District group enjoys lending a helping hand in Guatemala

At a time of the year when so many people are giving, a group of district residents just gave some people new homes at no cost to them.
Mark Mast of Rainy River recently led a group of locals to Guatemala to do missionary work that involved building new homes for impoverished residents there.
This was Mast’s fifth trip to that country in the past three years to continue this work through Grace Ministries. Teams of 40 go on a regular basis, paying their own way there (about $900).
Eight people from this area went, including Mast’s daughter, Miriam, Don Ricci, and Courtney Peters (all of Rainy River), Felicia Schmutz, Stephanie Goodman, and Brianna Shortreed (all of Emo), and Ricci’s brother-in-law, Ron Stenning of Winnipeg.
Mast said his cousins from Michigan have been going to Guatemala for years and kept saying he should go.
At first they only worked on humanitarian needs, like providing clothing and shelter. Then when they expressed an interest in doing the work of God, Mast became very interested.
In 2005, he travelled there and helped establish a Bible program. He made the journey three times that year and now the teams of 40 not only look after humanitarian needs, but also spiritual ones.
Mast does some of each when he makes the trip—and finds it so rewarding that he convinced others from this area to go last year and again in 2007.
The group departed on American Thanksgiving (Nov. 22) and returned eight days later.
They travelled to Chimaltenango, Guatemala, a city of about 500,000 people. However, they spent their time mostly on a coffee plantation in the hills overlooking the city.
Many of the people there live in poverty.
“The existing homes are shanty at best; made from tin scraps, corn stocks, or whatever they can find,” Mast noted.
His team set out to construct 12’ x 12’ tin buildings. While that does not sound like much to us here, Mast said the people there are very grateful for them and often are on a waiting list for them.
The local churches in Chimaltenango do needs assessments. Then they recommend, on a priority basis, who is next in line to get the new homes.
Each team of 40 knows that they will be constructing 15 homes, but teams are constantly going to the region. Mast said sometimes they have people approach them personally asking for help.
“We make a note of it and get the word of their needs to the local church so they can get on the list,” he explained.
All members of the team also bring very few personal effects so they can bring extra luggage filled with clothing and other needed items like shoes.
“Miriam brought 16 pounds of personal effects and I brought 20-25 pounds,” Mast said,
He added they have not done a local appeal for items, but that people have been very generous, noting Inge Scheibler of Barwick personally crocheted 50 afghans, some baby clothes, and toques for the team to take down.
But because the local team had their maximum allowable luggage, Scheibler paid to have them shipped to another team member in Alabama to take to Guatemala.
Five of the eight members from here are teenagers and on the last day with the help of two other teens and two university students, they built one of the homes all on their own.
“They were very proud of that accomplishment,” said Mast.
In addition to the home-building and the Bible study work, the group also painted a gymnasium at a seminary, as well as the inside and outside of a local church.
Mast said about 20 people from this area have gone to Guatemala to date, and that Grace Ministries already has allotted 10 spaces for more to go from here next November.
Some people have donated funding for team members to take down. For $10, a child can go to school for a month there.
Mast said Schmutz also did a school project that saw her buy small Guatemalan dolls while down there, sell them for a profit here, and then donate all the proceeds to the cause.
She raised enough money—about $600—to build two more homes there.
Students at SCAP also raised money to make beautiful quilts, which were taken to Guatemala by the local team.
If anyone would like to go on the next trip, or help in any way, contact Mast at 852-3202.