When I was a child I found most color by number pages boring because the picture was already obvious and the having to use the colors prescribed by the key seemed an affront to my creativity. But every now and then there would be a sheet the teacher would hand out that was divided up in such a way that you could not tell what you were going to end up with until you did the coloring. Those were my favorites and inspired me to create this one. I did not want to dictate what hue(s) to use, but my goal was for the message in the marked shapes to only be visible once they are colored. I wonder if note cards with this different kinds of messages to find would be something people would buy to send?
“It had not occurred to her that they would choose different sides.”
I worked on this piece from October 2017 to March 2018 and took more in progress photos than usual. I think it is fun to see how it developed.
I worked on this painting from April to October 2016. It has been shown at the Quinlan Art Center in Gainesville and the Sautee Nachoochee Art Center, but I just got it hung on the wall at my new house yesterday morning. It is now directly in front of me when I sit in the living room to drink my coffee in the morning to read and write. I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what the next step in my life should be, the reasons I might chose one path or another, and the validity of those reasons in the grand scheme of things. The most recent work I have been doing has been trying to face the decisions and the emotions that come along with them head on. But somehow this painting brought me to realizations that the others had not.
The symbolism is not obscured. One does not need to be an expert in art interpretation or psychology to see that the figure in the picture is lost deep in the tangle of vegetation, smothered but still making an effort to reach out towards the clearing. Though the little bird may have an opportunity to take flight, at first glance it seems unlikely the hidden figure will. I think the case could be made that a sacrifice has been made to give the little bird a chance. The fact that I know that underneath this painting is the last self portrait I attempted before moving to Mexico literally adds another layer of meaning. Even though the years of marriage and children have covered up who I once was, I like the new painting better than the old one. I do not wish to move backwards. If by chance someone should climb up out of the tangle I would not want it to be the same person who got covered up to start with.
In June a group of twenty of us from (or related to) Nacoochee Presbyterian Church went for a weeklong visit to Guatemala. When we first arrived Emerson Morales, our trip leader from CEDEPCA, talked to us about expectations for our trip. He asked us not to think of it as a Mission Trip where we, the privileged first-worlders, come with the idea that we are going to ‘save’ the Guatemalans and fix all their issues. Instead he asked us to think of it as a Vision Trip where we focus on seeing the work that God is already doing in Guatemala and learning about how we can be a part of it. This was a defining moment for me, and I think for many others on the trip. They do not need us to save them, but they do need us to see them.
Our vision started by taking in the landscapes of Guatemala. The views of the dramatic volcanic mountains we saw as our bus climbed to altitudes of 9,000 feet above sea level were breathtakingly beautiful. An unforgettable moment for me was our magical first view of the blue of Lake Atitlan as we drove down to Panachel.We saw countless vistas of great beauty however what is especially striking is how the people have adapted what could have been seen as uninhabitable and unreachable land. They have carved roads and found ways to build their homes and plant their crops on even the steepest slopes. Land is precious and very little space is wasted. If there is no more room to expand in width then they just keep building up. Though we did pass places that are reminders of ecological and sustainability work that still needs to be done overall the landscapes of Guatemala are inspiring. Over and over we were reminded of the beauty and grandeur of God’s creation as well as the hard work, determination and persistence of the people who create homes there.
Seeing Guatemala is also learning about their history, both ancient and recent. It is a story full of tragedy and struggle which highlights the people’s resilience and fortitude. They have repeatedly dealt with natural disasters (volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides, floods and droughts can all strike Guatemala) as well as political and socioeconomic injustice of such extremes that they are difficult to fully comprehend. Unfortunately our own country and culture’s culpability in some of the events is undeniable. Though we do not want to dwell on the dark chapters of their history, it is important that we are aware of them. Our vision of Guatemala is not complete unless we recognize how its history has shaped the present and continues to influence the work being done to improve the future. And a lot of work is being done.
We were able to see firsthand what God is doing right now through the people of Guatemala for the people of Guatemala and, very importantly, we saw the people themselves. We shared smiles, waves, eye contact, conversation and even selfies. Everywhere we went, and especially in and around San Juan de Ostuncalco, we were made to feel very welcome. Our hosts, as well as people we met along the way who knew nothing about us, were warm, gracious and patient. They seemed genuinely pleased that we were visiting their communities. We were invited into their homes for fellowship and wonderful meals. We played with their children and hugged our prayer partners. We planted trees alongside them, and helped practiced each others languages. We visited their schools, attended their church, and admired their livestock and artisanship. We saw our fellow children of God and we will not forget them.
Groups like CEDEPCA and the Mam Women’s Association are working tirelessly to help people continue to improve their lives. We met people like Emerson, Rosario Diaz, Elena Mendez, and an ex-immigrant named Willy who have dedicated their lives to making things better and it is working. Listening to stories and seeing examples of what the Womens Association groups have done with their microloans is inspiring in many ways. Instead of surrendering to obstacles these women have banded together to educate themselves and others, to find opportunities and then work relentlessly to accomplish their goals. They are laboring not just to better their family’s financial situations, but also to continue to gain knowledge and skills that benefit their entire communities. They are open and eager to learn. The women we met, and many like them, are taking advantage of the chance for basic education and English classes at the Saturday school, developing skills like embroidery at the sewing school, and improving animal husbandry and agricultural techniques through programs from organizations like Heifer International. Attending and contributing to the health fair and visiting communities where new water filters and latrines have been installed reminded our group what access to education, clean water and hygienic facilities can mean. Tangible improvement been made and is continuing to be made by these programs. They are making a difference.
Our Vision Trip to Guatemala will have a lasting effect on each member of our group. We have been given the gift of seeing Guatemala and with that gift comes a responsibility to share what we have seen done and what still needs to be done. I feel honored to have made this trip and to be part of a church that has supported this work for a long time and is committed to continuing to support it. I hope we will not “grow weary of doing good,” for the work we witnessed in Guatemala is able to continue to grow in depth and reach because of our contributions of money and time as well as our prayers. Lives are being changed. Children are not getting sick from dirty water, jobs are being created, education is more available and the Word and Love of God is being spread.
It is hard to believe, but it has been six years since my trip to do mission work in Piedras Negras, Mexico. That was a wonderful experience that I have wanted to repeat ever since, but several moves, opening and closing a restaurant, and of course the day-to-day responsibilities of a working parenthood required me to keep putting it off. Since our last move our family has found a wonderful new church home at Nacoochee Presbyterian Church here in north Georgia. We became members a few months ago and we have gotten very involved in Convivio, a Latin America Outreach program. Many of the people I have gotten to know are originally from Central America. The leaders of Convivio are also leading a Mission Trip to Guatemala this summer. I am very excited to share the news that I will be able to go on the trip.
We will be flying into Guatemala City on June 6th and then taking a bus to Quetzaltenago in the western highland region of the country. That will be our home base for the week as we visit various places and work on different projects in the surrounding mountains. The group that we will be partnering with is CEDEPCA, El Centro Evangélico de Estudios Pastorales en Centroamérica/ The Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America. (www.cedepca.org). We will work alongside them on their ongoing projects to build latrines in communities that lack them, plant fruit, oak and pine seedlings in areas that need to be reforested, and support the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development as they provide resources to help the women of the community start, maintain and grow their own businesses.
In Ostuncalco we will take part in a Health Fair that will include sharing educational material and providing health screenings for an area clinic. We will have some doctors with us and we expect that malnutrition, stomach and respiratory problems will be common. One of our areas of focus with the children will be teaching them about how to best take care of their teeth as well as providing them with dental supplies. Though I do not have medical experience I do speak Spanish well. I hope to be useful as a translator at the Health Fair and in our other projects. Most of the people in the area speak Spanish but their first language is a Mayan dialect called Mam. Not only am I brushing up on my medical and dental vocabulary in Spanish, I am also trying to pick up some basic words in Mam.
Our group has been fundraising since the fall. We have sold Guatemalan crafts, had a dinner and movie night, and hosted a Latin American Dance group. Through those projects and some friends who donated early I have raised most of the $920 I need for room, board and projects. In order to help cover the $820 round trip plane ticket I have done a new painting and am offering prints of it for $25. The painting is of my friend Pascual, who attends our church and Convivio with his family. He is an immigrant from Guatemala who has inspired us with his faith and trust in God while working to appeal a deportation order. The prints are 8×10 inches and come in 11×14 mattes with backing boards that will fit easily into a standard frame. I hope you will want to add one to your art collection. I also ask you to pray for us, our trip, Pascual, CEDEPCA and the people of Guatemala.
Thank you so much,
(Note: Purchasing a print is not tax deductible but a donation can be. If you need your donation to be tax deductible then you can use the church’s donation site or mail a check to Nacoochee Presbyterian Church, Post Office Box 87, Sautee-Nacoochee, Georgia 30571 with “Guatemala Mission –Jennifer Herrera” in the memo line.)