Nearly 3 months after baby

20 08 2012

Elijah is now 11 weeks old. Things have settled down and we nearly no longer have a newborn (a bit sad, as they are so tiny and amazing when they are new but also exciting as he grows). We have been so blessed with our third son – he no longer has his intense tummy pains (which probably was a non-vomiting form of reflux), but thankfully, those days are behind us. He is just about sleeping through the night, doing 9 and 10 hour long stints every so often, so it gives us hope (Jonah took 2 and a half years to make it through the night, so this really is a nice change). Elijah appears to be very calm, patient, tolerant, smiley and desiring to ‘chat’ and to be around people.


His brothers love him to bits – Jonah runs to him when he hears him ‘Oh my lovely, don’t worry, Jonah’s coming’. He cuddles him, strokes him and has to be restrained from picking him up. ‘Mummy, you go shopping, I’ll look after him’, he says. Daniel sings Elijah songs, tells him about himself, recounts stories, teaches him Spanish and is generally communicative, gentle and loving.


We do feel very blessed as a family.

Benjamin continues to teach on the diploma course. Recent topics have been on Teamwork, and currently a 7-week course on Community Projects.  We have also had a lot of battles over our visa applications for residency.  They have been frustrating times and have called for a lot of patience, grace and endurance.  We hope to have an answer from Immigration within the next few weeks.

These have been rich times and God has been teaching us many lessons through these experiences.


The arrival of Elijah Lucas

14 06 2012

On Tuesday June 5th at 11:50am, Elijah Lucas Downing was born at the Hermano Pedro Hospital in Antigua Guatemala, weighing 8lbs 4oz.  He arrived one week early and four hours before his grandparents landed into Guatemala City airport from the UK.

We are so thrilled to finally meet our third little one, another boy and brother to Daniel and Jonah who are loving having him with us.

Elijah Lucas

In the lead-up to the birth, I (Charmari) had had some mild pains on both Sunday and Monday night. At 3am early Tuesday, the contractions were not painful, yet were regular so I got up and arranged the room for my in-laws, prepared the meals for the day and made sure everything was ready in case we had to get to hospital.

At 8:30am we went in to see my gynaecologist so he could assess me; I was 7cm dilated!  I couldn’t believe that the baby was going to come that day as it was probably the one day we had no back-up plan for; we had hoped that Benjamin’s parents would be here before the birth (our last two boys had come right on their due dates), and Suzanne who usually helps out with the children was running an important workshop that day.  But we were able to call on a local friend who took the boys, and Suzanne with Israel, was able to get to the airport late in the afternoon to bring Keir and Shelagh back to our house.

Meanwhile, we headed over to the hospital and stayed in our private room until I was 9cm and actually started to feel a bit of pain.

Second stage of labour

We were then asked to head upstairs to the delivery room – I chose to walk instead of being wheeled up – the nurses were aghast.  They were also not used to me dealing with the contractions in an upright position and encouraged me onto a bed which I turned down.  It was so good to have Benjamin there supporting me through it, as the environment was so different to my previous experiences.  Two nurses stood casually in the room chatting and laughing while I was trying to concentrate through the contractions.  I finally asked Benjamin to get them to leave the room as they were ruining the ambience!!

Soon, the pushing started, we were moved quickly to another room, Benjamin was ordered into scrubs with mask (we thought this was supposed to be all natural), and I was ordered onto the shortest, narrowest bed ever.  I didn’t want to, but by now both our gynaecologist, Dr Ruiz and the paediatrician, Dr Rivas were heaving me up.  The last part felt so medicalised and took us by surprise.  The baby came relatively quickly; thankfully, as the last bit was quite traumatic delivering on a bed that I couldn’t get comfortable on, with bright lights and doctors in scrubs – at least I could see Benjamin’s face, he’d ripped his mask off.

So after just one and a half hours of painful contractions, our little Elijah Lucas was born and placed on me so we could greet him.  We were grateful to both doctors, as for the most part, they had gone along with our wishes – things like labouring in the private room downstairs, handing the baby over to me post-birth, doing some of the checks close by, and not taking him away for hours to the nursery.  There were a few compromises at the end (the delivery), but it was more important to us that our little one came safely.

Welcome Elijah

Paediatrician, Dr Rivas, checking Elijah

For the first time, I had a natural third stage delivery of the placenta, but probably lost a bit more blood as a result.  As I was wheeled back to our room (Benjamin stayed with Elijah and the paediatrician who was finishing off the final post-natal checks), I cried for the emotion of it all.  I was in awe of God’s gift of new life.  I couldn’t but help feel deeply thankful for a healthy baby, a quick labour, good doctors, that I didn’t need stitches (also a first) and for a wonderfully supportive husband who helped me right through it all.

With Dr Ruiz, our gynaecologist

That evening, Benjamin went home and brought back Suzanne with Daniel, Jonah and their grandparents who, after a very long journey, had had just enough time to drop their bags in the house and jump in the car to head for a hospital visit.  The look on the boys face as they met their new brother was one of wonder, delight and puzzlement all in one.

Family hospital visit

Cuddles from Jonah

I stayed one night in the hospital and headed home the next day.  This is unusual in Guatemala; most women stay 3-4 days as the rate of caesarean sections is so high (80%) and it can be rare to come across women who have had a natural birth.

Elijah (Elias in Spanish) has been a real blessing to us.  He has fed well and settles easily.  He still sleeps a lot through the day, so I can put him down between feeds to attend to the other children.  And even when he is awake, he is often happy to lie somewhere and gaze into space.  The nights are still disturbed as he has griping pain after feeds, but this is part of what we expect in the early days.

Eyes open

Three exhausted boys

Having Keir and Shelagh here has really helped us; they have looked after the older boys, held Elijah, done loads around the house and handled the meals too.  We have loved having their company.

We are so thankful for God’s grace and provision in everything.  He is GOOD.

Family of five

Preparing for two arrivals

2 06 2012

Baby Downing number 3 is nearly with us, and the preparations for the big arrival are nearly complete. I (Charmari) am almost 39 weeks and the due date is 12th June.

38 weeks pregnant

We are praying for a smooth birth, and although the health system here is very different, we have made great efforts to get to know the medical professionals that will be present at the birth and we have been able to discuss our expectations with them. God has been so faithful to us and we have felt so well provided for and supported during this time.

Waiting for baby

I have been thrown 2 baby showers – one by a group of mums of the English bible study group I am part of, and another one by our Guatemalan friends. We have appreciated the love of so many people, and have been blessed to have been gifted many of the baby things that we will need.

The cot/crib is painted, bags packed and car seat ready.

But before that, the first arrival we hope, will be on Tuesday when Benjamin’s parents arrive for one month. We are looking forward to that so, so much. The children are excited at being able to spend some time with their grandparents whom they haven’t seen for over 18 months.

Exciting and hectic weeks lie ahead. Looking forward to being able to share our news with you in the coming days/weeks….

Times like these: in Sayaxché…

7 05 2012

I (Benjamin) just arrived home after an amazing week teaching in the northern department of Guatemala called Peten. It is a really rural area and is the most remote and least populated area of the country. It suffers from a lot of violence and corruption due to the dominance of drug-trafficking in the area. I was working with Israel and Lily, the directors and visionaries behind Centro Esdras, the charity I am working with in a small town called Sayaxché.

The workshop we were running was for pastors and leaders in the area. The workshop had two main themes of personal spiritual growth and growing healthy churches. I was teaching the spiritual growth module.

Pastors in Sayaxche

The time there went really well and it was such a progression from the last time I was there in November ’11. The pastors and leaders reacted positively to the material I taught. Some of the ideas and theology were really new for them… but they took to the challenge with honesty and openness.

From the point of view of my language skills, I was more relaxed when presenting which allowed my Spanish to be more fluid. This began a virtuous circle where I was able to ask better thinking questions and recount a story or two! It is amazing how some many prayers have been answered for my communication.

An important part of the workshop was spending mealtimes and breaks talking with each of the group. It was incredibly interesting to hear their stories. For example one of the pastors was illiterate so unable to read and write. It is unusual for many of them to receive new training and they spend the majority of their time working alone, so it was an encouraging time for them to be amongst peers, learning together.

Time for stories

The food was local so there was lots of rice, frijoles and maize tortillas…Over the week the the heat was extreme at times, with temperatures of about 42 degrees centigrade (or 107F). There was also time for a few power cuts as well when the fans stopped working! This is the reality of life for people here.

I was so energised by my time there. So, despite the heat and long journeys (10 hours drive each way), this time confirmed the desire and call to be here equipping, training and learning from pastors and leaders. It was such a great opportunity, it is hard to put the enormity of it all into words… but I am so thankful for times like these.

In action…

A new diploma (and other learnings)

30 03 2012

Centro Esdras has started teaching a diploma for leaders and pastors in Guatemala City. The diploma is made up of 8 modules covering various subjects such as Biblical worldview, transformational leadership, designing community projects and personal spirituality. The diploma has been run in various places across the country but always in the countryside (el campo). After several requests for it to be run in the city, it was decided to run the course every week for 7-months, and it began in February 2012.

Yesterday was the last of the seven sessions of the first ‘term’ and we will have a week off next week for the week before Easter and then recommence with two new subjects. The first term focussed on Biblical Worldview and Personal Spirituality, the former seeks to examine the thinking (theology) we all carry around with us and assume is something like Biblical! The latter module was focussed on learning about integrating faith with all of our lives, through learning from others that have gone before us.

The Diploma in Session

The course for me (Benjamin) was full of highs and lows! Lily one of the directors of Centro Esdras was a lifesaver in many ways. I prepared all my course material in English and then translated it into Spanish. However as many of you know, you can’t translate from one language into another word for word and get the same inferences and meaning. This is where Lily came in and helped hugely by giving my sessions the nuances of local understanding and assumptions.

Teaching for a whole term in Spanish was a real (and worthwhile) challenge, some of the weeks were really hard and didn’t go well. Trying to communicate in Spanish conversation is one thing but trying to teach theology and spirituality in it is a different matter. However, overall it was pleasing to complete the first lot of sessions and hopefully it will be a base to progress further.

On reflection, I again have found that the most challenging times, where I am at the end of myself and abilities, and it is a struggle to to do well, end up being the most rich in learning…
…Life in all its fullness is found in the most usual places.

Christmas & New Year

17 01 2012

Well Christmas & New Year has come and gone since we last wrote.  It was a great time for us as Charmari’s parents for 3-weeks, we do enjoy being surrounded by family, especially at Christmas time.  We had plenty of time to chat, eat and spend quality time catching up with them after a year since we had last seen them.  It was also lovely to see them and the boys getting on so well… and those relationships growing.

Curry & Chicken

Them coming also meant we were able to travel and visit a bit more of Guatemala.  The extra hands were essential when travelling.  Firstly we got to a famous Mayan ruins called Tikal.  This is in the north of the country in a department called Peten.  Benjamin had learned about this over 15 years ago so it was amazing for him to finally realise that dream to visit the sight.  Tikal is an unbelievable city that was the centre of the Mayan world about 1300 years ago, there is so much still there to see.  There are a series of temples (huge pyramids) that are now surrounded by jungle which add to the mystery of the place.  The boys did well surviving the 4 hour tour and ending it with a 70 metre vertical climb up the most impressive pyramid ‘Temple IV’ which gives you a view above the jungle tree canopy.

At the top of Temple IV

Daniel & Temple II

We then visited the volcanic lake at Panachel this was a much more relaxed part of the time.  More meals and a boat trip!

We had a good Christmas day and meal the six of us at our house.  We also went to a Piñata for a birthday party of a 4-year old in the afternoon… it was a change from the Queen’s speech.

We then went to a city in the middle of the country called Coban.  This has various interesting things close-by but the most popular is an area called Semuc Champey.  This is a series of brilliant turquoise water pools, running over limestone.  The drive to Coban was 5 hours and then another 2.5 hours to Semuc.  The last 1-hour to gain access was on dirt roads… at least Benjamin had fun using the full capabilities of the 4×4.  The beauty was stunning, with amazing views from a viewpoint, the ascent was a challenge but worth it. We wouldn’t recommend you go to with children!

The turquiose pools at Semuc Champey

This  experiences reinforced our belief that Guatemala is a beautiful country with such a huge amount of potential.

The last month flew-by rapidly but we are so thankful for it and the times that we got to spend with Charmari’s parents are such precious memories.  It was a poignant and sad few days after they had left.  We do believe in the work we are doing here and that God is using us, but one of the challenges is the absence of existing friends and family, we miss you all.  However thanks to you all that contacted us or sent us a card or package… we have felt loved and supported through this time…. Thank you.

Our last 10 days

4 12 2011

The last few days have been quite eventful; the following gives you a snapshot of  what life here is like from the viewpoint of Charmari. Sorry it’s a bit long, I am known for detail!


Friday 25th Nov

Benj sets off for work, and in the morning the children play in the garden and we take a 5 minute walk to the shops for the children to ride on some coin-operated cars.

Setting off to the shops

We put 2 quetzales in to make the helicopter spin; Daniel and Jonah love it. A simple diversion, but it is a chance for them to get out and do something out of the house. After lunch, Jonah has his nap and I spend some time doing some fun ‘activities’ with Daniel (aka practicing writing his name, doing some sums and reading his book on planes). Later, our Guatemalan friends Karina and her three children come over to play. Unexpectedly, her father and mother-in-law, with a sister-in-law and two other nieces join us. Coffee and biscuits all round, and after an hour, the the extended family leave while the children play together. Karina’s family stay over for dinner; Christian, Karina’s husband can’t join us as he has some taxi-ing work that evening.  Karina’s father-in-law turns up during the meal to pick the four of them up, and brings another one of his daughters and a grand-daughter with him. They all join us for the meal and Benjamin’s brownie pudding is enjoyed by all.  We love the spontaneity of different family members turning up; it is such an insight into the richness of this culture.


Saturday 26th Nov

Benjamin heads off to help out at a one-day workshop for Bible teachers run by Centro Esdras. An American friend who lives in our colonia rings in the morning to invite me and the boys over to a picnic lunch. We enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers and Daniel and Jonah share their bikes and scooters with two little girls aged 5 and 3. There are a few squabbles over who gets to ride what but all settled fairly easily. I’ve only just met this mum a few days ago when I bought some second-hand maternity clothes from her, so it is a good chance for us to chat and get to know each other. We get back after lunch, Jonah skips his sleep and instead we watch some Bethel worship on the laptop and jump and dance around. The boys have an early afternoon bath, just for fun. They are missing their Daddy on a Saturday, so we try not to dwell on his absence. Benjamin gets back later with Suzanne, our Latin Link co-ordinator who has been great with the children. She is babysitting tonight as Benj and I are heading out for the first time for a posh pre-Christmas church dinner for couples. Once the children are in bed, we turn up at the hotel, a bit late, but just in time for the meal. We have a lovely evening out, chatting to new people, hearing an a cappella choir sing some carols, and we even have our number drawn and win a poinsettia!


A night out with our church

Sunday 27th Nov

We set off to the 9am church service, always held at a hotel in Antigua; our church rents this space out every Sunday. I sit in for the service whilst Daniel joins his Sunday school class (he adores his teachers there) and Benjamin heads off with Jonah to the toddlers group; Jonah still refuses to be left alone. It is the dedication service for the new baby of our friends Megan and Stephen.

Megan, Stephen and their family with ours

We get home, Benjamin makes burgers for lunch (yum) and later that afternoon, we are phoned by a friend’s sister to ask if she, another sister and her dad can come over to pray for healing for me after my illness. We are in awe at the amazing generosity of people, and again struck at how the extended family is willing to welcome us in. It is not even our friend coming, it’s two sisters and we can only remember the name of one, and we definitely don’t know the name of the dad. They arrive with biscuits, we pray, I am anointed with oil for healing, we chat and then they head off. Wonderful. Later that evening, as we often do on a Sunday night, Benjamin and I watch a Bethel church sermon which we download onto the laptop during the week. As always, very nourishing and inspiring.


Monday 28th Nov

We have a slow start to the morning together and Benjamin sets off to work after lunch. He has 2012 planning meetings and a work Christmas dinner so won’t be home till late.  Daniel, Jonah and I catch a bici-taxi to the doctors so I can pick up my pregnancy records. I have had a bad experience with my first gynecologist and I am planning to visit a new one tomorrow so I want all the results of the expensive tests I had to have. The boys love the bici-taxi. We sit at the front under a small open carriage with a roof which is attached to a bicycle being ridden behind us by a man who charges 5 quetzales for the journey, less than 50p. The records are handed over without any questions and we enjoy an ice-cream together before walking back home. Daniel complains. He wants the bici-taxi man, but it only takes 15 minutes to get back. We cook dinner together, Jonah being particularly helpful (!), and they get to bed. I do an evening of admin, sorting out paperwork. Our internet connection is down so no chance to get to all my overdue email replies. Benj gets home late.


Tuesday 29th Nov

We both take turns to do a couple of hours work each this morning while the boys play.

Shall we race?

In the afternoon, we set off to Antigua to find our new gynecologist. Megan has recommended him highly. Thankfully, he knows all about my condition hypothyroidism and allays any concerns I have about how to manage it during my pregnancy. We have a 12 week scan; it is so, so exciting to see the baby moving! The boys watch, intrigued. I am reassured with this medic, and feel we can trust him for the delivery. We make the next appointment. We set off to visit our other friends, Anita and Esteban who have just had their second baby. Gorgeous little girl, only 5 days old. Anita’s mum is staying over to help out and has cooked enough tamalitos and frijoles so we can stay for dinner. We eat together and set off home; a slightly later night for the boys than normal.


Wednesday 30th Nov

I have a meeting at the Centro Esdras office this morning at 10am. I am coordinating the team who are trying to raise 50% of the the Centre’s funds; a huge shortfall. A daunting task, but at least we know it is the Lord’s work! For the first time, I decide to take a bus into the city so Benj can stay home with boys and take them out in the car for the morning. Suzanne comes in with me to show me how it all works. The music is loud, a man tries to sell us chewing gum, letting us all hold a packet during his sales shpeel of how healthy it is. He collects up the packets again as most of us decide not to go ahead with the purchase.

The inter-city bus, fondly known as the 'chicken bus'

I feel generally safe and think I might do this again, although with lots of prayer as bus shootings are not uncommon. But the type of bus I am on is not one of the high risk ones. There are lots of action points coming out of our meeting, and I set off home alone this time on the bus. When I get back, Benj does some work from home. That evening, we have our second homegroup meeting at our house.  There are three couples so far in the group, all who live locally. Rommel and Claudia are the leaders, and Brenda and Carlos bring huge chicken-filled tamales for our snack. We eat at the table and discuss our topic for the next few weeks which is on marriage and relationships. We hope the group will grow to about 10 or 12 – that’s about all the space we have in our sitting room, but we are thrilled to be part of a group, growing together and sharing our lives with others in our church.


Thursday 1st Dec

It’s the first day of December. Daniel and Jonah are excited about their Advent calendars that have come from the UK. Benjamin works from home in the morning and later we head out to buy our plastic Christmas tree and a few decorations. Daniel is ecstatic.

Daniel and Daddy decorate the tree

Once we get home, the boys assemble the tree and put up the decorations while I head across the road to Que Cafe to meet Suzanne for our monthly mentoring session. Benjamin heads over after I’m done, the boys and I cook and Suzanne joins us for dinner. After the boys are in bed, we continue to chat with Suzanne and prayer together before Benjamin drives her home.


Friday 2nd Dec

Once every 2 or 3 weeks, Benjamin goes to an early morning meeting with the Barnabas Group. This is an English-speaking, mostly American group which meets together to discuss leadership and how to best enable Guatemalans in their own communities and ministries. He leaves at 5:30am. The children and I meet our friend Kambria, and with her two daughters we head over to a mission they have set up for Guatemalan children. It is a feeding and teaching program. We have lunch with all the children, and they play together outside. Kambria prepares Christmas boxes while I stay in the yard with the children. Daniel and Jonah seem to have lots of fun despite not knowing loads of Spanish.

Daniel and Jonah with their new friends

The bigger girl is the aunt of the little one

The girls having a laugh


It is great to see some of the work that others are doing. It’s been a busy week for us, a long day for Benjamin. So after the children are in bed, we decide to have an early night too.


Saturday 3rd Dec

Saturday is pancake day every week. Benjamin makes them and we have a hearty breakfast.

Enjoying our pancakes on a Saturday

Both of us take some time to do some work in the morning and take turns playing with Daniel and Jonah. They go for a ride on bike and scooter around the colonia. After lunch, we have a Latin Link meeting at a local shopping mall. Benj attends and I take the children to a small soft-play-type place that doesn’t actually have any soft play. There are lots of tubes and walk-ways, and the children enjoy it for an hour. That evening, Benjamin and I watch a movie called White Material. We don’t have a TV so once a week we try and download a movie so we get a chance to watch something. We’re waiting for the TVs to go on sale before we buy one! We have done without one for so long so it doesn’t seem a great need.


Sunday 4th Dec

We set off for church. It’s my turn in with Jonah. He is getting more confident with the helpers. We hope that soon he might stay in without one of us being there. Afterwards, the Barnabas Group are having their Christmas lunch. It is the first time I meet many of the team, and it is a great chance for the families to get to know each other. Benj’s Banoffee Pie goes down a hit with all the Americans. When we get home, we sit in the garden and catch the last of the suns rays before lighting the first candle on our Advent ring and having our evening meal. This month, the boys have the Christmas story read to them every night, and they have a special book that takes them through the nativity story each  evening. They are enjoying the spirit of Christmas, and it is a way of continuing some of our home/family traditions. In the evening, we watch our weekly Bethel download and discuss and pray afterwards. There is always something new for us to take in, reflect on and learn. It is life-changing stuff and a huge blessing to us. Big fans of Bill Johnson! Afterwards, a few emails, blog update and then late to bed.