Independent Service Week

Hello once again, friends and family!

Here in Guatemala we’ve been enjoying the sunshine and working hard, as we just finished our independent service week.  We were split into smaller groups and sent out to various ministries in and around Antigua to serve and learn. Our groups were composed solely of students – no leaders – so we had many opportunities to grow as leaders ourselves, and collaborators. During the week, we lived with and served alongside our ministry partners. Once again, the group dynamic changed because many of us were in different locations and each group had a different experience. I think this was a very valuable experience for us though, because it was very fun to share our unique stories with each other when we were reunited at the end, and learn about how we each grew from our experiences.

I was in a group of five who were sent to serve at a ministry called Senderos de Luz, in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas. During our time with them, we packed backpacks full of shoes, which had all been donated to the mission, and gave them out to children who were in need of a new pair. We also did home visits and prayed with people, which was very moving for all of us. So many people, complete strangers, welcomed us into their homes. It was beautiful and inspiring, and really shows that love transcends all boundaries, even language barriers. One woman in particular I will always remember. As we entered her house, she immediately began to pray powerful blessings over us, and as we listened in amazement, our hearts were touched.

The other groups also had impactful experiences in their service placements. Many of the other placements involved teaching in schools, caring for children in an orphanage, assisting nuns with various chores, and doing any other jobs they could that would assist the ministry they were serving alongside.

IMG-20190401-WA0001

Overall, this was a very impactful and inspiring week. God is moving and working in so many ways in Guatemala, and the selfless ways that these ministries serve is proof of that. By serving and watching the work that they do, we have not only been humbled by their generosity and love, but inspired to serve with the same joyful attitude that they have. This week has been a huge blessing, and we are very grateful for the opportunities we had to serve with them.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers! Sending our love your way.

-Megan

Goodbye to our home away from home

San Juan del Obispo has been a blessing first and a challenge second. Site 1 is so blessed to have tasted what it’s like to be a part of a smaller community in Guatemala through the experience of staying with host families for 6 weeks. This past week contained a multitude of goodbyes as it was our final week in several places.

Our first goodbye was to our Tuesday service placements. We soaked in our last chance to serve alongside and for the people we had been placed with. I had the awesome opportunity to teach 10-12 year olds English every Tuesday afternoon, and it turned into a bittersweet, surreal goodbye. It felt like just the day before that we had been walking into those classrooms for the first time not knowing what to expect.

Our second goodbye was to Mundo Spanish School. For some of us school was definitely a huge challenge, it’s tiring for your brain to be constantly translating every conversation you have. I enjoyed Spanish school so much. It opened up the chance to connect with locals. Our teachers were also extremely kind and patient. Spanish school graduation night was emotional for both students and teachers. Each class group had to do a little talent show performance in Spanish which lightened the mood along with the dance we got to have with our host families and teachers. Guatemalans definitely know how to celebrate!

 

I had a really special moment with my host sisters on graduation night. Because of many different circumstances, I didn’t have much of a personal connection with my host family. But at graduation my sisters made a point of pulling me on the dance floor and dancing with me for at least an hour. Realizing how big of a moment that was for me, and how little effort it took for my sisters to make my night, made me want to look out for those small chances of service in my own life. I do hope I left enough of an impression on them that they know how much it meant to me. Goodbyes can be final, but they can also make you hope for the future and happily reflect on the past.

Everyone had a desire to express gratitude to the families that we were staying with. I especially had so much that I wanted to say but didn’t have enough vocabulary to get most of it across. The solution for many of us was to find gifts or activities we could share with our host family as a final goodbye. Many of us went into Antigua’s market and bought colourful flowers, bought cakes, or offered to cook meals. I think each family understood the love we were trying to get communicate to them. It seems like many relationships can be built on small conversations. For instance, I remembered my host mom’s favourite colour and proceeded to buy her flowers of that color. She seemed to appreciate the gesture. Many of us were given gifts in return, which felt pretty unnecessary as they had been serving us for over a month, but it just goes to show how loving and caring these people are.

Thinking back on my weeks in San Juan del Obispo, I did find them quite challenging. There was always the chance for loneliness when you’re unsure of the role you play in a family you are temporarily a part of. I found the balance between getting rest and trying to make connection past language barriers really difficult. But it also made me realize how real God’s presence is everywhere, we give him all that we have in effort which is so little and he creates mountains out of it. I think most of us are finishing our time in San Juan with the feeling that we have another home in the world to visit and keep in mind as we continue on in our lives. None of us will be able to forget the experiences we had nor the relationships we formed.

 

Overall, our community has been so blessed to be welcomed into a variety of families’ homes. Remembering how caring my host mom was whenever I felt sick or was tired, and the family’s consistent actions of kindness, are things that I am going remember forever. There’s nothing quite as humbling as being welcomed as a stranger into a house in another country. Now we are on to our next adventure and serving independently in separate groups for a week. We continue to ask for prayers of strength and being able to stay present while future plans seem so close in our future. ¡Adios!

Kyla Willms

Seeing God on the “Volcanoes” of Life

A big hola to everyone back home from the Guatemala site!

What a week this has been; pushing ourselves physically, experiencing the different cultures, and making the most of the last couple weeks in San Juan del Obispo.

Our week started off similar to many before, getting back into the familiar routine for one last time with Spanish classes and weekly activities. In particular, on Wednesday night we had worship, and we sang this song called “Nothing I Hold Onto” by Will Reagan. There is a line in the song that says, “I will climb this mountain with my hands held open.” This lyric became very relevant as the week progressed. During that worship night, Dave shared a thought that had come to him when singing that bridge over and over again. He mentioned that we are all climbing this mountain of life, and God isn’t a goal that we reach at the top like the summit. Instead, God is coming down to us. God walks with us through all the various terrains and the valleys and the high points. This thought and lyric really encouraged me as the week went on.

On Thursday, we had the privilege of visiting the San Antonio Market. What an awesome experience! The women there were very welcoming and eager to teach us all about some of their traditions. We started off with the basics, such as mastering holding the basket on your head while walking. This is a task most women do every day in markets and, most often, with a baby on their back at the same time. It’s more difficult than they make it look. Things escalated and before you knew it they were demonstrating how a traditional Mayan wedding would occur, and our fellow amigos Renee and Aaron were “tying the knot”. It was a funny, yet beautiful moment, knowing these women wanted us to experience as closely as we could each aspect of this beautiful culture.

IMG-20190315-WA0022

Friday was the day we had all been anticipating since the beginning of the semester. Some of the members of our group were going to conquer the famous Volcan de Acatenango, and what a journey it was. About five and a half hours of hiking up, with moments of pain and wonder intertwined together, as we trekked above the clouds, we saw yet another perspective of Guatemala. Once we all made it to camp, we sat around a fire and enjoyed the show that the neighbouring volcano, Volcan de Fuego, put on for us.

The eruptions and the stars were sights of pure glory to God. I spent a lot of time reflecting on Dave’s thought and the lyrics from the worship night earlier; and I couldn’t help but praise God for His creation and for His character. That God would come down and seek me out no matter where I was, even on the side of a volcano, mesmerized by His creation. No one got a great sleep that night, but at 4 AM we got up to finish what we had started. We hiked in the dark for about an hour and, as the sun started to rise, we neared the summit of the volcano. We made it to the top in time for the beautiful sunrise God painted for us that morning. We spent some time of thanks and also admiration. It was a view like I had never seen before, and made each step up so worth it.

IMG-20190315-WA0020

Something about this community of Outtatown makes the easy things fun, and the tough things better. We were all there to encourage each other and share the same joy and excitement when we reached the top. As we all hiked Volcan de Acentenango, a few of our friends stayed below the clouds and had a restful weekend beside the ocean. Soaking up sun rays, while finding God in the stillness and silence.

To end off the busy week, Mundo Spanish School invited us to make an alfombra in Antigua. An alfombra is a tradition in Guatemala, and a form of giving an offering to God in the season of Lent. We created our alfombra, giving thanks to God for all that He had blessed us with in the year. Each beautiful colour has its own significance and it was an honour to be able to participate in such a beautiful ceremony.

IMG-20190315-WA0024

I am truly thankful for all the opportunities we have been blessed to participate in and see God at work in Guatemala.

Thanks for reading as always we appreciate all of you!

Adios amigos,

Bethany

Adventure Here we Come

Greetings once again from beautiful Guatemala!

Since you last heard from us, we have travelled, explored, and partaken in wild adventures that I’m so excited to share with you. Our group dynamic was a little different over the course of this last week as we travelled; we were split in half, and for the first bit of this travel time, one group went to Semuc Champey in the North, and the others ventured down to Santiago Atitlan. After a few days, our two groups switched locations.

IMG-20190312-WA0000

Reflecting upon this time of separation, many of us definitely felt the absence of those who weren’t there; in such a closely-knit community like ours, we’ve formed deep bonds with each other. Not interacting with half of our group for many days was definitely strange. However, the distance wasn’t as difficult as many of us were anticipating, mainly because our time spent in San Juan del Obispo is pretty independent and we’re not all living in the same space all of the time, like we were during first semester. Nevertheless, when we all reunited at the end of the travel week, many smiles were present, hugs were shared, and stories excitedly told.

Up in the North, several hours from San Juan, we visited a beautiful, natural series of swimming holes called Semuc Champey, located deep amidst the mountains! The crystal blue waters, towering cliffs, and waterfalls blew us all away. Throughout the course of our day there, we swam in the sunshine, went cliff-jumping, and went caving with only candles as a source of light. We encouraged each other through the dark caverns and enjoyed each other’s company throughout our time there. The swimming and sunshine were a very welcome break from studying Spanish!

IMG-20190312-WA0003

During our time in Santigo Atitlan, which is located on stunning Lake Atitlan, we learned about a project Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is sponsoring here in the community. The name of the project is Anadesa and, through this organization, there is a program in place to educate and empower the local Indigenous women, along with providing education and tutoring to their children. During our time with MCC, we partook in a cooking class with the women of Anadesa, were taught about their traditional clothing, and learned some of the history of Santiago Atitlan. Discovering about the persecution and tragedy in this beautiful city’s past, during Guatemala’s civil war, weighed heavy on our hearts, but we could definitely see God working in the people of this place. We were encouraged by the warmth and the joy that the locals had; laughter was often shared with locals during a ride home, while children smiled and played with us on the streets. We were also staying with Mayan host families during our days here, which was a very different experience for most of us when compared with our host families in San Juan. For some of us, we couldn’t communicate with them as they didn’t speak Spanish, but it was still a great experience and opportunity to learn about different parts of Guatemala, and to learn how diverse and beautiful the people of this country are.

IMG-20190312-WA0002

Because of these days of travel, we had the opportunity to not only adventure together, but to see how beautiful God has made Guatemala. The diverse landscapes and warm culture is simply amazing, and we’ve all really begun to feel at home here. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers! Until next time,

-Megan

IMG-20190312-WA0001

Dynamic

Howdy folks, and welcome to the next, slightly delayed, yet ever so flavourful, edition of The Adventures of Guat-Squad!Though my glasses may be at the bottom of a river, my blood sugar level is sky high, and The Best® blogger Ada Krahn is ready to give you the hoo-diggity on our week in the lowlands in northern Guatemala!

IMG-20190309-WA0023

Our schedule changes very drastically week to week, and this affects the social dynamic of the site greatly. The weeks we spend with our host families in San Juan del Obispo are structured, yet fairly independent. There’s a weekly routine we fall into, with a significant amount of time alone at our individual houses. We focus and work hard on our Spanish classes, make time to read our Discussion books, and do what work we need to for each site committee we’re a part of (worship, entertainment, media, etc.). Whenever possible, we find time to go for coffee or sit in the park with each other. It’s a strange mix of Getting Stuff Done and staying quite still. Don’t misunderstand me, we all love and enjoy so much about being here, and I am exaggerating some of the stress, but my point is that we were itching for a change of pace by the end of our 4th week in San Juan. I noticed a subtle bit of homesickness looming over us. A lot of us were missing people and things at home, and a need for some adventure and a break from the responsibility of class and schoolwork. So our break from Spanish class for the past two weeks was warmly welcomed by many of us!

IMG-20190309-WA0025

We spent the week travelling between a few hostels and hotels about 6-8 hours northeast of San Juan. The altitude in this area is much lower, meaning it was much more hot and humid! The first few days we stayed at Denny’s Beach and enjoyed the massive Lago de Izabel, beautiful sunsets, and an amazing hot spring waterfall! We also got a chance to visit Tikal, an ancient Mayan city, and hear about what archaeologists have learned about the place, as well as what knowledge had been preserved via oral tradition.

I think we all benefited immensely from living together again for a whole week. We got the chance to spend time talking to more fellow students than we would while in San Juan. I won’t go into too much detail, so as to avoid next week’s writer’s thunder, but the week following this travel week was really good for us in similar ways. We split the group in half to travel for the whole next week. While we missed our friends in the other group immensely, we had the opportunity to have more time with people we maybe didn’t usually spend as much time with. We had closer conversations, and made new bonds and memories that we brought back to then share with the rest of our friends.

IMG-20190309-WA0024

I think I’m just trying to show all of you at home that what we’re experiencing here in Guatemala is constantly changing. What we focus on, how our community functions, the amount of physical, mental, or spiritual stress changes week by week, sometimes day to day. It wakes us up when we get too comfortable, and gives us breaks when we’re overwhelmed by certain aspects of the program. Every day is a unique experience that pushes our limits, and fortifies our relationships with each other, the world, God, and ourselves. Thank you for continuing to read my thoughts instead of turning back once you read my intro! We’re not ready to come home yet, but we’ll be glad to be home when we are.

Loving Life in San Juan

Hola again friends and family back home!

This marks our fourth week in San Juan del Obispo, living with our host families and going to Spanish school. Crazy to think we are nearly two thirds of the way done; only two more weeks left of life in San Juan. This semester is flying by unbelievably fast and we often find ourselves wondering “where the time has gone?”,  or, “how are we already this far into this semester?” At times I have to sit back and really reflect on how amazing an opportunity this is and appreciate all that I am experiencing, the good and the not so good.

Our past week consisted of the usual activities when in San Juan. We had Spanish class everyday and our regular service projects on Tuesday. One new event on Monday afternoon was having the pastor from the church we’ve been attending in Antigua come share with us. He told us a bit about his family’s experience moving to Guatemala and then the work they’ve been doing for the past eight years. After his story, he read a chapter from the Bible and we all reflected on how we can put ourselves in that Bible story. It was quite refreshing, and a bit of a reminder of last semester, having this pastor come in and speak into our lives. Another new activity was a birthday celebration for all the Outtatowners on Wednesday night. It was pan dulce (sweet bread) themed; a Guatemalan snack we’ve all very much been enjoying. There were relay races, eating competitions, and decorating contests. Let’s just say the local bakeries won’t be seeing us as often for a while, after all the pan dulce we’ve consumed.

IMG-20190218-WA0003

Note the confetti in everyone’s hair! Happy Valentine’s Day…Guatemala style

Valentine’s Day rolled around and the exam at school wasn’t going to put a damper on the mood. A group of students made valentines for everyone and really spread some extra loving around the community that day. Guatemala celebrates the significance of love in friendships and family. They show this love a bit differently around here from what we’re used to back at home. It often consists of smashing an egg full of confetti or flour on someone’s head. Then rubbing the contents all into their hair, whether they’re family or complete strangers on the street.

It was nice being able to spend time in San Juan again and expand our Spanish vocabulary a little bit more. Our teachers taught us how to use past and future tense so now when we speak, we make a bit more sense. I’m sure our host families are appreciative. We wrote our second exam on Thursday before embarking on our two week travels away from San Juan. We do love life in San Juan, but are all very excited for what’s to come and what we’ll see next.

Thanks for reading and taking some time to experience this adventure with us!

Until next time,

Bethany

Talking

Hola all people who are joining us yet again for the latest edition of The Adventures of Guat-Squad! Your beloved writer Ada Krahn is back again for my first post in country! Hope you enjoy!

Language is such an interesting thing. To be able to make certain sounds and have what’s happening in your mind be understood by someone else. It has already been a full week of living with our host families and taking Spanish classes, and so many of us are being faced with the brutal challenge of not being understood, and further not even knowing where to begin with trying to make ourselves understood. This can be a very scary situation for many people to be in and people react to it in different ways. Some wouldn’t care and would try to live as their own independently functioning identity, others would care a lot and feel like they’re doing something wrong, and still some might find peace knowing that their understanding will come in time. Of course, those aren’t every way to react, but I hope you understand what I’m getting at.

At the beginning of the first semester we were all plucked from our own very different lives and put together with such little understanding of each other. I feel like those first few weeks were very similar to our experiences with learning Spanish. We spoke in very simple terms about some fairly generic things. We all spoke different languages, and it took time and energy to be able to speak to each other. Further on in the year, as we experienced things together and saw each other at highs and lows, we were able to understand each other in ways that just weren’t possible before. Now I’m seeing extravagant conversations that twist and twirl and dance like I’ve never seen before.

I find it interesting to see how the fact that we all sleep in different houses has significantly affected our community. I’ve been watching how conversation changes when you’re in a group of 3 or 4 instead of 7 to 23. I think this dynamic is very rewarding so long as we all navigate it as a whole.  Our current independence has allowed for smaller groups spending time together, going for coffee and walks together. Spending time with who we choose has allowed for much more significant conversations, and us each putting more value in the time that we are together. It changes how we care for each other because we are all experiencing a lot of different things day to day.  It is easy to leave people behind even when you don’t mean to. I think that the way we’ll be living while we stay in San Juan del Obispo can do amazing things nurturing the connections we already have with each other, but I can also see how it could be easy to push some friends aside and have a great time with a few other friends while cheating some of us out of an incredible experience. I do believe though that our community is self-aware enough to be able to care for all its parts in the unique ways we need. I believe that the love we have for each other runs very deep. And I believe that each one of us will have an incredible experience here, uniquely together.