Last Full Day in Guatemala!

We made our way to Antigua today, but not before we stopped at the Fire Department in Magdalena Milpas Altas (just outside Antigua).  We had just about arrived for our visit, as the Fire Department ambulance passed by us to take someone to the hospital, bit by a poisonous snake!  This is a Fire Department of only 3 personnel and two vehicles, established just recently, in 2014.  We waited about 45 minutes for them to return, hanging out on the soccer stadium bleachers.

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Waiting at the stadium where the Fire Department is located

We had a good initial meeting with the commander of the station, and the personnel who would make up the water committee, to discuss the Living Waters for the World mission and the committment and expectations on both sides.  It was clear to all that the committment was there, as we discussed expectations. The commander has seen the existing system at the Jocotenango Fire Department, which is nearby… very encouraging. However we will need to get results from a water test, and a fully completed site survey report, before a final decision can be made to move forward with a covenant.  But God willing, this project will move forward.  This impoverished area does not have a good supply of safe water nearby, with over 900 students at two schools in the community.

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Magdalena Milpas Altas Fire Department

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LWW Team with Rubenia and the Fire Department personnel

Prior to leaving the station, our team had the honor of going live on Facebook to help raise money for LWW, on Clean Water Day!  Take a look at https://www.facebook.com/LWWmission.  It is not too late to make a donation.

After we left the station, we arrived at our hotel in Antigua and enjoyed some time of fellowship and shopping!  We will depart Saturday morning and look forward to arriving back home to our family and friends… hearts warmed knowing that we answered God’s call and let him work through us.  There is no greater feeling in the world!

Days 4 and 5: Travel, Fellowship and Follow-up

Wednesday was our travel day down from the northern mountains in Huehuetenango to our hotel in Retalhuleu.  The team had an extra treat as we picked up one the the system operators that needed a ride into the city of Huehue to pick up a Presbyterian flag for his church.  So we had about a 3 hour tour guide providing us with such wonderful information about the sites we were seeing from indigenous farmers, crops grown in the region, and rock formations.

We stopped in Xela, a beautiful city along the way to have lunch that the deacons at Rubenia’s church prepared for us.  We learned about their mission out reach of preparing breakfasts twice a month for under served public school children near by.  FVPC made a donation on behalf of the Matthews’ family to help support this worthwhile effort to fill these children’s bellies and show them God’s grace.

We arrived at La Cupula hotel in time to refresh and make our way to El Shaddai church and the home of Pastor Fredy and Isabel, who hosted us for a wonderful meal.  An FVPC LWW team helped install the system at this church in 2011, which is now donating 16,000 5-gallon bottles of water a year to various organizations in need.  Pastor Fredy told us that FVPC planted a seed that made all of what has been accomplished to date possible… Glory be to God!

On Thursday, we set out to visit three more sites and provide welcomed assistance and supplies with system operation and health education.  To hear the stories of perseverance and dedication to the mission of Living Waters for the World was truly inspirational.  And to know that FVPC is playing a part in helping our brothers and sisters in Guatemala make a better life for their children, makes this world feel a bit smaller and more compassionate than what we read about everyday in the news.

God is in charge and speaking and working through each one of us, whether we are in Guatemala or Geneva, IL.  Through the hands of the Sewing Circle as their dresses were received so gratefully and lovingly by our partners here, to the fellowship shared through two cultures laughing in a van or at the dinner table, exchanging stories and making wonderful memories.

On Friday we make our way back to Antigua, but first stopping at San Lucas, Milpas Altas Fire Department to seek a new partnership in a mission that has changed so many lives here and at home.  Please continue to keep the team in your thoughts and prayers.

Buenas Nochas!

Day 3: El Buen Pastor e Belen

We visited two sites today, both were Churches that were high up in the mountains and very remote.  The drive to get to both was vary slow as the road was gravel, in poor condition with lots of pot holes, and steep mountain switchbacks.  The views were spectacular looking down into the valley and across to the mountains on the other side.

El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church is built into the side of the mountain and the water system is in the basement.  We reviewed the operation of the system and the preventative maintenance with the operator and also reviewed the supplies that they had on hand. We were struck by the leadership of youth and young adults.

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While there are struggles for the system and community, we are encouraged by the willingness of 17 year old Dominica to take on the task of educating the children around her (she is a teacher in the community).  We left her with a lot of information and access to education lessons and supplies.  We are hopeful that she will be able to step into a leadership position.  Please keep this church and community in your prayers, that they rise to the challenges ahead of them.

Belen Presbyterian Church is in the same area, about an hour away.  We were greeted warmly and served lunch upon our arrival,  which consisted of a traditional beef stew that was delicious.

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We had a review of the overall water program with the water committee, church elders, deacons, and many of the community members present.  Linda, Ray and Jay spent time with Rodrigo, the system operator, to review system maintenance and the status of their supplies.

Pastors Stephanie and Michelle shared a time of health education with the teachers and children.

Spending time with this group provided some insight into how deep this ministry reaches into a community.   The mamas and their ninos y ninas were there along with old generations.  The women were listening intently and expressed an excitement about sharing what they had learned.  The health educators were knowledgeable and confident in what they were teaching.  We encouraged them to mentor their sister Dominica. from El Buen Pastor.

The Belen congregation was so grateful that we were there and many of the people personally thanked us.  The Pastor and water committee also asked us to send their greetings back to FVPC.  We ended the day with a celebration where we were asked to take turns presenting 5 gallon water bottles to 30 of the families  It was a good day filled with work, travel, fellowship and spectacular mountain scenery.

Day 2: Travel to Soloma, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

About 9 1/2 hours in the van today to get to our Hotel in the northern, indigenous (Mayan) region of Guatemala.  Mario is now our driver for the remainder of our trip and he did an excellent job keeping us safe through some windy, bumpy, and sometimes difficult roads.  Please keep him in your prayers.

We stopped for lunch about halfway through the trip; stocking up on some road food, and chip and drinks for a picnic outside a shopping center in Huehue.  It was a beautiful day to travel and we reached altitudes of over 11, 000 feet!  At some points we were in the clouds and day seemed to turn into dusk.

We had a lot of laughs along the way and enjoyed each other’s company, as we bond and share in an experience that God has put in our hearts and called us to do.

The team enjoyed a nice meal at a restaurant in our hotel, and then set to work preparing for our meetings with El Buen Pastor and Belen Presbyterian Churches on Tuesday.  We are looking forward to catching up with our operating partners at these sites. We feel God’s presence with us and your prayers from home.

Safely in Guatemala!

After a long day of travel, our LWW team arrived safely in Guatemala, with relatively smooth travel… We had to detour as we approached Antigua (and our Hotel for the night) as a Lenten procession was blocking our way.  So change in plans… we continued on to Jocotenango to visit our operating partners at the Fire Station.

What a great visit it was!  The firefighters are doing amazing work with the water purification system.  We held a meeting with key water committee members and the commander of the fire department.  They shared with us all the positive changes that the water system has brought to them and the community.

Since our last visit a pickup truck was purchased and has increased water deliveries to 150-175 5-gallon bottles per week.  With the volcan de Fuego eruption last year and some internal challenges, the health education training at the schools was not at the goals they desired. So an increased effort on health education in 2019 is planned.

We got back to the hotel, settled in and went out to dinner to celebrate Rubenia’s birthday (our in-country coordinator), along with her husband.  We ate well, and will sleep well tonight.  God is Good!

Tomorrow will be a travel day to visit our Presbyterian church partners up in Huehuetenango.  Keep our driver and us in your prayers for the 8 hour journey.

Bomberagua!

There is nothing like working with firefighters!  There is a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that just engulfs you when you are around them.  They have such love for each other and the community… especially the children.  We visited a school with our partners at the Jocotenango Fire Station today and shared new lessons and supplies for them to use as they work to share health lessons and activities, as well as provide pure water donations to the school.

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The Firefighters at work… this time teaching kids

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We also followed up on the system operation and maintenance, and again provided replacement parts and filters.  The system is operating well, having produced a significant amount of pure water for the community since beginning operation in 2016.  The fire station Living Waters board members provided a detailed report and presentation, which we will share with the congregation upon our return.

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It was difficult to leave the station, as these folks have become like family to us.  They prepared a delicious lunch and we enjoyed such good fellowship. You may have wondered why this blog is titled Bomberagua… It is the name the firefighters gave to the LWW project…. Bombero means Firefighter and Agua means water!

Finally… we went from mudslides to Volcanic eruptions!  Some of you may have seen on the news or received an alert (like one of our spouses did), that Volcan de Fuego erupted early this morning shaking the ground around us.  We thought it was maybe a large truck going down the road, as our rooms were along the street.  We woke up to the news this morning and below is what we saw.

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We are all safe… and got to see a marvel that few get to witness in person.  Fuego is one of 3 volcanoes that surround  Antigua, and the only active one of the three.

We head back to the states early tomorrow morning.  Thanks for following along on our journey.  Thank you for your prayers… as you can see, they helped!  This was a wildly successful trip and you should know that FVPC is having a huge impact in Guatemala through the Living Waters for the World mission.  There may only be 5 of us here, but it took a whole congregation to make a difference.  See you all when we get back!

This is What it is All About

When you work with Guatemalan Operating Partners like we do, you know that the time taken away from your family, personal life, as well as the rigor of travel, is worth every sacrifice.  The members of the Belen Presbyterian Church have poured their hearts and souls into the Living Waters mission.  What a great Tuesday!  Too much to share in this blog, but let’s suffice it to say that the Health Education teachers are knocking it out of the park, and the system operators (particularly Rodrigo) have taken great pride in the operation and maintenance of the system.

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Pure water is being used for almost every facet of life here.  The Members of Session, with other members of the congregation, shared a very thorough report with us.  Bottom line…There has not been a child die in the village since the LWW system was put in place, November 2014!  The children have been healthy, and are now much better educated on maintaining good personal hygiene, such as the importance of washing your hands.

Linda worked with Rodrigo, the primary system operator, to review the water purification system operation, and perform routine maintenance.

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Linda and Rodrigo taking off a filter in preparation to “shock” the system

While Sara, Paul and Al worked with the teachers to review old and new course materials, provide new supplies and observe the teachers in action.  The pictures below will give you a glimpse into their day…

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Sara and Al wait as translation of the health education material goes from English to Spanish to a Mayan dialect

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The teachers had the kids excited and engaged all afternoon

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Health Lesson Activities

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Al Chatting away with some of the teachers

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By the end of the day the children learned many lessons and how the water purification system works.  Now time for a short field trip to see the system in action!

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We ended with a meeting with the Session and members of the congregation.  Sara presented the pillowcase dresses to the women on Session.  The gifts were received with gratitude.

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Ok…. we did get stuck in the mud, but the men of the church got us out with some hard work and a pickup truck!  We are safely on our way back to Antigua to work with the Firefighters…..

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Rain, Rain Go Away!

Okay…. here we are in the dry season and it poured rain all night and all day!  Teams are told before heading down to Guatemala to “expect the unexpected…” and Guatemala delivered!  We didn’t quite make it to our site because the road was washed out by the rain.  We had to abandon our vehicle (and driver) with gear in tow and start walking the remaining 1 to 2 miles to the church on a very rainy, windy and steep mountain road. But God was with us and sent an angel driving a Tuktuk (small motorized vehicle), who was kind enough to deliver our supplies, so that we did not have to lug them on our backs.  It was a saving Grace!  Members of the congregation, including the Pastor, met us part way, bringing umbrellas to help keep us from getting completely soaked and keeping us company along the way.

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Once we arrived and greeted warmly, a bit late but ready to do the important tasks ahead, the Pastor welcomed us in prayer and members of the session and youth group offered their greetings.  We were provided an update of the LWW project and impact on the community.  We then broke into our separate groups (Health Education and System Operation and Maintenance).  We were treated to an incredible lunch prepared by the Pastor’s wife and ladies of the church.

 

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Both teams worked into the afternoon.  Al Aguilar had the kids captivated by sharing a personal story about himself, speaking in Spanish. Sara lead the team and had the kids engaged the whole time.  Linda and Fred worked with two operators, new in their role, to reestablish proper system operation and maintenance.  Both operators (only 18 and 19 years of age, were attentive and committed to learning and improving.

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The day ended with the children presenting a lesson to the operators showing how much they had learned about the system.  Paul played a key role in the demonstration!

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We had a closing meeting with the entire congregation, and presented gifts, including some of the beautiful pillowcase dresses made by our very own Sewing Circle.  The Pastor closed us in prayer, we said our goodbyes with hugs and gratitude on both sides, and made our way up hill through the rain to head back to our vehicle.  About halfway through our trek, we came across a landslide that had partially blocked our path with swift flowing water and loose rocks falling from above!

The good news is…. we made it!  And now we have an incredible story to tell.

We returned to the hotel sopping wet and cold, but gratified and thankful that God is using us in a way that we could not ever have imagined.  Hot showers, a hot meal, and some good rest tonight, as we repeat tomorrow… but with better road conditions and hopefully better weather.

At Day of Travel to Huehue, Guatemala

We made our way out early this morning on about an 8 hour ride to the department (state) of Huehuetenango.  We were on the PanAmerican highway for a stretch, but eventually landed on some very steep and windy roads.  We ended up at our hotel in Soloma, where we have set up home base for the next 2 days, with visits to 2 operating partners planned.

We hope the photos below will give you a glimpse of our journey, and a window into the lives of the wonderfully beautiful Guatemalan culture and countryside.

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It is not uncommon to see pickup trucks filled to the brim with riders hanging on back.  This photo looks to show a father and his son standing on the tailgate with a full load

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A Mayan woman carrying cloths on her head, perhaps walking home with her daughters after doing the laundry along the river bank

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Up in the Northern country, the indigenous (Mayan) use wood for cooking rather than electric stoves, making it necessary to collect timber daily

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A Mayan woman shepherding her sheep and cows up the road.  We saw many goats, sheep and cows grazing along the roadside

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This ride is not for the faint of heart, as we entered the clouds, reaching very high altitude, with windy roads, no real guardrails to speak of and steep drop offs

 

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The reward for the climb… spectacular views!

 

Picnic in Huehue

We stopped for a picnic, which was Rubenia’s first ever!

 

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The town of Soloma, which we will make our home for the next few days

 

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We are staying at the Hotel La Villa.  This high up in the mountains, daytime temps are in the low 60’s, with nighttime temps in the high 40’s…. and no heat…. YIKES!

 

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We ate a nice meal at the hotel, and are ready to begin work once again, with a visit on Monday to El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Team Has Arrived and is Hard At Work!

We had a good flight to Guatemala on Saturday with no problems getting through customs.  Luis, our driver, was waiting for us as we exited the airport in Guatemala City.  Traffic was pretty heavy, but we made our way to the hotel in Antigua and began to unpack and sort through our supplies.

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Our partners at the Jocotenango Fire Station arrived a short time later, picking us up in one of their ambulances for the short ride to the station.  We enjoyed getting reacquainted and touring the station to see all that had been done since our visit last year.  The water purification system looks great!  Sara reviewed the teaching materials that we would be coving when we return on Thursday, and Linda met with Mario (the primary system operator) to prepare for maintenance that will take place.

We ended a long day with a nice dinner at a restaurant in Antigua (Blue Sky, for those of you familiar).  Heading up to Soloma, Huehuetenango today – an 8 hour trek.  Please continue to keep us in your prayers for safe travels and a successful trip.