E-Pistle February 16

Some of you know that I spent last week in Guatemala as part of a mission team from our church.

It was a great week.  For several years members of Langhorne Church have traveled to Guatemala to help with the work of Promised Land Ministries, a Guatemala-based ministry of medical, educational, nutritional and spiritual aid to the people along the shore of Lake Atitlan in the mountains north and west of Guatemala City.  This was the second LPC-sponsored trip and it centered around the work of three of our doctors who join the staff doctor from PLM in providing clinics and medicine to the people of Atitlan.

Our seventeen team member each carried at least one suitcase full of donated medications, nearly a half ton all told.  Our work was centered around the town of Santiago along the southwestern shore of the lake.  Santiago was a center of the insurgencies against the central government that were so prominent during the thirty-six years of the Guatemalan Civil War, 1960-1996.  The Santiago Massacre recalls a horrific night in 1990 when drunken government troops opened fire on innocent civilians in Santiago, killing 13 and injuring 17. 

Relative peace came to Guatemala in 1996, but then in early October, 2005, just a month after Katrina struck to Gulf Coast of the U.S., Hurricane Stan roared across Central America.  Though landfall was on the Yucatan Peninsula, the mountains around Atitlan were saturated by Stan's rainfall, and October 4 a devastating mudslide destroyed the village of Panabaj just west of Santiago.  More than 400 people were buried alive in the avalanche of mud.  Many  of the survivors still live in a refugee camp near Panabaj.  The village itself was declared a cemetery after attempts to retrieve the bodies of the lost failed. 

Our first day's work was in the Panabaj refugee village.  Three LPC doctors joined PLM Doctor Annabelle in setting up a clinic in the camp school.  Some of our team worked in the makeshift pharmacy filling prescription while others of us provided activities for the children of the camp.  Still others on our team were involved in a construction project at the PLM mission compound in San Lucas Toliman.  Our work in the village continued for two days and then we moved into Santiago itself for the final three days of clinic work.  In all, nearly 800 patients were seen, 2400 prescriptions filled and lots of kids' crafts completed.  I was asked to preach two nights in San Lucas and then one night in Santiago.  My texts for the first two nights were from the stories of Joseph and his dreams in Genesis 37-50.  The final night I spoke on the call of Gideon in Judges 6.  I worked with a Spanish translator in San Lucas and with translation into the local Indian dialect in Santiago. 

As with any mission trip, our team members returned with a thousand stories to tell, and some of them are amazing.  Our doctors provided great help and hope, but the poverty is profound and the lack of education, especially among girls and women, is discouraging.  As in Brazil, I wonder how we might help alleviate pain and suffering without destroying culture and the family bonds that provide so much meaning to life.  The faith of the people is strong and many of the churches are providing strong ministries in Word and deed. 

Next month Becky and I will travel to Brazil for the college graduation of one of our dearest Brazilian friends, Nilcéia, who has gone from being a junior high school dropout working in a sweatshop to being on the verge of a career in Christian counseling working primarily with abused women.  It is our privilege to have had a small part in helping Nilcéia realize her dream.  I've been asked to preach at the graduation worship service and will do so with great joy!  We are still not sure what our involvement in Brazilian mission will be, though there are many opportunities and some LPC folks are interested in knowing more.