December 12, 2011

We'll Be Home for Christmas...

We are in our final week of school. A full day Tuesday, two half days Wednesday and Thursday, and a two-hour day on Friday. And then begins our whirlwind tour of the Midwest this Christmas. Here is our approximate schedule...

Grand Rapids, Michigan: Saturday, December 17 - Sunday, December 25
Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Monday, December 26 - Thursday, December 28
Pella, Iowa: Thursday, December 28 - Sunday, January 1
Beloit, Wisconsin: Sunday, January 1 - Wednesday, January 4
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wednesday, January 4 - Friday, January 6
Fly out of Grand Rapids Friday morning and arrive in Guatemala City Friday night, January 6

While the traveling will make our three week Christmas Break fly by, we are just thrilled to be able to see lots of family and friends during our time off.

Please pray for safe travels, both by airplane and by car. We have not driven a car in about five months, but hopefully we have not indirectly picked up on terrible Guatemalan driving habits, such as endless horn-honking, using your hand out the window as a blinker, and piling at least 23 people into a 15 passenger vehicle.

Oh, and please don't tease us if we speak terrible English when we get home. You can only listen to broken English for so many hours in a day before you start saying, "I have 22 years," or "The kleenex, where it is?," or "It's do you say....I have a lot of cold?"

Grace and Peace,

PS. Merry Christmas from the newest Broekhuis Family...Pictures from our Staff Christmas Party.

 Our classy Christmas sweaters. I love dogs. And dogs wearing sweaters.

 Our dear friend Sarah. Here's to first-year teachers!

 Paches...rice, meat, a prune, and a little sauce. A Guatemalan Christmas tradition. It doesn't quite replace Christmas ham and mashed potatoes...but it's not half bad.

Many, but not all, of the female staff at our school. It may or may not look like we are at a prison with the barbed wire in the back, but we are definitely just hanging out on the roof of a house. A simple reminder we are in Guatemala.

November 29, 2011

Do they eat turkey in Guatemala?

No. Not usually.

But leave it to the PTA of our school to go above and beyond and provide the teachers from the United States with a complete Thanksgiving dinner. So yes, we were able to enjoy turkey this Thanksgiving, amongst other a trip to the warm beaches of El Salvador. Take a look...

These are the tents, tables, and chairs set up on Wednesday afternoon for our Thanksgiving feast. The feast included turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, bread, and apple pie.
 This picture is of Collin with a few of our friends from school. All we needed was to find somebody from Asia to make this picture quadra-cultural. Next time.
 After Thanksgiving dinner, we hopped on a bus and made the 4 hour trip to Guatemala City (en-route for El Salvador.) At the hostel in Guatemala City on Wednesday, we found this sign hanging on the wall for us. It will be a pleasure to serve. I think they appreciated the fact that our group had booked every room they have in their hostel.
 At the crack of dawn Thursday morning, we hopped on another bus to go to El Salvador, which was another 5 hour ride. Once we reached the capital, we crammed 10 people into two different taxis, and took a 40 minute ride to a bed and breakfast on Playa San Blas.
 Here is the bed and breakfast we stayed at, called El Coral. It was rustic and secluded and wonderful. The bed and breakfast is also a restaurant, which was quite handy, considering we were a 10 minute bus ride from the nearest town.
The place we stayed at was complete with hammocks, a pool, and lots of hot sunshine.
 This is the group of ten teachers from our school that we were with. A lovely group indeed.
 During low tide, the water is about 100 yards away from the fence of the bed and breakfast. During high tide, the ocean water comes about 20 feet from the fence, and you cannot even see these rocks.
 We enjoyed many things on our trip, including a lot of reading on the beach and boogie-boarding in the ocean, with the water being at least 80 degrees...
Finding random creatures in the tide pools during low tide...such as squid and hermit crabs...
And sending endangered baby turtles who had just hatched back into the ocean...
We also enjoyed going into town to eat pupusas (thick tortillas filled with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables.) They are delicious, and cost an average of 40 cents per pupusa...
As well as learning how to eat seafood still inside the shells...complicated yet delicious.
And of course, we enjoyed many beautiful sunsets...leaving a glow on the water, sand, palm trees, and mountains...

We really enjoyed our long weekend in El Salvador with some great friends. And everything with traveling went smoothly...until the last leg of the trip. In our final taxi ride home, I left a bag inside of the taxi. The bag had many Christmas presents that we had bought for other people. It was quite depressing that our wonderful vacation ended this way. Collin ran around town trying to see if he could find the taxi again. (Husband of the year award.) He was not able to find it, and we figured the bag was lost, but we planned to go back to the bus station the next day to look for it anyways. What are the chances we would be able to find the exact same taxi in a big city? 

We both prayed about it, telling God that we realized that it was a somewhat silly thing to pray for, but we really would like to find that bag back. When we went back to the bus station the next day, we could not find the taxi, let alone remember what color it was. We were advised to look at the other bus station a few blocks down. The taxi was not there either. We decided to walk home and accept that the bag of gifts we had bought were lost forever. As we walked past the first bus station again, what to our wondering eyes did appear, but our taxi man from the night before!!! He pulled right up next to the bus station and parked! And even more amazing, is that our bag of gifts was still in his taxi!

We knew this was a silly thing to pray about, yet it was a great reminder to us about how miracles often happen in the daily matters of life. For us, it was God sending us our one-in-a-million taxi driver with our bag of gifts. Other times, it has been a conversation with someone at just the right moment in time to lift our spirits. And still other times, it has been Guatemalan families welcoming us and showing us generosity.

Miracles still happen. And El Salvador rocks.

Grace and Peace,

November 19, 2011

Marathons and Mormonism

From Kendra:

School is going well for us both. There are only a couple more days until we have Thanksgiving break, which we will spend by the ocean in El Salvador. The PTA is hosting a Thanksgiving Dinner for us on Wednesday, which allows us to have some turkey. The only thing we will be missing is family, which we will be missing greatly. Thankfully only a few weeks after break we will be headed the States for Christmas!

Collin was kind enough to come and visit the 1st grade class and read to us. He read his childhood favorite, The Little Engine that Could.  

First graders have also been on a roll with their quotes lately:

1. I asked my students, “What do animals use plants for?” One student answered, “Sometimes dogs use trees for a bathroom!”

2. One student got scraped up after he fell off his skateboard. The next day at school he told me, “My mom says if you take off my bandaid you will be able to see my meat!”

3. We learned about the story of Ruth in Bible class. I asked my students, “Who was Naomi’s husband?” One student answered, “Old McDonald!”

4. One student came up and said, “Mrs. Broekhuis, my brother told me that ‘Trouble’ is his second name!”

5. A first grader reciting Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a table before me in the presidents of my enemies.”

6. And speaking of presidents, every day I ask the class helper how they feel today and why. This helper said, “Today I feel hopeful, because we have a new president. The last presidents have not been good, but this president might do good things.” Even the children understand.

From Collin:

China’s population is growing so rapidly, that if their entire population would start walking past you, the line would never end. I suppose that is a terrible analogy for anybody that has never watched thousands of people walk by, but Kendra and I had that opportunity last Sunday. The anual half-marathon in Xela had around 3,000 participants, and we watched all of them run, jog, speed walk, and trudge by. It took about 45 minutes, which is not really that many compared to the Boston or Chicago marathon, but when you are supposed to clap for everybody who went by, it made it seem like forever. Our hands were tingling by the end.

Kendra’s favorite part of the marathon was when this man ran by yelling “MOO-chas gracias!”

But, we ended up sitting next to a family from the school, who invited us in for juice and fruit afterwards…which turned into an invite to play games…which turned into an invite to go out to lunch with them…which turned into an invite to go out for ice cream after lunch. You gotta love Guatemalan hospitality. During our time with this family, they taught us how to eat straight sugar cane, in which you bite into the cane and suck out the sugar. They also introduced to a weird fruit called granadia. When you open this fruit up, it looks like hundreds of seeds surrounded by pouches of puss. Luckily, it tasted a whole lot better than it looked.

From Kendra:

Yesterday, we went to visit the new Mormon temple that was just built here in Xela. The only time when non-Mormons are allowed to enter the temple is right after it is built. The Mormon Church is having a two-week open house for visitors, but then only Mormons will ever be allowed to be on the grounds of the temple. 

It is one of two Mormon temples in Guatemala, and one of about 5 temples in Central America. We were not allowed to take pictures inside of the temple, but I was allowed to take one of the outside. Before our visit, we did not know much about the Mormon faith. I didn’t even know they were called the “Church of Latter Day Saints.” The only thing that I knew about Mormonism is that they have the Book of Mormons, which accompanies the Bible, and that some Mormon men are polygamists. (I learned that from watching “Sister Wives” on TLC, which was then revoked this weekend when I learned that most of the Mormon Church does not accept polygamy as an acceptable practice anymore.)

But the Mormon population in Guatemala is the 8th largest in the world. It made us wonder, what is so attractive about this religion? Why are Christians leaving the church and converting to Mormonism? From our tour in the temple, and from meeting a few Mormons this weekend, we could see a few reasons. From outside appearances, Mormonism looks beautiful. Mormons themselves are faithful to their beliefs and their church customs. They are very kind and service-oriented, in my opinion, putting Christian groups to shame. (Young Mormon men have to commit themselves to two years of missionary service, of which we see many walking around in Xela.) Mormons are a very well-organized church, and they are also one of the richest churches in the world, because members tithe the full 10%, which makes sense why they were able to build a new temple that costs 44 million dollars!

Our tour started out with a 20 minute video about why temples were important in Biblical history, and how they believe that temples are still the dwelling place of God today. On our tour we had a guide leading us, and a person following quietly behind us. The temple did not look like I expected. I thought it would be like a large cathedral, when it was actually built with many smaller rooms. The rooms were beautiful and ornate, and they honestly reminded me of very fancy hotel lobbies with cushy chairs and plants. The floors were made of marble, the windows were stain-glass, and the chandeliers were of crystal jewels. There were rooms for chapel and learning. There were locker rooms to change into mandatory white robes and a room especially for baptisms. Baptisms at the temple are only done for people who want to get baptized on behalf of their relatives who have already died. Their deceased relatives can then choose whether or not they accept the baptism. There was a room where only a bride and her mother will ever enter. There was a room where Mormon couples get married, and according to them, are “eternally married even after death.” Only their Mormon relatives will be allowed to attend, because Mormon couples have to get married in the temple, and only Mormons may enter the temple.

As we progressed through the rooms, the ceilings got higher and the lights got brighter. Our guide said that this is because we were getting closer to God’s presence. In the last room, we were not even allowed to talk, because we were in the room where God was dwelling. We were supposed to simply meditate on our own relationship with God.

Like I said, the temple was beautiful. The people were sincere and friendly. They even gave us a cookie and a juice box afterward. They quoted scripture and said things that sounded very biblical and Christian. But Matthew 7:15 says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”

In church today, this passage was used by the guest speaker, named Joel Groat. He is the director of ministries at the Institute for Religious Research, which is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan!!! He taught us about the history and beliefs of Mormonism, and how this religion truly is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The history of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, is terrible and ugly, and his beliefs are even uglier.

The Mormon religion is based on visions that Joseph Smith claimed to have. However, story where he received the vision and what the vision was about changed five times over five years. He claimed that he received prophecies by putting a rock in a hat, and then putting his face in the hat. He would say what the rock told him through the hat, and men would write it down. These prophecies are put together in now what is called the Book of Mormons.

In order to become a Mormon, you have to vow that you believe in the Book of Mormons, the creeds of Joseph Smith. These beliefs contradict many of our core beliefs as Christians. Their beliefs include that God has a human body, that men are all sons of gods, and that salvation comes through grace after  you do all that you can to earn your own salvation through good works. Everybody goes to heaven, but you must do good works to earn your way to higher levels of heaven. Like I mentioned before, people can be baptized for their deceased relatives. Their beliefs contradict the doctrine of the Trinity, the all-powerful nature of God, the infallibility of scripture, and that our salvation comes through Christ alone.

When I think about the Mormon Church and the new Mormon temple in Xela, I am grieved by the fact that so many have been already been deceived. Many kind and sincere and wonderful people have joined the Mormon Church, not knowing the history or the core beliefs that make up the religion. We live in a time where many people will be deceived, and where Christians need to know and remember what they believe. There are false prophets and false teachers everywhere, trying to make things look and sound beautiful and innocent, when really underneath what they are selling is ferociously ugly and evil.

Heed Christ's warning in Matthew 10:10: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Grace and Peace,
Collin and Kendra

November 5, 2011

Shoes my Size

Yes, I (Collin) finally found shoes my size. Having one pair of shoes for everything makes them get beat up pretty quickly here with all the walking we do. So I have been randomly looking for shoes that I can use and possibly play soccer on turf with. I have struck out numerous times at several stores, until yesterday. When we ask shoe stores for the biggest shoes that stores have, they almost always came back with a 10 1/2 size, about one shoe size to small. But finally, for a low price we found shoes that were size 11 and fit wonderfully. I broke them in playing in a futbol game already.

Speaking of futbol (soccer) I have been able to go twice with a our friend Christian to play some soccer with his friends on a small field. Most of the soccer is played on small fields, just think about 10 feet bigger on every side than a basketball court. It's a good time. I haven't figured out why they don't like big fields, but speaking we are at an elevation higher than Denver, it might have something to do with lack of oxygen.

We also had a unique experience meeting a student who Kendra and I are going to start sponsoring. A friend of our school works works for an organization called CEIPA. CEIPA specifically teaches working children who cannot attend school during the day. These children have to help their parents work and make money to support their families. However, they also want to go to school to get a better job later in life. It was a unique experience with us trying to speak our broken Spanish to a 19 year old girl (in 6th grade) and her parents. It was a little tough to communicate everything, but they honestly would not be able to afford her tuition without help.

A lot of the teachers at IAS are sponsoring students, so it is kind of exciting to witness the other side of the money spectrum since most of the students we teach come from families who have no problems with money. Its a very good organization that gets to the root of problems around Xela. The literacy rate in Guatemala is one of the worst in the world. If these kids can't attend school, they have no choice than to do the same jobs as their parents for the rest of their lives. Sponsorship gives them a fighting chance to graduate Jr. High and possibly get into a High School. This school puts them in a great position to possibly find a stable job with a stable income.

Sunday Elections
This coming Sunday will be a little bit different for us. We do not have a church service, because our church holds election voting. Yes, this is the final vote for the top two candidates for the president of Guatemala. According to some sources, the candidate choices for voting is either cancer or AIDS. In other words, some people are not excited for either candidate. So, it looks like we are going to take advantage of the Dordt podcast chapels for our sermon tomorrow.

Kendra's 1st grade quotes:
"Mrs. Broekhuis I know where monsters live.... the Pacific Ocean!"

"What is 1 sheep + 1 sheep? A baby sheep!" (Kendra had to lower her mind in the gutter a little bit for that first grade joke.)

Grace and Peace,

November 2, 2011

All Saints Day

In Guatemala and many other countries, November 1 is All Saints Day. For that reason, we had off from school on Tuesday. Like most holidays, people celebrate at different degrees, but a few traditions are commonly followed. The first tradition is the eating of “fiambre,” which is only eaten on All Saints Day. Basically, fiambre is a meat salad. There are two different kinds of fiambre, either red or white. Red fiambre is made with beets, which is how the red fiambre becomes red. White fiambre is simply cooked without beets.

We were graciously invited to our Spanish teacher’s house, where we ate red fiambre. The picture below shows just how colorful and beautiful the salad looks. It was definitely not the worst thing we have eaten. The taste is good, but the texture becomes interesting after awhile.

Another common custom for All Saints Day is to go to the cemetery to visit and decorate relative’s gravesites, using many flowers and pine needles. Some of the pictures below show all the beautiful flowers used. The cemetery is huge, but it was packed with people, fresh flowers, and venders selling pizza and peanuts.

There are some interesting beliefs surrounding All Saints Day and the cemetery traditions. For example, there is one gravesite marked “Vanushka.” She is the Guatemalan version of Juliette, a woman who wasn’t allowed to marry her true love and therefore died of a broken heart. Now people write their name on her grave, believing she will help them find true love. When they do find their special someone, they are supposed to come back to the cemetery and put flowers on her grave.

Another somewhat interesting thing is that most of the angel statues in the cemetery are headless. One way that gangs initiate new members is to have them cut the heads off of the angels. The only angel in the cemetery with a head is the Angel of Death.

Some also believe that the spirits of their dead relatives come back to visit on All Saints Day. Some people will leave their relative’s favorite foods and other gifts on their gravesite, so that their spirit will not be hungry when they return.

One final tradition, a little more uplifting, is the flying of kites in the cemetery. There were a lot of kites being flown that day. Our group exploring the cemetery did our best to fly kites among the tombs and the trees. Thankfully a few Guatemalan boys were experts and helped us out.

The tomb of the last Guatemalan President. He was really into Greco-Roman Architecture.

A few wonderful friends from IAS.

It was an interesting day of experiencing more Guatemalan culture. If you have a minute to pray for us, please consider the following:

1. The final round of elections is on Sunday. Pray for a peaceful transition.
2. Our school is in need of finding a team to lead Spiritual Emphasis week next March. Pray that a group will be willing to come down and lead a vacation Bible school for elementary students and a spiritual retreat for middle and high school students.

Grace and Peace,

October 25, 2011

Renewing Visas = Vacation

Every couple of months we have to leave the Guatemala to renew our visas. Our visas are “tourist visas,” which expire every ninety days. School sends us next door to Tapachula, Mexico. It’s really not too shabby, as our expenses are fully covered by school: transportation, hotels, food, and translation at the border. We were only in Mexico for about 24 hours, but it was lovely. We relaxed, shopped, sat by our hotel pool, and ate a lot of food. Here are a few of our observations and learning experiences from our quick trip:

1. Apparently Mexicans and Guatemalans do not like each other. It is something about how each country thinks the other stole their national instrument, the Marimba. Interesting.

2. The drive from Xela to the Mexican border is about 3 hours, and includes about 130 speed bumps.

3. Border guards will try to intimidate you so they can get some money out of you. Thankfully our fearless leader, Kandy, was not taking any of that crap. At one point they wanted to charge a teacher 900 Quetzals (over 100 extra dollars) to cross the border because her passport had not been scanned when she came to Guatemala in the summer. The legal way to fix the problem was to simply make a copy of the passport and fix the records in the computer…and it no way involved paying any money.

4. It was at least 85 degrees. It was hot, sunny, and humid, and there were palm trees. Each of these factors fit my stereotypes of Central America a little better. It was a wonderful change as the mountains of Xela are getting a little chilly these days.

5. Tapachula, Mexico felt rather “United States-ish.” There is a Sam’s Club, Walmart, a large mall, and a big movie theater there. All a little taste of home.

6. The showers in our hotel were amazing. You could have hot water and real water pressure at the same time! Usually it’s one or the other.

7. I tried to branch out and try some new food at a restaurant. I ordered “enchiladas pollo con mole,” not knowing what “mole” means. It turns out, “enchiladas pollo con mole” means “chicken enchiladas with chocolate sauce slathered over every square inch of the dish. Again, interesting.

8. One dollar = 13 pesos. One Quetzal = 1.6 pesos. Wonderful exchange rates.

And I realize it has nothing to do with our trip, but here are a few cute quotes from 1st graders:

1. “My mom likes to touch my ears because she says my ears are so soft!”

2. “I have a six pack because I am so skinny! Right, Mrs. Broekhuis, that is how you get a six pack?!”

3. I showed the first graders a movie about a rainforest habitat, which included a few scenes of tribal people. After the movie I asked the students what kind of animals live in the rainforest. One student raised their hand and said, “People that don’t wear any clothes!”

4. Sometimes English Language Learners get a little tongue-tied when they try to answer a question too quickly. During Calendar time I asked a student what month we are in. As quickly as he could he answered, “Octember!... eh…no…Octuber!…no…”

A prayer of thanks is that we are finally out of rainy season! The mornings are pretty cold, but the sunshine and warm afternoons make up for it! And we are already in the second week of the second quarter. Christmas will be here before we know it….which is rather exciting because we get to come to the States for 3 weeks!  Thank you for your thoughts and prayers! We are doing great, but we always miss our family and friends at home!

Grace and peace,

 The Mexical Border.

 Standing in two places at once.

 Enchiladas pollo con mole. Try everything once. Some things only once.

 Tapachula Central Park.

 Again, Central Park. Pretty cute.

October 12, 2011


They call it a “Tropical Depression,” which I’m pretty sure means “it’s going to rain so much that you may or may not get depressed.” The rain started Tuesday afternoon at about 1pm, and it didn’t stop until today, Wednesday, at about 1pm. That’s twenty-four straight hours of rain. I would hate to see a Tropical Storm. Or a Hurricane.

Hence, the reason we did not have school today. As you will see from the pictures below, many streets were flooded, including the street that leads to our school, which goes right over a river, which is lovingly and appropriately nicknamed the Stinky River. It is also inappropriately nicknamed other things. Like I said, the Stinky River is now flooded, and instead of the street drains draining the water, they were spitting up water like bubbling mountain spring. Not a clean mountain spring. Remember that the water was coming from the thick and brown Stinky River. 

So, no school today. I realize how nerdy of a teacher I am, when I am somewhat disappointed because of the fun and cool activities I had planned for today. But, a day off is rather fun as well. I have never had school canceled because of flooding. As a child I only knew what to do with myself when school was canceled because of snow. But if I were to go outside right now and try to make a snow angel or throw a snowball or slide down our street, I would be sorely disappointed. And I would get really dirty. So, instead we sit and hang out. Our power turns on and off. We read books and watch movies. We feel a little adventurous and we take a walk in hiked-up pants to go take pictures of the flooding. 

And like I said, the flooding was really bad in some places. People were wading through streets up to their knees in water. Down one flooded street we could see that a family was bailing water out of their house, big buckets full of water. There is bound to be a lot of damage to people’s houses on the lower streets, so please pray for them! Our house and our streets are on a little bit higher ground, so even though they are covered with water and dirt, they are not flooded very deeply. 

The beginning of this week was somewhat interesting as well. As Collin said before, his health is on the rise. But at school on Monday I was not feeling very well at all. I felt really nauseous all day. Finally in the afternoon, I had to stop in the middle of a really cool science experiment, tell the students to get out a book and read, and then run to the director’s office to tell him to take over my class. I sat down in the teacher’s lounge. Our secretary gave me a pill and some tea, but I am pretty sure both just tickled my gag reflex and made me more nauseous. A few minutes later I was in the bathroom revisiting my last couple of meals.

But let me tell you, I am terrified of throwing up. Probably because the last time I threw up was in 5th grade, aka eleven years ago. So this past Monday, the longest streak I have ever had in life – consecutive years without puking – was ruined. It was rather disheartening. Needless to say, I am pretty sure there are little amoebas swimming inside of me as well, just like Collin had. I suppose we will go get that checked out soon.

As far as school goes, we are coming to the end of the first quarter already! I can’t believe how fast the weeks fly. Grades are in this Friday. Parent-teacher Conferences are next week Thursday.

That is what is happening lately. And here is what the First Graders have been saying lately:

1. “Mrs. Broekhuis, there was a huge, scary monster under my bed last night!”
I replied, very concerned, “Oh boy, what did you do with it?”
“I played with it!”

2. “Mrs. Broekhuis, I may vomit, but I think not.”

3. “Here in my picture I am telling people about Jesus, and they are saying ‘Ooooohhhhhh!’”

4. A story. Title: “The Mouse Who Eats Persons.” Once upon a time there was a mouse that eat persons. But one day the mouse was sad because the persons were all eaten of. So the mouse stop to eat persons. The end.

I love first graders. And again, please pray for all of the people whose houses and businesses are flooded!

Grace and Peace,

 Our street, just a little muddy.
 Flooded streets.

 The street drain not draining the water.
The road to school. The Stinky River grew.