(Friday, July 22, 2016)

This morning, we headed back over to Maria’s house where we discovered that the house was all cleaned up and ready for the installation of the doors and windows (which happened later this afternoon).  Tomorrow, we will dedicate the house for Maria.

All of the excess wood had already been moved to the street outside of Carmen’s property, so we walked over to Carmen’s property to assess the situation.  We prayed together, and we got to work.  We moved the wood just outside the gate to her property, and we began cutting and nailing boards to the make shift wooden posts in her “house.”  The sun was unusually hot without a lot of shade which meant my energy level was extra low (especially given my poor nights sleep the night before), but we persisted.  Before long, we had completed half of the back wall of Carmen’s house.

After a break which included cold sodas and crackers, we worked until we ran out of wood.  We were able to complete two of the three walls that needed to be completed on her house.  She’ll have some work to do to finish things up, but this should put her several days ahead of where she would have been otherwise.

It still blows me away that many people in the world today live in these kinds of conditions – dirt floor, pieced together walls and roof, and no plumbing.

While we were there today, we learned that her daughter had been sexually abused in some form or other by some older boys or men in the community.  Apparently, they are facing criminal charges, but it saddened me to know that a 7 year old girl had been violated in this way.

Carmen was extremely thankful for our donation of wood and our efforts in helping to construct her house.  Before we left, we purchased a couple of table runners she had made, and she gave us a few hand-made cloth napkins as a gift for our part in her house.

I left feeling thankful that we had done what we could to help Carmen, but I also left kind of sad wishing I could do more to help.

(Our family is hoping to help by providing some of the roofing material she will need to keep her house dry.  We’ll have to take care of this tomorrow.)

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After lunch, I took a nap.  My energy level today was not very strong, and the siesta was a welcome break from the day.

After my nap, our family walked through Xenacoj in search of a specific shop that dyed their own fabrics for making the various textiles for which the community is know.  After much searching, we found the place, and we made a small purchase after getting a tour of their facility and how they dye their yarn.

On the way back to our house, we stopped for vanilla milk shakes at an nice cream place on the central street that runs through Xenacoj.  We haven’t had milk since we have been here, so while the milk shake itself wasn’t very think, it was great to taste cold milk (with a strong vanilla flavor).

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When we arrived home, we met German Espana who took us on a fairly long walk around Xenacoj to visit with some of the widows in the community.  German has a passion for helping the widows here, and he makes every effort to make sure they receive care and regular visits.  He’s in the process of helping to set up a Widows Association for all the widows in Xenacoj to help them meet each other’s needs and to help them get more recognition and support in the community.

Our first stop was Lola’s house.  Lola is a 96 year old widow.  Her husband died when he was 101 years old.  She was the care taker for her son until he recently passed away.  And from the sounds of it, she doesn’t receive many visits from her grandchildren.  Lola lives by herself on the edge of Xenacoj next to the community soccer field not far from the Xenacoj city gate.  She cooks her own meals.  While her face and hands are full of wrinkles, there is an amazing beauty that radiates from her face.

We took time to visit with Lola.  We prayed with her, and German sang to her.  We gave her three bags of fortified rice and beans as a parting gift.  It was a beautiful experience.

Next stop, we walked through the city gates and onto a small hut on the side of the mountain where a widow lived with her mother and son (Alfonzo).  From what I could figure out, her 17 year old daughter lives next door with her 54 year old husband and their two young children.  The daughter is expecting their third child any day.  We learned that the mother is the cousin of German’s wife, Suzy.  They don’t communicate very often.  We met with them in their hut where they cook and sleep.  Like most older houses in Xenacoj, there was a strong smell of smoke in the building which made it hard to breathe.  While they just had a stove installed in the hut that will exhaust the smoke through the roof of the hut, they still choose to cook over an open flame inside the hut.  The bottom side of the roof is coated in thick black residue from the smoke.   I took a picture of the lightbulb hanging over the fire.  The lightbulb wasn’t typical white.  Instead it was more brown, and it looked as thought it had been dipped in honey.

The grandmother wore a typical Mayan dress, and she walked next to the hot coals of the fire in her bare feet.  Her feet looked like leather.  When she smiled, her grin quickly clued us in that she had probably never seen a dentist.  She had one “tooth” on the lower part of her mouth.  The tooth looked like a rotten piece of black rice.

We prayed with the family, and we gave them three bags of the fortified rice and bean mixture and two copies of the Nuevo Testamento (the Spanish New Testament).  German invited them to his house on Saturday morning where he and his wife Suzy, regularly provide Saturday morning breakfast for widows and their families.

As we left this home, we cut through a couple of properties on our way back to the streets of Xenacoj.  We stopped at a couple more widows homes to say hello and to drop off rice and beans.  In each incident, German invited the ladies to his house on Saturday morning.

We then walked by El Fuelso on our way to German’s parents house which lay on another edge of the village.  El Fuelso is a school we’ve visited several times in the past, but GO Ministries is not longer doing ministry there.  Apparently, the principal wanted GO Ministries to pay for the school to put concrete over their dirt playground.  When GO Ministries refused to help with this request, they were told they could no longer bring their feeding program to the school.  The school now has a concrete playground, but the school apparently does not have a great reputation in the community.

When we arrived at German’s parents we met his mother and father.  His father is wheel chair bound due to a few strokes.  The property where they live is beautiful.  On a clear day, they have an amazing view of the three mountain peaks outside of Xenacoj.  Their backyard was full of chickens, firewood, and rows for corn.  German visits them every day, and he is finishing up a kitchen addition to their small cinder block house.

When we left their house, we headed for Angela’s house.  We built a house for Angela two years ago.  (I wrote about it last week.). I wish I could tell you more about our visit to Angela’s house, but we had to cut our visit short due to the onset of a migraine headache.  As we were talking to Angela, I suddenly couldn’t see very well.  I let Leanne know, and we quickly left, so I could make it back to our house to take my migraine medicine.  I’ve had a few of these incidents here in Xenacoj.  The altitude may have contributed, but I think I most likely wasn’t hydrated appropriately when these occurred.  (You would think I would learn my lesson).

Honestly, I didn’t feel well most of the day after not sleeping well the night before, and I didn’t pay enough attention to resting and drinking water.  Oh well.

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We quickly stopped at home.  I took my migraine pill, and I grabbed Isaac’s sunglasses before we headed off to city hall to visit with the mayor of the village, Mario Aquino.  German helped to set up this meeting, and I didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity with or without my migraine headaches.

When we arrived at the city hall, we had to wait outside for a few minutes as the local police made sure we were welcomed into the building.  In a few minutes, he came back and let us in.  We were then escorted to Mario’s office.  Mario and German sat on one side of the room, and our family sat on the other side of his office.  Hannah explained to Mario (in Spanish) why I was wearing the sunglasses, and we proceeded to talk.  For the first half of our discussion, I couldn’t see a thing.  The migraine medication hadn’t kicked in yet, and I was left to see blurry editions of the people in the room.  Despite the vision problems, we had a very interesting (and hopefully productive) conversation.  I shared with him about my vision to build 100 homes for widows in Guatemala.  I thanked home for welcoming our family to Xenacoj and permitting us to serve in this way.  I told him that I was interested in seeing how he might be able to help us engage the community in achieving this goal.  We talked about the importance of the community partnering with us to make 100 houses happen.

Hannah did an amazing job translating as we talked back and forth. 

Mario was very intrigued by the idea, and he asked when we would return.  He promised to have a proposal of some sort to my by Wednesday.  And he asked if we could build five houses next time we were here in Xenacoj.

Before we said our goodbyes, we took pictures of the assembled group.  I feel like this was a monumental meeting.  For one, I know Mario is typically very busy, so it was an honor that he would carve an hour out of his busy schedule to talk to our family.  I believe Mario cares deeply for his community, and he seems to believe in the work that German is doing for the widows.  Only God knows what the future holds, but I’m praying we will look back on this meeting with Mario as a monumental step in building homes and demonstrating the love of Jesus to many in Xenacoj.

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Before dinner, Leanne and I stopped by the Internet cafe for a few minutes to post by video and blog post and to check Facebook and email.  While we were there, we briefly connected with my parents via Facebook Messenger Video Chat.  It was so great to speak with them for a few minutes.  They seemed excited to talk to us.  My mom, who was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Progression this spring, seemed fantastic.  While this interchange only lasted a couple of minutes, it was one of the highlights of my day here in Xenacoj.

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We closed out the day with a fire on the roof of our house.  We enjoyed roasted Guatemalan marshmallows.  Dave picked up Hershey’s chocolate and a sweet cracker.  He also found white chocolate for me.

This was such a great way to end a busy day in Xenacoj.

When I arrived in Xenacoj, Guatemala nearly two weeks ago, I said a prayer:  “God, let my heart break for the things that break your heart.”

Today, my prayer was answered.

It’s hard to know exactly where to start, so I guess I’ll start in the middle of the day.

After lunch, our family ventured over to Maria’s house to continue with the construction.  The house is almost finished.  Jose was installing the electric in the house.  Leanne and I put up the last few pieces of wood on the front of the house.  And we worked together to put up filler strips of wood on the inside of the house to close up the gaps left by the uneven pieces of wood.

As I was hammering up some of these pieces, I wished that we had used the same wall material on Maria’s house that we used last week on Dolores’ house.  At Dolores’ house, we used fairly even, milled planks of wood.  It made the construction easier, and it looked great when we finished.  At Maria’s house, we are using long pieces of wood that is flat one side and unfinished on the other side.  In other words, one side of the boards used for Maria’s house still has bark on it from the tree.  The planks of wood are not completely straight, and Maria’s house looks like a log cabin.  I want the houses we build in Guatemala to look good AND provide suitable housing for the widows who are receiving the houses.

Maria’s house will definitely be suitable housing for her for which I am very thankful.

Midway through the afternoon, German asked Dave to go visit another house site with him, and I immediately jumped in.  As we walked over, German explained that there was another woman who needed a house.  She had been living with a friend, but she was asked to move.  Somehow she gained access to a property without any shelter.  She was looking for construction material in order to build a “house” on the property.

When we arrived at the property, we were greeted by an older gentleman, the woman, and her mother.  They welcomed us into her yard, and we started looking around.  The property had corn growing in neat rows in one corner of the property.  Part of the property was full of weeds.  And there was a “structure” going up right where we walked in.  The structure consisted of six or seven tree trunks and/or branches standing vertically.  They supported smaller pieces of scrap wood which were constructed to hold up roofing material.  Underneath the “structure” was a dirt floor.  And in and around the structure laid a mixture of scrap wood, pallets, and rusted roof material.

We began to ask questions.  We discovered that the ladies’ name is Carmen.  Her husband abandoned her.  She has two children, Evelyn (7) and Jose (4).  And she lives with her mother.  She earns money by making and selling napkins, tablecloths, and table runners.  She rents the property for 300Q (~$36) per month, and it will take her 20 years to own the property at the rate she is paying.  (That’s 3,600 Q (~$432) per year for 20 years or 72,000Q (~$8,640) total.). It takes her 6 days to make a table runner that she sells for 40Q (~$6).

You do the math.

This lady needs help.

We have extra wood at Maria’s house, and we’ll be able to bring it over to Carmen’s house tomorrow.  The wood we will provide will make a huge difference in the “house” being built on her property.  In essence, we’ll be building three houses in Guatemala this trip.

I ran back to Maria’s house to get Leanne, Hannah, and Isaac.  I wanted them to be part of the decision to donate wood to Carmen’s house.  We all agreed that donating the left over material to her house was the best use of our resources.  We met her children, and we prayed with her family.  Carmen cried as she kneeled down in the center of our makeshift prayer circle, and I could hear German’s tears as he prayed over this family.  He first prayed in Spanish.  Then he prayed in Katchiquel.  And he finished by praying in English.

As I opened my eyes at the end of the prayer, I could see tears in the eyes of Dave Sgro, our missionary contact here in Xenacoj.

We walked back to Maria’s house, and I explained to Maria what we were going to do with the extra material.  As I talked, I began to cry.  I explained that our family kept coming back to Xenacoj to help widows like her and to share the love of Jesus in a practical way.  It’s our hope that this love would spread to those we serve and that they in turn would share Jesus’ love with others.

Maria seemed grateful for our families support, and she seemed willing to help Carmen however she could.

We are so blessed to live in the United States where we have so many material items, and we have access to so many resources.  Carmen is not unlike a majority of the people living in this world.  So many people struggle to find food, shelter, and clothing.  And so many people miss out on the love of Jesus.

Today, my heart breaks for Carmen.

Pray for Carmen, Evelyn, and Jose.  Pray for provision for their basic needs.  And pray that they would know the love of Jesus.

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This morning, we went to two schools.  First, we went to Cruz Ayapan where we visited two previous times.  We had the chance to feed some of the kids and to play with them during their recess time.  The kids seemed even more comfortable with me this time.  They talked to me, and some of them climbed all over me.  As I was hanging out with these young kids, I noticed a few of the kids were cross-eyed, and many of them had severe dental issues.  I’m guessing the vision problems could be repaired with surgery, glasses, and eye strenghening therapy.  These kids will most likely face challenges for the rest of their lives as a result of their vision problems that could be addressed now.  And the dental issues are a result of poor nutrition and inadequate at-home dental care.

I wish I could simply snap my fingers together and fix all these problems, but it’s not that easy.

There is so much work to be done.

After Ayapan, we drove over to El Cavalerie where we had the opportunity to play soccer and basketball with some of the kids, and we had the opportunity to poke our heads into some of the classrooms.  Some of the kids at this school knew a tiny amount of English, and they were excited to share it with our family.  El Cavalerie was the school where Hannah and I spent several afternoons playing with kids the first time we came to Xenacoj in 2012.  SInce then, the school has grown and experienced some dramatic improvements.  It was satisfying to see these changes.

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Our time here in Santo Domingo Xenacoj, Guatemala is over soon, and I’m starting to feel like I’m straddling two worlds as I start to think about heading home on Sunday and as I long to hold onto the experiences and relationships here in Xenacoj.

There is still much to do, and I plan to return.

And since I still have two more full days here, I’m going to make the most of each moment.

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I didn’t sleep well after all of these events from the day.  I ended up waking up around 1AM (Friday morning), and I tossed and turned until at least 3AM.  My brain was spinning.  I kept thinking about Carmen and her family.  I kept thinking about why our family comes back to Xenacoj over and over again.  And eventually, the concept of God’s love for me came to my mind.  I started to recite verses in my head about God’s love that I had committed to memory years and years ago.  I realized I needed to write a few things down to get them out of my head, so I turned on the flashlight on my iPhone, and I looked up ‘love’ in the concordance at the back of my Bible.  Here are some of the things that came to my mind in the early hours of the morning:

This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (and sisters).  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother (or sister) in need but has no pity on him (or her), how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  I John 3:16-18

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  I John 4:7-12

God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in the world we are like him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  I John 4:16-18

We love because he first loved us.  I John 4:19

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17

(Wednesday, July 20, 2016)

I met a new friend in Xenacoj this year.  His name is Oreo.  (That’s what I named him.). He’s mostly black with some white streaks along his belly and on his feet.  He’s a puppy, and he hangs outside our door waiting for food or attention.  Our team adopted him these past two weeks, and I think he’d have a forever home if we could clean him up and get him checked out and cleared by a vet.  He has the most expressive ears and a tail that wags whenever we walk out into the street.  He likes tortillas, chicken bones, and rice, but he’s not real crazy about fruit, vegetables, and black beans.

Oreo is one of hundreds of stray dogs that wander the streets of Xenacoj without a home.  The dogs generally don’t bother anyone, but they will defend their turf when other dogs come around.  Even little Oreo barks when any dogs come up our street.  It’s not uncommon to hear dogs barking throughout the night as they get into spats with other canines roaming the streets.

Bob Barker would have a hay day here – “Don’t forget to have your pets spade or neutered.”  Obviously, there isn’t any birth control for these crazy dogs.  WIth all the dogs roaming the streets, there are not many cats, and there aren’t many other rodents (although we’ve had some rat sightings, but that’s a whole different story).

Last night, our family took a stroll to the grocery store after our work day.  Guess what Isaac purchased?  Oreo cookies!  Seems kind of funny (to me).

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This morning, I started reading 2 Timothy up on the roof.  In Chapter 1, Paul encourages Timothy to operate with the Holy Spirit’s power and self-discipline.  He also reminds Timothy that he is likely to suffer as a result of his faith, and he tells Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel he is representing.

This brings me to the “rat” story.

This week on multiple occasions, we have had dead rats placed in our street by our house.  They are typically found in a plastic bag when we come out of our house in the morning.

Dave Sgro, the missionary we are working with in Xenacoj, is pretty certain they are being placed by a family who is involved in witchcraft.  The rats represent sometype of curse.  If it’s the family Dave thinks it is, they are placing the rats by our house, because they are upset at legal action that was taken against their son (or husband) last year when it was discovered that he was sexually abusing his daughter.

The medical team who was here last year was doing a check on his daughter, and they discovered all kinds of sores in her mouth.  One of the doctors arranged to send the daughter to a hospital in Antigua where it was confirmed that she had been abused.  The mother initially pressed charges, and the father was thrown in jail.  It’s a longer story than this, but now the family is not happy that their son/husband is in jail.  And they are determined to make life challenging for the “Gringo” missionaries and for German Espana.

As I thought my reading in Timothy this morning, I realized that the rats actually correlate to what Paul was talking to Timothy about in this part of the letter.  Following Christ is not always the easiest path.  There will be challenges along the way, and there will be people who want to make your life difficult as a result of your faith.

Pray for those who persecute you.  This week, I’m praying for the “rat people”.  I pray that God will touch them.  I pray that they will experience the love of Christ.  And I pray that they would begin to understand that the “Gringo” missionaries are here to help.  Your prayers for the “rat people” and for our protection are greatly appreciated.

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After my morning rooftop time, I walked the streets of Xenacoj as Hannah ran on in front of me staying in my sight.  I used the time to catch up on a few podcasts, and I also used the time to soak in the morning sights, sounds, and smells of Xenacoj.  There is a constant smell of wood fires throughout the village – especially in the morning and the evening when people are cooking.  The sounds of chicken bus horns penetrates the morning silence as buses line up to take villagers to other parts of the country.  Young children are on their way to school.  And shop owners sweep the steps in front of their stores.  As you pass people on the street, the common greeting shared is “Beunos Dias.”  Everyone says hello to everyone.

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Today, we worked on Maria’s house again.  Our day was spent using a machete to scrape the bark of the wooden planks and putting the planks on the walls.  I worked on the front wall.  German and Jose worked on the street side wall, and Isaac and Dave worked on the back wall.  The house is nearing completion.  Tomorrow afternoon, we will most likely put the final touches on the walls before the electric, windows, and doors are installed.  I expect that we will dedicate the house and turn it over to Maria and her family on Saturday.

I had an interesting experience when we arrived at Maria’s house after our lunch break.  I had to use her bathroom.  I asked her, “Permitimir user al bano?”  (My Spanish needs some work.).  She led me to the back of her small property where she she moved a wooden “half door” that blocked in the rabbits, ducks, and chickens that occupied the “bathroom”.  Her toilet was a hole in the ground with board covering the hole.  I removed the board and took care of my business.  As I went back to work, I had a whole new level of appreciation for the bathroom facilities in my own home.

Most of the world lives like Maria (or in even worse conditions).  In the United States, we live in extreme wealth.  We have access to so many luxuries not found in most of the world.  While I am looking forward to returning home in four days, I am deeply impacted by my time in Xenacoj.

Tomorrow morning, we will be visiting Ayapan again to play with the children, and we’re planning to visit another school near Maria’s house.  In the afternoon, I expect to be back at Maria’s house working on her “palace” as she calls it.

It’s been another good day in Xenacoj!

(Tuesday, July 19, 2016)

Up on the roof of our house in Xenacoj this morning, I finished going through I Timothy.  Paul leaves Timothy with more sound instructions as he closes out the letter to him.  We all need a Paul in our lives.  Who is there to mentor me?  Who in your life is a mentor to you?

While I watched Hannah run in a nearby soccer field, I worked on my life plan.  This has been a powerful exercise, and I’m looking forward to working on it again in the morning.

Hannah has done a pretty good job getting her running in while we are in Guatemala.  It’s not easy to run in Xenacoj when you are not used to running at this altitude.  Xenacoj sits somewhere between 6500 and 7000 feet above sea level which is much higher than our home in Pennsylvania.  Hannah is getting ready to run her first collegiate season of cross country at Messiah College, and it’s important for her to keep her fitness up even while we are out of the country.

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This morning, we went back to Maria’s to work on her house.  It was a fairly productive day.  We installed her roof, and we finished the studding around the perimeter of her house.  We started installing the boards on the walls of her house.  Unlike Dolores’ house, the walls of Maria’s house are make from boards that are flat on one side but are rough cut on the other side.  This makes for a more challenging installation process.  For future house build projects, I think it will be work a couple more hundred dollars to install the finished boards.

One of the things that amazed me today was how hard Maria has been working on her house.  Before we arrived, she was busy helping to dig the foundation.  Today, she was busy using a machete to knock the loose bark off the wall boards.

We learned today that Maria has two children.  Her husband left her four years ago to go to the United States.  He hasn’t been seen since.  While her husband is still living, Maria is essentially a widow.  This is not an uncommon occurrence in Guatemala where many husbands abandon their wives.  It’s a sad reality that many women have to juggle caring for their families, working to raise money for food and shelter, and finding time to take care of their properties.

Before get too full of ourselves, this happens in the United States of America.  While many husbands may be required to pay alimony and child support when they physically abandon their families, little is done when husbands and fathers simply check out emotionally and relationtionally from their families.

It’s time for husbands and fathers in Guatemala and the United States to take responsibility, to be intentional, and to be the best they can for their wives and children.

This is one of the reasons I’m excited to launch a mastermind group for fathers and husbands this fall.

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Tonight, we enjoyed dinner and a rousing game of Dutch Blitz.  Hannah has been winning every game we’ve played so far (which isn’t fun for me).  The time sitting around the table has given us time to laugh and reflect on the happenings of the day.

As I think back on today,  I pray for Maria.  I pray that she would know God’s love.  I pray that she would experience God’s provision in her life.  ANd I pray that she can be the mother she needs to be for her children.

I pray for German and Suzy Espana.  They have been tremendous hosts for our family during our time here.  They sacrifice so much for the widows in their community.  I pray they would experience God’s blessings in their lives.  I pray they would have what they need as they raise their six children.  And I pray they would have endurance as they serve in Xenacoj.

I pray for Jose, our construction guru.  I pray he would get the rest he needs in between our busy work days.  I pray for his safety as he works on these homes.  And I pray for his influence in his community.

I pray for the countless widows in the community.  I pray for those who justifiably need new homes and other items. That they would have provision.  I pray for those who are jealous of widows like Dolores and Maria that they would learn patience as they wait and joy for Dolores and Maria.  I pray that the widows in the community would join together to support each other.

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Assuming the weather cooperates, we plan to be back at the job site tomorrow.  We should make a big dent in the project.  I look forward to getting Maria into her new home.

For now, it’s time for bed.

Thanks for your continued support and prayers.

(Monday, July 18, 2016)

Our family is back at it today in Santo Domingo Xenacoj for a second week in a row.

One of my highlights from this trip is the time I have by myself each morning on the roof of our house.  I can see much of Xenacoj and the surrounding mountains from the top of our house.  And it’s relatively peaceful up there (except for the sounds of roosters crowing, dogs barking, chicken bus horns blaring near the Central Park, and people walking up and down our lane).

Each morning, I start with prayer and time in the Bible.  I’ve been in II Thessalonians and I Timothy so far, but I’ll most likely be transitioning to II Timothy by the middle of the week.  Today, I spent time in I Timothy 5.  It’s interesting to read Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding widows.  Much of our focus here in Guatemala has been on widows.  I think we need to develop an application process of sorts for the houses in the future.  I’m not exactly sure what that will look like, but there is so much jealousy and fighting among the widows.  We’ve had repeated requests from multiple widows asking us to build them houses.  I obviously want to help, but it can be overwhelming knowing I can’t snap my fingers together and build them a house this week.  I like what Andy Stanley says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for many.”  I need to remember this as we continue building this week and in the future.

My prayer is that the widows and villagers of Xenacoj would develop a passion and mindset for helping each other, but I’m realizing this is a big prayer.

While I’m on the rooftop each morning, I also take time to record a “Rooftop Reflections” video which I eventually have been posting to Facebook (although my video from Friday, July 15th must be too large for the limited band width here in Xenacoj).  These videos have been a great opportunity for me to reflect out loud on my experiences in Guatemala.

I’ve also been reading in the morning.  I finished Adam Braun’s excellent book, The Promise of a Pencil, on the plane ride here, and I just finished Blake Mycoskie’s book, Start Something That Matters.  Both of these books have been inspiring to me as I consider the pursuit of 100 house builds in Guatemala.  I didn’t bring any other books, so I’ll be spending some of my remaining morning times working on my life plan (utilizing the Living Forward book as a resource).  I started this in Vermont a couple weeks before our trip to Guatemala, and this could be an excellent time to finish it up.

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This morning, we visited Ayapan again.  I had the opportunity to speak in on of the classrooms.  I asked the kids what they wanted to be or do when they grew up.  A few kids said they wanted to be a doctor, a fireman, or a teacher, but most of the kids didn’t know how to answer the question.  I think they have grown up in a culture where their parents worked in agriculture, their parents’ parents worked in agriculture, and their family worked in agriculture as far back as anyone can remember.  I’m guessing they expect to work in agriculture.  I’m not sure these kids know how to dream or plan for the future.  There seems to be more of a focus on today.  I think some of this is good, but I also wonder what would happen in this culture if they learned to dream bigger.

After speaking in the classroom, I had the opportunity to explore a small part of this rural village.  I visited with a widow who lived up a dirt path.  She was friendly at first.  When we asked if we could take a picture, she said no.  Then she got upset.  She was clearly upset with the road construction, and she was definitely unhappy with the president of the country.  I couldn’t understand most of what she was saying, but I felt the frustration in her voice.  Needless to say, I didn’t take any pictures of the widow or her home.

Upon returning down to the school yard, I was created by a flock of young boys who were simply looking for me to play with them.  I twirled several of them around until I was dizzy.  These kids crave attention.  And they need positive influences in their lives.

Trash was all over the school yard.  Dave Sgro made up a game to get the kids to gather trash into a pile.  Simple things need to be taught to these kids, but it takes time and a little consistency.  I wonder how often there are these kinds of outside influences in Ayapan to be with these kids.

Before we left Ayapan, we dropped off several boxes of food which the school will use in the coming weeks to feed the children.

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When we arrived home from Ayapan, we had some down time.  I ended up taking a nap before lunch.  I will miss these naps when I go home.  There is something so refreshing about a midday nap.  Siestas are a normal thing in Guatemala.  Many people take a two-ish hour lunch break to eat some food and take a nap.  Then they go back to work.

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This afternoon, we worked on the second house.  Maria is the widow we are working with this week.  She greeted us as we walked up her dirt lane towards her property.  She was so happy to see us.

Maria is clearly poorer than the widow we worked with last week.  Her property is smaller, and it’s tucked in the woods down the hill from Calavarie (I need to check this spelling), a school Hannah and I served at the first year we visited Xenacoj in 2012.

Jose and German worked in the morning installing the three main roof beams in the house.  We spend the afternoon installing the wooden sill above the concrete blocks, installing the wooden boards which will hold up the metal roofing material, and shaving the bark off the wooden planks which will be used on the wall of Maria’s house.

[German and Jose spend time a few weeks ago installing the cinder blocks and concrete floor in preparation for our visit.]

I felt like we were able to make better progress based on our experience last week on Dolores’ house.  We knew what we were doing, and we worked together more effeciently.  At the end of our first work day at Maria’s house, we were clearly further along in the process.  Assuming we go back there tomorrow (and we’ve learned not to assume anything in Guatemala), we should make another big dent in this project.

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As we walked back to our house, I had such a feeling of satisfaction.  The temperature in Guatemala had begun to fall as the sun made its way across the sky, and I was happy with our progress.  I love having the opportunity to help others in this way.

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One week from today, I’ll venture back into my office in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania after a short night of sleep due to our travel home.  It will be a different Monday.  I won’t be in Xenacoj, but I’ll have plenty of stories to tell and memories to occupy my mind.

(Sunday, July 17, 2016)

We said goodbye to our two nurses who headed home to the United States today.

Our family took it easy hanging around Xenacoj for the day.  We had lunch at German’s house where Suzy fed us a delicious meal of carne assada, roasted potatoes, salsa, and fresh strawberries.  We also took time to take advantage of his wi-fi, so we could connect with home briefly.

We relaxed during the afternoon and played Dutch Blitz, and I took a nap.

Dave brought home a Canadian, Emily, who was supposed to fly home to Alberta, Canada today, but her flight was cancelled.  It sounds like she’ll be staying with us for a night or two until her flight can be rescheduled.  I think she will be going with us to Ayapan tomorrow morning.  And she might be visiting our construction site in the afternoon.

Tonight, we walked over to Central Park after dinner to take in the sites and sounds of the festival.  Tonight was a big night of pageantry as the candidates for this year’s Queen of Xenacoj were announced and Mayan dances were performed.

I’m ready for bed as it’s much later than we’ve been going to bed this week.

Tomorrow is a new day, and I’m looking forward to what awaits us.

Do you believe in coincidences?  Or do you believe that things line up to work for or against you?

Maybe another way to put it is this – do you believe in spiritual warfare?

Our trip to Guatemala has been pretty good, but there have been some things happening that could be classified as coincidences or could be considered spiritual warfare.

For example, today I came back to our house in Xenacoj after a run with Hannah, and I started to experience migraine symptoms.  Then our van had problems with the tires, and we had to get two of them replaced delaying our trip to Santo Marie, a nearby town where we were going to clean out the ears of widows.  Tonight, we found out that one of our team members received a disturbing text message from home about a friend who’s son overdosed on heroin.

We had a few other things happen along the way in just three short days, and it makes you wonder.  Is Satan fighting against us, or is it all just a coincidence?

I’m not typically one to get overly wrapped up in talks of spiritual warfare.  I typically believe that we get oursevles into our own messes by our stupid decisions and poor choices.  But I’ve also heard stories of people trying to do good for others only to be held up by a resistive force.

Regardless, I’d ask you to keep our team in your prayers as we continue to minister in and around Xenacoj.  Pray that God would open doors for us to share the gospel in words and in actions to those who need to know the love of Christ.  Pray for the safety and health of our team as we continue to serve.  And pray for protection for those we are service – specifically the widows receiving the houses we are building during our time here.

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This morning we traveled to Santo Marie to help clean the ears of widows in this village outside of Xenacoj.  When we showed up, there were men, women, and young children standing in line to receive this service.  Our team did a remarkable job examining each patient and taking time to analyze their ears.  They cared for them with love and compassion.

I spent a decent amount of time talking with German Espana who has a huge concern and compassion for the orphans and widows in his community.  As we talked, it was moving to see the tears roll down his cheeks as he shared is worries on how to keep providing for those in his community.  I love talking to German who an unbelievable heart.

As we were finishing up at this clinic, there was a young boy named Kevin who had a rash on his face.  It looked infected, and I’m thankful we had nurses on site to take a look at them.  They were able to give him some antibiotic which will hopefully help the rash clean up.  When the team returns on Friday, it will be interesting to see if there is a change in Kevin’s condition.

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Since the clinic ended early, we decided to take a trip to Antiqua for an evening of shopping, eating, and walking around the touristy area 40 minutes from Xenacoj.  With this being my fourth trip to Guatemala.  I have already been to Antigua three or four times, so I honestly wasn’t overly excited about returning here again.

We stopped at an old Catholic cloister turned hotel/museum on our way into town.  This was far more beautiful than I had expected.  When we finally made it into the heart of the town, our kids ended up hanging out with the other members of our team while Leanne and I stopped at McDonald’s for an ice cream cone and a Coke.  (I had the ice cream cone, and Leanne had the Coke.). If you’re unfamiliar with the McDonald’s in Antigua, you should know that it’s one of the nicest McDonald’s in the entire world.  We sat for a while talking about our experiences so far.  It was refreshing to sit and talk – just the two of us.

We met our team in one of the markets before catching dinner on the roof top terrace of a beautiful hotel.  It was such a fancy treat, and our team enjoyed the opportunity to laugh and relax together.  This was not the typical “missions trip” dinner for sure, and I won’t soon forget the flashes of lightning surrounding us as a storm crept into the area.  Just as the rains started falling, we walked off the roof, paid our bill, and hustled back to Cafe Barista to meet our ride back to Xenacoj.

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It was a fantastic day!

(Friday, July 15, 2016)

Today, our family primarily concentrated on finishing up the house for Dolores.  In the morning, we completed the two side walls.  And after lunch and a short siesta, we completed the front wall of her house.

As we left the job site for the day, our new friend, Jose, was finished up the electrical work for the house with Marcella, one of Dolores’ sons.  And German’s father-in-law, Antonio, stopped by to install the two windows and the door.

Tomorrow, we should be able to finish up things on the house when we install the wood spacers on the walls to close up the gaps life by the boards on the walls.

Two cool things happened towards the end of our work day:

First, I sat back and watched as our kids worked together to hammer nails in one of the final pieces of wood on the front wall.  As I watched a feeling of warmth filled my heart, and I said to Leanne, “It’s so cool that our kids get to build houses for other people.”  As parents, we have an opportunity (and I would argue that we have a responsibility) to teach our kids the value of serving others.  There are many reasons for bringing your family on a missions trip, and one of those reasons is to help them experience service to others in need.

Second, as we said our goodbyes to Dolores and her family and headed for the door to her yard, I noticed her walking back to the house with two of her grandsons.  I snuck back in and looked in the window of the house where I saw her grandsons spinning around with joy.  As I looked over at Dolores, I noticed a big smile on her face.  She was happy.  I traveled all the way to Guatemala, and my trip was just made.  There is tremendous joy that comes when you serve others and when you help them find a piece of joy.  I think that’s what are family did this week.  And we get to do it all over again next week!

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As we walked out of Dolores’ yard, we took a quick trip to the corner store to grab a couple of treats to finish off the day.  Leanne and the kids walked into the store, and I was stopped by a lady who started asking me questions in Spanish.  My Spanish has been improving this trip, but I struggled to understand what she was saying.  Thankfully, our translator for the week, Rafael, came over and helped me out.

I’m pretty sure the woman was asking for me to build a house for her and her two children.

It appears she was waiting for us to leave the job site for the day, so she could ask us for help.

I don’t know her need, and there wasn’t a lot I could do at that moment, but my heart broke.

By myself, I can help a few widows, but I can’t help everyone.  But with the help of others, there is tremendous power to help a lot of people.  Building 100 homes (or more) will not happen by myself or by my efforts.  It will take a community of people coming together to do something good.  Part of that community resides in the United States and in other wealthy countries, and part of that community resides right here in Xenacoj.

My dream is to see members of the Xenacoj community coming together with help from people like me to make their community better – especially for widows and orphans.  My dream is also to help people experience the love of Christ in a practical way, because people like me decided to lend a helping hand.

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This year, a friend (Anne Flynn) joined us on our trip to Guatemala.  She is a nurse, and she has talked to Leanne about coming the past few years after hearing about her adventures in Xenacoj.  Anne has had the experience of a life time, and it’s been fun to watch her eyes and heart wake up through her opportunities to touch and serve the people of Guatemala.  Today, she cleaned ears in Sante Marie with our other nurse team member, Hillary.

It will be sad to say goodbye to both of them on Sunday when they return home, but I’m excited for Anne.  I think she will have amazing stories to share with family and friends back home.  I think she’ll be back in Xenacoj next year, and I’m pretty sure she’ll bring a few people back with her.

If my adventures in Guatemala have made you curious, I’d love to talk to you.  Now is the time to start planning for a missions trip next summer.

(Saturday, July 16, 2016)

We finished Dolores’ house today, and we held a dedication ceremony at noon today here in Xenacoj.

I’m so happy with the finished product of this house.  It came out much better than the last two we built two years ago.  The cinder blocks went up two more layers, and we used wood for the walls that was more finished that last time.  We also put wood strips on the inside of the house to close up the gaps in the wall.  The house is clean and tight.  It should provide protection and warmth for Dolores and her family for many years to come.

Before we arrived at the house for the dedication, our family stopped by the local grocery store and market to pick up 5 pounds of beef, soap, peach roses, brown rice, black beans, white sugar, watermelon, squash, and pineapple.  We also brought a lemon cake (thanks to Hillary) and a brand new Spanish Bible.  We moved seven beds into the house, and the family was glowing as we moved these items into their brand new house.

At the dedication ceremony, Hannah read some words our family put together, and we prayed for the house and for Dolores.  Then it was time to celebrate.  We took pictures of the children as they climbed into their new beds.  And we gave hugs to Dolores and her family.  It felt a little like the scene from It’s A Wonderful Life when George Bailey hands over the keys to the Italian family as they purchase their first house.

Just as I finished praying, one of the family members set off a bunch of firecrackers in the street outside our house.  There was certainly reason to celebrate.  You could see tears flowing down Dolores’ cheeks and down the cheeks of her daughter.

I love having the opportunity to give away a house to people in need.  And I love the community it takes to pull something like this off.

Next week, we’ll do it again, and even though I’m exhausted now, I cannot wait.

Tonight, the big annual festival in Xenacoj begins.  Assuming the weather cooperates, we will celebrate by walking over to Central Park to be there for the big night.

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I enjoyed a nice siesta (nap) this afternoon.  I don’t think I slept long, but I slept deeply.

When I woke up, our family took a walk over the Angela’s house.  We built a house for Angela two years ago when we were in Xenacoj.  I asked German about the house when we first arrived in Xenacoj earlier this week, and he mentioned something about the back wall being torn apart.  Apparently, the back wall of the house was built too close or even over the property boundary line.

As we were looking for her house, we struggled to find it at first.  There were many new buildings along the road, and at first it seemed like we weren’t on the right road.  As we were backtracking, I looked over the wall of one of the properties and saw the edge of her house.  A two story bar had been built right in front of her house.

We were waved into the property by a familiar face.  It wasn’t Angela, but I’m pretty sure it was one of her relatives.  Angela was out at a reunion of some sort, but we were welcomed in and permitted to take pictures.  We looked into the back of Angela’s house, and I could see how the back wall had been compromised.  Honestly, I wanted to cry.   Then I snuck around back where some stray dogs were living.  They weren’t crazy about me trespassing in their “territory,” but I had to see the back of the house for myself.  Sure enough, the cinder blocks along the back of the house had been removed, and the wooden boards that made out the back of the house had been redistributed in an effort to cover the back of the house.  Now there were huge gaps in between the wooden planks, and the top part of the back wall had to be covered with some sort of tarp.

Angela was still living there, but the house was not the same.

We will stop back over there later this week with Dave Sgro and German Espana to look at the house together.  I’m hoping we can come up with some kind of plan for suring up the back wall of Angela’s house.

I am frustrated that Angela’s house was damaged in this fashion.  I’m frustrated that her house was built so close to the property line.  I’m frustrated that there was no one to advocate for her, and I’m frustrated that she doesn’t have anyone to help her keep up with things.

Out of frustration can often come new perspectives and fresh ideas for making things better.

I still want to build 100 houses for widows in Guatemala, but I also want to find a way to help these widows maintain their properties.  Some widows (like Betty) have family support around them, but many widows do not have this kind of support, and they need people who will lend them a helping hand.

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After our visit to Angela’s house, we walked over to Central Park.  We enjoyed an ice cream treat while sitting on one of the benches.  After a quick look in the market, we sat down again and listened to live music being performed at the opening of the festival.  We were greeted by the mayor, Mario.  We didn’t have the opportunity to talk at this time, but I’m hoping we might get a chance to talk over the next week.  I’d like hear his thoughts on building more homes in Xenacoj and on providing additional support to the widows.

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Tomorrow, our nursing team heads home, and the next week will be different as it will just be our family.  We will miss our friends, but I’m excited to have more time with our immediate family.  Tomorrow will be a day for rest around town.  Hannah needs to get a run in tomorrow, and I will most likely enjoy time on the roof before everyone else gets up.  I have really enjoyed this time to wake up, reflect, read, and pray.  At home, we rush around so much.  The pace of life in Guatemala has reminded me of the importance of taking time to slow down.

Tonight, our family checked into the hotel by the airport where we will be departing early in the morning for our trip to Guatemala.  I’m not sure what kind of on-line access I will have once we touch down in Guatemala City.  If I have access, I’ll try to give you updates from time to time.  If I don’t have access, I’ll have plenty of stories to share when I return.

There have been so many plans, people, and prayers that have led us to this point.

Honestly, my week has been very busy, and I haven’t fully come to terms with the fact that we are going back to Xenacoj.  At work on Friday, I told several people that I would finally relax and get into the right mindset on the plane between Miami and Guatemala City.  We’ll see tomorrow if I’m right.

Guatemala has a way of recalibrating you.  The pace of life is slower.  There is a contentment that seems to radiate from the people we will be serving.  It’s my prayer that I will soak in the slower pace and the contentment.

My friend, Matt Lovell, encouraged me to be present as I traveled back to Guatemala.  This may be the best advice I could have received.  I want to connect with those I’m serving.  I want to connect with those serving along side me.  And I want to connect with my Creator.

Tomorrow, our journey in Xenacoj begins.

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Special thanks to Jeff and Christie Grover for helping us out with our car while we’re away.

Special thanks to Camela and Michael Pastorius for helping us out with our dog while we’re away.

Special thanks to John Ames for the timely note.  As I shared a couple weeks ago here on the blog, words have the power to tear down and to build up.  These words were a great encouragement.

And special thanks to all of you for your thoughts, prayers, and support.  I am humbled.

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And now, it’s time for bed.  Morning will come very early.

Buenos noches!