Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Final Stretch

We left Antigua for the airport in Guatemala City at 3:00am. We now have a lay over in Denver for six hours. The team is looking forward to coming home to see family and friends.  There are so many stories to share about what God has done these past ten days. A truly unforgettable and life changing experience.  Here are some final pictures for the blog.  See you all in a few hours. 




Friday, April 25, 2014

Here are a few pictures. There will be many more for you to see when we arrive home tomorrow.  We are in Antigua now and had a good day of site seeing and spending time at the market. We will post a final blog post later on tonight. Thank you for your patience.  

A Final Goodbye

Yesterday was our final day with the children of Villa Nueva.  Our day began with the dedication service and we were honoured to represent our school.  A number of families from the neighbouring communities came to the dedication.  We received many thank yous and friendly hugs.  We sang, prayed and listened as the Impact Board shared the story of the school.  They also shared that the cell group has grown to 75 people since January and they will be looking to start a church in the community.  What an amazing testament of God's love and hand at work.

 In the afternoon we went back to have our final VBS with the kids.  Our final home visits were done as well.  Some of the children who go to school at Vida Nueva walk for miles every day through the mountains to get there.  One of our walks to get a sponsor child's homes was miles away through fields of tomatoes and over hills.  He and his family were so excited to see his sponsor.  It was definitely worth the walk over in the hot sun.  

 It was an amazingly special time during our VBS.  The team talked about the love of God and an invitation to receive Jesus was given.  The response was immense.  The team spent the afternoon playing with the kids and building remarkable bonds with them.  Time was spent blowing bubbles, making crafts, playing with the parachute, using sidewalk chalk to draw pictures and to teach one another words in our own language.  We finished off the day with a water balloon slingshot.  Water balloons were catapulted high into the air.  The kids were so excited! Some tried to get out of the way, while others would leap in to try to catch them.  Their faces were bright with smiles and laughter as each balloon went flying into the air towards them. 

 Then it was time for us to leave. We formed a hug line and each child gave each of the team a hug goodbye.  There were smiles and tears as we said our goodbyes.  It was so difficult as we walked towards our vans with some of the children holding our hands and walking us to our vehicle. Our hearts were touched in a way that will never be forgotten.  We feel like we are leaving a piece of us behind.

 Tomorrow we will be leaving for Antigua for the final part of our trip. The team will be visiting some of the ancient cities sites and will have a chance to shop in the market. We will keep you posted on when we arrive.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Love Knows No Bounds

At 7:30 yesterday morning we joined another school for morning devotions.  Our team was welcomed and we took part in worshipping our Heavenly Father.   Again we noticed how the children worship with complete abandon as they sing their praises to God.  One of the team members commented that he was so amazed at how these children worship and thank God with their whole hearts even though they have very little as far as materialistic things.  They love God and are so grateful for His salvation and power in their lives. They are so thankful. 

We then began our home visits and each team member that has a sponsor child was able to go to the child’s home to visit, pray with them and leave a gift. Other team members came to the homes and enjoyed watching the visit between the sponsor and their sponsor child.   Some of the children were picked up from school and rode in the vans with us to their homes.  In so many cases, the living conditions that these children and their families live in is incomprehensible.   Many of the homes are hammered together with wood pieces leaving large gaps in the walls.  The floors are dirt and animals such as dogs and chickens walk freely through the homes.  Often the beds don’t have mattresses, but are just pieces of wood or cardboard lying across a wooden frame and sometimes an entire family of six or more people will share one small bed. One small home that we visited has nineteen people living it. These living conditions brought about many emotions within our team and at times it was overwhelming.  The children and families were so excited to have their sponsor visit them as this was evident in their faces and beautiful smiles.  Students with a sponsor child have expressed many times how much they love their child that they have only just met.  It is a powerful thing to witness these relationships growing and the connections that are being made. God is definitely at work in everyone’s hearts.

After the home visits we went back to Vida Nueva to do our second VBS.  Our team was greeted by many of the kids as we walked onto the grounds.  The team taught the children about our God being big.  After the Bible lesson we had the opportunity to play games and activities with the kids.  There were about 120 kids choosing activities like water balloon races, parachute, bubble blowing, face painting, tag games and soccer.  It was an amazing and rewarding time as team members bonded and formed incredible relationships with the children in the village.  We formed a line as we were leaving and all of the children walked through and gave us each a hug.  There were so many big hugs, tickles and laughter as they came through the line.  We loaded into the vans and it was very difficult to leave. We have only one more day with the children at Vida Nueva and it will be a very tough good bye today.

Back at the guest house Les had another debrief session with us and it is very evident that God is doing a huge work in many of the lives of the team.  Students expressed the love that they feel for these children and for the people of Guatemala.  Even though there is a language barrier we know that love has no bounds.  We are so thankful for every opportunity we have to spend time with these children and for the doors that God is opening.  It was an incredible, unforgettable day!
Thank you so much for your prayers! We know that you are back home praying for us and we appreciate it so much.  Please continue to pray for health and strength for the team.  Cristo Vive!!!  (Jesus Lives!!!)

We will try again tonight to post a few pictures. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Monday Night Message

Mrs. Munson and Mrs. Flaman are still struggling with getting Internet connections but were able to send me a quick email. I have uploaded the following post regarding the activities of yesterday.

I will keep you updated as I am able - Julie McLaren

Yesterday we started our day worshipping the Lord with the Guatemalan people at New Life Church.  They welcomed us and encouraged us to join them as we sang, clapped, lifted our hands and danced for the Lord.  Most of us experienced worship in a new way. 

After church we visited a sinkhole.  All team members made the hike up the mountain and down the difficult path inside.  Once at the bottom we gathered together in this unique space created by God.  Over the years witches have made the sinkhole their gathering place for rituals.  Candles, flowers, and ashes spoke of their presence.  Seeing the darkness of this world made our hearts heavy.  However, as we lifted our voices, singing and praying to our Saviour, the air became lighter and our hearts were filled with peace and a true sense of God’s presence.  

In the evening, we were welcomed into a Guatemalan home where we made our own supper.  We enjoyed fellowship with one another and listened to the Guatemalan couple’s testimony on God’s response to fervent prayer.  We were reminded and encouraged to lift our hearts’ desires to the Lord.

Today, we enjoyed the day with our sister school.  We experienced a welcome like no other complete with firecrackers, a path lined with flowers and greenery, and a welcome line of smiling faces chanting Canada, Canada! We joined them for devotions and the students gave us personalized cards and prayed for us.  We then did home visits.

Villa Nueva is a very poor community.  All of our sponsor children live in wood, plastic or tin huts.  They all have dirt floors and many have animals living in the house.  Most of the village men are unemployed finding work in odd jobs as they can.  Our eyes were opened to how the majority of the world lives and our hearts hurt as we processed our many blessings amongst an impoverished people. 

This afternoon we began our children’s ministry.  We were blessed to work with both the morning and afternoon programs and had 110 students attend.  During our time together, we taught them about our creator through drama, song and crafts.  The smiles, laughter and hugs helped us break through the language barrier and all had a wonderful time.  We are looking forward to returning tomorrow to teach them about God’s power.

Once again we thank you for your prayers.  We continue to seek your prayer for health as more are struggling with sore throats and stomach issues.  Adjusting to the altitude as well as the sun has proven a challenge.  Please pray that we will be able to overcome our health issues and enjoy the remaining time we have here with energy and comfort.   We also ask that you will continue to pray for our sister school community.  Our team has picked up an additional 7 sponsor children today.  The need in this community is great and evident.  We look forward to sharing more about Villa Nueva at our sharing evening. 

We continue to struggle with uploading photos due to bandwidth and Internet access.  Though this may be disappointing to some, I know our students are happy they will be able to share their memories first hand with you upon their return.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bringing Hope Amidst Despair

We are struggling to post photos due to slow Internet connections.  We will do our best but appreciate your understanding.  We hope our words will create a mental picture for you and look forward to retelling our experience with photos at our sharing evening.   This is a photo of us on the wall of dirt we moved for our work project.  The new classroom will be built here.

We awoke early yesterday morning to get ready for the full day that was awaiting us.  After a hearty breakfast we loaded into the vans to go to Chixim.  It was a short but steep ride up the mountainside.  Les Peters met us at the top to take us on a tour of Chixim, a temple named after the corn god chixim.  This temple can be seen from all areas of Tactic as it is very high up the mountain and is white in colour.  Les then began to explain the purpose of this place and how syncretism runs rampant.  Many people in Guatemala practice ritualistic activities that mix Catholicism, Mayan traditions and witchcraft together. We were able to witness first hand some of these rituals as some of the Guatemalan people offered up sacrifices of food and plants to the corn god chixim.  They do this to earn their way into heaven and to gain healing and blessings.   There was a very eerie and heavy feeling as we watched what was happening and listened to Les explain the lies that these precious people have bought into.  We went into the temple and heard more of the history of Chixim. We talked about how syncretism has also crept into our culture as often we see truth mixed with lies taking people’s eyes off of Jesus.   Les then took us in a back room that had statues and plaques hanging on the wall.  The plaques were dedicated to the god chixim thanking him for provision and other things.  We felt heaviness in this small room and knew that it was spiritual.  We began to declare the truth of Jesus in that room and each person randomly expressed what Jesus is to them.  Jesus is Lord; Jesus is King; Jesus is truth; Jesus is love; Jesus is my salvation; Jesus is freedom, and Jesus is my everything were some of the statements expressed by the group.  The heaviness lifted and we knew God’s presence was in that place.  The light and power of God dispels the darkness. Our God is greater. 

After our tour of Chixim we made our way back into Tactic where the students participated in a market activity.  They were split into teams and were given a list, in Spanish, telling them the items they needed to buy.  They had to complete their task with only a small amount of money and within a time limit.  This was their opportunity to experience what the life of a missionary would be like, having to communicate with people of another language and finding what they need.  The market place was quite busy and it was gratifying to see the teams work together to complete their tasks.  The groceries that were bought in the market would later be used to feed us at the guest house.  The students had a great time roaming the streets of the market trying to communicate with the people of tactic. Some may even come back home with a new haircut. J  It was definitely an unforgettable experience for them.

We went back to the guest house for lunch and then got ready to go to the hospital in Coban.  This small hospital is the only hospital that services many villages, thousands of people.  People will travel days to go to the hospital and many only go there to die.  It is really difficult to find words to capture the experience at the hospital.  As we walked up to the entrance, people were lined up outside the door waiting to get in. We knew that we were entering a place of desperation.  People stared as we walked by with a look in their eyes that begged for help.   Once inside we noticed burnt out lights and wires hanging from the ceilings; walls were stained and needing paint.  There was a musty smell that we knew was the stench of filth and sickness.  As we went into the children’s ward, we passed a baby being wheeled on a stretcher with nurses using a hand pump to pump oxygen into his tiny lungs.  The parents of the baby followed closely behind with looks of helplessness and despair on their faces.  We separated into five groups and went from bed to bed visiting and praying for each child. We gave them each a stuffed toy, which made them smile and their eyes lit up.  There were many children in the hospital that were battling pneumonia or other lung infections and many of the team realized that if these children had the same medical care that we have in Canada, they’re chances of recovery would be much better.  The hearts of our students were touched as we walked through and saw how our prayers were bringing hope to these families.  We serve a God of miracles, a God where nothing is too difficult.  The faith of a mustard seed is enough, and we truly believe that prayers were answered today.  We made our way to the maternity ward where there were twenty six new moms.  We brought each of them a gift and gave our congratulations.  Although it was a joyous time to see the smiles on these new mom’s faces our hearts were extremely troubled as there were four ladies that had lost their babies.  Their empty arms and look of pain in their eyes was very difficult to witness. We can’t even imagine what that must be like to be in and amongst new moms with their babies after experiencing a loss like that.  As we were walking through the maternity ward, we could hear a woman giving birth in the next room and then we were able to see the baby in the nursery just minutes after. This was very exciting for many of the team members.  

When we returned to the guest house we had a debriefing session with Les to help us process what we had just experienced.  Each team member shared parts of their experience and we were able to pray, talk and cry together.  It was a very emotionally difficult day, but a very important time in our spiritual growth.  More and more we are emptying ourselves of our own selfish ambitions and realizing that there is a world that needs the love of Jesus.  It was amazing to have the opportunity to share Christ’s love to some very hurting people and to bring some hope to a situation that seems hopeless.  Please continue to pray for the people of Guatemala, that their hearts would continue to be open to the Gospel.  Also, please pray for our team as some are battling sore throats, itchy sore bug bites, nausea and fatigue.  We look forward to all that God has for us and are looking forward to sharing more with you.  God bless! Dios te bendiga!!!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sore Muscles - Full Hearts

We are home and heading to bed after a day of manual labour. Our muscles ache, but our hearts are full.  Today we spent the day moving dirt.  Armed with pick axe, hoes and God’s grace, we literally brought down a wall of dirt and moved it to lay a foundation for the future church at Vida Nueva.  The area we were removing the dirt from will be the next classroom for the school.  We are blessed to be standing on our sister school’s property and cannot believe the work God has done since our last visit.  

The team split into two shifts working 15 minutes and resting 15 minutes.  When we worked, we worked hard.  When we rested, we were blessed to play with a few of the community’s children.   During our work time, we experienced many blessings.  As we stepped out of the van and took in the property, some of our students noticed a small group of children.  Approaching them, one of our students realized she was looking in the face of her sponsor child.  It is hard to describe the joy we saw as they met for the first time.  As the day progressed different children would stop in to see the “gringos”.  Two other team members were blessed to connect with their sponsor children.  It was heart warming to see the sponsor child pointing out his sponsor as other children would arrive.
As we continued to work, a few boys came to play soccer with our team members who were resting.  When the shift changed, the boys joined us at work.  They inspired many of our team to continue to push through and work hard as they raced to see who could haul more dirt.  Their energy, and excitement to work with us was humbling.  We were happy to be able to share our noon meal with them and to have them join us in our team picture.

In addition to our team working at the school, a group of Guatemalan men were busy digging in the school’s well.  Les told us that the well had gone dry during the dry season and they had men working in a dangerous situation trying to dig the well deeper to once again hit water.  When we arrived they were 8 meters down, all morning we watched these men carry wheel barrow after wheelbarrow of heavy clay out of the small opening.  At lunch we stopped to pray for these men, asking God to keep them safe, but more importantly to bring them water so their job could be done.  We went back to work and continued our pattern of work and rest.  Within an hour, our work was interrupted by smiling faces and a loud cheer of “agua” (water).  We were blessed to see God answer our prayer as we stood on our sister school property.  The water continues to rise in the well at a good rate.  We are also listening now to a heavy down pour of a needed rain after a month without.  God is good and we are witnessing His hand at work.  

Tonight we had dessert at the Peters.  We spent time talking about our day and our experience so far.  God is moving amongst our team and we know He is preparing a good work in each of us.  Tomorrow will be a challenging day for us.  We will be ministering to the sick at Coban hospital.  Please pray for our team as we become missionaries to the people of Guatemala.

Pray too for continued health and well-being.  Pray for our aching muscles.  Pray for our hearts.  We also ask that you join us in prayer for a miracle at the hospital and within another issue Impact Ministries is experiencing with their next school project.  Please pray that issues that our standing in the way of their building a new school in Puhrulla will be settled.  This is a timely issue and one Les has asked us to take to prayer.  Please join us as we continue to see God’s kingdom expanded here in Guatemala.