there and back again in 23 hrs

2:50 AM is our rendez-vous time outside my house. I meet up with Walter my neighbour, Oscar (a fellow teacher) and Eddie, Heber, and Johnny (students at Beerseba) in the light rain. Les picks us up in his Kia van and we hook up with Estuardo and Erwin and their big cattle truck. Eric misses the departure despite our best efforts to wake him.

Our first destination is a church compound in Guatemala City, three hours away. There is very little traffic, but that makes us an easy target for the police. We are asked to pull over three times in as many hours because of our suspicious behaviour - traveling at night with a big truck full of cargo. We had loaded the truck earlier this evening with pasta, sugar, soap, clothing, five barrels of dehydrated soup from the Okanogan Gleaners, salt, and corn flour. The suspicion is that we are transporting wood, a felony without proper licensing in Guatemala from what I am told. We are let off without any problems each time.

The sun rises as we enter the city limits of the capital. We wind through the perimeter highway to Zone 11. Ministers are waiting for us at the Tierra Prometida Ministerios with the rice, water, beans, blankets, sugar, and vitamin enhanced porridge which was purchased on our behalf with money donated by Guatemalans and Canadians who responded to this need. We load the truck and head to Pollo Campero for breakfast. Our truck is full

My primary duty on this expedition is to document with video and photo. As I pull out my little Canon DV Camcorder to record the awesome view of both fuego and agua volcanoes (fire and water), I realize that I left it on and have consequently killed the battery. Hmmm.

The vistas on our journey from the capital to Lake Atitlan fill our tired senses. Fields of sugar cane and a plant they use to dye food red line the busy road. Les and I spend our entire time in the van chatting about Acadian history, Mennonite history, the vision of Impact Ministries and other topics, less noble.

We drive south, then west, then north through the coastal plains to bypass the mountains. The sun shines bright. It is much warmer here than in Tactic. I'm thankful for the air conditioner and a little cold.

We meet Jorge at our junction to the north road that will take us to San Lucas de Tolimán on the shore of Lake Atitlan. He speaks like a Canadian and a Guatemalan. He's lived in B.C. and Calgary for several years. His father leads the Tierra Prometida Ministerios that we are collaborating with. Our caravan winds through the villages, some cleaning up from flooding, others visibly untouched by Hurricane Stan. This road has just opened on Thursday. Today is Saturday. We drive over a makeshift bridge and see to our right how our road has been washed out about two metres deep and six metres wide. Huge boulders line parts of the road where they have been moved to clear the way. These same boulders rolled through villages from way up high. The devastation here is astonishing. It has been 10 days since the hurricane loosened the earth in the mountains and the people have been busy cleaning up. People scrub the outside of their houses one metre high where mud stains the walls. People shovel mud out of their homes onto the already massive piles of muck still stinking.

We reach our second checkpoint in San Lucas at noon. Many people from the ministry have been busy here. They have separated many goods into family bags to ease the distribution process.

Jorge has the same Canon camera as me, so he charges my battery quickly and I'm back in the game.

Many hands move the supplies from our truck to the middle of a meeting hall. We eat and load three pickup trucks with enough staples for the three hundred eighteen people living in the Nazarene Church in Santiago Atitlán. The rest of these supplies will stay at this centre to be delivered tomorrow to 3 other hospices.

The drive to the church allows us to see further devastation and the beauty of the volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan. Jorge shares local legends over the walkie-talkie as we marvel at the sites. It is three in the afternoon when we arrive at the refuge. There are children everywhere and many many women in the Spanish imposed traditional dress of the Tzutujil people group.

Our men unload the pickups in a passing line and pile the supplies at the front of the church. The leaders, including Les, share with the refugees who we are and why we are here. Prepared soup and tortillas are served to the hungry. I visit with a man with a big smile named Jose Mesia-Chavez. He lost his home, clothes, and food at 3:00 AM ten days ago. He is smiling because none of his family were killed. A landslide woke them up and they were able to escape through their door and flee to safety as their house was toppled over and buried along with all he had to provide his family with.

I snap photos of people eating and being served. Then they begin to call family names. The boys from our church stand ready with a blanket, bag of soup, bag of rice, bag of soaps, and two bags of various food staples (beans, corn flour, salt, sugar, water, Gatorade to fight dehydration, oil, instant noodles, enriched porridge and more). The people stand in waiting ensuring that they do not miss their name. Those whose names are missed have their items set aside on the platform.

I film as Les interviews an older man who has lost his wife. The widower has known God for 45 years. He has also lost his house and all he owns.

A woman is interviewed who has lost a finger and has huge lacerations on her other fingers on her right hand. She was reaching for her father when she received the cuts.

Another woman lost her 3-month old baby and her house when the river swept them away. I have a 3-month old baby. This same mother has a 6-year old son who is recovering now from a massive headwound.

Les and I managed to keep ourselves together to finish the interviews. It was hard to see these stonefaced women, who suffer unimaginably, answer questions.

We then retraced our path with stops in San Lucas and Guatemala City to pick up the truck and to eat. I had a headache when we got to the capital. I don't know if it was from the heat, the lack of water, hunger, emotional distress, lack of sleep, or the intense diesel fumes. It just hurt. I was silent for about an hour approaching the capital. Les bought me 1000 mg of acetaminophen at a pharmacy next to the Pollo Camero. They cost Q1.10 (about 17 cents). They really hit the spot.

Les and I share heart stories all the way home as five guys sleep behind us. The truck weaves frighteningly along the road ahead of us as we cross numerous mountain ridges.

We arrive at 1:30 AM and I check my email and head to bed in my house where my wife and baby boy are sleeping.


robtherockeet said...

Wow Zaak, I read your blog and try to imagine it really happening... Being on the mission field has a certain clarity to it don't you thing? Very compelling, I 'm really glad you record all of this.

Take care

littledeb_04@yahoo.ca said...

Hi Zaak, I just read your blog...and it made me cry...especially reading about the 3 month old baby dying. And knowing how you must have felt thinking of your own little man. I'm so grateful that you could go home to Little Blaise and Amber.
with love

todd brent schaus said...


When I first became enchanted by the jesuits, it was the tales of adventure and heartbreak while engaged in missionary work that most captivated me.

Your story captivates me in the same way. I converted in order to be a part of efforts like yours.

Thank you for the inspiration (and sorry for the blathering on MSN).

saison said...

It must have been so emotional to see all that devistation so close and real. I Remember your serman last year about weeping. You said we should weep for the poor. Weep for the lost. I suppose we could weep for those who can weep anymore. Your description of your day brought me right there. You all are always in my prayers. Love Saison

kevininspace said...

Very touching Zaak. I've posted something about your ordeal there on my blog: www.bourquefamily.com. (I couldn't find any trackback pings with your blogger blog.)

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Come and check it out if you get time :-)

Question do you have a rss feed link that i can add to my yahoo?
as i cant seem to find it.

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KevinSt.Pierre said...

WOW Zaak! I can't really find the words to express the feelings your latest blog left upon me! I commend you, envy you, respect you for the things you're doing out there! I'm loving the updates! MORE MORE!