That salesman was so nice

My cynical side reacts to that phrase with less than agreement. Sure he was nice, but how deep did it go? How long will it last? We are hardwired to respond nicely to nice people. And we should be nice, especially to other nice people ( Can I get a DUH people?) Maybe spending a lot of time in Southern California fed that cynicism. But I am. I feel like it lessens something in me, but not being that way might be worse. I don't know.

to expand this ambivalence to cultures:

Guatemala is the most gracious society in this hemisphere. There is a way of presenting issues here that simply blows Americans away. I have not ever heard an American come back from a trip and say anything but they were treated so warmly and kindly. I see that in business relations too. A deal is made where 3 or 4 times the actual value for something is paid, whether a souvenir, or an article of clothing, or something more expensive and precious, and the American goes on and on about how nice the person was.

The cultures really don’t understand each other as well as it seems on the surface.

So Americans are willing to think that that person with whom they have dealt could not possibly have led them down a primrose path, and could not possibly be involved in anything wrong.

So Guatemalans are willing to think there are nefarious reasons that people will pay so much money for a baby all the way to the body parts harvesting rumors. Neither, I believe, are correct in their beliefs.

This is Cesia. She came to us directly from the Embassy, where a visa was sought for her to “visit with her mother “ in the U.S. She is extremely quiet, but said there is a place where many children are waiting to be taken to the U.S. There is definitely more to this story. Pray wiht us for Cesia and the kids like her!

Also, here was advice I found regarding niceness...a better way:

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord. Be patient in hope, joyful in affliction and faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it is dependent on you, live at peace with everyone."


Rambling answers are us

A new friend who really cares for children in need wrote asking a very good question. I ended up writing a long answer, then thought, well, this blog is well named, and so it maybe will be best placed here.

Her Question:
Do you think the children of Guatemala will benefit in the long run from the closing of International Adoption by UNICEF? My volunteer visits in orphanages led me to think adoption was a good thing...and it breaks my heart to think of the thousands of more kids that will be without forever families. I would like to believe that some good will emerge.

My response:
Good Question! I wish I had the answers that it deserves.

I really do not think that the social fabric of Guatemala will be much affected by the halt to relinquishment adoptions. I think we who have children’s homes will get more children initially. We are already getting children the lawyers do not think they can place before the end of the year. But over all, not much will change. Guatemalan society is recuperating from the civil war, and is much better now that it was 5 or 10 years ago. Yet, there are more children in children’s homes now that 5 or 10 years ago. This is in spite of the thousands of adoptions, which, had they been an answer, would have some affect. I think, as I said in a previous blog, this is because the children given by relinquishment are not in that same set. People have said it is because the children were allowed to die, etc. But there is no statistically relevant evidence of that. We are pretty involved with the women and children at risk, and do not see it that way, and so say the extreme is not the norm. The statistics are inching towrd better, but only inching. We are seeing better nutrition, and better education, and better health care available to more people. I get frustrated with outrageously paid spokespeople for international adoptions, who make outrageous unverifiable claims regarding the horror of Guatemalan society, and the only hope is adoption. Then when I have spoken regarding the corruption in the process, these same people say “there is no proof”.

The really sad part of Unicef’s influence is that adoptions must be a part of the solution of children at risk in ANY society. So stopping it is only a negative. It won’t stop the illegal movement of children and adults for evil purposes. It may increase that sector. Their offer of $28,000,000 was a positive, but has been trumpeted to be a pay-off to the president for pushing through their agenda. Having watched the Berger’s for 10 years (He was mayor of Guatemala City when we came here), I truly do not believe this, and feel that the people who started that line are greed motivated slanderers. But Guatemala’s Presidents and the UN have no defense, historically, against those accusations. Unfortunately, the money will arrive after the Berger’s leave, and so we will not have the benefit of their oversight. They really did a lot of good things these last four years, in small communities throughout the country, in restructuring the government to make it less corruption friendly, and in an unprecedented fashion of managing relief efforts when the hurricanes and mudslides created huge problems. But these efforts did not gain friends in the special interest sectors, and made a number of enemies, as reform will in this atmosphere. We pray that the next president continue these programs.

We have and are speaking with UNICEF, and the Secretaria de Bienestar Social (who will most likely oversee adoption activities in the future) and everyone says that adoptions of abandoned children will continue. And we have heard that Adoption lawyers are positioning themselves to control these cases in the future. ( The HUGE problem with continuing with "abandonment" adoptions while not having dealt with corruption, is that there will not even be the protection of the DNA verification, and so a) charges of baby stealing will be everywhere, therefore b) the process will be even slower than the current excruciating pace.) The continuance of adoptions has not been the case in other countries that have adopted the Hague conventions. We will be working to keep adoptions open, with the drumbeat of the international RIGHTS OF THE CHILD that state the RIGHT TO A FAMILY, but will really be angry if the corrupt system just changes clothes.

A big cultural dysfunction here is the attitude of average Guatemalans, who expect corruption, and don’t demand better from their elected officials. This contributes to the problems. Poverty in places like Guatemala is not a result of lazy workers, or of poor resources. It is a result of centuries ( millennia) of the powerful not simply not helping the poor, but actively keeping the poor from helping themselves. Another huge dysfunction is that Americans feel they can solve any situation in any country with money. This has caused in many countries over many years, a confusion between a semblance of control and real solutions. The combination of those two cultural weaknesses creates the nuclear fusion of corruption, that in this case, permeates adoptions in Guatemala. So you add UNICEF. It is my impression that there is no problem so bad anywhere in the world, that adding UNICEF’s influence cannot make it worse.

I can’t get too angry at the people of Guatemala or the states. The acceptance of corruption is, I think, a vestige of those centuries of control by tyrants and despots. Perhaps the justice gene has been filtered from the gene pool, as those who evidenced it were “disappeared”. And the Americans in this case have the best of intentions, wanting to use their money to rescue children. I think things are changing, there is worldwide awareness and communication, and there is much more individual empowerment than even 10 years ago. But until the justice gene can make a comeback, American willingness to pay a lot of money will corrupt whatever system is in place.

This may seem really elementary, but it seems that people in the States refuse to accept it: The key element of corruption is MONEY.

Americans wonder why they are not appreciated more, when all they want to do is help, and to spend money in the country. But I think that there is no empathy here, first of all, towards “rich” people, then secondly for people who are perceived to be involved in corruption. Culturally, in Guatemala, a person who does not manage his money carefully does not deserve to keep it. The extreme of this is the “rule” that if you do not have your possessions locked, and under armed guard, it’s not really stealing if someone “finds” it. So Americans throwing money around is not seen as a good characteristic, even though it will be received.

But Guatemalans have responded to true charitable acts, and honor people who are not either buyers or sellers. Shyrel benefits from this reputation. I saw it again last week. A neighbor asked how a recent court situation went, and when I explained it, he was quick, and resigned to expect the outcome had been corrupted and money motivated. I related an anecdote apart from the main issues, how an official had thought to punish Shyrel for disagreeing with a previous decision by blocking a potential income for our home. This income process had been pretty standard, but in this case, the “punishment” was blunted, because Shyrel had always refused to accept that funding when offered previously, and so was not affected by this move. It was interesting to see his heartfelt response, of maybe glee in the confounding of an official, but also hope in blunting corruption. He said: “Guatemala needs more people who cannot be bought”.


Beauty and the eye of the beholder ... I guess

Meet cute little Juanito. Well, I think he is cute. I enjoy talking to him, and seeing him search my face for a sense of…what is he looking for? It seems like a lot. Answers? Why is he here with us? He looks like a little old man in many ways. I am not sure of his thoughts, but his Identity is sure.

He went through 2 ( count them…two!) DNA tests to verify who he was. His mother submitted to at least 4 interviews, and then he was finger printed a number of times. He may even have gotten to the point here he was issued his U.S. visa. But then he was abandoned. The Lawyer forgot to tell the adopting parents that he was a funny looking kid. And, apparently, when they came to take him to the states, they opted to not. You see, he has a chronic illness called “William’s syndrome”. He has a distinctive face, with the likelihood of other problems. But listen to what one symptom is:

Individuals with Williams syndrome have a very endearing personality. They have a unique strength in their expressive language skills, and are extremely polite.

I can’t wait to see his personality develop. I think he is adorable, and the experts seem to agree that he will stay that way. But then I am not normal, and I did not pay a large amount of money to adopt him, and so it may not be fair to judge too harshly the couple who rejected him. It appears he suffered significant head trauma 60 days prior to coming to us…?
Dang, I was told that babies heading for adoption are the best cared for, and they do not suffer the same problems that the rest of the population of this “backwards little country” do.
We are awaiting the results of genetic testing by our friends at the genetic Studies Center.
Poor little guy…already experienced a lifetime of drama and hasn’t even reached one year old.


Cockeyed Optimist

In the last few months we have been aware of the discussions on many U.S. websites regarding the imminent closing of adoptions from Guatemala. AS we look at the sites, and especially sites connected with adoption agencies, again and again, the alternative to being adopted is convincingly stated as: Death for the child. The implied and stated reason is that Guatemala is such a horrible country that cannot take care of it's own people.

We are quick to agree that Guatemala has had a troubled recent past, and have the same issues facing them that any big city in the United States has: Poverty, corruption, apathetic officials, gangs, violent crime. But it struck me that the portrayal of Guatemala by only these areas is not fair, nor balanced. So I wanted to point out some of the reasons I am encouraged, having lived here for almost 11 years now. We have seen change for the better.

There is a growing middle class. The old rich are dissipating a bit in some cases, and poorer people are gaining the middle ground afforded by education.

Everyone is aware that education is the key hope for their children’s future. As this generation grows, the statistics will steadily rise for the education index as these children move ahead…year by school year.

While many Guatemalans are fooled into thinking that going to the US “wet” will help their families rather than put them in incredible risk, a good percentage have returned with that nest egg, and done well with it by starting a small business.

And, charitable efforts by Guatemalans are everywhere*. e.g....

There is a telethon that supports the efforts of a network of therapy clinics all over the country.

Pollo Campero has a campaign yearly to fund the pediatric Oncology effort.

The Pediatric heart and genetics institute is well funded and well managed.

A world class Aids orphanage just opened near us, funded by Guatemalans.

Just the other day we all ate Big Macs, because ( I think) every centavo of that purchase on that day went to fund the Ronald McDonald house near the National Pediatric hospital, resolving one of the big barriers to poor families getting their children taken care of.

OK, some of this is a bit fluffy, and may seem out of place in a country where malnutrition remains epidemic…and it would be ironic if the Big Mac drive was for the heart foundation…but these things are some of the better reflections of the U.S. by the middle class here.

* OK, I didn’t state the whole truth. Those efforts are mainly in the big cities. There is not a lot of charity offered or received in the extremely rural, extremely Mayan, extremely poor areas.

There is still a lot of work to be done. But this statement is true all over the world. Sadly, there are no shortages of places for people interested in rescuing children at risk to work. I was struck by that fact when I saw a website recommended by fellow Latin American Missionaries, and a description about an incredible couple in India...one of the Highest high tech countries in the world, with tens of thousands of professionals. Yet, still there, the work of Murli and Usha Menon is needed.:

Quite a few years ago, Murli and Usha started rescuing little girls from infanticide in their immediate area of Tamil Nadu, a region well documented for its killing of baby girls. Murli and Usha simply took children into their own home to be raised as part of their family. They now have almost a dozen children’s homes and presently care for 362 children rescued from the streets and the grave. Their goal is to save 100,000 children, primarily in India, but also stretching into Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The Menons know that local indigenous churches are the only way to accomplish such an incredible feat.

What struck me in these hero’s story was that last line. That is the key in Guatemala too.

Here is the link to their story, and a good looking mission organization we were introduced to.


Please pray with us for the children at risk. Please consider what God might have you do. If you ask Him, I bet he will tell you.


Matt 25:35ff
James 1:27

Many, Many more hints can be found throughout the Book.


Pachas Playing and Picnic

Our “main house” has the babies and our “apartment” and it is a blessing and a blast to live in this house. We start pretty early each morning. It’s quite a process during feeding times, and a lot of tickles and giggles and a lot of bottles. Here is Rosa making the after breakfast bottles. About 25 of them with their various recipes. By 8, everyone is full of food, some still working on bottles, but mainly ready for the morning’s work of crawling, practicing rolling over, sitting up with , and all the various developmental processing. By about 10, ready for a nap and another bottle. A good time to check on the gang at house 2.

Our “second” house has the 2 ½ and uppers, who seem so old to us as we come over to see how they are doing. Although we have only had our small home for about 2 years, we can see the marked growth in these precious “big” little guys. I came upon them the other day in a group, talking together for all the world like a committee meeting. We may get a list of demands regarding more cookies and less bananas for morning snack time!

Yesterday was picnic day.


Happy Birthday Indeed

Some people out of vanity do not look forward to birthdays, as we get on in years. Shyrel might start wincing as her birthdays approach, but not due to that.

Last year, we had a horrible approach to October 5th. Shyrel practically lived in the Intensive care unit of the national pediatric hospital for 3 weeks, attending to little Gabriel. From the beginning, we called him the angel Gabriel who came to us 2 months old with a colostomy, and a hole in his heart. Gabriel went home to be with the Lord on October 4th, and Shyrel came home with Typhoid fever.

This year she has been healthy, and things have not been as critical as last year, but VERY happening. So tonight, Shyrel, Josh and I went out to celebrate and relax a bit with dinner and a movie.

It looked like a pretty good movie, but we won’t know, because during it, we got a call from Rosa at home saying a very angry Justice of the Peace was demanding entrance and threatening to place our staff in jail. Exit movie. Travel home ( complete with Policemen and Ministerio Publico personnel camped at our front door.) We have had many visits by Government officials over the years, ( and they ALWAYS seem to obey Murphy’s Law as far as timing) and so were not concerned that this would not be resolved…But it is a little disconcerting …hmm…”maybe our recent statements have angered the wrong people who have friends in high places” passes through one’s mind. Unlikely, maybe paranoid….OK, let’s subject every thought to the Lordship Of Jesus Christ and see what our visitors want.

Still, kind of spooky as we approached...

The justice was pretty intense. Rightfully so. If I need a Justice of the peace because I feel my rights have been threatened, I hope I get this sort of response, and diligence. He was there with a young woman whose baby had been stolen from her at gun point in February. The poor young woman had sought recourse, and at some point recently, had been told to see about the babies we had received. She ( convincingly to the justice and the MP rep in attendance) picked out one of the babies that had come to our home. The evening’s repast ended with a copy of all our paperwork concerning the child going with the Justice, ( identity withheld for obvious reasons) and a plan for DNA testing. We spent a little time talking with the young woman, and prayed with her. Then shed a tear out of her sight. I actually trembled when I heard the incident as she described being robbed of her baby at gunpoint. The young woman was so sad…it was a long term sadness, but she jumped up at any point that something was said regarding the child. There was a genuineness about her grief mixed with at long last hope. This child may or may not be her birth child. The Authorities with her were empathetic and sincere. We were all in accord. But this kind of incident, by no means a solitary one, wrenches us.

There are those who feel the PGN and the authorities are too slow in reaching decisions regarding children. There are campaigns going on to lobby U.S. and Guatemalan statesmen to intercede. Even as we are sad about the slowness of the Judicial adoptions with which we work here, seeing this young woman makes me feel much more patient with the efforts to make sure.

Just yesterday, Shyrel spent a few hours in a hearing regarding one of the children in our care. She came to us due to a dispute beteen the alleged birth mother and the Adoption facilitators. The story is like a bad soap opera of greed and deception. We have not shared it openly yet, as some very dear friends were getting set to adopt her…it is devastating for them, we are sure. Maybe after they have had a time to seek peace, we will share the story. Actually, we have more than 10 children who have come to us in the last two months as a result of a botched visa or adoption situations. We probably need ot stop taking them in, but as far as we know, we are one of only a couple of homes the government trusts and who also agree that the best for these children would be adoption. We hope to ride out the present uncertainties and get these children families.

Then there are all of the new children. Obviously, we have been careful about talking about them. They are the focus of a lot of attention. There are clearly two views regarding them, one filled with doubt, one filled with hope.

Speculating on the legalities and the philosophies is my addiction….
…In the meantime, Shyrel and our precious staff make sure that the children in our care are oblivious to all that…and just know that they are at this moment in the presence of a dozen nannies and our family who cherish them. Spending my special times with the children is my compensation for the work I am supposed to be doing on their behalf.

Oh yeah, Happy Birthday, Honey!

Like Fine Wine...

See those hands? They seem to get better with age!

There are so many things going on, and so little time to write. But for today, I want to share with you a celebration of life.

should I get all shmarmy and say something like "with martha's hands and Mary's heart"?

Can't resist:
Pro 31:15 She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.
Pro 31:16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
Pro 31:17 She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
Pro 31:18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
Pro 31:19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
Pro 31:20 She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

A photo essay of a day in the life...

Happy Birthday Shyrel. We love you


Naïve Set Theory

Many of you may have seen Shyrel and our precious Charges on CNN Last Night. The Segment was pretty sensational in that AC and staff used many words that cast many aspersions on the Guatemalan Adoption world. A quick scan of the Blogs populated by the Americans interested in Adopting children from Guatemala ( past, present and future) shows a defensive reaction, and even outrage at the CNN story.

I guess that’s a reflection of our society. As Joshua and I traveled in the states last month, we at first enjoyed listening to varying radio ideologues. But it does get tiring after a while. It seems like many issues are so polarized that there is not much talking WITH…only talking AT people with whom one disagrees. That rarely helps solve the problem that divides the opposing sides. This was epitomized yesterday in the Guatemalan Congress, when the opposing presidential candidates’ parties used the pending Adoption Reform law like a football to score political points. As neither side cared so much about the law, as wanting to make sure their opponents did not look good, no action was taken.

In the adoption debate, it seems the two sides can be classified by their understanding of the status of the children being adopted by Americans. One group ( seen on Adoption agency websites and the Guatemalan Attorney’s sites) says that these children were born by accident to poor mothers and will die if not adopted by American couples. The other group (see CNN segment) says that the children are a product, harvested from pressured mothers or even conceived to sell.

As always, the TRUTH is probably somewhere in the middle. That fact reminds me of learning about “sets” in school. Do you remember intersecting sets? Sometimes it was diagramed showing two circles {set A} and {set B}, with parts of both sharing the same ( usually shaded) space. I feel like we here at Amor del Niño live in that shaded area. I promise to post some cute pictures of children that are here, who are from both sets.

Often, you can only hold these strongly opposing views by being ignorant of the facts. One way to remain ignorant is to refuse to listen to the opposition. The U.S. State department counsels prospective adoptive parents to do their homework. The problem is that all of the “research” occurs on the sites that are financially motivated to show one side of the story. We here in Guatemala see a distinctly different world that that portrayed by these sites. It saddens us that the well intentioned potential parents in some cases ( NOT ALL!) become unwitting accomplices to an system of coercion and corruption motivated not by the welfare of the children, but by the lure of the almighty Dollar. When stories are heard evidencing corruption, it is again sad to see how they are not investigated or considered, but emotionally shouted down. It is an emotional subject.