Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Wow! Where do I even start to tell you about the extraordinary trip I had the privilege to take part in? So many sights, sounds and experiences that it's all a bit of a blur right now so what I'll do is to take one of the Bible verses we used in our leadership retreats for the Pastors and try to give you a little insight that way...

Finally, brothers (and sisters!) whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent of praiseworthy - think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Whatever is true...
I love Guatemala, that much is true. It's an amazing country and is often called 'the land of eternal spring' because of the wonderful temperate climate which produces a landscape naturally bursting with flowers and fruit. Everything about Guatemala is about contrast - poverty and wealth, beauty and ugliness, fragrance of flowers and rotting waste, hard work and corruption. They make up the fabric of life and remind me of how contrasting my life is and how I need God's help to balance and live a life that brings him most glory.

Lake Atitlan

 Women washing clothes in Lake Atitlan

Whatever is noble...
For me there's nothing more humbling than working in the name of our mighty, glorious and noble God. It was such an honor to serve on a team with others who felt the same way and many of whom went through enormous personal sacrifice to Make God Look Good through their work on this trip. The team helped build five houses, cleaned, extracted and fluoride treated hundreds of teeth, diagnosed and treated illnesses, prayed, laughed and cried with widows and orphans, installed and refreshed water purification units in churches and schools, listened and supported recovering alcoholics, taught English, played with kids, angst'd with teens and refreshed weary Pastors. It was good hard work for our noble God.

One of the houses we helped build amongst the coffee trees

The lovely Connie, one of our House Visiting Heroes packing a gift of bread, chocolate and milk powder to take to each home.

Whatever is right...
Being in Guatemala, working with Pastors and leaders, making wonderful new Christian friends and helping and encouraging where I could were all 'right' for me; although the experience was all new, in many ways it felt like coming home. I've noticed before that God is very lavish in bestowing that home-coming feeling when things are right.

Some of my new Guatemalan girl-friends.

Whatever is pure...
We had a whole load of kids on our trip from the Marvelous Minzi (3ft and bursting with life) right up to Peachy Paul (6ft and soon to become a Marine) they bought so much unbridled joy, energy, enthusiasm and pure love to our trip. They formed two ministries - the kids went into schools and played games with the Guatemalan kids, telling them about their God and Jesus and, well, just being kids! Many of the kids on the team attend Spanish immersion schools in the USA so their language is flawless, but my guess is that even without the language, they would have had no trouble at all connecting with others because they appear to go 'heart first' and that tends to overcome all other barriers. The teens worked with a Guatemalan youth worker (the FABULOUS Betty) to develop a drama which they presented to an enormous group of Guatemalan teens at one of the large churches in San Pedro on Wednesday evening. They talked about being a Christian teen and what that means, what impact it has on relationships, internet usage and lots more. 

 A gaggle of teenageness (sorry about the ridiculous camera angle!)

Whatever is lovely...
The trip we were on was the 18th year that Wooddale church has worked in Guatemala with the association of Baptist Churches around Lake Atitlan and as a result the depth and strength of relationships between the team members and the people they serve is just lovely. Trust, willingness to work hard, be flexible and take risks are just some of the benefits that have accrued over time and they have yielded significant positive effects in the lives of everyone concerned. You can imagine that a trip of the scale and complexity of this one requires infinite planning, coordination and execution that is second to none. In addition to the details (ARGHHH!) the cultural and linguistic differences are extreme and so we partner with Jaime Lopez who leads the SEPAL organization (Serving Pastors And Leaders) in Guatemala. It's tricky to explain the complexity of what Jaime does but really I'd describe him as an International Christian Logistics Superhero and this is from a woman who knows a bit about leaders! At any given time Jaime is on the phone with incoming groups, on the ground with current groups, translating, praying, smoothing out relationships between different church denominations, working with the government,  customs and police authorities, driving buses through 4WD bandit-ridden roads and all this while keeping an eye on his lovely young Daughter Melissa. Truly I don't know how he does it, but I know for certain that without his efforts many missions trips plunge from lovely to horrific in a matter of minutes.

Pastor Issac and The Lovely Jaime

Whatever is admirable...
The team I was part of was one of the smallest of the ministry teams, made up of Ed, Candy, Susan, me and of course supported by the lovely Jaime. I TRULY admire Ed & Candy. They both had busy and fulfilling careers - Ed as a Pastor and then a businessman and Candy as a Spanish teacher. Once they retired they decided to start traveling the world, joining missions trips and encouraging Christian leaders across the globe, and my! what an amazing job they do. Candy has MS and walks with great difficulty assisted by her trusty 'wheels' however any impediments she has are completely overcome by her dogged determination to love and serve others, she traverses terrain that many able bodied folks would find challenging and never, ever, ever complains. Her obvious heroism is matched by a wicked wit and thus she is an enormous hit with everyone she meets especially the Pastors. Ed is SO deep and SO wise it's actually a bit scary! His knowledge of the Bible and heart for others makes him a wonderful man of God, he is able to rapidly pray for and minister to others with no preparation or advance warning and he has a wonderful resonant voice which is impactful whether he is speaking or singing. He brings a quiet calm everywhere he goes. I have no idea how I got so blessed to spend the week in the presence of this wonderful couple but will be eternally grateful that I did.

 Candy giving a little peanut a ride on her 'wheels'

 The Ed-inator

If anything is excellent or praiseworthy...
Being a Pastor anywhere is hard work, but being a Pastor in Guatemala is something else entirely. These men are shepherds of  huge flocks that live in conditions that few in the first world could even imagine, with no discernible way-out and few resources to assist them; and yet these Pastors are focused, compassionate, wise and joyful servants of God. I had the opportunity to do three home visits on Friday to members of two of the churches we were serving and it was truly horrific. The despair, grief, sadness, poverty, filth and squalor that are commonplace in the towns we worked in were barely conscionable to me and I was utterly exhausted at the end of my pathetic three hour visit. But these are the conditions that the Pastors serve in every day and they do great work instilling the love of God, hope of salvation and practical help wherever they are able. They are my heroes.

Pastors & Deacons from San Lucas

Once again THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for all you have done and will continue to do to love God by supporting me and the people of Guatemala. 

Best Blessings, Love and Enormous Gratitude.


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