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Destination: Guatemala



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From left: Bruce Dixon of Brandon Township, Stuart Nice of California, and Jeanne Santala Rose of Clarkston, walk through the village of Santiago Zamora in Guatemala after completing a floor project. Photos provided. (click for larger version)
July 13, 2011 - Guadalupe Zamora Lopez believes the means of breaking poverty is education.

Born and raised in a poor village in Guatemala, Guadalupe was offered an opportunity to escape his situation and go to college with the help of missionaries. He did— earning a degree after seven years. But unlike another village youngster offered the same opportunity who went on to Hawaii to start his own business, Guadalupe returned to the village of Santiago Zamora and is now the administrator of Colegio Trilingue Luterano.

"People like Guadalupe get up every morning and dream of making things better," said Bruce Dixon, a Brandon Township resident. "Their dream is to eliminate poverty and they do whatever they can step-by-step to make that happen."

Bruce and his wife, Marla Dixon, are taking their own steps in helping accomplish that dream. The Brandon Township residents recently returned from a mission trip to Santiago Zamora, Guatemala. Marla Dixon has been traveling yearly to the country in Central America since 2008 after Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church decided to form a sponsorship program through Shawn Smith Ministries. All of the funds raised through the program support the school. As administrator of CSL's mission, Marla ensures sponsor funds are being used wisely. This year, the Dixons went to Santiago Zamora from June 26-July 3. "The mission every summer is different from the school," said Bruce. "It's blossomed out into the community. It has expanded again, and now also serves the village of San Antonio nearby."

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On their most recent mission, Bruce and Marla worked on a number of different projects, including offering Vacation Bible School to the 95 students at the school, providing an eye care clinic, and installing cement floors and stoves in homes.

In Santiago Zamora, most homes have dirt floors, bamboo walls, and if there is a roof, it is made of corrugated scrap metal. Bruce helped put in eight floors the week they were there, ranging from 12x12 foot to 12x36 foot, usually put in a kitchen area or an area considered to be a children's bedroom.

"Kids get a lot of parasites from sleeping on the dirt," Bruce noted. "There are dogs, cats, chickens running around, it's very unsanitary."

All the work was done manually, mixing sand, gravel and cement with shovels, hoes, picks and feet. Some local kids helped the missionaries and in the afternoon, Bruce worked on "road construction," filling potholes with gravel and concrete, and building a berm to direct water away from the road so it won't wash out.

Bruce also served on the stove crew. Village residents have open fire pits in their homes, and the fire burns all day for warmth or cooking food, often a pot with corn or beans.

"There is seldom a roof, or if there is, it's a small part of the house," said Bruce. "They breathe smoke from the day they are born until the day they die."

A resident from the village of San Antonio developed an all-cement stove similar to a grill found in parks here, that allows the villagers to burn wood and is designed in such a matter that smoke goes up through a flue and burns more efficiently. Bruce helped install 20 of these stoves in village homes.

While Bruce was doing the work on stoves, roads, and floors, Marla spent time working at the school, updating records for the sponsorship program and working at the vacation Bible school every afternoon. She was also qualified to assist in the first-ever eye clinic offered in the village.

Marla, as well as other missionaries, received three hour-training through a mission optometry program. The missionaries took to Guatemala 1,800 pairs of eyeglasses donated to the Lions Club, as well as eye equipment including an optical auto refractor and examined the eyes of 150 Guatemala patients. Using a computer, they matched eyeglasses to patients.

"The people are very grateful and always want to give gifts of thanks for what we've done for them," Marla said. "They are an indigenous people of Mayan descent and they are a beautiful, happy people. They have very little, but are very content. I feel very grateful to have the opportunity and I've answered a call from the Lord to serve this way. Hopefully we are making a difference. You always come away wishing you can do more."

To find out how you can help, send an e-mail to ctlsponsorship@gmail.com or visit www.shawnsmith.com and click on the missions link.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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