A Day of Contrasts...
Written by Jenni Ramsey
The past four days have been filled with laughter, deep emotions, new experiences and unforgettable moments for our faithful, gifted and humble team of nine. I have been honored to lead many international outreach teams over the years, but this team has been especially unique for many reasons. Although three of our team members are from Southern California and six are from Tennessee (and we met for the first time in the Dallas airport), we have built significant and life-long relationships that will hold a special place in each of our hearts. Our team meetings have been filled with jokes and laughter, but also with tears of brokeness, heartfelt testimonies and moving prayers for the families and children that we have served as well as for one another. Needless to say, we have all been greatly changed and will return home this week with grateful hearts and many experiences to process.
The last five days have been fast and furious. We had an intense four days of ministry, serving at the home of Art and Lisa Camarena (missionaries in Guatemala for 15 years), visiting impoverished communities and caring for precious orphans. Today was a much needed R&R day. After a very emotional time of prayer in the morning, we loaded the cars and headed for the picturesque city of Antigua. However, we had one final home visitation to make at the "casa" of Leo and Sandra. Sandra has been part of Lisa's Bible study for many years. She is a beautiful woman who has suffered tremendous losses, including the drowning of a child, a near death experience from hemorrhaging in a pregnancy (which resulted in the loss of the baby) and the tragic deaths of other family members. Ben Keenan, Roberta's husband who passed away this July, dearly loved this family and served them on many of his teams. His impact is clearly visible by the fact that Leo and Sandra's youngest son is named after him. Roberta brought a gift for little Benjamin today and he loved modeling his news pajamas for the "gringos!"
Art and Lisa have ministered to Leo and Sandra's family for many years. Previous short-term teams from our church have also served their family and provided funds and labor to improve their home (which was once a shack). Their home today is poor by our standards, but it has been significantly improved with tile floors and a separate kitchen. The family beamed with pride as they gave our team a tour. They pointed to the new walls (built by teams from our church) and thanked us with heavy sobs of gratitude. Sandra was so proud of her new kitchen, yet shared how workers had stolen tile and taken advantage of them during construction. Despite the setbacks, their family is grateful to God and their faith is deep, real and absolutely contagious.
It is extremely difficult to describe the emotions that were felt in Leo and Sandra's home today. Though they are impoverished by our standards, they are grateful. Though they suffer deeply, they are filled with joy. Though providing food for their family is a challenge at times, they thank God for His provisions. They described our team as God's angels... a humbling and overwhelming honor. We have expressed to each family this week that the gifts that we brought came from God. We were just the vehicle through which He chose to provide in their lives. It has been a tremendous privilege to be HIS hands and HIS feet this week to some of the most beautiful people in the world.
After a special time of prayer with Sandra and her family, we headed down the lush highway to the historic city of Antigua. Antigua sits deep in a valley surrounded by breathtaking volcanoes on every side. The cobblestone streets are inviting. The restaurants, hotels and ancient ruins are post card perfect, and the contrast from Leo and Sandra's house was tremendous.
As we visited historic ruins, enjoyed some open air shopping and ate lunch in a quaint patio, we discussed how most tourists don't experience the "real Guatemala." The contrasts in Guatemala are blatant. There are rich and poor. There are five star hotels and shacks. Reconciling all of this for the team has been challenging, to say the least.
We ended our day with a wonderful meal in restaurant that is over five hundred years old. It is nestled in a breathtaking hotel, which once belonged to Guatemalan royalty. We were entertained by indigenous Guatemalan music and enjoyed a performance with dancers dressed in Mayan/Spanish costumes. Some of our team members even danced in the show! As I write this post now, most of our team has gone to bed. Tomorrow is our last day of ministry. We will be serving in a medical clinic in an impoverished village. Our team will have the privilege to build five beds and deliver them to homes. I was honored to participate in this project last year, and am thrilled to experience this again with the team tomorrow.
Our team will depart from Guatemala City early Wednesday morning. We will most likely be unable to post tomorrow, but please continue to visit the blog. We plan to post an update on the bed project after returning home and will continue post other updates as well. Buenas noches de Guatemala!