* GUATEMALA * * * * * * * * Dick Rutgers *

An ongoing journal of life as a Missionary in Guatemala. It will make you laugh and cry at the same time.

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Location: Chimaltenango, Guatemala

I work in Guatemala with Hope Haven international and Bethel Ministries. Along with my friends Chris and Donna Mooney and their family, we share the love of Jesus in various ways. Although giving out and maintaining wheelchairs is our primary ministry, we are involved in many other things as well. Building houses, feeding the hungry, providing education to handicapped children in orphanages and villages, and hosting a camp for the handicapped are just a small part of the things that God has given us the privilege of getting involved in. For several years now I have been keeping daily journals. Once a week I try to post new journals and pictures. My e-mail is dick@dickrutgers.com Guatemala Cell Phone # 502 5379 9451 USA Phone # 360 312 7720(Relays free to Guatemala)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Journal December 2-8

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Sunday, December 2, 2007, 8:25 PM

The fake Christmas tree is up, there is a $2 string of lights hanging over my doorway and another $2 string on the cement wall that surrounds my house. My extravagant Christmas display is the talk of the neighborhood. It would perhaps be the talk of the town if it were not for the Gallo Christmas tree that stands in the town Square. Gallo is the largest beer company here in Guatemala and they have provided our town with a giant fake Christmas tree, not with out a little publicity involved though. In place of the usual decorations and a star at the top the decorations are all Gallo beer banners and emblems. I guess it cold be tackier, at least they are shaped like Christmas wreaths and not like beer bottles.

The wall and tree lighting ceremony here at my house took place after we had gone to church, the orphanage and then out to eat. I had not been able to spend much time in the orphanage during camp so it was good to get back there today. All of the kids that will be going home for Christmas have now left so some of the wards have move their remaining kids into other wards. The remaining teen age boys have been split up. Some of them are in with the younger children while others are in with the older men.

Sam Sam’s crib is now stuck way back in a corner where in it nearly impossible to open in order to get him out. I guess the nurses don’t mind though because this way it is easier to just forget about him the entire day. I took him out for a while but had to first change him so that I could hold him without getting soaking wet. He seemed to be in good spirits once I got him out. Perhaps he thought that he was getting to go to camp again. Fortunately I did not have to put him back into his bed as another volunteer who had not realized that he was allowed to be out of his crib offered to watch him when I went up to the malnutrition ward. The malnutrition ward still has nearly every bed filled and most of these kids are awaiting surgery or are to fragile to go home. Manwell and his sister Tomisina are not yet walking with out the aid of walkers but are doing well. I met their parents a few days ago and was delighted to hear that they are already signed up for school. I promised the parents that we would provide them with a walker or a wheelchair if they are not walking by the time the go back to their home. Jennifer, the little girl who we made the special bed for a few weeks ago appears to be doing better but still arches backwards to the point that her feet nearly touch the back of her head when she is not strapped into her special bed. Perla the other new little girl seems to have the same condition as Jennifer but her health is so poor that I am afraid that she is not going to make it. Tomorrow I am going to see if we can come up with something that helps keep her head from bending back so far. This should at least make it easier for her to breath. Byron, the boy who was brought into malnutrition a few weeks ago is now out of isolation. He is still very skinny and looks more like a 5 year old than a 13 year old. Tomorrow I also plan on seeing if there is any way to keep him lying in a more comfortable position. Carlos, my friend who spends a lot of time volunteering with the older kids came up to malnutrition for a short time today. Even after 3 years of volunteering at Hermano Pedro he told me that it is still very hard for him to come up there and see some of these kids. At times it is not easy for me either but it only takes a few minutes of spending time with any of these kids and the love you develop for them seems to make any sickness or disfigurement seem insignificant.

Even though some of the kids from my neighborhood are gone for a few days my house is far from empty. It seems that when ever 2 or 3 of my regulars are not here a few new kids show up. Just where the 3 new boys that wondered in tonight came from or how they heard about my house is not clear to me but their shyness was soon overshadowed by their appetites. By the way that they inhaled their supper I have a feeling that they will be returning tomorrow night.

Well all of the kids that are going to leave for the night have left so I think that I will say goodnight and head off to bed.

Yours in Christ: Dick

Monday, December 3, 2007, 9:23 PM

After gathering up some supplies at the wheelchair shop Fernando and I headed off to Hermano Pedro. Carlos joined us in taking 3 of the kids to lunch. The 3 that we took today do not get out often and 2 of them can not eat solid food but their excitement in just getting out of the orphanage was apparent to anyone who was with in squealing distance. I am afraid that their enthusiasm in Camperos was not appreciated by everyone but they had a wonderful time.

When we returned to Hermano Pedro I met with Jessica and we looked at Perla and Byron, the 2 new kids who are up in Malnutrition. Both of them are so twisted up and so fragile that we hardly dared to pick them up. We started first with Perla, the little 5 year old girl who’s head is twisted back so far that she can scarcely breath. To our surprise after holding her a few minutes her body relaxed enough that we could get her into a seating position and once we got her head into a straighter position she relaxed even more. Tomorrow I am going to try to fit her into a special chair that will hold her in a relaxed position. It is going to have to be something that is highly modified to fit her size though because she only measures 6 inches across the hips and I doubt that she weighs 20 pounds.

Next we went and looked at Byron, the 13 year old boy who was also admitted into the malnutrition ward only a few weeks ago. He also appeared to be so fragile that we were nervous about handling him but it was obvious that he can not survive if he continues to lye in such a twisted position. Jessica carefully untwisted all of the tubes that are connected to him while I gently lifted him up and held him. In much the same manner as Perla, within a few short minutes Byron started to relax and in a short time he was lying in a position where for the first time since I had met him he seemed to be comfortable. It looks like I have my work cut out for me tomorrow but seeing what a difference positioning made in these 2 kids I don’t care how long it takes to make them comfortable. I know that getting them into good wheelchairs is not a guarantee that they will stay alive but it should greatly improve their chances of recovery. I think that the only thing that would do more good for each of them than a good wheelchair would be a good set of arms to hold them but it seems that there are not enough of them to go around. In fact I think that today was the first day that they had been held since they arrived a few weeks ago.

Only 8 of us for supper tonight and 3 of those were the new kids. I think that I will have to stock up on more groceries soon though. Abner called me last night and said that he will soon be back from visiting his relatives in Guatemala City. I am not sure how long the 3 older boys who are working in the city will be gone but it sounds like they will be back before Christmas.

My house has now emptied out. Not with out a little coaxing but it is never the less empty. So I think that I will just relax for a while. Unless of course I fall asleep first.

Yours in Christ: Dick

Tuesday, December 4, 2007, 7:53 PM

Today was one of those bitter sweet days. Calin accompanied me to the shop this morning and we located wheelchairs for Bryan and Perla. Next Calin and I went to Hermano Pedro to give them their wheelchairs. Due to the severity of both of these kids it took over 3 hours each to get them fit properly but by the time we had finished both children looked much better than I had even hoped for. Byron who had shown almost no response until I held him yesterday was now looking all around and even smiled a few times. Today I found out that I was wrong about his age. I had been told that he was 13 but looked much younger. Byron is not 13 years old he is 14. I looked over at Calin who is 1 year younger than him. Calin has to out weigh him by 100 pounds. By the time we had finished seating Byron he had nearly fallen asleep. This is always a sign of a satisfied customer. He looked very relaxed and was no longer struggling for every breath.

Perla was even more of a challenge to seat. First of all I could not find a chair that would narrow down to only 6 inches wide and secondly Perla’s head bends back so far that it at times closes off her air way and chokes her. After several attempts with various head rests we finally managed to hold her head straight with out causing her any discomfort. She also managed to give us a grin.

Jessica came in to see how we were doing and was extremely pleased with the way the 2 kids looked. I could see in her eyes that something was wrong though so I asked her what it was. She told me that Gaspar (Not the Gaspar that I often talk about who was our first camper from Hermano Pedro, but another little boy who left malnutrition a few months ago.) had died at his home. I remember getting a phone call the day his parents came to take him home. I had been asked if I could modify the wheelchair that I had given him when he arrived at Hermano Pedro because he lived on extremely rugged ground. The hospital felt that he was still to sick to leave and should stay there a bit longer but his parents wanted him home. It is hard to say what is best for these kids because in most cases they deeply miss their families and their families miss them. During the years that I have been in Guatemala I have seen far to many of these kids that return to their homes die though.

Well it sounds like about a dozen healthy kids are nearly knockings down my gate so I think I will close for now and let them in.

Yours in Christ: Dick

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Since so many of the kids are still in Guatemala City Calin was once again the one that spent the day with me. Carlos and I had promised Carlitos, one of the teens at the orphanage that we would take him and a few of the other teens out to lunch in celebration of his birthday but I figured that I would spend a few hours doing some work around here before heading to Hermano Pedro. My house has not had the outside of it painted the entire time that I have lived here and from its looks it hadn’t been painted in a few years when I moved in. Here in Guatemala everything gets so dirty that you can not tell what color it use to be with in a year or 2. My house was no exception. Yesterday I asked my land lord if the original color was Gray, or brown. She told me that it was white. She smiled a bit when I asked if it had been painted a dark white. Calin and I decided that it would be fun to see how long it would stay white so this morning we started repainting it. At 11 we got cleaned up and headed for Hermano Pedro. Carlitos, Fidel, and David were waiting for us. When I asked where Carlos was they told me that they had not seen him. I gave him a phone call and discovered that he was not feeling well and could not make it in today. Carlitos decided that he wanted to wait until Carlos could join us so we are going to see if he is feeling better by Friday.

I figured that if Calin and I headed straight back home I could get a good part of the house painted today but since we were already at Hermano Pedro I wanted to quickly look in on Perla and Byron to see how their new wheelchairs were working out for them. While we were there the nurses told me that Manwell and his sister Tomisina will be going home this Friday. They are both still verry skinny but have put on a lot of weight since arriving at Hermano Pedro. They are also both able to now get around using walkers. Something that they were not able to do when they arrived at Hermano Pedro. I am going to let them take a walker home with them and I am trying to come up with some type of a wheelchair that they can both fit into since their parents are looking for a way that one of them can get both kids to and from school. Since they will be going home in a few days I am going to have to work fast. Also since they would be leaving soon and absolutely love going to Camperos I decided to once again get my priorities straight. The house painting could wait.

Both of the kids had a great time with us. Manwell has been quite outgoing right from the moment that he came to Hermano Pedro but Tomisina took a long time before she would have anything to do with anyone. Today however she was every bit as outgoing as her brother and the 2 of them were absolute clowns. I am happy for them that they will soon be reunited with their family and am praying that their parents will be able to keep them healthy when they go back home.

We got back home at around 3PM so we managed to get more of the house painted. One advantage to having 14 foot walls all around your house is that it only leaves you with 2 sides of the house to paint. By dark we were well over half done and expect to be able to finish the painting some time tomorrow morning. Quite a few of the kids wanted to help paint but I figured that 3 helpers would be plenty. Daniel did a great job of painting. Calin didn’t do to bad but managed to get about as much paint on himself as he did on the house. I kept kidding him by telling him he was beginning to look more like a white man than I did. Fernando was a willing worker but still needs a few painting lessons. I managed to find enough odd jobs for him to do that he didn’t get to do much of the painting. I didn’t make any supper tonight but took my helpers out for pizza instead. It’s OK because Calin and I both had salads for lunch. I figure that half good meals and half junk food make for a well balanced diet. After we got back from supper I opened up the house to the rest of the kids but told them that the cook was on strike tonight.

All of the kids that are going to leave have now left so I guess I will say goodnight.

Yours in Christ; Dick

Thursday, December 6, 2007, 8:48 PM

We finished up on painting the house at around 10:30 this morning. Other than a few white flowers that were once red and polka dot grass and cement surrounding the house I must admit that the house looks nice. My helpers were also pleased when I paid them even more than I had promised. They deserved it because they really stuck to it until the job was done. I wish that I would have taken a picture of them when they matched my lawn but I didn’t want to take any chances on having my camera painted. At any rate they were all quite proud of themselves and after a half hour shower I could even recognize who was who. When they finally got out of the shower I had a big breakfast ready for them. They had reminded me that it is in this cooks contract that he can not go on strike for more than one meal a week. Even a few freeloaders who had done little more than offer suggestions while we were doing all of the work got to reap the benefits of a big breakfast. I had promised my 3 helpers that I would give them first chance if they wanted to ride along with me to pick up Angelica, the lady who needs a plate put in her leg. Daniel, who is one of my quieter kids chose to stay home but Calin and Fernando jumped at the opportunity. They knew that I was also planning to stop off at Ronny’s house today and they love going along and playing with all of the kids there. Not only that but there is a stretch of gravel road near Ronny’s house that is rather straight and wide and I often let the kids take turns steering my car when we go there.

When we arrived Ronny’s brothers and sisters came running to the car. Ronny was not far behind in his power wheelchair. Ronny’s mom came walking towards the car but she was moving very slowly and did not look well. She told us that she has been running a fever for several days and finally went to see a doctor yesterday. He prescribed some medicine and asked her to return today but she did not have enough money for the medicine or another visit. All she needed was around $4 but to her that was a fortune. Her husband is working in the sugar cane harvest but it will be a few days before he gets paid. I gave her some money and she promised that she would buy medicine with it. From the looks of things the family was nearly out of food as well. Tomorrow when I bring Angelica back to her home I plan on dropping off some groceries with Ronny’s family as well. It is always hard for me to get Calin or Fernando to leave Ronny’s house. Having both of them there at the same time didn’t make things any easier. Both of them have such a love for kids, especially kids who are less fortunate then them. It doesn’t matter if it is at my house, at the orphanage, or in a village, these 2 boys are kid magnets. They love the kids and the kids love them. Just yesterday Calin had an incredibly hard time saying goodbye to a little girl in malnutrition that he was feeding a bottle to. When he finally laid her back down in her crib she would not let go of his finger that she had a grip on with her tiny little hand. Its funny how some of these kids who have been shown so little love by their own parents seem to recognize the need for love in those that have even less than they do.

We finally said our goodbyes but both boys are begging to come along when I return tomorrow. Before leaving Fernando asked if he could have one more ride in an old hammock that is tied between 2 trees. The kids had been swinging each other in it and at times had almost gotten it to make a complete revolution like a lupe-de-lupe at a carnival. I told Fernando that I did not want anyone to get hurt but if he promised to hold on tight I would try to get him upside-down. Guess what. Someone ended up getting hurt. I guess it had something to do with the twisting motion that I did to get him upside down but I must have pulled a muscle in my back because the entire car ride home was pure agony. I am doing a bit better tonight but this is about as long as I can sit with out lying down for a while so I will say good night.

Oh, we got Angelica her daughter and granddaughter to Antigua. Her husband lifted her into the car. Her daughter lifted her out of the car. In the morning the cab driver is taking her from the place where they are spending the night to Hermano Pedro. If I can walk I am planning on going in and seeing how she is doing later in the morning.

Well I think that I will crawl off to bed now.

Yours in Christ: Dick

Friday, December 7, 2007, 8:47 PM

I didn’t get to Hermano Pedro until around 10 this morning because my back was still giving me some pain. I called Hermano Pedro earlier and asked them to tell a family who was coming in to get their little girl’s wheelchair refitted that I was running about an hour late. Angelica and her daughters had taken a cab in from Casa de Fe and were still waiting for their 9 o’clock doctors appointment when I arrived. By the looks of the lineup of people that was in front of them it looked like they would be fortunate if they saw the doctor anytime today. The family with the little girl was patiently waiting for me. Calin had come along to interpret and also to help me work on the wheelchair. He is getting to be my right hand man. The little girl who had only received her wheelchair a year ago had grown so much that there was no way that I would be able to make her present wheelchair large enough for her. Fortunately I was able to trade chairs with one that was at Hermano Pedro and with in an hour and a half we had it fitting her perfectly. The family was delighted with the trade and with knowing that the chair that their daughter is now in can be adjusted to last her for several years.

My back was not bothering me to much but I wanted to take it easy so after confirming that Angelica would likely be waiting most of the day to see the doctor Calin and I went up to the malnutrition ward. Calin immediately went over to the crib of the little girl that he has fallen in love with and started playing with her. She is every bit as attached to him as he is to her and cries any time he walks out of the room. I went over to Jennifer’s bed and was sad to see that even though she was properly positioned in the bed that we had made for her she was having difficulty breathing. No matter what I did to try to improve the position of her head she still struggled for every breath. I am fearful that her lungs are filling up with fluid. I finally undid her feeding tube and took her out of her bed to see if there was some way that I could hold her so that she could breathe easier. Nothing seemed to help in fact moving her caused her to vomit. Fortunately I had her lying on her side when it happened. Unfortunately I had her aimed towards me. It didn’t do much for the white tee shirt that I was wearing and since I had come to Antigua in a borrowed car I did not have my usual change of clothing with me. My mane concerns was Jennifer and not the way that I looked or smelled though so it didn’t really bother me at the time. It was only after she had fallen asleep that I could lye her back on her bed. When she sleeps her muscles seem to relax and her breathing improves. Carlos had come in to talk to me while all of this was going on but after seeing her and then seeing that Perla was also having a rough day he left with tears in his eyes. Calin and I stuck around until we were sure that Jennifer was OK. Then I got cleaned up a bit and after that we walked to Camperos for some lunch. We brought some food back to Angelica and her daughters because they didn‘t want to risk missing their turn to see the doctor. I also brought one of the kids from the malnutrition ward and asked Angelica if she wanted to feed her. She absolutely loved it. As things turned out she did not get in to see the doctor until nearly 4 PM and then had to meat with social work to do some paper work. After their meeting Angelica and her daughter looked a bit disturbed. When I asked what the problem was they told me the lady that they had spoken with had informed them that the surgery to put a new plate in was going to cost 5000 Q (nearly $700). That is more money than this family has ever seen and to them it felt like they had been told that they would not be able to have the surgery unless they could come up with the money. I quickly went back in with them to talk to the social worker because I knew that it was Hermano Pedro’s policy to never turn any one away. Calin came along with us and did a marvelous job of interpreting. The Social worker informed me that this was indeed what the operation would cost but that if the family could not pay the entire cost, the operation would be done any way. We finally told them that we would try to come up with the equivalent of $275. This is still a lot of money for these people to come up with but I told Angelica that if they could come up with half of the money I would see to it that the rest was taken care of. Angelica’s worried look had once again turned into a smile. It looks like in just a little over a month Angelica will have her operation and will once again be able to walk.

Since it was getting so late we decided that it would be best if we did not bring Angelica and her family home until morning so we received permission to once again have them spend the night at Casa de Fe

My house was wall to wall kids until 8 PM then I told the kids that I needed a bit of time to myself. It is now 10 PM and time for bed. I haven’t had much time to think about weather or not my back is still hurting but I think that it is doing a lot better so perhaps I will get a better nights sleep than I did last night.

Yours in Christ: Dick

Saturday, December 8, 2007, 7:14 PM

Well my nighs sleep was a bit better but by the time 4 AM rolled around my back let me know that I had laid on it long enough. Actually I enjoyed the 3 hours of quiet time because my self appointed house guests didn’t wake up until around 7. Since my car is still not out of the shop (going on 7 weeks now) I am still having to rely on Chris and Donna for one of their cars. They have gone out of their way to provide me with a car nearly the entire time mine has been laid up but daily vacation bible schools is starting up at their church so starting Monday they are going to need every vehicle that they can get their hands on. Toyota told us today that my car should be out of the shop on Monday. This is their forth promise in as many weeks so I guess that I will just have to wait and see. Today Saul and Hanna let me use their Chevy Tracker but they will be needing it back as well.

Calin once again joined me in taking Angelica her daughter and daughters friend back to their home today. There were other kids that wanted to come along but I only had room for one and needed some one who could interpret for me.

It takes nearly 2 hours to get to Angelica’s home and I was a bit worried about havning to take the Tracker because there is not enough room for Anglia to lye down in it but the ride went well for her. Even though she still needs surgery in order to walk again, thankfully her leg is no longer giving her much pain. When we got to where she lived we saw a large pile of coconuts and yuccas lying in front of her house. Her husband and some of her children told us that they were a gift for us. Some times it is difficult to accept food or gifts from families who have so little themselves but I have learned that they are giving from the bottom of their harts and to say no to such a generous offer would deeply hurt them. I promised that I would return on January 3 so that I could get her in to Hermano Pedro for a final blood test before her surgery on January 19. Why that blood test could not have been done yesterday is beyond me but I was told that it had to be done on the 4th of January. We are all happy though that Angelica is able to have the surgery done at a good hospital and that she will not have to wait very long to have it done.

Our next stop was at Ronny’s house. Ronny’s entire family was at home but his father told us that he would be leaving for work in about an hour. He is thankful that he has work but told us that it takes him an hour and a half to get there and that the job that he is now doing is extremely hard work and is very dangerous. He said that yesterday the man working next to him got run over by one of the sugar cane trucks and is now in the hospital with 2 broken legs.

Ronny’s birthday is coming up in about a week and since I was not sure that I would be able to make it back out to his place before then I suggested that we celebrate today. Since his father had to go to work and 2 of the kids had to stay home so that no one would rob the place while we were gone I was able to squeeze the 7 of us into the car. Calin, Ronny’s mom, and 2 sisters squeezed into the back. Ronny his little brother and I sat in the 2 bucket seats in the front. I had once before taken Ronny and some of the members of his family to the Camperos in Santa Lucia but for the 2 youngest this was a first time experience. Looking at the amount of food that everyone put away I think that taking the family out to lunch was a wise decision. We managed to save a few pieces of chicken for the 2 girls that had to stay behind and even one of the ice-cream cones sort of survived the hour ride back to their home. By the time we reached their home most of the kids in my car were asleep. Just like the kids that I fit into wheelchairs it seems that all of my satisfied customers fall asleep on me.

Calin and I got home at around 5 and we spent the next 15 minutes supplying the neighborhood with coconuts and yuccas. For those of you who have never tried eating yucca, DON’T! Actually they say it isn’t too bad if it is prepared right. I guess that means that all of the times that I was given yucca it simply was not prepared right. I actually like coconuts but always seem to break a finger nail trying to peel them.

Since this suppose to be send out the journal night and my neighborhood is well supplied in coconuts and good tasting yucca I have decided to lock the kids out for the night. I may open up for a few minutes a little later just to hand out some Alka-Seltzer but other than that I am going into hibernation until I get this journal out.

Yours in Christ: Dick


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