Guatemala Missionary Trip: Day 5

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

God is good, and so very faithful! After a good night’s sleep, and the assistance of some pharmaceuticals, I had awoken feeling a hundred times better. I was well-rested and ready to face the day. It’s a good thing, too, because we were absolutely slammed!

It seems that there is a great deal of political unrest in Guatemala. I did some research into it and discovered that the former president and other high-ranking officials had resigned and were under arrest on charges of corruption and racketeering. The people are angry with their current president as well, as they feel he lacks political commitment and doesn’t put the needs of the people first. All of these problems and more have left Guatemala in a state of desperation with underfunded social programs such as healthcare. Understandably, the people of Guatemala are frustrated, which led to protests and demonstrations, known in Guatemala as “manifestaciones” (manifestations). There were manifestations scheduled to happen in Guatemala City on this day. What this meant to us was traffic like I hadn’t seen since I lived in Southern California! It normally took us 15-20 minutes to get from our hotel to the Planet Kids building where we held the daily clinic, but today it took us over an hour. We didn’t see the actual protests as our driver took us around the outskirts of the city, but we certainly felt the ramifications of it. On a positive note, we did get to enjoy a long, scenic tour of Guatemala City. 🙂

When we got to Planet Kids we were greeted by a line around the corner of the building, as we were quite late, and word had spread about our free clinic. Once again, the day passed by very quickly because of how busy we were.

One rather alarming thing happened that day that had me more than a little concerned. A couple of our translators had fallen ill the previous day. One of them stayed home to recover, but the other returned to work some more. It was discovered that he – and presumably the other, based on the symptoms – had contracted scarlet fever. Knowing that I had worked closely with both of them, and also knowing that I am immunocompromised, I admit I was worried. I prayed and prayed that I would stay healthy, despite everything going on around me and all the illnesses I was exposed to! Most people would (and probably do) consider me crazy to go on a medical missionary trip knowing my health concerns, but I knew God had led me there for a reason and that whatever happened, it would be according to His plan.

Among the patients we saw that day, I recall one itty bitty baby who had been born premature, and at one month old weighed just 4 lbs. The doctor examined her thoroughly and found that, despite her tiny size, she was perfectly healthy! We saw countless patients who were running fevers, had mystery rashes, and were suffering from out-of-control diabetes and high blood pressure. One large family stands out in my mind because each and every member had severe scabies. It reminded me how sad the state of affairs in Guatemala is when a family like this can’t afford to see a doctor or get medication for something as common as scabies. I thank God for the practitioners who so generously gave of their time and talents during this trip.

The old woman I mentioned in my previous post was back again collecting more freebies. Being mindful of her poverty and life circumstances beyond anything I can imagine, I helped her with a smile and a cheerful heart. Praise the Lord for frequent reminders of His grace and love.

By the end of our fourth clinic day we had seen about 800 patients. We were all feeling tired, but thankful for the opportunity!

Just for fun, here’s a selfie I snapped after we closed up the clinic for the day:

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After the work was done, we headed to the hotel to rest a bit and then walked over to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The walk to and from dinner that night was definitely one to remember. There was an uneven stretch of sidewalk that was about 18″ wide, and we had to carefully navigate that with cars zooming past within arm’s reach!

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I thoroughly enjoyed our group dinner. I had really missed seeing everyone the previous night, so this was a great time of fellowship for me. I loved hearing the stories everyone shared. It was wonderful.

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After dinner, we (carefully) made our way back to the hotel. I collapsed into bed and slept very, very well!

To read about our final days, and see an important announcement, click here.

Guatemala Missionary Trip: Day 4

Monday, July 25 2016

This was our first full clinic day, and we were told to expect somewhere around 300 patients to come through our doors. I, for one, was really excited to get started! But first, we got to experience worship and devotional time with our team:

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I was disappointed to find that the first half of our day turned out to be frustratingly slow. We had little spurts of activity, but overall we were lacking patients and I was itching for something to do. It was the first time since arriving that I found myself with time on my hands and no work with which to fill that time! I wandered around to the various areas begging for a task to fill the time, but it seemed that everyone else was left feeling much as I did. During the lull there was a lot of chatting with other team members, which I rather enjoyed since most of the people working in the triage area with me were from other churches. It was fun getting to make new friendships!

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After lunch, things really picked up, and from that point on it was all hands on deck. We didn’t get much of a chance to even stop and think until we closed the clinic for the day at 5 PM. We worked hard and sweated even harder in the sweltering heat.

One particular lady stood out to me that day. She was an elderly Guatemalan woman and I immediately recognized her because she always wore a decorated apron over her dresses. She had been to the clinic each day it was open, always collecting more and more items we were giving out. She got clothes, hygiene bags, shoes, toys and more. Admittedly I was initially frustrated by her because she was clearly being greedy and taking advantage of us. Each thing she took was one less thing we could give to someone else who was also in need. After speaking with a fellow teammate about it my heart was changed and my attitude adjusted. I have never walked in this woman’s shoes. I have never had to wonder where my next meal was going to come from, nor have I had to worry about how I would clothe my family. Even in my most lean times of life, I have always had my most basic needs met. I shouldn’t be so quick to judge someone when I have never had to walk a mile in her shoes.

On the bus ride back to the hotel that evening I began feeling unwell. Mostly I just felt weak and nauseous. I chalked it up to a combination of exhaustion from the busy afternoon and intense heat, and perhaps some motion sickness from the bus ride back. Once we got to the hotel we had about an hour to ourselves before needing to meet in the lobby for dinner. I took some anti-nausea medicine and lied down on the bed to rest. It was soon clear that things were not improving, so I made the decision to skip the group dinner in favor of spending the evening in bed. Having Crohn’s disease, these symptoms aren’t unfamiliar to me. All I could do was rest up and fervently pray that I wasn’t starting a flare-up…

To read about Day 5, click here.

Guatemala Missionary Trip: Day 3

Sunday, July 24, 2016

This is the day I had been excitedly awaiting: getting to meet the children of Planet Kids! We arrived at the warehouse at 8 AM and had a time of worship and prayer as a team before the children began to show up. We were able to have this prayer time each morning, which I really appreciated as it allowed me to start the day off focusing on God and giving thanks for this wonderful opportunity he had given me.

After our devotion time we readied ourselves for the children. The garage door rolled up and then the buses began to arrive. Each bus was crammed full of children (standing room only!), and as they began to pour in we saw the surprise and delight in their sweet little faces as they realized that a huge group of “gringos” (Americans) were there to greet them! Our team lined up on both sides of the entrance and we were able to welcome each child with an “hola!” and a huge hug. Some were shy, but most of them beamed up at us in absolute delight at the attention. I have always had a soft spot for children, but these children in particular stole my heart the moment I laid eyes on them. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we were still able to communicate through the sharing of love and affection.

After the children arrived (there were several hundred, easily), we got to participate in their worship time with them. I have never seen such energy in one room! They sang, danced, jumped, and ran around worshipping the Lord. I’m normally fairly reserved when it comes to that sort of thing, but I had no qualms about dancing along with them – though I am sure I looked absolutely ridiculous!

In addition to a medical team, our missionary group also consisted of construction and evangelism teams. The evangelism team was able to go out into local schools are share the gospel with children, perform shows for them, as well as give out things like hygiene bags, clothes, shoes, etc. The team had practiced some Spanish songs and dances and were able to perform for the children on this day. It was so sweet and amusing to watch their reactions to our singing and dancing. Click here for a little peak of some of the performance.

After worship there was a time of teaching for the children, then they broke into four large groups and sat in circles on the floor. We then got to serve them a yummy lunch of spaghetti and meatballs. They were so polite, nearly all of them remembered to thank us  – some even thanking us in English! I loved every moment of serving these precious children.

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After the children were fed, we moved outside the warehouse to witness the baptism of some teenagers who attend Planet Kids. There were 12 in all who were baptized, and one of our church’s pastors as well as two other Assemblies of God pastors on the team were able to perform the baptisms. It was such a special thing to witness! After each baptism the Guatemalan pastor and everyone present would burst into song. I couldn’t tell you what the words of songs were, but I could most definitely feel the joy in their voices as they all rejoiced together!

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After the baptisms, we handed out bags of beans and rice to each of the families who were present. We had a short lunch break while the children and their families headed home, then we got right to work and opened up the clinic for the remainder of the day. We saw somewhere between 150-200 patients in the roughly 4 hours the clinic was open. I was a little apprehensive upon learning that two of the children, a brother and sister, with whom I had been cuddling that morning, had very severe cases of head lice. All I could do was hope and pray that the little buggers jumping off their heads didn’t make their way onto mine! Even if I did end up with lice, I told myself, it was a small price to pay for the reward of being able to help these families who so desperately need medical care and medication.

When we closed up the clinic for the day we then headed to a restaurant called Skillets where we enjoyed a delicious dinner of a burger and fries. I found it humorous that we traveled all the way to Central America just to eat American food, but it was good nonetheless. When we returned to the hotel I hopped in the shower to scrub my hair (even though I knew it wouldn’t get rid of the lice, if I had it), and then headed to a teammate’s room to have my head checked. I was quite grateful that she had thought to bring a lice comb! Thank the Lord I didn’t have any sign of them, but I plan on continuing to periodically check over the next month (the life cycle of lice is 28 days). After getting the all-clear I was able to collapse in bed and sleep in peace without picturing tiny creatures creeping about my skull. 🙂 Before nodding off, I gave thanks for the many children I was able to interact with that day – even the ones with lice.

To read about Day 4, click here.

Guatemala Missionary Trip: Day 2

Saturday, July 23, 2016

This is the day we had been waiting for! I was initially told that we’d be setting up our clinic that day, but not actually starting to see patients until the following day, but a few hours later learned that we would in fact open the clinic at 1 PM. I was glad because I was so excited to start seeing people! But first we had a lot of work to do to get things set up. We had a buffet-style breakfast in the hotel restaurant at 6:30 AM, then met downstairs in the lobby at 7:30 and loaded up the buses.

Our clinic was at Planet Kids, which is the ministry run by missionary hosts, Dave and Debbie Amsler. The bus drive to Planet Kids took about 15 minutes, then we unloaded everyone and all the supplies. We had packed bags and bags of supplies which all had to be transported to the site, unpacked and set up before we could begin seeing patients.

Planet Kids meets every Sunday where a couple hundred local children come and worship, learn about Jesus, and get a nutritious meal provided by the Amslers. They meet in a large warehouse donated by a local businessman who wished to give back to his community. We utilized this warehouse space to see patients from Saturday until the following Wednesday.

When the patients first walked in the garage-style roll-up door they would be greeted and get checked in. From there, we had set up a triage area where we took their vitals, and with the help of volunteer translators were able to ask questions and get an understanding of what services the patients wanted to take advantage of. Our team included three practitioners (a doctor, PA and nurse practitioner) and four local dentists who provided their services free of charge. We also offered free eye checks, and gave out hundreds of reading glasses as well as tens of thousands of dollars worth of prescription and over-the-counter medication. Our providers were able to help people with everything from common infections and colds to stomach illnesses such as parasites, high blood pressure to diabetes, dehydration to cavities, athlete’s foot to eye sight problems, and so much more! It was a joy to be able to help with health concerns for which these people might not otherwise have been able to receive care.

After going through triage (where I worked), the patients moved on to a waiting area where they could sit and children could play and color while waiting to be seen. From there they saw a practitioner and got prescriptions if needed. They then went on to a tented area where two pastors were available full time to sit with families, pray over them, and share the Good News message. After that they went to our makeshift pharmacy and were given the medications they needed. All of these areas needed to be set up before we could begin seeing patients. All of the supplies we needed had been packed into a couple dozen suitcases, so it was quite a lot of work to unpack it all, organize and set everything up. Even with as many of us as there were it took half the day to get all that done, but by about 1 PM we were ready to start helping people. At noon our group headed around the corner to get a quick lunch at Pollo Campero, a local fried chicken restaurant, before opening the doors of the clinic.

Here is a video tour of our clinic. I apologize for the low volume, but turning up the sound should help. 🙂

When the patients began pouring in things really got crazy! There was no air conditioning in the warehouse and the only source of airflow was from the garage door. With hundreds of bodies in the building at any given time, things got very hot and stuffy very fast. I sweated more in that warehouse than I ever had in my entire life! Despite the stifling heat, it was all so rewarding. Everyone was so friendly and happy to be there. Word must have spread about our clinic, because the line of people waiting to be seen was nearly always out the door and even around the side of the building!

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Of the many patients who passed by me that day, one in particular really touched my heart. Her name was Sayda, and she was a single mother of two daughters. She had been married, but after 13 years with an abusive husband she finally had the courage to leave. Having been a single mom myself, and also coming from an abusive marriage, I really hurt for her and understood where she was coming from. Her teenage daughter really struggled with these changes in life, and Satan was fighting hard for that girl’s soul. She had self-inflicted cuts on her arms in the shape of satanic symbols. Sayda tearfully told me these things and begged for prayer. I was so deeply moved by her story that I laid hands on her and her daughters right then and there and prayed over them. I asked God to place a hedge of protection around her family, to be a father for Sayda’s daughters, fill the role of husband for Sayda, and provide for their many needs. I asked the Holy Spirit to comfort them, give them joy, guidance and direction. I prayed, too, for the battle over her daughter’s life, that the demons trying to capture her would not prevail. I was touched so deeply by Sayda’s story that I know I will remember her for the rest of my life and always continue to pray for and her daughters.

After we closed the clinic for the night we headed to a restaurant called Los Cebollines and enjoyed a super yummy dinner of fajitas and the most delicious pico de gallo that I have had in years. There was a lovely singer providing live entertainment which we all very much enjoyed. She even sang one song in English, which definitely won her lots of clapping and praises from our team! The restaurant had beautiful decor, and I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the beautiful lighting. If you ever find yourself in Guatemala City, definitely check them out!

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Returning to the hotel that night, we were all absolutely exhausted! I fell into a deep sleep pretty quickly, which is saying a lot because I normally suffer miserably from insomnia. I was particularly excited to begin the next day, as we would be getting to meet the children of Planet Kids. Hearing about those children is what initially touched my heart and made me decide to go to Guatemala in the first place.

To read about Day 3, click here.

Guatemala Missionary Trip: Day 1

Friday, July 22, 2016

Today’s the day! My day of travel began at 2:30 AM when I left for the airport. I spent the entire previous day preparing for the trip: packing, shopping for supplies, and stopping by practically every bank in town in an attempt to get crisp, clean money (I don’t know why, but for some reason in Guatemala they will only accept new-looking American money). In the end I didn’t have much luck, but I was able to get a great tip that worked out well. Apparently, ironing money between pieces of fabric (I used a t-shirt) will make bills look brand new!

After getting the packing done, I hit the hay at 8 PM and slept till midnight. I was too excited to sleep, so I got up and had something to eat. My 10-year-old woke up and came downstairs to see if I had left yet. Upon finding me, she asked if she could wait with me until I left, which I thought was a great idea. So, we hung out and chatted until 2:30. My husband had fallen asleep, so I woke him up to say goodbye, then my ride got me and off we went. I was really glad that someone was able to drive me, so I didn’t have to wake all of the kids up in the middle of the night to take me to the airport!

After picking up one more team member, we arrived at the airport at 3:30 and got all checked in. Our team of about 30 was unable to all go on one flight, so we were split up onto 3 flights. There was one minor fiasco where I accidentally kicked the hard plastic bottom of my suitcase and ripped half my toenail off (I couldn’t believe how much it bled and how hard it was to find a bandaid!), but overall the entire check-in process was surprisingly quick and easy. The flight I was on left just before 6 AM, so there was enough time to grab some breakfast and caffeine before we left. I was feeling so excited and nervous that I was barely able to eat, but it did at least help pass the time as we sat at the gate waiting to board!

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Our first flight took us to Washington, DC. I had never been there before, so it was super exciting to see the Lincoln and Washington memorials, National Mall, and even the White House! The sun was just rising, making the entire experience even cooler. We had a very short layover with just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before hopping on our next flight. This one was much longer and took us to Miami, FL. This was yet another first for me, as I had never before seen Florida, either.

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The next flight, going from Miami to Guatemala City, was the longest leg of the journey at about 2.5 hours. There were some issues with baggage delays, so we sat in the plane for about 30 minutes before taking off. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except there was something wrong with the air conditioning on the flight so that the air it was moving never got cool. I was pretty miserable for the 3 hours I was stuck on that flight! (Little did I know, it was nothing to the heat I was about to experience!)

Flying over Guatemala was pretty amazing. I was really blown away by how lush and green everything was, and the view of the mountains was absolutely spectacular. I hadn’t realized how much I missed seeing mountains since moving away from Colorado. I was deeply moved by the beauty of it all.

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I was dismayed upon entering the airport in Guatemala City and discovering that there would be no relief from the heat I had endured since boarding in Miami. It’s a third-world airport, so they do not have any air conditioning whatsoever. I was also shocked at the state of the bathroom. It was less than what I would consider clean and tidy, smelled awful, and there were signs on the doors asking us to throw toilet paper into the trash cans and not flush it down the toilet. (I later learned that this is the case everywhere in Guatemala, not just in the airport. I had never before realized that flushing toilet paper was a luxury that could be taken for granted!) We were all too glad to get through customs (a surprisingly quick and painless process) and get outside into the fresh air. Feeling a cool breeze on our faces was absolutely amazing. Outside we met up with Dave and Debbie Amsler, who would be our missionary hosts for the next 8 days and the rest of our team of about 60 people from 3 different states. We loaded ourselves and all our baggage onto 3 buses and then set out. Driving through Guatemala City for the first time in my life was very interesting. And by interesting, I mean frightening and absolutely insane. I thought California drivers were bad, but they’ve got nothing on Guatemalans! We would quickly learn that we put our lives in the drivers’ hands every time we got on those buses!

We headed straight to a Pizza Hut where we ate dinner, heard speeches from our hosts, had some time to meet and greet one another, and got instructions about the week ahead. From there it was a short drive to the hotel. Wow, what an impressive place that was! I honestly felt guilty getting to stay in such a nice hotel, knowing the level of poverty of the people we where there to help.

We got checked in and settled into our rooms, then rested for the remainder of the evening. We were all exhausted from a very long day of travel, and were more than ready to get some rest so we could get to work the next morning. I was very excited to see what God was going to do!

To read about Day 2, click here.