Children are Children

Danette Dooley
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Newfoundland churches lend a helping hand in Guatemala

Reverend Gregory Mercer met hundreds of people during a mission trip to Guatemala in April. None touch his heart more than a woman named Francesca.

"She had three children. When we met her, she was living in a little house, 6 X 8, tied together with scrap metal - no water, no electricity, sewer running down the backyard. Her husband had left her and gone with another woman to start another family," Mercer says.

Reverend Gregory Mercer met hundreds of people during a mission trip to Guatemala in April. None touch his heart more than a woman named Francesca.

"She had three children. When we met her, she was living in a little house, 6 X 8, tied together with scrap metal - no water, no electricity, sewer running down the backyard. Her husband had left her and gone with another woman to start another family," Mercer says.

Francesca's husband eventually returned. By that time, however, he had a second family to feed.

Francesca's main issue, Mercer says, became one of survival.

"We built a house for Francesca and her family and when we got it built, we went back to bless the house. That's when we find that what we get from them is far more than what we give," he says.

The woman shed tears in appreciation for her new house which, Mercer says, in this country wouldn't be looked upon as much more than a shed. Yet, in Guatemala, it's considered a mansion.

"When we're in desperate situations, you've got nothing else to hang onto only our faith. And that triumphs," Mercer says, going on to talk about how Francesca had prayed for a house yet never expected her prayers to be answered.

National organization

The rector at St. Peter's Anglican Parish in Conception Bay South was part of a 14-member missionary team to Parramos, Guatemala.

Eleven of those who made the trip were from St. Mary the Virgin church in St. John's.

The group volunteered under the umbrella organization the Arms of Jesus Children's Mission. Headquartered in Ontario, the mission sends teams from North America to Parramos every two weeks throughout the year.

People in Parramos live in tiny huts made from cornstalks or pieces of scrap metal, Mercer says. "The floor in the houses is the Earth and the kids get wet when it rains."

In addition to building six prefabricated homes, the Newfoundlanders spent time at a mission school for sponsored children.

"If you're not sponsored, you don't get to go to school," Mercer says, describing the facility as an oasis for malnourished children.

It's a beautiful school, he adds, where the children are given nutritious snacks during the day. However, when they leave the school, they return home to shacks rather than houses.

"How can you teach kids if you don't invest in their home situation as well?" Mercer asks.

Sponsors needed

The Newfoundlanders also spent time at an institution for children with multiple sclerosis. Again, Mercer says, these children need to be sponsored in order to be cared for at the facility.

Parishioners Jack and Dennis Morgan accompanied Mercer on the trip.

In addition to 1,400 pounds of clothes, toys and over-the-counter medical supplies, the team brought 300 simple wooden crosses on a piece of string, made by fellow parishioners Bob Hillier and Walter Hynes.

"We wore them ourselves and we gave them out," Jack Morgan says.

"The people down there were so happy to get them. We were touched deep down by what we experienced and we came back changed people," he adds.

More missions

Six parishes from Conception Bay North are now preparing for a September mission to Parramos.

Larry Stephan and his wife Lynn Palmer will represent the Parish of the Resurrection in South River.

The mission complements the parish's commitment to help alleviate Third World poverty, says parish priest Father Gerald Westcott.

Stephan's parish has already held several fundraisers to support the trip including a gala concert co-sponsored by Grace United Church.

Performers supporting the event included Andrew Dale, David Chafe, Stephan Maloney, Mark House, Colin Mackey and the local gospel group Celebration.

A classically trained pianist, Chafe believes his reputation as a gospel pianist is why he was asked to organize and participate in the fundraiser.

"When you talk about parishes and church-led missions to Third-World countries, most churches expect that music performed in a fundraising concert would be gospel variety and that's where I came in," Chafe says.

This will be the first mission for Stephan and his wife.

The focus of the trip, he says, is on the children.

Mercer is pleased to hear other parishes are supporting the Arms of Jesus Children's Mission.

Such missions benefit the people of Guatemala, the Newfoundlanders who make the trip and the entire parish congregation that supports such efforts, he says.

Mercer says his group received "overwhelming support" from the community.

"We told people what our mission was and what we were going to be doing in Guatemala. They fundraised to pay the full shot of our trip. We also took crafts made by our Sunday school kids and youth group, because children are children no matter where they live."

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Arms of Jesus Children, Virgin church, Grace United Church Mark House

Geographic location: Guatemala, Parramos, Newfoundland St. John's Ontario North America South River

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