So grateful for so many blessings

Wow… the past few months have been incredible, and it’s really hard to figure out where to begin. First of all, I am just incredibly grateful for God and all of his blessings and provision. It is amazing to see how much God continues to teach me here, and I feel extremely blessed and grateful for everything that has happened. Here are some of the highlights from the past few months:
In the middle of February, one of my very best dear friends Jillian Abendroth came to visit me in Xela. She is spending this year working in Guatemala City in the International Justice Mission office, and so we’ve both been able to visit one another a bit since we’ve been here. It’s always a blessing to spend time with her and get to share with one another about our experiences, thoughts, and feelings (and also share a lot of laughs and goofiness too!). Her faith, joy, and love of the Lord inspire me, and it is a blessing to count her as a friend and sister in Christ. While she was here, she also got to meet some of my InnerCHANGE friends in Xela which was amazing as well. The InnerCHANGE team has been a part of my life since I first met them in January of 2010, and their lives, faith and love are also inspirations to me. I value their friendship and guidance so much, and it was wonderful for everyone to meet and make connections 🙂 Since Jill was visiting during Lent, there were also special weekend celebrations throughout Xela to celebrate the coming of Easter. Different parts of the city were set up like carnivals, with rows and rows of food stands, flowers, and games for the little ones. We got to walk through the streets and take everything in, and it was amazing to be reminded of the joy of Easter in such a tangible way. Afterwards we entered a cathedral which was bedecked in purple cloth and had an image of the suffering Christ at the very front. While we were inside, people were constantly streaming in to pray, light candles and leave flowers. It was beautiful to see both sides of people’s devotion, faith and love in these two contrasting but deeply connected environments, and in the church I was just struck by the amazing love, faithfulness and grace of our Lord.

The end of February also marked the end of my 6 month period of being in Guatemala. I can’t believe how fast the time is flying here! For our 6 months, we had to leave the country for a few days in order to renew our visas so our group of YAVs went to Belize. It was amazing to see how different it is there, even though it’s only about 10 hours by bus and boat from Guatemala City. At least in the part of Belize where we visited, there is much more of a Carribbean influence in the culture and we heard very little Spanish being spoken. It was kind of funny for me to experience a bit of culture shock just by going to our neighboring country, but it was a wonderful time to take a step back, rest, and see God’s beauty in a different way. My very favorite part of our time there was a day that we took to go snorkeling… it was absolutely incredible, and something I will never forget! There was an entirely new world beneath those blue waters, and seeing the incredible beauty and the wonders of creation was truly a spiritual experience. We got to swim among fish, past corals, sea urchins and sea stars, and over sharks, sea turtles and sting rays. There were probably hundreds of creatures that I didn’t know, and it was humbling and amazing to think that this was just the edge of the vast ocean…. how much more is there that we don’t know, and never will discover? It was so beautiful to get a small glimpse into the incredible, creative mind of God, and I am so grateful for that experience.
Even after a few days in Belize I was eager to get back to Guatemala, where I feel that my heart is more and more at home. As soon as we arrived in Guatemala again, March Madness began! (sorry basketball fans, I’m not talking about that… 🙂 ) March was one of the busiest months that I’ve had here, but also one of the greatest. I spent a few days at Jill’s house this time, and it was great to see her again so soon after she had left Pachaj. One of the days that I was there I also got to visit the IJM office, which was a huge blessing. I was really impressed with how Christ-centered their work is, and how much all of their interns and employees seem to love the Lord. Each and every morning they start the day with a half hour of silence, to read the Bible, pray, journal… whatever people need. After that time they come together to reflect on a few verses and share prayer requests, struggles and joys in a corporate time of prayer. It was a blessing to get to be a part of that, and the day just continued to get better! As it turned out, the day that I visited was a special Hero Pin day. The main work of the IJM office in Guatemala is to help victims of sexual violence and abuse, and most of these victims are children or young teenage mothers. IJM helps to provide their clients with counseling, legal support, and a variety of other services, all through the love of Christ. Every few months, once clients have successfully passed through all of their legal processes, there are these special Hero Pin days when clients and their families come to the office for a celebration. At the office, all of the children and young women who testified in court recieve a pin that says “I’m a Hero,” and all of the staff and interns celebrate their success and their process of healing with a party just for them. We had pie and punch, and many of the kids came dressed up in their very best clothes to celebrate the occasion. Lots of pictures were taken, and lots of hugs, smiles and congratulations were exchanged. It was such a blessing for me to see, as an outsider, how much of a difference IJM is making in the lives of people here and how God’s love is being so tangibly shared through their work.

 

After the short time with Jill, I went to meet a group of students and leaders from Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, to accompany them for 9 days as a translator. The Queens group was absolutely AWESOME, and the 9 days that I spent with them were incredibly blessed. I’ve never been in a group like that before that was so open and vulnerable with one another from the very beginning. It was truly incredible, and they made me feel like one of them right away. The students were great, and I felt as though they would have been my friends had I gone to school with them in North Carolina :). They were fun, funny, sincere, and very interested in learning as much as they could about Guatemala and engaging fully with the culture while they were here. Our schedule was full of a variety of activities, but each and every day was full of great lessons and experiences. The trip, partnered with CEDEPCA, was a mixture of learning, work and immersion. We spent the first few days in Guatemala City, where we learned about some of the problems facing Guatemala today (femicide, natural disasters, poverty, lack of education, etc.), as well as some of the struggles that the Guatemalans faced during their brutal 36 year-long civil war. We were also blessed to be able to meet Shorty, an incredible man of God who lives in La Limonada, one of the poorest slums/ neighborhoods in Guatemala City that is located right next to the city dump. Shorty encouraged and inspired us all with his testimony, and it was truly a blessing to have met him (if you’d like to learn more about La Limonada, Shorty, and other amazing work that is going on in Guatemala City around the dump, I highly recommend the documentary ‘Reparando‘. You won’t be disappointed!). On our way out of the city, we stopped by the cemetary and saw a glimpse of the dump- a highly impactful experience for us all. After that, we made our way to Corazón de la Mujer, a cooperative that was created by Mayan women who were all affected by the war. These women make beautiful products and weavings, primarily to support their children in order to provide them with better opportunities for the future. One of the women, Dora, shared her story with our group, and after a delicious lunch we got to help paint the building where the women work and sell their products. My friend Rachel works with the women, and it was great to see her too and see how much she is at home among them! Speaking of homes, that night our group split up for homestays with the women and their families, which was a highlight of the trip for many people. I loved to see how much the group loved their families, and it made my heart so joyful that they got to experience part of the amazing love and hospitality that I have experienced in my year up to this point. The last part of the trip included some work days in San Lucas Tolimán, a town on the edge of Lake Atitlan, and ended with some time to see tourist sites such as Panajachel and the market in Chichicastenango. The whole week was truly an amazing experience, and my heart was heavy when it was time to say goodbye to the group. However, now I know that if I ever find myself in Charlotte, I have lots of friends I could stay with! 🙂

 

The other highlight in March was most definitely the arrival of my mom, dad and sister in Guatemala for Holy Week. It was so wonderful to have them here, and for them to finally see my heart home of Guatemala. The timing of their visit was really special too since the celebration of Holy Week is probably the biggest and most important of the entire year! We spent the first few days of their time here in Antigua, which is known for its beautiful carpets and processions during Semana Santa. The carpets are made of flowers, colored saw dust and salts, woodchips, and a variety of other materials, and the designs are beautiful and elaborate. It was amazing to walk through the streets and see the carpets that people had lovingly and painstakingly created in preparation for celebrating the death and resurrection of our Lord. When the processions passed, the streets filled with hundreds and hundreds of people who came either to watch or participate in the celebration. 

After spending a few days in Antigua, we made our way to Lake Atitlan for a day and then continued on to Xela, where my two families finally got to meet! The days that we spent in Pachaj were by far my favorites of the trip. The family welcomed us with open arms, lots of smiles and lots of delicious food. It was so wonderful to have these two worlds of mine come together, and it was an incredible blessing to see how my two moms especially connected right away. Despite the language barrier, it was a wonderful time together that just continued to get better over the course of those 4 days! We shared stories, laughter, and tears, and had times of worship together at the church as well as a blow-out birthday party for my mom, complete with a delicious traditional meal called estofado (beef stew with vegetables, served over rice), birthday cake, candles, prayers and songs. My sister and I both wore traje típico, and my mom wore one too for the sunrise service on Easter Sunday 🙂 Another HUGE highlight of the time in Pachaj was when my family could meet the family of our sponsored child, Danilo. Danilo and his family also live in Pachaj and he goes to the Compassion International Student Center that is run out of the church that I attend here. We got to spend a beautiful morning and afternoon with Danilo and his sister, brother, mom and dad. Their family is so wonderful, and it was amazing to hear them talk so freely of God’s blessings and how now God has blessed them with an even bigger family- us. They ended up giving us an amazing gift as well; a traditional weaving from Cantel, that had my mom and dad’s names embroidered into it, as well as Danilo’s. When we saw their incredible generosity all of us started to cry. It was truly a blessed time, and it was so wonderful to be together as one family of brothers and sisters in Christ. Lesly, Danilo’s sister, clung onto Gracie and I, all smiles, and said that she had never had sisters before but now she does. We all got to play and run around outside with a soccer ball, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch together as a family. We departed in prayer, feeling incredibly blessed for Danilo and his family and so grateful that they are truly a part of our own.
I am constantly reminded by all of the blessings that I’ve truly experienced here so far, and all of the ways in which the people here have opened their hearts and homes to me and let me into their lives. I feel as though I really do have family here in Pachaj- with Juana Herlinda (my host mom) and all of the family there, Danilo and his family, and my friends, brothers and sisters in the church and the community. I cannot even put into words how full my heart was during these few days, when my families could meet one another and share time together just being in one another’s presence. I’ve never quite experienced anything like it, but it was a rich blessing and I am so grateful that God gave us all that opportunity. He has continued to pour out his blessings throughout the time here- both very difficult circumstances and incredibly joyful ones- and I continue to stand amazed at everything that God is doing. Life is blessed, and I am so grateful for everyone here and all up North as well!
Love,
Annie

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One thought on “So grateful for so many blessings

  1. Steve Aeschbacher says:

    So great to read your reflections Annie! Thanks for sharing them!

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