Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Violence Hits Closer to Home!

Guatemala is a beautiful country filled with lovely and friendly people.  It is also considered one of the most Christian countries in Latin America boasting an evangelical population of around 30-50% who attend one of the almost 20,000 churches present here. At the same time it is also one of the most violent and unsafe countries in the world with anywhere from 17-20 murder per day. Gangs and drug cartels have overtaken large parts of the country and neighborhoods. There are parts of Guatemala City where even the police can not go into.  To make matters worse often the police and other government authorities can not be trusted and many have links to criminal organizations.  The slogan is more or less "if you can't fight them, join them".  The ones that can be trusted and want to make a difference often have their hands tied because of human rights laws protecting civilians and in a way criminals. To cap all of this off, the decades of civil war has created huge slums and settlements filled with people who are full of resentment. Resentment because of what happened to them during the civil war (being misplaced, losing their possessions and land, and seeing family members get killed or disappear) and resentment because of the lack of opportunities and services available to people living in slums. For many people their future appears bleak.  They do not have a vision for the future, because they can not see past their needs for today. This lack of vision and hopelessness become the arteries that feed the criminal organizations since they offer "opportunities" and short term solutions and hope to the desperate. Stories of extortion, gang violence, drug turf wars, murder, rape, femicide, etc are what fills the newspapers and airwaves each and every day. And while much of the violence is targeted innocent people often become victims. Missionaries also are not exempt because of the work we are doing here. It is not that God always spares us from the violence. Yesterday this became alarmingly clear as we heard of the shooting of a fellow missionary who lives in our neighborhood. While this missionary is in critical condition and we are praying that God will spare his life, we were all reminded again of the fact that this could happen to anyone of us. It hit very close to home and many of us felt a certain sense of fear. It is one of the realities of living in this country. Death constantly stares us in the face. All of us have seen more murders than we would care to recount. Some might ask, "why don't you leave?  Go back to North America where it is relatively safe"! The reason why we do not leave is because we feel we have the unique answer to many of the problems and that what we are doing is making a difference. Thankfully the answer and the making a difference is not from us since we are all failures in our own way. The answers lies in Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead. This means that we must willing to give our life so that others may live. For this reason the Apostle Paul referring to striving to reach the lost and broken writes......
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man (body) is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" 
(2 Corinthian 4:16-18).

This is of course not an easy thing to do, and it is something we often struggle with. God created us to live and as human beings we cling to life. It is only by the grace of God that we are able to give our life so that others may live. Please pray for the safety of the missionaries in Guatemala and for them to be bold and courageous and not live in fear. Also pray for this missionary that God will not only spare his life, but heal him completely.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Yesterday morning at around 10:35 the ground shook all over the country of Guatemala and parts of Mexico as an earthquake with a magnitude 7.5 was triggered off the coast of Guatemala. While we were sitting in the AMG conference room having a meeting with the city school directors, the building started to sway from side to side. It started gently, but soon you could feel and see the building moving under our feet.  It last for over 30 seconds although it felt to last much longer.  Initially, we all stayed sitting thinking that it was just a powerful tremor, but as the intensity increased we got up and left the office. When the quake stopped all of us were on our phones calling home and then the projects to see if everyone was okay. We received word back from most of the projects that all was well except for some damage to things that fell off shelves and desks.  However, as we left the office yesterday, Orfa who is the AMG director of our camp Canaan in Chimaltenango said that her daughter in law lost several family members as the house they were in collapsed. Please pray for them during this time of grief and for those who were injured!
In the city there was some damage in some of the squatter settlements where houses are built in ravines and the quality of construction is not good.  West of the city, which was closer to the epicenter there was a lot more damage reported. So far the death toll is at around 50 and over 20 people are unaccounted for.  150 people were injured and 17,000-20,000 people have been affected. Although this is minor compared to the major quake of 1976 in which around 20,000 people lost their lives, many people (especially the ones who experienced the 1976 quake) have been affected not only materially but also psychologically. There were many incidents of people fainting and needing medical attention due to stress as the quake jolted back terrible memories. Pray for Guatemala and those affected! 
As I may have mentioned in a previous blog Guatemala is one of the most natural disaster prone countries in the world. The country is lined with fault lines and quakes are very common; there are numerous active volcanoes and dormant ones that dot the country; hurricanes and tropical storms wreak havoc each year causing widespread damage to homes and infrastructure because of flooding and mudslides. Also conditions in the country vary from lush, tropical coastal plains prone to flooding, to the cold highlands prone to mudslides, to hot, semi-arid prone to drought.   
Living in a country prone to natural disasters remind us that this earth is not our home and that we need to be prepared to meet the Lord at any moment. Please pray that during times like this people will turn to the Lord and look to Him for help and comfort and that the church will be ready to receive and disciple those who come seeking for answers and support. 

For pictures check out this link.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

At Risk No More...5 Initiatives

At Risk No More and AMG International
We are excited to announce that as of September 1st, At Risk No More® is officially part of AMG International’s ministry in Guatemala. This merger will help both organizations make a greater Kingdom impact with at-risk children in Guatemala. At Risk No More has been focusing on rescuing and discipling homeless youth from Guatemala's streets.  The team is very gifted, passionate and above all, called by God to serve at-risk children and youth.  We couldn't be more excited and thankful to God for how he has gone before us to make this happen!

5 At Risk No More Initiatives 
We wanted to let you know what we have been up to as well as several new focus areas as a result of joining AMG.  Our 5 main initiatives are:  Child Protection and Restoration, Street Ministry, Networks and Alliances, Church-based Foster Care, and Discipleship.  

Child Protection and Restoration  
AMG has strengthened its approach by focusing on child protection and restoration these last two years for the 8,000 children that attend our schools daily.  Many children in the impoverished areas where AMG works are sexually and physically abused on a daily basis. The rates of abuse in these areas is staggering, demanding a strong response in the work of prevention, detection, intervention and restoration.  Karla Salazar (pictured above with little girl, social worker), heads up our Protection and Restoration Program along with our two psychologists (Luki and Yolanda) as well as Raul, our youth and family counselor.   The team attends to the 8 Guatemala City Schools each day helping to rescue and restore lives.  We are excited to extend these services to youth rescued from the street and to our 20 rural schools.  We hope to raise the funds necessary for this soon!

Street Ministry 
We have named Hector and Emma as Coordinators of Monitor and Rescue of Street children and youth.  They are constantly on the streets, identifying new youth on the streets.  They build trusting relationships with the end goal of sharing the hope, healing and restoration of Christ.  Once youth make the hard choice of leaving the streets, our partner rehabilitation center provides them with the help they need.
Networks and Alliances
As many of you may remember, we have been active with the “partnership network” in bringing together like-minded organizations to discuss the realities of at-risk youth.  Gary de Leon has been doing a great job facilitating round table discussions with over 20 active members, including key government officials.  Together, with the other organizations, we are winning a voice with the government with the goal of improving the rights of children at-risk. 

Church-based Foster Care
Rachel de Leon, wife of Gary de Leon, who earned a masters degree in social work, has a desire to see Guatemalan Christian families awaken to the need for substitute families.  In Guatemala, where this sort of charity is not common, our partnerships with churches will be key.  Rachel, Gary and Chad all recently participated in a training event in Costa Rica, learning from a ministry already working successfully in this area.  Please pray for the church here in Guatemala to awaken to this need. 

Discipleship has always been a key focus of both ministries.  We believe that there is no lasting transformation without Christ.  He is the answer.  Hector and Lidia are dedicated to walking alongside children and youth, sharing the hope of Jesus.  We have been developing material in order to multiply our efforts  and empower others to do one-on-one discipleship.  AMG is thrilled to have this level of passion and giftedness, strengthening our efforts in discipling not only youth on the streets, but also those at-risk within our 28 schoolsl
1 John 3:16-18  By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  Desmond Tutu
We believe this with all our hearts and for this reason, we are here in Guatemala, fighting for the rights and restoration of children and youth.  Will you partner with us in this effort to bring hope, healing and justice to Guatemala?  We need your prayers and your financial support. There is so much to be done with so little resources available.  Click on the 'Donate' button above to give.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Market Day!

Each Fall we celebrate Market Day in our city centers.   It is a fun day of learning and pretending to be real-life market vendors!  The children bring in produce and then sell it to their visiting families and AMG staff.  They learn to share about their products and get a chance to experience what they have seen in the real markets of their neighborhoods. AMG tries to always be developing cultural events that conribute to chilren´s learning and also gives them a fun activity to enjoy with their families. 
Another purpose in having events of this type are to include families in the work of their children and give them an opportunity to be here with us at AMG.    

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Day at the Office

Some of you might wonder what a "typical" day at the office looks like for those of us missionaries that work at the AMG head office.  After dropping the kids off at school at around 7:45 we drive from San Cristobal (a suburb) to Verbena which is in Zone 7 of Guatemala City (considered one of the more dangerous zones of the city).  The distance from the school to the office is perhaps only some 13 km or 8 miles, but it can take up to an hour/hour and a half to get there although most mornings it takes around 30-45 minutes. The biggest problem with traffic is getting out of San Cristobal.  Once you get closer to the city traffic thins out a little as people go in different directions.  
We arrived at the office around 8:30 and spent the next hour or so answering emails before running off to a special event in the chapel of the school. August is the "month of the Bible" here in Guatemala and so AMG had set up a special event celebrating the Bible through presentations and Bible memory recitals by students from the various AMG city projects.  This was neat to see.  A little 3 years old girl started off the program by reciting a whole Psalm.  It was very impressive! Each city project participated through drama and dance and there were also awards given to those students who excelled in Bible memory.
We could not stay for the whole program due to a meeting we had to attend and a skype call to do with one of our donors. Today's conference call was with Rick Postma and John Otten from Word and Deed Canada to talk about the hospital and the education program in Cubulco. The call was very positive and hope will lead to a fruitful outcome.
As the morning and the afternoon wore on the skies darkened with ominous looking thunder clouds.  During our skype call with Word and Deed Canada it started to pour and it became hard to continue on with the call as the rain drowned out our voices. It continued to pour for several hours and soon the streets turned into rivers as the storm sewers were overcome by the deluge.  Needless to say the drive home was interesting and fun (when in a 4x4).  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Trip to Cubulco

I went to Cubulco this past week for several days together with Brian Dennett (director of AMG) and Alex Orellana (administrative director of AMG) to meet with the teachers and the church regarding takeover of the education project by AMG.  For those who do not know, FRMI (Free Reformed Missions) wants AMG to take over the administration of the education projects in Cubulco although they will continue to fund them.  The reason for this is that AMG has been involved with education in Guatemala for many years and have the resources to do a better job than we could do on our own. The meetings we had were very fruitful. On Monday afternoon we met with the teachers from the center and from the aldeas.  Brian Dennett explained to them some of the history of AMG and what AMG stands for.  He shared with the teachers the Theory of Change which basically explains how AMG would like to transform individuals, families, communities, and whole regions through its programs. This transformation is centered around the Word of God and Christ since no true transformation can be achieved apart from Christ. The teachers seemed to be excited about the possibility of working for AMG starting 2013.  On Tuesday we met with the steering committee of the church and Brian once again explained what AMG stands for.  Alex Orellana also briefly covered some administrative areas. 

The committee responded favorably and enthusiastically to what was presented to them. I see many possibilities and opportunities with AMG taking over the program and I think we will be able to accomplish much more in Cubulco than if we would do it on our own. 

On Wednesday I took Brian and Alex to visit Pichal and meet with our teacher there and the students from the school.  We drove 45 minutes to Chitomax which is where the road ends.  This is also the place where the bridge used to be. The government promised to rebuild the bridge and construction appears to be under way.  The bridge will be bigger than the previous one.  After a tranquil river crossing we hiked up to Pichal. On our way up to Pichal we veered off the main path to witness an exhumation of a man who had been murdered 31 years ago during the civil war.  The family has been looking for his body for many years and it appears that they finally have found him although DNA analysis will need to be done to confirm that. I knew some of the extended family of the victim as some of them are part of the church in Pichal.  We stayed for some time until the body was uncovered by the forensic anthropologists and then we left. It was obvious from the remains that the man had died a violent death. It was disturbing to think that several decades ago some one did an evil act in that place. It brought home again the fact that many people in Guatemala are still dealing with the aftermath of the civil war. Many families are still wondering what happened to their loved ones. Many are still searching for clues. Many are also still demanding justice. From what I have read, only 2 Guatemalans have been convicted of crimes against humanity stemming from the civil war.  None of the masterminds have ever been brought to justice. I ask that you pray for justice and healing in Guatemala.

After the exhumation we hiked the rest of the way to Pichal to meet with our teacher Juan and the students of the school. Juan is the son of the obrero Santos from the church in Pichal. We spoke to them for a while explaining who we were and what we are doing in Guatemala and in Cubulco. We also spoke of some of the opportunities that these kids might have to be able to go to the AMG camp which would be very special for these children since none of them have ever been to Guatemala City.  We hope an pray that we will be able to work something out so that we can provide this service to the children in the aldeas.

Our trip to Cubulco was very fruitful. The highlight was going to aldea of Pichal. I think that through this trip to Cubulco and Pichal we clarified and shaped our vision for the future of the ongoing work in Cubulco. Please pray with us that God will continue to shape that vision and that the people as well with capture the vision. One of the challenges I left with the teachers and with the church committee was to dream and be visionary. This is some times hard for the people to do since they often have daily struggles that keep them from dreaming. As I mentioned before, I see so many possibilities with the education project being in the hands of AMG, but as nice as that maybe, I want the people to see that for themselves. I want them to dream and envision the future for Cubulco and be an active part in carrying out this vision!