Thankful in Guatemala

We’re back from Guatemala, after a week and a half of wonderful experiences that reminded me—yet again—how very blessed we are in so many ways!

As I mentioned before, Sterling and I went to Guatemala as part of a 10-day service project. This particular trip included 118 professionals (doctors, dentists, endodontists, oral surgeons, hygiene specialists, dental assistants, X-ray techs, etc.), along with support people (like Sterling and me) and tons of equipment and supplies. We all went to Quetzaltenango where the focus of this particular trip was to help potential missionaries get the dental work, medical work, and other help they needed so they could serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What a fabulous trip it was! We arrived in Guatemala City, then loaded up several buses (can’t remember if there were four or five) and, with a police escort for security, we headed off on the five-hour drive to Quetzaltenango. We set up the clinic in a local meetinghouse and started seeing patients almost immediately.

We saw 840 patients while we were there—it was amazing! I helped the woman who was in charge of running the clinic; she had spent hundreds of hours before the trip organizing everything, then she managed the whole process while we were there. Sterling worked in sterilization; he and three other men made sure all the instruments were sterilized in pressure cookers after each use. And, after the first day when they discovered he was a licensed massage therapist, Sterling also gave 10-minute power massages to the medical personnel who literally spent 14 to 16 hours a day, hunched over working on patients. (That was one of the miracles—when the director of the clinic found out Sterling was a massage therapist, he mentioned that a massage chair had accidentally been brought over with the rest of the equipment.)

In addition to the work we did in the clinic, smaller groups of volunteers went out most days on humanitarian missions to a nearby cancer hospital, orphanages, and other places, helping out where possible and delivering items that we had brought over with us to give to those in need.

The first few days we were there we had mostly young people (aged 16-18) from outlying areas come to the clinic. A lot of them wore native dress and had never even been to a doctor or a dentist. It was not uncommon to have patients who needed at least a dozen cavities filled, as well as a couple of root canals and wisdom teeth extracted—all done with only local anesthesia. One young man sat down at 7 in the morning and didn’t leave until 10 at night! You could tell they were nervous (sometimes even terrified) and a little self-conscious, but they were all so grateful! As they left the clinic with numb faces and gauze in their mouths, they thanked us over and over again.

At one point, many of those who went on the trip became ill with the 24-hour flu, and several were unable to perform their duties. Time for another miracle! A prayer was offered . . . no one else got ill after that, and those who were ill returned quickly to their duties. It was a humbling reminder that prayers are heard and answered.

We finished all the clinic work on Wednesday, working into the night to tear down the clinic and get everything packed up. On Thursday, we left Quetzaltenango and went to Lake Atitlan, a little spot where we were able to rest just a bit. The project directors have been doing this for years and discovered that it works best when everyone has a day or so to rest and recoup; we were up every day before 6 and never got to bed before midnight (often later). So the last day or two of the trip is spent enjoying this beautiful country and its wonderful people.

 

We had a tasty Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, and Friday did a little sightseeing. I bought a hand-carved nativity scene, which will always be a wonderful reminder of our first service trip with Smiles for Central America.

But it won’t be our last! Sterling and I definitely want to stay involved, hopefully going every year. While it will certainly impact our family Thanksgiving traditions, it’s worth it! We’re so blessed to enjoy the abundance we enjoy, and it’s a small price to pay to celebrate our family Thanksgiving on a different day so we can be part of something that truly makes a difference in the lives of others.

I do hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!