Today was among the longest, most fascinating, exhausting and surprising days of my life. I knew to expect this, but wow, living it is something I will never forget.
We spent the day in a village called Seoguis (say-OH-geese) and saw a lot of neat, first-hand progress being made by Food for the Hungary (FH). Women had formed savings groups, growth promotion and monitoring checks for children under 5, and an agriculture group with a community garden. It was fascinating to see what progress FH has encouraged in just a little over a year in the community – and only 5 months since forming organizing the groups.
One of the greatest struggles in Seoguis and in Guatemala as a whole is chronic malnutrition. This is different from a lack of available food and is more caused by a lack of nutrition education for mothers, as well as unclean drinking water. This causes severely stunted growth and brain development. In Guatemala as a whole, the rate of chronic malnutrition is 54%, and in the community of Seoguis more than 70% of children suffer.
This is where the growth promotion and monitoring groups aim to catch these problems at the earliest age possible. And any mothers whose children are underweight or under height are referred to the agriculture group to work in the test garden (where they are constantly trying different vegetables to see what will grow in this climate and at this elevation), and as each new harvest comes in, FH teaches the women how to cook with and serve the nutritious vegetables to their families.
We also had the opportunity to visit the Seoguis school (everything is just along one dirt road and you could give a baseball a good throw from one end to the other) where the children were SO excited to see us (“Gringos! Gringos!!”) and the first graders sang and danced for us. We got to show them a photo of our soon-to-be 1st grader and you can imagine how fun and funny it was for them to see such a white-haired, blue-eyed kid. Oliver is famous in Seoguis!
After lunch, Ryan and I broke away from the group to visit the home of a woman named Josephina. She has 8 children, and the youngest, Ana Lucrecia, is sponsored by someone through FH (thank you, whoever you are!). Where she didn’t have supplies for school last year, this year, she has what she needs, and Josephina is learning to encourage all of her children to continue school past grade 6 (as they had originally planned).
But my favorite thing by far (which I absolutely expected to be my least favorite), was our final house visit of the day. We had a 20-minute hike across a soccer field, through a cornfield, along a dirt road and up a super steep mountain. We were exhausted from walking and sitting and learning and relying on double translators (from Q’qchi’ [kek-chi] to Espanol to English). All I wanted was a quiet moment to gather my thoughts. And maybe a hot shower.
When we entered Umberto and Elena’s home at the top of the mountain we went through introductions and Elena told us she’d like to make us dinner. Again, we were spent. We’d been eating new things and worrying about food safety all day, and the very human side of me was wishing the next two hours and potentially awkward mealtime away.
Umberto lined up tiny chairs in the house for Ryan, the two translators and me to sit on, and Elena set to work preparing herbs for the soup she was making. It felt funny to sit and watch her cook, but we were told to accept a seat if a host offered it, and we wanted to be good guests.
After a couple of minutes, I asked the English translator (Gladys) if it would be appropriate to offer to help, and she said she’d ask. I was thrilled when Elena invited me to join her at the bowl and I immediately felt at home, shoulder to shoulder with this Guatemalan sister in Christ with whom I finally had something in common.
We worked while the men talked. She and I walked outside to rinse some peppers in the sink together and I was speechless at the site out of her “kitchen window”.
Once the vegetables were boiling for the soup, she invited me to join her in making tortillas as well. Y’all. I actually consider myself to be a pretty decent cook, but my tortilla-making skills are laughable.
Even Ronald, her 4-year-old, was giggling as I struggled to get one – just one! – tortilla on the stove top without it falling to pieces.
I invited Ryan to see if he could do better and by the time we’d made-slash-massacred all of her tortillas, we were having a fantastic time!
Our time together was sweet. Our prayer for their family was a thanks for God’s presence and His attention to each one of us. Elena and I live in different worlds, but for an afternoon, we got to talk about marriage and childbirth and chickens strutting around in the kitchen and husbands finding work where they can.
What I expected to be the most exhausting was by far the most life-giving.
And in that 2-room home on the side of a mountain in Guatemala today, The Lord taught me one marvelous truth. I learned that He leaves precious gifts and insights on the sides of mountains at the end of long days with a double language barrier. He meets us there.
And if He does that, He also packs up relationships and important conversations and glimpses of Himself just outside of our comfort zones at home. We may not have to travel across a soccer field, through a cornfield, around a dirt mountain road and up a steep, grassy path (ala Dora the Explorer!), but sometimes it takes asking people questions when we don’t feel like we have anything left to give. It takes offering to help make dinner when we’re all interacted-out for the day.
It’s a simple truth – nothing earth shattering. Walking in obedience is a blessed place to walk. And walking in obedience is packed with promises – and the funniest looking tortillas a gringo has ever made!