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Building Homes - and Lasting Relationships - in Guatemala
by Christine Bolaños
Posted on Tuesday, July 04, 2017
Separated by more than 3,600 miles, time zone differences and two spoken languages, it seems unlikely that a church congregation in Washington State could forge such strong bonds with the people of Santiago and the rural village of Cerro de Oro in the Lake Atitlan area of Guatemala. But that is indeed what has happened, beginning with Orphan Outreach and High Pointe Community Church’s first mission trip to the village in 2009 and continuing to this day. Today, the congregation has helped build more than 20 homes for villagers, provide medical assistance as needed, help strengthen the village’s women ministry, and transform lives - including their own.

That first trip and every visit thereafter, is still engrained in Jenn Matthews’ memories.

She worked on the construction site for the future home of Barbara, who has become the face of the possibilities resulting from the partnership between High Pointe and Cerro de Oro.

In July 2009, Barbara was not expected to live long. She had sores all over her legs the size of quarters, Jenn says. Local doctors could not figure out what was wrong. Her family couldn’t afford specialists. Her feet were extremely swollen. Worst of all Barbara could not walk.

That all changed when High Pointe sent its ministry to the community back in 2009. A doctor, who once served as a military cardiologist, was on the team and diagnosed Barbara with intense vascular issues. He medicated her and looked after her every day the team was on the ground.

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“He cleaned out the wounds, applied dressing to the wounds and we tried to give her flip flops in the hope she would be able to use those to walk,” Jenn explains, adding that it’s not uncommon for indigenous women to walk barefoot.

Before departing, Jenn says the team left medication for Barbara. But she had lost so much circulation in her legs the doctor wasn’t sure she would survive through winter.

“He was prayerful but not optimistic,” Jenn shares. “Every day we would go back out and take a look at the wound and see how it changed.”

The following winter, High Pointe sent another ministry team to Cerro de Oro. “(They) checked in on her and she was actually doing really well,” Jenn recalls. Barbara was doing so much better than she was mobile and attending the Good Shepherd church plant that High Pointe and Orphan Outreach partners with in that area of Guatemala.

“It was frankly, according to the doctor, a miraculous turnaround,” Jenn says. Her home was also completed and handed off to her.

“Now every time we’re at church we see her,” Jenn recalls. “She’s become like a mini-missionary in her own area.” Barbara claps, prays and sings worship songs with wholehearted joy. It is as if she has a new lease on life.


Then there is Concepción, a woman who was angry her husband and father were killed, her mother was ill, and she couldn’t visit a church because she couldn’t afford traditional blouses. A few years later, Jenn was working on the construction site for the latest home and by the fourth day discovered she was working on the house for Concepción and her two boys.

The realization took her back to the prior trip when she prayed with local women in what Jenn calls “Guatemalan style.” Everyone prayed out loud simultaneously and despite the language differences, Jenn is convinced she could understand every work that was spoken.

“God gave me the ability to hear what others were saying,” she says.

But perhaps the most transformative experience for Jenn was when she led her first mission team in 2014. She introduced her husband, who accompanied her on the trip, to Lucia, a market seller who she met during a prior trip. Though they didn’t speak the same language both women felt an instant connection to each other. Through help from a translator Jenn related to Lucia that the couple was trying to have its first baby.

“She grabs my hand and husband’s hand and starts praying for us,” Jenn recalls. “She had us both bawling.” Lucia prayed that by that time the following year the couple would be parents. And sure enough, by her next mission trip, Jenn was pregnant.

“I definitely feel like God has given me a heart for international missions,” Jenn shares. “The people are beautiful. They creep into your heart and don’t let go.” They are all bonded by spirit and common human experience. They are family.

Jenn is not the only one who feels this way.


Katie Schaefer attended High Pointe in 2013 after accepting an invitation from Jenn and found her church home. She was baptized in April, and by that July she was off to Guatemala. “Once I decided to give my life over to Jesus the first thing I wanted to do was to go out and spread the word,” Katie shares. She had heard stories about the congregation’s experience in Guatemala and wanted to see for herself.

Like Jenn, she fell in love with the people and grew to see her fellow followers of Christ as family. “It can’t just be one visit and end there,” she says. “I will go until God tells me I’m not supposed to be going.”

Katie keeps a “family book” where she records living stories of those the ministry has connected with and built homes for. Prayer requests, deaths, illnesses, births and other milestones are documented.

The women’s ministry, launched during a visit to Cerro de Oro by the church, has been a much needed resource for the village women. Some of their father figures were killed and some of their partners have chosen to leave, some are battling emotional challenge, and others simply need support to tackle day-to-day challenges.

The ministry has made all the difference to the women -- including the ones traveling from the United States.

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“(The experience) has brought to life that poverty doesn’t lie on (just) lacking material goods,” Katie explains. “It’s become really evident we’re all poor. We’re all broken. We’re all missing something. Once we figure that out we can solve it, and when I apply that there and back home, that’s changed me in a great way.”

Homes are built for families determined to be in the greatest need in the Cerro de Oro area. Pastor Diego leads Good Shepherd Church in Santiago and its two church plants in Cerro De Oro, and works with Orphan Outreach to provide insight on each family’s needs.

Cheryl Moyd has had similar experiences with the families who now have homes and access to Christ-based education. There is a grandmother named Maria who has become one of her favorite human beings. Maria speaks Tz'utujil, an indigenous language found in remote areas of Guatemala.

“We have to speak through a translator, but I feel bonded to her,” Cheryl says. “I can’t explain it but that’s why I keep going back and continue to build relationships with the deaconesses, the families and the people we come in contact with.”

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The school ministry is also one of her favorite parts about visiting Cerro de Oro. The public schools High Pointe church members work with provide care for elementary and middle school children.

“We plan a ministry program for the elementary kids that generally includes Bible story, games, worships, crafts and then we do snack time,” Cheryl explains. “It’s a ton of fun. We love working with these kids. They’re just a joy.”

Middle school curriculum topics are based on the school’s needs, but have included leadership, nutrition, health and social justice. “We built a template where kids do activities and work and then on the third day we build up to some kind of lesson about Jesus,” she said. “It’s some kind of culminating activity and there is gospel or salvation shared, usually through someone’s testimony on the team.” When school is not in session, the team focuses on worship and discipleship.

Melinda Reed, director of spiritual growth at High Pointe, is touched when she thinks back over the last several years. In 2009, the first year that High Pointe partnered with Orphan Outreach, the ministry had its eye set on going to Panama.

“It was shifted to Cerro de Oro in response to the devastation they had experienced from the landslides and such earlier in the year, and we wanted to partner with the church,” she recalls. “Part of our conviction at High Pointe is that we want to do missions, but in partnership with local churches.”

Through Orphan Outreach, High Pointe was connected with Pastor Diego at Good Shepherd Church and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Teams range anywhere from 8 to 40 members who usually take multiple trips a year.

“I want to reiterate the value of partnering with local churches and helping them minister,” Melinda shares. “As missionaries, we need to go in and support what’s already going on instead of trying to create something different.”


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