(GUATEMALA) In 2012, the Christian Reformed Church in Pease, Minnesota, inquired about coming alongside World Renew Guatemala and one of its partner organizations, Vine and Branches. The resulting relationship was created with the shared objective of living out the Word of God through the Bible and collaborating actively in community transformation.
Vine and Branches is located in Quetzaltenango, a region that lies 118 miles from the capital of Guatemala. More than half of the population of Quetzaltenango lives in poverty, and 11.25% live in extreme poverty. Ethnically the population is mainly from the Quiche and Mam Mayan tribal groups, but other nonindigenous groups are present as well. The primary economic activity here, as in the rest of the country, is agriculture.
Currently, Vine and Branches works in four communities in Quetzaltenango. These are La Palmera Xolwitz, El Tineco, Esperanza Miralta, and Monte Margarita. The main challenges that these communities face are access to potable water, access to secondary education, lack of latrines, poor condition of roads and access routes, lack of support from the government, and lack of knowledge of hygiene practices.
World Renew has worked with Vine and Branches to implement four programs: food security and sustainable agriculture, adult literacy, preventive health, and community organization.
Through those programs there have been many changes in the communities such as improving agriculture techniques and crop diversification for a more varied and nutritious diet as well as generating more income among families. The programs have also resulted in the creation of home vegetable gardens that include organic and natural techniques that help prevent minor illnesses and provide natural alternative medicines for families in poverty. Through these programs, the number of literate adults has also increased. All of these projects have helped to create and strengthen community organization, allowing people in the communities to manage the work themselves as well as receive support from other organizations, both public and private.
Over the last four years, church members from Pease CRC have traveled to Guatemala to experience for themselves the realities of Guatemalan life and get to know the people who live in the four communities where Vine and Branches is working. In three of the communities, visiting groups from Pease have worked on construction projects that have contributed greatly to the transformational development of communities.
This year’s visit was in February. It was a wonderful and blessed experience for everyone involved—the communities, the partner, the members of Pease CRC group, World Renew staff, and especially for me, as this was my first experience coordinating a group visit with World Renew, including the logistics, itinerary, and everything related to our visits to the communities.
"Jeremiah 29:11 exemplifies everything that the project communities experience in visits from Pease CRC as they support the community’s transformation."
It was a great experience and time of learning for everyone. We saw the love and mercy of God expressed in all of our lives during the week of the visit.
The project communities received the visitors from Pease CRC with enthusiasm, energy and happiness. On this trip, the visitors operated Bible camps in each community. Their approach and the relationships they built with the children were very special. They also had the opportunity to visit two homes to see the work being done in sustainable agriculture to apply new techniques and training in crop diversification
The promoters were extremely proud of their new skills and shared their knowledge with the visitors. It was clear to all that the program has strengthened the process of community transformation and created positive change both in families and at the community level.
Two of the visitors from Pease CRC visited homes in two communities to pray for family members who are suffering health or physical problems. As Christians, we believe that the power of prayer and the Word of God as expressed in the Bible are powerful, and the group wanted to bring a message of encouragement and hope to these households.
During the visit, we also met with local Christian leaders from different denominations, which allowed them to present the work and the challenges that they face in communities to the visitors from Pease. The meeting was very beneficial because the presenters emphasized that whatever Christian denomination we are from, we must join efforts to carry the message of the Word of God everywhere, highlighting the essential characteristics that we as Christians share, not the differences.
One of the most anticipated moments of the visit was going to La Palmera Xolwitz, a community that is building a school kitchen. The facility will provide the children with healthy meals that are prepared in a clean environment to prevent food-borne illnesses among the students. As in the other three communities, the Pease team was wonderfully welcomed, and the joy of the people was overwhelming. The communities each prepared special events and programs in the schools and received their guests with a fireworks display.
This year, the Pease team completed a construction project by painting the kitchen and front side of the school building. The work involved not only the visitors but also the World Renew staff, some of the school teachers, the local leaders, and members of the police department. The joy and enthusiasm of the visiting group spread to all who stopped by to see what was happening and as a result, everyone got involved in the finishing project. On the last day of visit, the community prepared an inauguration event that started with speeches from local leaders and local authorities. Among the many surprises of the day was an announcement by the mayor that a new teacher was going to be hired for the school. The other surprises included a special dedication of the community project by a Pease CRC member who had visited the communities in previous years.
The week’s experiences demonstrated the love and mercy of God for all through the connection and relationships created in the project’s communities. People from the communities said many times that they consider the members of Pease CRC their brothers and sisters in Christ, and they look forward every year to their arrival. Their expressions of love and acceptance show that despite the differences in culture, language, and customs, Christian believers praise and worship the same God in unity and brotherhood, and together, we have committed to working toward the transformation of communities in Guatemala.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” This verse exemplifies everything that the project communities experience in visits from Pease CRC as they support the community’s transformation.
The communities experience through them the hope that the Lord gives us and tells us to never lose, since it is one of the tools that the Lord sends to bring happiness, joy, enthusiasm, and hope to people through the support they provide.
In His Service,
World Renew Guatemala