December 16, 2012

Christmas Nonsense

Christmas. The celebration of a child.

Christmas. A season to reflect on the truth that Christ humbled himself and came to earth as a child, a precious baby.

Christmas. A preview of that child who would later lead a world-rocking ministry, die a horrible death, and perform a salvation-giving resurrection.

How do we even begin to celebrate such an awesome event in our earth's history, in our faith's history? How do we celebrate Christ's humble birth to a virgin, that took place in a stable, that was fortold many years ago, which was announced by a multitude of angels to a few shepherds, who ran to Bethlehem to worship their new King, who were later followed by wisemen from the East who used a bright, shining star to map the way to the house where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus lived so that they could bring gifts to honor their holy child?

We make our classroom door pretty.

And we have lots of parties.

And we wear ugly sweaters and swap white elephant gifts, so that we can have a plastic Pikachu that lights up.

And we dress up our 1st graders in sweet sheep costumes for the elementary Christmas pageant.

And we have "Secret Santas" so that we can give more gifts.

And we have more parties and eat too much food and give even more gifts to people who don't really need them. Because that's what we do with Christmas, isn't it? That's what we do with many of our Christian holidays. We do a bunch of things that are actually kind of fun, yet have nothing to do with anything. 

I like to call it: Christmas Nonsense.

It's kind of like getting that picture taken with Santa when you're two years old. You know, that picture where you're face is red from screaming, and your body looks a mangled mess as it tries to squirm out of the lap of a man who smells like beef and cheese? And even though it was torture for you, you plan on doing the exact same thing to your child? "I mean, I'm not going to actually teach my kid that Santa is real, it's just for his scrapbook."

It's kind of like saying you're celebrating "Reformation Day" when you dress your kid up and bring him to church to get a bunch of candy on November 1, instead of October 31. It's kind of like painting eggs and eating marshmallow peeps and coloring pictures of bunny rabbits on Easter.

We all do a lot of things at Christmas time and during other Christian holidays that really don't make sense, a bunch of nonsense actually. "Jesus was born in a stable today. I think I will make my favorite 'triple-chocolate-brownie-fudge-delight-that's-better-than-you-know-what cake' to celebrate. And then I'll sing a song about a boy who played his drum for Jesus at the stable."

It doesn't make sense, which sometimes is okay. It's fun to put up tacky lights on our houses, and cook good food, and bake good sweets, and give gifts, and make a point to see family, and listen to Delilah's radio show, and sing songs about Rudolph, and dress kids in adorable costumes and listen to them sing off-tune in their Christmas pageant, and wear ugly sweaters, and watch "Elf" and "Christmas Vacation," and take a break from work.

I mean, those things aren't only for the people who say "Happy Holidays," right? Those things are for the "Merry Christmas" people too!

I just hope and pray that we may all enjoy this season with our quirky Christmas Nonsense, but that we may also look outside of ourselves to reflect and do things that show the true love and humility and passion that surround Christ's birth. This can be done by simply reading Luke 2, or by reading "Revolution in World Missions" (shout out to my favorite book), or by sponsoring a child who has real needs, or by exchanging gift giving for ministry supporting, or a whole host of other things that aren't Christmas Nonsense. It just means sacrificing a little for others as a reflection of Christ sacrificing his whole life for us.

And for those of us who still like the cliche "Jesus is the reason for the season"...some classic Avalon Christmas...

We are the reason that He gave His life.
We are the reason that He suffered and died.
To a world that was lost He gave all He could give
To show us the reason to live.

I finally found the reason for living.
It's in giving every part of my heart to Him.
In all that I do, every word that I say,
I'll be giving my all just for him.

Grace and Peace...and Merry Christmas,

ps. We are looking forward to seeing you and partaking in some more Christmas Nonsense with you all during Christmas break! Here is our general schedule of our trip home...

December 20: Fly to Grand Rapids
December 21-24: Wisconsin
December 24 -28: Michigan
December 28-January 2: South Dakota/Iowa/Wisconsin
January 2-7: Michigan
January 7: Fly to Guatemala

December 2, 2012

Grateful Hearts

It's the holiday season. We just celebrated Thanksgiving, and December is already here. Although Thanksgiving has passed, we would like to share a few things we are thankful for lately...

First Graders
Thank you, Jesus, for first graders. They are adorable, they teach me patience, and they make me laugh at least once a day. Their innocence and purity is refreshing.

Native Americans? Or posers?

1st and 2nd grade Thanksgiving celebration. (2nd grade = last year's class!)

Elementary singing "Give Thanks" before school's Thanksgiving dinner.

Cheap Traveling
Dear Jesus, we get sad when we don't get to be home for certain holidays. Thank you for the opportunity to live in a country where traveling is inexpensive and helps us stay busy so we don't get too homesick. 

Rio Dulce

Tikal - famous for many huge, amazing Mayan ruins

At the top of one Mayan temple, with others in the background

Mark your calendars and thank the Mayans for building temples but not planning a little bit farther ahead: the world ends December 21.


Collin's dream pet.

A Spanish fort near Rio Dulce. Built in 1651.

Aguas Calientes. The waterfall is very hot, the river below is cold. Relaxing.

Thank you, Jesus, for opportunities. Thank you for the opportunity to lead high school girls in Bible study. Thank you for the opportunity to spend quality time with them on a retreat and carnival day at Eagle's Nest this past weekend. Thank you for laughter.

Friday night retreat in Panajachel with Bible study girls. Baking cookies for the kids at Eagle's Nest. 

Carnival that we put together for the kids who live at Eagle's Nest. (Eagle's Nest = orphanage in Solola.) We had all sorts of stations, such as a candy walk...

sponge races...

corn hole...

a balloon relay...

and tattoos.

We also had a special chapel with all of the children. It was a really wonderful day! Thank you, Carly and Kinsey Bykerk (more SCHS grads!) for helping us get set up.

First Graders
Dear Jesus, did I mention that I was thankful for first graders? Here's just one example why...

Practicing to make a time line. This student happened to be sick "Yesterday."

And thank you, Jesus, that there are only a few weeks left of school before Christmas break. Thank you that we get to spend three whole weeks with friends and family back home. And thank you, that although the Mayans did not finish the calendar, the world will probably not end on December 21, 2012.


Grace and Peace,

November 19, 2012

12,375 Feet in the Air

On any clear, or somewhat clear day the Santa Maria volcano can be seen in the background of Xela:

Santa Maria peaks at 12,375 feet above sea level. Xela is 7,655 feet above sea level, making the trip from Xela to peak 4,720 feet for a bird. Unfortunately, the trail would not be as straight for us: it would take us about 25,000 footsteps total to go up and down the very winding mountain trail. 

Our plan was to hike the volcano during the night so that we could watch the sunrise at the top. While these hopes were not completely fulfilled due to a few interesting events (including getting lost and trudging through the jungle at night to find the right trail), we still made it to the top and were able to enjoy the amazing views as the weather was perfectly clear. This was also another item to cross off of our Guatemala Bucket List.

Check out a few of our pictures...

 Supplies for the long journey.

It was great to look over our shoulder during the trip and see Xela at night.

While we didn't watch the sunrise from the top, it was still breathtaking.

Finally at the top. The sharp peaks in the distance are 5 other volcanoes about 2 hours away.

Santa Maria's shadow cast in the morning.

A beautiful view.

Collin looking over Xela.

Santiaguito: the active volcanoe right below Santa Maria. It constantly errupts and blows smoke.

My favorite view: our volcano neighbors.

Proof we were at the top.

Smiling with glassy was pretty chilly up there...hovering around freezing.

Such a perfectly clear day.

Head back down the mountain. Checking out Xela and the wild terrain nearby.

Santa Maria from the bottom. Hard to believe we were at the top!

Thanking God for beautiful weather, safety, and a working lungs and legs.

Grace and Peace,

November 13, 2012

Church at its Finest

Thank you. 
I thank God every time I remember you. 

Thank you for showing your support. 
I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel. 

Thank you for praying for us. 
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 

Thank you for giving. 
He who sows generously will also reap generously. 

Thank you for helping our friends. 
Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. 

Thank you for caring. 
If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 

Thank you for showing us “church” at its finest. 
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 

Seriously, thank you. 
I have never stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
It has been exactly one week since we asked for your help, the help of our fellow siblings in Christ here and there and everywhere. In only one week, your donations have fully covered our friend’s reimbursement to the phone company after being robbed; your donations contributed to our co-worker’s wife’s surgery; and, your donations will cover a little more than 10 months of medical bills for our friend and his leg disease. In only one week we have received many emails of encouragement and prayer for us and for our friends.

Church at its finest. 

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 

When we delivered the money to our first friend mentioned, she was still quite shook up from being robbed. She said it was awful as she not only had to deal with her emotions from the event, but also had the stress of having to pay back the phone company for all of the stolen minutes that she was supposed to sell. But she said that after it happened, she prayed over and over for a miracle to happen. She knew that God would provide for her somehow. 

Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith? 

You were that miracle, through your prayers and donations. She says, “May God bless you as much as you have blessed me.”

Praise be to you, O Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given only what comes from your hand.

Grace and Peace,

November 7, 2012


7.4 on the Richter scale. One event in a few different perspectives…

 First Graders

I felt scared and saw it move. I think it was going to fall. And I heard bump. And it was an earthquake.

We was reading a book and I move and a earthquake came a big, big, big, big, big earthquake. The class move and I was scared and I think everything fell. 

We do the triangle of life. I feel a earthquake. I hear a chair fall down. I think the roof will fall. I saw the class move. 
Assuming the "Triangle of Life" position.

Today I felt an earthquake. I felt scared. I think that the roof fall down. I saw Mrs. Broekhuis by me. I heard a crash and some screams. 

Today was an earthquake. The class shake. I was afraid. The class was safe. I thought that the roof fell. I hide down the table. I hear a sound crash. 

Today I felt a earthquake. The class shaked. I was brave. I heard the earth was moving. Think that the desk will fall down. I saw that the class was moving. 

When we were in our class a earthquake came! The earthquake made the class shake! I was not scared. I thought that the roof was going to fall. I felt the floor shake! I heard a crash! And some people scream! I saw everything shake! I couldn’t remember nothing. We made triangles of life until it stop. And I said in a whisper voice, “Thank you God for keeping us safe.” 



To parents: 

I know that everyone was a little shaken up by today's events. I just wanted to assure all of you that the appropriate measures were taken today here at the school and our emergency procedures were executed. All of the teachers and students remained calm and followed our school's earthquake procedure, followed by an evacuation of the buildings. Thank the Lord, after reviewing the school's facilities with an architect and engineer, they assured us that there was no structural damage to our buildings and at no time were your kids in any danger. 

This afternoon, we learned that a red alert was issued from the president for Xela advising that large groups of people should not gather together and that buildings should be evacuated for fear of large aftershocks. We moved all classes and chapel outside once we heard this news. Because the alert is in effect for the next 48 hours, we have to decided to cancel classes for tomorrow. We will continue to monitor the situation and the recommendations of the government officials for the area of Quetzaltenango in order to make a decision concerning classes on Friday. We will send another email to everyone around 2:00 pm tomorrow regarding the decision to have classes on Friday or not. 


Our house is fine, our school is fine, our city (for the most part) is fine. Praise the Lord. However, there was so much damage in San Marcos, a town about an hour and a half away from us. Their hospital collapsed, their houses collapsed, and many were killed. Please pray for these people and their families as they try to recover.
A few new cracks in our walls.

No classes tomorrow and possibly no classes on Friday. What a crazy day.
Grace and Peace,

November 6, 2012

We Are Asking You for Money

Why was I born in the United States? Why was I born into a Christian family, into a family that is whole, and into a family that lives on way more than $2 a day? Why was I given the opportunity to attend Christian school from Kindergarten through college? Why did I get to hit the jackpot when it comes to husbands? Why have I been blessed with such wonderful friends? Why am I healthy? Why do I get to choose where I live? Why do I get to travel? Why do I get to work at a job that I am in love with?

Why am I so filthy rich?

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded…

And why them? Why were they born here? Why are they so poor? Why are they so stuck being poor? Why can’t they find jobs? Why couldn’t they attend school past 3rd grade? Why are they sick but can’t afford doctors or medicine? Why was she robbed on her way to work? Why is his leg smaller than my arm? Why does life seem to knock them down over and over? Why don’t they ever seem to catch a break? Why won’t their suffering end?

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day

I ask myself these questions sitting in front of my laptop, inside of my warm house, munching on a bowl of cereal and then some of my favorite JalapeƱo flavored chips. I ask myself these questions after being approached for financial help 3 times this week. It’s only Tuesday.

Monday afternoon: She calls and asks how I am doing. Asks how my weekend vacation in El Salvador was. Asks how Collin is. Asks about work. Makes sure we are doing fine. Then tells me she was robbed. Last Saturday, A man came up, threatened her, took her purse, and ran away. He stole her IDs, her money, and Q1,200 (About US $150) worth of phone minutes she needed to sell to help pay the bills. The phone company is making her pay for all of the stolen minutes. She can’t afford to pay Q1,200 for anything extra in her life.

Tuesday morning: I receive an email that reads:

Dear Staff:
One of our janitors, Juan Alfredo is having some medical issues with his wife and she needs an endoscopy to be diagnosed and the cost of it is very high. Due to the emergency of the procedure they need to pay this cost at their own expenses and they do not have the funds to do it. So we decided in the administration to collect some funds to help him in this matter. The cost of the endoscopy is about Q 2000.00 (About US $250) so if you can help with any amount it will help him to lower this expense. 

Tuesday afternoon: Collin and I are invited by another one of our school janitors (who is also a cobbler and a pastor), to visit some friends with him. We walk less than five minutes from school on a dirt path to these friends’ home that is not really a home. It’s a metal shack lined with cardboard on the inside. It has dirt floors. It has wooden furniture. It has a bed just bigger than a twin where this 76 year old couple sleeps, and where the husband has spent every day for the past two years.

He has some sort of acid, some sort of disease in his leg that has not allowed him to walk at all in the past two months, and he hasn't been able to work at all in the past two years. Below the knee, his left leg is smaller than my arm.

“They are brothers in Christ,” the wife explains to her husband as we sit down. She works in the market during the day, wishing she could be two places at once: earning money for their needs and at home so she can care for her husband. They can’t afford doctor visits, or pain medication, or the vitamins he needs to strengthen his leg. Those things cost Q1,300 per month (About $160).

I ask our janitor/pastor friend to pray. He does.

The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his namesake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me…

He goes on. He continues to pray for a miracle in this man’s life. He thanks God that we want to help, prays blessings on us and on our marriage.

And here we are. It’s Tuesday night now. And we have been called to action.

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

We are asking for financial help from you to pass on to these wonderful people: a friend ($150), a coworker ($250), and an acquaintance ($160 per month). We are praying for a miracle in each of these people’s lives. Would you be willing to be a part of that miracle?
There is no convenient way to do this, so we are taking a tacky route instead. If you would like to contribute, please email me ( or facebook inbox) with how much you would like to contribute and simply reimburse us later. US dollars multiply by 8 here, so every little bit helps! Reimbursement can either be in person when we come home for Christmas, or through mail sent to my parent’s address (message me for it.)

And let us speak honestly. We are scared: scared of sounding “holier-than-thou,” scared of being misunderstood, scared of people thinking this is a request for another handout, scared of absolutely no response at all.

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given only what comes from your hand…and all of it belongs to you.

Grace and Peace,

October 16, 2012

Silly Skit Night, etc.

Lately, we have been busy. Lately, we have been having a ton of fun. Lately, as always, we have been very blessed.

Here is a look at what we've been up to lately:

Silly Skit Night
Every year the Student Council puts on Silly Skit Night. Any students and teachers can present a silly skit. Here are the videos of what we were involved in.

"If We Were Not in First Grade"
This is a remake of the Young Life skit "If We Were Not in Young Life." I adapted it for my first grade class. I think they pulled it off pretty nicely.

"Body Fusion"
A workout for all levels, put on by a few of the female staff members.

This is Body Fusion.

"The Backseat Boys"
The evolution of boy bands, put on by a few of the male staff members. Hilarious.

Meeting Up With Friends
Heritage CRC (Byron Center, Michigan!) sent a group to work at an orphanage called Eagle's Nest. It is in Solola, a little more than an hour from where we live. So of course we had to stop by for a visit!

Anna! Who would have thought we would get to meet up in Guatemala?

They were also very nice enough to take down a care package from Mom and Dad Potgeter. As you can see, all the necessities were included:

We were almost out of peanut butter. And we rarely have chocolate in the house. And I could always use another Etna tshirt.

Bible Study
Every other Monday we have High School girl's Bible Study at our house. There are around 10 teachers and students each time. We are studying the book of Ruth, and really enjoying it. There is a lot to learn about Christian discipleship from a Moabite woman who chose to leave everything familiar in order to follow God and to care for her mother-in-law. There is a lot to learn from a man named Boaz, who was truly concerned for the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners just as God commands. There is a lot to learn from the God who took care of them both and who always keeps his promises.

Here is our group, having a jolly good time.

The first quarter of school is done! Parent-Teacher Conferences are on Thursday.

And we are still working on our vowel sounds. :)

Grace and Peace,

October 7, 2012

Atorado: Spanish for "Stuck"

We went to Guatemala City to apply for a 2-year visa with our dear friends Crhistian and Liz. The plan was to wake up early on Thursday, make the trip to the Immigration Office in Guatemala City, present our papers and take a visa picture, and return to Xela the same day.

Let us tell you what actually went down.


1. Woke up at 3:30am, left our house at 4am, and made the 4 hour drive to Guatemala City. Bad.

2. Ate breakfast at Pollo Campero. Good.

3. Arrive at Immigration Office. Present our papers to apply for a 2-year visa. Good.

4. Wait 20 minutes. Find out that our United States background check was rejected because it was more than 6 months old. (This means that we have to send our paperwork to the U.S. Embassy to get it reapproved and then return next week to Guatemala City to present our paperwork again. This also means that we wrote substitute teacher plans, woke up very early, and made a very long journey for no reason.) We did not even get to take our 2-year visa picture. Bad.

5. Got into the car to make the 4 hour drive back to Xela. We stop at an amazing restaurant along the highway called Rincon Suizo. Let's just say a big barbecue chicken sandwich and a Reese's crepe were involved. Good.

6. Three hours into our trip home, at about 3pm, traffic comes to a complete stop on the mountain highway. We are at highway marker km. 162. Bad.

7. We learn that ahead of us at highway km. 170, there is a road block and over 500 people protesting. No cars may pass in either direction. We learned the protests began at 6am. We also learned that people were protesting multiple things: energy prices, teacher schooling requirements, as well as new mining practices around the country. Bad.

8. We turned the car off and sat on the highway for 2 hours, waiting to see if the protests would end and the highway would open. (Thank goodness Grandma Potgeter taught me to always carry a book in my purse. Good.) Crhistian taught us the Spanish word for "stuck," which is atorado.

We were "atorado" for 2 hours on the highway. Bad

Every 15 minutes we saw either a police truck or ambulance going toward km 170 to break up the protests.

9. Suddenly, all of the same police trucks we saw passing as well as many other cars were headed in the opposite direction in retreat. They are yelling at all of the cars to turn around and go back the other way. Nobody would be passing through this highway tonight. The protests turned violent: a truck was burned on the highway, tear gas was used, bullets were fired, 7 people were dead, and 34 were wounded. Very bad.

10. We turned our car around, realizing we would not be returning to Xela that day. We decided to go about an hour back to a town called Panajachel. Good.

11. We called our friend who lives in Panajachel to see if we could stay with him for the night. He is out of town. Crhistian's friends who also live in Panajachel are also out of town. Seriously? Bad.

12. We arrive in Panajachel. We eat a yummy dinner. Good.


13. We go to a little store to buy toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sample size shampoos. Good.

Our provisions.

14. We walk the streets to find a hotel we can stay in. Bad.

Hotel Shalom. Ironic name. But good.

15. We wake up and put yesterday's clothes on. Bad.

16. The sun is shining and it's a beautiful morning. We eat an amazing breakfast. Very good.

Fried chicken or deep-fat fried french toast?
Looking good...smelling worse.
We will never get sick of this view.

17. We head back to Xela with no problems and get back to work by 11:15am. Good. 

A drive-by picture of the truck that was burned in the protests. We learned the protests lasted until about 8pm, which makes 14 hours of protesting.

An interesting few days. God always protects and provides. Good. There has not been any more protesting in the past few days, but please pray for both peace and justice in Guatemala!

Grace and peace,