“Why did God give this medical clinic to us?” On August 20th, this question spread around the village of Aguacate, Guatemala. An isolated town close to the Guatemala-Mexico border, Aguacate is home to several thousand Maya Indians who speak Chuj and broken Spanish. Most of the people in Aguacate entered the Greek Orthodox Church in 2010, along with over one hundred other communities in Guatemala. Now in 2015, this village has reached a historic moment: Aguacate is home to the first Orthodox Christian medical clinic in Guatemala—and possibly in all of Central America. When the people of Aguacate crowded into this new clinic on August 20th, they asked “why us?” with a sense of awe and bewilderment.
Perhaps the people asked this question because they are too aware of the suffering that their own neighbors face in surrounding areas. Throughout rural Guatemala and Mexico, basic health care is either not available or unaffordable. More than fifty percent of all available doctors in Guatemala live in the nation’s capital, Guatemala City, which is hundreds of miles from Aguacate. In rural areas like Aguacate, some people go decades without a proper medical exam. Basic problems like tooth cavities become severe because dentists are not available and the people are too poor even to travel to hospitals, much less pay for the care that they need. Even in areas where government clinics and hospitals are available, they often lack basic medications due to mismanagement or outright corruption.
Perhaps the people asked “why us?” also from a sense of genuine humility before God. Visitors to Aguacate often are amazed to see how the physical burdens of the people have heightened the spiritual life of the community. Every morning at the break of dawn, the church is occupied by men and women kneeling in prayer on the cold, hard floor. They beg God for relief from parasites, tumors, arthritis, and abuse. When children become sick, their mothers bring them to the iconostasis and hold them up to the Theotokos. Day after day, the people offer their tremendous burdens as humble sacrifices to God.
In the midst of all these challenges, the communities in Guatemala need confirmation that their struggles and hopes are not in vain. More importantly, they need to know that they are not alone; they need to see that God is with them. On August 20th, they received that confirmation. As the people of Aguacate admired the freshly painted hallways of the medical clinic and stared with wide eyes at the rows of medicine, they continued to ask that question: “Why did God give this clinic to us?” Then, after the reality had sunk in, the people agreed on an answer: “God gave this clinic to us because He listens to our prayers.”
The medical clinic in Aguacate has given this hope to the people: God hears them. When they bend their knees in prayer on the cold, hard floor—God hears them. When they bring their sick or dying children before the Theotokos—God hears them. And when they see their own neighbors suffering in other villages in the surrounding areas of Guatemala—God hears the prayers of all of these people. In fact, this new clinic is a gift that the people of Aguacate will be able to offer to their neighbors in other villages when people come to them seeking help. It will be a gift both from the people of Aguacate themselves, who built the clinic with their own hands; and also from the Archbishop of Mexico, His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras, who planned the clinic and funded the construction through One World One Community (www.owocglobal.org), an NGO that is part of the metropolis.
The impact of this gift—a new medical clinic—is only beginning to be felt by the surrounding people in rural Guatemala. When the clinic opened in August, a team of eight medical missionaries was present to offer care to anyone who arrived. This team treated 434 patients in just four days, and many of those people had traveled for hours to arrive in Aguacate. As more medical volunteers continue to serve in Aguacate during the coming years, the clinic will touch the lives of thousands of people. While the long-term plan is to train a handful of residents from Aguacate to oversee the clinic and provide basic medical treatments, the need for short-term medical teams still will be present. Medical teams not only touch people’s lives by healing ailments; on a deeper level, they also give people confirmation that their struggles are not in vain. For the people of Guatemala, the presence of medical teams is a powerful sign that God listens to their prayers.
If you know medical professionals who would be interested in volunteering in Aguacate, please spread the word. There are opportunities for volunteers from a wide variety of medical fields, including general practitioners, gynecologists, pediatricians, nurses, dieticians, dentists, medical students, and more. Some of the upcoming teams will be sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), but there also are opportunities for independent teams and even individuals to volunteer on their own. To inquire about volunteering, please contact Fr. John Chakos at firstname.lastname@example.org (Fr. John Chakos is an OCMC mission specialist working in Guatemala). For more information on the Greek Orthodox communities in Guatemala, visit www.MayanOrthodoxy.com.