Faith and Health in Guatemala

Highlights from GAHN and MHF’s Learning Tour to Guatemala in November 2023

In November, just a month after MHF’s 2023 Annual Gathering, MHF alongside the Global Anabaptist Health Network hosted 8 travelers to the beautiful country of Guatemala for our first ever international learning tour!

Through many adventures and (literal) ups and downs (Guatemalan roads travel over many mountains!) we got to know one another more deeply, built meaningful relationships with Anabaptist healthcare providers in Guatemala, and experienced the beauty of this central American country and her people.

Did you know there are more than 120 Mennonite churches in Guatemala?

There are two main Mennonites conferences in Guatemala – one in Guatemala City with 7 churches, and one in Alta Verapaz with 119 churches! There is also an important Seminary that serves pastors and church leaders througout central and Latin America to learn Anabaptist theology and Bible and provide mentorship and encouragement: Semilla. The leadership team of the Global Anabaptist Health Network currently resides in Guatemala – making it a perfect choice for our first learning tour!

The Learning Tour Group in Downtown Guatemala City. From Left: Andrew, Daniel, David, Rochele, Nathan, Cate, Elisa, Kathy, and Mark.


Arriving in the Guatemala City Airport is like arriving to a gigantic party (after you manage the slightly confusing immigration procedures!). Many people have gathered with baloons and welcome gifts to greet their loved ones – it was a bit of a challenge finding each other as most of us came in on different flights. Thankfully our hosts at GAHN, Dodanim – GAHN chairman, Gilma and volunteers Brian, Christian, and Yessica were determined to find and greet each of us personally and make sure we arrived safely and easily at Semilla and their guesthouse, Casa Emmaus.
As I (Cate) serve on the GAHN Steering Committee and have been working with our Guatemalan colleagues and leaders for a number of years, it was particularly joyful to finally see each other in person! Especially after over a year of planning and dreaming for this learning tour. A few times during the trip when we would visit a clinic or someone’s home I would laugh and say “Ah! That is where you do your Zoom calls! I recognize the background!”
[caption width="1024" id="attachment_35131" align="aligncenter"] Visiting Kaminaljuyu – an important Mayan site in Guatemala City



Exploring Guatemala City & Surrounds



On our first full day in Guatemala, we enjoyed a wonderful Guatemalan breakfast prepared at Casa Emmaus and then drove out to Iximche – an important Mayan cultural site a few hours from Guatemala City. It’s not possible to get to know Guatemala without understanding the deep roots of both her cultures and her struggles in history – especially the histories of the various Mayan people groups who have struggled for survival literally and in terms of linguistic and cultural survival. Many Guatemalan Mennonites either fully identify as Mayan and speak one of the Mayan languages (Q’eqchi’, K’iché, Tzutuhil) or have Mayan heritage they are proud of.

After a delicious traditional grilled-meat lunch, we learned from our guide at Iximche about Mayan football and saw an original stadium, and explored multiple layers and levels of a traditional Mayan village – now in ruins but with only a little imagination you can see the thriving place it once was. These ruins and others around Guatemala are still very sacred to the Mayan people, and although you cannot take pictures there, we were allowed to see the sacred area where Mayan families were practicing traditional religious ceremonies and prayers.












Throughout our visit we made visits to Mennonite Churches when possible – and our first visit was to Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Jesús el Ancia de la Fé where we were offered a wonderful dinner (we all thought the first plate brought out was the dinner – and it turned out to be merely the appetizer!). We also visited Casa Horeb, a Mennonite church in the heart of Guatemala city, where we were able to participate with local pastors in a workshop around resiliance and fostering resiliance in those we serve that GAHN generously set up. On the second night of the trip we visited Rocá de la Salvación Mennonite Church for a wonderful prayer service.



Throughout our visit we made visits to Mennonite Churches when possible – and our first visit was to Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Jesús el Ancia de la Fé where we were offered a wonderful dinner (we all thought the first plate brought out was the dinner – and it turned out to be merely the appetizer!). We also visited Casa Horeb, a Mennonite church in the heart of Guatemala city, where we were able to participate with local pastors in a workshop around resiliance and fostering resiliance in those we serve that GAHN generously set up. On the second night of the trip we visited Rocá de la Salvación Mennonite Church for a wonderful prayer service.



Food and the sharing of it was a significant theme of the trip – the many ways we experienced hospitality through being fed, often in churches and homes. We had dinner in Dodanim’s mother’s home – above one of the medical clinics Dodanim’s team runs and GAHN supports. We shared a meal in the homes of another GAHN volunteer, Yessica’s, grandmother and mother. We were served breakfast by host families in Santiago Atitlan. The list could go on! My mouth is watering for the thick, warm Guatemalan tortillas as I write this – but moreso, my heart is longing for the fellowship around the table we shared, often cobbled in multiple languages (Spanish, English, Spen-Glish most commonly, and a bit of French peppered in!), and with much laughter.





In every church we visited in Guatemala, and interacting with Gilma and others who provide leadership at the denominational level (IEMG), all of us as participants were very struck by how deeply engaged the Mennonite church in Guatemala is with social justice and serving those around them. One particularly moving visit we made not far from Guatemala city was to a community who was tragically impacted – decimated – by the volcano eruoption in 2018 of Mount Fuego. Hundreds died while others desperately tried to save them from the hot ash. The Mennonite Church was immediately active bringing emergency kits, later supplying new chickens for the families to raise, and helping to rebuild homes. This community cooked a wonderful meal for us and shared their homes with us – which were filled with beautiful art made from discarded tires and bottles. The whole group enjoyed watching the children break open a cow-themed pinata!



The view over Lake Atitlan



Visiting Lake Atitlan & Antigua



One of the real highlights of the entire learning tour was a trip Lake Atitalan a few hours away from Guatemala city. Despite a rather hilarious moment of meeting a river the van needed to ford – we arrived safely and enjoyed the incomparable beauty of this lake and its three volcanoes rising to the sky. We were hosted primarily by Anadesa, an MCC-connected ministry that was founded after another terrible natural disaster when storms caused a mudslide on the mountain to almost entirely eradicate some villages. MCC stepped in and afterwards with local community members began to offer empowerment opportuntiies for women and others in the community, including local children.



We had the fun experience of learning how to do beading like many of the women do at Anadesa in order to bring in a bit of money for their families! It was quite challenging but fun! Some of us hadn’t sat down to do a craft in a long while and it was a nice experience to relax with some coffee and sweet Guatemalan bread and bead!





We enjoyed a wonderful boat ride (on a boat named Elisa!) across the lake to enjoy lunch at a local restaurant overlooking the lake, and then had adventurous tuk-tuk rides to a viewpoint where we could see the entire area clearly.



That evening, after another wonderful cultural workshop in which we realized just how hard it is to grind corn to make tortillas, the group split up to stay with host families. It was a wonderful chance to get to know some of the people Anadesa serves and continue to experience the extraordinary hospitality of Guatemala.



The next morning the group headed to Antigua, Guatemala – an incredible, colorful city set in a perfect grid underneath yet another volcano. In Antigua we all enjoyed some rest after a busy week and explored the walkable city on our own. In the morning I (Cate) led a tour of some of Antigua’s most famous churches and church ruins which was very fun for me and I hope it was fun for everyone else!



Back in Guatemala City



We arrived back at Casa Emeus Guest House in Guatemala City and spent the last days of the Learning Tour visiting clinics and hospitals that the Mennonite Church and GAHN are involved with, continuing to share heartfelt and delicious meals, and visiting local churches. We had the joy of celebrating someone’s 90th birthday after church at Casa Horeb with tamales! Our last afternoon brought us to the Miraflores museum, where many artifacts found at Kaminaljuyu were on display and we continued to learn about the astounding depth and beauty of Guatemalan Mayan history and cultural stories.


[caption width="1024" id="attachment_35126" align="aligncenter"] A lab at one of the hospitals Dodanim works in that we visited.

Takeaways for MHF

I’m sure each participant on this trip could speak to all we learned and gained from experiencing Guatemala and especially the hospitality of our colleageus at GAHN. As MHF’s director there are a few key takeaways I had that I would like to share in light of MHF’s mission and ministry:

  1. The deep integration of the local Mennonite church and health ministries: The church in Guatemala has so much to teach the American Mennonite church about the very piece at the heart of Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship: the integration of faith and health. The idea that faith influences our physical health and the church should be intimately and unashamedly involved in heatlh efforts permeates through both the Mennonite Churches in Guatemala and organizations like Global Anabaptist Health Network. For me, this re-awakens my desire for MHF to envision engaging and encouraging the Mennonite Church to speak about and be active in the healthcare space, as well as uplift healthcare workers more actively.
  2. The offering and experiencing of radical hospitality: Although I had only ever met our colleagues and hosts at GAHN over Zoom, I immediately felt like and was treated as family. I believe each attendee on this learning tour could say the same thing: we were welcomed into homes so readily and there was a deep sense that a main purpose of our time together was to build deeper, more spiritual bonds so that our work in the future grows out of those bonds. I wonder: how can MHF become an organization that also fosters deep bonds – and then fosters meaningful work and engagement out of those bonds? How do we know one another more deeply? How do we offer more radical hospitality to one another as we all share this journey of faith and healthcare?
  3. Having a global outlook on health and faith: As a North American Mennonite, it can be too easy for me to forget just how global the Mennonite church truly is. I believe we are all served by holding that true global spirit of our church in mind and continuing to learn about the amazing faith and work of our brothers and sisters around the world. I am grateful that Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship is involved with the Global Anabaptist Health Network as well as adminitering the Mary Jean Yoder Endowment Fund (providing scholarships for Anabpatist/Christian individuals from developing countries to attend medical/nursing and other health professions education), and our Student Elective Term Grants. These programs help MHF maintain our global mindset, but we still need to be intentional! How can we more intentionally attend to the Anabaptist church and its efforts in health and healthcare globally and support those efforts as MHF and as individuals?

Thank you to everyone who supported and prayed for this incredible first learning tour. We sincerely hope it wont be out last. One of the best parts was simply getting to know MHF members so, so much more deeply than a weekend Annual Gathering or Zoom calls allows. I am so grateful for the deepened relationships and new relationships.

With particular thanks to the Global Anabaptist Health Network for all their hosting, efforts, and hospitality!


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