On Friday June 15th around 10:30pm Ethan and Stephen arrived back in Denver, safe and sound after a long week of travel. Thanks to everyone who prayed for us and to those who contributed financially to this trip. We wanted to take a few minute to share some stories and pictures from our time in Guatemala.
The trip began early on Friday, June 8th with a 7:00am departure flight. Ethan was very excited and passed the time on the airplane very well thanks to a backpack full of activities that Kate packed! Once we arrived in Guatemala City we met our friends Ismael and Julia Calle from New Denver Church. This was a key part of the trip, because Ismael and Julia are fluent Spanish speakers and would be our guides for getting around the country!
One of the things you learn quickly about traveling internationally (especially in central America) is to be flexible. Plans are great, but you can count on them changing…sometimes more than once! Our plan was to catch a chicken bus from Guatemala City to San Pedro (where our host Pastor Antonio lives), but given the time and the fact that we hadn’t talked to Antonio yet, we decided to head to Panajachel, a city about an hour closer and on the other side of the lake. This turned out to be a great decision, because when we got in touch with Antonio we found out that there was another mission group who had come last-minute and was staying with him. Plus, Ethan was doing great, but I could tell he was getting tired. We really wanted to watch our pace and not wear him out too quickly.
Our weekend was pretty relaxed. We made our way across the lake to San Pedro and settled into the hotel where we would stay until Monday when the other mission group left. We spent Saturday visiting friends in San Pedro, including Antonio and his family. We also had time to talk as a team and finalize our plans. Then on Sunday we spent a couple hours with Antonio before we headed to church. Ethan decided that he is not a fan of 2-hour Guatemalan church services, but he did get his first chance to play with some kids from the church, which he loved. His enthusiasm and eagerness to meet new people really served him well on this trip. Sunday evening was also spent photographing families as part of our project to collect information about people from the church to share with members of New Denver. We were able to photograph 28 families and will put together information sheets on each for members of New Denver, and we will have those photos framed as a gift to send with the next team that goes down later this year.
Our next three days were non-stop and fast-paced. Monday began by moving from the hotel up to Antonio’s house. Then we accompanied Antonio to a radio station for the broadcast of his show. Someone donated an hour on Monday and an hour on Wednesday for Antonio to use to preach in the local language of Tzutajil, which is the primary language of many people around the lake. Once there, during a break to play a song, Antonio looked at Ismael and said, “Why don’t you take 15-20 minutes and share something.” Nothing like 5 minutes notice to preach to thousands of people! Ismael did great, sharing some of the devotional ideas we planned on sharing with the kids during our soccer camp later that day.
We concluded the radio show and headed to San Pablo for our first day of soccer camp. We brought 30 soccer balls, t-shirts, and other gear donated by Colorado Fusion Soccer Club. Our hope was that we would be able to give a ball to each child to use during the camp that they could then keep. We quickly figured out that this wasn’t a good idea. The kids in San Pablo live in very difficult circumstances. They learn at a young age to be tough and to fight for what they want. We started with just a few balls and figured out that kids were impossible to control. So we decided to skip the drills and just get them playing. We had around 30 kids so we split them into 4 teams and played two games at a time. It was still pretty chaotic, but it was at least manageable. In the end the kids had a great time and we were able to share some great principles on being a good teammate by sharing from Philippians 2:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Most of Tuesday was spent visiting families from the church in San Pablo in their home, getting to know them and collecting information about their life and how to pray for them. This was both rewarding and very difficult. These families are warm, friendly, and very hospitable, but materially they are very, very poor. It was surprising for Ethan to meet entire families that lived in a space smaller than his bedroom that had a dirt floor. We listened to each family. We learned about their life. We prayed for them – for their concerns and needs. This was a great privilege and also provides us with great information to share with the people of New Denver – both for prayer and to shape future projects to help address some of the greatest needs. We concluded Tuesday by wrapping up our second day of soccer camp with the kids in San Pablo. Things were much more controlled (probably because we were more prepared), and the kids had another great day. All the soccer equipment we brought will be left as a resource for Antonio’s church so he can use it to continue serving the community for years to come. Tuesday evening was spent watching an exciting World Cup qualifying soccer match between Guatemala and the US which ended in a 1-1 tie. The Guatemalans were so excited by this performance, but Stephen did not share their excitement!
On Wednesday we rose early and headed to the city of San Juan. Some time ago Antonio met a family there who heard his radio broadcast and asked him to come help them start a church in San Juan. The church is up to around 40 people and meets in a home. They are hoping to find a bigger place to meet and continue to grow. We gathered in San Juan with about 25 kids eager to play soccer! We split them up into four teams and got them playing. They had a blast. The older kids in particular had a great time. After splitting the first two games and tying in a shortened “overtime” game, it took penalty kicks to crown a champion! We said goodbye to the kids and headed to the radio station for Antonio’s afternoon broadcast. He had asked Julia to share in Spanish, and thankfully she had more time to prepare than Ismael. However, Stephen wasn’t surprised when Antonio asked him to close out the broadcast with a 15 minute message! Wednesday ended with a wonderful evening of conversation about our trip, Antonio’s future plans, and how we can best serve him. It seems that the top priority going forward is to help Antonio start a school in his church. All the families we met expressed the desire for better education for their kids, and we’re starting to explore how New Denver can help Antonio make this vision become reality.
Thursday we began our trek back toward Guatemala City for our flight home on Friday. We traveled by boat across the lake to Panajachel where we again caught a chicken bus, this time to Antigua. Antigua is a beatiful old city that is a great place to unwind at the end of a trip. After a great evening of dinner on Thursday and a final breakfast with Ismael and Julia on Friday, we headed to the airport in Guatemala City for our trek home. After a long day of travel we arrived home safely late Friday evening.
Overall it was a great trip. Ethan definitely exceeded even our highest hopes. He was enthusiastic, flexible, outgoing, and aside from one or two tough moments, incredibly patient. We think he is a born traveler! Time will tell how much this trip changed his perspective or how much he really understood. But our hope is that this first international trip will be the first step in a lifetime of valuing and learning from other cultures.