The Amish: Separated by Simplicity

When a large group of Amish immigrants came to the United States in 1737, they built their lives with the work of their hands, bringing the land to life with true horse power. To this day the Amish choose to live a life of separation consistent with the traditions that have lasted for generations. The Amish remain separate from the rest of the world by living their lives in the age-old traditions and religion which they uphold. Continue reading

How to: Banking in Guatemala

Banking outside of your home country can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. With a little help and patience, you can transfer, access and use money anywhere in the world. Especially with online banking, it’s easier than ever to manage your finances from wherever your road takes you. Here are some tips from my experience as a foreigner living and banking in Guatemala.

How to get money from the U.S. to Guatemala

1) You can bring cash with you (Up to US$10,000 can be brought in  with out declaring it.) but then you’ll have to go to the trouble of

keeping it and yourself safe until you can deposit it in a bank or use it. (Note: you’ll need your passport with you to exchange this money into local currency at the bank.

2) You can use an ATM card to withdraw up to your daily limit. Just be sure to notify your bank that you’ll be doing this or they’ll lock your card down like Fort Knox.

3) I recommend that you have a bank account in the U.S. that receives funds for you and then take checks with you to Guatemala. By writing a check to yourself you can deposit money to your account in Guatemala (see more on this below). Continue reading

Drama resources for Short-Term Mission Teams

King of Hearts

A wordless drama about how our masks of hurts and sin can be a barrier between us, God, and others. This drama shows Jesus can set them free from these masks with his love.


Clincher (An original YWAM skit)
A powerful drama about how sins bind us and will destroy us but how Christ took our sins and set us free from them!

Hand Clap (great way to get attention)

US Citizen born in Guatemala = Paperwork

If you’re an expatriate and you’re having a baby in Guatemala, be ready for some paperwork. It takes work, but it’ll be worth it.

As new missionaries in this beautiful country, we moved to Guatemala while we were pregnant and started getting all the advice we could on what paperwork we needed for our baby. Here are some of the things we learned…

Step 1: Schedule a US Embassy appointment

If you’re anywhere within three months of the birth go to the US Embassy website and set up an appointment for a couple weeks after the due date.  (UPDATE: As of(May 2014 the US embassy in Guatemala  now only opens appointments about one month prior to the appointment date. So you’ll have to check in about a month ahead of the date you want.) These appointments fill up and it can be very difficult to get in if you don’t get something scheduled early. You can change it if you have to, but better to have the appointment scheduled than to find out you can’t get an appointment for two or three months after the baby  is born when you may be wanting to travel.

TIP: I think you could probably have your spouse sign up so you have two dates to chose from. Then just cancel the appointment you don’t want! Continue reading

Leadership: Art or Science

Recently a friend asked me what I thought about leadership. Is it an art or science?
I think it’s both.

While personality traits that lend themselves to leadership may be born into an individual, I believe that most of the qualities of good leadership are developed through the experiences, examples, training, and effort that an individual has or gives.

Similar to musicians, there are those naturally born with an ability to lead and there are those who have to put in much time and effort growing into a leader. However, those who hone, craft, and develop these skills are the ones who receive the benefits of good results. Leadership is a science in that it is developed through processes, but it is an art in how it must be executed in a way to be well received by others.

It’s a bit like engineering and designing a chair. The engineer makes the structure so it won’t fall down. The designer makes it look like something upon which someone will want to sit. You need both. A leader who is all science will probably have difficulty finding people to lead.

Someone who is all ‘art’ as a leader will not really have somewhere he is leading the people to. You need both art and science in your leadership development.

Guatemala’s Romeo and Juliet — The Story of Vanushka

The grave stone of Vanushka Cardena Barajas, the young gypsy who died of a broken heart.

Here’s the story of Vanushka Cardena Barajas roughly based on the tale told to me by a Spanish-speaking guide at the cemetery in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and other sources I could find. Legend says it happened about 1927 though details are not verified.  Recently, the Guatemalan songwriter Alvaro Aguilar wrote a song dedicated to Vanushka.

Vanushka was a young Roma/Gypsy woman when she moved with her family from eastern Europe (possibly Hungary) to Guatemala. They traveled the country performing in a circus to make money and because entertainment was the trade they knew. When they were in Quetzaltenango (also called Xela) they settled in and promoted their circus.

A statue of Vanushka lies on her tomb in the El Calvario Cemetery in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

One evening a young man, who we will call Javier for his name has not survived the years, arrived at the circus tent. Javier was from a wealthy family, (some say he was the son of a Spanish ambassador) and that night he visited the circus with some of his friends. He was handsome and something about the way he carried himself among his peers caught the eye of one of the performers, Vanushka. She was observing the crowd from off stage until it came time to take her spot in the ring.  That night Vanushka’s performance was better than ever and her beauty and skill caught the eyes of everyone in the crowd, but no one was so captured as the wealthy young man.

After the performance, the Javier saw Vanushka leave from a side entrance and he rushed away from his confused friends as he made his way around the tent to try and speak with this beautiful girl. He did catch up with her and they talked the entire night as they walked around and around the circus tent.  As dawn broke they said farewell and promised to see each other at the performance that night.

This continued for several days and at the end of the week, they had confessed their love for each other and were trying to figure out how to share their new-found love with their families. Her family had already seen the blossom of love on her face as she watched the stands for this striking young man and no one could miss seeing them walking hand in hand as they circled the tent each night.

The fourth  night of the performance in Xela, Javier was joined by his father as he went to the circus. Javier’s family had started to suspect that something was happening since their son was hardly sleeping and had that dreamy look in his eye of a lovestruck youth.

It didn’t take Javier’s father long to realize that this match would never work, for their families were so different and came from such different backgrounds and there were so many wonderful plans he had for his son. Father and mother tried to talk Javier out of love, but nothing seemed to work. They reminded him of his education, his station in life and his responsiblities that just would not fit when combined with this wandering daughter of a circus master.

Despite their attempts at reason, Javier was convinced that Vanushka was the one for him. Out of desperation, Javier was ordered to leave for Spain the next day to spend four years in university there.

The Vanushka tomb showing Vanushka holding a photo of her beau.

That night Javier wept as he bade Vanushka farewell. She was heartbroken and clung to him as he was torn from her arms by his valet whom his parents had demanded he take with him. That morning he left in a carriage for the coast to catch a ship to Spain for what he imagined would be the worst four years of his life. Sadly, he was only slightly incorrect.

For days Vanushka wept in her tent. Her mother could not console her and even her father’s demands were not enough to get her to eat. Slowly, the beautiful Vanushka became strained and pale. One night only a few weeks after Javier left. Vanushka slipped into a troubled sleep that slowly calmed to a deathly pale.

As her mother kept watch by her bedside, Vanushka gave a shudder and weak sob as a tear streamed down her pale cheek. Then her hand went limp and she breathed the long shallow sigh of death from a broken heart.

The entire gypsy family wept for Vanushka as they carried her lace draped casket through the streets and to the Calvario Cemetery where they laid her in a tomb.

People still write on Vanushka's tomb hoping to have their distant loved one restored.

Although people debate whether she died because of the distance between them or because they were kept apart by their families, most people in Xela agree that she died of a broken heart.

As legend has it, a young woman heard

the story of Vanushka’s sorrow and went to her tomb to weep for she had a similar separation between the man she loved and herself. Soon, they were reunited and the tale grew into one that says that one who visits Vanushka’s tomb and leaves flowers or writes a note on the tomb will be reunited with their love.

The dedication information on Vanushka's Statue placed on her tomb February 14, 2011

While there is  only a little evidence for Vanushka’s story here, there is clear evidence that many people still visit Vanushka’s tomb and leave both flowers and notes. In fact, in February 2011, a new statue was placed on her previously simple tomb depicting the lovesick girl in repose with a photo of her beau in her hand.

If you want to visit Vanushka’s tomb for yourself, you can find it when you enter the Quetzaltenango Calvario cemetery. Once you get through the gate, the tomb is just off the main path to the left of the entrance. It’s kind of tucked behind the first couple of large tombs, but if you walk around them you’ll find it. If you have difficulty, ask around and someone will surely help you!

Ojibwe Language Resources

North American native languages are surviving. One of them is the Ojibwe tongue  which is spoken by about 50,000 people in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and by about 30,000 people in the US states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota. (Ref.

Want to learn the Ojibwe language? Here are  some helpful links:

  • A simple site with common words to get you started.
  • great overview of the history of the Ojibwe language. (It gets a bit technical but could be helpful, especially to linguistics nerds.)
  • A list of schools where you can study Ojibwe

Training Guatemalans to reach the world

It was late April and the volcanic slopes of Guatemala were dusty green as warm breezes gradually made way for the coming rainy season. Clouds growing in the sky signaled that it wouldn’t be long until fresh rains would water the dry volcanic slopes until they burst into colorful bloom.
For 13 years missionaries John and Sharon Harvey have experienced this cycle of dry and rainy seasons as they’ve shared the Gospel in the Central American nation of Guatemala. Each season they watch more than just flowers bloom as thousands of lives have been saved, pastors trained and children fed through the Asociacion Equipando a Los Santos Internacional (Association for Equipping the Saints International (ASELSI)). This ministry provides physical care and spiritual training to villagers across the remote mountains of northwest Guatemala.
Based in the department (state) of El Quiché, ASELSI includes both medical and Bible training branches.

Sharon Harvey, a registered nurse, organizes medical care for the villagers and trains Guatemalans to provide a much needed milk distribution program to battle the six-percent or higher mortality rate for children below the age of five. In 2004, ASELSI provided medical care for 5,700 people including milk for 250 children each month.

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference in their lives,” Sharon said. “By reaching them at the point of their need, it opens the door for me to also pray with them and to minister to them on the spiritual side.”

While the clinic helps care for physical needs, many of the local pastors had few educational opportunities until John Harvey started a comprehensive Bible training institute. ASELSI is providing Bible training in a region where many of the pastors and church leaders have less than a third grade education.

Through the training classes at ASELSI and in 12 extension centers scattered across the mountains, pastors and church leaders expand their basic knowledge of the Bible and actually earn diplomas and degrees in two or three year programs. Currently, ASELSI is looking for ways to expand training to other countries in Latin America.

ASELSI’s courses provide excellent Bible training that is practical and something that pastors and church leaders can understand and teach to others. Not only are students learning, they’re sharing that knowledge with others.

“About all the students…are doing discipleship,” John said. “Communities are being transformed.”

The combination of medical clinics and outreaches also provide positive opportunities for ministry in new communities where medical teams along with Bible students work together to provide for physical and spiritual needs.

The lives the Harvey’s touch have blossomed in these villages and towns as they take the fresh rain of the Gospel throughout the nations.

Resurrection Life Church is one of the several churches helping support this ministry in Guatemala. For more information about the Harvey’s visit

Street Light ministry to youth in downtown Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids, Mich. — On Friday nights, 15-year-old Olivia Cooper-Jones likes to hang out at an old storefront on South Division Avenue next door to a biker’s club.
While it’s not the neighborhood of choice and sits squarely in an area stigmatized by the more unsavory characteristics of this city, Cooper-Jones and scores of other teens have found something that breaks from the typical fare of the inner city at the Division Avenue Outreach Center.
“It’s a place to go to chill out and not have all the drama,” Cooper-Jones said. “They’ve got a lot of positive stuff to do. All my friends are down here.”
Part of the downtown outreach of Street Light Ministries, DAOC (pronounced “dah OC” in the adopted hip hop lingo of outreach leaders) is changing the outlook of teens across the downtown area by providing a fun hangout in a positive environment. Continue reading

An atheist, a car show and a new life.

Dan FagundoDan Fagundo was only 11 when he decided God did not exist.
For him, the decision to become an atheist wasn’t so much a denial of God as it was a matter of not finding evidence for His existence. Even as a youngster, Dan had been thinking deeply about God, but the questions he asked were left unanswered by his family and their Jehovah Witness beliefs.
“I started asking a lot of questions just really in-depth questions that my mom couldn’t answer.” Dan said.
Without answers and seeing poor examples of Christianity, he gave up on the idea of God.
“I decided there absolutely was no God, there was nothing to believe in, there was no heaven, no hell; there was no consequence for anything I did. And that led into where the rest of my life was going—in a very bad direction.”

Starting in elementary school, Dan made a point to pick on children who were Christians. A couple years later, Dan was in middle school and found his atheistic beliefs reinforced by science class lessons on evolution.

Continue reading