On Fire for Guatemala
How simple stoves are stoking a community
This spring, the Marine View Presbyterian team will return to Guatemala for the 20th time, once again demonstrating bold love and compassion in helping local families walk into the future with better health.
By Brian Dirks
What began as a simple desire to help others in an impoverished and remote region far to the south has added up to a lot of good work by the people of Marine View since the congregation sent its first mission team to Guatemala 26 years ago.
This May, the congregation continues its time-honored affiliation with the Hands for Peacemaking Foundation, sending its 20th team to Guatemala for a 10-day mission. Through the years, Marine View teams have made significant advances among the Mayan people who live in isolated communities with few resources. This year’s mission will be no exception.
An enduring legacy
“We wanted MVP to do something in the mission area that had impact,” recalls Dick Shenk, who with his wife, Elinor, led the first mission team to Guatemala in 1989. That year the 10-member team first spent a week in an inner-city children’s camp in Paramus near Guatemala City, doing maintenance work before the kids came for the summer and building a pump house.
The second week the team made the nearly two-day trip north to Santa Cruz Barillas to work with Dr. Leon Aller, a physician from Snohomish County who, with wife Virginia, had opened a medical clinic there. The group from Marine View completed maintenance projects at the local school and the clinic.
On their return to Sea-Tac Airport they were greeted by the new MVP pastor, Jon Schmick. It was his first day on the job.
Dr. Aller would later found Hands for Peacemaking, an Everett-based organization that dispatches as many as eight mission teams a year to work on a variety of projects in small Mayan villages scattered just south of Guatemala’s border with Mexico.
In the 1990s, Marine View teams worked primarily on the Berea Christian School in Barillas. The school was completed in 1997, and Marine View’s Terry and Pat Henderson attended the school’s first high school class graduation in 2000.
Marine View took a four-year break from the annual missions outreach in the early 2000s. Since 2005, the congregation has sent a team every year, focusing primarily on the installation of wood stoves in the Mayan villages that dot the region. While most of the local families have few resources, each family agrees to pay for a portion of their stove’s cost—helping to ensure families are invested in their new stoves.
The gift of new stoves
For generations, Mayan families have lived in homes filled with smoke from open-pit cooking fires, creosote caking their ceilings. The new stoves, manufactured by local workers at the Aller Skill Center, replace the open fires. Now smoke from the stove’s firebox is vented outside the home through a stove pipe, creating a healthier, soot-free living environment and reducing burn injuries, especially among the children.
Hands for Peacemaking staff, under the direction of field director Marco Tulio Maldonado, works closely with the villages in advance, taking stove orders, enlisting help from village leaders, and setting up a room or two in a local school for the team to stay in.
For the past several years the teams have stayed in the villages, which are typically a three- to four-hour drive from Barillas on rough roads best suited for four-wheel drive. Once settled in, team members separate into subgroups and are matched with helpers from the village and Hand for Peacemaking staff for the stove installations. Thanks to advance work, stove parts and stove pipe are already waiting on the ground at each home, ready for assembly.
Team members first level a patch of dirt where the stoves will stand, bolt the stove together, and set precast bricks in the firebox. They then engineer where the heavy gauge stove pipe is to bend outside, a process that can include punching a hole through the side of the house and using staple nails and bailing wire to hold the pipe in place.
Team members find they become more proficient with each installation. By working diligently, often in dark and close quarters, each group typically installs between six and 10 stoves a day. The stoves are highly valued by these impoverished families, who have withstood civil war, poisonous snakes, earthquakes, landslides, and more.
The 2015 team
This year’s Guatemala team, currently seven members strong and still recruiting for more, is assigned to the adjoining villages of Loma Linda La Frontera and Nueva Reorma Santo Domingo, where they plan to install 110 stoves.
Members include mission veterans Reuben Weeks, Ed Hong, Diane Malone and Brian Dirks. Brian is leading the mission for the second time. They will be joined by the husband-wife team of Marie and Michael Blank and Liz Sawyer.
It takes a village to help a village. The team is responsible for raising funds for the stoves, and many members of the congregation routinely buy one or more. Women’s groups in the church assemble gift packs of toys as well as dental and other hygiene products, which are taken to Guatemala in extra luggage.
While each team member is expected to contribute his or her in-country expenses, the church allocates several thousand dollars a year to cover airfare and other team expenses. Those expenses include Spanish language Bibles, which are given to each family in a ceremony at the close of a stove installation.
Each team member feels a deep, personal commitment to the mission. Liz Sawyer has contemplated going for many years.
“Back in 2005, I found myself in the back pew at Marine View as a new mom and feeling a bit lost in my faith,” she said. “One of the first things that caught my attention at Marine View was the Guatemala mission trip. My experience serving in Mexico with my youth group as a teenager had a profound effect on my faith and as I heard of the villages in Guatemala I felt that pull on my heart.”
“I am excited beyond measure,” said Marie Blank, who sees the mission as part of her faith journey.
The team is scheduled to depart from SeaTac in the early morning of May 22 and will return the evening of May 31. Before then, the team must raise $22,000 to pay for the stoves, which cost $200 each.
You can help! If you are interested in buying a stove or supporting the mission in other ways, please log onto https://marineview.onthecity.org/give and designate “Guatemala Mission” in your giving, or contact a team member to offer a hand.