Guatemala (WWCS) — The Western Highlands of Guatemala are dotted with communities of people descended from Mayans, called Quiche. One of these mountain towns is Chuixchimal, a small, tight-knit community known for its work ethic and communal spirit.
Long ago, the people of Chuixchimal set the goal of a Christ-centered school for their children–a dream that is now materializing due to the community’s own hard work and the combined effort of Worldwide Christian Schools (WWCS) and its partner, EduGuate.
Loren Anderson and his wife, Helen, were missionaries in the Western Highlands for 36 years. Along with their son, Ken, and his wife, Lori, the Andersons adopted the name EduGuate, partnering with WWCS since 2005 to assist the Quiche in launching two Christ-centered schools in this region. Success is due in part to the people here, who are self-starting despite their limited access to financial resources.
“The state governor told me years ago, before I knew the people here very well, that they work fervently together,” Loren Anderson said.
Anderson speaks well of one man in particular: Pastor Pedro Ordoñez, a Guatemalan church leader who was passionate about spreading the Gospel to the youth in these Western Highland communities, including Chuixchimal.
“When Pastor Pedro appeared on the scene, he showed me they were able to both quick-start and finish projects,” Anderson said. “He was a part of what the church-growth theologians called a ‘peoples movement.'”
Anderson describes Pastor Pedro as a leader and mentor who traveled with his fellow young men to evangelize in nearby towns, helping them establish homegrown churches. Soon, he had the vision for a local school in Chuixchimal to teach and train children in the Christian faith. Pastor Pedro, the planter of the dream, has since passed away, but his son-in-law, Pastor Alejandro Guinea Say, is helping to carry his dream of a school for Chuixchimal forward.
“[Pedro] was always thinking how he could enlarge the church, and in 1992 he thought of the advantages of opening a school. But that was not in God’s timing yet,” said Pastor Alejandro.
However, Pastor Pedro drove things forward by working with children in Sunday and Vacation Bible Schools. In 2005, the church in Chuixchimal needed to expand its classroom space to accommodate the 200 children who had begun to attend, in part because of a partnership with Compassion International. In 2008, the church had an opportunity to purchase ¼-acre of land in front of its building, which they have recently paid off. That land was then doubled with an unexpected gift from WWCS. The dream was within reach.
Pastor Alejandro, who has pastored the Esmirna Primitive Methodist Church in Chuixchimal since 2005, says this sudden gift from the Lord of both land and the money to buy it assured the people of Chuixchimal that God was urging them to build. He recounts the day when, as he describes it, “the first memorable stone was planted” for Esmirna School, named for the church in Chuixchimal.
“The trees that were standing in the nearby forests were cut into lumber and hauled down the mountain by the women to the shed on the site,” Pastor Alejandro reported. “The stones were carted up from the nearby mountain stream and became a part of the foundation. A sizable gift of steel bars was ready for building the enhanced structure needed in earthquake country.”
In September 2012, 292 people checked in and began filling two cement mixers with 500 bags of cement and gravel to pour for the ceiling and roof of the first five classrooms.
“That was a day that merited tamales [a traditional dish] and rejoicing,” said Pastor Alejandro. “The prophet Nehemiah would’ve applauded the Chuixchimal people…because they had a ‘mind to work.'”
The church in Chuixchimal continues to work hard to motivate its congregation to remain involved. The Esmirna School’s building committee within the church is led by Brother Miguel, who gives everyone a weekly update on the school project and asks them for help. A university engineering student from the church gives them technical assistance and consults his university professors with any problems. The student is following the plans laid down by a team of 10 engineers from Engineering Ministries International (EMI) based in Colorado Springs, CO, which visited Chuixchimal two years ago to draw up the plans on-site. EMI took great care in designing a foundation appropriate to the seismic region.
“The church is very united with their hands and their offerings,” said Pastor Alejandro. “Week after week the church is urged to continue collaborating. [Everyone], the men, women and children, are very united.”
This year, in 2013, the school formally opened its doors to primary students, with hopes to extend the school curriculum to higher grades as well. Guatemalan authorities are requesting that the people of Chuixchimal build more formal classroom spaces and that they continue to advance the construction of the building.
“The community authorities are favorable [toward us] and encouraging the project,” Pastor Alejandro reported. “In some cases, neighbors have collaborated, and the parents of the students in our first trial year are happy with what their children are learning.”
In this first year of education at Esmirna School, Pastor Alejandro asks for prayers that the people of Chuixchimal will continue to work for the glory of God.
“The church is helping economically with the functioning of the school, and we are convinced that God is our Provider,” he said.
The Esmirna School is an extensive building project designed in three sections to form a U-shape. Each section has three floors, and so far the community, with the help of WWCS WorldwideHandsTM teams, has finished the first floor of the first section. There are eight sections remaining, with over $500,000 needed to finish them all. Esmirna School already began inside the church building in January 2013 with 24 kids in grades one through six. If the remaining floors in just the first section could be completed soon, it would be enough space added to move the current student population into the school.
WWCS is asking supporters to help the people of Chuixchimal establish this legacy for their children in the form of a quality, Christ-centered school. With the additional space provided, raising the number of students to 400 is now possible, considering the density of the population in the area.
Esmirna School is being highlighted in 2013 because it is a model partnership. The most important ingredients for success–local, indigenous leadership with a vision and a plan for sustainability–are already in place. By supporting the construction of Esmirna School financially right now, WWCS supporters can play an invaluable role in a project that would benefit generations of Guatemalans to come.
The Esmirna School project is important for reasons of both access to quality schooling in this region, as well as access to the truth of God’s love. The children here will be the leaders in their community and in the wider area of the Western Highlands, within the span of a decade.
With a pathway to Christ-centered schooling in place, missionary Loren Anderson has no doubt that some of these kids will follow in the footsteps of their predecessor, Pastor Pedro Ordoñez.
“When they wear the buttons we made them, [saying] ‘Soy dueño de un sueño’, they mean it,” he said. “‘I am the owner of a dream.'”