The bus was met by a crowd of locals, all dressed in their best and super excited to see us. The project had never been visited before, either because it was a relatively new project or because of how remote they were, but either way this was a very special time for them and we could tell.

 Katie takes no more than one step off the bus and Norma is right there to meet her. She looks so happy and beautiful and Katie is absolutely beaming with joy as she hugs the little girl that she’s been sponsoring since May. Although I was taking pictures, it’s hard not to be moved by the moment. This is something I am never going to forget and I am so excited for Katie! The entire team is ushered in quickly to the church since we arrived many hours later than they had expected. What I notice immediately is that Mark and Tim are completely surprised by the elaborate decorations in the church. They look at me and tell me that this is very unusual and as I look around I can understand why.

 The entire floor of the church is covered with fresh pine needles. There are dozens of palm branches literally stapled to the walls. Twine is strung from corner to corner and flowers and greenery are hanging about every 6 inches. There is a giant homemade banner of greeting in front of the modest stage and it seems as though the entire village is here. Myra motions for us to quickly take a seat and leans over and whispers that this is the first time she has ever seen anything like this. Pine needles on the ground is done for Christmas, but that’s about it.

 What follows next was such a blessing it’s hard to describe it in words. The children, including Norma, all dressed in white, have memorized a presentation of praise and dance with special homemade candles and props. Myra interprets some of the lyrics and I realize how much these children authentically love their Lord. As if that wasn’t enough, one of the staff there named Isaias, who lived in the US for a few years, joins the women and they sing “Lord, I lift Your Name On High” in both Spanish and English. Another very special moment since I know many of these women only speak the local dialect, Ixil. This is followed by an inspiring sermon by the local pastor based on the parable of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. There’s something very authentic and joyful about this pastor and my heart is moved by his words.

 The next activity is a celebration lunch for us with the staff and Norma and her family. We head upstairs to find six small classrooms, a common area, a small office that also doubles as a pantry and food prep area and a teeny, tiny room that serves as their “kitchen.” There is a large cement basin in the corner of the common area that has a faucet as well. I am asked if I want to help serve and I immediately jump in to help.

 In the office there is a woman sitting on the floor in front of a large alumni bucket filled with what looks like tamales wrapped in twine. She begins handing them to us and we unwrap the leaves and find pieces of chicken and spices inside. The leaves are spread out on to the plastic dishes and the leaves are trimmed with shears. It’s quite a messy ordeal, but everyone waits patiently in the common room. After the chicken is squash flower soup, rice and vegetables, all served on small Styrofoam plates. I can sense this is a feast for them. I choose to sit with the women teachers and a translator and they tell me more about what they do there. They were so loving and caring, I truly admire their dedication to teach the children.

 The children arrive soon and we get to spend some time watching them in their classrooms. I can tell that they love to learn and that the teachers there are committed to teaching solid Bible content. I am impressed with the way that they are able to do so much with so little. The rooms are so small that the children’s desks are literally squeezed in right next to each other but they don’t seem to mind, they are fully engaged in what’s happening. The walls are very thin and the roof is just a sparse tin roof so the teacher’s practically have to yell in order to be heard over the noise of the other classrooms. It just doesn’t matter though – the kids are so enthusiastic!

 As we question the staff we learn that their limited space has kept them from opening up more opportunities for more children. They have already received a lot of help and building materials from the community and are trying to get more. Compassion rarely helps with building space, dedicating the majority of the funds to assist the children directly, so the staff have their work cut out for them. As I leave the project I pray for God’s provision.

 It’s late afternoon and the team wants to take the 20-minute hike to the waterfall that provides the village its water supply in order to capture some more film footage. So we head out with a few of our new friends, along with Norma’s whole family, to visit the waterfall.

 The hike begins easy enough. There is a narrow, but well traveled trail on the side of the mountain that doesn’t seem to be terribly steep. But about 10-minutes into the trek, the trail becomes steeper and muddier. Okay, I think to myself, no big deal, just follow the rest of these folks. And Norma’s mother has a skirt on with cheap plastic sandals, so surely it can’t get too bad.

 It soon starts to rain and the already muddy trail starts getting muddier. My tennis shoes are soaked and coated with mud. Norma’s mother climbs the trail without effort and doesn’t have any problem with her footing, even in sandals. We get to the waterfall and it’s all worth it. It’s breathtaking! A few minutes are spent capturing the moment with Katie and Norma and then we turn to head back.

 One of the locals decides to try a different route and it’s so steep that I keep having to stop to get my breath. This holds up everyone behind me but they are all gracious. I begin to wonder if I am going to have a heart attack and die – right there on the side of a mountain in Guatemala.

 The trail leads us to the village cemetery and then it begins to not just rain, but POUR. We rush to find cover and end up standing in an open half-finished cinderblock structure. I’m glad to be out of the rain but have no idea where we are.

 I quickly find out that we are in the home of Isaias. His English is good so he explains to us that he went to Florida for seven years to make enough money to come back and build a home of his entire family. He is 23 years old. He points to a tight little stairwell and we follow him down to see his current living space. We meet his parents, his brother and sister-in-law and their three children, all of whom live there with him. Back upstairs we see an old table saw and stacks of wood that he will use to finish the space. I am so impressed with this young man. His heart is so genuine and he works so hard. Along with working on his house he is also a translator for Compassion and the bookkeeper at the project.

 We finally return to the project and say our goodbyes. We are wet and tired and it’s been an emotionally draining day but we are glad we get to return tomorrow.

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