....GUATEMALA STORIES ~Matt & Leslie Capehart    
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Your Experiences, Your Stories...

Many people who come to Guatemala in order to help the people leave having been impacted  by God and the Guatemalan people in some profound ways. We are always excited to see how God both blesses the people of Guatemala and those who come to help. Rather than attempting to describe their experiences, we thought you might enjoy reading a few of their stories and impressions first hand. Do you have an experience that you would like to share?  Write us and let us know. We'd love to put it on the website

DAVID SAVOURNIN, Canada 2011

Chichicastenango... Four Years On

My first trip to Chichicastenango was in January 2008. On that trip, I was part of Denis Martel’s first ‘Team Canada’ group. Eight of us built houses (for North Americans, more like 16’ x 18’ garden sheds!) in the little settlement of La Colonia, in the valley below Hotel Casa del Rey. The fact that we completed the houses was actually quite surprising, given that some of the materials didn’t turn up until the last minute, and the lack of electricity meant that our power tools didn’t last long! It was, however, an amazing experience that gave me the opportunity to meet the amazing Capehart Family, work alongside Sebastian, and meet many of the families that would eventually move into the homes we were helping to build, not to mention the unexpected bond established between fellow Canadians, some of whom had never met before.
In January 2009, I made my second trip to Chichi – this time with my wife Dee. Denis’ 2009 Team Canada consisted of 9 people, some new and some ‘returnees’. Our objective this time was to build stoves in as many homes as we could, down in La Colonia.
Heading down into the valley a year later was an amazing experience in its own right. Meeting the families we’d worked with the year before, seeing how the settlement had developed, was very emotional. But the visit wasn’t without disappointment... Discovering that electricity still hadn’t been installed, and that few of the families had moved in because of this was really disheartening. Despite Matt’s and his team’s best efforts, the fight to get electricity delivered to La Colonia was still going on. While we didn’t know at that time, the fight would soon be over and the settlement would have electricity a few months after we left. Thank goodness we kept our resolve and achieved our anticipated goal of stove building.
A highlight of 2009’s trip was meeting The Logan Family. (Don Logan works for Missions Frontier as a pastor to the English speaking community.) We all – atheists, practicing and non-practicing Christians and a Buddhist – attended the Missionaries’ service on Sunday morning. It was our first exposure to Don and his unique style of preaching the Gospel. Despite our mixed-bag of beliefs, we all left the service incredibly moved. The measure of the depth that he moved us all was reflected in our group request to have him deliver his upcoming sermon to us – a practice run, if you will – the Friday before we left. He obliged, and once again reduced us all to tears, deep thoughts and for some, a new-found faith.
No trip in 2010 – too much happening in our lives – but Denis did manage the trip with two other Canadians. So the tradition continued. Denis reported that the electricity was there, the families had moved in, some had made big improvements to their houses and stoves, and the children were all growing up.
After listening to Denis’ trip experience and seeing his photos, Dee and I resolved to make the trip again in 2011. We weren’t sure if we’d be going as part of Team Canada, or whether we’d be on our own. We originally had grand plans to drive from Markham, Ontario to Chichicastenango in a ‘slightly used’ 2002 Toyota 4Runner, stopping on the way in Quetzaltenango for a month, or so, of Spanish Immersion. We envisioned a three or four month sabbatical...of sorts. But work pressures and the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Mexico – which we’d be driving through – killed that idea very quickly!
So on January 29th, once again a band of eager Canadians, lead by Denis Martel, headed for the airport at 3:30 a.m. on a cold and snowy morning.
During our preparations for this trip, Denis and I had become aware of some significant changes in the handling of our group - setting up our work schedule, planning our on-ground itinerary, etc. Rather than dealing exclusively with Matt, we were dealing with Maritza, who seemed very smart, in control and ‘on the ball’! Not to say that Matt wasn’t, but he always had so much on his plate and needed some help. Well, now he seemed to have it!
Dealing with Maritza was just the beginning of a different ‘Chichi Experience’.
We soon discovered that Matt’s business genius had changed the Missions Frontier volunteer experience a lot. Maritza had everything totally organized, and along with local pastors had identified families who could benefit from help provided by a group like ours. When we arrived at our three different worksites, all the materials we needed were already there waiting for us. Sebastian was our crew leader/foreman as before, but this was a ‘new’ more confident and assured Sebastian who had us organized at the site and working flat out within minutes of arriving.
We also had the good fortune to have the benefit of Esperanza – Maritza’s assistant – along with us. And what a revelation she turned out to be... A hard working, smart – really smart – young lady, who is a brilliant addition to Matt’s team. Along with Esperanza came Salvador, our translator – Spanish, English and Quiché – for the time we were working on site. We couldn’t work out exactly how Matt had found Salvador, but he, like Esperanza, worked hard, translated ‘at the drop of a hat’ and was just outstanding company for the three days we were working out in the countryside.
A really great feature of this year’s site work was the time we got to spend with the families we were working with and for. We had plenty of time to play with the children and eat our lunch alongside the family, sharing our packed lunches with them. The brightness and happiness of all the children we spent time with, showed each and every one of us how the simplest things in life and the people with the least, can make us smile and be grateful for what we have.
Esperanza and Salvador showed us how to make little benches out of the scrap wood from the home building. The result being that two of the homes acquired two or three handy little benches to start their furniture collection off!
Looking back on our trip now, both Dee and I realize just how different things were this time around. Matt’s skill at identifying the potential of individuals, despite the presence of a troubled background or personal tragedy, has been rewarded with the addition of Maritza and Esperanza to the team. Sebastian has grown enormously and that is a joy to see.
The waiters and kitchen staff at Casa del Rey are fantastic and such great testaments to the caring and nurturing environment that Matt, Leslie and the Missions Frontier team have created.
The Missions Frontier business model is a lesson for many whose heart is set on helping others. The whole focus is on building and strengthening the local community. Everyone has ‘skin in the game’. There is zero creation of dependency. It completely reflects the objective of “providing administration and resources that encourage local initiative in business and education”. It works! Our team was hugely blessed to be able to raise far more in donations than needed for our projects. Assigning the balance to the Cement Block Homes micro-financing project was an easy decision for the group to make!
Once again, we all attended the Sunday service, so that we could listen to Don’s presentation of the Gospel. Imagine our joy when, after the service, we were all teary-eyed and totally moved – just as we had been two years ago. (If you’re like me, you will be downloading Don’s weekly sermons from www.sermoncloud.com so that you can follow his teachings week after week. It’s totally worth it!)
Dee and I have already started saving for our return trip in 2013. We’re hoping that we will be able to bring our two daughters and their husbands too! If we had our way, we’d take as many people as we could... the Missions Frontier staff are all amazing people. It’s almost impossible to describe the impact that they have, not only on the people they help, support and interact with in Guatemala, but also on the volunteers, like us, that pass through their lives. Our little Team Canada is just one of dozens of groups that come to Casa del Rey through Missions Frontier every year, but Missions Frontier team are able to make us feel ‘special’ and give us hope and renewed faith. If only the world had more people like them in it!
God bless you all and keep you safe.
See you in 2013!

DAVID SAVOURNIN, CANADA

2008

It was 3:15 a.m. on a cold and snowy Saturday morning; January 26th, 2008 to be exact.

Four members of the ‘Canadians-to-Guatemala Team’ were waiting in sub-zero temperatures (Celcius) for a mini-bus to take them to Toronto’s airport. Little did we know what kind of adventure was ahead of us. Obviously we were eager to find out…why else would we be standing out in the cold in the middle of the night!

When Leslie asked me to write an article about “…what my time in Guatemala meant to me”, I really had to think hard about it – back beyond that freezing cold morning in January.

Our group leader, Denis Martel – soon to be known as ‘El Jefe’ – had been to Chichicastenango three times before. In September 2007, when he decided to pull together an ‘all Canadian’ group for his next visit, I was ready to sign-up for whatever he was planning! Between then and the time I arrived back in Canada at the end of the trip, I experienced an amazing physical and mental journey!

Why did I want to join Denis in Guatemala in the first place? Well…having lived in Africa for several years and traveled in Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay, I’d seen a lot of poverty, discrimination, misguided attempts at assisting the under-privileged, and the human cost of hopelessness and shear desperation.

As the years have rolled by, I’ve realized that we have a duty to give back to our fellow human beings while we are on this ‘mortal coil’. We all have the 3 Ts to give of our selves – Talent, Treasure and Time. I have frequently given of my treasure, but only occasionally given of my talent and time. Denis offered me the opportunity to get involved with something that sounded totally worthwhile and hugely beneficial to the Mayan people in Chichi, and…to finally put the record straight for the remaining 2 Ts!

Our team’s first goal was to make as many friends, relatives and colleagues aware of our impending trip as we could. Asking for sponsorship and donations towards the trip, seemed pretty straightforward… “Hey, I’m going to the Guatemala Highlands for a week to help build homes for the Mayans! We need cash, tools, school supplies, kids clothes and medicines. Can you help?” Reactions varied from “…you’ve got to be kidding?” to “…here are the tools, cash, kids clothes, etc., you need.”

It amazed me how extreme peoples reactions were to a simple request. I pitied those who “could care less”!

But we did it…we raised $s and got hold of a ton of power tools, school supplies, children’s clothes and much more. Between the 10 team members, we checked in close to 500 lbs of supplies at Pearson International Airport, over and above our own belongings!

Denis had been very diligent in preparing us for what lay ahead. He showed us pictures, repeatedly told us ”…in Guatemala, you have to expect the unexpected!” Despite his efforts, there were still many surprises waiting for us…

Our team was what one might call a ‘non-religious’ group; a healthy mix of various spins on Christianity, right the way through to die-hard atheists! It worked for us – we certainly seemed to have interesting and non-confrontational discussions about faith and religion in their many different guises. Matt and Leslie were incredibly respectful of our diversity as we - I hope! – were of their beliefs too. However, I don’t think a single one of us left untouched or unmoved by the strength and power of the faith Matt and Leslie, and all the missionary people, carry with them every second of their lives.

What did all this mean to me? Well…we built some houses. But that was almost incidental to what the whole experience ultimately meant to me…

I met and bonded with the diverse group of Canadians that I travelled with, all of whom were committed to our mission, each for their own reasons. I interacted with local Mayan people, who seemed to be able to smile despite the poverty, misery and discrimination they have to live with every single day of their lives. I was given the opportunity to become involved in improving the lives of just a few of these proud and ancient peoples; to gain some insights into their history, culture and traditions. The Good Lord gave me the chance to spend a week of my life with two amazing people – Matt and Leslie Capehart, a couple who epitomize the concept of giving one’s life in the service of God and for the benefit of His flock.

I visited a beautiful country and was able to see just a little of its grandeur. I had what could be described as one of the most impactful experiences of my life.

So many emotions run through your mind when you come face to face with the level of suffering and poverty that the Mayans of Chichicastenango endure. From the selflessness of José, who prayed for us and thanked God for making it possible for us to come to Guatemala and help his people, through to the river of human waste flowing through the site where we were building houses. This was a life-changing journey.

My indignation and anger over the plight of the Mayans started when we stopped in Antigua in the way back to Guatemala City. What a huge difference to Chichicastenango… The contrast was massive! Instead of old bicycles, there were fancy Harley Davidsons; instead of tuc-tucs, there Porsche’s and Corvettes. No mules, no people struggling with huge loads on their backs. Instead of squalid out-door kitchens, there were MacDonald’s and Burger King. Instead of filth and garbage everywhere, the streets were clean and the sidewalks clear of beggars.

I asked myself how all of this could be so, when just 100km up road was the total opposite!?

Everything came into perspective…

- how fortunate I am to live in Canada
- how insignificant my problems were back home – I have a home, a job, cars, and so much more
- the good fortune I have enjoyed for most of my life
- how I take so much for granted – things that would be incomprehensible to the average Mayan in Chichi
- that I have two healthy daughters and three healthy grandchildren
- that I am not persecuted or discriminated against because of my race and culture
- that I have access to free education, healthcare, social security benefits, a pension and so much more
- that the misfortune of falling down the stairs – the cause of José’s plight - would never condemn me to living in a dark squalid hut on the side of a mountain for the remainder of my days
- how, despite the indescribable conditions that some people are forced to endure, they can still smile and enjoy their lives as best as they possibly can

The downside of these realizations was that for several weeks after I got back from Guatemala, I had no patience or sympathy for anyone who complained about the slightest thing. I was angry and upset that I couldn’t articulate the poverty and suffering I had seen; that the people around me could be so petty minded about ‘what they are entitled to’ when I had witnessed a people who had no entitlements of any description.

I spread the word of Matt and Leslie’s wondrous works  in Chichi; I prayed that The Good Lord watch over them and guide them every day of their lives.

I will return to Chichi in 2009 to continue with my puny attempt to make a difference in the lives of the Mayans of Chichicastenango.

Thank you Denis for dragging me with you! Thank you Matt and Leslie for your gracious hospitality. Thanks to Cheryl, Jennifer, Doris, Edna, Vickie, Angeline and Brock and Susan for sharing this adventure with me

DAVID WOODS, PITTSBURGH, PA

Ten years ago this week I was preparing with about 15 other people to leave on a short term mission trip to an orphanage in Guatemala.  I was passionate about missions and excited to cut my teeth in a real way.  I felt blessed by the life God had given me and was excited to share that blessing with the less fortunate.  So, it was surprising to me, in looking back on the trip, that I was far more blessed by the people of Guatemala then I could ever have blessed them. Since that first trip I have returned seven times to Guatemala, with different groups and on my own, to share in the work God is doing in that country.  It is often on these trips that I hear God speaking to me in a very clear way.  Each trip deepens my faith and causes me to fall deeper in love with his Son.  God often seems nearer to me when I’m in Guatemala then when I’m at home.  I started thinking and praying about why this is.  God answered my questions where he usually answers life’s hardest question, in his Word.  Throughout the scriptures God’s people are a people who are on the move.  Abraham is called away from his fathers land to go to an unknown land that the Lord would show him.  Joseph was called to go to Egypt as a captive.  Jesus reminds us in Luke 4:24-27 that Elijah and Elisha were both sen taway from home to do ministry. Paul, a Pharisee, was sent to distant gentile cities for the gospels sake. Jesus’ great commission commands us to go into all the world to preach the gospel.  And of course God himself stepped away from his heavenly throne, and took on the flesh of mortality, among people who he created, yet knew him not. God is constantly calling his people to leave their comfort zones behind and go.  And when Gods people respond they without fail are always blessed.  God calls us away from ourselves so that we can find ourselves in him.  It is when we don’t know the language or costumes of a place that we learn that it is only God who sustains us.  We have too many crutches at home that make us feel secure in ourselves, our bank accounts, our jobs, our friends. God wants us to know that there is no other God besides Him and only He will keep us from harm. When I leave what I know behind and follow God, He has never failed to sustain me, and He promises that he never will. Short-term trips to other countries are a reminder to me of who it is that is in control of my life, and it helps me to leave my comfort zones wherever I might be.  We don’t have to leave the country to get away from what we know.  In America it might be a next-door neighbors house or the neighborhood next door.  It’s not hard to find people who we are not comfortable around but who need to hear the gospel.  I pray God continues to call me to the unknown, so that I may learn more of his sustaining Grace. And I would encourage anyone who has not left their comfort zones for the sake of the Gospel, to step into the stream of God’s people who leave what they know and follow his voice. For we know that this stream leads to the sea of people from every tribe, tongue and nation who stand before the throne of God day and night in praise of Him.

JEFF PIRINELLI, DALLAS, TEXAS

When we initially decided to go to Guatemala I knew nothing about the country, just that our friends, the Capeharts, were there. They had described a beautiful place full of mountains, rainforests, friendly people, and ancient ruins. Who wouldn’t want to go? So we asked Leslie what we needed to bring, and her reply made me stop and think twice. “Don’t bring anything you wouldn’t gladly give up at gunpoint,” she wrote. Central America was going to be a different kind of vacation…
We went for a week and saw what Matt and Leslie had described. The first morning we arose early to see the sun coming up against the towering volcano Fuego in Antigua, while sipping Café con Leche at a rooftop table. But the glass high-rises and BMW’s of the City and the Spanish Colonial villas of Antigua turned to cinder block structures and chicken buses just outside of town. Further out were bicycles and adobe houses, or bare feet and cornstalk huts. My first day there I was shocked at the level of poverty I saw all around me.
The second day, though, I noticed that many of those people were smiling and waving as we drove by. They called out to Matt by name, and welcomed us into their homes. They were rich in spirit, and glad to share with us. In the market in Chichi we walked comfortably through the crowds. We saw the traditional clothing, hand woven in colors and patterns specific to each village. We watched Mayan rituals still being performed in honor of their gods, and saw the intermingling of Mayan and Spanish Catholic religions at a cathedral. It affirms the depth of their cultural heritage and the importance of their history to these people. We saw CD vendors in the markets, new school buildings, and new churches being built. We felt the changes slowly making their way into the culture. I chuckled while watching young women in traditional garb taking each other’s pictures with digital cameras in front of two thousand year old Mayan ruins. Guatemala is a fascinating mix of old and new. And we watched Matt and Leslie chat with people they’d helped and healed. Broken people from broken homes or broken families who had been led to Christ and were walking in the light. New homes, new skills, new jobs, even new lives because of the work of Christian missionaries. Their new strength, peace, and confidence will help them lead others to the Lord.
Through it all was the natural beauty of Guatemala. Awesome mountains, volcanoes rising out of a flat plain, Lake Atitlan shining in the evening light, and many other amazing wonders. That first trip was a life changing experience I’ll not forget. We’ve already gone back, and the second trip was even better than the first. And I can’t wait to go again and again…

KAREN PIRINELLI, DALLAS, TEXAS

My husband and I have traveled to Guatemala twice this year.  We knew that the trips would be wonderful experiences for the two of us, but we didn't really anticipate the impact the trips would have on our ten year old daughter.  We live in a neighborhood where most people lack for little.  As a result, she has not ever really been exposed to people who are truly in need.  The sights she saw, and the people she had a chance to interact with, have changed the way she views her world.  Like us, she saw firsthand how few material things people need to be content, and that things are not what make a house a home.  With God, there can be hope and happiness even in very humble surroundings.  God is at work in so many ways in Guatemala and it was a joy to be a part of it even in some small way.

AARON ELLIOT, NOBELSVILLE, INDIANA

Sebatiana and Manuela were mother and daughter.   They own some land, but do not have adequate living space.  In fact, they live in garbage.  Sebastiana has a mental disorder where she hoards trash.  Literally, she picks up anything and everything and collects it.  The town thinks of her as a witch.  Matt, whose deep love for Sebastiana was evident, sent a team up to clear trash and build a house for Sebastiana and her daughter. 

On Sunday, the team was just finishing just finishing up the work.  The first two days were spent doing nothing other than clearing trash.  Matt had to stick close by those two days because Sebastiana was very upset that they were moving her stuff, and kept threatening the team with her machete.  After two hundred trash bags were filled and moved, the team was able to get to work on building walls, laying a concrete foundation, installing the roof.  By weeks end, all that remained was to put on a door and finish out a window.

Besides the amazing transformation that took place on the side of this mountain where they live, the transformation that took place in Sebastiana was probably more amazing.  She was shaking hands and very grateful for all the work that was done.  The team was able to sing a few songs with both Sebastiana and Manuela and to pray with them.  Manuela just wanted prayer that her mother would continue to get better.  Manuela had been to the market and bought a present for every single person on the team.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place as we sang and prayed and thanked God for what He had done this week, and asked him to continue to heal Sebastiana to her right mind. 

Clara and Victor

 Clara and her daughter work for Matt and Leslie as house help and caring for their kids.  Victor is Clara’s husband and was one of the town drunks.  His drinking had lead to the deterioration of his liver and progressed to the point that the hospital sent him home to die.  The bleeding out of his liver was beginning to happen and he was sent home to die.  Clara went to Matt and Leslie and asked that they come to pray.  Matt and Leslie at first resisted, saying “you need a Pentecostal.  We are not that kind of missionaries.”  They went, prayed…and God healed Victor. 

Clara and Victor have decided to donate part of their property for a wheel-chair bound woman (Anastasia) and her daughter (product of a rape) to have a home.  Currently they are without a home and Anastasia makes her money begging in the market.  For a family to donate land to another person, let alone a woman in a wheelchair, in order to build a house, is simply not done in this culture. On Sunday, we were able to celebrate the work, sing and pray with Victor, Clara, and their four kids.  Again, it was an amazing and moving time for all of us.  Later we were able to meet Anastasia and give her a big hug.  She is yet to see the house.  I wish I could be there the day she moves in.  Be prepared if you ever meet her…she will hug you and hardly let go!

 


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