Guatemala Missions: Guatemala City
In 2009 our church announced that there would be a team planning on going to Guatemala on a missions trip. I casually mentioned to my husband that I wondered if God would want me to do something like that. I am not exactly a world traveler. I have a hard enough time getting out of my own state, let alone visit a third world country. A few Sundays later, a gal came up to me and said, "Hey, I hear you're going to Guatemala," I said, "I am?"
I have never in my life desired to go on a missions trip or travel to a third world country for that matter, but I also desperately wanted to get over myself and really wanted to submit to God not based on what I wanted or didn't want.
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
— Mark 3:34-35
I wrestled and prayed during the weeks that led up to the decision. I asked and looked for signs everywhere. I did happen to notice some clothing tags with "made in Guatemala" on them, which I had never noticed before. Also, for some odd reason, I was eating yogurt for breakfast every morning, which was not typical for me. I later discovered that everyone who was going on the trip was instructed to eat yogurt to keep their digestive systems healthy beings they would be exposed to microbes they were unaccustomed to. I was not settled about it all until the morning we were leaving. I had the T.V. on the local PBS station, and they were showing a man in Guatemala painting a portrait of an indigenous Mayan woman. He was so gracious to give me a sign.
Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
— Psalm 86:17
Flying is something I really wasn't used to, nor cared much for either. After committing to the trip, it was announced that we would be taking three flights to get there, and during the journey, at some point, we would be taking a four-seater bush plane and landing on a grass landing strip to access a town which was a 40-minutes flight west of Guatemala City.
The flights to Guatemala city were gratefully uneventful, and I really didn't get too nervous until we got to the TACA international flight in Florida. The stewardesses supposedly spoke English, but I couldn't understand a word of it. The reality of being somewhere where I could not be understood frightened me.
It also wasn't discovered until after the commitment that Guatemala is one of the most violent Latin American Countries on this side of the planet. According to the"Economist"1
"No region on earth is more routinely murderous than Guatemala with 46 murders per 100,000 people."
This fact is in stark contrast to it also being the most polite Latin American country. Commands are unusual, and language is formal.
On average, 17 murders occur every day in this little country. Violence generally revolves around drugs, gangs, or interfering tourists.
The neighborhood of Guatemala City that we stayed in was in Zone 13 in the region of Santa Fe (meaning holy faith) just south of the airport. It wasn't exactly one of the city's safer parts, yet probably not the most dangerous either.
Before our visit, we were instructed never to be out after dark and never be by ourselves outside the mission base. It was recommended that we did not wear jewelry and to be careful using our cameras out on the street because of the risks of being robbed. Guatemala is infamous as well for tourist robberies.
There were bars on every ground-level window and shards of glass on any reachable ledge. Local businesses did their transactions behind bars. Armed guards strapped with semi-automatic weapons were common where deliveries were made and certain types of companies such as the newspaper headquarters and gated neighborhoods.
The Patton's (host missionary family) vehicles had heavily tinted windows for safety reasons. Tressa was once carjacked when her air conditioner didn't work. She rolled down her window because it was hot, and a man with a gun took her car. Also, Just last year, the Pattons were robbed by five armed men with their children present.
There have been about 15 gangs in the neighborhood that the Pattons live. Three of them have dispersed since Jason and Tressa have moved to the community.
I certainly admire the Pattons for laying down their lives to reach the Guatemalan people by leaving the safety of their own country and choosing to raise three young children in the face of such dangers to serve Him as Christ did for us.
. . . everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.
— Matthew 19:29
We stayed at the home/mission base of the Pattons in Guatemala City. Tressa was a most gracious host and fed us well. They are currently in the process of making the top two floors of their home a missionary base. The building was once very similar to those familiar to the neighborhood but have successfully constructed a compound in which I felt safe.
A Room With a View
The view from the 4th floor which we stayed on was spectacular. There was no glass, no screens, and no bars, just open air all day all night. Guatemala City has an elevation of 5256 ft and remains at a pretty constant average of 75 degrees year-round. I think everyone in the densely populated region owned a rooster. They crowed all night long in concert with the barking dogs. I am glad that I brought earplugs.
There was a stark contrast to the beauty of God's creation from the upper view and the squalor that lies just beneath it.
Guatemala is home to 33 volcanoes spread throughout its highlands. We had a view of Guatemala's two largest volcanoes Pacaya and Agua. Some of These volcanoes are continuously active with lava rivers, volcanic ash, and noxious gases and are among the most active in the world.
Guatemala is also plagued with earthquakes and hurricanes, and mudslides due to heavy rains, none of which occurred while we were there except a small eruption from Pacaya.
Driving in Guatemala city was ridiculous. Speed limits are optional, and stop signs are merely suggestions. I didn't see a single person stop at a stop sign. It was rare if they even slowed down. The only time anyone stopped was if a collision looked imminent. The main idea was to drive as fast as one could through very tight spaces. You can pass anyone at any time in any place. You can park however and where ever you want. You can also back up and make everyone else back up too. Pedestrians and animals were on their own and narrowly missed on several occasions, yet everyone seemed unaffected or concerned by it all. Of all the violence in Guatemala, road rage didn't appear to be an issue with them. Just honk your horn a lot and drive whatever way you want. I would have provided a photo, but the tinted windows didn't allow.
The first day of our journey included going to the airport hangar, which housed the missionary plane used for the ministry. In 2005, a hurricane, volcanic eruption, and earthquake resulted in devastating mudslides that killed approximately 2000 people. Jason, the missionary pilot, was first on the scene to one of the affected areas with 1500 pounds of food and water. The hangar is also eventually going to be a distribution center as well.
Our task was to begin painting the inside of the building white. Electricity in Guatemala is often unreliable, and the white paint made seeing inside the building much easier.
Another part of our team worked on the hangar's backside, removing some hillside and bamboo that was beginning to destroy the roof and backside of the hangar. I initially wanted to be with the outside team. The weather was spectacular. But no one wanted to paint inside, and my friend Michelle had spent weeks painting before she got there to raise money for the trip. It ended up being the least exhausting choice. On one occasion, I went out to see what I was missing out on, and everyone looked rather hot, miserable, and tired. I volunteered to help after the lunch break to take a break from the painting, and I only lasted an hour. They also encountered spiders and snakes back there, which I am not very fond of, not to mention the smelly bamboo slime.
Three Contrasting Cultures
We then returned to the base, which was only 5 minutes away, to practice a dance we would be performing for ministry later in the week. We were taught by two Guatemalan girls Joselyne and Candy, who were from a more affluent part of the city. As you can see, they are very modern and westernized, as is much of the more upscale parts of the city.
Guatemala is about as big as the state of Tennessee in square miles but is home to three very contrasting cultures. Ten percent of the people are wealthy with the cultures, customs, and materialism reflective of western culture. Most of the rest of Guatemala city is impoverished. Education is precious. People will spend up to thirty percent of their income to get their kids to school and survive on diets mostly consisting of corn tortillas. On special occasions, a chicken is cooked to serve about ten people.
According to Jason, Most of the land in Guatemala is owned and controlled by about 8 or 9 people, making personal prosperity unlikely.
A song we sang with the kids.
© 2011 Tamarajo