It’s “guatever”

“Jenna, watch out, you won’t want to leave this place. These kids get in your blood,” Carrie and Scott said.

Carrie and Scott have been our Guatemalan roomies. And they were right. They’re in our blood. To think about leaving them already hurts.

Every morning for the past two months, Brett and I have awakened to kids laughing, playing, singing, crying. I drink my coffee as I watch Mateo slide down the yellow slide. Sylvia pushes Alejandro on the swing, while Carlito throws another fit. “Es mio!” he screams as Angel steals his toy truck. Carlito has never been one for sharing. But I can’t blame him. When his rights to be held and loved his first few months of life were stolen by abusive parents, whose to say something else won’t be stolen?

You see, behind Carlito’s temper-tantrum, lies something deeper. Behind the smiles on the swing set and laughs on the soccer field, you will find some dark pasts with a lot of pain.

Sandra was raped. Jorge was found on the streets. Juan watched his dad be murdered. And Claudia wears a scar on her face from where her aunt hit her. Yet, in spite of the tragedy, Brett and I have seen God here at Fundaninos, an orphanage outside of Guatemala City.

We’ve seen God’s love in the hearts of Carol and Enrique, the orphanage directors, as Carol holds the babies and Enrique teaches the kids about the Bible every morning before breakfast. He tells the kids about a Perfect Father who will never abandon them. We’ve seen God’s care through Margarita, the 65-year-old woman in charge of the boy house. She is a professional at picking out lice (I should know, since I was a victim of the sneaky critters) and a professional at hugs. We’ve seen God’s provision, as Alicia serves up hot rice and beans every day and steaming Atol, a hot drink made from corn (not a big fan). And we have seen God’s healing, as these children who were so hurt are not afraid to love and be loved.

“Yenna! Brrred!” they yell, as soon as we step out of the cabin we are staying in. No sound is sweeter.

The girls being sassy on the playground

They tackle us with hugs. I, then, may go play with the “peques” (short for pequenos, meaning small). They are six mischievous little boys who make you scream one minute and laugh-till-ya-cry the next. More times than not, I’ll go sit with one of the teen girls. The language barrier has been tough, but somehow I hear about her dreams and hold her hand as she confronts her past.

As I attempt my Spanish chit-chat with the girls, Brett is usually followed by a line of 10 to 12-year-old boys, ready to help in the kitchen. Speaking of the kitchen … Here’s Brett, ready with an update.

Love you all,

Jenna

Being that it is so far out of my pay grade, I hesitate to even try and explain the technical transformation of the kitchen. I guess I picture plumbers, builders, and developers in one room laughing at my misuse of words and phrases. Rebar, c-channel, and venta hood might sound normal to you, but to me they’re more like nicknames from my old high school basketball team.

Old kitchen before any remodeling

Michael and me breaking up concrete

Just know this; it takes lots of people and moving parts to insert drains into freshly poured concrete, rat-proof the tin roofs, and roach-tight the windows. A whole army has come together from different walks of life to show me yet another picture of the body of Christ.

A group from Oak Hills came to help. Here is Kevin Young busting it up!

Matt, another friend from Oak Hills, working hard

The process has been slower here than it would have been back home, but it’s a reminder that I’m growing so much in patience and understanding of the fact that it’s “Guatever.”

Margarita, the lice professional, and her boys helping in the kitchen

Here's a sneak-peak into what's to come thanks to you guys!!!

Being down here has truly been one of the great highlights of our lives, both in our spiritual growth and our marriage. Thank you so much for your prayers and generosity towards all the ministries we’ve been a part of down here. In less than a month we will return with a greater perspective in many areas of our faith.
Brett

Meet The Crists Continued …

And now for our top two favorite experiences on our “Because of the Crists” list. (If you haven’t read the last post, take a minute to check it out for context’s sake.)

Here we go. Drum roll please …

2. HOGAR MIGUEL – While in Antigua, a couple times a week, Brett and I traveled to Hogar Miguel, an orphanage in a small town called Mixco, Guatemala. The journey to Mixco was an adventure in itself. From Antigua Brett and I caught what they call a “chicken bus.” A chicken bus is a colorful school bus typically “souped up” with rims, lights and Catholic symbols. In Antigua Brett and I would listen for a man yelling, “Guate, Guate!” This meant a bus had arrived to pile in people like “chickens,” headed for the capital. And pile in we did. Three people to a seat. The two people sitting closest to the aisle have to use one another for support on the sharp turns since only half of their body is actually on the seat. I got to know my seat-mates pretty quickly. I could tell you what gum they were chewing, which shampoo they used, what deodorant they wore (or did not wear). And just when you think they can’t pile anyone else on, they find a way. Another arm in your face, knee in your back. Every turn, I prayed that I would not end up in a stranger’s lap.

After the chicken bus, we caught a “microbus,” a shuttle that they packed even tighter than the chicken buses! They were so packed, that Brett and I just decided to hang on the back of the microbus. We preferred the fresh air to the body odor.

After that, we walked. And walked. And walked. Up, up, up. Until we arrived at the orphanage gate. There we were bombarded by orphan boys of all ages, all sweaty from playing “futbol” and never too macho for a hug. Hogar Miguel is home to more than 60 boys, and we taught around 40 of them in two English classes. Each class was a delight.

Growing up, when my dad dropped me off at school he would always say, “Have a great day! Laugh a lot, learn a lot, and don’t forget who gave it to ya!” That’s what we did in English class. We laughed a lot while playing charades with the letter “B.” We learned a lot  with our vocabulary flash cards. And at the end of class we never forgot “Who” gave it to us, as we prayed together, arm-in-arm, giving thanks to the Father of the fatherless.

Brett and I will never forget our time at Hogar Miguel. The Crist family has a strong relationship with this orphanage and we are so thankful for the connection. www.http://www.hogarmiguelmagone.com/

1. SANTIAGO – Surrounded by volcanoes, resting on the coast of Lake Atitlan, sits a poor town called Santiago.  In Santiago the Crist family is present yet again. They introduced us to my favorite experience since being in Central America – the Elder Center. The Center provides three meals per week to 65 elders and provides health care for them at the local hospital.

Brett and I arrived on a friday morning to help cook for the afternoon food handout. Bernavela and Felipa, the two women who run the center, had already been cooking since 5:00 a.m for some of the most forgotten people on the planet.

When I hear the word, “orphans,” I typically think of young children without parents. A common thought. But after meeting 60 + elders, my picture of an orphan has changed. Most of these elders can barely dress themselves or bathe themselves. They have lost most of their teeth and depend on others to be able to eat. The majority have been abandoned by their families. After filling up their used Gatorade and vitamin bottles with coffee and filling their plastic bags with tamales… After delivering food to some who are immobile, living in dark rooms with dirt floors and no one to care for them, I thought to myself, “These abandoned elderly people are orphans just as much as any little boy or girl without parents.” Yet, could these older “orphans” be even more forgotten than the younger ones? At least the government will support a child, but the elderly? They are the overlooked, the lost-causes of society.

Magdeline is one of these “lost-causes.” With long white hair and a wrinkly face, she arrived first at the center. She was reading a book when I saw her. I sat with her, and unlike the others, she could speak Spanish. Most can only speak the indigenous Mayan language, Sujitle. I began to talk to her in my broken Spanish, curious to know what she was reading. She showed me her book, a journal filled with delicate handwriting. Page after page,  she had tediously written out all of her favorite church hymns. I asked if she could sing me one, and she did. Her voice was worn and leathery like her skin, a sign of many pain-filled years.

I soon learned that all of her kids came from a result of sexual abuse by her stepfather. She raised them in poverty after she, herself, grew up in poverty. She spent most of her life walking miles on end with food balanced on her head to sell. She walked so much she lost three of her babies in pregnancy. What a life of suffering.

And yet, here she was.

After years of abuse, years of hungry nights, years of pain. Here she was.

Singing hymns to Jesus. He is her only hope. She is like Simeon in the New Testament. God promised him that before he died, he would see the Savior of the world, and he held onto that hope until he held the Savior in his arms. Years and years of hoping. That is Magdeline. Oh what I would do to see God’s promise fulfilled in her life. One day, she too, will hold the Savior in her arms. What a glorious day that will be. I want a hope like that. I want a faith like that. Joy in the midst of suffering. I thank God for sweet Magdeline. I thank God for her story. I am forever changed.

Thanks again to the Crist family for opening these doors so that our hearts could be stretched more. If you are interested in donating to the Elder Center, sponsoring an elderly person in Santiago, or donating to Hogar Miguel, please check out the Crist web site: http://www.tree4hope.org/index.php/getinvolved

Meet The Crist Family

Say hello to the Crists. They are a family of nine, representing three pockets of the world, changing three pockets of Guatmela, while living in two pockets of the Western Hemisphere. More pockets than a pair of carpenter’s pants! And carpenters they are, building better lives for hundreds of orphans, the elderly, the disabled, children stuck in gang-run territories and so many more. They have returned so many times to serve the children and widows of Guatemala, that they began a non-profit called Tree4Hope. You can check out their web site at www.tree4hope.org.

George, Kevin, Jennifer, Gustavo, Jessica, Emily, Jonathan, Natalie, Tabitha

Nine months out of the year they live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while the other three months are spent in Guatemala. Brett and I happened to be overlapping one of their 3-month stints last summer. We were on a mission trip with some students from Oak Hills Church, and on our last day went to an orphanage called Hogar Miguel. That’s where we met the Crists.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that on our last day, in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by beautiful brown-skinned orphans, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, middle-school girl from Pennsylvania tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jenna?” I stared at her cute freckled nose, taken aback. “Yes,” I said. She then continued with a pleased smile, “I love the Revolve Tour!” (The Revolve Tour is an event for girls I have been traveling with the past 5 years www.revolvetour.com.) The girl was Jessica Crist, and her family had just arrived at the orphanage for the first time that summer, an hour before our group. Divine timing? From there we began a friendship with this adventurous family, and we are forever grateful. So grateful, that I thought it appropriate to make our Top 5 List of our favorite adventures because of the Crist Family.

“Because of the Crists Top 5″:

5. A HOME - Brett and I had a beautiful, yellow, Spanish-style home to live in for FREE while in Antigua. They generously opened the doors to their new Antigua home, and Brett and I quickly accepted.

4. SPANISH SCHOOL - Brett and I had the red-carpet treatment at “La Union Spanish Institute” for two weeks. Just mention that you know the Crist family, and they will give you the best!

Our Spanish teachers

3. LONG WALKS - Brett and I shared the most beautiful walks and conversation to and from school. We would wake up early, pack a lunch and walk on the long, cobble-stoned streets of Antigua. We would pass at least three 17th-century, Spanish-style cathedrals.  Ten tortilla stands. Six women carrying a basket of avocados on her head. And at least 100 doors. Wow. The doors – antique, wooden, some small, some majestic, all with iron knockers, and all supporting thick, cement walls, splashed with ocean turquoise or fiesta red paint. Every block is a rainbow. And each wall bares a surprise behind it – a bed and breakfast, little bakery, a family home or small business. We found ourselves peeping through the cracks in the doors to see the secret behind it quite often.

For our top two favorite adventures, we decided it would need another blog on its own. So stay tuned for one and two … And we won’t keep you waiting too long this time.

Prayer requests to sign out:

Wow, have I been sick! The flu has kept me in bed for three days and locked inside for close to a week. Please pray for full recovery.

We recently arrived at our final stop in Guatemala City, at an orphanage called Fundoninos. We will blog about this place soon, but until then, keep the orphanage here in your prayers. We are constructing a new kitchen. Please keep that process in your prayers as well.

Love you all so much!

Jenna

Beyond The Paved Roads

As some of you know, we were only planning to stay in the small country of El Salvador four or five weeks.  Spend a little time with our friend Kara Wilson, see what she was doing, “help” her with what we could, and then move on. Two months have passed since we arrived and we finally, out of reluctance, bought bus tickets to Guatemala.  Two months of meeting, growing closer, and serving alongside people that have forever made an impression on us.  Families opened their homes, hearts, refrigerators, and even their connections with basketball courts (much appreciated by me).  These are among the most hospitable people we know, and our memories of them will last a lifetime.

Unforgettable friends - Kara and Eli

One of the ministries in which we have been involved, World Vision, has their act together down here. Not a big surprise, right? The national director of world vision made a comment at a meeting we attended; “It is almost impossible to fight poverty with poverty.”  If you are reading this blog, you more than likely embody this quote. During this season of life, we are on the receiving end of your ministry and proud to say “THANK YOU” for selflessly giving. Seeing the effects first hand has been our privilege.  A piece of you will forever be in El Salvador (as you will see in the photos).

World Vision headquarters - San Salvador

A home Kara's project is helping

Of all the memories, pictures, and stories we have from El Salvador, I hope to leave you with a lasting mental image.  One that is on the other side of the tracks, beyond the paved AND dirt roads, and below the poverty line of even the developing world. Their stories are about as different from mine as I can imagine in terms of day-to-day life.

One room homes, beds in all four corners, a hammock for the babies, and a bathroom out back servicing the whole block. As we would enter inside their world, our eyes had to adjust to a single light hanging by its electrical cord from the corrugated tin-roof, so that we could see, amongst other impressionable images, the less-than-FDA-approved toothbrushes on every window seal.  How are their smiles so beautiful, their teeth so straight?   How did we find these places and the people that live here, wherever “here” is?

Short answer; the Church. Those who give their gifts through finances and those who give their time equal a major motion picture of the bride of Christ.  She has her flaws, but they were forgotten in these moments of beauty. One of the great joys of this journey so far was to tag along with Kara’s team as they went to provide beds, clothes, food, and hope. As some of the psychologists would give counseling to the reluctant legal guardians, we would take the kids outside to sing songs in Spanish, walk them through the good news of Jesus, and pray over them. Worshipping with a young child for the first time in a different language is unbeatable.  That, and I still love picture bibles for kids. Jesus is actually NOT white in the Spanish version. And because of you, the Church, we were able to give to her work.

Teaching kids about Jesus

Donating beds to a family in Kara's project

We love you, miss our families, and have been overwhelmed with joy. Thanks for reading. Now, it’s on to Guatemala for more stories and fun. Enjoy the video!

Rain, Rain, Go Away

One hundred and twenty. One hundred and twenty hours of continuous rain.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Concrete walls with no insulation, plus no air conditioning, equals a humidity inside our apartment so thick that nothing will dry.

Toothbrushes, towels, clothes… all wet, wet, wet.

But complaining about wet towels and toothbrushes is trite compared to the devastation of 100,000s in Central America and parts of Mexico. A tropical storm has moved in, while forcing residents to move out. Here in El Salvador, family after family is evacuating.

Please pray. Pray that the rain will end before more devastation begins.

In spite of the rain’s efforts to slow us down, we refuse to let it stop us! So here are some of our favorite highlights. Rain or no rain, here we come.

#1 - Kara Has A Happy Cara (“Cara” is “face” in Spanish. Terrible pun. Sorry.)

Kara is back with a vengeance after a successful surgery in the States. Thank you so much for your prayers. She is recovering quickly and hasn’t skipped a beat.

Since she has been home, her project has officially begun. She and her team are working with seven families who have been impacted by a new law implementation. The law is forcing children out of orphanages and back into biological family homes. But the homes are too poor, too broken to provide these children with physical and, especially, emotional needs. Kara, her social worker and psychologist are literally knocking on the doors of these homes with beans, rice, bunk beds and counseling. Each family has cried, “You are the answer to our prayers!”

She is the hands and feet of Jesus. And Brett and I have loved having a front-row seat to watch her story unveil.

#2 - Singing At San Martin

Brett and I learned a couple of children’s worship songs in Spanish. He brought a guitar, and we headed out to San Martin, an orphanage for the disabled. Most are adults with mental retardation and physical impediments. The orphanage consists of casitas – each house containing a different level of disability and sleeping 8-10 people.

We drove up to the orphanage and the kids flocked. All eyes were locked on Brett’s guitar. I herded the kids to a shady corner and began to teach them the songs in my broken Spanish. Brett began to strum and feet began to stomp. They sang on a 100 different keys, clapped off beat, laughed and bounced. We then visited the different casitas.

Bodies confined to wheelchairs sang, “I’m gonna walk just like Jesus” as loud as they could. A little boy who was blind and mute banged on a table and threw back his head with a smile as we sang the words, “Jesus loves me.”

As we traveled from one casita to the next with our guitar and voices, the more stable kids followed us and sang with us at every house. We looked like Christmas carolers. And in a way we were – singing about a God who loved them enough that He, too, was disfigured. He too was scoffed at, neglected. Just like them.

I’ve never heard such beautiful singing in my life. And I’ve never felt the presence of God more in my life. These are “lasts” who will be first in heaven.

#3 – Bus Ride!

We road the public bus for the first time! Everyone stared at us Gringos. But for 20 cents the stares were worth it.

#4 - Student Hang-Outs

Brett and I have been invited to teach some high school and middle school students in the homes of some moms we met while volunteering at local schools. Teens here are not much different from teens in the States. They have curfew, love to shop, play video games and wonder why in the world two “old” people want to hang out with them and talk about life and faith.

With Kara, I’ve had the opportunity to lead a Bible study with teen girls at a local government orphanage. This center houses kids who are brand new to the orphan system. A very sad place. The girls are hard. And who can blame them? Most keep a straight face until prayer time when they tearily ask us to pray that their family will visit them. They cry to us about wanting to leave, longing for a real home, a real family. We hold them and give them a promise that they are loved by a Perfect Father who will be their family, their home. And I pray that the promise will take root in their hearts.

We left youth ministry in San Antonio only to find it in San Salvador.

As the rain pours outside, God continues pour blessing after blessing upon our experience down here. We are exactly where we need to be.

Three more weeks in El Salvador before we head to Guatemala. We love you guys!

- Jenna

Prayer requests:

Kara’s work and continued healing

Our work with the teenagers – that they would know that Jesus loves them

Rain would stop

Our attitudes would be positive and hearts would grow

Hot Dogs In The Hard Rain

Image

An adequate yet concise post is challenging with all we have seen and experienced in these first two weeks. How about one story, some highlights, facts, and prayer needs?

God has faithfully directed our path and challenged us down ones in which we have been timid to walk. We’ve already been exposed to both sides of the economic spectrum, being around those with and those without.  I confess an uneasiness of our first time feeding those on the streets of the capital city of San Salvador.

We met at a missionary’s home, at 7pm, formed an assembly line to prepare a meal of chips, cookies, a drink, and a hot dog doused in mustard and ketchup. We set out in a texas-sized pickup truck, 10 of us in the back. Within minutes of wi-fi and a roof, hundreds of people (the really old and far too young were the most unsettling) ran to the truck in the middle of a monsoon type downpour. 250 hot dogs gone in minutes. We must have had the phrase, “form a line” wrong in Spanish because we were swallowed up by extended hands and a survival-mode mentality.  At one point the rain was so bad we all bailed out of the truck bed and stood under the porch of some run down, abandoned buildings.  In the “homes” of the homeless we stood.

The experience kind of strengthened me and weakened me all at once, if that makes sense. We will do it again soon.

Our dear friend Kara Wilson needs prayers this week. This is the fireball of a young woman whom we have known for years (in the youth group when i got to Oak Hills in ’03 and one of Jenna’s childhood bf’s). We actually took her to the airport this afternoon where she flew back to San Antonio for some doctor’s appointments. She has not been feeling well, and we are certain she has been attacked spiritually a lot in the last few months.

Her efforts down here, in short, are towards reunification of families to their once orphaned child. The Salvadorian government has decided that it’s time to empty out care centers and orphanages and give young children or teens back to their families. If families refuse, the threat is arrest. Where doubt sees obstacles with all the problems within this decision, Kara views it as an opportunity to do what she has felt called to since she was about 14.  We love being around her so much. Passion and wisdom in every decision. A missionary with the truest sense of purpose.

Some facts:

Independence day for El Salvador from the Spanish is Sept 15. Everyone has fireworks, especially our neighbors.

We share our apartment with lots of ants and Kara said they did not sign the lease.

A “Frappucino” is the same at every Starbucks, no matter where on earth you are.

It has rained every day we’ve been here

“There are many dogs in el Salvador.” this a quote from our new friend, Ellie, and she is right.

Pastors are good at yelling.

Laundry on a line is a new concept to us youngsters.

Prayer needs:
Kara’s health and ministry
Language classes/skills
Ministry opps to continue
Our hearts to grow closer to God’s and each other.

a few pics:

- Brett

Adios Los Estados, Hola Central America

So I’ve never done this blogging thing before, and to be honest it intimidates me! So I beg for your patience as I get to know this new blogging culture (and as my grammar is far from perfect). Our first entry is from me, since I got Brett and me into this mess. You will hear from Brett a little later. So here we go … First post…Hmmm…How to start…

Maybe it was all the bean and cheese tacos at Taco Cabana. Maybe it was Ricky Martin’s suave moves. Maybe it was growing up in a city where Spanglish is a language and the minor league baseball team’s mascot is a walking taco with arms. Maybe it was the Sunday afternoon family lunches at Alamo Cafe where my sisters and I turned eating tortillas into a masquerade party, biting three holes into the center of the tortilla – one for the mouth, two for the eyes.

Or maybe it was being born in Latin America, passing out church flyers on the streets of Brazil at the age of two (nice marketing Dad). Maybe it was growing up in a family where the poor were not strangers, where serving was familiar and rice and beans were a favorite meal. (Picadillo. Look up the recipe. But it won’t be as good as my mom’s.)

Maybe it was the hours of Spanish homework, watching too much Dora the Explorer or singing worship songs in Spanish at Oak Hills Church…

Maybe.
But I have a hunch that it goes further back than my tortilla-face days. I have a hunch that as God spoke me into existence, he whispered a dream into my heart that hasn’t stopped echoing.

Latina America. I’m supposed to go there. I’m supposed to serve there, live there, love there. I don’t know why! But I just know that the dream He spoke into me is finally coming true.

Brett and I are on our first-ever, one-way flight. A one-way flight to El Salvador where we will be living with and serving alongside one of the most courageous missionaries I know, Kara Wilson. We will stay there for the better part of two months, and then we are off to Guatemala City. There we will live with over 60 orphans at an orphanage called Fundaninos along with a couple from Ft. Worth, Scott and Carrie Hunnicut. And because of your financial support we are transforming the orphanage’s rat-infested kitchen into a new HGTV-infested kitchen. We will end our trip with ten days in Peru, visiting some friends of ours doing mission work in Lima.

So there ya go. Our rough outline for the next 5 1/2 months. And it’s just that – a ROUGH outline. Only God knows the details. Who knows where He will take us? And who knows where your prayers will take us? Speaking of prayers, here’s how you can specifically intercede on our behalf during our adventure:

That our minds and hearts will be HERE, present, focused 
Safety
Health
Relationships with new people and Kara and the Hunnicuts, our new roomies
Quick learning of Spanish
Hearts come to know God’s heart more
Growth in our marriage