Jeanne paused, struggling to find words to describe that feeling. “It’s nervousness and excitement and blessings and it feels like you are coming home,” she enumerated and then paused again. It wasn’t until 15 minutes later that she returned and said triumphantly, “It’s joyous anticipation! That’s it!”
|Jeanne Hencken (red vest) helps organize the mountain of suitcases the Coronado Community UMC mission team brings with each trip. They are loaded with student backpacks, shoes, hygiene and specially requested items.|
Coronado Community (CCUMC) in New Smyrna Beach is one of the oldest and strongest supporters of Salud y Paz.
When the project was just starting as a dental clinic years ago, founder Phil Plunk visited CCUMC and found a willing and able congregation to support his efforts. The Salud y Paz program expanded and explored other ways to help the indigenous Mayan population, later forming the Colegio Susanna Wesley School.
CCUMC mission team members Barb and Jack Travis have visited Salud y Paz more than a dozen times. Last fall, Jack recalled sitting in church one Sunday and thinking “God wants me to go back to Guatemala.” His wife Barb, a familiar and popular visitor to Salud y Paz, immediately agreed. And so they went. Between the two of them, it’s a year-long mission. On the trips over, they stuff suitcases with shoes, school supplies and most anything else that has been requested.
Once in Guatemala, items are distributed, but the suitcases don’t return home empty. Barb uses her own money to buy jewelry and tapestries in the Guatemalan marketplaces from local artisans. The local art comes back to the U.S., where Barb sells it and donates all the money to Salud y Paz.
“I wear the same green jacket each time we visit,” laughed Barb. “They see me coming before I cross through the gates. Now I am seeing babies who I first met years ago greeting me with their babies on their backs. “
Somber for a moment, Barb leaned across and said: “I want to tell you a story.”
One of Barb’s closest friends was a retired nurse. As the ailing friend was put on Hospice, she asked Barb if she could donate to Salud y Paz. Barb gratefully accepted her check. A few weeks later, she called her old friend to check in.
“Could you use another donation?” she offered. Barb assured her that she had already donated. Her friend replied with sincerity, “I would really like the last check I write on this earth to be to Salud y Paz.”
Two weeks later, Barb said she was sitting in church, and a cold chill went through her. She turned to Jack and said, “she just passed.” Later she learned that was indeed the moment.
Another person at CCUMC, Jan Patterson, wanted to participate in the Salud y Paz mission. She wasn’t able to travel with the team, but she could knit. CCUMC sends a team annually at the beginning of the Salud y Paz school year to help prepare the classrooms, clean and organize. They always arrive with backpacks for each student containing a variety of items: underwear, socks, shoes, school supplies and basic hygiene products. This year each backpack also included a hand-knitted hat, pair of gloves and a doll made by Jan Patterson.
An empty basket is placed in front of the congregation each year. Hundreds of pairs of children’s shoes are donated. Mission team members from CCUMC have helped educate the villages on basic health care. They have visited homes, sponsored students and built school walls brick by brick.
One donation assisted a 21-year-old epileptic who had been unable to leave her home because of the illness—her medication too expensive. Other donations and sponsorships, just $600 per student annually, will educate a Mayan youth, provide them with two meals a day and a snack, teach them the official language of Spanish in addition to the native Mayan and help lift their families out of poverty.
Jack summarizes his belief about Salud y Paz and the many trips they have taken there. “It’s not really what we do when we’re there that counts…it’s the seed of hope we bring.”
--Amy Nowell is Communications Coordinator at Coronado Community UMC.