Category Archives: Mission

Vision Trip to Guatemala

Los Vailes Prayer Partners 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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. Guatemalan Highland LandscapeThough 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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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.Los Gonzales President with her Merino Sheep 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. A tooth floss demonstrationThey 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. Sewing School

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.

Mission to Guatemala

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.

Guatemala-map

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.

PascualPrayer_photoOur 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,
Jennifer









(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.)
 

Mission to Piedras Negras

Below you will find the letter I sent out to my friends and family to seek support for a mission trip to Coahuila, Mexico. I was blessed with a great response and raised exactly what I needed to make the trip. The trip was an amazing experience and I am still processing all the ways it affected me.


Hello Friends,

I am writing to share with you an exciting opportunity that has opened up to me. As you know I lived in the southeast of Mexico for seven lovely tropical years. The influence Mexico had on me and my artwork is obvious. I have a great love for the country, its people and culture. And of course my dear husband, children, and foster son were all born in Mexico.

Living in Cancun and visiting Mexico City I had the opportunity to experience the very best Mexico has to offer. But as anyone who watches the news knows there are parts of Mexico that have huge problems with poverty, corruption and cartel-related crime. In my volunteer work with immigrant children here in Georgia it has been hard for me to reconcile the Mexico I know and love with the one they left behind. Their Mexico is so lacking in opportunity that families leave everything they know and risk their lives to cross to this country. For some time I have been anxious to have a better understanding of this other face of Mexico. This June I hope to have the chance to learn more first hand.


My church, Mountain Lake Church, partners with a group called Hands and Feet that works with schools, orphanages and medical clinics in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. A group of us from Mountain Lake will be going there on a mission trip to offer our help by offering medical clinics, building a cafeteria pavilion for a local school and by sharing the love of Jesus with children at orphanages and through a week of Vacation Bible School. I am so excited about the possibility of being able to help in some small way the people of the country that I love so much while at the same time learning more about the complicated issues Mexico and Mexicans face.

Our group will fly from Atlanta to San Antonio, Texas and then cross the border by van and drive south about 2 and a half hours to Piedras Negras. Though Piedras Negras is on the border it is not near Juarez where most of the cartel crime is centered. Hands and Feet have been working in the area for over 12 years and many groups like ours have visited without incident. We do not believe we will be in any danger but neither do we take our safety lightly and we hope you will pray for us and our trip.

All of us going on this mission trip are sending out letters to our friends and family asking for commitments of prayer as well as financial support. Each of us needs $1300 to cover the cost of our transportation, lodging, food and supplies. To raise my portion I am offering prints of my painting “Light in Darkness” for $25. The painting is inspired by Matthew 5:14-16. The prints are 10×8 inches and come in 14×11 mattes with backing boards that will fit easily into a standard frame. I hope you will want to add one to your collection. If not I hope you will still commit to pray for me, the rest of my group, the people of Piedras Negras and Mexico in general.

If you would like to donate directly to my trip’s fund instead of (or in addition to) buying a prints you can do so here.

 

I would also love for you to leave me a comment below letting me know that I can count on you for prayers.

Thanks.

Drawing as ministry

The main focus of our team’s week in Mexico was the Health and Beauty Clinic we held near the Escuela de Nogal in the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood of Nava. Hands and Feet Ministries has built relationships with many families in this neighborhood through the school. Several times a year they reach out to the community through various events. A small kindergarten building and playground near the school that has recently been donated to Hands and Feet was the perfect place to hold the clinic.

beautyclinicMonday we divided into groups and walked around the neighborhood giving out fliers and inviting everyone to come for free manicures, pedicures and haircuts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We did some basic set up on Monday and discussed who would be filling what role in the clinic. Since my Spanish is pretty good I was asked if I wanted to be the one to share the Gospel with the ladies who were waiting their turn for beauty treatments. I said I would. I tend to be more outgoing in Spanish than I do in English. I find it easier to start a conversation with a stranger in Spanish in a foreign country than in English with the people who live in my own neighborhood. (I think it has to do with having the excuse of not being a native speaker and being expected to make mistakes that somehow takes the pressure off.) But when Ramiro suggested I make a circle of 7 or 8 chairs to sit and have my “platicas” with the ladies I got pretty nervous. He also reccomended that I have a page with applicable Bible verses to hand out. I liked that idea and when we got back to the hotel Deanna and I spent some time looking up verses on beauty and God’s love for us that might offer encouragement to the ladies attending the clinic. We decided on 1 Peter 3:3-4, which seemed the perfect choice to remind the women that though it is nice to feel pretty on the outside God sees and values the beauty we have on the inside.

PN_drawing2The message I wanted to most communicate to each person that came to the clinic was that God made them and God loves them, and I wanted to do so in a personal way. By washing their feet, painting their nails and cutting their hair we were helping to take care of their outside appearance, but I did not want anyone to think it was because we found them lacking. Instead I wanted to be sure that they left feeling loved and accepted by us and by God. To help make the personal connection, and also to help with my nervousness, I decided to combine my love of drawing faces with God’s message of love and acceptance. I used my trusty Sharpies to draw a picture of a hand holding a small mirror surrounded by my signature swirls. Leaving enough space to write a name at the top I wrote “eres hija de Dios, una creación admirable,” which translates to, “you are a child of God, a wonderful creation,” and then smaller added 1 Peter 3:3-4 at the bottom. We made plenty of copies that I took with me, ready to be personalized.

Over the next 3 days I drew portraits of over 40 women, children and even a few young men. As they waited their turn for the other stations they sat still in front of me as I drew their face in the mirror and then wrote their name across the top of the paper. Drawing someone’s portrait is a very intimate experience. You have to look closely at them, really see who they are. For some of the women looking me in the eyes was almost impossible, and one of the young men absolutely would not meet my gaze, but the children loved it. They unflinchingly looked right into my eyes and smiled at me, realizing that I was really looking at them, seeing them, and that I appreciated what I saw. When I finished each portrait and made sure I had their name spelled correctly I read to them what it said and told them it was true. The experience of carefully studying each of their faces, looking into their eyes and then being able to tell them with certainty that they indeed are the children of God, beautiful and wonderfully made was amazing. I would even go so far as to say it felt holy. I felt like I was making a connection, that they believed me, and that most of them would keep the paper with their portrait and the reminder that not only did I see them, but God continues to see them, accept them and love them.

pn_drawing

Our week in Coahuila has given me so much to think about. I am still trying to process it all, but I think the power of eye contact and the human desire to be seen have been what I have pondered the most. I think all of us want to be seen, to be noticed, to be appreciated. We think that this desire can be met by other people. As the drawing went well and I got positive feedback from the people of Nava as well as the people I was serving with I was pleased, but also wary. I was reminded of Galatians 1:10 and that while being seen and appreciated by other people is nice, it is to our Lord God in Heaven that we should be looking for approval. It is from Him that we should seek and find acceptance reassurance, and love. It is Him that really sees us as we are, fearfully and wonderfully made.

Mexico on the Skin

La Bandera de Mexico

Mexican flag above Piedra Negra's market

Our mission team flew into San Antonio on Saturday afternoon and then drove about 2 hours to the border town of Eagle Pass. It was a surprise to see a typical American strip after an hour of seeing nothing but scrubby bushes and cactus. It was getting dark by the time we crossed the bridge across the Rio Grande and into Mexico. The bridge was long but the river itself was much narrower than I had imagined it. When Mike pushed the button (a large version of what we pressed to go through “Aduanas” in the airport in Cancun) and we got the green light I started feeling the familiarity of the country I used to call home. It was a short drive through the dark streets of Piedras Negras to the Plaza Hotel, but by the time we arrived the song “México en la Piel” and its chorus of “Asi se siente México” (this is how Mexico feels) was repeating through my head.

I set out on this trip expecting to find the north of Mexico extremely different from the south. Piedras Negras and Cancun are 1736 miles apart, one as dry as the other is humid, but the sense of being in Mexico is the same. The food, the people and the architecture have more in common than I had imagined. From the Caribbean shore to the Bolsón de Mapimí desert there really is a certain feeling that is Mexico.


(Lyrics with translation in English)

Even now, back home with my very own Mexicanos, my eyes feel a bit damp when I listen to this song. I really do love Mexico. And I just want to let anyone who may read this know: there was not any moment that I was in Piedras Negras when I felt unsafe. We walked through a public park after dark, and went door to door in Nava inviting people to our Health and Beauty Clinic. (The only time I left even a little bit nervous was when a dog in in Nava didn’t want to stop barking at us. I crossed to the other side of the street to give him some space and we were both fine.) I know there are parts of Mexico where we gringos should not go. The area around Juarez is still not be a place I would like to visit, but I not only want to visit Piedras Negras again, but I would like to take my children with me next time.