It's been over three months since I left home for the beautiful, culturally-rich country of Guatemala. These past months have been a roller coaster, but as for recent news, Bethany and I finished our Spanish language training last month (and went through our third school graduation) and I started working with World Renew two weeks ago. In my time here, and especially in my time at the Spanish school, I've made new friends, learned millions of different words in Spanish for the same object (which made me realize just how non-descriptive English is), learned how to squeeze on mini-buses (they're basically creeper vans) that are already at extreme over-capacity, learned how to not panic every time a firecracker goes off outside at five in the morning, and gotten to know some incredibly wonderful, interesting people.
Four weeks ago, Bethany and I moved out of our host family's house and into our own apartment. It's small, but it's pretty nice and the walls are painted green and yellow--I think that's probably why I like it so much! It feels like home already; we've decorated with some shipping crates that we bought for less than two dollars, and we've already had a few adventures in the apartment. The second night in the apartment, I tried to cook dinner but I couldn't find the gas tank to turn on the stove. It took me a while to realize that the tank was in a different room on the other side of the apartment (how they fed the hose from the gas tank, through the cement walls from one end of the apartment to the other, and over to the stove I will never know). There were two switches on it and I didn't feel like taking chances with a pressurized gas tank so I asked a lady I know to come help me figure out which switch turned on the gas. Then she told me that the gas tank was empty, but that the pipe wasn't sealed anyways so it was probably good that there wasn't any gas to light. How comforting. So we taped up the pipe with some of Bethany's emergency masking tape and a sacrificed hair-tie and it worked fine after we bought a full gas canister; I've made some great burrito bowls and squash soup on it and not blown anything up! I count that as a success.
Two weeks ago, I started working in the office translating documents from Spanish to English and helping to create a glossary of words in Spanish, English, and Kekchí for missionary groups that visit the communities; my artistic side really liked making the glossary because I got to add a bunch of pictures describing the words, while Bethany distracted me by sending me pictures of spider-zombies, trying to convince me that "spider-zombie" was an important word for people to learn to say in Spanish. I guess you never know when you'll run into a spider-zombie! Honestly though, my work these past two weeks has involved a lot of computer time and sitting at a desk, but I've still enjoyed the work; I'm learning a lot of development vocabulary that I didn't learn in class and I'm learning more about the partners that World Renew works with and how they support the people in their communities. Last week I was assigned a logic-model (it's basically a chart that lists what the organization wants to do in the community, how they're going to do it, and what the goals are) and was asked to figure out how it lines up with a grant application, so we could start applying for the grant theme relating to creating opportunities for migrant populations. I also was told to think of the chart as if I was creating the program, and to come up with ideas of how to do carry it out. I had such a blast doing it, but it's also a bit stressful too. Spending so much time in the office, I've also had time to get to know the people I'm working with and they're all so welcoming, telling me that if I need anything, I can come to them and that they want to serve me. I wish we said that more in the United States--"here to serve you" is such a common phrase here and I love the humbleness and intimacy it portrays. I really appreciate that phrase!
In addition to getting to know people in the office, I've seen the Lord's faithfulness in providing me with all sorts of people to get to know. Sometimes, all I want to do is be a slug and sit around and read but I've been trying to be better about getting out and doing things. Last week, a woman who works for the owner of our apartment invited me to go to church with her. It was a pretty small church that was started by a man from South Korea. The music was so loud that my ears rang afterwards and I had trouble hearing people that were talking to me, but the sermon was great. It was over one of the Psalms and the fact that it's okay to lament things that happen in life but we should always run to God first with our lament. We're meant to be dependent on the Lord and cry out to Him because He hears all of our prayers and holds each of our tears; He doesn't ignore us. What an awesome reminder that when we pray we aren't just praying to an unfeeling, distant God, but to one that hears us and knows our pain so much more than anyone else could and one who also laughs with us and experiences all of our joys as well.
One of the biggest lessons I've learned recently is just how much I need the Lord to sustain me each day, and that staying grounded in Him makes the bad (and good) things that happen seem less volatile in my day. I've learned that failing to immerse myself in the Word and neglecting time with my Lord often reshapes my day for the worse. As I spend time in the Word, the Lord has been showing me His promises and they've helped me deal with difficult situations. It's hard to push myself to do things I don't want to do, but as the Lord teaches me, guides me, and reminds me of who I am in Him, I find that facing hard situations gets easier. Constantly reminding myself of my identity of Christ and that I'm so dearly loved by Him has helped so much in this new stage of my life.
On a more light-hearted, less abstract note, a few weeks ago Bethany convinced me to go on a hike up the tallest mountain in Central America with the school. It took a lot of convincing (I tend to be a bump on a log when it comes to hiking and hiking, for me, often involves a lot of grumbling) but I eventually decided to go. Ten minutes into the hike and I was already wondering why in the world I let Bethany talk me into going! It was such a hard hike--Bethany literally grabbed my arm and dragged me up part of the mountain, practically frolicking and chattering to me about how fun the hike was while I bellyached behind her--but the walk was beautiful! There were sloping, grassy plains that disappeared into foggy forests and dried-up, colorful river beds. We camped near the summit for the night to acclimate and then at five the next morning, we hiked to the top to watch the sunrise. It was so unbelievably cold and dark; I didn't have a headlamp and at one point I looked down into the foggy abyss next to the path and thought, "well, that looks like a long way own. I should've packed a parachute." When we were just below the summit, the clouds and fog started blowing off the mountain and we could see all the stars. As we all huddled together on the cold summit like sheep, our guide pointed out the glowing yellow cities that were on the border of Guatemala and Mexico. The sunrise was absolutely unbelievable. We were so far above the clouds that the mountain-tops of other mountain ranges were sticking up through the clouds like teeth, while the sun turned all the clouds pink and purple and orange. I think it's the most amazing sunrise I've ever seen. Our guide pointed out the different mountains and which ones we could hike next (no, thank you; I think I'm done with mountains for a while) and where the city we lived in was located. The hike back down was warmer, but so very windy and I almost got blown off the side of the crater. After we got off the peak though, the hike down wasn't too bad. The fog had cleared and all of the landscape that was hidden by the fog and rain on the way up was visible; I could've sworn that some of the forests we walked through were what Tolkien was picturing when he was describing the landscape in the Lord of the Rings. Now that I've had time to recover, Bethany's already trying to convince me to hike it again with her but I'm not entirely sure that I could make it up a second time!
This we got to celebrate Day of the Dead. Bethany and I spent the morning in the cemetery with our host family and it was packed! We could hardly squeeze through the crowd and even though the cemetery is the biggest cemetery I've ever seen, everyone still had trouble fitting inside of it. It was such an amazing experience though, seeing families and friends decorate relatives' graves and spend time together. I loved seeing people talk and smile and share food together, telling each other stories of their loved ones that had passed on. And seeing the amount of care and work that went into decorating and tending to all of the graves was something that encouraged and, surprisingly, amazed me. It was such an amazing experience to be able to spend Day of the Dead with our host family and learn more about the holiday here, and the different cultural aspects that have shaped it.
These past months have been quite the hodge-podge of events but my experience here so far has been great. I'm learning so much about the Lord, about Guatemalan culture, and, of course, a lot of Spanish as well. I'm so excited to work more with World Renew and form new friendships, while hopefully deepening the ones I already have.