By Lori Womble
It’s been three weeks since I flew home to my family in Atlanta, but my head and my heart seem to be stuck in Guatemala. This last mission trip marks my third, and each trip gives me the hunger for more. It is difficult to explain what these mission trips mean to me to someone who hasn’t been to Guatemala, and even more so to someone who hasn’t been on a mission trip at all. Putting words to what my heart feels seems inadequate somehow.
My home church in Atlanta, Georgia places a big emphasis on international missions and has sponsored a team of adults to go to Project Salud y Paz for the last five years. Upon arrival at Project Salud y Paz this year, we admired the finished product of the building we had been working on for the last two years. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Moving on to other pressing needs, our tasks were vast and varied, ranging from digging a 15 foot hole for drainage to conducting a Vacation Bible School for 250 local children. Our task list was long and somewhat daunting for eighteen adults, most of whom spend their normal workdays sitting at a desk. However, this is what I witnessed, and experienced in my fellow team members: minds and muscle coming together to figure out how to improvise when much needed tools and equipment were either missing or inadequate; jumping in, without hesitation, to lend a hand when help was needed; supporting and motivating each other when tasks seemed too big or too difficult; and, grown men and women finding their childish side as they unabashedly played with and loved the children. I saw Jesus in their eyes and it made me love them more.
I also saw Jesus in the eyes of the people of Guatemala. Their needs are so great, and they have so little. Yet, they are grateful for what they do have. Even though many have to stand in line for hours for medical care, children have to walk a long way to come to school, and food to fill their stomachs is often very little, they go about their lives with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. One little girl climbed onto my lap, put both of her hands on my cheeks, and stared into my eyes with such an expression of love, it made my heart melt.
My team and I got dirty, experienced a few blisters and sore muscles. At times, we felt exhausted mentally and physically from all we accomplished, and maybe even a bit homesick. Yet, the true gift of experiencing Project Salud y Paz is the opportunity to share God’s love with the amazing people of Guatemala and receiving the same love right back. I am forever grateful for this experience and how God has blessed me through service to others. I will be back.
DUMC 2015 Guatemala Mission
Salud y Paz Clinic
The team was commissioned at DUMC on August 16th where Guy spoke about the trip and the congregation prayed for the missionaries. The entire team, including those not present at commissioning consists of:
Most of the crew met at DUMC at 7 AM on August 22 to take two vans to the airport. Ed was nice enough to volunteer one of his vans, so 14 of us split up between Ed's van and the church van. Chuck Batcheller, Andy's dad, drove Ed's van. Michael Culver drove the church van.
Those who took vans met the rest of the crew at the E concourse chapel in the Atlanta airport. We had planned on meeting at 8:30 AM, but the two vans from the church were delayed due to road work in downtown Atlanta. Once everyone had arrived around 9 AM, Guy gave his devotion on "Blind Spots" where he suggested that we try to see the needs of others that we may normally be blind to. He was able to include some personal stories on how he sees homeless people regularly near where he lives in midtown.
After Guy's devotion, the team headed to gate. There was another Guatemala mission team at the gate as well. At 11 AM EDT, the plane took off from Atlanta to Guatemala City. The mountainous terrain of Guatemala became apparent as we approached the Guatemala City airport.
We landed shortly after noon Guatemala time (CST) which was just after 2 PM in Atlanta. We get through customs after Andy finally gets his shoes off the plane, meet Hannah (our Salud y Paz guide), then wait for the bus. Archie (our bus driver) arrives and we depart the airport at about 1:30. We are on a "chicken bus" which is a converted US school bus. Archie didn't know why they are called chicken buses, but they are very common in Guatemala, and our bus even had WiFi!
After about 30 minutes we arrive at our first stop, Walmart, where we were able to grab some lunch and pick up some VBS supplies. This Walmart not only has a gated parking lot, but also a watch tower. If only they had someone watching over Patti's purse. It was stolen in the Walmart food court and it had her passport, license, money, phone, keys, makeup and more. But Patti persevered and her amazing ability to remain cheerful in difficult situations set a great example for all of us.
At about 3:15 we depart Walmart for Chichicastenango. We have a rest stop after a while where we see tuk-tuks next to a corn field. I don't know if it is the strain of corn or the excellent volcanic soil, but those corn stalks easily grow 10 to 15 feet tall. After our rest stop, we discovered that traffic was rough, including being right behind the slowest moving truck ever seen by man. The winding roads made it hard for Archie to pass. Along the way we passed several political party groups on the road due to the upcoming presidential election in Guatemala. Each party's color and symbol could be seen painted on large rocks, guardrails, and signs along the side of the road. We also had to stop for fruit inspection where we all said " ¡No hay fruta!" in unison.
We arrived in Chichicastenango at Hotel Santo Tomas shortly after 7 PM; 5 1/2 hours after we left the airport (granted, we were at Walmart for over an hour). We have dinner at the hotel. It has been a long day. Power was out in the town all day, but the hotel was running on generators. We were told hot water for the showers would be gone by 9 pm, so we skipped devotion this night. However, Hannah did give us some details on what Sunday would entail.
Our second day started a little earlier than we would have liked. Fireworks that sounded like cannons boomed several times during the night and car alarms could be heard as well. We had breakfast at the hotel at 8 AM. Bill enjoyed the soup, only to find out it was really sauce intended to be shared.
After breakfast we had our devotions:
After devotions we were free to explore Chichi. However, we didn't have to go far to see local wildlife. The parrots at the hotel were out and very talkative. You could hear them say "hola" from time to time.
As we leave our hotel towards town, we are immediately met by several locals selling their wares.
Two days a week (Sundays and Thursdays), Chichi has the largest open air market in Central America. We got to see a lot of the local merchandise and experience their selling techniques. Many of the locals selling goods are kids trying to make enough money to help pay for their education. Several of us had an entourage of those kids following calling us "friend" and asking us if we wanted to buy something for our spouses, friends, or enemies. Their selling tactics were repetitive, but still amusing.
Around noon we had lunch at Los Cofrades, followed by more shopping for some and siestas for others. Later in the afternoon we left for the cemetery tour, guided by Hannah. The walk to the cemetery had some pretty steep and long downhill inclines (later followed by uphill inclines). Some took advantage of the tuk-tuk to get back up that big hill.
After the cemetery tour we had two devotionals back at the hotel.
After the devotionals, we had dinner at the hotel.
On Monday we started the day with breakfast at the hotel at 7 AM. There was no devotional due to time. We had our bags packed and were checking out of the hotel and taking everything with us. After breakfast we boarded the bus, with Archie at the helm. We arrived at Salud y Paz at 8:30. Shortly after arriving at the clinic we had a service led by pastor Sebastian Riquiac. We sang Santos, Santos, Santos (Holy, Holy, Holy), listened to a short sermon from pastor Sebastian, and had prayers.
After the service, Clarissa introduced the staff for Salud y Paz and we were given a tour of the clinic by LaShawn. The clinic tour was followed by a tour of the school.
After the tour, work began. We broke into our groups primarily around VBS and construction. The VBS crew had to start preparing for 3 days of vacation bible school. On the construction front we learned that much of the work involved tearing down the old playground and preparing the area for a new playground. This sounded simple, but it wasn't.
Before work could really begin, it was 10:00 recess time. It was a joy to see the smiles on the kids’ faces and the fun they had playing with us at recess. After recess, the real work started on VBS, demolition of the playground, painting, and electrical.
After the hard work in the morning, it was nice to get excellent hot lunch just after noon served in the clinic. We had pollo (chicken). After lunch, it was back to work. Paint is getting slathered, wire is getting pulled, pills are getting counted, and preparations are being made for VBS. The hole is also getting deeper. In less than one day, the hole was dug to 7 feet deep (4 feet in diameter).
Later in the afternoon we boarded the bus for Panajachel and were treated to some great views as the bus headed down the long and winding terrain. We arrived at Hotel Jardines del Lago just before 5 PM.
At the hotel we had two devotionals:
Next we walked to dinner and ate at Sunset Café. After dinner many of us walked to have some ice cream; apparently a favorite pastime of Guy's (stay tuned for the paper plate awards).
Patti's trip has no pictures (she didn't have her phone!), but late in the afternoon on Monday she was driven from Salud y Paz to Guatemala City. Her driver, Ivan, was a complete stranger who she said was "precious". Patti got to see and stay in a hostel in Guatemala City with one of the sweetest women she has ever met.
On Tuesday Patti was taken to the American Embassy in Guatemala City where she witnessed hundreds of Guatemalans standing in long lines hoping and praying to be granted a passport for entry to the USA. She also witnessed a lot of guns and a partially clothed and disheveled chief of police coming out of his office screaming Spanish obscenities followed by the Guatemalan Police Force soccer team. She’s fairly certain this wasn’t a dream.
In the end, Patti filed her police report (which it turns out was not needed) and got a new passport. She saw God working in the midst of this chaos and was reminded that what she lost was “just stuff”. She experienced God’s grace through the love and support from her team members and new-found friends.
Due to some political unrest (the Guatemalan Vice President was in jail, but the president is still presiding which does not bode well with the locals), we learned that the road from Panajachel to Salud y Paz will likely be closed starting shortly after 6 AM. Therefore, we packed all of our bags, boarded the bus at 5:30 AM, and just after 6 AM we passed the major intersection with dozens of police ready for the demonstration. Shortly thereafter we arrived at Salud y Paz where we were served breakfast at the clinic thanks to Andres and others.
Ed gave a devotion where he discussed "Renewing Your Mind" and had a reading from Romans 12:2. He shared The Mexican Fisherman story contrasting the fisherman and the businessman, seeing himself taking the long hard road back to where God had planned for him to be and hoping he can discern between his will and God's will. After Ed's devotion, the work continued including more planning for VBS, digging, moving dirt, painting, and electrical work.
In addition to the construction work, there was 10:00 recess which is beloved by kids and adults alike. We had an excellent tortilla soup for lunch at noon, the personal favorite of many.
At 2:00 we had the first day of VBS. About 200 kids showed up this day. The art project was scratchboard crosses and the story was Four Friends Help (Mark 2:1-12) told by Chalupa and translated by Archie. Our theme word was CARE. We talked about helping our friends and showing God's love by helping out. The game was the egg (wiffle ball) and spoon race. Patti was in charge of games, but she was in Guatemala City getting her passport. Patti was sorely missed, but several of us chipped in to help out in her absence.
On this day in particular, many of us got a chance to help out digging the hole. Later in the afternoon we all depart on Archie's bus for another stay in Chichi. We arrive at 5 PM in Chichi at Hotel Santo Tomas once again.
This evening Justin gave his devotional where he shared a personal story and how the song "Shake It Out" by Florence and the Machine helps him through tough times and puts the past behind him. He read scripture from Matthew 6:25. Justin also shared his epic Spiderman story from a Brazil mission trip. We had dinner that evening in the hotel. While everyone had the same meal - pork - Montezuma somehow hit Doug and Chris, but left everyone else unscathed.
Wednesday began in Chichi with a devotion by Russ where he read from Psalm 1. The devotion was followed by breakfast at the hotel. Doug and Chris were sick so they stayed at the hotel while the rest of us departed for Salud y Paz with all of our luggage (again). We arrived at Salud y Paz at 8:30 where more construction work was done (moving dirt, painting, electrical) as well as VBS.
At 10 AM we had an extended recess. After recess, it was back to work. The electrical work throughout the week was done by Chuck and Ed with some help from Justin as well. They installed a new main breaker panel, underground power wire feed, and pulled wires into conduit. They also installed receptacles, indoor lights, and outdoor lights.
We had lunch at Salud y Paz at noon, then it was back to work once more. Sometimes that work involved counting pills (esp. when it was raining).
At 2:00 we had VBS. About 225 kids showed up this day which was a little more than the previous day. The art project was crazy monster glasses and the story was the Healing of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) told by Chalupa and translated by Archie. Our theme word was FOLLOW. We talked about following Jesus no matter what. The games were tumbling and sack races.
Shortly after VBS was over, we departed for Pana and arrive back at Hotel Jardines del Lago in Panajachel before 5 PM.
Dick began having heart palpitations at the higher altitude. On Wednesday he spoke directly to his cardiologist in Atlanta who recommended that Dick go to a lower altitude, see a local doctor, and return to Atlanta if the doctor had any concerns.
So, Dick left the clinic at about noon on Wednesday accompanied by Celia and returned to our hotel in Panajachel which is at a lower altitude. That afternoon, Dick went to a local doctor who gave him an EKG test in her office. Everything looked good.
Dick stayed at the lower altitude in Panajachel on Thursday while the team went back to the clinic. Staying at lower altitude settled Dick's heart down and he was fine for the remainder of the trip. Dick explained that his difficulties stemmed from a mild heart attack that he had in 2000.
Doug and Chris had a rough time the previous night and this day. Andres was nice enough to drive them to the clinic later so they could sleep in a little longer in Chichi and avoid riding the bus. Once at the clinic they mainly slept in dentist chairs because they were affected by their illness and by the drugs they had been given to combat it. Late in the afternoon they went back to Pana like everyone else, but driven by Andres again so they could avoid the winding roads on the chicken bus. The next day they were far from 100%, but were much better and able to move around some.
Thursday started with a devotion by Bill on Nehemiah 6:3. Before the devotion Guy, and the rest of the team, tried to trick Justin and Andy into believing that we were heading back to Chichi due to more political unrest.
We had breakfast at the hotel and left for Salud y Paz at 8 AM. Along the way our bus was passed on a blind curve by two men holding a ladder on a motorcycle. It is quite normal for individuals to be without a helmet on a motorcycle in Guatemala (esp. for the passenger) and it is normal for motorcycles to pass a bus, but on a blind curve with a ladder really took the cake.
When we arrived at Salud y Paz we noticed the cement rings had arrived. We continued construction and preparation for the last day of VBS. Construction this time included digging a trench for a gas line that had to be deep enough to prevent trucks from crushing it on the dirt driveway. It also included preparing the cement rings for lowering down the hole.
At 10:00 we had our last recess at Salud y Paz for this trip. At the end of recess, the kids (and adults) put painted handprints on the wall. Handprints were followed by more preparation of the large cement rings and moving more dirt.
At noon we had lunch at Salud y Paz then started lowering the rings down the hole... in the rain.
At 2 PM VBS continued, but indoors due to the rain. We had to improvise by having the games on the clinic porch and combining both storytelling and crafts. About 250 kids showed up this day which is a little more than the first two days of VBS so it was quite a challenge with the rain. The art project was making beaded cross necklaces and the story was Women Find the Empty Tomb (Luke 24:1-12) told by Chalupa and translated by Archie. Our theme word was SHARE. We talked about sharing the good news that Christ has risen. The game was limbo with some surprise silly string thrown in. Chalupa was a new addition this year and was a big hit. We decided to bring him home so that we can bring him back next year.
Most construction had to stop for a period of time due to the heavy rain as well. Many of us could be found counting pills inside to be useful while we waited for the rain to slow down. After the rain calmed down somewhat, we were able to lower two of the cement rings. It required several of us pushing on the pickup (being driven by Ed) because it couldn't grip the dirt enough on its own with the weight of the rings. The rain started coming down hard again, but the team persisted to lower two rings down the hold. Some of us had to change into scrubs afterwards because we were soaked. We had to leave two rings above ground.
Late in the afternoon we had communion at Salud y Paz, a tradition on the last day. We said goodbye to Salud y Paz at 5 PM to head back to Panajachel. On the way back the waterfall was really flowing due to the heavy rain that day.
That evening Kirk gave his devotion on personal growth where he shared his faith story and how this mission trip is a stepping stone in that journey. He read from 2 Peter 1:3-11.
After the devotion we had the paper plate awards for the host family.
While thanking the DUMC team for their hard work, Clarissa said she would give us the Perseverance award.
At 7:30 we headed to dinner taking tuk-tuks because of the rain. We went to the Circus Bar, a pizza bar and restaurant, where we sat next to one of the president's bodyguards and his "Jordache girl" friend.
Later that evening we were back at the hotel and handed out the paper plate awards for the team. These awards are largely humorous awards given to each team member. Lori shares her amazing artistic talents in drawing these awards for everyone (Linda drew Lori's award).
On Friday morning we started out at the dock at our hotel in Panajachel where Chris gave his devotion. After Chris heard several other devotions, he said it became clear to him that his would be a personal story as well. He read from Romans 8:5 and Romans 8:28 referencing that we know God works for the good in all things for those that love Him. It was a beautiful setting for a devotion in front of Lake Atitlan surrounded by volcanoes, but it isn't clean enough to swim in. The devotion was followed by team pictures at the dock. Then we headed to the hotel dining room for breakfast.
After breakfast we brought our luggage down to the lobby where most of us picked up some local coffee from Hannah which she brought in a large burlap sack. We departed Jardines del Lago at 8:45 AM onboard Archie's chicken bus headed for Antigua. Partway through the trip we had our rest stop at the same gas station we stopped at on Saturday. We arrived in Antigua at 11:30 AM. Archie had to drop us off a couple of blocks away because of the traffic limitations in the town. We arrived at Hotel Posada del Hermano Pedro and put all of our bags in one hotel room since we were too early to check in.
Originally there were two options for the day: sight-see in Antigua or hike a volcano. Unfortunately, the volcano was too active, so shopping was the only option. We broke up into various groups for lunch, shopping, and sight-seeing for the rest of the afternoon. Some local sights included Santo Domingo museum and the Santa Catalina Arch.
Later that afternoon we were able to check into the hotel. Then we met at Casa Santo Domingo (a few blocks from our hotel - where the museum is) to catch a couple of buses. The ladies took the nicer bus. The other bus was more like a large golf cart. They drove us up a very windy hill/mountain to dinner at El Tenedor del Cerro. After dinner we got a ride back down the mountain and walked back to our hotel. Then we had a night out on the town.
We started our final day in Guatemala with two devotions starting at 8 AM. It was hard to believe we could out-do the setting that we had for the previous morning's devotion on Lake Atitlán, but this one was right up there. It was a beautiful morning on the roof-top patio of the hotel with volcanoes in the background. Dick went first with a personal story, some DUMC history, and a history of mission trips that were started at DUMC. Doug gave his devotion next on his personal faith story and read from Philippians 4:4-9.
The devotions were followed by a quick breakfast, after which we headed to the bus. During the walk, Justin and Patti met some new friends along the way. We boarded the bus at 9:45 and headed to the airport in Guatemala City. Guy and Linda remained behind for vacation time.
After checking in at the airport, everyone went to get lunch at the food court within the terminal. Then Patti and Lori collected extra Quetzals that anyone had and started walking through the airport paying for people's food or drink or giving random workers money. Random acts of kindness at its finest!
Then we the team gathered closer to our gate and Valerie gave her devotion which included a note from her dad entitled "A Father's Beauty Tips to His Daughter" that she was given when she was ten years old. Valerie closed with everyone saying the Lords Prayer.
We boarded the plane shortly before 1 and took off around 1:30 PM CST. We landed in Atlanta at about 6:15 EDT where we were once again picked up by Chuck Batcheller driving Ed's van as well as Chris Turner driving the church van.
Before arriving back at DUMC, we noticed a car broken down on Abernathy Road in the left turn lane to get onto Mount Vernon Road. So, several of us jumped out and pushed the car through the intersection once the light turned green so the driver and his son could get to a safer location. Another random act of kindness and a great end to a fabulous trip!
See also: https://sway.com/px9SxBinIDFAX6OK