Going Abroad: A journey with Christ in Guatemala

September 4, 2012

SPRING — “Its Blessing Count With Your Support” and “Thanks For Being Our Angels” were two of the many banners that welcomed us as we arrived at the school in Chiche, Guatemala. The students were so happy to be able to greet us with a little English.

For about 10 years, St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church in Spring has had a sister parish relationship with Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Guatemala. We affectionately call it “The Little School.” The children attend school only from kindergarten through sixth grade — which is common in their country. There are 240 students, 11 teachers and a principal, with classes scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon. Their bishop told us that it is the only truly parochial school in Guatemala.

Our group of 14 was greeted with a delicious meal of local foods, which had been prepared by the teachers. We presented a vacation Bible school-type program for the first two days, then spent one day teaching them basic English — mostly through songs and skits. 

The teachers organized a field day on the last day, which included a soccer game between our group and the teachers, as well as many other hilarious games such as rooting for gum balls in a pan of flour, searching for a key in a bucket of sawdust and placing balloons in a bucket with our feet. From the excitement of the children, it was hard to determine whether they were rooting more for us or the teachers. 

We had the opportunity to visit with the students’ families in the afternoons. Primarily a Mayan community, it was eye-opening to see the poverty and simple standard of living of the people. Most houses were made of mud brick with dirt floors. While most of them had electricity, few had running water. For the most part, they are subsistence farmers, growing corn as their main source of food, along with beans and squash-like vegetables. 

Since many of the men go to the United States to find work, fathers leave mothers alone to raise the children. After going through a 30-year civil war, which ended in the 1990s, the people are resilient. They are now trying to keep the families together as best they can. Even with the lack of material things, their faith and trust in God is overwhelming, and most families have an altar in a prominent place in their homes. They begin and end their days, as well as their meals, with a prayer, and they have a great respect for “Mother earth and Father sky.” We saw the men and boys taking off their shoes before entering the fields as a sign of respect for the earth which provides their food. 

Mission is always a two-way street and we experienced this in a deep way. They may not have many material goods, but they were very willing to share their faith with us. We were reminded of a quote from Mother Teresa, who said, “No one is so poor that they have nothing to give, and no one is so rich that they have nothing to receive.” We surely received more than we gave. This was the first time our parish organized a mission trip to visit “The Little School,” but it won’t be the last — we are already planning our next trip.