​The people of Chamelco, Guatemala, who lost most of their material possessions due to Hurricane Eta flooding, receive relief supplies. Photo by Ted Smoker, Eastern Mennonite Missions. 

By Deb Byler
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Deb Byler has served with Mennonite Mission Network in Guatemala since 2018, as well as, with Eastern Mennonite Missions from 1984-1997. Byler shares her experiences of walking alongside those who face the devastation of COVID-19 and two hurricanes with faith and courage.

Today, Nov. 18, it's raining steadily as I write. Just two weeks ago, Hurricane Eta dumped rain for five days, leaving severe flooding in its path. Many people in Alta Verapaz, the region of Guatemala where I live, lost their homes. Those whose houses withstood the water lost possessions in the flooding, as well as their corn and bean crops. The loss of a year's corn harvest is devasting, since people eat tortillas (or other corn-based food) three times a day.

My heart aches for such great losses, even as people are struggling to survive the long battle with COVID-19.

And now, Hurricane Iota is moving through Central America, adding its nonstop rain to Eta's floodwaters, which have not yet dissipated.

It's hard to be here in my safe home, knowing others face further loss.

Yesterday, I visited Dora Alvarado, a Mennonite widow who lives about 10 minutes from me. Her house is beside a river that flooded during Hurricane Eta. Dora's household, which includes her daughter and five grandchildren, had to evacuate. They found shelter in a hotel, where the government paid for their stay.

Dora told me that there was about four feet of water in her house. She managed to save some things by placing them up high, but the beds were ruined, and her wood-burning cook-stove suffered damage. It will cost about $100 to fix the stove. That's a lot of money here, in Guatemala. Dora is praying and trusts that Hurricane Iota will not flood her home. But all predictions are that this storm will be at least as damaging as Eta. 

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Mennonite Mission Network and other agencies are providing some relief. I was present at the church offices last week when a large shipment of relief and hygiene kits, comforters, and clothing was being sorted. All present were touched by these signs of love. We thanked God and prayed a blessing on the people who had donated and those who would receive the items.

One of the men who was sorting said, "This is the way the church is supposed to be. We help each other in times of need."

Sebastian Cuc, pastor of the Semesche Mennonite Church, heard of the need for corn and other food items. Since his community had not been flooded, he organized his congregation to provide from their crops. They gave the food they had gathered to the mayor of Carchá the city where I live and asked him to distribute it to those who need it most. The Carchá mayor is a good man, who cares for people. He has been doing everything he can to help.

There will be an ongoing need for food, tin roofing materials, boards to rebuild homes, and clothes for people who have lost so much. Second-hand clothing is fine for the men, but since the women wear traditional clothing, their clothing needs to be purchased locally. Santiago Iqui the Mennonite church president and other church leaders are doing a good job of distributing relief aid fairly.


Editor's note: A Nov. 28 update from Deb Byer reported that Hurricane Iota was not as damaging to Guatemala as Hurricane Eta, though in Honduras and Nicaragua, Iota caused more damage than Eta. Dora's home escaped a second flooding.






Deb Byler is a worker for Mennonite Mission Network. She serves in Guatemala, focusing on spiritual growth and leadership development among the women leaders in the Kekchi Mennonite Church.



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