SPOTS missions trip impacts Guatemala and students
C-N’s Bevan Brown plays with a little girl whose family benefited from a water filter delivered by a Carson-Newman University SPOTS team. The filter will help protect the family from parasites and disease.
- by Lauren Henry
Rebekah’s house is not accessible by road. Instead the university students holding onto their special delivery hiked down into a ravine and back up the hillside to reach a rainbow made of laundry framing the edge of a simple adobe hut.
The ordinary cardboard box, containing a water filter, held the difference between life and death for Rebekah’s family. Here in Joyabaj, Quiche water is not life giving. Already the youngest child’s belly bulged with parasites. It was only a matter of time before the others shared a similar fate.
“It is so sad that just water, things we take for granted, can completely change everything for them,” said Rachel Stankiewitch, a freshman from Ringtown, Penn., studying at Carson-Newman University.
She is a member of the University’s international spring break mission team to Guatemala. Each year Carson-Newman sends students all over the country and all over the world during fall and spring breaks to share the love of Christ. This year there were ten Special Projects Other Than Summer (SPOTS) teams that served the continental U.S. and Guatemala. 131 participants served in Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, as well as Guatemala.
The Guatemala team traveled from Knoxville to assist Gospel Rooted Ministries and the work the Van Valkenburgh family began in the country almost two years ago.
One of the key ministries there is providing sustainable, life changing improvements such as water filtration.
“I never thought of the impact of clean drinking water before,” said Shannon Carter, another C-N freshman on the Guatemala mission team.
The team, comprised of eight university students and two university staff members, had purchased water filters to give out to needy families.
Rebekah was the first visit that Monday morning. A midwife with nine children, she provides for her family with a garden and by weaving traditional textiles. A single cloth baby carrier takes her 15 days of painstaking work. Her husband and oldest son are off working to pay off a debt that keeps the family in destitution.
“This filter will clean 100 percent of whatever water they put in,” explains Charles Van Valkenburg, the founder of the mission, to Rebekah. “You can put water from the river, rainwater, whatever kind of water, into the filter.”
Stankiewitch walked over and lifted the baby with the bulging belly into her arms as the missionary explained how the filter worked.
“God take care of him,” she prayed. “He is your child. Why would you let him die?”
The freshman struggled with the reality that the little boy in her arms would not have the chance live.
“And I heard a very clear voice,” she said later. “’I take care of all of my children. I provide for all my children.’ What I consider providing may not necessarily be what God considers providing.”
“It is amazing how these people have nothing but they are content with what they have and worship Jesus.”
For Stankiewitch it was a moment of meeting the veracity of poverty.
“To actually be there and experience it,” she began. “It is one thing to be able to say that these people don’t have food and clean water, but to be able to go where they are and where there is no clean water — where we can’t use the water — it is a whole different ball park.”
The team arrived in Guatemala mid-March as the last remaining snow flurries coated their Tennessee campus. They stepped into a country that greeted them with soft warm breezes, sunny skies and smiling children.
“I got to Guatemala and completely fell in love with it,” exclaimed Bevan Brown, a C-N sophomore from Powell, Tenn and member of First Baptist Church Powell.
For Brown the first day of mission work was one of the most impactful. The team cleaned an unused pool to be converted into a tilapia pond at a school in San Juan Comalapa.
“Pretty much we had a bucket and a shovel and that’s all we had to clean out this entire pool,” said Brown. Her floral print rain boots poured out brown sludge and she panted from the physical exertion of hours of hauling buckets and shoveling mud.
“I am so happy, exhausted, but so content.”
The mess and hardwork was of little consequence to Brown as she concentrated on the source of both food and income the new tilapia pond would bring the struggling school.
This is not Brown’s first mission trip nor her first time out of the country. It was, however, reassurance that this is the type of life she wants to lead.
“It gives you a whole new perspective, and I think the whole key thing of this trip is that it recenters my focus on what matters and lasts.”
“People need to open their eyes. There is a world beyond your backyard,” Brown said.
Group leader and Carson-Newman campus minister Chad Morris agreed.
“I love SPOTS trips because they change world views,” he said. “They are life changing for a life changing cause. Students are able to experience things they have never seen before and one of those was poverty.”
“Seeing a 19-year-old college student literally angry because they went to a mall that is probably 10 minutes from someone who is living in a shack — it was neat to see our students just deal with that and struggle with that. That is something you can truly grow from. I think it causes you to examine not only your faith but also how God is working in all situations and I think it is something that has stretched our students, as well as me, quite a bit.”
The team had the opportunity to minister in multiple ways during their week in Guatemala. Beyond the tilapia pond and the water filtration, students helped construct walls on a church, prayed over patients in a hospital in Joyabaj, Quiche, fed hungry children, led worship, and held mini Vacation Bible School programs at a school in Guatemala City.
“I’m glad I got to come and serve God and the people of Guatemala,” said student leader and C-N senior Brent Metcalf, a member at Clark Street Baptist Church in Johnson City. “It opens your eyes to what the world is and how much poverty there is in the world.”
Back at Rebekah’s small dwelling that houses her family of nine, Metcalf laid hands on her youngest child inflicted with parasites and prayed.
“Oh God of love, I come to your throne of grace in the name of Jesus. I want to thank you for this family…And, God, I want to thank you for providing them with this water filter. And I pray they can use it so they can be healthy and have clean water.”
“I have been called into the ministry since 2007,” shared Metcalf. “But today — doing that — was the first time I ministered to someone and knew I was a minister.”