Guatemala Reflections: My Life in Monjas (part 2)

Author: David Watts, Agua Viva Volunteer and Benefactor

Sunday: We drove the winding mountain roads to “Shadow of His Wings” Orphanage, a rural compound housing some 70 kids in Monjas, Guatemala.  Shadow’s houses are grouped in a horseshoe each with 10 to 12 kids and house parents.  The Shadow project has its own school and it is better than the local public school as proof by their large enrollment of town kids.
Food at the orphanage is prepared in a central kitchen and 4 children from each house take turns hauling their meals back to their house.  This is about a ¼ mile path that is under constant threat of being overgrown. The kids carry their pots of food and SOHWO Girls Carrying Basketdeliver the empty containers back to the kitchen for the next meal.  Imagine being 12 years old and your job is to carry a stock pot full of hot soup with a broken handle up a dirt path cut out of the weeds so your family can eat dinner.  That is their reality and they are happy about it–heck they are happy and grateful about life. You can learn a lot from an orphan living behind a razor wire topped wall (The security is to keep them safe. Anything in central America of value is behind a wall topped with wire).
After we arrived, we played basketball and soccer with the kids. I was beaten at H-O-R-S-E by two girls.  Later that evening they led us in a worship service. These are some amazing kids who can sing and speak.  Imagine being 15 yrs old and speaking to a bunch of adults (tall male white folks) through an interpreter (the pauses & everyone watching you while it is translated without a script). It was powerful stuff.  I think she wrote her sermon for me. It turns out she has never done public speaking in front of adults, just to her peers at the orphanage.

Game 5 of the world series, Go Royals! Some of us got to see it live!  Through the kindness of a Missionary who had internet at their house we crowded into their home, dialed up the MLB network and presto we watched the game, God is good!

Monday, a holiday?  We would soon start our work.  After discovering the wrong size PVC pipe was delivered for the system, “Shadow” staff, our partner, went about to find the correct diameter pipe required and hundreds of feet of it.  But it would have to wait until Tuesday. Mind you we needed to be done by Thursday.  Monday the “Day of the Dead” was being observed, so everything was closed.  “Day of the Dead” has nothing to do with candy, everyone picnics in the graveyards to visit “past” relatives.

Next: Of Education and Empowerment

Guatemala Reflections: My Life in Monjas (part 1)

Author: David Watts, Agua Viva Volunteer and Benefactor

If someone offered you the chance to avoid having intestinal worms I bet you would take it.  That is the reality of the work we (Agua Viva) did in Monjas, Guatemala, a small rural community East of Guatemala City.
It is a comfort to know the work we did and the clean water system installed is just beginning to have an impact.  The system will produce pure water that is free of parasites, contaminates, disease, and “floaty stuff”.  It will allow the children at the “Shadow of his Wings” Orphanage (“SOHWO”) and people in the community to have a healthy source of purified drinking water.  Kids and adults will be sick less often, have a healthier GI system, improved nutrition absorption, and they can avoid having worms.
The Agua Viva team from Kansas City was just 6 guys– businessmen, engineers, administrators, and a retired phone guy.  We teamed up with two trusted Guatemala interpreters and brought SOHWO the ability to create sustainable parasite free clean drinking water.  The system in Monjas, Guatemala will continue to operate needing only electrical power, water source (well water), and some bleach water to clean the bottles.  God had our back the entire way and watched out for us every step (too
many side stories to share heWattsBlog1re).

Saturday 3:00 AM Halloween morning started as planned when Curt Mader picked Mike Springer and I up to head to the airport.  The six man team converged at the airport. Jim Allen and Curt Mader who founded Agua Viva would not be going on this trip. We were breaking new ground and leaving the experts and founders behind. The large, heavy bags loaded with tools and equipment were checked without incident and our small carryon bags for the week were on our backs… with the exception of my carryon roller-bag (old habits die hard).  We left Kansas City at 5:50 AM for the 2 hour flight to Houston and would be in Guatemala City before noon. We were on schedule… or NOT. We ended up in Dallas rather than Houston because of weather.  Six plus hours later we did get to Houston and we did make our original flight to Guatemala (it was delayed too).  It took many more hours to get to Guatemala than expected, therefore our late arrival in Guatemala City changed our plans.  We could not make the 3 ½ hour drive through the mountains in the dark. It would have been dangerous in so many ways.  We found a hostel in Guatemala City near the airport.  When you have seven guys, one woman, and two hotel rooms, what do you do?  Well, you improvise!  Make a bed in the lobby, sleep in the breakfast room with a parrot and double up on the not so spacious beds.  Stephanie our translator did get her own room along with 14 bags of luggage and a frog in her bathroom.  It really was an adventure and I slept well on the couch in the lobby.  Best part of it was, we got to see all of game 4 of the World Series (in Spanish, those announcers get more excited than Joe Buck).
Next: The Team finally arrives at the orphanage!

Guatemala Trip Report (numero tres)

Author: Jared Orr, Agua Viva International Volunteer
Midway through the week, we had the privilege of taking non-perishable food items to some of the poorest of the poor in Monjas. It was heart breaking seeing the state in which some of these people lived, yet we saw God in the midst of our evening. We first visited a mother and her seven children, one of which was bed-ridden with what they believed to be a serious mosquito-born virus called Chikungunya. Who knows if he will be alive a year from now apart from God’s intervention. We were told that this mother was usually drunk in the streets, but it so happened that the Lord had her present in her home the night we arrived, which gave us the ability to pray for her. I prayed that she would have peace, and that she would see Jesus as everything she needs…that she would see Him as a footwashing kind of God. Then we laid our hands on the sick little boy and prayed for him.
The second home we visited was an elderly lady (75+ years old) with hair that looked like a birds nest. She was eccentric to say the least…full of joy though. She greeted our group with big kisses on the cheek. This lady had very little materially to be joyful about. Her adobe house had caved in a long time ago, so she was sleeping at her sisters’ house every night. But all of her belongings were under a tarp in this modest corner of the surrounding shacks. She joked about her skinniness, undoubtedly due to a lack of food.
The third home was another elderly lady who had just finished her dinner consisting of half of a tortilla and a bit of coffee. She lived alone with her 52 year old epileptic nephew. Her sons and husband had all died within the last two years. I was so moved by her loss that I stayed behind for a personal prayer for her heart after everyone else had left.IMG_4894
Finally, we drove to the home of four…a mother, father, and two children…who lived on a dirt floor in the corner of someone else’s property, with sheet metal over their head and a small dinner cooking by pan. By the dim light of their only lamp, we could see the sad faces of their children who were probably extremely confused, wondering why six gringos and a couple translators suddenly appeared in their home. You could tell the father was embarrassed that his family was living in that condition. Nothing hurts a man more than feeling like he can’t provide for his own. But we prayed that they would have the strength and joy of the Lord, as well as new opportunities. I’m sure the Lord has provided those things.
All of this pain and suffering had me troubled…and I spent the next several days processing this evening. I have seen poverty all my life. Starting with the garbage dumps outside of Mexico City when I was 12. I minister every week with poor families in the inner city of KC. But this was a fresh, stark reminder of the state of our world. As I wrestled with these experiences, I could sense my sin nature kicking in… I noticed that I would tend to blame God for this plight, rather than seeing poverty as the result of sin, like corruption, greed, and pride. But as I prayed about it, I was reminded that God is not like us. He allows suffering for his good purposes. Like Andrew so eloquently stated the night before our departure back to the states – the only way to reconcile a good God with the suffering that we have experienced is to acknowledge that this life on this earth is not really about life on this earth. There is such a bigger reality going on. Bigger things than the conditions these people find themselves in. Whether one lives in the rich suburbs of the USA or the poorest areas of Guatemala, what truly matters is if they are “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Jesus is always shifting people’s perspectives to see the eternal picture. He told his disciples to not rejoice in their authority on this earth…but rather to rejoice “that their names were written in the book of life.” (Luke 10:20) Paul says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is… Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” I think the old lady with the crazy hair knew this. She knew that she had everything, because her life was hidden with Christ. I can’t wait for all of these suffering people who trusted in Jesus to receive 100 fold for every moment of pain on this earth – just like Job did. In fact, I was reading in Job the day after my return to the States. And I ran across something I had never noticed before in Job 33:
“God does all these things to a person [allows suffering and sickness to come upon them]— twice, even three times— to turn them back from the pit, that the light of life may shine on them.”
The affliction of God’s people turns out for their glory, and it prevents them from going down a road of sin to the pit. Because those [righteous people] who suffer in the body have ceased from sin. (1 Peter 4:1) What a powerful truth that can help us cope with the harsh reality of a broken world!

Guatemala Trip Report (part dos)

Author: Jared Orr, Agua Viva International Volunteer
The main reason that my team traveled to SOHW was to install a water purification system. Up until this point, they have been using a rudimentary filtration that did not remove nearly enough bacteria and parasites from the water. After we left, their water was cleaner than the pure water that they could purchase. Churn layout (2)No more bloated stomachs. No more constant diarrhea. No more parasites causing malnutrition. As of November 12th, the children and staff of this project are being given healthy drinking water, thanks to the hard work of Dale, Harold, David, Mike, and others…who worked long days on Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday to make it happen.
While they were installing the system, Andrew Ferdon and I were educating the kids on personal hygiene and the uses of clean water. We showed them what germs look like under a microscope, what proper hand-washing technique is, and how germs can transmit from person to person using special lotion and a black light. The kids loved all of the hands-on learning from the Agua Viva curriculum. Honestly, I think my personal habits have changed since teaching this class. When you put someone’s fingerprints in a special petri dish… and then two days later see giant colonies of bacteria…it makes you think twice the next time you consider eating without washing your hands. Even the “clean” water from my water bottle grew some bacteria cultures, which freaked me out a bit. But thankfully, nobody on our team got ill for more than a day.
In our education, we focused not only on teaching the material, but teaching young people to be teachers of the material. The Magdalena House was a group of 15-19 year old girls who were transitioning out of the orphanage into their next season of life. (On a side note, it is unheard-of in this culture for young women of their background to wait for marriage and pursue their dreams…but that’s exactly what many young women have done with the support of this great ministry. Praise the Lord!) We surprised several of these girls with the challenge of getting up in front of all of the kids in the afternoon and teaching the same material that we Education Translationtaught them in the morning. They did such a wonderful job! As the week went on, they became more confident. Annabella was articulate when she taught toothbrushing technique with our big practice teeth (dientes grande). Aryles made the whole class laugh as she taught from the powerpoint that we provided. And Sulmy perfectly conducted the germ-spreading activity with the glitter. My favorite part was teaching them the spiritual lesson at the beginning of each class, with the topics of The Creation Account, Moses Parting the Red Sea, and The Woman at the Well. These spiritual lessons powerfully connected God’s design for water with the technical lesson. It was very memorable talking with these young ladies about what it means when we say that Jesus is our living water. I framed the latter story by explaining that Jesus was speaking with a woman who was disrespected because of her race and gender (I’m sure many of them can relate to being disrespected)…but I told them that Jesus cared enough about her that he wanted to help this woman see her need for Him – that shewas spiritually dead without him, and He wanted to be the refreshment and life-giving sustenance that she needed. I think the light bulb went on for these girls.

All in all, education went very well. I was extremely impressed with my fellow teacher Andrew, who did an amazing job staying organized, bringing humor, and speaking way more Spanish without a translator than I could manage.

Guatemala Trip Report (part 1)

Author: Jared Orr, Agua Viva International Volunteer

SOHWO_SunnyHome_JaredI made it back from Guatemala after a jam-packed week of labor and ministry, and the purpose of this writing is to encourage you in the Lord. I want to explain how the trip went from my perspective… as well as show you the greatness of our God.

I traveled with five other gentlemen (under the organization Agua Viva International) to the Shadow of His Wings Orphanage in Monjas, which is about 3-4 hours east of Guatemala City via pot-hole-riddled road. First of all, let me just say that this country is beautiful. The forests and mountains are awe-inspiring. I probably have 40 pictures on my phone of the same mountain in front of our cabin…such as this picture where it looks like Jesus is about to return.
The orphanage is the home of 75 kiddos, most of which are from abusive or neglectful homes. In fact, most of these children were not true orphans…for most, both their parents were not deceased. Rather, their situation at home was so bad that they were relocated by the court system and sent to Shadow of His Wings (SOHW). Unfortunately, UNICEF and United Nations place extreme pressure on the judges of the court system by saying that it is better for children to remain in their original families than to be sent to an orphanage. They pressure them in this way because of their generalization that 3rd world orphanages are so bad that the kids are better off in an abusive family. Yet this does incalculable harm to many poor children who are sent away from SOHW after just 90 days of healing. But the Lord Himself is fighting for these children. He is doing so through His sovereignty and a diligent team of leaders, such as the social worker Jonete, who pleads on behalf of the kids in court. Sitting down with Jonete one afternoon, we listened as she poured her heart out about the children. Her eyes teared up while talking about how easy it is to worry about them. She said, “I have such a hard time seeing them so happy…and playing with them…knowing that at any time they could be taken away from the project…and they don’t know it.”
But thankfully, we serve a faithful God, and even those kids who are sent away after a short time, we can be sure that the same One who brought them there for a short season will continue to pursue them and help them throughout their precious lives.
Many of the children at SOHW have been there for quite some time and have shown tremendous growth from broken, fearful, isolated individuals to now joyful, peaceful kids who are learning to trust again. The orphanage divides the children up into a handful of “families”, each with a separate house led by a “Mom” and “Dad”. These parents are the big heroes who spend every day bringing peace and order to a household of wounded kids. They will be rewarded greatly for their service.