Tears flowed from Irma’s eyes (pronounced “Ear-mah”) when we gathered for the key gifting ceremony. I stood beside her and Julio, her husband, while Patricia, a short, beautiful lady in traditional Mayan dress, translated. Bananas ripened in a banana tree above my head.
“I thank God,” Irma said, “and I thank you and your church. You have helped us with the impossible. We have a home now.”
Her face reddened with emotion and she cried. It became silent. I fought back tears as her husband’s eyes welled. Their two little girls looked up at their parents’ wet faces.
“We want to say thank you,” Irma said after she collected her emotion, “but we can’t thank you enough. This is for you.”
She handed me a beautiful, large suete weaving. These are used by Mayan Guatemalan women to secure their babies to their backs while they work. How fitting, I thought, that she would give us a gift meant to keep two together as one. I hugged her as she cried.
“Thank you for the delicious meal you made for us,” I said, as pastel balloons fluttered in the breeze. “We are happy to have met your family. May God bless you. May you be filled with peace. May you know the love of Jesus forever. Amen.” Everyone clapped with gratitude.
This was the end of our week in Guatemala representing Jesus and the people of Trinity, which has been supporting food and housing initiatives in and around Panajachel, Guatemala. It was a gift to experience the effect of this first-hand. Gratitude is the best word for it, as I speak for those who went: John Peimann, Jane Musgrove, Wayne Meyer, Doug Lewallen, Dalton Lewallen, and myself, Vicar Ben.
The trip was beautiful, but not always easy. We worked hard but had margin to our rhythm. Joe Betsill and his wife Cindy, the missionary ayudantes (“helpers” in Spanish) told us to work at a pace made for noticing the people and beauty of this place. “Guatemala and these people have something they want to give to you. Be sure to receive it.”
Work consisted of hauling sand, rock, and blocks, sifting sand, and simply being present. Being present was the best part. Kids walked by and practiced their English with us. “Good morning,” “Hello,” “How are you?” One boy giggled at me when he said, “Bye baby!” as I walked by. I laughed. Jane talked in Spanish with two beautiful little girls on one work site. She made their day as they giggled with happiness. Doug gave high fives and made everyone smile. And once there was a group of young teenage girls who brought us pure water and fruit. Doug and I noticed that their eyes would get really big when Dalton walked by. We all started calling Dalton “muy guapo” (“very handsome”) after that. He might still turn a little color if you ask him about it.
This took place close to Angelica (pronounced “An-hel-i-ca”) and Eduardo’s home, which was almost finished when we left. We helped pour a concrete roof on it, one bucket at a time. Dalton was in the bucket lifting brigade. An impressive feat. Angelica and Eduardo’s family is pictured with our team. It was Angelica who surprised us one afternoon with a delicious pulik soup with chicken in it. At the final celebration with her family, she said with a big smile, “Thanks for sharing a meal with my family.” (Isn’t it always true that the Gospel brings people to a table together?)
Distributing food and handing out shoes and sweaters that you all as Trinity donated was an honor. Most memorable was our time at Chuchipaca, a high-elevation Mayan village (7,200’ elev.) where the people spoke the ancient Quiché Mayan dialect with some Spanish. The women had decorated the place for our arrival by covering the ground with pine needles. They made a delicious celebratory meal and a unique papaya drink that tasted slightly sweet and slightly smokey. I enjoyed it.
As I drank my papaya juice I could feel the women getting closer and closer behind me. The enchanting sound of Quiché drew closer to my ears and suddenly a hand rubbed my arm. I smiled wide, but curiously, and pointed at my brown dots, saying, “freckles.” The woman smiled and said something in Quiché that sounded close to what I said. Cindy said, “They don’t have arm hair up here. They did the same thing to Joe. And your red hair is unique too.” I smiled with delight.
The distribution of shoes and sweaters was mystifying. I wish we all could see how precious these things were to the women and children of Chuchupika. It was like Christmas Eve. The happiness and gratitude was palpable. One shy little girl picked up a pair of sparkling ruby red slippers – an obvious gift from Kansas. John Peimann helped fit them on her feet and she smiled with delight. “These kids will wear these shoes till we see them next time,” Jenny Peimann said. “I recognize many shoes we brought last year still on feet, but worn clear out.”
After the distribution the table was cleared and women brought out their weavings, which is what they do when visitors come. Selling weavings helps make ends meet. These were marvelous, handwoven things, fascinating. I emptied my wallet and brought home a 49lb suitcase. Jane purchased a marvelous blue weaving from a lady whose home we might work on in the future.
Most meaningful to me was the gratitude the people shared. I have never seen such poverty and heard such terrible stories of abandonment and hopelessness. Yet within the darkness, women spoke of God’s love and thanked us for what we were doing. They sighed with peace when I talked about God’s peace and love, as my words translated into Spanish and Quiché.
God is forming a neat relationship between us at Trinity and the people of Panajachel’s region. I am eager to see where this goes and consider myself blessed to be part of a Christian community who does this kind of thing. We’re thankful for John and Jenny Peimann’s spirit in starting this relationship, for Joe and Cindy Betsill’s ministry, love, and hospitality when we arrived, and for Carlos and Patricia’s story. They were once the poor in need and now minister to many others. This is what happens when God’s love touches our hearts. We fill up with His love and find ourselves loving others.
Trinity’s Guatemala Mission team will share more details and stories in later presentations. Those dates are yet to be determined. We are excited to share! We’re excited to bring you along next time!