Monday, March 26, 2012

Remembering Gerardo

Photo by Joe Walenciak

There is one less star shining in the Guatemalan sky tonight.

I met Gerardo in 2006 when I first visited Mama Carmen's home. He was a 6-year-old boy who had been with Mama Carmen since he was abandoned when he was only a few months old. Gerardo had a "brain paralysis" and seemed to respond to external stimuli only in the most general sense. He has never uttered a word in his life and always required constant care. For the last couple of weeks, Gerardo has been fighting for his life in a local hospital. People have prayed for a miracle. Sometime after midnight this morning, the greatest miracle of all occurred...Gerardo slipped away from his frail earthly existence and went to be in the presence of God.

I have had the privilege of taking many teams and guests into Mama Carmen's home. Every time, I would tell him, "I've brought more pretty girls to hold your hand, Gerardo!" I joked that he would thank me some day in heaven for all of the lovely girls I introduced to him. On the last trip in December, he actually seemed to push my hand away and reach for the hands of the lovely girls who were with me in that group. I always felt that Gerardo was in there somewhere, trying to let the world know he was there.

Gerardo required constant care and never directly interacted with the world around him, but for twelve years, he was the star of the home. Mama Carmen cared for him, fed him, cleaned him, talked to him, gave him therapy, and loved him as much as anyone could ever be loved.

This afternoon, we made arrangements for Gerardo's casket and burial. I will miss that little guy, but I am quite sure that he is talking and running around in heaven right now, making up for lost time. And if my suspicions are correct, I'm sure he has found a few lovely young lady angels, and he is holding their hands.

Looking forward to seeing you again, Gerardo! Enjoy your new life!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Where Did The Time Go?

At 4:30 this morning, three vans of tired and happy JBUers rolled out of SETECA headed for the Guatemala City airport. Other than a few slightly rumbly stomachs and some cuts and scrapes, we had no major health issues. In every way conceivable, this was an amazing week, and we could see God's provision and protection all around us. The clinic treated close to 1,000 patients, including several who are now going to get much needed surgeries and other care. The construction team built floors, stoves, and spent 2 days working on the Acción de Amor memorial project. The kids' evangelism team held street VBS's and home visits and worked themselves to a frazzle on the final closing event which was attended by 800 people (kids and families). The education team gave daily English lessons and helped several deaf-mute children expand their working vocabularies.

After dropping the team at the airport, I was back at SETECA around 5:00 a.m.  Given that I had locked my key in my room, I had to roust someone to let me in, and I began to load all of the leftover stuff in the van. At about 6:50, I saw the United flight taking off over Guatemala City, knowing that 30+ amazing JBU students and friends were probably already asleep inside...forever changed by a week of incredible experiences that were set into motion by a loving God.

I think I say this every year. This was the finest team I ever had the privilege to serve alongside. I cannot believe the week is already over. THANK YOU, team, for your hard work and for all of the love you shared and showed. You are heroes to me!

If you saw one of our team letters, you saw the face of a young lady named Angela who lives at the Guatemala City garbage dump. She had a sad face and was holding a piece of bread. The picture was taken at one of the Friday night food distributions that is held at the shantytown on the edge of the dump. Here is another picture of Angela, this time taken at the Saturday closing family event. The children got to swim, jump around in inflatables, get their faces painted, eat a wonderful grilled chicken lunch, and more. They not only heard God's word preached, but they also saw it demonstrated by the JBU team and by so many brothers and sisters in the church. It was good to see Angela and so many other children happy and smiling.

Thank you to everyone who has worked and prayed for JBU Guatemala 2102! God is good!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Were We Thinking?!?!

Photos by Joe Walenciak

About four years ago, we tried to close our mission trip with a big kids rally, but the people who ran the park wouldn't let kids from the garbage dump run on the gas. Last year, we had the rally day at a small property owned by  the church. This year, we worked with another place called Colegio Torricelli. There is a swimming pool, various play areas, and much more. And it was family day, so whole families came. Part of the day was spent teaching parents how do strengthen their families, and the rest of the day was fun, teaching, piñatas, grilled chicken, and games.

This was the crowning event for the week, and we knew it would be big. As the list of attendees grew in size, we kept asking, "What were we thinking?!?!" Some said it couldn't be done, but about 800 attended. There were clearly a few hitches, but the team did an amazing job, and I think we can safely say that this was a big success. Thanks to God, a great group of workers from the church, and a great team!!

Acción de Amor - Final Day

Photos by Joe Walenciak

This post is a day late. Sorry!  On Friday, all of our teams were deployed once again. The construction team was asked to start at 6:00 a.m. and worked until about 4:30 p.m. The job was to "fundir" the building. This is where they mix and pour cement on a given level to tie the building together. Once it starts, it cannot stop until the whole thing is done. The group worked as a "machine" ongoing process all day long of mixing, lifting, and pouring cement.

It was truly an honor to work on Acción de Amor in memory of Ben Pollard.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Blessings Continue

Photos by Joe Walenciak

It is late, and I just want to make a few quick updates. The team performed amazingly today. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the kids' ministry team, but I know they had a great day and worked so hard. I should get some pictures tomorrow.

Some of you may remember Cristina from a previous blog entry, A Perfectly Good Plan. Cristina is the girl who burned her legs. She came back today, and even though the burns still look bad, they are MUCH better than they were, and they are not infected.

The Action of Love construction effort is going well. The group worked all day on the roof, getting ready to pour cement tomorrow. Friday will be a hard day!

Thanks to our friend, Ana Liseth Ordonez, about 50 students from a local beauty academy were on hand today to give haircuts, curls, perms, coloring, and more to people from the neighborhoods. We did not keep count of how many people were attended.

Preston Jones' group has been teaching English to a group of youth...and signing to some deaf-mute children. Some real breakthroughs occurred today.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Day Off

Photos by Joe Walenciak

It is always good to take a day in the middle of the week and become tourists. One of our favorite stops is the indigenous village of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, where our hosts teach us about weaving, cooking, weddings, and other aspects of culture. After that, we walked around Antigua for a few hours, although I understand that Chuck Hyde lead a group to go salsa dancing! That was followed by a nice meal and a gentle ride back to SETECA to sleep and be ready for another day of work.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Medical Clinic

Photo by Joe Walenciak

I hate to complain, but in the short time that we have been here, we have seen some pretty significant errors committed by the staff of the government hospitals in Guatemala. I am sure that there are some fine doctors and nurses who work there, but what we see at our clinic for the folks at the Guatemala City garbage dump is the handiwork of those who are less capable.

Today, we saw a woman who had her ankle crushed last fall. In October, she had surgery to reconstruct the bone, including those nasty stabilizing rods that stick all the way into the leg. She had an x-ray from the time of the surgery and an x-ray from last week. The surgery was not done correctly, and there is absolutely no evidence of bone growth. Oh, and some doctor has kept her on antibiotics for 5 months.

As part of our work here, our team has started to commit to pay for some much needed surgeries of people coming into the clinic...but at private clinics with competent doctors. In cases like this poor woman, it sure would have been nice to have it done right the first time.

Remember Cecilia

Photo by Joe Walenciak

Meet Cecilia and one of her sisters, Priscilla, Cecilia is the one on the left. She is a ten-year-old girl whose family came from Nebaj a few years ago looking for opportunity. They didn't find it. Instead, the family ended up at the garbage dump and moved into a shanty at the settlement. She is one of six siblings. While the group was installing the stove for this family, Cecilia told me her whole story. Two years ago, they found her dad dead in the bed in their home...from too much alcohol. Mom works alone in the garbage dump now to support the family, "so we can eat," as Cecilia said.  Now mom has a new boyfriend who lives in the some place with mom and all six of these kids in one room. This guy basically sat there and watched us worked, and when we finished and prayed for the family, he just walked out of the house. Not interested.

This story is not atypical. Not only are these girls growing up in a bad environment, but there are very much at risk. Girls like this need your prayers...and your actions. We saw 200 people at the medical clinic yesterday, and some of our students were remarking about how many 16-year-old girls were coming in for pregnancy tests.

When you pray today, remember Cecilia.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Action of Love

Photos by Joe Walenciak

It was a privilege today to actually get our hands into Accion de Amor, the Ben Pollard memorial project at the Guatemala City garbage dump. Members of the JBU 2012 Guatemala Mission Team who worked on the project today included David Castagne, Jared Burgess, Stacie Burley, Bailey Balenti, Christopher Hembree, Andrew McIntyre, Andrew Oliver, Chuck Hyde, Jim Differ, Matt Christensen, Lauren Griffith, Tim Daugherty, and yours truly.

Cristina - An Update

For those of you who read yesterday's post, A Perfectly Good Plan, you may be happy to know that Cristina did so up early for our clinic today. In fact, she was the very first to show up. Today went a lot easier, and it looks like she is well on her way to recovery without infection. God is good!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Perfectly Good Plan

Photos by Joe Walenciak

Sometimes you have a perfectly good plan and you have to throw it out the window. We started today with an impressive itinerary. We met at Cristo es el Camino (the church) and helped feed breakfast to kids who live in neighborhoods around the garbage dump. After a vigorous playtime, we had Sunday school and a worship service, and then we went to lunch. So far, so good! The perfectly good plan was working!

After lunch, we went to the settlements outside of the garbage dump to walk around, meet people, pray, and promote our free medical clinic. That was supposed to last until 4:30, at which time our perfectly good plan said that we were going to have a meeting to finalize the details of our projects.  

That is when my phone rang and Katie Allen told me that her group found a young lady who needed urgent medical attention. That is when we met Cristina. 

Cristina is a 25-year-old woman who lives in a shanty at the dump with her 6-month-old baby. Last Friday, Cristina spilled boiling water on her legs. Family took her to the government hospital where she was given some really greasy cream designed to prevent scars...not what she needed. He had been sitting in her home in pain for two days with open, second-degree burns coated stuff that was actually making the problem worse.

So much for the perfectly good plan.

We gathered our medical people who evaluated Cristina and decided she needed help today, so we loaded her up in the van and made her our very first patient in our clinic which is set up at the church. Thanks to Isaac Daugherty, Katie Allen, Suyen Espinoza, Lori Allen, and Layla de Perez for all you did today. They had to literally scrub the "scar cream" off of the open sores before they could treat her properly. I was the designated hand holder...about the only thing I was qualified to do. She needed something to squeeze during the ordeal.

Isaac, Katie, Suyen, and Lori probably prevented a serious infection today, and I know that their love and care toward Cristina touched her heart. Toward the end, Ellie Jones came in and gave Cristina a rose, which really, REALLY made her happy. We helped her home, and she has promised to come back to the clinic tomorrow. She was telling us that she had not been going to church, and that maybe this was some kind of punishment or reminder from God. We had a great opportunity to remind her that God loves her regardless of what has happened and that this whole day was proof of that.

Cristina never realized that she disrupted my perfectly good plan. I'm glad she did, though. You can call it coincidence if you like, but I believe that God loves this woman so much that He brought 40 north Americans to her shack at the garbage dump just to make she that she knows she is loved. That truly is a perfectly good plan.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Another World

Photos by Joe Walenciak

I never really know what to think when I am at the Guatemala City garbage dump. I just don't know how this can happen in today's world and in a country where there is wealth. Half of the people of Guatemala live in extreme poverty, and thousands of those are guajeros at the garbage dump in Guatemala City. The truck pulls in and people "claim" it by walking alongside with their hand on the side. The truck stops and begins to tilt the box.  Everyone is lined up. When the box gets about halfway up, the driver starts lunging the truck forward to dump everything out. People dive in...looking for treasure. These are not employees of the city. They are people who are given permission to scavenge in the dump for whatever they can find. It is a competition for the trash, and for their efforts, they make an average of only a few dollars each day. There are hazards on all sides...the mountains of trash that sometime collapse and bury the workers, the dangerous interplay between heavy equipment and people, and the filth of the trash itself. And as they keep filling in the dump, the give the new "land" to the people to build houses...shelters made of materials salvaged from the dump. It is a hygiene nightmare and a forgotten place. People live and die here, unobserved by the world. Children lose their fathers to accidents, disease, gang violence, and abuse of alcohol and drugs. They also lose their childhoods in many tragic ways.

The best vantage point to view the dump is from the General City Cemetery in the heart of Guatemala City. It is a massive property surrounded by a high wall. People are laid to rest in small mausoleums or (for the less well off) in galleries. The grounds are not well kept. As you travel to the back of the cemetery, you find a of the walls of the dump. Cemeteries in Guatemala are often backed up against these ravines because it is a good way to dispose of waste or the remains of someone whose family did not pay for them to remain in one of the galleries. As you approach the back, you also find the roosting place of countless vultures that also scavenge in the dump along the people. Wading through weeds, vultures, and vacated tombs, you suddenly encounter an extraordinary view of the dump. The whole experience is a bizarre combination of death, decay, and dumped garbage.

It is another in which I think I would probably not survive, except but by the grace of God. Speaking of which, in the midst of all of this, God is clearly at work here loving his people. With my own eyes, I have seen amazing examples of God's provision for these people, and I have come to know many extraordinary people of tremendous faith. The story of the widow's mite is true. The poor give from their hearts in sacrificial ways with no conditions or assumptions that they will guide someone else's development. They give because they love, and they give because they know the pain of the other person. Just like God gave to us--because He loved us and because (through the life of Jesus Christ) he truly knew our pain. In so many ways, the giving of the poor is the clearest reflection of God's heart and giving. 

Our JBU team is here for the next week. I ask for your prayers as we try to love as God loves.

Check back for reports.



Friday, March 16, 2012

The First Wave is HERE!

The first 25 or so members of the team arrived today.  All is well.  Everyone feels good.  We went shopping this afternoon for breakfast food.  I think this group will eat a lot!

We have three more coming in tonight, and another 10 or so tomorrow.

No pictures today...just good news that the team has arrived!

Will keep updates coming here.

Blessings, all!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Three Huge Blessings from Today

Photos by Joe Walenciak

Last full day before the JBU team starts arriving!!

Here is part of the team that will be helping with cooking this week.  From L to R:  Cecy, Sylvia, Enrique, and Zoila.  Also, Fidel won't be with us, but he is Zoila's husband.  This team will keep our JBU group well fed.  Every day, we will have lunch on the field.

For those of you who know the story of Jose and Josefina, the twins, here they are.  They just turned five!  I can't believe it!!  They will start school next year!

And, the older sister of the twins is Luky.  She is in her second year of high school, studying to be a bilingual secretary.  SUCH a story here.  In this picture, she is in her professional suit that she will wear for her "practica" in November and December.  God is good!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Photo by Joe Walenciak

The first day in Guatemala.

One of the blessings we will have next week is a hair clinic at the garbage dump. The young lady seated in the front row (third from right) is Ana Liseth Ordonez, a friend for years in Guatemala. She has a scholarship to study in a beauty academy, and on Thursday of next week, she will bring all of her fellow students for a day of hair cuts, coloring, and other things (that I really don't know a lot about) for the people of the Guatemala City garbage dump. We may have as many as 60 young beauty students next Thursday at the dump.