What does it mean to be a witness? It can mean simply that we have seen something. But it can also mean that we are called upon to share what we have seen as vividly as we can, to make it real to others.
This was a far different experience for me from the visit three years ago, just before Covid.
I’m Jill Murphy, and my journey to Guatemala began with meeting a new friend at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina, where my husband is the newly appointed pastor. I met Anne Finch only seven months ago and somehow this God-orchestrated encounter has led me to Guatemala.
Anne’s story began when she was just seven or eight years old. Her father was very ill and as she prayed for her father she promised God, “If you heal my father, I will become a missionary.” As a believing people, we know God does answer prayers and He did answer the prayers of this young child.
Fast forward to Anne’s adulthood in 1972 with this promise and calling still in her heart, she goes on her first mission trip to Guatemala. She drove from North Carolina to Guatemala with a car full of medical supplies. Over the span of a month, she worked with Dr. Carroll Behrhorst at the Behrhorst Clinic, Father Dr. More Fekete at Sam Philipi deCara and she served at a Belgium Catholic Mission near the Honduran border. A few years later, in 1987 believing her commitment to God was a lifetime commitment, she returns to Guatemala to serve the Mam people. It was there that she asked a simple yet important question to the people, “If you could have anything, what would you want?” The response was unanimous, a sewing machine. Her new friend Rosario explained that this would give the women a means to earn a living and make clothes for their family.
On the spot, Anne, the mission team, and Rosario go to a nearby town to buy their first manual Singer Sewing machine for the association.
This calling remained with Anne for the rest of her life. She has worked to help raise money to send sewing machines each year! In 2000, a formal sewing machine school was created under the Association’s direction. They even have paid instructors and a curriculum for the students.
Since opening in 2000, thousands of women have graduated from the sewing schools which has grown from one school into four! Just last week, two new satellite schools opened in small villages, so women could have opportunities closer to home.
Each school rents a space to set up the sewing machines and the women come once a week for eight hours to learn this new skill – often with babies on their backs. Today I met Joselyn who is 23 years old. She is the teacher at one of the new sewing schools and also a former student.
This week, I have literally stood here in Guatemala visiting each sewing school, looking at the rich legacy that has changed and continues to change thousands of lives. A legacy that rubbed off on me after just knowing Anne for seven months. A legacy that began with a child’s promise and a woman’s question “If you could have anything, what would you want?”
All eight travelers arrived safely in Guatemala City last evening. The sun is shining and the weather is glorious—unlike at home right now! Seven travelers are representing New Castle Presbytery (Tracy, Rachel, Karen, Arun, Denison, Jamie, and Carrie) and we are delighted to also be joined by Mary Jane from Presbytery of the James in Richmond, Virginia.
This past Sunday, Cathy and Carrie paid a visit to our partner church, El Verbo Divino. The church is absolutely breathtaking and has the most scenic view from its balcony. If that name sounds a tad familiar, this is the same church whose youth group graciously hosted Westminster youth this past summer for the inaugural youth partnership trip to Guatemala.