Healing Guatemala: The Story of 15 Missioners
HEALING GUATEMALA NEEDS YOUR HELP! The Covid-19 Pandemic is hurting the people of Guatemala in many ways. Most significantly, because of lockdowns to prevent spread of the virus, people who exist on their daily labor cannot get food. Healing Guatemala has transitioned to a feeding ministry, and desperately needs your help to sustain these efforts. Click the button below if you feel led to donate to this effort.Click here for Ways You Can Give to Support This Ministry
The Story of 15 Missioners
Trinity United Methodist Church sent 15 missioners to Guatemala from March 7-14, 2020. It was an absolutely amazing experience and we hope these blog entries give you some insight into what we experienced each day of the trip. Check back every day for another entry!
A point of view from Mitch Grunsky:
Waking up in a nice hotel room was really awesome, but I found myself wishing I was still at the Bethesda Clinic enjoying coffee with my fellow missioners. The outside world was already starting to creep in with talk of “they are shutting down the borders” and “all the toilet paper is gone” on our cell phones. We enjoyed an incredible breakfast, yet many of us commented that we felt guilty enjoying such nice things knowing that the people we just served have so little.
With some extra time before leaving for the airport, we did some last minute shopping at the mall beside the hotel. Trena was trying to buy Guatemalan candy to bring back to her family but didn’t have enough local currency. Some of the folks standing in line with her realized what was going on and several of them offered to pay for the candy. They could see from our shirts that we were missioners and were thankful for us being there.
We had arranged transportation to the airport; thankfully I could turn over the keys and didn’t have to drive anymore. Our flights were uneventful and we had plenty of room to space out on the plane. News of impending travel restrictions made me wonder why the planes were not full and if some of the Americans we had met the day earlier would be able to get home safely. We made it home around 1:30 AM and it was nice to see my dogs and my bed. Little did I know I was about to drop into Covid-19 madness.
As I sit here now and think back about our amazing trip there are so many things that come to mind:
1. How completely covered in prayer the missions team felt. Thank you Trinity and all the churches in Sumter that were praying for us! The Holy Spirit was with us for sure!
2. How amazing the people of Guatemala are. We truly received more from them than we gave to them.
3. How God has his hand in putting this team together. What an amazing sight it was to watch this team turn churches and schools into “medical clinics” capable of seeing >200 people per day. Clinics complete with ultrasound, examination “rooms”, triage stations and a pharmacy, all in a matter of 10 minutes each morning.
4. How fortunate we are to be able to get our loved ones medical care whenever it is needed. How fortunate we are to be able to grab some Tylenol or Motrin out the cabinet when we have a headache or a fever.
5. How true happiness has nothing to do with money or possessions. Sometimes they can even be inversely related.
6. How much of a servant Dr. Luke is. Richard said it best, we are suppose to put God number 1, even before our family, Luke is a person who truly does that.
7. How we need to remember to encourage our ministers and missionaries and be there to help strengthen them too. Even though they are our spiritual leaders, we are all human and need nourishment.
8. How I can’t wait to get back to Guatemala! There is so much to do!
A point of view from Rick Stone:
After a Sunday afternoon of organizing pills into dispensable plastic bags and four days of clinics within one to two hours of Quetzaltenango, commonly called Xela (“Shay’-la), today was our day to see a little of Guatemala as tourists. Reverend Luke was our tour guide. Our destination for the afternoon was Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala). Reverend Luke likes to say that there is one crazy driver in Guatemala, and he claims the title. As such, the group that was in Reverend Luke’s vehicle arrived in the city about forty minutes ahead of the group that was in the Chevy van, and we had time for coffee at Finca Filadelfia, a coffee plantation and resort outside of Antigua Guatemala. The 1998 Chevy van is a workhorse for Healing Guatemala. This vehicle began its missionary work while Luke was an associate pastor at the Korean United Methodist Church in Columbia, and it still has these decals on it. One notes that the van was purchased at Jones Chevrolet, so that there is some of Sumter tooling the roads of Guatemala. When the rest of the group arrived, we then had lunch at Finca Filadelfia, and afterwards some people bought some items, including coffee, in the gift shop.
Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala) was the third capital city of the Spanish Kingdom of Guatemala. The first city was founded on the site of a Mayan city on July 25, 1524, the Feast Day of St. James, and was therefore named Ciudad de Santiago de Los Caballeros de Goatemalan (City of St. James of the Knights of Guatemala). Following several Indian uprisings, the capital was moved to another location, which was destroyed on September 11, 1541 by a lahar from a volcano. The capital city was then moved one more time to the present location of Antigua Guatemala on March 10, 1543, while still keeping the original name for St. James. This city would serve as the capital of Guatemala, most of the rest of Central America and the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico.
Antigua Guatemala became a center for learning and culture. Both Jesuits and Franciscans worked here. The monks of San Juan de Dios (St. John of God) founded the first of their hospitals and a monastery in 1636. On January 31, 1676 a university was established. Earthquakes over the years would damage and destroy parts of the city, and in 1773, following the Santa Marta earthquake, there was a royal decree to move the capital city to another location. In 1776 the capital was moved to Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción (New Guatemala of the Assumption), which is now known as Ciudad de Guatemala (Guatemala City). The old city then became known as Antigua Guatemala. Today, Antigua Guatemala is well known and regarded for its Spanish baroque colonial architecture. It is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
For the afternoon, the group had a chance to divide up. Some wanted to focus on shopping, and others wanted to explore the history and architecture of Antigua Guatemala. The Parque Central (Central Park) is in the middle of the city and surrounded by several colonial era buildings. It is a pleasant place with a central fountain. Across the street from the park on one side are the ruins of the Cathedral of St. James. It was started in 1545, and obtained cathedral status in 1743. It was destroyed in the Santa Marta earthquake of 1773 and most of it was not rebuilt. Today, one can walk through the magnificent ruins for $3 (American). Part of the cathedral was rebuilt, and today functions as San José Parish. Inside this active church, there are beautiful statues of Christ on the cross, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), and the Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception), along with several altars richly adorned with gold leaf. Old time Catholic churches do feel like a sanctuary from the world. During our historic wanderings, we came upon the landmark Arco de Santa Catalina (Arch of St. Catherine), which was started in the 17th century to connect the Santa Catalina convent to a school, so that the cloistered nuns would not have to go out into the street. The clock on top was added in the 1830s.
After a couple of hours the entire group got together again, and we drove up to the Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), which of course had a large cross on it. Reverend Luke explained that in colonial days putting up a cross was a way for the Spanish to mark and claim territory. The hill offered a panoramic view of the valley in which Antigua Guatemala lies. Off in the distance could be seen one of the three volcanoes that are in the area.
Our final stop was at the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo (Hotel House of St. Dominic). It is a resort hotel built amidst the ruins of the Monasterio de Santo Domingo (Monastery of St. Dominic). The beautiful grounds are home to some noisy macaws. The ruins include some above ground burial crypts and a large fountain that dates from the time the hotel was a monastery.
Guatemala City is about 25 miles from Antigua Guatemala. Traffic was heavy going into the city on a Friday evening. Trucks were parked along the side of the road, as Reverend Luke noted that their hours of entry into the city are restricted to certain times. Guatemala City has a much more modern urban feel to it than anywhere else we were during our week in the country. It is the largest city in Guatemala, with a city population of 923,392 and a metro area population of about 3,700,000. For Americans needing a touch of home one can find Denny’s and IHOP. Papa John’s will deliver to your domicilio. Casa del Waffle, with the yellow and black stripes accompanying the sign, was a nice Southern touch.
We stayed the night at the modern and upscale Grand Tikal Futura. Interesting that even in Guatemala City people are requested to put papel higiénico (toilet paper) in the wastebasket, rather than in the toilet.
We had a late supper at a large, contemporary indoor mall next to the hotel. People sought out a variety of the fast food options in the food court, with some emphasis on trying something that would be considered Guatemalan fast food. However, afterward, many of us also decided that a Classic Chocolate Frosty from Wendy’s would be the perfect dessert.
“Last Clinic Day”
A point of view from Trena Bass:
Truly, His mercies, in multiple forms, are new every morning no matter the location! Natural views, His Word, worship songs and my favorite, coffee … I mean, my teammates! Another morning meant another chance to mentally and physically prepare, greatly aided by what Amy and Maria made us for breakfast. In minutes, the organized and efficient ones among us had the suitcases packed, loaded and ready to go. With everyone filled with enough caffeine for the day ahead, The Flexible Fifteen were on the road one last time, expecting the unexpected.
I sat in the back seat, because, “I don’t get car sick.” The phrase, Famous last words, seems appropriate here. Apparently, when I’m at 9,000 feet, taking more turns than a revolving door, and riding over potholes bigger than my sweet tooth, I do indeed get nauseated. Sally, my empathetic seat partner coached me through the waves. This was also when I offered Nora and Dr. Arland my kidney for sharing their ginger chews. As I made it back to the land of the living, I thought of how I can also be ill-prepared for the turns and bumps involved in God’s plan for my life. How important to take the “Dramamine” of His Word each day in preparation for the trials to come.
Land! Non mobile land and a solid building, a beautiful clinic with rooms and indoor plumbing. This was my favorite set up because I got to be closer to everyone. I could stick my nosy head out and observe our organized, efficient team exuding I Corinthians’ love. Such a moving experience to witness each person using his/her spiritual gifts to share God’s love to these wonderful people that He purposed for us to see: Erica calmly directing the frontline, Sheila and Maggie making the kiddos smile, Jere being attentive and patient with a smile and Nora bringing the precious. Meg running between rooms, keeping the line moving and the children occupied; Nicole bringing organizing to the chaos, Richard trying to appear productive , kidding, Richard and Sally running the pharmacy, Dale, Mitch, Ric, Rick, and Arland exhibiting grace and humility as the interact face to face with their beloved patients. I’ve never been in a whirlwind, but surely what I was seeing was similar.
Today, my room had an actual exam table, Macgyver, sonographer edition, was making its last episode easier. Compared to the other days, this set up was a palace, even if the cartoon lion on the wall looked as if it may pounce at any moment. With my machine propped up on my bookbag, plastic bag taped on a crib for trash, and my paper towels torn in half so each patient could have one to clean off the gel, I began meeting these precious people. The last patient before lunch was expecting a……… nino!!
Our afternoon break was welcomed. Amy and Gloria had meticulously packed sandwiches as big as my face for us all. So big there was plenty to share with the neighborhood dogs.
Fed and re-caffeinated with hot Pepsi, we were ready to take on the rest of what God had for us. Clearly, word had gotten out that there were ultrasounds to be had. The little waiting area stayed full and Meg kept the patients organized and the children happily occupied! I found that if I told a patient, “I need you four to five months along to tell gender,” the next patient would somehow know to tell me she happened to be, “four to five months” along. When the last patient came back, guess how many of those half paper towels were left! One! I thought watching our team in action was amazing; realizing that God knew exactly how many patients I would see and planned accordingly, made my heart smile.
Looking around at our end of the day circle, I saw faces who had been changed from strangers to friends. They made real friend status when they agreed to stop for ice cream on the way back! Front seat here I come! Here’s where I offer part of my liver to Meg for her half of a Dramamine and offer a lifetime of visits to Nicole for giving me her seat. I feel like Nicole is getting the best part of that deal.
As we pulled into the driveway back at home base, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional greeting we would receive. Maria and Amy ran out to meet us giving hugs and expressing how tired we must all be, ushering us in to the meal they had prepared. What a picture of Christ welcoming us home to Heaven after we fulfill His purpose here on earth. How quickly our plans had turned into reflections. What a privilege to follow God, daily mercies included.
A point of view from Richard Murrell:
“Two Are Better” – This is the title of Our Daily Bread devotion for March 6, the day before the team left for Guatemala. It is based on Ecclesiastes 4:9 “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. Before we left on Saturday morning around 4:00 am, I read the verse along with excerpts from the devotion to the team. How appropriate to send us off to be the Hands and Feet of the Church.
On Wednesday we traveled to Cajola, we had the traveling team, about ten translators, Rev. Luke, and Cris our van driver, translator and all around funny guy. That is what we had in Guatemala, but we also had each of you. And, we have had each of you from the beginning along with others praying for us. I believe the team was handpicked by God; we had good return on our labor because of this. Every morning when we arrive at a sight, today it was a small church, a quick assessment is done of the sight and it is quickly transformed into a “clinic” and our home for the day. The population we dealt with on Wednesday was mostly indigenous Mayan, although the official language is Spanish most of the older folks speak “ Mam” necessitating the need for a Mam translator also. There is very little medical care for these very poor people. I had a bottle that once held 100 Naproxen in my backpack and some of these folk would stand in line for over an hour to receive 30. It hits home to how fortunate we are and how poor they are when you reduce it to these simple terms. I believe anyone in America can afford a bottle of Naproxen.
I need to mention our translators. Since I helped out in the pharmacy, I will tell you about Sophie. Sophie was our translator each day. I watched her eyes as she translated to each patient (more than 200 per day) what the medicine was for, how to take it or administer it. Each day you could see the concern and care in her eyes as she did her task over and over. All the translators were great, but working with Sophie was a treat for me. I think about her and her future daily.
In the pastor’s prayer were these words “God we are in debt to these people and have nothing to give. Will you pay our bill for us and bless them.” When I reflect on this and other mission trips I am the one blessed. I decided to go to Nicaragua two years ago when I read the words “God wants something for you not from you.” I continue to believe this and know He has a plan for me. God wants something for you also, please remember this during this crisis and remember these folks in Guatemala and the rest of the world that have so much less then we do. You may not be able to go on a mission trip but with your prayers and financial support others can and have good return on their labor. Remember “Two are better than one.”
A point of view from Dale Barwick:
On the morning of March 10th, our group traveled by van through mountainous terrain to the village of Cabrican, Xela. When we arrived at the church which was to be our clinic site, a throng of men, women and children already filled the porch and sidewalk, waiting for a chance to see, and be seen by, American healthcare professionals
Because we’d had coffee at breakfast – very strong coffee with floating grounds – and had traveled more than an hour, most of us needed the restroom facilities before we started seeing patients. The restroom was in working order, but it certainly was not the type of church restroom to which we were accustomed. It consisted of an open-air lean-to at the back of the church with an outhouse-style toilet, a utility sink without soap, a shared rag for drying hands and a jagged mirror on the wall.
In the sanctuary, several church members had moved chairs against the walls, clearing a space for us to set up tables in the center. They spoke to us enthusiastically in Spanish while smiling and hugging us. The pastor clutched a Bible with hands deformed from birth, and gathered our group in a circle to pray. Even for those of us who didn’t speak Spanish, the Holy Spirit spoke loud and clear.
The original Mayan language of the people from this village is “Mam” (pronounced mum) and many of the older people did not speak anything but Mam. This created a unique language barrier because we needed two translators – one to translate English and Spanish and one to translate Spanish and Mam. This situation led to much laughter as messages went back and forth between the patients and the American healthcare workers.
Many of the women who came to the clinic wore the traditional dress of the indigenous people. We learned that they could identify where someone was from by the colors and patterns of the clothing of their particular region. Many of the people were actually from the same family group, including one older woman who said she had twelve children and that they were all there.
Most of the people were poor, lived in homes without water or electricity, had intestinal parasites, received no prenatal care, and suffered from poor nutrition. Many had birth defects and other illnesses which are seen in America; however, the Guatemalan government offers no assistance, not even to children. Only people with enough money can receive surgery, medications, nutritious food, medical equipment, or even a wheelchair.
We saw an older woman with no legs who dragged herself to the clinic on a sheet of hard plastic. We saw a crippled ten-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy whose small-framed mother carried him wherever they went. Their only request was for a wheelchair and, by no small miracle, they received a wheelchair the next day! We saw a four-year-old girl with a hernia which needed surgical correction. When her mother was told that she needed surgery, she sobbed because she did not have the money to help her child.
The missionary with whom we worked, Dr. Luke Rhyee, helps as many people as possible through Healing Guatemala. Unfortunately, the needs of the poor far exceed the available resources. He said that he must pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to know where to allocate assistance, funds and supplies as he shares the love of Christ in Guatemala.
A point of view from Meg Creech:
As we had traveled many hours together – GUATEMALA TIME (which is much longer than American time!)– by “PAL VAN”, planes, and vans, we were getting comfortable and having a great time getting to know each other. We knew from the start this would be a special group put together “for such a time as this”. We had visited the Hot Springs, seen the countryside, “Oooh”ed and “ahhhh”ed over the farmland, counted pills, packed suitcases for the first day of clinic, settled in our rooms for the week, enjoyed a few delicious meals at Bethesda and had anxiously and excitedly awaited our first day we would travel to set up our first medical clinic for the week.
Richard and Mitch led us in much prayer and had us up and going to leave at 7:30 Monday morning. And Mitch was put in the driver’s seat of one of the vans! We traveled the Guatemala roads in awe of what we saw along the way to the village. We saw beautiful people who obviously love their country and value their belongings as we traveled lots of very narrow, dusty roads! We made it to the school we would be in for the day in about an hour and saw many people already lined up to be seen by the doctors. I knew being one of the two there with NO medical training that my job was going to be to lend a hand where I could and love on the people as much as I could. I think it’s safe to say we were a little overwhelmed by what all we would need to do in the space we had and for ALL of the precious people there waiting – who didn’t speak English! Well, God was at work in mighty ways, and before we knew it the middle school was transformed into a medical facility! After scoping out the available spaces, the dental chairs were taken in to transform one classroom to a dentist office. Another classroom became an ultrasound room. Another room (maybe some type of kitchen area) became the pharmacy, and a large open room became home to check-in, triage, and 5 provider areas.
I loved my job because I got to see ALL of the wonderful trained medical folks doing “nitty-gritty” work as they served as the hands and feet of JESUS! And I mean really served! The “patients” were checked in, asked some general questions, had their weight, blood pressure, oxygen, and heart checked. They were then sent to a provider who examined them and prescribed medicines, vitamins, etc. as they saw fit. Many wanted ultrasounds for various reasons, so they were sent to Trena, (our sweet new friend and sonographer from NC who has been to Nicaragua and Salkehatchie with Trinity), who lovingly carried out the request of the doctors. Some got to see their babies for the first time, some were diagnosed with some grim problems, and some just needed to have someone give them a little attention. ALL were loved. And I was amazed that as the ladies NEVER complained about waiting, about having to undress (and their clothes were elaborate!) in not so private areas, and lie down on a cold, hard, wooded classroom table! They were just so thankful to be seen! I had the best job of holding the babies or playing with the little children while their mothers were being examined. I was able to escort the patients from area to area, give them hugs, love on the babies, and tell them Jesus loves them. We had coloring books, small toys, crayons, markers, balls, and some adorable dolls handmade by the ladies of Grace Baptist Church.
After a couple hundred patients were examined, given worm pills, vitamins, medicines, and small prizes for the children, we headed back to Bethesda with full hearts, blessed and ready to take on another day in another village with another couple hundred patients.
After a delicious meal at Bethesda cooked by Amy and Maria, Mitch encouraged us to concentrate on 3 Cs after each day of service. This is what was shared:
What could we CELEBRATE?
*the people of Guatemala had Patience
*The children were tolerant
*Patients were appreciative
*The translators were AMAZING!
*It was such a blessing to have Sally as the pharmacist with us
What were some of the CHALLENGES?
What can we CHANGE for next time?
*Say yes more
There are no words to describe the blessings we had, the provisions that were in place for us to have a great week, and the miracles we witnessed daily!! Many, many thanks for the support and prayers from our Trinity UMC Church Family! We felt like you all were there with us!
A point of view from Nicole Grunsky:
It was our first full day in Guatemala and we all were so excited to explore and get to know this country and it’s people. Dr. Luke had planned out a busy day for us so after our delicious breakfast we wasted no time in heading out. Our destination was a national park famous for it’s hot springs. We drove for about an hour and the drive was absolutely amazing! We got a really close up look at the “chicken buses” that are basically very ornate old school buses used for public transportation. They would be used to haul people and sometimes livestock like chickens & pigs – hence the nickname “chicken bus.” There were lots of them and they always seemed packed.
We went through many villages on the way up to the springs but the most beautiful sites came as we passed what seemed like farmland that went on forever. The mountainsides were carved into perfect plots and vegetables were growing in the straightest rows I have ever seen. The farmers were out tending to the fields all by hand. It was one of the most idyllic scenes I have ever witnessed.
We made it to the hot springs and it was like a tropical rainforest. About 6 in our group were brave enough to get into the hot springs for a quick soak. We all enjoyed the scenery, the birds singing, and the relaxation that our few hours there afforded us. It was a beautiful way to spend our first day in Guatemala.
From there, we returned to Bethesda Clinic (our home) for lunch and a little bit of down time. We were able to get all the medicines and medical supplies unpacked and the sorting process started. We were all new at that so it took some major brain power and organizing. Large bottle of vitamins and pills were opened and the beginning of multiple pill counting sessions began. Our team worked diligently and joyfully together. It was such a blessing to be with this particular group of people – the Lord knew what he was doing when He orchestrated this amazing team!
One more outing for the day was on the agenda. It was Sunday after all and we needed to go to church. So we visited a church that Luke was familiar with in one of the nearby villages. The entire service was in Spanish so it was a little difficult trying to worship and not being able to understand exactly what was being said. We could recognize some of the hymns that were being sung and pick up a little bit here and there. The congregation and minister welcomed us and Mitch even got up and said a few words to the congregation. Luckily we had our translator there so they could understand what Mitch was saying. After the service, we received many hugs and handshakes from the congregation. It was good for the soul to be with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Once we returned to the clinic, we ate dinner and finished up our pill packing. The anticipation that night was palpable. We were so excited to be going to our first clinic the next day. This was why we had come. To spread the love of Jesus Christ through tangible acts of service to a population in need. We could not wait to be with the Guatemalan people. We were ready.
A point of view from Nicole Grunsky:
I didn’t sleep much last night. I was constantly thinking about the 17 suitcases we were checking and going through all the lists in my mind. 3:00 AM came quickly but I was ready to get up and get our travels under way. There were months of prep work and finally the day had come to make our way to Guatemala. I knew even if I forgot something that it would be okay. Our team and our trip had been so covered in prayer that I could feel the Holy Spirit with us every step of the way. I knew He would provide and light our paths. I was at peace with all the preparation.
The fifteen missioners slowly trickled into the house. Some of them more tired than others. We were able to separate the morning people from the night people before we even lived together. Henry Moses was there with his roomy van and cheerful smile to help get us all safely to the airport. We packed the cars, distributed name tags, and gave instructions on the checked luggage that each person would take through customs. Richard led us in a devotional around our kitchen island and we were headed to Columbia!
As we drove, I thought about Sally. She is our pharmacist, and wasn’t feeling well the night before and thought she might not be able to go. She said she would meet us at the airport if she felt good enough but to carry on without her if she didn’t show up. I was saddened for her and all the preparation she had done and I knew she would be greatly missed on our team if she didn’t come.
We were just about all checked in and Richard texted Sally to check on her. She was already at the gate waiting on us!!! We were all so glad to hear she was going to make it! The team was all together!
Flights went smoothly and we landed Guatemala! Our adventure had really begun now. The sights were so different – a mountainous land, a different language, a different way of doing things and it was all so exciting. We had our temperatures checked shortly after landing and even I had stoop down so the Guatemalan lady could reach my forehead!
And then we went through customs. We were a little nervous about this part because we knew we were at the mercy of the customs agents. Mitch and I were pulled aside and a few suitcases were searched. We provided as much documentation as we could and just waited it out. After about 20 minutes they let us go and we reunited with the group. We had made it through with all the medicine & medical supplies!!!
Lucy & Wayne greeted us outside. They secured all of our luggage on top of the van and we headed to Xela. We were so exhausted from being up early and all the travel. We thought we were in for a 3-4 hour drive. But it took us about 5.5 hours. By this point we were running on fumes and our patience was wearing thin. But we persevered and arrived at the Bethesda clinic around 8:30 PM. Dr Luke met us in the driveway and helped us get situated.
We stayed 2-6 per room and each room had one full bathroom in it. The facilities were very nice and we instantly felt like it was home. We ate dinner and were off to our rooms for rest. It had been a long day and we knew Sunday would be a full day of adjustment, exploration and preparation for the week to come.
Check back tomorrow for the next installment of the Story of the 15 Missioners…