Yes, like all of you, I too am facing "Christmas"! The very fact that it is supposed to be the most joyful time of the year makes it all the more heartbreaking for so many. In my office, I'm already hearing the despair from so many of my patients because they know that it will not be the season they envisioned. Perhaps they have lost their jobs. Perhaps they have lost a loved one...maybe a breakdown of their marriage or a great sadness with one or more of their children. Perhaps they are facing cancer or perhaps they have lost their home. Perhaps they are struggling to even find a reason to get up in the morning. Like many of you, I too face my own heartbreaks. This past year has been one of the most devastating for me. Yet, unlike the vast majority of the world, I am one of the very small percentage that has clean water, more than enough to eat, a more than comfortable home, and the best of health. AND, I have a job that I love, an incredibly loving husband and family and a deep relationship with the God who has never forsaken me. Even in my darkest moments, I never despair because I feel His presence right by my side.
Sometimes I wonder how the birth of the Savior of this world came to be connected not only with the biggest merchandising spectacle of humanity but also with a time where all the "non-profits" come to bother you all with too much begging! There are so many new and innovative ways for those who want your financial help to annoy you at this time of the year!
I am a doctor, a passionate follower of Christ and a much-flawed human being. I'm not a "fund-raiser" and honestly, our organization is so consumed with helping the most impoverished of the world that we can't justify hiring one. We count on so many people who have so unselfishly given endless hours of their time for really not much reward. I don't have the energy nor the know-how to come up with great ideas of how I can convince you all to contribute to our cause. If you feel that God is leading you to contribute, than please do. Any contribution you give will be blessed abundantly.
I truly believe in what we are doing. I watch the effects we have had in Guatemala and I watch how our work has changed those here who work with us.
While we have all been shattered with the death of Flori, we know that her death has truly not been in vain. When I think of that afternoon when she walked into our poor little clinic in the middle of nowhere just over a year ago and I see where we are now, I am amazed at the power of God. Her story has spread throughout the Peten and throughout Toledo. One of our board members has been able to get us really significant grant funding to start a real cervical cancer prevention program in Guatemala. So many doors have been opened. I would have never imagined a year ago that we would now be partnering with huge organizations to truly find a way to stop the injustice of women like Flori dying.
Another one of our board members found a way to partner us with DELL computers to work toward truly educating the children in the most remote areas of the world. When this grant came our way, I wondered how we would even be able to use this money to make an impact. In this past year, we have worked on developing school infrastructure and supplying books but this grant has now opened us up to working with another organization so that yes, we can actually provide computers to many schools and open the eyes of the most poor children to the great world that is out there.
Our little clinic in the smallest of villages was such a success that now we have moved to a bigger area. We now have the trust of all the health promoters in all of these little villages. Four years ago this would have never happened. But because of all of your support and because of the incredibly wonderful people that God has put in our path, there really are so many poor people in so many poor little villages who now have hope that perhaps there really are people out there who care enough to be the hands of God for them.
There are so many stories. I think of the receptionist in my office who put me in touch with a woman who had all the talents to really make a difference in this poorest of countries. She had the language, the education and all the "people-skills" to broaden our work. She and her husband have worked tirelessly over this past several years to send food for these starving children. I think of the most compassionate doctors in Toledo whom we have had the great privilege to work with. Their efforts never stop humbling me. I think of the people in Guatemala whom God has put in our path who now work with us to end all of this injustice.
Yes, maybe one day I'll write a book - a book that would be devoted to the never ending faithfulness of our God. Like so many of you, this Christmas is one that is filled with much heartbreak for me. Yet, it is also one that is filled with great joy because I have learned to choose the light of God and to fight the darkness. I have been blessed with an incredible church and a pastor who never stops inspiring me to come closer to God.
So....I only write this to all of you who are already supporting us to tell you that you are all in my prayers. I imagine that many of you have the same struggles that I have. It has been my privilege to work with you all to do our part to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Above, please see the photos from our newest microenterprise projects!! With Ismael leading the way, the community of Pueblo Nuevo have planted 7000 tomato plants which should be ready for harvest in September. This will be one of the first real sources of income for the women in this region!
Thanks to Deena Ellis, we have found a master weaver who will be going out to Pueblo Nuevo to teach the women professional weaving. Above, see photos from the first class - there is great excitement for all the potential that this project may mean for these women.
Hola everyone! Just want to tell you how full and productive the trip has been so far.
Started off a little frightening when we were told that we couldn"t land in Guatemala because of bad weather so we had to go to El Salvador and site there for 4 hours. People were starting to get slightly hysterical (yes, even our own Deena!!) when they finally got smart and broke out the "snacks" that previoulsy cost $4 a pop!
Once we were no longer starving, we were able to laugh at the poor Spanish language skills of the stewardess. Even I knew she wasn't even close - and that sure says a lot!!
But we finally crawled into bed at 1 AM last night and slept well. The alarm was promptly set at 5 AM by the know-it-all doctora Ana so she could get her training run in - but alas she forgot her sneakers!!! AHHHHH!
Well, then off to a delicious breakfast.
Then Deena and I went to our meeting with the executive director from WINGS Guatemala. They have done phenomenol things in this country in regards to women's health. It was a privilege to know that they would be willing to meet with us. We learned tons from our meeting and by the end of the day, they already have us set up with a wonderful attorney who will arrange for our NGO status in Guatemala.- They are also arranging for us to meet with the physician who leads the cervical cancer and contraceptive efforts in Guatemala!!
They have 2 employed health promotors that work in the Peten and they will be joining us next week.
Then, Deena and I very, very seriously took to shopping!!! SewHope will have a huge spike in fundraising dollars when the people see the incredibly beautiful things we have bought for the next fundrasier!!! Randy spent the day enjoying Guatemalan coffee in the central square while assisting locals with their English skills. No shopping for him! Then a sumptuous dinner and lots of great conversation...much more to come!
We're leaving in the morning at 4 to get the flight to Flores so off to bed.......
Please keep us in your prayers as we get to the real tasks at hand.
Want you all to know how much each of you mean to us!!
So many wonderful things to share. Best of all is that the container did arrive in Guatemala. As you all know, it contained 200,000 meals for the poorest that we serve. In addition, it had an ultrasound machine and all kinds of medical equipment that we need for our clinic.
Other wonderful news is that Ismael's son, Jessi, will be coming to the United States to attend school at St. John's Jesuit High School. This is a dream that we could have never imagined might have been fulfilled! Ismael and his wife, Orfe, are our project directors in Guatemala. Coming from the poorest themselves, they never stop praying to God to give them opportunities to make this world as it should be.
Their son, Jessi is 15. He is so incredibly motivated and has dreams of being a doctor one day in Guatemala. Again, it is the grace of God that a wonderul family in Toledo knew about our work and they are willing to not only sponsor Jessi financially but they are willing to share their family and their home with him. In a very short time, his passport and visa were approved and it looks like he will be coming here in the next few weeks. Please all pray that this journey will be the fulfillment of a much greater cause than we could imagine.
Also, we give great thanks that Dr. Coral Matus' trip was very fulfilling. Because of the recent unrest in the Peten, Dr. Coral had to change plans and not stay in the Peten last week. She and her family used that time to make wonderful connections for us as we continue this work of God.
Please pray for the next group that will be leaving this Sunday. We will keep you all updated on our blogs while we are there.
Many of you know about Flori. She is doing very poorly physically. Yet, she prays for a miracle and we pray that her story will not go unnoticed in this world. We are working on a project to reduce deaths from cervical cancer in Guatemala and will keep you updated.
In an effort to keep you all updated on what is going on with our loved ones in Guatemala, we are starting this new "blog". Please, please feel free to add comments, thoughts, insights. We would not be where we are today without the great wealth of love and experience that so many of you have shared.
It has been a very difficult 2 weeks for our efforts in the Peten. For those of you who have not read about it, there was a terrible massacre there on May 16th. A group from one of the major Mexican drug cartels were looking for the leader of a rival group and approached of group of innocent workers who were laboring in his fields. When the people (including women and children) could not provide the information, they were brutally murdered and many were decapitated. The response of President Colom of Guatemala was to declare a state of "siege" in the Peten as they seek to find the killers. During this 30 day period of time, the United States State Dept has asked that Americans not travel to the region if possible. This meant canceling the mission trip that was going to be led by Dr. Coral Matus on June 11th.
While it is so unimaginable that human beings are capable of this kind of horror, we must remember that in situations of desperate poverty, despair and starvation, desperate acts can and will happen. It is disheartening to know that when one of the killers was caught a few days ago, he was found to be a member of the "Kailides", a group of counter-insurgency rebels, many of whom were trained in our own College of the Americas in Georgia. You can go to http://soaw.org/, to find out more about this.
The second great sadness is that Flori's cervical cancer has returned. While I knew that her cancer was advanced, I somehow believed that she would beat the odds and would spend many more years with her 2 small, beautiful children. To think that her little Joselin and William will not have their mom, is too heartbreaking. We must keep her always in our hearts as we move forward to start a functional cervical cancer prevention program in the Peten. As we know, this cancer is the #1 cancer killer of women in most developing countries and it is completely preventable!!
I know that many of you are greatly saddened by this news. Flori is suffering greatly and not only is there no possibility of treatment, but there is not even any type of hospice care available. We talk to her every day and Ismael and Orfe are doing all they can to help with all her needs. I can send along any wishes or prayers that any of you may have. It was just June of last year that I first met Flori but somehow she has become like a daughter to me and especially to my mom. For those of you who met her, you know the beautiful tranquility and feeling of love that pervades around her. Through all her incredible suffering here, she maintained her constant humor, gratitude, compassion for others and her personal dignity. Never would I have imagine the poverty she lived in had I only met her here.
On a happier note, the 40 foot container that we sent with 250,000 meals, 2 ultrasound machines and lots of clinic equipment is in the port in Guatemala working it's way through customs. Daniel, the boy with the massive rectal ulcer, is healing well. And Orfelinda is pregnant!! She and Ismael have 3 boys and they have always wanted a little girl - so we'll see! Her pregnancy is healthy and she is due in October. She and Ismael continue to amaze us with their fortitude, resilience and great compassion.
The students in the high school program are doing great and Mario (one of the community leaders in Pueblo Nuevo) has taken on our library and after-school enrichment program. The adult education program is also flourishing.
There are so many other things to share but most of all, at this moment of great challenge we need to continue to search for our Almighty in the midst of all the confusion. Several of us met last night to pray and study God's word. We read several passages from the Book of John which were highlighted by the simple words "No one has greater love than this; to lay down one's life for one's friends." And a similar quote that I was reminded of this week from Martin Luther King was "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
For all of you reading this who have joined us in this effort, please do not be silent about the suffering of our friends.
Flori's son, William
Flori's daughter, Joselin