Spotlighting Our Local, National & International Outreach
With the advent of the new year, the Mission Committee chose to review and reflect on some of the programs our church had recently supported. During the February meeting, the committee discussed the Truscott Pozole dinner, Angel Tree program, Harvest Point and others.
The Pozole dinner, a fundraiser for the Truscott parents association, was held in early December in Coy Hall. The event was a huge success, but there were a few take aways. Parents were given access to the kitchen earlier in the afternoon in order to prepare the soups and warm the churros, but church coordinators could have been better informed or explicit operating instructions could have been be available in the kitchen because there was some confusion on how to light the oven pilot. Also with such a large turnout, there needed to be better control over access to restricted areas of the church. Lessons learned planning will be needed if the Committee continues to sponsor this event.
Our Angel Tree program reached fewer children this year because of the poor information received from Prison Fellowship regarding the children assigned to us -- duplicate names, incorrect contact information, etc. Our congregation was able to assist 18 families with 30+ children. We are registered for next Christmas and have asked for 50 children.
The Harvest Pointe effort was successful in helping 53 individuals/families including four church families. Each person/family received a gift card in the amount of $100. The money comes from King Soopers Community Giving cards and individual contributions. Due to an unforeseen emergency, the Harvest Pointe contact was not available and not responding to emails, so delivery was delayed, but after several attempts the gifts bags were delivered in time for Christmas. Backup contacts will be available next Christmas.
As evidenced by the 2022 Christmas Offering, our congregation continues to be generous in our giving. The offering totaled $9,516 which was divided equally ($3,172) between Homeward Alliance in Fort Collins, UMCOR Hurricane Relief for Florida and Puerto Rico, and Pura Vida for the recently held in-person build in Guatemala.
The complexion of the FUMC adult mission trip with Pura Vida has changed this year. Participation has been on the decline for a while so teaming with another church became imperative. In addition, the virtual build model implemented during the pandemic has proved its worth.
Initially, our church reached out to the United Methodist church in Fort Collins as a partner in this year's Pura Vida mission trip, but that didn't get traction. Longs Peak UMC was contacted and their response was very positive. Plus the pairing made perfect sense due to the pastoral ties that bind our two churches together. Soon signups reached near capacity.
The blended, in-person mission trip was a huge success. Everyone on the trip got along well together working as a team on the worksite and enjoying each others company at leisure. To get a sense of what a Pura Vida mission trip is like, be sure to read the travelogue article in this newsletter.
For those who prefer not to travel, the virtual option provided the opportunity to still make that direct connection to the build. During build week, virtual team members received daily updates recounting the day's activities. Follow-up updates will continue through completion and dedication of the homes. Either way, whether in-person or virtual, rest assured that the houses will be completed to provide shelter for the families.
Fundraising to cover expenses for the construction of two halves of a house well exceeded expectations. A total of $13,400 was raised. FUMC contributed $3,100, Longs Peak $3,800. An additional $6,500 was contributed by “virtual” members of the team and other individuals. Cost for the two homes was $8,200 leaving a surplus of $5,200.
Prior to traveling to Guatemala, Maco, construction foreman for the Guatemalan work crew, brought Caserio Rosario school's desire for a video projector and screen to Pura Vida and the Missions Committee attention. Aware of the surplus and the educational impact that the projector could have on the students, the committee voted to allocate the $750 needed to cover the cost of the projector. It was purchased in Guatemala and was presented to the school when the mission trip team made their visit there. The remainder of the surplus was contributed to Pura Vida for the completion of other homes in Guatemala needing funding.
On the Horizon
After a Searchers program, in which Courtney Williams presented information about Colorado Kids Belong, our Committee decided to investigate the possibilities for our congregation to participate in some way in this program. Colorado Kids Belong is a part of a national program promoting foster care of children. There is great need here in Colorado for foster care and for help given to those who are fostering children. Our committee will be following up on this effort in future meetings.
In the cold pre-dawn of February 3rd, the first FUMC mission team to head to Guatemala in three years huddled just inside the doors of West Coy Hall waiting for the church bus to be pulled around so they could start the first leg of their journey. Roger parked the bus, ready to load the bags sitting at the curb, but he immediately discovered that the rear door wouldn't open, so soon a bucket brigade formed to pass suitcases through the front door of the bus and down the aisle for stowing. This presaged the themes of flexibility and teamwork that defined this mission trip.
Once at DIA, the team met up with the contingent from Longs Peak UMC. Since participation has been dropping off, this year's trip was proposed as a blend of both churches. Six were from Longs Peak, nine from FUMC, along with, Paul, a friend of the Bouchards, and one of our (FUMC) neighbors, Lori, a former school board president. Once the plane landed in Houston, the team swelled to a total of 22, as others such as Gary Small's sister Debbie, Pura Vida team lead Janie's friend Jan who has been on nearly all FUMC trips, former FUMC member Lisa Skinner, and Pura Vida founder Mark Ely's nephew David joined the trip.
Patience was the order of the day with a 3+ hour layover followed by
an hours wait on the plane while bags were taken off (including large
containers of soccer equipment belonging to a U17 team) to remove two
belonging to a passenger missing his passport. Guatemala City traffic
helped extend the long travel day before the Super Nina "Chicken Bus"
dropped the team in Antigua a few blocks walk from their hotel. The next
day, rejuvenated after a good breakfast and beautiful views from the
hotel rooftop terrace of the city and the volcano "Fuego" spouting soot
and ash, bus travel resumed to the city of Chichicastenago and Hotel
Santo Tomas, the mission trip's home base for the next several days.
Hotel Santo Tomas has been a mainstay providing a haven for Pura Vida mission trips. The entrance to the hotel with its imposing solid wooden doors unfolds into a beautiful courtyard filled with tropical flowers and plants. The open air hallways surrounding the courtyard are decorated with an eclectic collection of largely religious artifacts. Benches line both the hallways and entryway where you'd likely find team members staking out the best WiFi spots. Morning devotions are held surrounding one of the large ornate fountains. Just off the courtyard is the dining room where the staff assembles long tables to seat entire teams for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the evenings, there is a meeting room warmed by a glowing fire where the team reflects on the day and plans for those upcoming.
Saturday afternoon was free time. After having lunch at the hotel,
some headed off to visit the shops of the city, some to take a guided
tour of the local cemetery with its brightly painted tombs and crosses
where you can find ceremonies honoring the departed. Still others
hopped aboard the bus to go visit Myan ruins where an archeologist guide
shared stories (in Spanish) of the beliefs and customs of the people.
Early Sunday morning, the streets of Chichicastenago were transformed
into an open air marketplace as vendors constructed stalls and brought
their wares (often carried on their backs and strapped to their heads)
to sell. The Chichicastenago market is a wonder to see and has been
listed in the top 100 places to visit before you die. Wandering through
the crowded streets, you can find plenty of locally handcrafted items
such as colorful tablerunners, shawls, wooden masks, clothing and much
more. Many from the team went out into the market to help with the
effort to revitalize the Guatemalan economy devestated by the pandemic.
In a first for a Pura Vida mission trip, U. S. pastors officated at a home dedication. Our own Pastor Lee Anderson-Harris and Pastor Jeremiah Harris were tapped to bless the new home for Lucia and her family which was a 2022 project funded by Highlands UMC Denver. The team traveled on Super Nina for nearly an hour to reach the house located along a dirt road so narrow that the last quarter mile was on foot. As the team approached the home decorated with balloons and streamers, fireworks were set off in the field behind the house. Everyone gathered with the family around the front of the house as the ceremony began with prayer and scripture translated first to Spanish and from there to Quiche, the local tongue. The dedication is all very meaningful and sacred to the Mayan family. As things wrapped up, everyone placed a hand on the house for the blessing and Charlie Bouchard, a board member of Pura Vida, presented Lucia the key to her new home. After a bit of a struggle with the keys to get the door unlocked, Lucia's family got in and invited everyone to tour their two room house. In a surprise to those who traveled with Pura Vida before, there were beds already in the rooms. They had been donated by a benafactor who believes they should be included with all homes Pura Vida builds.
The work week started shortly before 8am gathered around a courtyard
fountain for assignments and devotions. Due to the size of the
construction crew, back to prepandemic full strength, two houses were
under construction that week. A nearby house in Chichicastenago had been
started by a team that had come down in November, so the remaining half
of the house was left to be completed. The other house, located
further away in Lemoa, had the foundation dug out with blocks laid only
to ground level.
Some of the mission trip participants sponsor students through the
Pura Vida scholarship program. These trips give them the opportunity to
visit with their students in person. Visits take place at the hotel so
logistics dictated that whoever had a visit that day would be assigned
to the house in Chichicastenago. So with the team divided into two vans
(replacing the much larger Super Nina), it was off to work.
The first order of business at the Lemoa site was to remove and level
the dirt piled in the center of the two rooms of the house. Grabbing
shovels, a few people started digging and throwing the dirt into the
trenches surrounding the foundation of the house. Others cleared dirt
to level the area in front of the house. The future homeowner Juana and
her son Juan, aka Gaspar, pitched in, happy to help. Gaspar, still in
his teens, may even have been looking to be hired onto the Guatemalan
Some of the Lemoa team chose to visit and help out at the Nutrition Center, within walking distance of the worksite. The center, supported by Pura Vida and headed by Valentina Castro since 2016, provides food and nutritional education for families of malnourished children in the area. That day, the annual Milk Distribution was taking place. Ordinary milk is not commonly available in the area. The team helped hand out bags of dried milk to women from the rural Lemoa area where 80% of children have serious nutritional issues.
Meanwhile, the Chichi worksite hit a roadblock. The entire missions team had been informed that morning that Juana C's mother had passed. At that time, it wasn't known how that would impact the construction crew, but it was readily apparent that they wouldn't be getting much work done. The family had started bringing in additional seating for guests and was looking for privacy while they mourned their loss. So work quickly wrapped up and headed to the Lemoa site.
Work in Lemoa had changed focus to moving construction supplies. Since the house sits up on a rise, blocks, sand and rock couldn't be delivered directly to the home site. Initially, 25 lb cinder blocks were handed up a steep embankment to be walked the rest of the way up the hill. Those returning from the Nutrition Center helped to fill in gaps to where a bucket brigade could be formed. Once the Chichi team arrived, it was possible to tackle the blocks stacked further down the hill with a single line of people all the way to the home site. Definitely strength in numbers!
The cinder block pile was nearly depleted, but fatigue and hunger got to most everyone. Fortunately, it was just a short walk down the hill and across the main road (watching out for chicken buses!) to a park set along the shore of Laguna de Lemoa with covered picnic tables. The lunch bunch assembled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and laid out the fixings for build your own tostadas from corn tortillas, squeeze bags of frijoles (beans), canned corn and hot sauces all sourced from a Chichi market. Simple but tasty! Other than a different variety of cookies for dessert, the lunch menu remained the same over the succeeding work days, but nobody complained. In fact, the double-decker tostada became a thing.
Revitalized, the team knocked out the remainder of the cinder blocks. Then it was onto the piles of sand and rock. Actual buckets were used in the brigade to move the piles up the hill. With everything moved, mixing mortar and laying blocks could proceed.
Since work wouldn't resume on Juana C's house until Wednesday, to avoid everyone stepping all over each other at the Lemoa worksite, Maco, foreman for the Guatemalan crew, found another small project for Tuesday morning. A small contingent volunteered to clear and level part of a cornfield shaded by an avocado tree where construction on a new home would be starting up in March. With nothing but shovels and pickaxes, the crew spent the morning turning soil and pulling roots until the uneven furrowed ground was prepped.
And before returning to the Lemoa worksite, they visited Santos, his
wife, and their three children at their home nearby. A few years ago,
Santos had been involved in an automobile accident that left him
debilitated. To get around, his wife, Loida, would carry him on her
back. Upon meeting Santos, Maco intervened to get him a wheelchair. When
Maco discovered that Santos had wounds on his feet that needed
treatment, he approached Pura Vida which had funds available to attend
to his feet. On the road to recovery, they got word that Pura Vida would
be building a house for the family. Everyone was moved by their story
and prayed with the family to keep them safe and strong.
Back to full strength at the Lemoa worksite, the team was able to work well together given the relatively cramped conditions and diversity of the group. It was notable that everyone enjoyed working as a team. While some were involved with preparing the mortar, sifting sand and tending the "volcano", others were laying blocks and filling the gaps. Still others were cutting tie wire, bending rods and assembling rebar ladders to be placed in U-block channels and laced through the vertical rebar columns to strength the house in an earthquake prone country. And the U-blocks themselves had to be transformed into U-blocks by hammering and hacking out the ends which only occasionally ended in a cracked block. The team was able to accomplish quite a bit by the end of the day as cinder block walls neared the half height goal set for this house.
Wednesday saw the return to the Chichi house. Once again, the full
force of this year's mission trip was brought to bear ... which was a
good thing. Most all materials necessary to complete the house still
needed to be first brought up a flight of stairs and then the rest of
the way up the hill. What's more, the cinder blocks, cement and rebar
were stacked about a half mile away down the road. This required a small
crew to go down to load the back of the van and its roof with cinder
block, while the remainder formed a bucket brigade to transfer the
cinder block from the van up to the house. In between van trips, piles
of sand and rock were transferred up to the house. Several trips were
required and it wasn't until early afternoon that all cinder block,
sand, rock, ... had been moved into the footprint of the house since
Juana C. doesn't own property surrounding the house. After a late
lunch, the Lemoa team departed to continue work on that house.
Thursday morning brought a respite from the hard labor of the
previous three days. Visits to the Caserio Rosario "Cornstalk" school
are always a highlight of Pura Vida mission trips. It's great to see the
joy and excitement of the children as they line the entrance to the
school directing their guests towards the covered stage to the rows of
chairs designed for children nearly half the height of their guests. It
was noted that there weren't as many children in attendance as previous
years. It was revealed that the school was on break and wouldn't return
until the following week which made the turnout seem so much more
impressive. After a warm welcome, groups of children from various grade
levels performed dances for their guests. Not to be outdone, the whole
team had been preparing the past few evenings to perform a skit and to
dance and chant the "A-Moose-Ta-Cha". The story was related, in Spanish,
about a hunt for a Moose complete with props to move the story along.
It culminated in a large angry Moose (Gary in antlers on a chair)
chasing the explorers back to Guatemala. The dance which followed had
the children and even the local construction crew getting into the act.
Afterwards, there was time to visit classrooms where the children
displayed some of the projects they had done over the past year.
After lunch, everyone went to the Lemoa worksite to dedicate the house. After the blessing, a small gift basket of staples was presented to Juana and Gaspar. Those supporting the Chichi build took their leave to get as far as they could on Juana C's house. In Lemoa, the remaining blocks necessary to complete the first half of the house were installed and the C-block channel was filled with concrete. Then it was off to Chichi to help wrap up the work there, dedicate Juana C's house and present her family with a gift basket, as well. The work portion of the mission trip was over, but rest assured the homes would be completed.
The mission team had voted in a pre-trip planning meeting to visit Lake Atitlan on Friday. The Super Nina, once again pressed into service, dropped everyone off near the docks of Panajachel where they boarded the boat that would ferry them across the lake. The leisurely trip provided ample time to take in the beautiful views of the many volcanoes surrounding the lake. Once docked at San Juan La Laguna, they were free to amble up the main street to visit shops, take in a weaving demonstration, or grab a cerveza or other beverage of their choice. Towards lunchtime, everyone rendezvoused back at the dock to board the ferry. The first choice for lunch wasn't an option, but this group had proven to be flexible.
The alternative was a restaurant in San Jose La Laguna overlooking the lake, but choppy waters forced the ferry to dock a short walk down the waterfront and, already pressed for time, tuk-tuks were in order. Packed two to three to a tuk-tuk, the team raced up to the restaurant high on the hill. After enjoying lunch and the views, many chose to take the scenic path back down to the boat. From there it was back to the bus for a late evening arrival in Antigua.
Saturday, the last full day in Guatemala, was on your own. Many chose to tour a nearby coffee plantation. A group of three set out to hike a volcano. The city of Antigua, a former capital of Guatemala and popular tourist destination, provided plenty of diversions, be it hunting bargains in the many shops, touring the jade or chocolate museums, or just strolling through the central plaza. And when hunger pangs strike, Antigua has plenty of places to eat whether it's casual fare such as a heaping plate of nachos at Mono Loco, or upscale open air dining in the lush garden at Epicure, or anything in between.
But all good things come to an end. Sunday morning came early for the group as they gathered in the hotel lobby awaiting the 3am departure to the airport in Guatemala City. One last time the Super Nina bus was loaded with bags and travelers. Though everyone was looking forward to getting back home, consensus was that it had been a very rewarding mission trip.
First United Methodist Church
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