Monday, September 27, 2010

Good Intentions that Hurt

I am the woman that lives in what you call a third world country. I am everywhere. In the villages of Guatemala, Haiti, Ghana, Uganda. In the slums of India, Cambodia, Honduras, even parts of China. Yes, I am poor, but I take pride in the work that I do, sitting here all day in this market or on the side of the road. You come here for reasons I am not sure of, haggling until there is barely a profit left to be made on the few things you may purchase to bring home to show to your family and friends. Sometimes you come here just to take pictures of the filth. Proof that you were on a mission trip and your eyes have seen how the less fortunate around the world lives. Trash overflows dumpsters into the streets. You stare at where we cook our food to sell and whisper to your friend in a language that I cannot understand, but I know what you say. "I would never eat that. Look at how disgusting it is. Look at how dirty they are."

You walk by barely noticing me. I am sitting here waiting for what may be my only sale of the day or week or month. We have clothes here and shoes and everything else you could need. Do you need soap, shampoo, socks? Pencils, fruit, maybe a belt? I am one of many that sit here every day trying to sell these much needed items to people in my village. The only problem is they do not have the money buy them which leaves me with no money to provide for my own family. You snap a few more photos, make a few more comments, smile at me with pity and go about your day, forgetting that I even exist. No sale today.

At the end of the day, I walk miles across rough terrain to my home. The roof is caving in. The floors are made of dirt. And it is cold and raining tonight. My six children are hungry and as I look into their eyes to tell them that there is no food today, I wonder where you are sleeping tonight and how good it must feel to be able to feed your children every day. "Maybe tomorrow," I tell them, but they know as well as I do that tomorrow may be no different.

I see you again the next day, riding by in your large, comfortable bus. Now I know what you are doing here. You aren't just a tourist, you are here to help. My people thank God for you every day because we do need help, but not the kind you think we need. You think you know this country well. You think that we need basic supplies and you are right, we do! But what you do not understand is that we already have all that we need right here. You were so kind to hold that drive for clothes and shoes, for Tylenol and vitamins, for pencils and notebooks and I know you worked so hard organizing it all. I wonder what village will be blessed by your efforts today?

The bus begins to slow and comes to a stop within feet of my stand. Your team piles out with their matching shirts and they are so happy to be there, ready to serve in any way they can. But while you are unloading boxes upon boxes, my heart sinks. So does the heart of every other person working around me.

You begin to open boxes and pull out piles of clothes, hundreds of pairs of shoes and hygiene products galore. You only see the thankfulness that comes from the hearts of those that you are distributing to, but are blinded to their shame. My people do not want handouts. Would you? What we want is to work, to make money to support our families. Not once or twice a year distributions from people that pity us.

With every shirt that leaves your hand, a sale is taken from mine. With every pair of shoes that you happily give away, my child goes hungry for another day. With every box of crayons that you pass out, my children are less likely to be able to attend school. With every handout comes more shame and more poverty than you can begin to imagine.

We want you to know that we thank you for remembering us. Like I said, we do need help, but are you willing to listen and learn about what we really need? I am no expert. I never even attended school, but I know that what we need is not people giving handouts. We need people that are willing to walk with us, helping us lift ourselves out of poverty and I assure you that handouts are not the way to do it. I have lived this for so long already.

I watch people go through your line all day and as the sun begins to set, I close my little shop knowing that because you gave away every thing that I have for sale, I will not make a cent for weeks, possibly months, to come. What will I do? How will I feed my children? What will I tell my family? As I walk by, you smile that same pitiful smile. You are exhausted, but feeling very good about your work for the day as the weight of the world falls on my shoulders.

After I wrap my children in damp blankets tonight and watch them fall asleep, I kneel in the dirt outside my door and pray that I will not have to send them out to work on the streets or make the decision to leave them at the orphanage that is in the next village over. But if something doesn't change, that is what will happen. I lived through this as a child and I wanted a better life for my kids, but I guess this cycle will never end. Not this way.

As I lay my head down for the night, I wonder if you ever thought about what would happen if you had purchased all of the items that you wanted to give us right here? What would happen is this cycle, with consistency, would begin to end.

If you purchased from me some of those items, I would have been able to purchase food for my family tonight from the next vendor over and she would have been able to purchase school supplies from our neighbor so her daughter could go to school. Our neighbor would have been able to hire a taxi to drive him to the city to learn more about a new skill that would increase his income and that taxi driver would have been able to repay his brother the money that he owes. His brother would have been able to buy medicine for his sick son and that guy that works in the pharmacy may not have been laid off. The number of lives you would have touched for far longer than those supplies will last would amaze you.

That is a cycle that I could live with. That is our dream come true. We just want to work and take care of our families. You could help us with that. Maybe one day you will understand...

In the meantime another day begins. I watch as my sister makes the hardest decision of her life. Since her husband's tragic death, she can no longer care for their children. There is no income because she has no skills and no access to any type of training. She is forced to leave them at the orphanage just so they will be able to eat. They do not understand what is happening. The children that you will call orphans and add to that horrible statistic just want their mother. They do not want to leave their country or their family to be adopted by you. They don't care what kind of life you can offer. They just want to stay with their mother, be able to eat and go to school. They want to grow up with their siblings and make a better life for themselves together. You could help them with that, but I wonder if you would prefer to save a child from such a miserable existence in an orphanage than to help reunite them with the family that loves them and the family that they love so much. I wonder if you would consider helping this family out of poverty so they could stay together and begin to thrive instead of removing the children from the only life they have ever known because you think they would be better off in a wealthy family.

In the end, we are one and the same. I just happened to be born in a country overwhelmed with poverty, full of despair and griped by injustice. I am what you call poor and oppressed. You claim to love my children with all of your heart and you are willing to do whatever it takes to give them a better life. You want to help, but what you don't get is that because of your good intentions, we will remain poor and oppressed.

And the cycle continues....

Unless something drastic happens.

When you begin to see beyond the child that lives in the orphanage and dig deep into the reason she is there. When you look into his eyes and see not just his life, but the life of his children and his grandchildren. When you realize that without serious intervention that goes beyond clothes and shoes and toiletries, you will still be working with the same children twenty years from now (if they survive that long), their children and possibly their grandchildren. And when you begin to understand that so many children that live in orphanages around the world still have families that love and want them, they simply cannot take care of them, your perspective may begin to change.

There is only so much that a bar of soap can do and a wet blanket is worthless under a roof that is almost non-existent. A bag of food only lasts so long, that Polo shirt becomes very thin quickly with every day wear and those shoes are not going to last long. Until we realize and accept that relief is not the answer in areas that require development (which is most of the world), we will get nowhere. And the more dependency we create, the more problems we cause for the world.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"There Are No Mistakes in the Kingdom..."

I returned from Guatemala almost a month ago and I'm still rambling on about my very short time there. Maybe one day I will have said all that I need or want to say about this place that holds so much of my heart.

Wait. I take that back. Never will I be able to stop talking about Guatemala or my experiences there. Just when I think I have nothing to say I am compelled to share something else. I guess that is kind of the point of a blog, isn't it?

My last full day in Guatemala last month had nothing to do with Pueblo Nuevo which is rare during our time there. Naomi had mentioned her friend that volunteers at a children's home between Antigua and Guatemala City and told me about how this home is struggling to get by. It pierced my heart to hear some of the stories she had heard about several of the children there. I wondered if there might be something we could do to help. So she called her friend and asked if she would mind taking me to visit the home and children. The answer was yes, but first I would have to go with her to feed and love on babies at Hermano Pedro.

Be still my soul!

I had been wanting to visit Hermano Pedro for years. This hospital has multiple focuses. One of it's wards is focused on children that are extremely malnourished. That is where I wanted to go and that is where we were going. I could not wait!

Pat pulled up to the curb and blew the horn right on time. It is not common for me, someone that struggles with intense shyness around people I do not know, to immediately feel comfortable and open up when I first meet someone. I've come to realize that it is more of a problem in the U.S. than it is when I am in Guatemala because Pat dug right in to my life with her questions about why I serve in Guatemala, about our ministry and every thing else she could think of before I even had a chance to shut down. So I gave her a brief summary and flipped the questions back on her. I so loved talking with her as we made our way from Parramos to Antigua.

We talked a bit about Dick Rutgers and how she thought that I should meet him one day. Oh how I would love to meet him! Just to be in the same room with him would be a big deal for me. I have known about Dick and his ministry for years and have followed his work as closely as I could. He works with children that have disabilities, providing them with much needed equipment (wheelchairs, etc.). He serves in multiple areas, but spends a lot of time with children that are being treated at Hermano Pedro. His servant's heart is boldly evident and I continue to be in awe at how God uses this man for His glory in Guatemala. So yes, having the privilege of meeting him would be so exciting. But it wouldn't be that day.

We finally made it to Hermano Pedro and walked right in, ready to get our hands on some precious babies. As soon as we walked in, who did we see? Why, Dick Rutgers, of course. Pat laughed, turned to me and said for the first of many times that day, "There are no mistakes in the Kingdom of God. There's Dick. C'mon, I'll introduce you." Right there in front of everyone I almost burst into tears and I have no idea why. Dick was busy measuring a child for a wheelchair so our introduction was quick and there was very little time for chit chat, but so far that day I had finally made it to Hermano Pedro AND met Dick Rutgers. What a day so far!

While we were feeding babies, Dick came over to chat for few minutes before he left the hospital. It was interesting to hear what he was working on and getting ready for. No matter how brief, I am still thrilled that I had the chance to meet him.

I have pictures from our visit to Hermano Pedro, but because we do not serve there on a regular basis I do not want to post them here. I will be happy to share photos with those that I know personally so if you want to see them, just ask and I will send them to you. I could write an entire post on the feelings that came from being at Hermano Pedro, feeding children that are so severely malnourished that you are afraid their bones are going to break at any moment just from holding them and loving on babies that are waiting for surgeries to repair the most intense cleft palates you have ever seen, but I will save it, for now. I am so thankful for the people that God specifically calls to volunteer there because the children that are within those walls are in such desperate need of affection.

We left the hospital and sat down for a quick lunch. During our meal we talked more about all things ministry and Guatemala. I have no idea how many times Pat said, "There are no mistakes in the Kingdom.." and, "Thank you, Jesus!" that day, but she had such an impact on me with her encouragement and glimpses into their ministry that by the time we got halfway through the day I was praying, "God, help me to live a life that screams JESUS as much as her's does."

From Antigua we headed to the children's home, Rosa's de Amor. There are mostly girls that live there and the majority of them have been severely abused, neglected or abandoned. At one point, most of the teenage girls that lived in the house were pregnant. There is only one there now, a 14 year old girl (I think) that has a child. Her baby boy lives with her there. We arrived and just like any orphanage or children's home that you will visit in Guatemala, the children surrounded us, each wanting their moment of attention. We took a tour of the home and spent time watching as the children worked on homework. This is a home that is struggling. The director was in the U.S. at the time, so I will arrange to meet with her in December, but we did hear a long list of things that are needed and ways that we might can help. I am not sure yet what it is we are supposed to do at Rosa's, if anything at all, but we are praying through ways that we may be able to serve these children and those that work with them daily and dearly love them. Again I have pictures from Rosa's, but I will not post them here yet.

At the end of the day, I got out of Pat's car and hugged someone that I felt like I had known forever good-bye. I am so excited about being able to spend a little more time with her in December when she comes to Pueblo Nuevo to help us throw a huge Christmas party for the children there. By the time I left her, I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness for every part of this trip...for Naomi's generosity and talking me through moments of crazy panic, for the time in Pueblo Nuevo that was productive and educational and just sweet and for the day away from PN that led to me meeting this new friend that God used to speak so much to my heart in just a few short hours through her living example of faith.

In the words of Pat....

There are no mistakes in the Kingdom of God. Thank you, Jesus!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Fatherless

Meet sweet, shy Carolina and precious Paola. When we first met them in October 2009, they were part of a family that consisted of other siblings, a mom and a dad that worked in the fields. They were barely able to make ends meet meaning the father's pay barely covered and sometimes did not meet their minimal necessary living expenses, but they survived the best they could, just as everyone does in Pueblo Nuevo. The children were happy because they are loved and without knowing that things like Wiis and laptops and smart phones exist, the basics are all they believe they need.

But for now their happiness is gone. From now on, when we talk about the fatherless in Pueblo Nuevo, in Guatemala, in the world, we are also talking about them. Their father died tragically a few weeks ago.

A very large, deep hole had been dug and filled with water at the site where he had been working. For four days he never returned home and no one could find him. It wasn't like him to be away for so long and no one believed that he would abandon his family. On the fourth day, they found him. He had fallen into the hole and drowned. In an instant the lives of his wife and children were shattered. They went from little to less. From barely getting by to not knowing how they will survive.

And they are not the only ones.
This year has been especially difficult for some of the children in Pueblo Nuevo. This is not the only father that has died recently. Multiple children have lost their dads already this year and wives have become widows that do not know how they will provide for their children.

Where do they go from here?

Call it what you want. Poverty alleviation. Family outreach. Orphan prevention. If you say you have a heart for orphans, you also have a heart for those children that are on the brink of becoming orphans. If your heart breaks at the thought of children living in orphanages and on the streets, it should also break at the thought of another child entering that kind of life. According to some sources, because these children lost a parent, they are already orphans, but they do not have to suffer like so many true orphans do. Yes, if their mother does not find a way to take care of them, they will be in horrible, heartbreaking situations. Children like this often end up in orphanages, living on the streets, involved in prostitution, gangs and drugs. They do not often attend or finish school. And for so many it is the beginning (or continuation) of a generational cycle that desperately needs to be broken. So if we love orphans, shouldn't we also work like mad to make sure that other children do not become part of the orphan statistic? Shouldn't we fight on their behalf to keep them from a life of more pain?

Obviously we are very concerned about orphan prevention, not only in Guatemala, but around the world. We consider situations like this to be a crisis that must be addressed and will do whatever it takes to make sure that these children are cared for. I admit to being completely overwhelmed by the situation in Pueblo Nuevo right now. With so much that needs to be done, it is most upsetting to me to know that our hearts are in preventing children from becoming orphans and that more and more are on the brink of becoming just that. We are praying for wisdom to know how to move forward in caring for these families. I know that the Lord is in control and I am thankful that He is so much bigger, stronger and more powerful than we are. He loves these children far more than we do. He is a Father to the fatherless and with His instruction we will move forward in assisting these families with whatever is needed to keep the children safe and on the path that He has created for their lives.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Water in Pueblo Nuevo

We have always known that, just like the rest of Guatemala, Pueblo Nuevo has a serious problem with contaminated water. Without asking too many questions, I assumed I knew the answers. Beginning in December, families will begin receiving water filters through AAB's water filter program. In order to provide accurate information to those interested in supporting families in Pueblo Nuevo through water filters, I had to get more details about the water situation so I spent a while during my trip a few weeks ago searching for answers to tough questions. Sadly, most of my assumptions were correct.

This is Pueblo Nuevo's water tank. Water is pumped from a river into the tank. Anyone in Pueblo Nuevo can have access to running water if they pay 100Q ($12.50) for connection, 500Q ($62.50) in advanced payments and 25Q ($3.13) per month. Some people in Pueblo Nuevo do not have pipes run that give them access to running water or have chosen not to have running water for a number of reasons (can't afford it, do not want it, etc.), but most families do have access to the public water system. Once the water is pumped from the river, it is held in this unsanitary tank. According to those living in Pueblo Nuevo, the tank is "cleaned" no more than once a year.

There are varying degrees of poverty in Pueblo Nuevo. Having access to running water does not mean that a person is not living in extreme poverty. That is so something I would have thought years ago. With so many people in the world not having access to water at all, having running water must be a luxury. Wrong. Not when your water looks like this.

Fortunately, the above picture is not someone that has access to running water. This is water that they collect from neighbors that have running water and it then sits in their pila (sink) where disease carrying insects breed as they wash their food and clothes in it. This is also their drinking water.

Not everyone in Pueblo Nuevo has a bathroom. Most families that do have one have only a toilet hidden in a corner behind a shower curtain or somewhere to the side or behind their home. Others have bathrooms like this. Without any type of plumbing, they are forced to discard of their own waste behind their home, down the mountain.

One of the biggest contamination problems comes in how and where the drainage pipes lead. All water and waste from pilas and toilets in Pueblo Nuevo goes back into the river. And the cycle starts over again. It is pumped back out of the river into an unclean tank and into homes.

Like I said, I already assumed this was the case and it has always been hard to watch our kids in Pueblo Nuevo drink water. But it was so much harder to stand their listening to the disgusting details while watching children drink. At one point, I became so overwhelmed with the thought of these sweet children literally drinking someone else's waste that I had to fight the urge to vomit.

Having access to CLEAN water, not just any water, but clean water, is one of life's basic necessities. We can continue to work on a number of things to try to alleviate poverty, but until we begin meeting basic needs that will start eliminating preventable diseases and do this on a wide scale, nothing will ever change. We can continue to run around fighting fires and working ourselves into a frenzy, never really getting anything accomplished or we can begin to focus on one or two things at a time and work until those issues are solved before moving on. That is what I believe must happen and water has to be one of our top priorities (along with education and other disease preventing efforts). The more partnerships we form in different areas of concentration, the more work we can do and the faster it can be done. It is not only possible, but easy, to provide every family in Pueblo Nuevo with a water filter and a lesson in hygiene. It costs $50 to provide one family with a water filter that can produce 10 gallons of clean water every 24 hours for two years. After that, filters are replaceable for $24 every two years. We will begin distributing filters and providing hygiene classes in December. After that, one of our primary focuses will be water filtration and working to develop some type of sanitation system and we will not stop until every person in Pueblo Nuevo has access to clean water.

It will cost an estimated $10,000 to provide every family in Pueblo Nuevo with a water filter. I have never been one to dream small. It is my personal prayer that every person has access to CLEAN water by the end of 2011.

Pueblo Nuevo Update

As with Tropical Storm Agatha and any other disaster that may strike Guatemala in the future, we are aware of the torrential rains and mudslides that the country experienced last week and are continuing to monitor the situation in Pueblo Nuevo. Fortunately, just as the situation was with Agatha, Pueblo Nuevo did not receive as much damage as some other parts of the country. Damage is to be expected and homes continue to be flooded during this extremely rainy rainy season, but we are thankful that as far as we know, no lives were lost and so far there has not been widespread damage reported in this area.

Friday, September 3, 2010

More Repairs

Instead of kitchen sinks and washing machines, most families in Guatemala have pilas. Every thing is done in the pila...washing dishes, washing clothes and it is also where the refreshment of a glass of contaminated water comes from if you are not fortunate enough to have a water filter or bottled water delivery. (Only a few families in Pueblo Nuevo use bottled water and no family has a water filter, though that will begin to change in December. More on water a little later...)

This is the pila at Marta's house.

I am not sure exactly what happened here. It was obviously installed incorrectly years ago. It wasn't established on a base and there was no drainage for it. The result was a lot of contaminated water sitting around, never drying up, being constantly added to and breeding a serious amount of mosquitos and other disease causing insects. But even before I thought all of that, I thought about the very small children that often stay there alone and knew that this large amount of water (it was more and deeper than it looks in the photos) was a big safety hazard for the toddlers that were running around it.

The materials needed to fix it, to create a base for it and create drainage, was delivered the next day. The men in the family are now working between rainy days to fix it.

Marta's home is also in need of other repairs. She needs an entirely new kitchen and some repairs in their bedroom (the only other room of their house), just as most in Pueblo Nuevo do. It was hard to tell her that I do not know when we will be able to help her with that because we cannot do every thing that needs to be done at once or in a short amount of time. All I could do was add her to the growing list, promise to keep praying and working on their behalf and promise to not forget her family.

For now, her home is a little safer than it was two weeks ago, but having to walk away from unmet needs that I know are creating dangerous situations for entire families weighs very heavily on me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Agatha's Wrath

I am not sure where to begin with pictures from this trip or how to go about writing all that I think is important for people to know. I could do one LONG post, but maybe shorter ones with one topic each are better.

One of the main reasons for this trip was to help make repairs on homes damaged by Tropical Storm Agatha and begin working on other home repairs. We have always known the overall condition of homes in Pueblo Nuevo, but this trip involved a lot of close inspection and time on my hands and knees peering into dark corners which also meant coming face to face with what appears to be a rodent infestation (mice. were. EVERYWHERE! this time.)

We already knew that Carmen had the most damage from Agatha. Her home is divided into two separate rooms. One small room is the family bedroom that includes three mattresses, a dresser and their clothes. The other is their kitchen, where Carmen cooks and where they have a very old table and a couple of worn out chairs. I was told that so much land had been washed away from her property that her kitchen was beginning to slide down the mountain. They were trying to keep it up with sandbags, but it was steadily continuing to slide.

I wrote about Carmen right after our last trip. I do not want any of our families to go through more difficult times than they already face every day, but when I heard that Carmen's home was the most damaged, I was crushed for her. I cannot imagine looking every day at my home, knowing that it may be the last day it is standing and having no way to fix it or rebuild it when it falls. So of course the first place I had to go in Pueblo Nuevo, the first person I had to see was Carmen.

It was true. Her kitchen is literally sliding down the mountain. Just standing in her kitchen made me uncomfortable because it could slide at any time (and because mice were running around everywhere). At this point, I am praying every day that it makes it through each day of this very rainy rainy season. Each rain causes more land to slide away from it. They continue to add more sandbags, but they are not going to be able to hold it up much longer.

There is no way to repair her kitchen. No reinforcement is strong enough to hold it on such a steep angle. A new kitchen has to be built further down on her property where it is flatter. AAB is providing the materials needed for rebuilding. Her husband along with other men from the church will do the construction. Unfortunately, because of the rain, construction cannot begin yet. Once rainy season is over (in October), they will prepare the land by flattening it more, and we will provide all of the materials so that she will have a strongly reinforced new kitchen in December.
Another problem caused by Agatha and the mudslides that it produced is flooding. So much packed dirt has been washed away from homes. This dirt once filled in large gaps at the bottom of homes. When it washed away, huge open holes were left and the homes in this part of Pueblo Nuevo are being flooded every time it rains which is pretty much every day now.

Carmen's house is one of those that is flooding. Every. Day.

Several houses, including Carmen's, are being repaired. AAB provided the materials and the men in the community are working with large amounts of cement to create a longer lasting solution than more packed dirt would provide.

I have so many pictures of damage that I could post and so many stories of individual families. In the end, I simply do not have time to post them all because even homes that were not damaged by Agatha are still in need of major repairs just to be considered safe enough to live in. Over the next few days I will post some of the more extreme stories.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wrapped Up

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

By the time I arrived at the airport Sunday morning (Aug. 22), I think I was as calm as I had ever been before a flight. Remember a long time ago that I thought God and I had a deal. I would do anything He asked, follow Him anywhere, as long as it didn't require flying or public speaking.

Um, yeah. Just forget I ever admitted that and move on. And learn from my mistake. Don't EVER try to make a deal like that because you are SO going to end up doing what you said you would never do. Anyway...

Being totally calm before a flight isn't like me, though I think I hide it pretty well (or maybe not). I didn't even cry when I walked away from my guys at the airport. That was a first. Of course I was still a little nervous about the trip, but I was so excited and just ready to be back in Guatemala, if only for a few days and the two days leading up to the trip really brought a lot of calm and comfort to my very anxious self.

Both flights were smooth and I am still thanking God for that. After the drama that took place on flights during the December and May trips, I NEEDED uneventful travel this time. I loved getting so many text messages and emails while I was literally waiting for takeoff from friends praying specifically for that...uneventful travel.

Once in Guatemala, Naomi from Rehoboth picked me up and we spent a while shopping in the city before heading to Parramos. It was a great travel day. Naomi and I seemed to click instantly (until then we had only spoken by phone and through emails). It was just a wonderful day. There was no reason not to be calm; no reason to fear. I haven't been afraid to be in Guatemala since my first two weeks fostering in 2007.

But then came the night.

In a place much different than Antigua.

And I didn't even have a home in a gated community with 24 hour guards or a hotel with 24 hour staff to run to.

It all started at 8:30 when we had to walk the dog.

It hit me that we were the only two North Americans in town. It didn't matter that the police station was just a block away. If anything were to happen, it is likely that no one nearby would help us, not even the police.

I was fairly certain that a middle of the street attack was imminent. But again, I think I hid it well while casually mentioning that I thought walking around outside at night in this part of Guatemala was not the safest thing to do. I was nervous and extremely cautious, but not in a panic. Yet.

Until we got back inside and Naomi went bed.

I shuffled into the guest room and climbed into bed becoming instantly paralyzed with fear. What was I thinking? Had I really been asking God to give me a glimpse into what life will look like for my family when living in Guatemala? Had I truly believed that I could do THIS? Live outside of a gated community, close to the people we are serving, not in a luxury vacation type home? Did I really always ask Him to lead me into situations that would force me to rely only on Him? I never once questioned being in Guatemala or even in Guatemala alone, but I did question the decision I made to step out of my comfort zone of staying in touristy Antigua so that I could see what this type of missionary living (the type that I believe is right for our family) looked like and the decision I made to fore go having a personal driver with me all day every day to avoid a great deal of expenses. Whenever we live wherever we are going to be living, we will not be returning to luxury every night and we will not constantly have a driver and translator with us. Until now, we have taken mission trips. I wanted to forget that I was on a mission trip and see what real life would look like.

I didn't like what I was seeing because it terrified me.

Go figure. Me. Scared. To the point of panic.

What to do in a situation like this? Pray and reach for your Bible, of course.

So of course that is NOT what I did.

No, I just sat there in the middle of my fear, unable to move, as the fear took over and began to breed the most horrible thoughts and worst scenarios imaginable.

The gate at the bottom of the stairs would not keep someone out, nor would the locked front door. And forget the lock on my bedroom door. What purpose would it serve? I didn't even have a roof to jump off of as a last attempt escape from the gang of people I knew were going to break in at any minute. Once I had thought of every thing horrible that was going to happen, I grabbed my journal and in handwriting that is so shaky it is almost not legible wrote:

"...The anxiety, this intense fear has returned. I am afraid to stay here in Parramos, outside of my comfort zone. Afraid of being one of only two gringo(a?)s in this town. Afraid of the crime that grips this country. Afraid of violence. Afraid of what tomorrow holds. Afraid for my life. But mostly I am afraid of being afraid and what it means is happening to me again..."

Finally. It took a while, but the last sentence made sense. I realized what was happening so I continued to write:

"God did not create this fear in me. God, help me trample over it. I know you hear my cry..."

Still trembling and wondering how I was going to make it through the night, my mind raced back to just the day before and the picture that had been painted in my mind...

"Blankets...His arms...wrapped up...holding you tightly...peek out over the are safe."

As clearly as I recalled Angela speaking those words, that still, small voice came through to calm the storm.

"Don't you know who you are? You are My child. No matter what happens in this life, you are safe. I already know the rest of your story. Believe Me. Trust Me. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. You can do this. You will do this. And I will never leave your side."

I am so thankful that He never fails to meet me in all of my messy brokenness. Any kind of fear is wrong. Never have I given into it so much that it has kept me from doing something I knew I should do, but I do allow it to consume too much of my mind. Too much of my life. But after so many years of fear, it felt like something began to change that night. I wasn't sure exactly what, but I did know that no amount of fear would keep me away from that place (Guatemala) or whatever it is we have to do there. For as long as I can remember fear has been one of the enemy's biggest footholds in my life. It took me this long to realize it and there would be no better time than this trip to lay that burden down.

As always, I felt almost crazy for being so fearful. We all know that Guatemala is not the safest country in the world, but it certainly isn't the most dangerous. There was no reason for me to have such intense fear, but it was helpful to hear the next morning that I'm normal. Apparently a lot of people go through this. It just isn't talked about often. Yes, I was being irrational, but we all have our own battles and this irrational fear thing is one of mine.

Obviously I made it through the night. I popped in my ear buds and hit shuffle all. I'm convinced that He has fun playing with my shuffle settings. The first song could not have been more fitting (and I do not think it was a coincidence). I'll post it below or HERE if you're reading on Facebook (just because I'm a music fanatic and I think everyone else wants to hear the music I love). And as crazy as it may it sound, I curled up with my Bible and fell asleep. I sleep best in Guatemala. That night was no different. I woke up the next morning still holding on to my Bible, smiling at the thought that He was there, keeping watch all night. I had prayed that He would show up in a big way and make His presence powerfully known during this trip. So far, He was on it.

It was time to get to work and I couldn't wait to get to our families in Pueblo Nuevo. First stop...waiting for a chicken bus...