Category Archives: Guatemala/Mexico 2012

Vayan con Dios

April 16th-April 22nd

Monday was our last full day with our host families. This time, some of the goodbyes seemed to be a bit easier than they were in Guatemala City. We have had our share of practicing. As Abdu’l-Baha said goodbye to a group of friends on this date 100 years ago he stated, “The breath of the Holy Spirit is your comforter, and the angels of heaven surround you” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 20).

(L to R): Mary, Sarah, Stephanie, Ariel, Heather, Alyssa, and Julie mark the relationships formed between the EMU group and the Mennonite Church The Mexican people and many other Latin cultures have a similar message of hope while saying goodbye; ‘Vaya con Dios’ (May you go with God) which I like just a tad bit more than ‘Dios te acompañe’ (May God accompany or go with you) because it is an indication of our responsibility. As we traveled in the last week of our journey, these two statements became real to us.

One statement implies that we have a choice as to how close we are to God, and the other implies that He has a choice as to how close He is to us. Is it possible that both of these statements are true at the same time? I am not suggesting that God abandons us, although I do believe that He has the power to choose for us just how far we ‘feel’ from Him. This doesn’t indicate that He is gone by any means. On the contrary, He is ever more close than before, yet we feel pain because He is ‘far’ or joy because He is ‘close.’ In addition, we, as humans, have a will in this too. Should we say our prayers in the morning when we wake up or will we push them back until we have time for them around lunch, or should we read the scriptures now or whenever we find time at the end of the day?

The rest of the week for our group was filled with both feelings of nearness and feelings of distance. The ending of one journey always indicates the beginning of another.  Many emotions surface such as…’it’s an adventure to see what is around the corner’ or ‘I’m unsure of what to expect and I am frightened of what the future holds.’  If we took these emotions and equated them with the two positions above…of nearness or distance; I know which one I prefer to work
toward, what about you?

Abundant blessings,

-Julie Huffer



March 29

This week, our excursion was to the city of Tlaxcala. First, we tried the pulque we have been learning about. Pulque is an alcoholic drink made from the liquid honey-like substance in the maguey cactus. It is kind of thick and sour tasting. We decided that it tasted similar to sourdough bread. Many from the group liked it, which surprised our guide, but I couldn’t take more than a couple sips because of the awful texture. I guess it’s a good thing I was not around back then, because it was the favorite drink.

After that, we visited the oldest church in Meso-america. It was smaller than some of the churches we have visited, but had beautiful architecture, paintings and writings from Spanish leaders on the walls. Our next stop was a museum with beautiful, brilliant, brightly-colored murals containing history of Tlaxcala and all of Meso-america. It was really cool to see images of some of the history we have been learning come to life. Our last stop was a museum about the cultural of the area. It included traditional costumes for special occasions, pottery, tools and the famous masks that they use for dances. The masks and costumes were all each unique, hand-made and cost a fortune. I was intrigued by the giant pots about 3 feet deep and 3 feet wide to make beans for the whole community when there was a fiesta. They would need several pots that size and huge plates to hold about a million tortillas. One person would be chosen to cook for everyone and it was quite an honor. I don’t know if I could even imagine that much beans, let alone being in charge of cooking for the whole city!

In addition to our group excursions, we have been on many walks around the city with our conversation guides from the university. It’s a good thing they know where to go, because without them I would be lost for sure! One of my favorite places we visited was a house (now converted to be a museum) where four families that were heroes of the revolution lived and died. The bullet holes were still in the walls, and much of their clothing and furniture was preserved as if no time had passed.

Our group is starting to realize that we only have a few more weeks left here in Mexico, and are determined to make the most of the time we have here. We have gone dancing, out to movies, tried new foods and enjoyed laughing at each other’s mistakes in Spanish, because no matter how much we learn we still seem to say something wrong. It is an amazing blessing to be on a trip with such a special group. Each person has very unique talents and personalities that have helped to form such incredible friendships and memories that I’m sure will last a lifetime. Thank you all for your constant prayers and support as we continue to learn and experience all this culture has to offer.

-Jessica Goertzen


April 9

Hi there family and friends! I am sure you are counting down the days until we grace you with our presence in the United States J or maybe that is just me. But just in case you forgot, let me remind you that that day is in less than two weeks!

This past week we experienced a little bit of lifeThe group observes the re-enactment of Jesus' trial and crucifixion in Mexico City, and also got to be involved in La Semana Santa (Holy Week). There are so many things I could say about it all, but you will have to ask me more when we arrive home. However, I do want to share a few of our memories with you.

Last Monday in downtown Mexico City, we walked to a building known as La Torre (The Tower) and waited in line to take the elevator to the very top of this skyscraper. Because Mexico City is so high in altitude, and La Torre is extremely tall, we were about to be standing on one of the highest points in the world. While waiting in line, one of our brightest and best group members (Stephanie Rheinheimer) commented to us, “How crazy would it be if there was an earthquake while we were up there?!!” Little did she know how much weight her words would carry. We got onto the elevator shortly thereafter, and a couple of us were feeling quite dizzy as we got off on the 37th floor. As we stepped out to look down on the magnificent city, something felt strange. I had to sit down, thinking I was nauseous, when we realized that the entire building was swaying!! Someone else in our group (another wise one) tried to tell us it was probably just a strong gust of wind… YEAH RIGHT! What we soon realized was that we were stuck at the top of this skyscraper, experiencing earthquake tremors! Steph’s words had turned into reality. Some of us, I will not mention names, thought we were going to die. And yet here I am writing to you all, so obviously we made it! What an experience it was J and needless to say, we do not let Steph make any more ominous statements, just in case they would come true again.

On a more somber note, Friday we had the opportunity to experience the reenactment of the trial and crucifixion of Christ in the streets nearby where we stayed. This was one of the most powerful things for me during Holy Week, and I want to relay to you what I witnessed, but I know that I cannot give it full justice. This is what I wrote about it in my personal journal that Friday night…

“Today we witnessed the 4 hour reenactment of the trial and crucifixion of Christ. It was very powerful because it was not just any old play; it carried incredible weight and meaning. They actually placed a real crown of thorns on Jesus and REAL blood flowed from his brow. We watched as the soldiers whipped Christ and the other prisoners as they carried 80-pound crosses over two miles through the streets. It was gruesome to watch as they arrived at the top of the final hill and you could see the horrible bruises and lash marks on their backs. (Apparently the actors, who carried the crosses along with Christ through the streets, did this as an act of penance for sin.) Then Christ and the other two prisoners were tied to the cross and placed upright in the ground for all to see. It was so realistic! It was an incredible reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us by laying down his life. As I walked through the streets beside the man carrying the tremendous weight of the cross, I kept thinking of Jesus’ words, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” How can we ever begin to thank Christ for the cross or even try to fathom his love?”

What an incredible week it was for our group. Every day was filled with blessings, and I know we will never forget what we experienced. Enjoy the rest of your week back home, and we look forward to seeing you all soon!

-Rachel Kennel

Open your heart

Laura Beckler, Rachel Kennel, and Stephanie Rheinheimer at a talavera park March 25

Wow, it is hard to believe that we are now in our final weeks of cross-cultural.  As the excitement of returning home starts settling in, I remind myself that I need to continue to be present in the here and now so that I can continue to learn and be blessed by the experiences we continue to have here.  This past week was our first week here in Puebla Mexico, meaning new host families, a new school, and a new city to get accustomed to.  Our days consist of Spanish classes, two hour long conversation sessions, and free time spent in the Zocalo (the city square) or various other places throughout the city.  Here in Mexico, I live with Rachel and Laura in a house with an older woman, and I am constantly amazed at the hospitality we have received and continue to receive on this trip.

Of course, having the three of us in a house together leads to much mischief.  Between our goofy video making, laughter, and moments of confusion about who the random people are visiting our house, it is surprising we find time to do homework (just kidding!).  As our group reflected on our first week here in Mexico, we all found that we are amazed at just how far we have come in our Spanish speaking and comprehension abilities.  Unlike in Guatemala, I find that I can actually form a coherent response to my family’s and teacher’s questions that consist of more than just “si” or “¿que?”  This is not to say however, that embarrassing and funny Spanish mistakes cease to exist.  My second day in Spanish class I was asked if I had ever broken bones before.  The Spanish word for bone is “hueso” but in my answer I accidentally used the word “huevos,” therefore my answer was, “No, I have never broken ‘eggs’ before.”

To add to the craziness of our first week, we also experienced an earthquake our fourth day here, during which I was on the third floor of a museum with my conversation partner.  It is one thing experiencing panic in a language you can understand, but it is something else when everyone around you in speaking in rapid Spanish.  What an experience.  Needless to say, our first week has been packed full of new people, places and experiences.  Our group appreciates your continued thoughts and prayers and we will see you in three weeks!

-Stephanie Rheinheimer

Greetings from Puebla, Mexico’s Fourth Largest City!

A week and a half ago, we met our host families at the bus station. Michael Allen and I live with our host mom, Bertha, who makes sure that we are well fed and cared for each day. Over the past week, we have shared meals together, and accustomed ourselves to a different, yet similar culture, to Guatemala. I appreciate the hospitality that transcends these places. For example, last night, Bertha gave Michael and I Puebla key chains to remember our time here. The gift touched me because we are guests in her home, and we should be expressing our gratitude to her with gifts and words of thanks.

This past Sunday, the pope came to Mexico as many of you may be aware. The Pope’s visit to Guanajuato impacted Puebla in a major way. Friday, when Pope Benedict XVI arrived, church bells throughout Puebla announced his presence. Then, when the Pope conducted Mass on Sunday, I heard Puebla’s main square, the Zocalo, was bustling as people observed Mass from big screens. Bertha does not like places with lots of people, and I wanted to watch the service with someone that I know from Puebla. Bertha and I watched the Mass from the comfort of our home.

The theme of the service was “Abre tu corazon”, translating to “Open your heart”. This theme struck me for the Lenten-Easter season as well as for our cross-cultural. First, I remind myself to open my heart to the work that Christ is doing amongst us, in Puebla, in our cross-cultural group, and back in Harrisonburg, at EMU. Throughout this trip, Don challenges us to pinpoint where we have seen God each week. This practice has been illuminating, as I have seen God particularly in the relationships built between my host families and I. Second, “Open your heart” primes my cross-cultural eyes. Even though we have less than a month left, and focusing on home is easy, I tell myself to open my heart to where I am. I want to absorb and learn about a new culture, a people I have not known, and a new way of being.

Lastly, if everything goes according to plan, our cross-cultural group will travel to Mexico City for Holy Week, and I am eager to experience these celebrations. I want to learn how the Mexican culture celebrates Christ’s return in comparison to how the US does, absorbing aspects that I have not seen emphasized previously.

In the time before we return, I hope everyone is well.

-Nels Åkerson

From Guatemala to Mexico

March 4

Our time here in Guatemala is almost over. And I honestly am struggling to believe it. It seems as though just yesterday I was nervously anticipating meeting my family, struggling to understand anything anyone said to me, and marveling at the different new world I had found myself a part of. The past 7 weeks have absolutely flown by as we´ve experienced the first part of this incredible cross-cultural experience.

Now we are all preparing for a week of free travel, followed by a month in Puebla, Mexico. With this comes a mixture of both excitement and sadness. We get to travel to another country, learn a new culture, and see even more incredible sites! But at the same time, we are leaving behind so many friends and memories. My host family, with whom I have smiled, laughed, and shared daily life. The CASAS staff, from whom I have learned so much about Guatemala´s beautiful culture and tragic history. My Spanish teacher, from whom I have not only learned grammar, but also how to take life with laughter, even when the challenges one faces seem insurmountable. These are all people who have come to be a part of my life and have taught me so much about myself. Thus the prospect of leaving them behind is difficult to process.

I find myself wondering how Puebla can remotely live up to all the amazing things we saw and learned in the past 7 weeks. But yet the excitement of the unknown leaves me hopeful that we can continue growing and learning and being changed by the new cultures we find ourselves in.

-Taylor Wenger


Reflections on Guatemala

7 March 2012

Summing up eight weeks in Guatemala, learning at CASAS, and investment in the weekend trips, to name a few things from these past eight weeks, is hard. I will try my best to paint a picture that wraps up our time in Guatemala.

This past week has brought together loose ends. My host family continued to surprise me with their generosity and welcoming hospitality. Sunday, my host family, my host dad, mom, two brothers, and my cousin, sat down for lunch. My host mom quickly mentioned after the prayer concluded that this Sunday lunch was special because it was my last Sunday lunch with them. My host parents ordered Pollo Campero. I had not tried this Guatemaltecan fast food during my stay here, and according to my host mom, who said jokingly, I now have visited Guatemala because I ate Pollo Campero. Everyone relished the special meal.

As a parting thank-you and fun activity together, my host mom and I made a granola recipe from Virginia. We set out the ingredients as my host mom asked quantities and wrote down the recipe. When mixing the ingredients together, I stirred some, and then asked if my host mom wanted a turn. She eagerly replied yes. The next morning, we shared a breakfast of granola with milk and plantains. This taste of home was strange, yet comforting. Yet, the enthusiasm my host mom had when learning a piece of my home struck me.

Lastly, the conversation my host mom and I had yesterday afternoon is one worth recounting. We exchanged pleasantries when I returned home, and we talked in the kitchen as she prepared dinner. Her work was the subject. With sincerity, she told me she does not like what she does, which includes preparing meals, cleaning, and mostly, staying at home.  She continues, though, because she wants to see her two sons through college. Her parents did not give her this same support, and she dropped out of college because of it. From her sacrifice, I discovered how important community is because without a surrounding community, one will not make it as far. A community, a family or a group of friends, benefits everyone involved.

From these three stories occurring within the last week, I will take how to celebrate well, an approach to life, and that my education matters. First, my host family ordered the best, Pollo Campero. I want to return with this same attitude of serving the best for each occasion. Second, my host mom eagerly scribbled the recipe and incorporated a piece of my culture into her life. Her step to learn about my culture was like a hug from home. I want to remember that making small gestures to learn about another’s culture goes a long way to bridging divides and building relationships, particularly as our group travels on free travel and into Mexico. Lastly, I cherish my host mom’s sacrifice for her children. Not everyone has the opportunity to attend college, let alone travel to Guatemala & Mexico for fifteen weeks. During this trip, I have crumbled stereotypes, built relationships, and discovered another culture. I want to make the most of this opportunity that all EMU students have, savoring each millisecond.

– Nels Åkerson

Los Ocho Taquitos on free travel in Puerto Barrios We called ourselves “Los Ochos Taquitos” (Eight Little Tacos). We traveled many hours and saw many sights. We were eight U.S.  Americans, on our own, embarking on an adventure of a lifetime.

Our free travel adventure began on Thursday morning at 5:00am. Our group of eight traveled by two separate taxis to the Litegua bus station of Guatemala City.  Our trip started out a little bumpy when one of the taxis didn’t show up on time to the bus station. Four out of the eight persons waited for 45 minutes without hearing a response from the other group. Luckily, about 1 hour later than planned, the rest of the four showed up and we loaded onto the bus. The bus was headed for Puerto Barrios, a small port town located on the eastern coast of Guatemala. The planned bus ride of 5 hours slowly turned into a 9 hour bus ride through traffic. We spent our time on the bus watching two Jackie Chan films and Puss n’ Boots. After a long bus ride, we finally arrived in Puerto Barrios.

Two days were spent relaxing in and getting to know the small town of Puerto Barrios. On Sunday, our group left by ferry to Punta Gorda, Belize. It was the ferry ride of a lifetime with our ferry master, Walter. We all got soaked with sea water and our skin was crusted with salt. Although uncomfortable, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. We arrived in Punta Gorda after an hour and a half. Once in Punta Gorda we caught a bus to Placencia. We arrived in Placencia as it was starting to get dark. We still had to find a hotel, so we made reservations at the first place we saw, located about 3 miles outside of town. A hotel named SEAKUNGA.  We spent a night in this hotel which was located on the beach. Our plans changed due to the less than desirable conditions and we decided to stay closer to town. The next day we made new reservations at a nicer beach front hotel. We spent four days in Belize and had a wonderful time relaxing, playing spades, meeting new people, and eating traditional Garifuna food.

After Belize we traveled back by ferry, with Walter the ferry master, to a port town in Guatemala named Livingston. Livingston is a very small town located on the mouth of Rio Dulce (Sweet River).  In Livingston, we took a wonderful river tour. On the tour we saw an island of birds, mangroves, and a castle. We also swam in a natural hot spring. We spent some time at an indigenous school and women’s co-op.

We traveled back to Guatemala City and met up with the rest of the group. It was wonderful to hear funny and scary stories about the other trips. We ended the free travel week by setting off fireworks outside of CASAS. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I am so glad to have gotten the chance to spend a week with 7 wonderful people who made the trip interesting and fun.

-Emily Wise


Let the good times roll

Our theme for the week was “just roll with it” and at times that was all we could do.  My group consisted of 6 other people besides myself and we were headed for the beautiful beach of Tela, Honduras.  The day before we left for free travel, the internet at the school didn’t work, so we could not look up the final directions we needed to get to our hotel from the bus station.  All I knew was we needed to walk east once we got off the bus.  Needless to say, God was watching over us and we got to our hotel safely and everything worked out!  We spent most of the mornings soaking up the sun and relaxing on the beach.  The water was perfect and the temperatures were very hot!  The afternoons usually consisted of exploring the small town of Tela or hanging out in the hotel.

We took one excursion in kayaks through mangroves to see wildlife, but unfortunately the kids who came with us were too noisy and scared everything away.  We also got to experience the Garifuna culture as we spent a few hours in the village after our kayaking trip.  This was an interesting experience because we saw the traditional dancing of the natives and ate at an authentic restaurant.

Every evening we would make our own dinners because we had a hotel room with a kitchen.  The last full day the five girls went out to the beach in the morning and Alex and John stayed back at the hotel to prepare lunch.  Our expectations for lunch were not high but when we returned four hours later we were delighted to see chicken fajitas on the table and the smell of heaven surrounding us!  What a great way to end the week!  Our bus ride home was another interesting story because we didn’t have a plan once we got back to Guatemala City but when we arrived and walked into the terminal one of the staff members from our school was there to pick someone else up from the same bus and he offered to take us too. Yet again we all felt God’s presence and we know that he was watching over us and protecting us throughout this trip.

-Laura Beckler

On March 17th, our free travel groups made their way back to CASAS in Guatemala City. My group got back around 10 p.m. and celebrated our last moments of free travel with a bang… literally. We set off some firecrackers outside of CASAS since we had some leftover from celebrating Steph’s birthday during free travel. It was difficult coming back to CASAS after a week of free travel, but it was nice to have a free day there for packing and doing our laundry. We met with Don to prepare ourselves for heading to Mexico the next day and also to find out the news we had all been anxiously waiting for: who we would be living with in Mexico. We also had group bonding while watching Bridesmaids.

Bullfighting ring in Tlaxcala The next morning we woke up at the lovely hour of 4 a.m. to head for the airport. We only had one minor problem in the airport when they couldn’t find our reservations, but fortunately it was all figured out and we made it to San Salvador and then to Mexico safely and without any more problems. After leaving the airport, we took a bus to meet our families. I was kind of nervous, but it all went well and Emily Hedrick and I were the first to be called to meet our family. We went to their house where we will be living, and spent that weekend adjusting to life in Puebla, Mexico. It’s been an interesting transition from Guatemala City to Puebla, since there are many differences, like being able to walk around at night and having one-on-one, two-hour walking conversations (all in Spanish) with “guias” (guides) every day.

While some parts of the transitions have been hard, so far I have enjoyed being in Puebla, since it has a lot of history and fun things to do like going horseback riding and to a VIP movie where you get to sit in a recliner and people bring you food. Although I miss CASAS, I think the institute we are at now will really help me with my Spanish, and I am looking forward to all the Wednesday excursions we will make to places like Cholula and Tlaxcala and Holy Week, which we will spend in Mexico City. In a short five weeks we will be back in the US, but during our time here I hope we will have great experiences and learn a lot.

-Sarah Parson

Becoming part of the family

As we approach the end of our time in Guatemala, I have been thinking about my many memories here. Many of these are memories are from the time I’ve spent with my host family. From the first weekend, as they had to listen to me try to speak broken Spanish, to the time when I actually figured out how to say a joke in Spanish and we laughed a lot. Here are some other memories and common occurrences in my house:

  • Laughing with my family while I try and say tongue-twisters in Spanish.
  • Singing with my sister to the radio as loud as we can, whether we know the words or not.
  • Yawning with my mom while my brothers and dad talk for a long time during Sunday dinner.
  • Yelling at the dogs that always run in front of our car.
  • Eating chicken from the Guatemalan restaurant Pollo Campero.
  • Exchanging confused looks with my siblings because I accidentally said something in English without realizing it.
  • Watching movies, Spanish soap operas and always lots of soccer.
  • Smiling when my mother introduces me to their relatives as her daughter.
  • Praying in a small group in church in English and being prayed for in Spanish.

I think the last experience I am going to have will be crying when I have to leave them. However, I am so grateful for this family, my second family, in this little corner of the world. Becoming a part of this family is one of the many things God has blessed me with on this trip. I will always be thankful that they were willing to look past my inability to speak Spanish and love me as one of the family.

-Jessica Goertzen


This past week went by really quickly.  As I talked to the rest of the group, they shared the same feeling.  The first couple days of the week, we were in the Department of Alta Vera Paz.   We visited Coban (the capital of this department) and San Pedro Carcha. I would like to add some of my thoughts about the weekend, since we stayed there until Tuesday.

The trip to Coban and Carcha has been my favorite weekend trip so far.  One of the reasons I enjoyed this trip so much was because I was able to make “Mennonite Connections.”  My mom (in the U.S.) was a MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) missionary in Carcha for 10 years.  She worked as a nurse/health educator from 1975 to 1985.  Because of this, I was able to meet many people who knew my mom.  I was able to see the place where she lived, some areas where she worked, as well as a health book that she wrote in the indigenous language, K’ekchi.   Being able to experience and see some of the history of my mom’s life was wonderful.  I also enjoyed attempting to learn some K’ekchi, and relating to the students at Bezaleel, the school where we stayed.

We arrived back in Guatemala City on Tuesday afternoon and we were all feeling tired from the long weekend trip.  When I went home with my host mom, she informed me that we were going to my sister-in-law’s birthday party later that night.  This was enjoyable, but I was glad to have a two hour siesta before the Taylor Wenger, Heather Tieszen, Kelsey Zook, Alex Wynn, Sarah Parson, John Gullman, and Laura Beckler display their purchases from the coffee finca fiesta. We then had two and half days of classes before we headed to Santiago Atitlan.  Those class days flew by, and we were excited for another weekend trip.  We left Friday morning, and got back Sunday afternoon.  We had opportunities to browse the market, learn about a cooperative, ANADESA, and relax with the group.  I especially enjoyed the boat ride to Panajachel.  It was about a 30-minute ride on Lago Atitlan, and then we had time to shop in the market and eat lunch.  Something I have noticed in our weekend trips is the community dynamic our group has.  It is easy to have fun with our group, and it’s also easy to have time of reflections and discussion.  Even though these things do come easily a lot of the time, I really appreciate both the fun times and the reflective, more serious times.  I praise God for each person in our group, and am glad we can all experience this Cross-cultural together!

-John Gullman


Coban and the K’ekchi

Alyssa McGinnes and John Gullman There are many things I have experienced here in Guatemala that I’ll remember for a long time: picking limes off the tree in my backyard, hearing gunshots at night, learning how to salsa dance, the smell of platanos frying in the kitchen, and the satisfaction after understanding a whole conversation in Spanish. But perhaps one of the experiences I’m going to remember the most is the time we got to spend in Coban  and the K’ekchi town of San Pedro Carcha these past three days.

When arriving after a five hour bus ride from Guatemala City, we quickly realized we were in a very different culture. Women in traditional Mayan dress, one room houses with tin roofs, tortilla stands, stray dogs, and the occasional pig could be seen down every street. The quiet, conservative, and respectful culture was also much different than the loud and affectionate culture we have become accustomed to in the city. The language spoken by most people was K’ekchi, one of the 22 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, although most people spoke Spanish as their second language. We learned the word “bontiush”, which means “thank you” in K’ekchi, and used it over and over as we received lots of generosity.

During our time in Coban, we stayed at the Bezaleel Q’eqchi’ Mennonite School, which is a boarding school for students ages 12-22. At the Bezaleel school, EMU students played against the boys in a Sunday afternoon soccer game Our time at the school was spent playing soccer, squeezing 25 people into a 15 passenger van, taking cold showers, eating lots of beans and tortillas, singing, and spending time with the students. We also attended a K’ekchi Mennonite church service, ate a meal with Mayan families, did some painting for the school, visited a coffee plantation, and met with two long term missionaries working in Coban.

Although this has been by far the most primitive living situation we’ve had, it was a blessing to experience another culture that exists here in Guatemala. We were welcomed by strangers into a lifestyle totally new to each of us and got to experience a little taste of their daily lives. We’ll carry these interactions and memories with us as we each are challenged to reshape our own worldviews.

– Louise Babikow


Getting back into the groove of speaking Spanish again was a little challenging for many of us at the beginning of this week, but the relaxation that took place in Tikal was much needed. Just three short days of speaking English and lake swimming and our brains were mush (not to be confused with mosh, a Guatemalan oatmeal drink that is served for breakfast), but our spirits were renewed. There was also quite a difference in temperature between Tikal, which is just above sea level, and the capital city, which is well above sea level.

The theme for our outings and lectures has seemed to revolve around human rights this week; a passionate topic for any human being from the beginning of time, and most especially in places where the inequalities are extreme. A lady came to speak to our group about human rights in Guatemala and we visited a forensic anthropologist. Many of the people in Guatemala have roots that run very deep in a sea of pain from the 46 year-long civil war that ended in 1996 with the signing of peace treaties. The war was caused by inequalities, yet most Guatemalans feel that the human rights that have been enacted today protect mostly the ones who have inflicted pain on another as opposed to assisting the one who is in pain. While it is most natural for us, as humans, to have the most empathy for the victim of a human rights violation, we do sometimes appear to overlook the fact that in God’s eyes we are all equal, and that He forgives even the most grievous of sins; therefore so should we. This reminds me of a scripture from the book of John, “…He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” (John 8:7).

For the weekend, we traveled about 5 hours by bus to Coban, in the state of Alta Verapaz. We stayed at and served a Q’eqchi’ (pronounced key-che) Mennonite school for middle school and high school age children. This school is located in the heart of many beautiful mountains where calla lilies and bananas grow by the side of the road, and they eat the traditional beans and tortillas with every meal. The people speak their indigenous language, some learn Spanish, and a very few learn English.

Wildflowers On Sunday morning we attended a Mennonite service at a church in one of the small cities nearby Coban. We arrived at the church to find beautiful flowers decorating the altar, curious children staring with bright eyes, and a segregated congregation; men on one side and women and children on the other. They greeted us warmly and requested that we sing a few songs, and we gladly accepted the invitation. Later, we were split into groups to have lunch at local family homes, which we traveled to by foot, where we ate soup with rice and, por supuesto (of course!), tortillas.

You all are in our thoughts and prayers! Love. Love. Love.

-Julie Huffer

Making memories and A sojourner’s prayer

One of my favorite parts about being on Cross-cultural in Guatemala is that I am able to stay with a host family. I absolutely love my host family. They have graciously opened their home to me and the parents even call me “mija” (their daughter) while my little host sister calls me her “hermanita” (even though I am technically the older sister). The weekends that I spend with them usually consist of playing with my host sister in the morning, watching soccer games in the afternoon  since my host dad plays on a team, and going to birthdays to meet the entire family and eat cake (so delicious).

This past weekend, I had the privilege of going to Antigua (one of Guatemala’s old capitals) with my family on Sunday, February 5. It was a special treat as Antigua is one of the sites that is a “must-see” while in Guatemala.  We went out to dinner, saw lots of beautiful churches, rode horses, and took lots of pictures. The horse thing was actually quite hilarious. My little host sister really wanted to ride a horse, but in order to ride one horse you had to pay for two horses because they are roped together. My host parents asked me to ride the second horse so I did. Okay, so I am taller than a lot of people here  – which is so strange since I’m used to being on the shorter end in the U.S. – so sitting on that big horse (although I think mine was more like a mule) I felt even more out of place than normal. Basically I had a good laugh the entire ride around the square. However, when we were about to arrive at the place where we had started, our horses walked too close to another horse connected to a carriage. That horse lunged at my sister’s horse in an effort to bite him, causing our horses to react by jumping and turning to the side. My heart about fell out of my chest. The other horse did not bite my sister’s horse and nobody got hurt, which made it more funny and exciting than scary. Luckily my host mom had not seen us or she probably would have flipped out too. My host dad made sure we were okay but then took a picture of us so we could remember our facial expressions after that wonderful moment. Ha, ha, ha.

While walking down the famous street of the arch, we saw some security guards on motorcycles. My host parents got really excited and told me that it meant that the president or vice president was there. One of the major events that has happened in Guatemala while we have been here has been the change of presidency.  The new president is Otto Perez Molina and his Vice President is Roxana Baldetti. The part about it that is most exciting is that Roxana Baldetti is the first woman vice president.  Sure enough, the Vice President was strolling down one of the sidewalks taking pictures and talking to the people that came up to greet her. My host mom smiled really big and grabbed both me and my little host sister to go and greet the new vice president. Not only did we greet her, but we also took a photo with her. That’s right; I got a picture with the first woman vice president of Guatemala. Now that is history in the making. This trip to Antigua is just one of the wonderful memories that I will cherish forever because of my wonderful host family.

-Kelsey Zook


Hola mis amigos y familia!

I hope that all is well at EMU and wherever you are as you read this. This Thursday will be 5 weeks that we have been living here in Guatemala! I realize that everyone says this in journal entries, therefore it sounds cliché, however it still never ceases to amaze me how time flies by. Our group continues to grow, learn and see more and more every day, constantly experiencing life in the busy city and attempting to learn the Spanish language.

I asked my host brother, sister, and mom in the car the other day whether they thought I had improved at all in my Spanish, and they responded with an enthusiastic yes. However, I then proceeded to tell them they that were all lying to me. Although I do believe I have gotten a lot better at Spanish, there are still days where I stare blankly at my family as they repeat a question to me about 4 times or more, and I still have no idea what I am supposed to be trying to understand. Patience, patience, patience. I don’t know how my family puts up with me sometimes.

The group poses in front of Jaguar Temple on the main plaza in Tikal A little bit more about what we did this past weekend here in Guatemala…We had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Tikal and took a short flight early on Friday morning. I must admit I was a little apprehensive about the flight when I walked into the airport “waiting area”, and it was literally the size of my living room at home. Then we proceeded to actually walk out onto the runway to enter the plane. Our group took up all but four of the seats on the plane, making for a cozy time together. Did I mention the part about not having to put any of our carry-on luggage through any kind of security check? It was definitely a different experience from the crowded, insane airports of the United States. However, after 45 minutes (and many prayers from Laura and me in the back of the plane) we arrived safely in Tikal and began our adventures.

The first thing we did was visit the pyramid and temple ruins of the Mayans. These grand and beautiful structures of history provided endless fun and culture as we climbed to high lookouts. We stood in awe of magnificent architecture and knew we would never see anything like this in the USA. The rest of our weekend was spent in complete relaxation and rest as we stayed in bungalows on the shore of Lake Peeten Itza. We were able to swim, kayak, chill in hammocks, and do whatever we pleased on Saturday and Sunday. It was a great time together, and having the opportunity to do NO school work was a perfect escape for us all.

After a restful weekend, we jumped back into our Spanish classes here at CASAS, and we have now all entered into the next level of our courses (somehow we all passed our exams…thank goodness). And so this is where I leave you all! Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers!

Love from the (tan and somewhat burnt) gringos!

-Rachel Kennel


God of the journey,

Of exciting new adventures,

Of tired feet covered in volcanic ash,

It seems like we’ve only just arrived, yet we have changed so much and traveled so far from home that our souls feel as if we’ve been here longer.

We are tired sojourners. We need your strength.

God of diversity,

Of cultures we are immersed in but don’t completely understand,

Of overwhelmed minds, constantly translating from one language to another

Our strangeness in this place is good, yet it is also a burden we carry

We are homesick foreigners. We need your love.

God of the unknown,

Of strange encounters that make us question what we thought we knew

Of eyes longing to connect with others, but afraid to do so,

Many of us have come closer to violence, poverty, and oppression than we have yet in our previous journeys.

We are exhausted with new awareness of our collective brokenness. We need your peace.

God of the journey, the diverse, the unknown,

You are also the God who is with us.

Every day you give us strength in the laughter, smiles, and embraces of the people traveling with us.

You give us love through the continuing patience and good humor of our teachers and our host families.

You give us peace in moments of beauty in this land and with the people who call it home.

God with us, we thank you that we do not journey alone.

-Emily Hedrick

Language. Learning. Laughter. Love. Life.

Our past week has been filled with all of these “L” words.  Our weekend consisted of an excursion to the highlands of Chichicastenango where we stayed for 2 nights at the Ruth and Naomi Project.  We were surrounded by another new language, K’iche, which was spoken by many of the natives of this city.  We also were able to learn more Spanish, especially when we were forced to speak Spanish at mealtimes and for every English word we spoke we had to pay 1 Quetzal (1/7 of a US dollar).  As you can imagine this made things more difficult, but we usually found a way to communicate the words we didn’t know by acting them out.

The whole trip has been filled with laughter, specifically when we play games together or when we are on the bus.  Nels and I shared several laughs when we offered to help make tortillas at the Project.  The women in the kitchen had smiles across their faces while Nels and I struggled to make the perfect tortilla.  Needless to say it was an unforgettable experience and we had a lot of fun!

Handmade textiles at Chichicastenango market We have already learned so much on this trip and I can reassure you this isn’t a vacation!  This weekend we heard the pastor of the Methodist Church there in Chichi speak about the start of the Ruth and Naomi Project.  It was founded after the city was bombed and there were many orphans and widows with no jobs or money.  This pastor started a project for women and taught them skills such as weaving so they could make money for themselves.  We got to visit this project where the products were sold and speak with the ladies.  They were so proud to show off what they made and it was meaningful to purchase their hand-made goods because we knew the money was going to support them.  I could see the love of God in them as they spoke and provided us with a delicious lunch.  I also have witnessed love from the hosts that we had last weekend and of course from our host families every day as they normally go out of their way to help us with whatever we need.

God has definitely been present with us here, especially this week as it has been a more difficult one for our group.  He has kept us safe and protected each one of us.  With the obstacles that have come our way, I have been able to see the face of God.  Our group truly is becoming like family and I feel the support of everyone.

-Laura Beckler


Contrasts and challenges

Buenas Días!

It is our second week here in Guatemala City and I think I’m finally starting to become accustomed to Guatemalan life. The Frijoles (beans) and eggs at least once a day, the crazy packed buses and their routes, the men with firearms that you can find on every street and the coffee at every time of the day, especially supper.

We have Spanish language classes in the morning but in the afternoons we either have someone come in to teach us more about the culture we have been immersed in, or we go out to see sights around the city.  On Friday last week we had the chance to go to the national cemetery and the landfill which was located just behind the cemetery.

When I was told we would be visiting the cemetery National Cemetery, Guatemala City I was picturing one a lot like the Arlington cemetery in D.C. with rows of white tombstones.  What we saw instead were rows and rows of small plots of land where people had built very elaborate and artistic family mausoleums. Some of them were the size of small houses and decorated like palaces.  Further on into the cemetery we came to a wall of graves that are rented out for 14 years, most of them decorated beautifully. At the cemetery we got to walk around and look at the memorials of different groups that impacted Guatemala in major ways (Teachers, Germans, Chinese…)

We walked to the end of the cemetery then to a place where we could overlook the landfill.  It was filled with people who go through the trash when it comes in and scavenge for anything they think could be of any value, such as metals or things they could fix.  The people working there typically just don’t have the skills or the education to acquire other jobs. Our guide from CASAS pointed out that from the landfill those working could see the top of the big mall, but most of the people in the mall didn’t even know that people were working down there in such rough conditions.  Not a happy thought.

Guatemala is teaching all of us a lot and who could ask for a better place to absorb that information? The people here are gracious and welcoming, and the weather is in the 70’s and perfect just about every day.  All of your thoughts and prayers are appreciated as we continue to experience this culture that is very  different from what we are accustomed to back in the states.

-Heather Tieszen


It is hard to believe that our first week in Guatemala is over, but it was a week of many experiences. Spanish classes started, we began learning more about the history of Guatemala, a routine was set, and more time was spent with our host families. One interesting thing we did was go to the palace of the President, aka the White House of Guatemala, and were given a tour. Inside the palace there were giant murals of the Mayans and Spaniards, ballrooms, courtyards, and statues. One statue that stood out was the intervention of left hands on top of more hands representing the people of the nation. The two giant hands represented the government of the nation coming together to end the civil war. Every day a freshly cut white rose is placed within these hands to represent the peace of the country. After the palace we had a scavenger hunt within the historical part of the city. The objective was to get a greater sense of the everyday lives of the people, and to learn more history of the area.

Also during this week it seems that most have blended into city life well. Most have begun navigating the city without the help of our host families, and also don’t feel like such strangers anymore. It is impressive to see how the progress of communicating in Spanish has improved in the one week of being here. Twice now my host family has taken me to the supermarket and has gone over everything in the store, giving me its name in Spanish. One day we must have been there for 2 hours and gone over at least 200 items. It is truly impressive to see how grateful each family is to have us and their willingness to help us learn.

-Alex Wynn


My Guatemala experience thus far has been one filled with contrasts. As our Cross-cultural group continues to meet with speakers and engage in conversation, we are each given more materials to shuffle through and reflect on.

One of the largest contrasts I have experienced thus far was our trip to the local basudero (dump). As we walked to the edge of the cemetery, we were greeted by a strong smell that reminded me of fast food that had gone bad, as well as flocks of vulture like birds that dispersed as we neared the cliff’s edge. From the edge we saw below us in a large valley piles of trashA view of Guatemala City's landfill and waste debris pushed into mounds by large garbage trucks. Within the piles of trash you could see men and women sifting through the debris, searching for something of worth. I saw one man heaving a bag that was twice as large as himself on his back through the trash. On the edge of the ravine, gray and white cinder-block homes lined the gorge, giving us a view into a different reality.

Over the tree line from the dump, we could see the top of one of Guatemala’s ritziest shopping malls, Miraflores. Earlier that week, I had actually been there with my host family to visit the clean, expensive, high class location. But from Miraflores I was unable to see the dump. The thought of life near the dump did not even cross my mind.

As we left the dump, my mind was filled with the thoughts of two realities. One, like that of my host family and my own life in the United States, filled with ‘security’ and comfort. Another filled with a possible insecure future and discomfort.

When I arrived home for the day, I explained what I had seen to my host family’s house help, Epep. After listening intently, she pointed out that though our lives and the opportunities we are offered differ here on earth, what really matters is having God in our hearts. What happens in this life will happen, but in the end we will all have the same choice. She reminded me that we all have the choice to invite God into our lives and have eternal life. Epep’s comment to me was extra powerful because she herself works long hours and comes from a hard life. But despite what life has sent her way, she continues to praise God in every circumstance.

So with these thoughts I was left to ponder the contrasts of Guatemala that I have seen and will continue to see. I was challenged to find God in everything around me, just like my friend Epep.

– Rose Jantzi


New in Guatemala City

Group photo at the FEGUA Museum January 16, 2012
What a crazy week! It’s Monday, and I’m in Guatemala, which is still kind of surreal. Some things are different; others are not. The weather is amazing! It is a warm, spring day. Every day. I survived my first flight, which was good. It was incredible looking out the window and seeing the clouds create a seascape, and seeing Cuba!

Once in Guatemala City, a bus from CASAS (Central America Study and Service) came to pick us up. Our group will have language classes there for the next 8 weeks. Some new sights along the way: police with rifles, barbed wire on top of every fence, plants and flowers growing on the barbed wire, and crazy driving where no one wears seat belts.

The people are very welcoming. My host dad played music in English in the car for me and my host mom, brother and I watched The Hangover Part 2 with Spanish subtitles.  Oh, yes. It feels like spring!

-Mary Sodano