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by Ray Miller

Five months ago I arrived in Santa Cruz del Quiché to begin a ten month term as a volunteer teaching English at the John Wesley.  So far the experience to date has been marvelous, frustrating, happy, boring, exciting, exhausting and every other adjective of which you might conceive.

Teaching seven different levels (3rd through 9th grades) has proven to be a challenge.  Classes contain between 30 and 43 students; some have proven difficult and others absolutely wonderful.  Most students want to learn.  A few (mostly teenagers) have lots of other concerns at this time in their lives.  But hugs from girls; special handshakes with the boys; smiles when I see students on the streets or in the park; an unexpected “Good morning, how are you?” feeds my spirit. 

Ray teaching English at the JWS

Ray teaching English at the JWS

I have found the teachers, almost without exception, to be very supportive.  It is exciting to find students who will actually attempt some bit of conversation in English (mostly elementary school students).  It has been rewarding to find students who want to come in for 30 minutes to an hour before or after classes to work on their English.  A class for adults which I have started has also been a joy.  Not only adults but some of their children attend one hour a week at 6 P.M. on Wednesdays.

Life in Quiché has opened my eyes more fully to what life is really like for people here.  It is a struggle for many.  Seeing people bringing in firewood for cooking on the backs of horses or donkeys; men and women carrying impossible loads of merchandise to sell in the market; vendors sitting there day after day with few if any customers; riding buses filled with more people that they can hold.  All of these are part of my experience.

In the family with whom I live it takes three workers to make it a go and even with that it is difficult.  Other than TV and cell phones there are very few luxuries.  But the blessing is the wonderful, caring relationships that exist.  Lesther, 28, is someone in whom I have seen the most incredible unconditional love, especially for his 9 year old sister and his mother and father as well as me.  He challenges my life and shines on my failings.

Ray with a few of his sponsored students

Ray with a few of his sponsored students

Even though there are five months more to go until November 3 when I return to the U. S., I am already finding the days and weeks starting to fly by.  Will I return next year?  Maybe, maybe not.  It is too far away to make that decision.  But I will carry memories of people, events, fiestas, struggle and much more with me.  Without a doubt I am the one who has benefitted most from being here.

Ray Miller is a retired pastor of the United Methodist Church.  He is currently a long-term volunteer with Pura Vida at the John Wesley School.

by Rev. Richard Evans

On Monday we began our work at the new primary school in the Caserio Rosario community west of Lemoa.  We were met at the school by teachers, children, a delegation from the community thanking us, and several hundred firecrackers!  The current building is made of cornstalks, with dirt floors in the classrooms.  We are the fourth group from the U.S. to work on the new school, which will be made of concrete blocks, with concrete floors.  

Students at Caserio Rosario

Students at Caserio Rosario

The dedication of the teachers and the enthusiasm of the children won us immediately.  The children come to school at 8:00 with backpacks.  There is a break for breakfast, then more school, recess, and school until 12:30. 

At the school, we have been working with some Guatemalans.  Our jobs have included sifting sand, making mortar, carrying cement, laying bricks, making column ties, and playing with the children.   Those developing realtionships are one of the best parts of this experience.

Martin and Cameron

Martin and Cameron

Before work on Wednesday we had two incredibly moving experiences.  The first was with a Methodist pastor, Tomas Ramos, and his family.  Getting there involved traveling up what was barely a road, then hiking down a path to their house.  They live in … well, we might say squalor.  Tomas receives no salary for his pastoral work, so his income is from weavings they make.  I wondered, “Would I be a minister if I had to live like that? Probably.  If I had a family?  I don’t know.”   
Tomas serves 135 children and 75 adults.  He walks 25 minutes to get to the church.  He told us they were painting the church, but ran out of paint.  They needed 8 more gallons to finish, so we said we would get that for them.  We also left 150 pairs of shoes; 200 toothbrushes; 300 tubes of tooth paste; floss, 25 toys, and five soccer balls.
After visiting with Pastor Tomas, we visited another home nearby.  Two years ago a mission team from Pura Vida built a house for a family who lost theirs in a hurricane mudslide. Five members of their extended family died.  Like Pastor Tomas’ family, they were wonderfully hospitable, welcoming us into their two-room house, and sharing about their lives with us. 
Each group we meet says to us, “God bless you.”  To say God has done that in this experience is a complete understatement. 
Thank you for your support and prayers.  You are here with us. 
Hasta luego, espero que Dios les bendiga.

Dick Evans and Carl Mikesell

Dick Evans and Carl Mikesell

Dick Evans is senior pastor of Washington Park United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado. 

by Christine Morrison

It was somewhere in a maze of red, white, and blue balloons that I fell in love.  Not with a person.  Well, not just one person in particular.  My trip to Guatemala did not come with a romantic gesture even though many Christians know this happens often on mission trips in all the bonding that occurs within the group.  No, it was in a maze of students dressed in khaki and navy that I fell in love with the children of Guatemala, especially the students and teachers of the John Wesley School in Santa Cruz del Quiche.

As a teacher of English as a Second Language here in Colorado, I was excited to be able to work with and learn about the education system in Guatemala.  Our group, the Wesley Foundation from First United Methodist in Fort Collins, had the opportunity of working at a new school in the Caserio Rosario district of Lemoa.  This school is currently made of corn stalks with a mud floor which is not the ideal learning condition during the six month rainy season of Guatemala.  We worked to lay the foundation, which we found extremely fitting, for what will be a cinder-block building that will hold three classrooms.  While working, we also had the opportunity to be in the classrooms playing with children and singing endless versions of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “Sapo, Sapo Sapo.”

Caserio Rosario School, Lemoa

Caserio Rosario School, Lemoa

The joy on the children’s faces as our SuperNina school bus pulled into the school was immeasurable.  The students and teachers were so grateful to have us there constructing a safe and dry building for them that they expressed their gratitude with hugs that were heartfelt enough to pop every American-personal-space-bubble our society has created.

One morning we had the opportunity to visit the John Wesley School.  We were honored guests celebrated with a maze of red, white, and blue balloons, cheering children, and a sincere welcome from the principal thanking us for our work.  Our group was surprised and touched to hear him encourage the children in a chorus of “que viva de los Estados Unidos!”

John Wesley School

John Wesley School

Though I have been trained in education for the last seven years, it took a beautiful little girl named Amarilis to open my eyes to the power education has in our lives.  Amarilis is a student I am sponsoring through Pura Vida.  We first met at the Methodist camp in Lemoa with her mother, the rest of our group from Colorado, and our interpreter Fernando.  It was touching, yet overwhelming and a little confusing with emotions lost in translation.

It wasn’t until I saw Amarilis at the John Wesley school that it really sunk in what amazing things Pura Vida is doing for these students.  Since Amarilis is in 6th grade, she could not have continued on in school next year if Pura Vida hadn’t sponsored her — education beyond 6th grade is not free in Guatemala.  She told me she wants to work in the medical field but this isn’t possible without higher education. 

She greeted me with a huge smile, wearing the same traditional outfit she had on the day before because she did not yet have a school uniform.  It brought tears to my eyes to see her pride when she showed me her latest high score on an English test, swooshed a basket through the net at recess, and gave my name to all her friends.  The most powerful moment of the entire trip for me came when Amarilis grabbed my hand and led me to the library on the top level of John Wesley School.  She sat with me and read a bilingual book — her in English and me in Spanish — “so we can practice.”

Pura Vida is giving a tremendously important gift to these children in Guatemala.  It is hard even for those who see it first-hand to completely comprehend.  What would we say in America if school was free only through 6th grade and the building was deemed “below code”? What looks would a parent receive from the PTA if her child dropped out of school in 3rd grade to sell jewelry outside of Walmart to support her family? What would the Department of Education say if a school let construction workers working nearby come in to teach a class?

It was the day of my high school graduation that I first heard someone say that education is something that can never be taken away from you.  Well, no one may be able to take it away, but Pura Vida has proven that giving it is equally as life-changing as receiving it.  Whether it’s a verse of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” a cinderblock classroom, a $450/year scholarship, or a maze of red, white, and blue balloons, Pura Vida’s love for education and the children of Guatemala has changed lives for many in both Guatemala and the United States.  And this is a love that I hope to share with my students in Loveland.  They have already asked if they can go with me to visit Amarilis in the future.

Christine and Amarilis

Christine and Amarilis

Christine Morrison was a member of the CSU Wesley Foundation Guatemala work trip in March, 2012.



By Gaspar Ajtzalam 

At the end of my 9th grade school year, I was studying in the Institute Cooperativa in the village of Paquila, Guatemala.  I knew that I would not be able to continue on to high school because my family didn’t have sufficient economic resources to support me.  So after receiving my ninth grade diploma I started working to support my family.

By January, 2010 I figured that I was going to be a farmer for the rest of my life. I was very sad because I really wanted to be a professional someday and support my mother and siblings better. My mom was doing the best she could for us, but it wasn’t enough.  My dad left the family when I was young.

My grandfather had the idea that I should become a pastor of the Methodist Church of Paquila village. He went to Santa Cruz del Quiché and met with John Wesley School director Amilcar Solórzano during the annual assembly of the Methodist Church.  My grandfather asked him about the possibility of a scholarship for me since I didn’t have the financial resources to continue my education.

Amilcar Solórzano and Fausto Natareno, the principals of the school, decided to give me an application for a scholarship so I could study Business Administration at the John Wesley School.  The idea was that the degree would one day allow me to support my family while I took on the job of pastor. [Editor’s note: rural Guatemalan Methodist pastors are not paid a salary, but serve on a volunteer basis]  On January 16, 2010 my grandfather told my mom that I had been granted scholarship so I could continue my studies at the John Wesley School. I was sad and happy at the same time; sad because I had to leave my family and my village, but happy because I knew that I could finish high school and become a professional someday.

Everything happened so fast.  Amilcar found a place for me to stay in Santa Cruz. It was very hard for me in the beginning — I was homesick and I missed my family. Amilcar told me to be strong, because I have the opportunity to be in school and someday will have a better job and be able to support my family. His words encouraged me to continue.  I saw that this was too good of an opportunity to let get away.

My grandfather gave me some money to buy my meals and for some other necessities. I made some friends, but it was a very hard adjustment.  Since my favorite sport is soccer, I was able make friends when students got together and play during our free time. This helped me feel less homesick.

John Wesley School soccer team (Gaspar is in red)

John Wesley School soccer team. Gaspar (in red) is the team captain.

I want to thank the John Wesley School, because they try to find help for students like me by working with our brothers and sisters from the United Methodist Church that support the school. I have the privilege of attending an excellent school that has very good teachers.  I am learning a lot.  I also have very good friends that have become my new family.

I also blessed because a United Methodist Church from the United States is supporting me to continue my education.  I am very grateful to Pastor Kim James and members of the Wesley UMC for their support. I know that there are a lot of young men like me that have very few resources and cannot continue with their education and have to work.

Gaspar is an 11th grader studying Business Administration at the John Wesley School in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala.

With JWS buddies

With JWS buddies (Gaspar is horizontal)

John Wesley School students

by Erika Usui

In the four years that had passed since I first visited the John Wesley School in Santa Cruz del Quiché, much had changed – namely, an increased student body and an accommodating expansion of classrooms.  But as I greeted one student after another on my first day at the school where I would be  helping out with English classes, I was promptly reminded that some things had not changed: the infinitely curious minds and tender hearts of the students. 

“Como se dice mi amor in Ingles?” they asked me.

“My love,” I answered. 

“Y en Japones?” they asked, after having found out about my upbringing in Japan.

“Well, in Japanese, the exact phrase mi amor doesn’t exist,” I answered. 

Then, in a classic case of lost in translation, they exclaimed, “no existe amor en Japon?!”

Thus began my second visit to the school, a three-week course on language – and love. 

I had first visited the John Wesley School in spring of 2007 as a junior journalism and education major at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  The local Wesley Foundation, with its hip vibe and cool pastor, was making a trip to Guatemala for its alternative spring break program.  I signed on for the second of three trips that I would make with the group, eager to play my part in the gospel of social justice.  As a young college student, I finished the trip with a newfound awakening for international development.

Working on the Lemoa orphanage in 2007

Erika at the Lemoa orphanage in 2007

Fast forward to my college graduation and a somewhat scatterbrained few years in New York as a freelancer, and I found myself desperately yearning for some sort of inspiration.  What had inspired me in college? I thought.  Guatemala instantly came to mind.

So in April, 2011 I enthusiastically embarked on my second trip to Santa Cruz del Quiché, eager to share what I had learned at CU and in New York.  But three weeks later I had become very self-conscious, sheepishly wondering if I, not the students, was the biggest benefactor of this trip – and of the last trip, too. 

I especially remembered a conversation I had with a first grade student.  After a barrage of questions she had regarding her writing assignment (demonstrating a very high level of critical analysis), she turned the topic to the much-discussed one of love, and asked me, “estas feliz?” (“are you happy?”)

It was a perfect-weather April afternoon, the teachers had generously shared their midday snacks with me, and I was working with some of the sharpest gradeschoolers I had ever met. 

So my obvious answer was, “yes.”

With Pura Vida scholarship students in 2011

I suppose there is no easy moral in what I had learned on my first or second, trip to Guatemala.  But I’ve come to understand Pura Vida’s approach as one that maintains a sustainable solution to many of the challenges that we all – in both the developed and developing worlds – face.  And that approach is part of a global movement that not only advocates for literacy in rural communities, but also for a higher standard of living for everyone involved.

Back in New York and now preparing for further studies in public health, I continue my relationship with my beloved John Wesley School friends through e-mail and social media.  I also look back frequently at my journal to recall beautiful memories, and I continually remind myself of a conversation I had with Amilcar, one of the directors at the school.

“I hope that you will be an ambassador for the school when you are back in North America,” he had said. “I hope that you will be an ambassador for the students.”

And so I, in turn, would like to encourage more individuals to support the scholarship and construction programs, to nurture the education of incredibly intelligent minds.  I would also like to encourage more groups to take part in service trips, because a firsthand account provides a rich understanding of humanity that is unmatched by any other source.  And as I continue my discussion of language and love, I hope that I can make a positive difference in the students’ lives, as they have, for me.

Erika with JWS students

JWS students