Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Footprints in Guatemala

Written by Gerrit deJong
Gerrit deJong of the Chilliwack congregation accompanied a group of young people and their leaders on a work trip to Guatemala. Those who have been on such trips have returned with enthusiastic reports. This rather lengthy report (already cut down some) confirms that volunteer work in third world countries can be both a great blessing to those who give as well as those who receive.
Lawrence Bilkes (Jr.), Junior Young People leader of Abbotsford, Gerrit deJong, Senior Young People leader of Chilliwack and Dick Westeringh, Junior Young People leader of Chilliwack, along with 10 young people, Doug Faber, Dave Noordam, Mike VanderWoerd (all of Abbotsford), and Derek Baars, Tim Meinen, Martin Overduin, Steve Overduin, Richard VanderKooi, Anthony Westeringh, Justin Westeringh (all of Chilliwack), spent two weeks in Guatemala from March 14 to March 28. This trip was made in response to an urgent Word & Deed appeal from Bernie Pennings and the efforts of brother Dick Westeringh. We are thankful to have had such an experience exposing us to real life in a third world country, to the needs and the mission work done there.

Theme: A Pair of Shoes in Guatemala)
Our morning devotions were led by Lawrence, who in our first devotional shared a story of a person who had been a pastor for only one-half day before being killed in a car accident. What could GodÕs purpose have been in this? During this one half-day the pastor had given a pair of shoes to a needy person. It was a simple act as the hand of Christ to his neighbour. Perhaps we will not accomplish as much in Guatemala as we hope. What is GodÕs purpose in our life, and especially on this trip? How much time has God allotted us in this life? Whether our Christian actions be ever so small, but if done in the name of Christ and in His Spirit, it will be received and blessed by Him. May Christ work through us and in our thoughts, motives and actions. This has been the theme which occupied our minds during this trip.

AMG (Advancing the Ministries of the Gospel)
Arriving a day late because of a failed plane connection, we were met at the airport by Bob and Wanda McRae. This wonderful couple are the administrators of numerous schools, clinics and mission outreach facilities both in Guatemala and Honduras. Rev. McRae is not only an ordained minister of the Gospel, but among other things he is also a bush pilot. The McRaes have been in Guatemala for more than twenty years, arriving after the big earthquake of February 4,1976 to help with relief work. This relief work has grown into an outreach to several thousand children in Christian schools. There are nine Christian schools in the Guatemala City area and the work is steadily growing, due to the Lord and the many supporters abroad. AMG International (Advancing the Ministries of the Gospel) is a large international organization which works in conjunction with Word & Deed of the Netherlands and employs about 450 people. A number of people volunteer their time every year to help with construction and other work.

Camp Canaan
We were brought to the camp facility of AMG for the weekend.(Here was also a group of seven men from our Grand Rapids FRC and one person from our St. Thomas FRC). Camp Canaan is nestled between hills some fifteen miles outside the city, with facilities for a group of fifty. The camp is very suitable as a means of Gospel outreach where people can bring their friends in an informal setting. The camp is also used as a special retreat for groups of children from the various AMG Christian schools. Seeing the lack of amenities and the poverty most children in Guatemala experience, one begins to appreciate the value of this Christian camp facility. Pastor McRae led a worship service with us at the camp on the first Sunday we were there. We also enjoyed plenty of food and enjoyed a time of fellowship and singing. As the music of the song ÒThere is Power in the Blood...Ó sounded forth, a prayer went up to God for the Guatemalans. There is indeed renewing power in JesusÕ blood, but the people need to hear it. Who will go and tell them?

Verbena
Verbena is the headquarters of AMG in Guatemala City and includes a Christian school attended by about 900 students. Here we spent the first week helping to construct a new warehouseÑamong other things welding metal beams and bolting metal sheets for the roof, plastering walls, pouring concrete and hanging light fixtures. There was a lot of activity and everything was done in good harmony. We slept on mattresses on a classroom floor and had breakfast in the lunch room. Lunch was served in the gym of the school, where we ate along with the students. This Christian school offers education through the middle school level, after which students must attend a public high school to continue their education. Since they are sponsored until they graduate, they return to Verbena after school hours for continued Christian studies, typing, hygiene courses, etc. It gave our young people the opportunity to play soccer and basketball with them, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. A few of the older students spoke English and this certainly helped our communication. Several assemblies were held specifically for us, to show their appreciation for the work we came to do and for befriending them.

Our evenings were filled with singing, sharing and devotions. Each of the young people took turns leading evening devotions which were followed by discussion. We could share the things concerning the kingdom of God. These were often times of spiritual refreshment and mutual encouragement.

After a week of hard work we all joined on Friday to dedicate the building to the LordÕs service. Warm words of appreciation were spoken by Bob McRae and others. Wanda brought out cake and punch and we all enjoyed the fruit of our labours with a real sense of satisfaction to see the building completed.

Cubulco
On Saturday morning John Otten and pastor and Jackie Herfst arrived at Verbena to take us to Cubulco. Guatemala is a very mountainous country, much like British Columbia. The last third of this five-hour drive was on a winding gravel mountain road, often only one lane wide, and therefore extreme caution was needed to prepare for oncoming traffic, especially buses. The route was very scenic and one got a real flavour of the countryside with its mountains and valleys. Passing through some of the villages, we saw people offering fruit to idols. We saw an effigy of Judas hanging from the steeple of a large Roman Catholic church, to be burned. People offer themselves to be crucified in order to shorten their stay in purgatory. What religious confusion!

We arrived at the guest house of the mission compound in Cubulco. Beside the guest house, the compound contains the homes of ÒAuntÓ Mary Overduin and the DeSterke family. On the main street we saw a farmer with an ox cart, women carrying baskets on their heads, men carrying things on their backs with a strap across their foreheads, people on the back of pick-up trucks standing room only, mothers with babies. Most people walk or ride bicycles. We also saw some Western influences, for example, a teenage girl dressed in blue jeans riding a bicycle and pulling two pigs to market. The women dress very colourful and can be identified by the village they come from by the design of their blouses. Everyone is very friendly and greeted us.

Our group was divided into three at meal time, each group being invited by rotation for meals at our mission workersÕ homes. This also allowed for time to visit with them, becoming better acquainted or renewing acquaintances. We very much enjoyed the warm hospitality shown by our mission workers. ÒAuntÓ Mary (to the Overduins), who welomed us with a special cake, also took care of our laundry. John Otten gave us a tour of the AMG hospital of which he is administrator. On Saturday evening our whole group gathered at the hospital for a time of singing.

Our church in Cubulco has bought property in town to build, but it will be some time before that will become a reality. Sunday morning we went on a half-hour walk, crossing a small river, to the community hall where Pastor Herfst conducted the worship service in Spanish. Elder Santiago interprets in Achi. The singing is done in both languages with a few songs in Spanish and a few in Achi. These people enjoy singing! What a miracle of GodÕs grace that in Cubulco there may be a witness of the Gospel and the Word of God is proclaimed. The fruits upon this witness are evidenced in this newly instituted congregation. Please continue to remember this small but growing flock of our Lord Jesus Christ in your prayers.

In the evening, pastor Herfst conducted an English worship service at the hospital. It was a real treat to hear pastor Herfst preach from Galatians 6:24: ÒBut God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.Ó Afterwards we had a time of fellowship, since the Grand Rapids group was there also and would be leaving Monday morning to go back home. Bob McRae would fly in to take them back.

Pichal
At five on Monday morning it was time to rise and shine, since we were expected to be at the Herfsts by 5:30 a.m. for the drive to the river. We loaded our back-packs and ourselves into the pick-up truck and drove for about forty minutes to the river, where the road ends. Jackie Herfst would take the vehicle back to Cubulco. From here our hike with pastor Ken to the aldea (district) of Pichal began. We were also accompanied by young Justin Herfst and Santiago who brought a mule along to transport some of our things. The hike took us five hours and we crossed three mountain ridges. About two-thirds of the way up, we crossed the foot-bridge built by the Zion Building Society a few years ago. At this point we had to leave the mule behind since this 900 feet long swinging bridge is not designed to carry animals. The bridge is of tremendous benefit to those living in the aldeas beyond, giving them much quicker access to Cubulco and its services. We carried our luggage across the Òswinging!Ó bridge and were met on the other side by Santos and his fourteen year-old son Marcio and two mules. We arrived at SantosÕ home by 11:30 a.m. and enjoyed a time of rest and lunch. The usual meals consist of tortillas, black beans and a warm drink such as pineapple juice or sweet cinnamon-flavored coffee. This diet was something to get used to, but we accepted the food in gratitude as they certainly gave us their best.

The new church building was already under construction and was built on SantosÕ property, not far from the trail. It stands as a witness to the community. The adobe bricks are wide and flat: 14Ó x 22Ó X 3.5Ó and made from the local soil with some straw mixed in it. It reminded us of the Israelites in Egypt, except that there was no slave driver with a whip! Everything is done according to the customs that exist here, also construction, and is much different than what we are used to. Everything is very labour-intensive with comparatively little output.

Aldea living is a totally different way of life from the town of Cubulco, which again is very different from life in Guatemala City. In the aldea everything is much more primitive and all modern technology such as electricity, hot running water, telephone, equipment, etc. is lacking. Since there were so many of us, much work could be done. The heavy bricks had to be carried up-hill some 300 metres and mud-mortar had to be mixed. Bricks were placed on the walls; window and door frames were installed. Lumber had to be carried in from an hourÕs walk away. We worked until dark and got up when it became light and we heard the sounds of the farm. Some of us slept in one of the rooms of a ÒhouseÓ and some slept outside under the covered porch or lean-to. While here, we saw a swarm of African killer bees fly overhead, a scorpion at the job site, and some lizards. The Lord kept us safe.

Hygiene was at a premium. When one sees pigs, chickens, goats, and bare-footed children, all running together, one also sees the need to teach health care as a preventative against the many parasites and diseases they encounter. No wonder we returned flea-bitten and feeling grubby.

Yet also here GodÕs Spirit is at work through His Word. There are about five families who meet for worship services and Bible studies. One pays a price for becoming Christian here, such as opposition from friends, neighbours and family. visit.

At noon on Wednesday we met in the unfinished church building to say our good-byes. Psalm 121 was read: ÒThe Lord shall be thy shade upon thy right hand.Ó In this kind of heat one vividly understands the preciousness of shade. So the Lord is a precious comfort and help for His people. We sang a few songs in English and the people sang a song in Achi. As the singing progressed, emotions welled up in almost all of us. Whether we are rich or poor, live in civilized North America or in a primitive Guatemala aldea, there is one thing that really matters: to be one in Christ! A day will come when there will be no more language barriers or cultural differences, but all who have loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity will praise Him together: ÒWorthy is the Lamb!Ó Pastor Herfst led us in prayer, after which we parted ways. Our minds were full, our hearts overflowing and our spirits were lifted.

Santos and his son again accompanied us to the bridge with their mules and Santiago continued with us from there with his mule. Five hours after we left, we arrived at the beginning of our trail, where Gary DeSterke was waiting for us with the truck to take us to Cubulco. Since it was holy week in Guatemala, we heard numerous loud explosions of fire crackers all through the night--people Òshooting up their prayers to heaven.Ó In the morning we all met for coffee and cake at the home of the DeSterkes, after which we packed our belongings, cleaned up, and said our good-byes to the mission team. Pastor Herfst brought us to Guatemala City, but about half way there, the AMG suburban overheated because a water pump seal broke. We had to wait for four hours before Bob McRae arrived with a tow truck and another vehicle to bring us on our way. One sees the value of having a two-way radio in the vehicles, since the road is remote and far from any services.

During our wait we witnessed a drunken brawl involving a man with a machete, one with a gun, and several women. A shot was fired and we all dived for cover. The military post up the road was alerted and within a short time two emergency people, six policeman and about thirty-five soldiers arrived. A lot of discussion went on, but little was done, since the gunman had headed into the bush. The Lord kept us safe, also here. ÒThou shalt not be afraid for the arrow that flies by dayÓ (Ps.91:5). By 10 p.m. we arrived at Seteca.

Seteca
Seteca is a Christian seminary in Guatemala City where local people are trained for the ministry of the Word. Although not affiliated with AMG, they have a good working relationship with the Sywulka family who are in charge. The Grand Rapids group lodged here during their stay and also our mission workers lodge here when they come to the city. We have used their facilities for supper on several occasions during our first week in Guatemala City. Here we enjoyed a warm shower and a soft pillow bed! Friday morning we rose at 6:30 for breakfast and debriefing outside in the early morning sun. Many thoughts ran through our minds. Today we go home! But our minds were still very much occupied with the things we had experienced in Guatemala. This is GodÕs world with all its brokeness, but also with its many good things. What a privilege it has been to have gone on this trip! It has brought Guatemala close to us, culturally and especially to the mission work. The need is great and it is clear that the Gospel is the only remedy to lift this country out of its misery and make positive changes.

Conclusion
It was a beautiful day as our plane lifted off over Guatemala City. It was a real privilege to have been together with this group of young people. We have learned to appreciate each other and grown together, also spiritually. We have physically left our footprints in Guatemala, but Guatemala has also left its ÒfootprintsÓ on us. Will we ever return here? How will SantosÕ family fare? How will the young aldea church make out? We think of Pastor Ken as he treks to the aldeas. It is his life and joy. We think of our mission team in Cubulco and of the McRaes. We think of our sponsor children. How will they fare? We think of the school and students at Verbena. We think of Seteca. We think É

We pray for the continued renewing and transforming power of GodÕs Spirit through the Word, wherever it is brought, at the Christian schools, in Cubulco, and in the aldeas. May the Sun of Righteousness rise over Guatemala with healing in his wings (Mal.4:2). May God bless Seteca, AMG, our mission team, and all those who faithfully witness to His Word.

After twelve hours and several stops, we met with a very warm welcome from a very supportive group of family and friends at Vancouver Airport, waving a banner ÒWelcome Home from Guatemala!Ó We thank the Lord for all His benefits and the opportunities He provided.

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