John Ring: A ‘humbling’ and eye-opening mission trip to Guatemala

I had no idea what to expect as I gathered my items to fly to Guatemala. The organization I was traveling with, “Vine International,” gave us a basic itinerary, but in conversations with “Dr. Bruce,” I had no idea what to expect.  I think he wanted it that way.

Dr. Bruce is a long-time friend. a high-school friend. He sold his practice to go into medical missions. He has been encouraging me to go with him to Guatemala for the past three years. I finally said, “Let’s go,” and I got my son, John Jr., to go as well.  (He is proficient in Spanish).  After meeting him in Miami, we got on the plane to fly to Guatemala City. 

We met Dr. Allsop and Brady (Chappe) Greene at the airport.  Brady is the director of Vine International. 

At this point, I am going to change the names of the Guatemalans in this column since some of them are in dangerous places, and I do not want them compromised. 

We met the man who is the Guatemalan connection, Taco, who by the end of the trip I felt was the most important person associated with Vine International. Not only was he a believer, but he was also sold on Christ and had numerous connections in and about the city and beyond.

This was not the typical missions trip on which one day is spent touring the area. No, we were there to serve every step of the way. We did not get to see the historic city of Antigua or the Mayan ruins. We didn’t have time. Not only that, but after seeing the amazing people with whom we had the opportunity to engage, not a one of us wanted to go see things that didn’t really matter.

We went out of the city and visited a private school with a Christian influence. There is a doctor there, and Vine provides medication for the children. There is also a dental clinic, but it was closed due to the lack of supplies.

There are 237 students attending. They were so happy and glad to be there. This is a one-of-a-kind school in Guatemala and is made possible by a couple, Linda and Ricky. They are giving their lives away so that the kids have a chance and the streets don’t gobble them up. The school is at capacity, and there is no advertising needed. By word of mouth, the school stands. 

We then traveled to a small town where we met “Syria,” a doctor who went to this town to serve an eight-month internship.  Some 25 years later, he and his wife are still there, serving the “least of these.” He is building the only clinic in the vicinity and, in the meantime, set up the clinic in his own home. I was starting to get dumb- struck.

From there we met “Jeremiah.” I can’t tell you his entire story, for it might put him in danger. One thing for sure, the Lord is driving this man at the Rehab Clinic beyond anything I have ever seen. The aura of the Holy Spirit was evident in his eyes and face as he told us about the amazing work of God. With 60 men in his program, he needs more space, as well as Celebrate Recovery material in Spanish, and people who will work alongside him with the gospel. I was humbled, for sure. This was amazing, to say the least.

From there we visited “Buritto,” who is living in the poverty-stricken area near the city dump. He could have written the book “When Helping Hurts.”  He could leave at any time, but, with no door on his home (just a curtain), he serves to assist the children in the area, giving them a chance to stay off the streets. He loves the kids, and that is what drives him to dedicate half of his home as education space for the various programs he runs.

 He needs organizations that will not come and run. He needs organizations that will remember him and support the work that doesn’t get done in a week, but in a lifetime.  

The last visit was to a prison in Guatemala City. The prisons are supervised by the prisoners. Each dorm has a “Mayor.”  This Mayor was in charge of 250 men in a space that probably was only built to serve 100.

The Mayor is a believer and was gracious as we took time to share the good news of Jesus just like we did at the Rehab Clinic. I wish I could give you all the information, but there would not be enough room in this newspaper to do such. 

The Mayor could decide to quit as mayor and live out his sentence in obscurity. But no! He gives back to men who are forgotten. 

These prisoners see few visitors. It was a joy to break bread with them. We served dougnuts and Coca-Cola. It was real joy to  see the inmates’ smiles when the clothing we brought to the prison was handed out. The clothes were easily too big, but we were told not to worry; they would be tailored.

The biggest need at the prison is two-fold.  One hundred men sleep on the floor with no bedding. It would cost about $3,000 to provide bedding. It isn’t needed now; it was needed yesterday. It’s cold and damp. 

The other need is medicine. We found out the doctor at the dorm ran out of medicine in February. Dr. Bruce and the doctor have begun conversations to see how Vine can provide the medications he needs. Pray for such work. 

I could go on and on.  This trip was not about how many people we impacted. Not at all. This trip was the humbling of those who went. It was my life that needs change. 

As I was leaving the country, Dr. Bruce asked me, “So, what are you going to change in your life?” I told him I’m going to seriously consider and pray about it. I don’t want this to be about me. It will fail. I want the leading of Jesus to guide and direct. So does Dr. Bruce.

How about you? Anybody want to go to next time? Get ready. You will not come back the same person.

I now understand what it means to have nothing, but to have everything. I also grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words when he said, “In order to have life, you have to be willing to forfeit yours.” I get it now.

John Ring is the director of Hope for the Community. 

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