We arrived here in Guatemala yesterday. We are staying with Kendalls, who are a wonderful husband-and-wife team with whom we used to attend church together at Grace Bible Church. They decided about 7 years ago that God was leading them down here to Guatemala and have been here ever since. They have a ministry, Servants4Him, which started as a ministry where they install water filters. We in the US don't recognize it, but most of the world does not have access to a source of clean water. The water most of the people use here is either straight from a (usually dirty) stream, or at best from the municipal water supply. They do some processing on the water, basically allowing sediment to settle out and then treating with a small amount of chlorine. The "small amount" means that one day a week they add some chlorine to the water, which means, as Carol explained it, if you get water on the day they add the chlorine, it's not too bad... but if you get it six days later, it's in bad shape. So, they build and install water filters - which I will tell more about in a later post.
Like many countries of the world (or parts of the US), Guatemala is a land of contrasts. There are (a few) very nice houses in gated communities, right down the street from people living in incredible poverty. We visited one such family today, shown in the picture above. This is the family of Oscar (the young man at the left side of the picture above, whom the Kendalls try to give odd jobs to whenever they can). There were 21 family members living together on a small, filthy plot. Part of it had concrete floors, and part had actual block walls; but even this is better than many people. Apparently they have relatives who work in the US and send money back home. Unfortunately, even this does not help their standard of living very much. The clothes they wear are either ones they make themselves (and sell at the markets to the tourists) or else second-hand or factory seconds sent from the US and Canada.
The children seemed to be relatively happy, climbing all over each other and us. However, in talking to our host in the house (seen at left in the picture above), they frequently need medicine. He also told us his youngest, a beautiful little one-year old girl, constantly suffered from "mal del estomago"- i.e. pains in her abdomen. I had always had the idea that locals get some kind of immunity in their systems to combat the bad water - turns out they just get used to it and don't complain too much. It bothers them nearly as much as it bothers us gringos, we just complain more. What pained me also to see was that many of the youngsters had massive tooth decay. For several, all their front teeth were black and eaten up at the edges. I now see why Forrest and Carol, in addition to their water ministry, also sponsor periodic dental and medical clinics.
I can really see the all-around ministry the Kendalls have. When they are in a person's home, they often note other things that need to be done to the home. In Oscar's home, they noted that they don't have any good stove - they just cook on an open flame. Not only does this cause a lot of smoke in the house ("hay mucho humo" as the matron of the family told me), open fires are also very inefficient. And since they have to gather wood by hand and carry it back to their house (we saw several families doing just that on our way back yesterday), efficiency is a big deal. Oscar told me they spend four hours every day just gathering firewood. What's more, the kitchen roof was just a piece of corrugated steel that not only didn't cover all the area, it was actually sloped in the wrong direction, so all the rain pours right into their house. So, the Kendalls are planning on also installing a new, efficient stove and replacing the roof. More on stoves in my next installment.
Guatemala is a wonderful land with more people with needs than one could ever fill. You could easily completely lose yourself in people's needs and end up burning yourself out. Or, like most of us, we can not fill them. Best of all, like the Kendalls, you can fill people's needs but try not to get completely consumed. My hope is that more of us - myself inclueded - take more after the Kendalls.