On August 1st, we celebrated one year since drastically changing our lives and moving to Guatemala. It has been an amazing year of discovery, trust, and growth in every area of our lives. When we first stepped off the plane in Guatemala City, to make it one year seemed like it would be the most difficult thing we would ever have to do. By God's grace, we never doubted it would be possible, we just did not know how it would happen.
Having no idea what path God would take when we got here, things fell into place rapidly and smoothly. There truly were difficulties, and times of doubt. Here we are though, one year down and stronger with each day that comes.
We had a problem though. When arriving in country I refused to refer to my family as missionaries. We were just a family with a strategy of not barging into a country with no roots, nor relationship and trying to change it for the better. As I quickly learned, so many "missionaries" to Guatemala have left a bad taste in the mouth of locals as they come and live a luxurious life and feed kids on Saturday, then go home and watch movies while eating a bucket of ice cream without a care in the world. I refused to be put in that category.
Why were we here? To love people, not to be missionaries. This was my thought, but boy did I have a shallow concept of Christ's mission.
It's crazy how refusing a title can mess with what you came here to do. A missionary is someone sent on mission from God to spread the good news of Christ to absolutely everyone. Whether that be our neighbor in Houston TX, or the hungry beggar on a sidewalk in Guatemala. We are all missionaries, and we have all been called since the day of our salvation to spread the Gospel. It's funny that we had less trouble referring to ourselves as missionaries in the United States than here, when the concept of missions is typically narrowed down to those who are serving overseas (which needs to stop by the way). Ultimately, my understanding of the Gospel was not fully developed. Which is actually great news (pun intended), because it reminded me that I am still a work in progress, which will forever be the case.
A couple months ago, my family and I were sitting in the central park of town (most towns outside of the city have a cathedral in the center of the community with a park) and Guatemalans love to hang out at the park. We were approached by a 6 year old girl, Maria. Maria, dressed in her traditional Guatemalan clothes, asked our family for 1 quetzal (the local currency). This is equivalent to about .13 US. I asked her what she was going to do with that 1 quetzal. Her response was sweet and innocent, "Comprar tortillas", which is "Buy tortillas". 1 quetzal can get you anywhere from 3-5 corn tortillas, depending on which lady along the street you buy from. We decided to walk with her to buy some tortillas. During our walk we got to know Maria on more of a deeper level. Her mom left her several years ago to live with her 75 year old grandmother who sits barefoot on the sidewalk and begs for money on a daily basis. Since Maria asked us for the 1 quetzal in English, I asked her if she knew any other words. She responded with "Yes. Please. Thank you.". We giggled at this as we tried to teach her a few more words. After buying tortillas, my family and Maria just kind of stood there, none of us really wanting to leave the others company. After a few awkward smiles we caved and ended up buying more tortillas and a whole chicken for Maria and her grandmother. Then we sat on the sidewalk and ate with them. Although Maria spent a great amount of the time translating from Spanish to her grandmothers mayan language, we all just laughed and pretty much fell in love with each other. Now when we see Maria, we try our best to catch up before she has to get back to work, and if she has some spare time, we will send her off with an ice cream cone. This sweet 6 year old girl changed our lives in Guatemala. We are missionaries.
We have been sent. This does not mean we will have to struggle through 3 hour long church services and get frustrated when people call us back two hours or two days later than when they said they would. This means that we can have JOY through every single moment that we are a part of what God is doing in this amazing country. My mechanic may leave me without a car for a week when he was supposed to have it back to me in an hour, but I will show up a week later with pizza and give the guy a hug. Because that is what being a missionary is! We were sent here. No matter how hard we try to tell ourselves we are not "missionaries", we were sent here! What an honor.
My prayer is that you too, as a believer in Christ, can fully grasp the knowledge that you are a missionary. No matter where you are. Be true to the calling before you, for it can just be that you were sent to be exactly where you are, from that moment of salvation.
What a journey it has been. What a journey to come.
To Christ be the glory.
In August of 2014, my family and I packed up all of our belongings and moved to Guatemala in hopes of connecting with different ministries and joining hands in what God is doing in this wonderful country. It was a move that we felt in our hearts God had placed there from the very first day we met. It was time, and we had nothing to lose. When you do everything you can to be obedient to what you believe God is calling you to do, nothing can get between you and your obedience.
This does not mean everything will go according to plan. We arrived in country and God's faithfulness immediately began to show. Through Him we found a place to live, a car to drive, and friends to share with. Then things kind of hit a wall. You see, living in a foreign country is hard. In every way. It is taxing on the mind, body, and soul. We found ourselves exhausted after most days. The charm and the excitement often became dull. The vision before us was often blurry and we just couldn't find the right lens to clear things up. We dealt with every emotion possible. At some point questioning everything and fighting against regret, fear, intimidation, expectations, etc. Despite our efforts to be proactive and make connections, we felt alone, and had no clue what to do when we woke many mornings. We had times of excitement and encouragement, with family visiting and encouraging phone calls, but many times found ourselves unable to shake the funk. There were so many cultural transitions and immediate needs right outside our front door. The desire to do more than what you can, weighed heavy on our hearts.
What was behind all this was amazing. In December we had the chance to go back to the United States and visit family and friends. As was expected, we spent most of our time sharing stories about what was happening in our lives and what God was doing in and through us. What was unexpected was how much these conversations would impact our own lives. Through each story we shared, came encouragement from the other end, which resulted in late nights between Jen and I talking about our first 4 months in Guatemala.
God began to reveal to us many faults in our hearts. Our restlessness, frustrations, fears, and doubts stemmed from nothing but our own insecurities and lack of trust. Never before had we struggled together in this area quite like we did during our first 4 months in country. The pressure to perform caused us to set up expectations that weren't there initially, and shouldn't have been there at all. When we came to Guatemala, our only expectation was to follow God every day the best we can, and allow Him to work. Our human minds got in the way, and caused confusion as to what was God, and what was us. This was unacceptable.
I am not one to necessarily praise the calendar by viewing every January as my savior to a better life; but this January has been different. It has became a symbol for us to turn the page to a new chapter in Guatemala. We arrived a week ago feeling refreshed, encouraged, and stronger in our marriage than we have been in a long time. I have started my job at school, and students arrive in less than a week. Jennifer has been making our new house a home, and enjoying her time to get to know our new neighbors (which is a lot easier to do with sweet little lucy running around). God has helped us view our first 4 months as a "grace period" so we could discover things slowly.
It is a new year, and our expectation is God. Nothing else. One day at a time, allowing Him to work, and being obedient to His great Message on a daily basis.
This past week I was blessed with the opportunity to travel with a team from Canada to a rural village here in Guatemala, called El Limon Sur. The team came to work through a local organization called Healthy Communities.
It was such a beautiful experience and I saw so much benefit to the work being done. Healthy Communities works through the local church to educate the community on basic sanitation needs. They do no look to just come into a community and meet the needs, but more importantly they look to provide a sense of ownership to what is being provided. For this reason, any family that is being blessed with a water filter this past week, was required to pay a small subsidized fee. They were also required to show up and provide a day of work to complete the project. What has been discovered over the course of time is that if a water filter is to be maintained and used well, the person being gifted with it is more likely to do so if they have worked for it. A concept that goes against most of the work being done in the villages of Guatemala today, but a concept that erases a handout mentality, and enables people within the community to change their situation through sacrifice and hard work.
I was able to play a small role in helping translate for the team. What blessed me more than anything though, was being allowed to observe life within the community. A community with no running water, no toilets as we know them, and most of all, no clean drinking water. Due to the lack of toilets, the only drinking water available to the community, is the same water many bathe in, and many use as a restroom. For this reason, a lot of sickness has been brought to the people.
During my short time in country, I am learning about what effective change is. It is not a 5 step program, rather a continual re-enforcement of what it means to have clean water, wash your hands, etc. What value is in change, if this is how you have been doing it your entire life?
How similar is this to our Christian walk? For so many of us, when we came to know the Lord, the change was so drastic, and the value was evident. But over time, we would slowly go back to our old ways, and before you know it, we would be living the same life as before we were Christians, but would be holding on to the "Christian" title to avoid the reality of our life of sin. As I look at my own life, I see a constant fall back and forth. Sometimes we don't want help, and sometimes we are desperate for it. Those times when desperation hits, are the times that we will work for change. No matter how strong your Christian walk may be, we all go through it. We all need re-enforcement on a regular basis.
So what makes us any different? The fact that we have the luxury of clean water, or a nice cold toilet seat to sit on every night? During my observation of the community, I was blessed and reminded of one thing. To strive to live a life where I will stop worshipping my luxuries, and start praising for my needs being met. Although the people of El Limon are drinking dirty water, they are thankful to have water. Although the people are having to use the restroom in a dry-compost toilet, they are thankful to have a hole to use. And although their situation isn't as nice and convenient as ours, they are people, and they are happy.
How can we change our world? By doing what we can. And doing it effectively, through Christ. What ever it is that the Lord has in store for us here in Guatemala, I pray that I will run from the concept that I am a hero, and I will embrace the fact that I am an avenue that is being used to show Jesus.
I love being a dad. This may sound weird, but ever since I was just an early teenager I dreamt of being a dad. So much so, that my sweet mother was freaked out enough to start telling 15 year-old me to not run out and get some girl pregnant just because I wanted to be a dad. Although probably unnecessary for me at that time, i appreciate my mothers advice, as I have found the perfect mother for our baby.
I have been a dad for just over 14.5 months now. It has been unbelievable! Words can not describe the joy i feel in my heart when my little girl gives me a wide-eyed smile at 6am. My heart melts with every sloppy, wet, open-mouthed kiss before bed. But even more than all that, what thrills my heart the most, are the secret powers that you are gifted with when you become a dad.
Before i became a father, there were many things that I was either no good at, or was vividly afraid of. For instance, I had no singing ability whatsoever. Many would argue (my wife especially) that this truth remains, however, mom gets shushed when only dad's voice can sing their little girl to sleep on a screaming car ride.
I am suddenly the strongest man I know. Before fatherhood, my arms were a bit flabby and couldn't do much. The second fatherhood hit, these flabby arms could destroy absolutely anything that came at me. without hesitation, I will defend my daughter in any way, shape, or form, and I will not lose.
However, the greatest secret power that has come upon me has absolutely changed my life forever, the ability to freeze time
Far too often, those 6am smiles don't come. Baby girl is too anxious to get started with her day. And far too often those sloppy, wet, open-mouthed kisses are non-existent due to a tired cry before bed. Over the past couple of weeks, Lucy and I have started a somewhat scattered routine of going on a walk, or going to the park while Jen prepares dinner. It was at this moment, just a few days ago, that I learned how to stop time.
We went to what I like to call a park around the corner. It's more so just a huge patch of grass, but so relaxing as not a sound can be heard. I sat Lucy down on the grass and she began to play. I watched her as she crawled back and forth trying to decide what she wanted to play with, the flower, or the dry, crunchy leaf. Of course, she choose the leaf. As I stared, I just felt the want for a big-ol' daddy-daughter hug, so I began to call out to her. To my belief, as she so often does, she acted like she didn't hear me. I called again, and the leaf won. Feeling defeated, I let her play and I laid flat on my back and closed my eyes. After just a minute or two (unless I fell asleep, which hopefully not, because that would make me a bad parent), I felt a small little finger poking my right nostril. I opened my eyes to see a smiling Lucy. I smiled back, and she laid her head flat on my chest.
The chest lay lasted only a couple seconds, but as soon as her ear hit my chest, time stood still. It felt like an eternity, and I was loving every second of it. At that moment I realized that I was able to freeze time. My moments like this with Lucy will not last forever. She's daddy's little girl, but one day she will grow up and become a woman, with a husband, and kids. Fingers crossed she will live right next door, but the odds of that luxury are against me. The next time I am lucky enough to get a 6am smile, or a sloppy wet kiss before bed, I will hold on to it, as long as i can.
You see, being a dad has taught me the importance of every moment I have. whether that be with my wife, my daughter, my friends, or the drunk man begging for money so he can buy another liter of booze. Each of these moments are a precious gift, and it is up to me what I do with them. I pray I can continue to walk in this new found power, and make the most of my time with every person that comes my way.
This coming weekend I will be leaving my family for a week. Our first time apart in Guatemala. I will have the joy and honor to travel with local organization 10 hours away from home where we will be building water wells and being a blessing to people in a small rural village. It's these moments with Lucy that will get me through the week. I will miss my girls terribly, but what a joy to know that they will be there when I return.
I pray we can all be lucky enough to learn this treasure. Whether you are a parent or not, each moment that comes is a blessing. Hold on and cherish it, for one day it may no longer be.
My family and I moved to a completely different country. It took us 2 weeks to find salt and pepper shakers for our dining room table.
Antigua, Guatemala. I had visited Antigua several times in the past, and since the first time I had been here in 2008, I claimed it as my favorite place in the world. I still have not yet wrapped my mind around the fact that we live here now, and aside from moving to Guatemala, we did not really have much to do with it.
Antigua is rich in history and tourists flock from all over the world to catch a glimpse of what remains of some 3,000 buildings destroyed in a massive 7.4 earthquake back in 1717, and again in 1773. Antigua served as the third capital city of Guatemala, and after the earthquakes hit, the capital was moved to current Guatemala City, some 45 minutes away by car. Today, much of the city has been rebuilt. Cobblestone streets lead you past coffee shops and restaurants whose employees stand at the door and politely summon your business. You look up and see massive volcanos amongst ancient church ruins.
It's beautiful. But nothing is all that different.
You wake in the morning. You make a cup of coffee. You get dressed. You sit in traffic. You get frustrated because you are sitting in traffic. You get to work. You leave work. You sit in traffic. You get frustrated because you are sitting in traffic. You get home. You have dinner. You go to bed.
Jesus is everywhere, but nowhere to be seen. Does that sound familiar?
Why are we here, and not there, then? Great question. Hopefully I can answer that a little more clearly for you in the future. One thing I can say though, is that Guatemalan people have some of the best hearts I have ever seen. And we have fallen in love with it. Perhaps God has allowed us to fall in love with it because He wants us here? Or perhaps He doesn't actually care where we are as long as we are doing what He asks all of us to do?
Jesus is everywhere, but nowhere to be seen. This is why we are here, and this is why you are there.
With love, I pray for us all. That we will all be faithful to God's calling. Here, there, and absolutely everywhere we can.