Life on the Vine

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Central America Caribbean » Guatemala
November 20th 2006
Published: November 20th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

Engine warmed and seat belt securely fastened, I head out to get my first real taste of Guatemalan driving. The Capital is the destination, so I leave Quetzaltenango and head east, single file on the back of the Pan-American Highway that cuts through the Highlands like a serpent. Jockeying for position, I never lose attention to the lawless roads before me. Curves lead to curves, road repairs give no warning, and if I’m not alert, unmarked tumulos will catch me sleeping. Crazed manejeros own the roads and treat them like a playground, tossing caution into the wind as they attempt passes with only inches and seconds to spare. The mighty “chicken buses” yield to no one, stopping and proceeding at will, leaving clouds of diesel exhaust in their wake, terrorizing the country-side with their madness. These old, hand-me-down school buses from the U.S., painted up like racecars, careen down the highway with no regard for anything except the locals flagging them down. A glance in my rear view reveals the monster’s chrome grill swerving impatiently behind me. As it blows past, I look up to read the words “Dios te Bendiga” painted across the back- “God Bless You” it reads and
King of the RoadKing of the RoadKing of the Road

The sinister smile of the "chicken bus" grill.
I actually feel blessed to not have been run over. The coast is clear, well, for a few seconds at least. The blaring sound of car horns jogs my nerves as I come upon yet another over weighted 4-cylinder holding up traffic. Down-shifting to third to make a pass, I overcome one vehicle and then on to the next, this process goes on for hours. Reaching the inner-city brings no relief; it is its own beast. Passive drivers are eaten alive. Three lane streets cram five across. Bumper to bumper, I fight for a position. The red signs reading “Alto” mean “Stop,” but are loosely translated as a yield - if even that. Traffic cops are non-existent just like the laws of the road. Pedestrians own no “right-of-way” and blinkers hold no meaning, but a simple arm signal grants me passage. To some it’s a nightmare and to others it’s home. That’s life on the road in Guatemala - Ten cuidado y buen suerte!

Nearly three weeks have past in the blink of an eye and I have been on six 5-hour trips between Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango (Xela). I’ve had the opportunity to drive some of them and slowly adapt my driving style to that of a full-fledge Guatemalteco, which could prove to be harmful to my driving record when I return stateside. I know this all sounds horrible, but don’t let it keep you from visiting. All in all, you just have to use good judgment like any other place and simply anticipate the bad driving. Actually, I can think of a lot of guys back home who would fit in perfect.

There has been so much accomplished over the past few weeks, but I’m going to spare you the details and just give you a brief summary. Dennis and I finished preparing the warehouse in Xela for the move. This meant everything expired was disposed of and everything going was organized neatly for transport. All that was left standing was the frame of the pallet racks, and that was going to be a job for the Moving team. The next task accomplished was moving the Rices belongings from Xela to Guate city. This wasn't so bad though. They hired a five-man moving team to pack up and transport everything to the new house. All we had to do was drive their two vehicles down, unpack,
Assessing the DamageAssessing the DamageAssessing the Damage

Dick, Doris, and Sharon look out over the rubble in hope of a miracle.
and set up the new house. This also wasn't that bad. The Muellers made a trip to the city to help out and we had it knocked out in no time. When the weekend rolled around, almost everything was in order, so I took a little trip to Antigua to visit an Aussie girl that I met during my recent travels.

After posting my last entry, I received an e-mail from an Australian girl (Bridgette) that I met at Iguasu Falls in Argentina (see Don't Cry for Me Argentina!). She had been working her way north and just happened to be in Guatemala, so having a few days to kill, I met up with her in Antigua. We enjoyed the weekend eating at posh restaurants (she taught me that word) and walking the cobblestone streets completely lost but content. Bridgette may be from Australia but she carries an accent like that of British royalty. It is hilarious how much our accents and English phrases differ. We continually crack on each other and argue about who's English is more correct. We are on complete opposite sides of the refinement spectrum- she's like Princess Di and I'm like Bo Duke from Hazzard County (or Sawyer from "LOST" as she says). Catching up was fun, but now it was time to get back to work.

Soon the arrival date of the Vine Moving team rolled around and the Rices and I were joined by a spirited crew of missionaries ready to get their hands dirty. The team was made up of Woody Woodson (El Jefe aka: Woodrow Peligro aka: Hurricane Woody), Bruce White (Knoxville’s warehouse manager -aka: Bodega Bruce), Dennis McCutcheon (MedEquip Missions Director aka: Santa), Shane McBride and his wife Mitzi (Abba’s Children Ministries), and their friend Caleb (involved in Abba’s Children Ministries). After picking the group up at the airport, we took our two vehicle caravan to the road and headed to Quetzaltenango. Five hours later, after yet another rollercoaster ride through the highlands, we arrived in Xela and enjoyed dinner at Woody’s favorite restaurant - Cardeneles.

If there is one thing Woody knows how to do it’s make sure that his team is well fed, and this team definitely liked to eat. Our daily meal times were especially enjoyable for Shane, Mitzi, Kaleb, and I (the young bucks of the group) because we got a chance to ask tons of questions about the mission field and soak in the knowledge of the experienced elders. The support and encouragement we received was amazing. Shane and Mitzi had just recently started Abba’s Children Ministries (website under construction), which focuses on supporting orphanages and adoption processes. Dennis McCutcheon, who has been in the mission field for many a years, provided us all with tons of information, tips, contacts, and spiritual support. We (the youngins) took so much in (from the Old Fogies) and walked away with a much better understanding of why we are here and how important our faith is in reaching others. On one night in particular, we were joined at dinner by an old friend of Woody’s who was a local Guatemalan doctor at a hospital in Mazatenango. The doc stood at the table and talked (in broken English) about the impact Vine has made on his region of Guatemala over the past thirteen years. He told us stories of the many lives affected by Vine’s love and support, and as he explained all this he suddenly came to tears. This was a touching moment for us all and really gave me a feeling of joy inside to be associated with such caring individuals. Just seeing the way the doc embraced Woody in appreciation showed me how deep the work really goes and what springs from it. This was only one occasion mentioned but many more took place. The number of lives touched by Vine over the years is immeasurable and will continue to grow - what a blessing!

As for the move, the group proved to be one heck of a team. We had set aside a day and a half for the dismantling phase, which we knocked out in under half a day. This meant the team got to visit a local Methodist clinic supported by Vine and spend a few hours at the nearby hot springs (Aguas Georginas) sunk deep in the Xela mountains. That night we loaded up two trucks (40ft trailer and 24ft straight truck) and finished up early the next morning loading the forklift onto a roll-back. Making our final trip between Xela and Guate, we reached the city and went straight to work, unloading everything into the new warehouse with the help of some local Guatemaltecos. Everything ran smoothly, well, except for the forklift getting stuck just outside the entrance, but it
Children scatter the streets asking for money to buy their next mealChildren scatter the streets asking for money to buy their next mealChildren scatter the streets asking for money to buy their next meal

Don't worry, I gave her some money for lunch and for letting me take her picture.
did give Woody a new joke to tell his friends - How many Hillbillies and Guatemaltecos does it take to dig out a forklift buried up to its axels in dirt?

The reassembly of the warehouse proved to be a little more difficult than the disassembly, but the team stayed strong and accomplished our mission in the end. On Friday, the crew was invited to the dedication ceremony of the new building at Fundi Niños Orphanage, which is one of Vine’s support recipients. The orphanage is run by Woody’s good friend Manola and his wife Wilma. This local Guatemalan family has given their life to these children and have made this establishment more like a loving home than an orphanage. The new facility was funded by a foundation in Knoxville, who also offers much support to Vine. The building had a clinic and warehouse on the lower level and a school for the children on the upper level. The place was huge and will make a big impact on the lives of these children.

I have to say that the visit to Fundi Niños was definitely the highlight of my trip thus far. From the second we stepped from the vehicle, each one of us had children dangling about. It was such an amazing day that filled our hearts and inspired our cause. We spent hours playing with the children, touring the facility, and hearing their stories. We listened to so many shocking stories and beautiful ones as well, and I would like to share two in particular that really affected me.

There were six of the cutest little siblings (4-girls 2-boys) who’s mother, after being abandoned by her husband, used to padlock all six children in a room and leave them there everyday (without proper food) until she had returned from work. This went on until she was finally discovered and the children were taken and placed at Fundi Niños. They are all so happy now in their new home where they are loved and cared for like children should. The six will never be split, but this will prove to be a difficult adoption since all have to go to one family. Although, their lives are much better off now and they will grow-up in a Christian environment which will steer them on the right path. As it says across the entrance of their new school - “Instruye al niño en su camino, y aun cuando fuere viejo no se apartara de el.”-Proverbios 22:6 - “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”-Proverbs 22:6.

The other story that I’d like to share was about a little boy named Antonio, who had a seriously deformed face at birth. He had a cleft pallet, hair-lip, and his nose was simply a hole in his face. Now, after five surgeries, he has an almost normal face and is loving life. He stayed wrapped around one of our necks at all times and never dropped his glowing smile. Since he was born, a family in the U.S. has been trying to adopt him, but it has been five years and the process is still not complete. The government of Guatemala can make adoptions very difficult and very expensive. This is very sad for the children and one of the challenges my friends at Abba’s Children Ministries will be assisting families with. If adoption in Guatemala is something that calls your heart, I recommend you contacting Shane and Mitzi ( so they can answer your questions and simplify the process. Also, they are looking for anyone interested in donating supplies (especially diapers and formula) or money to the cause. The number of diapers these kids at Fundi Niños go through is unbelievable - it must be from all of the beans and goat cheese.

Well, that about sums up the last three weeks of my trip and boy what a time. I sure will miss the team. Everyone got along great and had lots of laughs (at the expense of Woody of course). It has been such a great experience getting to work beside and learn from such wise and faith-driven individuals. They have broadened my knowledge and strengthened my confidence. But the biggest motivator for me was the children. Getting to spend time at the orphanage really touched me deeply. When I looked down upon their glowing faces, I could see God’s love smiling back. It filled me excitement. Excitement in the fact that there is a chance I may work with the Vine family in the future. But, even if employment isn’t a feasible option at this time, I know there will be opportunities to work with the team again. What the future holds for me of course is unknown, but I never let that worry me. I know in my heart that God has a plan for my life and I simply look forward to walking it along side Him.

I would like to finish up with a little information on Vine International just in case some of you are unaware and possibly interested in providing support. For the past 13 years, Vine has been serving the people and missionaries of Guatemala. The organization consolidates donated medical supplies from all over the United States and then ships supplies by container to their warehouse in Guatemala. From there, the aid is distributed to clinics, hospitals, medical workers, missionaries, churches and orphanages throughout the country. Their work does not stop there, but this “pipeline” is the primary focus. They also have a vitamin project (Vine’s Vites) that supplied 1,400,000 vitamins this past year to the children of Guatemala. Twice a year, Vine hosts a medical mission, wherein a mobile clinic makes its way through the areas in need, providing treatment, distribution of aid, and spiritual support. Many lives have been touched; both medically and spiritually. After 13 years of serving Guatemala, Vine has learned to serve this one country well and is now ready to expand its efforts into other countries in need. Vine International is a non-profit organization, which means that all the support is obtained through donations. If you are interested in providing support or know of someone who would be, then check out for contact information and learn more about the operations, history and projects of Vine International. Most of all, I simply ask you to pray for the Vine team and their supporters, that they may continue to make an eternal impact on people’s lives.

In the next few weeks, just as soon as the medical supply container we are expecting arrives, I will be visiting my firefighter friends at Lake Atitlan. I can’t wait to see all of the guys and their families. They know I coming, but have no idea about the donations you have sent with me. It is going to be like Christmas come early. Until then, take care and Dios los bendiga! - Oh yeah, Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Note: I returned to the little clinic in Xela where I met the Ordonez family and this time I brought my camera, so click
Caleb on the GrinderCaleb on the GrinderCaleb on the Grinder

Finishing up on the last of the braces.
here (On the Road Again, yeah that's right, I'm Back!!!) to see the photos I added to my last entry.
Also, make sure and check out the photos on the second page at the bottom (travelblog now adds a second page if you have too many photos). I got a little picture happy, but I just couldn't help it.

Additional photos below
Photos: 42, Displayed: 32


20th November 2006

Hey Jeremy! The stories and pictures are awesome. It sounds like everything over there is setting up smoothly. I know you have made some of those children's lives, and what you are doing is awesome. How did the kids like their toys, and the men their fire men tools? When do you think you will be back stateside? I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and May God Bless You and your works!
22nd November 2006

It was a joy working with you hermano
Hey Jeremy, it was a joy working with you. I was so glad to see some young bucks in the team to work with the old fogies. Praying for all the new found friends. I pray specifically for you that if it be God's will that you work with and for the Vine International family. They are a rich blessing to Guate and can be used elsewhere in the world as God allows. Let me know if I can help, Your brother in Christ Dennis McCutcheon
26th November 2006

great pics, and the writing! u should be working for national geographic or something while u'r down there :) keep up the good work, u r making a difference!
11th December 2006

Happy Holidays.
Hey Jeremy, I just wanted to tell you hello. You've learned and experienced so much over this past year. It is nice to see all of it in your blogs. This past one, is a great testimony of that. You are having fun, and changing well as your own. Now, if that special lady will just come into the picture! Mia and Sean are doing well. Mia's 4 months today! Take Care, and we will see you when you return.

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