a North American.
These young women bless me daily, and help me continue to grow into the woman God would have me be. I hope reading their stories has encouraged you to continue to grow, too.

On the move

Quite unexpectedly (though I had been praying about this for some time) we encountered a one-story house for rent in Santa Lucia, the same town in which the mayor has given us the use of a building for our outreach center for children with special needs. After looking at it and consulting our Board, we made the decision to move our ladies to this home.
About 2 weeks ago the ladies moved in and are so excited to be in their new home. It is not as upscale as their previous house but they have much more outdoor space, and the yard is surrounded by chain link fence (not common here) and razor wire (which we use here to keep out unwanted visitors). They are surely enjoying their newfound freedom. The first morning in the new house, Griselda got up and immediately threw open the back door, took a deep breath and sighed a huge, "Ahhhhh," before running to get on her shoes and heading into the yard to explore.
This move will save the ministry roughly $250 each month in rent, and enable Pat to focus two full days each week to serving in the community of Santa Lucia. As often happens in our ministry, this change was not anticipated or budgeted for, but when a great house, and a reasonable rent, in a good location appears, you have to move quickly, and we did. We trust God will provide for the expenses incurred by this move, as He always has done in the past.

The women will be able to be more involved in the local community through participating in activities at the municipal center for women (within walking distance of the home), which coordinates our outreach center's activities with the mayor's office. This "taking part in the local community" has been our desire both for our ministry and our residents, and it is a blessing to see it happening.
The large yard will enable the ladies to have their longed-for dog and a garden where they can grow their own vegetables. Benigno, the husband of one of our companion-caregivers, will help with the yard work one day a week. He and the girls are already discussing what they will plant, and plans are underway to plant avocado trees so, in three years, they girls can sell avocados in the market. I love the sense of stability this indicates as our women look securely to the future.
While this looks like an acreage setting, it actually is located within the city limits, close to the Main Street and highway passing through Santa Lucia. It is as if God has given our women the best of both worlds. We are grateful.