Sunday, December 31, 2006

No Escaping Disney

This morning we headed to town for church at Iglesia Cristiana Vida y Fe, the Church of Life and Faith. It is located behind the YWAM coffee house and YWAM helps to support the church. We caught the bus into town. As usual, the bus (a converted school bus) was pretty crowded with standing room only…kind of. There were about 80 of us onboard. We were squished in the aisle. It gets really interesting when the conductor tries to walk down the aisle to collect the fares. Just as we were pulling into town, we hit a big bump. This is not uncommon with the 400 year old cobblestone streets that tend to be very bumpy. When we hit the bump, the bus stopped dead in its tracks. Without any communication from the driver or the conductor, everyone got out of their seat and got off the bus through both the front door and the emergency exit in the back. We followed suit. We weren’t too far from our stop, so we really didn’t have to walk much further than usual.

Church this morning was fantastic and challenging. The pastor gave a very powerful message…one directed specifically to us. First, the object lessons he used were three different Disney princesses (something VERY near and dear to our hearts) and different ways they should have acted. The message was about not waiting for things to happen, but to take God’s promises now and act upon them immediately. We have been feeling very trapped by what’s happening on our team and have started to personally write off the rest of our time here and begin focusing on our ministry in Mali. But we were convicted by the teaching and now understand that we need to focus on being here more than ever. Unfortunately, we were the only ones on our team in attendance so no one else on our team got a chance to hear it.

We appreciate your prayers for our team. We are unraveling at the seams and losing a lot of our effectiveness. Many people on our team are de-prioritizing group prayer, personal accountability, and church attendance. There are also some dangerous squabbles between several team members. Satan is working very hard at destroying what God has assembled. It is scary to us to see our team disintegrating. We still have a week of ministry left, but most people seem disengaged and not willing to participate. Please continue to hold us up in prayer. This is certainly no way to end the New Year and our time here. Please be praying for a fresh start tomorrow.

After church, we decided to have lunch in town. Antigua is a beautiful city with a large variety of specialty stores and restaurants. You can get just about any kind of food here including American fast food, Italian, French, Chinese, Mexican, and the list goes on. We stopped at a taqueria for some Mexican food. We had tacos and tortas. It was delicious…a nice break from the food we’ve had at the base every day.

This country never ceases to amaze us. Today on the way home, we encountered a street show a couple of streets down from the base. There were Disney, Warner Brothers, and Hanna Barbara characters enthusiastically dancing in the street. What a big surprise this was. It tied in with the pastor’s message this morning. God is reaching out to us in some very unique ways.

Live marimba music is filling the streets of our neighborhood as part of the New Years Eve celebration. And guess what? More fireworks! Big ones this time. They’ve been steadily going off since about 6:00 pm. John will be glad when it’s over!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Standing On Shaky Ground

We are surrounded by several active volcanoes, which lead to a lot of earthquakes in Guatemala. There have been two that we’ve felt since being here, including one this morning just before we left for our first ministry. (There’s probably been a lot more but we’re accustomed to them from back home.) The ones we’ve felt have been mild…possibly between 3.5 - 3.8 on the Richter scale. They have been very short compared to our quakes in California. The Canadians on our team have been excited about feeling a quake. After the one this morning, we looked up at the closest volcano and it was spewing out a lot of steam and ash.

This morning we headed out to a children’s feeding center operated by a local church to minister to the kids while they were waiting for their meal to be prepared. We performed several skits, sang songs, and told the story of Zacchaeus with Cole playing Jesus again. It didn’t take long for lunch to be ready, and soon the kids disappeared running off to the eating area for lunch.

This evening we had a movie night at the base and invited a lot of our neighbors to join us. We passed out flyers a couple of days ago, and as a result, we had about 70 people come. We also provided popcorn and juice. We took the opportunity to show the Jesus Film in Spanish. This brought back memories of our COCAN ministry in Mali a few years ago. The Guatemalans seemed to enjoy the film. After it was over, John gave a short message and invitation to talk further or pray with anyone who needed it. We were originally going to show The Chronicles of Narnia, but because of copyright issues, we decided against it and showed Jesus instead. We feel we made the right decision.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Back to Jail

This morning was jail ministry for our team. This time, we were able to gain access to the women’s jail too, so we spilt into two teams. John and the men returned to the men’s prison we visited last week. The prison is housed in an old church that was originally built in 1675. John led worship, then a few people from our team gave some testimonies and words of encouragement. A couple of the prisoners also stepped up and gave their testimony. One man talked about how his glue sniffing habit (a big problem in Guatemala) moved into drug addition. Another talked about how he’d fallen away from the Lord but is now drawing closer to God in jail. Following our ministry program, we took some time to pray and share with them individually.

John met a couple of people today that really touched his heart. The first is named Irwin. He is a recent arrival to the jail. His face and legs were raw and covered with sores. He had recently raped a girl. Before the police captured him, the local people had tied him behind a car and dragged him through the street. Civil justice here is very harsh. It’s much better to be arrested than have the locals deal with the problem. Please join us in prayer for both his spiritual and physical healing.

The other man is named Hector. He’s been in for 3 ½ years…halfway through his 7 year sentence. In Guatemala, there’s no parole, so every sentence is fully served. Hector speaks English, so it was easy for John to communicate with him. He is very strong in his faith and seems to be a spiritual leader in the prison. He needed a lot of encouragement and John and a couple of guys spent time encouraging him and praying with him. We stressed the importance of his time in prison to share with the other inmates and help disciple the ones that are Christians. Please help us in holding Hector up in prayer.

Meanwhile, Julie and her team went to the women’s prison. It is much smaller than the men’s jail. We started our ministry by singing in a small courtyard to announce our arrival and invite the inmates to join us for a program. We handed out song sheets and soon some of the prisoners began to join us in singing. Next, we went into a small room set up like a classroom. Julie gave a message of hope and salvation centered around a gospel bracelet craft we brought to share with the women. They each eagerly made a bracelet for themselves then asked for extras to make for their children. Two of our team members then gave their testimonies. We closed by praying for the inmates as a group. We focused extra prayer on a girl named Patricia who is four months pregnant. Please join us in prayer for her too. After about an hour, it was time for us to leave. We passed out Bibles to four of the women. They asked us to sign them with blessings and encouraging verse references.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Julia Habla Ingles

This morning we held an ESL class for neighborhood teens. Unfortunately, the person on our team that was supposed to teach the class wasn’t able to today. Instead, Marianne and Julie stepped up to lead the class. Four teenage girls attended. The class is conducted in entirely in English and uses a technique called TPR (Total Physical Response.) It teaches English through the use of repetition and mimicking movements and actions. John and Cole got to assist too.

In the afternoon, we returned to the first nursing home to visit with the residents. The people were very glad to see us again. We arrived just after lunch. Some of our team helped wash dishes in the kitchen while others spent time visiting. We spent some concentrated time singing to Maria (a with woman with severe arthritis) and Thomasita, the woman who recently celebrated here 101st birthday. Julie passed out new combs to some of the women and talked with them while she gently combed their soft hair. This simple gesture was very comforting to them. Then a clown arrived and started entertaining the residents by making balloon animals and performing magic tricks. We sat and watched with our new friends.

This evening we led worship at the Higher Grounds coffee house.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Julia Habla Espanol

This afternoon we did a children’s ministry at the base. We passed out flyers around the neighborhood inviting the kids to join us. We sang several songs together, told the story of Zacchaeus with Cole playing the part of Jesus, did a craft of gospel bracelets, and served juice and cookies. We didn’t have a translator available, but Julie really rose to the occasion. She led the entire program in Spanish! And she was translating for the rest of our team. Her grasp of the language has been remarkable. Hopefully, she’ll have the same gifting with French when we return to Mali.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

More Cotton Heads

Today we visited another nursing home. It’s a second branch of the home we visited last week. It’s called Hogar de Ancianos Cebecitas de Algodon No. 2. (Home of the cotton heads number 2.) It used to be an orphanage. What an interesting conversion. We met several wonderful people. Esperanza was a beautiful lady that really enjoyed singing for us. John spent some time with a nice man named Horatio and they talked for some time. A man named Vicente loved to dance and took a real liking to Julie. He had some Guatemalan marimba music playing and quickly latched onto Julie. They danced for a long time. A few minutes after finishing, he came back and asked Julie to dance some more. After a few dances, they sat down and rested and the whole process repeated over and over. He had a lot of stamina!

The entire time we were there, one lady kept trying to escape. She was continually heading towards the gate when no one was looking and trying to unlock it and get out. The staff was always just a couple of steps behind her and helped her back to the house. Apparently, she was trying to get out and see her family. It was very sad. Please join us in praying for her.

In the evening, we met down at the Higher Grounds coffee house for prayer with the YWAM staff. We enjoyed sharing this all important time of sharing and praying for each other and the people of Guatemala.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Feliz Navidad!

Christmas morning…it’s always beautiful no matter what country you’re in. Because the fireworks kept Cole up late last night, he slept in and didn’t wake us up until around 7 am. We also woke to the sound of the church bells from the Catholic church up the street. They rang continuously for about 15 minutes. It was a very sweet sound to wake up to. We brought a few gifts with us from the States and purchased a few here in the mercado. It was a much simpler Christmas than in the States, but it was very satisfying. Our gifts were placed under a small paper Christmas tree that Cole made and we hung on the wall. We had to smile at what he wrote on the back…“Made in Guatemala.” We had a wonderful time sharing our simple gifts as a family.

Later in the morning we had a white elephant gift exchange with our team. Cole got some nail polish, John got a protein bar, and Julie scored some chewing gum and mints. Nothing says Christmas like a missionary white elephant gift exchange. We also read the Christmas story and shared in a Holiday prayer.

At noon, we discovered another Guatemala Christmas tradition…more fireworks! At noon, a barrage of firecrackers went off all around us. And to think that we still have New Year’s Eve to look forward to…oh joy.

In the afternoon, we joined the up with the DTS group again and had a wonderful catered Christmas dinner at the YWAM coffee house…this time, American style. We had beef medallions in wine sauce, mashed potatoes, salad, veggies, and cake for dessert.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Traditions

This morning we headed off to Iglesia Cristiana Templo de su Gloria, the church up the road from the YWAM base that we attended the week we arrived in Guatemala. We were excited and looking forward to it. When we got to the church, there was a sign on the door announcing there were no church services today. Christmas in Guatemala has been very confusing. Many of the churches here consider Christmas a pagan holiday and don’t celebrate it. And we thought things were moving backwards in the States! This is so different from Mali where Christmas is considered nothing but a religious holiday and all the celebrating happens at the church. We REALLY miss that right now. We’re so looking forward to Christmas in Mali next year. We returned to the base and spent the day relaxing and wrapping a few last minute gifts we picked up at the mercado yesterday.

There are currently two YWAM ministry teams from Chico in Guatemala right now. There is a younger team that is part of the DTS (Discipleship Training School) and ours, the middle age+ CDTS (Crossroads Discipleship Training School.) We have been serving in different parts of the country. For Christmas, we met up at the base in Antigua and celebrated the holiday together. Tonight, we feasted on a traditional Guatemalan Christmas eve dinner of tamales. They were wrapped in giant banana leaves. They were delicious! After dinner, we watched the movie “Elf” which was very funny and entertaining.

Another Christmas Eve tradition in Guatemala is fireworks. And they are *EVERYWHERE*. Firecrackers are constantly going off all around us. And not just the little ones…here you can buy firecrackers that are the equivalent of a ¼ stick of dynamite. Ouch! They were going off all night. Those of you that know John well, know that he can’t stand loud noises. Tonight, he was going bonkers. We took refuge in our room, but then the kids on the street started throwing firecrackers at our door. We found another room away from the street where it was a little quieter. Midnight was when everything really happened. At twelve, everyone sets off fireworks…loud firecrackers, bottle rockets, and large aerial shells (like Disneyland.) It was incredible to be encircled by fireworks in every direction as far as the eye could see. A lot of our team went on the roof to watch, but we decided to stay inside because stuff was flying everywhere. About 15 minutes after midnight, things began to settle down as people went into their houses to open their gifts. (The tradition here is to open gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve.) Then about a ½ hour later, the fireworks started up again. This has been a very difficult Christmas for John…first the lack of Church participation then the fireworks. But we’re looking forward to tomorrow morning. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of a 10 year old boy and Christmas morning.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Marketplace, McD's, & Christmas Caroling

Today we ministered in the central mercado (outdoor market) for Antigua. It was very busy because of the weekend and Christmas shopping. It was reminiscent of shopping in the markets in Africa. We didn’t have a translator available, so we spent most of the time greeting people and handing out Spanish tracts.

We stopped at McDonalds for dinner. It was simply magnificent! (I know…it sounds like we’ve been out of the States too long when McDonalds starts looking so good.) But seriously, the outside dining area was a beautiful stone tiled courtyard with a fountain and several planters, with a volcano rising in the distance. It felt like anything but a McDonalds.

After dinner, we went caroling with several other YWAMers through the cobblestone streets of Antigua. We held candles and sung many traditional Christmas carols (in English)…and yes, we did sing Feliz Navidad.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Home of the Cotton Heads & Finding Money

This morning we went to a nursing home to spend time with and encourage the residents. The name of the home is Hogar de Ancianos Cebecitas de Algodon, which means home of the cotton heads. Get it? People with white hair. About 20 people live in the home. It is a private nursing home and relies completely on private donations to cover expenses. There is a staff of about 10 people who were very friendly and attentive. When we arrived, most of residents were sitting in the courtyard. We sang some Christmas carols then took time to meet with them individually. We only had one translator with us, so most of our individual conversations had a language barrier. But that didn’t seem to matter. Even though we couldn’t understand each other, everyone seemed pleased and touched by the conversation. We also got to share with a lady celebrating her 101st birthday!

After the nursing home, we spent a little time in town. One of our goals today was to find money because we used most of our cash at the doctor a few days ago. Twice a year, Guatemalans receive a bonus from their employers. One of those bonuses happened to fall this week. And *EVERYONE* has been cashing their bonus checks. All of the banks have been swarmed. Long lines stretched out the door at every bank we passed. And the ATMs weren’t immune either. Every ATM in the city has been out of money for several days. But we were on a quest and continued to look. We had one Guatemalan lady see us looking and she pointed us to one ATM that was still operating! And there were only a few people in line. It’s good to have cash again…especially with some last minute Christmas shopping coming up.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Prison Ministry

This morning John and the men of our team went to the central jail in Antigua to minister to the prisoners. The jail is nowhere near as sophisticated as the jails in the States. The building is several hundred years old. To get in, we only had to pass through 2 padlocked gates. Each person on our team received handstamps (just like Disneyland!) to identify us as visitors and allow us leave when our program is done.

Once inside, we showed the “Fourth Wiseman” film. James (from our team) then gave a testimony of his salvation and release from his drug dependency. John brought his keyboard, and led some worship songs after the message. We then had an invitation and 4 men came forward to receive the Lord.

The men are in prison for many different reasons…anything from traffic infractions to murder. One of the men we met had just arrived yesterday as the result of being involved in a car accident. It was wonderful to have a chance to minister to them.

Back at the base, we had an evangelism training session led by one of the YWAM Antigua team members. We learned some interesting ways to share our faith with people and we’re looking forward to sharing in some new ways.

In the evening, we traveled into town to the “Higher Grounds” coffee house. It is owned and operated by the YWAM Antigua base as a ministry to the English speaking community. It offers a full selection of drinks and pastries. It also houses a small library and a separate meeting room for Bible studies and worship services. On Thursday nights, the coffee house presents an English worship service that is open to anyone in the area. Tonight, about 30 people attended. We had the chance to lead a Christmas carol program interspersed with a reading of the Christmas story from the Bible. John played the keyboard, Julie and Marianne (one of our team members) led singing, and various members of our team did the narration. It was a wonderful way to help get into the Christmas spirit. After the carol service, our base leader gave a presentation on the history and meaning of Hanukkah. It was very interesting. Afterward, we shared some coffee and baked goods.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Vaction Bible School

Today our ministry took us just outside Antigua to a Vacation Bible School being run by a church group from Florida. They had it all very well organized and when we arrived, they gave us each a written list (in English!) of specific tasks and when to do them. Over 100 kids showed up. We started by singing some songs and dancing with the kids. Then the Florida team did a skit. We then played musical chairs. After the game, we broke out into small groups for craft time and snacks. This is where our instructions really came in handy. We each had a group of 10 kids. After the craft and snack, we had a small toy and candy in our group goody bags to give out to the kids. Then we all went out to a nearby soccer field and played with the kids for about 45 minutes before heading back to the base. We were pleased at how well organized everything was and the very clear instructions and supplies we received. This will help us in organizing our own children's ministries both here in Guatemala and in Africa.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Trip to the Doctor

It’s nice to have another day off as we adjust to being back in Antigua. We spent a good part of the day just relaxing. Julie’s still a little sore from the horseback ride, so we decided to see a doctor and have some x-rays taken just to be sure everything is okay. We found a very nice private hospital that was modern and western in style. The doctor was friendly and did a though check-up including x-rays. He confirmed there were no injuries other than some sore muscles. He prescribed some pain medication and asked us to follow-up if there are any changes. In all, the doctor visit, x-rays, and meds came out to a total of $60. But the peace of mind it brought was priceless.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Travel to Antiqua

This morning we left San Pedro and headed back to Antigua. We’re still licking our wounds from yesterday, but we’re hoping a change of location will help our spirits.

This move has been a challenge…mainly due to our luggage and method of travel. To get to Antigua, we traveled by boat then by bus to the Antigua base. As a team, we had to shuffle our luggage (35+ pieces) several times. First at the hotel, we loaded our bags onto 2 trucks for transport to the boat dock. From there we unloaded the trucks and waited for our boat. Once our boat arrived, we moved our luggage from the dock to the boat. Once we arrived at the other side of the lake, we unloaded our things and carried them from the dock up a steep hill where we waited for two small buses. Once the buses arrived we loaded them for the final leg of our trip to Antigua.

It only took a half hour to cross the lake by boat, and in the process, it shaved 2 hours off our bus travel time. The ground travel remained uneventful. After 2 hours, we were happy to arrive at the YWAM Antigua base. We will be here for the rest of our time in Guatemala. It’s great to have internet access again. It’s going to take us awhile to catch up on things…this blog specifically, and email…John got over 280 messages…most of them SPAM. Oh, the wonders of technology.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

We Need Your Prayer

Julie was a little sore from the horse incident so we chose to lay low today. Unfortunately, to add insult to injury (literally) we had a run-in with our team this morning. We suffered a lot of hurt and are in dire need of your prayer. Today has been very difficult for us…we’ve even considered leaving the outreach and heading back home. But after a lot of prayer, we realize that it’s important for us to stay, endure the hardship, and continue moving forward. But please remember us in prayer. We really need your support right now!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Panabaj Refugee Camp & Horseback Riding Accident

Today was busy and full of adventure. We started by crossing Lake Atitlan by boat to the city of Santiago. It took about 45 minutes to cross the lake in a small 30 passenger boat. The ride was very smooth and the sights were beautiful. The lake is surrounded by volcanoes and a few villages and haciendas scattered along the lakefront. Santiago is a bigger town with a larger tourist draw than San Pedro. Unfortunately, because of the tourist draw, the petty crime rate here is extremely high. Just moments after we climbed out of our boat, a young girl tried to pickpocket one of teammates. This put us on high alert. John walked around most of the day with his hands in his pockets to keep our money and ID safe.

Our ultimate destination on this trip was a refugee camp called Panabaj. Last year, a hurricane swept through this area. Torrential rain from the storm caused major mudslides in the Lake Atitlan area. The village of Panabaj was covered by fifteen feet of mud. Over 800 people died when they were suddenly buried in the mud. Rather than excavate the village and exhume the bodies, the government declared the area a cemetery. The people remaining were left with nothing. Several aid agencies including OXFAM and USAID arrived and erected a refugee camp for the survivors. Our ministry today was in the refugee camp. We geared our ministry towards kids. There weren’t many when we arrived, but after we set up our sound system and started our program, they began to come. In all, we had about 75 kids attend. We did a skit, sang some songs, and told them the Christmas story. After the program, we had a chance to play, do face painting, and make balloon animals. It was a special time for us all.

After our ministry, we had lunch in town and did a little souvenir shopping. We then boarded the boat for a relaxing ride back to the hotel.

Back in San Pedro, we had a chance to go horseback riding. This is something we’ve been talking about doing as a family for a long time. And it was only 20 Quentzales ($3.00) a person. How could we say no? As Julie was mounting her horse, it got a little skitterish and reared up throwing Julie off. The horse then fell down and landed on her. Several people from our team immediately gathered around and came to her aid. Fortunately, she was not injured. In the meantime, the rest of the party (including John) had started heading down the trail. Julie assured John she was okay and insisted he go on ahead. At this point, Cole was not about to climb on a horse and chose to stay behind. Julie and Cole decided not to rejoin the others on the ride. John didn’t realize this until later in the ride. Unfortunately, due to the language barrier, he wasn’t able to turn back. Julie was sore, but suffered no significant injuries. We thank God for His protection.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Party for the Kids in San Pablo

It rained again today on the way to the church. This time the driver was prepared with a tarp that we huddled under…and we came prepared with jackets too. When we arrived at the church, all the kids were waiting outside and were very excited when our truck arrived. And guess what? They were all wearing their crowns! Many of them had been repaired with various kinds of tape. Because our food, drinks and toys were limited, we could only allow 150 kids into the church. It was hard to close the door and not let any more kids in, but is was necessary to prevent a kiddie riot. All the kids with crowns did get in plus a few more.

We sang a few Christmas carols then showed a Christmas cartoon. Then we gave the kids some Guatemalan sweet bread, some orange juice, and a small toy. Pastor Antonio was instrumental in helping us organize the distribution. It turned out well and the kids' behavior was excellent.

After a short break, we started the evening service. Pastor Antonio’s daughter Anita joined us in leading worship. We did all the songs in Spanish again. Eventhough the people speak Tzutujil, they sing their worship songs in Spanish. After worship, our YWAM base leader gave a short message on the history of the Bible. Then several of us shared a favorite Bible passage to encourage the congregation. We chose Matthew 6:25-26 and shared how God promises to watch over us on a continual basis.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Crowns for the Kids

Tomorrow we will be doing a Christmas party for the kids at the church complete with food, drinks, and gifts. We brought a lot of small toys and school supplies with us and this morning we assembled gift bags for 150 kids tomorrow.

Our kids’ ministry went well again. For craft time, the kids made paper crowns to tie in to the wisemen theme of today’s lesson. We told the kids there will be a party tomorrow and attendance will be limited so anyone wearing their crown will get in for sure. It will be interesting to see how many crowns make it through the night.

We led worship this evening. It was neat to lead a whole service of songs in Spanish. After the music we showed a Christmas movie called “The Fourth Wise Man” starring Martin Sheen. It is a good movie if you can get your hands on it.

During church, we were hit with a surprise rainstorm. We stayed dry in church, however the ride home proved otherwise. We were soaked to the bone after a half hour ride in an open bed pickup.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More Ministry in San Pablo

Today’s ministry was much like yesterday. We had a lot more kids today as word began to get out. We continued our Christmas theme. We did learn an important lesson today at craft time. We did one craft out of marshmallows. We quickly learned that any craft involving food…especially sweets…creates a mob disaster.

Evening church went well. Again, as word travels thru the neighborhood that the Gringos are in town, we have more people showing up.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

First Day of Ministry in San Pablo

This afternoon we traveled to Pastor Antonio’s church to begin our ministry. We will be doing both a children’s program and an evening church service each day. His church is called Iglesia del Nazarene located in San Pablo about a half hour drive from our hotel. Pastor Antonio doesn’t have a car or motorcycle and often walks 2 hours each way to get to his church when he can’t afford a taxi. During our ministry, he’ll be traveling with us. Our team loaded up in the bed of a small pickup truck for the ride to and from church.

Spanish has been a challenge for us. We’ve been able to squeak out a few phrases here and there, and rely on a translator for the rest. In San Pablo, most people speak very limited Spanish and instead speak a language called Tzutujil. As we lead ministry here, we need to go through two different translators. Pastor Antonio speaks both Spanish and Tzutujil, however he doesn’t speak English. So we have someone translating from English to Spanish and then Pastor Antonio translates into Tzutujil.

Iglesia del Nazarene San Pablo is a small church. The church is of very simple construction…a tin roof with tarps for the walls. In Guatemala, most people don’t consider a church authentic unless it is in a permanent building. This has kept this church from growing. In January, they will begin construction on a cinderblock building that will make it more acceptable to the people and allow it to grow.

Our children’s ministry started out with singing, then moved into a Christmas themed Bible lesson. After the lesson, we did crafts with the kids. The boys learned to make and fly paper airplanes while the girls made some beautiful paper flowers.

We had about a 45 minute break, then started our evening church service. The pastor and his family led worship. Then a couple from our team gave a testimony. At they end, they invited people forward to receive the Lord. It was exciting to see 8 people come forward! This was an encouraging start to our ministry here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Moving to San Pedro

This morning we loaded up on what the white people call a “chicken bus”. It is an old school bus painted with bright colors with lots of chrome and accents. These are the public transit vehicles used in Guatemala. In the city, they can be packed with up to 80-90 people. Because we chartered one for our trip, we had it all to ourselves. That was good considering the 4 hour ride we had ahead of us.The last hour of our trip was on some narrow, winding mountain roads. As the driver maneuvered around the curves, the conductor was constantly honking our air-horn to warn oncoming vehicles around the blind turns.

San Pedro is a beautiful town located on the shore of Lake Atitlan. It is a large lake surrounded by volcanoes. Many people compare its beauty with Lake Tahoe in California. San Pedro has a large western population. Besides its tourist population, it is the home of many Spanish schools along with being a hangout for modern day hippies and vagabonds.

For the next week, we’ll be staying at Hotel Nahual Maya just a stone’s throw from the lake. We are so looking forward to having a private bathroom again along with hot showers. Yeah! Again, our room is simple but comfortable. There are hammocks hanging outside each room and Cole has really enjoyed swinging in them.

Our host for this leg of the trip is Pastor Antonio who has a small church in the area. We don’t have any dining facilities at the hotel, so we will be eating all of our meals at Pastor Antonio’s house.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Guatemalan Mega Church

Today we attended a church in Guatemala City called Fraternidad Cristiana de Guatemala. It is a megachurch with a membership of over 10,000 people. It made our home church look small. The worship time and pastor’s message were both incredible. The church is so large, they offer an English translation of the service via wireless headsets. This allowed us to fully participate in the service despite the language barrier.

Because so many people attend this church, they currently hold 4 different services on Sunday mornings. They are in the final stages of completing a new church complex with a worship center that will seat 10,000. They are building it about a half hour outside the city because of the traffic the church will create on Sunday mornings. The parking structure for the church is going to be the largest in Central America.

After we returned from church, Julie did another load of laundry by hand. She’s hoping this will be her last. We also packed and prepared for our departure to San Pedro first thing tomorrow morning.

For dinner, John and Cole went out to a local restaurant for a Guatemalan meal called Pupusas (pronounced poo-poo sauce.) It’s not a very nice name, but the food was delicious. It is cheese and meat fried inside a big tortilla. It’s very similar to a quesadilla.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Speaking in Church

We had the day off today. It was nice to be able to catch up on a few things that have been building up. In the evening, we had an opportunity to share and minister to a small Pentecostal church a couple of miles from the base. Two of our team members shared some Bible passages and testimonies and John delivered a message challenging the people of the church to continue our ministry to Guatemala after we leave. After the message, Julie encouraged the church by singing the song “Breathe” in Spanish.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Giant Relief Map of Guatemala

Today we visited a giant relief map of Guatemala. It was built over 100 years ago. It is several hundred square feet wide. It was interesting to see how much of the country is made up of volcanoes. The purpose of our visit was to walk around this representation of the country and pray the people of Guatemala.

Before we left California, everyone in our class chose something specific in Guatemala to pray about during our outreach trip. Julie chose to pray for the government and John chose to pray for the mass media influence. While we were visiting the giant map, a TV crew was on location doing a news magazine story. John chose to focus his prayer today on the mass media in Guatemala.

After the map, we stopped at a shopping center to pick up some supplies and get money from an ATM. We shopped at a large store called Hiper Paiz. It’s partially owned and operated by Wal*Mart. It didn’t look like Wal*Mart, but is had a lot of the same products and similar pricing.

Tonight, the staff of the Guatemala base threw us a special thank you dinner for our help. It was touching that they took the time to show us their appreciation. We also had a chance to see a preview of a video one of our team members is putting together of our outreach trip. We’re looking forward to sharing it with you when we get back.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Trash Pickup and Ministry in the Soup Kitchen

Back to Tierra Nueva again. This time for some community service. In most developing nations, throwing trash on the ground is culturally acceptable…and oftentimes, expected. Guatemala is no different. The streets are littered with trash. Today we worked to help clean up Guatemala by picking up trash in the streets of Tierra Nueva. It didn’t take long for us to fill up several trash bags and gain the attention of many of the residents. Many of the neighborhood kids soon joined us. And one lady came out with a bowl of water and some soap so we could wash our hands. It was nice to be able to show the love of Christ through the simple act of cleaning someone’s neighborhood.

In the evening, we returned to the Lord’s Kitchen to help feed the poor and homeless. This time everyone in our family came and helped. As we were entering the building, John saw Irwin (the man he helped lead to the Lord on our first night of ministry) and helped encourage him and pray for him. This was a neat reunion. Who knew people could draw so close in such a short amount of time.

For our service tonight, Julie worked in the kitchen washing dishes, John helped clean tables, and Cole worked on the serving line passing out tortillas. It was such a blessing to see him helping people less fortunate. He had strict instructions to give everyone just one tortilla. One man asked for more. Cole was torn between following directions and showing compassion by making sure people got enough to eat. He resolved it by giving out one tortilla and adding on a broken piece he found in the bottom of the serving pan. He repeated this with several people. It brought us a lot of joy to see God really working through him tonight.

Julie washed over 400 cups tonight and was a real blessing to the regular workers by helping to lighten their load. Most ministry groups that come want to help by being on the front line leaving just the full-time workers to do the cleanup behind the scenes. Julie’s help really encouraged them.

John found that cleaning tables ended up being the smallest part of his ministry tonight. He found himself speaking to many different people, praying for them, and giving them encouragement. He made many new friends. One man in particular really touched him. He was a man bound in a wheelchair. John prayed with him and they embraced each other for quite some time. The man showed John a bad wound on his leg. John prayed for him again, then helped the man stand and take a few steps across the room. The man sat down again. John asked for a couple of other people to come over and pray too. The man asked to be helped up again and began walking some more. He did this several times. He was so overjoyed to have walked! What an amazing event this was. The man wasn’t able to walk out on his own and needed to leave in his wheelchair. But John felt that next week the man wouldn’t need the wheelchair anymore. Please join us in praying for complete healing. Unfortunately, we won’t be back again to see…but we remain confident that he will be healed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More Kids Ministry in Tierra Nueva

This morning we went to a different park in Tierra Nueva to minister to new group of kids. We did a few skits, told a Bible story, and sang some songs. John had a chance to talk about the power of prayer. He showed the kids his scars from our accident in Mali and told them how God had healed him because people prayed for him.

We did some more playing and making balloon animals with the kids. And John entertained them by taking out his eyeball, washing it in his mouth, and putting it back again. (You’ll have to ask him to do it next time you see him.) Some older ladies at the park especially enjoyed it. He also took out his teeth for the kids. They really get a kick out of this.

In the evening, we returned to the main park in Tierra Nueva to work with the breakdancers again. John was able to share a message of encouragement with them by talking about his hair and how he’s been rejected by churches because of his appearance. He told them about his Nazirite vow and how after sharing that with churches, they understood his devotion to the Lord and accepted him for who he is, rather then judging him based on his appearance. They were really touched by this.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Team Unity

We returned to the Plaza Mayor today to do a ministry presentation. Our team did a skit and Julie gave a testimony talking about how just being good isn’t good enough to get into Heaven. We then had a chance to pray for people and talk with them individually about the Lord. We shared with one man in particular who is a Christian but needed encouragement in his Christian walk and in reaching out to others. Julie sat beside a lonely man. Together they sang "Open the Eyes of My Heart" in Spanish.

Please be in prayer for our team. We are having difficulties with unity and working together as a cohesive group. This afternoon when we arrived back at the base, our leaders locked us in a room as we worked at resolving some issues and bonding together. Our meeting lasted for several hours. We felt a lot was accomplished, but we still have a long way to go as we learn to better work together. This is essential for our team. Your prayers on this are greatly appreciated.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Praying at Plaza Mayor

Today lead worship with a couple of people from the Guatemala base. It has been challenging yet enjoyable to lead songs we are familiar with in both English and Spanish. It’s coming easier than we had thought.

Later in the morning, we went out to Guatemala’s Plaza Mayor (Great Plaza.) It is a city square that serves as the hub of the country. All the kilometer road measurements originate from this point. The square is surrounded on all four sides by the most important buildings in the country including the Presidential Palace, the National Cathedral, the Department of Education, and the Department of Commerce. We spent the morning walking around the park and in front of the buildings praying for these various pillars of the country. We also had a chance to minister to people that were visiting the market set up in the park. There were also snake charmers and witches selling their powers and cures. We took the opportunity to counter their activities with prayer. And the prayer opportunities kept coming. John had the chance to pray for a homeless man name Juan that approached him and asked for prayer and assistance.

After our prayer walk, we were supposed to tour the Presidential Palace, however it was closed to the public today due to some important meetings that were taking place inside. Instead, we went inside the National Cathedral. Built in the late 1700’s it serves as a living monument to Guatemala’s Catholic history. We were surprised by how bright it was inside. We enjoyed viewing the valuable collection of paintings and religious figures housed there.

We plan to return tomorrow to do ministry in the Plaza Mayor.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Church Presentation at Cristo Centro

Today we ministered at a church in the city called Cristo Centro. There were about 150 people in the congregation. Once again, we were blessed by an excellent worship team. They also had a dance troop of young girls that really added to the worship experience. After worship, our team performed a play of Jesus meeting the woman at the well. This was followed by a testimony from a couple from the Guatemala City base and someone else from our team. Then another one of our team members gave a message about the woman at the well.

After the service, the church served our team a wonderful meal of carne asada (small beef steaks.) It was excellent!

Later in the evening, back at the base, we had a worship rehearsal with a couple of people from the base preparing for worship tomorrow. We sang and played until well after midnight. What a blessing it was!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Welcome to the Wild West

After a busy week, we really needed a day off…and today’s the day! We had a chance to travel into downtown Guatemala City and visit a shopping mall. We were quite surprised at how modern and fancy it was. It had designer and specialty stores. There were certainly no Guatemala discounts here. It reminded us a lot of the Main Place shopping center in Orange County back home. And like our malls in the States, there were also movie theaters and restaurants. We took the opportunity to have lunch at McDonalds. For the most part, the menu and the prices were pretty close to what we’re used to.

The mall was decorated for Christmas, complete with a big central Christmas tree and an opportunity to meet with Santa. And there were English Christmas carols playing throughout the mall.

One thing that did set the mall apart were the signs posted at the entrance – No Food, No Drinks, No Guns. The crime rate in Guatemala is very high and guns are everywhere. It makes LA look like Mayberry USA. There are security guards with shotguns outside all of the bigger stores and fast food restaurants in town. There are also armed guards outside the bank and everyone is scanned with a hand-held metal detector before going into the bank. And all the delivery trucks have someone riding shotgun…literally! It feels like we’re in the Wild West. It was a bit disconcerting at first. In fact, on our ride into town from the airport, we passed a car that was surrounded by police and riddled with bullet holes. But we have nothing fear. We know we are under the Lord’s protection and we’re not concerned about our safety knowing He is looking after us. We are cautious, but not afraid.

When we got home from the mall in the afternoon, it was time to do laundry. With no washing machine, Julie did our laundry by hand. This was a new experience for her. She did a really good job getting our clothes clean and hung up to dry. Next time she sees a washing machine, she's going to throw her arms around it and give it a big hug.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Falling in Love With Orphans

Today started out with a BANG! It was James’ birthday on our team. A Guatemalan tradition is to light firecrackers outside a person’s bedroom early in the morning to wake them up on their birthday. We all met early and set off a big string of firecrackers to wake James up. He was very surprised. And because everyday is someone’s birthday, we are woken up every morning to the sound of fireworks somewhere around the neighborhood. Sometimes they can be very loud.

Our ministry today was at an orphanage called Casa Shalom operated by the Church of God. We thought it would be rather low key for us and we’d interact a little with the kids. Instead, this turned out to be a defining day for us. We fell in love with a few of the kids and they stayed close by our side the entire day. Soon after we got there, they came up to us asking to be held. Once we picked them up, they held on for the rest of the day. John in particular met a special boy named Angel. They became good friends and played together all day. Julie played jump rope with the girls and became attached to Kimberly and Sonia.

During our ministry presentation, we tried out the new skits we learned yesterday. They went over very well and we’ll be using them a lot in the coming weeks. We also sung songs, told a Bible story, and Julie did a special presentation of the Gospel story using gift boxes. We then had a chance to play even more with the kids. Leaving the orphanage today is one of the hardest things we’ve had to do.

This past summer, Calvary Church of Santa Ana (our home church) made over 500 blankets for children in Ecuador as part of our VBS program. Imagine our surprise when we saw some them sitting in one of the rooms of the orphanage! It was exciting for Cole to see something he’d made in the States being put to use in another country by kids that really needed them.