For many years Cesia has been traveling to Guatemala with Dave and Jackie Cunning and the gang from STJI (Sharing The Journey International), a medical missions non-profit that provides Craniofacial surgeries including, cleft lip and cleft palate surgery, lesions removed and disfiguring nasal fractures repaired. They also have added a dental clinic program as well as a water purification treatment system that they provide and install at local schools in the region of San Cristobal. Each system installed is able to treat 10,000 gallons of water daily. And of course, most importantly, the opportunity to share the Gospel with everyone whose path they cross while they are there serving in some capacity.
One in every 600 children in Guatemala is born with cleft lip or cleft palate. Children born with this deformity are unable to nurse, and because their families often cannot afford formula, they begin to starve. Depending on the severity of the cleft lip or palate, the child may require up to four surgeries. Many cases involve much more than just closing up a gap, including orthodontic treatment, bone reconstruction, speech therapy and life-long monitoring for ear infections and respiratory problems, which are common among cleft lip and palate kids.
Each time Cesia returns from one of the trips, they usually travel there 2 or 3 times per year, she would share with us the stories of the people they have come to know and love, as most children will have surgical procedures for a number of years. She would describe the town, the hospital, the interpreters, the doctors, nurses and support staff from varies cities in the US, however many are from Calvary Chapel Central Bucks, our former church when we lived in Pennsylvania. Of course we could only visualize in our minds the people and activities she described to us.
I thought back to the summer 1966, at the age of 11, when my friends and I would listen to a Phillies baseball game on a transistor radio. We could only imagine what the players looked like, the field and all of the goings on that occurred and we believed it was just as we imagined. Low and behold in the summer of 1968 when we traveled by bus and el-train to our first game we were completely overwhelmed with the sights and sounds, nothing even close to what we had envisioned. That day was a day where you could go down on the field before the game and meet the players up close, see the dugouts and look around at the enormous stadium the game was played in.
This year Cesia was in Guatemala with Jackie from May 7th to June 4th and I was able to travel there from May 21st to May 28th. It was 1968 all over again. The many places, people and surroundings she shared each year was nothing like I had imagined. Poverty stricken towns, polluted rivers and waterways where most families live alongside and plant their crops. The hospital was like something out of a 1950 Tarzan movie, low lighting if they worked, old equipment, torn bed sheets, limited supplies and very difficult working conditions for the doctors, nurses, dental staff and support personal. But what a heart these individuals who traveled with STJI had for all that they interacted with while there. I fell in love with the outreach opportunities we all were able to bring to the parents, children and hospital staff. Praying with the families before they took their children into surgery was one of my favorite times we all could participate in. The stress and tension as their child was carried away could be felt by all, however the joy on the face of the parents and the tears flowing down their cheeks when their child was taken to the recovery room and they were able to see the surgical repair is a memory that still brings tears to my eyes. What a blessing to see men and women traveling to another country at their own expense, giving up their vacation time and being away from their families in order to help repair birth defects and healing of hearts that were broken a long time ago.
One day I was able to go to a local school with Gary Ries and our interpreter Kevin as one of the water treatment tanks was in need of repair. When we arrived about 40 kids ages 10 to 15 came over to see what we were doing. Of course I was not able to do anything, Gary was the mechanic. I bet if you gave him a wagon and a few other items he could turn it into a race car. Kevin and I were able to share the Gospel with them for 20 minutes or so and the teachers just sat off to the side smiling at the ‘Gringo’ and his interpreter. I then said ‘I am just a fat gringo but I bet there is not one kid here who can score a soccer goal on me’, well that is all they needed to hear and we picked teams and played for about an hour. Each time someone made a good pass I would yell out ‘my man’ and all the kids would yell ‘my man’, then when someone scored a goal I would yell ‘my main man’ and they all would yell ‘my main man’. After the game we got into a circle and we prayed for them to ask Jesus to continue to be a big part of their life, asking the Holy Spirit to dwell with them and we prayed for their parents or grandparents, their future education and always trusting in God. Hard to leave that day but……
In closing I really tried not to name anyone as I didn’t want to leave anyone out but what a great group that was there this year. From our morning devotionals, interacting at the hospital and in the community throughout the day as well and seeing the doctors, nurses, dental and support staff, Rudy and the other support staff from Guatemala all giving their best each and every day was amazing to see. Whether it be a medical, humanitarian or a church planting/gospel outreach mission’s trip, the core component is reaching the unreached peoples groups or those unsaved and introduce them to Jesus. I know when these families look back years from now they won’t remember the bus ride to the hospital or the rooms they slept in or the food that they ate, they will remember a Christian organization came to their country to show God to them in some form or fashion. Amen and amen. Please check out the web site at www.stji.org if anyone is interested in supporting financially or going to Guatemala on an upcoming mission’s trip.