Category Archives for "Guatemala"

Building A House: The Foundation

When I was in Guatemala, I worked with a team of 25 teenagers and six adults to build a Casas por Cristo house in two and a half days.  In the next couple of days, I’ll go into some detail about this experience.  Today, I start with the foundation.

I was part of the site preparation and foundation team.  From the start of work until lunch time on day one, our team worked diligently on clearing the location of the house, setting up the forms for the foundation, and making sure the forms were completely square and firmly set in place.  We also leveled the location of the slab, and we installed rebar strategically along the perimeter of the slab to sure up and strengthen the foundation.  Finally, before we mixed and dumped one load of concrete, we installed a wire mesh across the surface of the entire slab.  Again, this would be used to firm up the concrete.

After lunch, we setup two concrete mixing stations.  With the teamwork of two groups bringing sand, concrete, rocks, and water.  We mixed many, many loads of concrete which were dumped inside the forms and smoothed out to form the foundation and slab of the house we built.  (The slab was 16 feet by 18 feet which would form the base for a three room house.  I’ll give more details in a future post.)

When we finished the house, the foundation and slab were the least visible piece of the house.  It was completely covered by a brand new house.  The foundation however was the key element in building a house that will last a long time in Guatemala where most homes are built with dirt floors.    40% of the time required to build the entire house was spent making sure the foundation was just right.  If we didn’t get this part right, the house wouldn’t go together correctly – it would be crooked, and it would eventually fall down.  Those of us who worked on the foundation wanted to get onto the more glamorous work of hammering nails and putting up walls, but we had an important part to play in building a house that will last.

Our lives and our spiritual growth are like this as well.  We want to get onto the glamorous parts of our spiritual growth curve without making sure things are structurally sound in the fundamental things.  This is one of the reasons that I’ve been excited to teach a class at our church called Foundations.  It’s a class designed to help people establish some foundational elements to their spiritual toolbox.

I learned many things about construction while we built this house, but I was also reminded of some life-truths that will stick with me for a while.

What areas of your life have thrived because you put the work in for a good foundation?  In what areas of your life do you need to go back and firm up your foundation?

 

Ice Breaker – Highs and Lows

It’s been a few weeks since our last Friday Stretched Ice Breaker.  Did you miss it?

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the scoop.  Each week here on the Stretched blog, I ask an ice breaker question.  Ice breaker questions are designed to help us get to know each other a little better.  Over the past year, it’s been fun to learn about others in The Stretched Community through this weekly tradition.  As part of the tradition, I answer the question in the blog post, and the readers answer the question by leaving a comment.  Let’s give it a try!

This week’s Ice Breaker comes from my experience in Guatemala.  Each day our AIM (Adventures In Missions) team leaders led us in a morning devotion and an evening thought that related to sound.  One day early in the trip, we talked about sound waves.  They reminded us that waves have high points and low points.  And they taught us that remembering the high points and low points was a healthy exercise that helps us see how God shows up and speaks into our lives.  Each day on the trip, we asked each other to recall our high point and our low point for the day.  With this in mind, here is this week’s Ice Breaker:

Question:  What was your high this week?  What was your low this week?  How do you think God is speaking to you through your high and low?

My answer:  My high and low both deal with work.  It was definitely a high for me this week to be able to return to work and to tell my story.  Some people at my office don’t know that I went to Guatemala last week, but many do know and they want to hear about the trip.  It’s been fun to share!  My low was also returning to work.  For one, my body is still adjusting to the return to my normal life.  I’ve definitely felt more tired this week.  I also miss the people I hung out with in the town of Xenacoj, Guatemala and the work we were able to do in Xenacoj.  The high reminds me that I have a story to tell.  God’s placed me right where I’m at to give people a glimpse into the joy of serving and the satisfaction in sacrificially sharing the message of hope.  The low reminds me that my trip overseas to serve shouldn’t be a one time activity.  I should make serving at home and overseas a regular part of my routine.  The low also reminds me that I’m not invincible.  I need sleep and exercise to sustain me.

That’s my simple answer.  Now, it’s your turn.  Share your answer in the comments.  I look forward to reading your response!

I Am A Missionary…And You Can Be One Too!

Eighteen years ago when I graduated from college, I wrestled with the decision of my career choice.  Should I enter the “mission field” by serving in “full-time ministry” or should I enter the workforce?  I was graduating from an excellent school with a mechanical engineering degree and roughly $12,000 in student loans.  I knew I needed to pay off these loans, and I knew that God had given me knowledge and skills that would be useful in the traditional workplace.

As I wrestled through this decision, I came to the conclusion that I needed to use my skill in the workplace with an engineering job in the United States.  I could utilize the financial gain from this decision to pay off my student loans and to help support missionaries who were serving away from home.  I also believed that there were plenty of non-Christians in and around the workplace who needed to learn of God’s love.  I believed I could share this through my words and especially through my actions – my example.

Fast forward 18 years, I go on a short term missions trip to Guatemala.  Most of the kids who came on the trip weren’t even born when I graduated from college.  (Yes, this trip made me feel old in some ways, but that’s another blog post!)  In leading up to this trip, it was the prompting of my wife and our youth pastor that encouraged me to take the leap of faith to go on this trip.  Having never been on an overseas missions trip of any kind, I thought my ultimate decision to go was the noble decision to make.  After all, I would have the chance to be a missionary!

I had that chance.  You’ve been reading about it the past few days, and I’m sure I’ll share more stories from this adventure in upcoming blog posts.  I built a house for a family; I installed stoves for those in need; and I shared the love and message of Jesus Christ with complete strangers in a foreign land.  How cool is that?  How do you not feel good about yourself after jumping into this kind of adventure?  Talk about a sacrifice.  (Do you sense the pride and lack of humility in these questions?)

Don’t get me wrong when you hear what I’m about to share.  God needs missionaries in foreign lands.  Missionaries have an opportunity to improve the lives of those in poverty and to bring a message of hope to people who need this message.  I definitely plan and hope to go on other overseas missions trips again in the future.

But I re-discovered something when I came back home.  When our group exited the Newark airport on the way home, we were trying to get one last group photo before we got on the bus to go home.  As we stood outside the baggage claim, there were hundreds of people walking by us.  We just needed one of them to take a picture for us.  We asked one person who responded, “No, I’m in a hurry.”  We asked a second person who responded, “I’m in a rush, sorry.”  We asked a third, fourth, and fifth person, and we received similar responses.  Finally, someone reluctantly agreed to snap a picture of our group.  When I came back into work on Monday, I heard people yelling and cursing about there present circumstances.  I listened as people treated each other with anger and disdain.

What did I re-discover when I came back home?  The mission field is right around me where I live and where I work.  I am called to be a missionary right where I am.  In words and especially in actions, I have a message to share with others, and so do you.  I am a missionary!  And you can be one too!  Will you join me?

When you think of the word missionary, what image comes to mind?  Where are you serving these days?

Creative Expressions – Creatively Tapping Into Our Creator

The trip to Guatemala has so many different aspects to reflect on and to remember.  We were hosted and led by a team of young adults from Adventures in Missions.  This team of four worked together to pick us up at the airport, arrange our serving opportunities in the town of Xenacoj, keep us on time and in the right place, and feed us.  They did an incredible job at these important activities.  They were also responsible for leading us in worship and in teaching us throughout our time together.

One of my favorite parts of my time in Xenacoj was our nightly times of worship and sharing on the roof of our compound.  Each night, Chris Cannon (you should check out his music) led our team in singing and then a time of “creative expression”.  The time of “creative expressions” was an opportunity to pray or listen to God in a way that was different from our normal routine of praying and reading the Bible.

For example, one night we used the Korean prayer style to pray.  As instructed, we all prayed out loud at the same time.  This was definitely different especially for some of our students who had never prayed out loud.

Another night, we prayed blind prayers.  This was a moving experience for me.  Initially, I was given the opportunity to be prayed over by two people who didn’t know who I was – they were “blind”.  It was amazing to have one of these people pray for me about taking a leap of faith.  This was a theme for my blog and my thoughts as I headed into this trip, and this person would have had no idea that this was the case.  There was really a sense that God was speaking through this individual.  Then, I had the opportunity to close my eyes and pray for two individuals who I didn’t know.  For one of them, I prayed specifically for their family and the impact of this trip on their loved ones.  When I opened my eyes at the end of the prayer time, I received a giant, tearful hug from a student who had earlier shared with me about her challenging family and home situation.  I had a clear sense that God could speak through me.

On the last night, the students were given the opportunity to pray (Korean style) over the leaders.  I have no idea what they prayed about, but it was a moving experience to hear ~35 people praying for me and the other leaders simultaneously.

In each of these cases, it was a little uncomfortable.  But it was also good.  I don’t like change.  I don’t like to get out of my comfort zone.  This trip reminded me that it’s okay and important to get out of my comfort zone.  God can speak to me and use me in new ways when I take that step out of my comfort zone.  And it doesn’t take a trip to Guatemala to get out of my comfort zone.  It can happen right here where I live.  The trip was just a great reminder of this fact.

When was the last time you got out of your comfort zone?  How did it feel?  Have you ever done prayer in a different way?  How did that look?

Community Can Change The World

Processing is a process.  I continue to process thoughts and feelings that have resulted from my recent trip to Guatemala.  My trip to Xenacoj, Guatemala has sparked many things to process that I don’t want to forget.  Documenting this processing process is a healthy exercise to help me hang on to the things I experienced and the things I learned by taking this journey.

Yesterday, I shared about the hope for the “younger” generation that I discovered as part of my adventure in Guatemala.

Today, I want to tell you about a truth that I re-learned during this trip.

There is power in community to make a difference in this world.

It was the Stretched Community that banded together to pay for a house.  (Thank you!)  Sure, one person could have stepped up to pay the entire $8,000 price tag required to pay for the materials needed to build a house in Guatemala.  But it was multiple people who stepped up and sacrifice.  It is an incredible feeling to share this gift with a community.

It was a group of 25 teenagers and six adults who worked together to construct this house in 2 1/2 days.  Perhaps, one or two people could have built this house in a much longer span of time.  But together, we were able to change the lives of a family in just 2 1/2 days.  There was such a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in completing this task together.

It was this same group of adults and teenagers that combined together to install nearly 40 new stoves in the homes throughout the town of Xenacoj.  This may not sound like a big deal, but these stoves which cost $125 are easily the most expensive material item in the homes of these Guatemalans.  These stoves which exhaust smoke through the roof of each home will make a huge difference in the health of those who live and cook in these homes.  Most of the townspeople cook their food over an open fire inside their “kitchens”.  The smoke plays havoc on the respiratory systems of the home owners.  These stoves can literally extend lives by years.  Our group worked in community to change these lives.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget the truth that working in community can change lives.  We get caught up in the me first/me focused way of life.  We seek individual glory.  We get thought thinking that we’re better off working alone.

My trip to Guatemala that this is not true.  Working in community is way better than working in isolation.  And working in community can make a huge difference in the world!

How have you seen a difference made by working in community?

Re-Entry Reality – Back Home From Guatemala

We made it home from Guatemala on Friday night!

I’m so glad to be home, but there is so much to process.

I’m definitely tired.  The two-hour time difference, the travel, and the lack of sleep the night of our travel day are major contributors to my overall feeling of fatigue.

My brain is still partially in Guatemala.  A few of my dreams even have me speaking Spanish to residents of the town of Xenacoj – the town where we served.  It’s hard to believe that a town of ~8,000 located ~2,500 miles away from home could hold such a place in my heart.

I have a lot to think about and process as I go through the reality of re-entry to the life I know here in Schwenksville, PA.  Over the next few days, I’ll do my best to share these thoughts with you.

Let me give you a small glimpse today of how this trip has transformed me.

When I thought of going on this trip, I knew that I’d have a chance to have an impact on the people of Guatemala, and I figured that they would have an impact on me.  What I didn’t fully imagine was the impact that the students on this trip would have on my.  Our team consisted of 25 students who were in high school or who had just graduated from high school.  This trip gave me the opportunity to hear their stories.  So many of these young men and women have dealt with so much already in their short lives – broken homes, parental infidelity, rejection, emotional problems, and other issues.  Each of them has a unique story to tell of how God has worked in their lives despite life’s challenges.

I had the opportunity to hear these stories and to see these young people in action.  They built a house in 2 1/2 days.  They installed over 30 stoves in the homes of Xenacoj.  They taught kids about the love of Jesus.  And they prayed with complete strangers.  This generation represents hope for the future.  This generation has the ability to make a change for the good.  This generation has a story that needs to be heard.

If you are a student or young person, don’t underestimate the ability and opportunity that you have to make a difference in this world.  Don’t let your fears or insecurities or youth be a deterrent to share your story and to take action.  You can do it.  You deserve to be heard.

If you are not a student or you’re a bit older, open your eyes and ears to the potential that lies in this group of young people.  Consider how you can invest in their lives.  Consider how you can provide opportunities to help them get their story out there.  Consider how you can help them take action.  Consider how you can encourage this generation to make a difference.

It seems kind of crazy that I would have to travel ~2,500 miles to figure this out, but this is one of my biggest take homes from this adventure to Guatemala.

Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and financial support for making this trip happen.  I look forward to sharing more in the days to come.

How have you seen this younger generation making a difference?  What can you do to encourage this generation?

I’m Ready For Home, But I Don’t Want To Leave

“I’m ready to go home, but I don’t want to leave Xenacoj.”

These were my words yesterday afternoon as I sat and watched our teens conduct the last day of the sports/VBS program at the escuela (school) on the hill.

I can’t wait to see my wife and my son.  I can’t wait to sleep in a bed – my own bed.  I can’t wait to take a warm shower.  I can’t wait to drive on flat, paved roads.  I can’t wait to eat American food.  I can’t wait to use a bathroom in the U.S.A. (there is a difference).  I can’t wait to tell others the story of my trip.  I’m ready to go home!

But I don’t want to leave!  Xenacoj has been life changing.  The people have shown me that there is so much more to life than we Americans are used to.  So many of these people have literally nothing.  Everything they have has is used and has a use.  We have so much that we never even use everything we have.  We have it just to have it.

In Xenacoj, it’s easy to share our faith; yet at home, it’s easy to hide our faith “under a bushel”.  I can navigate the town of ~8,000.  And I feel safe and welcomed.  I can walk up to anyone and ask them if I can pray for them (with the help of a translator). 

I also see that there is so much more than we could do to help these people.  The last three days, we spent time installing stoves in homes.  These stoves alone will help divert the smoke that typically fills the rooms and lungs of the women who cook over open flames.  We could do so many more projects like this that would help extend the life of these beautiful people.

I have also enjoyed hanging out with these kids – these students.  Each of them has a unique story to tell.  I know I’ll see them at church on Sunday, but it won’t be quite the same as seeing them 24 hours a day seven days a week.  They have been inspiring.  This generation clearly has what it takes to change the world for good.

Today, we head out to see some Mayan ruins and then into Antigua.  Tomorrow at this time, we’ll be on the plane from Guatemala City to Houston en route to our final destination – home.

I’m ready to go home, but I don’t want to leave.  I hope I can come back some day.

Have you ever felt this way – that you were ready for home, but you didn’t want to leave?

Wednesday in Guatemala – More Than I Can Imagine

Today will be the last day that we get to work in Xenacoj (pronounced Chen-a-coe).  The people here are so beautiful.  The children wander the streets at all hours of the day as if looked after by the community at large.  The men work in the fields or in the sweatshops making the clothes than many Americans wear.  The women care for the children and weave beautiful fabrics.  The people here do not have very much compared to American standards, but they also seem to have something that’s missing from many Americans.  They have a sense of contentment and a sense of family that goes above and beyond what you would find in most U.S. homes.  I’ve definitely been moved by these people.

I kind of expected that when I came on this trip.  I expected to be moved (even wrecked) by the people of Guatemala.  I also anticipated that we’d be able to have an impact on their lives.  I’ve definitely seen that as we’ve entered the homes of many offering new stoves, words of encouragement, and prayer.  This has also been pretty amazing.

What I underestimated was the opportunity to be a part of life change in the lives of the students who came on this adventure.  I am getting to talk with kids I had never met before this trip.  They are opening up about the challenges they face at home, and they are sharing how God is impacting their lives through the trip.  In my small group last night, several guys commented that they want to stay and help more.  One teen shared that he wants to come back with family in a couple of weeks.  And one student was an absolute emotional wreck as he processed what he had witnessed in Xenacoj that past few days.  It’s pretty amazing to see this and to be part of the team that gets to help these teens work through these thoughts and feelings.  I now understand that I was not just brought here to be a chaperone, God had bigger plans for me.  I am so thankful for each of these kids!

Please pray for our team as we wrap up our work in Xenacoj today.  Pray that we would leave it all there and that we would be effective in ministering to these beautiful people.  Pray for our students (and adults) as we continue to process what we’ve seen.  Pray that we’d all be able to transfer and use it in our own lives and in the lives of others when we get home.  Pray also that we would be challenged to get out of our comfort zones as the normal and not the exception.

Tomorrow, we will go to see the Mayan ruins, and we will spend time in Antigua.  And Friday will be a very long travel day.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to check in more than this until I get home.  Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers!

Monday in Guatemala

We finished the house yesterday.  It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had so far here in Guatemala.  It was quite an emotional experience to bless this family with a new home.  As we dedicated the house, it was moving to see the expressions of thanks from the family.  I was also overwhelmed by Hannah’s expressions towards the family.  It was definitely an experience that WRECKED me.

In the states, we have so many blessings.  I’m not complaining, but I’ve certainly been reminded of so many things that I’ve taken for granted.

Today, I had the opportunity to help install new stoves in two homes.  The “abuelas” who received these stoves were so grateful.  I had the chance to pray for one of the ladies who asked for prayers for her health.  There are so many opportunities to share the love of Christ in words but also in action.

This afternoon, we will be heading back into town where we will be conducting a sports camp for the local children.  We’ll also have the opportunity to experience an evening of Mayan culture.  I’m not sure what that means yet, but it should be fun!

Please pray that our group would have energy to punch through the last few days here.  This is often the time when groups experience challenges related to hanging out together too long.  Pray that we wouldn’t experience this.  Pray also that we would be effective in ministering to the people of Xenacoj.  This trip is definitely having an impact on our team.  My prayer is that this would continue.

For the latest pictures go to riotmissions.com.

Thanks for your prayers!

Sunday Morning Reflection from Guatemala

Good morning from Guatemala!

It’s Sunday morning.  We’re all just finishing up breakfast.  We’ll have morning devotions in a few minutes.  Then we’ll head out to the house site to finish up the house.  These three days will dramatically change this families life – as it is changing the lives of those on our team.

This afternoon, we’ll head to Guatemala church.  I hear the services are four hours long.  This should be an adventure as well.

Last night, Adam asked me a question that has me thinking.  I answered the question the best I could in the closing hours of the day, but it is still a question that will go with me today.

“How’s your spiritual life these days?  What does that look like?”

It’s easy to feel “high” when you are on a trip like this, but how does that translate to the rest of my life.  In less than a week, I’ll be returning home to the normal “routines” of life.  I want to live a spiritually fervent life whether I’m serving in Guatemala or leading at my job or going through the normal happenings of our family.

I’m so thankful for Adam and his challenging questions.  We need people in our lives to ask us these introspective questions.

So how about you, how’s your spiritual life these days?