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."

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.
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!

February Update from Jesse

Dear friends and family,

I hope you're staying warm! My sympathies to everyone in New England as you trudge through a winter apocalypse! This month will be news-oriented with updates about Guatemala and about myself. There's a lot to share!

Guatemala News

Last November, priests from Guatemala met with Metropolitan Athenagoras in Mexico City (see photo). They developed a strategic plan for Guatemala, including three goals: (1) enable Fr. Fernando to succeed Fr. Andrés as leader in Guatemala by sending him abroad to study theology, (2) identify potential deacons and priests in the Guatemalan villages and train them on-site, (3) complete the medical clinic in Aguacate and develop a strategy for ongoing healthcare.

In January, Fr. John Chakos and Pres. Sandy returned to Guatemala with a small mission team to assist in Aguacate. Almost 1,000 people gathered for a marathon service with 6 weddings and 13 baptisms (read more on their blog).

February 16 was the one-year anniversary of the death of Fr. Andrés Girón, the leader and advocate of these Mayan villages. The people held large memorial services and eulogies.

This coming summer, two mission teams will travel to Guatemala. You can volunteer for one through OCMC.

Personal News

90% funded: That's right, I'm in the home stretch! It's thrilling to see my team coming together. Thank you, everyone!

Purchased my plane ticket: I now have a departure date! On April 21st, I will fly from Miami to Guatemala City.

More parish visits in February and March: I can't leave until I'm 100% funded, so I will be traveling in New England and New York to seek more monthly supporters. See pictures from my recent visits on my Facebook page.

Ways to Help

Prayer requests: Please pray for personal peace as I begin saying goodbye to family and friends. Also pray for healing from wrist pain (a result of all the driving, typing, and writing).

Donate supplies: I am gathering supplies for my move on April 21st, and there are several items that you could donate (email me at j.brandow@ocmc.org to donate something):

  • A Kindle e-reader
  • E-book versions of theological writings
  • Logos Bible Software
  • A used Macbook for a backup computer
  • Large, lightweight suitcases
  • New or used cassock
  • Liturgical supplies for the churches in Guatemala (chalices, censers, and blessing crosses)

Become a monthly supporter: I still need more monthly pledges before I can leave in April. Make a pledge of any amount (e.g., $25 per month) using my online support page.

Final Word

Standing with Fr. Andrés in 2012. May his memory be eternal!

Standing with Fr. Andrés in 2012. May his memory be eternal!

I can't tell you how much I miss Fr. Andrés as we mark the one-year anniversary of his death (Feb 16). I got to know this great man as a father. Imagine driving in a car with Martin Luther King, Jr., or having tea with Mahatma Gandhi. I look to Fr. Andrés with the same degree of love and admiration. 

During one car ride in 2012, Fr. Andrés stopped at a small store and walked inside with me. He walked carefully, holding my arm because of his increasing weakness. Suddenly he stopped, stared into my eyes, and said, "do you see this cassock, Jesse? This doesn't make me a priest! The people in the villages made me a priest. Always remember that!" Then we continued into the store to buy coffee and food, and his words lingered in the air. I never forgot those spontaneous, prophetic moments; the words of Fr. Andrés linger in the room where I sit and type, they permeate the churches where his people pray, and they flow through the mountain air of Guatemala where thousands of people still look to this man as a father.

Now, as I prepare to move on April 21st, I ask Fr. Andrés to pray for me and to beg God that I will serve his people faithfully. I try to honor his words from that car ride by remembering that the villages made me a missionary. Not only that, but all of you are making me a missionary each day through your prayers and support. Join me today in prayer, as we remember Fr. Andrés Girón and the villages that love him dearly.

In Christ,

Listen to "Mayan Orthodoxy," a Recorded Lecture

On May 18th, I delivered a public lecture at St. Vladimir's Seminary on the growth of Mayan Orthodoxy in Guatemala. The lecture focused on the rich, volcanic soil of Guatemala as the key to understanding the history and culture of the country. The fertile soil has made some Guatemalans rich because of abundant crops, but it also has divided the country and contributed to decades of civil war, bloodshed, and poverty among the indigenous populations. This "story of the soil" is also the key to understanding why thousands of Mayan Indians converted to the Orthodox Church under the leadership of Fr. Andrés Girón. The lecture described the future challenges that face this movement to Orthodoxy, and it concluded by urging the broader Orthodox Church to help the seed of Orthodoxy take root in the soil of Guatemala. By by supporting the missionaries who are working in Guatemala, the broader Orthodox Church will help the seed of Orthodoxy grow. When this seed grows into a strong, Mayan Orthodox Church, then God will show all of us "the joy of the harvest, which is so great."

To support Jesse through a monthly contribution,   click here  . Even $5/month (a few coffees) will have a tremendous impact over Jesse's two year term of service.

To support Jesse through a monthly contribution, click here. Even $5/month (a few coffees) will have a tremendous impact over Jesse's two year term of service.

The lecture was recorded for "Voices from St. Vladimir's Seminary" on Ancient Faith Radio.  You can listen to the full lecture in the audio player below, or download the audio file here.