Posted on April 2, 2017
Posted on April 2, 2017Many more miracles have revealed themselves since we first told Erick and his family about his scholarship.
As a bit of background, as a tourist police officer, which is a step above a city cop and earns him $60 more per month, Erick doesn't have any influence on when or where he works. He works holidays, birthdays, weekends, takes vacation time only when he is told to (usually the day before), and he is stationed wherever his authorities tell him he will be stationed. It doesn't matter if Erick has an important family event, or if his home is far away from work -- his opinion or circumstances are not considered. That's just the way it is in Guatemala.
So you can imagine his and his family's devastation when at the beginning of last October, Erick was told he was being permanently transferred from Retalhuleu (3 hours from his home), to Rio Dulce (12+ hours from his home). Being the faithful, God-fearing people that Erick and Elisa are, they were perplexed as to why -- when they had been praying that Erick would someday be able to be closer to his family -- he was instead being transferred a day's journey from their home. It was exactly the opposite of what they had hoped and prayed for.
Suddenly Erick found himself having to use a precious day "off" and the extra $60 he was earning to buy bus tickets to travel across the country, where he would work in Rio Dulce for 8-10 days, spend a day traveling back home, stay with his wife and daughters for a couple days, then use another day off to travel back to work and repeat the process. But being the humble man that he is, he persevered, hoping God would reveal His reasons in time.
Twenty days later, he was directed to a resort in Rio Dulce, where he was told he would be meeting a team of humanitarian doctors from the United States. His instruction was to stand guard and keep them safe as they journeyed in the jungles for four days. Obediently, he went to the resort and took his post next to a large charter bus.
Then he saw some short white girl hop off the bus, messing with a big camera lens -- probably not a doctor. He smiled and waved at her, and she smiled back. "How many mega-pixels is that camera?" he asked in English, to which the surprised girl replied with some completely incorrect answer (like "30-thousand" or something).
The girl, master of awkward social interactions, had been so surprised some random Guatemalan cop had just spoken to her in English, she apparently lost access to all information in her brain at that moment. Oops. Awkward, she thought. At least I'll never talk to him again and we can forget this ever happened.
10 minutes later, the girl and the doctors boarded the bus, and the girl was very surprised to see the Guatemalan cop and another police officer board the bus with them. Apparently they'd be going on this journey together.
Obviously, that girl was me -- the introvert who comes across as an extrovert, but then hides away in her room after social interactions to recharge for the next one.
To be honest, I didn't notice Erick much for the first day or two, but as the trip progressed, there was something very familiar about him. Very familiar. So much so that it caught me off guard. At the end of the four days, I asked about his family and he told me they lived 12 hours away. Immediately the thought came to my mind that I was supposed to help this man -- this random, yet strikingly familiar man -- to live closer to his wife and daughters. Surprised, yet again, by the powerful impression, I kept it to myself and said goodbye to Erick, then went back to the United States, keeping the thought in the back of my mind.
After that, his family simply wouldn't leave my mind. I tried to find Erick on Facebook, but there were too many people online with the same name, and I think I was spelling it wrong. Then he found me -- Sometimes it helps to be the only "Jolie Hales" on the internet. Booyeah.
We struck up a conversation, and he introduced me to his wife. Ever since then, I've talked to Erick and/or Elisa just about every single day, with no expectations or requests. Just friendship. And even though we were thousands of miles apart, this introvert found these people to be instant close friends.
Fasting forward -- or I'll never finish this post -- to where I left off in the last update: When I told Erick about scholarship.
Even though he now had access to funds to go to school and get his degree, which he and Elisa were more than thrilled about, he was still stationed in Rio Dulce -- far from his family, and far from any university. He and Elisa debated what they should do. Should he attempt the impossible and request to transfer to another location closer to home and school, or quit his work as a tourist cop and find work as a city cop in a town close to work or school?
The "quitting" thing worried me. Any unemployment risks were no bueno.
He decided to take a risk and ask for a transfer, so he and Elisa began praying (along with Spencer and me back home) that things would work out. He first spoke to his boss in Rio Dulce, who took compassion on him and said he would schedule an appointment for Erick to speak to the "big boss" in Guatemala City -- aka, the head officer over all of Guatemala's 400 tourist cops. He scheduled an appointment for a few days later, though with a disclaimer that often these appointments fall through and don't happen. Guatemala City was 6 hours from Rio Dulce -- a "fallen through" appointment was, again, no bueno. But it was all he had.
Then a couple days before the appointment, an organized crime gang attacked seven police stations in Guatemala City simultaneously, killing one officer and wounding many others. All police stations, including Erick's, were locked down for 12 hours as more attacks happened. Thankfully, none of the attacks came close to Rio Dulce, though it was sad to learn of their fallen comrade. Once that happened, I was sure Erick's appointment would be canceled. The head officer, who worked in the city of the attacks, clearly would have his hands full.
But a few days later, Erick was on his way to Guatemala City to speak to the head officer and request a transfer -- his appointment (so far) had still not been cancelled. He told me beforehand that if his request was denied, he was have to quit. Oh please, Lord, let the head officer be understanding. I expressed my anxiety, and Erick told me, "Don't worry, Jolie. I can feel God with me. If it is His will that it will happen, it will happen."
He was so unwavering in his faith, while I paced around on my office floor, waiting for news.
Finally, a few hours later, a message from Erick popped up on my phone...
Good news! Ahhhhhhh!!
Apparently, when it was time for his appointment, Erick had humbly walked into the head officer's office, explained he had been blessed with an opportunity to get his degree, but in order to do so, he would need to transfer to a location closer to the city of Quezatenango -- where many universities are located (as well as an LDS temple, for any Mormons out there), which is also about 1.5 hours from his family. Then Erick handed the head officer his scholarship award letter -- a very formal, professional letter I had written and sent to Erick to use as proof of the scholarship in situations just like this one (complete with the Hales family crest and everything, heheheh, darn proud).
The head officer read over the letter, looked at Erick, and said to him, "Esta es una gran bendición de Dios."
"This is a great blessing from God."
It turns out that the head officer was also a religious man, and could sense that Erick was, too. The two of them talked about how God can be felt with Erick, and the head officer said he would help him get a transfer within the next few weeks -- to a location much closer to Quezatenango and his family.
To add to it, the next day a fellow officer who worked in Guatemala City messaged Erick. Apparently after Erick had left Guatemala City, the head officer held a meeting with 30+ tourist cops in the Guatemala City area, where he mentioned Erick's story directly and said that God had blessed Him with a great opportunity, just like He will bless all of them if they have trust in God. The head officer then bore testimony that God has a plan for each of them, and that He will guide them if they seek Him.
Not only did the head officer agree to transfer and help Erick, but he then spoke to others about it -- publicly confirming his commitment to help Erick.
So now we wait, hoping the transfer comes soon.
A couple days after the meeting, Erick asked for the first money transfer from his scholarship -- $30 for travel to visit multiple universities in Quezatenango and decide on a school. So some of your kind contributions have already paid for Erick to spend hours picking a school. After visiting at least a half a dozen universities, he selected Da Vinci University, which will allow him to start classes in July and go to school only on Saturdays (allllll day), so he will be able to continue working as a tourism police officer. (Universities in Guatemala do things very differently than here, I'm learning.)
After debating between Criminal Justice or Law, he actually selected Law School, which is a 5-year program in Guatemala. He sent me receipts and financial info, and it looks like the 5-year program will be $4,650 -- just under the $5,000 raised. With books and supplies, it'll obviously cost more than that, but I'm happy trusting that we can work that out as we need to. He was willing to do Criminal Justice instead if needed because it was a less-costly 4-year program, but I encouraged him to choose the program he felt the best about, which is apparently law. So law, it is!
Law school will enable him to either pursue a career in Guatemala's justice system, or even stay in the police force and be promoted. It opens up a world of opportunities for him that he never imagined, and also opens up opportunities for his daughters.
If you follow my Facebook wall, you'll see I've been blessed to be adopted into the Perez Escobar family. Erick and Elisa often post family updates on my page, or tag me in prayers of thanks to God -- something all of you probably deserve more than I do. Their daughters, Crystal and Kamila, call me "Tia Jolie," or "Aunt Jolie," and Erick feels more and more like the twin brother I never had, despite the fact that he grew up in an impoverished 1-room hut in Guatemala while I grew up the daughter of an anesthesiologist in the United States -- everything from our beliefs to our sense of humor is in sync.
In a couple months, if Erick's transfer works out, I hope to fly to Guatemala and visit their family. I want to buy them groceries and tour the Da Vinci school grounds. I want to teach Erick how to fly my drone and sing primary songs in Spanish with their daughters. I want to show Elisa this miraculous hair brush that never hurts when you brush your hair!
I find it hard to believe that Erick was "coincidentally" transferred to Rio Dulce only 20 days before we arrived there, and has only had to work there for 6 months before being told he can live closer to his family. Sometimes we don't know why a trial is put in place, but if we could trust in the bigger picture, maybe it wouldn't be as much of trial.
Regardless of religious beliefs, it's been difficult to deny a force that is out there, guiding our footsteps. I feel like each of you has been inspired to give. I'm so grateful for each person who gave even $1 -- it's is making all the difference, not just in the lives of this family in Guatemala, but in mine, maybe even more so.
Posted on March 12, 2017
Posted on March 12, 2017I told them!!! And It. Was. A. Surprise!
I told Erick earlier this week that I needed to talk to him about something important on Thursday night, so he gave me a call right after work. I told him I had written him a letter and I wanted to read it to him -- something that undoubtedly confused him, and he asked why I didn't just email him the letter instead, hahaha. No.
What he didn't know was that I had first written the letter in English, then translated it into Spanish the best I could -- phrase by phrase -- then literally rehearsed it about a dozen times out loud. I needed to make sure I got the message across correctly.
Erick was still completely in the dark about all of this. I've been nerdily watching the analytics on both my YouTube video and blog, and no one from Guatemala had appeared to have stumbled upon our little surprise yet.
When he called, it was obvious by the Latino music, voices, and engine noises in the background that he was riding a public bus at the time, which worried me a bit because I didn't know if he would be able to hear me or not, and this was definitely something I didn't want to get lost in translation. But he assured me he could hear me, so I proceeded.
The letter was a page long, single spaced. I told him that I loved his family. I told him that it pains me that I have more opportunities than he does just because of where we were born. I talked about God and His love for us, and about how getting a college education has greatly blessed my life. Throughout the letter, I paused to ask if he could hear and understand me, and he said yes and encouraged me to continue.
Then I got to the part about the scholarship, and how many wonderful people from the United States had come together to pay for him to attend a local university and get his degree. He was stunned. His tone immediately changed from happy-go-lucky Erick to emotional and grateful. He let me finish the letter, and there was a long pause. I asked him how he was doing, and in the kindest voice I've heard, he mustered in English a soft "I'm just so very happy."
I told him to call his wife and discuss it with her -- that this was for their entire family. We talked -- well, I talked -- a bit more words of love for them, and then told him we would talk later.
Erick later told me that when he called his wife, she burst into tears of joy. He followed up with me through WhatsApp messages that they felt the whole thing was nothing short of a miracle, and they were overjoyed, stunned, and overwhelmed with gratitude. Elisa posted a message of thanks to God on her Facebook wall (tagging me so you can see it on my own Facebook wall, though you'll want to post it into Google translate). In part, she says:
"Oh Lord... even without deserving it, you surprise me. I learned to trust you, and you've done everything in our favor. I am left stunned at your responses to my requests. I'm so thankful for you, because you have used special people in the lives of me and my family. I will be eternally grateful to you, oh Lord."
And Erick posted:
"When God opens doors, he does it in a great way, and surprises us with his infinite mercy."
Did I mention they were religious people? ;)
At one point during a follow-up conversation, I apologized for making him stay on the phone for so long on a loud bus, to which he responded, "Jolie -- It was the best conversation of my whole life."
So all of you who gave to this wonderful family, thank you, from the depths of my heart. There's just no possible way this could have happened without your help. You created a miracle and changed the lives of four wonderful people, and perhaps generations to come.
As of now, Erick and Elisa continue to express gratitude, happiness, and excitement for their new opportunity. They're making plans to transfer Erick to a police station close to a university, and Erick is determined to express his sincere gratitude by being successful in school. They made a specific request to me that I thank all of you who donated. I sent them the messages you wrote to them with your donations, and am happy to send them any others, if anyone else would like to tell them anything. This story is not over, but this chapter has been nothing short of awesome.
Life is good. We are blessed. Thank you.
Posted on March 5, 2017
Posted on March 5, 2017We are SO GRATEFUL to everyone who helped us reach our goal of $5,000!!! I'm planning to tell him by phone this week -- I've written out what I'm going to say in Spanish and practiced speaking it, so hopefully I don't say something completely wrong, hahaha -- I'll let you know how it goes!
This week my worlds collided when Erick and Elisa went to visit my friend/former stake president Matthew Goodman and his wife Kay. A few months ago, President Goodman, who was living in here in Tustin, was asked to be an LDS mission president in the Reu, Guatemala mission, which encompasses the home Erick's family lives in -- just an hour away. Soon after I met Erick, I gave him President Goodman's information and said they should connect someday.
Then on Tuesday, I was sitting in my office at work at the end of the day, when I got a video call on WhatsApp. There, on the screen, were Erick and Elisa with a bunch of young 20-year-old LDS missionaries from the United States. Unbeknownst to me, apparently Erick and Elisa were in the Reu area and decided to track down the LDS mission office there. Missionaries hold a special place in my heart (my husband, brothers, dad, uncles, aunts, etc. have been missionaries), and it was awesome to meet them and see them with my close friends Erick & Elisa! Then about an hour later, I got another video call, this time from President Goodman's home! My heart was so full of love for every human being I saw on those video chats -- a special day for me.
Some people have asked how they can donate now that the goal has been reached, so I'm raising the goal to $6,000 so people know it's still possible. So YES, people can still give. And YES, every penny will make a tremendous difference.
I love you all!