*Click on any of the images to view them larger.
I woke up before my alarm went off, out of excitement for finally being in Guatemala, rearranged some things in my suitcase, went down to breakfast, and at 9, we loaded the bus to depart for a 4 hour drive to Quetzaltenango. We knew it was going to be a long drive and that we were going to a higher elevation, but going up up up up the bumpy, winding mountain roads on a bus is enough to make anyone queasy. I was barely hanging in there near the end and SO glad when we arrived.
We ate lunch at a beautiful restaurant that was also a museum. We had a room to ourselves: a very fancy dining hall. The food was family style steak, chicken, sausage, potatoes and vegetables, and it was delicious! We also got some time to look around outside in the beautiful courtyard and take in the gorgeous mountain weather.
We then met the Compassion regional facilitator of the area and headed to a local church, GU438. She is in charge of 14 churches in the area, and she doesn’t just pop in and out, but really supports each one. It’s a tireless job, but you can tell how much she cares.
Getting off the bus, we were startled to be welcomed with firecrackers. But once we went inside, the celebration was even bigger. Children and adults were lined up on both sides to make a pathway, where they clapped, cheered, and gave us all necklaces they had handmade by burned their center and church name into slices of wood. It was overwhelming and humbling and very emotional that they were this excited to see us.
We went out to a patio area, where the children in the music program, of all ages, played songs for us. They did a fantastic job, and it was such an honor. When they started with “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord”, I think it was hard to find a dry eye among us. After, we got to spend a little time with them before we headed down to church. I asked some of the girls how often they practice, and they said only on Saturdays. I loved seeing all ages represented in the group, because the older children could be role models for the younger ones.
The church was downstairs, and painted very colorfully and decorated very pretty. There were reserved seats for us in front. The service was very long, about 2 hours or more, but that’s because there were a lot of extras because we were there. We even had to get up and sing a song ourselves! We sang “God of Wonders” and thanks to our musically-talented group members who shone, it was painless. There was also a baby dedication ceremony, which was cool to see, because there was so much hope by these parents for their infants.
After the service, we went upstairs for some fellowship and some homemade hot chocolate and bread. David, our Compassion Guatemala trip leader, had told us this area is known for their chocolate, and it was very delicious. I couldn’t have the bread, but it also looked wonderful. We spent some more time with the people up there. They all wanted to meet us and give us hugs or shake our hands. It hit home during the week that less that 1% of sponsored children ever meet their sponsors. That is so few. So we really did represent sponsors of Guatemalan children as a whole, and that’s how the people of the country saw us all week. They thanked us for our support, even though we weren’t supporting them, exactly. But they saw us as their sponsors, just as we saw them as our kids.
They then presented another gift to us, beautiful pen holders that looked like xylophones. They’re hand-crafted and clearly took a lot of time and careful artistry to make. It was an honor to be so welcomed there.
We said goodbye and headed to the Grand Santa Maria Hotel, where we checked in. We still hadn’t eaten dinner, so we had a quick, light meal in the hotel restaurant before going up to our rooms, as it was about 7:30pm by this point. The rooms were, of course, much smaller than the Mercure Hotel in the city, but beautiful and very authentic to the Quetzaltenango area. They felt like a little retreat in the mountains. The whole hotel had a lot of white and dark wood paired together, which is very pretty. And the bathrooms were yellow, which made me extra happy, since that’s my favorite color.