* 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)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Journal, August 6-10, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

I was actually going to do my own journaling today but since Pat once again beat me to the punch I decided that there was no sense in each of us writing about the same thing. I will write tomorrows journal though, I promise, I think.


Pat writes the following.

I was awakened at 6 am this morning by my phone ringing. (Actually I’d been pretty much awake since about 4, but lying in bed daydreaming and/or praying.) I was surprised to see the call was from Dick. Ronnie’s dad had just called him, and Dick wasn’t quite sure what he wanted, but thought it was urgent for him to have called at this early hour. Would I call and find out what he needed?

Ronnie’s family has become especially dear to me over the last two years, so of course I was willing to call. I found out that Ronnie’s grandma, who had been battling cancer for a number of years, had died during the night. The family had no money to bury her. Would we help?

Well, within the hour Dick and I were headed to Santa Lucia, on our way to Ronnie’s. I got to see a bit more of the damage done to the countryside by tropical storm Agatha—including a road that was mostly washed out, but still in use. While I can’t say I was particularly scared crossing this area, I was grateful that even though it was not raining, Dick hugged the shoulder opposite the cave in.

We made good time and arrived to find many family members at Ronnie’s aunt’s house, where grandma had died. We first went farther down the road to Ronnie’s house to visit. Though the family knew that Grandma was dying, they all were taking it pretty hard. Ronnie seemed especially subdued today.

We talked about what had been going on in their lives, discovering that two of the children who had not been doing very well in school had improved significantly. Amid the grief, we were able to brighten their day a bit by discussing an outing we hope to take with the kids in the near future. Dick regularly rewards the kids for good grades, and this time we’d even reward increased effort and improvement.

While the children were working hard in school, we found that four of them were having their grades “docked” because their shoes had worn out, and they weren’t wearing the correct ones. This pretty much enraged me, because I know this is illegal to do, even in Guatemala. But, as with many laws on the books here, no one enforces certain aspects of a “free” education, and though the schools must comply if the parents resist, in the end the kids will pay the price by receiving different forms of ridicule from their teachers. I have met some of the absolutely best teachers in the world here in Guatemala. I have also met some who I think take pleasure in persecuting poor children. At any rate, I was able to make sure that next week the kids would have new shoes and would be receiving the grades they earned.

As we were talking, we also learned that Ronnie’s mother was expecting her eighth child. I still don’t really know how my heart is reacting to this news. In addition to the difficulty they already have feeding their seven children, Ronnie’s mother is a carrier of the gene for muscular dystrophy, which is the disease that is slowly killing Ronnie. This means, if the child is a boy, he has a 50% chance of also having MD. If a girl, she will have a 50% chance of carrying the gene for MD, and will pass it on to her children if she does. It is hard to watch Ronnie’s condition deteriorate. Dick is constantly looking for signs of MD in the two younger boys. I can hardly think about the possibility that this family might have to one day go through this devastating disease with another child. Yet, another is on the way. I believe in my head that no child is an accident, that each is a gift from God. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to get my heart to go along with what I already know.

We finally went down to pay our respects to Ronnie’s grandma. Dick had known her for years, even facilitating the building of a house for her. She was a rather difficult woman, who had suffered many disappointments in her life, and life had taken its toll on her in many ways. (Those of you from the 2008 Westside team know her. It was her house that we moved to set on a foundation.) Whatever her failings, though, it was clear to me how much her grandchildren loved her. Claudia, who is four, clung to me, telling me she really didn’t understand why she could not see her grandma any more. This broke my heart as a grandma, but I was grateful she felt close enough to me to share her confusion at all that was going on.

As we went to leave, the “hearse” (really a type of station wagon looking car with a HUGE speaker mounted on top) had arrived and was blocking the narrow road. So we would wait. And wait we did, only to discover that the coffin that had been brought was too small. The hearse would have to return to La Gomera, a town about 30 min. away, for a larger one. Could anything else be more difficult?

The answer was yes. In turning around, the hearse got stuck in mud all the way up to the back bumper. The more the driver tried to get out, the more he spun his wheels and dug himself in deeper. Ronnie’s dad had a heavy chain, and, after a few attempts, the Land Cruiser came through once again and Dick was able to pull the hearse to solid ground.

This was a long day, and quite a drive to pay a condolence call, but I think either Dick or I would do it again in a heartbeat. I have always counted it a privilege to walk through these painful times with families in Omaha, and now I am finding myself able to do this here in Guatemala. I never quite know what to say or do, so always fall back on Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you.” Isn’t that all we can really do for anyone—love them like Jesus?


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Written by Dick

This morning 10 of the kids and I drove down to San Lucas to watch a soccer championship that Cesar and Marcos were playing in. Abner who is also a member of this teem should have been playing in this game as well but had been sidelined because of a penalty that he received at last week's game. Throughout my school years I was not all that much of a teem sports fan. I always felt that to much praise and attention was given to the dozen or so coordinated kids in my class while those of us who had difficulty walking and chewing gum at the same time received little recognition. I must admit though that for many of the kids like my boys who come from homes where there is no father, often times no mother and in a lot of cases no rules or guide lines playing soccer been good for them. Especially when they are blessed with a Christian coach like the one that my older boys have. It has been a while since I have been to any little league games in the USA but from what I remember not to many teem huddles are for the main part a teem prayer. It is refreshing to see a coach who is less concerned with winning the game than he is with helping to mold fine young men. I am not sure that on this the championship game that I would have sidelined my best player for half the game simply because he was not passing the ball quite enough to his teammates. This young man took it well though and much like Abner who never did get to play he to stood on the side lines and cheered his teem on to victory. Yes this coach is strict and firm on his rules but the boys love him becase they know that he loves them. Watching this coach and his teem helped me realize why I had to say no to Carlene when he wanted to come along to today's game.

After spending a whopping 10 bucks to feed the 11 of us at a little restaurant that we all love but not one that I would take most Americans to we headed for home. A few hours earlier Chris had left for Mazatenango with a teem that was going to help us do a wheelchair there tomorrow. I had though about riding down there with them but after seeing the look on the boys faces last night when I told them that I would possibly have to miss their soccer game, I quickly decided to drive down after watching their game.

Yours in Christ: Dick

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pat has come along on this trip to Mazatenango. She told me that she would do the writing for the next 2 days if I provided the photos. I figured that was fare. After all I have just finished writing one journal in a row.

Pat writes the following.

After packing up all of our stuff from the hotel, we set off for the first wheelchair distribution of this trip in Mazatenango. It seems that often no one is really sure ahead of time what the facility we will use for the distribution will be like, but today we had a shaded porch area which could accommodate the five seating stations as well as the “administration” area.

Today God blessed us with four folks who were bilingual and would be available to help us. I would have made the fifth, but really enjoyed working with Denise. She knew a lot of the technical words in Spanish, and I knew them in English, so between the two of us, we figured things out pretty well. She is an English teacher here in Guatemala, and she and her husband run an “inclusive” sports recreation program that serves children both with and without disabilities. She was an amazing woman to spend time with, and has offered me a place to stay any time I want to move to this area to start a school for the kids who are not allowed to go to the public school because of their disability.

We saw a lot of those kids today. Really bright, capable, articulate kids who are not in school because the schools won’t accept them. For some reason it seems the teachers think that because these children’s bodies may be limited, their intelligence and ability to learn is also. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Though this is illegal in Guatemala, “exclusion” seems to be the norm. It is a rare area where children in wheelchairs are welcomed into the school. And many of the parents seemed hesitant to even talk about school for their children, fearing that they would be ridiculed by the teachers as well as the other students. Dick had to remind me that this is all too common here, and that there was no way I could start a school in every area where I found kids out of school. Still, it doesn’t lessen my desire to be able to do so. I’m not sure he realizes that seeing these kids out of school has the same impact on me that seeing them crawling along the streets without a wheelchair has on him. I would love to be able to find a teacher in this area willing to work with all these kids, and have the ability to pay her well to do so. I can sure pray about it!

I worked in Dick’s station, along with Denise and Josh, a young man from Sioux Falls, SD. I honestly can’t remember how many kids Dick seated today—there had to be at least five. I was lucky enough to get to spend time visiting with the moms while Dick worked—though I did get to pick up an allen wrench to help with one bolt. Big contribution I made today!

I love the way Bethel handles these distributions. Chris Mooney, the director of Bethel, always begins by clearly explaining that the reason the teams come in is to share the love of Jesus with the people—that bringing wheelchairs is only secondary. Today he shared something I had not heard him say before (though I’ve only been on a few of these distributions). He boldly told the people that Jesus came for “people like them.” That is wasn’t the healthy who needed Him, but those who are broken in mind, body, or spirit. That Jesus was inviting them to come to Him.

After this initial presentation, the seating begins. Dick encourages the teams to take their time seating each person—focusing not so much on the wheelchair, but on connecting with each individual. He reminds the teams that some of these folks have been waiting for a wheelchair for years, so taking a little more time with each one won’t hurt anything. In fact, many of these people have been waiting even longer for a touch from Jesus. And that’s why we were here today.

Finally, after each person receives their chair, they and their families have the opportunity to visit with a local pastor. Today, during this visitation time, 38 people made a decision to trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Chris said this was the most that they’d ever had in a distribution. While numbers aren’t the most important thing, I think that this great response indicates the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us today.

As everything was winding down, a woman came in with her daughter. She was not “registered” for this distribution, but had been told 3 years ago, at another Bethel distribution, to come back the next time Bethel was in the area. This little girl really needed a chair that reclined. Mom had brought along the chair the child had—and Dick recognized it as one of the chairs built by Hope Haven. After three years of use, it still looked brand new—mom had taken such good care of it. Just as Dick was wondering if perhaps he had seated this little one before, the older brother came up and caressed her head. Dick immediately remembered the family because of the love and attentiveness her brother had shown her.

This was a pretty tender reunion for Dick and this family.
A family who just so happened to come in even though they weren’t registered, who just so happened to have Dick seating them, when we just so happened to have a perfect chair for her, since some children who had been scheduled had not been able to make it. Isn’t it great that we just so happen to have a God big enough to orchestrate these things, and intimate enough with us to care that one little girl get the proper chair, and one seating specialist be blessed by this reunion?


August 9, 2010

Written by Pat

We began our day in Retahuleu at the site of the team’s first house build. This house would be built for a single woman who was caring for her mother, as well as her son and daughter. After unloading the equipment, half of us left to distribute food packages to the poorest of the poor in this area.

This part of Guatemala had been particularly hard hit by tropical storm Agatha. As I visited these homes, I recalled the words of my friend Steve Osborn, who has an orphanage near Antigua. Shortly after the storm he wrote, “For those of us who are rich, this storm will be an inconvenience for a few days. For the poor, it will take years for them to recover.” Today I experienced first-hand the accuracy of his observation.

Our first stop was walking distance from where the house was being built. We followed one of the neighbors to his home, and heard his amazing story. About a year ago he lost his leg in a heavy equipment accident. He shared with us how hopeless he had been until he went to “rehab.” There he met a man who had lost both legs, who still had a great desire to live a full life. He thought, “If he can do it with no legs, I can surely do it with one!” This decision changed his whole attitude toward his recovery. Now he is an active part of his community—he was one of the men who helped cut down the trees where the new house was being built. He also works cutting down the tall grass with a machete, and guides his blind son and he works beside him. This man will forever be a reminder to me that it is not our circumstance that determines our joy and effectiveness, it is what we decide to do with the life situation we’ve been given. I have seldom met such a friendly and outgoing man in Guatemala, or anywhere else for that matter.

There are many more stories which could be told of the families we visited today. The theme that ran through them was continually a sense of gratitude for what they had, rather than despairing at what they did not have. A sub-plot of today was the enormous generosity of these people who have so little themselves.

One young lady of 22 had been diagnosed with leukemia last March. She seems to be in remission right now, but her medicine each month costs almost as much as her father earns. How, we asked, did they manage to buy her medication? Mother replied, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, that the neighbors all help them out financially with whatever they can give. I couldn’t help but think of the story of the widow who gave all she had. These neighbors who are helping out this family themselves live in houses made of plastic, cornstalks, and corrugated metal, if they are lucky. These generous people who have so little continue to share what they do have with those in greater need. I hope I don’t offend anyone, but I can’t help but think of us North Americans who worry more about our retirement nest eggs than we do our suffering brothers living alongside us today. I’m not suggesting we should be indifferent to our own futures, but I can’t help feeling a bit convicted at my preoccupation with what will become of me in the future, as I ignore the needs of those living with me in the present.

We visited family after family where the story was the same—tremendous hardship, but no sense of bitterness. At each house we shared that the food we brought was not really from us, but from the God who loves and cares for them. Each person received this news with a sense of gratitude and assurance. I didn’t sense at any house we visited, the attitude of “why then does God let my life be so hard?” It seems my Guatemalan brothers and sisters have a willingness to let God be God that surpasses my own. Meeting these people, who often literally don’t know where their next meal is coming from, has once again reminded me of how much I trust in my own plans and provisions, and only go to God as a “last resort.” While I now live as a faith-based missionary, relying on God to move my brothers and sisters to provide for me, I also realize I seem always to have a “contingency plan” rather than a ruthless trust in the One who has always provided for me. Tonight I go to bed humbled and repentant as I consider what I have learned from those I have met today.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Written by Dick

This morning all of the men in our group except for myself headed out to build our second house in 2 days while I took all of the ladies out to bring food to more needy families. I thought that driving people around in an air conditioned van would be much easier than building a house when it was at least 90 degree outside but I may have been wrong.

Today's first visit took more out of me than any five houses that I have ever built. When we walked in to this house we were met by a tired looking mother and her 4 year old son, Josue David. Most Guatemalan kids are generally quite shy when they see Americans for the first time but Josue David. seemed to have no fear of me. Fact is we instantly became best of friends and within a matter of seconds he was sitting next to me and I was showing him how to take pictures. Soon he had climbed on to my lap and was snapping pictures of everyone in the room. While we visited with him and his mother we learned that Josue David's father no longer lived in the house because he was to sick for his wife to care for him. We were told that he is dying of Aids. We learned that the only bread winner in the family is Fernando's 11 year old sister who goes out on the streets and tries to sell food each day. Mom can not work because even though she is still able to get around the house she to has Aids. Despite the sickness of both of his parents and the families extreme poverty Josue David seemed like such a happy well adjusted little boy. I could not help but think about his future and that of his sister once both of their parents were gone. There may be some hope that their grandparents or other relatives will allow Josue David's sister to live with them but judging by the way that they want nothing to do with their own daughter or her husband since they have Aids it is doubtful that they will want their 4 year old grandson because he is also HIV positive.If you read my journals on a regular bases you know that my requests for money are few and far between but Josue David needs $15 worth of medicine per month. His 11 year old sister barely earns enough to keep the family from starving to death. About $35 per month would go a long way in keeping these children alive.

There were other needs that we came across today. We saw another little boy who is 8 months old who has been so sick for the past 15 days that the only thing that he has been able to eat or drink is water. Mom had not been able to get him any help because the family could not come up with 100Q ($12.50) to see a doctor. I thought it over and figured that this child's life was possibly worth the price of a couple of lattes in the States and arranged for him to see a doctor tomorrow.

We visited about 8 or 9 homes today. Some of the people that we visited were young and others were old but each of them had a similar story. I know that we can not help all of them but when I see how richly God has blessed most of us I can not help but wonder if God can look at us and say,

"Well done good and faithful servant."

Yours in Christ: Dick


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