Monday, May 31, 2010

Emergency Relief Needed for Pueblo Nuevo (Guatemala)

After the eruption of Pacaya and the wrath of Tropical Storm Agatha, the country of Guatemala has been devastated, once again, by disaster. There is not a lot of media coverage about this and most media outlets are minimizing this country's distress and focusing only on the relatively low death count. (Low in comparison to hundreds and thousands sometimes killed in other disasters.) You can read one of the short reports below. Note that we were just in Chimaltenango a month ago and this department is very close to Pueblo Nuevo.

Fox News report

Make no mistake, regardless of the lack of media coverage, the involvement of other countries and the lack of celebrities hosting telethons. This disaster could have been much worse (and it will get worse before it gets better), but Guatemala has been hit hard by this and is in desperate need for help.

The village of Pueblo Nuevo is not an exception. For days I have prayed not to receive the news I received tonight. I prayed for all of Guatemala because I love the country as a whole and all that live there, but of course I prayed through all of the bad news we were hearing that this village would be spared. It was not.

Homes have been lost and severely damaged. Most personal belongings, which is usually only basic necessities, have been ruined by water and mud. Because of the destruction, most families lost what little food they had, have no water and are in need of shelter (or more stable shelter). The risk of mudslides continues. Even though Agatha has moved out, it is rainy season and the chance of rain is always there. Because every thing has been ruined, families now more than ever lack clothing, shoes, what is needed to care for their children and themselves. They are living in extremely dangerous homes that were already not stable, but now are even weaker, on the side of a mountain as they watch the ground wash out from underneath them.

I think I have made it very clear that we love these families in Guatemala as if they are our own families. In fact I do consider them to be our families. Over the last year this has grown into something that is far beyond myself. We may not have been prepared for this, but we knew that it was inevitable. For now we must look outside of our mission of orphan prevention through family outreach (poverty alleviation) and focus on relief.

Rarely have I openly asked for monetary donations. I have asked for donations and then said that if you do not want to support AAB then please support another organization. I still say that. No matter who you support, just do something. But for the first time I am pleading with you to please donate to AAB today. We know the families that are struggling. Help us feed them. Help us provide water for them. Help us help them rebuild or repair their homes. This isn't about asking for donations for something that may be done next year. It isn't about long term relief projects. That is important...imperative...but for now, this is about survival. I am asking for donations that you will see used in the coming weeks. You may not be able to physically distribute food and other supplies and do construction, but you will see exactly how your donations are being used here through frequent updates and photos. Please donate today!

We cannot ship large boxes of clothing and shoes right now, but we can buy them there. We cannot bring large quantities of food from the U.S. right now, but we can buy it there. I know that you want to see your physical donations being distributed, but it is better for the people of Guatemala that we continue to purchase what we can there ensuring that more maintain their incomes. To donate, please click on the donate button on the top of the sidebar.

Other ways you can help:

Spread the word. Donate your statuses to Guatemala updates every day for a while. Blog about it. Make sure people know the real extent of what is happening there.

Fundraise. Hold a bake sale. Yard sale. Car wash. Anything you can to raise even the smallest amount of money and then donate it to a charity that is providing emergency relief in Guatemala. Of course we would love to use whatever you are able to raise to help the people of Pueblo Nuevo, but if you would like a list of other organizations providing relief, I will be happy to email them to you.

Make the decision to join a team. We will be traveling to Guatemala in the coming weeks for our first emergency relief mission trip. I will announce the dates of that trip hopefully by the end of the week. During this trip we will distribute basic necessities including food and water and begin to make a plan for rebuilding. If you have ever wanted to travel on a mission trip, now would be a great time to go. The need is huge and we cannot do this alone. If you are interested in traveling on an upcoming relief trip, please email

Pray. Continue to pray for safety for the people of Guatemala. And pray for us as we seek out the best way to handle the devastation in Pueblo Nuevo.

On behalf of families in Pueblo Nuevo that I am told are praying for help and have no idea what else to do, thank you for your support!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Elysia - the new blog "follower"

Hello to you! It is not like me to write a post based off of a "you probably think this is crazy" comment, but since you do not have a blog for me to comment on and I have no idea how to get in touch with you, here is an AAB blog post just for you. How is that for crazy? ;)

Of course I remember our flight! I am assuming you were the one sitting in the middle of the plane on the same row as us, is that right? If so, I remember you and thought about you yesterday. How did you like that apology letter and bonus miles for our "delay" (if you have a sky miles account)? I wondered if you would ever get back on plane again after returning home from Guate, let alone with that airline. I'm so happy to hear that it won't be keeping you from traveling again.

Thanks for your prayers! I am impressed that you remembered our name after all of that drama. Do you know when you will go back to Guatemala?

Monday, May 17, 2010

We Cry Out

Our ten weeks of Breaking Free came to an end last week with one last assignment that includes a brief writing, a covenant, that is to be shared with someone (or several someones) close to us and then sealed. Our small group of sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, sometimes laughing and sometimes crying women decided that there is just no way we can stop meeting weekly so this week when we get together to share our last assignment we will decide what study to do from here. To be honest, I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do without my weekly time of refreshment and I'm not talking about our never-ending supply of chips and salsa. Thankfully my Thursday nights will remain full of fellowship and what is bound to be the occasional barking frogs and getting home at midnight fun. (Trust me. You had to be there to understand.)

Regardless of what we do next, the last ten weeks have been so beneficial. Writing all of the things that have been realized and remembered, let go of and binded to would take a while and I am not going to share much about it because it has been a time of such personal growth. But tonight as I sat down to write what will be sealed Thursday evening, I was, as usual, at a loss for words. Once I begin writing it's easy for me to continue. Beginning is the hard part.

My pen sat next to a blank sheet of paper for while. Brief has never described me or anything that I write. How could I keep this brief? How could I sum up all that I want to say to God in this covenant in a paragraph? Then a song that I love so much began playing in the background and as it always does reached right into my heart. Writing perhaps my shortest prayer, my forever promise, became easy. It should be so simple and what should be done every day, through it all, but it isn't always easy to let go completely and cling only to Him.

When fear begins to consume me and when I am living fearlessly in You...
When doubt clouds my mind and when I am walking the path with certainty...
When questions come and when You answer...
When my heart breaks and when it is healed...
Whenever I follow and when I realize that I have forgotten to...
Through it all, what is good and what is not,
I will turn to You and not myself.
I will cry out Your name. El Shaddai, God of Grace, Lord Most High, Jesus Christ.
I will rely on Your grace because only through that am I saved.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Faces and Names

2007. Newly opened eyes and an open heart, finally willing to follow His way instead of my own. A walk in the place that would soon feel like home and an image that is forever burned into my soul. A mother and her son. Begging for money, for food, for hope.

Nothing new. The same thing plays out on every corner every day. But that day, that moment, everything became new. When my eyes first landed on the bundle of color that was crouched on the sidewalk holding a small, plastic bowl and a small child, I thought about turning away. I thought about crossing the street. I thought about ignoring them completely. I thought about dropping a coin or two in the bowl and going on with my day, with my life. But that would have been me before the pleading. That would have been me just one day earlier. Instead as I approached I realized that I was seeing one of the most incredible sights of my life. Somehow I knew that I would never be the same and instead of fighting the life long conviction of spending my life working with "the least of these", I embraced it. This was the start of something. I could almost hear the Lord whisper, "They are mine and I love them just as I love you. What are you going to do to help them?" I did not have an answer and as I fumbled through my bag trying to find my camera because I knew I would want to remember that very moment, tears filled my eyes because there was nothing I could do. I could drop money in the bowl. I could bend down and speak to them in a language that they would not understand. I could, for just a moment, pour out an ounce of love that could come only from Him. I did all of those and then I walked away. Because there was nothing else I could do. How I wish they knew what a large part they play in this story. I am convinced that they will one day. I believe that one day the vividness of a photo will come to life in what was their once dark, hollow eyes. I believe the look of despair will be gone and we will all laugh the loudest of laughs together. I believe that one day I will know their names and they will know mine. One day. Until that day comes, I will never stop talking about them and never stop remembering the impact they continue to have on my life.

2010. Trip number four in less than 12 months. I see the same faces and I know many of them by name. Only a handful are uncomfortable with our presence there. Now, instead of holding tightly to their children, mothers smile and wink at me as their children run full speed into my arms. Most learned quickly that we are not there to harm anyone or to take their children. They are not just dirty faces in photos or numbers in a poverty statistic. These are our friends, our neighbors, our families and we love them. Every single one of them. In just a year, actually, in just 4 weeks, this has happened. I wonder what it will look like ten years from now? I imagine it will look similar to my relationship with God. I'm pretty sure I will look back on old prayer journals and notes and say, "...and I thought I loved them then." His once quiet whisper has grown into a soft roar over the years. There was a time last year when He whispered for the last time, "They are mine and I love them just as I love you. What are you going to do to help them?" But now all I hear is, "They are mine. I know every one. And I love them more than you ever could. There is nothing that you can do alone so don't even try. But if you keep holding on to Me...if you keep following My way, you will see lives transformed...their lives and yours." I long to know every name, to know every battle, to know every heart's desire, but no matter how close I may get to each person in Pueblo Nuevo, I will never know them the way that He does. Still, how different life is and love is when you can put a name to a face, when you can hold a hand, when you can give a hug and somewhat know the person you are touching. This must be so different than short term mission teams that take many trips, but rarely return to the same place or who send different leadership on every trip. Because our mission is long-term development as orphan prevention instead of short term relief, we will continue to get to know the people of Pueblo Nuevo and continue to fall more in love with them. How different life is as you begin to put names to faces and as hearts begin to connect in a way that is indescribable. We are working for an entire village. Our goal is not to do anything to them or for them. We are not trying to change anyone. But we are working WITH them to help them break the chain of poverty that has been choking them for generations. As we work with this village, there are children and families that we already know by name and that have such a hold on our hearts that the thought of them often makes it difficult to breathe. The number of personal stories and struggles grows each time we are there. There are times when I doubt that my heart can hold another, but somehow it always stretches to allow another one in. This trip was no different. I will write more details about the trip soon, but this morning my mind is racing and I feel the stabs of injustice from many miles away. And I just have to let it out.

It has gotten to the point that I hesitate to share photos of families and children in Pueblo Nuevo online. I know that in order to bring support to this area, I have to, but there is just something about putting their precious faces and stories online that rattles me. I do not want people that do not know them to look on them with pity and then forget about them five minutes later. What I want is for people to know and love them, to really love them, and never forget them. I do not want them to be just photos in someones mind. I want them to be as real to you as they are to me. The people of Pueblo Nuevo, the rest of Guatemala and in fact, the rest of the world, do not need our pity. They deserve so much more than that. So while I have hundreds of photos at my fingertips that could be used to provoke pity and to encourage people to donate money because the situation is "so sad", I will not post them. I know that a lot of people do post pictures of starving, fly-swarmed children in an effort to tug on the heart strings of potential donors. We certainly want you to see through to the heart of these families and we want your heart strings to be pulled, just not by pity. Right now I am not asking for donations and I am not sharing details about upcoming projects. For the first time, I am asking for prayer for specific children in Pueblo Nuevo. As always, I ask that you continue to pray for all of the children and families there, but today would you stop for a moment to put a name with a face and go before the Throne on their behalves? More than pity, that is what is needed and because of that, I want to share briefly those that are weighing most heavily on me this morning.


We first saw her last June, first learned her name in October. She was incredibly shy and behind her eyes was intense fear not caused by us. I was not sure why, but I had a feeling that someone was responsible for the terror that struck me each time I looked at her and what was worse is that I knew she had to return to it if that was the case. We talked to her about the children's ministry and for the first time she attended. This is one of the few smiles we saw from her that week. In December, she was shocked when she realized we remembered her and not just her, but her name. The biggest smile crept across her face and I have never received such a big hug from a child for such a simple reason. But it wasn't simple to her. We couldn't remember all names, but we remembered hers. We knew her and that brought her so much joy. The rest of the week she was happy and smiling every time we were near her. She freely hugged me over and over and was sad to see us go. Last week, Maria was a different child. She is not allowed to attend the children's ministry and not once did we see her smile. As I reached out to hug her, she pulled away, almost cringed under the touch of my hand. I do not know much about her, but I do know that she is fighting a battle and for now appears to be losing it. What she doesn't know is that I believe that her battle is already won and that I will walk through fire to bring that Truth to her. Whatever she is facing and whatever is yet to come in her young life, I will not give up on Maria. The child we saw in December is in there somewhere.


Carmen is a mom. Each trip she welcomes us into her home and shares a little more of her life with us. She is a compassionate woman that loves her children and all of the children in Pueblo Nuevo. I'm not sure why, but she is one of the handful of moms that I felt instantly connected to. She is warm and friendly and there is just something about her that I cannot explain. Her life is not easy. It never has been. But she has more faith than I have ever known. I so often pray to be the kind of person that when people look at me or talk to me, they know without a doubt that I am a Christian because the love of God is evident in every thing I say and do. I am far from being that person. Maybe that is why Carmen is often on my heart. Because she IS that woman and there is so much that I can learn from her. She may not know it yet and even I do not know what is in store, but something is in the works for her family and I can't wait to be a part of it.


The boy in the top of this photo is Yoni. Yoni captured my heart in October. If you think a child that is struggling in a life of poverty cannot be happy, you are wrong. Yoni was a very happy child. His smile was contagious. It was obvious that he loved life and laughing was one of his favorite things to do. In December, he was still smiling and laughing. Full of life. Full of joy. Despite the circumstances. Last week, I knew the moment I saw him that something was wrong. There was no smile. His expression was blank. And instead of playing around to get our attention, he withdrew. We walked away from his house our first day and I kept saying that something was wrong. My heart was crushed for him and I desperately wanted to know what had happened to him. We returned the next day to speak with his mother and learned what is going on. Yoni is 12 years old. He started the third grade for the third time in January. Soon after, he was forced to leave school and cannot return because he has a "memory problem". He now works in the fields all day, every day. I can only imagine what he thinks about all of this. I have no idea what is causing his "memory problem" or if he even has one. He enjoyed school and I know that he would rather be there than in the fields. According to his lack of expression most of last week, I know that he thinks his life is now hopeless. It is not.

He has no idea that the woman that grabbed his ear last week in order to get a real smile instead of a forced one is now 1600 miles away sick with worry about him and praying every day for the wisdom to know how to handle his case and all of the others. He has no idea that while we are constantly working to come up with ways to reach Pueblo Nuevo long term and beginning to zone in on education, that HE is now at the front of my mind and when I meet with the local school in August that his name will be the first that is spoken. He has no idea that I will do whatever it takes to pull him out of the fields, find out more about his "memory problem" and help him return to school. He has no idea that at this moment there are advocates standing in the gap that are going to fight for his future. We know his face and his name for a reason. God did not lay this child so heavily on my heart just to have me turn away.

There are so many others. Every child that we meet, every name that we learn stays with us and we carry them with us always. They are a part of me and forever will be. I know that I write similar things often, but I just can't help myself. This morning Carolyn called to say how much she misses Guatemala and how it's strange to look at pictures from our trips now because "we know them". I was in the process of already writing this when she called. Those are my thoughts exactly. We know them. We love them. And every day we are working out the next turn it around, to end poverty there...hopefully in this generation, to make sure that they do not become orphans, to see them again. I am so happy that we consistently travel to Guatemala so that we always have a fresh, vivid memory of what this feels like and so that they continue to learn that we love them, but most importantly, that He loves them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is Foreign Aid Bad?

For months I have been trying to find the words to explain how, more like often...we hurt the very people we are trying to help in countries that are so close to our hearts by our hand-outs of relief supplies that either aren't needed or are quickly used up and not replaced and goods that aren't exactly necessary. I have wanted to get across how the mission of AAB is NOT relief and how any time we (any organization, church, etc.) bring in large amounts of foreign aid, we hurt the weak and usually non-existent economy even more. Not to mention, our handouts often turn people into the beggars that they never wanted to be and sometimes gives the humble a big ol' God-complex. Personally, all of that is something that I am trying avoid like the plague. One reason December's trip was so difficult for me was because all of the distribution HURT local business owners and the lines for shoes and food baskets was, to me, the equivalent of silent begging. I am not saying that distribution is never needed. Sometimes it is. And even AAB will, on occasion, distribute supplies. At Christmas, for instance, our families will receive a gift of a food bag and the children will receive much needed school supplies. But it will all be handled differently from now on and will only be a once yearly gift. Other than that, we will rarely distribute anything else unless a disaster causes the need for emergency relief. But back to the point. I have been trying to write about last week's trip since we returned, but cannot even begin to describe it without first going in to how sometimes we hurt people more by trying to help them. This is a touchy subject and I do not want to offend anyone...anyone that has supported AAB in the past or currently and certainly not those that are working tirelessly in the missions field in whatever way they believe they are called to work. But we know that for us, our mission goes far beyond handouts because in most cases, it is development that is needed, not relief. Thanks to a friend for sharing this link with me today. It sums up a lot of what we think and is the perfect starting point in describing the trip and what comes next. Obviously we are not working in Africa yet, but that doesn't matter. Poverty alleviation efforts may vary around world, but the core remains the same. The same efforts that are bad for countries in Africa are usually bad for countries like Guatemala, too.

(Article can be found at,8599,1987628,00.html?hpt=T2)

Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!)
By Nick Wadhams / Nairobi Wednesday, May. 12, 2010

In the history of foreign aid, it looked pretty harmless: a young Florida businessman decided to collect a million shirts and send them to poor people in Africa. Jason Sadler just wanted to help. He thought he'd start with all the leftover T-shirts from his advertising company, I Wear Your Shirt. But judging by the response Sadler got from a group of foreign aid bloggers, you'd think he wanted to toss squirrels into wood chippers or steal lunch boxes from fourth-graders.
"I have thick skin, I don't mind, but it's just the way they responded — it was just, 'You're an idiot, here's another stupid idea, I hope this fails,' " Sadler, 27, tells TIME. "It really was offensive because all I'm trying to do is trying to make something good happen and motivate people to get off their butts, get off the couch and do something to help."

Little did Sadler know he had stumbled into a debate that is raging in the aid world about the best and worst ways to deliver charity, or whether to give at all. He crashed up against a rather simple theory that returned to prominence after aid failures following the 2004 Asian tsunami and 2010 Haiti earthquake: wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you're doing.

Sadler has never visited Africa or worked on a foreign aid project. To his critics, his pitch seemed naive with its exhortation, "Share the wealth, share your shirts — we're going to change the world." Millions of Africans who have no trouble getting shirts, and who never asked Sadler for a handout, might object to the idea that giving them more clothes will change the world. Stung from watching people donate old, useless stuff after the tsunami and earthquake, aid workers bristled. "I'm sorry to be so unkind to someone who has good intentions, but you don't get a get-home-free card just for having good intentions. You have to do things that make sense," says William Easterly, an author and New York University economics professor who is a leading critic of bad aid. "If a surgeon is about to operate on me, I'm not all that interested in whether he has good intentions. I hope he doesn't have evil intentions, but I'm much more interested in whether he knows what he's doing. People have a double standard about aid."

But why gang up on a guy who just wants to help clothe people in Africa? First, because it's not that hard to get shirts in Africa. Flooding the market with free goods could bankrupt the people who already sell them. Donating clothing is a sensitive topic in Africa because many countries' textile industries collapsed under the weight of secondhand-clothing imports that were introduced in the 1970s and '80s. "First you have destroyed these villages' ability to be industrious and produce cotton products, and then you're saying, 'Can I give you a T-shirt?' and celebrating about it?" says James Shikwati, director of the Nairobi-based Inter Region Economic Network, a think tank. "It's really like offering poison coated with sugar."

People looking to help the poor often think so-called goods-in-kind donations are a way to help, Easterly says. They're certainly an easy way to inspire potential donors. There was the boy in Grand Rapids, Mich., who collected 10,000 teddy bears for Haiti's earthquake victims. is sending shoes. The list goes on: old soap from hotel rooms, underwear, baby formula, even Spam (the pork product, not junk e-mail). "Years — decades — of calm, reasoned discussion do not seem to have worked," an aid worker who blogs under the name Tales from the Hood told TIME by e-mail. "People are still collecting shoes, socks, underwear ... T-shirts ... somehow under the delusion that it is helpful. Sometimes loud shouting down is the only thing that gets heard." Then there's the matter of cost. Money spent shipping teddy bears to kids might be better spent providing for more pressing needs. The same goes for T-shirts.
Sadler says he never planned to dump a million shirts on the market at once. With his two partners, HELP International and, he wanted to send a few thousand shirts at a time to orphanages in Kenya and Uganda that asked for them. Widows would sell the shirts and make a little money. "We're looking at bringing in several thousand shirts and it being a yearlong process of distribution," says Ken Surritte, founder of "The goal is not to hurt the economy in these areas but to be an asset and to be a blessing to these people that otherwise wouldn't have jobs."

Sadler has proven flexible: he says he is listening to his critics and no longer plans to send the shirts to Africa. He says he will find another way to use the T-shirts he collects, possibly for disaster relief, giving them to homeless shelters or using them to create other goods. He says any profits would then "go back to the company's goal of helping foster sustainability." And judging by the response on the Web, he's getting a lot of donations. "I've since listened to a lot of these people," he says. "I want to change this thing into something that's better, that's more helpful and that listens to the people that have the experience that I don't have."
There are some critics who argue that all foreign aid — whether from individuals or nonprofits or governments — is keeping Africa back. A vast body of research shows that foreign aid has done little to spur economic growth in Africa — and may have actually slowed it down. "The long-term solution is not aid. It may seem cruel that aid should stop, but really it should," says Rasna Warah, a Kenyan newspaper columnist and editor of the anthology Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits, a call to arms against aid. "Africa is the greatest dumping ground on the planet. Everything is dumped here. The sad part is that African governments don't say no — in fact, they say, 'Please send us more.' They're abdicating responsibility for their own citizens."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Photo taken by Dana S. - Oct. 2009

This trip is passing so quickly. We left Pueblo Nuevo this afternoon and will not return again during this trip. Much of what we hoped to accomplish in this short amount of time was; much was not. This isn't easy. I knew it wouldn't be. I will continue to say that there is no quick fix for poverty. But it doesn't matter how hard it is. We are here not to solve the world's problems, find solutions for every issue or to eliminate poverty overnight. We are here because we are followers of a God that already knows the outcome and I am trusting that His way is the perfect way.

As I was on the roof of our hotel yesterday morning spending time just being still, a thought came to mind and I was so overwhelmed by it.

"This place feels like nourishment for my spirit. The sight of Agua (volcano) is like water for my soul. And unlike any where else I have ever been, I feel like I can breathe easier here. Each breath is deeper and more refreshing than the last."

This isn't about how I feel about being here, but I have never been more certain about the path that I am walking. I am so in love with a community of people that until last year I never knew existed. As we drove away tonight, I realized that this love is too powerful to be from me. Only He could grow a love this intense in me. As always, leaving Guatemala in a few days is going to be one of the hardest things for me to do.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Still...

...hold my breath as the plane leaves the runway.

...drift in and out of a restless sleep as praise & worship music fills my ears after little or no sleep the night before.

...feel my heart begin to race as we begin to descend.

...become breathless at the first glimpse of land below.

...feel the weight fall from my shoulders as I step off the plane.

...can't hold back the smile when I exit the airport.

...repeat, "I can't believe this," again and again as we make our way through busy streets to Antigua.

...feel most relaxed when my feet hit the cobblestone.

...giggle when I call Marco and Leddy to discuss the next day's agenda. Rainbow Cafe and Cookies, Etc.

...and always will miss my two favorite guys every time I am away, if only for a quick trip.

...look at Agua and am amazed at how much my life has been changed here.

...remember the time when I wanted nothing more to leave and continue to thank Him for changing my heart.

...feel passion growing.

...feel like this is home (minus two people).