Monday, September 30, 2013

Car Sick

It's either a blessing or a curse, and I'm not sure which. In my adult life illness and car trouble strikes exclusively on Saturday. Both rarely occur. But when they do it's always on the weekend. On the one hand, it's the best time for such things to happen. I almost never have to call in sick. The one time I did it was Monday and I was still recovering from Saturday's bug. Car trouble has yet to leave me stranded or scrabbling for a ride to get where I need to be. But on the other hand, both are a pain to deal with no matter what day they strike.

This Saturday it was the car, not illness, that struck. I was driving home Saturday afternoon when my check engine light began to flash.

I didn't believe it at first. I've never had a check engine light come on. I was half a mile or so from home. I had to slow down through a roundabout and things started feeling funny. I knew the check engine light was serious business. I started praying that I'd make it home. 

I did and set to work researching what to do next. My friend Google gave me some advice. And I phoned a real life friend who knows far more about these things than I do.  Once I had a plan of attack and I was reassured that my car wouldn't explode if I drove it somewhere, I headed to the auto parts store.

I survived the short trip and the car was diagnosed with some misfiring. I bought the new spark plugs and wires and headed home once more. The check engine light was no longer flashing. It was steadily lit up.

I had to wait for help to replace the parts. And it required one more trip to the hardware store for a tool I didn't happen to have. And another trip to the auto parts store because they sold me the wrong spark plugs. All in all, it took a couple of hours of work, but the ol' Camry was resuscitated. She's feeling much better now. As far as I can tell, she's in full recovery.

As for me, I learned how to give my car a tune up, something that was long overdue. Today, I am extra thankful for good friends. The kind that will bail you out when you're in trouble. Help you fix your car when she won't run. Or nurse you back to health when sickness strikes on a Saturday.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Survival Gear for Long Winters

I live in a mountain town. While we usually have a really nice and warm fall that is like an extended summer, because summer doesn't really hit these mountains until the last week in June, this year is different. This year it is already cold. And maybe the weather will turn in a week or so and late summer will return. But right now it feels more like November than the end of September. And I saw snow on the mountain tops as I drove to work this morning. Brrr!

Because it's so cold already, I thought it'd be a good time to share with you five things that help me survive the long winters around here. 

1.  Good boots. These are not my only pair of boots. But they've gotten a lot of use as a result of recent rain.

2. Warm fleece. It doesn't have to be a fun color, but it doesn't hurt either. There is just something about wearing bright colors that makes winters more cheerful. 

3. Down coat. My down coat has gotten a ton of use since I got it. As in, I don't leave the house without it for about five months out of the year. And I may need to dig it out of storage early this year.  

4. Warm drinks. This mountain town is full of coffee shops. I don't drink coffee, but thankfully, coffee shops cater to tea drinkers too. They can usually whip up my ultimate treat, a hazelnut hot chocolate, too. 

5. Good books. It's getting dark early, early already. Which makes 8:00 p.m. feel like 10:00 p.m. So when it's dark and it feels late, but it's not really late, I need a good book to curl up with by a fire or under a blanket on the couch. Here's what's next on my reading list. 

What gets you through long, cold winters?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Home Improvement

My younger sister and her husband have been graciously providing a roof over my head off and on for the past couple of months. This is my gypsy life. I sleep where I am offered a room. My family has been generous and kind in allowing me a little space to call my own in between house sitting gigs and trips out of the country.

So when the sister and bro-in-law took off out of town last week, I decided it was time I tackled a project for them. A little gift of my appreciation. I brainstormed and thought about all the different things I could maybe do that would be helpful and a nice surprise when they returned home. And I settled on replacing the dog door.

Their big goofy dog, Daliah, who doesn't realize her own size, charged through this door when I was house sitting some other time in the past. It's been patched and nailed into place ever since. Now I have been reading Young House Love for years, and figured osmosis was a good teacher in learning how to DIY a home improvement project.

I was wrong.

First, I measured. Then I headed to the big store to purchase a replacement dog door.

I got it home. And armed myself with the new tools I had recently purchased for car repair purposes. I set to work removing the door. Feeling proud that I was going to get this done easy-peasy, I held the new door in place, only to realize the new door was narrower than the old broken one. This was not going to work.

Back to the store I went to return the door and purchase the next largest size.

The next day, I had to borrow a saw and dig out a drill. I would need a bigger hole in the door to accommodate the larger door. It should be noted that I had never in my life used a drill or a saw. And certainly not unsupervised. I got my tools home and set to work. It was slow going with the saw. Not at all as smooth as the directions indicate.

That's when I learned that different blades work on different material. This door was apparently metal with a foam core. A wood blade wasn't working well. I switched blades and it was as if choirs were singing. And then the blade snapped and the chorus screeched to a halt.

Back to the store I went to purchase more metal blades.  Standing in the store, I was confused. Out of my element. I was wise enough to bring a piece of the broken blade with me, but I could not find anything that looked remotely similar.

And then an employee who looked exactly like she could be my grandma came down the aisle to offer assistance and point me in the right direction. She took one look at the piece of saw blade I offered and promptly doled out all the wisdom she had in her and handed me the proper blade I'd need. I wanted so much to ask her to come home with me so she could finish the job. I'd bake her some cookies. Cookies, I know how to do. Dog doors and jigsaws are beyond my capabilities. But I refrained and went on home alone.

I set to work with my new blade, and was beginning to make good progress. I finally had one side of the door cut, but the door was too thick and I had a couple of flaps on the other side of the door to cut when I hear a voice come from the darkness on the other side of the fence.

"Hello," came the disembodied voice.

"Yes. Hello." I replied. Not even sure that I had actually heard anyone at all.

"My son's window is right there," said the female voice.

"Really?" I said. "I am almost done here."

"But his room is right there," she said.

I had heard tales of this neighbor. I wondered how she'd feel about my sawing things at 8:30 a.m. as opposed to 8:30 p.m. But I quit for the night. Thoroughly annoyed.

I barricaded the hole in the door in order to keep skunks out of the house and went to bed.

I rose the next morning and began sawing away. It took me all of 20 minutes to not only finish sawing but also install the door. Then I had to leave for the day to the gym and to work. Saturday night I picked up calk on my way home. I got home and set to work. First I noticed my earlier install wasn't level, so I fiddled with that. Then set to caulking.

I had to wait for the caulk to dry and set, but Sunday I found a small jar of pain and a brush and I touched up the paint job on the door. I gave it two coats and called it good.

A job that would've taken anyone else an hour or so, took me 4 days to complete. But it's done, and I think even Dahlie approves.

And so far she hasn't plowed her giant head through this door yet.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Running Behind

Remember how I wrote about a track workout a few weeks ago. And how I said I typically go out too ambitious and die by the end of the workout. So, I've done that again. Been a little too ambitious.

I've wanted to run another half marathon for awhile now. At least since I recovered from the marathon I ran a couple of years ago and decided I never wanted to do that again. Even then I thought that half the distance was totally doable, and maybe up to 20 miles, but anything after that was crazy. I haven't changed my mind on that either. Half marathon good. Marathon not good.

Before that marathon. Trust me. No one wants to see the after photos. 

My problem is I can't ever decide which half marathon to run. Even when a friend signed up for a half in November, I was all, "I don't know . . ." And then it was too late to sign up because the race was full, so I signed up for the 5k that same day. I had plenty of time to train for 3 miles, and that's what I was doing on the track that day.

And then I took a break from running when I went to Guatemala. And now I've been back for over a week and haven't gotten completely back on my training plan (or sleeping schedule, or life schedule for that matter). But get this. My friend decided she didn't have enough time to train for the half marathon either. So she asked me if I wanted to switch with her. I'd run the half and she'd run the 5k in my place. You know what I said, don't you?

I'm not sure if I'm a really good friend, or a glutton for punishment. I now have less than 5 weeks to train for 13 miles. I have a new plan. And already a skipped my first workout. I'll attempt to keep you posted on how this goes. Things could get interesting around here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Worship Rises to Blue Rafters

The strings begin. The trumpets, clarinets and French horn chime in. One by one various instruments join in the orchestra. From the smallest piccolo in the front.To the drums and the tuba in the back. Sounds fit for a concert hall rise to the tin roof and cobalt blue rafters.

As music floats out the windows, people young and old, moms and dads, children of all ages, begin to crowd the doorway of the open air classroom. The youngest get on hands and knees to peek behind the legs of those taller, trying to get a glimpse of the makers of this music.

These are the members of World Vision’s music program in Tinamit Junam. They come every Saturday for music classes and rehearsals. Mothers bring toddlers for the early education class, Mommy & Me style, where they sing and dance to music. The oldest musicians are no longer students, but now young adults they continue to gather in this place every Saturday to play and to teach others.

Standing in the courtyard on Saturday afternoon, one is surrounded by a cacophony of noise that at first sounds like unorganized clanging. But if given a minute, the melody of each part begins to come out.

Three sides of the courtyard are bordered by open air classrooms. A group of young men with clarinets set up chairs and music stands under the eaves of one building. A French horn duo takes up residence under  a tree. Their instructor stands nearby giving guidance. A group of trumpet players sit and stand twenty feet away. In one room, Natalie, 5, plays “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on a piano. In another, children as young as 5, including Abner, stand in rows practicing song after song. Angel, with his cello, is stationed in front near the instructor. Chairs boarding the room are occupied by mothers and fathers who bring their children here, fulfilling their own commitment to the Suzuki method’s three part process. Outside the door, Moshe 14, plays Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” on a cello while his friends watch.

Photos: Matthew Paul Turner

Around the corner, near the early education class, the concert band begins to play “Ode to Joy.”Ranging in ages from 11 to 25, teachers sit next to students, playing side by side. Many of the teachers at the music school are former students themselves who now come back as volunteer instructors.

In the back, sit two tuba players, but there is only one tuba. When one song finishes, the student removes his mouth piece and hands the large instrument over to his teacher, who then plays the next song in the set. They practice as a group from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. each and every Saturday, and anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours a day at home.

The orchestra is made up of the most advanced musicians. Hector, age 19, is a cellist. He is a former sponsor child, who started playing the cello in World Vision’s music program at 11. Last year, Hector auditioned for a spot in Guatemala’s National Symphonic Orchestra.

Open positions in the orchestra are rare. About a dozen musicians auditioned for the one cello spot, including Hector’s own instructor. She had always told him her goal was that he would one day surpass her skills. At the end of the audition, Hector was offered the spot in the most prestigious orchestra in the country, a paid position that will be his for life as long as he wants it. He has gone from being a sponsor child to being able to help support his own family. 

Photo: Laura Reinhardt

Hector’s story is a story of how investing in a child’s life can truly make a difference. Can bring them from a child in need, to where they are able to fill the need in their own communities.

An orchestra with many instruments and many musicians, works together to create a sound that moves others to gather around.  That brings smiles to faces and sometimes tears to eyes. In a similar way, organizations like World Vision are made up of many parts. Those parts attempt to work in concert with each other.

As a humanitarian organization, World Vision enters an impoverished community with a goal and a plan to leave the community in 12 to 15 years. No organization is perfect, but from what I have seen, World Vision is doing a lot of things right. Every staff member I met while in country was a Guatemalan. The programs I saw are not run by North Americans or foreign missionaries coming into the country to provide aid. They are the people of Guatemala working to better their own communities. World Vision appears to know that building community and relationship is the answer to ending cycles of poverty.

The Guide Mother program is an example of that. Mothers teaching mothers how to care for their children to prevent malnutrition. In Tinamit the 3% malnutrition rate is now nearly a nonexistent problem. World Vision is also partnering with local governments and supervising community health centers as it invests in local communities to further combat the problem of under nutrition in the country.

World Vision has been working in this community for 13 years and have clearly accomplished much in that time. There are other areas where malnutrition rates are still much higher. I have seen the end result of the work World Vision is accomplishing, and it is a community of healthy children, where education is valued and where children have opportunities to pursue their passions, like music, and grow up to be the relationship builders and investors in their own communities.

Like an orchestra, like an organization, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. We each have a job to do. A role to play. What would an orchestra be without the drummer keeping beat? Without the rich sounds of the wind instruments? Without the lone tuba player in the back?

I once heard Lynne Hybels speak. She said we must all ask God, “What’s mine to do?” Have you asked that question lately?

Will you consider joining the orchestra in sounds of worship being raised to the blue rafters? Will you consider investing in the life of a child? Will you join me in sponsoring a child with World Vision?

Sponsor a Child in Guatemala

Monday, September 23, 2013


It started raining yesterday just before 4 o'clock. It was a driving rain. Rain that reminded me so much of the afternoon downpours in Guatemala. Almost daily the rains came. I'd sit in my room just after 4:00 p.m., and I'd wrap myself in a blanket, as I wrote words for you.

But now I'm here. And Guatemala is there. And the weather is changing here. Where it was sunny and 80 here while it rained on me there, it seems I brought the rain home with me. I have had to dig my wool skirts out of my duffle bag and reclaim my raincoat from it's storage place in my friend's closet. And these were not things I needed while I was there. But I am here.

Yesterday as it rained, I parked under a pine tree and watched the rain fall on my windshield. It was not the warm rain of Guatemala. Afterwards, I drove toward home and spotted a rainbow reach across the sky.

Mama used to take us on drives through the farmlands whenever a rainbow appeared. She said we were searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I drove off on a side road and tried to find the end of it. But the rainbow kept moving. It kept changing. Still it was there.

I didn't find the pot of gold. Or even see a leprechaun.

But I saw a rainbow stretch itself way across the sky. And I knew that God remembers his promises. And as the rain pounded my windshield at 4 o'clock on a Sunday, I remembered Guatemala.

I am here. She is there. I am still remembering her.

Sponsor a Child in Guatemala

Friday, September 20, 2013

Guatemala at a Glance

I am finally going through the few photos I did stop and take last week. We had real photographers there, so I didn't bother taking too many of my own, since I knew theirs would come out much better. I thought you might enjoy a glimpse of what I saw. 

Guatemala, at lease where we were, is very green. It is a beautiful country. 

In case you can't tell. That's an active volcano on the left. We got to see it smoking away. I know it looks likes clouds, but you're just going to have to take my word. It's smoke. 

More green as we drove along the windy roads. 

Bonus visit with sponsor children

One day while visiting with Abner and his mom. Our sponsor childrenJefferson and Gerson, showed up to play ball. They live a few doors down. We convinced them to stay and listen to Abner play. Afterward the boys played soccer, and we got to meet their older siblings and visit with their mother, Marta, again. It was a great little bonus visit. Somewhere there are photos with the family and us. I don't have those ones yet, but I do have a few of us listening to music and playing soccer. 


Chickens and roosters were pretty much everywhere. I think they're pretty. And I had to take pictures for Mama. Chickens are pretty important characters in her new novel "Mother of Rain". You all should read it. I know you'd love it.

I'll be back next week with a more substantial post about Guatemala and the work World Vision is doing there. Thank you for being patient with me this week.

Sponsor a Child in Guatemala

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Flies and La Cucaracha

Thank you all for giving me grace this week and allowing my posting to be a little irregular. I am slowly catching up on life and sleep. I still haven’t fully unpacked yet, but I’m getting there too. It’s the strangest things that are reminding me of Guatemala.

(The above photo has very little to do with this post. But I am a better photographer of things than people, or apparently cockroaches. But it was taken in Guatemala, and there are pigeons, which can be kind of pesky, like flies and roaches.) 

Walking up the stairs to my room the other day, I saw a black spot on the wall. I didn’t know what it was. Standing to stare of a minute, I realized it was a fly. A fly on the wall. And then I remembered the flies.

It’s not like all of Guatemala is covered in flies. But there were a couple of times where flies just seemed to be around. A lot. We got out of the van to visit a house. When we got back in, it looked like a dozen flies had decided to hitch a ride on the ceiling.

Food is always covered to keep the flies at bay. The fruit bowls at breakfast. The horchata at lunch. Bread baskets.  Anything really that sits out and might attract flies is covered with a cloth like a tea towel.

Really the only bug or pest I saw other than flies was a cockroach that spent the day in my room. I danced and sang “La Cucaracha” for him. (OK not really, but I should have.)

Before I left for Guatemala, I was at the local dollar store picking up a few things. Don’t even knock the dollar store. Anyone who has ever lived a gypsy life out of necessity knows that the dollar store is a lifesaver. Everything for just $1. You can get all the things you need. Sure maybe it’s not the right brand. And OK, so they sell candy in little tiny proportions, but it’s only 1 buck.  What’s a 100 pennies really? You know if you went to the big store (I’m looking at you Target), you’d find all sorts of things you didn’t go in for and decided you had to have and you wouldn't walk out without spending fifty $1 bills. At the dollar store there is no danger of spending $50, unless you’re buying 50 things, and I have yet to find 50 things I need at the dollar store. But back to my story.

I was at the dollar store the day before I flew out to Guatemala and there in the front of the store was a display for cockroach traps and repellent (which I didn’t even know existed).  But here in front of me was an entire shelf of cockroach remedy. And I laughed out loud.

You guys, I have lived in the great state of Oregon practically all of my life. I have never, not once, seen a cockroach anywhere. Not in the entire, all 98,466 square miles of this state. Cockroaches don’t live here people. They just don’t. You can take my word for it. I’ve had my fair share of experiences with cockroaches.

When I was in 7th grade and living in Georgia for a little while I despised the flying roaches. If I so much as saw one hiding in the drapes, I turned around and left the room immediately. I figured it was best to live and let live. And that philosophy is probably why I left the roach to lie on its back in my bathroom in Guatemala all day. But that only works until bedtime.

You see, I once stayed with Mama in a room at the Carson McCullers house. (As in the “Heart is a Lonely Hunter” Carson McCullers.) It was a September evening. We were sharing the only bed, a queen. I was sound asleep when suddenly Mama was throwing all the blankets off the bed. I bolted up, startled by her panic. It was dark. I couldn’t see much. But she was screaming something about how a roach crawled over her as she slept.  Neither one of us got much sleep that night. (And for the record, that’s only #2 in the top stories of things that make Mama and I scream at night. The story that gets top billing really takes the cake.)

So I’m in Guatemala and getting ready for bed and I see the roach still laying on its back, only about six inches displaced from where I’d seen him that morning, I knew then that I had to do something.  I rolled up my sleeves and did the thing I’d seen my dad do hundreds of times whenever us girls call him to exterminate the spiders in the house. I grabbed a tissue, pinched the roach and flushed him down the toilet.  And I went to sleep without a problem.

In the end, maybe buying the roach traps at the dollar store wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all. You never know when you’re going to encounter La Cucaracha. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New BFFs and Friendship Bracelets

Early yesterday morning, after a full day of travel by van, three airplanes, and my trusty old Camry, I finally made it home. My sister left the lights on for me, but I barely had time to read her welcome sign before I crashed.

I probably need a week to rest up. Though I’m sure I’ll be thinking about Guatemala for many weeks and years to come.

One of the greatest gifts this journey provided was the chance to meet and build a relationship with the other writers. Can I just say, Wow! Every single one of them is thoughtful and talented. But more than that, they are engaging and funny, and oh so kindhearted.

Caleb Wilde and I were the first to arrive at the gate in Houston. Within the first couple of hours, I knew that Caleb had a talent for making anyone feel comfortable. He is constantly complimenting those he meets, from the man serving him dinner; to the writer he’s been anxious to meet for years.
  Photo: Matthew Paul Turner

Caleb wrote a very thoughtful post about Alma, World Vision’s Guatemalan National Sponsorship Coordinator.

Micha Boyett was my neighbor for a week. She has a sweet and peaceful spirit that is evident from the first moments you meet her. But she also has a dramatic flair and provided nightly dinner entertainment for the entire group. If you don’t read anything else, read her post “Let’s Be Ordinary. Let’s be Extravagant” about the every day, ordinary ways World Vision is changing the health and nutrition of communities.

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary brought such an important perspective to the week. She is a missionary who lived in Costa Rica for five years, and if she tries to tell you she is terrible at Spanish, don’t listen to her. She rocks in all sorts of ways. Most importantly, she has a passion for doing missions the right way. Her post “Fighting Poverty is like so 2012” juxtaposes poverty with hope.

Jessica Shyba has such style and the best long skirts I have ever seen. They are unique and a little frilly, but still practical for walking around and climbing in and out of a van all day. We learned that our sponsor children are brothers. It adds another layer of relationship and community building. The shared experience we have in investing in the lives of these two young men, these brothers. Jessica wrote about meeting her sponsor children in the post “Las Madres.”
Zack at the American Jesus is smart y’all. He is such a deep thinker. I learned so much sitting quietly in the van listening to bits and pieces of his conversations with others. He is also very tall, which was actually really useful when trying to keep a group together in a crowded place, like the central park during the Guatemalan Independence Day celebration. Read his post “What if we’re the Ones that Need Saving” about the Guatemala grandmother who ministered to us, you will be moved.

Roo over at Neon Fresh would probably want me to tell you she’s nice and sweet, which was honestly my first impression of her. But she is funny too, which is what everyone says about her. She is the organizer of fun. But what I love the most about her is that she embraces everyone with open arms. From the no-name blogger she just met, to the littlest child in the room. Her post “Take it With You” is an important look at what truly matters.

Last but not at all least, Matthew Paul Turner. The one who brought us all together. Our leader. Our guide. Creativity flows through his veins. He is not only a writer, but a gifted photographer who captured the moments of our days. I am blessed to know him and honored that he included me on this journey. In “The Slums are Alive” he writes about the hope being found in music in Guatemala.

I have been beyond blessed by each one of these writers, and am honored to call them friends. If braiding matching friendship bracelets was still the cool thing to do, I would totally send one to each of them.
Sponsor a Child in Guatemala

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Confucius is wrong. Leave your heart.

Years ago when I was moving thousands of miles away from my home and everyone I knew, Mama gave me a bracelet. It was a simple silver cuff. Small and delicate. It was engraved with a quote by the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.

I try to remember that when I am coming and going. Hellos are fun. Full of excitement and anticipation. Wonderment at the newness of getting to know someone, someplace new. Goodbyes are different. Goodbyes are full of a different kind of uncertainty. A sadness that comes with not knowing what the future holds or when we’ll meet again.

We are leaving Guatemala today. We are saying goodbye.

Goodbye to a beautiful country. Beautiful people. Beautiful music.

Photos: Shelby Zacharias & Laura Reinhardt

Today is Guatemala’s Independence Day. Yesterday, we got to celebrate with the people of Guatemala. Watching parades. Dancing in the Central Park in Antigua. Guatemala has a deep and rich history. And if the children we met this week are any indication, it is a country with a very bright future.

We are leaving Guatemala today, but we are not taking all of our hearts with us. We are leaving a little behind.

We are leaving our hears with our sponsor children and the joy we got from meeting them and playing games with them.

We are leaving our hearts behind in the music we played with the young musicians at World Vision's music school.

Photo: Laura Reinhardt
Photo: Laura Reinhardt

We may be leaving Guatemala today. But we are not saying goodbye. There is still work to be done. Instead we say, "Until we meet again."

Sponsor a Child in Guatemala

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pedicures and Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Did you know, that at $4.75, seven Pumpkin Spice Lattes cost you about $35.

Maybe you’re at Starbucks right now, fueling up before a Saturday afternoon pedicure. That pedicure is going to be another $35.

While you’re relaxing in the seat using your $35 per month data plan, your best friend texts you to set up a last minute dinner and movie double date.

Dinner out at your favorite Italian place, $35.

Two tickets to “The Family” at the nearest cinema along with the standard soda and popcorn, you guessed it, $35.

$35 per month is all it takes to sponsor a child in Guatemala.

That is 1 dinner out.

1 date night at the movies.

1 pedicure.

Or 7 lattes.

For every one of those $35 World Vision receives, only 15 cents goes to administrative costs. But because World Vision maximizes those 15 cents, they end up raising even more money. The result is that for every $1 donation to World Vision, $1.30 is spent in places like Guatemala. That’s money that goes directly to provide services for sponsor children like Gerson and those waiting for a sponsor, like Angel. No dollar spent on a latte can guarantee that great a return.

What are you going to spend $35 on this week?

Sponsor a Child in Guatemala

Friday, September 13, 2013

Looking Beyond First World Problems and Finding Beauty

I don't want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to people, even those I've never met.”  –Anne Frank

We walk down a narrow, rocky, muddy path, littered with garbage. We pass by a grandfather with white hair working in a shop, fixing what appears to be a shoe. Chickens strut behind a straggly wire fence with holes littered with holes the size of softballs. We pass by the most primitive outhouse I have ever been compelled to enter (first world problems people). Beyond all that we are finally welcomed to the home of sisters, Dina and Monica, members of the World Vision youth orchestra, both students and teachers of music. And there we found beauty. 

Two days ago, we met Delma, whose 3-year-old daughter is in the World Vision music program at Palencia outside of Guatemala City. “I dream that she can worship the Lord with music,” Delma said. And that is exactly was sisters Dina, 23, and Monica, 20, are doing. Dina is a cellist and Monica a flutist. They are both former World Vision sponsor children, along with their mother.

Sisters, Dina,age 23, and Monica, age 20.

All of the musicians we meet echo a similar sentiment, that being a part of the World Vision music program has changed their lives. It helps them with their studies. Helps them stay focused. And provides opportunities they would never have otherwise.

“I am nothing without my cello,” Dina says. She credits practicing the cello as a therapy that helped her recover from surgery.

Her sister Monica says, “Many girls my age already are mothers, but thanks to music, we have other opportunities.”  She said that when she is facing problems in life she look to God instead of to the world.

After playing a couple of hymns for us, Monica says, “Every day we wake up hearing the music of the birds, the ducks, and the other animals, and see this beautiful place we live in . . . I may not be able to compete with the birds, but I am free to play music here." 
Angel, age 12
Photo: Laura Reinhardt
Not all of the children in the music program have sponsors. World Vision not only helps those children who have sponsors, but provides services for entire communities. 

Angel, a cellist, does not yet have a sponsor.  At 12, he has already been playing music for 8 years. His favorite composer is Bach. He hasn’t started composing his own music yet, but perhaps one day he will. When he plays the cello, the sound is rich and deep and transports his audience from a dimly lit cinder block home, to a grand hall. He dreams of playing for the symphonic orchestra and traveling the world someday.
Young girl with a cereal box violin.
Photo: Laura Reinhardt
World Vision teachers utilize the Suzuki method with a belief that every child can play an instrument and learn new skills. Children first learn respect for instruments by practicing on violins made from cereal boxes and sticks. The Suzuki method relies on the triangle of learning that includes the child, the teacher, and the parent. Parents are involved in the child’s training in music to encourage them to practice and listen to music at home. The parents we meet are as committed to the program as their children. From the way they quietly remind the littlest violinists to slow down with a whispered, “Mas despacio, mi amor.” To the pride on their faces when they listen to their children play.

Abner, age 7

Abner, age 7, has played the violin since we was 3 years old. Cookie Monster and his other stuffed animals serve as his audience when he practices at home.  All the practicing is paying off. Last year he won a national violin contest.

In just four years of playing, Abner has performed for two presidents of Guatemala. Others, like Monica, have traveled all over Guatemala and even to El Salvador with the orchestra. From the simple scales they practice, to the movements of the most famous classical composers, the music the children are learning in World Vision’s music program brings enjoyment to audiences far and wide.

Perhaps Monica said it best. "We don't have all the wealth in the world, but it's important to thank God for what we do have, love and family."

Sponsor a Child in Guatemala

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Speaking Love through Soccer Balls and Bear Hugs

Photo: Laura Reinhardt
My stomach was in knots. I only knew a few things about him. His name (although I wasn't even sure how to pronounce it). His age. His favorite subject. His favorite sport. 

It was his favorite subject that caught my attention the day I scrolled through picture after picture of children waiting for sponsors. Gerson, 8, likes to read. 

I recognized him as soon as he walked up the driveway at the World Vision offices at Tinamit Junam. His ears stand out a little from his closely cut hair, the way my father’s did at that age. He came with his mother, Marta, and his younger brother, Jefferson.

After a quick exchange of names, he hugged me. Without a translator to help, we had to rely on my hesitant language skills. We got by okay. I learned from Marta that she also has three daughters. Gerson’s older sisters were in school.

The fact that his sisters are in school is a testament to World Vision’s work in the community. When World Vision entered this area, 90% of children were malnourished and girls rarely attended school. Since that time, undernourishment has dropped to just 3%, and girls now attend school at an equal or higher rate than boys.

World Vision serves approximately 80,000 children in Guatemala. Only 50 to 60% of those children have sponsors. To the children in Guatemala, their sponsor takes on the role of a godparent. Becoming a godparent is a serious undertaking. While it varies in tradition and religious background, godparents typically make a commitment to being a part of a child’s life and building a relationship with the godchild.

In essence that is what sponsors do as well. It’s as simple, but as important as building a relationship with a child. This is accomplished through not only monthly financial support, but through letters. With each letter sent to the children, a sponsor or a godparent is making a lasting difference in a child’s life, by creating a personal connection.

Photo: Matthew Paul Turner

The correspondence room at the national headquarters in Guatemala is what I imagine the North Pole Post Office looks like in December. It is a maze of boxes and bins stacked high with letters. The tiny room processes over 3,000 letters per month. Those letters are sorted by region, and then translated before they are delivered. This is where my letters to Gerson will come. From Oregon all the way to Guatemala, and then they will wind their way through the mountains to him in Tinamit.

Marta tells me Gerson spent all yesterday afternoon knocked out by a cold. His mother tells me he is constantly on the go. But even a lingering cough doesn't stop him from kicking a soccer ball around with me. Where my Spanish skills failed, soccer became our universal language. He passed the ball to me, and I kicked it back to him. Other children joined in, and we played until I was sweaty and Gerson was tired.

Photo: Laura Reinhardt
As I sat talking with his mother, he grabbed a few pencils and began to draw a picture. After singing songs and playing with the other children, we ate lunch and drank horchata, a delicious rice milk with cinnamon. And then it was time to say goodbye. More hugs and thank yous. He waved back at me as he followed Marta and his brother back down the driveway.

On the van leaving Tinamint for the day, I held the picture Gerson drew. He had started with a circle drawn by tracing the outer edges of a coin. The circle became a sun. He added grass. A flag. A house. And a person. Above it all he drew a rainbow. The flag he colored became the flag of Guatemala. As he colored the person’s t-shirt, he looked at mine. The girl he drew was me. In the center of the flag where the seal would be, he wrote “Te queiro.” I love you.

Nearing the market, I heard someone in the front of the van say, “Look! Some of the sponsor kids.” I looked out the window and saw Jefferson. He, Marta and Gerson were about to enter a store. I slid the window open as fast as I could.  Leaning out as far as possible, I shouted, “Gerson! Marta!” as we passed by. Marta heard me and motioned for the boys to look. Smiles spread wide across their faces. The three of them waved back at me until the van was out of sight.

Deciding to become a sponsor felt like such a small thing sitting at my computer. A commitment of barely over a dollar a day. Today I learned otherwise. Becoming a godmother to Gerson is no small thing at all. From the smile on his face, to the picture he drew, to his final words of goodbye, “Te quiero mucho."   

I know that building a relationship with Gerson is one of the most important decisions I could make. If a soccer ball, a bear hug, and a pencil were all that was needed to break language barriers and communicate love, then I can only imagine what the years ahead are going to look like with letters travelling the miles between Oregon and Guatemala, from one reader to the other. 

Will you consider joining me in partnering with World Vision and becoming a sponsor, a godparent, to a child in Tinamit Junam today?   

Sponsor a Child in Guatemala

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Guide Mothers Cook up Community

Over half a dozen children sit quietly at the small wooden table. They all look younger than five. We are gathered at the home of Marta, a Madre Guía or Guide Mother, to watch the women prepare and serve lunch to their children.

Just steps away, Marta stirs vegetables on the stove top. The vegetables, a mixture of güisquil (like chayote) and soy protein.  A pot of rice with red bell peppers and shredded carrot waits to be dished up nearby. Francisco, our World Vision translator, describes the güisquil like a green potato but less starchy and more nutritious.  He passes one around the room. It has spines like a porcupine that dig into the palm of my hand, only the spines are short and the color of golf greens.

A girl in pink sitting at the head of the table looks over her shoulder at me. I wink. She grins and ducks her head back around.

The mothers begin to dish up the meal and pour cups of milk for the children. Someone passes around a few tortillas. Mothers hold the youngest children in their lap, spoon feeding them. Rice clings to their cheeks and chins.
Photo by Matthew Paul Turner
This community meal is part of World Vision’s answer to chronic malnutrition in the area.

Approximately 50 percent of Guatemalan children suffer from malnutrition. In some areas that number is as high as 9 out of 10 children. The critical years to address malnutrition is the first 5 years of a child’s life. After the age of 5, a child who has suffers early chronic malnutrition will continue to suffer the effects for the rest of their lives no matter how much their diet improves later on. The Guatemalan government and other organizations are working to fight this critical health problem in the country. 

World Vision’s approach is twofold. Prevention and recovery. Recovery is a 10 month process.

The Guide Mother, like Marta, is a volunteer with World Vision. She is trained and in this case she opens her home to be a community center to evaluate the progress of the children and to teach their mothers proper care.

Recovery starts with a 12 day educational course where mothers come to learn about health and nutrition. After the 12 day course, the mothers monitor their children’s health over time as they implement the skills they learned. Once a month the mothers meet for meals like this to continue their education and to evaluate the well-being of the children. They also receive help in the areas where they are struggling. They learn skills like how to prepare water for various tasks, how to properly wash dishes, how to make their meal more nutritious and how to maintain basic hygiene practices.

As the mothers learn and practice good nutrition and hygiene, they go on to share what they have learned with their friends and other mothers, becoming guide mothers themselves. This is the knowledge chain that World Vision uses to create sustainable health practices. Where mothers teach mothers.

This is community building. Neighbors helping neighbors. Mothers helping mothers.

Down the road is the home of another mother. In her backyard she has a hydroponic garden, where a mixture of soil, sand, and coconut fiber allows her to grow new produce with minimal water. In her small garden, shoots of broccoli and lettuce grow 4 and 5 inches tall. In this area of Guatemala, black beans and corn are the main agricultural crops. Stalks of corn reach high up steep slopes along roads that wind through hills and mountains. But with the help of World Vision, some mothers are growing other nutritious foods to feed their families.

Steps away is a chicken coop where hens peck and pluck and cluck away, providing food for the family and an extra income when sold at the market.

World Vision isn’t just a child sponsorship organization. World Vision is empowering these mothers of Guatemala to not only better care for their families, but to provide for them as well. World Vision is in the business of building communities that work. They do this by working with community partners and building relationships with other organizations. And they do this by connecting mothers with not only the resources they need to care for their children, but with one another, so they can teach each other. This is how living in community works. Everyone pitching in where they can to help each other out.

Sponsor a Child in Guatemala