By Jessica Brodie
A white flag hangs outside many of the homes in a remote village outside Chuisajcaba, Guatemala—a town with many already in poverty, their situation exacerbated because of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
“Help,” the flag cries wordlessly. “We have no food.”
Thanks to the efforts of one United Methodist ministry, Healing Guatemala, led by South Carolina pastor Dr. Luke Rhyee, the people are starting to get some much-needed assistance. Still, the needs are great—and grow greater every day.
Healing Guatemala is a medical mission and clinic that offers ophthalmology, dental care and basic medical needs, both at the clinic and in rural communities in the region.
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conditions there are not good, Rhyee said, and quickly getting worse, largely because of strict government measures that impact poor families, he said.
“There is a 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew, borders and nonessential businesses are closed, and almost everything is locked down countrywide for almost eight weeks,” Rhyee said. “The poor people do not have any cash cushion.”
Many are on the verge of starvation.
Until April, he said, they could manage to at least get some food to eat. But now, the situation is dire. Families have taken to hanging the white flags on their houses, a symbol that means they need help, especially with food.
Healing Guatemala, which receives support from churches and individuals throughout the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and beyond, is now using funds to purchase batches of food for the people, whom Rhyee said have no other resources.
Each batch of food contains 50,000 pounds of corn and 15,000 pounds of beans. With that, they can serve 1,500 families for roughly 15 days. Each family receives 30 pounds of corn and 10 pounds of beans.
Rhyee said they have delivered one batch already and had already purchased the second batch. They hope four batches total will get the people through their toughest spot.
Rhyee said the health and economic crisis is hitting the “least of these” in Guatemala very hard.
“The jobs have also dried up and the poor have little, if any, emergency funds,” he said. “The Guatemalan government has a program to support the poor with food and money, but the amounts are small and many times do not reach those in need. The families have run out of their supplies from last year’s harvest, and it will be a few more months until the current crop is ready to be picked.”
Rhyee said the 1,500 families include 200 families in the remote village of Chuisajcaba, where previously a feeding ministry for schoolchildren had been established; about 400 families served by their partner local pastors and missionaries in the Xela surroundings; and 900 Olintepeque families in the vicinity of their Bethesda Medical Center.
“The grain bundles that we are providing are not a fancy food, nor even grocery,” Rhyee said. “Those are their basic foods for survival. We are just handing out the basic raw grains for them to cook at home to keep their families from suffering from hunger. Literally, these grains sustain the life of those living on the edge.”
Rhyee said poor families typically eat tortillas with salt when they are short on food. Often they have a late breakfast and early dinner, then go to bed early.
“I cannot imagine how painful it is for these parents to watch their children going to bed with hungry stomachs,” Rhyee said. “Lord, have mercy on them.”
Healing Guatemala is a 501(c)(3) ministry. To help with their food program, send a check payable to Healing Guatemala to P.O. Box 1835, Duluth, GA 30096. Write “COVID emergency fund” in the memo line.
For more on Healing Guatemala, visit healingguatemala.org.