Churches field mission teams to Guatemala year after year

Team members from First UMC Fort Smith lay out supplies that will be needed for the day’s clinic. COURTESY PHOTOS

Team members from First UMC Fort Smith lay out supplies that will be needed for the day’s clinic.
COURTESY PHOTOS

Short-term international mission trips have their limitations—for example, there may not be time to form relationships, and cultural differences or language barriers may create stumbling blocks. But by partnering with organizations in Guatemala, several Arkansas churches have been able to return teams to the same place each year to build upon their previous work.

In February, for the fifth time, First UMC Fort Smith sent a 16-person medical and dental mission team to work in Guatemala. These doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, registered nurses and support staff held clinics in remote areas near the town of Cunen to bring care to indigenous people of Mayan descent. The group works with Project Salud y Paz, which provides a team coordinator, translators, transportation and housing. Project Salud y Paz is also developing health education programs.

“The team was able to see about 500 patients during our time in Guatemala,” said team member Dr. David Staggs. “We were also pleased to see that there is now regular care by Guatemalan providers at the Cunen clinic, which allows for continuity of care. Some surgical care is also provided by other teams at the Salud y Paz clinic in Camanchaj.” Staggs and others on the 2016 team hope to return to Guatemala next year.

Dr. Mike Cope of the Pulaski Heights UMC surgical mission team works with a Guatemalan surgeon.

Dr. Mike Cope of the Pulaski Heights UMC surgical mission team works with a Guatemalan surgeon.

Pulaski Heights UMC Little Rock is in its 15th year of sending teams through Project Salud y Paz. Denise Johnson has spent nine years traveling to a clinic in Chichicastenango with the same surgical unit, which performs hernia repairs, cataract surgery, biopsies and cyst removal, tubal ligations and hysterectomies. They also work with local surgeons to teach new techniques.

“Stepping off the plane in Guatemala is the most exciting day of the year for me—even beats Christmas!” Johnson says. “This mission reminds me one week a year why I became a nurse.”

The St. James UMC Little Rock team partners with Impacto Ministry to provide dental, medical and construction services to the residents of San Pedro and nearby towns and villages. The medical and dental teams have seen more than 5,000 patients and pulled more than 2,000 teeth, and the construction teams have built two houses for Guatemalan families and have helped expand the facilities at Happy Tummies, Impacto’s after-school ministry for malnourished children.

In addition to ministering to the physical needs of the communities, the teams minister to the spiritual needs of the adults and children, offering Bible school-style activities and teaching.

Dr. Bryan Watkins and physician assistant Christina Byler of St. James UMC Little Rock talk with clinic visitors in a remote village in Guatemala.

Dr. Bryan Watkins and physician assistant Christina Byler of St. James UMC Little Rock talk with clinic visitors in a remote village in Guatemala.

“Many people’s lives have been changed, in ways big and small, by this ministry,” says St. James team member Jim Petersen. “To borrow from a song by Gungor, ‘God made beautiful things on those mission trips. He made beautiful things out of the dust and out of us.’”