I hope everyone had a wonderful year! As we enter into the new year, I want to thank all of you who sustained Missionhurst financially through our MercyWorks initiative. I remain always grateful for your dedication, care, and love for God’s people that we are caring for in our different missions around the world. May the name of the Lord always be praised for all we have been able to accomplish together.
The Impact of Our Work in Guatemala
A highlight of my year occurred toward the end of summer when I traveled to Guatemala to visit one of our MercyWorks projects — the Bethany Center (Centro Betania). My first stop was Cobán, a city located North of Guatemala City populated mostly by the Kekchi people (a Mayan people of Guatemala). While not my first trip to Cobán, what made this trip so special was the fact that I was going specifically to visit the beneficiaries of Mercyworks and see firsthand the impact of Centro Betania on the lives of so many in this community.
The project was initiated by Father Charitable Dérisseau, a CICM Missionary and native of Haiti, who was sent to Guatemala in 2012 after many years of service in Mexico. Known by the locals as simply “Betania,” the center is spread across five locations and provides daily hot meals, medical services to poor families, and a growing scholarship program that offers disadvantaged children the opportunity to pursue all levels of studies.
MercyWorks supports the work of Betania because we believe that it is a worthy project that responds to our Christian calling: feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and the vulnerable. These are basic evangelical duties of the Church. Father Charitable and his volunteer staff work to save the lives of as many children as possible by providing them with basic nutrition and medical care and ensuring their future through education.
A Place of Comfort and Hope
On my second day, I visited the Centro Betenia and met the children during lunch time. On weekdays, children come to the center after school, get their lunch at the center, and do their homework before going home. It was touching for me to see young children, ages 5 to 13, smiling and sharing meals together. The staff of Betania told me that for many of these children, the hot meal they eat at the center is their only meal of the day that they receive, given that there is nothing at home.
These children come to Betania each day where they participate in communal activities: playing, singing, sharing a meal, and getting help to do their homework before going home. The center is an ideal place to do homework for all those children with no desk or table, no running water, and no electricity at home — which is the case for most families in the areas surrounding Cobán.
While at Betania I also met forty mothers who had come to receive their monthly portion of food basket (rice, beans, cookies, etc.) to help with their needs at home. Most of the goods are either donated by volunteers or purchased by the donations provided by Missionhurst. I was invited to participate in the food distribution. As I was handing out those food baskets, I remembered the words of our Lord “Whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, that you did unto me” (Matthew 25).
During my visit, I learned that this part of Guatemala is suffering from an enduring drought unlike any it has seen in years. Due to this drought many local communities that previously sustained themselves through farming corn and beans are experiencing the staggering difficulties of a food shortage. Malnutrition and other illnesses related to famine have greatly impacted the children from families who are unable to pay the rising price of food.
Children who get sick receive basic care through Betania. Children from poor families are also given an opportunity to apply for scholarship to pursue their education in college to be able to sustain themselves in the future. Those I spoke to shared with me their dreams for the future. They dream to become successful in life and give back to their community by helping their parents and other children.
Responding to Our Christian Calling
On the third day, along with a volunteer, I visited beneficiaries in their homes. One family lived on a steep hill, impossible to access to the house by car and cut off from city water and electricity. We left the car on at the foot of the hill and had to walk up on the hill for half a mile. By the time we arrived at the house I was very sweaty and tired, and I realized how difficult it must be for these families and their children to make this daily journey up and down the mountain to fetch water. Despite the difficult situations many families face, I still feel inspired today by the enthusiasm, joy, and hospitality I encountered among the people of Guatemala.
Over the next few days I visited with eight more families and encountered so much grace, love, and hospitality in the face of devastating poverty. I was able to minister to them through prayer and blessing, and I am grateful to the brave volunteers of Betania who accompanied me throughout these visits. I was impressed to see how they knew each of these family members by names, especially the children. Many also seem to know their stories, their joys, and their pains. Betania volunteers are humble disciples of Christ, as they strive each day to live their Christian life through the service of neighbor in need. They remain an inspiration to me, as their lives remind me that Christian life is about being at the service of others.
I left Centro Betania in Cobán, Guatemala, with deep feelings of satisfaction and gratitude, thanking God for all that our missionaries are doing for children and families with the help of our Missionhurst benefactors from the United States of America. It is through the generosity of our wonderful supporters that Betania is able to touch so many lives. I pray that God may bless all those who, through so many sacrifices, are supporting MercyWorks to continue to give hope to such a vulnerable people in Cobán, Guatemala. May the Joy of Christ be yours!