The Space Between

The space between
here and there
south and north
near and far
the other side of the door
the other side of the world

My spirit hangs, hurts, cries, laughs, hopes
and prays…
in the space between.

Vona Rose Wilson
de 6 septembre de  2011

The Rainy Season

It is pouring rain in Miami but it is nothing like pouring rain in Guatemala.  The rainy season runs May through October. I’ve been in the pouring rain in Nicaragua in August – a delight I will never forget, but only a few times. Now the rains of Guatemala have left a lasting impression.  It is hard to imagine until you experience it …day after day of afternoon pouring rain. Most days it is not that bad – you just pack a rain jacket and put it on when it begins.  However, what is something…the part that doesn’t leave, fade, or become “normal” is the impact on the people who live this season. I have watched it day after day in many communities in this country, but my perspective is only one month….just a tiny glimpse.

Yesterday on the ride to Guatemala City, it was pouring rain.  The mud was running down the mountainsides. The streets were flooded and the holes grew bigger.  The road between Quetzaltenango (Xela) and the City is all curves…just one after the other.  There are no speed limits here – you just drive and make the best of each moment. As we made our way through a few hours of driving I watched as we passed by literally hundreds of people walking in the blinding rain – on their way home from work or the market or the tasks of the day.  Occasionally there would be someone on a bicycle with a trash bag or plastic poncho flying in the wind, covering their shoulders and providing some shelter from the wind.  When the day faded into night, it was hard to see and we were watching for people as much as for flood water or stalled cars without lights.

Morning light on Lake Atitlan

The rainy season. Watering the earth and providing nutrients for the dry season to come.  Challenging the daily grind and reminding me that my life is so easy. When it rains, I have immediate shelter.  I get to drive wherever I go and when night comes; I have lights to guide me.  This is not the case for everyone – even working people with jobs and enough money to eat. And what am I doing with that “ease” of life?  There is a song by Jackson Browne with a line that says, “and when the morning light comes streaming in, I’ll get up and do it again”.   I think that when I get up tomorrow I am going to do something different.

Three Visitors from Claro

Answered prayer is always a tricky subject.  Some would say it is whatever happens. Others would say it is “unanswered” if it doesn’t turn out as expected. And many will just avoid the subject altogether for fear of being wrong.  What I think is that we simply have to share what happens from our perspective and let it speak for itself. Wrong, right, awkward, amazing, what we wanted, not what we wanted….whatever it is. It just is. I never want the fear of being misunderstood or “wrong” to prevent me from just sharing what I see.

I have many of these stories but this is one I want to share out loud today.  The other day I was on my way to Champerico with the goal to arrive before sunset. Why else do you go the beach except to experience the maginificent display of God’s creative expression in a day: sunrise, Pacific coast waves and sunset?  It wasn’t sunset time, but it was near approaching. The road is horrible…nothing compares in the U.S., but imagine one road of nothing but potholes and you are traveling it.  On one of the bumps the car died. Just died. Right there.. on the road to Champarico. Car dead. Nothing. You can’t call Triple A and you really aren’t sure what happens when a vehicle breaks down in the middle of the road in Guatemala. I wasn’t worried but I was definitely curious of how this part of the adventure was going to unfold!

After a while of us pushing to try and get it started, I began to pray that God would send some angels to push the car for us and get it started.  I don’t know why I specifically prayed for angels to help us but those were the words that came.  A few minutes later, as the sun was setting fast and dark was truly only minutes away….a pick-up truck with Claro stickers on it (local cell phone provider) pulled up with three men in it.  They helped us push and when that didn’t work they got interested in the situation.  We popped the hood and went over the scenario again.  We all agreed: it seemed like it was the battery. But they wanted to troubleshoot and makes sure.  One man pulled a tester from the truck and assessed the spark plugs: all working.  Another pulled out flashlights (by now it is completely dark) and another pulled out some strong wire.  They found a cable that had been pulled from the battery on the bump. Aha!  These three men reconnected the cable with wire from their stash. They made it all clean and perfect. And then the test: turn the key and whalah….it started!!!  I was jumping for joy..truly.  I pulled 100 quetzales from my pocket and they refused it, even with much insistence. In my broken spanish I told them they were a direct answer to prayer.  Did they know?

As we drove away from that spot and on to the destination my spirit and mind were so full of thanksgiving.  I had no idea how God might answer my prayer that angels would come help us push the car and it would start… but I am certain I never dreamed it would be as clear, creative and beautiful as three locals showing up with tools, knowledge, willingness to help and sending us safely on our way.

Once when Abraham was sitting in his tent he was visited by three men. (Genesis 18)  There are many opinions about who these three men were and why they came. They gave hope and they spoke things that were beyond human understanding and practice.  I can’t say exactly who these three were that visited Abraham, but on the road to Champerico this week I think they stopped by in a Claro pick-up truck.  That’s just my perspective. God is so faithful. Rest in that truth.

Champerico: once a vibrant port of Guatemala. Today a rustic local beach with hopes of a different future and memories of the past.

Back at Bambu

The Bambu is beginning to feel a lot like “home” to me.  I’m back in Mazatenango and thankful to be in familiar surroundings for a night or two.  I know how to get taxis, clothing, money, and good pizza here.  Tonight the women at the desk learned how little Spanish it really takes to communicate: “I have a document I need to scan and email to myself and this is really important to me”.  I need all of this experience and by the grace of God others are willing to let me get it!

The concrete project is now fully complete. It looks FABULOUS! This used to be all dirt and dust.

I visited La Toma today. There were no classes because it is a day for the teachers to sell the artistic works of the children to raise money for the schools. Felix joined Doris and me early and we walked around and talked of future projects.

The bano project isn't finished yet; this will be a team project in 2012.

We looked at the land where the vision for a community center is evolving.  I shot some video of it (very amateur) and we dreamed out loud. And… Jenny showed up.

me and Jenny

Jenny was the last picture I took when the bus rolled out of La Toma
with our team on March 7, 2011.  When I posted her picture I said, “I will not forget you”.  I saw her in April and today, with no school in session, she showed up as if she knew my arrival time before I did. I was carrying a picture of the two of us in my backpack; I knew we would see each other this trip.  She is well dressed and sweet – looking for hope.  She gave me a picture of herself earlier this year with a note of hope for a scholarship so she can stay in school and learn.  That’s Jenny.

The entrance to the land for the Community Center. It is just beyond the two classrooms that were added in 2011. It extends down to the river.

The land for the community center is all jungle now and a beautiful spot. The project will be a joint effort of the Metodista Church and the La Toma School and community. It is a dream Norris has been working on for many years and it seems its time has come.  I have a second meeting next week where we
will speak more of the next steps. It will be a long-term project and the ideas
of it’s scope are far far reaching.  It’s a God-sized dream.  It is a project of
collaboration and peace.  It is a project that will allow us to foster learning of many types…art, music, health, biblia, computer, leadership, environment…etc., etc. It will be a space for sharing, learning and engaging in multi-cultural
experiences.  It will be a place for peace to happen and for people to grow in their understanding across cultures.

Ana (Principal of La Toma School) and Doris (VIM Coordinator of Guatemala)

After this we went to Parque Central of San Antonio to meet up with Ana, the principal of the La Toma school. It was SO GOOD to see her! Claudia, one of the teachers was there as well.  I purchased several items that the children made and these will be for sale at Franklin’s “Celebration of Cultures” on September 24th.

This is Deena. She was at Parque Central and we made friends on my last visit. How wonderful to hear her call my name and to reunite today!
Waitng with Doris, Gloria (Douglas' mom) and Douglas...before we received the results of his scans.

Love is a tender thing. It is so full of joy and so full of sorrow. C.S. Lewis gave us a quote that never leaves me. “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”  We saw Douglas today. He is the little boy with eye cancer. Thanks to the generosity of one or two people, Douglas had surgery and has been doing very well.  But today when we called to visit him, he was gone to see the doctor. We tracked him down and were able to be with his mom when she met with the doctor and received the news that Douglas is very sick… his cancer has spread to the brain.  It was heart breaking.  Felix and I lay hands on him and prayed with him and his family.  We prayed for God’s healing miracle in the life of Douglas and his family.  Being here at this moment was a gift of God. Doris has grown very close to this family and to Douglas.  It has changed everything for her; a job has become a way of life.  Doris grew up in the Metodista Church. Juan Pablo has always been her pastor. Lately Doris finds herself knee-deep in God’s miracles and the life of the people.  It works. We are asking all of you to pray for Douglas – for his health, his life on earth and his family.  It’s OK to ask for a miracle, so please do.

Luis, Jose and me at Halo Guatemala. The 8 x 10 picture that you can't really "see" here is the picture they presented me (as an offer of thanksgiving) of all the children our church helped to send to Guatemala City for hearing assessements AND their hearing devices from Ronald McDonald. I am so grateful for Franklin First United Methodist Church...for their generous hearts and expressions of love.

Our last “official” stop of the day was Halo Guatemala, the deaf school where Ezekiel attends twice each week. They have moved since I was here in April…a larger facility and with a yard to play. Jose showed us around and also presented me with an 8 x 10 picture of the large group of kids our church helped send to Guatemala for free hearing assessments AND their own hearing devices from Ronald McDonald back in July.  It was a great meeting and much appreciation expressed by everyone.  Friendships are being formed.  Our church is making a way for deaf children to learn and grow in their communication skills.  I am so thankful for the church – for willing hearts and generous spirits. It is making a huge difference.  Tomorrow I hope to visit Ezekiel in his home and deliver a special drawing from John Overstreet, a boy in our congregation in Franklin who wears the same hearing devices as Ezekiel. It has connected these two young boys.  Someday they will meet face to face.

So tonight it is the Bambu. I hear the sound of big trucks pulling the hill, the water of the pool running strong and the heartbeat of God offering breath every second; it is good and I am thankful. Let it be.

Parque Central in San Antonio today

In Case You Were Wondering….

A very rare publishing by Providence House Publishers of Franklin, Tennessee of Wesley's sermons in Espanol.

Sometimes we all wonder, “am I in the right place? did I get all my turns and cues correct? is this the road you wanted me to be on right now?” And life gets really fun when we quit wondering so much and just enjoy the adventure.  I was enjoying the adventure today when this happened.

The background is our church historian, Andy Miller, who is a leading expert resource on Wesleyan history, the movement of the Holy Spirit in Methodism and a host of other things.  In recent months, Andy has mentioned, in casual conversation, a collection of Wesley’s teachings that he published a few years back for a special request: to translate it into spanish! As he shared this we both had that “aha!” moment when we realized he had a resource in spanish that I would know where to place.  Andy called me the day before I was leaving for Guatemala to tell me where to go to get a sample and take it with me so I could get a “feel for it”.  I was slammed trying to get everything done; I wanted to get it but I ran out of minutes. I’ve thought so many times over the past 3 weeks how much I wished I had that in my hands.

So today as I was catching a few pictures of the VIM Conference Room in Guatemala there was only one set of books on the shelf.  I noticed the imprint right away: PHP: Providence House Publishers.  I grabbed one of the volumes off the shelf and opened it up to see “Franklin, Tennessee” on the publisher’s page.  One of Andy’s very rare volumes of Wesley’s writings in spanish is on the shelf in Guatemala…how did it get here and do they know it is a friend and member of my church who published this set????  I stumbled over my broken spanish while waving Franklin First UMC brochures and pointing: “Franklin, Tennessee”…brochure; “Franklin, Tennessee” book publishing…this is my hometown and a member of church!”

All I am saying is this: I quit wondering some time ago, “if” I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’ve started watching, instead, for the discoveries God offers me to assure me that God is where God is supposed to be! All I need to do is keep showing up. Today…I showed up snapping pictures of a bookshelf that held answers to questions I haven’t had time to ask.  I call that amazing grace.

Mario and Adolfo at the VIM Office

Shared Vision

When I was here in April teaching in La Toma, we were visited by Pastors Juan Pablo and Mario of the National Metodista Executive Committee.  It was our first encounter and a very powerful moment of discovering God’s nudging across countries and cultures.  Today it happened all over again. her desk in the VIM office. Ingrid has worked here two months. She is a gracious hostess!

I was visiting the VIM (Volunteers in Mission) office in Xela today. Three members of the Executive Committee were meeting there and we arranged to have some time together.  I spoke my broken espanol and they graciously received my words.  Then we decided to share visions.  Who would go first?

Heidy Santizo and Ingrid. Heidy serves as the VIM Secretary.








Me, Amilcar, Juan and Mario. All leaders of the Executive Committee of the National Metodista Evangelical Church of Guatemala.

We made formal introductory statements. Mario shared his love for Norris and Fran; he sent his greetings and prayers.  Amilcar Rodas expressed similar sentiments and greetings to Norris and the Tennessee teams and he added that he thinks I am hear to represent Norris and because the women need to see that females can serve as leaders.   Juan Calyua shared that leadership is hard and things go wrong – but God is faithful to equip and provide. He encouraged the sharing of ideas. I had my formal greeting written out in espanol and offered it with greetings on behalf of our dear friend, Norris, and also my church in Franklin, Tennessee.

Now we were ready to hear the “ideas”.  I spoke only one or two sentences….a
community center where we could teach everything…down by the river. Something Norris and I have discussed;something that we both were thinking before we ever shared it.  Mario took out his big yellow highlighter and
as I was saying my 2 sentences he highlighted some words on his paper.  I stopped and he spoke in espanol, which Doris graciously interpreted for me:       “The three of them spoke of this vision before you arrived today. It is the same vision: a community center where we can teach everything…down by the river on the land they purchased with Norris.”

Sunset on my last night in Flores. All I had to do was "show up" to receive this gift

And there it was…again. Five of us this time, (3 Guatemalan pastors, the VIM Coordinator, Doris, and myself) standing in that holy place again where you discover all you had to do was “show up”; God has already spoken what is to be. We arranged for a second meeting.

Almuerzo! (Lunch at the VIM office) Doris made the fabulous meal - complete with pineapple pie and coffee at the end.

And then…almuerzo! Doris had prepared a fabulous alamazur for all of us and we feasted and talked and simply appreciated the moments of time together.  It was great to see the VIM offices of Guatemala. This serves as the country’s only “church” office.  From this space, they lead the national Methodist Church, including all the VIM projects across the country.

After all this I had a moment to myself where I could look in the mirror and I only had one clear thought: “You know, Vona, hot water is not really all that it’s cracked up to be. Whatever you thought it was…it has faded and now it is no longer.”

The VIM offices are upstairs; the downstairs is Salud de Paz, a medical clinic connected to the Metodista Church of Guatemala
The conference room of the VIM office in Guatemala.
Their statement of beliefs
This very rare collection of Wesley's sermons published in spanish is on the shelf in the conference room. This becomes a very important detail for the next post....


Seeing Again…

I wonder sometimes why we  are able to see some things and other things simpy escape us completely. Our minds gets closed or our fears invade.  It is never very comfortable to see something that is beyond where you mind and spirit have grown. Even a good “insight” can cause chaos.  Two examples come to mind from the Scriptures. One is from my reading today where Ezekial is shown some pretty strange visions and then given a job.  The vision (Ezekial 1-3) includes man, animal and angel type combinations. It includes wheels and spirit and the presence of God. It is so overwhelming, all he can do is listen, look and fall on his face.  Pretty weird stuff.  Ezekial was given a job to speak no matter what the circumstances; God equipped him to stand up and follow.

The other example that comes to mind is Peter’s dream/vision where he was shown all these things that he could eat….all things that before that day had been forbidden in his practices of faith.  That vision rocked Peter’s world. It changed everything.  It had to feel so awkward – so uncomfortable – and yet so amazing all at the same time.  Peter who was fierce to do act and do what was needed – had to stop and say, “Oh….OK….you are showing me a different way.

Part of the humble following of God is being open to the new things God shows us even when they are so different from what we have known. Tomorrow I will see Tikal. It will be different from anything I’ve ever seen or known. It is a tradition that is more ancient than my knowledge of history and it is a history that has long shaped the culture in Guatemala.  I am excited to see touch the stones…to hear the listen to the sounds of the jungle…and to see. Let it be.

Moment by Moment

The beginning of sunrise in Xela

Sometimes words escape us. Tonight my words are too many to scale down for one post. The past few days have been full.  I finished up espanol classes yesterday and today has been busy catching the last few glimpses of Xela before I head out for some pure relaxation and reflection.  It is hard to leave Xela, this place has come to feel very much like home. But there are other places I need to see and a limited amount of time. So I will keep moving.

Sunrise in Xela just a moment or two later.

Over the past two weeks of being here I’ve come to know some of the local people.  We’ve shared stories – many.  We have cried tears and laughed so loud it  hurt. I have spoken kindergarten spanish to more people than I can count and they have graciously accepted me anyway.   I’ve shared the story of my church and how they allowed me the time to return to learn more of this culture.  I have given out my card and the “Methodist Church” has gained a curious following from these conversations.

The cultural differences have challenged me and I have found peace with those differences one moment after another.  Maybe peace comes in that way when we choose to let it. It is not easy but it is beautiful. There is an author, Anthony de Mello, that has a teaching that likens the way to love to the way as the way we experience the sunrise: new every morning, offering new perspectives, depth and expressions every moment if you stop demanding and simply take the time to see.

There are many lessons here.. some of which I hope to write after some days of rest.  I will note a few things tonight before they escape my thoughts:

1.  Humility and grace are needed in immeasurable quantities when trying to understand another person or another country. I must never underestimate the need to grow in humility and grace.

2.  Toyota makes a vehicle that outlasts all expectation.  While one country is trading in for the newest model, the “old” models serve years upon years where they are needed in other countries.  Everywhere I turn: Toyota. Thank God for Toyota and bread… two mainstays of this society. And Pepsi….

3.  The issues that challenge Christianity or the lifestyle of a disciple or any follower of Christ invade every society. There is but one answer: Love. Just love. Let God handle the struggle; just live Love and you will be plenty busy. The experience of living Love may make all others things fade in comparison.

I really miss my church family tonight. I work with some of the most wonderful people on earth. I serve in a church that IS busy loving and doesn’t have time for much else. We hurt together, heal together and we celebrate together.  My heart is full of thanksgiving for this blessing.

A different view of Parque Central
Parque Central: the view from above. Miercoles, de 24 de agosta de 2011

Priorities: La Familia!

Ready for the Quinceañera!

I think most of us struggle with priorities and the line of what is “most important” on any given day seems to shift dramatically.  One of the constants in the Guatemalan culture is family….or la familia. It is not even a choice, it is a way of life.  It plays out in a myriad of ways but also through some very strong traditions.

One of those traditions is the Quinceañera. When  a girl turns 15, everyone stops and celebrates with a grand fiesta. There are vows the girl takes. It is a passage from young girl into a lady…a woman.  You know how things just happen that seem so “arranged” and yet you can’t imagine any other than the hand of God being involved?  Well Adolfo is a long time friend of our church and specially the mission team that has been coming here for 11 years.  When I was here in April, his daughter, Jackelin, was baptized (another HUGE – day long celebration).  Well, Jackelin’s Quinceañera was this weekend!  Adolfo invited me to come and it was a great experience of culture, of friends and of espanol!  I did not know this would be on my agenda.  My suitcase didn’t have a “dressy dress” in it, but thankfully I did throw in some heels.  (I have learned some things from this adventure about what to bring, but that is another post) I’ve learned a lot about shopping, attire and what you do “no matter what” when a girl turns 15!

Heidy (la madre) helping Jackelin with her shoes

The familia (Adolfo has a lovely wife and three daughters) decorated a rented building (Salon) for the event.  About 400 people attended.  The festivities for the day began with my having lunch in their home (a traditional birthday meal which I also experienced in April with one of the kids from our mission site) and then followed the preparation for the service.  It was as if preparing for a wedding, though I cannot speak to that  tradition here.  The Quinceañera is for all girls.. it knows no class or distinction.  Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, every girl celebrates this passage.  For Jackelin’s family, however, that event is centered completely around the church.

Adolfo, Jackelin, Heidy and Juan Pablo. Juan Pablo is their pastor. The ceremony included a long procession with flower girls, attendants, etc.

The service was clearly Metodista…printed bulletin, hymns, scripture, liturgy and all.  The dressing of the familia was all formal and lovely.  I learned a lot, had a good time and enjoyed making a memory with this familia.

Jackelin Jelhanna Santizo Gramajo
Los Ninos enjoying the fiesta!

There were 8 celebrantes involved in the ceremony in addition to many songs…10-12, both congregational singing and special music. After the ceremony (2.5 hours +) we had a full course dinner (yummy!!!) and cake which was just like a wedding cake… complete with its own cutting ceremony!  It was a very long and grande event.  And awesome for me to share with this special family.

In Guatemala family is a high priority for everyone.  My teacher, for example, shares a home with her parents, her two grown daughters and one 4 year old grandchild.  There is no retirement here (except for government employees) so families have to stick together. In Lily’s household, she is the constant breadwinner.

It is the familia that causes people to come work in the USA, make money and return with a way to offer their families  a decent way of life. It is the familia that always brings them back to their homeland. It is the familia that keeps traditions moving throughout the generations and it is the familia that breaks the hearts of all.  Sounds much like love, doesn’t it?

The new generations of Guatemala are experiencing much change. This tight-knit bond is a little more unraveled these days, though still intact.  The girl that goes off to school away from the family is both discouraged and admired. She has a tough road ahead. The young man who desires to see the world will struggle with a global connection with many countries and a family that needs his support to make it.  Like us, they all wonder: what will happen? What will we become? What will happen to the family?  Will we scatter all over the world, and if we do….who will be there when we are in need?

A portion of my family when we were in Alaska in May. Just appreciating them right now.

The church has a way of answering some of those questions – both here in Guatemala and all over the world.  Jesus was clear that his brothers and sisters are those who follow as his disciples. In other words, the church is to serve as family to all who assemble as a united community.  Thankfully I can say that is exactly my experience. I grew up with an amazing “church family” as a child and I have one in our church today.  My church family today is the most incredible community of faith I’ve ever known.  We love each other and we help each other…in all situations and circumstances.  I think “the family” needs our prayers. Both traditionally and the one we are called to be as a church. And maybe, some priorities should remain.

My family: Mom, Dick, my awesome sister, Liz, and me on the night of my ordination in 2010. I love you all!

The Iron Did Swim

There is an awesome teaching in II Kings 6 about a borrowed axe head that fell into the water and the prophet Elisha was called to pray and bring it to the surface. It was a great concern to this group of prophets. Well…we ALL know what it is like to lose something important. Maybe something very valuable – either monetarily or because it holds special meaning, important content or… as it was for the company of prophets in II Kings 6…something borrowed that belonged to someone else.

So I wrote on Tuesday about my “lost notebook” that had all my grammar rules in it. I prayed this prayer from II Kings 6 as I do with anything I lose of particular importance. I learned this practice from a lady named Carolyn several years ago.  You can read more about that prayer in the blog posting of when I lost my blackberry in Guatemala back in the earlier part of the year.

The moleskin journal with all my grammar rules and notes in it. Realized it was "lost" when I arrived to class on Tuesday without it. On Wednesday morning when I went to class it was right there...

This post tonight is to say one thing: The notebook did swim!!! It floated right to the top on Wednesday morning when I walked in, looked down and noticed it on the floor of my tiny classroom.  How did I not see it before? We don’t know. What we do know is that “the iron did swim” for Elisha and it swam for me this week too.  God is so faithful.  Don’t forget to ask for help …even when you lose something that you need to find.