When I picture Heaven, several images are conjured up in my mind. I see the brilliant blue waters of Petite St Vincent and the southern Caribbean, the crystalline snow and majestic mountains of the Rockies in the winter, and the fragrant flowers, lush greenery and towering volcanoes of Antigua, Guatemala.
Thursday morning, after breakfast, said our goodbyes to Geoff and Jeff (who were heading back to the states early so Geoff could attend the wedding of Emily Chapman – an angel on this earth), we headed to the widows' home in Antigua - a first for Buckner. It was near the mercado, and like Manchen, was in a non-descript walled facility that one could easily pass without noticing. The home was small, with rooms circling a center courtyard. The decorations were sparse, and some of the sleeping rooms were more like alcoves. Bedding was worn and frayed, and the smells reminded me more of a nursery.
The residents were simply beautiful there. Most had either walkers or wheelchairs, and all were excited to receive guests. They were brought to the courtyard to visit - even a woman who was bedfast. Yes, they simply wheeled her bed to the area. One woman, 102 years of age, spent time with the team sharing her stories and her love for the Lord. And several of us fell in love with a "younger man" (in his 70s) who used to be a builder and was an amazing artist. We provided him Crayons, markers and map pencils. He thanked us over and over again, kissed our faces, and gave Courtney one of his sketches.Steven, Giles and Dana played for the residents, and we all sang. The morning was sunny and bright, and the experience was simple and joy-filled. We worshiped in the flower-filled courtyard, surrounded by beautiful faces filled with character and stories. A volcano peeked through the clouds overheard.
We learned that the owner and founder of the home is a doctor with a passion for elder care. He has won several awards for his innovative practices, and the care provided his residents is excellent. Best of all, he is also a professional wrestler - his name is "The Specialist."
We left the home and boarded the bus again for the LONG journey west to Zacapa. While the roads improved greatly and the landscape looked similar, the difference in the temperature was stark – southeastern Guatemala is hot and arid. Arriving in Zacapa, we went straight to the orphanage to visit with the children. The facilities are taking on a familiar "feel," with cinder block walls, "dormitories," and a courtyard area for recreation. The children at the orphanage in Zacapa range in age from infant to 16, and like before, special needs children are mainstreamed. The oppression is evident at the orphanage, and Courtney and I came upon the "discipline" wall that features the name of each child, along with a color-coded guide to behavior. There were a number of "red" children at Zacapa - those who had either sexually or physically abused another child or had vandalized property (primarily by fire).
Like the other orphanages, Zacapa had few caregivers. This was most apparent in the nursery. It was a hot, stuffy place - cribs framing the walls, no rockers or gliders (or even chairs), few toys. The babies cried for attention, cried to leave - one even cried himself to sleep as he peeked under the heavy metal doors at the courtyard outside. Two particular boys, Jose and Edmund, captured the hearts of both Carmen and me. Jose is just under a year old, but is smaller than most babies half his age. He came to the orphanage when he was 3 months of age, healthy and strong. Now he is frail, and cannot sit up or crawl. He only has two teeth. He is alert and responsive, but his body shows his failure to thrive. Without special care, he will die. Edmund has hydrocephalus and is blind. He is 2, and also cannot hold his head up or walk. He, like Jose, needs special care or he will also die. Neither boy can hold a bottle or feed themselves - and the caregivers simply do not have the time to provide for them. So they are placed on a blue mat on the floor, near the metal door but out of the traffic flow.
Carmen and I held our two sweet baby boys, and talked to them about Heaven. When I mentioned to Edmund that he would have a date with Carmen someday, he responded with a giggle. It was magical.
Thursday night, in the ever-present rain, we ventured to our hotel - and oh, what a hotel it was. I am convinced that our hotels were used to either inspire or "level" us. And the hotel in Zacapa was a great "leveler." The facility was dark and run-down, and the layout was so confusing that most of us got lost as we walked in the pouring rain, following the muddy trails and dragging our suitcases behind us. Mosquitoes, lizards, and cats joined together as an odd welcoming committee for us. Jenny, Courtney and I opted to sleep in the same room (so Jenny wouldn't have to sleep alone), and chose Jenny's room because the tile on her floor seemed a smarter idea than the heavily soiled carpet in ours. We also brought the extra bed linens over, hoping the additional bedspreads would help provide more warmth. Yes, warmth. While Zacapa was very hot, the air conditioners in the room were freezing. Turning them off, however, resulted in an instant sauna in the hotel rooms. So we hunkered down with our thin cotton sheets and bedspreads, did our best to ignore the car horns and loud voices outside, and slept a few hours.
Friday would be a first - for us, for Buckner, for a school.