Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 19--Gina Mercado

7-19-2010 Monday 10:06pm

Today is the day before we are going to leave the Hogar. It is all coming to an end so quickly. I can’t believe 2 weeks is coming to an end. Funny thing is though I feel like I have been here for a month. It’s all been so timeless not to mention priceless.

All of us girls went to bed so late last night, giggling up a storm. Making puppet theaters and just having a really amazing time laughing up a storm. First time in 11 days that I stayed up so late with the final realization of how noisy it actually is or has been without my earplugs. I didn’t even realize that there was a night club right outside our door, silly me. So not much sleep occurred, maybe a few hours, so excited for our big adventure to Antigua.

Well after the few hours sleep I had I woke up ready for a beautiful l fun filled day, and so it was. It began with a lovely oatmeal breakfast followed by church service. Thank You God!

All the missionaries gathered together after church. We grabbed all our things and met at the Hogar mobile. Time for takeoff with our awesome guide Jorge. It was partly rainy and a bit chilly but no one seemed to care. Off to Antigua we went. It took about an hour to get there. Over the mountains and through the woods off to Antigua we go.

The first place we stopped at was the jade factory… Interesting. We had a tour and saw how jade was made. Now I know that jade does not only come from China, like most things. Afterwards we walked around the park, saw different scenes, absorbed the beauty for about 45 minutes, then moved on to the rustic Italian restaurant. Molto Buene!

Time for dessert but Instead of having dessert at the restaurant Padre had a special Ice cream shop to take us to. He was so excited when the bill came because for about 14 people is was only about 22 dollars (only in Antigua baby)! After the ice cream we were totally stuffed. Ummmm!

Next destination… the private market. It was pretty fun bargaining for about an hour and a half. We all bought great item s and gifts and were able to spend quality time together. What a nice way to end the week. I did miss spending time with the kids today though but enjoyed being with my missionary friends.

Last destination… the swiss chocolate factory, ummm yum yum! What a fun filled day this has been. Everyone is so beautiful and I have learned so much from each and everyone. I have seen myself in each and everyone and I thank all of them for helping me grow and being who they are. I love you all… Paula, Steven, Deacon Mark, Padre Jaun, Chrissy, Amandaeve, Larissa, Yvonne, Katerina, and Rebecca. May God Bless you all always, God Bless us all. Thank you God!

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 18--Stephen Shippy

Where’s the best place to celebrate your 28th birthday? The Hogar of course! Today was a perfect day from beginning to end I feel so blessed to be spending today in this amazing place with these beautiful children and a team that couldn’t be more awesome.

We began our morning with Divine Liturgy and it was so nice to serve in the altar with the boys, Padre Juan, and Deacon Mark. After lunch we started our afternoon of festivities which began with a photo scavenger hunt. There were some really fun pictures and thankfully, the rain stayed away and we had a beautiful afternoon for playing outside.

Next was a game of watermelon relay races in the pool. They loved that it was such a crazy idea and we played in the pool for about an hour until dinner was ready. The rest of the team had been busy preparing our very special dinner for the kids and they had no idea what was in store. We treated them to Cincinnati chili, grilled cheese sandwiches, potato chips, Coca Cola, and apple crisp—aka our favorite classic American meal. During dinner I looked over and got several thumbs up and all the kids said that they loved the meal. Clean up was also a lot of fun and the some of the girls from the hogar who were helping us out were having a little too much fun with the sink sprayer. I left the kitchen looking like I had jumped in the pool.

As we were finishing our cleanup, the comedor suddenly erupted into dance party number three and everyone was having a blast. I think I had a record number of hugs from the kids today, wishing me happy birthday over and over from the moment I woke up, thanking us for the meal, hugs while dancing, and just coming over to give their love for no particular reason. There can never be too many hugs and I am convinced that with each one we give and each one we receive, the soil of our hearts is softened just a little bit more so that we can receive more of God’s infinite love for each and every one of us. We all left the comedor just beaming and I know that we will all need a few extra hugs for when we get back home and find ourselves missing the kids.

We ended the day as a team, and as if my day hadn’t been perfect enough, my amigos treated me to a special birthday treat of a chocolate bar topped with Nutella. Sweeeeet! It was complete chocolate madness—and I ate every bite.

God has truly blessed me on this day and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Love is the only present I need and I received it in abundance today. Where is the best place to celebrate your 28th birthday? The Hogar of course! Glory be to God and goodnight!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17--Paula

The sun beamed down as we made our way (via Hogar van) through the congested streets of Guatemala City. At times, feeling as if we were playing dodge with the Guatemalan drivers in their cars. Our team arrived to the picturesque view of the Santa Trinidad Monasterio sitting on the hill overlooking Lake Amatitlan. The mountains served as a beautiful back drop to the spectacular and serene view of the surrounding area. This was truly a magnificent sight to behold. There, high on a hill, isolated and yet so exquisite, a strong yet humble Orthodox presence overlooking the city.

We were met by Madre Ines and Father John. Our team then began our guided tour through the monastery grounds. Madre walked our team through the new orphanage/boarding school being constructed for the children of the Hogar. We all were amazed at the design, precision and details that Madre Ines was discussing about this beautiful place that will someday be home to these wonderful children of God. As we all stood and listened in amazement, we could envision the children in their new home and prayed that sooner, rather than later, according to God’s will, these children would immerse themselves into this blessed area and continue on their individual and collective Orthodox way of life.

Once the tour of the construction site came to a close we made our way to the Monasterio. The green windows of the Monasterio quickly caught our attention. We entered and were drawn into this peaceful place of worship. The walls were filled with depictions of our Orthodox faith. An inviting feeling overcame us as we stood in the presence of the iconostasis and various icons. What a great blessing to be there to witness such beauty. We completed our visit at the Monasterio with singing of hymns. We were all looking forward to our next destination: The Cacao restaurant.

The restaurant looked like an upscale Hawaiian hut. Our servers were attentive and our meals were delicious. Most of all, it was the company. Our team, made up of many different personalities, who have come together for a like minded cause and mission. We laugh and talk and get along so very well. Not too long ago we were all just a list of names on the OCMC website and today we shared a meal and created more fond memories.

We are blessed to have Father John as our team leader and attribute, along with all of our individual contributions, the success of our team to his direction and ability to foster an environment of bonding and mutual respect. We came back to the Hogar where we participated in the vigil service. We were anticipating the surprise of the 27 foot banana split sundae that we would be preparing and presenting to the children following dinner. The time came and with great excitement we cleared the comedor and began our preparations.

A 27 foot orange pipe (opened) to ‘house’ the enormous tasty treat we were about to assemble. So with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts, we pulled out the four gallons of Neopolitan ice cream, two pounds of Hershey’s chocolate sauce, 1/3 of a jar of the maraschino cherries, 2 cans of whipped cream, pink and purple sprinkles, and of course the bananas. The massive sweet treat was completed and ready for consumption. We turned off the lights and brought the children in. We turned on the lights and began to sing ‘Happy Banana Split To You.’ The children looked confused, yet eager to begin the adventure of eating. The sundae disappeared in no time and then the dancing began. So, once again, the encore presentation of Shakira’s music began the dance- a -thon for the children and the entire team. We danced our way into exhaustion and called it an evening. This was truly a day filled with highs and for this we are grateful to God!

July 15--Katerina

Hola! Today was our last day on El Tren de Chocolate. We started off the day with a distribution of shoes that were donated by a parish a Chicago. Each of the children received a brand new pair of shoes that they were each excited to try on, even if they were a little too large. (Please look at the picture of Edgar who is 3 in his size 7 shoes!)

The kids in my group, San Mateo, worked on yards and yards of lanyard (even the nannies were making their own), made puzzles, threw baseballs, swam, and finally made their very own imprints in cookies at the Panaderia- Bakery. Then we had lunch! It is astonishing at how much the children do in just a few hours!

Today was Padre Juan’s birthday, so the team and the children celebrated with song and cake after lunch.

The kids were ecstatic because today were the finals of the “Hogar World Cup” and the champions were the group San Marcos! After the finals, the children showcased the artwork that they had created all week in arts and crafts. They had made icon ornaments, buttons canvas crosses, key chains, colored wooden crosses, and some of their own creations that we cannot attach a name to.

However, I have to be honest. I was not at the final game in the finals, or the arts and crafts showcase, because I was asleep. This week has been exhausting. Each group has been taking kids to four stations everyday… and that’s all before lunch! We’ve learned how to make Komboskinis (prayer ropes) with the older girls, played endless games of just about everything, thrown kids across pools, eaten beans for every meal (except when we attended Pollo Compero), and debriefed every night over Oreos, pretzels and Nutella. In fact, almost every member of our team has had some sort of sickness or ailment at some point this week. Exhaustion, stomach issues, dizziness, bee stings (my finger is still swollen), people falling into 3 foot holes (not a sink hole…no worries). However, despite everything that has gone “wrong” this week, everything has been going perfectly well. As a matter of fact, nothing has gone wrong. Everything that has happened has been a blessing and struggle all wrapped together. It has been difficult to wake up every morning at 7:00 AM and eat beans for breakfast. However, when I wake up and see the children with smiling faces ready for the day ahead and greeting me with hugs, my energy spikes back up. We have all put our best effort forward and tried to make this a memorable week for the children and God-willing have succeeded in our task. We may have had to take a few naps here and there, but nobody told us that this mission was going to be a cakewalk. I truly feel that our team has pulled together by the work of God’s hand and understand the meaning of a mission trip. It’s not a vacation. It’s not suffering. It is using one’s talents to work in God’s name at the best of their ability. We may be tired, but we are working together to give these children the best that we can provide.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15--Yvonne

Today turned out to be the most memorable day since our team arrived at the Hogar. I woke early, had a few minutes to reflect on the beautiful setting as I walked to the comedor for breakfast. I knew I was early, but appreciated the chance to view the children as they arrived for breakfast. First were the toddler boys and their nannies. These tiny kids went straight to the stacked chairs, and each put his own chair in its place next to the table. The nannies brought each his breakfast. After breakfast, everyone attended Matins and then our team , San Marcos attended our first arts and craft session. I had to coax the team into lining up for a group photo and when they got to their crafts, they were enthused and also very involved. Some made only one craft, some as many as three. It was a rewarding and relaxing activity for all. Our next three stations were Game room, bakery and then pool or gym. Paula was in charge of the pool and I took care of the smaller children in the park area. I was impressed by the athletic skills of many of the younger children, and their sportsmanship. The kids were such a treat. They had fun and brought love to us with their smiles and their laughter. My most immediate and lasting observation is how self sufficient each child is, and also what a wonderful support team they are for each other. After lunch the kids had fun with soap bubbles. Luis is not on our team, but he was in our group today. We bonded and he fell asleep on my lap while the other children played. That evening we were invited by Erica and the teenage girls to watch a movie. That was also very rewarding. For me, it was a very rewarding day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14--AmandaEve Wigglesworth

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The big excitement today was the beginning of the “Hogar World Cup”. Six children from each group on the Tren de Chocolate formed a team and got color-coded jerseys. The children take this competition very seriously, so there was lots of anticipation, excitement, and cheering.

The first game was San Marcos versus San Mateo. After two 15 minute periods, the teams were tied 3-3. This led into double overtime (each overtime was 5 minutes) followed by a shoot out. After a few moments of suspense, San Marcos won 3(6)-3(5).

The second game was San Juan versus San Lucas. San Juan started the game with a bang by scoring two goals during the first couple of minutes of play. However, San Lucas made a comeback and won the game 3-5.

The competition will finish on Friday (weather permitting) when the winners will battle for first and second place, and the other two teams will play for third and fourth place.

A highlight for both the missionaries and the children was when Father John prepared and explained the proskemedia service (the service for the preparation of holy communion) in the nave. This was the first time some of the team members had ever seen the proskemedia service and were very thankful to experience it.

(The photo above was a teaching session of the same in the bakery.)

We are enjoying the children very much. They are delightful to interact with and so open to giving and receiving love. We are all exhausted by the end of each day, so it has been difficult to journal with any regularity or depth, but we each have so many good stories to share with each other during our evening meetings.

AmandaEve Wigglesworth

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday, July 13--Chrissy Giannopoulos

Pollo Camperooooooooooo! (3 pieces of extra crispy chicken)

Mi plato al terminar (My finished plate) Could you tell I was hungry?

The children at las piscinas de aguas calientes

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Today we had the opportunity to go on a special outing to las piscinas de caliente (Hot pools) and then to Pollo Campero (a KFC of Guatemala). The children as well as some Missionary members were ecstatic for this trip. Driving down I was able to see for the first time life outside the walls of the Hogar. I witnessed the poverty stricken city that Guatemalans reside in. It was quite shocking and upsetting to see what these people have to endure. On a more positive note, the children at the pools and then Camperoooooooooooooo (as the children would say) was such a great time. The endless laughs in the pools and full belly’s turned out to be a wonderful experience for everyone.

Reflection on July 12--By Dn. Mark Baker

We have discovered that Guatemalan drivers enjoy leaning on their horn. Last night, Father John and I made some guesses about when the evening cacophony would begin. My theory was that the World Cup revelers would be so drunk, they would not be able to riot until the next morning. Father John believed the infernal racket would begin much earlier, which it did. Perhaps that is why we missed the trivial matter of a volcanic eruption.

Today was the first day of summer camp – The Chocolate Train. The children can’t go to summer camp, so the idea behind this mission trip is to bring summer camp to them. The children are organized into four groups (named for St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke, St John, of course!). Each group has ten or eleven children, and there are two team members assigned to each group. Each group rotates through four ‘stations’, which are the designated areas for the various activities. There is one station for games, one station for crafts, one station at the bakery, and one station at the pool. It was difficult to tell who was having the most fun – the kids or the mission team.

In the afternoon, the children were gathered together in one of the classrooms, where each of the team members made a brief presentation about themselves. We told the children about our families and where we lived, and about our home church. The children had delightful questions for each of the team members: “What is your favorite color? Do you have any pets? …” Silly stuff. We had fun.

Many of the children at the orphanage have been abused, and many have learning disabilities. One of the team members, who copes with a learning disability and is also a survivor of abuse, spoke to the children about their own experience. The speaker encouraged the children toward self-acceptance and confident faith in God, the Great Physician Who heals all wounds. We wrapped up the classroom session with an eclectic slide show of world events presented by Madre Yvonne.

Madre Yvonne is the peaceful, serene, and unflappable head of the orphanage. Every good thing that happens at the Hogar takes place because Madre Yvonne makes it happen. She manages the children, the staff, the daily operation of the orphanage – everything – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She loves the children with a passion, and is constantly watching over them like a mother hen.

BTW, the mosquitoes in Guatemala are of a different breed than those in the States. These mosquitoes are totally immune to insect repellent. One of the staff members told us, ‘the mosquitoes think repellent is a sauce or a condiment for their main meal.’

Your prayers,

Dn. Mark

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Domingo, el 11 de Julio--Sunday Reflections by Fr John Parker

Que Dia!

We began the day between 630 and 7am with four rounds of strings of firecrackers (40 per bunch?) which we took to be "Welcome to the neighborhood" festivities.  The ladies of our team were certain that they were being set off in a trash can immediately outside their window/door.

All gathered at 915a in the chapel to receive the blessing of Madre Ines, the abbess of the monastery, who had arrived shortly before with Madre Maria, the other Nun who lives at the Lavra Mambre monastery nearby.

The children sang The Akathist for Holy Communion incredibly beautifully, and nearly entirely (45mins-1 hour) from memory.  Then, following the singing of the Great Doxology, we served the Divine Liturgy.  Deacon Mark and I worked hard to sing the Liturgy en espanol, and I nervously but excitedly delivered the homily en espanol tambien.

Also attending the liturgy were a dozen or so local Orthodox Christians and some visitors, including Mother Ines' mother, Olga, whose name day was today.

After the service, I was driven by a delightful doctor and dear friend of Madre Ines to bring communion to her father, who suffers from terminal cancer.  Thank God he is not in much outward pain, though he cannot communicate or otherwise move.

Miraculously, after communion--which I just basically touched to his lips ("Lo, this has touched your lips, and shall purge you of all your iniquities and cleanse you from your sins" cf Isaiah 6:7)--Don Manuel opened his eyes and smiled--for about a half hour.  Before today, he hadn't really opened his eyes for weeks.  Glory to God.

I was invited to stay for lunch with the family--ceviche (shrimp cooked only by the acid of lime juice--and delicious), followed by a creamy shrimp curry and, for the first time in my life, rabbit livers.  Yes, you read that correctly.  "They are gamey, father," I was told.

During the meal, we eagerly watched La Copa Mundial, almost all of us cheering for Spain (Viva Espana!).  We were biting our nails until 2 minutes left in the second overtime when Spain metio un gol.  1-0.  True to hispanic form, the announcer yelled, "Gooooooooooool" for nearly a minute, no exaggeration, and without a breath.

The children enjoyed a pizza and hotdog lunch, followed by a victory celebration of ice cream.  The Mothers celebrated also, and Madre Ivonne awared Madre Ines (who has a Spanish Passport) a World-Cup-Champions-Espana scarf.

An easy evening watching Free Willy in Spanish followed by rice and beans for supper, along with a little salad.

A delightful evening meeting, as usual, and as I type, all working on the crafts for tomorrow.

Que duerman bien!

--Fr John

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reflection on July 10--By Rebecca Retondo

Breakfast today was a classic pancake with a new twist. Instead of syrup, we had sweet condensed milk that was boiled. Today was the day Mother Ivonne came to receive the donations we brought for Hogar. I didn’t realize how many clothes, toiletries, shoes and crafts were brought! Mother was going through suitcase after suitcase and it seemed to never end. What a blessing. Then, the greatest part of the day came, playtime with the kids. As all of us walked to the park where they were playing, children ran up to us with huge hugs and glowing smiles. Immediately we all made connections with the kids. It touched all of our hearts how open they were to love. Some of us sat and talked with the children while others were on the jungle gym and doing cartwheels. Around 1 o’clock, all the children gathered around the television to watch Germany VS Uruguay in the soccer finals. Soccer is the kids’ favorite and they watched every single game. Even Mother Ivonne gets excited about it! Our day with the kids ended at Vespers. The children’s voices when they sing give us chills, it’s so beautiful. We are looking forward till tomorrow when we will have Divine Liturgy followed by the closing soccer game. All the children are rooting for Spain, of course.

Photos from our first morning

We arrived safe and sound, by your prayers.  All team members, no illness, quick flights, all luggage, and no traffic in Guatemala, though it rained most of the afternoon.  Vespers first evening, a beautiful thrill for us--all the children singing from memory, with two girls and a boy, plus Madre Ivonne, each at their reading stands.

Supper of beans, potatoes, cucumbers, and some chinese noodles.  Sweet cookies for desert.

All slept well first night.  Saturday morning up and breakfast:  Pancakes with sweetened-condensed caramel syrup, some ham, and yogurt.

Then a tour of the Hogar with Maria Cielo, Elisa, y Lupe.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

As We Depart (Mientras desterramos)

Nosotros estamos muy agradecidos a todos los que nos han prometido y dado oraciones, bendiciones, y dinero para poder ir a ser los servientes del Senor Jesucristo en el Hogar Rafael en Guatemala.  Que oren por nosotros mientras estamos en ruta...

We are very grateful to all who have promised and given prayers, blessings, and the funds necessary to go to be servants of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Hogar Rafael in Guatemala.  Please pray for us while we are en route.

We shall arrive around midday to the Hogar on Friday, July 9--on Central time.

Please visit this our blog daily to see updates and photos from our entire team, one day at a time.

"Go therefore into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18ff--the Great Commission).