* 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)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Journal, July 5-12, 2010

(Click on any picture to enlarge)

For the past few days we have been busy with a number of groups that are here from the States. Later this week I will be joining Chris, Donna and some of the crew who are already down in Santa Rosa a small town that is located about an hour from the Guatemala, Salvador border. Meanwhile I have been here in Chimaltenango working with Caleb and Allissa who have been hosting a group of 30 high school students. Some of them have been building houses while others have been Spending their time at Hermano Pedro orphanage in Antigua. We also had a wheelchair distribution in Chimaltenango on Thursday. As you can see it has been a busy week so my spare time has been spent on my kids rather than on my journal.

Friday Morning, July 9, 2010

Today a few friend and I plan on driving down to Santa Rosa to join Chris and the teem that he is with for a few days. When we arrive we plan on helping them finish up on the house that they are building for the family of Lesly. Lesly is a little girl that has been at Hermano Pedro for a year now. Lesly is blind and can not walk. Her mother can not walk either and up until now the family has lived in a house that is nothing more than a wood frame covered with black plastic. Hopefully Lesly's house will be finished by tonight because tomorrow we have a wheelchair distribution planned in Santa Rosa.

Chris and the rest of the teem plan on heading back to Chimaltenango on Sunday but the four of us are planning on staying in Santa Rosa until Monday. Pat Duff who recently moved down here from the States has aback ground of working with kids that are unable to communicate due to deafness or other other Medical conditions and she and I have fallen in love with a little boy named Byron. We spent some time with him last year and are eager to see him again. Byron who lives with his grandmother is very bright but has no way to communicate. Pat has a lot of good Ideas and is looking forward to working with him. While we are there we also hope to visit with another boy that we have found a sponsor for. Wilmer who has muscular dystrophy lives in a remote village and although his home is only a stone throw from the village school he was no longer allowed to attend after he became confined to a wheelchair. We are praying that the teacher that is now coming in and teaching Wilmer in his home will be able to convince the principal of the school that even though Wilmer's feet no longer work his brain does.

I will write more about our visit to Santa Rosa once we get there but it is already 5:30 Am so I have to get the kids up and ready for school and then get ready for my trip.

Good morning,
Yours in Christ: Dick

Friday evening, June 9, 2010

We are now in Santa Rosa. Since I did a bit more driving than expected today and am a bit tired Pat has taken pity on me and offered to write today's journal.

Thanks Pat!

Pat writes...

Dick picked us up this morning, and the four of us (Dick, Ryan, Melissa and I) headed out for the Santa Rosa area of Guatemala. The team from Westside Church in Omaha had been serving there building a house for the family of Leslie, one of the girls at Hermano Pedro. We will join them tonight to help with a wheelchair distribution in this area tomorrow.

Dick had originally planned to drive the route through Guatemala City, but after I reminded him that we could go through Esquintla, he decided that would be a nicer drive, even if it would be somewhat longer. Not long outside of Esquintla, though, I was wondering if he regretted this decision. We were stopped dead in traffic, with cars coming toward us, but nothing moving in our direction. In Guatemala you can be stuck in these situations for hours. Today, however, it wasn’t too bad. Soon traffic started to move, and we discovered the source of the problem.

A bridge over a fast flowing river had been washed out by the rains. The steel girders seemed to have crumbled like tinker toys. We were re-routed to a dirt road with make shift bridges of what looked like no more than wooden planks set between piles of rocks, covering the fast flowing water. After we crossed the second of these, Melissa very quietly said, “Did I ever tell you I was afraid of bridges.” At first I thought she was kidding, but Ryan soon explained that she was very serious about this. She was a real trooper though, and hung in there through the last small bridge without even needed to find a Valium.

I, on the other hand, did fine with the bridges, but held my breath as we went up a “road” of mud and rocks on our way back to the highway. On the other hand, for Ryan, this “off-roading” was the high point of his day.

We continued on, looking for the town we would be staying in. However, it appears that since Dick’s last trip here the roads have “moved” (Do I detect a little sarcasm here Pat? Actually Pat was suppose to be navigating but she had once again drifted off to sleep. Older people seem to have a way of doing that. Dick) and we soon found ourselves in what looked like a multi-lane toll booth in the States. Since this was somewhat confusing, Dick proceeded slowly, and eventually we discovered that we were about to enter El Salvador and were passing through the customs station! It only took half way through for the four of us to figure out what was going on, and that maybe we should turn around.

Now, the good thing about this re-routing, was that we now know exactly how to get to the El Salvador border on Monday, (That is exactly why I made this little 3 hour detour. Dick) when we are scheduled to take a wheelchair there! The bad news was that, to get back to where we needed to be, we would once again have to cross the make-shift bridges over the rushing river. Ever the alert protector, however, Ryan looked at the map and found an alternate route. Since Dick had never taken this way before, I think this made his day. What made the day for me and Melissa was that the road was actually paved, had no real bridges, and came out where we needed to be!

We arrived at our hotel before the team did, and decided we would go and look for Bayron, a ten year old deaf child Dick had met at a clothing distribution, and I had worked with about a year and a half ago, trying to find the best way for him to communicate.

We located the house where he had been living, and were told that he, Grandma, and Edgar, his younger brother, had moved “just a little way” down the road. Now, anyone who has been to Guatemala knows that a little way can be anywhere from a block to a couple of miles, depending on the judgment (or lack thereof) of the person you are talking to. In this case, it was really only a few blocks, but to get there we had to walk down a major highway with chicken buses, trucks, cars and motorcycles coming at us.

We finally turned off the highway, and walked another couple of blocks back into a corn field, and reached the tin shelter this family of seven now calls home. Immediately, the family recognized Dick, and began yelling for Bayron. His face lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw him (this is deliberately vague, since the his/he could apply equally to either Dick or Bayron). The family welcomed us in without hesitation, finding chairs for us and having each of the children come and shake hands with us. Again, Melissa’s Spanish proficiency was most helpful. In situations like this, I can get by, but often am afraid I’m not really understanding everything being said to me.

We discovered that, because of his age, Bayron had moved to a different school. The teacher there did not have the patience to work with a child who could not hear, and told Grandma not to bring him back. So, this amazingly bright child, who could not wait to show us his school books, is no longer allowed to attend school. Dick and I looked at each other, and I knew he would offer to try to find a tutor to work with Bayron individually, and a sponsor to pay for his or her salary. I’m happy to say that we have a sponsor (thank you, Melissa and Ryan) and are hoping that Bayron’s teacher from last year will have enough time and energy to tutor him after she teaches her class every day.

I took out my camera, and handed it to Bayron, wondering if he would remember how he’d used it almost a year and a half ago to take pictures of everything and anything he wanted to remember. Once again, he became a master photographer, arranging people, posing them, directing their expressions, and taking their pictures—all without being able to speak a word. I also watched the pride which his entire family takes in his abilities and accomplishments. All too often this is not the case for children with disabilities here in Guatemala. It was beautiful to see this family so deeply love this little boy. It is clear that his abilities have been nurtured in this loving environment, where this family, with no “professional” help, has managed to teach him to communicate through a combination of movements, gestures, and noises. Even the four of us gringos were understanding Bayron without trouble before we left. We plan to return tomorrow or Sunday, to try to arrange for a tutor, and to take Bayron and Edgar with us to swim at our hotel. I know I’ll be seeing more of Bayron (right, Dick? Please?)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Written by Pat

Wheelchair Distribution

Today we got to tag along with Bethel Ministries for a wheelchair distribution in Oratorio. No one was quite sure what to expect today, as there were 80 people signed up, and the distribution was being held in the home of the local mayor. We were pleased to find out that we were using his outdoor area, which was large and covered, so we had shade, as well as the folks coming for chairs.

Today I got to work with Donna Mooney doing the registration and sign out. When people arrive, they are assigned numbers, and some distinction is made between those who will need special chairs and those who can use regular chairs with slight adjustment. After getting their number, these people wait, and wait, and wait for their turn to receive a wheelchair. Literally hours sometimes. I have been impressed that in every distribution I’ve been on, people are calm and patient, with little grumbling or complaining. Dick reminds me that many of these people have been waiting years for a wheelchair, so what’s a couple more hours.

When a person’s number is called, they go to an assigned station and receive a chair, which is then adjusted to as perfect a fit for the individual as possible. Limits are imposed by the chairs and parts available, but it is amazing what the Bethel folks are able to accomplish with what’s at hand. I jokingly call some of these “MacGuyver chairs” since they are adapted with whatever is available.

Today there were 5 stations—2 for special chairs, manned by Dick, Katherine, and Melissa, and one manned by Saul. Regular chairs were distributed by Ryan, Kris, and Leslie on one team, George and Jackson on another, and Jorge taking up the third position. Of the team, only Katherine had seated anyone before. After Dick did a quick training, they were ready and willing and did a great job. Ryan even got to fit a specialty chair under Dick’s supervision. I’m not sure the exact numbers, but I think we gave out about 60 numbers, and only had one chair left at the end of the distribution.

Local pastors counseled and prayed with each family after they had received a wheelchair, and each family was given a Bible. This, in some ways, was the most meaningful part of the day for me. It was amazing watching these men of God as they shared their hearts with the fellow Guatemalans.

The last stop was once again with Donna, as she took data on each chair that was given out, and we took pictures (for Bethel’s records) of each person who had received a chair. This was my major job today. I’m sure Donna could have gotten along without me, but now I know the data that needs to be collected whenever we give out a chair and I appreciated her letting me “shadow” her.

More kids with special needs

After a delicious lunch prepared by the women of the town, I was approached by the mayor’s wife, telling me about a deaf child who lived nearby. I asked Dick if we had time to visit this little boy, and he said we’d make the time! We started out for the home, only to find that word had gone out that we would see children who were deaf, and within a few minutes, Jorge and Wendy were both at the mayor’s house. The father of another young man who could not hear also came by. We discovered that they are all in school, and can read and write. The difficulty was that the children would write to their parents to communicate, but unfortunately the parents cannot read. They did know some sign language, and both the children I met today can lip read. After talking to their parents, it became clear that all three children must have some residual hearing, as they had hearing aids they had outgrown. We will be finding out when the hearing clinics are at Hermano Pedro, and getting back with these families to help them get the kids in to receive new hearing aids.

What has impressed me about all of these children, including Bayron who lives nearby and is also deaf, is how intelligent and well-adjusted they are. Jorge, upon meeting me, immediately gave me a big hug and a smile that could have melted Scrooge’s heart. Wendy, though a bit shier, also showed much confidence when we spoke. They are all in school, a credit to their local school, since many children, like Bayron, are “kicked out” of school because they can’t hear. What also impressed me was the concern of these parents that their children receive the best education possible, and the pride the entire community took in the accomplishments of these children. If it “takes a village” to raise a child, this village is doing a remarkable job of raising these kids.

Hanging out with Bayron and Edgar

All too soon we had to leave, and were on our way back to the hotel. After a quick clean-up, we went to pick up Bayron and his younger brother Edgar, who we had promised yesterday could come and stay with us at the hotel tonight. As the car approached their home (driving through the corn field), Edgar heard us coming and ran out to meet us, jumping up and down just like a monkey. When we entered the house, Grandmother told us that the boys had been waiting for us since about 10 this morning.

We had an early supper at Pollo Campero, complete with toy cars from the kids’ meal, and ice cream for dessert. Bayron had been here before with Dick and me, but this was a first for Edgar. In fact, Edgar told us this was his first time riding in a car, though he had been in chicken buses.

We came back to the hotel, and though the boys were a bit disappointed that they could not swim because the weather wasn’t cooperating, they seemed to satisfy themselves with TV, playing with our cameras, and playing games on Dick’s computer. The evening is ending with the boys “swimming” in Dick’s bathtub as I write this.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met two more polite and delightful boys of ten and eight. Watching them together is amazing. Though Bayron cannot talk at all, he makes himself understood almost completely.
Edgar and he have developed their own sign language which Edgar uses to explain things to Bayron. It makes no sense to the rest of us, but they get it, and I suppose that’s all that counts. I know they have stolen a place in Melissa and Ryan’s hearts, as well as Dick’s and mine. I know I keep saying that a different child is my “favorite” almost every time I write, but they really are. Each of them is my “favorite” in a different way, and each of them touch my life and change my heart in a way that is uniquely theirs. When it comes to teaching me what it means to be “resilient,” Bayron and Edgar take the cake.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pat told me that if I was willing to post the pictures and do all of the driving on this trip she would continue to do all of the Journaling. So once again here is what Pat wrote.

Early this morning Bayron and Edgar woke up, ready for breakfast and a swim. The weather was a bit cool, and Dick tried to convince them that they would enjoy the tub more than the pool, but they weren’t buying this! Since he’d made the promise, Dick got to be the lucky one to freeze in the pool with them. After just a short time, however, they were ready for a hot bath, and once again drowned Dick’s bathroom.

After drying them out, we headed back to Oratorio with them, to visit the house the Westside team had built. On the way there, both boys “helped” Dick drive, though Bayron seemed much more comfortable doing this than Edgar. When we arrived, the house had been finished and we were just in time to pray with the family to dedicate the house. This family was so grateful for the house, and I was grateful to be able to tell Mom that I would check on her little girl, Leslie, each time I was at Hermano Pedro.

We next took the boys home. Though Grandma was at church, the boys’ aunts and other relatives were at the house to greet them. Immediately the boys started showing off the pictures they had taken, and Bayron quite effectively used the pictures he had taken to tell the story of what he had done. Somehow, I have to figure out a way to get a camera for him to use as a communication device. He LOVES to take pictures, and is quite good at it. The major obstacle is that the family has no electricity in their house, so recharging the batteries would be difficult. Somewhere, though, I know I can find a solar powered battery charger!

Leaving was difficult for all of us. Bayron played “tough guy,” though he had to go into the house to keep up his facade. Dick followed him in to say good-bye, and I don’t know if this parting was harder for Bayron or Dick. Edgar walked us to the car, and turned to thank us saying “God bless you.” At this point Ryan, Melissa, and I all quickly got into the car, as we were ALL ready to dissolve into tears. This time, though, the boys knew we would be back. We hope to be able to arrange for a private tutor to work with Bayron now that he is not allowed in school.

We next took a short drive to Oliver’s house. We were greeted by his mother, who is currently battling cancer while trying to continue to care for five children. She told us Oliver was up the road at a neighbor’s house, saying she can’t keep him home. This would be nothing unusual for an eight year old boy, except Oliver cannot walk without crutches. Shortly, though, we saw the truth of her words, as Oliver RAN towards us down the hill. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone run on crutches before. He was so excited to see Dick, and more excited when Dick told him he’d brought Oliver newer, slightly bigger crutches. As we were fixing Oliver’s crutches, an older boy came struggling down the street. His legs were twisted in a variety of directions, but Miguelito did an amazing job staggering down the steep hill. He was wondering if we had crutches that he could have, to make his walking easier. Again, this would not be remarkable, except Miguelito was deaf and unable to speak, but, like Bayron, had no difficulty making his desires known. He didn’t ask out-right for crutches, but did look longing at Oliver’s crutches, even touching them tenderly like they were made of gold.

I wish we had had a video camera running when Dick took out a second pair of brand new crutches from the car. To say Miguelito’s face lit up, is a vast understatement. It was more like fireworks went off in his eyes. Dick quickly adjusted the crutches so they were just the right size for him, and after very brief instructions, he was off, trying to keep up with Oliver. He did stop long enough, however, to pose for some pictures to commemorate his new mobility.

It was a little bit unusual that Dick had decided to visit Oliver, since there really was no need we knew of. Some would say it was coincidence that Dick had brought along crutches that were obviously too big for Oliver. Some would say it was a stroke of luck that Miguelito was visiting Oratoria from the nearby village in which he lived. Any of us who were there today, though, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was a holy moment, when God had decided to bless a little boy with crutches, and He was gracious enough to let us be a part of His blessing. If this had been the only thing we did on this whole trip, the look on Miguelito’s face would have made the 3 hour drive more than worth it.
Our final stop of the day was at Wilmer’s house. We discovered that because of a mix up, Wilmer had not been tutored for the past few months. Since we were here, we were able to contact his tutor and arrange for his sessions to begin again immediately. This young teacher is a remarkable woman, freely sharing with us about the special needs children she had and currently was teaching in her regular classroom. On top of this, she was willing to take on tutoring Wilmer 5 hours a week, saying that every child deserves a chance for an education.

I don’t want to be critical, but I can’t help compare her to the many of the teachers I worked with as a consultant in the public schools. My job was to help teachers find ways to keep special needs students within the regular classroom. The biggest obstacle to the success of this program was not the disabilities of the students, but the attitudes of the teachers. They felt overwhelmed and did not see why they should make the extra effort. I wish I could introduce each one of them to this amazing young teacher, who may or may not have electricity in her classroom, probably does not even have a desk to sit at, and has no teaching aids beside her students’ textbooks and her own creativity. Who has only a cement block house to live in, and two young daughters waiting for her when she finally arrives home each night. Who is paid approximately $1/hour for her dedication, and yet cares deeply that all children be educated.

We also talked with Wilmer’s parents about Walter, his younger brother. It appears to us that Walter has hydrocephalus, and we had talked with Mom over a year ago about getting him in to see one of the doctors at Hermano Pedro. The family explained that this had not happened, since Walter also had significant respiratory problems, and paying for medical care for these had taken all their resources. By general agreement, it was decided that Dick would speak with a neurosurgeon he knows, and we would try to return and take both Walter and Mom to see this doctor as soon as possible. So we will be returning to this part of Guatemala soon to follow through with this promise.

We had to cut short our visit with these wonderful folks, because once again today the rain began coming down in buckets, and we were still up on a mountain. Driving back to the hotel tonight, the four of us could not help but reflect on the blessings of the day. We had figured it would be a “short” day, and we would have plenty of time to kick back and relax at the hotel. Since it was after five when we returned, this obviously did not happen. I don’t think any of us would have traded any part of our day for a week at a spa. We were tired, but were sure that we had seen God move in an through His people today. What a great way to spend a Sunday!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Dick and I started out today joking that there would be nothing to journal about today, except we drove and drove and drove. While it’s true that we did drive a lot, so much more was waiting for us than we imagined.

Shortly after pulling out of the hotel parking lot, Dick noticed that the dashboard gauges were acting funny, and we stopped about a half mile from the hotel to see if he and Ryan could figure out what was going on. Melissa and I decided that our best role was to be quiet and pray. Having no luck, we returned to the hotel to see if they knew of a good mechanic. A very kind young man who had a mechanic’s shop just a couple blocks away from the hotel came down to see if he could help. But, as so often happens in Guatemala, the mechanics are not particularly knowledgeable, and the only thing he could think of to recommend was a new battery.

Dick was sure the problem was electrical, but thought it had more to do with grounding. We thanked the man, and decided to try to head out, now that the car at least appeared to be running somewhat adequately. A short way down the road, Dick noticed he had no dashboard lights, and again pulled over, fearing he also had no headlights. After a number of frustrating minutes, Dick was “inspired” to use his jumper cables to see if grounding the dashboard instruments would help. The next thing we heard was a jubilant “That’s it!” from Dick. Now all we need was a piece of wire and we would be set. Dick found one at an electrical store, and pieced “stuff” together (I have no idea what he did, nor do I want to know—as long as it works, I’m willing to trust his judgment!). Now his horns even worked, which he used for the next few miles (okay, maybe it was more like a few blocks!) whenever he could find an excuse. We were once again headed to El Salvador.

While I don’t want to in any way diminish Dick’s “MacGuyver” abilities (or as he prefers to call them, his “A Team skills”), I really think this repair had much more to do with God’s graciousness, and Dick’s sensitivity to His leading. That something so simple could be causing so much of a problem, and that there was such a simple solution once it was discovered, seems to me to have the finger prints of our Father all over it. And, since I know Dick was praying as much as he was fuming, (Those of you who are not aware that many English words have totally different meanings when used here in Guatemala I want to inform you that the word fuming means quietly meditating. Dick ) I’m sure the Father helped him figure out the solution.

In a short time (by Guatemalan standards) we crossed the border into El Salvador at Frontera Hachadura (spelling?). We had just gotten our passports stamped, and were walking around looking for the lady we were to meet, when Dick realized that this border crossing did not look familiar to him, and thought perhaps we had come to the wrong one. (This was the one we almost “ran” earlier in the week, and we all just figured that we had stumbled upon our border crossing. Wrong!) After a number of phone calls, we discovered we needed to be at the next border crossing, about a 50 minute drive from where we were. Once again we were off, after having to get our passports once again stamped (across the office from the window where we had gotten it stamped only 15 minutes earlier!). I have to admit, the immigration officers had more of a sense of humor about this than any of us expected!

We arrived at Frontera Valle Nueva without further difficulty, only about 4 hours later than we were originally expected, and were happy to see Lizette waving at us as soon as we crossed the bridge into El Salvador. If we had any misgivings about whether or not the trials of the morning were worth it, they were erased as soon as we saw Melvin, the young boy who needed a wheelchair.

Melvin had pretty low muscle tone, and we found he had spinal meningitis. He was being cared for by his aunt and uncle, and it was clear that they could not have loved him more if he were their biological child. A physical therapist working with Melvin had also come along—which doesn’t seem like a big deal, except this man had given up a full day to come with this family just to be with them when Melvin got his wheelchair after more than a year of waiting.

Dick and Ryan went to work, adjusting the chair to as perfect a fit as possible, right there in the parking lot of immigration, while Melissa expertly interpreted for Dick. I got to visit a little with the boy’s aunt, and mostly just hung around and took pictures. It was so good to see Ryan working alongside Dick. The two of them seemed to connect easily, as Dick patiently taught Ryan some of the fine points of fitting a chair. During this time, an audience gathered to see just what was going on, interested in how this little one was being helped. Dick told us how different this was from only ten years ago, when someone with a disability would have been shunned by the Guatemalan people.

After finishing the job, Melvin’s uncle began to thank us all. Dick shared with him that the thanks was really owed to God, because He was the one who really had provided the wheelchair through His people. Dick went on to explain, rather tearfully, that he wanted the family to know that Melvin was also a gift from God, sharing that he had helped raise a young man with a disability who was now in his twenties. Dick got a bit choked up when he shared how much Steven had taught him as he cared for Steven.

This last bit of sharing seemed to have impacted Melvin’s uncle, as he thanked Dick for telling him about Steven, and how this gave him hope for Melvin.

Was the gospel presented today? Absolutely—in the manner of St. Francis who said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” Christ was proclaimed not only to the family, but to all those who had gathered to watch. Dick “preached” a sermon, not by “fancy words” as St. Paul says, but by his life, his love and his example. Was God glorified? I believe He was, as I think all of us realized what a divine appointment today was. Was the trip and the hassle of the morning worth it? I’ll let you decide.

Thanks Pat. I want to thank Melissa and Ryan as well. This was their first trip ever to Guatemala but by the way that they jumped right in and got fully involved with what ever we were doing. I have very little doubt that that they will be returning to Guatemala again soon.

Yours in Christ: Dick


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