Mission work in Guatemala has been part of my ministry for more than a decade.
My interest dates back to 2005 when Bobby Perry, a Churchnet colleague, and I traveled there to meet with Guatemala Baptist Convention leaders.
We inquired how we as a fledgling Baptist organization might assist their ministries.
They identified the pressing need for theological training in the western region of the country, where only two pastors of the 20-plus churches had seminary training.
In 2007, Churchnet began offering two training sessions annually for pastors and leaders in western Guatemala.
First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit, where I serve as associate pastor, made its initial missions trip to that area in 2008.
We engaged in evangelistic outreach, conducted Vacation Bible School activities in two churches and provided leadership training for local church leaders.
We returned yearly through 2011, serving in a similar fashion with churches whose leaders attended the semi-annual leadership training events.
By that time, the region’s Baptist churches, which had historically lacked cooperation among themselves, had formed an association.
We allowed the associational leadership to identify which churches we would serve during our mission trips.
In 2012, we responded to an associational request to provide medical care for underserved residents in the neighboring cities of San Marcos and San Pedro. That first medical missions trip was a learning experience.
The team’s lone doctor was my oldest son, Jason, a primary care physician in Warrensburg, Missouri, who is fluent in Spanish, having grown up in Argentina where our family served with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
My wife and two other sons accompanied our team of 11 that first year.
Jason treated 50 to 60 patients daily, pausing at times to clarify prescription information for my wife and youngest son, who handled the pharmacy duties that year. Other team members fitted folks with reading glasses.
Another component we began that year was purchasing bags of food for impoverished families that the church had identified as especially needing that assistance.
In July 2013, we were blessed to incorporate David and Susan Holman into our team. They are members of First Baptist Church of Farmington, Missouri, and own and manage several pharmacies in southeast Missouri.
David served as a Churchnet board member and had previously accompanied me on a training trip to Guatemala where he shared about deacon ministry.
The Holmans have been with us on all four trips since 2013. They have generously supplied many of the medications that we’ve needed at cost and have made direct donations of needed medicines.
Enthusiastic reports from previous team members have caused our team size to grow in recent years. We’ve capped that number at 24 to ensure that everyone is meaningfully engaged in ministry.
We continue to distribute both reading glasses and sunglasses. The reading glasses not only aid those who cannot read because of poor vision, but also allow folks to perform tasks like sewing that require near vision.
Other team members work with the children waiting to see the physicians. They play games, do hand crafts, read books and otherwise keep the children happily engaged.
We deliver bags of food to needy families, coupling that visit with a gospel presentation if the church has identified the recipients as non-Christians. We’ve seen many folks come to faith in Christ in these home visits.
We’ve had three physicians the past two years, which has enabled us to treat around 100 people a day for the four days of clinics that we conduct.
We’ve typically done so in two different locations each trip, thereby assisting two churches each time.
The expanded physician team has also permitted our doctors to take some time off from seeing patients to participate in the food bag distribution.
The host churches report that our team’s visits have made a profound difference in their ministries.
The pastor of one new mission, using contact information we obtained during intake processing, made follow-up visits resulting in several new members and rapidly strengthened that new church plant.
Others report the goodwill generated by our team’s efforts has resulted in new openness among community residents.
A Tuesday-to-Tuesday trip schedule allows us to conclude our time in Sunday worship with the churches before returning to the capital.
We transport tens of thousands of adult and children’s vitamins to help patients get their defenses back up and routinely dispense anti-parasite medications to each patient as practically everyone drinks contaminated water.
We also take a wide variety of antibiotics, pain medications and prescription drugs for ongoing issues like hypertension, cardiac issues and diabetes.
Making repeated trips to the same region of Guatemala has been a tremendous blessing for our church.
We’ve formed lasting friendships with pastors and leaders there. Even those with no medical experience participate in meaningful ways on these trips.
Our medical missions trips have made Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:36 come alive for our congregation, “I was sick and you visited me.”
Gary Snowden is associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. He and his family served previously as missionaries to Argentina and Mexico.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on missions and local churches / denominational organizations.
Previous articles in the series are: