The Story behind the Book

A special memory from my family’s years in Guatemala is of Dad sitting at the dinner table and pulling bits of paper out of his shirt pocket. Those bits of paper held his notes about words or folk medicine practices he had learned from his patients that day. As he read his jottings to us, some made us curious and ask questions, some made us groan, and some made us laugh.

You see, while Guatemala’s national language is, of course, Spanish, twenty-some Mayan languages are still spoken there as well. During the nine years Dad spent in Guatemala, he served many patients who spoke Spanish as a second language and, thus, used some words differently or mixed with their Mayan tongue. Combine that fact with an average education level of second grade and you have a recipe for some pretty interesting health ideas! 

I personally found those mealtime conversations intriguing. After all, I was the girl who had considered becoming a brain surgeon and a writer. Dad’s stories from the clinic melded my interest in science and my love for words and people together.

Before we returned to the States, Dad compiled all of those slips of paper into a small glossary. A friend printed simple copies for him to share with healthcare workers or missionaries working with Guatemalans. 

In the following years, I decided not to pursue a medical career but continued to be a word person. One of my favorite classes in college was Spanish. Obviously, my Guatemala years gave me an advantage in that class, but I think another reason for me liking it was that talking actually equaled studying! 

After I graduated from college, one day I came across a copy of Dad’s glossary and cracked the cover. My editor brain kicked in. “Hey, Dad, there are some things that need to get fixed in here…” 

That’s how I found myself a job going over the details of that glossary like an art inspector trying to discern if a work is a master’s original. I jumped into it because I saw how useful the words on the pages could be. As I worked, I learned a lot about those words and what it takes to put a book together. One lesson was that authors definitely need editors. There are simply too many details that can slip past even a brilliant mind like my dad’s, especially when it’s read-through #20 and all the words blur together.

Dad and I spent hours collaborating. It actually took years of off-and-on work to bring the project near completion. A trip to Guatemala provided the perfect opportunity to have some Guatemalan friends (medical and otherwise) look over copies for us. The feedback we received gave me more editing to do.

When the time came to go to press, I wavered. What if no one wants it? Maybe it’s not good enough. What if I missed something important? 

Enter Mom. She basically said, “Kristen, this information could save someone’s life. Go for it!”

Yeah, it’s definitely cool to have a mom like her. 

So we pressed on. Finally, the happy day came when we could actually hold the pocket-sized books filled with 600+ Spanish-English definitions, not to mention the English-Spanish entries, in our hands. The picture of the Guatemalan girl and baby – drawn by my sister from a photo by my Dad – seemed perfect on the cover. It represented the people of Guatemala whom we wanted to help. 

An equally happy day came when the book went up on Amazon, and we started selling copies. The first letter I received from an organization praising the book was such an encouragement. Maybe Mom was right again!

Since then, little by little, orders have come in. It’s been exciting to see where the books go. Just the other day, we distributed 100 copies to an organization that will get them into the hands of those serving the Guatemalan people. That puts a smile on my face because that’s what this project was all about from the start: serving those who serve the Guatemalan people. My hope and prayer is that this book will also be a part of moments when not only people’s bodies are healed but also their souls are mended through the love of the Great Physician Jesus. 

That’s the story behind Understanding the Guatemalan Patient: A Glossary of Spanish Medical Terms and Folk Medicine. I would be the last person to ever say producing a book is easy, but I’m thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of it. 

Now I might even use that knowledge as a medical interpreter somday. Who knows? We’ll see what God has in store for this next chapter. I’ll keep you posted on at least some of the storyful moments. 

If you would like to learn more about Understanding the Guatemalan Patient, please visit or check it out on Amazon. 

Come with Me on Safari!

There they were. Giraffes, just feet from the bus windows! How elegant they looked! The bilingual guide explained that each giraffe has its own unique spot pattern. No two are exactly alike. As we continued down the dusty road under the sun, elephants soon appeared. They lifted their trunks to give themselves dust baths and flapped their ears. I settled back in my seat. What an awesome God made each of these creatures! I was on safari, and I was loving it!


Unknown-1UnknownLooking back on my safari experience, I remember a couple of books that came into my hands years ago. Jungle Doctor’s Africa and Jungle Doctor on Safari share stories told by Paul White, an Australian missionary doctor who lived in Tanzania (then Tanganyika) from 1938-41. Even though these books are in the middle of the Jungle Doctor series, I  think they are a great starting point and can be read without the first several books.

Both volumes are based on Paul White’s experiences in Africa and are told from his perspective. Jungle Doctor’s Africa takes place mostly at the Mvumi Hospital while Jungle Doctor on Safari follows the Jungle Doctor (Paul White) as he visits mission stations. While they are considered children’s books, I enjoyed them beyond childhood. The adventures are laugh-out-loud funny at times, intriguing at others because of the African backdrop, and often sobering and edifying as the realities of life and death are faced in light of Scripture.

Paul White’s writing style adds to the charm. I love his descriptions. “An apology for a road” or “bone-jolting” trip come to mind. Some parts remind me of life in Guatemala. I definitely feel that he could write so well because he had lived it and what the Lord was doing in Africa was dear to his heart.  Another interesting aspect of the writing style is the foreign words sprinkled throughout. Both Swahili and Chigogo (or Gogo) words pop up often. A glossary in the front makes them easy to understand, though, and I like the fun way the words sound in my head! Most of all, I love how “Bwana” (Dr. White) uses little opportunities to share the Gospel with memorable illustrations or word pictures.

Overall, the back of Jungle Doctor’s Africa sums it up well:

“It’s just that very often in Africa each new day brings joy and sadness, love and loss – but with the love of Jesus Christ there is always hope.”

Yes that’s another reason to love these books. They have a hope-filled perspective that can nourish the soul.

So there I was on my own safari, delighted that God had orchestrated for me this sweetIMG_7457 opportunity. Was I in Paul White’s Tanzania? Well, no. I actually went on safari in Mexico. That’s right! Mexico. Sorry if that’s a disappointment to you, but I wasn’t disappointed in the least by my experience at Africam Safari. I hope you’ll go if you ever get the opportunity. And if you love the giraffes and elephants as much as I did, you might just need something like these little guys to bring home in your suitcase.