Exploring Antigua–and Home Again

As is usually the case, it seemed as if we had barely arrived when we were looking back on a completed week of ministry and forward to a day of exploring Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala and second oldest city in Central America. Nury had a full and fascinating day planned for us. As the bus rolled toward our first stop, she explained that the first Colonial-era city had been destroyed by a landslide in 1727, when an earthquake had cracked the crater of the El Agua volcano, spilling the contents of its lake and tons of earth and rocks onto streets and structures. (El Agua is long dormant, with communication towers now sprouting from its peak.) The cobblestone streets of the “new” old city would lead us to many intriguing sites over the next few hours.

The Finca Colombia coffee plantation, where most of us had already placed orders, was first. Brilliant sunshine, dislays of colorful woven goods, and bright red poinsettias created an inviting scene, but we did not stay long. High on the mountainside above the city stands a tall cross, which one may approach by road or by 300-plus steps. We went by the road and walked down the steep hillside to the foot of the cross, marveling at the panorama of the city below. Then, aware that busloads of tourists from cruise ships would soon descend upon the city, Nury took us to the cooperative artisan market for an hour of shopping. The tight lanes and stuffed stalls produced sensory overload, but most of us found things to purchase before crossing the street for lunch at Pollo Campero. Shopping opportunities followed us, however, as vendors pursued us with various wares.

The chocolate museum introduced us to new ways to enjoy a favorite treat, and then the jade factory and museum educated us about the place of jade in the Mayan culture ( jade beads on your teeth, anyone?), kinds of jade, and the process of cutting it. After time to browse the jewelry cases, we proceeded to City Hall, where our sweet translator Ximena’s grandfather serves as secretary to the mayor. The Colonial-era building is fascinating, and it offers many picturesque vistas of the plaza below. We then explored the Cultural Center that is housed in a former convent. From an ancient public toilet to ornate pottery vessesl to workmen restoring the building it offered much to see.

Yes, thanks to Nury’s expert guidance, we really did see and do all that in one day. Then came the spectacular finale: dinner at a mountaintop restaurant with breathtaking views, reached by a series of equally breathtaking switchbacks. Our wonderful driver, Edgar, really proved his skill taking us up there and back! We topped off delicious meals with luscious hot chocolate, recommended by our translator Diego.

Some of our number arose very early on our last morning to see El Fuego spew flames and smoke into the dawn. As everyone finished packing and assembled for breakfast, we presented water filters to Nury’s staff, who had fed and served us faithfully all week. As we had begun the week celebrating Annette’s birthday, we ended it with birthday cake for Ron. Then, with hearts as full as our suitcases, we started our jouney home.

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Our Last Ministry Day Already

For all of us who have served in short-term missions, the pattern is familiar: arrive, prepare supplies for our projects, launch into the week ahead– and then, suddenly, it is Thursday, and our days of ministry are coming to an end. Before we tour the cultural sites and markets of Antigua and fly home with the zip-drives of memories each of us will carry, let us share a few with you.

Our final day of ministry took us to the town of Alotenango, where the Catholic parish of San Juan Alotenango maintains a free health clinic. Nineteen people registered there for our health presentations and filtration buckets that would be delivered later in the day. We did not offer a children’s program, but the church construction that was in progress afforded entertainment: a nice big pile of black volcanic dirt. (Later in the morning, team member Trisha Vani provided cleaner fun for a handful of children.

Meanwhile, a thirteen-year-old girl in the shelter village had requested a bucket that had to be delivered to an adult in her family. Most of the family had returned to their damaged home and were continuing to clean up from the eruption. Nury accompanied two team members to the home for the delivery. They learned that the girl’s aunt was one of forty people, mostly elderly, who had survived the disaster in their homes. However, a brother was still hospitalized with severe burns he had received while trying in vain to help his mother and wife to safety.

Within the town, several people served with water filters were those who had fed and cared for those who had fled from the eruption. A woman named Margarita had organized and helped prepare meals for 3,000 people. These servants expressed their gratitude that they had been protected and their eagerness to give back. In turn, it was a privilege for our team to serve them.

Team #1812 will be on the way home in the morning. Our tour day has been memorable, and we will share highlights with you. Meanwhile, please hold us in prayer as we make our re-entry, and pray especially for the precious souls we leave behind. As we shared with many of them, we will meet again in Heaven and worship together in one language.

Lows and Highs–and 56 Buckets!

Today, Wednesday, has been our third and final day in the shelter village, and it has been a day to remember! In an effort to meet the needs of all the families, we had a large group attending the health presentations in the morning and distributed a record 56 water buckets with filters in the late morning and afternoon!

Meanwhile, we had as many as 29 children jam-packed into a small room for Bible stories, songs, and activities. That quiet moment you see in the photo? It happened on Tuesday. Today’s crowd bounced off the walls and out the door before we could say a proper goodbye. Many of them did pop up here and there as we made our way around with the water filters, however.

The survivors’ stories were both heartwrenching and uplifting. We wept with the young woman whose two daughters, husband, and parents had all died in the disaster, leaving her alone. She had been spared only because she was at work outside the danger zone. A friend had sent her six-year-old daughter to stay with her to ease her sadness. Then there was the family of ten who were picked up by a bus and all survived, the daughter-in law only days away from delivering her baby. Many reported health problems when asked for prayer requests. Several quietly prayed along with our team members. One group ended the afternoon with a visit to a young Christian couple happily anticipating the birth of the son very soon. They don’t know where they will live when they must leave the shelter village, but God’s gift of new life fills them with joy.

Stories multiplied as buckets were delivered, with each household receiving instructions for cleaning the filters, a Gospel presentation, and prayer. Though there was much to accomplish in a short time, care was taken to listen to each recipient and offer such consolation as we could, pointing them to the Source of all comfort and hope.

On Thursday, we will also be serving El Fuego survivors, this time in the nearby town of Alotenango, where some have found either temporary or long-term housing. Please join us in giving thanks to God for the blessings shared this week, and pray for continued healing for these devastated people.

God Moments

As various members of our teams have given health presentations, discussed the use and cleaning of the water filter, drilled holes in buckets and completed the filter assembly, and led children’s programs, we have seen God at work. These first three days of the week, we are serving suvivors of the volcano who are living in the shelter village. Families are closely spaced in these simple wooden buildings, each of which has four one- room dwellings. Meals are served from a common pavilion; there are no cooking facilities in the rooms. Most spaces are surprisingly clean, though very sparsely furnished with items that the families may not keep when they move into permanent housing. Yet faith is strong among many of the families.

A substantial portion of our ministry involves delivering the buckets with filters to families in which at least one adult has attended the instructional programs in the morning. At each dwelling, we review use and cleaning of the filter, give a brief Gospel presentation and a New Testament, and pray with the family. Stories that have been shared with team members are often heartbreaking and sometimes miraculous: the couple whose two children and the grandparent caretakers perished in the disaster while the parents were safe at work; the eight-months pregnant woman who was provided a ride out of the danger zone; the family that lost members and had a seven-year-old girl burned on most of her body, now amazingly recovered. We wonder at the very young and the very old who were rescued; many, of course, were not.

One of our small delivery groups made three attempts to deliver a bucket to a household where parents were working. Leaving the system with the fourteen-year-old girl was not permitted. It looked as if the task would be delegated to Nury and a member of the local church on Saturday, but the parents returned just before our team left. The presentation was given to a grateful family with a particularly attentive father, who eagerly joined the team in prayer.

 

Manic Monday…Plus a Sunday Recap

A very full Sunday began with worship in a classroom, as the sanctuary was awaiting a new roof. The deacon who led the service incorporated more hymns than in our typical services and led them in a fine tenor voice. Afterward, teen boys taught us how to make their traditional kites. The interaction was wonderful, and many colorful kites were made. Women from the church fed us a delicious lunch. Meanwhile, several team members drilled water buckets and installed filters, preparing them for delivery to homes later in the day. Our team was then subdivided into small groups accompanied by translators, and off we went to visit homes around the neighborhood. At each stop, we demonstrated how to use and clean the filter, presented the Gospel using color pages or the Evange-cube, and prayed with the recipient families. At one stop, the head of the household returned the favor with a lengthy and heartfelt prayer thzt blessed the team members right down to their toes, regardless of the language barrier. Before boarding the van to return to the mission house, we had a short time to shop the handcrafts of some of the church women. It was sensory overload for lovers of handmade textiles!

After an early breakfast this morning, we were off to the shelter village where survivors of the El Fuego eruption are housed while they rebuild their homes or find other permanent housing, a process that could take several years. During the morning, a group of residents attended health and hygiene presentations in an open pavilion while two of us led children’s activities in the building occupied by Lead a Child. After our packed lunch, we again divided into small groups and delivered the water filtration bucket to residents of the shelter village. The responses were heartwarming, as much appreciaton was expressed by people who had lost homes, household goods, and often close family members. The Gospel we shared was often echoes back to us by people whose faith had literally been tested by fire. May we have listening ears and receptive hearts as we return tomorrow to bring the gift of pure water, share the Water of Life, and hear stories that bring a measure of healing to those who tell them. Pray that we may serve them well!

The “Elevator” Update (Answers to Your Basic Questions)

1. Everyone is healthy.

2. We are well fed, sampling a variety of local specialties.

3. Our accommodations are very comfortable.

4. We have an excellent team leader, Kelly Bone, two team leaders in training, and no first-time participants on this team. The cumulative experience results in some interesting stories and good cooperation among team members. Of course, we are all still learning, each day is new, and MOST always welcomes and provides good training for new participants.

5. Yes, we are already tired. These first few days have been VERY full. Today we will go to the shelter village and provide water filtration systems for volcano survivors who are preparing to return to their homes. A couple of us will lead children’s activities. We have good interpreters to help us cross the language barrier, but sensitivity to the people and their experiences requires much guidance from the Holy Spirit. Pray that we will be a blessing to these people who have lost so much!