My wife, Jan, and I are about to become United Methodist Volunteers in Mission through the General Board of Global Ministries. We are members of Christ United Methodist Church in Rochester, Minnesota.
Our spiritual journey has been filled with some very significant ups and downs. I’d like to share some highlights from the last few years that may help to explain why I would decide to retire from Mayo Clinic at age 55 and, along with my family, plan to serve the Mayan population in Guatemala for a period of 2-6 years.
God’s call for us slowly became clear through a period of years as our eyes were opened by the selfless acts of others around us, serving God in ways that we had previously not been aware of. Our church family continued to mold us and prepare us to decide to go to Guatemala on a short term mission trip at the end of the 2010. Our first roots and connections to Guatemala had now begun to grow. We have served in Guatemala each year since, helping our mission team to establish and include an optical mission to dispense prescription glasses starting in January of 2012. I cannot tell you just how good it feels to see someone put on a pair of glasses that you have helped to provide and then either read or see the world around them in a new way.
Christ Church has sent Young Adult Mission (YAM) teams to Guatemala since 2004. These days, each team is composed of about 40-60% of people from our church with the balance from many other places inside and outside of Minnesota. All are welcome. We have done medical, dental and optical mission to construction teams as well as day camps for children. Much of the in-country preparations are arranged through Project Salud y Paz (saludypaz.org). This is a joint project of the global United Methodist Church, the Primitive Methodist Church of Guatemala and a non-profit out of Texas called International Hands in Service. They arrange our transportation, accommodations and our work locations. In addition to providing support to mission teams, Salud y Paz runs 3 clinics, a small school for Mayan children (Pre-k through 1st grade), and a training program for Mayan women to learn to provide some basic healthcare in rural settings. They employ over 30 Guatemalans today in jobs that range from doctors to dentists to lab techs to guardians to cooks. I am currently on the Board of Directors but will resign at the end of this year as I prepare to become a full time volunteer.
To date, there have been three other long-term volunteers from our church who have served with Project Salud y Paz after going with the Yam teams. Heather Neilsen is a nurse who served in Guatemala for four years from 2009 to 2013. Nick and Erin Gibbons spent 18 months there with Salud y Paz from January 2013 to July 2014. The dedication and experiences of these people in serving the Guatemalan people have in no small measure inspired us. In March of 2012, after reading one of Heather’s blog entries, a question popped into my head…”What would it take to build a hospital, a real hospital, in Chichicastenango?” I believe God planted that thought, that seed. And the seed has grown…
On Saturday, September 14, 2014, Jan and I signed paperwork with Project Salud y Paz that commits us to serve for two years with them. We agreed to be in country no later than March 30, 2015. Our hope is to be there in late January. We are required to take at least 4 weeks of language training for 4 hours a day, 4 days a week before we start. Our son, John Edmund, will be 15 then. He will attend an on-line high school. My title will be Development and Technical Services Manager and Jan’s will be Accounting Manager. As is often the case with small organizations, our job duties will vary considerably. Jan will take over many of the day to day in-country accounting tasks there, thus freeing up both the executive director and the Guatemalan operations director for other important work. One of my primary tasks will be to help oversee the construction of the new Regional Surgery Center at the main clinic compound in Comanchaj. Not that different from building a hospital, huh?! Currently, the clinic closes when surgery teams come in, 6-10 weeks each year. When finished, the revamped space will allow the clinic and the surgery center to operate concurrently, thus improving our level of service dramatically.
Jan and I are not independently wealthy. We recently paid off our modest home and plan to rent it out to cover taxes and insurance while we are gone. We anticipate our expenses to be approximately $10,000 per person per year including John Edmund’s schooling at $6,000 per year. We will be raising part of these funds through the global United Methodist Church where we will be listed as Individual Volunteers under the Advance, project #982465. John Edmund’s expenses will need to be raised through other means as he is yet too young to be an Individual Volunteer. We hope to have an account set up through Christ United Methodist Church for those who are called to help support our mission. We will share our journey with donors and other interested parties through our website spiritualjourneystoday.org and on Facebook.
Thank you for your role in our lives; you have helped us to hear God’s call! We’d like our mission to also be your mission. Can you help us make it so? We will attempt to be God’s hands working with those who have so much less than we do. The need in Guatemala, especially among the Mayans whom we will primarily serve is incredible. Without Project Salud y Paz there every day and without the mission teams that come to serve, these people could not afford any healthcare whatsoever. Please pray for us and consider giving as God leads you.
God bless you!
May you feel and recognize God moving in your life today and always!
John Edmund, Jan, and John Lage, Jr.