27 December 2011

The BIG day! NOCHEBUENA 2011

Well, this year Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) fell on December 24th again....hmmmm...imagine that! And, as every year it began early for us. Started arranging all the many things to load and take with us to Casita Benjamín. Then, down to the panaderia to pick up 350 Pirujos (a type of bread). Then, at noon, the bus arrived at our house and we loaded Canastas de Víveres (baskets of provisions) decorations, props, cookies, disposable plates etc. etc. etc.
Then we left to pick up our servant team of youth, and headed to Zona 3 and Casita Benjamin, arriving about 1:30 PM.

2011 Servant team and helpers
When we arrived we unloaded the bus, then the team began decorating the Casita. One of our older youth, Erika, was in charge of decorating! She planned, directed the making of, and installing all the decorations! And the place looked the best ever!

Decorating the Casita
 This year there was even more decorating to do because we added a new wrinkle...some of our program would be held outside in the street! So, we needed some decorations outside, as well as inside.

Greeting outside for the neighbors!
 After the decorating, we had time for one last rehearsal of the drama, then people began to arrive! And then more, and more!
We began with our youth leading singing of Christmas carols outside in the street! We had quite a few neighbors come join us that would not normally have been a part if we just had the program inside!

Some of the people in the street singing carols
 The youth did a great job of singing strongly and there were lots of smiles all around!
The music was directed by Oscar Ávila, and as every year, he did a wonderful job!

Our youth team leading singing in the street!
 After the time of singing was finished, we had all of the children enter the Casita, and had all of the adults remain outside in the street. 
Our good friend Benjamin Melendez then gave a fantastic Gospel message out in the street for the parents of the kids and all of the neighbors!

Christmas Carols outside Casita Benjamín
 While Benjamin was preaching out in the street, our youth were performing a drama of the Christmas story for all of the kids inside. Another of our older girls, Diana, was in charge of directing the drama. It was EXCELENTE!

Our youth team performing the Christmas story!
 We had more people than ever before this year, and more kids than ever too! They LOVED the drama, were quiet and captivated by it!
After the drama, Diana gave a lesson to clearly explain what they had just seen, then led them all in prayer before we served the tamale dinner!

Some of the kids watching the drama!
 While this is all going on, the message finished outside and we had all of the adults enter for the dinner.
Best guesstimate is about 250 people!

Receiving their tamales, ponche and pan
 After our youth team served everyone, then served dessert of Sandi's Christmas cookies, and then collected all of the trash....it was time to present each family with a canasta de viveres, and each child with a gift!

Some of the adults inside Casita Benjamín
 We had exactly enough canastas so each family received one...we gave out 58 canastas at the Casita!
And we had just enough gifts for all of the children, with only a couple left over! We cut it close this year, having a bigger crowd than we had dreamed of! God is good and does answer our prayers!

Happy family leaving with their canasta and gifts!
Lots of happy faces as people were leaving with their gifts! 
Then we cleaned up the Casita, loaded up the bus and returned to Las Aldeas, where our youth live, and had another tamale dinner there! We had made a total of 70 canastas, planning to give canastas to each house there, and also the workers, but after the size of the crowd at Casita Benjamin, we were 12 baskets short for Las Aldeas. 
They will receive their canastas, just a few days late! We will be making more baskets over the next day or two!
It's a good problem to have!
I cannot say how proud I am of all of our youth, They did an incredible job of not just singing, performing and serving, but they loved those precious people and served with hearts overflowing...touching many, and letting people see Christ through them.

All in all, PRAISE the Lord!!! 
People were loved, heard a clear Gospel message, and saw it lived out in our servants.

Thank you one and all for your prayers and support of this impacting outreach!
May God bless you!


Each year on December 23rd we have an all day activity for our servant team.
It is to make Christmas cookies for the dessert on the 24th, and also to make lots of decorations for Casita Benjamin. 
This is also a day our team looks forward to after working hard for a month, this is a day they get to have some fun (while doing lots of work!)

Enjoying their work!
 We are giving them more and more responsibility, as many of our youth have been helping with Nochebuena for several years, and are older now. We placed one girl, Diana, in charge of the drama the kids will perform on the 24th. That took a lot of work from me! And she is doing great! Others are stepping up and helping each other do the many things needed to prepare. So this day, we let them go at it with minor supervision from me! Sandi made sure the cookie making process went smooth, and other than that, I let the kids do their thing with little interference....well, maybe I got in the way some, and started a flour fight...but really, they did most of the work!
All told we made well over 750 cookies, not counting the approximately 50 cookies Rafael "X-Box" ate by himself! 

At the same time the cookies are going on, half the team was working on making decorations.
Again I had delegated the responsibility of decorations to one of our older girls, Erika. She planned the decorations, made a list of materials, went with us to buy the materials, made some of the more time intensive decorations at home, and guided the process at our house this day. She did a great job, we're very proud of her! She will also be in charge of doing the decorating at the Casita on the 24th. 

Erika guided the team making LOTS of decorations!
 It was a fun day, for the youth to let loose and have some fun while serving. Learning that work can be fun too! This was their time, leading and helping each other. I am sooooo proud of all of them, they really have become a TEAM!

Carols at Kairos

As part of our Nochebuena preparations and activities, we always visit Casa Kairos one evening to sing Christmas Carols and visit with the kids and their families.
If you don't know of Casa Kairos, it is a home for kids with cancer, and their families, that are undergoing treatment at the public hospital nearby.
It was a full house Dec. 20 when we visited.

Some of the people at Kairos
 We took our servant team of youth that we work with, that have been helping us with preparing for Nochebuena. They will be doing the singing, performing and serving at the Nochebuena celebration at Casita Benjamin on Dec. 24.

Hanging out after singing!
After spending close to an hour singing with all the folks there, we served a snack of Sandi's famous Christmas cookies! Then we spent some time just hanging out with the kids there.
Our youth did a great job. We are really trying to just guide them, letting them do the serving and most of the directing, while we stay more in the background. And they are stepping up!

18 December 2011

Getting Ready!

Things are coming together rapidly for Nochebuena...like each year, it is a mad dash for a month and a half, but it always seems to work out great!
We have been busy, busy, busy the past weeks, buying supplies, buying gifts, practicing with the youth for singing, a drama to perform etc.
We took a few of our helpers with us to CEGMA, which is like a distribution center for goods where we can buy things in bulk.
We bought all the provisions for the Canastas de Víveres (baskets of provisions) there.
Another day we went to the mercado in Zona 3 to buy all the disposable supplies, plates, cups, etc. We also bought childrens gifts, wrapping paper etc.

Some of the provisions for the canastas
 This year one thing that has helped some is that we are giving more responsibility to some of our older youth that have been helping for several years.One is in charge of the drama, another in charge of decorations etc.
It helps me out a lot, and gives them a lot more sense of really contributing something.
And they are doing great! We've had them helping in some way many days each week!

Wrapping gifts for kids
 Yesterday we had an all day activity at our house to wrap gifts and to make the canastas.
We were planning to make 70 canastas and they take a lot of work each to put together. There are 12 items in each basket, and several of them, i.e. frijoles, oatmeal, rice, pasta, were purchased in bulk, and first had to be packaged into 1 lb. bags.

Making 1 lb bags of frijoles
Then we set up an assembly line snaking through most of the house! A few people would carry baskets by stations where another person would add items to the basket!
It is lots of fun, and lots of work for 70 baskets!
After 70 baskets were assembled, and scattered all over the house, we had a pizza lunch break and watched a movie!
Then it was time to wrap 70 canastas!

Making each canasta special and unique
We had sheets of celophane and lots of ribbon, and let the kids use their own style!
We literally had baskets and people scattered over most of the house, using any available space!
Using the hallways

Using the kitchen

Using the dining room

Using the living room
 We finished in the afternoon, and then spent time practicing Christmas carols to sing at Kairos House this week.

2011 Nochebuena servant team
(missing several members in this foto)
So we now have Canastas stacked up pretty much filling our dining room, but only for another week!
Please keep praying for God's blessing on this project, we are expecting around 300 people total between Casita Benjamin and Las Aldeas for Nochebuena.
This coming week, our daughter Felicita arrives, with a girlfriend from college, and her boyfriend James will arrive also! We will also take our group to Kairos to sing for the people, have another all day activity to make decorations and cookies. 
Then the big event!

28 November 2011

It's Nochebuena time again!

It's the time of year again gearing up for our BIG Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) outreach!
Actually, we are getting a late start this year due to my trip to the USA, but, never the less, Christmas Eve will still arrive Dec 24 whether we are ready or not! So...we plan to be ready!
Those not familiar with this, what we do is host a BIG dinner party for families that live alongside the largest land fill dump in Central America.
Actually, the idea is a special night for these people. Most cannot afford a traditional Christmas Eve dinner of tamales, much less presents for their children.
This is a very densely populated neighborhood, very dangerous with gangs, drugs etc. It is very dark spiritually as well, and at Christmas time it is even more depressing for the people there.

Servant team 2010
 So what we do is invite them to a Nochebuena CELEBRATION! 
I form a servant team with the youth we work with from a children's home. These kids have very little themselves, but when given a chance to serve those with less, look out! They spend weeks preparing, practicing songs, practicing a drama for the kids, wrapping gifts, making decorations etc!
Then on the 24th, we rent a bus and go into Zona 3 to Casita Benjamin where we have the event!
The kids decorate the place, lead Christmas carols to begin the program. Then while the adults receive an evangelistic message of hope, our team has a program for the children with a drama and songs.
This year the director at Casita Benjamin and I did some brainstorming and decided to try something new. We are going to hold the first part of our program, singing carols and the evangelistic message, out in the street! Right outside the Casita we will set up speakers and are sure we will draw many more neighbors to come hear the singing and the message! I am very excited for this!

Singing Christmas carols
 Then it's time for dinner, and after dinner each child receives a wrapped gift. We will also provide a basket of basic goods for each family. These baskets contain things like, sugar, rice, pasta, salt, cooking oil, soups, juices, oatmeal, and several other items.
Then after we say Feliz Navidad to the guests, we clean the Casita, load the bus up and return to the children's home.....where.....

Serving dinner
...we do it all again!
Well, most of it. We will sing songs, have another tamale dinner, perform the play, and then watch a movie with everyone there!
All told, between both events, we expect to host dinner for between 300 and 400 people!
It is a TON of work, but is even more fun!
One thing each year on top of it all, is the need to raise the funds to provide all of this.
And each year we have seen God come through for us in amazing, and different ways!
This year was no exception.
While in Texas, visiting Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church in Denton, TX, I was able to meet the missions committee there for the first time. I was happy about this as they have helped us with several ministries the past few years, and with us personally as well. I just wanted a chance to say thank you. They then asked me some questions about what things we had coming up, and I shared some about Nochebuena. But, I never asked for their help. 
Then, the very next day, I was informed they had decided to fully fund our project this year!
So...we are off and running!
Check here over the next month for some updates as we have several events to prepare for Christmas Eve, then the big event itself on December 24th!

La Luz Brilla - Coming soon!

We know there are many people interested in what's happening with La Luz Brilla?
We have exciting news!
But first, let me briefly explain La Luz Brilla for those not aware.
La Luz Brilla is the name for the transition house we have been led to open for young women.
Through our work with lots of young people, virtually all of whom would be called 'high risk' youth, we have seen how as they leave the children's home environment, their chances of success are small at best. And things are getting worse here in Guatemala. Especially for women, culturally, economically, security etc it is very tough to overcome. Add to that the issues of childhood abuse, emotional scars and issues, and the odds become very daunting indeed.

Miriam and Yesica
 That's where we are hoping La Luz Brilla can stand in the gap. We want to provide a safe place where girls can finish their education, and learn to live independently, yet with a safety net to catch them when they stumble.
A place where they can live on their own, yet learn about the basic things to make it, like, how to budget, how to realistically live on a meager income. How to buy groceries, how to do the many things it takes to become successful on your own. We would help provide administration, training, education in some basic living skills, discipleship etc.

Marta and Erika
The need is constantly growing, and we have been waiting on the Lords timing to provide funding needed to open a home.
And He has provided!
We have received a gift from Desert View Baptist Church in Gilbert, AZ that will cover 100% of our projected start-up costs!
So, we are hoping after the first of the year to begin looking for a suitable house to rent, and then begin setting it up to receive young women to live there.
We will still need ongoing monthly support to operate La Luz Brilla, but are trusting the Lord to provide as we get started. 
We are planning to start a sponsorship type program where people can sponsor individual girls and follow as they progress through the process to independence!

If you feel led to be a part of this from the beginning, and help provide a chance at success for some young people that might not get another chance, just ask how!
It's easy....

Back in the U.S. of A.!

So, I guess I had forgotten that November in Washington State can be COLD!
Ha, well, I guess I needed some new sweaters!
I spent the last week of October in Denton, TX, then went to Washington for the first two weeks of November. I had a good time visiting lots of friends and family, and making some new friends also.
I was able to visit many activities at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Denton, TX. They have been helping us with several of our ministries, as well as supporting us personally for the past couple of years, yet we had not had the opportunity to spend much time there or know many people.

Visit with Ellie, our youngest intern so far!
 So, this time I got to meet quite a few people and visit most of their weekly activities!
I was able to speak at the Pastor's Sunday school class, visit several youth activities, a large weekly church dinner etc etc.
I was also able to meet the missions committee for the first time to say thank you and give a brief update on what God is doing in Guatemala!
The next day I was informed that the missions committee had decided to fully fund our Nochebuena outreach at Casita Benjamin! Praise the Lord! I never even asked for help for the event. They asked what we had coming up, and I told them about Nochebuena, but didn't ask for them to fund it!
I also was able to visit a few of our former interns from the Dallas/Denton area, including Ellie, our youngest intern ever!
Also, while in Texas, I was taken to a Dallas Stars hockey game...good time!

Kimber & Sergey with Berkley the dog  
 I left Texas for Washington where I spent the first night in Seattle with my Dad. Then went to Bellingham where I stayed with our daughter, Kimberly, and her husband Sergey. It was the first time we've been together since their wedding and it was great to see their life together after 15 months!

Bellingham in November!
 However, my first morning waking up in Bellingham it was 26 degrees! BBBRRRRRRRRRR
But it was still great because I was so busy, visiting several small groups and lots of people!

Visiting with a Bible study group
 The main purpose of the trip was to seek some additional support as ours has been quite low, so it was a real blessing for me to visit several groups, including one group where I did not know a single person when I arrived!
It was very encouraging to meet people and share about the ministries God has allowed us to be part of. Plus, it always seems to get me more fired up to keep on keeping on!

Jacob and the Pacific Ocean
 In the middle of my time there in Washington, in the cold dampness of Bellingham, I was able to take a 2 1/2 day trip to San Diego to spend time with our son, Jacob. This was a highlight of my trip! It had been probably 7 or 8 years since we had any one on one father/son time.What a huge blessing for me, and I think he enjoyed having me around for a couple of days. We just hung out, and it was very relaxed. 

Greatest sport on Earth! 
Back in Bellingham, I was able to finish my time there celebrating both Kimber and Sergey's birthdays by joining them and a few other friends at a major junior hockey game! My FAVORITE level of hockey to watch anywhere! PRICELESS!
I was able to spend my last Sunday at Northlake, our home church, and spoke at a luncheon and also at the evening service there! It was good to see stability and direction returning after a transition time there.

27 September 2011

On the street

The other night I went with a group from our church to visit with youth that live on the streets in Zona 3 by the dump.
I didn't take a camera, so the photo you see here is just a generic one, not the actual people we visited.
We gathered around right out on a side street with about 30 - 40 of the young people and we sang some songs, hung out with them and then gave each one a spaghetti dinner.
The purpose wasn't to preach, but to just talk, and listen to them. Let them know that they do have value and that someone does care.

Jóvenes that live on the streets
I talked with a few young guys that wanted to show me all of their break dancing moves!
They were inhaling their 'sol' all the time (they soak small rags in solvent, and inhale the fumes to get high) so their dance moves really weren't all that great, but they enjoyed showing me! 
This is not the first time I have been there, and I'm sure won't be the last, but is always difficult to watch as they destroy themselves with sol. There are some girls in the group, and sadly, there were two kids around 2 to 3 yrs old.
After an hour or so visiting with the youth, our group left and went to Zona 1 to take some food and visit with a group of prostitutes and transvestites.
The women in our group visited with the prostitutes, while the men prepared the spaghetti!

This is a ministry that involves several churches on a revolving basis, so we will  go about every other month.

25 September 2011

Coming to a town near you! (if you live near where I'm going)

Yes, that's right! I will be coming to visit if you're where I'm going!
I will be making a three week trip to the States soon, to try and build some more support for our ministry here in Guatemala. Over the past couple of years, as the economy has gone in the tank all over the world, we also have seen our support go down. It reached a point earlier this year where our mission told us we were almost 5K in the hole, and they were lowering our salary 35%.
If you can imagine yourself living on 35% less, you understand. 
So.....I will be traveling to visit a couple of churches and any groups we can arrange, individuals etc. to share what we are doing and pray the Lord will lead some to partner with us in His exciting work!

Arriving in the Northwest....PRICELESS!
It worked out just right, I had almost exactly the amount of airmiles to be able to make this trip. 
Sandi spent a few weeks visiting a lot of folks in August, and now it's my turn!

I will be in Denton, Texas from October 27 to November 3,
and then I will be
in the Seattle / Bellingham area from November 3 to November 16.

If you are anywhere in the vicinity of these place, and would like to get together, just let me know!
And....if you would like to help....AWESOME!
I could use some help from a few people to arrange some opportunities to share what God is doing here, in churches, or small groups.
A dessert, or lunch, gathering for coffee, pretty much any ideas would be a great help.
Any ideas you have, just contact me!
Please pray that the Lord would bring everything together as only He can.

Oh, and as a little extra blessing for me, I will be in Bellingham for our daughter Kimberly's birthday!
And our son in law Sergey's too!

24 September 2011

Odds and Ends, Upcoming STUFF!

In our lives, there is always something happening, pretty much every day brings new and often unexpected opportunities to serve here in Guatemala. It took awhile to get used to it, it kind of goes against the North American way of planning and scheduling. hahaha
Personally, I love it, flexibility is a good thing!
Sandi has adapted to it and starts each day with the question "I wonder what today holds for us?"
For example, it is not uncommon for one of our 'former' youth, when they have a day off, to call us and ask if we are at home. Then they say they are at the gate outside! Then, we have a guest to hang out with us for the day. Sometimes it changes our plans for the day, sometimes they just join us in our plans! I am just thankful that they want to come be with us. Most of them consider us to be their family, as they don't have any that cares for them. This is real discipleship. They have very little free time so to want to spend it with us is a great thing. Another example, just the other day I received a call from one of our youth..."will you be home tomorrow afternoon?" She is taking an English class at the University and needed help. So, a couple hours of tutoring, then of course dinner with us, etc. 
We are so blessed when we pour our lives into these young people.
Or, the other day one of the juvenil houses had a plugged drain, so I spent the morning fixing things so they can wash clothes again. And, there are closets to fix....

Allen and Kara Rea
 Another thing we do, that we love, is hosting visitors. A couple from Georgia, Allen & Kara Rea, are interested in serving in Guatemala long term. Allen is a pastor of a small church and is finishing his Masters at Seminary this year. He is very interested in teaching Seminary here in Guatemala. So, in August we hosted them for a week, showed them around some, shared our lives with them, arranged meetings at both CAM affiliated seminaries here, and just had a good time together!
They have since returned home and are beginning the long term application process with CAM!

Singing carols at Nochebuena
We are beginning to gear up for some upcoming events. The big one is Nochebuena. That is our big Christmas Eve outreach we hold in Zona 3 for the families around the dump.
It literally takes about 2 months of planning and work to get it all together. We will have a budget of about $3000 for the entire outreach, and at this point we have...well...about $0. So....if you're interested...just ask!
There will be more about this coming out in another month or so.

Youth servant team for Nochebuena
 We are also continuing with plans for La Luz Brilla, the transition home we hope to open for young ladies. The idea being to take girls 18 and over, that are leaving children's homes etc, and need to transition into an independent life. Coming out of the lives they have grown up in, they have many obstacles to overcome most young people don't have.
We want to come alongside them to disciple, coach, teach, help them learn how they can, with God's help, not just make it on their own, but lead a successful life, and successful family to help break the cycle so prevalent here of broken families in poverty.
We will need to raise some funds for this much needed ministry. The need is growing each month.
We have met with another couple that has a very similar vision and are brainstorming with them, possibilities for working together in many areas. Please join us in praying for these things.

Potential girls for La Luz Brilla
 Along with hosting visitors and teams, and coordinating and supervising interns, we will also be receiving a couple of 'mid-term' missionaries over the next few months. Mid-term is considered between 6 months and 2 years of service, mas o menos.
We will help them get settled in and started in their ministries.

So, lots of things coming up, along with new things each day for us to do! And, sandwiched in with all this, I will be traveling to the States for 3 weeks Oct 27 - Nov 16 to do some fund raising.
Our personal support is still very low, as well as looking for funding for the things mentioned above.
More on that trip in my next blog post!

23 September 2011

Elections Guatemala style!

Finally, after about 6+ months of campaigning (4 legally) that was, at the least, not boring, on September 11th Guatemala went to the polls to elect a new president, along with all other offices throughout Guatemala.
In the end, after starting with 14 official parties, several parties formed alliances, so there were officially 10 parties running for president.

Running out of post space for more signs!
 This, after one candidate was disallowed for trying to disregard the constitution. After fighting it all the way to the Supreme Court and finally losing just a month before the election. This was the current presidents "ex-wife". Ex because the Constitution states that family members of the sitting president cannot legally run. So...after she started campaigning, and realizing this, she divorced her husband "for the good of Guatemala".
Another candidate was disallowed until winning in the courts and being reinstated as a candidate with just 3 weeks before the elections.

They added more signs here the week after this photo
 There were constant rallies, and marches, loudspeakers blaring the virtues of their respective candidate, protests, threats, mud-slinging, violence and murders, arson and, just in case nobody noticed it was an election year, SIGNS. EVERYWHERE! If there was a post or pole somewhere, it had as many signs on it as would fit. And, if there wasn't a post, they put one in! Or hung the signs over the roads between posts, that were of course covered with signs!

Buena vista!

The best place for signs is in your line of sight for oncoming traffic!
And now, post election day?
Well, since no one candidate received over 50% of the vote, there will be a run-off on November 6th between the top two candidates.
Manuel Baldizon vs. Otto Perez Molina
At least they are removing all the other signs, so will just be signs for those two now.
Please pray the run-off will be peaceful and that Guatemala will respect the laws. 
Pray for safety here, as things overall continue to deteriorate with a bad economy, growing poverty and crime. Pray that God would use all of it to bring Guatemala to the realization that, more than ever, we need God.
Pray that God would use us as instruments in whatever way He chooses to truly be servants here.

Sandi visits the NW

After Next Step and our visit with Felicita in Kentucky, Sandi traveled to the NW for a few weeks of relaxation, visits and sharing about our ministries here in Guatemala.
She was able to spend a lot of time with our daughter Kimberly and her husband, Sergey.
And, of course, one of the first things to do was visit Safeco Field for a Mariners game!

What is more beautiful?
They had a great time with beautiful weather.

Kimber meets the Moose!
 Sandi was able to spend time with most of her brothers and sisters and catch up after a long time between visits! She also was able to visit many of her old friends, as well as friends and supporters of ours for many years.

Baptism at Lake Padden
 She also was invited to attend a baptism with a Russian evangelical church that some of Sergey's family attends.

This ain't sprinkling
 Sandi says the baptism was a huge blessing for her to be at. It was a very God honoring event attending by a large gathering.

Sandi sharing at Northlake Community Church
 Sandi also had several opportunities to share our ministries here. It is always a blessing to share what God is doing here in Guatemala, and we pray through these opportunities that He may lead more people to partner with us in His work. Our support continues to be low, and we need to do more fundraising efforts like this.