Keeping a Close Connection with West Texas Roots
By Mica Graybill
Sitting across the table talking about hot West Texas summer days, I gathered my notes and struggled to contain my excitement about speaking with Kendon and Wendy Wheeler. The couple’s unique story of love and compassion and their determination to help children succeed in the world was inspiring.
Kendon and Wendy have run and operated New Life Children’s Home in Villa Nueva, Guatemala, since 1988. Since moving to Guatemala, the Wheelers have made an incredible impact on the children who have entered their lives. According to Wendy, they strive to provide the children in the home with a good education and Òan established relationship with the Lord.”
New Life Children’s Home was established in 1976 after a civil war and tragic earthquake left hundreds of orphaned Guatemalan children in need of a safe environment. Even decades later, children who arrive at New Life come from broken families or extreme poverty and are in need of better care.
“We are working toward a change for future generations because these kids are going to have kids one day,” said Kendon. “Hopefully, we can build a strong, solid foundation where it turns things around for future generations.”
Wendy always had known she wanted to be a missionary nurse. While growing up and going to school in Brownfield, Texas, Wendy attended a summer camp called Camp One Way held at Ceta Canyon. This inspired her to study nursing at Texas Tech University where she and Kendon began dating. She then went on to graduate from Baylor School of Nursing in Dallas, Texas, in 1981.
Kendon was raised on a cotton farm near Southland, Texas, where he attended school. Kendon and his family were members of the First United Methodist Church in Slaton, Texas, a church with a history of supporting missionaries. Kendon also spent his summers at the Ceta Canyon camp where he, like Wendy, was exposed to missionaries and their work. Kendon studied crops and agricultural education at Texas Tech and obtained his degree in 1980. He then went to Nigeria for two months to work specifically in agricultural missions and agricultural development. Wendy worked the same summer at an orphanage in Haiti.
After they were married in 1981, Kendon and Wendy began applying for jobs with different organizations that offered mission work. After several years of searching, they were unsuccessful at finding an opportunity that fit their desire, but in 1988, they were offered the chance to work for New Life Children’s Home.
“When we went to Guatemala, we connected with this organization because they wanted a couple like us to work there,” said Wendy. “Very early on there was need for our involvement at the children’s home, so that is how we moved into that realm.”
Currently, New Life provides residence for 51 children, and more than 400 neighbor- hood children have enrolled in the program’s school. Construction for a new housing unit will enable New Life to provide housing for up to 70 children.
When Wendy and Kendon first arrived at New Life, the school was offered only to the children living at the home. Now, it is registered with the government, and children who are not living at the home have a chance to obtain a better education. According to Kendon, other school directors tell them New Life has the best school system in Villa Nueva.
The agricultural system in Guatemala was quite a change from what Kendon was accustomed. Until about 10 years ago, cotton was grown on the coast of Guatemala, but very few farmers are interested in growing it now because it is too costly to produce. The primary crops grown in Guatemala are sugar cane and vegetables; however, coffee and bananas are the number one exports from the country.
In the 21 years they have lived in Guatemala, Kendon and Wendy have touched the lives of many people and have done tremendous things to better the lives of many underprivileged children. In fact, they are so involved in their work at New Life that they often do not realize how much they miss their roots in West Texas.
“There is nothing like West Texas. You have to grow up here to miss it I guess, but there is just a beauty here that you miss,” said Kendon. “When I come back, no matter where I am, I stop and enjoy the sunsets. It’s something that will always be a part of me.”
According to Kendon, the hardest part of living in Guatemala is having his three sons grow up away from their grandparents and missing out on experiences he had in his youth. He loved growing up on a farm which gave him the opportunity to learn skills that are now “second nature” to him.
Despite the absence of their West Texas lifestyle, Kendon and Wendy agreed that they would not give up their time in Guatemala or having the opportunity to raise their kids abroad. Their sons are bilingual and have had many opportunities that most kids their age would not have the chance to experience.
“I always tell my boys we are blessed because we have two homes,” said Wendy. “When we are here, we talk about our home in Guatemala, and when we are in Guatemala, we talk about our home in West Texas.”
Building relationships is an important part of the job Kendon and Wendy do in Guatemala. They cherish the bond they have with the children at the home and with sponsors and donors who express interest in the lives of the children and what goes on at New Life.
“We have fallen in love with the people and, of course, the kids. They are our kids,” said Wendy. “That is what we love the most.”