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Guatemala Vision Trip Report

Friday night, 9:40 pm (from Norton)

Tomorrow, a small team of folks from New Denver is traveling to Guatemala for a week. We’ll be spending time with the good folks of Healing Waters International (HWI) and also developing relationships with three different churches in rural villages in the Mayan highlands. For background on why we chose Guatemala, see here.

Throughout our trip, we’ll try to add periodic updates to this post to share a little about what we’re doing and learning. In the meantime, pray for Norton, Janis, Townsend, Michael, Amanda, and Quinn–that we would have a safe and healthy trip, that we would develop some great relationships with potential long-term partners, and that we would be inspired as God shows us how he’s working in a different corner of the world.

Sunday night, 9:19 pm (from Quinn)

We are winding down our first full day in Guatemala. We got in to Antigua late last night, arriving at the hotel around 10:30pm, so we didn’t get a chance to explore until today. We had a big breakfast at the café next to the hotel, walked around for a bit, and made our way to church, Iglesia del Camino. There we met Dani with HWI; she’ll be traveling with us to the more rural areas of Guatemala this week.

The worship service was held in a semi-open gym-like structure; the walls in some places didn’t go all the way up to the corrugated steel roof, and the floor was painted concrete. We sat in plastic chairs, the type that Americans typically reserve for lawn activities. The entire service was bilingual, and we all had a great time singing familiar worship songs in a new language. The worship part impacted me the most because of how I understand the Spanish language. The songs we sang referred to God using the tu form instead of usted. Both words mean you, but tu indicates familiarity, such as speaking to friends, and usted indicates formality, such as speaking to parents. So what does it mean to have a relationship with God that is familiar instead of one that is formal?

Antigua hasn’t been as much of a culture shock as I expected. I have been surprised by the number of people who speak English at a very high level, and all the standard fast food restaurants are here. One Guatemalan fast food chain that is very popular is Pollo Campero, which specializes in chicken. We had heard that it was good and were able to stop in for dinner. I have never met a fried chicken that I didn’t like, and Pollo Campero did not disappoint. I know it’s silly to go to a new country and get excited over something like fried chicken, but I guess you just can’t take the Texas out of a boy. Yeah, I said it.

Tomorrow, we will be going to Panimanche, the rural village where our first potential church partner is located. I am excited to meet them and talk to them about church stuff. I am also interested to hear why they would be interested in partnering with us and HWI. In particular, I have read that people in rural areas of Latin America still hold to folk explanations for diarrhea. While belief in old wives’ tales are certainly not unique to Latin America, I am interested to see whether any public health education programs have been offered to our potential partners and if so, whether they have been effective in teaching about the importance of purified water. If these programs haven’t been offered or haven’t been effective, I wonder why these villages are interested in help from Healing Waters.

That’s it for now. Lots more tomorrow.

Monday night, 8:55 pm (from Michael)

TODAY started with a bang! A bang on the door by Norton informing my wife Amanda and I that we missed our alarm and had only 15 minutes to leave so we can meet Pastor Julio. Pastor Julio’s church (near Guatemala City) started a church plant in Panimanche (2 hours outside of Guatemala City in the mountains) after the village was devastated by a hurricane a few years back. This was the first pastor we were to visit with on our quest to find God’s direction for a partner church in Guatemala. . . so we wanted to make a good impression. I quickly got dressed, skipping the shower. I discovered my wife’s first priority was a brief hair rinse so as not to have greasy hair all day long. We didn’t quite make our 15 minute deadline, but got to the car, met with Dani, and got on the road in very good time!

DRIVING to meet Pastor Julio was awesome. The weather was clear today and we could see the beautiful Guatemalan country, even the smoke coming from the top of an active volcano. Part of our drive was on the Pan American highway, which is a very adventurous road. . . but not nearly as adventurous as the road we took later in the day. Almost every other mile, two of the four lanes on the highway would be closed because you would look and see half of the road was washed out with no support underneath.

PASTOR JULIO met us for breakfast with his right hand man Oscar. Both have American wives and large families. Pastor Julio speaks great English and cannot hide his joy and passion for serving the Lord through his work with the village at Panimanche. We devoured our huge breakfast of mosh (like oatmeal), eggs, meat, tortillas, salsa, bread and jelly, coffee, and of course black beans (also, see picture of Townsend drinking fresh milk—and we mean “udderly fresh”!) I got to sit across from Pastor Julio and got to hear all his wonderful stories. . . about his family, about serving the people of Panimanche and his heart to disciple the local pastor there, about how he met his American wife, and just enjoying hearing his passion for relationships. After breakfast, it was time to go! Panimanche here we come!

PANIMANCHE recently moved! The whole village! Flood waters destroyed their homes, and it was time to move to high ground. Pastor Julio and his church have been helping this village by meeting physical and spiritual needs. Today, New Denver Church was able to take part in sharing the love of Christ by bringing all the clothes we collected. The road to Panimanche was the most exciting road EVER! I thought mountain roads in America were adventurous. . . but try driving the same roads STANDING in the bed of an open pick-up truck with evidence of mud slides and crazy erosion everywhere! So fun!

Panimanche is bigger than I thought it would be. Probably about 400 people. It is located in an area which was just cleared, mostly dirt ground surrounded by corn fields planted by the neighboring village. After a tour, we unloaded the clothes that we brought for the village. Excitement built as we unloaded the large bags of clothes. The amount of children watching grew from a handful to about 100 in minutes (Quinn said he had visions of the NDC Easter Egg Hunt all over again!). Pastor Julio and the local pastor from Panimanche organized how the clothes were to be distributed. When everything was sorted and ready, Pastor Julio led the people in prayer (with the local pastor translating into the local Mayan dialect), thanking God for the clothes. Our team got to lead as “personal shopper assistants” with each family to pick out clothes. It was truly a joy to see how blessed the people were by the donations.

LAKE ATITLAN was our next stop after saying goodbye to Pastor Julio and Panimanche. Dani from Healing Waters gets to stay with our team all week, translating and showing us the ropes of Guatemala. Lake Atitlan is BEAUTIFUL.

I’m writing this blog from our hotel. We’re hanging in Quinn’s room, cause it has a good view and is the best location for more team bonding. Anyway, this ends today’s post and I am excited to see what God has in store for us tomorrow when we visit another church on the other side of the lake.

Tuesday night, 10:01 pm (from Norton):

A packed day:

  • 7:30 am: breakfast “typico” (meaning typical Guatemalan food – eggs, black beans, plantains, tortillas, coffee)
  • 8:30: boat ride across Lake Atitlan to the village of San Pablo La Laguna
  • 9:30 – 3 pm: met with pastor of church in San Pablo; saw church and met some leaders; walked around village to learn about it; Norton and Amanda played basketball with locals (Quinn and Michael chickened out); lunch; boat ride back to Panajachel
  • 3 – 6:30: walked around Panajachel; hung out at a local coffee shop called Crossroads Café where the owners are Christians who have a mission to reach out to Americans and Europeans living in Pana
  • 6:30 – 9 pm: dinner and debrief the day as a team, then off to bed


Visiting San Pablo was great. This village has 12,000 people with about 400 who are Christians. About 70% of the adults here only speak Tz’utuhil (the local Mayan language). Pastor Antonio started his church from scratch about four years ago and is the only church in the village that holds services in Tz’utuhil. For a long time, they saw very little growth—most of the people of San Pablo still worship Mayan gods and traditions. Today, his church has about 200 people and they continue to grow and make a huge difference in the village, especially when it comes to tutoring children who can’t afford an education.

One neat thing is that four years ago, Janis and I took Spanish classes in a village not very far from San Pablo (who knew we’d be coming back to this area again). Janis has stayed in touch with her teacher over the years (an email about once a year) and today, we reunited with her when we visited San Pablo. And as it turns out, she knows Pastor Antonio well and their families are good friends. Small world.

Tonight, our team has been talking a lot about what we should do as a church moving forward. On one hand, it’s hard because we’ve visited two very different churches now in Guatemala and the needs in both are enormous. On the other hand, the possibilities for partnership are endless and we almost think that we can’t really make a bad decision. God is doing some amazing things down here and we just want to join him in that.

We’re also realizing that it might not be helpful to think about this whole endeavor in terms of “missions” as the word is generally used. It seems like “missions” has a mentality of “us helping them” whether it’s spiritually, physically, or financially. We’d rather see this adventure going forward as partnership with a Guatemalan church—mutually sharing our lives with one another as we seek to share God’s love in our world. That will include helping one another, teaching one another, and learning from one another. But ultimately, it’s about sharing our lives with one another and seeing where God leads.

Off to another church tomorrow on the other side of the lake.

Wednesday night, 10:09 pm (from Amanda):

Today we started the day cruising the streets of Panajachel looking for a quality breakfast.  It was found with the greatest crepes ever. Smothered in whipped cream and dulce de leche with a side of fruit to make you feel better about the damage you are doing to your arteries, the crepes were worth the extra lbs. Especially when I tacked on the bacon on the side.  Can you tell I’m pregnant? The men stuck with the rustic “comida typico,” but we ladies found the good stuff.

Aside from breakfast we really did do important things today. Today we met with Pastor Samuel of San Lucas Toliman to explore what a church partnership with his church, Mision Bautista Nazareth, might look like. Pastor Samuel walked us through this Mayan city of about 40,000 before taking us to the specific neighborhood of his church. The city as a whole was organized and clean with many markets and tiendas (stores) like all the other Guatemalan towns we’ve been in. The market areas consisted of lots of meat on hooks, tortillas as far as the eye can see, and a variety of produce. For some reason, the streets here are much wider with much less fear of being taken out by a stray Tuk Tuk.

However, when we arrived in the sub-division/neighborhood of the congregation of Mision Bautista Nazareth, the view was much different. Here, the streets were mere dirt paths with vast numbers of children running down to great us and play with no shoes. The population was poor with a 60% unemployment rate. The men of the community battle alcohol and drug addictions and the houses are small slums protected by small dogs with big barks. The battle seems huge here to disciple this community and fight the entrapment of many of the minds. The congregation of the church consists of mostly women and children. It totals roughly 50 adults (most of which are women) and 60 children.

When we asked Pastor Samuel what the greatest needs in this community were, he laughed. Where do we start? he said. He needs help to develop the congregation to be more self-sustainable, to get the men engaged both in their communities and the church, and to disciple and teach the believers Scripture and the tenants of Christianity without the use of reading or writing.  They need a room and more programs for the children who at this time were running rampant through the church with Townsend as we were meeting with the pastor. These are just to name a few of the needs; in a partnership we would have plenty to work together with the church on.

When asked what keeps Pastor Samuel going, he replied the hearts and thankfulness of those reached by the church fuel his fire to see God move, heal and reside in this community. The church was formed from a combination of evangelism and a five week discipleship training course. This was often accompanied by a small gift of sugar or rice to help support the family going through the course. When the family saw that these gifts were from the heart and with nothing required in return, they were so thankful. Many then wanted to be a part of the church.

Other fun random facts include: San Lucas Toliman was in the route of the migration of the Spanish language through Guatemala. So this community, unlike the other Mayan communities spoke Spanish quite well. Their native language is Cackchickel however almost everyone also speaks Spanish. The young children now only learn Spanish and know very little Cackchickel.   Though this is a change of this unique Mayan culture, it makes teaching and discipling the children much easier.

In closing, this was a great day to engage with the community and to really see and begin to meet the congregation of the church. Pastor Samuel is doing great work discipling the community and training pastors to be the head pastors of this church. We closed the meeting by praying over Pastor Samuel and we ask that you pray for this community as well. For the needs mentioned above and for the Lord’s movement and provision for the needs of the church and the training of strong leaders. Thanks for taking the time to read of our day! Tomorrow to the market in Chichicastenango, then back to Antigua to prepare to get on a plane early Friday morning!!

Thursday night, 9:09 pm (from Janis)

Today was like a tourist day! We didn’t have any more churches to meet with today so we spent our last day in Guatemala mostly as tourists. (Although this day was indeed fun, we talked throughout the day a lot about the three churches we met with this week. They are so very different and New Denver will definitely need God’s leading as to which we should partner with.) But as for the other parts of the day–we started out fairly early. We decided to just get coffee at the Cafe Moka down the street and pick up some pan (sweet breads) at a bakery. Then we headed to Chichicastenango, where there is a huge market on Thursdays. It was a twisting turning road and by the time we got to Chichi, Quinn was a little queasy (although we don’t know if it was the ride or the fried chicken he bought on the street last night!) So he stayed with the car to recover and guard the vehicle. The rest of us walked up and down the many, many rows of Guatemalan handicrafts, local produce, and raw meats.  Such a fun mix of colors and smells–I loved it! After we had all bought more than we planned on, we went back to the car to head to Antigua. Now it wouldn’t be a “missions trip” if there weren’t some little glitch, would it? As we got closer to the car we noticed it looked a little lopsided. Flat tire. Fortunately, we weren’t on any time schedule or in the middle of nowhere. The guys changed the tire and we were off to Antigua. Actually we stopped before Antigua to get the tire fixed for a total of just over $2.00. And I think the kid who fixed it was about 13 years old. 🙂

We then made a pit stop in Chimaltenango to see an actual water system that HWI has installed. Very cool. The room/store where this church has the system and sells the water is very, very clean and organized. There were signs explaining each part of the system and it was a such a contrast to the dirt and smell just outside the door. We even got to taste the water. Que bueno! Finally, we were off to the hotel in Antigua where we had to sadly say  “see you later” to Dani. We felt such a kinship with her. I had almost forgotten that she wasn’t going back to Denver with us. It was late in the afternoon. Time for one last cappuccino from the awesome café next door–Fernandos.  We then walked around some more and had an Italian dinner as our last meal here before heading back to Denver. I had wanted to eat more Guatemalan food but Antigua doesn’t really have any good “typical Guatemalan” restaurants. Crazy, I say! Norton, Townsend and I are back at the hotel packing. The other three are off at a restaurant to listen to the Buena Vista Social Club. We are getting up at 4:15 am to be at the airport for our return flight. I already miss Guatemala.

Friday, on the plane back to Denver (from Norton and the whole team)

It’s been an amazing trip. I don’t think we could have asked for anything better. The weather was mostly good (it’s rainy season now, but we didn’t get too much rain), travel was smooth, no one got too sick, and most importantly, we had a wonderful time meeting with potential partners and beginning to see God’s vision for New Denver Church in Guatemala. We’ll be sharing much more about this over the months to come, but for now, to conclude our trip, I asked everyone on the team to answer two questions (in about one to two sentences each):

1. What did you like most about Guatemala?

Michael: The people were so hospitable and friendly and the land—especially Lake Atitlan—was “ridiculously” beautiful.

Amanda: I’d have to go with the people on this one. I love engaging with people and the people of Guatemala were pretty awesome. They were patient with me and my poor Spanish and poor basketball and I met many that were willing to chat even with the language barrier. I also noted a joy in so many of them that you just don’t see as much in the U.S.  Townsend’s foster parents (whom we got a chance to meet for a few minutes on Sunday), for instance, had a joy that just seemed to light up the room. It seems that those that know the Lord here engage deeply in the joy of the Lord.

Quinn: I was not familiar with Guatemalan or Mayan culture before the trip, so I enjoyed learning that.

Janis: First of all, I love the colors that are everywhere—in the people’s traditional clothing, the adobe houses that are painted in bright colors, and the textiles that are sold in the marketplace.  I also love the laid-back attitudes in the people as a whole—you are never in a rush here. 🙂

Townsend: I liked the mountains, the lake, playing with kids at the churches, and seeing Sarah (my foster mother who took care of me from birth to nine months old).

Norton: I really enjoyed our time in the villages. Having been to Guatemala many times before, the beautiful sights, sounds and scenery wasn’t new for me. But hearing the stories of what God is doing in the three villages we visited was the most memorable.

2. How were you personally impacted on this trip?

Michael: I’ve seen poverty before (on a trip to Africa), but here it was different. Even though we saw villages with a lot of poverty, I felt much more encouraged that we could actually make a difference here.

Amanda: I was impacted by the conditions that so many adults and children live in within the poor sections of various towns and villages. Seeing children running on unpaved dirt roads with no shoes with the dogs and the chickens all using the same space. This left me concerned and heartbroken at how they could break the chain of poverty for a better life. For a healthier life.

On the other hand, going back to the joy that I saw, the children were joyful, resilient and a joy to be around. They were not stressed over having the latest toy but were happy with what they did have: community. I was also impacted by how God can move through a community so quickly—as in one village we saw, San Pablo—growing churches and communities to support one another and to seek to know him more. God loves and moves when we seek him. I am excited to see what he does in the years to come in San Pablo through their plans for discipleship and the heart that God has placed on the pastor for the community.

Quinn: I was reminded of how privileged I am and how little things, like a spool of thread, can affect a person’s livelihood.

Janis: This trip made me once again want to learn more Spanish so that I can come back and partner with a church in meeting basic and spiritual needs. Guatemala has continued to occupy a bigger place in my heart.

Townsend: I’m not sure yet, but I’ll tell you in a few years.

Norton: It was personally impacting to meet other Christians who have such a strong faith in God despite so much material poverty and to think that we—who are so different and live in such a different context—could develop meaningful relationships with them in the future. It’s not just a wish or a pipe dream, but could really become a reality and that excites me.

For all who gave financially, donated clothes, or prayer for our trip–thank you so much! It was well worth it and we are confident that this is just the beginning of something big!

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