Archive for September, 2012

27th September
written by Michelle

If you’re reading this I am guessing you have either:

a) been on a short-term mission trip or b) sent money to someone going on one.

Now, I could write a whole book about the benefits and limitations of short-term mission trips. I have seen short-term mission trips go very well or very, very badly.

The organization that we work for hosts teams of college students, youth groups, churches and rotary club members throughout the year. A big part of my job is coordinating the details so those groups come prepared and our Guatemalan staff is empowered to host them. We work hard to help these groups understand that their role is to serve, learn and catch a vision of what God is doing here. If you have been one of the people who has come to serve and learn in Guatemala with us, I have nothing to say but thank you. I really enjoy what I do and the people I get to meet.

So, Why Do We Serve?

Now, weather you consider yourself a religions or spiritual person, or have ever taken a mission trip, I’m guessing some of the times that you have felt the best about yourself were times when you were helping other people, right? And I’m guessing being generous once encouraged you to want to keep living generously. Because you probably learned whether consciously or subconsciously that being generous is contagious. It gave you a sense of dignity and empowerment, right? And I believe we were created to serve other people, because maybe it’s only then that we realize that living for ourselves is not the way we want to live.

The thing is having the opportunity to serve oversees or locally is just that- an opportunity. By definition it means you know how to make that happen, you know where to go and how to raise support so that you can serve.  Gerber and I are firm believers that GENEROSITY is a POWERFUL AGENT of CHANGE both on an individual level and in a larger community.

However, what can happen in short-term missions is that well-meaning people come from other countries to give, but in the process take away an opportunity from someone else in the host country. There are not simple answers. We fall into patterns that have been reinforced historically, economically and politically for years. Some people or countries (in this case, Guatemala) get very good at being receivers, and others (in this case, the States) become very good at being givers. But we if tried to change it? What if we did something different?

The truth is we need to BE both. Givers and receivers. As individuals, as communities, as churches, as teachers, and countries. We need to be both, givers and receivers.

Guatemalans Helping Guatemalans

This October we want to provide Guatemalan students the opportunity to serve other Guatemalans.  These 12 students may not have the same kind of resources that you or I have, but they want a chance to be generous. They want a chance to serve people in their own country, in their own language and own culture.

We’re taking them to a community where we’ve been working the past few months, a village called Coyolate. In the southern part of Guatemala where the humidity sticks to your skin and beads of sweat still form at 8 at night, are about 40 families who live on Government “donated” land.  After their own communities disappeared during the civil war, many people fled to Mexico as refugees and when they returned they were given this land in 2000. The community school was just completed in 2004.

We’ll sleep under mosquito nets, and spend days mixing cerement, and building water filters with families. We’ll probably eat a lot of eggs, beans and tortillas and I’m sure if my husband has anything to with it, there be a few chamuscas played on dirt fields with tall sticks marking the goals. We’ll have debriefs in the evenings and some activities with the local school. At one of our recent meetings when we told the students to bring their bathing-suit. They looked confused. Why? They asked. We will shower by bucket without the privacy of walls and curtains. Hence the appropriateness of a bathing suit :)

And more than anything that we accomplish during that week, we hope these students will understand that if you say you want to follow Jesus, then what you DO often means far more than what you SAY.

Like any trip it costs money to do this. Food, transportation, supplies, etc.

These students have been working hard, really hard. They have been selling cookies and muffins at recess, hosting garage sale kind of events, asking fellow students and community members to raise money. So far they have raised about $705 — which when you’re doing it by collecting fichas in increments of 2-3 quetzales (roughly 25 cents) that’s A LOT. And we want to match their effort.

Will you help us?*

*Watch this video they made to find out more or go to here and scroll down to Healthy Communities and write “Student Mission Trip” in the note.


24th September
written by Michelle

I am not sure if this is normal, but I love airports. In fact I secretly enjoy when I have extended hours in an airport because it feels like this bubble of uninterrupted time to be super productive. So, thanks to American Airlines and a few extra hours of delays I have read, had breakfast and a latte, checked email, painted my nails, checked in on the twitter-world and now I’m blogging. All before 11am…thankyouvermuch.

It’s probably a good thing I love airports because I spend more time in them now than I ever have. Cross-cultural living and marriage will do that for you.

Here’s what I’ve found to be a few successful airport travel tips for unexpected delays and possibly overnight stays:

-Always pack a toothbrush and extra pair of underwear in your carry-on. My mom taught me this one on my first overseas flight to Ecuador. I was wearing overalls and sporting braces at the time, but I was so thankful for these essentials when we had to stay an extra night in some shady hotel in Florida due to weather.

-Scope out a good wifi spot and if there’s a password save it in your computer or phone for the next time you’re at that some spot. I realize if you’re in the continental U S of A you can just use your fancy 3G and be fine, but cross any international border and you’ll be looking for wifi. stat. (hint: Guate readers: Use Pizza Hut in the airport. Once you past security it’s on your left. It has the best wifi in the airport. Password is: 0123456789. I believe sharing is caring)

- Always, ALWAYS update the time on your phone or computer manually. Trust me I know from experience that sometimes they do not update. Once (not so long ago) I may have been sitting at an airport Starbucks, content as could be because my computer said 4:15pm and my flight didn’t even board until 5:30… yes, imagine my shock when I walked to the gate at 4:45 “my time” and learned that my flight had already left. Oh, yes. Imagine how I tried to explain that one to the ticket counter #lessonlearned

- Do some stretches on the airplane. Anyone who has traveled with me has probably been slightly embarrassed to look over and see my feet up in the air or arms reaching up to touch the ceiling, but I tell you it makes the world of difference on long flights. Stretch those muscles, people.

- Bring some kind of scarf/shall thing that can double as an accessory, blanket or be folded into a makeshift pillow. Due to some poor planning on my part and another American Airlines delay Gerber and I spent TWO nights in airports on our honeymoon. Once in Switzerland and once in Peru. Both times I was so thankful that I had this with me. #notthewayyouwannaspendahoneymoon #hestilllovesme

-Snacks always make waiting and in general life…better. And snacks from home are always better than airport food. I may like airports, but I’m not that fond of airport food.

-International travelers, memorize your passport numbers. It’s so much easier than always having to dig in your bag to pull out the passport. Sad truth I use my passport number now more than my license or SS #.

-My dad taught me many things. One is: IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK. So, I  always ask about a window seat or an exit aisle and I may have been known to use my curls and ask about first class. It worked…once.

- We don’t have kids yet (and no I’m not pregnant) but three of my closest friends are and I now think about international travel with a baby in a different way. But all of my friends who are MOMS—get this….on my flight today from Guatemala to Texas there was a Guatemala-mom sporting her hooded jacket, yoga pants and backpack with her 3-month old in one arm on their way to Canada, where she lives with her Canadian husband. We chatted. She sat across the aisle from me. The little guy fussed as everyone got on the plane. But, then she sat down, held him and he fell asleep before take off. Then, she laid him on the open seat next to her, swaddled up, and took out a BOOK. I was already wow-ed at this point. Thirty minutes later, she left him to go THE BATHROOM. I was half-impressed. Half shocked. Thinking I want to know what magic sauce she has and how could she just leave him there and go to the bathroom? It reminded of my friends Lesley’s post. Clearly, I have a lot to learn before motherhood.

Ok, frequent fliers what are some of your helpful tips and hints?

P.S I’m attending a conference this week called CCDA and am super excited. Partly because my sister is leading a workshop (yeah, she’s kind of a big deal), my parents are also attending, and it’s a chance to learn and hear about how other Christians are doing community development work across the nation. Check back for updates.

12th September
written by Michelle


Yesterday as I scrolled through facebook and twitter I was struck by the images of valiant firefighters and #9/11 and #neveforget hashtags.

Twelve years ago, on a Tuesday morning, September 11th, our nation suffered immense loss. 2,996 people died in one day. However, why don’t we remember the more than 100,000 Iraqi’s who have died since we invaded the country in 2003?

War is complicated and politics are messy and I don’t claim to be an expert in either. But I do know that loss is loss. And you can’t qualify or quantify it. September 11th was horrible day in our country’s history. As a nation we define and mark time before 9/11 and after 9/11. A lot changed after that one day. Especially for people who lost someone they loved.

*  *  *

Dads on flights who never got to see their kids again.

Wives’ whose last memory of their sweetheart is a voice-mail recording made while stuck in the 2nd tower.

Moms who never saw their sons again.

Brave firefighters who were attempting to save others, but never made it out.

Officers in the Pentagon at the start of what they thought was a normal Tuesday, didn’t leave to see the end of it.

Kids born in the months after 9/11 have grown up never knowing their fathers. (In fact ABC has followed them and their families and you can can get an inside look at some of their stories, pain, and loss since 9/11)

A twenty-two year old with a ring purchased to propose to his fiance never had a chance to ask her.

This lists makes me sad. My heart aches imagining what if it was me? What if the flight that I was expecting my husband to arrive on never landed? What if I never saw him again?

For many this day is a reminder of what and whom you lost. And I cannot imagine the pain and sadness you still feel.

*  *  *

But there’s another side.

There always is. And this so-called “other side” is one that we don’t hear a lot about. In fact I have a feeling some pretty important people, pay some pretty big money so we don’t hear about the number of civilian casualties in Iraq.

We don’t hear that as of July of this year between 108,430 to 118,484 Iraqi civilians have died. 

We don’t hear about the Grandmother who had to watch as her son got shot in the head.

We don’t hear about the kids who went to play in street and were at the wrong place at the wrong time, because they will never play again.

We don’t hear about the family that was in their apartment eating breakfast when the bomb dropped. All of them dead.

We don’t hear about the wife whose husband went to the market to buy khubz, Iraqi flatbread, and never returned.

We don’t hear those stories. And those stories too should make our heart hurt.

*  *  *

I am not saying that mourning and remembering for the loss of our own nation is wrong. Not at all. But I am saying that it’s incomplete if we don’t also mourn and remember some of the very people that our nation - “in the name of freedom“-  has been responsible for their death.

Sometimes I wonder if our patriotism desensitizes us to our humanity?

And the same question could be asked of any nation, but as a US citizen I write from my perspective. And as a Christian, I wrestle with understanding what it means to “love your enemy” more than your flag.

Donald Miller, author and speaker, posted this on twitter yesterday and it is my prayer for myself and my country:

“The world will have really changed when on this day we talk about justice and forgiveness. #9/11”


What is your prayer after 9/11?

Do you agree that our patriotism desensitizes us to our humanity? If not, why?


For more info about what happened after 9/11… in the war in Iraq:

-A heart wrenching video looking at the civilians death in Iraq: What the US news doesn’t show

-The UK group Iraq Body Count

-What the US Govt hasn’t revealed about civilians death

photo credit:

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9th September
written by Michelle

Perhaps the best part of a vacation is who you choose to spend it with. And I just got to spend a week away with one of my favorite people at one of my favorite places. In 2007 I experienced Lago Atitlan for the first time, and I said a little prayer that one day I’d get to take my future husband there. Fast forward 5 years later; and now I’m living about just 2 hours from that lake with a man from the country I fell in love with 5 years previously.

Since being married we’ve taken a few day trips, then I went to a writing conference and he to a water filter conference, but we have not taken any kind of real vacation. Since September and October tend to be our slower season for hosting groups from the states, we seized the opportunity.

We packed up our backpacks, strapped on our helmets and I left any sense of fashion at home because G convinced me to wear his motorcycle jacket. I objected for all of 3 seconds until he muttered something like…safety, padding, and protection.  My mom would be pleased. I have come to enjoy riding the motorcycle and we have developed a series of hand signals to communicate while riding, things like, “You, ok?”, “Look at that,” “I love you” and the all important,  “Bathroom break.”

And riding a motorcycle has taught me the art of packing less clothes and only bringing two pairs of shoes. My dad tried to train us girls on every family vacation. He always told us, “You can only bring what you can carry.” Luckily, I was a pretty strong 10 year-old girl so I learned to carry A LOT. However, Gerber’s rule: we each get one small backpack. Thankfully, my man is pretty low maintenance so I got to use 3/4 of the space in both backpacks. Yes, he gets major good husband points for being willing to carry my crap.

Thanks to a very generous friend, with an incredible lakeside property this was our home for the week. It’s the perfect combination of cozy, rustic and romantic. Most walls are made of windows which means you can see the lake and volcano from literally every point in the house. You can wash dishes, read in a hammock, wake up in the morning, and take a shower all without compromising the view.  The bottom right photo is the view from the bed pictured to the left. I have never been so happy to wake up.

We made and ate most meals right here on the patio. I mean if you saw the view and the garden you would as well. Breakfast was fresh yogurt and granola with papaya, piña and sandia, oh, and coffee. I have converted from my former tea-ways to be come a full-fledged coffee drinker. Dinners were pasta with spinach and artichokes or tomatoes and cheese. Simple, delicious and goes good with a glass of wine. A few nights dinner consisted of homemade chocolate chips cookies while we watched a movie.  Hey, it was vacation, now : )

I recently read something that said, every couple should have an outside game and an inside game. We have lots of outside “games” that we do together, but nothing really for the inside game. Gerber, was shocked to learn that I didn’t know how to play Checkers, or Damas, as it’s called in Spanish. Yes, truth be told somehow in my southern California upbringing I’m not sure how I missed this.  So with the lake as our backdrop, and candles on the table I had my first lesson. I was Paperclips and he was Rolled-up-pieces-of-napkin. It was perfect, except I lost every game. But the good news is I think we found our inside game. Just need to buy a real Checkers board, now.

I think one of the challenges of vacation-ing with someone else is when you have different vacation-ing styles. Anyone who has vacationed with a person who has a different vacation style knows just what I mean? Thankfully, we both like the same kinds of places- outdoorsey, simple, close to nature, but within walking distance of cities and towns.  However, I have a pretty high tolerance  (read: enjoy) for sitting and reading and only getting up to change locations based on the direction of sun. G on the other hand needs to physically DO something. He’s active, adventurous and gets restless if I suggest we sit and read for longer than 20 minutes. So we learned to do some things on our own.

He explored the town, kayaked for a few hours and rode his motorcycle. I did some of those things, but I spent a fair amount of time rotating between the dock and a hammock upstairs where I finished a book on my Kindle and read a Vegetarian Cookbook that was in the kitchen from cover to cover. Did I mention I think this house has the best library in all of San Marcos? There were 3 different bookshelves full of titles from the NY Times Best Seller list, some old classics, and some obscure titles. I copied down quite a few to add to my, “Books to Read” List.

One morning we took a 2 hours hike up along the cliffs over looking the lake, wound around through some corn fields, crossed a few streams and ended up with lunch at this gorgeous hotel. I often am reminded in Guatemala what a luxury it is to “take a hike” for pleasure. We chose to explore and walk and climb this trail, but the truth is many local men and women do it daily for their livelihood, not for pleasure. They harvest their corn and look for firewood on the same trail we took for fun. I am reminded that things like exercising and hiking are really a privilege, not a necessity or a right. It’s easy to confuse those things.

These are a few of my favorites because the capture the peacefulness, fun and love I think we felt that week. Not just for each other, but for the opportunity to get away, and to appreciate the beauty of people and a part of the country that we have both been to numerous times separately, but never together.

Perhaps the best sign of a good vacation, is when you are eager and ready to get back home. I will always love weekend trips and vacation get-aways, but there is something so good about coming home to ordinary days, simple routines and meaningful work.

Here’s to Lago Atitlan, my husband and many years ahead of coming home from vacations.

* * *

P.S. If you are seriously interested in coming to Guatemala or renting this lakeside house email me at [email protected] and I can send you the vrbo web-address. It would be the perfect house for family vacation, a group of friends or just a couple. The house sleeps 6-8 and there is a tree house and little cabana that are also for rent. It’s about a 10 min walk to San Marcos La Laguna and a 2 hour drive from Antigua.

Do you know your vacation-style? Is it compatible with your family or spouse?


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