When the mayor of Cocales visited Finca La Naranja in May, he saw an opportunity to do something for the people of the impoverished community, where our youth church is located.
Workers and trucks appeared the very next day, determined to pave an extension to the main street before the rainy season turned it to mud.
Sure enough, two weeks later a rather impressive section of 10-inch deep concrete ran past our church before veering left to grace the rest of the neighborhood.
There was a small celebration and glad-handing all around.
Then the rains came.
Water is a funny thing…
No one can argue the road is not well-made. It is symmetrical marvel situated between two pristine curbs in the middle of a most asymmetrical neighborhood. The workers are certainly skilled.
However, in the rush to beat the rainy season, not much planning went into the project.
We remember when Guatemala City paved the “La Isla” neighborhood of Santa Fe. Surveyors and engineers walked around for weeks.
Before the first slab of concrete was poured, La Isla sported a new drainage system. When the project was completed, pavement connected to front steps and sloped smoothly into parking spaces.
There was no time to do all that in La Naranja.
Let the floods begin!
Instead, rainwater that used to harmlessly run between structures on its way to the river found a beautifully constructed causeway to expedite its travel. Rushing water sloshed over the curbs and into the youth church.
During the road construction, workers poured concrete down an embankment leading to an underground drainage pipe.
The pipe backs up quickly in the torrential downpours of the rainy season. Now, water that used to wait harmlessly on a side road found a smooth exit ramp to shoot into the main street, and directly into the church’s driveway.
Other properties had problems, too. Water backed up into homes on the mountain-side of the road before breaching the curbs and continuing down the street.
The rushing water splashes hard into a house where the road turns and the local school has a new pond where the children normally line up for classes.
We can handle it
La Naranja’s residents are a resourceful bunch and boast a wonderful attitude. They laughed as they showed us videos and explained how it all went awry.
They will drill holes and build walls to redirect water until they find a workable solution. Life goes on.
Their story reminded me of other “good ideas” that had unfortunate side effects. They included the usual mission team issues like adversely affecting local shops by distributing suitcases full of shoes and clothes.
Or handing someone 100 acetaminophen tablets without explaining that getting out of the sun, resting, drinking some water or eating some crackers might take care of their headaches without medicine.
Others mistakes were more… unusual; like the time someone tried to cross a rope-based pedestrian bridge with a huge pot of soup balanced on his head. Luckily, we only lost the soup, although the pot doesn’t sit quite right on the stove anymore.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Experience is a wonderful thing. We’ve learned lots of ways to make our mission tasks more efficient and effective over the years.
Our decision to pay local women to prepare tamales and punch for last year’s Christmas celebration not only saved money; it solved the logistical problem of carting hot food and drinks over rutted roads and steep hills.
Our kids loved it. The community became more engaged in our project and there was some extra money in the coffers of local families.
It was a far cry from my second Christmas, when we brought hot dogs with all the fixings. Our Pamamus kids never saw a hot dog before. The children fed the meat to the dogs before enjoying their bread.
That’s why we’re here!
Hundreds of NGOs and Christian missions around Guatemala will host short-term summer mission volunteers this summer.
Months of planning go into these trips. We always encourage short-term teams to pick the brains of their hosts as much as possible. But some teams don’t follow that advice.
So, we occasionally wind up with books for children who can’t read them, shoes that are too big for diminutive villagers, and medicines that go unused.
At least, they might not be used while the volunteers are here. The mission hosts can send the books to schools. The larger shoes fit folks in the cities. Public clinics accept donated medicine.
Planning is important. But if things don’t work out as expected, they’ll still work out.
Just like the people of La Naranja, your mission hosts will manage whatever happens with a smile.
Come on down!
So if you are headed here for a while this summer… relax, enjoy your experience, and don’t get tied up in expectations. What is in your heart is more important than what is in your agenda.
By the time you get home, you’ll be an experienced missionary.
And it won’t ever matter if you learned Guatemalans don’t swim well before or after you set up that riverside rope swing.
We’ll never mention it again.