Friday, July 31, 2015

Kingswood UMC Day 8 - 7/31/15

This morning, we began our day like we always do--with a time of devotion and prayer. As you have seen in previous blogs, we hear a scripture three times and reflect more deeply each time to connect with the scripture and our life. Today, we read a portion from Mark 12 which told the amazing story of Jesus watching people donate their money into the temple treasury.  Many persons with wealth gave money to the offering but Jesus was especially moved by a very poor widow and her offering. She gave two coins which only amounted to a penny, but Jesus called his disciples together and shared that out of all the givers, this woman gave all she had. She gave generously even though she lived in poverty. Her gift was so powerful.

The story of the widow and her gift connected with us all week as the residents of Porvenir gave so much of themselves to us with a deep sense of welcome and hospitality.  Yet today seemed to bring the reality of their generosity and gifts to me most profoundly.  As we completed our second stove and began our third, I experienced the great gift of my team (Ryan and Taylor) as well as the amazing patience and wisdom of our mason, Santiago.  I realized he could easily have done the project more quickly and efficiently by himself, but he gave the gift of himself to us each day and especially this day so that we might learn new things, build a relationship with him and our families, and leave Guatemala as more faithful people.

I experienced the deep gift of generosity each day as our host families (those receiving the stoves) purchased drinks and snacks for us a twice a day--even though they live with so little and struggle to support their families every day.  Yet today, that generosity became even more apparent to me as our families gave each of us a very beautiful gift. As I opened the gift this evening, I was moved to tears as I realized that this simple gift was far more generous and beautiful than any gift I had ever received in my life. The story from Mark 12 became alive for me in the final party with our dear friends in Porvenir.

As we drove away in the back of two trucks and left our friends behind, I realized that I have indeed left a part of myself behind.  I have been transformed by the living Christ who is so present here in my friends in Guatemala.  I think I can say that is true for all of our team.  I pray that we will live our lives with more generosity and embrace our faith with a heart that befriends and empowers the poor in all places--even in our own community.  Again, the widow offered the most generous gift....and the world was never the same. May it be so.

God’s Peace,

James Preston

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kingswood UMC Day 7 - 7/30/15

Buenas noches, amigos.  This morning we began our day at 6:45, MOST of us bright eyed and bushy tailed, SOME bleary eyed and yawning.  Either way we were excited to get the opportunity to tour Escuela de Educacion Basico.  This middle school is right across the square from our hotels.  We got to see classrooms of all ages and the newly renovated gymnasium, which has a roof over it now to cover the students during the rainy season.  It was interesting to see a school in action as the students prepared for exams.  It was especially nice to hear some 7th grade students sing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” for us.  After that we ate another delicious breakfast of huevos, frijoles negras, tortillas and platanos and loaded up the trucks to head to Porvenir.  

Right away we got to work for three and a half hours on our second stoves.  We continued to work hard and build community with our masons, stove recipients and any other children who wandered into our worksite.  

We paused for lunch then gathered as a group for a very special activity.  We surprised the kids with a dental hygiene presentation.  We explained the purpose of our activity, talked through the toothbrushing steps and Regan gave an great visual example for the kids.  Then we got to work...

  1. We passed out disclosing tablets to each kid.  They were these little chewables that each kid chewed in order to show where plaque stuck to your teeth.  The kids were all giggling when their mouth turned pink.
  2. Then each kid received a toothbrush and some toothpaste.  Once they had rinsed their mouths from the chewables, our group walked around encouraging them to use proper brushing etiquette for two whole minutes.  The older kids were great at starting at the back and working their way to the front of their mouth.  Many older siblings helped their little brothers and sisters brush in the tough to reach spots.
  3. After they finished so many came running up, beaming with pride.  We took pictures of their huge grins to show them and they were just so happy!  
  4. Once they finished, they were able to keep their toothbrushes and paste to use in the future.

After lunch all of us felt a little bit lethargic, but we pushed through the rest of our work day and made a lot of progress.  When we returned to the posadas, we split into two teams to have our turn in the kitchen.  One group made chile rellenos for dinner that consisted of a poblano pepper, cheese, squash and carrots.  Our group made rellenitos for dessert.  We peeled and mashed plantains that had been boiled in water with cinnamon.  Then we added sugar to blended black beans and put them inside a cocoon of plantains.  Once they were rolled into a sphere shape, we fried them which always makes everything better.  Dinner came late, but was well worth the wait!

Although it was a day that required a lot of stamina and motivation, we all cannot believe that tomorrow is our final work day.  We are enjoying conversations and laughs with one another that we will remember for years to come.

- Lauren Schauer

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kingswood UMC Day 6 - 7/29/15

Every morning here at the Posada los Volcanes, our hotel, we do our devotions in the form of Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina is Latin for Divine Reading. This form of devotion is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation, and prayer.

How we practice this form is to read the scripture aloud three times in a row. One person reads it for the first time, while the group closes their eyes and focuses on hearing the words. We then are encouraged to share words and phrases that jump out at us.

The second person reads aloud while the group listens again, this time focusing on seeing Christ in the text. Then we share which part of the text touches our hearts and why.

Lastly, a third person reads and the group reads along. All of us are to focus on what Jesus is calling us to do, and how we can relate to the text during the duration of the week.

This unique way to connect with Jesus and relate to the Bible has been different for many of us, but everyone has shared their thoughts in relation to Christ.

Today’s reading was Corinthians 12. We compared how each body part is a necessity to the human body, just as each individual person is a necessity to the world. We shared how we believe each of us are important in this mission. Although we are currently foreigners, we connect with the people in the presence of Jesus.

After our reading, the team went out to villages around the local lake. We saw beautiful scenery, handmade gifts, and popular churches.

Tomorrow, we are back to work on our work site in Porvenir!


-The Guatemala Team

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kingswood UMC Day 5 - 7/28/15


Hooray for all groups completing their first stove! We started our second stove and met our new families. We won't get to start up again until Thursday, however, because tomorrow is another "day of rest."

Our day will be tiring, as Candace said. We will be taking speed boats on Lake Atitlan, the center location of many villages. We will do a lot of walking from village to village, but more importantly shopping! So look out for some unique, homemade souvenirs friends and family!

Though today was a regular work day, we had an extra special evening. We were invited by one of Candace's friends to worship with a local church about 20 minutes out of town. Once we arrived, we were instantly greeted with kids and adults from the community waving on each side of the trucks. We walked into the large wooden shed sanctuary and saw lines of balloons tied to the roof and along the walls.

The service was in Spanish, but Candace translated some of it for us. The pastor even allowed us to say a few words and sing, so Lauren, Pastor James, and the puppeteers on our trip took turns singing and praising.

The locals were so welcoming throughout the entire evening, thanking us for being there over and over. One example of their hospitality is when they shared with each and every one of us a Coke and some crackers. Some of us reflected and thought about how humbling it is to see people with such little possessions and money welcoming a large group like ours with a treat.

The service was filled with live music and singing, while the crowd clapped along the entire time. Towards the middle of the service, we shared a powerful prayer experience. Women came to the front and started praying aloud. It increasingly got intense as time went on, and the women started to sob. This went on for about five minutes while we sat and watched, and some of us prayed in our heads.

Each and every day is a new experience where we continue to grow and learn about the Guatemalan culture as well as each other. We still have five days until we head home, and much to learn.

-The Guatemalan Team

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kingswood UMC Day 4 - 7/27/15

Hello from Guatemala!

Today was another amazing and sunny day. We started the morning with lectio divina, which was about entering God’s Kingdom (Mark 10:17-27). It opened our minds and prepared our hearts for the first full day of work ahead of us.

After a wonderful breakfast prepared by Felipe and Marbila, who own our hotel, we left the building to go see what Candace’s friend Jose had for us to purchase. Jose was offering customized pencils, bracelets and many other beaded options that he sells to make a living.

We headed out to work and crammed into our pickup trucks (don’t worry mom we didn’t have seatbelts). During the ride to Porvenir, the community that we work in, we saw beautiful views of at least two of the volcanoes in Guatemala along with sights of the many coffee fields here. 

We jumped right into work on the stoves, putting together cinder blocks and maybe even getting the chimney up (btw that is one heavy half of a chimney). The groups worked hard up until lunch time when we ate another wonderful meal prepared by Felipe and Marbila. Many of us played soccer with of some of the children from the community, and let me tell you, those games got intense. Everybody came back slightly sweaty and tired, but we continued to work.

Our group including Kaylee, Ruth, Skyler, and Manuel, our mason, struggled with getting Manuel up onto the roof. We used some wood to make sure that Manuel and the chimney would not fall through the roof of sheet metal. As I (Skyler) handed Manuel the heavy chimney half and ushered him up the ladder, Kaylee, Ruth, and Skyler rushed to the stove to help him get the chimney in position. While waiting inside the small kitchen, we heard many thuds and were worried for Manuel’s safety. We three said a quick prayer and were thankful to God when Manuel and the stove were both perfectly safe. We were all so grateful for everyone’s safety and the progress that we had made on this incredible project. Then Candace showed up and commented on how I was super duper strong because I lifted the chimney, and I responded by saying (while flexing and pointing), which way is the gun show? Of course everybody had a laughing fit after that.

All of the groups got very close to finishing and will most likely finish our first stoves tomorrow by lunch time. When we were all getting ready to leave, we began to play with the children again, some playing soccer, some simply carrying the children around or playing silly games. The children were extremely happy that we were playing with them and spending time with them, and it left all of us in an even better mood as well. 

When everybody had showered, we headed out for a tutorial, from the mason’s wives in tortilla making, which is much more difficult than it seems, carrying lots of firewood on your back, or water on your head, all of these being customary to Guatemalan culture. Laticia, one of the masons wives, told us that she makes up to 180 tortillas a day, but we could barely even make one during ten minutes. Not pointing fingers, but I heard that someone threw their tortilla across the room (AHEM Lauren). But anyway, she wasn’t the only one. On the way home we either tried to play sardines in the pickup truck, or rode the tuk-tuks. Tuk-tuks are basically a tiny top-speed taxi. The rest of the night was relaxed with card games and with some of us creating a video for everybody’s entertainment. Now it’s off to bed, but we’ll be back with another update tomorrow!

Skyler Frieling and Kaylee Gerhardt

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kingswood UMC Day 3 - 7/26/15

Through The Eyes and Mind of Taylor


Moments later, we Heard, "Water - imagine yourself immersed in esta element, eyes closed, focus on your thoughts and the world around you."

Then, "Air -. Keep your eyes closed, focus on your thoughts and the space around you" The same phrase was lastly Repeated using the spanish word for 'land' Which happens to be escaping me at this moment. The voice That Said The initial word in spanish Belonged to our tour guide, Gregory, a Mayan from the area who I will talk further acerca in a moment, and the translator, our wonderful host and leader of Transformational Journeys, Candace.

This moment our group experienced today on top of a mountain San Lucas Toliman roughly That I just shared with you was to me, a powerful one.   Focusing on my connection to the environment was really centering and peaceful to me.   I want to back track though About an hour before to that.   at that time we Learned About our location and what it meant to the people of San Lucas Toliman.   To put it simply We were in the center of two major sources of trade for the town we are in and Its . That market We had the chance to visit today   Walking through market you see a variety of things: a wide selection of clothes, toys, and some candy. Also, the two main sources of food: crops, and meat (seafood Namely for the purpose of esta discussion). 

Imagine That we are located on a line.   On the right of That line is mountains, and on Those mountains grow a wide variety of plants and vegetables.   On the left On That line is an ocean, Specifically the Pacific Ocean.   This ocean Provides the . seafood,: such as shrimp and fish   . Now Think About whats in the middle   . People   . That's Where we are, the middle   On three days a week, one of them Being today to Sunday. - there is a market   As you can imagine , That market draws from Both Sides of the line.   This is the basis of what I want to talk about.

I have a rough understanding of the way some of the plantations That feed esta market work, as well as the way That They probably should work.   There are many different sides and parts to this story, but let me repeat, this is my understanding ROUGH .

I started to learn about the MOST from Gregorio productive, healthy, and efficient way to produce crops.   The method stemmed from a Mayan proverb called The Three Sisters .   The lesson of this story in short Is That we are stronger and more successful When we work together with others.   This can be applied to community, family, and In This Case, plants.   With the help of Candace's translation, we Learned From Gregorio About how the corn Helps the "bean" or "beans" by giving it support, something . to grow on, in return the beans give nitrogen to the soil grow the corn That Helps   In This situation there is one more role, or "sister" if you may -. the squash   Through a multitude of ways, the squash Helps the soil Retain moisture making a more solid base for the other crops.   In return, the squash Receives nitrogen rich nutrients from the soil.   This is the rough concept behind the healthy, productive, and environmental way of growing crops.

Obviously there are other opposing and different ways people go about growing That Their crops.   I want to talk about the way That a lot of plantation owners go about making their profit.   Key word, profit.   Because That Is Their main goal.   Not the health of the environment, not the health of the people eating Their goods, and Certainly not the health and well being of the People that work from them on Their large plantations.   The plantation owners can be traced way back into history and the plantations Themselves Have Been passed down generation to generation.   all with the same goal, making a profit. 

The Way They go about this is what They think is best and will yield the MOST crops.   This is Where it is Important to remember the lesson of the three sisters legend Certainly Because the plantation owners did not.   Amongst the many mistakes That They make is planting the same crop and only in A Certain That crop area, and throwing down a large amount of mulch That can only do so much without soil.   This causes problems, Most obvious, run off That causes pollution of the local water sources.

Another injustice That the plantation owners employ That system is to be called can share cropping.   This That Involves the locals eat to work on the plantation and end up not Being Able to leave Their Because of how pay works.   For the sake of briefness (and your attention) I will move on to what I'm hoping are the questions you are thinking as well.

Why are the plantation owners running things the way They Do?   The question is more complicated than Stated, the answer probably not easy, and the solution most likely to non-existent At this point in time.   These are the questions I would ask as we Candace Walked THROUGHOUT the mountains.

She has-been searching for the answer for the whole time she has-been in Guatemala Said Something along These lines, "I 've been searching for That same solution myself the whole time I' ve been here."   Probably sensing my sadness and my thoughts of, "Then is it even possible? A better, non corrupt Guatemala. "   She Said something like this, "But what I can tell you, Is That in the time I have Been Here, I have seen change for the better.   Dirt Became cobblestone roads. Became cobblestone paved roads. Corn Became tin houses, and tin Became cement. " 

These are the examples she gave me about the improvement she has seen in Guatemala.   Improvements That mean the world to the people experiencing them.   This gave me hope.   Hope and optimism for a better future.

While the solution Might Be far and difficult, I have hope and faith That there is a large positive energy in this world That will help turn things around.  

I do not want you to think That I have a negative view on Guatemala, Because I really do not.  The people of Guatemala InteractED With That I have so far are the very prideful, welcoming, and hardworking people. It is for them That I voice These Concerns That I have.   To share why it is Important to do mission trips like this and to, in general help others in need.   Please do not take These Words to blow against the people, Because It's not.   I thoroughly enjoy Working with this community and immersing myself in Their culture.   I Strongly Believe That I Have Learned and received more from them than They Have of us.   It is a true gift to have this opportunity and I intend to take full advantage of it.   It is my hope That after reading this, you ask yourself These same questions and even more.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Kingswood UMC Day 2 7/25/15

Dia dos is under wraps! 

Or, maybe tortillas, as we’ve had them with every meal so far. Except for today’s breakfast, when we ate delicious homemade banana pancakes with honey instead of syrup. Though different than what we are used to back at home, many agreed that the honey was a great touch.

Today our limits were pushed when interacting with the locals and people living in the village we are working in, Porvenir. Some of us with a Spanish background were used as translators while others sat there knowing nothing but two Spanish words. Shockingly to many, overcoming the language barrier was simpler than expected. Picking up some words and using tone of voice was very effective. It was overheard that some youth wish they paid more attention in their Spanish classes (we won’t name names!). 

Early this morning, the twenty-something team split into two pick-up trucks to take our drive through the mountains. We were reminded if we hear a thunder-like sound, it is just the volcanes (volcanos) and we should not worry - a noisy volcano is a good thing!

Our drive was a bumpy one, and it didn’t help that we all were standing in the backs. As Pastor James mentioned, it felt as if the potholes were similar to the ones we see on Chicago roads! Besides that, it was filled with curvy mountain roads with palm trees and coffee bean farms surrounding the streets.

We instantly knew we had arrived at our destination when saw balloons tied to posts and trees as we drove in the village. Women and children were standing besides the cars smiling and waving to greet us. 

We sat in a community room and listened as Candace translated stories the women shared with us, continually thanking us for our service. We were given a gift basket filled with freshly picked fruits such as oranges, bananas, papaya, cantaloupe and pineapple. Then they guided us to each of their houses to show us their current living conditions. This consisted of poorly built and/or operating stoves. Some common problems were smoke leaking into the house and rotting inside roofs and walls, the sides of the stoves getting too hot to come close to while cooking, and open flames that could be hazardous especially to young children.

After lunch (served with yummy homemade pineapple juice), we split up to our assigned family’s home and started working! To sum up our experience today, we mixed cement, used a machete to chop cinder blocks, and pieced the two together to make the base of our ovens.

The teams’ goal (with the encouragement of Transformational Journeys) is to complete 20 ovens during our stay. However, we are reminded to take our time and spend it getting to know the families as well.

Prior to breakfast we read and discussed a Lectio Divina, a divine reading. We ended our discussion with this:

Closing Prayer:

Please, God, reveal to me through stories something of what it is like to walk around in someone else’s shoes. Show me something about myself in the stories I read, something that needs to change, a thought or feeling or attitude. 
Deliver me from myself, O God, and from the parochial and sometimes prejudiced views I have of other people, other nations, other races, other religions. 
Enlarge my heart with a story, and change me by the characters I meet there. 
May some of the light from their lives spill over into mine, giving illumination where there was once ignorance, interest where there was once indifference, understanding where there was once intolerance, compassion where there was once contempt. Amen. 

Thanks for reading!

-Guatemala Mission Team

Friday, July 24, 2015

Kingswood UMC Day 1- 7/24/15


We made it! After a layover in Houston (not to mention an O'Hare meet-up at 4AM), we arrived at the airport in Guatemala City. It was a rocky landing flying through the mountains, but that didn't stop many of us taking pictures outside our window seats. The team successfully made it through customs and found Candace - the Transformational Journeys director.

Onto the bus we went, and sat, and took more pictures out the windows. We drove through the downtown area for about an hour, and then two more hours through the country roads to our final destination: San Lucas Toliman.

The country roads showed us sugar cane fields, coffee bean farms, and many farm stands with fresh produce such as pineapple and coconut.

The Kingswood team split into two groups at two hotels with a 90 second walking distance between them (as well as a basketball court where many kids were playing in the evening). We were reminded not to touch the stray cats and dogs, however the three turtles on the hotel property are a safe bet.

After some introductions with the TJ staff, we were served home cooked rice, chicken, and salsa on warm tortillas.

During mealtime, Candace encouraged us all to think about the bigger meaning for this mission trip:

  • Why does God want us here?
  • What do we want to get out of this week?

Tomorrow we will be up and ready to work at 7:30 am at our designated work sites.

Checking out for now, as our hotel Wifi and electricity just came back to us after being out temporarily.

Hasta manana!
- Guatemala Mission Team

Our dinner table set prior to being served. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pack Light, Tread Lightly

We have been back in the States for four days now, and I feel the memories fading already! It's amazing--these stories are written on our hearts in indelible ink, but already the image of Porvenir disappearing around the curve of the road is dissolving. If I squint and think hard, I remember turning my gaze to the mountains surrounding San Lucas. The mountains that protect the community are the same ones that betrayed them when a landslide displaced their homes in 2002. The mountains that I was enamored by began moving steadily in and out of one another as we continued down the road, like two dimensional puppets in front of a gloomy curtain. I turned my face away from them, looking instead to the people in the van. Tired people. Quiet people. People still unable to believe that our time here was up; it was just moments ago that we arrived in this new place. Last week, we walked into the lives of a proud, grateful people. They softened our hearts and made us care. And yet, that afternoon, we walked out of their lives, leaving only but a mark of our presence.

During breakfast, one of our group members, Kail, mentioned the obscure feeling we get when we travel. Perhaps you're familiar with it: one day you wake up in your own bed, and through the miracle of modern transportation, you lay your head down on a pillow 3,000 miles away. Or, what has been on my mind, the opposite. Sunday morning, I woke up in Guatemala, flew thousands of miles, and ate dinner in my parent's back yard. It's unnatural and sometimes it seems our consciousness can't quite catch up. It's like my body came home but my mind wasn't there yet. It was an amazing feeling to be home and to see my family, and I hated to drive back to my rented house because any further movement seemed too much, too fabricated.

It's not that weird. The journey of humanity is a shift from countryside to big city. But perhaps it has been a little bit like modern has happened so fast that our souls still stop to smell the roses as we press on looking for another problem to solve. The city is so young and strange and new--in the grand scheme, barely older than we are--that it feels artificial. Sometimes it keeps us from really feeling like we are at home. The people in Guatemala were so founded in the Earth, so connected to its fruits and its destruction, that they earned many of the admirable qualities of the powerful sphere. They did not search for problems, as our modern entrepreneurial force often urges us to do, but they approach their problems eager to find a solution. Anna, one of our young (but dangerously wise) group members casually noted one evening that what she appreciates about their lifestyle is their reluctance to look for problems as we do, but their desire to look for solutions. She is really on to something.

Anna's father, Kail, made an excellent point as well (that family must live on a good diet or something, because they brought something truly special to our reflections). Kail urged us not to forget the role of the "story." Our stories, the Guatemalan's stories, your stories... they stretch across time and weave and intersect with one another, and really aren't that different. We all grow, change, love, hurt, heal... but the great comfort in all that we do, remains... the end of the story has been written. When our stories end, they will end well. I find rest in this thought.

This post may be my last; a new group begins their journey this week. But I cannot sign off without leaving a somewhat misplaced Spanish proverb: "Little by little, one goes a long way."

I invite you along on the journey of a lifetime. Wherever you are in your journey, dig in and relish every step. Don't watch your feet idly pass over the earth, look up and soak it in. Be present, pack light, and travel far.

Cameron Carney

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


We are truly in the thick of it now. The days have been long and fulfilling, and the relationships we have been building alongside our stoves and the school have made their impression. The group has bonded with each other and with the community, but not without its tax. We are tired; we should be expected to be tired. Being a human being in community with another is exhausting. What we are doing isn't easy and doesn't come without sacrifice, but we shy away from recognizing that sacrifice. I am proud of the group for being so selfless...I am humbled by their casual politeness--I have been on the receiving end of great compassion, and it seems endless. This group of people is not unlike the people of Guatemala.

Last night we were invited into the home of Andres, a man of sixty with the heart of a seventeen year old. He was a weathered man with callused feet and hands, and dust smoothed the wrinkles of his knuckles. Andres spoke heart-to-heart and I don't imagine that was unusual for him. His story told of his strife, but it was not about his suffering. "Passio" in its archaic form means "to suffer," so when you feel passionate about something, you suffer for its cause. Andres has a passion for Guatemala unlike any American has for the U.S.. He is not under the illusion that his country is the pinnacle of success, as many of us are. He is just the opposite: Andres knows his country is tainted by social injustice and for years he has fought hard to correct it. Andres was a victim of an unfair finka (or plantation) and he suffered through years of abuse. He did not suffer alone and has not forgotten those who were more severely abused than he was. Those people are still with him everyday. He left the finka and worked tirelessly to ensure that no one would suffer in such a way again. Andres works so hard for others and the work lifts his spirits. He feels closer to God by doing this work and he glorifies God in all he does.

Andres exemplified wisdom. In my life, I often mistake knowledge for wisdom, but the two could not be more divorced. Andres helped me understand that knowledge means nothing without the experience of making mistakes. His values are informed by the trouble he has encountered, the choices he has made, and the people he has loved. He spoke to us in length about the value of women and the idiocy of machismo. With his blessing and his many thanks, we walked quietly through the rain back to the hotel.

Two work days down, two work days to go. Today was our day of rest, so we all went shopping across the lake. It was a bright day this morning, but as the day pressed on, the clouds brought us rain--this is such a joy for the growers here. They depend upon this rain for their crops, but it hurts the shop owners who depend on tourists to fill the streets. It has been hard for us to comprehend the strife each of these people goes through in any given day. There is no getting ahead, just keeping up. The cup is never full, but these people are strong-willed and refuse to let it empty. They only look to their neighbors to make sure they, too, have enough. And yes, enough is good enough.

Buenos noches.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

We Are Welcome Here

Beginning this blog is challenging. The interests of each member of the group are so varied and so vast, capturing them in my words will be one of the hardest parts of this journey for me. It is my sincere hope that I will listen more closely, more intentionally, and with more presence. We have discussed presence to great length in the past three days, noting our active presence in conversation with one another, our anxious presence with the members of the community, and the value of our presence to everyone. Being present for and with one another makes a tremendous difference in the day to day life in Guatemala, and we are blessed to experience it firsthand.

The past couple of days have been remarkably beautiful--the mornings have greeted us kindly (as have the roosters) and the tours have been eye-opening. For the past two days we have visited progressive sites in Guatemala including the women's center, the hospital, the coffee farm, and an excellent finca, or plantation, that utilizes the indigenous plants to their greatest advantage. We have been into the homes of many citizens and seen some of how they live and how we are able to serve them. When we arrived, many of us who had not been here before expected to go to work right away. We did not expect to be served or tended to--we thought the opposite! I never thought I would say "gracias" so many times and not once be in a position to mutter "denada." Our presence means a lot to the people here, and their gratitude means the world to us. As we arrived for a tour of one of our work sites, standing in the back of a Toyota pickup, we ducked under a string of balloons celebrating our arrival. Fireworks popped and cracked around us as we entered buildings and greeted our new friends, and the English word "Welcome" was taped onto the wall in one of the buildings. The women we met with showed no skepticism and no reservation, only abundant love and thankfulness. The community brought to us their harvest of bananas and oranges to express their excitement. As we peeled our fruits and stacked our chairs, an excited young boy went outside to surprise us with the cacophony of more fireworks. The joy here is incalculable.

In the early morning and during our evening free time we walk along the streets and greet the people we see. There are always so many people sitting along their homes, greeting the passersby and being present with one another. Though we haven't all made sense of it yet, we know that we have a great deal to learn from these people. They are wise where we are not for their genuine relationships and their willingness to be open to one another.

At this stage in my personal journey, I am discovering the narrowness of my perspective. I realize that without the people I've met today and the experiences I've had in the past 72 hours, I could not possibly draw any meaningful conclusions about the complexities of life. I am lucky to be with such a fine group of people and I thank you for sending them with me. Their reflections help me to make sense of it all and, when I need it most, their presence provides me shelter. 

Even as I write these words, more and more of my apprehensions disappear. I'm certain that many of my friends share these apprehensions, and you may as well. Don't worry about us. We are welcome here.