Cue the Pig

Never fear, the title will be explained in due time. Cue the Von Trapp children on their way to bed if you don’t like pigs. Either will do just fine.

Gonna try to make the most of my last day here in Guatemala, and this will be my last blog post for this installment of the adventure. To those of you who stuck around or occasionally sent me a message with a “What’s up Doc?”, you have my most sincere thanks. To all those I told I owe cookies, I meant it, but it’s on you to remind me. 

Give my heartfelt gratitude to all those who have kept me in prayer this summer.

You know, I want to write an incredibly eloquent blog post to wrap all this up, but I’m having some trouble doing it. Many of the things I’ve learned I’ve shared all along. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and sufferin’ succotash there’s a lot of good memories and lessons that I’ll take with me, but that’s not the whole point.

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Why you Wascally Wabbit!

 

Up till now, the summer’s gone by faster than a skinny rooster whistling “Meep Meep!” on it’s way past, and I’ve got a lot of good memories. When I first walked into Dennis and Cindy’s house, I tot I taw a putty tat, but it was so scared of me that I wasn’t sure. Now the cat (Misha is her name) won’t leave me alone. I got to see a slice of the real world of mission work in the developing world and the need for biomedical technicians / engineers / educators here. I was blessed by relationships with some awesome people. I got to hike a sweet volcano and see some awesome scenery. The most important things I’ll take away from this summer, however, are a deeper appreciation and reverence for the Word of God and a little better understanding of Him as a sovereign God in control of all things. 

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Just a few of the awesome people serving God down here.

Never going to forget getting to share my testimony with 16 young men at a local prison last Wednesday. It was one of the highlights of my summer. Medical and engineering work is good and nice, but there’s just something about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ that is thrilling and refreshing. I wish I could have taken pictures, but we weren’t allowed to have cameras. 

Gonna go ahead and admit that this trip / co-op ultimately isn’t (wasn’t) about me. I’m nothing but thankful for it and for what it’s given me, but if all I can talk about is how cool the food was or how much fun I had or how I’m better off for it, I’ve missed something. How I’ve been affected is certainly worth noting, but I think primarily about myself much more than I should. My motives suck, remember? (Though God’s been working on them).

 

Let the questions shift towards “How did I serve those I was with?” and “How can I use what I’ve learned and been given?”, and the answers get harder to find. This isn’t my story, it’s God’s, and for some reason I’ve been blessed enough to enjoy wandering my way through it. As He writes the next chapter, I only hope and pray that I’ll have eyes and ears to follow Him onto the next great adventure He has planned. For now, it’s back home, then to Cincinnati. It’s going to be good to be home.

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Working on a surgical microscope at Clinica Azel near Chicacao.

You all are incredible and an answer to prayer as well for supporting me in my trip to Guatemala. I can’t say what exactly the next step will be, but I’ve got some ideas I’d like to check out. I’ve got two more years till I’ll graduate from UC, and till then I’d like to continue to learn skills and knowledge that can apply well to the mission field. It would be awesome to find others at UC who are similarly motivated towards service and missions and possibly start a class, club, and / or trips to enable those who God is calling. After I graduate, I still can’t predict where I’ll be, whether working in business or ministry in the states, in the mission field, or somewhere else entirely new. After this summer, though, I can say that if God calls me to Guatemala or anywhere else, I’ll go gladly. 

Down to the end here. Now, I want you to do something for me. Go back and read the first word of every paragraph of this blog post. And you thought the Looney Tunes were subtle.

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Well said, Porky. Well said.

 

Grace and Peace,

Paul

A Prayer Request

This one’s pretty straightforward. 

On Wednesday I’ll get the chance to share / teach / visit / preach / talk at a prison here in Guatemala. 

On the surface, I don’t share a lot in common with these men / boys, which will make trying to relate difficult. I’m not that nervous about it, as weird as it sounds. All I can do is preach Christ crucified and raised in my life, and the Holy Spirit is in charge of doing any soul work necessary. As such, I ask that you would be in prayer, not for me, but for the words to be spoken and for the hearts of those who hear. Pray that truth would be heard and accepted and that any inaccuracies are left behind.

God’s been teaching me a lot about faith in Christ producing hope in my life, and that hope then joy, and eyes towards an eternal perspective. At this point I plan to speak towards this aim, however the Spirit leads. 

This morning I was giving it some thought and the words from a hymn popped into my head: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”. I couldn’t remember all the words, so I Youtube’d it. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuiH7HCfJO0

Something that Dennis and I definitely agree on is how awesome a church full of grown men belting out Christ’s praises sounds. Just a sidenote. 

Thank you for your prayers,

Grace and Peace,

Paul

I’m Still Alive

Pulse? Check. Breath? Check? Intelligent thought? Pending….

Not much blogging recently, but there hasn’t been a ton out of the ordinary, at least until Sunday.

On Sunday, instead of going to “regular” church, Dennis, Cindy and I piled into the Mitsubishi and went to have church with some people that Dennis and Cindy help minister to and with on occasion. I’d love to tell some of their incredible stories, but they’re stories that must be told in person, not online. 

Let’s just say this: these people live transformed lives and risk much to spread the gospel. Talk about putting what’s important into perspective… It brings to life the words of my namesake:

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21

I’m grateful to have grown up in the freedoms that America provides, but sometimes I rue the complacency and lack of purifying fire that the tradition-laden church culture fosters in the States. It’s not an excuse, but seeing the transformation and courage of these men and women and the daily dependency on Christ encourages and challenges me to live further out of my comfort zone and in reliance on Christ for my provision above all else. 

Monday morning Dennis and I picked up Joe Leier dark and early and headed out to Sergio Castillo’s hospital near San Antonio along the Pacific Coast. Sergio started out several years ago providing healthcare out of the trunk of his car to the largely Mayan population, and he has recently acquired a property with three buildings which will be a fully functional hospital following renovations. This trip was to: A) give me exposure to Sergio’s place; B) clarify responsibilities for coordinating work teams from the States; and C) plan for the installation of a generator and operating room renovations. 

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A team from South Carolina working at Sergio’s while we visited. Though some teams come in with arrogance, these guys came to serve and did it well.

Praise God, all three tasks went remarkably well. Lord willing, the hospital will provide tremendous blessings of healthcare and evangelism for years to come, but it’s not going to be easy. The area is largely agricultural, the local economy is driven largely by coffee and sugar cane harvests, and the Guatemalan coffee is going to be hurting in the next several years due to a fungal blight wiping out the crop. And the gringo teams from the U.S. often are too busy stampeding in and out to “do their mission work” to stop and consider that they can actually bring long term harm if not careful. I hope and pray for the hospital, that God would provide even in difficult circumstances. 

We Three Gringo from lands afar then piled back into our van and set off for Clinica Azel near Chicacao. A delicious tilapia dinner (The pulled my fish live out of the tank after I ordered and fried it whole), a good night’s sleep, and we set to working on their faulty equipment the next morning. Joe and I tag-teamed a surgical microscope control panel while Dennis worked on a surgical table and air compressor, and we made good progress. As usual, some problems we were able to diagnose but not fix due to a lack of parts on hand. But things were left in working order and we set out towards the city and home. 

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View from the Pacific Highway back towards the Highlands.

Twelve days left in Guatemala. Projects are winding down. I’m not eager to leave, but I’m eager to go, onto the next thing. Pray for me, that I would still be present here while I’m here, that I wouldn’t miss a chance to grow or serve in my last week.5 here. 

Grace and Peace,

Paul

Oxygen

Just in case you didn’t know, or if you’ve been living on Mars for the past ever or so and breathe something entirely different, that oxygen stuff is pretty important.

Can’t see it, smell it (can you?), taste it (never tried drinking the stuff), etc., but you sure know when it’s there and when it’s not. And when you don’t have it, you try to figure out how to get it pretty quickly.

This simple truth was illustrated twice over this past week, in rather different ways.

The beginning of the week was spent experimenting with medical oxygen concentrators. There’s lots of old ones down here in Guatemala, and most of them are tired. After 5,000 hours of use or so, the zeolite substrate (the sand stuff inside it that pulls the nitrogen out of the air) tends to quit working quite so well. Normally O2 concentrators will put out about 95% oxygen at a flow rate of 3L/min. They need to have this high of a percentage to be effective. Our machines were putting out ~80%. Marty Hand, a biomed tech from Alabama, brought us the oxygen sensor we needed to begin testing last weekend, so away Dennis and I went trying to cook up a way to revitalize the substrate.

By Wednesday we had a good baseline for testing, but our first attempts to pull a vacuum on and heat the substrate up to 200 F didn’t show any improvements in oxygen concentration. This week we’ll start cooking it hotter and trying any other ideas to recharge the stuff.

On Thursday we picked Marty Hand and his family up from the orphanage they’d been serving at this week and took them to Antigua to be tourists for an afternoon. And of course, I got to thoroughly enjoy an aftenoon full of shopping too. That was some pretty dry sarcasm, there. We all had a good time visiting Antigua for a day, and we stayed at nice hotel for Thursday night before dropping the Hands off at the airport on Friday morning.

Antigua

Antigua

Then dark and early on Saturday morning, I began my second adventure with oxygen (or a lack thereof) this week. It was 4 o’clock AM and myself, Mike Brubaker with Orphan Resources International, and his nephew Ryan all set out for the trailhead to climb Volcan Acatenango, the highest volcano in this part of the country. We drove for about 2 hours to get there, the last hour of which was spent on what Mike would call some “beautifully made Guatemalan roads”, featuring the finest ruts and dirt that good ol’ Guatemalan engineering can buy. Finally we arrived in a small remote village, parked the van, and began our trek.

For all the nerds out there like me, here’s the stats of our hike:

Beginning elevation: 7,900 feet above sea level. Ending elevation: 13,045 feet above sea level. Hiked distance laterally, switchbacks and all: 3.08 miles. Average percent grade of our climb: 31.63%. Time ascent began: 6:00 AM. Time summited: 12:00 PM. Time descent began: 1:00 PM. Time descent ended: 2:45 PM.

It was a fun, but very tough hike. For every three feet hiked, we gained a foot of elevation, which is a pretty steep pace to keep for six hours. I was stuggling pretty hard by the time we got towards the top. The worst part was the 2-3 inches of sand that you had to trudge through most of the way up. And that oxygen stuff. There’s less of it up there. Sea level air has 20.9% oxygen. At 8,000 feet, the air has 15.4% oxygen. At 13,000 feet, it has only 12.7%. The concentration is actually the same, but the air is just thinner up there. Needless to say all three of us were taking frequent breaks on the last section of our climb.

The last stretch to the cone.

The last stretch to the cone.

It was semi-cloudy on our climb, but still awesome. On a clear day from the top, they say you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Honduras (Mexico). It was really awesome to get up there and see that much of creation from a bird’s eye view. The ground at the top crater of the volcano was warm to the touch, and there were steam vents that would occasionally spurt pockets of gas and moisture out. It felt about ten degrees warmer around the vents than the ~50 F we had at the top. The crater at the top of the volcano reminded me of a lunar scene, several inches of black sand throughout. You could drop a football field into the crater pretty easily, to give some perspective on size.

At the top, among the clouds.

At the top, among the clouds.

Looking north towards Mexico from ~10,000 feet.

Looking north towards Mexico from ~10,000 feet.

Volcan Atitlan, from about halfway up.

Volcan Atitlan, from about halfway up.

These are some of the pics that I took, but if you’re interested I’d strongly recommend that you check out Mike’s pics on his blog (from another trip up he took) at this link: http://tinyurl.com/ka5smj8 . Seriously. Click the link, it’s worth it, cause his camera is way better than mine. Feel free to check out some of his other pics from Guatemala, they’re fantastic. And accurate.

(On a side note, when there’s less air, I burn faster. Just ask my face and neck. I should’ve known better than to trust the clouds to protect my pasty white gringo hide.)

In other news, God is continuing to challenge and teach me through his word. For those who have been praying for me, thank you, thank you, thank you. Pray that God would be glorified both in this trip and in any decisions made as a result of it.

Grace and Peace,

Paul

Costly

Joe Leier came up to the warehouse on Thursday and kicked off the great autoclave clean-up. There were 7 laying about the shop, and the goal was to “rob Peter and pay Paul”, as Dennis would say; trying to get as many functional units as possible. A short day’s work Thursday yielded two that were working (we hoped) and one that had some mysterious circuitry problems.

Friday morning I went to the warehouse to see what I could get done on my own, while Dennis ran errands in the city. Most of my time was spent re-drawing wiring diagrams and staring at the mysteriously broken autoclave trying to puzzle out where the problem was. At the end of my time at the shop, I noticed that there was steam leaking out of a small fitting on the back of the tank. Not a circuitry problem after all. Cue facepalm.

Saturday Dennis and I had a full day’s work cleaning, fixing, and testing all three machines, with good results. We want to run a few more cycles tomorrow morning, but we’ve realistically got three working autoclaves we didn’t before. Good stuff.

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Working at the shop alone on Friday was a learning experience. It was actually hard for me to get motivated to work at first, and I couldn’t understand why.While the machines cycled in the shop, I sat down in the office and journalled while I was waiting, trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me. It took awhile, but I think I finally hit on it.

I was lonely.

Lonely? I don’t get lonely. Lonely is, like, depressing. And I’m not depressed. Am I? Don’t think so. So where is this loneliness coming from?

Oh, yea. Right. That little part about being 2,000 miles from home and being alone in a foreign country. I hadn’t been lonely during this whole trip, but there was still that little twinge there in my stomach. So this is this home-sickness they speak of.

-To all you who may start asking question now (that means you, Mom, Grandparents, Cindy, etc), I love you all, but please be assured that I’m alright. I’ve scarcely ever felt more confident that this is where God means for me to be. And that morning at the warehouse was the exception to the rule.-

I don’t think getting homesick a little is inherently bad. I miss my friends and family. It would be a little weird if I didn’t miss them. They mean the world to me.

I sat there in the office, praying and journalling, while the machines buzzed in the next room. I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but I think I’m starting to understand how hard it would be to move down here to be a missionary. No, hard isn’t the right word, though it’s close. I’m starting to understand the cost of it.

It’s a funny thing, I think. Hard and easy at the same time. God calls us to do difficult things sometimes, things that can make us very uncomfortable. Yet he always sustains us through it. It’s costly to follow Christ, just as it’s a costly grace that allows us to follow. It couldn’t have been easy for God to give up his son unto death and humiliation. It takes on real meaning when I stop to consider it from a father’s perspective…

I have no room to complain about any costs. Ever. I can only be thankful when I stop to consider how blessed and loved I am. And that’s the truth of the cost of following Christ.  Though God may call us to make sacrifices or to do uncomfortable things at times, he doesn’t take them by force. He waits, patiently, until we can give them to him in love. He doesn’t desire our obligatory actions, he desires our hearts and our obedience. It’s not about our actions. It’s about knowing and loving the God who gave everything for us. And when we have our eyes on him, his promises to sustain us ring true.

I could ramble here for awhile, about grace and love and how God has our best interests in mind. All of those things are very, very true, but there are far better sources for accurate theology than me. I’d love to sit and talk about it for hours with you, but this blog isn’t the place. To bring it back around, what I’m trying to say is that I think I’m starting to understand the costs of foreign missionary service. And when you start to understand how much something really costs, you can finally start to understand the value in it.

Love you all. Grace and Peace,

Paul

Thankful

For just about everything. 

For friends and family.

For a functioning body and mind.

For generous hosts Dennis and Cindy.

For the occasional delicious steak.

For a God who loves me more than I know.

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Grace and Peace,

Epitaph

Warning: This blog post is potentially interactive.

(Boy, I bet you’re excited to interact with something titled “Epitaph”. No voodoo here, I promise.)

In probably the best class that I’ve taken at college (Intro to Interpersonal Communication w/ Evan Griffin), our professor challenged us to write our own epitaphs. It was a tough assignment, to put my finger on just what I wanted my life to be remembered by. 

(This is the part of the blog post where Paul comes out and challenges you to write, your own epitaph.)

(If you got the reference, then a cookie for you. Comment below. Obviously, you don’t have to write your own epitaph to finish reading the post. But if you’ve got time, I encourage you to give it some thought.)

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Thanks, Danny, for filling some space for us. And by the way, nice hat, pen, watch, and bible. They make you look strikingly handsome, and somehow familiar. 

 

This is part of the blogging I needed to catch up on from the roadtrip this past week. An excerpt from my journal, dated 6/14, which was last Friday:

Tikal today. Which will be cool, but at the same time I’d much rather actually be fixing something today. We’ve come hours and hours up here, and all that’s come of it was to order some hose fittings. Which is important, yes, but it feels so small.

Even writing that is bringing up a conflict in my mind and soul. My natural tendency is to be disappointed, to look only as far as my eyes can see and my hands can physically do. Naturally, I’d be partly glum and sulky, because I define myself and my worth from what I accomplish. 

And herin lies the conflict…

Firstly, that hose fitting will bless these people. And more so than that, that’s not how I, or we as Christians, are to define ourselves. There very well could have been something wrong and we could have fixed something. No, that’s not even the heart of what I mean either. What I mean is that I tend to have a high opinion of my actions. I do feel that I’m a mostly competent person and can do many things well, and I believe that with good focus, direction, and work, I can do much good in this world. But that high view of myself, which puts so much stock in my own worth and weight of action, puts God in a very low view.

The question is raised of, ‘How do I define my success?’ It’s such a crucial question to ask and answer, as what I believe about its answer drives much of my behavior.”

That’s where my entry ended that day. How I define my success in life is a question that I’ve considered before. Trust me, I can give you the good church boy answer. But the reality is that this question isn’t testing knowledge, it’s testing belief and identity. Big difference. What do I believe (as is shown in my actions) defines my purpose in life, defines success?

I’m a performance driven person. I grew up being very good at school, and I thrived on having people pat me on the back and tell me I was going places. Getting good test scores prompted me to apply to an Ivy League school. Recently (and this is still an odd shift for a lifelong nerd) I’ve joined the rowing team and have taken to it. I thrive on the competition, and it has driven me to invest thousands of hours. I’ve invested to the point that I’m the fastest person on the team. The point I’m trying to make is that for whatever reason, God has gifted me to be able to set a goal and to go get it. Period. (sounds genetic to me) That’s a good thing, right?

4.0 student. Varsity captain rower. Church leader. World traveler. Not a bad resumé.

I’ll be honest with you. It’s a curse at times. Can you guess what my biggest fear is? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with the letter “F” and rhymes with “Mailure”. 

Back to the journal entry. My natural tendency would be to be sulky because I only got to prescribe some air tank fittings. But that depression wasn’t sitting right with me.

I think God’s working on me here again. Cause there’s several passages of scripture that have cut me deep the past few days. 

Isaiah 64:6 – “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”

Our righteous deeds are filthy rags. Ouch. What does that make all the deeds that I definitely wouldn’t classify as righteous? 

How do I define my success? Fixing the world’s problems? Sounds good, but I’m coming to see how self serving my natural self is. 

The reality is that God isn’t calling me to be “successful” in getting lots of stuff done. He’s not calling me to be successful to have lots of fun. Or to be married. Or to get good grades, or to row fast. They’re all good things, but not anything to define myself by. I’ve made each of them my master, my idol, at times in my life, and I can attest that they’re empty. Good things, but empty, ultimately. They fill up for awhile, but none of them gave me lasting purpose. The reality is that the times my deepest sense of purpose and fulfillment, of my deepest intimacy with God, have been the times when I’ve just had to be obedient. My success isn’t to make more of me, it’s to place my identity in Christ fully and just obey, not matter the cost. 

Big time theological postulate coming here: Success = Obedience. Funny how the simple ideas are hard to really get. At least for me.

Obedience is hard. I would guess that I don’t have to illustrate this one too much. The toughest moments of my life have been times when God has called me to do something that hasn’t made any sense to me. It’s looked different at times. Sometimes it means walking away from things. Relationships. Scholarships. Sometimes it means confession. Sometimes it means confrontation. Sometimes it means failure. I haven’t always done these things eagerly or with enthusiasm. Or at all…

I can say that in every single place that God has called me out into a place of vulnerability, He has been faithful to provide. His word says that faith pleases him. I’m learning that faith looks a lot like obedience. I’m so thankful for how God’s blessed me. I am messed up. I’ve got issues. My righteous deeds are as filthy rags. My motives are self serving. And for some reason the God of the universe loves me so much that he died for me and lives to be intimately involved in the tiniest details of my life. He cares enough to teach me and to put my foot on a firm foundation, a straight and narrow path.

I’m thankful that God’s Spirit is wrestling with my carnal self in an act of sanctification. But it is a struggle. A real struggle at times.

John 17:4 [Jesus, praying to God, shortly before being led away to be crucified] – “I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

I want to change my answer to Professor Griffin. I want that to by my epitaph. That I brought glory to God by being obedient. Even if it isn’t sexy. Even if it isn’t rich. Even if I don’t do anything other than recommend some hose fittings. God is sovereign, and there is no higher calling than to operate where He has placed me. At the end of my life, I hope that somebody can take a chisel and hammer and etch that verse into my tombstone and it can be true.

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Gosh, I love this kid. Maybe the trip wasn’t a waste after all…

Thanks for letting me ramble and get that all out.

Grace and Peace,

Paul