Daniel and Flor (meaning flower) were married Saturday night with a couple hundred people as witnesses. People are married in a civil ceremony as well as a religious one. According to Les and Rita who conducted the religious ceremony we attended, the two of them were very nervous.

I was asked by Erick, Daniel's father, to take the pictures. I had to remind them to smile, they were so serious. They both looked really good though. After the ceremony which included a supper and some musical entertainment (marimbas and flute with piano accompaniment), both Daniel and Flor stayed by until 11pm to clean up the church, load chairs, move benches and load gifts into their vehicle. I thought they would have better things to do.

On a very different note, I was shaken by a story of three girls beheaded on their way to a Christian school in Indonesia. Pray for their families and for Christians in Indonesia.

The power went out just as I was about to blog last night. My unlimited power supply did not work.

A couple days ago a man came by selling big baskets for $8. We bought one for laundry from him. A couple hours later, we bought oranges from a man who was carrying a huge (I mean massive) bag of oranges - selling them at about 50 oranges for $1. We bought 25 and I juiced them by hand immediately. A bit zingy, but for 50 cents, it was pretty good.

I finally broke down and bought Lux, a risk style computer game, online. They have Canada Risk and Montreal Risk and dozens of others like WWII, Vietnam, Europe, etc... Dean has it too, so we'll be able to play online together. I haven't told him yet. Unfortunately, I can't play Settlers of Catan online anymore, something about my connection.

Walter was just over for his English lesson and after studying directions on a Guatemalan map, we decided to plan a canoe trip from Tactic to Livingstone for November 2006. I envision taking a bunch of the young men from the church as a retreat. I sure my friend John Fraser would be proud.

Last night, Rita preached on the fact that Christianity should not be a religion. Religions are human methods of pleasing and appeasing God or gods. Christianity is a relationship where both parties willingly give. She shared the message with a lot of clarity. It is a message people need to hear everywhere - Canada and Guatemala.

Blue Steel

Blue Steel. I think it works. I think it really works.


Happy Birthday Les!

He turns 50 today.

Rita threw a surprise party for him last night. As I was riding back with him (Johnny and Erick were in the other van), we were told to try and delay him in Guatemala City after dropping off the team at the airport. I had to make some purchases in the capital, so that was all I could muster. I knew he had work to do and he was tired (we got up at 3:30 am) so I didn't really want to delay him too much. His party was at 4:30 and we left the capital at 10 am. Just 38 km out of the capital, traffic stopped. We travelled 15 kms over the next 2 1/2 hours because of a transport truck that tipped onto the highway. So, we arrived just in time for the party. Johnny figures God caused the delay. I'm not so sure, but it did work out quite well. Les and I discussed many ideas on the road.

Many people came to the outdoor party (it was a bit cold and windy) and spoke kind words to him. I shared a few words, and although having started my short speech in English, I ended up speaking the whole thing in Spanish.

New Brunswick men came and went

I have 15 new friends in New Brunswick.

They came to do some work on the school in Chicoy. This work ended up being diging out the final holes for the foundation to the second building (for the bathrooms) and then building the rock and mortar foundation for the future concrete block 2-story structure. The foundation is about a metre deep into the ground with some corners another metre deep - the earthquakes here can be quite devastating, so the builders take extra precaution). I pitched in for 3 days and worked alongside them with a shovel and pick and buckets of mortar. I chose not to use gloves to toughen up my girly teacher hands. It worked - lots of cuts, blisters, and calouses. Nice.

So, as an Acadian, I had some preconcieved notions as to what this band of loyalist descendents would be like. I was dead wrong. They had very tender hearts and God spoke them quite strongly through the kids at Chicoy. I think they are all going to sponsor at least one child and then get others from their area to sponsor too.

I visited quite a few villages with them: Pombatch, San Antonio, Chicoy, and a place really far up a mountain where a church is pastored by a 74 year old man who just recently received a bed to sleep on from Impact Ministries. We ended the trip with a day in Antigua where the guys tried out their bargaining skills at the market (they are very nice guys, and they paid for it). We also had a very wonderful sharing time the night before they flew home yesterday. Some very touching words from all of them. I will miss them.


there and back again in 23 hrs

2:50 AM is our rendez-vous time outside my house. I meet up with Walter my neighbour, Oscar (a fellow teacher) and Eddie, Heber, and Johnny (students at Beerseba) in the light rain. Les picks us up in his Kia van and we hook up with Estuardo and Erwin and their big cattle truck. Eric misses the departure despite our best efforts to wake him.

Our first destination is a church compound in Guatemala City, three hours away. There is very little traffic, but that makes us an easy target for the police. We are asked to pull over three times in as many hours because of our suspicious behaviour - traveling at night with a big truck full of cargo. We had loaded the truck earlier this evening with pasta, sugar, soap, clothing, five barrels of dehydrated soup from the Okanogan Gleaners, salt, and corn flour. The suspicion is that we are transporting wood, a felony without proper licensing in Guatemala from what I am told. We are let off without any problems each time.

The sun rises as we enter the city limits of the capital. We wind through the perimeter highway to Zone 11. Ministers are waiting for us at the Tierra Prometida Ministerios with the rice, water, beans, blankets, sugar, and vitamin enhanced porridge which was purchased on our behalf with money donated by Guatemalans and Canadians who responded to this need. We load the truck and head to Pollo Campero for breakfast. Our truck is full

My primary duty on this expedition is to document with video and photo. As I pull out my little Canon DV Camcorder to record the awesome view of both fuego and agua volcanoes (fire and water), I realize that I left it on and have consequently killed the battery. Hmmm.

The vistas on our journey from the capital to Lake Atitlan fill our tired senses. Fields of sugar cane and a plant they use to dye food red line the busy road. Les and I spend our entire time in the van chatting about Acadian history, Mennonite history, the vision of Impact Ministries and other topics, less noble.

We drive south, then west, then north through the coastal plains to bypass the mountains. The sun shines bright. It is much warmer here than in Tactic. I'm thankful for the air conditioner and a little cold.

We meet Jorge at our junction to the north road that will take us to San Lucas de Tolimán on the shore of Lake Atitlan. He speaks like a Canadian and a Guatemalan. He's lived in B.C. and Calgary for several years. His father leads the Tierra Prometida Ministerios that we are collaborating with. Our caravan winds through the villages, some cleaning up from flooding, others visibly untouched by Hurricane Stan. This road has just opened on Thursday. Today is Saturday. We drive over a makeshift bridge and see to our right how our road has been washed out about two metres deep and six metres wide. Huge boulders line parts of the road where they have been moved to clear the way. These same boulders rolled through villages from way up high. The devastation here is astonishing. It has been 10 days since the hurricane loosened the earth in the mountains and the people have been busy cleaning up. People scrub the outside of their houses one metre high where mud stains the walls. People shovel mud out of their homes onto the already massive piles of muck still stinking.

We reach our second checkpoint in San Lucas at noon. Many people from the ministry have been busy here. They have separated many goods into family bags to ease the distribution process.

Jorge has the same Canon camera as me, so he charges my battery quickly and I'm back in the game.

Many hands move the supplies from our truck to the middle of a meeting hall. We eat and load three pickup trucks with enough staples for the three hundred eighteen people living in the Nazarene Church in Santiago Atitlán. The rest of these supplies will stay at this centre to be delivered tomorrow to 3 other hospices.

The drive to the church allows us to see further devastation and the beauty of the volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan. Jorge shares local legends over the walkie-talkie as we marvel at the sites. It is three in the afternoon when we arrive at the refuge. There are children everywhere and many many women in the Spanish imposed traditional dress of the Tzutujil people group.

Our men unload the pickups in a passing line and pile the supplies at the front of the church. The leaders, including Les, share with the refugees who we are and why we are here. Prepared soup and tortillas are served to the hungry. I visit with a man with a big smile named Jose Mesia-Chavez. He lost his home, clothes, and food at 3:00 AM ten days ago. He is smiling because none of his family were killed. A landslide woke them up and they were able to escape through their door and flee to safety as their house was toppled over and buried along with all he had to provide his family with.

I snap photos of people eating and being served. Then they begin to call family names. The boys from our church stand ready with a blanket, bag of soup, bag of rice, bag of soaps, and two bags of various food staples (beans, corn flour, salt, sugar, water, Gatorade to fight dehydration, oil, instant noodles, enriched porridge and more). The people stand in waiting ensuring that they do not miss their name. Those whose names are missed have their items set aside on the platform.

I film as Les interviews an older man who has lost his wife. The widower has known God for 45 years. He has also lost his house and all he owns.

A woman is interviewed who has lost a finger and has huge lacerations on her other fingers on her right hand. She was reaching for her father when she received the cuts.

Another woman lost her 3-month old baby and her house when the river swept them away. I have a 3-month old baby. This same mother has a 6-year old son who is recovering now from a massive headwound.

Les and I managed to keep ourselves together to finish the interviews. It was hard to see these stonefaced women, who suffer unimaginably, answer questions.

We then retraced our path with stops in San Lucas and Guatemala City to pick up the truck and to eat. I had a headache when we got to the capital. I don't know if it was from the heat, the lack of water, hunger, emotional distress, lack of sleep, or the intense diesel fumes. It just hurt. I was silent for about an hour approaching the capital. Les bought me 1000 mg of acetaminophen at a pharmacy next to the Pollo Camero. They cost Q1.10 (about 17 cents). They really hit the spot.

Les and I share heart stories all the way home as five guys sleep behind us. The truck weaves frighteningly along the road ahead of us as we cross numerous mountain ridges.

We arrive at 1:30 AM and I check my email and head to bed in my house where my wife and baby boy are sleeping.


Off to bring relief

What a priviledge to carry the gifts from our church here in Tactic and gifts from Canadian Donors to the refugees of the mudslides southwest of us. According to some reports there are as many as 200,000 homes destroyed or damaged. Mixed reports say that 652 people are confirmed dead with the number rising possibly to 1000 from the initial hurricane damage and the town of Panabaj was completely buried, pop. 1400. So, to me, this reads as over 2000 dead in Guatemala alone. We're leaving at 3 am tomorrow morning to bring the food and supplies and already the reports on this catastrophe which doubled the death toll in New Orleans/Mississippi have left the newswires. I guess there's nothing left to say - people know what needs to be known.

We're going to El Salvador in a couple weeks to bring relief supplies to a hurricane, volcano and earthquake stricken country. It will be the first mission trip from our little Mayan town. I post updates as to what we're doing right here.

Incidentally, if you would like to donate to our particular relief fund, you can go through Impact Ministries.

3 months, 3 weeks, 3 hours

Blaise turned 3 months yesterday. He's a big boy now. He's slept 5 nights straight through in a row now. Very very precious.

Amber and I have been in Guatemala 3 weeks today. It feels like much longer as it feels very familiar already and Canada feels quite distant despite the ability to chat with almost everyone. Today the students at Beerseba graduate, five different classes do. I put together an 11 minute tribute to the students who attributed their success to God, parents, sponsors, and teachers. I wonder if many of these students would have learned to read if the school had not existed.

I left a little gadget attached to my iPod last night that serves as a mic and a mini speaker. The iPod had an alarm set for 3:50 am which we used 3 weeks ago to wake up in Calgary to load the car and drive to the airport to stand in line for 1 1/2 hours. Anyway, it went off with "Chunari, Chunari... " blaring. Man, from a deep sleep, that's such a weird feeling when you're not expecting it. I bolted out of bed thinking someone was at the door or my phone was ringing. Well, I didn't sleep too well after that because at about the same hour, and I've heard this before in the middle of the night, the sound of 50 swine being slowly butchered one by one with dogs barking rang steadily for about 1 1/2 hours. It turns out as the vehicle approached the house at about 5:30, that it was just a truck running with loose fan belts and a really loud diesel engine. Then I got up with my son and I just finished changing him after his first feed in 9 hours. I don't think he thought it was a knife coming down on hogs when he heard the sound.


Mud Slides and many dead

"Our Guatemala is in pain." A man in our town square this morning was speaking into a microphone.

Tactic, where we live, there are no effects of Hurricane Stan, but it is so much easier to empathize with the people affected by the mud slides when you recognize the faces as those of your neighbours. Almost 2000 are feared dead. That's nearly double the death toll of Katrina which held CNN hostage for 2 weeks. Thousands more are homeless, many of whom are taking refuge in churches and Christian schools. Our church is giving money and support that we will personally bring down to help known existing ministries in the Lake Atitlan area. I may have the opportunity to go with Les to do this on Tuesday. We have to wait until roads and bridges are returned to usable condition. We're bringing rice and dried soup and blankets and money. We will bring whatever money is donated to Impact Ministries for these victims, you can call and make a donation Monday (business hours Pacific Time Zone).

public confession

A man stood before his church this evening. He opened his heart and let his guilt be exposed before his parents, his siblings, his girlfriend, his friends and some strangers. His girlfriend is pregnant and his sin is exposed. The reaction of the church was complete grace. The church leaders surrounded him with hugs and prayers of forgiveness. His family embraced him with complete acceptance. His confession allowed for this. The blood of Christ allowed for this. He didn't keep his sin hidden. Their child will be well regarded in this church community. The child's parents will be well looked after and they won't be looked down upon because he made himself vulnerable.

What would have happened in my church back home. No mention. Maybe a visit from some concerned people. I don't think a confession would have happened, let alone publicly. It would be winked at. There's no healing in this. There's no community in this. People would have been gracious, but I think the hidden sin's effect would stick. Public confession, at least in a small community, carries with it the healing power. The larger the group, the greater the healing, the vaporization of shame. It was literally one of the most beautiful moments I have experienced in church.


We're Cool

Just so everybody knows, we were not, nor shall we be in the path of Hurricane Stan. But thanks for your concern. School was cancelled nationwide for two days though. Gave me a chance to go up to Fray Bartolome, about a 3.5 hour drive from Tactic. Limestone mountains, green ridges, and palm trees dotted the way there. Les, Rita, and Vicky interviewed some teachers there.

I've been teaching guitar pretty steadily to a few students. Discovered that guitar strings are less than half the cost they are in Canada. These kids are really tenacious, they'll be playing C#M7 in no time.

Hey Carl, would this be considered as desecrating a basketball?


If I could do anything I wanted to today...

I would not change a single thing.

I meant to post this yesterday. I got up and made some coffee for me and a guest. Edited some old footage to help clear my hard drive. Played with my son. Brought my PowerBook to an internet cafe as Impact Ministries interent connection was down and downloaded 4 days of emails. Walked through town to pick up a video cassette, 2 mousetraps (ratoneras), yogurt, and cheese.Had a meeting with Les, Rita, Amber, and Michelle. Gave Walter an English lesson. Helped Amber make supper. Attended the youth meeting at the school with a couple dozen youth and teachers from the school where each person shared either a song or an instrumental or a verse and word from God. It was really, really good. Some real soul. Then I came home and Skyped with Mom and sent a few emails out, now that we're back online.

Today, it's raining gently. I taught the Cuarto Primera class English and I have another couple classes later this morning. Blaise has slept 2 whole nights straight this week. He's a little man and he loves it when I blow into his face. He takes a quick breath and then smiles wide and sometimes laughs.

We attended Vicki's birthday party on Monday night. It was a surprise. When she entered, Hector and Hector David lit firecrackers, lots of them. The feast consisted of baked potatoes, beans, tortillas, salsa, bbq chicken, bbq steak, bbq sausage, and cake with delicious pineapple melon juice to drink. It was a good time. Though I understand a lot, it's still too difficult to engage in group discussions, so I stick to one on one conversations where I can stumble through sentences under more grace.