Thursday, September 24, 2009


it still amazes me how much one food product can run an entire country, and yet (as you most likely know by now) a shortage of corn due to a lack of rains this year threatens to place many families without food for the coming months. i have been amazed already at the people that have come into the clinics saying that they haven't had food for a couple of days or telling us that they expect very little or no corn from their harvest this year.

and as equally as this, i have been amazed at the attitude that people have towards it. i had a family come into clinic a couple weeks ago and tell me in a very matter-of-fact manner that they could not take their one month child with a 103 degree fever (and no sites of infection that i could find to treat) into the hospital for further testing and monitoring because they had no money... when i asked about how their crops were this year, i got an equal matter-of-fact answer that they had no crops because it had not rained enough in their area; when i asked about their plan? they would buy corn until they couldn't anymore. very black and white, end of dicussion. and i got the same response out of the other couple of families that i asked that day about their crops.

as we later discussed the seeming sense of apathy towards the food problem this year by even those who will suffer from it, leslie reminded me that this attitude is very much inline with the responses we get from so many women when we ask how many living children they have and they will tell us about the deaths of four of them with the same tone they would use to recount what they ate for breakfast that morning, and that what i can so easily mistake for apathy, often comes from the general attitude of acceptance of what life brings their way. i have many times noticed that whether they actually profess to follow christ or not, there is a seeming foundational understanding among all that God holds the ins and outs, the comings and goings, and beginnings and endings of life. and while in its extreme form, this can cause an apathetic attitude and a hardness of heart towards life, in many ways i have a lot to learn from this principle myself...

as i touched on in my last post, i am also reminded during this time how much the guatemalan peoples' hands are tied which further contributes greatly to this attitude that i can often perceive as apathy. what are they going to do? get mad at God for not letting it rain this year? that will not put food on their table, and the other responses are not options. there are no mcdonalds to go work at, no social welfare system in place to get money from, no secure job in place to pay back any money they could borrow during this time, etc. it is times like these that it is so obvious to me the reason for the big influx of illegal immigrants to the states, the reason that men will leave their families for months at a time to work on a sugar cane plantation, and even the reason for the problem among the men with drinking and leaving their families. not at all that i am condoning these responses, but i can see how without christ, one is left without the hope and security that fuels a moving forward in life. and in its place can grow a desperation and a giving up.

i have felt more at peace in these past few months leading up to this time that we are here for a reason and a purpose than i ever have before in my time here. i often wonder, and probably will until the day i leave or die, what our role here is... how we use the gifts, blessings, and responsibilities that god has given us to invest in lives and relationships around us... to help the people without enabling them. as i have become more and more impressed with the fact that we will not ever be guatemalans and that we will never not be americans, i know that one of our biggest roles here is to work as a bridge between here and the states.

we have spent a lot of time talking about different ways to help the people through this drought and have been amazed as a few people from the states have written or called wondering how they can help. as craig and leslie have mentioned on their blogs, we are in the process of trying to set up a system for distribution of cheaply bought or donated corn that we can have brought down here on a container. while this is still in the works, we have felt compelled to continue on in this as we anticipate a rough year ahead for many, getting them through not only this dry season where they usually live off of the corn that they have harvested from the rainy season, but also through the rainy season where they are still planting and growing the corn for the next year. as we move forward in this, we also know that this is not something that "the americans" need to be seen as doing, so we have talked to friends of ours in san andres about partnering with them to distribute food, clothes and other necessities.

it is also a huge desire of our hearts to partner with the churches. in an area that already has so much lack of unity and discipleship among the churches, our prayer has always been (and especially more so in these past few months as we have spent mondays and wednesdays praying over canilla and san andres) for more unity and for eyes to be opened to the needs of their own people here. we are in prayer over a time that we can get together with all of them and together come up with some ways that we can unite to provide help during this time.

please continue to keep guatemala in your prayers at this time. as the people here struggle through knowing where their next meal will come from, and we desire to carry out our responsilibites here with integrity and within what God has called us to, the last part of 2 corinthians chapter 12 has run through my head...

"but he said to me, 'my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness...'
and that is why, for Christ's sake, i delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. for when i am weak, then i am strong."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

one woman plus five children plus no food equals...

we first saw her husband about a year and a half ago when he came into our clinic with a large welt-like raised mark along the side of his neck, looking much like a nasty scar, thin and slithery like a worm and heading down towards his chest. he had been to several places seeking out help, but no amount of bloodwork or treatments had helped him, and he continued to get worse. we also were not sure what we were looking at as we examined him, so we treated him for a fungal infection and asked him to come back the following week, giving us some time to talk to other docs to see if we could figure out what it was. he never came back.

a few months ago, a woman came in with her five children in tow, aged 8 years old to five months old. she quietly explained to me that her husband and her second to youngest child had both passed away a month ealier, she wasn't sure why, and she now would like full exams for herself and each of her children to make sure that they were all okay. as the history behind their deaths unfolded, i learned that her 18 month old child had died of "diarrhea," and her husband had died of a rash that looked like a noose around his neck. i soon realized that her husband and the above mentioned man were one and the same.

they live in the village tintauleu... you may remember the name from martina's story. her grandfather was a prominent witchdoctor there who owned most of the land, and had a strong hold and influence over the people until the day he died. he had actually come to the clinic in san andres during his last few years and gave his life to god, repenting and turning from his ways... however, he returned a few months after that asking leslie how he could get the voices out of his head... the voices of the ones he had served for so long now. soon after, he returned to his witchdoctor ways and his visits to the clinic were less and less until the day he passed away. within the past three years, we have personally diagnosed at least three families from that village with aids, and as the numbers of people we see and treat from there grow, we often find sad stories of malnutrition, and the spiritual poverty is apparent in almost all who enter.

so, i started with an aids test, but quickly and gladly discovered that it was negative according to our tests. although obviously lacking in food, her children all appeared healthy, and when i asked her about a relationship with god, i saw the first smile play across her lips since she had walked in the door as she told me that her god had gotten her through and would continue to. praise god. it continues to amaze me the strength of faith that emerges in the midst of difficult circumstances...

she told me that at that time she had enough corn to get her through for a bit, and she soon after started working for a neighbor fertilizing his fields to make a little more money. however the work has ended, her corn is gone, and the past couple times that she has come in, their recent meals have consisted of a couple tortillas and herbs. we have been able to help her out with food through the nutrition program, but i am realizing more and more that she needs more than just our food... and i do not know what to do. we have always believed in the mentality of "teaching them to fish instead of giving them fish," and i would love for her to have a job that would provide a steady income, even if just a little bit. but as our rainy season has resembled the dry season more than the rainy, more than a few families are struggling to make ends meet, and food, jobs, and money seem scarce.

in the past couple weeks, i have searched out different microfinance programs and different textiles that she could make and sell, but the truth is that all of those options are jobs in and of themselves for the person that will set them up, and they require knowledge in areas that not all people (myself included) are trained in. they require more than just the heart - they require time, resources, knowledge... and as i already wonder how my life will change with the addition of a baby, i have been forced to face my limitations again.

i don't know why this one situation has affected me so much more than others... i think that i just grow so weary of watching these women and children come in with basic needs unmet, and watch them walk right back out the door into a world that has been so harsh for them from the beginning. i have no doubt that God is in control, and i have no doubt that He loves them more than i ever could... i know that He works miracles today as much as He ever did (because i have seen them), and i know that prayer is the greatest thing that i can do for this family and so many others. but i still cannot help but wonder why?

and as i am forced to acknowledge my own limitations and my own blessings, i realize that there is absolutely no reason at all that i live the life i do and she lives the life she does. there are so many things we hear people say, and if we are honest, we have all thought ourselves at times... "they are poor because they do not know how to manage money," "well, if they would stop having so many kids!" or " well, if they would just follow jesus and stop living in sin." but the Truth is that i do not deserve the blessings or the life i have more than she does... i have not earned it more, i have not worked harder for it, i have not sinned less, i have not been more pure, i have not been perfect, i have not always made the right choices, i did not choose where i was born, who my family is, or what my nationality is.... there is absolutely no reason, except for God's grace.

and while i wish i could end this story right now with a happy one-liner, the truth is that this story has not ended. she still sits in her room, working hard to make the beans and rice and oats that we gave her stretch over the next week, wondering when the next group will go to the coast lands to cut sugar cane on the large plantations there... a trip that she will make with her five children for a few months in hopes to be able to get enough money to make it through another year...

i know that there are needs everywhere in the world, and i know that guatemala is not without God's grace or hope. but i also know that "to whom much is given, much is required..."

and we, america, have been given much.

and not just in the areas of money... we have an education system that exceeds in fourth grade the level of education that these kids will graduate with here. we have been taught how to manage and critically think from a young age. we have been raised in a country that, at least as of right now, still acknowledges God and christianity above all other religions. we have a creative God who longs to use us in different areas of His body... who calls us and molds us and gave us a creativity and ability to give so much more to Him and those around us than just our money.

we have been given so much! what are we doing with it?