"You have not chosen Me, I have chosen you."

I know Jesus meant these words to refer to our salvation and call as Christians, but, as I have continued to serve in Guatemala, I have come to understand them to also refer to my call to foreign missions.

I really didn't set out to be a foreign missionary.  In fact, my friend Deb worked on me for over two years to convince me to go on my first short-term mission trip to Nicaragua. There, the first morning in the field, I learned an invaluable lesson.  I had thought I'd come to Nicaragua to bring Jesus.  I learned, mostly from the older Nicaraguan women, that I'd been brought there to meet Jesus as I never had before.  I experienced the universality of the kingdom of God, and got a glimpse of what it will be like when we all worship in heaven.  And I was "hooked."

I returned to Nicaragua a number of times with short-term teams.  At one point, I explored the possibility of serving full time in that country.  The more I found out about the organization I thought I might be called to serve in, the more I knew it was not a fit.  This experience left me with a sense of failure, and little hope that I would serve in foreign missions.  I just couldn't see how it would happen.

At this point I clearly remember a conversation I was lucky enough to have with Kathy Johnson, a Baptist Medical Dental Mission International career missionary to Nicaragua.  She suggested I was asking the wrong question.  She believed that rather than asking, "Why should I become a missionary?" I should begin asking, "What can keep me from becoming a missionary?"  When I would be able to answer that nothing could prevent me from answering this call, I would know I was ready.  Her wisdom has proven invaluable as I've made this journey.

Then, in 2005, I became part of a team to Guatemala, almost by "accident."  I was not originally going with the group, but was just helping them prepare for their trip. I felt drawn to go with them at the last minute because no one in the group could speak Spanish.  Little did I know what God was up to with this trip.  

Tania 2005
Actually, this was not the most fulfilling trip I'd ever been on.  In many ways it fell flat for me.  Except for a child named Tania who I'd met in one of the orphanages.  She was autistic, and had no way to communicate other than through gestures.  But I could see in her eyes the desire to connect somehow.  Tania was the instrument of my first call to Guatemala.  I wanted to return to help find a way to help her communicate.

Another event on this trip later proved to be a pivotal point in my journey.  In the Guatemala City airport, I met a young man, Eddie Martinez, whose father and grandfather have a Bible Institute in Huehuetenango, Guatemala.  Eddie said that if I was interested in orphanages, I should meet this man in Antigua who has a wheelchair ministry.  Through Eddie, I first made contact with Dick Rutgers, who has proven to be an invaluable mentor and friend as I've taken this journey.
It would be over a year later when I would finally get to return to Guatemala with two friends, Deb and Dave.  We studied Spanish in the mornings and spent the afternoons exploring ministry opportunities. 

In June, of 2006, I finally met Dick Rutgers who introduced me to the children at Hermano Pedro.  And I was totally hooked.  Hermano Pedro Orphanage houses about 240 children and adults with disabilities.  Here I met Sam, yet another child with autism.  Sam was like Tania, wanting to communicate.  Usually, he did this in the only way he knew how to, by banging his head.  Each time I heard this sound, it tore at my heart.  Again I longed to do something to help him communicate.  I also realized, however, that unless I was going to be at Hermano Pedro for an extended period of time, nothing I set up would be used consistently with him.  Anything I would do short term would only frustrate him more.  I went home feeling helpless.

In November, 2007, I planned to take a vacation to Guatemala, and visit the kids at Hermano Pedro.  God had another idea, however.  Through my good friend Tara, He turned this trip into a "mother-daughter" mission trip.  It was on this trip that I was introduced to Chris and Donna Mooney of Bethel Ministries through a camp they run each year for folks with disabilities.  I got to visit the camp and fell in love with their ministry.  More and more I was feeling Guatemala calling to my heart.  But was it me, or was it God? 

A mission trip in 2008 with a team from Westside serving with Bethel Ministries solidified this call.  God confirmed for me in a multitude of ways, some too clear to explain away as anything but divine intervention, that I belonged in Guatemala.  But how?  I knew nothing about fund raising, nothing about non-profit ministry, nothing about being an independent missionary. But I knew I could finally sincerely say that, no matter what the cost, I wanted to serve in Guatemala.  I could now answer Kathy's question.  Nothing could stop me, short of God Himself. 

After investigating what it would take to start a non-profit ministry, I was pretty discouraged.  I somewhat reluctantly approached Dave Penner (who had been on my first 2 trips to Guatemala) and the Josiah Foundation, asking if they would consider expanding their ministry to take me on as their first full-time missionary.  (I was reluctant not because I had reservations about the Josiah Foundation, but I couldn't imagine why they would want to take this on.)  The immediate and overwhelming response of Dave and the Board was, "Yes!" 

Somewhat stunned by the encouragement I received from them, I began making actual preparations for the move.  Looking back, it seems that the two years of equipping flew by. Yet in some ways, unavoidable delays seem to make them go on forever.  

Finally, on  June 22, 2010, I boarded a plane with a friend, and began my life in my new home in Antigua Guatemala.  I am humbled by how God orchestrated this move, amazed at the number of people who have played a role in this call to service, from Deb, to Kathy, to Tania, to Eddie, to Dick, to Sam, to Dave.  And I am grateful for those of you who encouraged me and supported this rather drastic move for a "more than middle-aged" single woman.  Only God could have pulled this off.

The 2010-2011 years was spent mostly settling in.  I spent most of my time with the kids at Hermano Pedro orphanage, in Antigua.  I also connected with other ministries and missionaries serving here, and actually spent quite a bit of time on the road traveling to various parts of Guatemala.

One of the people I met during this time was Judy Kerschner, who has become a good friends and an invaluable mentor as I have learned to serve here in Guatemala. A nurse from Texas, she founded a school for special needs children in Santa Maria de Jesus, a Mayan village about 10 km. outside of Antigua, on the side of the Agua volcano.  I fell in love with New Life School and the children and the staff there. 

Centro Educativo Nueva Vida
(New Life School)
Santa Maria de Jesús, Sacatepequez, Guatemala
In January of 2012 I began tutoring some of the children who were not making progress in their regular curriculum. Now, in 2014, I work with about 30 of these special little ones three days a week in a resource room setting using special education techniques I learned years ago while teaching in Omaha Public Schools.  I am also working with the teachers to help them expand their teaching techniques.  In January, 2015, a former graduate of the school, Maricio, will join me as an assistant teacher in our classroom, which is funded entirely by contributions to Causa de Esperanza.

As I came to know some of the young adults who were living at Hermano Pedro, it became apparent to me that they would benefit from living in a more typical home environment and having more normal access to the community.  They were attending regular school in Antigua, or had completed their education, but had no goal available to the but to live an the institution the rest of their lives.  

One in particular, Fidel, was extremely frustrated at the limited options available to him because of his physical disability.

In November, 2012, I moved into a new, larger house and began the preparations to open Casa de Esperanza, or Hope House.  

In January, 2013, Cesar and Fernando, two able-bodied teenagers who needed to study in Antigua, moved in with me, as we prepared to receive disabled residents.  During the summer of this year, we began to transition Fidel from Hermano Pedro.  Finally, on August 28, 2013, Casa de Esperanza became Fidel's "forever home."