Juanita's Recovery and Continued Studies

About two months ago, my fiancé Juanita Pascual suffered a serious car accident while returning from a school project in a remote village close to Huehuetenango, Guatemala. I shared news of this accident, asking for prayers for Juanita’s recovery. Now I want to follow up with a joyful update: Juanita has fully recovered and she continues to move forward towards becoming a medical doctor.

Juanita enjoys a visit with fellow classmates from her medical school

Juanita enjoys a visit with fellow classmates from her medical school

As I mentioned back in May, the accident occurred when Juanita was with three classmates from her university in Huehuetenango, where she has been studying medicine for the past two and a half years. Tragically, the student who was driving passed away. Among those who survived, Juanita was the most seriously affected, suffering head trauma, several fractures, and many lacerations to her face and upper body. Fortunately her head trauma had no permanent effects (thank God!) but her injuries were serious enough that she needed to spend a week in the hospital. During that time I remained beside her as much as possible to encourage her and ensure that she received good care.

Juanita left the hospital on May 30th in positive spirits, but she was anxious about her impending final exams for the fifth semester of classes in medical school. She had just one week between her hospital discharge and the beginning of final exams. I thought that Juanita needed to focus on resting because she wasn’t able to walk well or raise herself without help. In light of the circumstances, the university gave Juanita permission to postpone her exams and I encouraged her to take that route.

Nevertheless, Juanita decided that she wanted to take her exams on the normal schedule. She was worried that any delay in her exams could lead to problems enrolling for the next semester. You see, in Guatemala there is no USA-style summer vacation; final exams occur at the end of June and the next semester starts in early July. So if Juanita were to delay her final exams, then she probably would miss her entire sixth semester of medical school. That was unacceptable to her.

Juanita stands in front of gifts of encouragement from friends and family

Juanita stands in front of gifts of encouragement from friends and family

So with dogged determination Juanita began to study for her exams. I read her books out loud so that she could avoid eye strain and mental fatigue, and we did repeated terminology drills together so that she would be ready for all her tests. A part of me could not believe that she was putting herself through this grueling effort just two weeks after barely escaping death! Yet, another part of me knows Juanita too well to be shocked at her persistence in the face of setbacks. She has spent her entire life overcoming the odds—she insisted on finishing high school in an area where many girls become mothers by the age of 14; she applied to college despite ongoing pressures to remain at home; and she has continued fighting for success during medical school because she holds on to her dream of becoming a doctor in order to serve others. There was no way that this accident would deter her.

Now I can share wonderful news: by God’s grace and by the prayers of so many people, Juanita achieved her goal. She passed all her exams! That means that she will face no academic setbacks whatsoever after her accident. Such an amazing triumph confirms that with God all things are possible.

A recent photo of Juanita fully recovered, standing with me and with one of her closest friends (on the far right) and her sister Mati (far left)

A recent photo of Juanita fully recovered, standing with me and with one of her closest friends (on the far right) and her sister Mati (far left)

Juanita is now in her sixth semester of medical school and her new classes are going well. Current courses include: Physiology, Histology II, Applied Clinical Biochemistry, Immunology, and Pharmacology II. She will have one more year of classes in 2020 before beginning practicums in 2021. We will keep you updated on her progress during the coming years.

As Juanita and I look forward to the future, we feel that her miraculous recovery has been a confirmation of God’s plan for us. We will be married in December, God willing, and we plan to spend our lives as coworkers in the Lord’s vineyard in Guatemala. The accident nearly robbed us of that future, but now God has given Juanita new life and we both feel more committed than ever to our shared life of service in this beautiful country.

Thank you so much for your fervent prayers for Juanita over the past two months. You have helped to lift Juanita up and set her back on her feet. Glory be to God!

Please continue to pray for Juanita’s studies and also for both of us as we prepare for marriage. We are entrusting ourselves to God, knowing that a life of service in Guatemala carries its own unique risks and struggles. Yet God is with us! And all of you also are with us in prayer, which gives us courage to push forward!

With joy and gratitude,

News on Juanita

Beloved friends in Christ,

I am writing to share some unexpected news on Juanita Pascual, who has been studying in medical school in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, for the past two and a half years. Many of you have been inspired by Juanita’s desire to serve as an indigenous medical doctor among her own people in Guatemala. Most of you also have heard that Juanita and are are engaged to be married later this year. We are so grateful for your continuing prayers as we look forward to a lifetime of missionary service in Guatemala.

Juanita, taking census results in a small village as part of a public health practicum at her university

Juanita, taking census results in a small village as part of a public health practicum at her university

This past week, Juanita was in a car accident with three other students from her university. Please know: Juanita is okay! She is in a hospital in Huehuetenango receiving good care for her injuries. I happened to be in Huehuetenango when the accident occurred and was able to go to the ER right away. When I approached Juanita’s bed, she immediately recognized my voice and said “te amo” (I love you). In that moment, I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew she was fully aware of her surroundings. As doctors and nurses continued to treat her, Juanita spoke with them and responded to everything that was happening. I remained with Juanita the entire time she was in the ER to make sure that she was able to get all the diagnostic tests she needed for the doctors to rule out serious internal injuries. Thanks be to God, none of Juanita’s injuries are permanent: she has lots of cuts, bruises, and a few broken bones—but nothing that cannot heal.

Juanita now is in the regular medical unit at the hospital. I have been able to visit with her and sit beside her hospital bed, trying to encourage her as she begins the healing process. I am in touch with the doctors at the hospital, who give me updates in person and by phone. They all are very glad that Juanita is on a good track towards full recovery. Juanita’s parents and two of her sisters also are here in Huehuetenango. Since Juanita is in an all-female medical unit, I am not allowed to remain with her continually. So her two sisters have been taking turns sitting beside Juanita all day and night.

Juanita’s injuries are significant enough that she will be out of classes for at least a week and possibly longer. We will be in touch with her university to make sure that that this unforeseen event does not set her back in her studies more than absolutely necessary. The faculty of the university have been incredibly supportive and are visiting the hospital on a daily basis to ensure that Jaunita is okay. Her fellow students also have been visiting Juanita and raising funds to fully cover her medical expenses.

Please keep Juanita in your prayers, asking God for a speedy recovery. Please also pray for the other students who were in the accident. Tragically, one of the other students passed away in the crash, and his family needs our prayers as they grieve this terrible loss. The other two students in the accident are okay; both have already been discharged from the hospital. Please pray for everyone involved in this incident, including all of the students at Juanita’s university who are still in shock.

Holding hands at the hospital in Huehuetenango. Thank you for your prayers!

Holding hands at the hospital in Huehuetenango. Thank you for your prayers!

Life is so precious and we never know what each day will bring. Over the past years, I have often thought to myself “I should visit some of the hospitals and clinics in Huehuetenango to get a sense of what medical care is like in the capital city of our province of Guatemala.” Never did I imagine that I would soon see Huehuetenango’s largest hospital from the inside, advocating for the woman that I love and sitting in prayer beside her hospital bed.

Thank you once again for your support and prayers. God willing, Juanita will heal quickly and be able to return to classes without too much delay. Thanks be to God that she is okay!

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!


Special Update from Missionary Jesse Brandow

Dear friends in Christ,

I have exciting news to share! Normally I focus my updates on general news from Guatemala, but this time I want to share something special from my own life.

Over the past months, I have asked you to pray for my guidance in questions of marriage. That request is rather personal, but I have felt so much love and support from all of you that I wanted to share what was on my heart. Until this point I’ve been a tease, asking for prayers without offering details. Now I'm ready to spill the beans—to use an apt expression for life in Guatemala!

For some time I have been dating a young Orthodox woman from Guatemala. In American culture, relationships quickly become “Facebook official,” but things work differently in Guatemala. Especially in the indigenous villages, couples usually discern their relationships privately. So she and I have been quietly discerning our relationship under guidance from her parents and the local, Guatemalan priest.


The woman that I have been dating is Juana Pascual, the Orthodox medical student from Aguacate who is now studying in the city of Huehuetenango. We became good friends during my first term of service, frequently working together in the clinic (where I translate for visiting mission teams) and also with the choir in Aguacate (she was the choir director for many years). In my second term of service, Juanita and I realized that we were falling in love. It’s a beautiful thing when a close friendship slowly turns into something even deeper.

At this point, Juanita and I have been dating for a year and a half. In the last several months, we began to speak more directly about marriage. Then, just after New Year’s, we asked her parents if we could marry and they gave their blessing. We also spoke with the local Orthodox priest in Aguacate, as well as with my supervisors at the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). Everyone is on board.

Now it’s official: Juanita and I are engaged!


I want to dispel any concerns from the outset: Juanita’s studies will continue uninterrupted. We are not interested in leaving Guatemala, and neither of us intends to change our vocations. On the contrary, our relationship has been possible because we both independently have felt called to serve here in Guatemala. If we had not shared that calling already, then we never would have considered dating in the first place.

This is our plan: At the end of this year, Juanita and I will get married here in Guatemala. Then I will move to Huehuetenango so that she can continue her studies. While living in Huehuetenango, I will continue working in the mission. I plan to take trips to Aguacate to continue teaching at the seminary and assisting with visiting mission teams. While in Huehuetenango I also can continue to produce Spanish-language teaching resources on my computer for use across the mission. In terms of my status as an OCMC long-term missionary, nothing will change. I will continue to work under OCMC, relying on your support each month. Looking farther to the future, we plan for Juanita to graduate from medical school and then both of us will return to Aguacate where she will work as a doctor in the medical clinic.

I feel compelled to share these personal details because so many of you know and love Jaunita. Quite a number of you also have supported her through the OCMC scholarship fund. It is a joy to finally share all of this with you publicly. Your prayers have buoyed Juanita and me throughout our relationship, and now we look forward to sharing our journey with you in the coming years.

Thank you for your love and support. If any of you would like to offer greetings or congratulations, I will translate your messages into Spanish so that Juanita and I can read them together. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts!

Looking forward to many years of service,
Jesse & Juanita

Studying together at a cafe in Huehuetenango. We like spending time in cafes so that we can be together even while she's studying and I'm working on tasks for the mission.

Studying together at a cafe in Huehuetenango. We like spending time in cafes so that we can be together even while she's studying and I'm working on tasks for the mission.

Putting the engagement ring on. The stone is lavender jade, which I chose because of the great importance of jade in ancient Mayan civilizations. I wanted to honor her heritage and the country where we will live and work.

Putting the engagement ring on. The stone is lavender jade, which I chose because of the great importance of jade in ancient Mayan civilizations. I wanted to honor her heritage and the country where we will live and work.

This sign says "I love Huehue[tenango]." Juanita likes to say "Huehue is our Paris" because it's the city of our love—and the city where we will live together beginning next year.

This sign says "I love Huehue[tenango]." Juanita likes to say "Huehue is our Paris" because it's the city of our love—and the city where we will live together beginning next year.

Here's to many years of joyful service in Guatemala!

Here's to many years of joyful service in Guatemala!

Video Presentation: "The Story of Guatemalan Orthodoxy"

Fr Martin Dn James with todosantero catechists - low res.jpg

The members of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Des Plaines, IL, recently hosted a banquet focused on the Orthodox mission in Guatemala, which is under the omophorion of His Eminence Athenagoras of Mexico. This banquet was organized by Mission Team Chicago in support of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) and the missionaries working in Guatemala. I was invited to give the keynote presentation, which was called “One in Christ: the Story of Guatemalan Orthodoxy.” Over 300 people came, and it was such a blessing for me to be present with so many people who are answering their Christian calling to support and participate in mission work. As Christ commands, we all must “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28).

The event was recorded and is available online. You can watch my presentation on Youtube, or view it below in this video player:

Please continue to pray for all of us who work in the mission field, offering special prayers for our hierarch His Eminence Athenagoras (pictured below) who cares for an extensive metropolis that includes Mexico and Guatemala, all of Central America and the Caribbean, as well as Colombia and Venezuela. Please also pray for our vicar, Archimandrite Fr. Evangelios (pictured below after His Eminence Athenagoras), and the other Guatemalan clergy: Fr. Mihail Castellanos, Fr. Alexios Sosa, Fr. Daniel Muxtay, and Fr. Blas Lorenzana. Thank you for your love and support for Orthodoxy in Guatemala and Latin America!

His Eminence Met. Athenagoras of Mexico

His Eminence Met. Athenagoras of Mexico

Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Evangelios

Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Evangelios

Equipping Doctors & Nurses in Guatemala

In 2012, I watched an infant die in his mother's arms in Aguacate, Guatemala. This baby boy—skin and bones with gaping eye sockets—breathed his last breath inside the local church. Living three hours from the nearest hospital, the mother had no medical options and so she fled to the village priest. Seeing the infant's malnourishment, the priest brought a bottle of formula to the child. But within a few minutes the infant died in front of the church altar. 

Tragic stories like this death can be overwhelming because there often seems to be no way to effectively help the people. How can we have an impact?

The truth is that in Guatemala we already are having an impact, and the village of Aguacate is proof. Four years after that boy died, a new clinic is standing next to the very same church where he passed away. It is part of the healthcare outreach of the Orthodox Church, an effort undertaken through the blessing and support of His Eminence Metropolitan Athenagoras of Mexico and Central America. What makes this healthcare outreach unique is the emphasis on local leadership. Community health issues like infant malnutrition cannot be completely solved by the teams of visiting doctors who are serving at the Aguacate clinic; to have a lasting impact, we need local Guatemalan leaders. That is why the clinic in Aguacate is beginning a transformative new project: we will be equipping local people to become doctors and nurses.

Juana (in middle, turquoise blouse) will begin medical school in January 2017

Already one local leader named Juana has been accepted into medical school and will begin her first semester in January of 2017. When she becomes a doctor (God willing!), she will have the potential to transform this entire region of rural Guatemala. Through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), we are raising funds to provide scholarships for her and possibly for other students in the future. By supporting these local leaders, we have the opportunity to completely transform the quality of life in rural Guatemala for generations.

Please consider becoming a supporter for this new scholarship initiative. Contributions can be given through OCMC, and must be earmarked for "medical education in Guatemala." Click here to donate, and make sure to write "medical education in Guatemala" in the section that says Tribute Gift/Special Instructions.

Thank you for becoming a supporter for the future doctors and nurses of Guatemala! To give you more details about this unique opportunity, we have prepared a detailed Q&A below. 

Who will receive support?

We are focusing first on young students in Aguacate and in the surrounding areas of Western Guatemala. This is an indigenous Maya area, where people grow up in large families of ten or more children. Most families live on subsistence farming and are too poor to purchase a car or even a motorcycle. The vast majority of children cannot finish high school due to financial constraints. Therefore, becoming a doctor or a nurse is nearly impossible—until now.

The village of Aguacate at dawn

Through the OCMC scholarship fund, promising students from this area will have the opportunity to attend medical or nursing school. High school students who wish to receive a scholarship for further study must show initiative by excelling in their high school classes and by volunteering at the clinic in Aguacate. By volunteering in the clinic, they will prove their commitment to serving this clinic as a doctor or nurse in the future.

By focusing on students in this area (Aguacate and the surrounding villages), we are making a strategic decision to influence the broader region of Western Guatemala where the Aguacate clinic is located. This whole region lacks quality healthcare and, now that the clinic is operational, patients already are coming from miles away to receive better care in Aguacate. The region surrounding Aguacate shares a common cultural-linguistic background, and the local volunteers in the clinic speak the same Maya language (Chuj) and understand the struggles of the patients. That is why we are seeking medical students and nursing students first in Aguacate and the surrounding villages; these leaders carry the greatest potential to have a large-scale impact on the whole region.

Who will be the first scholarship recipient?

At this point, we already have identified the first scholarship recipient: a young woman named Juana. She is a community health worker who grew up in Aguacate and now is in her early twenties. Since the age of twelve she has dreamed of treating patients because she played the part of a Cuban doctor in a school play. After that play, she began to volunteer at a nearby health post. Recognizing Juana's initiative, the village council asked her to become a community health worker through a training process in basic health, offered in a nearby village.

Juana gives a nebulizer treatment to a child with asthma

When the Orthodox Church opened the medical clinic in Aguacate, Juana immediately began assisting the visiting dentists and doctors. Although she is neither a formal nurse nor a doctor, Juana has learned a wealth of basic treatment techniques from the visiting teams over the past two years. Now, when medical teams are not present, Juana offers daily hours in the clinic where she provides a large variety of health services, including: general health consults, stitching for large wounds, blood pressure and blood sugar tests, urine tests for certain illnesses, tooth extractions and cleanings, and fluoride treatments. The women of this area especially flock to her because Juana speaks their Maya language and gives them confidence to speak about women's health issues with her in private.

Juana learns dental treatment techniques from a visiting dentist

Over the past years, Juana has discussed the possibility of becoming a registered nurse. At a certain point, she spoke to the clinic's leaders and said, "I don't want to be a nurse anymore." Shocked, the leaders responded, "you don't?" Juana smiled and said: "no, I want to be a doctor." She explained that she has seen the depth of the healthcare needs in her village and in the whole surrounding region of Guatemala. She wants to become as equipped as possible to help meet people's needs in the entire region.

In July of this year, Juana was accepted to various university programs in Guatemala. The medical program that she will enter is in the capital city of her province of Guatemala and begins January of 2017. Because of her proven talent and dedication over the course of years, Juana has been selected to be the first recipient of assistance through this scholarship fund. 

How will the funds be used?

This project will pay for tuition, room, and board, for the length of a student's study program. Programs in nursing and medicine vary in duration across Guatemala, but the medical program that Juana will enter is a seven-year program. So the funds will cover the costs of that program and basic living expenses over the course of seven years.

If I contribute, where will my donation go?

All contributions are tax deductible and will be given through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) and must be specified for "medical education in Guatemala." Upon receiving your donation, OCMC will earmark it for this scholarship fund. Each semester of studies, OCMC will transfer the semester's amount of tuition, room, and board, into the account of the medical clinic in Aguacate, Guatemala. Under supervision from OCMC field leader Fr. John Chakos and clinic project director Bob Kirschner, those funds will be used for the approved educational expenses.

The entrance to the clinic in Aguacate

Will the funds be used correctly?

Donating through OCMC adds a helpful layer of accountability because both the missionary department and the finance department at OCMC will check with the field leader in Guatemala (Fr. John Chakos) to receive confirmation of the correct use of funds. Receipts and proof of correct use are required by OCMC.

How can I make a donation?

Online donations must be correctly earmarked, so please fill out this form and make sure to specify that your gift is for "medical education in Guatemala." You can use the section that says “Tribute Gift/Special Instructions” to earmark your gift. Write “Medical Education in Guatemala" in that field. 

By mail:
If you prefer to mail a check, you then make it out to “OCMC” and write “Medical Education in Guatemala” in the memo line. Mail the checks to: OCMC, 220 Mason Manatee Way, St. Augustine, FL 32086.

Thank you for becoming a sponsor for the future doctors and nurses of Guatemala!


At the blessing of the clinic, people carried a sign saying "Thank you for giving us physic[al] and spiritual health."