Sunday, December 29, 2013

Safety, Security, Dependency

A new year is just around the corner. Times such as these cause us to review the milestones of the past year. We've just completed seven weeks in Guatemala in language study, meaning it’s been that long since we said our last goodbyes to friends and family and began our in-country assignment. The end of December also marks six months since Richard gave final handshakes and hugs to his colleagues at Triumph Composite Systems, (some of whom he’d been working with for over 25 years) and Debbie turned over the reins of office administration at Knox Presbyterian Church after 12 years of service. Those farewells were traded for new introductions to colleagues in mission service all over the world as we began orientation, training, and preparations for deployment to our different countries of service. What a wild six months this has been! The last few weeks of 2013 find us thinking about three major topics: safety, security, and dependency.

Safety: The holiday season presented new opportunities for us when our hostess left for a few days to visit family for the holidays. We opted to stay in her home with all the wonderful amenities (mentioned in earlier posts) and look after things while she was away. Because of her gifts of hospitality and her sense of responsibility for us, she spent considerable time training us on the different systems of the house, the different people to contact in case of problems, and a lot of time reviewing the basics of food safety. One would think she was leaving for an extended trip or something. Here in Guatemala, as in many parts of the world, attention must be paid to properly preparing food purchased in the open air markets, particularly when it is to be consumed by North Americans with systems unaccustomed to the different critters and chemicals that can sometimes accompany the otherwise wonderful produce available around town. The regular ritual of washing, soaking in a disinfecting solution (there are differing opinions on the safety and effectiveness of the many homemade and commercially available products for this purpose), soaking in a pure water bath, and finally drying our food before we eat it is a reminder of the fragility of life and our need to embrace it, engage in it, and celebrate it. If I can paraphrase a quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I would say “Is it safe? No, it’s not safe. – But it’s good!” As a footnote, we managed to prepare and consume dinner Christmas Eve, breakfast Christmas morning, and a delicious Christmas dinner. So far, no ill effects on either of us.

Debbie Preparing Christmas Breakfast
"Mission Smoothies" Guatemala
Bananas and 
Washington Apples

Security: When we were active in the partnership between our home presbytery and an indigenous presbytery of Guatemala, one of our duties was to promote the partnership by encouraging people to be part of a yearly delegation to visit our partners. The most common question of first time delegates is, “What about security?” This is of course a good and legitimate question. Our consistent response has been that in Guatemala, as anywhere, one should be cautious, aware of one’s surroundings, know the places to go, and the places to avoid. Living in Xela, a town relatively secure, we've been slowly learning where we can go during the day, where we can go after dark and be somewhat assured of our safety and security. During a recent trip to the capital, Debbie’s bag was stolen while we were having lunch with friends. In retrospect, I’d have to say we’d grown complacent from living in a small neighborhood with familiar routines. With the help of our friends we quickly canceled the credit card and phone that was taken, and through the modern miracle of the iCloud, were able to send erase commands to her phone and tablet. The card has been replaced, the phone was insured, and even the hand-written thank-you notes to our supporters had been copied and were at home. In many ways, the loss was minimized. The concept and perception of security is difficult to fully embrace. To think such an experience couldn't happen in the U.S. is naive. Yet we tend to think we are more secure when surrounded by the familiar. To put this recent experience in perspective, we were reminded of an earlier visit to Guatemala City with a group from the U.S. As we left a restaurant, a waiter chased after Richard to return the bag he left hanging on the back of his chair. Where we store our treasures determines our own sense of security.

Dependency: It is the holiday season, so it’s hard not to be reminded of the old saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. And throughout our lives of plenty and generosity, we've been blessed many times over by the appreciation shown to us by grateful friends and organizations for the gifts of our time, our talents, and our finances. Our life situations provided us the means to be giving and generous. Now we are in a different place. Now we find the nature of our work, and where we are on the learning curve puts us on the opposite side of the independence – dependence scale. Our recent experience in Guatemala City afforded us the opportunity to be surrounded by friends and family members ready to help us minimize the impact of the theft and to help us restore what was lost. As we build relationships with our supporters, we are continually reminded of how the work we are doing extends so far beyond what we are doing in the field. It’s safe to say that as we embarked on this new life, the knowledge that we would be dependent on the generosity of others to support our work seemed to make us more vulnerable and was more risky to us than leaving our secure jobs and homes for the third world. It is a new and unfamiliar place for many formerly “independent” North Americans like us. Yet we have been blessed to receive, if I can turn the old expression around at least for our context. When we receive the reports of gifts to our ministry from individuals and congregations, we are blessed, humbled, and encouraged when we learn of others coming alongside us.

We end this year in a spirit of thanksgiving. Thank-you for reading this (even longer than normal) update. Thank-you for your prayers for us and our ministry; we feel them every day. Thank-you for your correspondence with us; we love feeling connected with those around and alongside us. And thank-you for your financial support for us and our ministry with Guatemala’s indigenous people; we've learned what it means to depend upon those who believe in the work and invest along with us.

Upon our return from our trying trip to Guatemala City (on top of the theft of Debbie’s bag, we realized Richard had left our house key in the hotel. Yet another chance to depend on friends to help us out) we found the central park of Xela decked out for Christmas. We thought we’d leave you with these images of light and hope.

Blessings for a happy and prosperous 2014,
Richard and Debbie


  1. Even better to see these pictures here. How did you get Washington apples?

    1. Did you have trouble viewing the pictures before? I took them with my phone, since Debbie's camera was stolen. We found the Washington apples in the supermarket. There's almost always wonderful local produce available in the local markets, and we try to take advantage of it whenever possible. We just couldn't resist those apples though. ;-)

  2. No trouble seeing pictures before, but this is an easier format for me to view them. Sometimes I read your blog via the church website but I don't think the pictures aren't as big there. Or maybe they just look better on this black background?