Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pennies for Pencils Kickoff

Today begins our month long change drive, Pennies for Pencils. To kick it off, our family decided to donate what is in what Tommy calls "the money bank".

We talked about cashing his change in and giving it away so our friends in Guatemala will have school supplies.

At 3 1/2, he is getting interested in talking about Guatemala a little more. Maybe because he hears us talk about it so often or maybe because he just wants to ride in an airplane again. Whatever the case, he was excited that his money was going to Guatemala.

His first response when I asked him how much he thought was in the bag? "Forty dollah."

Was he close?

Not quite...even better!


I met with the principal last week. He told me that there are currently 400 students enrolled in school. Only a few leave Pueblo Nuevo to attend school (a private school in Parramos) and there are children that do not attend school at all. He expects 400 to enroll again in December. Their school supplies are very basic. Each child is required to have a notebook, a pencil and a pen in black, blue and red. He mentioned repeatedly that it is the responsibility of "the fathers" to purchase school supplies and because there are a growing number of children in Pueblo Nuevo that do not have fathers, less are able to enroll (or stay) in school if their mothers cannot provide their supplies. Even some fathers are unable to purchase supplies.

Supplies cost about $5.59 per child if purchased in Guatemala. It is typical for families in this area to make $2 a day or less. The average number of children per family in Pueblo Nuevo is 4 or 5. A family with 5 school-aged children would be expected to pay nearly $30 for school supplies. For some, this is an entire month's wages.

We want to relieve this burden and make sure that every child that is allowed to attend school enrolls this year. We are praying for school supply funding that will cover 450 students with one notebook (the specific notebooks required are expensive), three pencils and three pens each. Yes, we could easily collect the required school supplies and ship them to Guatemala, but we will not do that. If we ship these supplies from the U.S. instead of purchasing them from the local school supply shop in Pueblo Nuevo, we will be hurting two of our families. By purchasing these supplies locally, two families that own the small school supply store will benefit GREATLY.

We're off to a good start with $79.87. Just with the spare change in our house, more than 14 student's supplies are fully funded.

It is not too late to get involved! So far we have a couple of schools in Mississippi, possibly one in Florida, a couple of teachers in Alabama, a business in Atlanta and girl scout troops in my hometown collecting. I am still talking with several churches and teachers/schools that may get involved, but we need more help. You do not have to be a part of a school or other group to participate. Individual families can do what we did. Gather your change, exchange it for cash and donate it to us to be used to purchase school supplies. If you are interested in participating, individually or as a group, email me at
terry @ across all borders.org.

Monday, August 30, 2010


I so want to remember as many details as possible about last week's trip. This doesn't surprise those that know me and know that I am all about the details. I love to share details and love to hear details from others. So I'm going to have to spread posts about this trip out over the next few weeks, in between other posts. That is how much of an effect this trip had on me. I have so many things written down that I want to remember. Even if it is only for me, compiling it all here makes sense. Some of it is all about Guatemala, families in Pueblo Nuevo, what took place there during the trip and plans that have been made for the next one. Some of it is just me sharing my heart and how God used this short trip to say so much to me.

I can't begin writing about the trip without telling you about the days leading up to it.

Several months ago I leaned about a women's conference (the Beautiful conference) that would be at our church the day I was scheduled to leave. Angela Thomas was the speaker; Kari Jobe was leading worship. I love Kari Jobe's music. LOVE. IT. So much so that I delayed traveling by a day so that I could attend the conference.

To be honest, I was more interested in the worship part than sitting through the speaking part. I was excited about both, but I could not wait for the "concert" part.

By the beginning of the conference Friday night, I was in full trip mode. Pumped up, prayed up and ready to go, or so I thought. And as always, constantly on the verge of tears, but refusing to let them fall. I have not hidden the fact that I do not like leaving Danny and Tommy here while I work in Guatemala. Only God is strong enough to make me leave them for Guatemala, even for a couple of days. So I am super emotional any time I have to travel without them. Even being away from them for a few hours right before the trip was hard, but for some reason I felt like I really needed to be at this particular conference so I reluctantly went through with it.

Kari Jobe opened with a few minutes of praise and worship. Wonderful. I couldn't wait until after Angela Thomas spoke for a while because then I would get to spend an hour worshipping with some of my favorite songs. Angela spoke for an hour. As I sat there listening to her testimony of how she got to where she is, I realized that I was going to hear something specific from her that I needed to hear and could not wait until the next day to find out what it was. Kari returned and spent an hour leading us in worship. It was an amazing experience. I do not think that anyone there could deny the powerful presence of God and in some way be touched by Him. A friend and I left refreshed and excited about the next day.

We returned the next morning anxious to find out what God had in store for us. Kari opened with another few minutes of worship. I had to work even harder to keep the tears in for fear that if I started to cry I would be unable to stop. Then Angela began speaking.

This conference was about how much God loves us. Simple enough, right? All Christians would say that we know God loves us. But I think we, as women, are often so hard on ourselves and sometimes we need a verbal reminder that the Creator of all loves us each individually. He thinks we are beautiful. And His loves for us goes far beyond just basic love. The God that brought us into being is so deeply in love with us that we cannot comprehend the depth of it. Sure, we say we know it, but He wants us to feel it. I was enjoying Angela's time with us, but it wasn't until close to the end that she said something that struck me.

"Picture God's arms as being huge blankets. He has you wrapped up so tightly in those arms. You are totally surrounded by Him, safe in His arms. Only your eyes are peeking out over the top. Nothing can harm you because you are His baby girl and He is protecting you and all the while screaming, "I LOVE YOU! You are beautiful! As long as you are wrapped in my arms, you have nothing to fear!"

Mental image. Me. Physically wrapped up in the arms of God. Peeking out over the top, confident that in Him, I am safe.

Very few people know the anxiety that I have been battling over the past few months. I won't go into detail. Only those closest to me know all about it. Intense is the best way to describe it. I have spent so much time begging for deliverance from it all. But I was too busy holding on to the wrong thing while crying out for help. I learned that my life long battle with fear had a stronger hold on me than I realized and it was totally consuming me. For a while I felt as if things were spiraling out of control. I know that I was in a spiritual battle and giving in to Satan's whispers...his lies and deceit. It was not the first time I have experienced this and it will not be the last, but I spent a lot of time trying to stand firm in my own strength while feeling like I was in a constant earthquake. All of my anxiety stemmed from fear and questions that I do not need the answers to. And I was terrified (TERRIFIED!) of this trip. So many people call me brave. I am not. A lot of people tell me that I am strong. Wrong again. I am just another person that believes following hard after God means walking through a lot and for me, it has meant often dodging big fears to get closer to Him.

As I listened to Angela paint this picture, I wondered what the enemy must be thinking. Surely he was not at all happy with the fact that the image of God's protection around us was taking the place of the images of fear that he had planted in our minds. It is so simple, but have you really ever pictured yourself physically wrapped up in the arms of God? If you haven't, I would encourage you to stop reading right now and take a few minutes to picture what that looks like for you.

At the time I had no idea how important this mental image would become over the next few days.

Kari returned to lead our final hour of praise and worship. By that time there was no way to stop the flow of tears, nor did I want to keep them in any longer. Two of her songs struck me in a different way. I will post them below because they say so much. I have been singing them for so long, but sometimes God shines a new light on old things. What had become just words coming out of my mouth and emotionless s0-called worship became new. I spent the hour in all out worship and prayer and rarely did the tears stop. By the time we left, my spirit had been so refreshed and the Lord used every part of the conference to fully prepare me for the week ahead.

Looking back I know that had I not had some very specific moments with Him during the conference, the trip would have been much different. It was an amazing way to start a 4 day journey back to Guatemala.

Below are two of my favorite Kari Jobe songs. (If you are reading this on Facebook, you can find them here and here.) Enjoy! :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I'm Back!

I got back from Guatemala Thursday night and am spending a long weekend in small town Mississippi with family before returning to Louisiana tomorrow. I have lots to catch up on, but I promise to start returning phone calls and emails Monday.

It was an incredible trip. A lot was accomplished. A lot was learned. A lot was clarified. A lot was revealed. I did not have my laptop with me, so all of my notes are in a spiral notebook, some of my thoughts in my now rarely used journal and many prayers in my prayer journal. I think I have more that I want to blog about from this trip than I have any of the previous ones. Just looking at my notes, I have at least eight or nine blog entries to write and that doesn't include this one which is going to be just a quick run down of the basics.

I visited with families that received damage in May and thanks to your generous donations, materials were provided to make repairs. More details and photos will be posted next week. We made plans for further rebuilding to take place in December, once rainy season is over and things have had a chance to really dry out and more preparation can take place. I met with other families that are in need of home repair. Some of them are far beyond needing repair; their homes need to be completely rebuilt. I met with the principal of the local school and found out that 400 children are enrolled this year and that is the expected number for enrollment next year. Their school supplies consist of notebooks, pencils and pens in red, blue and black. That's it, but it is so difficult for most of our families to provide even that. Not this year! We are determined to make education a priority and to ensure that children receive what they need to attend school, we are praying that we will be able to supply all of the required school supplies for every child that is enrolled. More details to follow. I learned a lot about the area's water system and am even more disgusted by it. It is horrible! I knew it before, but hearing every little detail about it and then watching children drink it made it that much harder for me to deal with. Again, more details coming soon. So many of these things deserve their own posts. I visited Hermano Pedro for the first time after wanting to visit for three years and thanks to another new friend, visited a children's home in San Lucas that is home to mostly girls that have been abandoned and/or abused that we may consider working with in the future.

After all of that, I had some brand new experiences that were somewhere between terrifying and refreshing and some a little of both. See? I have so much to share about this trip...I may get sick of writing before it's all over. I'm not sure how so much can be packed in 4 days, but that's what happened and I cannot wait to share the details...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leaving for Guatemala

To read the Pennies for Pencils post, CLICK HERE.

I am leaving for Guatemala this Sunday. The purpose of this trip is very simple. We have to rebuild parts of homes and make repairs and we have to find out if those that have been resistant to visits from Christians will allow us to help them, as well.

This is a very different trip than those I have taken to Guatemala so far. I am not traveling with a team. In fact I am traveling with no one else. I am not staying in my comfort zone which is Antigua. Instead I will be staying in Parramos, a few miles outside of Pueblo Nuevo. Thank you to N.H. from Rehoboth Children's Home for allowing me to stay with her. I will not have daily personal transportation that stays with me all day in case of an emergency except from and back to the airport. For the first time, I will experience public transportation or no transportation at all (except for my two feet), depending on the preference of the Tulio family each day. I will either ride a bus or walk to Pueblo Nuevo every day. I will not have a translator and I know very little Spanish. I do not know enough to even get by. In Antigua, there is always someone that speaks more English than I do Spanish. It isn't that hard to get by there. It is a different story in Pueblo Nuevo. Leddy speaks English, though we often have a difficult time understanding each other. We do not always have a translator (I cannot find one in the area and unless I bring someone with me from Antigua, we do not have one) so as always, I will get by somehow. I will not have a computer with me so I will not be posting daily updates on Facebook or the blog as I usually try to do. This will be an interesting trip to say the least. It will be another quick trip. I will return to the U.S. Thursday night.

In addition to ordering supplies for rebuilding/repair, arranging delivery and speaking with the men in the community to make sure that the work gets done (because they will be the ones working together to rebuild/repair for each other), I have to meet with the school principal to go over details of the December trip....to get school supply lists, enrollment information, information about school fees, etc. and also with a local nurse because I still have some questions about the health of the general population of those living in Pueblo Nuevo and I'm hoping she can answer those questions and help me figure out how to best approach health care there.

As always, I would appreciate prayers for those that I will be with in Guatemala, my family and myself.

Monday, August 16, 2010

3 Years


If you are here to learn more about "Pennies for Pencils", please scroll to the next post or CLICK HERE.

I have debated for a few days about posting today, but in the end the very sentimental side of me that remembers every significant date and every little detail about it won out so here I am. Today is not what we celebrate as family day. That will come around in October. But today is still a really big day for me and at least while he is still young enough to want to celebrate anything and everything, for Tommy, too. I'm sure I have written about this somewhere before, maybe even here so I am probably being repetitive...again.

Three years ago today I hugged Danny good-bye and cried my way through security and while boarding the plane. I had myself convinced that this would not be a long part of our adoption journey, though deep down I knew that I would not be home within the week or so that we hoped for. I couldn't take being away from Tommy any longer so I went to Guatemala knowing that day, unless something drastic happened with our adoption, I would never have to leave him in Guatemala again. As much as I would like to say I was following God to Guatemala that day, I wasn't. I went with my own agenda. My prayer was simple. I wanted to go, pick up our son, spend a few glorious days exploring Antigua while spending precious time with him, take tons of pictures and get out. I had a plan. Central America, even Guatemala, though I had fallen somewhat in love with the country simply because Tommy was born there, was still not at the top of my list of where I wanted to work. I was still sure that a lot of my focus for orphan care in the future would be somewhere in Asia, in China and Cambodia, and while Guatemala was on the list now, I had no intention of ever spending a lot of time there. I wanted to spend this time in Tommy's birth country with him so I could tell him about it one day, so I could show him pictures and eventually we would bring him back for a week long vacation there so he could see it for himself. I tried to tuck my really huge God into my back pocket, just in case I needed Him in an emergency. Because this was going to go the way I wanted it to and I would settle for nothing else.

It's not like I believed life would always go my way. After all, it never really had before. Maybe I thought we deserved some kind of break so surely this time would be easy. He had made it clear so many times before and this time was no different. I was not in control; He was and through my fight to try to make things go my way and my near tantrums when they didn't, He made that very clear.

During my first couple of weeks with Tommy in Guatemala, I viewed everything through the lens of the camera, snapping as many pictures as possible so that his precious baby face could always be remembered and so the pages in a scrapbook could be filled with sights of Guatemala so one day he would be able to see what it looked like. I had near raging fits (silently), cried myself to sleep every night, spent a lot of money on prepaid phone minutes so I could talk to Danny who was in the states and stressed because he never expected us to get "stuck" there. But we were....stuck. It took that for me to finally pay attention. So I stopped looking through the camera at often sad images and started seeing the hearts of people in Guatemala. I did not go on another all out photo shoot until 2 months later, after we heard that we would be going home. This time I cried as I snapped photos that I hoped would be enough to hold me over until the next time I could return to Guatemala.

Three years ago I landed thinking that I would not land in Guatemala again for at least the next 15 years. I had no idea that 3 years later I would be less than a week from returning for my 5th trip in just over a year. I had no idea that I would be preparing to make a trip like this alone and also preparing for Tommy's 2nd trip back (which will come in December) at the age of 3. I had no idea on the day that I arrived in Antigua 3 years ago that in a small village just 20 minutes away there were children and families that I would fall in love with one day. As much I hated leaving Guatemala to return to the U.S. without Tommy at the end of visit trips, I never could have imagined that I would leave the U.S. to return to Guatemala without him. I have to admit that leaving him here to travel to Guatemala is just as hard, if not harder, than leaving him in Guatemala was. I thought I kind of knew that day what our lives would be like, but my imagination could not have been further from what is now our reality. I would not have believed that my views on some big adoption/orphan/poverty issues would change so drastically. A lot can happen in three years and a lot has.

Three years ago when our tiny 5 month old son was placed in my arms, my greatest dream came true. This may not be our Family Day and it isn't even the day that I became mom (because I consider that his birthday even though we had no idea he was being born), but this is the day that I had waited so long for. I never had to give him back. I never had to leave him in Guatemala again. I never had to depend on someone that I didn't even know to care for him again. Because I was his mom and I no longer had to live out that role from 1600 miles away. What a blessing he is to me, to us! He has no idea how he has changed my life. I am so thankful that the Lord allows me to be his mom. It wasn't easy three years ago, when he had no idea who I was and spent days wanting nothing to do with me. And isn't always easy now...what parent would call 3 easy all of the time? But I LOVE being his mom. Most days I forget that we adopted him. I can't clearly remember life before him. It feels like he has been with us forever. His smile still warms my heart and his giggle is still contagious, just as it was when he was a baby. Three years ago tonight I rocked him to sleep while holding an outfit that smelled like his foster mom because he was so scared and uncomfortable that there was no other way to soothe him. Tonight I tucked him into bed, read a story, talked about our day and what tomorrow may help, laughed a little inside at his version of bedtime prayer and then got the usual big hug and kiss and the sweetest "I love you." A lot can change in three years. A lot has.

Life is sweet and God is so good.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pennies for Pencils

We are excited to announce and share details about our upcoming fundraiser, "Pennies for Pencils"!

"Pennies for Pencils" was born out of one sentence that I blogged months ago..."in Guatemala, we can buy pencils for pennies..."

We have always believed that education is key to poverty alleviation. While the effects of education aren't felt within a community immediately and so much more has to be done to alleviate poverty, education has proven to eventually break the cycle of poverty in many families.

So why aren't a large number of children in developing countries, such as Guatemala, receiving an education? Over the last year we have spent a lot of time with families in Pueblo Nuevo trying to get answers to that question. What we discovered is disheartening.

The village of Pueblo Nuevo is fortunate to have a school, but like so many areas of Guatemala, having a school within the village doesn't mean that the children enrolled there receive an adequate education. The school in Pueblo Nuevo is government run and does serve to educate more than if it didn't exist, so I will continue to be thankful that at least there is a school there. Children that attend school do not attend the way children do here. Because the school is too small for all of the children and there are so few teachers, children attend in shifts. From what I understand, this is customary. Younger children attend in the mornings; older children attend in the afternoons. The school is overflowing. The exterior can be deceiving. Within the walls of this school, children are crammed into classrooms, some overflowing into the halls. The principal, a kind man born in Guatemala that once studied in France, but returned to Guatemala because he loves "his people" could recite a long list of needs that funds are non-existent for. Without any type of support they continue on doing the best they can with what little they have.

A lot of children attend school. If I had to estimate, I would say that half of the school aged children that live in Pueblo Nuevo are enrolled and attend on a regular basis. But where does that leave the other half?

I have spoken with mothers that do not allow their children to attend school because their husbands died or abandoned them and they need the older children to either stay home to help take care of the younger children (girls) or go work in the fields to support the family (boys). Other mothers have stated that their children simply do not want to attend school. Because they (the mothers) do not understand the importance of education they do not force their children to attend. Both of these cases are heartbreaking and we will continue to work with these families to encourage the enrollment of their children in school and to help single mothers/widows however we can. But there are children that we can help NOW. They want to attend school. They long to attend school. Their mothers know the importance and their hearts break each year that they are unable to go, but there is nothing that they can do about it.

These children cannot attend school because they cannot afford the few required school supplies and the required black shoes. Never in this country (U.S.) will you hear of a child unable to attend school because his parents cannot afford a notebook and a pencil or crayons and a bottle of glue, but this is reality in the lives of many Guatemalan children. Those that do somehow provide their child with these things struggle to do so. And then there are black shoes. These shoes are not "cheap". They certainly cost more than the typical jelly type shoes you can buy for 20Q (less than $3 USD) at the market. We have seen children's feet crammed into black shoes 2 sizes too small and children walk right out of shoes that are 2 sizes too big just so they can attend school. But then there are those that cannot even afford shoes that are too small or too large or too worn. Other school fees are just an added reason why parents are often unable to send their children to school and why those that do often have to face the harsh reality of choosing education over meeting immediate needs within the family.

Last year we distributed school supplies that had been donated and shipped to Guatemala. We received a lot of school supplies and many children received some of what they needed to attend to school, but it was far from enough. This year, we are doing things a little differently to ensure that the maximum number of school aged children receive all that they need to continue attending or maybe for the first time ever enroll in school.

In Guatemala we can literally buy pencils for pennies. School supplies are very inexpensive and there are tiny school/office supply storefronts scattered everywhere. In the small village of Pueblo Nuevo there are two that sell school supplies. Their pencils, pens and notebooks for at least the last year have been covered in dust as no one has been able to shop there. As we work on education, we must also continue to work on supporting the local economy and employment. So this year, instead of spending so much money shipping school supplies to Guatemala, we will purchase all of the children's school supplies and shoes from local (in Pueblo Nuevo and surrounding villages) small business owners so that they will be better able to support their families. As always, we need your help to do this.

We are in the process of contacting every teacher, Sunday School teacher and church leader that we know or just know of through someone else. "Pennies for Pencils" is a change drive (though we welcome dollar bills, as well). We love having children involved in helping less fortunate children around the world and this is an easy and inexpensive way for them and their families to get involved. We are looking for teachers, Sunday School teachers and church leaders that are willing to lead change drives within their classrooms and/or churches. To make this even more successful, teachers encouraging other teachers within their school to get involved could result in quite a competition between classrooms and we would love to throw a pizza party (or something similar) for the winning class if more than three classes within a school participate. It would be ideal if entire elementary, middle, junior high and/or high schools would compete. We are also encouraging parents to speak to their children's teachers to encourage participation or to be responsible for carrying out the drive for the teacher.

Do you or someone you know want to be involved? If so, contact me at
terry @ acrossallborders. org. Change drives in schools will last only a week. The length of drives in churches should be determined by church leaders or the person leading the drive. "Pennies for Pencils" will run through the month of September. All supplies will be purchased and distributed during our December mission trip. More details will be provided to those interested in leading a drive.

It is our prayer that this will be a success and become an annual fundraiser. So much more is needed than just school supplies, shoes and supplies for the actual school. Having this annual fundraiser grow each year will bring us closer to being able to build a community center that will provide before and after school care and support and a much needed new school in or near Pueblo Nuevo or at least provide tuition assistance for students to attend a nearby private school. Big dreams, but we'll get there. In this case, it is true...every penny counts!