Whenever I return from any mission travels, people want to know, “How was the trip?” Even though I practice my elevator speech, it never feels quite adequate enough to fully describe the experience.
Earlier this month, 10 of us from Geist Christian Church traveled to Panajachel, Guatamala to work with Porch de Salomon in building a home for a family in the city of Solola. While its hard to fully capture the impact any trip like this has on a person, here are five things that will stick with me.
The Florinda Quino family
Florinda and her three children, Jose, Blanca, and Rosa will soon be the recipents of a new home, hopefully by Christmas. The family currently lives in a metal structure with dirt floors. In order to access water, they must walk down a steep hill and then carry the water back up the steep hill. At age 14, Jose has taken on the role of the “man” of the house. A few months ago, a family near them had a home built for them by the Porch. Jose jumped in to help with construction and carrying supplies up the hill because he felt it the right and neighborly thing to do. This led to the Porch discovering the need for Jose’s family. Florinda is in the process of starting her own tortilla business to support the family, which currently lives on the equivalent of $130 per month.
This is a family who is full of joy. The smiles on their faces as they go about their day are contagious. The laughter of Rosa and Blanca as they play on the swing outside their home will brighten anyones day. Despite their physical condition of their home, their understanding of family and togetherness is what some many American families strive to have. We believe it can be bought or acquired. That’s never been an option for Florinda’s family We would do well to learn what they already know about being a family.
The Chicken Bus
They have public transportation figured out in much of Guatemala. I present to you the Chicken Bus. They have repurposed school buses into public transportation. Colorfully decorated with individual flair (this one even had an Atlanta Braves tag) and ready to take you where you want to go. The cost to ride from one town to another is the equivalent of about 40 cents. It may only take 20 minutes… or two hours, depending on who is telling the time. I loved seeing the colorful buses driving all over the place.
Work Ethic and Spirit
We met some of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen in my life. Neighbors jumping in to help out with home building, including children. People doing daily chores that so many who live in the comfort of our surburan communities would never think of doing. We encountered 17 people from Casa Tat Loy who came and carried 40 pound bags of sand up a steep quarter mile hill. Not once, but all day. If that wasn’t enough, they also carried a 500 pound concrete pila (sink) all the way up said hill.
One only needed to walk around and observe the towns to see how hard people worked and the grateful spirit with which they went about their work. Low wages are an issue and the wealthy consolidate the wealth (as in many other places), plus the spirit of the Guatamelan people cannot help but be noticed.
Porch de Salomon
The Porch is invested in and known in the local community. A pitfall of short-term mission efforts can be when people parachute into an area and do work without knowing the local community. The Porch has been doing work in this area for over fifteen years and has phenomenal relationships with the local community. Groups working through the Porch build homes, provide clean drinking water, provide medical and dental clinics, rehab civic buildings, help others start businesses, the list goes on and on. If your group is looking for a short term mission experience with a dedicated local organization, call Lloyd Monroe at the Porch and visit their website at porchdesalomon.org
We had the pleasure of being at Porch the same week as a group from Shady Grove UMC in North Carolina along with a couple from Florida, the Powells. Obviously, none of us knew the other before the week began. In our local churches, we talk about the church universal a good bit, but its really hard to see when we are immersed for an hour a week (or on occasional weeks) and that’s our experience of the church. As the week went on, our three groups became one community. Like any community, not every one has the same theological viewpoint or lens through which we view the world. We were united by our shared experience and belief that we were, in some small way, working together to build the kin-dom of God here on earth. The Church sure can be powerful when it works
I’ll conclude by sharing just how wonderful the people of Guatemala, specifically in Panajachel and Solala, are. They have a sense of community, family, and neighbor that we lament the loss of in much of the American culture. Like so many times before, they do as much or more for me and my faith that I likely did for theirs.