Here are members of Faith and their friends in Antiqua, Guatemala who are participating as the Common Hope Vision Team. Please keep them in your prayers! Travelers include: Heidi Kubicek,  Frank Foss, Cynthia Overson, John Kittleson, Paul Brown, Jamie Bergstrom, Ronald Kolb, Richard Scott, Robert Fleming, Craig Sinclair, Douglas Ashling, Mary Ellen Fischenich, Joan Sudheimer, Pastor Christine Ruth, and Mike Rinke.

The team enjoying the Iximche Ruins last night. Sunday, January 14th. 

Coming Home – Days 6 & 7

I regret not being able to blog last night, but as it was our final day, we were busy throughout the day, culminating in the Common Hope staff taking us to an elegant dinner at a restaurant to celebrate our accomplishments together this week. 

Yesterday was such a special day, as we enjoyed two wonderful milestone “endings” to our trip.  First, we got to go the village of San Raphael, where we distributed over 625 school supply kits in this beautiful Mayan village to preschoolers, elementary school, middle school, and high school children attending school in this very poor village.  Words cannot express the joy in these mother’s and children’s eyes as they bundled up these hefty kits, and balanced them so gracefully on their heads as they headed back home.  The mother’s and children’s traditional Mayan garb was stunning, and we couldn’t comprehend how these mothers balanced both babies on their backs and school supplies on their heads so effortlessly.    It was such gratifying work!  We also got to pop over and visit one of the schools in San Raphael and see the student classrooms and facilities, much of what has been donated by Rotary teams.

Our second milestone was finally getting to meet the family we built the house for this week – a single mother with four beautiful girls- and got to create and participate in a dedication service for the house.   We sang a worship hymn in Spanish (“I Love You, Lord”), did some readings from the Psalms, prayed over every part of the home, encircled the family with prayers, and sang a blessing and dedication tune to the tune of Edelweiss.  Mother had tears streaming down her face (as did many of us) as she clung to the beautiful cross that a couple of our team members picked out for her as a gift.  We finalized with ceremony with a wonderful peach cake prepared by the Common Hope staff.  It was a wonderful afternoon. 

Personally, I had a hard time saying, “goodbye,” and felt that I could have stayed at least another week (if not forever!).  I’m only beginning to process the meaning of this week and will miss the close community we enjoyed together doing such meaningful work!  I look forward to continuing this blog as I begin to process how this trip will impact and change my life as I reintegrate into Chanhassen and Waconia this week.  Thanks again for your prayers and support!!!!  –Pastor Christine

Common Hope Day #5 with John Kittleson

We know it as Common Hope.  Here it is called “Familias de Esperanza,” an enclosed compound consisting of housing for staff, long-term volunteers, and guests; a kitchen and cafeteria; a school with a library; a clinic; an activities center; office administration; and a workshop, where the walls are built for the 40 – 60 houses that are built a year. 

Common Hope is an amazing organization with much respect and admiration within the communities it serves.  Employees and long-term volunteers alike inspire with friendly smiles and warm, joyful greetings.  Laughter fills the air as evidence that employees and volunteers love their jobs here. 

Today I met my second sponsor child and her family.  The response from the mother when I asked of her greatest worry?  “That my children have a better life.”  My follow-up question, “Is this possible?”  Her reply, “Yes, thanks to Common Hope.” 

Today the house was constructed.  The concrete floor was poured Tuesday as another group stayed behind to build the wall panels at Common Hope’s facility.  Yesterday, the walls and roof were delivered to the site.  Everyone had a hand in the construction of the house. 

Other meaningful activities include tending to daycare, packing emergency food bags, painting and grounds maintenance, assisting in the library, auditing of social worker visits, and sorting, packaging and distribution of school supplies and uniforms.  There are 80 schools that include students affiliated with Common Hope. 

The highlight, however, are the visits with our sponsored students.  There is shyness at first, but they quickly warm up to us.  They are excited to see us.  We meet the families.  We witness firsthand the meager living conditions.  We also get a sense of the love and care within the family units.  The lack of resources and some of the many obstacles that are potential barriers to their success in school become apparent. 

These visits have been sobering, enlightening and uplifting.  One can easily feel God’s work in creating wonderful opportunities for these children and their families through the efforts of Common Hope. 

Common Hope Antigua – Day #4 with Paul Brown

Today was another busy day in Guatemala for the Faith Luthern service team.  My team moved the walls, roof , doors and windows to the home site. It is located on a very crowded plot surrounded by other small homes.The slab foundation had been poured yesterday.The cobblestone streets we traveled  made for a rough ride but we could  experience the landscape from the back of the pick-up that much better.  We then returned to the Common Hope campus to build walls for next week’s home. After that we had another excellent meal prepared by the staff. Then it was on to the rather tedious task of sorting through some 700 pairs of shoes to be delivered to school children at a later date.  We had time to rest before enjoying a great meal at a local restaurant. Once back at headquarters we were able to view the glowing  orange lava flowing from the active volcano not so far away.  The nights are cool but comfortable here at altitude. Overall another enlightening and rewarding day in Central America.

Common Hope Antigua Day #3


Common Hope Day #3 – 1/16/18

Today was a day that packed a punch for me physically, spiritually, and emotionally.   I was thrilled to start the day being one of the only females who got to “go and lay concrete” with the other guys on our team who are more “constuctionally-abled.”  I didn’t think I’d be able to contribute much – but when you make concrete the old-fashioned way – by overturning piles and piles of dirt, gravel, water, and sand with metal shovels – it takes a whole team – and my biceps might even have poked out for the “show.”  I was proud of what Mike, Jon, Douglas, Ron, Craig and I accomplished, with the help of our fearless guides:  Abel, Mario, and Michelle.  It was a morning filled with great team work and high satisfaction, as we worked alongside the family who was excited to see the foundation laid for their new 12 X 16 foot home.  Other team members helped sort books in the library, packed emergency food baskets for families, played in the childcare center, and went on social work visits.


This afternoon, I accompanied a social worker named Lesbia to visit 3 families in Antigua.  These Guatemalan social workers are the heart and soul of Common Hope here, working long hours to make the relational connections with families to the educational and medical services here at Common Hope.  I couldn’t understand the language, but I could see how passionate Lesbia was about her job and supporting these families so they could keep their kids in school.  We visited three different families, and in all 3 cases- both mom and dad had abandoned the children due to drugs, alcoholism, or abuse – leaving their children to be raised by three courageous “Abuelas” – grandmas.  

I just wanted to wrap these tender-hearted grandmas in my arms- showering them with love and encouragement!  What painful and difficult jobs – when there’s no wage-earners in the home, and every week, these grandmas have to push through arthritis symptoms and health challenges – to worry about how to pay for the rice to feed their grandchildren.  Alcoholism and physical abuse is prevalent here, and there are so many families where the only adult in the home is the faithful grandma.

I was overcome with guilt and sadness today – because I was struck by how hard, not only these grandmas, but how hard their school-aged grandkids, have to work to support each other – and earn money for their grandparents – without any help from parents.  These kids were practically the same age as my kids- and yet they’re saddled with such adult responsibilities.  Here they are – so eager to learn -to want to be good students – and yet they’re having to worry about food resources, abuse, and alcoholism. 

What can I do?  Could I give up my gym membership to sponsor more children?  Could I spend less on eating out so I could give a few more children a chance?  These are the deep ethical dilemmas that are messing with me – and our whole team this week as we grapple with how we might change our lifestyles to give more of these eager kids a chance. 


Common Hope – Antigua Day #2

Day #2:  Common Hope – Antigua

Today was a wonderful day.  We started work on our house, building the panels that we will erect on Thursday with their new roof.  The houses Common Hope builds have to be mobile because landowners can (and do!) terminate leases and kick families off of their properties.  Very few Guatemalans own the land they live on, and are used to having to move a lot, consequently.  Michelle, an architect from Switzerland, who volunteers here at Common Hope, has been busy building prototypes of murphy beds and folding table sets that they are looking at integrating in the small 12 X 16 foot house designs Common Hope builds here.  Space efficiency is a MUST when you have families of 6, 8, or 10 living in 12 X 16 or 12 X 24 foot homes. 

Several of us had powerful emotional experiences today when we got to meet our sponsored children and go on social work visits into the outlying villages.  We were struck by the incredible hospitality of the people, who showered us with kisses, hugs, and food as they welcomed us into their humble one or two-room homes.  How many families would be happy to see and host a surprise visit from THEIR social worker here in the United States?   Not many!  You can see how deeply the families adore the Common Hope social workers and appreciate the work they do in their midst.  One of our Waconia team members visited an extremely poor family today, living in a ramshackle shack, like many of the families do.  The young daughter in this family instantly attached to him, wrapping her arms around him like a barnacle and refusing to let go.  Our Waconia team member realized that this little girl had chosen HIM to be her sponsor, and after leaving the social work visit, he had to submit:  “Sign me up to sponsor that one.  I am undone.”   The warmth and kindness of the people here cannot be described.  They have so little and yet treat you like royalty.

Our night finished well – getting to see plenty of bursts of hot lava spewed into the night sky from the volcano nearby.  It’s really hard to get enough of it.  The theme for today, as we all went around the room sharing our experiences and “God-sightings” was gratitude.  We are grateful to be here and to feel woven together with the families and new friendships here in Guatemala.  Thanks for your support and prayers.

Pastor Christine

First Day in Antigua!

Today was our first full day in Antigua and began with a wonderful orientation to the city, a visit to some fascinating Guatemalan ruins, and finished with a great night at the Mono Loco sports bar in downtown Antigua to celebrate the Vikings win with other expatriates.  We started this morning with breakfast and morning coffee, against the backdrop of an erupting volcano from the porch of our Common Hope headquarters.  It was seriously breathtaking – watching the plumes of smoke rise.  Some were able to see the erupting lava last night from the windows of their rooms here.  It t’s honestly quite surreal  – like we’re on some sort of movie set.   We headed out by 8:00am to learn about Guatemalan history and religion by touring the ancient ruins of Iximche, about an hour outside of Antigua.  Our tour guide, Abraham, was wonderful, and gave us a very helpful grounding in Mayan culture and religious beliefs.  The highlight was getting to witness some Mayan rituals taking place at the holy sight.  Mayan families were gathered around three separate fires, where Mayan priests (one male and one female) burned incense, candles, and flower petals to seek the blessing of the gods on the new school year.   Iximche is one of twenty sacred sights where Mayans gather to seek the wisdom and blessings of the gods.  This inspired some great conversations about the various understandings of good and evil, blessings and curses, and differing views on cosmology and the afterlife among Christians and Mayans.   There’s no better way to study theology than by scrutinizing one’s beliefs through the mirror of the beliefs of others – what fun and fruitful conversation!
Following our time at Iximche, we headed for lunch to a beautiful restaurant called, Chichoy, where we enjoyed traditional Mayan food like pork, chicken, beans, rice, chorizo, and the most amazing homemade blue maize tortillas.  This afternoon, we headed into downtown Antigua to visit the Artisan markets, to attend mass at the cathedral in the central park, and then headed to the local sports bar, the Mono Loco (Crazy Monkey) to join the most fascinating bunch of expatriates to root for the Vikings.  There were Saints fans from France, Vikings fans from Canada, and more random Minnesotans than one could ever conceive of  – all packed into a steamy bar eating guacamole and screaming at the television screens.   How did all these people come to visit, live, or volunteer in Antigua?  There were so many fascinating stories of falling in love, seeking adventure, and finding one’s vocation packed in this room!  I can’t say I’ve ever watched such an exciting game with a more global and eclectic crowd!  The roar on the streets, erupting from several neighborhood establishments, when the Viking scored their last goal was astounding – all the way here in Antigua, Guatemala.  What a small world!  
Today was a day of orientation and relaxation, but tomorrow we head to work.  I was grateful for a day to build friendships with my new team and to enjoy the beauty and hospitality of this incredible culture.   I am grateful to God for this privilege and hope that we can contribute something meaningful to the beautiful lives being lived here over the next week.

It’s Time to Go!

Today is our day of departure.  I feel nervous and preoccupied:  “What did I forget?  Will my daughter make is to basketball on time?  Will my husband remember to pick my son up from his DECA competition?  Are we all going to get the flu on this airplane flight?”  These are the “start-of-a-mission-trip” musings of a mother who is leaving two kids and one husband behind with a very crazy schedule.   I’ve gone on enough of these trips to know that they always seem to start with passion and inspiration to make a difference in the world, but in the course of time, give way to bouts of anxiety and fear.  I keep coming back to 2 things:  purpose and prayer.  In the midst of stress and anxiety, I remind myself that when we set our intention to serve God – to set time aside to purposely engage with God’s kingdom and to seek God’s face through community and meaningful action, God is always faithful and shows up in ways that boogle my mind.   When we seek God, God wants nothing more than to be found by us.  This week, I pray that God will be found by all of us – not just those of us who travel with Common Hope, but with the friends and family members who are left behind.  I pray that God will deepen my husband’s relationship with my kids – now that this controlling mama is  FINALLY out of the picture!  I pray that our stories will somehow touch the lives of those of you back home who need a break from your winter doldrums.  I pray that God would give us more than we could ever ask or imagine – as we endeavor to break out of our winter routines and serve our brothers and sister in Guatemala.  Thank you for your prayers and support as we go!

Guatemala Trip 1/13-1/20 2018

It’s almost time!  On Saturday January 13th , 15 of us will leave the cold weather of Minnesota to spend 7 wonderful days serving our neighbors and friends in Guatemala through Common Hope.  Common Hope is one of our wonderful partner organizations here at Faith Lutheran that facilitates our Faith Lutheran Vision Team trips. Please keep our team in your prayers, as many of us are having our very first trip abroad! This winter’s Faith team includes:  Heidi Kubicek,  Frank Foss, Cynthia Overson, John Kittleson, Paul Brown, Jamie Bergstrom, Ronald Kolb, Richard Scott, Robert Fleming, Craig Sinclair, Douglas Ashling, Mary Ellen Fischenich, Joan Sudheimer, Mike Rinke, and myself (Pastor Christine Ruth).  I am so excited to meet my sponsored child, William, whom I’ve been financially supporting over the past year.  It’s hard to believe that I will be seeing him and his family face-to-face.  Pray for good weather as we travel, health and safety for our team members, and a powerful time of ministry as we  build friendships and join in mutual service with our Guatemalan friends. 
Pastor Christine