Saturday, October 23, 2010

Trip to Chuntrun

Some days there just aren't enough adjectives to describe the things that you have experienced. Last Saturday was one of those days. I've actually started several times to write about that day but to find the words and do it justice seems such a daunting task that I postponed it. I'm going to attempt to tell you about it, knowing that any description will fall significantly short of what we really experienced.

My family got to join Jesus, Josue, and Carlos on a journey to Chuntrun. This is a remote rural area outside of San Ignacio (which is 5 minutes from us) accessible only on foot. Jesus drove his pickup as far as he could and then we got out and hiked a half hour on very primitive trails to our location--the elementary school. This picture is labeled with the school in the distance and the bridge at the river down below. We first walked a rock/concrete trail down to the bridge before being able to head up to the school.

I rode in the cab of the pickup with Jesus for the first part of the journey with everyone else in the back. During this time and the rest of the day, I learned some interesting facts about Chuntrun and the people from there:

**There is a group of 10-12 brothers and sisters from Chuntrun who have studied with Jesus and become Christians and worship at San Ignacio. They attend regularly on Sundays, walking approximately 2 hours each direction--even in the rain--to attend. DID YOU CATCH THAT? They regularly walk 2 hours to get to church! Sun, rain, wind...they walk to meet with their brothers and sisters and to worship God. It's THAT important.

**One of the members, Natividad, even attends Thursday evening services because she tells Jesus that "her soul needs to be fed." She sleeps Thursday nights at her sister's house in San Ignacio and returns home on Fridays.

**Natividad became a Christian after her sister, Virginia, was baptized in La Palma and invited her to study the Bible. Several of us from the States studied with Virginia and worked to improve her house in La Palma before she became a Christian--those of you who were there will never forget that experience. Natividad is now faithful and invited their sister, Maria, to study and she, too, was baptized and is a San Ignacio member. Natividad has also invited multiple friends to study the Bible and there have been baptisms as a result of those studies.

**There is no 'official' running water in Chuntrun. There are several springs from which the people get their water. Some have tanks where they collect rainwater also.

**None of the homes there have electricity. The school has a solar panel that powers the single light in the classroom.

**The school at Chuntrun is K-6 and meets in one room. I asked what the kids did after that, thinking they went to San Ignacio, but Jesus said that they just don't go after 6th grade. He said it's just too far and too hard.

**The teacher at Chuntrun lives with a family there during the week and on the weekends goes to her own home in Chalatenango, several hours away. (Reminds me of Little House on the Prairie)

**All the families in that area are farmers. Mostly beans and corn. Because the children are destined to be farmers, by 6th grade they've received all the education they will need for this and school beyond that is unnecessary.

**There is no store in Chuntrun, not even a small tienda. I asked Jesus if there was even a tienda to buy Coca-cola because in La Palma there's one on almost every corner. He said no, not even one for a child to buy candy. Any groceries they need are purchased in San Ignacio.

We arrived at the school grounds in Chuntrun where the class was to be held and Jesus set things up. A handful of children were there and they told him others were coming.
Sure enough, we began to see other children pop over the top of the trail, some of them with mothers joining them. Jesus pointed out the one room building of the school where grades K-6 have class and there is another building that is a 'kitchen' of sorts for preparing/serving food/snacks to the children. There were concrete tables and benches under an awning and that is where the class was held.

Jose first led several fun songs with the kids and then told the story of the baptism of Jesus by using homemade flannelgraph-type figures cut out of construction paper. As he added a figure he would use a glue stick to attach it to the base paper. Every few sentences he would stop and ask a question about what he'd just told and sometimes he'd give a sucker to the child with the correct answer. The children were completely engaged in his storytelling and so were the mothers.

After the story, Jesus had a set of paper cutouts just like his storyboard had. Glue sticks and glue bottles were passed around and the kids got to each recreate the story to take home with them. It was obvious as we helped them that the children had little experience with glue and glue sticks because they didn't seem to know how to open the bottles or how to twist up the sticks but they learned quickly.

After that Jesus led a few more songs and then a prayer and it was time to leave. Jesus had brought treat bags for each child that contained a juice box, a pack of cookies, vitamins, and parasite treament. Our family added a plastic toy animal and a piece of bubble gum to each treat bag. Ruth and Nathan helped distribute the bags to the children as they left the table area. The kids all hung around and drank their juice and kicked around a soccer ball for a while before heading home.

We had also taken two baby carriers/carseats with us and there were two moms there with young children who were very happy to receive them. They don't use them for the carseat here as much as a safe place to keep a baby in the home or for sleeping. They're quite expensive here and the families are always happy when we can give them one. We had also taken some foam bedrolls to give out and were able to give one to each of the mothers who came.
These are very simple, thin rolls of foam padding but they make the families who receive them very happy--some families use them on the floor to sleep on, others use them as blankets, and some just use them as extra padding on sofas or chairs.

The trek home was quite tiring as it was very hot by that point with the sun pounding on us. We talked several times on the return trip about how surreal the entire morning had been. The people in Chuntrun live a very hard life but for most of them, it's all they've ever lived. I felt almost ashamed to know that we were returning to a home where we would all take warm showers that night and that we could turn on faucets and water would come out and that if we wanted a Coke we can walk about 10 yards to a tienda and purchase one. We are so blessed. While we are living here, our family has given up some of our comforts from the United States, but we are well aware that we're not living in the most extreme of circumstances. God has blessed us and we know that, but sometimes we just need reminding.

One of the things our family talked about most is the fact that the Christians in Chuntrun are willing to walk 2 hours one-way to church every week. As a mom, I know there are times when it's chilly or rainy in the United States and it's hard to motivate yourself to get the kids ready and load up the car and drive the 5 or 10 minutes to church. And that drive is usually in a climate-controlled vehicle, protecting us from the elements. So to think about taking your kids on a 2 hour hike to church in the rain is humbling. And the people there do it every week.

The day was an exhausting one in so many ways--physically, of course, but mentally and emotionally as well. I find the contentment and dedication of the people of Chuntrun to be inspiring. We are so glad we got to experience it and Jesus told me he will be going back in a few weeks to study the Bible with some friends of the members there and we are invited to join him. I can hardly wait to go again.

*****You might also want to read Monte and Ruth's perspective on the same trip. You can read Monte's at:
and Ruth's at:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Home visits...

I went with Jose to make some home visits yesterday. There was definite walking involved, perhaps what might even be described as hiking. This picture is one I snapped while we were out. It is of four kids who were gathering some pieces of bamboo from a trash pile. I don't know what their plans are for the bamboo, but it is likely for supports for their home/roofs. I found it saddening to watch them digging, some of the barefoot, through the pile of trash to pull them out and take them home with them. The fact that you can't see the terrain behind them gives you a sense of what the area is like where we were--quite steep and rough walking.
The second visit of the day is one that I'd like to ask you to be praying for. We went to visit Morena's family. Morena comes to the school here everyday during their recess/snack time to sell snacks to the kids. Her husband, Alfredo, was severely injured Tuesday night in what they believe is an attempted suicide. He was taken to San Salvador to the hospital but the family thought it was best for her not to go at this time. She had a lot of family at the house with her and welcomed us graciously. We were able to sit and visit and let her tell us her story and offer our support and prayers but situations like that leave me feeling very helpless. What do you say to a woman whose husband tried to take his own life less than 18 hours earlier and is left to sit at home and wonder and worry how he is doing. We prayed with the whole family before we left and they seemed to welcome that. Before we left, we hugged on the women there and it was one of those times when you just hope to impart some strength and healing through your hugs and whispers of love and support. We have not yet heard any word today on how Alfredo is doing. Please be in prayer for him and for his family in the coming days.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Trip to San Sal...

We left Tuesday morning to head to San Salvador for the purpose of renewing our visas. To pay someone to drive a family of 4 to San Salvador starts at $50 so we opted for public transportation this time. There is an express bus that runs from La Palma to San Sal about 7 a.m. It makes a few stops to let off people but no others get on the bus. Because of this, it costs $3.50 each--more than twice the cost of a regular bus. The buses are of a better quality and considered to be much safer. We decided to try this, since it would only cost our family $14 for the trip. I'd communicated with Carmen, who lives in San Salvador and had opened her home for our family to stay there, and she'd arranged to have a taxi driver friend of hers, Pedro, meet us at the bus terminal. We got on the bus and sat as close to the front as we could. The ride down the mountain is quite curvy and can cause carsickness in anyone prone to it. Nathan, Ruth, and I all took motion sickness pills and wore some electronic bracelets I have that help with motion sickness. With these bracelets, I have successfully ridden loop-the-loop roller coasters and even the Tony Hawk ride at Six Flags without getting sick. However, I think our driver may have thought he was in a race as he headed down the mountain at breakneck speed. Nathan and I both wound up throwing up before the road straightened out. The man on the bus in charge of taking the money walked up and down the aisle passing out plastic bags to those who needed them--a sign we were not alone. Luckily, I was already prepared with both plastic bags and a wet washcloth for such an event.
We got off the bus at the San Salvador bus terminal and Carmen and Pedro met us there about 5 minutes later and we headed to the Immigration Department. We had to get passport-sized photos made to accompany our applications, but I knew that there were several booths across the street that specialized in this so we waited to do those till we arrived. The booth we used for this had a pet parrot there that loved to say, "Hola!" over and over and that supposedly liked to sing. The girl working there would sing La Cucaracha to the bird, but the only thing the bird would sing back was, "La Cuca..." and then cut off. It was great entertainment while waiting for our pictures to be ready.
As we arrived at Immigration, we were able to meet with Jessica, who I had met with before and was very helpful. I finished filling out our papers and paid the necessary fees and we were fingerprinted and told to return on Thursday. Jessica said her boss was not in the office through Wednesday of the week but would be on Thursday and has to okay all renewals. She kept our passports--standard practice while waiting for renewals--and gave us temporary papers stating that we are applying for updated visas and we headed on our way.
Because I knew there would likely be a 2 day wait we'd planned to stay with Carmen for two nights and do a bit of sightseeing while in San Salvador. It was actually cheaper than making two trips to San Salvador and gave our family a bit of time away from the 24-hour demands that we are often faced with when in La Palma.

We were able to visit the San Salvador Zoo, the National Museum (anthropology museum), eat at Burger King and Pizza Hut, and enjoy a bit of shopping while there. Nathan enjoyed playing with Carmen's neighbor boy--they kicked a soccer ball in the street for hours. And we just enjoyed time at Carmen's relaxing. Carmen is well-traveled and it was great to visit with her. Her son Napo was able to come and visit for a while, as well. He has helped with the La Palma work and is also-well traveled and was able to share insight and advice with us. Carmen made us a delicious meal of chicken and potatoes on Tuesday night and was very helpful on our entire visit. Pedro was very helpful and took us wherever we needed to go in the city. The traffic in San Sal always amazes me. The roads are not marked as well as we are used to and it seems as though one can drive forever and still have a huge expanse of city in front of you.
When we go to San Salvador, there are things we stock up on because they aren't available here. Among them are: ground beef (available here but is not very good quality--stays red even after cooking it), cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, Latin cream (similar to sour cream but much better!), American pancake syrup, peanut butter, and various spices/seasonings. This trip I also was able to find Dawn dish detergent which was thrilling to me. The dish soaps here have not done as good a job as I am used to in removing grease and to have the quality and familiar smell of Dawn back in my kitchen makes me very happy.
I'd spoken with Joel, a friend from San Sal who has helped with the La Palma work on countless occasions, and we said he could drive us back to La Palma on Thursday. I called Jessica at Immigration about 9 a.m. and she said the visas weren't ready yet but to call later. We met up with Joel that morning and made a quick trip to the beach at La Libertad.
We got to walk out on a pier, through a fish market, and watch how the fishing boats are let down into the water by a motorized crane. In the fish market, we saw seafood of all sorts, and Nathan got to pick up a small hammerhead shark. We spent some time walking on the shore and enjoying the beauty of the area and then went to a seaside restaurant to eat at a table overlooking the ocean. During lunch I called Jessica again to see about our visas. She was not available but her co-worker told me to come back tomorrow morning and that they'd be available then. I didn't like that option so we decided to be there around 2:30 (their office closes at 3:30) in person to inquire if they were ready, thinking it will be much harder to tell me in person to come back tomorrow. And I was completely ready to pull out all the stops and beg for them to process them that day so that we didn't have to find somewhere to spend the night. In the end, when we arrived, Jessica smiled and said that our visas were ready and to have a seat and she'd be with us shortly. A half hour later, we had visas in hand and headed out the door.
We headed to HiperPaiz (owned by WalMart) and got our needed groceries and headed back to La Palma. Joel spent the night with us and Nathan enjoyed having someone new to play video games with. :) He had to return Friday evening to San Sal to attend a family event.
Thank you for your prayers for our visa process and for our safe travels. Our trip to San Sal was a success--we obtained our visas, relaxed a bit, and returned home safely. I'd like to say that next week will be a 'normal' week but we're not really sure what 'normal' is, since we never entirely know what each day has in store. But it is a week in which we will resume a more normal schedule and plan to be in La Palma all week. It's sure to be a great week. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Brother Modesto

There's been several things happen lately that I need to blog about but tonight I only have time to mention one of them. Last week Nathan told me that one of the pieces of playground equipment was broken so I went and checked it out. It was the monkey bars and the top part that the kids hang from had come loose because one of the pieces of wood that supports it had rotted. I asked Jose about getting a brother to repair it and he said he would ask for volunteers on Sunday. Brother Modesto quickly volunteered to help out and showed up later in the afternoon (we hadn't expected him to react so quickly!) to repair it. He first had to remove the old and rusty nails from the equipment. Monte went and brought
him a drill (two actually, because the battery on the first one died) to help with the removal of the screws that were in it. Shortly after this second picture was taken, the wooden piece came free and before they could catch it, the wooden beam hit Modesto in the forehead and the metal rod hit him squarely on the bridge of his nose, splitting it open. I retrieved the necessary first aid items and we bandaged it quickly. He didn't let a little blood stop him from working.
Modesto is one of the men that Monte and Jose have been working with and encouraging to step up as a leader. He is attending faithfully and eagerly stepping in to help in areas where he can. Tonight we were elated when he led his first public prayer in the services. After church he commented that it was very short but we assured him that he did fine and that the length of it is not important. We are optimistic that he will continue to grow in the Lord and become a stronger leader in His church.
Our family will be heading to San Salvador on Tuesday morning to renew our visas and then to hopefully do a bit of sight-seeing/touristy activities. We don't have any definite plans made yet, since our time schedule will depend on tomorrow's meeting with the immigration department. I would ask that you be in prayer for a safe journey and also for a quick and easy process with the visa renewal.
One more prayer request is for the people of Central America in the coming days. Tropical Storm Paula has begun dumping rain on the Central American countries and they have already suffered with flooding and landslides so more rain is a very bad thing. They have lost a great deal of their crops which will cause a tremendous financial impact on the area as a whole later.
Thank you for your prayers. We serve an awesome God.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blustery Day

Remember the story of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day? That's kind of how it's felt around here since last Friday. The winds are tremendous. Evidently this is the norm for October--high winds. And on October 1, it became summer here. There are only two seasons here--summer (dry season) and winter (rainy season). I don't know how this fits into the fact that there is still an Autumnal Equinox, or at least I think there is. Our family has discussed it at length over meals and we don't understand it, we just know we've been told that now it's summer and that the rains should pretty much only at night now.

The winds are blowing the banana trees so hard that even the locals seemed distrated by it Sunday during church. When I put our laundry out to dry yesterday I used twice the normal amount of clothespins to secure them. But the plus side is that it didn't take very long for them to dry with the combination of sun and blustery winds. Thankfully, we live in a very secure house and have no worries about it blowing away. I know there are other homes in town that are not as immune to the winds.

The winds at night are actually quite cool and I'm working on finding some heavier fabric to make curtains for the kids' room. It has north-facing windows and at night the wind comes around the windows and makes it quite breezy and chilly in there. Next week we will be in San Salvador working on renewing our visas and I hope to find suitable fabric then.

Just wanted to update you on the change of seasons and weather here. And thinking about Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, you know what tomorrow will be here? "Winds-day!" :) Hope you have a blessed day!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sister Felicita

Monte, Jose, and I got to go visit Sister Felicita this morning. Her property was damaged in the recent rains and we hoped to go assess the damage. Those of you who have visited her know that getting to her house is no small task--we definitely got our cardio workout in for the day. :) First you climb a steep road, then you level out briefly before descending 98 concrete steps to her house. Some of us have jokingly called it the "Eternal Staircase" because when you're trying to ascend or descend it, it seems to go on forever.

What we found when we arrived is that the land in front of her house had begun to wash away. She had put out plastic tarps to prevent any more from eroding but there was only a narrow place to walk to approach the front her her house. In this picture, she and Jose are standing on the front porch assessing it.

She also told us she'd had problems at the back of the house. This is the view at the back. Again there are tarps to prevent further erosion. She said that one of the nights this past week she'd been out there in the middle of the night bucketing mud away from the house as it ran down the hill.

She also lost a shelter that protects her washing and laundry area this week as the land behind it gave way. She'd had help yesterday in replacing it and it is now sturdier than before.

She has spoken to the mayor's office about help in building a rock/concrete wall in front of her house to prevent further erosion and is on a waiting list for that. Jose is hoping to speak with the mayor's office and see if he can get her moved up the list in light of the current situation. At some point, Jose says she needs a concrete drainage ditch built behind the house as well, in order to keep the water channeled away from it.

Felicita is a sweet Christian lady with a cheerful spirit. This is a picture of her her shoes that she made in the sewing class when the group was here. She often volunteers to help clean the building or with any other tasks that she can do. Even though there was nothing we could do to help her today, just going to visit her and letting her know we are thinking of her is a support to her and she said she was happy we had come. She has two daughters still at home, and unlike many people in the country, she still has a home that is standing. The damage to El Salvador and all of Central America from the recent rains has been devastating. And we are now reading of the dangers of disease that will be present after the flooding subsides, in addition to the food crisis from the lost crops. Please be in prayer for the relief efforts as the people rebuild and specifically be in prayer for Sister Felicita.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hiliana: SuperNurse

This is a picture of Hiliana. (pronounced EEL-ee-ahn-uh) She is a nurse in La Palma and is one of the kindest, most generous people you can ever hope to meet. Nursing is the perfect profession for her and she has been a blessing to the La Palma efforts for years. When the team was here a few weeks ago, she used her day off to help see patients along with Nurse Dea. She frequently uses her time off to make housecalls on patients and make sure they have what they need. When Monte was having problems with his leg shortly after our arrival, she made several housecalls to check on him and make sure he was taking care of it properly and that it was improving.

There are several boxes of medical items that Dea left for Hiliana to take to the clinic and tonight was the first time our schedules had matched for her to come and get them. She arrived and we began going through the items to decide what she could take tonight and what she'd need to return to get on Monday. As we did, I mentioned to her that Alma's mother (Alma is a member of the church here and employee at Hotel La Palma) has been having blood sugar issues and asked if she knew her. Hiliana said she didn't but asked if I could call her. I got Alma on the phone and Hiliana spoke with her. When she got off the phone, she said that Alma was coming here and would be here soon. Hiliana wanted to be able to get more information about her mother and to give Alma some of the insulin syringes in the supplies we had given to her.

While we waited for Alma to arrive, Teresa pointed out that one of the teen girls (teen class was going on at this time) seemed to be getting bronchitis. Hiliana had her come out and asked her about her symptoms and did her best to listen to her chest without the help of a stethoscope. After assessing her, Hiliana said that she needed some antibiotics and tylenol so I ran to get amoxicillin and tylenol from the medical room.

Soon Alma arrived and Hiliana got more information about her mother's condition and tried to help her understand a little more about her mother's blood glucose monitor. It was given to her by the chef at the hotel but the instructions are all in German so she had some difficulty understanding how to properly interpret the results. (I'm working this weekend on locating Spanish instructions on the internet for it and hope to have them to her on Sunday.)

Hiliana is such a tremendous help to us and I feel better knowing that if my family has any medical needs she'll be there for us. And she'll always be wearing a huge and sincere smile as she helps. The people of La Palma are fortunate to have such a caring nurse working in their clinic and community.