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.

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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!

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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"

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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:
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."

Songs of the Divine Liturgy in Spanish / Himnos de la Divina Liturgia en Español

The Orthodox Church continues to grow in Guatemala, and one of the areas of progress is chuch music. A beautiful youth choir has formed at the Church of the Annunciation in Aguacate, Guatemala, where the people now sing the entire Divine Liturgy. There also is an excellent choir at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Tajumuco, Guatemala, and in the coastal areas of Guatemala the priests are teaching music as well. You can hear all of the major songs of the Divine Liturgy in Spanish here on this page. Click on any of the “download” links to download the original audio file to your computer.
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La Iglesia Ortodoxa sigue creciendo en Guatemala, y uno de los progresos principales es la música eclesiástica. Un buen coro de jóvenes se ha formado en la Parroquia de la Anunciación en Aguacate, Guatemala, donde la gente ahora canta toda la Divina Liturgia. También hay un coro excelente en la Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro en Tajumuco, Guatemala, y en las parroquias de la Costa Sur los sacerdotes están enseñando la música eclesiastica. Puedes escuchar todos los himnos principales de la Divina Liturgia en Español en esta página. Haz clic en el botón “Download” en cualquier canción para descargar el archivo original de ese himno.

The choir in Aguacate, Guatemala /// El Coro en Aguacate, Guatemala


Songs of the Liturgy / Los Himnos de la Liturgia

Fr. Antonio Passes Away in Guatemala

Fr. Antonio's funeral procession

On the feast of the Twelve Apostles (June 30th), we hear that the people around Jesus were “helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” These words echo in my mind after the death of Fr. Antonio Patá Tuctuc on June 20th, at just 42 years old. Last year the people of Guatemala lost Fr. Andrés Girón, their beloved spiritual father, and only one year later they have lost yet another father in the faith. The struggle of Christ's flock in Guatemala is painful to watch.

During the funeral of Fr. Antonio, a teenager grasped me and cried into my shoulder. A woman collapsed on the floor, wailing, “Fr. Andres left us and now Fr. Antonio too!” An older man took off his shoes and placed them into the tomb. “I want Father to have these,” he told me with tears. “When he is resurrected, he will walk with my shoes.”

Saying final farewells

How can we stand with these people who feel “helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”? To fully answer their needs, the Orthodox Church will have to send more missionaries and more support in the coming years. This is a pressing need that must spur us to action. Yet, at the same time, the Orthodox Church is already making a powerful beginning. I want you to find courage in this assurance: the people are feeling your presence even now in the midst of their groaning and tears.

Preaching during Fr. Antonio's wake

During my sermon at Fr. Antonio's wake, I told the people “you are not alone” and explained that thousands of people are praying for them across the world. Later, as I took photos of the funeral, I overheard someone whisper, “I wonder if the people abroad will see that photo.” Right there, in the midst of their grieving, the people were beginning to feel their bond with everyone in the whole Church. You truly were in our midst, and that is powerful.

So, despite this great loss, God is helping us to push forward. God has used all of you in the broader Orthodox Church to encourage his flock in Guatemala. Please continue with us! We will need your prayers and support more than ever in the coming months. May the memory of Fr. Antonio be eternal, and may Christ have mercy on us all!