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

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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