I honestly do not know how to describe the medical mission trip to the Coban region of Guatemala. I can tell you that this was by far the most exhausting, yet rewarding week of my life, and the number of things I have taken away from this trip are truly countless.
I’ve been to Guatemala twice before on previous mission trips, but this year was entirely different for so many reasons. This year we traveled with a much smaller team, bringing only 23 members total (with just 9 of those being undergraduate students). I was so thankful for our small group this year. I have never gone on a mission trip where the group became so close, so fast. In our situation, I think we had to because we needed everyone to step up and help each other out as much as possible. The areas we reached had never before seen a doctor, dentist, or medical care of any kind. The whole concept of a group of people coming to help them was entirely new.
Day 1: Arriving in Guatemala
The first evening we arrived in Guatemala City. We spent the night at a missionary hostel in town. We woke up early the next morning around 5 to eat breakfast and head to the Coban region! The van ride took over 8 hours to reach our final destination. I think it’s safe to say that by the end of the ride, the winding roads had taken their toll on everyone’s stomachs. After passing through Coban (and grabbing a nutritious meal at McDonald’s), we headed up the bumpy “roads” for about an hour to the top of a mountain where we were staying. And when I say top of a mountain, I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. The drive continued to get more and more breathtaking, and more and more scary as well. The trucks handled the terrain a little bit better than the van. At one point, we all had to get out of the van so it could make it up the hill—so we ran behind it! As we got closer and closer to our final destination, the scenery continued to encompass me. God’s presence in His creation was so powerful when looking at the mountains surrounding us. I have traveled to many places, but I can honestly say I have never been anywhere that I was able to feel so at peace and in awe of Jesus. For the first time ever, pictures cannot even come CLOSE to showing the beauty of the mountains we were in.
Once we got to where the cars could no longer make it, we had a good quarter-mile (some of us thought it was closer to a half-mile but maybe we were just wimps) hike up to the tip top of a mountain where the school we were staying at was located. When we got there, people from the village were running down and helping us carry supplies. Their willingness to help us help them really struck me. These people believe we are the people they have been praying for, and to them, we were like celebrities. It broke my heart to see 85 year old men carrying GIGANTIC weights on their back up the mountain to help us—I could barely get a backpack up the terrain. That night some people set up tents to sleep in for the week, and the rest of us set up inside to sleep on the floor of the school building. We had a generator we used at night to light the room while we were getting ready for bed, and it also lit the room next door that we used as our kitchen. I still can’t imagine what it would be like to live every night without any electricity! The school had 3 latrines to use that were just across the yard, and there was a washing sink for dishes that we could use to try to wash our hair. (No faucet, we would bring the water down in buckets and let it sit in the bin to “warm-up” then poor it over our hair if we wanted to wash it. Most of us just got used to smelling each other for the week though). We also were able to send our laundry off to get cleaned one time. Some of the local ladies washed it for us.
The first night was REALLY rough. Most people had a lot of trouble sleeping. Whether it was someone snoring, bugs flying in your face, or some other noise, it was a long night. However, morning persisted and before I knew it, the generator (or as we called it, our alarm clock) went off around 6 AM (sometimes earlier) and we got changed and headed to the “kitchen” to eat breakfast. Thanks to the WONDERFUL help of Cata, we always ate very well. How she managed to cook pancakes for breakfast or all of the yummy dinners on top of a mountain every day is beyond me! After breakfast the typical day was loading all of the gear back into the trucks. Depending on the wonderful help from the locals, sometimes we would only have to take one trip down. We would then pile into the trucks (the van was no longer useful) and head out to different villages. After we arrived at a site it usually took 30 minutes to an hour to set everything up and get running. We set up the pharmacy, the tools, the chairs, hang sheets for privacy, etc. We usually separated an area for medical and an area for dental and usually had some sort of building to use, like a church building. (The dirt floors and many other aspects of our medical office is not exactly your typical doctor’s office!) We then begin seeing patients. The doctors look at everything from skin diseases, stomach pain, and body aches, where as the dentist did a lot of teeth-pulling. It is wonderful to know that we are able to help them get rid of the teeth that are hurting them, but it is also sad that the only thing we can do is yank them out. Sometimes I wonder how much help we were really able to provide, and it’s then I realize that God is sovereign over every situation and that part of the help they need is just to know that someone is there who cares about them. I see this especially in the children because I spent my whole day with them and let the medical people deal with that stuff!
Playing with the Kids
Each day I pack a bag full of supplies: colored paper, coloring paper, crayons, stickers, tattoos, soccer balls, footballs, jump ropes, bubbles, etc. It’s always funny to see them wondering what I might pull out of the bag next! These children are so special. They have never seen anything like some of the things we brought. Even the adults lit up when you gave them the stick to blow bubbles. We had so much fun with the children this time trying to learn the language. We would teach them by pointing to things in English, and they would do the same thing to us in their language Each day was very exhausting and I had to continually pray for energy. But you could feel the children feeding off the energy we brought. I really don’t even know how to describe what it’s like to be with them. They look at you, touch you, and try to talk to you in ways that touch your heart. It’s hard for me because I want to know what each one of them is thinking, but when you can’t even ask for a verbal response because of the language barrier, it makes this even more difficult. However, I really feel like you can hear God speaking to you through their eyes and their laughter, and if you listen, you begin to understand some of the things they are thinking, their desires, and their needs. The same goes for the adults too. They just want to laugh and be loved as well.
Leaving the Mountain
The last night on the mountain, they held a ceremony for us. This was so special to see how much they appreciated us and also see that, although we would take turns singing different songs, we were all worshiping the same God. Seeing their hope and faithfulness in the Lord was so neat—no matter what they have or do not have, or what happens, they are still there praising Jesus and trusting that God will save them. Their gratefulness for all of the little things reminded me how much I am blessed with, and how I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I kind of laugh thinking about one of my “bad days” compared to what a bad day may be to any of them. I thank God so much for making me have a much more grateful heart and one that sees all the joy He has given us in life despite what we may think at times.
After a long (but fast-paced) week, we finally made our way to Antigua. It had rained pretty hard the previous day, so hiking all the supplies down that last day was pretty messy (especially if you are like me who fell flat in herr face in the mud). However we finally got it down to where the trucks and van were supposed to meet us. However, it ended up that the van got lost so most of us had to pile in to the bus that was heading for Coban. When I say bus, I mean a flat bed truck covered with a tarp, full of people, and even a dead chicken rolling around! This was honestly the hardest part of the trip for me. It was about an hour and a half ride, and clinging to a pole for dear life was physically exhausting. Many of us got motion sickness and we had a few close calls. But in the end, we all made it to Coban and met up with the trucks there. We then proceeded to Antigua. The next day we had was our fun day to do whatever we wanted. But since we were feeling pretty hard core after the previous week, we decided to take a 5 hour hike up a volcano. It was pretty rough (especially after the week we had), but it was so worth it! It’s not every day you get to roast marshmallow’s over hot flowing lava!