It might be called a kind of collective epiphany — those medical mission trips of Arkansas Episcopalians in the rugged countryside of Guatemala.
For the incredibly poor people of the mountain villages, the coming of Americans has meant salvation of many kinds, especially health care. For the visitors, they have enjoyed the fulfillment of giving sustenance to people in dire need.
The Guatemala excursions debuted at the behest of Marianne Welch, a communicant at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway and director of the laboratory in the Conway Regional Health. Ms. Welch has led three teams over the past three years. Two were medical; on the third trip they performed needed basic construction tasks. The fourth team, this one again with a medical emphasis, will be in the country in April of 2013.
Through the dint of laborious planning and fund raising, Welch managed to put together a contingent of communicants that would agree to visit the backwoods of the Central American country. It is no small task arranging for medical supplies, for basic materials of which the Guatemalans had precious few, and bringing medical people on board. She also manages to secure language interpreters.
As in the past, these missionaries to Guatemala will depend greatly on resources that will be derived from an art show at St. Peter’s Church on Jan. 26. "This is our major fund raiser and we are indebted to the art community in Conway and to those who make purchases of the art pieces," she said.
From Welch’s perch as the dominant leader of the group, she brought them via rigorous travel to the site of the needy natives, set up medical resources, and sent out word of the coming of the Americans.
Patients by the score came to the medical stations high in the mountainous region of the country to receive basic health care from the missionaries. The natives — mostly women and children — came from several villages, walking for miles on end for the chance to visit with a doctor and receive critical healthcare. Hundreds were treated.
And so it was for the past three years, when Welch coordinated teams of people to give the Guatemalans sustenance of the most needed kind. For a week, physicians, nurses, medical technologists, physical therapists and lay people gave of their expertise to people who lived basic lives sans necessary healthcare elements.
Last year, in addition to team members representing Conway’s St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, others included people from Grace Episcopal in Siloam Springs and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville. Communicants from St. Peter’s Church included Jerry Adams, Rhonda Monfee, Dinah Reed, Marianne Welch, Kathleen Gregory and the Rev. Teri Daily, who was a pediatrician before turning to the ministry.
For Adams it was his second trip to Guatemala. He took care of logistical needs, while Reed helped run the pharmacy. Monfee was in charge of patient intake and triage.
Another member of the team was Dori Maxon, physical therapist who counseled with families of children with cerebral palsy. Rev. Daily provided invaluable consults for pediatric patients and coordinated the needs of the pharmacy.
The team of Arkansans worked in the newly formed Western Diocese of the Guatemalan Episcopal Church which is based in the highlands of the country. They were hosted by Bishop Carlos Lainfiesa and Roberto Armas, M.D. In all, they conducted clinics in four small mountain villages, seeing some 500 patients who walked many miles with their children for a chance to see a doctor and receive basic care.
Guatemala is home to many impoverished people who, curiously enough, live in a beautiful land. The people are mostly indigenous Mayans.