Oh where to begin. Do I start with the beginning when we get to Miami airport via Ft. Lauderdale or work backwards from good bye to the children? Either way, God’s Presence has been felt and demonstrated every step of the way.
First Baptist Church of Sarasota’s adventure began with some excitement as we arrived in Miami with barely enough time to make our flight. We pulled up to the curb and the skycap told us to go on in and they would get all of the luggage (and a mighty pile of luggage it was too with two bags per person filled with all manner of baby goods). The two women at the counter checked us in with only moments to spare and never even weighed our bags! Good thing too – some of them were without a doubt overweight. We made it through security and onto our flight minutes before takeoff.
We arrived in Guatemala City as scheduled with a mariachi band there to greet us. Okay, so they weren’t there for us, but it was pretty cool to hear the brass playing as we loaded into the vans. An hour and a half or so later we arrived at our hotel in Antigua. Oh, by the way, we heard that another church from Florida was going to be here at the same time. Imagine our surprise and delight to find out that it was Sarasota Baptist Church! We had dinner with them every night. Doesn’t God do the funniest things!
Our Florida Baptist Children’s Home contact, Ron, has been fabulous. He has worked out every detail and I mean every detail, of our trip without flaw. We just go where he tells us and when and, oh yeah, don’t forget to drink water, and more water, and more water.
We started out with some time in Antigua with services at Iglesia del Camino - a bilingual church here in Antigua. The music was tremendous. It was fun to sing both in English and in Spanish. Pastor Mike shared a timely message. What do you know – God was here too! We spent the afternoon walking around Antigua enjoying the sights and watching the people.
One more general info before I move on to “our reason for being” here in Guatemala. The food has been outstanding. A missionary team who runs a local hotel has cooked for us each evening. Let me put it this way, we look forward to our meals each evening and not just because we’re hungry.
Enough about us – let’s get to the good stuff. Each morning we got up early and shared a breakfast and devotios together at our hotel. On Monday, Pastor Bill shared a devotional about Obed (check out the end of the Book of Ruth) and how Obed is mentioned as the son of Ruth and Boaz (and proud grandma Naomi). Not much else is known about him except that, oh yeah, he was the father of Jesse. His little boy Jesse grew up to have eight fine sons –the least among them being a young lad named David – the greatest king that Israel has ever known. Obed sure didn’t know that he was the grandfather to the future king, but his contribution to Israel’s history was no small part.
That devotional set the tone for our trip as we set out to minister to “the least of these”. We decided to call ourselves The Fellowship of Obed – but then one of our number suggested that that would make us Obedouins. It seemed a fitting name for a band of travelers who came to feed God’s lambs. The Obedouins we were.
Next stop for the Obedouin Tribe – The Malnutrition Center where we toured the center to see what work needed to be accomplished in our few short days. First was the room with the isolation rooms that were in various stages of construction. Previously the bed babies had been kept in one crib to a room. Another team had taken out some of the walls to enable them to put two cribs per room. Others were left intact to allow them a place for children who are ill. All of these needed to be scraped and painted.
The kitchen was next where painting needed to be completed in a hurry to prep for the new commercial stove and oven and steel tables that were arriving the next day. New cabinets were due to be installed as well. Next to the kitchen was the pantry where formula, rice, beans, oatmeal, soups, juices, and diapers and wipes needed to be placed filling all of the shelves.
Our team quickly divided up to address all of these needs. But the last stop was the one we had been most anxiously anticipating – the children’s rooms. How can one describe the sight as we went into the room with the bed babies. Seventeen children from the ages of 4-6 months and up to approximately two years lying in cribs all lining a long room. Two workers were changing diapers and getting them dressed for the day. We went in and immediately began to help feed these sweet babies.
The tiniest of them had bottles propped up where they attempted to feed themselves. Others were able to manage their bottles themselves. Some of us quickly scooped up those that needed help eating. They relaxed into our arms and gratefully began to eat. Others scooped up babies and found they definitely needed a diaper change first! We spent our first day – and the rest of the week - feeding, changing, hugging, cuddling, rocking, cooing, stroking, playing, tickling, bathing, and soothing these sweet little children who otherwise would stay in their cribs with little to do but take their bottles, sleep, and lie there looking at the ceiling.
As they days progressed, their names and faces became familiar and beloved to us as did the older children who at first shyly came around and then quickly found their favorites especially among the young people. There was Jose whom Pastor Bill fell in love with in June. Jose had settled in nicely and we were able to play with him and coax smiles from him by the end of the week. Minar had just arrived at the center a couple of days earlier and would only sit in his crib and cry. At nearly two years old and not yet walking, we really wanted to make a difference for him. Bill West took a break from painting on Tuesday and gave special attention to Minar. Bill eventually was able to soothe Minar and after that the two of them were inseparable. Of course, after that Bill spent more time in the nursery that he did painting.
Sandy Buchanan went to Griselda who was coughing and coughing. She held Griselda while Griselda coughed up copious amounts of fluid. By the end of the day, Sandy was wearing every type of “baby fluid” possible. We could not have done without Naomi West who helped us communicate with the workers. She was called everywhere and patiently served as a liason between the Guatemalan workers and the American invaders. She and Ann Toale hauled buckets of warm water as we set up a baby washing assembly line. Ann deserved a special award for cleaning up the bathroom following the toddlers potty time before we could even use the bathroom to bathe the babies.
Pat Gentry fed and held as many babies as she possibly could giving each child special love and attention. She helped to get the babies quickly bathed and into clean clothes and diapers. Beverly Hild worked at play as she would engaged the babies in playtime getting them to smile and laugh. Krisitn Pettit of Sarasota Baptist passed up several excursions with her group to stay and love on the babies. We were so glad to have her with us.
During the week two more children arrived one of them nearly two, but barely larger than an infant, and the other eighteen months and inconsolable. Ann gave him special attention and eventually he relaxed with her stopped crying.
The men worked oh so hard on their various project. Keith (who dubbed us the Obedouins) and Alex Lamphier and Lucien Goffard painted all week, but they took time to play with the children as well. The little ones were so hard to resist.
The hardest thing about caring for the babies was that we had to choose every minute who we would give our attention to. Did we pick up and soothe those who were crying or play with those who so needed attention and interaction. We just gave as much of ourselves as we were able and had to be dragged away each day. For all their difficulties, the babies were so sweet natured and they blessed us so much with their eyes that lit up when we came in.
While all of this was going on, they guys were furiously working to get all of the painting done that needed to get done by the end of the week. But they all found some time to spend with the children. Andrew Toale made a special friend with Francisco and the two were seen together all during the week. It was a special treat to see Matt Buchanan settled in the rocking chair with two sweet little ones one his knees. Christina, who made friends with everyone of us, took a special liking to James Buchanan. She looked like a little doll in James’ arms. Jose reached for Larry Wilson the moment he walked by and Larry had him laughing out loud.
We were especially blessed to have Dr. Sandy Lamphier with us. On Monday she checked all of the children. For the next three days she was set up in a doctor’s office in the small town of San Juan. She gave Pap smears to 187 of the women including the staff of the Center in three short days! Women of all ages came many of them had never had a Pap test! Pat, Sandy B., and Bev took turns assisting Dr. Lamphier and took the opportunity to pray for the women who came to the office. All were anxious to get back to the center at the end of each day to feed, rock, and cuddle a few more babies before the day’s end.
Well, that was how we spent our days. Our hearts broke as we said good-bye to the children. As the final final call was made, we hurried around to the babies to give one more hug, one more kiss, one more pat, one more chance to say I love you to these little ones who took a piece of our hearts. Most of us were in tears as all the older children stood in the hall calling Adios! Adios! Adios! And then we had to drive away.
On Friday, we had one day for adventure. Some of our group stayed close to the hotel and enjoyed a morning of sleeping in and then shopping, Luc went into Guatemala City where he used to live. He had a grand time and even found the house where he used to live many years ago. An intrepid group of Obedouins trekked to the top of Pacaya, an active volcano! Several were able to venture close enough to poke their walking sticks into the flowing lava! What an adventure! After coming down off of the mountain, many went on another adventure. We traveled by zip-line in the mountains over a coffee plantation! After our morning’s hike, we were so glad we were able to do that sitting down.
So, as we fill out our paperwork to leave the country and prepare to pack and leave at dawn, we reflect on what we were able to accomplish. The Malnutrition Center’s pantry was stocked with more food than it has contained in more than fifteen years. The children’s ward was scraped and painted. The kitchen was painted and had a new stove hooked up and ready to use. Nearly two hundred women have had health check-ups that may eventually save lives. The children have been loved thoroughly.
What difference will all of this make in light of such great needs and when so much still needs to be done? Many rooms in the center still remain to be painted and prepared for use. The food in the pantry will be eaten and the diapers used and all will have to be replenished. The babies will have to be fed again and their diapers changed again and bathed again and then fed again and changed again and then fed again and then, we, you get the idea.
Obed. Not considered one of the notables in the Bible except for one little mention. First Obed, then Jesse, then David. We may have made a very small dent in the whole scheme of things. But next week a group comes and does a little more and after that another group and then another. And through small tribes of Obedouins, God can accomplish His glorious will. First Obed, then Jesse, then David . . . then Jesus Christ our Lord.
“For whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”