Quite the title eh? The intelligent among you will correctly surmise that today's musings will pertain almost entirely to Guatemala and the resplendent environs therein. But don't be fooled dear readers; I am not single-minded in my writings nor in my wanderings. I have had quite the varied experiences as of late and feel inclined to impart the whole lot to you. Forgive me for my pedantic prose, I can't quite place what's gotten into me but methinks I made my Costa Rican coffee a tad too strong this morning. Well since I opened this bull-session with talk of Guate and her marvels I may as well finish 'er up. This past Thursday I made my first trip to Guatemala - the astute out there will begin placing the pieces together and quickly ascertain that I seem to be traveling quite a little bit...and that would be a correct ascertation. I assure you that it isn't what it looks like - I do in fact love Honduras and despite what Robin Weinstein says I am not idling my time away here with tropical vacations on the dime of EMM (though accompanying photos may say otherwise). What in fact has occurred here is that I have been forced, yes forced to leave this land that I love. In October I needed to renew my Visa and thus it warranted a trip to Costa Rica; recently, last week in fact, I was called to the north of Guate by my directors for a Missionary Retreat. EMM holds an annual Missions Retreat in each region of the world for all of its workers...and when Steve Shank beckons there is no declining the offer. Thus, with all the plucky courage I could muster, off I trekked into the wild, unknown "land of many trees". Actually I flew, it was just as cheap as the bus and that much quicker, so an adventure it wasn't...but a funny thing did happen on the way there. I flew from San Pedro Sula to Guatemala City to Flores in the North. At my stopover in Guatemala City I had to pass through Immigration and then through a Security Checkpoint to get to my connecting flight. At the security checkpoint I went through the customary dog-and-pony show of disrobing and sashaying about in next to nothing; making a general spectacle of myself...but hey, one never knows when the random Mennonite might finally throw in the pacifist towel and unleash his fury on some unsuspecting Latin American pueblo. This particular checkpoint was a tad more lax in that it didn't require me to take of my shoes, thus I thought to myself: "self, if they don't require one to de-shoe perhaps they won't require you to remove your belt." I was all set to ask the kindly guard if she wanted me to remove my belt when I suddenly realized that I'd forgotten the word. I stood there for a minute or two racking my brain and holding my belt like a gangsta when I hit upon it and quickly asked her if she wanted me to remove my 'falda'...she just cocked her head and looked at me funny. Thinking that she hadn't heard me I repeated more slowly and shaking my belt buckle all the while "Quieres que quite mi falda?". Again she looked at me funny, then chuckled and said "si, si puede". I passed on through without event, was headed for my gate and still thinking about the guard's strange reaction when it hit me...I hadn't asked her if she wanted me to take off my belt, I'd asked her if she wanted me to take off my skirt (of which I was not wearing by the by). Imagine her surprise when a regular-enough looking Gringo began to offer to strip of his skirt for her...I'm surprised she only cocked her head at me and not her gun. Well that bit of language fun aside the trip was fairly uneventful and I arrived in Flores late in the evening just in time for a Thanksgiving meal with the other EMMers that couldn't be beat. It consisted of Chicken and potatoes and coffee but hey, it had been so long since I'd eaten mashed potatoes and broiled chicken that I didn't care. The retreat itself was held at a mission compound and was centered around teaching time based on the passage from John 15 about bearing fruit and our relationship as branches to Christ the Vine - it was incredible actually, I learned and gained a lot from it and came back feeling refreshed and refocused. The sessions were taught by Karl and Nita Landis both of whom are involved in the work of Lancaster Mennonite Conference back home. We did have one afternoon to visit the the tiny village of Flores, it's an island town that sits in the middle of lake...it's incredible, like something from a different age, very old, very colonial, almost European. I was particularly taken with the doors of the homes - I don't know what it was, perhaps the colors, perhaps my OCD tendencies kicked in, but I soon found myself stopping at nearly every home and taking a photo of their front door - I didn't want to leave a single alley or side-street unexplored for fear that some might feel left out, the doors that is...I'm a nut job. We also took a boat to the local zoo and saw some very exotic animal life...heck I got to shake hands with a spider monkey. We ended our time together on Sunday and off I flew once again into the wild blue - my route into Honduras took me two days to complete and past Tegucigalpa so I decided to hop off there and spend Monday with Norman before taking the 7 hour bus ride back to La Ceiba. So Guatemala is not the only occurrence of note that has passed lo these many days - in that I've still been unable to find a peer to replace long, lost Norman I've been forced to pass my days with his 10 year old brother Juanjo...which is just fine by me, in a lot of ways we're on the same level and get along swimmingly. The other weekend my friend Felix invited me out to Porvenir to visit his home and I in turn invited Juanjo to accompany me. Porvenir is a good 25 minutes outside of Ceiba so we had to take a very bumpy school bus on which Juanjo insisted sticking his head out of the entire trip. We spent the better part of the day, exploring the beach visiting with another friend Walter and eating fried fish on the beach...we packed it in and hitched the bus back home just before the afternoon rains arrived. Birthday numbers 34 & 35 came down the pike the other week too. My friend Tino and his older brother Emilio were born a day apart and so a group of us youth from the church surprised them one night with two cakes (which were incredible) and a meal of chicken, potatoes and fried rice. The funny thing is, is that in wanting to keep it a surprise no one bothered to inform anyone in the family what we were planning so we just showed up Monday night with buckets full of food, barged in and made ourselves at home...and then waited...and waited...almost 1 hour & 1/2 for Tino to come home from University...planning is not this culture's forte. On a final note I have some exciting news in the realm of working with at-risk youth. The other week when my friend Leda and I accompanied the team of doctors to different parts of La Ceiba we visited the local garbage dump and both felt a pressing need there, and urgency both hit us to return and start working with the youth there. We came back to the offices the next day and began planning...the next week we returned to the dump to introduce ourselves and begin to get to the know the people. The youth just kind of followed us and because it was raining we decided to meet in one of the classrooms at the local elementary school. I hadn't planned on leading any sort of discussion but I soon found myself giving my life story, my walk with Christ and my hopes for the community there...and then we played Duck, Duck, Goose...I never thought 15 year olds would enjoy Duck, Duck, Goose but they loved it...which was good because I was overwhelmed and out of ideas. Our vision is to go back on a weekly basis at first and slowly build till we're there almost everyday - we're also hoping to get the youth from our church involved as volunteers. It's a big vision we have and it won't be easy so please pray for us. Well that does it for this week, hope you enjoyed the doors...if you did you're probably just as nuts as I am. Tune-in in two weeks and see what I'm to. Blessings to you this week. Peace!