PILAS Weekly Highlights: APR 06 2014 to APR 12 2014

This week our básico students received their first term report cards and we were very impressed and proud of their results! Way to go!
In this week’s update we will share a little more about some of the people we regularly interact with in Sumpango.
With Semana Santa (Holy Week) ahead and a week of vacation upon us, our next update will be on April 26th.


If you looked up the word ‘ecstatic’ in a dictionary you may come across this photo.

The básico students were on cloud nine after receiving their marks. The parents who went to collect their marks and stop by the house afterward were very pleased as well!
Normally, grade seven students have some difficulty adjusting on many levels to the new environment in Sumpango. Their marks take a significant dive but then tend to improve in subsequent months. This is the reason we started the transition program a couple years ago.
The three new students’ averages are hovering around 80% and the two grade eight students are pulling in averages of 85% - 89%. EXCELLENT!
Everyone put in a Herculean effort these past three months and their results show it.

You never know what life skill or talent will come in handy someday.
This past week one of the students needed a tunic so he could be San Felipe in a school play.
You read that right – a tunic to be San Felipe.
Barb whipped out her sewing machine and quickly fashioned a tunic out of a sheet we weren’t using. San Felipe was a very fashionable guy in this drama!

When we worked in the N.E. DR of Congo several years ago, Gerry and a teammate were referred to as The Terminators. If there was a bit of food left at lunch they would ‘take one for the team’ and finish off the remainder of the food…especially if there were cucumbers!
Fast forward to Guatemala and we have a couple of our own Terminators.
In fact one of them is known as the Extreme Terminator for good reason. LOL!

With instruction from women in the villages we’ve tried time and time again to make corn tortillas. Unfortunately, ours lack uniformity, are not round, and well, sometimes even fall apart. (Three strikes you’re out!)

When we need tortillas for lunch we head out to the main street and purchase from the local experts. The cost is four tortillas for one Quetzal ($0.14 CAD).
We asked the two women how many tortillas they sell on an average day. 1,600!!!
Before you get all excited thinking that these women get rich making tortillas, think twice.
The women start working around 6 am to start selling tortillas immediately. Some of the stands sell tortillas until 8-9 pm.
Tortilleras are a dime a dozen in Guatemala, driving prices down and profits razor thin.

Somebody asked us if we purchase our materials and supplies at the large box stores in the capital. Believe it or not, at times it is cheaper to purchase locally although the variety/supply may be lacking in comparison to the Wal-Marts of the world.

We prefer to buy as much as possible from Sumpango ‘librerías’ in order to encourage the local economy and demonstrate to the students how best to manage funds. Plus it’s really convenient to get whatever last minute item is needed.
One store is located a few blocks from our house and they ask us almost every visit if we will ever offer English lessons in Sumpango.
If only we had the resources, be it financial and human!
During the last visit, we had English song lyrics photocopied and one of the employees was curious to hear how one song sounded. As we sang “Nothing but the Blood” the two women recognized the song and began to sing along in Spanish.
Needless to say, the women singing sounded a whole lot better than we Canadienses!

Matthew 5:14-16: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.

This week’s Club Conexión was about making decisions that will lead to a full life that is God-honoring.
Despite the difficulties and temptations we face on a daily basis, as followers of Jesus Christ we should be thinking and acting differently, being examples to others.
In fact Romans chapter 12 tells us to ‘not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will’.
Through humorous and factual examples, we shared how best to glorify God as it relates to the use of our time and money, how we listen to and speak to others, what we listen to and watch on TV, use of our talents and giftedness, respect our bodies, and seek to align our ambitions and desires with God’s purpose for our lives.



This week’s English lesson was all about body parts.
If you haven’t checked out our Facebook video ‘Jed and Sholders Niz and Toz’ please do so. It’s a hoot!



We are preparing for teams/groups to come and visit us this summer.
The Sumpango school we partner with has construction needs that they have shared with us.
We visited the school to determine the estimated costs for all five projects.
Our hope is that visiting teams could undertake some of these projects, if not this year, next year.

A game favorite over the years has been pizza box target practice.
There is something to be said about girls whipping balls at guys balancing on plastic stools with only a thin cardboard pizza box to defend themselves with.
We hear it from the girls all the time: this is payback time for when xxx teased me about xxx.
When the guys ask us when the girls will go on the stools we reply with ‘never’.
Their reactions are priceless!

A new game is walking on a 2×4 board while trying to strip attached flags. Fifteen seconds to rip off as many flags as possible WHILE you are being poked with Nerf noodles. A ton of fun!

PILAS Weekly Highlights: MAR 30 2014 to APR 05 2014

For many the first week of April is a sure sign of spring and warmer weather. Let’s hope that has been the case for those of you who have survived a snowy cold winter!

For us the first week of April signifies Gerry’s birthday and celebrate we did! When he went to bed the night of April 2nd he was very very tired but also feeling very blessed.We have more pictures than normal to provide a glimpse into the week’s shenanigans.

Enjoy this week’s update!


We continued our Club Conexión lessons with “Who is the Holy Spirit”.

We reminded the kids that The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity along with God and Jesus Christ. He is first mentioned in Genesis 1:2 – “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”.

In the Old Testament, people received the Holy Spirit at a specific moment in time to do a specific task or work.

One example is Bezalel, who was “filled with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts”. (Exodus 31)


We then had kids slide on a backpack that was weighed down with large bottles of Big Cola. It was a struggle for them to stand straight and not fall over!

In the Old Testament, there were so many rules and traditions to follow. The people were carrying a tremendous load on a daily basis!

God promised that one day there would be relief from this heavy load, and that there would be more of a heart connection.

Everyone can receive the Holy Spirit when they accept Jesus Christ into their hearts. The Holy Spirit is now a source of energy.

When in the past people would get specific talents or power for a specific task, now, gifts and special talents are available to us every moment of the day!



With the Holy Spirit, there are fruits that we receive that help us out in life. This can be viewed as a rebirth in a sense, a transformation.

These fruits include love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit not only help us out individually but as a body.

We drew an outline of a body and cut it out to prepare us for the next part of the lesson.



The Holy Spirit helps us deepen our relationship with God. Through the Holy Spirit we have direct access to God. Through the Holy Spirit we receive gifts that we can use together with others to accomplish God’s work.

Not everyone receives the same gifts, and some receive more than others.

These gifts include wisdom, healing, performing miracles, knowledge, and many others.

The key is that as believers and followers of Jesus Christ we ALL have these gifts and we are to develop/use them in conjunction with others to positively impact the world.

We are the body of Christ and of course, He is the head.

How exciting is that!?!?

It’s even more exciting as we start to see the kids’ understanding grow and grow each week!


April 2nd started off with a bang – literally! The tradition in Guatemala is to light firecrackers outside your home to celebrate a birthday.

This is normally around 6 am BUT can be as early as 4 am. YAY for us!!!!  :-(

Two PILAS students showed up around 7 am and lighted firecrackers to ‘wake up’ Gerry. We think they were trying to smoke him out of the house!

Upon entering the house they sang Gerry a traditional song.

Yep. He was awake. No need for coffee this morning…



We sent Gerry out to buy his birthday pizza. Hey – if you want pizza you have to go out and get it yourself! LOL!

Actually, while he was gone, the students busily decorated the house. Some of the decorations were made from scratch and quite creative.

Gerry had an idea that something was brewing when he went out for pizza but nonetheless the sight of eight people chucking confetti at you upon your return is not what he expected.



The poster the students created was quite special as not only did they all sign but the children from Club Conexión did as well.

With one more candle added to the cake this year we made sure that a fire extinguisher was handy when Gerry blew out the candles.

The Sumpango fire department is not that far away but we took all necessary precautions.



New game this week – hot potato with a HUGE twist! If you get caught with the ball you pick an item of clothing from a large bag then…put it on…no ifs ands or buts!

The reactions of the kids were priceless as they picked clothes. OK let’s be honest our reactions were pretty darn funny as well!



Talk about making a fashion statement!!!! QUE CHILERA!

These kids were having a blast! At one point they were telling us to hurry up and start playing the music again so they can pick out more clothes! LOL!

We weren’t sure how the kids would take to this new game but they loved it!

Their ear-to-ear smiles were so fun to see…in all the villages!




Cup Stack Relay was also a huge hit.

The kids in the villages can be quite competitive and with the speed of the stacking, and intensity increasing, cups were flying everywhere.

You’d think that this would create clear-cut winners but nope – every team experienced ‘flying cup syndrome’ which made the relays very spirited with super close finishes.



Ever try and unwrap a lollipop…wearing thick winter gloves?

Better yet the question should be…ever wear thick winter gloves? One young girl had no clue how to put on the gloves! We explained what a Canadian winter could be like and she shuddered…but was intrigued by the snowballs we described!

At times it took up to three minutes for someone to unwrap their lollipop.

For kids craving sweets, three minutes feels like an eternity!



Did we mention that these kids are competitive?

Check out their interest on the competition’s progress.

In one village they were loudly cheering their teammates to win.

We wondered what they would be like at an NHL game?



Gerry’s Club Conexión birthday celebration was a hoot.

Before digging into the chocolate cake and Big Cola a group picture was taken.

There were BIG thumbs up from many and two fingers up from one sneaky kid. There is always one person who insists on giving the rabbit ears eh?



The girls were threatening the leaders with a cake icing face wash.

We thought – they won’t do anything. We have control here.

Yeah right. Two or three leaders against 20+ kids is not an even match.

We quickly realized that they have way more energy and creative resources than we do.

We needed to regain control…quickly!



Don’t mess with the leaders kiddies! LOL!

We may be older and a little slower but we trump when it comes to teamwork and tenacity.

At the end of the day, we called a truce and called it a tie.

(For now…until the next water balloon game…)





PILAS Weekly Highlights: MAR 23 2014 to MAR 29 2014

WOW! It’s been one of the hotter dustier weeks we’ve ever experienced in March!
As a result, we’ve come to the obvious realization that the Club Conexión kids have WAAAAYYYYYY more energy than we do! However that did not deter us from trying to keep up with them this week…although we have to admit that our gas tanks were running a tad dry! LOL!

THE big news from this week is the unveiling of our new ministry logo. Crisp, clean, simple yet also sophisticated with some depth. We hope you like it as much as we do! Thanks so much to our friend at East Toronto Chinese Baptist Church for working with us to design a logo that speaks on so many levels!

Once again enjoy this week’s update!
Ever have this happen: you have good friends that live approximately 30 minutes from you YET you have not seen each other in quite some time.
That is the case with friends we made from Spanish study days in Costa Rica. Despite the amount of time we have not seen each other, when we get together it’s like we have not skipped a beat.
We had a great time connecting with them this week and they met some of our friends here in Sumpango (students and others from Santa Marta). An added bonus was attending Sunday church service together – we nearly took up 3 rows! We joke that soon we’ll need a minibus to take everyone to and from church. Hmm…It might not be a bad idea.

Daily devotions have been stimulating as we’ve watched The Bible DVD series. Believe it or not we’ve just completed the Old Testament lessons and next week we’ll begin the New Testament.
In our group discussion we shared two stories that we enjoyed from the Bible and two that we did not enjoy. We also reflected on how we could apply some of the lessons in our life. It was interesting to hear how much the students had captured after studying using a combination of discussion, Bible reading and the video. We are very thrilled with the progress in their understanding. We’ve learned a ton too. It’s been a great experience for us all.

It was quiet early in the week as the students’ homework load was lighter than normal.
Why not stretch our creative minds and write some fun skits to practice our English?
The guys developed an action-packed skit where two dudes plotted to rob Gerry. Gerry would then call the police and they would come to his ‘immediate’ rescue.
Guys being guys, the skit quickly degenerated into a Wrestlemania match with Gerry taking the brunt of the action. That’s OK…because the gals were next.
(Insert ominous laugh here.)

Out came the Charger cheerleaders to spur on the home team. The energy level was incredibly high. We wish we could say the same about the skill level!

Barb decided to teach the guys a lesson and became a nasty football coach, screaming exercise orders at the three male students.
“DAME VEINTE!!!!”…and then they dropped to the floor and did 20 push-ups. If it was half-hearted they started all over again. (That’ll teach you to rob my husband!!!! LOL!)
The guys were all having a good laugh but the skit was not over. In true drama queen fashion, two of the cheerleaders began arguing requiring that Barb call the police.
We had a great time with the kids and we have to say that they can be quite creative and humorous.

This week’s Club Conexión lesson was how God guides us.
Sharing real-life stories and amusing examples, we taught the kids that God leads us in five ways:
1) The Bible
2) The Holy Spirit
3) Counsel from others
4) Life’s circumstances
5) Common sense

The best decision we could ever take is to apply these five examples whenever we are faced with challenges or doubts.

Want to blow off some steam/energy with kids?

Stick two pieces of tape to their backs and tell them they have to strip the tape off their opponents. There are no teams – just go for it.
Talk about ‘Survivor-type alliances’ and sneaky manoeuvres! The first game was basically a practice run and the second game was more strategic as people worked in teams…or double-crossed each other.

We introduced Pictionary in one of the villages. It was fairly successful however we were sadly reminded of the lack of education some of the students have.

Even with this handicap we played for a good length of time and everyone had a great time making sense of the drawings.
As is the case with ANY Pictionary game, there are good artists and there are…well you get the ‘picture’.


Here is another crazy zany game to play.
Give everyone a number card and a plastic stool. Place one person in the middle (without a number or a stool).
One of the leaders then calls out two or three numbers in rapid succession.
Those numbers have to change stools quickly so that the person in the middle does not have a chance to grab a seat.
Add more numbers to the mix and it is controlled chaos!
To finish the game, tell EVERYBODY to change seats! Insanity!!!!!

PILAS Weekly Highlights: MAR 16 2014 to MAR 22 2014

As we get to know the students and their families better, we are able to speak deeper into their lives and help them out with life’s challenges. In fact many of the students’ parents consider us as a second set of parents (tío y tía – uncle and aunt) as we see the kids more than they do during weekdays. Lately, some students (and parents) have openly shared their fears and frustrations with us. We’ve heard struggles about family dynamics, work, lack of money, studies, peers, etc.

It is a privilege to experience this high level of trust and openness (not all that common in the villages). We are thrilled to be able to listen and share the hope we have in Jesus Christ, providing guidance and another perspective.

We’ve also had some of the Club Conexión kids open up a little more and that has allowed us to bond deeper with them as well.

The CETEDI students completed their first exams and guess what – they all survived. WE all survived!!! Let’s have some cake and ice cream. Once we receive their marks we’ll give it some consideration!

Enjoy this week’s update!


The week has been a blur as the students prepared for exams in their homes and then in the mornings with us.

The Yalu students had to contend with the noise and distractions from their village’s fair and we are proud of them for their persistence and dedication to studying.

We all make ourselves available to the students’ needs on a daily basis and in particular during exam week. Brenda continues to be a huge help to the ministry as she adds her fresh perspective to the students’ efforts.



Our life experiences have come in so handy!  God is using many of our talents, training and jobs now to help students! It’s really cool to see how it all ties together.

Barb helps with math (she always wanted to be a math teacher), accounting, art and crafts, cooking and music. Gerry helps with computers and internet, music (he was a DJ in his old life!) and current events which he collects from local newspapers almost daily.

Of course, both of us teach English all the time. The students are not allowed to speak Spanish to us when they are studying in the mornings. From the moment they arrive, they must try. They are doing amazing!!


There is no main hall or large classroom at the school for the students to gather and write their exams. The next best thing is to bring your desk outside and create some space between your fellow students.

When the students finish writing their exams early they have time on their hands before catching their bus back to their village.

To blow off some steam they come over and play some Wii.

We have to admit that they are getting pretty good at some of the games and we need some practice!!



This week’s Club Conexión lesson was about the Bible. When we say ‘about the Bible’ we mean ALL about the Bible: how many books, who wrote them, themes, different versions, etc. The posters helped visually illustrate the lesson and also assisted the kids with the activities .



One activity was reciting well known ‘sayings’ to the kids and asking them if it was from the Bible or not.

Another activity was reviewing major points about the Bible and then the kids had to remember what was shared and complete a corresponding crossword puzzle.



There is a great appreciation for the experience we have with English. This is especially the case with proper pronunciation.

Check out the differences on the whiteboard to get a sense of the differences. The black is from the teacher and the red is our corrections.



Nope. It’s not a snowstorm.

It was pretty windy on one of the days and we had to move the game indoors as the balloons were all floating away.

We not only sweated from the lack of air flow, but kicked up a lot of dust!! It was a bit difficult to breath, but we had a blast!!



This was before the dust started flying!



It’s always fun to introduce new games. They may be tried and true games for us gringos but for the Club Conexión kids it is fresh and different. Twister was a big success and a hoot to watch.



A fun acronym for the Bible is: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.

A major part of this week’s lesson was explaining to the kids that many of life’s questions and/or challenges can be answered by reading the Bible and applying the learnings.

To complete an origami correctly requires focus and following instructions…and that is exactly what the kids did!



Why were we so sore later in the week? Could it be the Dodge ball games?

Despite our attempts to gather in the troops and have them focus on the other team they always seemed to gravitate to…attacking us!!! AAAAAAGGGHHH!!!


PILAS Weekly Highlights: MAR 09 2014 to MAR 15 2014

Nine weeks into the school year and it is exam time.Please pray for the students as they prepare and especially for the grade 7 students as this is their first round of testing post elementary school.

The students were introduced to Prince of Peace by Michael W. Smith and it was a HUGE hit.

For a small group, they are quite competitive to outdo the other gender.

Once they get more comfortable with the English we’ll videotape them!


Enjoy this week’s update!


One of our friends asked: “How is the school construction coming along in el Yalu? They must have surely completed it by now…”

Well…not quite.

Most towns and villages have patron saints (i.e. San Jose el Yalu). To celebrate, there are ‘ferias’ (celebrations) that take place for not one day, but at times several days prior to AND after the actual celebration day. Yep – it’s a big party alright!

Yalu is special – they have not one but TWO celebrations throughout the year (March & November).

With that, is the requirement to properly prepare for the big days, especially the concession stands, beer cantinas, and live bandstand.

Where do you think the construction workers have been focusing their efforts lately? Feverishly building the sorely needed school that has been lacking for many, many months OR elaborately assembling the upcoming feria’s needs?

We have had some honest discussions this week with our PILAS students about priorities and how they are the future generation that can influence their families and communities.

A daunting task, on paper, but everything is possible with God on our side.



It is dry season. We are reminded of this daily as we look at our car. Duuuuuuuusty!

With the new summer season upon us, there are some harsh realities that become more evident. One of them is that some communities have water shortages, to the point that they have to ration water and/or rely on the municipality to coordinate outside sources to truck in their requirements.

This was certainly the case this week as we drove through el Arado and saw women lined up on the main road patiently waiting their turn to fill their jugs or bottles.

We hear that there are water shortages in Sumpango at times but to date we have not experienced it. We normally have several large jugs of filtered water on hand as a back-up, a luxury that many people living in villages do not have.



This week’s Club Conexión Bible lesson was about prayer: What is prayer? Why do we pray? And how should we pray?

The corresponding activity involved 7 kids balancing on an 8 foot 2×4 and then rearranging themselves on the board in a predetermined way without touching the ground…and without talking.

Communicating was allowed but only through hand signals.

It was a hoot as they tried to arrange themselves by height, age, or number of siblings in their families.



Check out the following photos for some hair-raising balancing acts!



Praying to God is one of the biggest privileges we have in life. It’s talking with our best friend. When we do not communicate regularly or honestly with God it strains our relationship. It can make us feel awkward - - - like the 2×4 activity.

When we pray we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and to give us confidence.

We pray because Jesus prayed often – he is one of our best examples.

Prayer provides peace and joy, even in difficult times.

Prayer also can change our circumstances. In other words: prayer works!

Today’s Bible passages come from the book of Matthew, chapter 6, verses 5-13.

The main messages from today’s passages are as follows:

Pray to glorify and honor God, not to impress others.

Pray with confidence, in audible voice, with others if you need reassurance or help.

Always be honest and sincere when praying to God.

Use the acronym ABA when praying:

A = Adorar – Give thanks to God for who He is and all He provides.

B = Buscar (& Pedir) – Share your needs and concerns as well as others.

A = Arrepentir – Ask God for His forgiveness for your sins.

We reminded the kids that God answers prayers all the time…however it may not be in the way that we would like Him to answer.

He has our best interests at heart and will answer as He sees fit. This could be yes, no, or wait.

Our attitude or actions could also impede our prayers’ effectiveness.

God will not respond if we have disobeyed Him, have not forgiven others or asked for their forgiveness, have not confessed our sins to God, or we have bad motives.

The Lord’s Prayer is an excellent reminder of how we should pray and we reviewed the verses with the students. They were challenged to put all the verses in order as quickly as possible.

These girls took the activity REEEEAAAAAAALLLL serious.

Nobody, and we mean NOBODY, was allowed entry into the secret exclusive Bible verse rearrangement circle.



Our pastor and his wife came out to lend us a hand this week.


It was the first time for them visiting the villages where we host Club Conexión.

They thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were also a huge help to us with the high-energy activities.



The kids asked if they could play soccer for awhile and we said - why not?

The nice part is that they placed the adults on different teams so we could also participate and have fun alongside them.

That is probably the reason we had so many sore muscles the next day.




We also visited the partners we have in the different villages to ensure that we are leaving the facilities in good order. We received a BIG thumbs up from all the key contacts!

We’ve been sensing God’s nudge to add a fourth village to Club Conexión and visited one location to further explore.

A promotional video is in the works (for Ride for Refuge, church presentations, etc.) and we’ve been busily taping supporters the past few weeks.

Stay tuned for the finished product in May…


PILAS Weekly Highlights: MAR 02 2014 to MAR 08 2014

The students have pretty well nailed down Mighty to Save by Hillsong in ENGLISH and are now attempting to sing other worship song with their new found confidence. It’s easier to choose a song that they would recognize in Spanish like Eternal God by Chris Tomlin or Blessed be Your Name by Matt Redman, but we printed off the lyrics to about ten different ones so they have options.
The daily Bible studies are also moving right along as we learned about Saul and David this past week. The reading of the verses related to the video scenes and then watching the video has provided a solid AND entertaining method of teaching, to the point that we want to extend the lessons each morning! They kids literally run up the stairs when we say ‘time for devotion’. How awesome is that?!?!

The students are entering their last week before exams and this is generally a time when they get a lot of homework as the school does their utmost to finish the bimester’s curriculum. Please pray for them as they prepare and write their exams.

This week’s update will focus on the inner workings of Club Conexión (youth group). Enjoy!


Due to the different locations we need to consider planning different activities. One location has limited space in front of the school and more importantly the ground is not level.
We’ve learned that no matter how much EVERYONE LOVES to play soccer, it just isn’t that much fun when the ball is constantly rolling downhill…to the dirt road…and beyond! Try doing that when you are playing three-legged soccer and you’ll understand! LOL!
The other consideration is attendance. If there were no classes at school that particular day it is certain we will have lower attendance as they head out to work in the fields early in the morning. We always try to have a back-up plan for smaller groups!

Two of the locations are paved and/or enclosed which allows us more flexibility in planning activities. These sites also have more participation (larger villages) therefore the extra space is very much appreciated.
Running room means that we can go all out and prepare some zany crazy games where the kids can blow off some steam.
With extra help coming this summer via church groups and/or interns, we will be able to organize more elaborate events!

We encourage the kids to pick their favorite worship songs to belt out. At times they will be brave and choose a song that they have never sung before. History has taught us that the uncertainty of singing those unknown songs will pass quickly. The songs rapidly become favorites (like Cantaré Feliz). Last year we ended up singing eight (yes EIGHT!) songs one particular afternoon. The kids were in the mood to sing and sing they did. It was a pretty cool session to say the least.

We’ve shared the education challenges that el Guichipilín endures. As a reminder, we are four PILAS leaders with 10-12 kids grades 3-6. Early on we decided that we would take time each week to divide the kids into different groups and help them learn more math, Spanish, or English. In general these are the subjects that students from indigenous villages struggle with the most.
Gerry takes 4 to 5 older students and teaches them Basic English while Marvin has 1-on-1 time reading with a student.

Barb also spends time with a student who reads fairly well but does not understand what he is reading. She encourages him to explain in his own words what he has just read. María del Carmen helps the younger students with Spanish, including basic writing skills.
All the students struggle and one of the grade five students cannot read very well nor write her own name.
The time we spend is not enough to make up for the lack of education during the week, but it is helping and longed-for. We feel blessed to be able to do what we can to help.

The students from one of the villages are very eager to learn English and so the first part of each youth group session is spent learning the basics. Thankfully, the teacher will leave the morning’s English lesson on the whiteboard and we are able to piggyback on what the students have learned the same day. It’s like working in tandem with the teacher without seeing each other!

Along with the fun and interactive activities, we teach kids about Jesus Christ, the Bible, and how to live a life full of purpose. We make every effort to tie in one of the activities to the weekly lesson and use as many object lessons to make it interactive and interesting for the kids. We are currently in the early stages of ALPHA which explores the Christian faith.

This week’s session focused on what is the Trinity and who is the Holy Spirit. We explained to the groups that there are many imitations of God in the world but there is only one true God. To prove our point we had volunteers go through a taste test – which glass of cola is THE original/true cola (Coca-Cola) and which are the wannabes? (Pepsi and BIG Cola.)

There is only ONE true God, and the only way to Him is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). We reviewed some of God’s promises to give the kids a sense of His immense love for us and how He longs for a relationship with each and every one of us. We briefly went over last week’s lesson on who Jesus Christ is and what He did for us. And then . . . clarified who the Holy Spirit is…

To explain the role of the Holy Spirit we used a well known image in the villages: a bus. The bus has a driver (God) and a helper ‘el ayudante’ (the Holy Spirit) helping us with daily decisions and becoming more like Jesus (the best driver that ever lived).
We talked about water and the three forms it can take on: solid (ice), water (liquid), and steam (vapor).
We showed a tripod with each leg representing a part of the Trinity. When we close off one leg, say the Holy Spirit, the other two legs (Jesus & God) have a hard time standing on its own. It’s the same result when we don’t include all three persons of the Trinity in our understanding of who God is. It will not stand.

We then went on to explore the fruits that the Spirit gives us.

It’s been awesome to use the recently received Bibles to teach the kids how to use them and read select passages each week. The versions are NIV which is much easier to read AND understand. What happens when the Holy Spirit is present in our lives, guiding us, and we respond? We see fruit. Not the type of fruit we can eat (fruta) but differences (fruto) that are visible and make a difference in not only our lives but others’ lives.

Galatians 5:22-23 describes that the fruit the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The kids all took turns looking up the verse and then wrote one of the fruits of the Spirit on…a fruit!

It was cool to see the kids come up to the front and tape their fruit on the whiteboard.
The prior weeks’ lessons were there as a reminder of what we learned and the progression we are making learning more about Jesus and the Bible.

Next week’s lesson: why and how we pray. One of our favorites!

PILAS Weekly Highlights: FEB 23 2014 to MAR 01 2014

“El mes loco” is over. Why is February known as “the crazy month” in Guatemala? You never know what kind of weather you are going to get – wet, dry, hot, cold. The month of March signals the start of summery weather and with it comes hot/dry weather!
Daily Bible studies are cruising right along with the PILAS scholarship students. Next week we will learn about David and Goliath, which, by the way, was one of the main lessons at the conference we attended last weekend. Nice!
We had a blast this past week. Check out the photos and stories! Enjoy!


We purchase newspapers on a regular basis for a couple of reasons: stay up to date on the news and then use the articles and pictures in homework or for youth group crafts.
The students also read the news, especially when something happens near us.
This particular day a bus turned over on the highway in Chimaltenango (less than 10 minutes away) and a transport trailer slammed into a wall.
This kind of stuff is ‘normal’ here as drivers are quite reckless. In fact, in the capital, there are 150 reported accidents per day! The students read to find out if any of their friends or relatives were in the accident. Thankfully that was not the case although two people lost their lives and over thirty were injured. Please pray for the families of these innocent victims.

Isn’t it great when help is available? In el Guachipilin the kids were quite eager to get going with Club Conexión! To the point that they ran down the hill and helped us lug materials to the school classrooms. They also helped us load the car after the day’s session!
We are always surprised at how women here can carry and balance items on their heads. It is a skill that is learned from an early age…and we do not have it!!!

Look at these faces. THAT is the look of intensity!!!
Noodlecross is a HUGE hit with all three villages.
The game is fairly simple: bow your pool noodle, pass a ball to your teammates, and score as many goals as possible. Bodies were flying everywhere!

We now sing at minimum two songs during the three villages worship time.
At times the kids will choose the songs that are more familiar to them and they tend to belt them out! In time they will be familiar with all 40+ songs on the disc we bring.

The prior week we learned about who Jesus Christ is, that He was God in flesh.
This week: why did He die? If Jesus was doing awesome miracles and taught important values, why did He have to die in such a horrific way?
We shared about how the religious leaders of the day were jealous of Jesus, and how they plotted to trap Jesus and basically torture Him before nailing Him to a cross to die.
Out of a horrifying event came something beautiful…the deeper understanding of why Jesus died.
We asked the kids what were ‘sins’ and they responded with various examples. Sinning is what humans do, and this impurity separates us from God.
There is a solution however – Jesus dying on the cross and the miraculous events that followed. His death and resurrection changed everything! His blood washes us clean. As a result when we accept Jesus as our Savior we are no longer separated from God and can have a personal relationship with Him.
All the kids drew the diagram on a piece of paper and indicated where they were at in their faith journey.

To commemorate Jesus’ death and what it represents for all of us, the students created a cross to place in their room.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – give these kids time and materials and they are very creative!
Some of them asked for extra materials so their siblings could create a cross at home. How cool is that!?

Here are a few of the crosses that the kids created.

The kids posed for a picture to proudly display their cross creations. Great job!!!!

Hello. My name is Gerry.
Hello. My name is Zalia.
I live in Sumpango. Where do you live?
I live in Santa Marta.
It’s nice to meet you Zalia.
It’s nice to meet you too.
Good bye.

Yep. That was the extent of the English lesson this week.

We hosted a second Young Life Guatemala meeting in our home.
Sumpango leaders were invited to meet with the YLG staff to review the last meeting and discuss what the next steps are.
We believe that YLG is sorely needed in Sumpango and in God’s timing they will begin their ministry here.
Pray that the local leaders will embrace this passionate team and assist them in reaching the youth of Sumpango with the gospel message.

The CRI family met to celebrate the imminent birth of a co-worker’s son in the upcoming weeks. We prayed for Aida and Manuel as they await the arrival of Emiliano.
Great fun was had by all as we enjoyed an awesome meal and baby shower games.
BTW men are invited and participate in baby showers in Guatemala, something we are not used to in Canada. We think Canada should adopt Guatemala’s tradition!

We have been attending Santuario Familiar church for over 9 months. There is a vibrant and growing youth group at the church and we offered to host a youth group event at our home including the PILAS scholarship students. There were over forty people present, enjoying tostadas/cake/roasted marshmallows, zany/fun activities, great tunes, and games/trampoline/ping pong.
It was a great time of connecting deeper with the church youth and its leaders. We are surprised that the neighbors did not complain as we all rocked out in worship with two great songs (Eterno Dios and Te Doy Gloria).
It was a privilege to speak into these young lives as we shared some of our faith journey over the past six years.
We challenged everyone to trust in God for EVERYTHING.

PILAS Weekly Highlights: FEB 16 2014 to FEB 22 2014

It was a more challenging week than usual but we attribute this to all the great things happening with the kids we are witnessing to.
This past week we were able to connect one of our students with her family once again. Due to the remoteness of her village she has not seen her parents since school started several weeks ago. It was a nice reunion to be privy to.
We have landed on a name for youth group: CLUB CONEXIÓN. This works well for us on so many levels: connecting kids to each other and connecting them to Jesus Christ.
We are also in the initial stages of revamping our PILAS logo and gathering material for a new website and promotional video – you’ll have to wait and see!!


Our week started with 6th year anniversary celebrations at the church we attend - Santuario Familiar. Special services were held on Saturday and Sunday (FE 15 & 16). Church members worked together to serve up a delicious traditional meal of BBQ’ed beef, beans, tortillas and green onions. We had the chance to get to know more people in the church as we sat around a table and shared in “Swallowship”! (We learned that term in Uganda over four years ago and still use it!)

Both Brenda and Marvin were with us at our table and we had a great time celebrating the church’s anniversary together. It’s great to have our PILAS group spending time together outside of official ‘work’ hours. We look forward to more opportunities in the future!

Thanks to some newer resources we picked up during our last trip to Canada, we are working through a more challenging book that tests our students’ comprehension of English stories. We ask the students to translate and/or explain the story to us and for the most part they are pretty good at it. There are only a few words that they need to look up in the dictionary.
The students are increasing their vocabulary on a daily basis but as is the case when learning a new language are apprehensive about using it/speaking out loud. This will improve over time.

We decided to introduce a time of worship before our daily devotions but with a twist – IN ENGLISH! Singing is a great way to bring in new vocabulary and with the song Mighty to Save by Hillsong there are quite a few new words! After we master this song, we’ll move on to another one and hope to have several songs memorized before year end.

We regularly visit the local college where five of our PILAS students attend grades 7 and 8. We were thrilled to hear from the faculty that our students are doing awesome!!!! There were no complaints, only rave reviews of how they are always prepared for class, hand in their homework early, participate, and are independent and mature. We left feeling very proud of all of them!
We hope to grow our partnership with the school over the coming months as we bring in assistance through our new internship program and visiting teams.

It’s sad to share, but the teacher in el Guachipilín shows up to teach once about a week. This is a HUGE frustration to not only the village residents but to us as well. There is talk of a petition being signed by the village’s families to address the situation with the ultimate goal of a teacher educating the children five days a week.
In the meantime, we take time each week to help the kids learn Spanish, Math, and/or English as they are not receiving this type of schooling on a regular basis, nor is the quality adequate enough.

Who is your Guide in life? Who do you listen to for wisdom?
This activity drove home the point that we all need to have someone in our lives that care for and love us. Blindfolded, the kids listened to a guide manoeuvre them around an obstacle course. They had to listen well or else the consequence was getting off track etc. (Check out the video on Facebook.)
This was a nice segue reviewing last week’s key verse from the Book of John (14:6): Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Who is Jesus Christ? Did He really exist? Did He really do everything that the Bible tells us?

Here is what we know about Jesus: he was totally human, had experiences similar to what we have, and also had emotions.
Some people say he was a great prophet or teacher and that’s all.
When we review what Jesus said about himself, it is evident that he was no ordinary man. “I am the resurrection”, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the light of the world”, “I am the Son of God”, etc.
But ANYONE can say that about themselves right?
When we consider Jesus’ actions as well as other evidence, we come to a conclusion that Jesus did exist, was not a madman or evil, and is indeed the Son of God.
2,000 years after Jesus lived millions upon millions of people follow Him.
We will be exploring more about Jesus and our faith in the weeks to come.

CRI hosts numerous groups throughout the year which gives us and our fellow missionaries opportunities to meet new people from different areas of the States and Canada.
On this particular evening, a group of young adults from Grand Rapids Michigan blessed us with an incredible time of worship and prayer that inspired all of us.

What a blessing this year’s Intermissions Conference was to us and many other missionaries. The speaker(s) challenged us and encouraged us as we continue to be God’s hands and feet in all areas of Guatemala.
The main topic was: The Possibility of the Impossible; focusing on passages from the Book of Samuel and the story of David and Goliath.
The key speaker was able to link missionaries’ familiar fears and challenges with Biblical truths with the goal to release us back to our respective fields recharged and ready to face (and defeat!) our ‘giants’.

With youth group taking off in three villages we have experienced a lack of Bibles to share with the participants - a nice problem to have.
Resourcing Now to the rescue!!!!
We contacted a well-known and passionate Biblical literature provider prior to going to the Intermissions Conference and lo and behold he brought along 50 Bibles for our ministry’s use.
Thanks so much TJ Hanken for all you do to assist missionaries’ efforts in Central America.
You guys rock!

PILAS Weekly Highlights: FEB 09 2014 to FEB 15 2014

It’s been a great week as we held Youth Group in all three villages for the first time this year.
As well, we kicked off ALPHA - the exploration of the Christian faith, in all three villages.
CRI visited several of the villages we serve this past week and got the privilege of meeting different friends we have made in each.
And get this – our scholarship students are way ahead on their homework. NICE!
As always there is lots to share so let’s get to it shall we?
One of the incredible privileges we have is to help people grow in their knowledge and faith in Jesus Christ and connect them to a local church. We attend services at a church in Sumpango where there is solid Biblical teaching by an excellent pastor as well as different/fresh programs that attract people of all ages. The church is fairly young (6 years old) AND its congregation is fairly young as well. In fact, there is a vibrant youth group taking place that has really impacted some our scholarship students. Whenever possible we invite friends from the surrounding villages to attend church with us.

Youth group activities were full of high-energy and hi-jinks as is the norm! The first game we played is a hoot wherever we play it: poison chair(s).
The kids hold hands and form a circle and the object of the game is to force another person to touch the chair(s) in the middle. Touch a chair – you are out. Let go of someone’s hand and both are out.
Needless to say there are a lot of sweaty hands/people during this game!

Who does not like musical chairs? Such an easy game to play but also very competitive! Bodies were flying everywhere as everyone was vying for a chair once the catchy tune stopped. There were no casualties…although two of our plastic stools did not survive the day!

In el Guachipilín, we split up in two groups: one to teach/reinforce basic Spanish skills, and the other to teach basic English.
As we shared in an earlier post, it is quite sad to see children in grade five not being to spell or read well. It’s not a surprise, when the teacher shows up for class only once per week, as was the case this week.
The English lesson was all about phonetic alphabet – which the three students excelled at after a few practices.
Santa Marta’s English lesson was also about the alphabet AND essential introductions.
As we left el Guachipilín we heard one of the grade six students proudly tell some of his friends he is learning English. Pretty cool!

We divided into three groups in Santa Marta to review the personal pages that the kids created the prior week. It was a great way to get to know the children better (likes/dislikes, families, etc.) and they also had an opportunity to ask questions about us.
It did not take long for one of the girls to lock onto Barb’s hair – long and BLONDE! This is a phenomenon that takes place in pretty well every village.

Gerry has yet to have anyone be interested in his hair…

John 14:6 - Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This was the initial verse we shared with the kids as we kicked off ALPHA in all three villages.
Fun interactive activities were introduced to help the students understand that there is no other way to God unless you go through Jesus Christ.
These activities included mazes, optical illusions, the telephone game, and 2 truths and 1 lie.
Everyday life should not be boring . . . not if we are following Jesus Christ. This is what we are going to explore in depth over the next several weeks.

As we were packing up to leave el Guachipilín, some of the students stopped us at the last minute. It seems that they did not have sufficient time to write down the day’s key Bible verse and asked us to unfold the poster for them.
You gotta love it when that happens!

CRI visited several of the villages this past week.
We were warmly welcomed in el Guachipilín by a very studious PILAS scholarship recipient.
The team was quite pleased with the facilities we have at our disposal and were fully supportive of the programs we have implemented.

PILAS Weekly Highlights: FEB 02 2014 to FEB 08 2014

This first week of February flew by!!! El Yalú continues to experience challenges with the public school’s class start-up. Check out this week’s photos for more details. As a result, we decided to postpone youth group and instead visited the grades 5 + 6 classes to promote youth group starting officially next week.

By the way, we really need a catchy Spanish name for youth group. Anyone have suggestions? CLUB CAMINO??? CLUB ???

Since our visit to Canada late 2013, we have been in contact with a graphic designer that has been busily creating a spiffy contemporary logo for PILAS. We were super impressed with the options we were presented and are well on our way creating a fresh image/brand for the ministry. This will be front and center of all our communication efforts which will also include a new PILAS website. Stay tuned for more details!

We’ve also been busy communicating our ministry’s financial shortfall with potential donors. This can be a difficult and slow process and we trust that God will close the gap in His timing. If you are interested in helping us financially, or know of others who would like to join in something new and exciting, send us a note!

Enjoy this week’s update!


Each week day with the scholarship students begins with a devotion and/or Bible study.
For the past three weeks we have been reading select Bible passages then watching the corresponding episodes from “The Bible” DVD series. We completed Genesis earlier this week and are now learning about Moses in the Book of Exodus.
We have to say that we are ALL impressed with the quality of the video series. With the help of the video, the students are able to better comprehend the Bible passages and have been doing a great job recapping the prior day’s reading every morning.
Two students are not with us every morning as they are in higher grades so we spend time on the weekend reviewing the passages/videos they have missed.
One thing we all agree on – after we watch the day’s video we ALWAYS want more!!!

Having Brenda with us has been a huge benefit to the ministry. As a recent graduate AND scholarship recipient, she fully understands the dedication needed to succeed. She also provides great advice to the students on homework and projects.
As she shares her personal experiences with us, we are all inspired and strive to do our best knowing God can make all things possible. What a great addition to our overall efforts.

What more  can we say about the education system in Guatemala? It definitely needs some improvement. As one travels outside of the more populated areas it is painfully obvious why rural villages feel ‘forgotten’. Case in point is el Yalú.
Construction of the school additions was to be completed by September 2013. Here we are, February 2014, and still not one new classroom available.
In 2013, a majority of the 540 students were spread out in different buildings. As of today there are school desks and equipment everywhere, impeding the start of classes.
When we chatted with the school director he indicated that each time they have a meeting they are told the same: “it will be done in two weeks”. Two weeks later: “it will be done in two weeks”. And so on and so on . . .
The director requested prayers that the construction will indeed be completed in two weeks so these precious kids can study in a larger cleaner environment. Please pray!

Classes did officially start in el Yalú on Friday as the community offered up space in different buildings while everyone waits for the construction to be completed.
The director shared the following 2014 enrolment details with us:
Prekinder = 50, Kindergarten = 65, First grade = 83, Second grade = 93, Third grade = 90
Fourth grade = 65, Fifth grade = 52, Sixth grade = 38
The photos are from the prekinder makeshift classroom and grade three. Note the desks in the older kids’ classroom – super jam-packed as they try to accommodate everyone!
You’ll also notice that the enrolment decreases as the kids get older.
Many are discouraged by their parents to continue school as they personally have never benefitted from a higher education.
Another point is that with nearly 80 students combined in grades 5 + 6 we may have our hands full with youth group!!

We promoted the official start of youth group with the grades 5 + 6 classes.
Most of these kids know us from our tenure with Mano con Mano therefore it was just a reminder that we are back for our third year hosting youth group.
A question came up from a grade five student: will there be Olympic Games this year because I have never played in them…yet?
Ahh… of course! This is one of our signature youth events.
It’s a lot of work but a ton of fun!!!! With the help of our scheduled interns and teams, we should be able to pull off a great time once again!

In el Guachipilín, we shared the five PILAS values (excellence, collaboration, respect, character, integrity) and then incorporated them into different fun activities.
There was a list to follow which included respecting (cleaning and caring for) the environment, doing your work with excellence even if nobody is watching (watering trees), etc.
When it came to integrity, it was funny to see one group ‘promise’ a pig that they will never harm or kill them. Yeah rigggghhhhhttttt!
The exercises drove home the point that having healthy values is key to leading a ‘purposeful life’…which is a good segue into the following weeks’ lessons as we introduce youth ALPHA next week.

THE main project of the day was creating a map of the local landscape using only natural items (i.e. leaves, twigs, dirt, etc.).
They had limited time to produce this work of art so everyone scurried off in different directions to help out the team. One kid even climbed a tree to get the ‘perfect leaf’!
To encourage the kids, Flat Stanley made an appearance, and offered some solid artistic advice to the three teams.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – give these kids the opportunity to craft or build something with proper materials or direction and they will do it!
Today was no exception as they presented their works of art to everyone.
Such originality and imagination!!!
What was great to see is the teamwork involved – the older kids taking on lead roles and the younger kids following the instructions.

We enjoy being mentors and speaking into young persons’ lives.
We still have great relationships with students that we have counseled in the past and it warms our hearts when they call us to ask for advice or help with their homework.
It is a privilege to do what we can to help these teens succeed.

Once again the Santa Marta kids brought their notebooks and we started with English. The lesson was counting to 20 then learning the ABCs, all the while pronouncing well.
It has become obvious that perhaps some kids cannot read that well, so we had to adapt our lesson accordingly based on the child’s abilities.
Despite this challenge, everybody was enthusiastic to try to speak English!

Crazy fun once again in Santa Marta! The record in other villages to stuff balloons up/in an oversized shirt is 23. Today they hit 31. Unbelievable! It was so loud at one point that a neighboring family were amusing themselves watching us from their home’s rooftop!
Some kids even lingered around after today’s session as we waited for the doors to be locked. It was cool to hear our names being called by kids of ALL ages as we loaded up the car with our materials. We apparently are already well known in the village after only 2 days there!

Santa Marta is a MUCH larger village than el Guachipilín but we challenged the kids to do their best drawing a map of their village.
After a bit of deliberation, the groups took markers to paper and went at it.
It was fun to see them work as a team and determine how best to draw the map AND what to include (or not!).
You know who the keeners are when someone asks for a ruler to draw the main road!!!

Here are the six groups’ final versions of their maps. Not bad eh?