Early in the morning on Friday March.13th, the missions team from Bellingham arrived safely. Other countries were affected by COVID-19, but Guatemala was free from the virus. For most of them, it was their first missions trip with ASOSAP. They had planned this for over a year and there was lots of excitement and expectations. They had planned songs and activities with the children and carefully made/ chose gifts for them. There was a desire to know the Pokomchi people and be God’s hands and feet. For ASOSAP, this time is also a highlight of the year. Building relationships with them and seeing them serve and love the Pokomchi is precious to us. The team made it to the Shekinah Center. The plan was to go to the village Saturday morning. None of us knew that this wasn’t going to happen and that their time here would be cut so short, but God knew.
He gave us the time to form connections with each other during the long bus ride to San Cristobal, while eating together, touring Shekinah, taking a walk to the lake, in the little things like washing dishes, and in sharing a devotional time. We are grateful for this.
Saturday is when everything changed. We found out that Guatemala had its first case of COVID-19 and the president was making swift decisions to prevent spread. The team was informed, and the decision was made that they needed to go home. It wasn’t easy and there were tears as we thanked them for coming. This was sad and disappointing for everyone. We were happy that they came and so were they. They were obedient to God in the call to come and serve. They touched the lives of the ASOSAP team as likewise ASOSAP towards them. They were able to rebook their flight and that same day we travelled to the city. On Sunday they left on one of the last flights out of the country. The trip, despite it being short, made a lasting impression on all. Here is what some of the team members had to say:
“What a great experience to go to Guatemala and get to know the Hope of the Pokomchi (ASOSAP) staff and some of their families.”
“Even though we wanted to stay with you, it was the right decision to leave when we did. God was looking out for us and nudging us in the right direction at the right time. I am just glad He directed us and allowed us to come and visit you for a few days.”
“Yes, we were disappointed, but more importantly we were also believing that the work God called us to do in Guatemala was completed. The short stay wasn’t what we intended but we were just being God’s hands and feet leaving the results to God and remembering that His timing is perfect. The ASOSAP staff told us that they would build and finish the water systems for us! Sonia had tears in her eyes when she spoke for the staff that, in spite of the difficulties of the global virus and risk to us, we still came to serve them! We are thankful that we got to know the ASOSAP staff in a deeper way in spite of the language barrier. We were blessing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, our trip was shorter than we expected, but, if God gives us another chance, we would all be the first to sign up and go again.”
Amid this, you may be wondering, what is going on with ASOSAP?
After the team left, strict restrictions were put in place, including a national curfew from 4pm to 4am. Schools are closed and businesses are closed, or with very reduced hours. Parks, lakes, and oceans are closed to the public and any activity that is purely recreational is prohibited. It is strongly encouraged to not leave the house, unless absolutely necessary. When leaving home, mask use is mandatory. Working from home is encouraged, so ASOSAP staff who do not live close to the office are working from home. As Sebastian and Alvaro work more outside of the office and there is work to do at Shekinah Center, they will work there. They were able to build water tanks for the families, before the community closed off access there.
One change that especially affects us is that all meetings of any kind or size are prohibited. That means activities that we do in the communities such as health and Bible education cannot be done right now. As health care is a priority, the Pampacche health post is still running and is covering emergencies for the Providencia health post. Nurse Alicia can no longer do group education, but every time a patient comes in, she does individual education on COVID-19 and preventative measures such as hand washing and social distancing.
Chronic Patients are also a priority and ASOSAP is providing monitoring and medications bimonthly, instead of the normal monthly visits. Before a recent visit, Nurses Alicia and Miguel did a great job of relaying information. Patients arrived at staggered times to avoid big groups. Conzuelo had the opportunity to educate the patients on the seriousness of this pandemic. They had heard about it from local leaders, but didn’t pay too much attention. They weren’t following the guidelines or restrictions as they thought the virus wouldn’t arrive to the communities. The reality is that people do work outside the communities and then return. They are at risk, just like everyone else. Because of the trust they have with ASOSAP, they listened and now realize the danger they face. They are now going to do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus. Each patient was also given a mask that Glenda and her mother made from fabric (with a filter inside). Everyone has been hard at work. Lastly, we want to leave you with two testimonies from ASOSAP staff, regarding all the change that this virus has brought.
Conzuelo – Coordinator of Health and Education with ASOSAP:
“I have worked with ASOSAP for 10 years. I never could have imagined that one day I would experience such a big change in my work. My work is mostly in the community, where we have education programs with women, men, and children. I also work with chronic patients, in medical outreach, and supervise/mentor the nurses who work at the health posts. The pandemic crisis of COVID-19 has made it difficult to do all that I normally do with ASOSAP. The situation with this illness is out of our control. Personally, I feel very sad and worried because I cannot do any of the activities that I had planned for the communities. I can’t visit any of the communities. In my life, in all these 10 years that I have been working, I never could have imagined what is happening worldwide. It is a situation that we cannot change, but what we can do is pray and ask God to take control of this pandemic. We ask you to help us through prayer, that God would provide all that we need personally and within ASOSAP. Blessings.”
Rebekah – Canadian Missionary with ASOSAP:
“Suddenly, my normal routine is very different, and my activities are very restricted. I only go out for essentials. For my safety, I’m accompanied by someone from ASOSAP. Some people here are blaming foreigners for the arrival of the virus. I’m grateful to still be able to serve ASOSAP, but of course am missing going to the office and seeing everyone. I miss going to church and seeing my friends. Some days are hard, but overall, I’m staying positive. I have my health and through technology I can stay connected to friends and family, locally and abroad. God is ever present, and I am leaning on Him. I can see how He knew what was going to happen and has taken care of me so well. I moved into a new rental home this March. Before, I didn’t have any outdoor space. Now, every day I can enjoy the beauty of the garden. I keep occupied in taking care of it and in organizing the house. I have an amazing family as neighbours. They are kind, lovely to talk to, and we’ve gotten in a routine of sharing our food and resources with each other. God put me where I needed to be, at just the right time. I hope that in this time you can see how God is taking care of and blessing you. I encourage you to use this time to grow in relationship with others and keep on serving. We here at ASOSAP are praying for you and your families and we appreciate your prayers for us as well.”