“We are there to learn from them, their traditions and talents. Just as much as we think we have gifts to offer them, they have gifts to offer us,” said Rev. Mary Cox, Roswell Presbyterian’s associate pastor for missions. “They don’t overthink a situation and don’t anticipate too much. They live in the moment.”
Lisa Gunning, the church’s liaison for the Guatemala trips, said she is always struck by the villagers’ outlook on life. “It’s eye-opening to see how happy they are when they have so little yet have trust in God. They are a happy, loving people, and it’s just a gift to be able to go on these trips.”
Every year for a decade, the church has made both medical and community-building mission trips remote villages in this Central American country. Its engagement in the area can be traced to church members Mark Snoddy’s mother, who, as a flight attendant, became interested in the people there, and his grandfather, who co-founded a hospital in the village of Chichicastenengo.
Snoddy and his son, also named Mark, and his fraternal twin Maggie are the third and fourth generations to be involved. As they have been each previous year, they were among the 20 adults and 20 high school-age students who participated in the most recent summer mission trip that spent eight days in the mountainous Guatemalan countryside.
The medical trip, with supplies and volunteer personnel, is held in the fall.
On this trip, the church contingent did everything from holding vacation Bible school for the children and building houses for two widows to installing concrete floors in homes that previously had nothing but dirt floors, which became mud pits during rainy season.
After she got her new floor, one woman told Snoddy she was still going to have water in her house because her roof leaked. Snoddy knew it would have to be replaced, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.
“Most people who go on these trips are north Fulton people who have never done that kind of work,” he said. With research, he ended up doing most of the work himself, “and it didn’t leak, which is a miracle in itself.”
Another mission trip initiative has been putting new wood-burning stoves in villagers’ homes. “They have just had freestanding open fireplaces in these houses, which resulted in a lot of reparatory problems as well as some kids would fall in the fire and get burnt,” Snoddy said.
The local pastors and missionaries point the Roswell Presbyterian volunteers to families needing help and what needs to be done.
“We don’t go in with all the answers,” Cox said. “We come in and work alongside the people who remain there year-round.”
A reliable, convenient water supply is a precious commodity in this area. Five years ago, Roswell Rotarians and the Presbyterian Women’s group donated enough money to build a well for the main hospital at Chichicastenengo. Snoddy said the current fundraising campaign is for a well at a smaller hospital at an outlying village.
One of the many memories Cox said she will always have is watching the high school volunteers stooping down to watch the mouths of village children form words as the young Americans were trying to learn words in the village’s native language.
“In the rural areas, we were speaking Spanish to them, which of course isn’t our first language. And they would try to speak Spanish to us, though it wasn’t their first language either. So we have been trying to learn Quiché, their native language, and it’s been amazing to see how they respond to our efforts,” Cox said.
This was Gunning’s fifth mission trip to Guatemala, and she was accompanied on the trip by her husband, Bruce, and their sons Chaz, 13, and Trey, 27. It was Trey who first sparked her interest in the missions.
“He came back from his first trip completely changed, saying I have to go, we have to do this,” Gunning remembered.
“You know you improve lives. I know for a fact these trips have affected my kids, and if it’s affected them, I’m sure it’s affected others.”