Our Harley Davidson... err... bus
Guatemala Missions Trip
February 1-14, 2012
Our trip got off to an inauspicious start early Wednesday morning as Leanne drove me the five blocks to Lakeside Christian School. Only two blocks from home a pedestrian with a large hood on, which I assume restricted his vision, walked briskly (without looking) into the middle of the intersection directly in front of us. For a split second it seemed we wouldn't be able to avoid hitting him, but instinctively I reached over, yanked the steering wheel, and the car slid just scant inches in front of him. We stopped the car to check and see that the pedestrian was safe but found he had simply kept on walking. So we drove the remaining distance to the school feeling a little rattled.
Over the previous weeks we had been praying constantly for safety in our travels to Guatemala, but never imagined that God would need to answer that prayer only two blocks from home. God is good and that was only the first of many countless answers to prayer along our journey.
Another example was when we finally landed in Guatemala City after two long days of travel. We still needed to clear Guatemalan customs with our 24 full-sized suitcases packed full with donations of clothing, shoes, school supplies, medical supplies, soccer balls, and just about anything else that you can fit inside a suitcase. If the customs agents wanted to give us a hard time and search each and every suitcase, we could have been there for hours. However, as soon as our team leader, Nancy Reimer, explained that we were a missions team and what we were doing, they began waving us through. As I walked forward toward the line that headed for the luggage scanner (where all the other passengers were headed) the custom guard waved me the other way towards the exit doors. We could hardly believe how easily our entire team of 12 members and 24 suitcases (plus carry-ons) cleared customs in no more than five minutes. Later when we shared this with Brian Ladd, our missionary contact and guide for the trip, he was shocked. In the many other missions teams he’d led, not one had cleared customs that quickly or easily. We thanked God for yet another answer to prayer.
The next day we were on a bus rocketing north through the steep hills and volcanic mountains of Guatemala on our way to the town of San Bartolo. The scenery was beautiful and disturbing in equal parts; beautiful in the natural beauty of the diverse landscape and lush farmland, disturbing in the garbage and poverty that people lived in and amongst as far as you could see.
Along the way we picked up Henry, our Mayan translator. To say that Henry is full of life and enthusiasm is an understatement. We very quickly grew to love Henry and his laugh was infectious. I soon learned that he is thirty years old, works full time for World Vision in economic development, and speaks six languages (Spanish, English, Japanese, the Mayan language of Kiche as well as two additional dialects of it). Not the least of these being his love for the Lord and his heart for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was a huge blessing for me as one of my greatest fears on the trip was the uncertainty of preaching through a translator. But Henry quickly laid those fears to rest and I could see God working through him as he spoke. I tried my best not to use Canadian slang or expressions, but a few times to emphasize how easy something was I said: “No Sweat!” It was actually pretty funny watching Henry squirm trying to translate the expression. This soon became a running joke with the group. There were other times where I would say one sentence and he would go on for three or four minutes, but the people’s response to those messages and God’s call were undeniable and humbling to be able to be a part of.
At one small mountain-top (over 11,000 ft) village where we led a church service, both me and Nancy Reimer shared our testimonies. Our testimonies both emphasized God’s grace to forgive us no matter what we had done. When the altar call was given a man and his wife came forward. Through the translator we soon discovered that this couple had strayed from the Lord and had not been to church in a long time. They did not even know that our mission team would be there that day, but had felt prompted to go to church. Coincidence? I like to think that coincidences are simply when God chooses to remain anonymous. So I had the privilege of praying with them as they rededicated themselves to the Lord.
We also had the opportunity to lead a VBS program at the local Compassion Centre. This Centre is where all the children that are sponsored through the Compassion Sponsorship program go to receive teaching, medical care, clothing, food, and letters from their sponsors. However, the center could only accommodate 150 children at a time and there are over double that number of Compassion-sponsored children in the area. Because of this they had to go on rotation with different groups coming on different days. I can’t emphasize enough that Guatemala is made up of kids! The average age of the country is 20, which means that half the population is under that age!
At the end of the first day of VBS, Henry explained the Gospel message and gave an invitation to accept Christ. 16 children came forward! The next day 26 came forward! And the third day another 14 made first-time decisions to follow Jesus! In three day’s we had the privilege of helping lead 56 children to the Lord! It was a profoundly humbling, yet amazing, to see all those young lives so excited to follow Jesus.
Later on we did a house visit to a very poor family where a widow lived with her two children, a thirteen year old girl and eleven year old boy, as well as her eighty-five year old mother. When her husband had become ill, he had refused to go the doctor because he knew they couldn’t afford it and by the time he finally went it was too late and he died. As it turned out he had simply had an infection that $150 dollars Canadian worth of antibiotics would have cured. The mother said that when she worked (which wasn’t always often) in the fields she would make about 40 Quetzalas a day which is approximately 5 dollars Canadian. They lived in an extremely simple one room house with no kitchen or even a means for cooking, so in order to cook meals for her family she needed to go to the neighbours house next door. We gave them a package of clothing and other items from the donations we had received, including a soccer ball that the boy was ecstatic about. We also had extra money that was brought along either personally by the group or donated, and at the end of the trip we decided to use the money to build this family a new house, complete with their own kitchen. This would cost around 3,500 dollars Canadian. But what was especially heartwarming about this visit was that we soon discovered that the two children had been at the Compassion Centre the day before and had both given their lives to the Lord. It was obvious how happy their Christian mother was about their decisions. It was encouraging to know that not only were able to bless them physically but more importantly, spiritually.
In all of this I haven’t yet mentioned the main work portion of our trip which was working on constructing a new church for the Iglesia Bethania (Bethany Church) of San Bartolo. We arrived to see that the foundation walls for the main sanctuary had already been set in place, but we soon discovered that the project was far larger in scope than we had initially been told. Upon completion it was going to have three stories complete with a Sunday School wing and kitchen and dining area. So not only would it serve as their church, but also a Christian School and Compassion Centre which would allow the Compassion Children to come every day instead of every other day.
We joined up with the four-man crew working there and were immediately hard at work. The construction method used there is predominately by manual labour which involved digging the foundation of the Sunday School wing by hand with picks and shovels. In the hot Guatemalan sun we definitely did our fair share of sweating and had the blisters to prove it. The people there seemed to realize the effort we were putting in for them and soon more and more people came to help every single day.
Finally, at the end of the week, the church threw us a farewell service which I have to say was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. One of the elders of the church said: “You have now been written in the history books of our town.” At the close of the service the entire congregation filed by us and every last man, woman and child gave each of us a hug and expressed, often through tears, there appreciation for what we had done for them. I can only say that the feeling is mutual, as God blessed me through them more than I can express.
I would especially like to thank each of you who supported me with your prayers and finances as none of this would have been possible without it. You have been part of God’s answer to prayer on my behalf and I pray that you have been blessed knowing that your gift was used by God to further His Kingdom. May God bless you richly for it!
Pastor Danny Groening
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