Los Quatro Gringos en Guatemala - Day 7&8

These past two days have once again been filled with some amazing opportunities to experience first-hand some of the rich history of Christianity in Guatemala. One of the cornerstones of the development of the Christian church has been the deep commitment to Christian education.

On Monday we visited La Patria School where Mario Fernandez is the General Director. Mario's strong faith, significant life's experience and long history in education have well equipped him to lead this school. This is the oldest Christian school in Guatemala and was established by North American Presbyterian missionaries in 1912. It was very encouraging to hear this rich history and God's faithfulness in the lives of the founders on to those who lead the school today.

Today (Tuesday) we visited America Latina, which is the Christian school founded by the father Becky (Zapata) Fernandez in 1954. This school has 2 campuses with a total of nearly 1500 students. We were treated to the "executive tour" by Becky and one of the administrative assistants. Besides being inspired by the vision and passion to provide Christian formation and education to Guatemalan children, Dave was especially impressed by a visit with the "ice cream man" ... who has been providing the kids with sweet cold treats for 47 years!! He is the only ice cream man allowed to sell ice cream in the school!

The leaders of this school also have a great vision for future development, even for the establishment of a very unique Christian University ... under the direction of Becky's brother, Virgilio Zapata, Jr. What an inspiring and visionary leader! We are eager to share much of what "Junior" would like to see and how teams of short-term workers of all kind can help accomplish this vision!


Listening, connecting, encouraging!

Sunday was truly a full day, but a great day of connecting with our brothers and sisters here in Guatemala. We attended the church service of Iglesia Biblica El Camino, which is the church that Enrique and Becky Fernandez planted nearly 20 years ago. It was really fun to sing along (in Spanish) with the worship team! Click on the video below to hear the church praising God!

After church we met some of the Fernandez' closest friends who had helped start the church.

They accompanied us to lunch, where we met the Doyles, a couple who is doing construction ministry here in Guatemala. Brennan is from Rhinelander, WI and Mariajose is Guatemalan, and also an architect. They are using their talents to serve a variety of ministries with facility development and construction. It was a joy to sit with the Doyles in their home and dialog about the reconstruction of the Fernandez' home.

Our days continue to be filled with incredible opportunities to get to know a wonderful group of people here in Guatemala and encourage them in whatever way we can! Thanks for following our escapades and encouraging us with your comments!


Wonderfully Weary!

Our team concluded "phase 1" of our time in Guatemala today with some very "impactful" activities. The first thing we did after breakfast this morning was deliver gifts to the children of the orphanage we were staying. It was wonderful to love on these beautiful children and give them much enjoyed presents. We'll hope to post some pictures on our web album tomorrow (Saturday).

Next, the team boarded a bus for a cultural outing to the historical city of Antigua. This was the former capital of Latin America, but was destroyed so many times by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that they moved the capital an hour northeast to Guatemala City. We enjoyed visiting a number of shops decked out in a beautiful array of colors, and purchased a few souvenirs to bring home. One of the neat events of the foray into the "mercado" was running into a few folks who were in Guatemala drilling a well with Living Water International! I'm hoping to be able to connect Oscar Chiquito of Los Olivos church with LWI's Guatemalan rep to see about getting a well drilled in one of the villages where Los Olivos is working.

We rode the bus back to Sumpango, where we quickly helped load the Woodlands Church team's 30 action packers and 30 suitcases on the top of a "chicken bus" ... ready to head to the airport in Guatemala City. These buses are pretty sweet rides ... decked out to the max!

Our experience with the Woodlands team was excellent, and it appears that the doors are wide open for some kind of connection to continue with them in the future!

We are now in Guatemala City; Christi and Cherise are staying with our friends' family, the Fernandez, and Joyce and Dave are staying in a comfortable hostel. We're looking forward to a restful night (without a 6AM wake-up call!) ... and then some time looking at some potential ministry projects here. Hopefully we'll be able to upload some pictures and videos tomorrow.

Blessings to all ... thanks for all your encouraging comments! Buenas noches!


Doing it for the least of these!

Our team of 4 is doing well on Day 4!! Yesterday (Wednesday) ... Joyce, Christi and Cherise continued sharing God's love in practical ways by serving with the Woodlands team at the clinic. Cherise especially connected with some young boys who were helping people move from one place to the next. What fun to share smiles, laughter and hugs!

The clinic opens about 8 AM and there are already dozens of people lined up outside. After a group prayer, the seats fill up fast with people waiting for all kinds of services. They aren't left for long, though ... as the providers and their assistants invite the people in to the "exam rooms" to evaluate the patient's need.

Everyone is attended to with love and compassion. One of the very essential components and great blessing to all of us are the national translators who work right alongside the providers. The day is busy, but after 8 hours and over 200 patients, everyone is still energized and filled with joy and thanksgiving.

Each day the team boards a bus and heads back to our accommodations at the orphanage. Wednesday's bus ride was "extra eventful." What normally takes about 15 minutes took us about an hour. There was a "bus jam" at one of the major intersections ... and we watched 5 buses pass each other (ours being one!) with inches between!

Lots of pictures were taken ... and some video, which you can see a little of below!

While the girls were serving at the clinic, Dave was able to go with Pastor Oscar and 5 others to visit a nearby rural village where the Los Olivos church is serving the community in some amazing ways. To see the poverty of this village and hear the stories of how God is opening doors to show his love by bringing practical help was "heart challenging" and at the same time, super encouraging! The highlight (and emotionally charged moment) of the day was being invited to serve a noon meal to over 350 children and mothers who are receiving a nutritious meal three times a week. Our smiles were soaked with tears as we waited on these dear people.

God spoke to me (Dave) very clearly as we loved on these kids. As Jesus answered those who were asking how they had served Him, He told them that when you serve "the least of these," you are serving Him. The children in El Yalu are definitely among "the least of these."

All four of us will return on Wednesday of next week to serve again, and have everyone experience this tremendous work! I'm posting just a short video here for people to "get a taste" ... but I'm sure we'll have much more to share when we get back.

Tomorrow we visit La Antigua with the Woodlands Team, see them off at the airport and then back to Guatemala City for the weekend. Thanks for all your encouragement!


Guatemala Update - Day 1 & 2 - Excersing the Heart!

Greetings and Blessings from Guatemala!

As the morning church bells ring out the start of another new day, our hearts are feeling strong by the tremendous experiences of the last couple days.

On Monday, our flights from Minneapolis to Guatemala City were mostly uneventful (except for a brisk "sprint" from one end of the Houston airport to the other! We made an easy transition through customs and were met with smiles and hugs from our friend, Becky Fernandez. It was great to renew our friendship of 18 years!

The night was short as we had a 5:45 departure on Tuesday morning from Guatemala City to Sumpango and our temporary residence, the orphanage Los Misioneros Del Camino. There we were warmly greeted by the Woodlands Church team, a great breakfast, wonderful Guatemalan coffee and an encouraging morning devotion.

After breakfast we boarded a school bus for the 10 minute down into the center of Sumpango and the community center where the clinic was being held. The clinic has a number of different services they offer, including; general medical care, optometry, Ob/Gyn, a pharmacy and a "spiritual clinic" where elders from the Los Olivos church talk with and pray for the people who come.

Dave & Joyce started off in the optometry department, fitting glasses. They quickly learned to ask (in Spanish) ... is it clear "claro?" ... is it better "mejor?" ... and most importantly, to say, "Dios le bendiga!" ... God bless you!!!

Christi and Cherise volunteered in the pharmacy, where the filled prescriptions and counted lots of pills! More Spanish words ... "una ala dia" ... "one-a-day" and also "Dios le bendiga!"

The wishes for God's blessings were returned to us in many ways ... through the words that were spoken, the smiles of the people who were being given care, and the thankfulness in their eyes!

We returned to the orphanage where we heard testimonies from a number of team members of how God showed up "big-time" in their lives and in the lives of the people they were attending to. The evening ended with an amazing story from the founder of the orphanage; Leonor Portela. 25 years ago, this lady of incredible faith started this orphanage. We were inspired and challenged by her life of faith and trust in God! Please take a look at their website by clicking on this link: Los Misioneros del Camino.

Today, Joyce, Christi and Cherise will once again be tending to patients at the clinic while Dave takes a "field trip" with Becky, some of the leaders from Woodlands, and Pastor Oscar Chiquito. El Yalu is an outreach location of Los Olivos church, who is sponsoring the clinic, and serving the people of the region with the love of God! This should be another exciting day!

Thanks so much for following us and praying for us! These first few days were tremendous! ... and we've agreed that their theme should be a quote from the cover of the brochure for the orphanage where we are staying:

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”

We definitely sense God using us to lift up the lives of the people around us! We look forward to sending more reports in the days to come! We have some pictures posted in an on-line album which you can access by clicking on this Guatemala Album Link.



January 2011 - Guatemala!!

In the shadow of active volcanoes lies the Guatemalan town of Sumpango.

This town of 33 thousand people will be our first stop on a 10 day outreach in Guatemala. We excitedly looking forward to this new adventure for a NEXT International outreach team.

The team is made up of Dave, Joyce and Christi Johnson, and Cherise Nielsen. Our first opportunity will be connecting with a medical mission team from Plover, Wisconsin. We're looking forward to learning from this group who conducts a number of medical missions each year. Our desire is to serve in whatever way we can, helping to reach out to the people in this community with the love of God.

We'll also spend some time with Oscar and Karla Chiquito.

Oscar is the co-founder of Los Olivos Christian Mission. This organization is reaching out to people in this city to help meet physical, education and spiritual needs. We are eager to explore the possibilities of possibly sending teams here in the future to come alongside Oscar and help meet these needs.

We'll leave Sumpango on Friday to go back to Guatemala City. There we will be visiting a church on Sunday, and looking for how God will connect us with other ministries.

Please watch the blog for future updates!