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Local group completes mission work in Antigua, Guatemala

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Those taking part in the Youth With A Mission project in Antigua, Guatemala are Bruce Ahlberg (from left), Lon Standafer, Suzy Ahlberg, Ed McNiece, Diane Spomer, Bob Hibma, Karen Terhark, Roger Johnson, Sara Eggink and Allie Van Tilburg. (Special to The Globe)2 / 8
Dr. Ed McNiece provided dental services while in Antigua, Guatemala. (Special to The Globe)3 / 8
This is one of the wood-fired stoves completed by volunteers during their time in Antigua, Guatemala. (Special to The Globe)4 / 8
A Guatemalan family is happy to receive a water filtration kit so they can have safe drinking water in their home. (Special to The Globe)5 / 8
Lon Standafer (from left), Bob Hibma and Roger Johnson distribute meals to individuals who live in makeshift houses near the city's dump, where they scavenge for items to reuse, repurpose and sell. (Special to The Globe)6 / 8
A view of the city of Antigua. (Special to The Globe)7 / 8
Bruce Ahlberg (right), a former Worthington resident now living in Guatemala with his wife, Susy, operates Youth With A Mission in Antigua. (Special to The Globe)8 / 8

WORTHINGTON — Retired dentist Ed McNiece received more hugs from patients in four days doing oral health care in Antigua, Guatemala, than he ever received from patients during his more than 40-year career in Worthington.

Going to the dentist, after all, isn’t something most people here look forward to. But for children and adults who don’t have the luxury of twice-a-year teeth cleanings or emergency care for a throbbing tooth, a visit to the dentist is hug-worthy.

“They’re very appreciative,” McNiece said.

In January, McNiece made his fourth trip to Guatemala to volunteer for Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a program coordinated by Worthington native Bruce Ahlberg, who resides in Antigua with his wife, Susy. YWAM brings in volunteers to do important, meaningful work for the city’s poorest residents.

For this particular trip, McNiece wasn’t alone. Half a dozen local volunteers joined him on the nine-day mission, including Lon Standafer, Roger Johnson and Karen Terhark of Worthington; and Bob Hibma, Sara Eggink and Allie Van Tilburg of Sibley, Iowa. Diane Spomer, daughter-in-law of Marv and Jeanine Spomer of Worthington, is a dental hygienist in Savage and volunteered alongside McNiece.

Together, they provided dental care to more than 70 patients, saying the needs of the people — and their kindness — is what brings him back year after year.

“It’s a way to show people the love of Christ,” McNiece said, adding that he’s hopeful he can recruit more dentists for a YWAM mission. “We have a pretty good setup of equipment; it would be nice to use it for more than one week out of the year.”

Johnson, a recently retired Worthington optometrist, was encouraged by McNiece to join in the mission work. In years past, Johnson had cited work as the reason for not taking part.

“Now, I thought the Lord’s opened up this opportunity and I’m going to give this a go,” Johnson shared. “Hopefully he’ll stretch me a little bit and open my eyes to the needs — not only in our community, but around the world.”

Now that he’s completed his first mission trip, Johnson is ready to return next year. The same is true for Standafer and Terhark, who read about the opportunity in their Lakeside Church bulletin.

“I have always wanted to do a medical mission trip,” Terhark said. A registered nurse at Sanford Worthington Medical Center, she works with many Guatemalan women in the OB/GYN department and loves their sweet, sincere attitude. During the mission trip, she delivered health education.

“The more we learned about the people, the more we learned about the needs,” she said, adding that diabetic education and prenatal care topped the list of questions she encountered.

In addition to health care, the mission work included everything from installing wood-fired stoves and water filtration devices to serving up sandwiches and the word of God in poverty-stricken areas of Antigua.

Everywhere they went, children and families grateful for their help rewarded them with hugs.

“If you want a hug, you are going to get a real hug — a full-on, full-of-love hug,” shared Terhark. “They have got you in an embrace like you will never forget. You want a hug, you want love, you are getting it.”

Standafer and Johnson, too, were taken aback by the hugs and genuine appreciation they received. Their mission work included building foundations for wood-fired cook stoves and making water filtration devices.

Johnson said the water quality is so bad in Antigua they were told not to even brush their teeth without unfiltered water.

The filters they installed looked like five-gallon buckets with some hoses and filters. They remove the impurities and, if the filters are maintained properly, will last for about five years.

The ovens, meanwhile, are designed to use about 25 to 30 percent of the amount of wood they used before — when they cooked over an open flame in the courtyard.

Standafer has already set a goal for next year to install 20 ovens and 20 water filters — and he’s working on a plan to raise some money. He also plans to take some Spanish classes at the college before his next trip so he isn’t completely reliant upon translators.

While in Antigua, the volunteers stayed at the YWAM base, where there are a handful of dormitory-style rooms with bunk beds. Meals are eaten at the base, with volunteers expected to help with clean-up afterwards.

The mission’s center hosts a Bible study that has grown from eight women to 80. As they determine the needs of the people, they plan and schedule projects for volunteers to complete.

About half of their stay was spent doing manual labor, with another day spent going door to door to distribute Bibles and devotionals, meeting with people and praying together. One day they were taken to a city dump site, where a community of makeshift cardboard houses was created by people who scavenge the dump for anything that can be reused, recycled or repurposed to sell and earn money. Food scraps are fed to the friendly dogs who surround the site.

The mission at the dump included distributing sandwiches, fruits and vegetables to families, and toy wooden cars to the children.

Johnson summed up the mission by saying their days were filled with physical projects and spiritual opportunities.

“I’m really, really glad I went,” added Standafer. “It definitely took me out of my comfort zone in many ways. … I’m just really excited about next year — to see what we’re going to get accomplished.”

“It gives you a good feeling to know that you’ve impacted someone,” Johnson said.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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