Mission Guatemala: TWC students perform spring break mission work

Posted on: March 19, 2012

Spring break for most college students means a break from classes and a trip to the beach. For six Tennessee Wesleyan College students, this year's spring break was an opportunity to commit to a week's worth of mission work in one of the top ten poorest countries in the world.

Spring break for most college students means a break from classes and a trip to the beach. For six Tennessee Wesleyan College students, this year’s spring break was an opportunity to commit to a week’s worth of mission work in one of the top ten poorest countries in the world.

Accompanied by three TWC faculty/staff members and two family members, Maci Shelton, Justin Greer, Justin Walker, Tara Bugg, Sara Phelps and Sydney Varajon took a three-hour flight to Guatemala to spend a week participating in Mission Guatemala. Coordinated through the United Methodist Volunteers and Mission program, the students installed new cooking stoves in village huts and assembled playground equipment for a local elementary school.

“The students really enjoyed putting together the stoves for the families,” said The Rev. Dr. William McDonald, TWC associate professor of religion and chaplain. “We were taken out to remote villages where people live in stick and mud huts. They cook over an open flame within their huts so their walls, as well as their lungs, are blackened with soot. We installed simple stoves that took about half an hour to put together.”

Centered in the town of Panahajachel, the students installed eight stoves for eight Guatemalan families before focusing their efforts on assembling playground equipment for use at Escuela Nuevo Esperanza (New Hope School), a local elementary school.

“All this village school had was a dirt field,” said McDonald. “The children had nothing to play on. They played soccer and that’s all they had. The mission group that was there before us had gotten a fence up and our job was to start building the equipment.”

The mission work that the students performed on the trip allowed them to spend time with several Guatemalan families.

“Those of us at the playground had the opportunity to interact with the children at the school, playing soccer, making tissue paper butterflies and bead bracelets, reading stories, and just playing,” said Dr. Nancy Gregg, an assistant professor of teacher education who accompanied the students on the mission trip. “As one of the adults on the trip, it was rewarding to watch the students blossom throughout the week. Some who were a bit shy at first were confidently leading games and crafts with kids by our last day.”

Gregg’s experience working with Mission Guatemala was a positive one she said.

“One of the things that impressed me most about the organization is that they value the local community members as partners and stakeholders in creating sustainable changes within their own community,” said Gregg. “They are not just coming in and ‘doing for or to’ the community but are working alongside of them in order to fulfill needs for food, health, and education. It is a caring, respectful partnership that is truly making a positive impact in the communities in that region of Guatemala.”

McDonald has organized five TWC spring break mission trips throughout the last few years, saving funds from the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church over a two-year period to help fund a trip every other year. This year’s trip was especially successful Gregg said.

“The people there were so very warm and welcoming and it makes me feel humbly blessed to have had the chance to work with them,” said Gregg.  “I came away feeling that I had received much more than I was able to give.”

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