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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Special Guest: Courtney Fink


From time to time I run into some special people in my life. I would like to introduce to you Courtney Fink. She had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala and Nicaragua. Courtney stayed at the hogar where I will be moving to. This was my interview with her:



1. Tell me a little about yourself

When people in Guatemala found out I was only twenty years old and I had traveled alone to Guatemala, they were amazed.  When they found out I had not only been to Guatemala, but also Italy, France, South Africa, Mexico, and Haiti, they were even more amazed. In these moments, I felt filled with humility and  gratitude. Why me? Why did I, out of all the other people in the world get so blessed with a life full of adventurous travels? I have not just been traveling,  but traveling for FREE.  At this point you want to know my secret of free and plentiful travel life, so let me explain myself.

I was born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago. My parents have been in leadership in the church in Chicago since 2004. In 2007, I made Jesus Lord of my life and was baptized into Christ at the age of 13. I was able to attend an amazing college prep high school which led me to being able to go to the university of my dreams, Clemson University in South Carolina. It is a big school in a small town, known for engineering and farming. However, I know nothing about engineering and farming. I am a rising junior majoring in history and education and minoring in Spanish.  So Clemson definitely wasn't my dream school for the academic expertise I could gain, although it is a good school in every area. And it definitely wasn't the location that had the allure; I mainly consider myself a city girl. Clemson is as southern and rural as it gets. Amongst the many "y'all's" my thick Chicago accent has never fit in. Clemson University was my dream school because of the small church there. The church was planted in Clemson in 2009 and I wanted to go there and continue to help the church and campus ministry grow.  Another huge pull to Clemson university was something called the EETG- "education enrichment travel grant" that the honors college offered. As a senior in high school, Clemson Honors College presented me with the opportunity to use $3000 each summer to travel anywhere to enhance my educational or life goals. That alone pretty much sold me to the idea of going to Clemson.
2. What expectations did you have before going to Guatemala?

You see, before my junior year of high school, I read the books "Crazy Love" and "Radical".  These books encourage you to live outside the norms for American Christianity and look around the world, seeing the billions of spiritual and physical needs that are going unmet.  It became my conviction that being a disciple of Christ included leaving the comforts of America and helping people throughout the world. In 2012 I had my first out of country experience in an orphanage in Haiti. After that experience, I fell in love with traveling. I knew the rest of my life would be filled with travel and helping others, whatever sacrifices it would take.


So flash forward to this summer, here I am in Guatemala and Nicaragua for seven weeks. Out of all the countries in the world, why spend a month in Guatemala? After traveling around some in the last couple years, I realized I wanted to learn another language so I had the capability to help more nations and more people. My sophomore year of college I added a minor in Spanish and I knew I wanted to travel somewhere where I could put that to use. And by the glory of God and his amazing design of his kingdom, through a long strain of people I was put in contact with your very own Ana Cuevas. She told me about the home "Esperanza y Futuro" and it sounded like the perfect fit for how I wanted to spend my time this summer.  Through the spring semester, I arranged all the details of the trip and on May 11th at 3 AM, I found myself at the Chicago airport ready to leave for my 7 week adventure.
3.  Tell us about your first day at the Hogar


After a few flights, I finally arrived at the airport in Guatemala and quickly found Lilly, the director, and two of the young girls, Raquel and Karla who picked me up.  They greeted me with big hugs and kisses and I felt so welcomed.  I mainly talked English with Lilly on the journey to the orphanage, but I decided to try out my Spanish on the girls.  What came out of my mouth was met by some giggles and shifting eyes.  I realized very quickly that speaking Spanish here was going to be very different than my experiences with Spanish in the classroom.  I knew I had a very thick American accent.  But, nonetheless, I was ready to interact and be with the kids, knowing that love doesn’t need a translator; even if my Spanish was horrid, I could still love the kids by serving in my actions.

When we arrived at the home on the Sunday afternoon, I felt like a spoiled girl on vacation!  The view from the house was breathtaking.  The home is in the mountains of Guatemala and surrounded by three gorgeous volcanoes.  The home itself was gorgeous- it reminded me of vacation homes I had stayed in Italy.   I came downstairs and got to meet all the kids and workers at the home.  This is when things got a little overwhelming.  I could only understand about ten percent of everything that was going on around me and I thought learning all their names would be close to impossible.  However, this was only day 1 of 30 so I knew it could only get better from there.  That evening, after the kids got ready for bed we sat and watched TV together.  With some children sitting on my lap, I was filled with joy.  I knew the month would be hard, but so rewarding because I was already falling in love with these children.  
The next week was one of the hardest weeks of my life.  I ate some grapes my first day there without washing them, and I got very sick the next day.  I subsequently spent the next day in between my bedroom, sleeping, and the bathroom.  That evening when I went downstairs, I fainted.  However, I woke up surrounded by 15 kids and to the taste of Gatorade.  To some this may sound overwhelming, but for me I felt so loved by seeing the concern and care on each one of the faces around me.  Some of the girls helped me back up to my bed and later brought me food.  I felt so cared for; however, it was difficult going through all this not really being able to communicate with them and not being able to talk to anyone back in the States.  Luckily I quickly recovered and was ready to interact with the kids the next day.  The first week was also very difficult because everything was so new.  I didn’t know the kids or what my role should be or how to be useful.  But slowly and surely, day by day, I got to know the teens and the kids and figure out how the home ran.  By my second week there, living in the hogar had become a joy.  Sure I felt lonely at times and missed people in America, but the joy of getting to serve at the hogar outweighed all of that.

4. What has been the most memorable moment and what are you taking from this trip?

What was so cool about the month I spent in Guatemala is that although I was often surrounded by many teens and kids with a lot of energy, never in my life have I had more time to be still in God’s presence.  Times where I helped do the dishes or fold the laundry often turned into times of prayer since I could not always talk to the girls very well.  I valued my time reading the Bible more than ever because it was the only contact I had with English!  It was difficult, but refreshing, not having internet on my phone or computer for the month.  With my lack of Spanish and my lack of internet, God truly became my best friend.  It was so amazing too because God constantly was showing me himself through the interactions I had with the kids. In the Bible he makes it clear that we need the same humility and attitude that children have, and I felt spoiled to get to observe and imitate so many adorable children that I knew God holds so dear!

There was not one day or moment that stood out amongst the rest while I was there; the whole month was filled with small, precious moments.  When I think of the times I will always treasure, I think of the little curls cuddling up to me and falling asleep with their head on my chest.  I think of the girls and I staying up late to do Zumba together.  I think of the time the taught me how to make tamales from scratch, or the times I spun them around and we danced together in the middle of washing all the dishes.  Many nights the kids and I went out and jumped on the trampoline together underneath the beautiful night sky of Guatemala.  Each day was filled with so many moments of love and laughter.  What was so amazing about this to me is that these girls and kids had lives completely filled with hardship.  They had been abandoned or abused or betrayed and yet they were still so capable of loving me and sharing these precious moments with me.  Many of them worked hard day in and day out, washing clothes, cleaning the house, helping in the kitchen- frankly, things that North American adolescents never have to do for themselves.  Yet these girls and kids had so much fun together.  They did not mope around, constantly complain, or act lazy.  The loved each other and cared for one another.  The thirty kids were knit into one big, happy family despite all the broken homes they had come from.  I learned so much about being a hard worker and being grateful from the girls and workers at Esperanza and Futuro.  I also learned how to enjoy the small moments the company of those who are directly around you.  You don’t need television or internet or any outside source to bring you joy and entertainment.  The people right in front of you are the ones who matter and you can make incredible memories by just living life together. 

Thank you Courtney for your love and your service for these kids. I am more than confident that you have left a special mark in their hearts. I hope you will be able to visit the Hogar.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happy Birthday

       

As I sit here waiting for family to come over to celebrate my birthday in this beautiful summer day,  it's hard not to think of the things I am super grateful for. In exactly 5 weeks I will be saying my goodbyes to my family and friends. I have been getting a lot of Facebook birthday wishes, texts and voice messages. I'm feeling the love. 

I have been having a lot of fun getting together with old friends and making plans to visit and do things that I have not done such as going to Utah to visit their national parks and possibly learning how to shoot a gun...I know it's a little weird, but I come from a family of men who would go hunting. Obviously as a girl, I never was able to go. I am super excited to make some new memories. 

I can't wait to be in Guatemala to serve at the medical mission then to see the kids the following week. Eeeekkkkkk

Would you like to give a gift? You are more than welcome to click on the Go Fund Me site and make an offering. The money will be mostly going back to the orphanage to celebrate their birthdays. The children are so amazing and they deserve to be shown how special they are. They history is horrific for they have escaped malnutrition, abuse, neglect and many other things. I want to show them love, compassion and express how much more God lives them. 

Thanks again for your love and support an for your continual prayers...they are needed. 





Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Moving on soon

I'm less than 2 months away from moving and I will say that the excitement is increasing by the day. I have so much on my mind and on my to-do list, but I have just been trying to enjoy every moment.

I would like to share with you a little something that happened today at work. We have been desperately looking for someone to replace me. We are looking for someone who speaks Spanish, has experience and loves kids. We had someone interviewed today and I felt...weird. This is real. I have been working for Apple Tree for over 10 years. This is all I know and I have learned so much from my co-workers and the children here have taught me so much about life and love. Today we had a new child attend our program and he had a difficult time. It was so amazing to see the other parents encourage the mom as she began to get overwhelmed. I'm going to miss being at work and playing with the kids. Today one of the boys verbally said "more". He has been signing it and he finally attempted to say it. I got a little teary eyed. The mom was so excited to hear her son say a word. The kids here are so exceptional as well as the parents. They are fighters and I honestly cannot imagine what they are going through, but their victories are so vibrant.

When the children turn 3 they graduate our program and the school district takes over (this does not apply to our clients whom we see individually through health insurance). It's sad when they leave, but I know that they will continue to blossom in their development. 





 


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Balloons


In the group I'm apart of at church there's three of us girls. It's actually a small group compared to the rest of the groups. We have this beautiful bond that comes with having a group that size. 

There are things that we are all going through at the moment from fears, insecurities, mourning, and negativity. After briefly texting with one of them I knew that we needed to do something special so I prayed for guidance and I got an idea.

We met on Friday and I brought 4 balloons. We talked and shared about our struggles and cried a little. We all got some paper and I gave them the instruction to write it all down, all of the fears unsecurities, etc. we attached our notes to the balloons, prayed then we walked outside to release the balloons. It was quite liberating because it was as if I was letting all those things go. I have made a decision to allow myself to trust and be secure that it will all workout. I hope that my friends allow themselves to feel the same. 

I trulluly appreciate building memories like these. I keep thinking about how many more memories I will continue to build in Guatemala from holding babies, special times with the teen girls, dates with my boyfriend and quality time with my friends. In getting super excited!!!!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bye bye car

One thing that has been super difficult for me is the idea of selling my car. I have worked so hard to keep it. I had to come to grips with the idea of selling it because that was going to be the only way I will be able to finish paying off my school loans and leave by my goal date, August. 



The car was put on Craigslist 2 weeks ago and right away I got emails of people wanting more information. At first I told them that the car would not be available till August and one potential buyer was still wanting to see the car. We met and she liked what she saw, but needed to think about it. That day another woman came and looked at the car. By the looks of her car it was obvious that her car only had a few more miles before it would break apart. She loved my car, but wanted less than my asking price. 

I didn't lose hope. I kept praying and pleading with God to help me out a little. He kept telling me, "be patient". There was a point this week where I was starting to doubt a little and after praying I would still hear the same words. 

On Thursday I received several emails once again of potential buyers. I lined then up to come on Friday and the very first gal who showed up was Griselda. Super sweet lady. She didn't even test drive the car. She asked me how much and I told her. She said she liked it and wanted it. At that moment I was so excited and within seconds I realized that I would no longer have a car. My idependence would be gone...well sort of. 

We went to the bank, and that was it...the car was no longer mine. We came back to the house and she let me drive the car one last time. We took a picture and then she took the keys and got in the car. As I saw her drive away and turned the corner I have this urge to cry. Was this really happening???? Instead of instead of crying I decided to just gather my things taken out of the car and start to organize the things I am going to sell next weekend at the yard sale. Several times that evening I would think about going to my car and then realized I didn't have one anymore. This is something that I have been praying for and God came through because it was such an easy transaction and I was able to sell at the price I have been praying for.



 Every so often I just kept saying "thank you". Development did eventually shed some tears but it was tears of joy and sadness. Now that the car is paid off the remainder of the money went straight to pay a good chunk of my school loans. I definitely did not want the temptation of having that much money in my account. So here IM with now over $2000 left to pay off my school loans and getting ready to have a yard sale to downsize even more. 

I know that it's not easy for my family to come to the realization that I am moving out of the country, a country that is not my native country where I have no physical family. I definitely thank God for allowing me to have such great friends in Guatemala and I have complete faith and trust that I will be well taken care of. 

There's still a lot to get done and pay off and save up as well as fund raise but I have faith that everything will continue to fall into place just as it has been thus far. 




Sunday, May 25, 2014

Help Needed

After a lot of prayer, advice and encouragement from others, I finally decided to ask for help. I have been working hard paying everything off and after talking to a man from Illinois who lived in Guatemala as a missionary, he informed me that my visa will only be good for 3 months. I will have the possibility of renewing it for another 3 months, but then I will have to leave the country. I though, "Road Trip!!!!" Then he told me that I could not go to El Salvador or Honduras, which are the closest countries. I would have I go to Belize or Mexico to renew my visa. All I could think of was another cost for me.

People have been wanting to help me out, but I wanted to wait until I was almost ready to go. With this new expense I figured, why not have the children also benefit from the generosity of the those who are able to help? There are 27 children who are currently living at the Hogar and for their birthdays something special is done. A cake is baked, a meal is prepared and a gift is given. The kids usually request a special meal to celebrate and I would love, with your help, be able to provide that special request. Sometimes all try want is chicken from a popular fast food restaurant called Pollo Campero. If you are from Central America you know exactly what I'm talking about.

A month ago the Hogar celebrated the quinseaƱera of one of the girls. She wore a beautiful pink dress, the Hogar was decorated in pink balloons, a cake was made and a party was given. How exciting for her. If she would to not be at the home, this would have never happened to her. She doesn't have family volunteering to take her back. All she has are the people who help and serve with all I their heart at the Hogar.

Click HERE to look at the donation page. I promise to make good use of it. Thank you so much in advance from the bottom of my heart.



Thursday, May 22, 2014

ANNOUNCEMENT


I have a special announcement to make. Are you ready???? Well, I finally bought my one way ticket to Guatemala. I will have to admit I was pretty nervous when I was looking for tickets, which is something that I have been doing for the past several months, but I finally was able to find a ticket within my budget. There was one specific airline and time that I was looking at, but it was always over $400. When I looked on Monday the ticket was $350. I couldn't let it pass me by so I decided to buy it and I will admit that when I was pressing the continue button to submit my payment got a little lightheaded. This made it a lot more real. It's so easy to talk about it and make plans, but there's nothing like having a flight booked. I can't imagine how I will be like a few weeks before it is time to leave. I have a lot to so these next 2 months: cleaning out my room, packing books and m journals and setting aside things I will be selling. August 11th is the big move date :)

The one thing that's helping me pay off the remainder of school loans is selling my car. I have a 2010 Toyota Corolla with 105,000 miles. I have worked really hard to have my car and it's a little crazy to think that within a couple months I will not own it anymore however it is also bringing me joy knowing that it will help me get to Guatemala. 

I keep having dreams that I'm already there with the children and one of my close friend  also mentioned that she  has also been having dreams about me being in Guatemala. I can't wait to to serve God in this way. 

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the conference that Hope Worldwide hosted here in California. I was not planning on going, but thanks to a very generous couple they paid for my registration fees so was able to attend for free. Being there was very insightful to  see the different things that are being done around the world to eleviate poverty and reach out to those in need. During the conference the different countries that were there being represented were selling things from that country to fundraise for their programs. I was given the opportunity to sell my jewelry and fundraise for Hope Guatemala. I donate a portion of my sales and it was great being able to share about the mission that God had put in my heart. 


One specific prayer that I have been praying is to be able to meet people who will prepare me for my move. I was destined to be there because I met a woman who started a Saturday program for the children of the families who have been displaced due to hurricane Sandy that happened in the east coast. The program is designed to help children who have gone through trauma and it helps them deal with the trauma through the arts. Something in me thought I should talk to this woman and later that day I was able to find her, introduced myself and let her know about the orphanage where I will be living. I had asked if there was anyway I can get training to be able to present this idea to the board and she said that she would be more than willing to email me all the information that she had. I can't wait to read more about it and see how this can help the kids in Guatemala. To be continued...