To Laugh, or to Cry? That is the Question…

My first two weeks here in Guatemala have been very eye opening, and left my brain struggling to process all of the new faces, names, places, language, and interactions. It’s a little overwhelming, and difficult to provide an adequate answer the question… “so how’s Guatemala?” I’ll do my best in this post to answer that, and therefore will be saving my experiences with the children for the next post (which will come within the next week!). These experiences I wish to share will hopefully be a good background to my future posts about the kiddos at Casa de mi Padre.

Throughout the first 9 days, I got a pretty well rounded view of Guatemala as a whole, and experienced it all with a small team of 6 people. We spent some time in Guatemala City, Antigua, Xela, Chichicastenango, and of course my new home (for at least the next two months), Quiche. In each city we visited, I saw a new side of Gautemala and Casa de mi Padre as this ministry has a left a mark all over this beautiful country. Our trip back to Quiche from Xela was quite eventful, and really began the “eye opening” process to what it’s truly like to live in this country.

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We ate dinner at Panda Express in Xela with Peter and Sandra, two kids who have transitioned out of Casa de mi Padre and into Guatemala homes to further their education. It was so encouraging hearing their stories of starting adulthood, and seeing them continue to pursue the Lord and make disciples in their new communities! This picture was snapped right before we left Xela… little did we know what was coming!!!

Through this event, I learned some valuable lessons required of living in Guatemala (and other 3rd world countries):

  1. Be prepared for ANYTHING.
  2. Challenges of all shapes and sizes are inevitable.
  3. You can choose to laugh or cry when these inevitable challenges occur.

Let me just outline how our trip back to Casa de mi Padre from Xela went:

7:30pm – We left Xela, and began our 2 1/2 hour drive back to Quiche.
9:30pm – We drove up Quiche mountain after passing through Chichicastenango (aint that a mouthful), and got stuck in a line of cars for miles on this narrow windy two lane road. There had been an accident miles ahead, and they still needed to tow one of the cars out of the way.
NOTE: In the U.S. you’d think, “Okay, maybe I’ll be sitting here for 30 minutes or an hour, and then start moving again.” NOT SO IN GUATEMALA MY FRIEND. The police don’t show up to direct traffic and help people get where they need to go. And we heard from murmurings of other drivers that the tow truck may not make it until morning (also normal in Guatemala), so they were settling in for the night.
10:00pm – We decided to turn around and attempt an alternate route (a long dirt road, but leads to Quiche nonetheless) that Shane had driven on a few years ago. After we inched our way out of line with the help of some Guatemalan men and frantic hand signals “Adalante! No! Para!!” We found ourselves heading back through Chichicastenango, and into the great unkown.
11:00pm – We got about half way through our alternate route, before we got stopped again by a small group of cars with emergency blinkers on. At the bottom of the hill was a muddy mess that our van was definitely not going to successfully cross. Our last option was to head back to Chichicastenango and find a hotel for the night. In order to get turned around on this road, we (three women and a adolescent young man) had to push the van up a STEEP DIRT ROAD while two of our other women lit the path so Shane didn’t accidentally drive into the ditch. We were back on the road at around 11:40pm after some more frantic hand signals and shouting “Forward! No! Stop!!”
12:20am – We got to the first reputable hotel in Chichicastenango. The man there gave a ridiculously high price for the rooms, so we went to the next hotel where no one answered. Upon returning to the first hotel, the man said “You know what, someone just came and took those rooms.” Within the last ten minutes?! I doubt it. We had just about resigned to sleeping in the van when the police drove by saying the road was open, so we started back for our original route.
1:30am – We got past our first place in line, but found ourselves back in a line stuck on the same darn road. And just as we had resigned to sleeping on the bus… the line started moving!
1:45am – We made it back to the guest house, and collapsed in our beds.

So to summarize, a 2 1/2 hour drive turned into about 6… plus some unexpected physical activity.

The next day, one of our team members was animatedly telling a Guatemalan friend about our adventure, and the woman looked at her blankly waiting for the punch line. It dawned on us, that this is everyday life for Guatemalans. Crisis is always just around the corner, and the resources to rectify them are often out of reach. Forget thriving, people are merely working to survive. We may not have control over our lives, schedules, or circumstance, but we do have control over how we perceive them. That 6 hour drive could have been tense and miserable, but it wasn’t. As our circumstances began looking increasingly ominous, we became increasingly delirious with laughter. Even as we pushed a 15 passenger van up a hill backwards, we wheezed and giggled. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, and I’ll forever look back on that chaotic night with fondness.

And then yesterday I had a day off, and spent it attempting to be productive… but found myself frustrated with a plethora of those little inevitable challenges. I won’t bore you with an extensive report, but it included an exploded ranch packet in my back pocket while wearing them (also my last pair of clean pants), a tuk-tuk driver tried to rip me off, several people dismissed me when I couldn’t understand what they were trying to ask me, unidentifiable bug bites, grocery shopping in an unfamiliar country, raw egg running down my leg while squished between two grown men on the bus, and after hanging up my clean laundry to dry it started raining.

In those challenges, I did not take the “laugh approach”… but chose the latter. I sat on the roof of my house, called my parents, and complained about these inconveniences as bitter tears rolled down my cheeks. When our call ended I looked over the ledge, and saw this:

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A mother gathered trash to make a fire, so that she could make dinner for her children. The tin structures you see is where they live. The purple broom she uses to sweep the excess trash from their dirt floor. Shortly after snapping this picture it began to rain on the fresh flames beginning to consume the cardboard.

Ouch. In one moment, I went from throwing a tantrum over my inconvenient mishaps… to wrecked over my ignorant, self-absorbed, spoiled little heart. My “challenges” were so trivial in comparison.

As Americans, it’s hard to truly grasp this way of life, as we have an abundance of resources, options, and order in the States. You need to go grocery shopping? No problem! You have a car to put your groceries in, and four stores to choose from. Also, did you know that “The pedestrian has the right of way” is NOT a universal concept? I do now. I’m learning that choosing joy over bitterness is going to be a constant choice I must face here, as I will often find myself in more challenges with limited or no resources to utilize.

Don’t get me wrong, I like this country a lot. I think I just skipped the honeymoon stage and jumped into the reality of life here. This country is beautiful, chaotic, simple, and yet complicated. It is consumed with poverty and tragedy, but also strong family bonds, love, willingness to help a neighbor, and teamwork. When those cars were stuck in the muddy mess at midnight, five other drivers stopped to help push them out. The “every man for himself” attitude we find more common in the U.S. isn’t really a thing here, and I love that. And I know this is just scratching the surface of all that I have yet to discover about this country!

I’m just now finishing my first “typical” week here, and still learning the routine and structure of the ministry. I haven’t fulfilled the duties of a psychologist yet, as I’m being trained in other areas first. I’ll share more about my experiences with the children in the next post, so stay tuned!

Prayer requests as of 7/21/18:

  1. Please pray that I learn the language quickly. It has been a major hindrance for me in being able to get different places, having conversations, and correcting behaviors when necessary. A handful of times I’ve had to pull in another staff member to help interpret for me, which is not ideal. I want to build relationships with the children and people of this city, but am so limited by this language barrier.
  2. Please pray for our kiddos, and that their hearts would be open to my being here.
  3. Pray that the Lord gives me wisdom in my approach to counseling sessions as I attempt to create a safe atmosphere to share vulnerabilities and bring healing.
  4. Pray that the Lord gives me clarity as I pray about staying here long-term after this two month trial run.

Thank you so much for your support of what the Lord is doing here in Guatemala! God is going to use this ministry to radically transform communities here, as I see the lives of our children are so deeply impacted. I’ll write again soon!

6 thoughts on “To Laugh, or to Cry? That is the Question…”

  1. Oh my sweet Alex! You make me smile, laugh and tear up all at the same time! I well remember the first few weeks when I was in Mexico on the base team of Operation Mobilation. Everyone was Spanish speaking except me and I felt quite lonely. No one to confide in or tell my deepest heartfelt feelings to. It was before cell phones and the technology that we have today that enabled some us to keep constant contact with friends and family at home. It was a hard time but a sweet time of confiding in my Lord and Savior. He saw me and knew my heart and flooded me with simple happenings that made me aware of His knowledge of me and love. Special moments …. like ones that I just read in your blog. I’m praying that you will be “filled with all spiritual wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Jesus).

    I love you and am praying for you constantly!

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  2. The joy of Guatemala! I love it there even the food that looks bad ! I went to Guatemala in 2013 for the first time and was shocked…. I left my heart there and a couple of times a year I return to check on it. P,us I got to get my hugs and kisses. No worries Alex it gets better within time!
    God’s love and blessings each day! Keep a smile on your face and your purse around your shoulder! Blessing Always,
    Karen Hidalgo

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  3. Alex, I am looking forward to your blog entries and how God is going to use you at Casa de Mi Padre. I will pray for you and so please share anything that I can intercede to the Father for you. Yes, the language will be first. Lord, may Your Holy Spirit give Alex the words she needs to accomplish the work You have given her. I’ll tell you a little secret, Alex. I am 68 years old and when I first heard about this job, I wondered if I should pursue it. If it had been a possibility when I graduated from college with a psychology degree, I would have applied. But God in His wisdom has chosen you and I know He’ll equip You to do it. I am anxious to hear about the kids. Our Open Range kids will want to hear about them and also to pray for them. We introduced this idea to them and their parents this weekend. It might take a few weeks, but I believe God will help connect each Casa child with an Open Range child. As Pastor Frank said last night “Kids praying for kids. What could go wrong with that!” Take time to learn and grow in your faith. The Lord bless you.

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    1. Anita! I apologize that I am just now seeing this! I’m still getting used to having a blog and hadn’t realized I had a comment. Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement. I’ll be posting about some of the kids soon, so keep an eye out!! I’d LOVE to do that! I’d be happy to share my experiences here with the kids at Open Range, looking to exploring that idea more soon! I love the idea of kids praying for kids. 🙂

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      1. Hi Alex. This is Anita again. This weekend, I shared the picture cards of the Casa kids with our Open Range kids. With your Mom’s help, we will tell them a little more this coming weekend and each child will choose a prayer pal. I think they are excited about it. We are going to write letters introducing themselves and probably send them with Fawn in October. I want to get pictures of our kids to send as well.
        I hope we can get prayer cards for the new kids at Casa too. Our kids range from age 3 to 12 so I am hoping to pair up kids of same ages. Keep in touch and we will try to develop friendships for your kids and ours to the glory of our Lord.

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