Saturday, May 21, 2016

Hola amigos y familiares!

Our last day in Guatemala has left me in awe of the beauty of God's creation.  In the morning, we explored the astonishing Mayan ruins at Iximche.  As our guide told us the history of Iximche, I was able to paint a picture of the city.  I saw children playing and families offering sacrifices to the sun, moon, and wind.  In every action, the Mayans were aware of the spiritual world.  For example, they walked up and down stairs sideways as to not turn their backs and show disgrace to the sun god.  I believe there is something to be learned from this act of devotion.  How often are we thinking about God when walking up the stairs?  Personally, stairs are not something I traditionally associate with my faith.  Yet, how different would our lives be if we were to actively seek God in every moment?  I am not suggesting that we change the way we walk upstairs (which would most likely result in a hospital visit for me), but that we use the "mundane" in our lives to reflect on God's presence.  Perhaps, instead of throwing the alarm clock in the morning, we can reflect on how God calls us to always be spiritually awake (Luke 21:36).  Perhaps, instead of complaining about cleaning the house, we can remember God's work in cleaning our hearts (Psalm 51:7).  Taking the time to think of where God is in the everyday makes God appear to be everywhere.  God is everywhere!  God is active in the lives of Guatemalans, those in the States, and everywhere inbetween.

In Guatemala, we are away from our everyday lives and are intentionally thinking about God's presence.  Yet, our time here will mean little if we do not allow it to impact our lives back at home.  At tonight's devotion, we were called to reflect on our sense of call and how we will let Guatemala change us.  These are important questions to consider before the busyness of life sweeps us away.  Personally, I hear a call to wake up.  This call wants me to be aware of the impact I have and can have on society.  This is a call I hope to answer saying, "Lord send me".  I look forward to seeing all the ways in which Guatemala will effect my life.

*new blogger*

In addition to seeing the ruins of Iximche today, we also had the opportunity to experience the city of Antigua. Bumpy cobblestone roads are one of the distinct architectural wonders of Antigua. The cobblestone roads allow residents and travelers alike to see the wonders of the city, which include a large central park surrounded by markets upon markets. We all spent the afternoon wandering through the city and searching the markets for items to spend our last quetzals on. Within the different markets we saw handmade blankets, belts, clothing, and many other things. Personally, I purchased an awesome handmade belt. The souvenirs that we acquire on the trip will allow us to remember the incredible trip that we have had the opportunity to participate on. I know that in a few years, when I wear the belt that I bought, I will remember the reason I came I came to Guatemala; to learn and to grow in Christ with all of the friends that I have made while on the trip here.

I think that each one of us has had something specific on the trip that has allowed us to search ourselves and to think about our daily lives in the states. For me, I really enjoyed hearing about how dedicated some people are to educating the youth in Guatemala. In my own life, I enjoy working with children. After coming to Guatemala and seeing what the education here is like, I realize now the incredible importance of working with young people. I plan to rededicate myself to working with young people. This whole trip has been an incredible time for everyone involved, and I know that whoever can come back in the future will do their best to. Thanks for reading our blogs about the trip and for praying for us while we have been here in Guatemala! Peace out

Friday, May 20, 2016

Seeing and Feeling

As we gathered for our daily evening reflection tonight, we discussed two main questions.

1. Where have you seen God's love this week?
2. Where have you felt God's presence?

Even though we have only been in Guatemala for the past 5 days, we have already all experienced countless glimpses of God.

The importance of unity and family
Universal languages such as sports, music, laughter, and play
The incredibly welcoming and loving nature of Guatemalans

Immediately as our group entered Guatemala City we were welcomed with open arms. People greeted us on the streets, asked us where we were from, and told us they were excited to have us in their country. Through traveling to schools, various organizations, and even restaurants, I have built relationships regardless of any language or cultural barrier. There is always a way to connect with others. The importance of family and support here in Guatemala is like nothing I have ever experienced in the United States. Families here have an unbreakable bond, They live in unity and support one another without condition.

Through all of these incredible things and people, we have felt and seen God's overpowering love and presence in our lives. How beautiful it is that God is always present, even in the most trying times. Thanks be to God.


This morning we visited Miguel Angel Asturias School in Xela. The school began with an international donation in 1995, and today runs on a small tuition paid by the families. Nearly half of these students qualify for either full or partial scholarships to attend the school. Like CEIPA, this school works with underprivileged kids, who otherwise may not be able to obtain an education. The students at CEIPA work jobs in the day and night, sandwiched between an astounding 16 courses in less than 4 hours. Following our talk with the creator of the school this morning, we were invited to head downstairs and meet with some students during their recess. We had a significant language barrier, but I could see God working with these students. I got greeted by so many happy boys and girls that seemed to appreciate me trying to communicate with them, A young boy ran up to me with a ball asking "soccer!?" and was overjoyed when I said in my broken Spanish I would love to play "futbol." We come from about the only country in the world that calls the sport "soccer." Several other students came up and introduced themselves throughout recess. They asked for my name and where I was from and other simple questions I knew how to respond to. I made quite the friend in Jose. The more I would answer to his questions with my broken Spanish, the less I understood what he was saying as he went in depth, talking to me about how much fun he was having, and how much he enjoys school. I guess I did okay enough with my Spanish for him to keep asking questions. I couldn't keep up with him, but the smile on his face showed me how God was with these students. He asked if I enjoyed Guatemala and I said yes. A couple of our speakers this week have said something among the lines of "why of all places did you choose to visit Guatemala?" One speaker this week said we could be on the beach in Hawaii, or the Bahamas, but here we were in one of the most violent countries in the world. This is my first time out of the United States, and I can see the similarities between the two countries. The same problems haunt both of us. Lack of distribution of wealth, poor public education, lack of available health care, homelessness, violence, gangs, drugs... Yet these kids could not be happier to be able to receive an education in a safe environment. This may be all these kids have to look forward to. Back home we take our school and work for granted so many times. School is their escape; where they can be happy and stress free and dream. All we can think about is being done with class or work for the day so we can do as we please, like playing Xbox, or reading. But imagine not having electricity or being able to read. They find different ways to be happy. The sense of family and community surpasses any joy money could buy, and that is where I see God in this beautiful country.

Jose could not have been happier to ask me what sports I liked and I couldn't have been happier to tell him about American football, and what I enjoyed about this country. His smile and the laughter of the kids playing futbol and jump rope surpassed all of our demons and fears. I would not have wanted to have visited a new country for the first time with any other group of students and leaders at UKirk and CEDEPCA. Or without Jose.

Lucas Harris

Thursday, May 19, 2016


     This morning we visited DESGUA, which is an organization dedicated to the sustainable development of a new Guatemala. Much of the conversation was focused on the issue of immigration, and what causes so many young people to leave Guatemala. Many points were made about the need to develop a Guatemala that provides opportunities for young people, which is not an easy task but something that many are working towards. Immigration is such a complex issue, and a heavily debated one in the US. It is easy to make assumptions about what motivates so many migrants come to the US, but it is critical to consider why these people would leave their own countries and families. Guatemala's history is full of complex and deep-rooted issues that have greatly affected its reality today, and there is much that I cannot even begin to understand about what these people have faced as a country. Seeing how so many citizens persevere and have so much hope for a prosperous future is so inspiring, and something I feel that we can all learn from.

Muchos amor,

Buenas noches,
After lunch, we continued today's ventures at CEIPA, the Eccumentical Center of Pastoral Integration. CEIPA was started in 1989 by Guatemalans to help working children receive education. The public education system in Guatemala is subpar and not very functional. Additionally, many children are unable to go to school because they are expected to work in order to support their families. As a result, only 17% of children go on to a university and only 2% of the university students at the national university actually graduate. CEIPA makes it possible for youth who had to drop out of school to receive an elementary level education even if they are older than the traditional elementary student. However, working in the street makes the children very vulnerable to things like drugs, violence and prostitution. Fortunately, CEIPA helps reduce this risk by taking the children off of the streets for three hours a school day, providing education,and teaching children values and how to speak up for themselves. Although they do not have textbooks and are currently in a difficult financial season, they teach the students to develop critical thinking skills by analyzing newspapers and the world around them. My favorite part about visiting CEIPA was meeting the children in one of the classrooms. These children were in seventh grade and ranged from 13 to 16 years old. They worked as mechanics, housekeepers or produce vendors. When we entered the classroom, they were very excited to meet us and bursting with questions like, what was our favorite fruit and what kids in the United States liked to do in their free time. The students were much like students in the United States; for instance, there was a clear class clown who tried to convince that he was a really big nine year old. Although I have alway known that people are people regardless of their skin color or ethnicity, seeing the students laugh and interact provided clear proof to that thought.
When we left CEIPA, we headed to a nearby restaurant where we had an absolutely wonderful dinner. We are all exhausted, but we will certainly stay up to play several rounds of cards!
Hasta luego!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Missing Voices

This is day 3 of the wonderful Guatemala trip.  This is the first time I have the left the country and even really experienced another culture.  Today we met with a group called GAM and a women's weaving cooperative called Corazon de Mujer.  We then drove three hours to Xela.

We started off our day going to the GAM headquarters.  GAM roughly in english translates to group of mutual support.  The group was started in the 80's when people started disappearing in Guatemala.  The people who were mainly disappearing were university students, leaders and any educated person.  1 in 125 persons disappeared at this time or 20,000 people.  This is a scary statistic because the families of these people still don't have answers for the tragedy they went through.  Very few have gotten the remains back or have gotten justice for what happened.  Imagine everyday knowing that at any point you or a family member could just disappear forever and nobody would know what happened to you or them.  GAM was created by people who wanted answers.  They started demanding justice or even just the remains back so they could lay their loved ones to rest.  In the mid 80's one of the leaders, Maria, was killed along with her two year old son and 14 year old brother.  Later it showed that Maria and her son's were tortured before being killed.  Many of the other leaders were terrified for their lives after this.  People were outside of their houses watching their every move.  I would have been so scared knowing that someone was watching me ready to kill me if I did something they didn't approve of.  I believe though God was present because GAM's story didn't end there.  They kept pushing for answers and filing complaints hoping to be heard.  In 2008, an order was approved to search a military base called Creompaz.  There they found a mass grave.  When the military was asked about it they said those were all people who died in an earthquake.  The remains though showed signs of torture and many bodies had bond feet and hands, and bullet holes in their skulls.  The military was still trying to cover up something that happened over 20 years ago because the magnitude of the situation.  14 people were arrested when they found all of this and the trial is happening right.  I only hope that someone can identify who those people were so the remains can be returned home.  There are people searching and praying for them.  I hope that these people finally get justice and answers.  The people of GAM lay down their life everyday for others.  They are truly living as the disciples of Jesus did.  The voices of the missing need to be heard.

After we left GAM we drove to Chimaltenango, to visit a women's weaving cooperative.  These women were so inspiring.  In such a patriarchal society, these found their voices.  One woman named Dora said that at first they weren't sure if they were allowed to speak, but now that they know they can nobody can shut them up.  This speaks on so many levels about how they have so much to give to society and also how people should listen to what they have to say.  She said that at first these women weren't sure if they could run a business, but now nobody can shut them up from what they are doing.  The group started when the founder was forced to flee her village because it was being attacked by soldiers.  Her and her family had to run to the mountains.  She got separated from her husband who had two of the kids, so it was just her and her newborn daughter.  Now, when they had to flee she couldn't take anything with her not even diapers.  She met up with some of the other villagers and her baby wouldn't stop crying, but she had no diapers to change it.  The villagers gave her a choice either leave by yourself with the baby or kill the baby.  They even showed her how to kill the baby easily, and so the baby wouldn't feel that much.  Then she could just toss it into the river.  Luckily, she left on her own and spent 15 days out by herself in the mountains.  Then she finally found her husband and two kids, and they went to GAM to seek refuge.  They stayed there three months before moving to the building where to cooperative is.  The cooperative isn't for women who want a handout, but for women who want a job.  The women split up the cooking and the cleaning each day.  Everyone carries their own weight in the community.  This tight night close group of women show that even in a male dominated society women can flourish.  These women took night classes at CEDPCA and even sell their products in a store in Guatemala now.  They are truly an inspiration to all of us.  I don't think I could do what they do.

I believe God sent me on this trip for a reason.  I felt called to come here and I think now it is so I can hear all these stories.  God speaks to us in mysterious ways and I believe he is speaking to me through these people in Guatemala.  It has been making me reflect within a lot.  I want to start living my life simply and not worry about the stuff I have, but more the people I surround myself with.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Our lives do not have a price"

This line escapes the lips of our translator, Sofia, as she reconstructs what Ana Sandoval describes to us. Ana is a university student who is entangled in the protests at La Puya, a paradise which is plagued by the greed of an American mining company. The company, originally has been mining in La Puya for several years, with nary an attempt to consult the locals. In 2012, research began to show the true result of the mining: it is destroying La Puya. The process conducted to extract gold and silver from the land destroys the earth, uproots trees, and releases poisonous arsenic into the water supply. The company has also been involved in governmental corruption. They have created false reports; slandered the people of La Puya, calling them terrorists; and falsely accused the local people of death threats towards their company. This last point is especially biting: those accused are often held without trial for indeterminate lengths of time while the claims (which have absolutely no basis in fact) are continuously held up in court. All of this violence, all of this ecological destruction, all for money. But the people of La Puya, ever vigilant, will never let up on their 24-hour, around the clock blockade. They have been attacked, teargassed, and thrown in jail, but these people do not give in. "Our lives do not have a price".

"If you have a goal set, nobody can change that"

In our next meeting with students of the CEDEPCA seminary, goals become a constant conversation. One student, near graduation, wishes to be a minister. Another tells of how seminary at a previous school failed her - it did not show her the God she has always seen. The third speaks of her relationship with her husband strengthening and changing as they work through CEDEPCA coursework together. These people have true hope, and it is certainly possible to see why. CEDEPCA is (although I am most certainly biased) one of the most hopeful places in Guatemala. They teach about  God as wonderful, spreading love to all people of this world. They believe that there is no barrier for God's love except the speed at which a human may work. Finally, CEDEPCA teaches of social justice and human rights. In many of the numerous theological schools in Guatemala, a woman's place is the home, and only the home. In the eyes of those who teach at these schools, the Bible is the literal translation of the word of God, and salvation is found by following each verse exactly, and to the letter, as it is written. The students in this meeting drive home continuously that fundamentalism is rampant in Guatemala. I asked the students what they may have done, had they not found CEDEPCA. One of the students told me that it is likely he would have become a preacher still, but one that follows the principles of a fundamentalist church. However, his current goal is to become a minister that tells of a God that appreciates the work of women and men, of a God that considers all people as children. His goal is noble, and he believes CEDEPCA has brought him halfway there. "If you have a goal set, nobody can change that".

"Get into groups, and talk together"

In our meeting on the Women's Ministry of CEDEPCA, we repeatedly got into pairs to discuss the rights of women. We discussed numerous types of violence against women: physical, emotional, sexual, economic, and even theological. I learn many times over that violence against women is constant in Guatemala, in these many forms. We discussed machismo culture, prevalent in many Central American countries, especially Guatemala. Women are tied to the home, are told that school is unnecessary, and even convinced that their worth as people is tied to their fertility. In talking about how to represent the rights of women to the people, our conversation almost inevitably turned to men. How do we show men that their mothers, wives, friends, and simply fellow human beings have inherent worth? All of these problems are nigh impossible to grasp, but there is traction growing to turn the culture around. How do we do it? "Get into groups, and talk together".

"$50 will provide clean water for two years"

Disaster ministry was a short class, but one which stuck with me. I had sat with the speaker, Luis, at lunch, and talked to him shortly about his ministry. I didn't want him to waste all of his potential talking points on me, so I didn't push it, but it was in his presentation that real passion showed. He, like all of the people at CEDEPCA, care about their country. This beautiful country, plagued by earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes is their lifeblood, and they will do anything to save it. The disaster ministry exemplifies this especially, by travelling to affected areas to do anything possible that might save just one life. "$50 will provide clean water for two years".

"Our lives do not have a price"


Our last event of the day was to visit a small youth group in Guatemala city. We were late, due to traffic, and exhausted due to our long day learning at CEDEPCA. But these young women and men looked at us with bright eyes and smiles as we took our seats. They were so happy, and the energy in the room was infectious. In a team building exercise, we built small houses together out of newspaper and tape. The room was filled with joyous laughter, and frantic speaking as teams competed to create the best house. We do not share a language, but the human experience does not care for language. I must say, I was awful at folding newspaper. The team I was with had deft and powerful fingers, folding the paper into strong bars to support our house. Near the end of the building process, I was attempting to communicate with a young man (I later learned his name was Christian). He put a newspaper bar in the center of the current box that is our house, as if it were a triangular struct, and shakes his head at me, smiling. There was no language, and we were looking like we were going to lose the contest, but Christian took the time to make an architecture joke. It was small yes, and nobody saw it but me and him. However, as small of a moment that was, I connected with Christian. I didn't feel that I was teaching him, or that he was teaching me, but that we were just two people. We were one and the same people, sticking newspaper together with tape. We laughed together, and I felt a connection that I hope to never forget. These youth are surrounded by gang violence, and drug trafficking, but I feel that if Christian is any any indication, they have a true chance to make something great of Guatemala. Actually no, scratch that. We have a chance.

P.S. My team actually won, and had the best house. I gave Christian a high-five, and that may be the last I ever saw of a man who has changed my life.

Monday, May 16, 2016

We were sitting in the Atlanta airport eating pizza.  This random man sitting next to us asked us where we were headed.  We said that we were on our way to Guatemala for a mission trip.  He took a serious interest in our trip that I was not expecting and then handed us $100 as a donation to our mission.  We had not even made it out of the United States yet and this trip was already exposing the true generosity in people.

I will admit that I had some fears about this trip.  I was afraid of seeing the poverty and all of the dangers that come along with it.  There is no way of predicting what may happen and what someone may do.  However, these fears seemed to drift away as soon as we exited customs into Guatemala. I met the nicest, most welcoming security guard carrying a machine gun I had ever seen.  I had not even left the airport and I was already understanding a little more of what these people were really like.

As we drove down the streets of Guatemala City the rich culture overwhelmed me. Guatemala is filled with breathtaking architecture and amazing graffiti that lined the walls for what seemed like uninterrupted miles.  It was truly beautiful even though I had no idea what it said.  Later in the day we learned about all the poverty Guatemala is faced with and the struggles that encompass their entire nation.  Even with all of this tragedy that the people here have to push through everyday, these people and their culture is beautiful.  Everyone that I met today reminded me why I am really here.

All throughout my life I have wanted to do something significant and make some sort of change.  I want to have an impact on the world, but that isn't something that happens overnight nor is it something you can do on your own.  One of the men we met today, Hector, told us that it is not our job to change Guatemala throughout this week, the hope is for Guatemala to change us.  This made me realize what I am really here for.  This next week is meant to open my eyes to new things and make me question everything I think I know.  I am not meant to make some sort of life altering change for this nation this week, but throughout what I have experienced already, I know that this week is going to alter me in a life changing way.  And with that, maybe one day along with the help of others I could make a real change.

-Allison Lee Craft