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Guatemala Reflections

First Church recently sent a mission team to Xepocol, Guatemala to partner with Project Salud y Paz, an organization that partners with congregations in the U.S. and also with the indigenous Methodist church of Guatemala to provide medical and dental services to impoverished people in Guatemala, as well as preschool and feeding programs for families in need.

We asked some of the team members to share more about their experience in Guatemala.

Erin Elaine Gail writes:

“As we entered Guatemalan air space we had already gelled as a team, and as a team we focused on our work together, created relationships, explored Guatemala and had many funny, interesting, enlightening and heart-rending moments together. A volcano erupted on our approach to Guatemala City, adding to the wonder and excitement of my first experience outside the United States. I had wanted to go on a mission trip since I was a young girl, and I could hardly believe I was on the team going to Xepocol. This mission trip gave me a gift I could never have received from a book, or a documentary or even someone’s personal account. I grew to love the people and the country and community we served, as well as my team members. My understanding of the world has broadened, leaving my heart gushing like the volcano.

My understanding of the world has broadened, leaving my heart gushing like the volcano.

There were many wonderful things about the trip for me, but the most touching was the interaction with the community members of Xepocol. In the dirt schoolyard I learned new construction skills, bending and cutting rebar, mixing cement on the dirt, and carrying large items, while the children, teachers, community leaders and mothers went about their day, and watching us too. At recess we got to bring out toys we had brought to play with the children. The curious and playful children warily crowded around us and took the edges of a parachute.

Communicating with my eyes, facial expressions, hand gestures and a little k’iche and Spanish, we played games with the parachute and laughed together. We also had jump ropes that proved to be a favorite recess game. At first, two young girls named Jessica and Tomasa wanted to jump but hung back as the boys were happily jumping. They hung close to me and I asked if they wanted me to jump with them. That did it and the girls began jumping after that. Tomasa and Jessica would tug my hands toward the bag with the toys and let me know the jump rope was what they wanted. As I brought it out they grasped my hand in theirs, pulling me to the cement undercover area. We, and many other kids, had a great time playing jump rope games together each recess. After the last day of recess with them I approached a teacher in a classroom and asked if I could leave the jump ropes with him for the kids. I felt very emotional knowing it was the last day I would have with them. Each one of the kids came up and we hugged each other. In the week we were there I saw the conditions in which they live, and also got to help Candalaria, one of the women we met with groceries, blankets and wood. Candalaria had three young children and had lost her husband. The local community was unable to help her, not from lack of wanting to help, but because they lacked the resources to help her. I found it very hard to leave on the last day with the fierce and tender hugs of Tomasa and Jessica and others. A piece of my heart stayed in Xepocol and I will always wonder how the people I met there are doing.”

Sarah Gail writes:

“This year, after years of mulling over the possibility, and attending meetings but deciding I would probably never actually be able to go, I was finally able to join the church mission team to
Guatemala! I can definitely say now that it was a very positive and enlightening experience, and any
preconceived ideas I had about what the trip would be like could not have measured up to how amazing it turned out to be. Because there is so much that I could talk about I am going to sum it up through a couple main topics (so it doesn’t get too boring!). As it turns out, this was also my first time out of the country, so you might think I would focus on something deep and inspiring for a topic, but if I’m being honest, something that truly stuck out to me was the food we ate!

This was also my first time out of the country . . . If I’m being honest, something that truly stuck out to me was the food we ate!

Not only was I continuously amazed by the never-ending array of fancy dinners and desserts we ate, but I also found that the variation of different dining experiences we had opened my eyes to how blessed we truly are, and how lucky I was to experience so many aspects of Guatemalan culture. We went from having dinners overlooking beautiful views, feeling practically pampered as we were served delicious foods that the majority of the locals couldn’t afford, to warm and friendly lunches we spent together at the work site alongside the other workers we were helping at the village school, making sandwiches for ourselves in a dusty classroom whilst covered in concrete and sweat, but genuinely enjoying talking and being together, and seeing the occasional kid smile at us through the window. Even more of a contrast was the experience of visiting a local native woman named Candelaria, a single unemployed mother of three young children who lives in an unstable home with dirt floors, no running water, no electricity, and nothing more than a few corn tortillas daily for her family to survive on. Although we were able to help bring her enough food and firewood to last her a month, I couldn’t help but notice in a new way how much I truly have in comparison to so many people.
Overall, food ended up teaching me a lot about Guatemalan culture and tradition, and it also acted as a good representation of how the trip was; a mixture of extravagance and new experiences, shared with people in all sorts of situations, and a mixture of sweet and not so sweet as we said goodbye to the country and the people we had grown to love.
All in all the trip was unforgettable and I felt like it was a really important experience for me to have. It pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible and I honestly feel that I have changed for the better because of it. I will definitely be traveling again in the future and I will always remember my time in Guatemala for everything it has taught me about the world as well as myself, and all of the beautiful people I have met and become closer to because of it.”

Would you like to learn more about the Mission Team’s experience in Guatemala? Join us for a Celebration Dinner on Saturday, September 9, at 6PM