Things have been busy, to say the least, since our recent arrival in Guatemala. There were 6 of us in our group: Fr. John and myself, Bob Kirschner – project director of our new clinic, Dr. Willie Manteris – a dentist and partner in the building of our clinic, Dave Sevick – computer expert and former OR nurse at Children’s Hospital, and Fr. Juvenaly – priest monk most recently serving in the Alaskan missions.
Upon arrival, I set out to purchase hundreds of yards of fabric and trim for my vestment project. The others went to purchase medical equipment from a local supplier, which turns out to be cheaper than shipping donated items from the States. Our purchases finalized, it was off to the misty mountain village of Aguacate, where our clinic is being built. Close to the Mexican border, this town is cold, rainy, and muddy. It’s brightest spot is the Orthodox church where Fr. Evangelos, the village priest, warms everyone’s hearts with his exuberant energy and love.
On Saturday, Dr. Willie ran a dental clinic without benefit of electricity and with the annoyance of a leaking roof. Standing in water, he treated 50 patients, extracting 58 teeth. By evening, there was a panic among the many people who were still waiting to be seen when they were told we could take no more patients. We offered them a toothbrush and toothpaste, which they accepted but would not leave. Then we told them that we had run out of anesthesia and they were welcome to have their teeth pulled without it. The room cleared fast.
On Sunday, we had an exciting “marathon” Liturgy, including 6 weddings and 13 baptisms. The congregation (almost 1,000 of them) began arriving an hour early. The warm-up act was a 6-piece band, including 2 marimbas, a keyboard, an electric guitar, a drum set, and a saxophone, all amplified beyond belief. There was a lot of singing and clapping. The band stopped for the Liturgy and did not play again until Communion time. The sweet-sounding girls’ a-cappella choir sang the responses for the Liturgy.
The wedding ceremony was incorporated into the Liturgy. I had never seen this done before, but I am told there is historical precedent. After an impassioned sermon by Fr. Evangelos and a lengthy Communion line, the Liturgy ended and we began the baptisms of 13 infants. You can imagine the cacophony of wailing babies that ensued. What a spectacle!
The afternoon brought meetings with the contractors who are building the clinic. In the evening, the village midwives and health workers came so that Bob Kirschner (a paramedic and veteran of world-wide medical missions) could introduce them to the many medicines and equipment that we brought. Slowly, more people started arriving. They had heard that medical people were there and they were bringing their sick babies and relatives.
Bob did a fine job of tending to a woman with a horribly infected finger. Dave tended to the sick babies. Dr. Willy also advised. Having been the medical assistant on Saturday and this evening, I was a little worried about the number of people drifting in. I was mobbed by potential patients the day before. We finally had to lock the door to prevent more people from coming in.
Bob, Willy, and Dave went home today. Fr. John and I are back at our mountain home in Huehuetenango, where the weather is chilly but sunny. Fr. Juvenaly will stay with us until mid-February. He is considering a long-term mission commitment here. This weekend we are expecting about 120 catechists from many of our village communities. They are coming for a seminar to learn more about the faith. Probably by next week my seamstresses will arrive and we will begin sewing. And the beat goes on…