Scott's Entry #14

"Open My Eyes"

They hopped off the plane loaded with suitcases and expectations.  There were twelve of them in all. Though an Okie to the core, I was happy to see these folks from my newly adopted home state of Texas.  I said hello, and watched as many of them greeted our coordinator, Noe Sam, like old friends. (for more pics, click here)

They had come for a 10-day mission trip to Guatemala.  This was not their first time here.  Members of churches from Mission Presbytery in South Central Texas have been coming to work in the western highlands of Guatemala for around a decade.  In 2000, they formalized a partnership with CESSMAQ, the social and community development organization for a group of churches in the indigenous Maya Quiche Presbytery.


Mission Presbytery in Guatemala

Still, there were a handful of them who were volunteering in Guatemala for the first time.  Thankfully, the "Guatemalan Wake-up Call" was waiting or them when they arrived.  They all knew the comforts of home had been left behind when they were expected to cram all of their baggage and bodies (15 including myself, Noe, and the driver) into a glorified minivan. 

Bill Buys Pants From Pascual,
A Graduate Of The Sewing Academy

It was a bonding experience to test the limits of our preferences of personal space and anti-perspirant.  The good news is, everyone passed with flying colors, though Ed is still trying to unfold his legs now two weeks removed from the experience.

There were three main objectives for the trip.  The first was to distribute some 600 pair of reading glasses to remote villages in the highlands, as well as the coastal region.  The second objective was to discuss CESSMAQ's further development needs, and ways in which the churches in the U.S. could be involved.  The third was to follow up on past projects, such as the sponsorship of a typing academy in Tzucubal and a sewing academy in Sohomnip.

The work began as soon as the group arrived in the first community.  Though the group as only there to check on the sewing school they had funded in previous years, the local villagers were lined up after hearing that North Americans were in town with armloads of reading glasses.  So... change of plans!  After an official welcome to the community, the group coordinated themselves and distributed over 100 pair of glasses.  Though there were some worried faces, and others praying that Jesus might work some kind of "loaves and fishes" miracle, there was no doubt that this community was grateful to receive "new eyes."

The People At Sohomnip

It was amazing to see women who had been unable to sew for decades finally able to thread a needle.  Others ran straight for their Bibles and began reading.  Most people wouldn't consider this a miracle, but I think it is.  Jesus cured the blind.  And, while these people were not blind, they were in the dark. 

Imagine if the only trade you knew was fashioning blouses and other clothing using a needle and thread - and this was suddenly taken away from you.  You now have very few options for providing for your children. Imagine if you lived in a place with very few visible signs of hope, so the Bible was your escape - your salvation from a life of heartache and dispair.  Now imagine you weren't able to read these words that had provided you with such inspiration.  To these people, a $2 pair of reading glasses can be the difference between hopelessness and happiness.

And that story continued in 11 more communities.  Again, in some of these places, the group had come for reasons other than distributing glasses.  But, when the people arrived with hopes of better vision, plans changed.  What is amazing is that it wasn't until the last village that the group ran out of lenses.

What's more, in each community, the volunteers were able to see things more clearly as well.  We are all accustomed to seeing the poor in a "receiving" mode, taking any handouts they can get.  Instead, in every village we were greeted by people with open arms, offering us their food, their hospitality, and their respect at every turn.  There was Rudy in La Estancia, the man whose 12-year old son has to work every day after school making scarves to help the family make ends meet.  He freely gave everyone in the group a scarf as a sign of his gratitude.  Then there was Miguel, the community leader in Chuisajcaba who traveled six hours round-trip, and sacrificed a day's wages to come and welcome the group, and discuss his vision for his community.

Rudy Making Scarves

There were countless other examples of generosity that were displayed.  It is overwhelming.  However, on a trip to distribute reading glasses, it is fitting that eyes were once again opened to the wonders of God's work.  Small acts of kindness can make a big difference.  Whether it is a pastor doing magic tricks for kids, or a group of churches agreeing to sponsor a project to provide food, as well health and welfare education to 300 children, God  leads our actions when we take the time to open our eyes to his will.

I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this mission with fellow Texans.  Little by little, groups like this are making a difference in this country and others, and the people here are oh so thankful.