Can’t See the Forest from the Trees?

A high altitude report from Carol and Bruce Shumway, Trinity Presbyterian Church

“Can’t see the forest for the trees?” Yes, yes you can!  Day four of this Guatemalan journey was spent visiting a reforestation site in the Western Highlands with Carlos, our agricultural expert. You have probably heard of “tree huggers” and “forest bathing.” Today we were forest dreaming. The group rode up a harrowing road to an elevation of 10,000 feet to see a reforested area and meet the Mam women who are the custodians of this site. The climb to the site left us breathless, literally, from the thin air, and the view of the trees almost touching the clouds left us breathless as well.

Carlos explains project progress during community tour.

Last year, 6,000 trees were planted on this mountainside. They replaced the pine trees that have suffered disease from a pine beetle infestation. New species of trees were planted to help protect the remaining pine trees.  With the support of the Partnership, the women have been able to put into practice the teachings of their indigenous ancestors: “For every tree cut down, you must plant ten,” stated an Association board member.

Some of the many women that advance this important reforestation effort.

While most of the projects of the Partnership have involved helping the women to empower themselves and create a sustainable source of income, the reforestation project is done for the love of the earth. Our hearts were gladdened to learn that despite their personal struggles, they are responding to God’s call to be faithful stewards. We are optimistic that the efforts of this one small group can make a difference as they are a small part of a larger effort that has succeeded in planting an average of 10,000 trees every year with the Partnership’s support.

A Child’s Prayer, A Woman’s Question 

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. 

Jill (right) delivering some handmade baby hats and blankets on behalf of Aldersgate UMC.

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?”

A Community Visit Showcases Project Progress and Ignites a Stirring Reminder

After a few exciting days, we were finally ready to venture into the communities and meet the women of the Association. As a first time traveler, it was exciting to not only meet the women but also see their successful projects in action. Many of you reading may be familiar with these life-improving projects, but to see them beaming with pride as they display the fruits of their labor really expands one’s perspective.

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Up and At ‘Em!

This is Gloria Kilby, from West Nottingham Presbyterian Church in Colora, Maryland.  

After an amazingly quiet night in Guatemala City, near the airport, with hardly a sound all night, I woke up at 5:30 to the sound of a very loud jet taking off. At breakfast, some people said they woke at 5 a.m. to the sound of a trumpet call from the neighboring military school.  

Up and at ’em for day 2 of our amazing trip!

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