Archive for the ‘Foreign Exchange’ Category


Pretzels and Prayer (by Rachael)

June 21, 2010

Even though this has been a relatively “easy” and relaxed week compared to some of our other trips, I’m exhausted.

Thankfully, this morning was somewhat restorative.  We went to one of the bigger churches here in Guatemala City, Casa de Dios.  And when I say “bigger,” I don’t mean 1,000 people.  I mean 25,000.  We spent the first 50 minutes of the service singing and praying.  Nate commented that it was great to be able to break away from thinking about this past week and the upcoming week and just focus on worshipping. 

Believe it or not, this was the first time we’ve been to church in Guatemala.  We noticed that the congregation worshipped in a very passionate and focused way.  On an unrelated note, we also noticed lots of people wearing winter coats while we were breezing ourselves with makeshift paper fans.  Apparently, 70 degrees is cold (not even cool, cold) by Guatemalan standards. 

Another fun part of the experience was that we had ear pieces that allowed us to hear an English translation of the service.  It saved us a lot of frustration and allowed us to participate more fully.

The church is close to Hogar Solidario, so we decided to grab some fast food and head straight there.  We were still eating when we pulled into the compound, so we locked ourselves in and finished our food.  While we sat there, 10 boys circled the bus, banged on the window, and tried to open the doors.  We said we felt a bit like we were in a Zombie movie or being circled by sharks.

Once we escaped, we headed to the multi-purpose room where the boys were listening to a Bible lesson from a local church.  Note to self: Sunday probably isn’t the best day to visit.  The boys get lots of “church” on Sundays.  Since the boys had been sitting for so long already, Nate quickly adapted his plans.  He had the boys stand up and copy him as he lead them in exercises and stretches. They loved it.

Ever since we prayed with the boys in small groups in April, Nate has been wanting to talk and teach more about prayer. Just for fun, we started the “lesson” by passing out hard pretzels and sharing about how the pretzel pattern was originally meant to symbolize how early Christians crossed their arms to pray.  The pretzels were given as treats to good little boys and girls who memorized their prayers. 

Guess what?  None of the boys had seen or eaten a pretzel before.


Next, Nate broke us into four smaller groups and led us in a few different types of prayer.  We repeated Nate as he prayed for the group.  We prayed silently for the person next to us.  We prayed through the different themes in the Lord’s Prayer out loud and all together.  Last but not least, we had the kids write out their prayers and prayer requests on a huge poster for us to take back to the people at our church.  Our hope is that we can hang it up and encourage our congregation to pray for the specific needs of the kids.P1090041

Poor Nate felt terrible most of the afternoon.  His group prayed over him and his sickness.


Unfortunately, before his group had the chance to pray, Nate had to make an emergency run to the bathroom. Whatever this sickness is, it seems to have hit Nate the worst.  However, Chris and I have felt lots of gurgles and general stomach weirdness.  Are you sick of hearing about our digestive problems yet?  I’m sick of writing about them.  I think we need to follow the advice our friend Adam Pomfret included in his comment to our last post: maybe it’s time we  stop trying not to get sick.

After our prayer time, we started the insane process of passing out 100 candy bags.  The Foreign Exchange “Amigos” from our church put together packets of their favorite, all-American candies for the boys—Blow Pops, Sour Patch Kids, Skittles, Gushers, and Pixie Sticks!  I knew it would be crazy and lots of boys would try to get extra candy, so we recruited Chris to be the bouncer.  Once a boy got his candy, he had to leave and not come back inside.  Chris and his muscles were there to block anyone who tried to sneak back in for a second helping.


P1090004One interesting and unusual thing we’ve failed to mention so far is that the place has been buzzing with activity in preparation for tomorrow’s visit from Guatemala’s president and first lady.

The boys have been busy painting, moving in new furniture, setting up flower arrangements, hanging signs, moving in catering equipment, and practicing the songs and dances they’re going to do for this most-important couple. 

The place looks gorgeous. 

But, as Christy pointed out, it’s sad that it takes something like this to really fix the place up.  Why isn’t this home always tended to with such care and concern?

Berta mentioned later that she is worried for the kids.  Hundreds of new kids have been moved to Hogar Solidario but no new staff workers.  We briefly saw Joseph (our friend who gave us the gorgeous baby booties last time), and he looked frazzled.  He asked us to pray for strength, because he’s so tired he just wants to go home.  The workers from the girls’ home (Manchen) and the baby home (Casa Alegria) expressed similar sentiments.  They’re exhausted.  And no wonder.  Berta said there are 2 women caring for the 44 children under 4—just think how much work and time it would take to keep up with all those dirty diapers! 

We finished up the afternoon by playing games outside with the kids.  Chris threw his football.  Nate grabbed a Frisbee.  The two pregnant ladies headed to the baseball diamond.  I’m sure our doctors and midwives would be proud.  🙂



I have mixed feelings about leaving tomorrow.  On one hand, we need rest.  We need these last few pre-baby months to be calm and restorative.  We need sleep, silence, and time to chill. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ll know what to do with myself without another Guate trip to look forward to this year.  I’ll miss the kids.  It’ll hurt to not fly down with Jody and her team in August.  I’m trying to set some goals for myself (e.g. learn more spanish) that will help us when we come back.  Like we told the boys, we’ll come back.  We always come back.  It’s just that next time they’re will be three of us instead of two!



June 8, 2010

A few weeks ago, Scot Longyear asked our team from April to share a bit about our Guatemala trip with the rest of the church.  The main question he asked was, “What kind of return did you see when you invested in this week?”

It took Nate awhile to warm up to the question.  He tends to think of words like “return” and “investment” in a financial sense.  In the financial world, you pour in resources with the expectation that it will benefit your bottom line.

But our trips to Guatemala aren’t about personal gain, even though the personal gain is great.  Every time we go, we see God differently, love His people more passionately, and pray more desperately.  We have fun, grow closer to each other and God, and receive the blessings God gives when we seek to follow and serve Him.  However, if these “returns” were our motivation for going, we’d burn out quickly and be frustrated more easily when the “payoff” wasn’t what we expected it to be.  It wouldn’t work.  It shouldn’t work.

As Nate and I talked about it more, we started thinking of Scot’s question as being not so much about personal investment and gain, but what our investment of time, energy, and service could mean to the kids.  As Nate told the congregation, if even one of the boys sees Jesus more clearly or knows God more completely because of our visits, these trips are worth everything we can possibly pour into them.

For my part, I shared a story about a boy named Erick.  Throughout the week, Erick and I connected by making ongoing jokes about the baby in his belly.  I’d ask him how the baby was, when it was due, and what its name was.  As we were getting ready to leave on the last day, Erick was walking beside me, laughing, and rubbing his belly.  It was the same old joke, and I didn’t think much of it.  Fortunately, one of the translators was walking with us.  She told me he wanted to know if I loved him.  Somehow I had missed the serious turn in the conversation.

“What?” I asked.

“He wants to know if you love him,” she repeated.

I stopped and looked him in the eye.  “Yes,” I told him. ” Yes, of course we love you.  We love you very much. We come to visit, because we love you.”

Of all the moments of the week, this one probably hit me the hardest.  I imagine all of these boys have this same question, but few are brave enough or able to verbalize it.  This is why God has called us to Guatemala.  This is why we do the work for Foreign Exchange.  This is why families send silly gifts like sunglasses to the boys.  We do these things because the boys are desperate to see, hear, and know that someone loves them. And, although the investment on our part seems minimal, the payoff is great.

On that note, we’re excitedly, anxiously, and frantically preparing for our last, pre-baby trip to Guatemala.  We leave one week from today (June 14), and Nate’s sister and brother-in-law will be joining us! We need your prayers. Have you heard what has been going on in Guatemala lately?  A quick Google search will tell you about the eruption of Pacaya Volcano (the same volcano we climbed last June!), the floods and landslides that came with Tropical Storm Agatha, and a sinkhole the size of a city block that opened up on the outskirts of Guatemala city.

On top of all that, both Nate’s sister and I are pregnant.  Christy will be well into her first trimester, and I’ll be well into my third.  The midwife is a bit concerned about how traveling will affect the swelling in my legs and it feels like I have a stress fracture (again) in my left foot, so we’d appreciate your prayers for good circulation and plenty of places to kick up our feet and rest.

While we’re there, we ask that you’d invest in us, these kids, and these trips by praying for us each and every day.  The return will be far greater than you could imagine or hope.


Trip 2 of 2010

April 12, 2010

We’re here! Today was a remarkably easy and peaceful travel day.  It was so remarkably easy that it’s almost too boring to write about; however we wanted to let everyone know that 1.) we made it and 2.) we have Internet access so we will be updating the blog. 

Jody will also be blogging.  I believe her posts will show up on the church website: MCC in Guatemala 

If not, check her personal blog: Elsblogger

Tomorrow morning we’ll visit one of Buckner’s new Community Transformation Centers.  In the afternoon, we’ll be going to “La Ciudad de los Niños” (City of the Children) and see what’s changed since we watched the boys move in in January.  We’ll be passing out the 400 cards that people made.  I almost wrote, “the people at MCC made,” but that’s not entirely true.  Although MCCers contributed the majority of the cards, a class at a local middle school, a Girl Scout Troupe, ArtReach, and a Spanish class at St. Mary’s all contributed as well.  Cool, huh?


Visit with Danni and Tour of “La Ciudad de los Niños” (by Rachael)

January 25, 2010

Today was a nice change of pace from the past few days.  We woke up late, had cake for breakfast (happy birthday, Adam!), and prayed together around the table.  Around 11, we dropped Shawn, Wendy, Jody, and Adam off at the airport.  Although their flight was delayed, they should be landing in Indy tonight.


From the airport, we headed to Danni’s new home, Casa Bernabe.  We got a taste of the facilities on Thursday; today we had the full tour!  We met Danni’s fantastic social worker, Tonilynn, at the office, and she showed us the campus.  Truly, it is a beautiful place.  13 acres of sunshine, mountains, grass, gardens, flowers, and trees. The 160+ children who live there are growing up in a wonderful place.

Interestingly, the U.S. offices of CB are based in Kokomo, Indiana.  What are the odds?!

Daniel’s house, Casa Samuel, contains approximately 14 boys and girls ages 5-10.

We were able to spend about 45 minutes alone with Daniel after lunch.  Tonilynn said his house mom was happy we visited, because they sometimes have to wait on him to finish his food.  Since he knew we were coming, he was the first one to finish today!

We walked in while he was brushing his teeth.  Through a mouthful of toothpaste, we see him smile and hear him say, “Hola, Net.”  He showed us his room and told us that some of his clothes (including his Buzz Lightyear costume) had disappeared.  There were a few other differences between his new home and the Buckner Home that he felt the need to point out.  For instance, although he has acres of land to explore and play in, he’s disappointed that there’s no t.v. in Casa Samuel.  Also, he said he doesn’t have any friends to talk to, because the boys at CB use bad words.

We took him outside to play on the playground outside Casa Samuel.  Normally, Danni likes to cuddle and hug, but he was a little shy today.  Who could blame him?  This was new.  We aren’t usually interacting with just him.  We usually meet him at the Buckner Baby Home.  We were all a little out of our comfort zone.

Another factor contributing to the lack of cuddles could be that Daniel is around a lot more older kids now.  I think they are helping him to grow and mature (not that I think hugs or cuddles are a sign of immaturity!  But they are two things that kids seem to do less and less of as they grow older).

Danni wanted to talk about the past.  He kept asking us if we remembered going to places like the zoo, museum, and the movie theater.  He had some of the details confused (he went with John and Emily to a movie, not us), but he obviously remembered at least some of our past interactions.

He told us how Juan Pablo was the first to leave the home, then Estuardo, then Jose (he called him “the boy who can’t hear”), and then him.

He told Tonilynn and William (our driver) that he remembered one time when he was with us and someone told a joke that was so funny that they peed their pants.  (All we could understand was “pee pee.”)

Later, he told Tonilynn that he and JP had gone to a beach.  “Really, a beach?” she asked.

“Well, no.  Actually, someone brought in a plastic pool for us to play in.”

“Oh, really?”

“Well, no, but we wished that had happened.”

Since we usually interact with him in a group, I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to appreciate how truly funny he is.  Even with the language barrier, he had us doubled over in laughter. Apparently, the way I talk is funny to him, so he started mimicking my hand motions and repeating my words in a high-pitched voice.

And his facial expression.  Priceless!  The eye rolls and looks of exasperation when we couldn’t understand what he was saying kept us laughing throughout most of our visit.

He had so much to say.  He talked the entire time.  As Tonilynn noted, he definitely processes things through words and conversation.  I can relate! I just wish I had more (Spanish) words in my vocabulary to use to respond.  On the other hand, maybe what he needed today was for us to be there and listen?

He asked us several times if we were coming back tomorrow.

“No, not tomorrow.”

“The next day?”

“No, not the next day either.  But you know that we always come back.”

He smiled.

When it was time to leave, he very calmly gave us big hugs and (with a little prompting from Tonilynn) thanked us for coming.  No tears.

He looked happy.

I’m already counting down the days until we get to see him again.

La Ciudad de los Niños

Danni’s home is close to San Gabriel, one of the government homes we’ve visited in the past. For several months, we’ve heard rumors that the government is preparing to move all of the children in the government orphanages to this one facility.

If they would have asked me my opinion, I would have told them it was a terrible idea.  Hundreds of pre-teens, teenagers, children with special needs, single moms, boys, girls, and babies together on one campus?  Why when they already have such great homes for each group.  That sounds terrible!

Of course, what politicians say and what they do are often two very different things. The plan to move all the kids to one place is so outrageous that I honestly figured it wouldn’t happen.

That’s why I’m glad we stopped by San Gabriel today.  Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.

But, sure enough, this afternoon we toured a very new and very expensive facility that will soon be the new home of our beloved boys from Elisa Martinez.  In fact, the boys were there today moving in their things!  They were excited to see us and gave us lots of hugs.  They had bathed and were wearing clean blue (for the “special boys”) and yellow (for the “normal boys”) shirts.

This move is for real.

Our tour guide was a young guy who spoke excellent English.  He was obviously overwhelmed.  He said this wasn’t supposed to be his project.  He came two weeks ago and is just getting a feel for the place.  He is in charge of setting up and coordinating programs for the campus.

Foreign Exchange

I’m not sure what these changes will mean for Foreign Exchange.  There’s not much distinction between the homes.  If we bring gifts for just the boys at Eliza Martinez, all the other kids will know they were left out.  I don’t know what we’ll do.

Also, our camera is telling us that we have a “memory card error” and that we need to reformat.  We can’t take or see any pictures, even when we plugged in the card reader and tried to view them on our computer.  (This explains the lack of pictures on the blog today.) All of the pictures of the boys with their nametags are on that card.  That’s the main way I catalog and track the boys. We have an extra memory card we can use for tomorrow, but we are hoping and praying that we didn’t lose the ones we already took.

If you know how to fix this problem, please let us know.  Have you had any luck with the recovery programs you see on the internet?  Know any IT or camera people who could help us out?

As always, we appreciate your prayers!  Our trip has been great so far, and we’re looking forward to one more wonderful day before we head home to the cold and snow!









Saturday with Orphans (by Nate)

January 24, 2010

Usually, I think of Saturday as a relaxing and restorative day, but I realize that relaxing on the weekend is a luxury not everyone can afford. Today, a woman who cares for the younger orphans shared with us that she works Monday through Saturday at two jobs to take care of her four children. Oh, and then she mentioned that she also takes care of her cousins two children who live with her because the parents are dead.

We started today with a trip up the mountains to find the home where Crystal and Celeste now live. After a few stops for directions, several phone calls, and a couple of good guesses, we pulled up to a beautiful home where seven “babies” now live. Crystal remembers us and hardly took any time at all before claiming arms as her personal space. Celeste apparently has three legal names and this new home has chosen to call here “Lupita.” I have a hard time thinking about people switching your home and name at the same time.


After lunch, we spent a couple hours with the boys at Eliza Martinez, teaching such practical things as wound care and how to tie a tie. Remarkably, no boys tried to hang themselves with the ties or strangle each other. I did notice that when we asked if anyone had a fresh wound that needed care, some boys were so eager to volunteer that they tried scratching their scabs with the hope that they would be selected. That’s how badly they want attention.


Here’s the group of “normal” kids, proudly displaying their GQ achievement.


And of course we saw everyone’s photo album multiple times since the boys carried them around with them everywhere they went. They’re just too valuable to leave sitting around.


I’m worn out. But the good kind. And probably no where near as much as the woman who cares for the babies at Crystal’s home. I have no kids to take care of and didn’t work two jobs today. I am so grateful for what we have and are able to give to everyone here.


Guatemala Day 1-Foreign Exchange (by Rachael)

January 23, 2010

As is usually the case in Guatemala, today tested the limits of our emotional and physical strength.  I. Am. Exhausted. 

We started the morning by visiting one of the Compassion projects on the outskirts of Guatemala City.  There are currently 200 kids who participate in the after school/weekend program.  50 kids still need sponsors.  Interested?  We can hook you up. 

The highlight of the morning was visiting Shawn and Wendy’s sponsor child, Samuel.  Samuel’s mother is 27.  27!  That’s only a year older than Nate, but she looks like she’s about 40.  Her three children were wonderfully behaved and thrilled with the bubbles, princess boa, chocolate milk, and matchbox cars that Shawn and Wendy brought for them. 


(Nate the Clown trying to get the family to smile for the pictures)

P1070509(It worked.) 

We spent the afternoon at Eliza Martinez.  While Jody, Wendy, Shawn, and Adam were teaching the kids how many times each day to brush their teeth and how often they needed to wash their hands, Nate and I were locked in a back office printing off pictures of the boys. 


Every time we come, we bring a gift for each boy from his Foreign Exchange amigo.  We’ve brought pencil boxes filled with goodies, watches, and pizza.  This time, each family sent a photo album with family pictures and some fun flat gifts that could be stuffed in the album pages—candy, stickers, postcards, and handwritten notes.


The boys love photos of themselves, so we also wanted to make sure each boy had at least one picture of himself in his album.  We did as much of the prep work at home as we could.  However, as is usually the case at EM, about 25 boys from last time had left and 25 new boys were there to take their places. This meant that Nate and I had about an hour of printing to do before we could share the gifts with the boys.


I love hearing Nate tell the boys that their “amigos” have pictures of the boys on their refrigerators.  These people love them. They pray for them.  They consider them part of their families.  I have no idea how this must make these parentless boys feel.  But what I do know is that the albums were great gifts.  For a group that has the collective attention span of about ten seconds, each album got at least a minute’s worth of attention.  🙂 The boys swapped albums, so they could see each other’s pictures.  They had us look through them one, two, or even three times.  They wanted to hear stories about the people in the pictures.P1070593

Although our Foreign Exchange adventures are always more chaotic, messy, and crazy than I plan, they always seem to make the boys feel loved.  And if we succeed in letting each boy know that he has at least one person in the world who is absolutely crazy about him, then we’ve done what we came to do.



Headin’ Out

January 20, 2010

This time tomorrow, we’ll be in Guatemala!

Nate and I are heading to Chicago this afternoon to enjoy a nice birthday dinner (Happy birthday, Nate!), some shopping at IKEA (Nate’s request, not mine), and a good night’s sleep before our plane takes off bright and early tomorrow morning at 5:40 a.m. 

We’ll be traveling with some of our favorite people from church (Jody Elslager, Shawn and Wendy Wallace, and Adam Pomfret) and hanging out with our favorite kids. 

The majority of our time will be spent at Eliza Martinez.  We hope to teach the boys some practical life skills like how to brush your teeth, wash your hands, tie a tie, and cook spaghetti.  We’ll also be distributing picture albums and pictures from the Foreign Exchange “amigos” here in Indiana.P1050829

Some of our time will also be spent visiting the toddlers (Cristel, Mili, Celeste, and Marvin) at their new home and meeting the children that Shawn, Wendy, and Jody sponsor through Compassion.

The rest of the team heads out on the 25th, but Nate and I are sticking around for a few more days.  We’ve made plans to visit Ale and Danni!  We are looking forward to seeing their new homes and meeting their new caretakers.  We’ve already had some great conversations with Danni’s social worker and the director of Alejandra’s home.  We know these precious children are in good, loving, and capable hands. 

I have been looking forward to seeing their smiles, hearing their laughs, and giving them hugs ever since we last left them in October.