Thursday, August 24, 2006

the ficker fam

i realized that, although i refer to them frequently, i have never actually written about the family that i am staying with here. so, in the next few paragraphs, i will attempt to describe to you a family that has become very dear to me, even in the few weeks i have gotten to spend with them.

duane (dad), leslie (mom), aaron, ryan, hannah, david, joe, and rachel (kids in order) moved to guatemala about 8 years ago to work in an orphanage their church was involved with in the village of san andres. they worked in the orphanage for about a year and a half, and since then have felt led to leave the orphanage and open three different clinics in the villages of san andres, chiminisijuan, and canilla (the town they live in), all in the region of quiche, the poorest region in guatemala.

although leslie worked as a nicu (neonatal intensive care) nurse in the states before coming here, i am amazed each time we are in clinic with her ability to "diagnose" and treat or refer a patient, no matter what the age or disease process. i was just writing to a friend this morning that i cannot imagine a better "nurse mentor;" she truly lives out what it is to surrender each patient to the Lord and to use medicine as a tool in His hands, not as "the end-all." she is also one of the most patient people i have ever met, and daily lives out what it is to serve both her family and the people God has placed in her life here. as i work with her, i am learning to be more patient, more flexible, and to trust that God is bigger than both my successes and my failures.

aaron, ryan, and hannah all left guatemala about three years ago to work and go to school in the states, and i met hannah while at olivet where we both worked as servers at chicago dough. we had a lot of fun together, but with my nursing major and her biology major, we didn't see each other a ton on campus. since getting to spend some time with her this summer, i have truly grown to appreciate and be encouraged by her heart and desire to follow God's will. she's been someone i can laugh with and cry with this summer, and we've made many memories that i know i will share with my grandkids someday, all the way from changing tires on the side of the road (unassisted by any males) in the pouring rain to working together to assess and treat patients at a rural clinic.

currently, the "household" here in guatemala consists of duane and leslie (obviously), aaron, david, joe, rachel, grace,and abi (two guatemalan babies (grace is 18 months and abi is 10 months) they are in the process of adopting). they have graciously welcomed me as part of the family and we have a lot of fun (like "clothes shopping" at the local market, playing wiffle ball, sharing stories of jumping head first into concrete, or checking to see if david's spleen is enlarged...), yet it is obvious from the first few moments you meet them how much they love each other and are there to support each other when the going gets tough. leslie says that it is because down here they are all each other's got, but whatever the reason, i thank God daily that He has led me to work with this family as i get to share not only in the ministry God has placed in their hearts, but also in the love they have for God and each other. as i am far away from family and friends, they are an amazing support system as i learn about life in this culture.

below is some pics of them: rachel is sticking her tongue out after helping catch fish out of the pond, leslie is using luke (one of the kids from the team that came down in june - his father is the one who took all these pics) as a model for our five senses, hannah is holding abi, grace is being meached (a way that guatemalan mothers tie their babies to their back so that they are hands-free), duane is "helping" john and andrew (two others from the team in june) into the back of the truck, and jocinia (the daughter of nicolasa, one of the families who works for the fickers) is posing in the middle of the sidewalk between the house and the clinic. hopefully, there will be more to come as i download more of mark's pictures.


no matter how dark a situation may seem, there are always the stories that remind you of the power, faithfulness, and love of the God we serve. thomas has one of those stories.

thomas (in the picture to the left he is translating from spanish to quiche when we presented to five senses to a group of kids at a local school) has worked for the fickers for a few years now, and i have gotten to hear his story many times. about seven years ago, before he was a christian, thomas got very sick; he went to the midwife, one of the only local medical people around, and she told him that the way to cure his sickness was to be hung upside down for seven straight days. seriously. 24-7 for seven days. so, his loving wife, hoping to see him get better, strung him up by his ankles from the roof. he does not share all the details, but while hanging upside down, he lost consciousness (shocker) and during that time he met God. he tells how God healed his heart with His love, and how he, in response, made a pact that from then on he would always share about His love anytime he could. after about 4-5 days of hanging upside down, certain he was going to die, he told his wife to cut him down. she tells how incredibly swollen his feet were, and how blood just flowed from his ankles. but thomas lived and has remained true to his promise: he shares his story every tuesday morning to the people waiting to be seen during clinic. he shares about how God met him and healed his heart, and how He can do the same for each of them. afterwards he asks if we have anything to say, and then he prays for everyone before clinic starts.

thomas is one of the most amazing examples i have seen of the power of God to meet someone where they are and the simplicity of the faith we claim. when he first met duane, he came to him one morning and told him that he had a word from God for him. he proceeded to open up his bible and share a passage from psalms. however, as he was reading, duane noticed that his bible was upside down, and when he asked him if he was really reading the scripture, thomas sheepishly admitted that he couldn’t read, but that he had instead memorized the passage so that he could share it with duane. wow. how he memorizes it, i have no idea, but i think of how i struggle to have the dedication to read my bible regularly, let alone memorize whole passages of it! and you will always find him smiling and praising God with a tenderness that can only be from the love of our Father. i still remember the first time he came with us to a home out in the country (the first time i was here – in june) to translate from quiche to spanish. the couple was in the mid-twenties and the husband had a brain tumor that left him blind and unable to work. the wife had just had a baby and was depressed, so she was not eating, and therefore was not providing any milk for her baby. i remember watching as thomas prayed for this lady in quiche, tears streaming down his face. leslie tells how he did the same for martina (the girl in the last post) when he heard of the situation she was in.

as i struggle at times to see God moving here, i look at thomas and i am reminded that sometimes i make christianity very complicated when in fact, our faith is very simple. that God will do whatever it takes to reach us where we are at, and that He will fill us with the strength, love, and faith to carry on.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


tuesday, august 15

martina (seen in the picture to the left) is a little girl who lives with us. she is about 8 years old and the fickers have legal custody of her. her family says that when she was younger, she had a fever and then developed seizures, one of which threw her into the fire. she burned the whole of her face and some of one hand and arm. at this point, she became a disgrace to her family and required many surgeries and much care. her mother brought her to the clinic and asked leslie if they would take her. the fickers have had many parents ask them to take their children (they are actually in the process of adopting two little girls from two separate families that also did not want their children), but they would be overrun if they took in every child whose parents did not want them. so, they continued to check up on martina, and one day this brought them out to her house where they found her tied up in a corner. her mother stated that she hated her and wished she was never born. duane and leslie prayed about what they were to do in this situation and both received confirmation that they were to take in martina. her mother has come to the clinic a few times since then, but rarely even asks about how martina is doing.

i have heard this story before, but sometimes mere words do not really paint the full picture. a couple months ago, martina’s mother had a baby that was born dead. she was fine for a month and then starting have sporadic, heavy bleeding every few days. last night, she came to the clinic so that leslie could examine her to make sure that she was okay. after doing the examination and getting more of the story first-hand, we decided that she was fine and gave her some vitamins, rehydration solution, and iron to help counteract her blood loss and exhaustion. leslie started to talk to her about how much of her current state was probably closely related to the huge sense of loss she must feel over the recent death of her term baby, but martina’s mother stated that she was not sad over the death of her baby. leslie and nicolasa (a good friend who works for the fickers who was helping translate) then talked with her about God and how He is moving in this situation, but she just sat there silently picking her nails and staring at her hands.

i would like to blame it on tiredness and the fact that i am still getting used to the culture. or that i still do not understand much of the spanish being spoken. but, as i took this mother’s blood pressure, i was overcome with so many millions of feelings – rage, sorrow, frustration, confusion, evil, protection of martina. here was a mother who hated her daughter so much that not only was she willing to get rid of her, but she was willing to tie her up to keep her from showing her face and shaming the family. as i stood there, i was so angry as i thought of how much love martina was denied by her family. i wanted to run from the room and find her and just hold her and tell her how much she is loved, even though she would have no idea what i am saying, and i am not even sure how much she can mentally comprehend. i have never so blatantly understood my own self-absorption and pride until that moment when my eyes were opened to understand what it is to truly love and protect someone who seemingly cannot offer you anything in return.

and yet at the same time as i was so angry with this woman in front of me, i wanted to cry for her too. i was overwhelmed with sadness and frustration at the question of what could possibly cause a mother’s heart to become so hard, so cold, so apathetic towards two of her children. it was these questions and feelings that haunted me as i left the room and sat on the back porch looking out over beautiful mountain ranges that housed a people that i do not understand. tears streamed down my face as i silently cried out to the Creator of all, knowing that in my feelings of confusion, it is not He who has moved, but that it is my heart that is being changed, my eyes that are being opened to a different area of my Lord and Father’s heart. and i had the most beautiful image of jesus, walking among these hills, walking among these people. he healed their physical needs, he ate their food, he took their rejection on himself and responded only with love and teaching, softening hearts that have been hardened by years of abuse and rejection.

as leslie, hannah and i talked about this situation later last night, they talked a lot about the spiritual bondage that is everywhere in these hills. there is still active worship and, in some places human sacrifices, made to gods that these mayans have been worshipping for thousands of years. martina’s grandfather was a local witch doctor who had 12 wives and lots of sons. he started coming to the clinic for help with his blood pressure a few years ago, and through much conversation prayer, he got saved. he continued to come to the clinic and would tell leslie how he was still hearing the voices of these demons, how he could not sleep at night because they were so strong. he soon stopped coming and leslie heard that he had gone back to his witch doctor ways.

we have talked many times about the generational effects of the demonic forms of worship that are practiced here. as leslie pointed out, there is spiritual warfare everywhere, it just takes on different forms here. how true. i am not used to the warfare experienced here, and the practice and effects of it still shock me and confuse me. a good friend made the remark before i left that i will be a different person the next time he sees me. i had not thought of that before then and kind of blew off the comment. but i have thought about it a lot lately. as i am living with these people, i am seeing a whole new side of life, a whole new side of creation, a whole new side of God, a whole new side of faith. i am still shocked by the blatant, “out in the open” spiritual warfare that has such a hold over these people’s hearts and lives.

as I opened my bible last night, it (ironically) fell open to these words:

“for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the… spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” ephesians 6:12 & 13

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

santa cruz de quiche

friday, august 11th

first of all, happy birthday mom! i love you!

so, this week i got to go to the hospital in quiche (the official name of the city is santa cruz de quiche) for a couple of days and work with an amercian team of surgeons and medical people. it was quite the experience. this is the hospital that we usually send people to or bring people to when we think that they are in need of hospitalization. i was excited not only to work with the team there, but also to see the hospital itself.

we walked into the hospital through the entrance to the outpatient clinic; the best word i can think to describe that moment is "overwhelmed." there were people sitting anywhere that people could sit... people that looked like they should be in the hospital, not sitting in the waiting room. and we had to walk right through the middle of them all to get to the room that hannah was working in; i felt like i was reliving the dream i have where i accidentally forgot to put on clothes and realized it at that moment. i felt completely inadequate and unsure in this sea of needy people, all staring at us.

things started to get better as i found my place in the "makeshift" recovery room/pre-op room the american team had created. it was funny, though; there was little charting, no protocols, no lengthy reports for the next nurse. there were also no side rails on the beds, and i kept looking over my shoulder waiting for one of my nursing profs to jump out from the shadows and send me home with an "unsatisfactory" for not putting the side rails up. and, although it was frustrating that about half the team could not speak spanish (myself included), it was fun to be in a setting that was somewhat familiar (the hospital setting). i got to put in three iv's (and i got them all on my first stick. i've discovered i love sticking people with needles.... i know, sick.) and it was cool to pre-op the patients, go watch their surgery, and then recover them afterwards. hannah and i were able to talk to one patient who was scared and crying before her surgery also. it was a good reminder that in the middle of all the shuffle of things, we are here for the patients (not just their veins).

often times when we tell people they need to go to the hospital, they do not go. i am sure that lack of resources plays a huge part in this, but after spending just a couple days there, i understand a lot more of why. we had to take a short trip to the "pediatric department" for one of the kids we were doing surgery on. we walked up to an "intersection" in the hallway that consisted of the hallway we were on being interscted by two different hallways, creating four separate hallways that had rooms on either side. (sorry if this is really confusing). the main point is that i thought we had entered the pediatric unit when in fact we had entered the entire inpatient part of the hospital: one hallway was pediatrics, one hallway was men's health, one was women's general health and the other was for pregnant or post-delivery women (most women deliver at home by themselves or with a midwife, but if they need to be in the hospital, they delivered in one of the rooms that are a part of the operating room). each unit holds about 20 patients at a time, and there is not such thing as private rooms. in fact, the least number of beds i saw in one room (which was the pediatric intesive care unit) was 4. there is one nurse for the entire hallway, and there is no such thing as 2 hour checks or anything; if the patient needs anything, he can call the nurse. otherwise, the nurse sits at the front desk. the fickers tell the story that they brought a little baby into the hospital who was severly malnourished. they spent the night in the hospital room with the baby. the next morning they were asking about the baby that had spent the night right next to them, and the nurse informed them that that baby had meningitis.

this is the biggest and most advanced hospital in the department of quiche.

there is so much about this culture and these people that i cannot even begin to understand. it is so incredibly different than the states in many ways, and their medical system is just one example of a million that i am just starting to have a tiny bit of my eyes opened to. just as i start to feel like i am starting to "get" something, i am reminded that i have barely even begun.

the aids man

wednesday, august 9

yesterday we had clinic in chiminisijuan, a remote aldea (village) about a 30 minute drive and 30 minute walk from where we live. (sidenote: I have recently discovered that on these roads, our average speed is about 15 mph, so when we drive somewhere that takes us 30 minutes, it could actually be only about 10 miles in distance.) we run a clinic in this village every tuesday (in addition to the two that we run on the weekends), and it is at this clinic that we usually see the worst cases. these people live in little adobe and stick houses in the mountains in an area that is primarily cold and wet. this climate mixed with a general ignorance among the people about worsening symptoms makes for a wonderful reservoir for disease.

we saw our usual run of cases – sore throat, fever, ear infections, cough, pneumonia, exacerbated asthma, etc. but then we saw a man who was unusually tall for a Guatemalan (a few inches taller than me) and weighed about 90 lbs. many times the men will go to the coast in the dry season because there is no work here and on the coast they can get paid to harvest sugar cane. while there, they often entertain themselves with the world of prostitution, many times contracting aids. they will then come back here to their families where it will be spread to family members. because it is “the unspoken disease,” it is difficult to get anyone to discuss it or even hint at the possibility that they might have it. leslie has seen and examined this man before and suspects that he has aids, although he may have another kind of chronic or blood disorder. so, leslie sat and talked with him for ten minutes about how important it was that he get blood work done at the hospital to help determine what condition he might have. she then arranged for thomas (one of the men who works with leslie and duane), who speaks this mans native language (quiche) to bring him out to the hospital in quiche by bus. (there are 12 departments in guatemala, and we live in the department of quiche. the city of quiche is this department’s “county seat,” holds the largest of three hospitals in the department of quiche, and is about 2 ½ hours from here.) later that night we realized that there were no buses running today, so leslie arranged for aaron (their oldest son) to drive thomas and this man out to quiche. they also have an american team of surgeons and nurses working in the hospital this week, and hannah is already out there working with them, so i got to ride out to quiche with them and i will stay for a few days and work with this american team before coming back with hannah on friday. i could then bring a note explaining everything to the doctor there who would do this man’s blood work, and thomas would stay with this man during his hospital stay and help translate and such, and then he would bring him back home by bus.

so, this morning aaron, thomas, and i set off for quiche, planning on picking up this man at the designated spot along the way, about 30 minutes into the trip, at 7:00 am. at 7:30, we hoped he was simply running on “guatemalan time,” so we went ahead on the road a little bit to a house where a widowed lady and her son were in need of food. we dropped off some food to her and came back to the point in the road to wait for the man. at about 8:30, we called leslie to see if she knew where the man lived. she didn’t. finally around 9:00, we were left with little choice but to continue on without him. aaron was not surprised by the fact that he didn’t show up, and later when i questioned leslie, she told me she wasn’t either; she was surprised he even agreed to go to the hospital in the first place.

i am left with many questions, little answers, and prayers that seem to be stopped by the ceiling. how do you help people who will not help themselves? how do you keep yourself from caring about someone more than he cares about himself? how do you respect the culture in which you are working, yet still help to affect change? and how do you determine what those changes are even supposed to be?

Friday, August 11, 2006

please note

these next few posts are all posted on the same day, but they were written over the course of a couple weeks in which i did not have internet access. also, due to the fact that my camera has gone missing, the pictures are from the first time i was here for three weeks in june. they were taken by mark sweet, a professional photographer.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

la cucaracha, mi amiga

i did not sleep well last night. i wish that i could say that it was because i was up all night praying for the people of guatemala, or because i worked on my spanish late into the night and got up early to help make breakfast. but that would be a lie.

the truth is that last night i went to the bathroom right before going to bed and discovered one of the many creatures that guatemala has to offer: the cockroach. although, to call it a cockroach feels cheap, like something is missing in the mental image that word portrays. it seems more accurate to describe it as a small rodent disguised as a cockroach. honestly, if i had not been told that someone had seen a cockroach in the bathroom, i would have believed i had just seen a mouse fly out from under the sink and scurry somewhere towards the vicinity of the bathroom door. i would have known whether it actually made it out the bathroom door or not, but first of all, i was not wearing my glasses so i really couldn't see where it went, and second of all, by the time i could look to see where it had gone, i was already standing with one foot on the side of the bathtub and the other on the top of the toilet. still believing that cockroaches are "ground-bound" i proceeded to climb up on the counter next to the sink and crawl across it until i could open the bathroom door and jump out into the hallway before running next door to the room where i was sleeping.

it was at this point that i was informed by my "roomate" (an amazing american lady named bev) that cockroaches can actually crawl up walls and she once found one on the ceiling of one of her friend's classrooms (she is a teacher). i then found out this morning that cockroaches fly. oh, what joy is mine.

it is funny to me the different things that stretch people's faith when they go to other countries. i prayed so hard last night that that cockroach would not crawl into my bed. and then i woke up a few more times and prayed some more. bev even tried to help me get over it by telling me that cockroaches are really quite pretty, and informing me that they are actually revered in some cultures and worn on a necklace... alive. for some strange reason, i did not find any of this comforting. i woke up this morning happy to be in daylight and away from the looming fear of the unknown creatures that might be found in the darkness of a guatemalan night. i have now decided to think of the cockroach as a small bird (it's harmless, about the same size, and flies) and just accept the fact that it is a part of daily life here.

and i will hopefully sleep in peace... until the next "flying, larger-than-normal" creature i find scurrying around the bathroom floors.