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Two are better than one…

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The other day as we were building a stove for Doña Teresa, the tortilla lady, I happened to notice her clothes line. Like many, the line was full of freshly washed clothing, but what I noticed was there were no clothes pins like what I’m used to seeing on a clothes line in the U.S. In this case, the clothesline was simply two cords that were wrapped around each other. The clothing was simply stuck between the two and supported by the tension of they exerted to suspend the load…ingenious!

Then I started thinking about other things that work better when two things are working together. Certainly marriage and other relationships work best when the two individuals are working together and sharing the load. Also companies and employees, parents and children, and all other groups of people work best when they are each pulling their own share of the weight.

As the clothesline demonstrated…there is not much need for anything else…just the two individuals, wrapped tightly in relationship, each pulling their own share of the weight.

Amazing what I learn from laundry…

I get it…finally…

Today we started another round of stove building for many of the families here in Las Anonas, Guatemala.  Today, we started Berta Victor’s stove.  She has two children, Oscar and Jacqueline.  They are about 8 and 6 years old respectively if I were to guess.  She lives in a home of corrugated metal scraps, a dirt floor, outdoor bathroom, limited electricity all of which are pretty normal here.

Here is the photo of her “before” kitchen photo.

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I love doing this for many reasons.  First of all, it allows me to stay for an extended period in their home.  This allows me to get to know them and vice versa.   I get to know their children, and they quickly become my friends, my helpers and my shadow!

Also, I love working with Don Juan.  We still have a large language gap between us, but we still manage just fine as we make jokes, laugh and learn from each other.   I also love watching how the women go about their day.   Not to sound “creepy” or anything, I learn so much by observing how difficult it is for them to live.   They leave each morning with their small children and a machete and they trek off into the woods to cut the days supply of firewood.  Then they return home and begin to prepare meals.   This usually involves starting a fire and boiling beans.   Then comes time to do dishes and or laundry.  It’s done outside using a concrete scrub board (pila), and they scrub!   The water runs out on the ground, where the chickens or the ducks enjoy the refreshment.

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Today, I loved showing Don Juan many of the new tools that we were able to get by many generous donations.  He was overjoyed!   No more tape measures we can’t read, squares that aren’t square or levels that aren’t level.   But I think the best thing was a headlamp that I bought him.   We often work in very dark places and Don Juan honestly, just can’t see!   I often had to use my phone and just hold it while he worked.   But today, was different.  After I had shown him how to use the headlamp, I demonstrated how he could adjust the light to shine of exactly where he was working, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him happier!

The other thing I loved about today were the kids.   Oscar and Jacqueline were my constant companions.   Jacqueline made fun of me most of the day because of my Spanish.   I know I use the wrong tenses, I don’t conjugate my verbs correctly, and I probably sound to her like an infant…but that’s ok because she laughs at me!

Oscar, on the other hand, was seriously into what we were doing.  He worked as hard as we did by cleaning tools, stacking, soaking bricks and just watching every move we made.  At one point I was cutting bricks with a grinder, and he was so close to me our heads were touching.   I had my safety glasses on, and I gave a pair to Oscar to wear as well.   He loved it.   After each brick I would cut, he would grab the scrap and take it inside his house.

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However, the best part of today was at the end of the workday.   We had mixed a little more concrete than we needed, so Don Juan told me to use it to fill a small dip in the dirt that led into their new cooking area.   So, I prepared the concrete, dumped it and before I could do anything else, little Oscar had grabbed a concrete hand float and was troweling the concrete to a beautiful finish!  I was amazed and incredibly proud of him at the same time.

But I was also humbled…

Oscar demonstrated to me what the essence of this stove building ministry SHOULD be about.   It shouldn’t be about Bob getting to know and experience the daily life of Guatemalans.  It should be about providing opportunities for Guatemalans to better their life!   That could come in many forms.  It could come from:

  1.  Providing a stove that eliminates smoke as they cook.
  2. Providing a way to burn the wood they collect 66% more efficiently.
  3. Providing jobs for masons, like Don Juan.
  4. Providing training, hope and igniting the flame of future possibilities in young men like little Oscar.

This ministry is not about Bob.   It’s about Bob teeing up an opportunity, getting the right people in place and then getting out of the way.  That’s the model that will work…

I get it…finally…

How do we deal with the tragedies of life?

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When I was a kid growing up, I never questioned my parents decisions.

For instance, when I was six years old, I would have never thought to walk into my parents room and demand for them to tell me how they filled out their tax forms for the year and question the deductions they did or didn’t take. I would have never challenged my Dad on his choice of routes that he was going to drive on our annual vacation. I would have never demanded an explanation for decisions that he made at work. Because, as a six year old, I had my hands full with my own stuff.

My job was to play nice with my friends. To take a nap each day and to eat everything on my plate. My job was to pick up my toys when I was through playing with them. My job was to say “please and thank you” and to hold my parents hand when we crossed the street. Life was simple as long as I focused on my stuff…

So in the wake of the recent mudslides in Guatemala, the shootings in Oregon, the floods in the Carolinas, the craziness of Syria and Isis…I often hear people questioning the goodness of God. They wonder…why God would “allow” such events to take place…and in some cases, they demand an explanation!

The problem I have with such thinking is that by demanding an explanation…they are willfully distancing themselves from God…the very thing they NEED when struggling with such a question. By them failing to get an answer…they walk away…from Him and from the very thing they need the most during this time…unconditional love despite the ever present storms of life.

The act of questioning and challenging God is not a new thing. It is a pattern of human behavior going back to the dawn of man. I read in the Bible about Job having it out with God and demanding answers for his trajedy. I think he is the only person that ever got an explanation from God and in reading God’s response…I learned not to question God…just go with it!

So what do we as humans do when the storms of tragedy fall down upon us and disrupt our lives, tear at our hearts and consume those we deem as innocent victims…what do we do?

We should do what may seem “unnatural” for many of us…we should run towards God. That is the best place to be. Like the saying goes, the safest place in a hurricane is the center of the storm. Once there, feel free to share what is on YOUR heart. Share your fears, your pains and your uncertainties… He shares all you feel. Then when you’re out of words…just reach up and grab his hand… and don’t let go. Trust me…you’ll be fine.

I know it may sound simple…but it worked when I was six.

“Investment Opportunity”

 

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Dear Friends,

I found out something today that I believe demands our attention.  

Some of you might know that Hope Ignited sponsors a school in the village of Las Anonas, Guatemala.  We have about 25 children that attend the school and they are amazing!  We enroll children ages 3 – 5 and when they leave our school, they enter the public school system being able to read and write and many can speak English!  Our kids enter the public school system miles ahead of their classmates.

We are approaching the end of the school year here and it is customary for the Guatemala schools to take the kids on a field trip of some kind and we would love to do the same for our school.  Most of these children have never been out of the village!   Most have never eaten at a McDonalds!

We would like to take the children to the Childrens Museum in Guatemala City on October 9th.   Then treat them all to a McDonalds Happy Meal.  We have lined up the use of a school bus to use and Oscar is going to drive it.

As always, the big issue is cost.   The museum is charging  $5.00 per child and I’m thinking the Happy Meal is another $5.00.   So, we are looking at a total cost of $250 to give these children an experience of a lifetime!

They have been trying to raise the money on their own and they have only raised a small percentage of the needed $250.  Nobody asked me to help…but I heard about it and I knew that this would be a great opportunity to bless the teachers, the children and the school for a job “well done” this year!

Don’t you think we can raise $250 to do this?

If you want to jump in…just click the button below and enter whatever amount you want.

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What a blessing this will be!

I’ll keep you posted!

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Independence…

 

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On September 15th, Guatemala will celebrate Independence Day.

There will be parades, fireworks and all the things one might expect for such a celebration. Being here for over three months has allowed me to really begin to appreciate the people of this country in many ways that I never expected. They have historically been a country that has been dominated by a leader that has been anything but fair and just. Political corruption has unfortunately been a staple of this beautiful place.

However, over the past three months I have witnessed the people, banning together to say “enough is enough” and as a result, they peacefully held demonstrations that led to the imprisonment of the Vice President  and the resignation and impending trial of the President of the country as well.  As a result, the people have discovered an enormous sense of pride in their country. Guatemalan flags are everywhere. People are rejoicing in the newly acknowledged power that they have experienced. They have unified and are demanding that their leaders listen and conduct their actions humbly and selflessly.   Even in the church, the pastors preach, “He has shown you, O mortal what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”* – Micah 6:8.  It seems in Guatemala, the people have truly spoken…

This country certainly still has its share of problems, but the sense that the people have a voice that is now being heard by the leadership, leads me to believe their future will only get better.

This is truly an amazing thing to watch and a wonderful time in history to be a part of.

Distance brings clarity…

My morning commute...
My morning commute…

Distance brings clarity…

I heard that statement recently and the more I think about it…the more truth I find in its simplicity. Often times our days are so full of activities and other distractions that our lives become a blur. Our days become one continuous stream of activity, to do lists, and we are subjected to a constant barrage of information we have rarely asked for or need.

However, what I have discovered in the short time I have been here in Guatemala is the beauty of the space that exists when those things are absent. I am learning what to do when I don’t have internet. I am learning how to live without a phone or mail. I am learning how to exist without a car. I am learning how to live without having access to TV to watch sports and my goofy reality TV shows. I am learning how to listen to people talk and not understand the words they are saying, yet understanding the meaning behind the words. I am separated from what I have known and what has been familiar…yet I am beginning to see clearly.

I mean this figuratively and literally! I wear glasses when I am home in order to drive and to see anything over 5’ away. However, since I have been here in Guatemala, I have not needed to wear them. I can see perfectly! I am also beginning to hear the voice of my heart. I know it sounds weird, but being able to walk to school each morning is a wonderful 20 minute way to begin my day. I look around at the people, the flowers, the buildings and of course the volcanos that surround the city. I hear the birds chirping, the “chicken buses” roaring past and I feel the cool breeze on my face. I hear the faint voice of my heart speaking to me in a me in a way that I can’t describe. This is sacred time and I cherish it.

I never had these experiences before and I am beginning to understand why. I believe it is only when we can look at our lives from a distance that we really can determine if we are living the life we truly want to live. I believe I finally am. Distance brings clarity…and for the first time in a very long time…I can see 20/20.

My first days in Guatemala…

Mornings in Las Anonas
Mornings in Las Anonas

Buenos Dias!

It sure seems a little different not having a whole bunch of people around…different…not bad! 🙂 Seriously though…what I am finding different is that there is a “rhythm” of daily life here that I need to figure out and how I can join in. It is much different than when we are here with teams and are the center of attention. Oscar has his daily routine as does Amy and Diego and I don’t want to interrupt that.

The mornings here are the best, sunny and all the sounds that I love…dogs barking, bus sounds, weird birds and roosters combine into a wonderful tranquil symphony and even the sound of hand clippers and rakes on concrete as Don Tohitto and his accomplice clip and rake Oscar’s yard by hand…even in the rain. But by noon, the clouds roll in and it is a totally different story. It rained so hard on Monday that it sounded like a fire hose was turned on. Then by evening, its cool and calm once again. Our having dinner at about 6:30 and in bed by 7:00 seems to be the way of life…and not a bad one either.

My first day started by having coffee with Amy as she sat in her chair looking out at the back yard. She is reading a devotional by Charles Swindoll. She said that Annie may have some job opportunities for me in Antigua. One, at the chocolate shop (Fernando’s) and the other at the coffee plantation. That is awesome and I’m going to follow up on both. The rest of the morning was spent driving around with Diego to several of his ongoing jobsites. It’s good to see him in construction again…that is his sweetspot. I got passed off to Oscar at about noon and we ran errands…Pricesmart (not affiliated with Costco), the bank, the water store and the local market. I can tell that he is ready for me to get behind the wheel and become the “errand boy” because he was challenging me with which turn to take to get to and fro. I did pretty well…even without the GPS. That is fine…I’m looking forward to helping them anyway I can.

Once the rains rolled in…we pretty much shut down until dinner. I spent some time making the casita a little more like home. Amy got me a small table, chair and lamp. So now I can have a place to sit and work on the computer without having to sit on the bed. I love it and it really feels like home.

Oscar had a lightning strike hit his property recently and it affected several of his electronics. Like Diego’s apple TV, Oscars wifi and computer and some other stuff. So we are having to work with getting all of that back online and working. Just another day….

Well that’s about it so far. I think I’m really starting to loosen up…well…starting….!

I want to be like the moon…

Full Moon

I want to be like the moon!

The moon has no light of its own. The only way we can see it is when it reflects the light of the sun.

The moon has it greatest power when it is full. When it is in perfect alignment with both the earth and the sun. When this happens, its beauty is fully appreciated by those on earth and its influence can be seen by the pull of the tides of the ocean and some people believe their own emotions are affected by the full moon.

Without the sun, the moon is nothing more to us than a lifeless cold rock that drifts alone in space 241,821 miles away. But by reflecting the sun, it becomes something of beauty and something that can sometimes take our breath way.

Yep…I want to be like the moon…but if and only if…I can reflect the light of the sun.

 

Photo credit:  Andreia Bohner

The 38 year old cookie…

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It was 1977 in Charleston, SC.  I was a freshman…a “knob” attending The Military College of South Carolina…or better known as The Citadel. I had been recruited to play quarterback and had moved up in the depth chart from 11th string quarterback to 2nd string quarterback just one week before our first game. Being part of the football team relieved me from much of the physical hazing that the rest of my classmates were enduring while I was at practice. However, from my vantage point, I was getting all I could handle in practice.

It happened to be my 18th birthday in early September of 1977. We had our last scrimmage before our first game. As I took the snap and executed an option play, the moment that I flicked the ball to my running back, my left palm was caught between two helmets that simultaneously sandwiched my palm and crushed the bones in my throwning hand…as well as my dreams.

Leaving the infirmary with a fresh cast on my left hand, I stopped by the post office on campus to pick up a birthday “care package” from my Mom. I knew it had to be something good and I rushed into the barracks and began the process of getting to my room.

The process for a “knob” to get to their room was no easy feat. We were required to double time around the perimeter of the barracks running only in two tile widths of area to one of four corners of the square barracks that marked our company staircase. Once at the bottom of the staircase, we were required to give ourselves a “shirt-tuck” which meant tightening our shirt both front and back. Then, if any upperclassman were on the stairs, we had to request permission of that upperclassman to use the stairs. Silly…but required.

The problem was that the rooms for the knobs were on the fourth floor of the barracks and getting to your room required having to run through a gauntlet of upperclassmen…and upperclassmen with nothing to do…were very dangerous.

Well, here I come with a broken hand, broken dreams and a box of goodies from my Mom and all I’m thinking about is getting to my room. Then it happens…the upperclassmen see the box….and they know by instinct that boxes carried by knobs most likely means…food.

I am confronted by a group of upperclassmen and am forced to open the box from my Mom. It contains a birthday card and a box of homemade chocolate chip cookies….contraband for knobs…a dream come true for hungry upperclassmen!

One of the upperclassmen that confronts me is Mr. Kipphut. He is one of many, but he takes my box of cookies and reminds me of the fact that knobs are not supposed to have “contraband” in the barracks and he and his friends are going to help me out. So they all take my cookies and leave one for me. However the one they leave me is crushed into crumbs and placed on the ground of the tiled walkway. It is there that they demand that I do push ups for violating the contraband policy. Since I have a broken hand, I am forced to do one-armed push ups which they have no sympathy. Each time I go down for a push up…I am allowed to eat a bite of the cookie crumbs that are on the ground and then I return back to the up position and sound off “one sir.” This goes one for 15 more times and then I am allowed to go to my room.

Happy 18th birthday to me….

Fast forward 38 years….and I attend a Citadel alumni function in Plano, TX. I walk in and one of the first people I see is my “old friend Mr. Kipphut.” By now his name is Mark. We exchange greetings and begin a warm and friendly exchange as we both begin to unpack the years that have gone by for each of us.

We both attended a recent alumni event and I shared with “Mark” the events of that fateful day in 1977 and the impact that it had on me. Mark was moved…however, I didn’t realize how much until today….

Today, I had lunch with Mark. We had agreed that we would get together and have lunch and today was the day. We both arrived at the restaurant at the same time and as I waited for Mark to get to the door, I noticed a box in his hand…. He met me and said, here…these are for you…. It was a box of chocolate chip cookies.

I cannot begin to explain how much this simple gesture meant to me. I was pretty much stunned when he gave them to me and it wasn’t until after our lunch and I was driving away that the story of our past became so vivid…again.

What a guy…to take the initiative to “right” a “wrong” that happened so long ago. What a guy… that would feel like this was an important thing to do…

Well it was….and as I sat in front of my TV tonight…I opened that box of cookies….and they were the best tasting things I think I’ve ever enjoyed.

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38 year old cookies are the best…not because the cookie…but because the man behind the cookie… is now… my friend.

60 days…to beginning the next chapter…

It’s hard to believe that in 60 days I’ll be sitting in the airport with a one way ticket to Guatemala!

Why am I going?   Good question…

I think God has been moving me. When I step back and look at my life, I can see a significant shift that has taken place in me over the past decade. I’ve become a Christian, I got baptized, I began working mission trips into my regular life schedule, I started seminary, I left my 30 construction career and lucrative salary to become 100% dependant on God and the generous donations of my supporters…and now I’m moving to Guatemala.

When I think about it…it all makes sense. I think God has been preparing me to do the “real work.”   It all made sense when I heard pastor Andy Stanley say recently,

“Holy hands are dirty hands.”

Years ago, when I thought of the word “Holy”, the thought would be accompanied by a sense of things that were clean, bright, and neat and often separated from other things. Just as one thinks of God in the Old Testament residing in the Holy of Holies, and the actions of the Pharisee and Sadducees in the Bible worrying about being exposed to someone who was “unclean.”  They went to extreme measures to remain “clean and holy.”

When I thought about it, I had evidently carried this belief forward and was practicing it in my life and ministry to some extent.  I was working in ministry…but from afar…my hands were clean.

My new perspective is quite different. I now realize that my version of “holy” was not missional…nor biblical. Missional work requires one to “get their hands dirty.” One must get out into the community and along side of those that they are trying to reach and help. It’s not easy and it cannot be accomplished from afar. One must engage.

That is what God did…He sent His Son to live with us...He engaged.

But why go to Guatemala?

I believe our God is a sending God and we are to go and be a part of those communites we intend to reach. It is in this engagement and through acts of service and love that we become holy and then become useful tools to God.  I don’t exactly know why God has called me to Guatemala …but I just know He has…and that’s good enough for me.

So here we go!   I am excited to begin this next chapter of my life as I put all my belongings into storage and move to Guatemala to place myself in God’s service. I have no idea what to expect…but one thing is for certain…I’m going to get my hands really dirty!

If you would like to be a part of my support team…I need it and would really appreciate it.  If you’ve read my blog this far…maybe God has a calling for you as well!   All you have to do is click on the button below.

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Blessings!