Guatemala – La Tercera Parte (Part Three)

If you haven’t already, you may want to check out part one and part two of my travels to Guatemala before reading on. Thank you everyone who already has!

On our tour of the monastery grounds, we were able to see just how much work has been put into this home to be as self-sufficient as possible. Madre Ivonne has a mushroom lab, where she makes all sorts of tinctures and natural remedies for not only the children, but the local community. Over the years, they have had some HIV+ children, and by her medicinal mushrooms and the grace of God, some of them were cured. Their doctor of course accused her of witchcraft. The children are given daily mushroom supplements for extra immunity. In return, they rarely get sick!

The grounds are also home to coffee and fruit trees, a tilapia farm, rabbits, welding and work shops, and much more that I know I’m forgetting. It’s a very inspiring operation they have going on! Again, can you imagine if we in the US had more orphanages like this? Instead of children being sent from one questionable foster care home to the next, they would have a safe, clean, self-sufficient environment they could call home until hopefully adopted. A girl can dream…Mushroom LabMadre Ivonne's Mushroom LabCoffee PlantsTilapia FarmMonastery GroundsWater TowerGuard DogWelding ShopRabbit FarmThe one day Big Guy and I ventured into the kitchen to see what was going on. The staff were so sweet. The freshly made cookies and bread were amazing. The food everyday, although often simple, was always delicious. Rice and black beans were served at every meal, and I didn’t mind one bit.San Miguel del Lago KitchenSan Miguel del Lago Kitchen Farm Fresh Eggs Cookies Fresh BreadWe planned ahead to bring down a simple craft for the women to do with the girls, and the men to do with the boys. We did chalk art, while the boys made paper airplanes. Both were a hit. It truly is amazing that even though we can hardly understand each other (besides some of the teenagers who can speak English), we thoroughly enjoy the time spent together. Love is the easiest language to communicate.

San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del LagoMy mom had a great idea to draw hopscotch in the gravel during playtime with the younger girls. Not a bad backdrop for a game of hopscotch…San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago Our team member, Olivia, turned 15 years old while we were in Guatemala. There, turning 15 is a huge deal, like our Sweet 16. It’s referred to as a Quinceanera, and typically involves a dress-up occasion with at least a mariachi band, food, cake, and dancing. I was fortunate enough to experience two of these during my first trip! Since it is not as big of a deal for us Americans, we celebrated simply by surprising her with Guatemalan cakes and singing. Olivia's Birthday in Guatemala Guatemalan Birthday CakesOne of the first days we were in Guatemala we took the younger girls for a walk down the mountainside toward Lake Amatitlan. We walked so far before heading back up to get washed up for dinner. Later in the week we finally went all the way down, and didn’t realize how much further we had to go! Once to the bottom it was one of those moments where you’re hiking and hiking and all of a sudden you come to a breathtaking view that literally stops you in your tracks. This is what it was like. All of a sudden we were on this lake surrounded by beautiful landscaping and in front of us was a… castle? It was this hidden gem that we had no idea about!

After checking it all out, we then had no choice to hike back up the mountain. It was hot and humid and tough. I would be lying if I said some people didn’t make it to the church service that evening from exhaustion. Knowing that the children make that hike so often really made us realize how out of shape a lot of us were!

Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan IMG_8345 Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan Lake Amatitlan

Our last full day we celebrated the Divine Liturgy with the children and nuns. Fr. Daniel was able to give a wonderful Sermon in English that was translated for the children and staff, and even attempted some prayers in Spanish too. Afterwards Mother Ivonne told us how special it was to watch Big Guy go to Communion, since it has been a few years now since they’ve had babies. One of the highlights to their day was watching the nannies bring all the babies to the Church to receive Communion. The youngest child while we were there was four years old already, and was a more recent addition to the home. Because of the ban on international adoptions given by UNICEF and the government, it has complicated logistics, so they are unable to receive any more children, unless they are literally dropped off at their doorstep by their parents. The hope is that, by the grace of God, the ban will either be lifted, or the government will be more cooperative so more children can have such a loving home as this one.

Lavra of Mambre Lavra of Mambre  Lavra of Mambre Lavra de Mambre Lavra of MambreMother and Daughter

Following church we had brunch together and then we performed a play for the children. Father Daniel played the guitar while we acted as mimes depicting the story of creation. The children really seemed to get a kick out of it. Afterwards they presented us with gifts of gratitude and hugged each of us goodbye. Such a bittersweet moment.

Creation Play Creation PlayCreation PlayCreation Play

San Miguel del LagoI’m so grateful to have been able to travel to and visit with the children, nuns, and staff twice now. Both visits were unforgettable, and completely different. I can only imagine what my next visit could bring. As it usually is with volunteer work, I often leave feeling like I took more out of it than I was able to give. Our society is only able to grow if the individual is willing to grow first though. We must begin by looking, healing, and growing within, before we are able to transform without. Thank you for supporting me on my journey to grow.

Guatemala – La Segunda Parte (Part Two)

If you didn’t get the chance to read my first post on our trip to Guatemala, you can do so by clicking here.

Last time I traveled to Guatemala, I didn’t get to really experience much of life outside the orphanage, other than taking the younger children to the children’s museum and for lunch at Pollo Campero, which was totally fine and still an unforgettable experience. This trip however, we traveled about an hour and a half by van to visit Antigua, the oldest city in Guatemala.

Driving through Guatemala is when it really sinks in just how fortunate we are in the US. Our impoverished areas, although heartbreaking, are still nicer and safer than how the majority live in developing countries. It is so inspiring to see how hard they work, for basically nothing, and are relatively happy. There is no unemployment or welfare to live off of. They work their asses off just to survive. Period. It often makes me wonder what our country would be like if we had that sort of accountability and responsibility.Guatemalan Woman Guatemalan woman carrying on her head

Truck Trailer Half way there our van began to overheat. Jorge, our driver and Madre Ivonne’s brother, had us all get out while he lifted the front seats up to reveal a smoking engine. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly concerned. Eventually it cooled down enough for us to be on our way. Some missionaries had to use the bathroom so a generous neighbor let them in their hut to use their toilet, which I heard was literally a hole in the ground. We were then able to take the older children and teenagers on a field trip to the beautiful Jade Museum. Missionaries waiting for van to cool down Missionaries waiting for van to cool downEntrance to the Jade MuseumJade MuseumJade Museum Recycling at the Jade Museum Bench at the Jade Museum Jade MuseumJade MuseumAfterwards we were able to treat them to ice cream and enjoy some entertainment in the park. Mayan women with their babies walked around selling handmade items, while we happened to become quite the tourist attraction. All the blondes and Fr. Daniel were asked to be in random people’s photos!Ice Cream Shop in Guatemala Ice Cream Shop in Guatemala Antigua Mayans Tourists in AntiguaWe had to part ways with the older children and teenagers so they could resume their school day back home, so we headed to a coffee farm for some delicious lunch, and afterwards did some shopping at the local market for souvenirs. Jorge assured us the particular market he was taking us to was full of handcrafted items in Guatemala, not China, and they had a good working relationship with these people.

Then he took us to the neatest little ice cream shoppe I’ve ever been to. Not only did it have delectable flavors like black bean, cheese, and guava, but the inside was decorated beautifully with antiques and handmade items. We sure were glad we held off getting ice cream earlier. What a treat!

On our way home we had to give the van some time to cool down again to ensure we made it home safely, so we stopped at a shop that had all sorts of beautiful artwork and furniture made by local artists.

Guatemalan coffee farm

Guatemalan Fare

Guatemalan Ice Cream Shop

Guatemalan Ice Cream Shop

Guatemalan Ice Cream Shop

Guatemalan Ice Cream Shop

Guatemalan Ice Cream ShopGuatemalan Ice Cream ShopGuatemalan Artisian ShopGuatemalan Artisian ShopGuatemalan Artisian Shop That was such an enjoyable day out, and am so glad my team and I got to experience it, broken down van and all. It is so important when traveling to new places, especially places of a different culture, to emerge ourselves into their daily life as much as possible. It is the only way we truly grow and have understanding, empathy, and compassion for different ways of life and thinking.

Stay tuned for Guatemala – La Tercera Parte!

Guatemala – Primera Parte (Part One)

It’s almost the end of October. I took my second missions trip to Guatemala back in May. I am just now finding the time to share my experience! Suffering from Monteczuma’s Revenge for the entire month of June did not help, at all. Then Big Guy’s 1st birthday party happened the week before Matt turned 30. Then two weeks later we took our annual camping trip. The end result? Me trying to condense almost 1000 photos and stories into something manageable for you, 5 months later, so I can finally move on with my life! I was just going to write one long post, but decided in the end to break it up a bit.

I led a team of 12 missionaries, including myself, my husband, my son, and my mother, to San Miguel del Lago in Guatemala. It is an Orthodox monastic orphanage, formerly known as Hogar Rafael Ayau. The name changed last year when the nuns were finally able to move the orphanage to the monastery grounds about an hour outside the city, in the mountains of Lake Amatitlan. The former property in Zone 1, the worst part of Guatemala City, is still in use as a church for the community, as well as a free medical facility for the poor.

Missionaries in Guatemala

Our main purpose as missionaries during this trip was to bring down basic necessities for them and spend quality time with the children. It is common to think it would be more beneficial to “just send money” or “mail necessities to them”, but it unfortunately is not that easy. While money is graciously accepted and put to wonderful use, it only goes so far in Guatemala. Many common items are much less expensive in the US. Also, their postal system, along with many other facets of their government, is rather “unreliable” and cannot be trusted. Therefore, we each traveled with our one free checked bag, one carry-on, and one personal bag, full to the very brim. We were definitely those people sorting and organizing bags at the airport! Here we are unpacking all the donations for Madre Ivonne to organize and put away.

San Miguel del Lago missionary donationsThe grounds of the monastery and orphanage have breathtaking views. What a blessing for them to finally be free of pollution, noise, and violence!

San Miguel del Lago

My son was such a trooper. There was a 2 hour time difference, so he was forced to stay up a bit later than usual, but we still tried to keep him on schedule as much as possible. No one wants an extra cranky baby while traveling in a developing country. Or anywhere. Anytime. 😉 We also got attacked by mosquitoes in our “sleep” the one night, and he unfortunately got the majority of the bites all over his face, arms, and legs. We joked that they may not let me back in the country because he almost looked like he had a disease like small pox! He was definitely the “hit” of the week with everyone. I will never forget the sound of his name in their sweet, endearing accents. I still catch myself (and his Grandma) occasionally saying it so. I am so grateful we were able to travel together as a family unit.

Baby Carried in a Sling

San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del Lago

First pool experience.

Mayan Gulf Resort

Every weekday morning at 645am we met in the chapel for a Matins service, and at 4pm for Vespers. Saturday evening was a 2-hour Vigil in the church, and Sunday morning Divine Liturgy was celebrated at 8am. It sounds like a lot of church, but when you’re there to serve and that is their daily routine, it doesn’t seem as “inconvenient” as it sometimes can back home, even just going once or twice a week (or less for some). When going to church becomes a part of our lives, such as eating and bathing, you look forward to it. This routine is vital for the health and well-being of the children. Most of them come from nightmarish backgrounds, whose only hope is knowing that God is leading them to a better future.

The Chapel

The Chapel


The Chapel

Monastery of the Holy Trinity Guatemala Monastery of the Holy Trinity Guatemala

The one afternoon we joined the girls at their soccer training in a field across the street owned by the neighbors. And by we, I mean I watched everyone else work out while taking photos.

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Futbol Training

Church Behind the Field

Futbol Training

Almost every day after breakfast and lunch we did maintenance work. Father Daniel and Matt installed hardware in all of the girls bathrooms. We were blessed to have such handy team members to help the girls have a more comfortable living space. The rest of our team did some much needed yard work and helped organize the sewing room. It was hard for me at times not being able to help much because I had my baby with me. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not there in vain, but had done all of the prep work getting us there safely, as well as organize the benefit we put on the month before.

San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago San Miguel del Lago

San Miguel del Lago yard work in guatemalasewing room Want to read more? Check out Guatemala: La Segunda Parte.