Saturday, December 30, 2006

A bus named Norma...

One of the most common modes of public transportation from one city to the next in and around the Panchoy Valley is the "Chicken Bus". Actually this is a term used pimarily by those that don't live here. The common name for Guatamaltecos is "bus". It took a while to figure why they had names like Esmerelda, Oellana, California, etc. The names reflect the different franchises for the "Chicken Bus" industry.

These vehicles are recycled school buses that take on a different life in Central America. In the Antigua area it is common to see the familiar yellow, Superior or Blue Birds still retaining their personal banner of which school system used to own them. Just recently I saw an old Hillsborough County School System bus blazing across the Antiguan cobblestone. At some point in time, these low tech mechanical marvels get an exterior face lift. A paint job which is nothing short of a cross between a tragic accident from "Pimp my Ride" and "The Partridge Family" road coach.

If you have been reading some of the
earlier blogs, you know that my primary mode of transportation is a motorcycle. I was taken by surprise one day. I had become familiar as to which side these rolling pieces of American history blew out their exhaust. I am convinced if these units will start, they qualify as mint condition, highly tuned Nascar buses; as such the cloud of black diesel soot has become the trademark of pride for their respective mechanics or the lack there of. These reminders of my childhood school memories typically exhaust to the right side of the bus. But not this day. Not this bus. Not this moment in time that I happened to be following behind a bus named Norma.

If I were a betting man, which I am not, I would say that she lured me into a false sense of security. Those mysterious short starts and stops. Each one drawing me closer, seeing my reflection in the chrome ladies on the mud flaps grow larger, only to find the entrapment. She stopped and I was closer than what was a good idea. Let's just say the four inch exhaust was now bigger than life on the left side of the bus, my side of the bus. I was pinned, no option, no ventilation mask.

Upon this reality, Norma made her move. To say these vintage modes of transportation take time to ramp up to speed is inaccurate. On this day, Norma was shooting for a land speed record; quick like a bunny, free like the wind. Have you ever seen the result of a big diesel engine flexing its horse power to fulfill the demand of an under payed driver scrambling to make quota? I have. It's not pretty. There was a specific balance in the relationship to the burning of my eyes and lungs relative to the density of the black cloud of exhaust encompassing myself and my motorcycle.

Not long ago I gave a message one Sunday that this little bit of insight became a real life example. Yet another lesson in humility. In Matthew 5:11 Jesus reminds us, "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' "

As I was wiping my eyes to see if she had actually moved, this sick diesel aftertaste came over me. In that moment I understood in a regretful manner just what Christ was talking about. If any one was within the sound of my voice, they would have caught a glimpse of the darkness I learned about that day. It is times like this that can be either a time for deep self evaluation or a total embarrassment. For me it was both. As a result, I have a new sensitivity for the scent of diesel and a respect for keeping my distance from a bus named Norma.

Monday, December 25, 2006

'Twas the Night before Christmas...

For Christmas Eve this year we spent the evening with the church family. Our services began at 6:30 and was the night for many firsts. It wasn't so much firsts for the church as it was for me and the team.

The music was Katie and myself on acoustic guitars. After the worship the Jovenes performed a mime presentation of the the Christmas story and a practical life application of just what Christ does for us in our lives. This was written by Keren who is the Manager of our cafe. This presentation was followed by Communion and a Candlelight Service. Our sole focus was that God be honored and glorified with the 80 or people in attendance.
We went to bed around 10pm as we were very tired. We heard that there was a fireworks presentation that happened around 12am. It seemed reasonable that this would happen with or without us. We discovered that this thought was accurate with the exception that it included us whether we wanted it too or not. Since we could not sleep we went outside to watch the show; the 30 minute show. Much of which sounded as though it were launching from outside our bedroom window.

This is quite the memory maker.

The homechurch came home...

We have had a great week. A team from Pathways Clearwater came home, if only for a short time. The activities were focused on working with children and related opportunities.

They spent time with a local hospital, Hermano Pedro, in the children's area. The children that stay here have ailments ranging from cerebral palsy, various mental disorders, and other physical ailments. The team helped where possible but most importantly showed love just spending time with the kids. And for all of their infirmities, they recognized team members upon their returns to the hospital.

Through the coordination of Heather our children's director for the church, the team participated in assisting a children's ministry from a neighboring town, San Luis Nuevo Pueblo. A couple we love to support Marco Tulio and Ledy Hernandoz run a children's ministry to this community. The team assited in a VBSish program, singing, puppets, a gospel message, food, etc. As a gift Marco Tulio made wooden logo plaques for Pathways and Iglesia del Camino with the help of his carpenters in training. Seen here are his wife, Ledy, and his young padowans.

Other activities included:
Preparing materials for and divering a water filter. Completing the most recent project house that we have been working on. A Christmas Party for children born so poor they have no identities, they don't exist in the eyes of the government because there parents can't afford birth certificate. A visit to local Myan ruins and discovered that live animal sacrifices still happen.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Monday, December 18, 2006

the seed has taken root...

In 2004, I was exposed to the possibility of putting a computer into a a small school in Guatemala. This project grew to a computer lab in the city of Pastores. During September of 2005 a team of men from Clearwater, Florida to Pastores and installed the infrastructure for the 36 computers donated to the city from St. Petersburg College (SPC) in Florida. This included tables, electrical support, network wiring, and a DSL satellite for internet connectivity. Due to import glitches the computers were not released and the lab was not finished until March of 2006.

This lab was an experiment with potential for enormous gain or enormous losses. The project itself cost more than expected, had opposition from many directions and until now has been merely a seed waiting to grow.

Sunday the 17th of December, I was priviledged to participate in the first graduation for the Computer Training classes of the City of Pastores. The number of graduates totaled 40 students. 30 or so children ranging in ages 10 - 15 and the rest were adults.

When we had recieved the invitation it was for the staff and only to attend. With all that has been happening it was only realistic for Nancy and I to be there. Once we arrived I was informed that not only was to attend but also make a few comments and help hand out the diplomas. No one in the room spoke English. My friend the Mayor of Pastores, Miguel Lopez, put me up to this and was laughing while I gave my presentation... in Spanish wthout translation.

One interesting fun fact is that the Ministry of Education for the Department of Sacatepequez; the government agency that the Pastores Educational system is responsible too; had to figure out how to credit these students with their certification. You see no other school in this department has a computer lab. For this part of Guatemala, at least at this point in time, this is the only computer lab of its kind; filling a niche.

Once again God demonstrates that he uses unlikely people in unique situations. It will be interesting to see just what this seed grows into.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

la Policia came por la noche...

God once again made something happen that does nothing but restore my sense of awe in what He can do. Every fiber of my body tells me that these things just don't happen.

The Bible Studies that I have had the blessing of doing with the Tourist Police is actually in a rotational schedule, every Monday and Friday. I am with one team of officers then a shift change takes place and then with another group the following week.

During the month of December, the shift rotation is five days on and 24hrs off. Both shifts are in town on Monday. The meeting space we have at the Tourist Police Precinct is very small with a maiximum of 12 people that fits comfortably. Depending the shift, we have as many as 17-20 people meeting in this space. To have both shifts in one night meant we would need another alternative, "pronto". And what an alternative it was.

Last night 30 men and women from the Police came to Iglesia del Camino for nothing less than a church service. When I realized that they were coming, I let the church team know; the worship team came and played the Sunday Morning Line-up; the Prayer Ministry that had been praying for the needs of these individuals stayed a little later; Nancy, Amber and Heather rocked the coffee and deserts; several others who had heard they were coming joined the party and welcomed the men and women dressed in black uniforms. The sanctuary was nearly as full during any of our services as I have ever seen.

We had church. The house was rockin'! These men and women can sing. Katie led a mostly Spanish worship set and then we closed with 2 songs that they had been learning, Breathe and Magnificent God in English. By the time I got up to share the word, the message had already been communicated, they were in a church that welcomed them and loved them.

Check back on about a week or so. As soon as I can get the video and audio links you will be able to hear and see that God is doing amazing things here in Antigua.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Visions can come true...

On my first visit to Antigua, in December of 2004, the team and I were taken to a small village outside of Pastores, by the name of el Tizate. On this tour we really saw Guatemala. This was a city of dirt roads, pathways that were very dangerous to walk and life situations that were very dificult to observe; all the while knowing I would be returning to my home comforts back in Florida. This past week I had an opportunity visit this same community.

One specific aspect that we saw was undeveloped house on the side of the mountain that was planned to use to start a Christian school for the community. This place was a rat hole at best. Of all the possible projects we saw during that visit, this seemed nearly inconceivable that it would or could happen. Several team members, were thinking "Yea, right. Good luck with that...", myself included.

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." - Matthew 19:26 . This is one of the many scriptures that smacks you between the eyes in light of my lack of faith.

A local Guatamalean missionary by the name of Marcos Estrada was the tour guide for the team two years ago. He was my tour guide again. His motto is that his ministry is transforming Guatemala on community at a time. He is helping to do just that.

These images demonstrate that visions can come true. The school is beautiful. They have completed one year of education at the kindergarten level and will grow one class each year. The facilities now include not only the main building and patio but a back building for classrooms, satellite DSL, a great room, and housing for staff. A group from Canada locked on to this vision and made it theirs. God has used them in a most amazing way.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Learning to Blog...

I have never been that great at journaling, but God has been stretching me in many ways to do more than what I thought I could. It is my hope to be able to better communicate just what it is that God is doing here in Antigua, Guatemala. Not only for me and my family, but kingdom stuff as well. I know that God is busy not only here, but where you are as well. Please take a minute or two and reflect on the many things that God is doing for you. and share them. This is my purpose for starting this "blog".

I am getting into the game a little late and hope to back log the events of the past several months as we move into the future.

If your web browser is RSS compatible you can subscribe to this blog as an RSS Feed. The link for this is at the bottom of the page.

Thank you for your interest and support.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blessings of a family...

On November 19th of this year, our oldest son Matt, celebrated his 21st birthday. This in itself is a new experience in that our oldest is now a legal adult. Be that as it may, the events of his b-day were non-inclusive of the "celebration". Tonight, we had the celebration.

30 or so people from the church and beyond, that had been invited by word of mouth or email, came to the house. And what a party it was. Matt "took out" the Chicken Little Piñata in two swings. No one else had a chance to take a whack at the wire and paper mache artwork (these really are an art form). On the second smack the candy went flying. All throughout the garden area. That is definitely going to help with the ants. :) Chicken Little very quickly looked like a bad result from the processing plant.

I have to tell you Guatemalans know how to party. New friends and church family help to pass Matt to his next stage of his life. In the middle of this, Nancy and I were on the upper terrace admiring the view of the mountains and moonlight, and looking down into the house and yard and saw a house full laughter and joy and the music of life. God gave us the family gathering that we hope we would have had while in the states.

It is interesting that just this morning I was wondering if we were really connecting with folks in the church. The simple blessings like this make life so rich and full. The blessings of a family in Guatemala.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A day of Thanksgiving in Guatamala...

In our english classes, we not only give the practical help of learning english, but also we share the gospel and exchange cultural ideas. This current english class is no exception. Our enrollment this class period is 100 students, with classes in the afternoon for youth and evening classes in the afternoon. Since Thanksgiving Day landed on our class schedule we took the opportunity use this day as an opportunity to share the gospel and help folks think about what they are thankful for.

It was quite the event for the church. We fed a total of 85 people plus teaching staff. Each of the classes gave a presentation. Our primary teachers are Heather, Katie, and Amber. Heather's class gave a praise song in Spanish and English with musical support.
The place was packed, the gospel was shared, there is much to be thankful for. Relationships continue to build and God is good.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It was just to meet the Director of the Precinct...

This past week my Pastor and boss, Bill Losasso from our Clearwater Campus, and a good friend of Pathways, Gio, from the National Baseball Leagues Chaplancy program, came to Antigua. We wanted to explore what possibilities existed for the Iglesia del Camino (IDC) and/or Pathways (PCC) as a whole assist the National Police of Guatemala in their Chaplaincy program. We met with the Secretary of the Office of Service and Valor, Norma Hasburn, and two of her assistants. This meeting went well with ideas begin discussed of methods used by the baseball league and such that could assist the Guatemalan Chaplains.

During this time we also discussed what would be required IDC to begin working with the local police officers in Antigua. A very clear path was laid out. A process that required about a month or so of paperwork and then we could get active.

Immediately after this meeting we were introduced to representatives from the International Chaplains ministry. They were telling of how they had just left one of the local precincts that was fervently praying that God would provide a pastor to come and minister to them. In passing I mentioned my interest for working with the police officers. They quickly recommended go over to meet the Director of the Precinct so that when the paper work was finished we would be that much closer.

All parties concerned arrive at the Precinct for the Tourist Police of Guatemala in Antigua. This is an elite unit whose sole purpose is to serve and protect areas of the city and functions with tourists. Very soon after our arrival I am being introduced to the individuals in leadership. A few individuals were making presentations and I was hearing all of this through Gio as my translator. Then all of the sudden Gio stops translating and looks to me and says, "Your life is about to change." He then explained that in the middle of these introductions Norma Hasburn announces that this precinct is now under the spiritual authority of Iglesia del Camino and her Pastor Mike Watkins.

Then a prayer time began in the middle of the meeting, outside in front of the precinct, with officers kneeling before God. This is one of the many images that have been etched in my mind. God is doing amazing things. How lucky I am to be His witness. If the Lord allows this will be the location for a Saturday morning children's (7-12) fútball (soccer) league.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A workday in San Lorenzo...

We have been working on a house in San Lorenzo. This is a "suburb" of Pastores. Best laid plans often have glitches and the team that was scheduled to complete this home in September stepped out at the last minute. Looking for other teams to help move more fill dirt and sand to a difficult work site, we invited our church, Iglesia del Camino.

What a day it was. 20 people both national and international made this day happen. We were able to complete moving the sand required for the floor and pour almost half of the cement floor. This was a huge step for many of our congregation. Which when you consider this represented almost 1/4 of our regular attendance, this was a remarkable day for not only the family which will be living in the house, but our church family as well.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Matt's photo display...

We have been blessed to have an apple that didn't fall far from the tree. His name is Matt. As many of you know he is an excellent photographer. With the depth of imagery that is readily available for camera fodder, it hasn't taken him long to develop quite the gallery of images.

October 26-28th Matt had his first gallery display. A local coffee finca, la Azotea, hosted this event in their cafe. While no pictures were sold, as result of meeting him during the event there is now a gentleman regular visisting the Caminos Café with children involved with our Friday children's club .

Sunday, October 1, 2006

What a ride...

For the previous 10 years I have been driving a Ford F150 pickup truck. This year it was a choice of whether to say goodbye to an old friend or bring the machine to Guatemala. All things considered, the cost of shipping and import duties were more than the NADA value for the truck. The truck did not make the journey.

The transportation needs in Guatemala still required a vehicle. After much searching to find the right vehicle it became evident that the most versatile would be a motorcycle. This type of vehicle simplifies getting around in Antigua.

The biggest challenge was to find a machine large enough that I wouldn't ride top heavy. It actually happened. I was able to find a Yamaha "knockoff"called the Yumbo. It is yellow with black trim. My daughter says it looks like a giant bumble bee. This ride is a street legal dirt bike big enough to move me around. It really is fun... I mean a blessing to use for work purposes... mostly.

I had just picked it up when the team from Winter Haven, Florida arrived. Pastor Tim Williams was brave enough to take a ride with me. Never let it be said that Guatamala does not have its bonuses.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Calvary Baptist, Winter Haven, Florida...

During the week of September 23 - 30, Iglesia del Camino hosted a team from Calvary Baptist in Winter Haven, Florida.

This team of 6 people were each strategic individuals coming to evaluate just what might happen in the future. They anticipate as many as two trips a year, starting with one trip this coming year. Their focus was to experience as much we (IDC) could offer in the category of a mission experience. They worked in construction, toured Hermano Pedro hospital, worked the street evangelism, helped sift gravel and sand for water filters and bolstered a Childen's Ministry in San Luis.

A landmark experience of experiences for this team was with the Childen's Ministry in San Luis. Before this team arrived, the ministry had an outreach of as many as 30 children three times a week; Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. God blessed this event. Of the two days we were able to help, there were 225 children day one, then 275 children day two. These numbers have seen a degree of drop off but it is holding at 80-90 children in regular attendance. While these numbers are very much the blessing, the thing that did not exist before the events are now the direct involvement of several moms assisting. God is good.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A little girl named Marleni...

I was in my Spanish class in San Luis. A neighbor came to the door. She said she had heard there was a Pastor here in this house and wanted to know if he could come and pray for a neighbors child. My Spanish teacher and I went to this house as requested.

Let me better explain this situation. San Luis is a small pueblo of about 1,000 people. Very agricultural. It is just over a mountain ridge from Pastores. And is considered rural relative to Pastores. Upon leaving leaving the border of San Luis I was taken back by the stunning landscape of the mountains. Approximately 1/2 a mile from the edge of town I could see this corn farm.

This house we went to was on the outskirts of San Luis and is better described as one of the prettiest equipment compounds that I have ever seen. As we entered the compound there was the finest parking gargage for the farms truck; another bay for equipment; both of which had cement on the floor; a covered shop space and then an enclosed tin wall shed. This is where the family living; in the tin shed with dirt floors, two beds, 7 family members in total.

Upon entering the living area we found a young girl of 1.5 - 2 years of age. She had been very ill for the past week and had been vomiting worms. Her name is Marleni. This was one of the most dis-heartening sites I have ever seen. We prayed for the girl and asked God to heal her. My spanish teacher had some medicine recommended in situation far less extreme, she gave her some.

With in a couple of days she had recovered to complete health. Was it the medicine, maybe. Was it the prayer, I would like to think so. In any event it was God doing His thing and letting me witness his handy work.

In subsequent conversations we found out that the family has no water or power in the home. They retrieve their drinking water from the community pila (laundry mat), in San Luis. They carry the water every other day or so the 1 mile as the pila is in the center of town. In these rural areas the water is proned to bugs and disease. This is what caused the worms for Marleni.

We have since been able to get a water filter to the family through one of our partnering ministries, Servants 4 Him. Ledy and her husband help in the training of how to use them and such.

Marleni's parents are young christians and they continue to have regular contact with my spanish teacher Ledy and her husband Marco Tulio. They have expressed their appreciation for how God kept their little girl from dying.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Arrival...

It is the morning of July 15, 2006. The Watkins’ are moving, today. Whatever household items could be sold were successfully dealt with at last weeks garage sale. With the exception of heirloom type items left in a storage unit in Largo, everything else was given away.
We did make the decision to ship some items via boat. These things were books, kitchen stuff, sewing or tools; not necessarily in that order. They should leave the Miami shore next Saturday and arrive in Guatemala in about two weeks.

God gets the credit for this amazing tour. With the His help and the financial and/or prayer support of numerous people, like yourselves, we are 100% of our needed pledged funding; which is remarkable since we began that process only this last March.

We are ecstatic to also announce that our son, Matt, has opted to come with us. He and Amber will both be doing international schooling via St. Pete College’s On-Line program. Matt is working on the program team for 3 weeks of Young Life camps in Georgia and will join us in August.

Your prayer support is always welcome. Look to hear from us as soon as we can get setup with a solid foothold in our new home and community. As a reminder, should you wish to call us, our phone number, 727-216-9697, will ring in Antigua. It may take about a week or two to get the internet connected at our home. We also use a free web product called SKYPE. If you can, look into it and give us a call. Our SKYPE address is “caminoswatkins”.

We arrived safely in Antigua! And as an extra bonus we have our entire luggage that we left with from Tampa. We were met at the airport by Levi, Jackie, & Lydia while the Valdes Family decorated the house for a great welcome. More details will be forth coming. God is so Good!