By Sarah Schafer
“Everywhere we go we see evidence of the rain and volcanic ash that together became heavy mud and weighed down and sank roofs,” wrote Rev. Carlos Hernandez, director of Districts and Congregations, who with Dr. Albert B. Collver, executive pastoral assistant, is serving on an LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC) assessment team in Guatemala.
The Pacaya volcano, just 19 miles southwest of Guatemala City, erupted May 24, spewing ash across Guatemala City, Antigua, and Escuintla. Two days later, Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall in Guatemala, killing more than 170, with 101 people still missing. It is being called the deadliest tropical cyclone in the Eastern Pacific since 1997.
“Today … we witnessed the damaging power of the Taco River that weaves through the city of Chiquimula’s poor neighborhoods and left five dead in its path. Most homes are flooded and dozens are homeless,” said Hernandez.
Maria del Carmen Setino’s home was washed away by the flooded Taco River. Eight months pregnant and unable to provide housing or food for her four children, she went to Emanuel Lutheran Church to seek help. There she met Collver and Hernandez, who provided her with financial aid. Later, Collver set aside a small fund for Emanuel to assist others like Setino.
A group of women and children from the congregation — who continue to occupy their washed-out homes along the Taco River because they have no other place to go — sang praises to the Lord despite their situation. “I have a friend who loves me and Jesus is His name,” they sang in thanks to God for sparing their lives.
Rev. Ignacio Juan Chan, president of the Lutheran Church in Guatemala (ILG), said it is evident that Tropical Storm Agatha affected families, orphans, widows and widowers, and that many lost their homes. In response, the church body organized a three-person disaster response committee to coordinate moral and humanitarian support for victims, particularly the most affected villagers around the capital. WR-HC awarded the LCMS partner church with a $29,000 disaster grant to assist them in these efforts.
In Amatitlan, volcanic rock punctured the roofs of the Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church mission house and members’ homes, and rain from the tropical storm has poured through. Damages were evident in the area known as El Salitre, where about 500 shacks line a rail line. Collver said families of up to 15 people are living in 100 square feet or less because they cannot afford housing in Guatemala City.
Dr. Elry Orozco, president of A Mighty Fortress, runs a medical clinic at the mission and fears the rain and ash that sank many of the fragile tin roofs left these families exposed to the elements and that children could soon be suffering from bronchial pneumonia.
“The church in Guatemala needs to attend to people’s medical needs as well as their spiritual needs,” explained Orozco, “because along with the extreme poverty you see here around the mission, come many illnesses as well.”
WR-HC awarded the congregation a $10,000 disaster grant for food, transitional care and building supplies.
In another heavily affected area, half of the members and teachers at Resurrection Lutheran Church and School in Gualan, situated along the Motagua River, lost all their belongings including their homes, and are now living with relatives. The church served as a shelter immediately following the double disaster. The wall that protected Resurrection Lutheran School, dedicated less than a year ago, collapsed and the river is unearthing the school foundation.
“Numerous families in the congregation, school and community are in dire need,” said Hernandez. WR-HC awarded another $10,000 disaster grant to the church for food, transitional care and building supplies.
“In this occasion we are praying and giving thanks to God for the opportunity that we have of friendly brothers in the faith and their provision for difficult times and of tests,” Rev. Luis Jasinto wrote to Hernandez. “As St. Peter writes to us [in 1 Peter 1:7], ‘These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ “
Lutheran Hour Ministry staff members are also in the Central American country to work in Gualan and help at Mighty Fortress’ mission site in Amatitlan. For more information about LHM efforts, visit http://lhmint.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/series-of-natural-disasters-devastates-guatemala/.
Rev. Steve Hughey, executive director of Central American Lutheran Mission Society (CALMS), reports a dozen teams scheduled to serve in Guatemala will now focus on disaster response. In the last two years, CALMS has partnered with Rev. Luis Jacinto and Resurrection Lutheran Church in Gualan to build about 36 homes. The mission society will continue these building efforts, focusing on rebuilding homes for teachers and students of Resurrection’s school. Anyone interested in joining future mission teams to Guatemala may contact CALMS at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314-640-4830.
“In addition to prayer, financial support is needed most right now,” said Hernandez.
To make a gift that shares Christ’s mercy and helps those affected by recent disasters in Guatemala, visit http://givenowlcms.org, call 888-930-4438, or mail donations earmarked for “Guatemala Disaster Relief Fund” to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
Sarah Schafer serves as communications project manager for LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Posted June 10, 2010