This is the type of post you don't get from me very often, but if you have been a long-time reader, you know there are a few things that can get me blogging off the sports road - with one of them being my trips to Guatemala to serve the children of that country for a few days of my time.
A few years ago, it is very possible I was experiencing some sort of mid-life crisis. I was certainly happy with the life I have been blessed with, but I still wondered if this "was all there was". I was asking myself if there is more to life than the daily/weekly/monthly/yearly grind of accomplishing goals in our careers, paying bills, and saving money so we can get that new kitchen that our wives want.
Don't get me wrong - there is much to be said about enjoying a Starbucks, while driving an SUV and checking the IPhone for new emails (not while driving, of course) but it just seemed that the countless laps around the calendar that we all run can appear a bit hollow if we aren't careful.
So, in 2007, I found some guys at my church who happen to take part in "Short-term Missions". I didn't know what that meant really, but it involved taking of your time and giving a little love and attention to kids who perhaps didn't win the lottery when they were born. Some of the trips are a few weeks long, but I just don't have that amount of time. So, I found that there are also trips that are a few days long, and decided I would give it a try.
Enter Guatemala in September of 2007. And March 2008. And August 2008. And the latest, this week, in August of 2009. The trips are through Buckner International and a group of 9 of us went down there this week to do what we always do - hang out with our kids.
Sure, there are a few minutes here and there to see the sights of a beautiful country, but primarily, we head to the same orphanages that we do each trip and share some good times with many children. Sometimes, we see the same kids - other times, we wonder where our friends have disappeared to from our last trip. The stories of pain and heart-ache are off the charts. Sometimes, it is best just to push them on a swing or play catch rather than try to ponder the lives that some of these children have been forced to live.
We have many different stops along our trip, so it is pretty fast moving. Let me recap our days:
Thursday: We started at the Buckner baby home and day care. Buckner runs a home that houses many children who are young and adorable. Some are up for Foster Homes and others for national adoptions. At this time, there are no international adoptions to the United States from Guatemala. I sure hope this changes soon, because I know that there are many willing families, and even more kids who have already had their lives changed by this as they now reside in the U.S. But, for now, the clock is ticking, and there can be no international adoptions.
I was able to see some of my old friends there, like little Krystal, who I wrote about last time I made the voyage to Guate. She is getting bigger and bigger, and now, instead of doing animal sounds with me, she has moved on to learning her colors in English! Very cool. Now, when I point at a blue shirt, she says "Azul...Blue" and a red shirt gets "Rojo....Red". I would definitely bring her home to my family if adoptions could happen from there to here.
The kids are loved, and the care they are getting from the Buckner people down there is very encouraging. They may not all have "real" families, but they do have a family - all of their brothers and sisters that circumstances brought together at the Buckner Baby Home.
After playing with the kids, it was on to our old familiar stop, the San Gabriel boy's orphanage. This is a state-run facility that houses boys between 8-18 years old. Each has a story that would make you sad, but perhaps no sadder than the next one. We play sports with them and goof around with them. Basically, make them the center of attention for an afternoon. Soccer, Basketball, Kickball, or whatever we can think of. The boys are no different than your boys - they love to play. They love to compete. And they love to be loved.
I have now gone back 4 different weeks to this orphanage, and I will tell you that progress is happening. It may be slow, and it may require way more, but things are better. The boys seem to have some order, and the violent ways that I discovered in my previous trips was not on full display. The most telling development is that you no longer have to go through a junk yard to get to the front door. They have paved a road, and cleaned up much of the trash. Perhaps, it is getting to a point where the boys of San Gabriel truly have a chance in life.
Friday: The morning was spent looking around Guatemala City a bit from a tourist perspective. I had never seen the Royal Palace or the Plaza Mayor, but I wanted to check it out briefly in our trip. I think my perception of the city was off, because on our trips, we often only see very poor parts. Guatemala City is quite beautiful, and like any other city in that part of the world, it has its good parts and bad.
Then, off to one of my favorite places on earth. Antigua, Guatemala is the former capital of the country, until an earthquake changed things in 1773. Now, it is a pretty big tourist spot and one of the most charming places I have ever seen.
It is also home of Manchen, which is the female equivalent of San Gabriel. Like SG, Manchen is home to somewhere between 50-75 girls between the ages of 8-18. Many of them have stories that would bring tears to your eyes, and several of them have already had children who live right there at the home.
Certainly the victims of abuse, these girls are a different dynamic than the boys - as playing sports doesn't appeal to all. Here, it is a lot more talking and sharing stories with the girls and practicing our skills at eachothers languages. The girls are also happy to have attention and someone who is interested in their life without any agenda.
The girls home is a completely different experience, but I must tell you that I never forget the hours there. Those girls have been victimized plenty in their short lives, and to share a smile with them is priceless.
Saturday: In the morning, it was our first extended time with the transitional boys home. Last year, I wrote about the transitional home:
After our time with them was past, we met the 7 boys from the boys transitional home …That home is comprised of boys ages 14-18 who are selected from the San Gabriel orphanage to prepare for independent living and adult life that is ahead. Currently Buckner has 1 boys home in Guatemala City, but are soon to open a 2nd. Each one can house about 7 or 8 boys, and a host family that is very neat. Some of the guys on our trip knew these boys back in 2005 or 2006 when they were just one of the many faces at the hopeless orphanage. Now, they seem very well adjusted and full of hope for their futures. We met them for some soccer, and were pretty promptly shown how weak our game is compared to high school age boys from Guatemala.
The only difference in our game with the boys this year is that the 2nd home is now open. Twice as many boys and our soccer has not improved. These boys are studying hard and appear to have their lives on the right track. I am so impressed with what Buckner has helped create with these homes.
In the afternoon, it was back to San Gabriel. This time, we played more sports and brought the boys new shoes. What a moment to remember when you wash their feet and put new socks and shoes on them. It is meant to demonstrate that we are there to serve them and show them - for once in their lives - that they matter. And that we want them to realize their future can be wonderful. I believe they have been marginalized since birth, and perhaps showing them that they are important boys gives them self-worth that can be valuable.
When we left, they lined up and bid us goodbye. One boy after another expressed their gratitude for our time and for our faithfulness in coming back year after year. They had never done this on one of my trips before, so it was quite emotional to listen to them talk to us at great length. Great kids. Some, who I have now seen 4 straight trips. I really want those boys to make it into the transitional homes and start their new life on the outside.
Sunday: Much like last year, we stayed an extra day and take some of the transitional boys on a field trip. This time, it was a fishing trip to the Pacific coast of Guatemala for some deep sea fishing.
Once again, we had some good bonding and adventure with the boys, and despite not knowing anything about fishing - especially for sailfish and marlin, I enjoyed it for 15 minutes of gold.
My good buddy and trip leader, Jeff, was able to reel in the fish of the trip. Check out this monstrosity:
He had to wrestle it for 15 minutes, and when they brought the fish in for pictures and set it free, the trip was worth it. I cannot believe that fish is small by ocean standards, because when you stand next to a fish that is bigger than a large man, you simple marvel. Crazy.
Anyway, by Sunday we had more memories that we could ever retell, but I am again reminded how many kids need love and help. These are my kids. The boys and girls of Guatemala are in my heart. But, elsewhere, around the world, there are millions more. I know you love your kids, but perhaps you could help a few others along the way, too.
Jeff, he of the 7-foot fish fame, sent me an email this morning:
If you mention Buckner, you know you can direct people to me if it helps. But they can also go to our website www.buckner.org and sign up to "Be a Voice" where they can specifically designate their gift to Guatemala operations, or anywhere else they want it to go. 100% of their donation will go to the area they designate, so that's why we want it to go to overall operations, "where needed most" is the best designation.
If you want to change a life, send them some money. If you want to change your life, go on a trip like this someday. You will return home with a completely different view of everything in your life.
Thanks for taking the time to make it all the way through this long entry.