Faith and Healing for the Mayan People of Aguacate – Guatemala
OCMC- November 2015
We had been forewarned that, in the highlands of Huehuetenango (one of manydepartamentos—like states—in the northwest region of Guatemala), it was often rainy. Yet, as we continued to drive further north up to these high mountains, the sky began to clear, temperatures moderated to the 70’s, and remained this way for almost the entire visit. The joy of our arrival in Aguacate seemed to melt away the difficulties of this long and arduous journey, as we saw the smiles of our hosts and of the people of Aguacate waiting for us. There to greet us were Fr. Evangelos, the resident priest of Aguacate, Fr. John Chakos, the OCMC mission specialist from Pennsylvania, and the young people who later cooked for us, cleaned up for us, and served us our meals and the “oh-so-tasty” Guatemalan coffee. Many people of the village came to greet us, too, and some set off a line of noisy fireworks along the road shortly after arrival (we had been warned about this too!). It was the most incredible feeling to be in the place where I had spent so many months planning to be, and in one “instant,” here I was, standing in front of the clinic that the people of Aguacate themselves had built!
For the next four days, we set up the clinic and pharmacy, seeing patient after patient with a range of illnesses, only some of which we could treat. To others we could give them no more than a pack of vitamins and a hug, due to various reasons such as lack of certain medications, dentists, or diagnostic equipment. Some folks had ridden together in the back of a pickup truck for two hours to visit the doctor; others had walked from neighboring villages. Yet as a people, they demonstrated Christ-like love and patience, despite having to travel great distances and wait for the doctor to see them. For this is the Mayan way. They are a gentle people who have a long history of oppression and marginalization, yet most of those whom we met were patient and kind. They aren’t bound by time, technology, and frivolous details of life. Many of them speak their native Chuj (pronounced “Chook”; one of many Mayan languages, which is nothing like Spanish save for some Spanish words that have crept in). Often we had to double interpret, so, in came our interpreters who spoke Chuj and Spanish: Juana, the community health care worker and aspiring nurse; Elmer, the multi-lingual interpreter who used to live in South Carolina and spoke English quite well; and Marcos, the teacher who was trying out his English. We spent much time interpreting from English to Spanish and Spanish to Chuj, then back again. Many of us had to learn to be patient, for these Mayans seemed to speak more words than we misioneros, who are perpetually bound by time, efficiency, and quick results, expected. At times, it was rather hectic as the clinic became noisy with patients and children, and words seemed to fly in one direction or another. Yet in this serious task of providing health care and treating those who were sick, there were moments of tenderness and smiles as some patients embraced us or took our hands in gratitude.
I do not imagine a “perfect” world in Aguacate. There is poverty, malnutrition, diseases that are easily treated here in the USA and Canada, and problems with clean water—these are the problems we can see. Yet in all of this, we all rejoice in the successes of this clinic and of our visit. Our treatment mattered to over 400 individuals. Our presence was felt, and I believe many departed knowing that Orthodox Christians from United States and Canada cared about them. There is still so much work to do, and we can only pray that these things will be accomplished in God’s time, but this was a marvelous and joyous beginning. Aguacate is an excellent location for this clinic, for it can serve many surrounding villages, and it’s fairly sizeable. Robert, our team project leader who helped get this clinic built, will continue to make trips to Aguacate and to coordinate efforts to bring in a dental team, a team of surgeons, and to re-stock the pharmacy. One of the most important aspects of this clinic is the empowerment of these folks. They came together to build the clinic themselves. We respected the elders’ decision to charge a small fee for each person to see the doctor. Juana, the community health care worker who is from Aguacate, will finish high school and then, God-willing, go on to train to be a nurse and serve her own village. All these aspects encourage ownership, accountability, motivation, and community among these Mayans, rather than dependency.
In retrospect, the mission trip to Guatemala was full of ordinary moments which, when woven together, became something extraordinary. Through this journey together, I came to understand that God has allowed me to participate in this journey that was part of something far bigger than I could imagine, for I saw God at work in Aguacate. I saw Christ in my fellow team members and in the people we served and met. We came to serve, yet I found that these folks served us by encouraging us, bringing us pitchers of water when we were thirsty, cooking for us when we were hungry, sweeping the clinic floors, and freely giving us hugs and smiles and beautiful songs. They took our hands in gratitude, and truly made us feel like family. In all, I believe each of us was blessed in more ways than we can ever express.
I remember sitting at the head of the table at a restaurant on our final night in Guatemala City, and I marveled at the sight, as I watched my teammates laughing and hugging and interacting together. Two weeks prior to this, we did not even know each other. We had to say our goodbyes on this night, as we all would be parting and returning to our “regular” lives the next morning.
But there is something different now, which is difficult to put into a few words. God introduced us to His Mayan children and allowed them to teach us misioneros about His ways, which compelled us to slow down and enjoy the simplicity of life. In so doing, we experienced a rich spiritual tradition of kindness, patience, and peacefulness. And though we may live worlds apart, we all truly have become family in His Love.
Two more healthcare teams will be serving in Aguacate, Guatemala from April 8th to the 17th, and August 26th to September 4th, 2016. If you have medical or dental experience or feel called to being a part of a medical mission, please visithttp://www.ocmc.org/about/open_teams.aspx, e-mail the Mission Center at email@example.com, or call us at 1-877-463-6784 ext. 141 for more information or to apply.