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Fuente de Agua: Mission project provides water at Guatemalan church

WORTHINGTON -- Americans take for granted the clean water that flows from their taps. In other parts of the world, clean water is a much rarer commodity, and the water that comes out of the taps can contain a multitude of contaminants that can cause sickness and even death.

That harsh reality was learned firsthand by several members of Worthington's Westminster Presbyterian Church who took part in a mission trip to install a clean water system in Guatemala. Chuck and Jackie Moore and LeRoy Ennenga, along with three other people from various congregations in the Minnesota Valleys Presbytery, spent 12 days in March in the Central American country. Their main destination was not some remote village, but a church on the outskirts of Quetzaltenango, the country's second-largest city, which is also known as Xela (pronounced shay-la) in the Mayan language.

The Minnesota Valleys Presbytery has a sister Presbytery, the Occidente Presbytery, in Guatemala, and throught that relationship has become involved in Living Waters for the World, a global mission resource with a mission of providing pure water to partners in need. The Minnesota Valleys Presbytery has committed to a five-year project providing five water purification systems at various locations in Guatemala.

"There are three components involved in the project," explained Chuck Moore. "First, there's the water system and training people to install it. Then there's a health and hygiene curriculum and also leadership training."

The Moores played host to three Guatemalans who visited the Minnesota Valleys Presbytery in the fall of 2005 as part of the sister program. After that experience, Chuck put his name on a list as being interested in a mission trip. When the Moores received a verifying call in January, they said they both would be willing to travel to Guatemala, but didn't hear anything more until they returned from a trip to Florida. They were told to pack their bags and be ready to leave a month later. Ennenga was also notified just a month in advance.

"They didn't know that I had volunteered, and I didn't know that they had volunteered," said Ennenga, a retired farmer.

Ennenga had been trained in the water system setup, while the Moores were involved in the educational aspects of the mission. The delegation of six from Minnesota all stayed with the same host family, the Calderons. Six people from the Occidente Presbytery also helped with the project, which was installed at a Presbyterian church called Fuente de Luz -- Source of Light.

The Minnesotans brought along some of the key components of the water system, packing the equipment into their own luggage, while the more common parts could be bought in Guatemala. In addition to funding the filtration system at a cost of about $2,500 to $3,000, the Minnesota Presbytery also paid for two storage tanks as well as five-gallon jugs for distributing the water.

Upon arrival, the Minnesota group became acutely aware of the hazards of the local drinking water.

"We were told, 'Don't drink the water. Don't eat the lettuce that's been washed in the tap water. Don't eat the tomatoes that have been washed in the tap water. ... Don't use the ice cubes. Don't drink Coke unless it's out of a bottle,'" related Chuck.

Although the family they stayed with was relatively well-off, the Minnesotans' eyes were quickly opened to the acute poverty that pervades the country and how few modern conveniences are available, especially on the outskirts of Xela. Every task, Jackie said, was labor-intensive for the majority of the residents, from doing laundry in a communal laundry area to planting and harvesting crops by hand.

"They tie ropes around their waist to work the fields on the mountainside," related Ennenga.

Although there are many Mayan dialects, the primary language of Guatemala is Spanish, and a translator was provided to the contingent. A member of their host family also spoke English, which facilitated communications.

But there was no translation available during the first church service the group attended, which lasted two and a half hours.

"They had a praise band, and everyone stood up and sang for at least 45 minutes," described Jackie. "That was wonderful."

On the second Sunday of their stay, the service lasted three hours and included the dedication of the new water system. Samples of the clean water were distributed to the congregants, and on another day, they distributed water to other area residents.

"We traveled in a half-mile circle around the church with the elders giving out samples of fresh water to the people," explained Ennenga in a letter posted on the Presbytery Web site. "This gave us a real contact with the people, and it was an eye opener."

The Moores and Ennenga returned home with a wealth of observations, impressions and warm memories of the time they spent in Guatemala.

"When we came back to the United States, my first impression was of all the space we have, all the open areas, the wide streets," shared Jackie.

Ennenga said, "It was a good experience, and we really became attached to our host family," adding, "The food was different. The meat was really bad, so tough."

But the rest of the food -- tortillas, refried beans and fresh fruits and vegetables -- was more palatable, the trio quickly added, and was plentiful in keeping with the warm hospitality that was shown by their new Guatemalan friends.

Chuck and Jackie Moore and LeRoy Ennenga will share more information about their mission trip to Guatemala during a presentation to the area's Presbyterian congregations Monday. The cluster will meet at 7 p.m. with the Guatemala presentation at 7:30 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 230 Clary St., Worthington. The public may attend.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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