Friday, November 29, 2013

Lesson from a Leatherback

  While in Monterrico, we had the unique opportunity to release baby sea turtles. For Q10 a person (about $1.25), we were each given an hours-old leatherback sea turtle and then set them down to watch them race down the sand towards the waves. It was an indescribably special experience. I don't know if I can do it justice with words, but I'll try.
  The baby turtles were perfection at its finest. Only hours old, each was perfectly formed- strong flippers, bright black eyes, minuscule nostrils-every detail like an adult's, only in miniature. They were the dearest little animals. How, I thought, when we see these turtles, formed perfectly- each and every one of them, one out of hundreds, thousands- how can we not marvel at the miracle of life inside our own wombs? Because that's what these turtles are: miracles of life. If God is able to form each tiny turtle so perfectly- to the last detail- how much more can He direct our own lives for his purposes?
  My family was shocked by the fact that only 10% of baby sea turtles survive into adulthood. Though the experience was beautiful, touching, and unforgettable, it had a slight melancholic tinge to it, because we knew that the little turtle that had crawled so confidently over the sand- undeterred by obstacles like footprints, focused only on the waves- probably wasn't going to make it. Nine times out of ten, the perfect tiny turtles that God creates are swallowed by something more than waves. Yet they never stop crawling towards their goal.
  Last year, the tortugario we visited released 42,000 leatherback babies into the ocean. That's 4,200 more turtles out there- turtles that defied the odds to live and thrive in the harsh environment for which they were created. We can take a lesson from these turtles. No matter how messed up our world has become, no matter how slim our chance of making a difference seems, we need to remember that we were created by God for more than death. We are meant to bear His message of love to all mankind. Even though most of the turtles won't make it, they keep crawling towards the ocean. Even though not everyone will listen to the message we carry, we keep trying. As I was looking for another Bible verse that I had considered using for this post, I found this one by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Philippians 2:15 says, "[You are] children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world."
  Lord, our world is more "in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" now than ever before. Please give us the courage to be Your lights in a dark world, to defy the odds, and to survive among the predators that attempt to separate us from You. Let us be like the baby sea turtles- focused on our goal of Your light that is on the horizon, and not distracted by the ones behind us. Thank you for dying for us, that we may live forever in Your Kingdom. Amen.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The last three days in Monter(r)ico, Guatemala

We spent the last three days in Monterrico, a small "aldea" (village) on the southern pacific coast of Guatemala. There was no internet connection there, except for a small road side internet cafe, with one computer available, so forgive our delay in posting. David Alvarez's church, "Centro Cristiano Cultural de Guatemala" has a facility there which includes a simple medical clinic and a community center on three floors, where retreats and schooling is held for the local children. This week a vacation bible camp was held for poor children from Monterrico, Guatemala City and Rio Dulce (another poor area 8 hours away...). More than 90 children ages 11 through 15 arrived on ONE school bus.
We joined a church group from Tennessee and helped with food serving and games. The time spent here was enriching and educational. We also were blessed to meet one of our two sponsored children, Alejandra.
It is hard to describe what abject poverty looks and feels like. I will try to summarize that in a future post, but for now, I will let you get an idea by looking at the pictures below. Still, seeing generic pictures of poverty of people far away is much easier to accept and forget about than witnessing it first hand and "walking through it". How do we reconcile our upper middle class American existence with lack of basic nutrition, sleeping on a dirt floor and walking in a village where trash is left and burned everywhere? It will take time to process all of that.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Sunday in Spanish

   Isabella is going to write your post again today. Sorry, guys. ;)

   The day started out with a walk down the block to the local Catholic church- Iglesia Catolica.  The priest liked to hear himself talk, and the homily was 30 minutes long with constant crescendos and decrescendos. I spent the first half listening intently and trying to decipher what he was saying. I could get the general gist of things for a few minutes, but mostly I was lost.
    Afterwards, we went to David Alvarez's church, where, after the service, Karen would take us to have lunch with one of the church families. I had no desire to sit around aimlessly for several hours, so I went upstairs to investigate the service. David was in the middle of his sermon, and they had an English translator. (A church team from Tennessee is visiting this week as well.) So I listened and spent a rather enjoyable hour and a half.
   My family, however, had not. By the time everyone had gotten cleaned up and Karen (David's daughter) was ready to take us to lunch, they were hot, irritable, and very hungry. After driving halfway across the city, we arrived. Ingrid and Karen's boyfriend (novio), Pablo, had just started preparing lunch. For about an hour, we were relatively entertained by playing with Ingrid's baby, Alfredo, while I knitted and read. But it started to get tough around 2:00.

Electrical work, Guatemalan style.

Hanging "safely" on the side of the cliff. :)

Preparing the bus for the trip to Monterico. 76 kids will fit in it.

Line of "chicken buses".

View of Pacaya from David's street.

   It was hard- sitting in a small house, not being able to talk to anyone, with no one our ages, and Mom did not want to eat meat again, for about the fifth meal in a row. (Meat here is a special treat, so they prepare it for us Americans a lot. Also, many gringos are not used to the beans and tortillas guatemaltecos eat day in, day out.) The worst part was that their neighbor is- ah- musically inclined, and Sunday is when his band practices. For two hours he played the same passage over and over again on the drums and guitar. He played so long, he beat a tattoo of the rhythm on the insides of our heads.
   The presence of the Holy Spirit within me was very obvious during this moment, and instead of falling apart at the incessant, unending noise, which could very well have happened, I was instead granted the grace to see beauty in the situation.
   During his years of ministry, Jesus stopped and ate with sinners all the time. He always made time for the people, and no matter how poor they were, they were honored to serve him. This is how they feel about us, I realized. We are their honored guests, and they cannot wait to share what little they have. We are so used to doing things for ourselves, making sure they are done to our liking, on our time schedule- but right now, our service is to let others serve us. Jesus never complained because his hosts served food he didn't like, took too long preparing it, offered him an uncomfortable bed, or their homes were located in an unpleasant area of town. His ministry was all about serving others, and one way he did that was by allowing those others to serve him.
   Today, I learned that it's not always easy to be served, especially when the circumstances are less than perfect. Serving others is important, and at times difficult, but sometimes allowing them to serve you can hold just the same significance. I now have new respect for this part of Jesus's ministry that I never really considered before. Sure, he traveled around preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and generally performing really cool miracles. And he stayed at people's houses a lot. That definitely wasn't the most difficult part of his ministry.
   But was it? The circumstances in which we had lunch today are probably similar to what they were like in Biblical times. It couldn't have been easier for Jesus than it was for the Contolini family today. After all, he was truly God and truly man. This means He felt discomfort, just like us. But by allowing himself to be served, he showed his true, unending love and solidarity for all people.

  Lord Jesus Christ, as my journey continues, please teach me more ways to show Your limitless love and redemption. I ask that you would fill me with Your Spirit, so that I might continue to do Your work and follow the path You have made for me. Kindle in me a flame that will burn bright with a desire to do your will and be your witness, and let it be visible to all I meet. I ask for the strength to carry on even when it's not easy, for patience with my family, and for the gift of tongues, that I might speak Your Word in Spanish to Your people Guatemala. Transform me into a channel to bring this love to them. "For faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love."  I ask this through the intercession of Mary, our most blessed mother. Amen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

David Alvarez city ministry

Hi everybody!! Isabella here...
   Pietro is reading the MY book. Paolo is using MY phone, Emma is using MY toothbrush, and my mom wants to try and knit MY socks.
   Before we left, I'll admit that I was very nervous.Understandable, but they were self-centered nerves. It's hard to leave school- I'll have all that make-up work!- and my friends on swim team- I'll be so out of shape!- and the comforts of home.
    Yet isn't that what this trip is about? To learn-again- that things are not all about me. Because most of the people here are not able to read, brush their teeth with clean water, communicate with their friends with a phone, go to school, be part of a swim team. But at the same time, their lives are so much simpler, and we can't help but ask ourselves the question: Who is better off?
   Once we arrived, I knew I would be excited. I love traveling. I love adventure. The feelings I get from being somewhere new in the world, having new experiences, and meeting new people is invigorating. As soon as the plane landed, I could feel my heart swell with happiness. And even more than the new sights, sounds, smells (not all of them pleasant- did you know that burning garbage smells like pot?), it's the people who catch my eye. Especially the children.

Volcano Aqua

David's church entrance (Centro Cristiano Cultural de Guatemala)

view from David's church #1

view from David's church #2 (yes, those are shacks on a ravine)

   We have spent the last few days learning about the mission work David Alvarez and his family do here in Guatemala. David makes it clear that this is God's ministry, not his. A gifted storyteller, his tales are miraculous examples of the true grace and providence of God. When you're doing His work, He will provide. It's the everyday miracles, of the Lord never giving more than is needed at a particular time, that allow them to run a successful ministry serving about 3,000 children. For some reason, those simple miracles abound in Guatemala, more than they do in Colorado- or is it just that we are paying more attention because of the lack of distractions?
   At lunch the kids from Rio Dulce arrived at the church here in the city. The idea that Paolo could have been one of them- would have been one of them, if we hadn't adopted him- blew my mind. They looked just like him. He may have Q'eqchi blood, but he is thoroughly American. I wonder how it feels for him. He doesn't mention it, but I think he notices a lot.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Guatemala City

Here is a snapshot of the place we are staying at for a few days. It's a very humble place by American standards, but wonderful people live here..
Great weather, but crazy traffic and I did not remember how polluted the air is in the city. We are not used to the smell. It gives us a headache. The "chicken buses" drivers are as crazy as usual.
Everybody is adjusting.
We also met Ben from Maine who is staying here for a while. It was nice, for Emma in particular, to meet a "fellow American" in this foreign place.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

So we are heading to Guatemala again...

It's hard to believe but it has been about four years since we all went to Guatemala for Christmas in 2009.    That trip was also the prompt to start this blog.

It was an exciting and emotional trip. Before leaving for Guatemala, there were also fears and concerns. Fears about leaving the things we are accustomed to, fears about the somewhat unsafe roads of Central America, fears about the warnings of violence in developing countries, fears about getting sick from contaminated water or food not properly cleaned, fears of earthquakes too... 
As I prepare for this new trip, I don't feel completely excited.  Those fears are coming back now.  
It means it is time to go back. 

It means I am getting too comfortable with our lifestyle or super fast internet, clean water from the faucet, ice-maker, clean roads, a warm house in a safe neighborhood to walk in at nights, innumerable cereal choices at Super-Walmart and free continental breakfast at La Quinta Hotels.

We will be spending two weeks visiting some of the ministries that we try to support and meeting our two sponsored children. We will spend the first weekend in Guatemala City, then travel with our friend David Alvarez to Monterico, on the Pacific coast to visit some remote villages near the jungle. We will then spend Thanksgiving at the San Lucas Toliman Catholic Mission Parish and learn about the different projects that Fr. Greg Schafer worked on with the locals for over 40 years. Father passed away last year. We will meet his successor and the volunteers that are helping carry these projects along. 

Finally, we will spend 6 days in San Lucas SacatepĂ©quez with our nurse, friend Anita. We will visit her clinic, the Amor del Nino orphanage and one of our sponsored children.

There will be also some time for some exciting activities, like releasing turtles on the beach.

We have arranged for a safe place to sleep in every night and good people to spend our days with, but it will still be an adjustment.

We ask for your prayers for safety and health during our trip.

I will try to post pictures and stories daily, if the internet allows. If you have not already done that, you can sign up to receive automated updates from our blog by entering your email in the box at the top left.

For now, you can look at our blog entries from December 2009, to get an idea of where we will be for the last week of November and the first week of December.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Colorado National Monument

A one day visit to Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction along with Isabella's State Marching Band competition. Long drive but worth the effort.

What a beautiful place of stunning beauty.