Welcome to the Guatemala Diary

Hi. This is Andy Gay, and in four days Lauren, Ian and I wll be flying out with the rest of the team to Guatemala! The cool thing is - my kindle 3G access is as good in the hinterlands of Guatemala as it is here! So they say. In fact, I punched this in on my Kindle just to see if it worked. So stay tuned here for daily updates on our journey, and may the blessings of God be with you on yours. Peace. Andy
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Shots and stuff: Day -3

Ian and Lauren are getting the hepatitis and typhoid shots in Nashville today. I'm scheduled for Chattanooga Friday morning for mine. Start the anti-malarial antibiotic tomorrow. Doug Thomas at 1st United Methodist Church in Tullahoma called me yesterday to say that he had heard of our trip - and that they had one of their teams leaving on Saturday, same as us. They are leaving a little later in the morning from Nashville. That should be an interesting angle for Ian since Ian is a reporter for the Tullahoma News and is planning on doing a feature for the trip. Forecast high temp for Guatemala City today is 79F. Flores up north is 88F. Partly cloudy.

Airport Flight Leaders: Day -2

We've got airport team leaders for each of the three flights out of Nashville Saturday!
Here is the posting from Chuck Higgins I got this morning (Thursday):
· Tara Lentz has had to cancel
· Kathy, Sherard and Fred are travelling separately
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· First flight out is Delta at 5:25 – Sandra is the experienced GUA traveler/leader
· Second flight out is United at 6:00 – Chuck is the experienced GUA traveler/leader
· Third flight out is AA at 6:35 – Tami is the experienced GUA traveler/leader
· Delta and United groups will meet in baggage claim area
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· Barb is organizing roommate assignments for the women.

· Men assignments are:
o Coban – Chuck/Ian, Philip/Warner, Andy/Sherard, Driver/(single or in triple)
o Sayaxche – Warner/Sherard, Andy/Ian, Chuck/Fred, Philip/Driver
o La Libertad – Philip/Ian, Chuck/Driver, Andy/Sherard, Warner/Fred
o Flores – Andy/Driver, Warner/Ian, Philip/Fred, Chuck/Sherard
o Guatemala City – TBD based on departure times
o Swap if you wish

See you Saturday !!!
In Christ,
Chuck

Last Minute Scrambling: Day -1

Several of the team members have been strategizing how to transport craft materials for childran - bells for making tamborines etc. I borrowed 7 «Sing the Faith« songbooks - and also see if we have enough strong voices to put togrther «Soar Away.» I think Ian got lost finding McKendree Manor. I am waitng on him in lobby. 11pm. Lauren worked late and is coming straight from Decherd to airport with Jeremy in morning.. OK. Ian has arived and got him to his lodging. Chuck Higgins and Fred Kirshner are doing duty meeting folks at the airport in the wee hours. Delta crew departs 5:30 or so. United at 6. That is Chuck and me. American about 6:35. That is Ian and Lauren and several others.

We will all have lunch togrther about 1pm in Guatemala City. That is the plan. I am ready to hit the sack now for a short night's sleep.

What a Day!: Day 0

For Chuck and me, our bags didn't arrive with our flight into Guatemala City this afternoon, but did arrive on another incoming flight 30 minutes later - thank goodness. After lunch with the rest of the crew - all who made it fine - we had a four hour bus ride through rugged mountains to Coban. Practiced some of our singing along the way. Nice supper at the little hotel with beautiful courtyard where we are staying. Very comfortable evening weather.

Had a team briefing tonight led by Philip Beisswenger. Great day. Looking forward to good night's sleep. It is 10:17.

Coban to Xexan:Day 1

Today we traveled from Coban north to the Xexan church. The country became quite green and more lush up here. Took two hours plus to get there. Tall limestone hills and bluffs and lovely streams. Cornfields all over the place. It was a forty five minute hike over a rutted path to the village and kind of hot, but the people met us there with hugs, smiles and prayers. Beautiful experience!

On the walk there was a grapevine that one of the village fellas used to demonstrate his swinging skills. I couldn't resist, even though I heard rumblings of "how do you get out of here with a broken ankle?" Ian followed as well as Warner Durnell -our presbytery exec- and others: Sherard, Paula, . . . good bonding experience! Well, it took a while for Warner to bond - the vine slipped through his hands on the first try.

We presented the card and photo from church with Philip Beisswenger explaining in Spanish. They fed us a lunch of chicken, soup, tortillas they made and later sweet tamales fresh picked bananas, plantains and sugarcane. The banana trees grow in the corn. But none of this is really their land. Got in after dark to Sayaxche. Very tired after blessed day.

At the Coban Hotel

Xexan

Sayaxche in the morning: Day 2

We are sitting on the patio this morning watching ferries crossing the Rio Passion. Lauren, Ian and I are enjoying the morning with a few others. One of our team members, Fred, had given away his ticket to help one of our team members, Sandra with her situation. she was getting over a cold on our departure date. So Fred and Sandra were scheduled to arrive today. Lo and behold, we see a unit of the Guatemalan army come out of a truck on the opposite (north) shore and deploy into a defensive formation of khakied soldiers before they move onto one of the ferries. As the ferry slides across the river, who do we see on the ferry but Fred jumping up and down waving to us. So now we have our full team. Joyful meeting.

School in Sayaxche built by Hillsboro Presbyterian Church in Nashville

Two Churches in a Day: Sayaxche: Day 3

Sayaxche is a ferry town and a central location for the churches of the Qetchi presbytery. We are now in the flat country that has largely been cleared of the original rain forest. After breakfast at the hotel we rode out to the church at San Juan Acul. Here we met the people, worshiped, as always, had activities for the kids, a meeting with the session, and a "snack". We had enough time here that we took a walking tour of the community. After this we drove out to the Valle Nueve church and community where we had lunch and followed the same format as at the morning church. The dry weather made it possible for us to go right to the village instead of slogging it out on a muddy rutted road for 30 minutes.

Fred and Chuck recalled one such ill-advised trek when they ran out of water - and physical reserves. The trip to the village had to be abandoned. They remembered gladly accepting local water that somebody was carrying in an old antifreeze container before turning back to the vehicle. Hence they christened this road, when it must be walked, the "Peten Death March"

Old Abandoned Water Project at San Juan Acul

School Kids and Marti Gras in Sayaxche

The Sayaxche Celebration: Day 4

Each of the partner churches came with their people in rented cattle trucks. There are hundreds of children here. Our crafts and games crew is making bubbles with them. It is a fairly hot day. I take my guitar in the shade and am soon joined by a couple of Mexican guys from Tabasco and a crowd gathers. They have come as part of the entertainment. I don't know Spanish (and I sorely wish I did, because they want to include me on some things I do not understand), but I can tell that they speak it differently than the Guatemalans: they speak it like machine guns.

When the service starts, each visiting church comes forward to speak, sing, and pray. They ampify all this big time with that echo effect you here on Hispanic radio stations.

The church is filled to overflowing. Sally is sitting next to me on the front row and is covered up with childen who want to sit in her lap and have their pictures made - and just hang around for most of the four hours of worship. Ian is working on a story - interviewing a young man who has seen the hard side of life here.

After the service we took advantage of having the representatives from the national church to discuss and celebrate the partnership. It was a very long day, but not as long as for the moderator and secretary who were looking at an all-night drive to get back to the capital for a 7am meeting. I do not envy them driving through that country in the dark!

Ferrying across the Rio Passion: Day 5

Most of our team took fare on one of the long ferry boats about as wide as a john boat and maybe 30 feet long- just for fun. I was one of the lazy bones who stayed in the van as it was carried on the larger "official" ferry that runs all night. Then north to the town of La Libertad on a pretty good straight road through flat country. All this Peten region is beautiful and green.

We visited two churches today. At the first we visited in the village of Chinetal. We went to the manse of the pastor. Dirt floor and slung hammocks for storage in the kitchen. Palm thatch roof. At our meeting with the session the pastor reminded us of the need for a new manse. We call these requests "solicitudes". This business of solicitudes is a key element in how the partnership between the Middle Tennessee Presbytery works with the Presbytery of the Qetchi Peten. We want to deal fairly with the overwhelming needs that the sessions of the Peten make known to us. And by "we", I mean the churches, the two presbyteries, and the mission teams who are commissioned to represent the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee on these trips. From hard experience we know that many things can go wrong on these missions. Among them are

1} mission teams coming from the U. S. come with their own agendas as to what these people "need", and build stuff that is poorly conceived and/or misinformed. All over Guatemala are the relics of failed mission projects;

2} a single congregation in the presbytery asks a visiting mission to launch into something that has not been properly researched or cleared with the other partnership churches. An example of this is a request that was made by one church that had visiting college teams tapping into a water line that was both poorly conceived and illegal. The solicitude systeem routes the requests of a congregation in a systematic and proper manner. The solicitude has to be authorized in order to be put into the cue for attention, and it needs the concurrence of a representive of all the churches in the Peten. This keeps everything transparent. It helps us make sure we have done the proper research as well.

3) The solicitudes are run through the presbytery itself.

This helps insure that what we do is born of the best wisdom of all parties involved. So, if we do end up having a role in building a new manse at Chinetal, which is in itself a very worthy project, it will be in line with the other priorities of the partner churches in the Peten. This also honors the polity connection with the National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala as well as the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee.

Hospatality is a cherished tradition of the Quetchi churches, and they exercise it by serving us food. Sometimes that means that we are served a pre-lunch an hour before the lunch at the next church. It is a bit of a balancing act to eat what is set before us and also honor the needs of our digestive systems.

Nuevo Canaan was our next destination. They have a tradition of setting off firecrackers to welcome us, and this visit was no except.

This country has become more hilly, reminding me of the lay of the land in middle Tennessee, with some beautiful limestone bluffs and streams along the way. Of course, we do not expect to see cabana and banana and papaya trees popping up in the corn fields in middle Tennessee!

We have traveled further north in the Peten, and we spend the night at a hotel in La Libertad. This place is not for the faint of heart!

Last Day of the Mission: Day 6

From La Libertad we went out to the last two churches that we are visiting on this mission Zapotal Dos and Juleque. At this point, there are three or four of us, including myself, who are not feeling well. Chest colds for the must part. Lauren has been dealing with it the whole trip. Yesterday I just stayed in the van after the worship service at the first church. It was nice just to doze and let the breeze blow through the windows. For each of the churches on the mission we have presented to the pastor or chief elder the cards we made with the photograph we made after worship at the Cowan Fellowship Church. This has been a very good thing. Ian made the presentation at the Zapotal Dos church today, and Lauren did so at Juleque. Lauren has also given the scripture reading for the children's sermon which Philip has translated into Spanish. Sherard has given each of the sermons.

When we got out of the bus at Juleqque, Tami was greeted by young girls who remembered her from two years ago, and they wanted to resume the circle of "Ring around the Rosie"! Every church has had its own special grace. Ian especially loved the experience at the Juleque congregation, situated at the most northeastern point of our journey.

It has been a wonderful mission with a great team. And we are very tired. Every one of the churches of the partnership has been visited, and this is important to them, for it is one thing to have a middle Tennessee team visit them once: it is quite another to see us honor our commitment to them by showing up again: to see the "norte americanos" honor their promises.

We have eaten more than a little of black beans, rice, and chicken. And, of course, the ubiquitous tortilla - handmade right there in the kitchens of the women of the churches. In our last day, as we lunched in the home of the oldest elder of Juleque, I sensed that for our team, these meals given by people who are giving to us the joy of their hearts is something like a sacrement. Christ with us in the hearts and hands of the women who made the tortillas and the men who are in the fields cutting the cane and the children who are everywhere, shared by trusting parents with us who are eagar to hold them in our embrace, not only on this, day, but in all the days of our life.

Philip gives his greeting to the folks at Cowan, and cherishes the experience of this week in which he has had the joy of renewing an old connection. He wanted me to pass this on. He looks forward to. one of these days, coming to be with us in Cowan. But for all the team, hailing from Nashville, Murfressboro, Cowan, any perhaps a church I have forgotten, we give thanks to God for this vision of the kingdom in the Peten of Guatemala. Thanks be to God.

Sherard preaching, Lauren reading scripture, Phillip translating. . .

Flores and Tikal: Day 7

Flores is a tourist town on an island in the lake called "Itza Peten." This is where we drove last night - to a NICE hotel. Like showers that have half a chance of warm water. At this point we didn´t care about such minor details. What matters is air conditioning that works; clean space; the patio looking out on the lake. No bed bugs. Good beds. Internet access and desktop computers in the lobby that helped me make short work of finishing the Guatemala-side entries of this diary! Sandra and Barb have gone back to work from the lobby, tending to their homeside businesses by phone and over the net.

Ian and Lauren went bananas shopping when we got here last night. The night comes alive in this town. Sherard booked a guide and tour van to take our people to the Tikal park and Mayan ruin last night, and that is what most of us did today. I had a pretty bad night last night with this chest cold and decided to hang close to the hotel with Fred, Sandra and Barb instead of the ruins. It has been a good day for relaxing as well as touring. Our crew just got back from the Tikal trip a few minutes ago (it's 3:49pm) and had a great time, even though the restaurant closed that they had hoped to eat lunch at. They came in hungry - I was afraid they might start gnawing on the lobby plants. They've gone down the street to rectify that situation. Those of us who stayed here had a nice lunch on a restaurant on the lakefront called Villa de Chef.

Sherard hired the same driver who took them to Tikal to pick us up at 6pm to go to the airport to get catch our Taca airline flight tonight back to Guatemala City. Philip and Alfredo, our mission driver, are making the 8 hour drive back to the capital today. Great thing is, they took all our baggage that would have to be checked on the Taca flight! Whenever you can do something simple traveling like this it's a blessing. The flight leaves at 8 tonight.

Getting home - maybe: Day 8

The hotel we stayed in was pretty bad. Those of us on the ground floor were entertained in the early hours of the morning by a shouting match between two rival gangs. This is one of those places where you probably do not want to use the bed except to wrap yourself in your own sheet. I was pretty sick all night, so there wasn't much sleep anyway.

I was on the first crew to be taken to the airport, and cued up last in line to get my boarding pass for my reserved seat. Surprise: my reservation had been dropped! So the rest of the early crew flew on out, and I spent most of the day in the Guatemala City airport for my 1:15 pm flight to Houston. I bought a couple of Louis L'amour books to read on my Kindle. Needed to zone out on something. Then 7:30pm flight to Nashville. MaryAnn picked me upin Nashville at 9pm, and we were back in home sweet home Cowan by 11pm. I called in when I got to Houston to have people fill in for me Sunday morning - decided to take Sunday off.

Paula, Tami, Ian and Lauren missed their Nashville connection in Dallas because of slow lines at customs. They are spending the night in Dallas, catching a flight Sunday.