But For the Grace of God

Dear Lindsey,

This week in Guatemala has been blessed with friendships, new and old. Susie

Jen, Tracey, Susie and I at final night dinner out

Hallstrand and Tracey Avereyn have been friends of mine for the best parts of a couple of decades. Susie’s nursing knowledge combined with her ability to always see the needs of others –team members or strangers – was irreplaceable. Tracey chose to read to the three special needs children of Dorie’s promise instead of playing outside with the children daily, yet her fruits of the Spirit were also evident in her gentle reaction when a child accidentally pressed, “delete all,” on her camera.  My friend, Jen Korte, (who invited us to go on this trip since she has been here many times), and I have a friendship that makes up in depth what it lacks in years, as God gave me a soul sister on the soccer sidelines. But here in Guatemala, I feel like I have met the “real Jen,”: the Jen that has an insatiable desire to help others in need, in the name of Christ.

Each morning, our team would meet with the FCI Missions director, Joel Juarez, who would go over a devotion, which kept us focused on our purpose, when the pain of surroundings tried to distract. In the evenings, we would meet again and each member would state a high and low of the day: the returned smile from an apprehensive toddler, the reciprocated English “God bless you!” of the teen, the boy who said, “I have only had the bones, but I wonder what the chicken tastes like,” and more.  The quality of the hearts of the people in the room was astounding. Two team-members, Sue and Kari, even brought their children (Belen -5 and Wilmer -10) with them whom they had adopted from Dorie’s before international adoptions closed.  They, along with Jen, returned with a promise not to leave the others behind, and spent their week sorting through hundreds of pounds of donations they had stuffed into extra luggage. Liz’s heart was on her sleeve and kept our eyes “leaking” love; Kate’s smile lit the room when she spoke of her daughter’s fundraising; David and Bin said they were nervous around children, but that never showed, and they’ll be fantastic parents to the baby they are expecting through adoption from Korea within a year; Nate was seeking a way to serve and found the group solely by internet searching, but it was hard to catch him without a baby in his hands!; Sheryl could be a stand-up comedian with her Jersey humor and kept me taking notes so I could laugh again later;  (We nick-named her “Jersey”, and because she kept adding “ario” to words to try to sound Spanish, we later called her “Jerseyario”.)  Diane showed such leadership with the kids – they would follow her anywhere, but her true strength showed when she served through a migraine yesterday. Tracy (different from Tracey) and her daughter, Alex (10), were blessings of peace under fire.  The team made the perfect parts of the body of Christ to serve together on this trip.

With such great teammates, I wanted to capture more than just my own thoughts of the week, so I invited them to write for my blog. Tracey took me up on it (below), and I am hoping some of the others will attach comments to bless us all.

In the words of Tracey Avereyn:

When the invite to go on a mission trip to Guatemala appeared in my life,

Tracey and I in front of “the dump” community entrance

my enthusiasm for the idea grew from a couple of seeds.  The first was the opportunity to go and make a difference…to be active hands and feet of the Lord Jesus Christ as instructed in Scripture.  The second was much more selfish.  I know people who had returned from similar trips and had shared how blessed they had been through the experience…blessings from learning the stories of others, travelling to other countries, gaining perspective and developing (or even fine tuning) a scale against which to audit myself in such areas as character and faith.  And I wanted that.

And now our trip with Forever Changed International and the Dorie’s Promise Orphanage is beginning to wind down.  And this is where the rubber meets the road.  What will I do with what I’ve learned…what I’ve seen?  How will I be different going forward?  What will I be doing differently in the days to come?  And, I can honestly say that I don’t have all of that figured out quite yet.  But I know one thing…I will give thanks to God, because the one thought that continued to rest on my mind is, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” 

This week I’ve met families who live in homes that would fit within the bedroom walls of my 7-year-old.  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

I looked into the sad eyes of 14 year old teen mothers…placed into this situation primarily by abuse…abandoned by family…living in a government-operated orphanage.  I considered my own 12 and 14 year old daughters.  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Our team bought thousands of pieces of used clothing for $112 to be distributed among the residents of a shantytown community situated on the edge of the dump.  These people make their living among the vultures that oversee this chasm in the city rummaging for items discarded by another that they can sell in order to feed their families.  A luxury item in this place is a concrete floor…a roof that doesn’t leak.  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Water filters on our bus

We had the pleasure and privilege of delivering 20 portable water filters to a ghetto community that is built along the steep face of a cliff.  The joy evident in the faces of the ladies who received these apparatuses would light the night.  I’m sure they were considering the time saved now that they didn’t have to boil their drinking and cooking water.  Yet, I felt inconvenienced with washing dishes with water that I didn’t have to boil, while waiting for a new dishwasher.  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

In his first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 5:16-17), the Apostle Paul instructs us to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances”. And, if I were to be honest with myself, and you too, I must confess that I fail miserably at this charge.  And, this week, I repeatedly met people in much more dire circumstances than I have ever found myself…doing just as Paul instructs.  These people had no say regarding what country and situation they were born into…just as I had no say, yet received the unearned mercy of being born in the United States to a loving family with a committed mother and father. Yet, as we launched into communities in such places as a Guatemala City ghetto or a shantytown set up along the edge of the dump…we repeatedly were experiencing these people giving back to us.  Serving us cups of Coca Cola…praying God’s blessing for us…and assisting us with our various tasks.  I have so much to learn from them. 

Anytime I am leaving a beautiful vacation spot, usually along a beach of one of the Great Lakes, I am always a little frustrated that that beauty is always there whether it is being enjoyed or not.  This week, as we came and went to these places, returning to our comfortable resting spot, it occurred to me that those places of struggle continue to exist whether someone is there to help or not.  There is no escape for those residents.  And as I return to my wonderful country…to the cocoon of my family and friends…I need to give thanks to an almighty Creator because “There but the grace of God, go I”.            – Tracey A.


When we are irritated by that slow driver, frustrated with the boss who lacks people skills, judgmental of someone’s response to us in life, may we give thanks to God in all things and humbly recognize that there, but for the grace of God, we go.

And when we feel a tug on our heart of a need to be met, may we, by the grace of God, GO.

In love,


Related Posts

No Orphans of God

37,000 orphans in Guatemala.

33 adoptions last year.

No orphans of God.

Dear Lindsey,

I am still in Guatemala. The heart-wrenching is good for the soul.  I haven’t had time to write every day, but I thought I would try to synopsize a bit so you can get the idea.  Feel free to skip to the “Thoughts to Ponder” if your time is too limited for reading my diary :).


Dorie’s Promise, the privately owned orphanage on the property where we are staying, has 38 children right now.   That seems like a lot: to grow up with 37 siblings. 38 people at the dinner table. 38 people’s worth of laundry, food, sickness, chaos, etc. It breaks my heart that they don’t have a mom they can “go home to” and tell the story of their day.

Yet, I realized what a difference Dorie’s Promise is making in those 38 lives, when we went to the state-run orphanage, which has up to 1000 children under the age of 18. We focused on those most ignored:  sixty with special needs and twenty young mothers (age 13-17), who had been raped and left or abused, so they were brought to the orphanage by police.

We brought cake and activities. Smiles and hugs. We tried not to notice lice or deformed faces, not to think of how the baby’s arm was broken or how the mentally retarded girl now has a baby.  I tried not to flinch, when grabbed from behind, as they reached out only to be touched. Give me Your eyes today, Jesus. May I see them as Your children and lift them to see themselves that way.

One young retarded boy helped another in a wheelchair by taking his plate to the trash. He licked the other one’s plate as he walked, and I realized what a gift the cake must have been.  A young mother needing dialysis three times/week is about to be back on the street since her 18th birthday is approaching. So much “out of my control,” it’s hard to think about.


We woke to treat the “special mothers” (women who work long shifts here and love the children of Dorie’s Promise more than just a job) to a breakfast and devotion in our house, while we went next door to take care of the orphans. I LOVED reading a book aloud to the children (I’m sure my gringo accent was half of the amusement.), and they came running to fight for lap space as soon as I sat with the libro.  Painting nails, making beaded necklaces, coloring and finger painting were special activities for all. The other amusement was my camera that takes videos. “Por favor foto?” they would ask, and pose with different combinations of children to vie for the spotlight. This cutie, Hilary, surprised me with her belly dancing. Aaah!! Easy to love the lovable! Nayeli had a different interpretation of dance, but both RAN to see what I had filmed. 🙂

street entrance to dump

After the morning with Dorie’s kids, we headed to the city dump, a large area where another ghetto community has been built. The repelling stench increased our desire to stay on the bus, but our team, favorably greeted by residents, forced ourselves through the trash-sorting area to get to the community of 150 homes made of cardboard, cinder blocks and tin. Approximately 3 families per home lived in this community full of roaming children and dogs. The dirt paths were speckled with color, reminding me that we were standing…ie, they were living… on a mountain of trash. I could see the bottom of a Croc surfacing.  I pray the people don’t associate themselves with the trash beneath but with the God above.

Toddlers and babies everywhere made me see the burden of fertility and I was beginning to forget the blessing.  An old man, weathered as much from the sun as from the years, suddenly leaned down to kiss a baby who lay unattended, near where I stood. As the baby received the kiss, both the great-grandpa and the baby instantly yielded smiles, as if the weight of the world were lifted. “My great-grand-daughter!” he announced to me, proudly pointing to the baby’s married 16-yr-old mother beside him.  I felt like I had received a post-it note from God: “I am still here. Don’t grow weary.”

“Road” inside dump community

Part of the $975 cost to attend this trip with Forever Changed, included buying things to supply some needs of this area.  At the dump, the money was used for “pilas”. A pila is a 500-pound cement sink basin, which seemed like an odd request if they are not washing dishes.  However, a pila, to them, means income, because they can use the water to clean things that have been “dumped” there, and then sell the cleaned treasures on the streets.  As we delivered our gifts, I realized we were trying to live out the philosophy taught in the book, When Giving Hurts, so that we don’t hinder people by our gifts.




At our own devotional time this morning, Joel told us that Dorie’s Promise was so

Mural on the play-yard wall.

named because an orphan, Dorie, who had been abused and moved from home to home, had been given a Bible and the words, “Jesus loves you,” by a missionary. She had hung to those words and The Word through much abuse afterward, but eventually devoted her life to giving back and helping orphans. Such a small seed was planted, and although the missionary never saw the fruit, God did, and still is.


After devotions, we went back to the ghetto today – the one we had visited Sunday.  This time we carried twenty water filter systems. (They look like 20-gal Britta filters.) One woman wept when she walked into the room and saw the filters, before we gringos even began to speak.  The woman from our team whose 10-yr-old daughter had raised the money for the filters (selling hair clips) also wept, while the recipients expressed their gratitude. It was as much of a blessing to give as to receive.


1. United States is rich. I once heard that people on welfare in the U.S. have a higher average income than 85% of the world. In essence, Americans are all rich in comparison. I used to be judgmental of rich people, assuming they were materialistic and loving money more than God.  “Good people do good things with money,” my husband fought back when I tried to squelch his ambition to start a money-making business over a decade ago. “If good people don’t use their God-given ambitions, who will be there to help when a need arises?” he had asked me. No one on this missions team is unambitious: Surgeons’ wives, business owners, nurses and CEO wives were blessed by God to be able to help in time of need. I am so thankful for them!

2.  “What if it’s a scam?!” “What if your money doesn’t really go to helping anyone?” “What if the people are pretending to be poor, taking off their shoes when you arrive, just so you will give them more?” “What if they take your gifts and destroy them the next week, since they didn’t earn them and don’t appreciate them.”

People who have been here don’t ask those questions.

3.  I think a definition of “hell” for me would be to be surrounded by people with needs that I cannot meet. Hungry children. A teen with kidney failure. A diabetic grandfather who lives at the dump. A 60-yr-old woman who tumbled down the concrete stairs of the ghetto last week. A 5-yr-old with a tumor on his eye. Those have been the low points of this week. Yet, how prideful I am! To think that I am the only one who can help?! That I have control over whether needs are met?!  My pastor said it well:  “It’s not, ‘I do my best and let God do the rest.’ That’s wrong.” (I myself have been guilty of saying that!) “The real statement,” he said, “is ‘God does it all. Period.’

I am thankful that I do not have to carry all the weight on my shoulders. God has this. Every day of these people’s lives has been made by Him to make them who they need to be.  Maybe one of them will be the next Dorie.  I just want to be quiet enough they hear His voice. As our director, Joel, says, “I want to disappear, and let God be seen.”

One little stone changed two nations forever.  (1 Sam 17 – David and Goliath) That was our devotion one day this week. What little stone could you be throwing with God’s might behind it?! Today, Joel said in his broken English as he ended our devotion time: “You know those people who say they are going to change the world? And everyone thinks they are crazy? They are doing it.”

“God doesn’t respond to our needs, He responds to our Faith.” –Joe DarkAngelo

May the people of Guatemala have faith in Him.

Con carino de Cristo,


Blessings that Stick

Dear Lindsey,

I am in Guatemala!

“I don’t think I have ever smiled so much and spoken so little,” my friend, Susie said today. I guess that’s what happens when you dive into playing with children of an orphanage in a land of a foreign tongue. Jen, a Michigan soccer mom friend of mine extended her heart beyond imagination all the way to children in Guatemala. She has visited Dorie’s Promise, a private orphanage in Guatemala City, many times, and invited Susie, Tracey and me to go to the land for our hearts to grow. Forever Changed International is a charity which not only supports the orphanage, but also aids the poverty-stricken within Guatemala City.

Today was our first full day, and many apprehensions were cleared, while the chains of our hearts loosened. We are staying in an adjoining house that sleeps 20. We are with other Americans from Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and California.

First thing this morning was church. After boarding a hired bus, about 20 of the 39 orphans came onto the bus and jumped onto our laps, clearly familiar with how the “volunteer team” works. The Holy Spirit transcended any language barriers in the 8am church service, as His name lifted the roof of worship for my English ears in a Spanish world.

Afterward, we took the orphans to the park where the laugh of a 3-yr-old child (whom I was teasing with tickling on the swing) was a universal language. Those children went back to their house, which runs like a never-ending daycare; except it runs 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week and is so much more permanent now that international adoption is closed.

Next, our team of volunteers left the grounds to go to one of the many ghettos in Guatemala City. As we drove, Joel, the angel who works for Forever Changed International (FCI), and hosts and translates for us for the week, explained that ghettos begin when a group of a hundred just sets up a camp on city property. The sheer numbers prevent authorities from removing them. “They begin with 100, and some cardboard homes,” Joel continued, pointing to a relatively new cardboard ghetto as we drove past. “Over time, the people add more and more, and eventually end up with something like the ghetto we will visit today.”

When the bus finally stopped at the appointed place, we were immediately surrounded by children, so excited to see the “gringos” (slang for white people) bringing gifts. I began to wish they would not think it was the color of my skin that was the giver, but the God whom I worship who was giving them gifts.

Jen handed me stickers she had brought from the states, and I began giving them to the children, while she handed other gifts. We walked through the streets, followed by a crowd who loved “the day the gringos come” (first Sunday of the month for this particular location). We carried stuffed animals, food baskets and two piñatas to end our day with a party. I overheard Tracey ask Joel, “How do you say, ‘God loves you’ in Spanish?”

Perfect! I thought. I can tell these children God loves them, while I hand out stickers.

I continued handing out stickers. “Que dios te bendiga! [God bless you!]” I said as I pressed a sticker onto each hand and looked deeply into their eyes.

I hate poverty.

Seeing ominous clouds coming in our direction, I pictured what these homes would look like when the storm hit. This ghetto was more established than the ones we passed, so walls were made of cement, or built into the side of the mountain, but I could picture the noise of rain pounding on the tin roofs, leaking through, while ten people huddled in the middle with one square foot each. Each “building” was smaller than my 8-yr-old’s room, and I never saw a bathroom. Pots and pans adorned the shelf next to the bed, but I never saw food, except once: Corn hung from the ceiling of one place to dry. The woman grew the corn on her own in “free land” a mile and a valley away where she planted corn and hauled it back to dry, in order to grind it for flour to make tortillas on the open fire on cinder blocks in the “hallway”. She had tortillas cooking under her close watch, hoping to sell them tonight for profit. (The cynic in me couldn’t help but wonder if a president thought he had helped her start that business.)

We continued our walk, stopping at houses to meet residents and ended in the park for play and piñatas. Word got out that I had “stampas” and children flocked to me. I practiced my Spanish, asking if they wanted the princess sticker or the flower. “Que dios te bendiga [God bless you!],” I said with each gift.

A sticker brought delight to these kids who probably wondered when/if the next meal would come. One baby had a “crib” which was a blanket tied to the ceiling “beams” with rope, as a hammock above an adult bed. My legs ached at the hill climbing and uneven steps OSHA would never approve.

I still hate poverty.

Corn hanging to dry within the room

In my mind, I raced to solve the issues…a new roof for that one? Cement floors so the dirt doesn’t wash away under the leaky roof? Running water?

How did they get here?

Education? – if they only knew a better way. Do they know the Hiding Place where they can go? Do they know that heaven will be better?

Thoughts pounded, and children enjoyed our presence.

“Better is one day in heaven than a thousand on earth,” I thought. I am grateful for the volunteers here. “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” will surely be heard by Joel, FCI, Jen and the hearts that surround the work to make this place better for these 400+ children in this one ghetto alone.

But I look forward to heaven for those residents. One minute of eternity will erase all hunger pangs from a life here.

I prayed for the children while I watched them race for candy, a temporary joy amidst the struggle called life.

Suddenly, a group of young teen girls approached me, interrupting my thoughts. The four giggled incessantly, as though from my American neighborhood. They all looked on in anticipation, while they egged each other to ask a question. Finally, one stepped up and asked:

“Como se dice ‘Que dios te bendiga’ en Ingles? [How do you say, “Que dios te bendiga” in English?]”

“God bless you,” I answered. They each repeated it slowly, practicing, trying to cement it to memory to be retrieved later. I was overjoyed by their approach.

I hope that when the “gringos” are gone tonight – as the rain pours outside – that those children remember His name above all else.

God bless those children,