Participants: Dr. Bill Long and family: Rebecca, Scott and David; Dr. Stan Sizemore, son Jeremiah and daughter Susannah; Bob Simmons, DDS; Glen Henton, chaplain and translator; Eichman family (Phil, Nancy, John and Amy); Doug Shields, Jr., and daughter Sarah. Several Guatemalans were also there to help: Dr. Sergio and Veronica Castillo, Dr. Walter Sierra of the Clinica Promesa, Marco Diaz, Olga (on staff at Clinica Promesa), and several health promoters who normally work with Dr. Castillo, and Marie Agee, HTI coordinator.
As our Boeing 737 began to approach the runway, out of the window we could see clusters of houses in Guatemala City. Most of them crude shacks by our standards, we were reminded that we were entering a world quite different from our own. This was our third trip to Guatemala with a group from Health Talents International. We had gone with the desire to serve, but once again, we received much more than we were able to give.
Our group consisted of 20 persons -- two medical doctors, one dentist, and the remainder non-medical personnel. Eight of these were young people ranging in age from 14 to 20. The oldest member of the group was a retired engineer. From various states, including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia, we all met at the airport gate in Houston. United by our common goal and the love of Christ that we share, we soon became a cohesive group.
We visited the same locations as our last trip, setting up clinics at Clinica Cristiana in the village of Xejuyup, at Monte Llano, where Health Talents plans to build a hospital some day, and also at Chocola, the present site of the Health Talents facilities. In all, some 600-700 patients received medical and dental treatment in the name of Jesus.
Each morning we began with a short devotional led by Dr. Sergio Castillo, the physician who works with the clinic on a regular basis. These devotionals helped us, workers and patients alike, to focus on Jesus and on the reason that we were there. It was also a blessing for us, who have worked with Sergio in the past, to see him growing spiritually and taking on this responsibility. In the evenings, we as a group also had a time set aside for a devotional, led by Glenn Henton, a member of our team. Away from the crowds and the pressure of the work at hand, these times of worship and reflection helped us to grow closer to each other and to the Father.
Connie Pyles from our congregation went with us again. She, Nancy, and Phil worked with the dentist, Dr. Bob Simmons, whom we had worked with on our last trip. Connie and Nancy washed and maintained the instruments while Phil was again the dental assistant, helping with extractions. Although we are not professionals, Bob is very patient with us and we worked together well as the "dental team." It is sad to see the condition of many patients, especially to realize that most of the problems could be prevented with regular dental care.
John and Amy primarily helped with the children during the Bible story sessions. They were also involved in other activities as well. Amy helped take the temperature of some of the incoming patients and also helped to fill post-op packages for the dental patients, while John helped to replace fluorescent lights in preparation for the surgical clinic in September.
Many images come to mind as we reflect on this trip. I (Phil) am reminded especially of one. In the village of Xejuyup we treated over 90 dental patients and about the same number of medical patients in one day. The entire elementary school had been dismissed for the day so that the children might have a chance to see the dentist. The small clinic compound was crowded with people along with an occasional dog or chicken. A passing vender sold ice cream cones to the spectators. In the midst of this chaotic scene I happened to glance across the street to see Marco, one of the Guatemalan workers, praying with a young man. We were all very busy, and may have needed Marco to translate for one of us. Like Mary centuries before, however, he had "chosen what is better" (Luke 10:38-42). At that moment, perhaps the most important task of all was to help that young man with his spiritual condition.
The final night we stayed in a hotel near the airport and about a block from the U.S. Embassy. To arrive at the airport on time for our early flight, we left at about 4:30 AM. As we drove past the Embassy we saw a long line of people already lined up hoping to receive a visa to the U.S., and a chance for the freedom and prosperity that we as American often take for granted. Fortunately, for all of us, Guatemalan, American, or otherwise, ultimate freedom comes not from some man-made institution, but rather through the blood of Christ.
We are glad to be home again -- to comfortable beds, hot baths, and safe drinking water. We are not as comfortable as we once were, however. Being in a place like Guatemala is an unsettling experience. While driving through the villages we saw houses, shacks really, made of rough boards and corrugated steel with dirt floors and smoke from the open cooking fire drifting out of the open door. It isn't easy living with all of our abundance after experiencing something like that. Someone in our group expressed it well. They said, "Americans are the 'ten talent man.'" The question is, how will we use that which we have been given?
Special thanks to those who helped us!
Viaja con Dios,
Phil, Nancy, John, and Amy Eichman
P.S. With the help of some of you were were able to take two suitcases of Bible materials and crayons for the children, Spanish tracts on the church, gauze and pain medications for the dental patients, vitamins, and other medications. Thank you for your interest!