We’ve been so busy between filming, editing and traveling that we’ve got TWO months to catch you up on! In these last two months, we’ve traveled to four countries and have a lot to share with you as we wrap up our one-year contract with Silent Images.
The month of October we spent in the Northern Hemisphere for the first time this year, between Guatemala and Mexico. Neither of us had been to Guatemala before, but we’d heard that it was a beautiful country, so we were looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about. As for Mexico, we’re both huge fans and were really looking forward to going back to see our friends and to eat Mexican food — our most-missed cuisine. Believe it or not, you cannot find Mexican food in South America!
Lemonade International is the organization that brought us to Guatemala, specifically, to one barrio called La Limonada in Guatemala City. La Limonada, which means “lemonade” in Spanish, sounds like a sweet place to live, but it’s actually one of the most dangerous and largest slums in the heart of its capital city. More than 60,000 people live here, and rival gangs rule different sections of the neighborhood, instilling a deep sense of fear in the residents.
Over many years, a sub-culture of extreme poverty has taken root in La Limonada, leading to a lack of education and job opportunities. Because having a La Limonada address often prevents residents from securing employment elsewhere in the city, many feel forced to lie about their address, while others succumb to illegal activity.
To tackle the problems in La Limonada, Lemonade International operates four free afterschool academies for children where more than 500 students are enrolled. There, students can get help on their homework and can learn about God through Bible studies. They are also provided with a nutritional meal and are given vitamins. Professional psychologists offer counseling and a nurse gives medical care to the students and their families. These academies are like a second home to the kids, where they can dream of being a teacher or a doctor. As the children grow older, Lemonade offers scholarships so they can finish their education. All of this is made possible through Lemonade’s sponsorship program. One or two people can sponsor a child to help provide them with these valuable resources that will help the kids to build themselves a better future. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child and building a relationship with them through letters, click here.
Our time in Guatemala serving Lemonade was great, but we wanted to see a bit more to the country than this one barrio, or even its capital city. So, we decided to take a weekend trip to explore some more beautiful parts.
Just outside of Guatemala City lies Antigua, a small city surrounded by volcanoes made famous by its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture and colonial church ruins. Tourists flock here to walk the cobblestone streets in search of great Guatemalan coffee (and coffee shops), shopping and restaurants. The town was truly charming, and it was nice to take a breather outside of the everyday hustle-bustle of Guate, its traffic and dirty streets.
After a few hours in Antigua, we hopped on a chicken bus (actually several chicken buses) to head to Lake Atitlán. Atitlan is a Nahuatl/Aztecan word meaning “at the water.” Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America (with an average depth of 720 feet) and is often referred to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. We would have to agree. This lake is surrounded by not one, not two, but THREE volcanoes! It was incredible.
Once we got to the lake’s landing point, the town of Panajachel, we were met with more coffee shops, shopping, and restaurants. We found a cute inn and went out for pizza where two incredibly talented Guatemalan musicians serenaded us. We couldn’t help but get tears in our eyes as we thought of how blessed we are to do what we love together and to explore and experience this beautiful world. Then we had deep conversation about Guatemala, and Latin America in general, being so rich in culture and trying to think about the equivalent culture in the US. After too much profound conversation, we eventually held hands in silence, listening to the music and watching the candle on our table melt down. It was a great night followed by a great morning.
Before heading to the next lakefront town by small boat, we followed the smell of coffee beans roasting and let ourselves into Crossroads Cafe. Apparently, the coffee shop wasn’t quite open, and the owner asked if Jordan could brew the coffee while he ran around completing other tasks! Turns out, the owner knew Jordan’s former employer at Larry Bean’s in Raleigh, and we had great conversation with him in hearing how he drove from California to Guatemala to start this coffee company. He was a Christian too, and really was drawn to our story as missionary storytellers. It’s amazing how relaxed you can feel with a total stranger, knowing that you’re actually family in Christ. Though our shared time was short, we felt a deep connection and hope to cross paths again one day, either in this life or in Heaven.
The rest of our weekend was spent hopping on short boat rides to go from lake town to lake town. Each town had their own unique vibe and rightly earned stereotypes. These are the ones we visited and what they’re known for— Panajachel, the tourist town; Santa Cruz La Laguna, the often-missed vertical town; Jaibalito, the non-touristy indigenous town; San Marcos, the hippy town; San Pedro La Laguna, the backpacker town.
Enjoy the pics from this beautiful place!
Two projects brought us to Mexico for the second half of October. The first was a project with World Villages for Children. World Villages for Children was founded by a Catholic priest (on his way to becoming a saint) named Father Aloysius Schwartz (“Father Al”), and the organization provides financial support to the charity programs of the Sisters of Mary in the Philippines, Korea, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Honduras. We had the opportunity to capture video and photos from the two sites they have in Mexico, one school for boys, Villa de Niños, in Guadalajara and one school for girls outside of Mexico City in Chalco.
These schools are essentially free boarding schools for very poor families’ children. The sisters go on recruitment trips all over Mexico to find the children who are most impoverished but have completed their primary education. These schools allow the children to continue their education free of cost and prepare them to go into the workforce upon receiving their diplomas. The boy’s school in Guadalajara houses 2,000 children while the girl’s school in Chalco houses 3,000 girls. We were so impressed by these schools, which are offered at no cost to the families despite feeding them three meals a day, offering them very high quality education and technical career training, teaching them high morals and values by the sisters and giving them clothes for every activity.
As the children get older, they choose which career path they wish to take, whether it be accounting, computer, fashion design, jewelry making, auto mechanics and body repair, gastronomy, etc. They also offer lots of sports options for the kids to stay fit — soccer, basketball, track and field, volleyball, field hockey, karate, etc.— and they do a daily run with the sisters! The kids were so well behaved and talented in a wide variety of skills, but we were also impressed by how kind and easy going the sisters were! The Sisters of Mary we met in Mexico were from all over the world, and were well traveled! Many of them are graduates from the Villas themselves, and decided to dedicate their lives to the mission that helped them so much. Not only were many of the sisters graduates, but there were many teachers who were graduates from the program as well! It was really cool to see so many alumni who decided to give back in this way to help change more children’s lives for the better! We can’t wait to share the video we produce for them, but for now, enjoy some of the pictures we took!
The second organization we served while in Mexico was Urban Mosaic, or Conexión Mosaico in Spanish. Urban Mosaic is building a multi-faceted and scalable change model that addresses urban poverty holistically, allowing urban slum communities to experience lasting transformation. They are responding to the frightening reality of the urban slum explosion, which we have personally seen all over the world. They believe that the injustice, poverty and spiritual emptiness in urban slums have reached such enormous dimensions so they are intentionally seeking to integrate their efforts into citywide strategies for renewal. They live and work alongside slum dwellers, empowering them and helping them to leverage local resources to come out of poverty. In the past 10 years, they have so many success stories, like in just one year, they connected more than 15,000 people to the public water and drainage system, reducing six-fold the out-of-pocket costs that before went to a mafia-related water truck company! We are excited to be producing their 10-year anniversary video, to help spread the word about the incredible change they have been a part of in Mexico and as they look forward to the future of replicating their model in other cities around the world.
While we were working in Mexico City, we of course had to visit our second-home— Doxa Iglesia Cristiana! Last year, we had the chance to do several video projects for this Acts 29 church plant, and we befriended many of its core church members. To us, Doxa is like our second home, and we were so blessed by having the chance to see them all again! We made it to church twice, really enjoying the pastor, Jesús’ (a.k.a. “Chuy”} sermon series on the book of Ruth. After church, we mingled with many familiar faces as well as many new faces that have started attending the church since we were last there! It was like being in our own home church at Transit, and seeing how the face of the church changes with its members, but how each and every one is fully committed to living out the gospel. We enjoyed time spent with the pastor’s family and their sweet kids, including their latest addition to the family, a baby boy, since we were last there! They even let us spend a few nights at their house so we could hang out over the weekend, which made it possible for us to experience the ruins and pyramids of Teotihuacan, the Day of the Dead parade downtown Mexico City, a boat-ride-tour through the Venice-like canals of Xochilmilco, the Coyoacan Bread and Chocolate Festival, and many Café El Jarocho hot (and cold) chocolate drinks! By the end of our time with the Doxa family and in the cute walkable neighborhood of Coyoacan, we had deeply fallen in love with Mexico, again!
As our friends and family began posting pictures of orange and red trees, wearing scarfs and drinking hot drinks, we headed back to the Southern Hemisphere, where summer was fast approaching.
Our work brought us to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. The department of Santa Cruz produces nearly 35% of Bolivia’s gross domestic product, and receives over 40% of all foreign direct investment in the country. This has helped make Santa Cruz the most important business center in Bolivia and the preferred destination of migrants from all over the country. The weather is amazing year round— hot but with a constant, refreshing wind as if it was near to the ocean, despite Bolivia being a landlocked country. Here we served three ministries: a rehab center, Christian school, and a mission’s mobilization ministry for Bolivian nationals.
One weekend, we decided to head to nearby Samaipata, a tourist town due to its subtropical climate with slightly higher elevation, offering a refreshing break from Santa Cruz’s heat. Here, ex-pats from around the world often decide to settle permanently, so it’s easy to find homemade ice cream shops and restaurants boasting falafel, pizza, crepes, and other tourist-loving foods. We came to Samaipata for its eco tourism, and ended up booking a Sunday tour to Laguna Volcán. Later, we found out the other couple on the tour we joined were serious birdwatchers and our guide was a highly knowledgeable, English-speaking ornithologist! Our guide pulled out his telescope for our tour, and throughout the day proceeded to identify bird calls and then seconds after, locate the birds with the telescope, where we could look through seeing the birds as if we were looking at them eye to eye. We caught glimpses of cormorants’ emerald eyes, parakeets’ colorful plumage, whistling herons’ long, elegant feathers off the side of their heads — not to mention more than 20 other species of birds! Unfortunately, we didn’t take our long lens, but this let us truly experience the moments we looked these beautiful creatures in the eyes through the telescope, memorizing their unique features. The tour included hiking with incredible views, and ended with swimming in a river with a small waterfall.
The week of Thanksgiving, we took some of our unused vacation days to go backpacking/camping in Patagonia. We ended up picking a 4-day trekking circuit in Torres del Paine National Park called the “W”, and had no idea of the natural wonders we would discover there. Sure, Patagonia has always been somewhere we’ve wanted to go and explore, but this trip seems even more surreal than before we went! In four days, we hiked more than 50 miles, up and down mountains, over suspended bridges, through valleys and rivers. We saw towers of rock reaching the heavens at sunrise, bathed in golden light. We saw icebergs floating in lakes and hiked alongside glaciers. We drank from cold, clear flowing rivers and discovered the brightest blue glacial lakes. We saw countless wild foxes (and two kits in their den!), hares, llamas, and many species of birds. This trip feels like a dream, but it’s not! In this world, there is natural beauty beyond your wildest imagination — you just have to go to the ends of the earth to experience them! If Torres del Paine is not on your bucket list, it should be, and from the pictures below, you’ll understand why. Enjoy the visual vacation vicariously through us, but if you have the chance, we encourage you to go yourself!
Thanks for being a part of this journey with us!