from Mark to Marcos

from Mark to Marcos

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Santa Cruz Memories.

As I sit here and reflect on the past four years, I am amazed. I am amazed at how much has happened and how much God has allowed me to be a part of. I am at a loss for words. It has been exactly four years since I first landed in Guatemala.  Somewhere and somehow during that first trip, God touched my heart and changed my life. During that first trip, God began to place a burden on my heart and passion in my life for the people of Guatemala. 

Now, I am two months away from calling Guatemala home and I can’t help but imagine what the next four years will hold. 

However, instead of imagining what the next four years will look like, here are some of my favorite Santa Cruz memories. 

Santa Cruz, Baja Verapaz

Santa Cruz is the place where it all started, the place where I began to fall in love with Guatemala. In May of 2010, I was there with a missions team from Roberts and it was during team devotionals on the second or third night in the village that the idea of long-term missions made its way into my mind. Immediately after devos that night, we had a time of prayer. I felt as though God told me to listen to Amy’s prayer. Seconds later, Amy started praying. She prayed for me and my future in Guatemala. Little did either of us know that I would actually have a future in Guatemala.

Santa Cruz was also where I made some of my first and best friends in Guatemala. Victor was one of those friends. He’s kind of like a brother now. Anyways, after a week spent together in 2010, I promised Victor that I would pray for him everyday. Keeping that promise was extremely hard. I had no way of getting weekly updates on how Victor or his family were doing. But, I continued to pray. For 15 months, I prayed. When I returned to Santa Cruz in 2011, Victor had a new home.You see, before their new home, Victor’s family slept in the same little room that they cooked in. The open fire in the middle of a room like theirs is how many individuals get respiratory diseases in Guatemala. Now, they only use their old home as a kitchen. Their new home is where they live and sleep and it’s built much better than the one I visited in 2010. 

Vladimir is another one of my good friends in the village. However, it didn’t start out that way. I mean, I thought his name was Sebastian. Unfortunately, Vladimir cannot hear or speak. Even though I didn’t know Spanish in 2010, Vladimir was still much harder to communicate with than Victor or the other kids. However, when I returned in 2011, I recognized Sebastian, I mean, Vladimir. That was when I learned his name and when our friendship started. I knew all along that love is a much more universal language than English or Spanish and even if we couldn’t talk, we could still be friends. My favorite part of this story is when I returned for the third time, in 2013. I knew that Vladimir was Vladimir, and not Sebastian. During that trip, I had Vladimir teach me the alphabet in his sign language. No, we didn’t have any in depth conversations, however, we began to communicate with words. I pray for Vladimir most days. I pray that God allows him to speak and hear. However, I am thankful for the little miracles, like communicating in Vladimir’s sign language, that God gives us each day. 

This past August, was when I felt as though I went from being a visitor in Santa Cruz to a friend and brother in the community. I was sitting on the steps of the school, talking with another one of my good friends, Angel. We were talking about all that has happened in our lives since we met each other 3 years prior. Somewhere in the conversation, Angel mentioned that he was a really good swimmer and that his older brothers had taught him to swim. He then proceeded to invite me to go to the river with him and his brothers. The following morning he asked, “are you going to come bathe with me and my brothers this afternoon?” Realizing that their leisurely swim was also their daily bath, I said “When? How? Where? Of course!” Swimming in the river that day felt like a right of passage. It was one of the most simple, unplanned days of my time in Guatemala, however, it was a day filled with so much joy.

Four years ago, I would have never imagined having these stories to share. I also would have never guessed that a short-term mission trip would lead to life-long friendships or that it would lead to a long-term commitment. Lastly, these stories give me hope and a confidence that the next four years will be full of new stories and relationships in Guatemala, written and orchestrated by an awesome God.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Door has Finally Opened.

After nearly one year of trying to push doors open and make my desired-life happen, I stopped. I had either given-up or realized that maybe this wasn’t what God had in-store for me. I was shocked that the two-dozen opportunities that I was pursing hadn’t moved past that pursuit. It hurt. Giving up on my dream hurt more than anything I had gone through prior. With that pain, came a much-needed refocus. As angry or heartbroken as I was, I knew that God was still good and that He still was working in my life. 

Shortly after giving up on my dream of living in Guatemala directly after my college graduation, God blessed me tremendously by opening up a door at Roberts Wesleyan College. And for the past ten months, I have been working as an admissions counselor at my alma-mater. I have fallen in love with this job. It has taught me so much about myself and has also helped develop skills within me that I would have never gotten if I had moved abroad right away. 

During my time as an admissions counselor, I started thinking that maybe I was destined for normal and that my desire to live in Guatemala could be satisfied by traveling there twice each year. I could serve God through my job at a Christian college and through my semiannual mission trips. 

The pursing hadn’t moved past the pursuit. The door was closed. Guatemala wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t only destined for normal, I was getting used to normal. 

That closed door, however, started opening in September of 2013.

What started with a message from the founder and director of More Than Compassion (MTC), a Christian non-profit, led me on a two week trip to visit that ministry in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. My two weeks in ‘Huehue’ were spent loving and educating orphaned and abandoned children living at Fundacion Salvacion (an orphanage funded by MTC). I was able to play a small part in showing these children that their pasts do not have to determine their futures. In just two short weeks, some of these kids became close friends. One of the older boys, Carlos, asked me why I had to leave. Honestly, I still don’t know the answer to his question. None of my reasons seemed good enough to share with someone who needed me.

One week after returning to the states, I had a Skype interview and was offered a long-term position that would enable me to volunteer alongside More Than Compassion and Fundacion Salvacion, and to work at The School of Hope (Colegio Bilingue Esperanza | MTC's elementary school).

The door has finally opened. 
Am I excited? More than ever. 

For the past four years, God has blessed me with a burden and a passion for the people of Guatemala. He has allowed me to immerse myself in Guatemala and it’s culture for nearly eight months through six different trips. During those six trips, I have seen God in the homes of impoverished families living in both Santa Cruz and the Guatemala City Landfill. I have seen God present and working in the stories of orphans living at both Hogar Mama Carmen and at Fundacion Salvacion. He has allowed me to take part in His work and that work has changed my life. I have witnessed the power of prayer and experienced true forgiveness, grace, and love. 

However, I am also afraid. More than ever. 

I am afraid to leave Roberts, my coworkers, and the job I love. I am afraid to leave Rochester; the weather is terrible, but, this is the place I’ve called home for the majority of my life. I am afraid of leaving my family. There are dozens of fears; some great and some small. However, fear cannot win. God is the one who is in control of my life and the lives of the people I will be working with. Yes, I expect to experience challenges and frustration, to see pain and suffering, and to feel like I am not making a difference. However, I have faith that God will use me and I cannot wait to see what that looks like.

After six short-term trips that total in 220 days spent in Guatemala, it is happening. I waited and It is actually happening. Sometime during the last week of July or the first week of August, Guatemala will become the place I call home

I invite you to join me on this journey. 
I am not positive how long it will last, but I am confident that it will be an incredible journey. A journey worth following. A journey of a lifetime. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

It has been nearly a year since I last posted. A year of ups and downs. The first half of 2013, I was sure that a door was going to open in Guatemala and starting that May or June, I would have been living my life as "Marcos." That, however, did not happen. 

The second half of 2013 until present day, I have been living my life as Mark. A reality that I didn't think was going to happen. To my surprise, I have been loving this reality. 

I am beyond thankful, however, that God allowed me to be Marcos in August of 2013. Even though it was only for two short weeks, I was able to be the big-brother that I loved being to several children in both Santa Cruz, Guatemala and at Hogar Mama Carmen in Guatemala City. What was even better about those two weeks, is that I was able to introduce twenty-something of my favorite people to my favorite place. What is better yet, that trip was an incredible life-impacter and blessing to several of my teammates who stepped out of their comfort zones and allowed God to work in their lives.

Shortly after returning from that trip, I received a message introducing me to an organization called More Than Compassion. MTC works towards educating orphans in Huehuetenango, Guatemala in hopes that they can break the cycles of poverty and injustice. Based on what I have heard from the staff, read from the website, seen in their pictures and watched in their videos, MTC is an incredible, new and growing organization. Two weeks from today, I get to see it for myself. When I purchased my plane ticket, I thought that I would do what I normally do when I travel to Guate -- stay in the City, see friends, and hopefully visit Santa Cruz. However, I could not be more excited about this new (not normal) opportunity. God has already blessed this trip and I cannot wait to see what he does in and through me.

As I mentioned earlier, I am loving life as Mark. However, I am excited to become Marcos again (in a new place to a new group of people), even if it's only for sixteen days. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Five LOCO Reasons Why I Want to be In Guate

I have recently been spending my time filling out applications and sending my resume thousands of miles away, trying to acquire a position with an organization in Guatemala. 

There are so many reasons why I want to be in Guatemala after graduation and here are some of the craziest and most random:

I want to go to Taco Bell with Dany. Dany is my Guatemalan nephew. I found out that he has recently been asking his mom if we are going to be eating Taco Bell anytime soon (apparently there are some new meal specials there that we have to try). Each time a plane flies bye, he also asks if I am in it. 
*Oh, how I wish I was on one of those planes. 

Debora and I need to go get Te Chai de Vanilla at McCafe. Debora is my Guatemalan Sister (& Dany's mom). Long story short, we are both obsessed with Vanilla Chai (with the occasional shot of espresso). Weekly trips to McCafe are a must when we're together. 
*Guatemalan McDonalds are 5 billion times classier than any McDonalds that I have been to in the US.

I want to make fun of Darwin. Darwin is one of my many Guatemalan brothers, however he is the one that is closest to my age. Our friendship is built on the un-common principle that unkind words are actually quite nice and the more you can offend the other, the more you care about them. Okay, that is only half true. However, we often will call each other "hermana" (vs. "hermano") and use feminine descriptive words (ex. linda & fea vs. lindo & feo). So, I guess I don't want to make fun of him. I just miss my hermana fea! 
*In Spanish, adjectives ending in "-a" are feminine and "-o" are masculine. 

I want to meet more people from Arkansas. Seriously, every time that I am in Guatemala, I meet so many people from Arkansas. Usually, they are awesome people too. So yeah, I want to meet more awesome Arkansas-ians.
*Mama Carmen is pretty much an international superstar in Arkansas.

I want to walk to the little barbershop and pay less than $2.00 to get my haircut. This is actually a lie. However, whenever I think about getting my haircut there, I laugh hysterically. I laugh because last time I got my $1.75 haircut, they chopped of my sideburns! Fortunately, I had 2 weeks between that haircut and the start of school; I grew those sideburns back as fast as possible. 
*When this happened, I felt like the poor little girl that gets her pigtail scissored off in the Sour Patch Kid commercial.

I could write 1,000 more crazy, random reasons (along with 1,000,000 serious reasons) why I want to be in Guatemala, but I will leave you with those five for now.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Elev8. Inspired, Encouraged and Helped

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

This is a quote that I thought I wouldn't need to use until mid-May, when I graduate. I thought wrong.
This weekend has been one of the most incredible weekends in my entire 22.5 years of life.
I may have cried when it ended, because I wish that this weekend could have lasted much longer. However, I am definitely smiling because it happened. This weekend impacted my life more than I could have ever imagined.

Why? What happened? I can answer those questions with two words- Project Elev8.

This weekend I spent 100% of my time surrounded by fellow Roberts' students, staff, and 28 outstanding teens from Rochester. Unfortunately, many people have assumptions that these teens are gang members, drug users, high-school drop outs, etc. People do this solely based on where these kids are from and what they read about "the city" in the newspaper. Well people, you are wrong. I know 28 of these teenagers who don't meet your perceptions. I watched 28 of these teenagers develop projects that will change people's lives and impact our world. I built relationships with some of these teenagers that will last a lifetime.

I was blessed with a team of three outstanding young men. Young men who are often viewed negatively because of the places they live and the school they attend. However, I am so glad that I know the truth. I know how much character, passion, enthusiasm, heart each of them have. My prayer is that each of them grow up to be men of integrity, excellence and of God. I was also blessed to watch 25 other teenagers leave their comfort zones, open their hearts and share their lives with me and my peers.

Wait, there is more to share. So, before this "Elev8 weekend," I hoped that I could inspire or encourage or help a few kids. Well, yeah, that may have happened and hopefully it did. But, something I did not expect happened. I was inspired, encouraged and helped by a handful of 14 and 15 year olds. YES.

Apart from the three incredibly awesomely amazing teens that I "coached" and that lived in my dorm for the weekend, there was one other that truly inspired me. I learned so much about God's love through the testimony that he shared. His words entered my heart and changed my life more than words shared by almost anyone; I felt Jesus move through this 14 year old. I heard and felt hope, love, faith, forgiveness, redemption, and many other things. I heard and felt God.

So, I hope that next time you hear something negative that happened in the city that you don't assume that everyone from the city is a thug or a high-school dropout. Assume the best and maybe they will change your life. Maybe you will see God shining through them. I am glad that I didn't assume because now I am blessed with friends who are like younger brothers to me.

I cannot wait to see all 28 of these teenagers change their communities and change perceptions. I cannot wait to see God execute wonderful works through these teens. For now, these young men and women will be in my prayers. However, a few of those young men better come back to my campus soon, because I already miss them.

Elev8 teens, I can't thank you enough for the impact you had on my life. You are incredible and God has a beautiful purpose for your lives. For now, I will leave it at that and go to bed smiling because it happened.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

You Have to Dream

"You have to dream before your dreams can come true."

Guess who is dreaming? Me.

For the past 32 months, many dreams have come and gone. One night, my life was being threatened by a siberian tiger. The following night, I was visiting a pterodactyl farm in Florida. Thankfully, each of those dreams only lasted for a night. 

However, there has been a dream that has been with me since May of 2010. On the 22nd of that May, I got off a plane and entered the country of Guatemala for the very first time. On the fourth or fifth night of that trip, I remember one of my friends praying for me and for my future in Guatemala. Towards the end of that trip, I received a letter from another friend that said "Never stop being Marcos." During those moments, I was confused why my friend prayed for a future that I would never have in Guatemala and why my other friend told me to never stop being Marcos. Didn't he know that I was about to be in the US again, where everyone knew me as Mark. Well, friend one and friend two, thank you for your prayer and your encouraging words- they have inspired me more than you know.

That trip and those friends helped create my dream- to have a future in Guatemala and never stop being Marcos. 

I am graduating college in three months. Unfortunately, that means that I have to leave a beautiful community of incredible people. Thankfully, I expect a lot of those incredible people to be in my life for quite awhile. With college coming to an end, now is the time to go live my dream; the dream that has lasted for over two and a half years. Guatemala, see you soon. 

Honestly, a lot can change in three months and I may end up working in Rochester, Nevada, or even on the pterodactyl farm in Florida. However, I am hopeful that my dream will come true and whatever does happen, I'm trusting God.
I will keep you posted as graduation gets closer and post-college plans are made. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Living the Life I Imagined

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined!"

Since May of 2010, Guatemala has been on my heart. In 2010, I went on a trip with a team of 30-something people to Guatemala and fell in love. Thanks to a volcanic eruption which closed the airport, we were stuck in Guatemala City for four extra days. Four incredible days that only increased my love for my team and that country. After that trip, I had to go back. Since that trip, I have spent 6.5 months living in Guatemala. I have fallen in love with the impoverished country, the spanish language, 40 orphans living at Hogar Mama Carmen, a whole village of indigenous people, the latin-american culture, a community built on top of the city's landfill and many more people and places. It is fair to say that I have become slightly obsessed. Guatemala became my future, and I was going confidently in the direction of my Guatemalan dreams. I was going to live the life that I had imagined.

The life I imagined turned into making plans to start a nonprofit and to spend the rest of my life working in Guatemala. My plans were perfect, as expected. My plans continued for awhile and then doubt came into the picture. I started to doubt myself, my plans and worse, I started to doubt the work I thought God was doing in my life. My brain started thinking of clever solutions to end my doubt, I settled on the idea of working a full time job at McDonalds. NOT! However, I did settle on the thought that I don't always have to have every little detail and moment of my life planned. I did not let doubt take away my dreams, my passion and the life that I was imagining.

Yes, I would love to start a nonprofit. However, I think that God has some surprises in store for me. For now, I will put my plans on the back burner and just try to trust in the Lord with all of my heart and lean not on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

I know that God is doing big things in me and through me, I just have to trust him. I also know that He has given me so much love for the people of Guatemala. Next month, I hope to visit Guatemala. In June, I hope to move to there and to serve. My "plan" is to move to Guatemala without (too many) plans, but with an open-mind and an open-heart. I have a feeling that God is going to provide financial support for me to stay in Guatemala as well as a whole lot of answers. Maybe I will start a nonprofit, but I don't need to have an answer right now. As far as "now" goes, I need to make God my priority. After all, without God, I wouldn't have any of these dreams or passions. God first. Guatemala second. Well, Guatemala can be third, after family & friends.

So, here I go, confidently in the direction of my dreams. Focusing on the Lord and living the life I imagined.