Desperate need welcomes big-hearted, beneficial solutions, right? Well, not always.
Guatemala is a gorgeous, mountainous country nestled just below Mexico. Sprinkled throughout those high elevations, many Mayan villages lay hidden far from the hustle and bustle of Guatemala City. There, among the breathtaking landscapes, families fight for survival up where supplies are limited, and help is hard to come by.
Those remote areas are where Tim and Patty Ruth of Radical Missions love serving. The problem is, the indigenous people of Guatemala are often as hard to reach as their villages.
Lack of Mountain Medicine
While building churches in the Tecpan region, Tim and Patty cultivated a relationship with a local man named Nicolas. A self-confessed sugar-holic turned brittle diabetic, Nicolas could not afford his life-saving medicine. Tim and Patty stepped in, not only providing medicine, but also equipping Nicolas to regain his health by following a suitable diet.
During an unannounced visit to Nicolas’ village, Tim found him sitting in the street drinking a two-liter bottle of soda. Nicolas’ family asked Tim and Patty to stop helping him because they knew he continued to overindulge in a sugar-heavy diet. They were also aware Nicolas’ medicine cost $430 a month.
Nicolas agreed with his family. He chose to give in to his addiction and stop taking his medicine, even though it meant impending death.
Before he died, Nicolas gifted the land next to his house to Radical Missions and asked Tim and Patty to build a clinic there for his community. Nicolas wanted to change the fact that his friends and neighbors often went without medical care due to the long distances they had to travel in order to receive it.
So the people in Tecpan rejoiced at the news that a clinic would be built to serve their needs, right? Wrong! In fact, just about everything went wrong.
Miscommunication, Machismo and Machetes
“We had already planted a church there,” Tim said. “We definitely saw the need for a clinic, so we stretched our faith but failed horribly.”
Funds from churches in the U.S. came in and construction began, but the village wanted no part in it.
Rather than reaching out to Tim and Patty for clarification, the locals assumed the clinic served Christians only, being that Radical Missions backed the project. They falsely concluded Tim and Patty planned to make money by charging people for medical care, a perception met with vehement rejection.
“On top of that, the village leaders would not talk to me,” Patty recalls. “They only talked to Tim because he’s a man. Even though talking to me was easier because I am Guatemalan, it didn’t matter. So many Mayan villages are machismo and don’t believe women should be involved.”
Then things turned violent.
Creating an unintentional interference that diverted large amounts of rain water into the neighbor’s corn field, the clinic building generated yet another opponent. Tim’s offer to build a simple drainage ditch fell on deaf ears and seemed to enrage the neighbor even more.
Done with negotiation, the irate neighbor attacked a block layer with his machete. Thankfully, the man survived, but from that point, all other block layers refused to work on the project.
Behind the Scenes
While all the clinic drama continued, Nicolas’ widow, Lucia, needed immediate help. With no income and no way to support her children, Tim and the Radical Missions board developed a plan.
Coffee is big business in Guatemala, as are handmade, woven crafts. Tim had already kicked around the idea of finding local artisans to weave java sweaters: colorful, handmade, reusable alternatives to cardboard coffee cup sleeves. He could think of no one better to head the project than Lucia.
Hence, the JavaSweater Program launched right there in Lucia’s home, providing steady income for her family.
As the JavaSweater Program grew, Lucia looked for other widows to bring on board. Now 60 women strong, the “Java Ladies” have sustainable income as 100% of all sales goes to them.
Lucia became a megaphone for Radical Missions and began making inroads for renewed communication between Tim, Patty and the villagers in Tecpan.
Maybe We Do Need a Clinic
Just as the people warmed up to Tim and Patty, disaster struck. An extreme dry season left the wells below safe level, resulting in contaminated water. As is often the case, the babies suffered most.
A rising infant death toll coupled with no local medical care prompted a village official to search for Tim and Patty.
“Lucia’s daughter got married,” Tim said. “And I got to give her away since Nicolas died. Right in the middle of the wedding, the village official came into the church and said, ‘We need to talk to you.’”
Meeting after the ceremony, the village leaders asked Tim what it would take to get him and Patty to open the clinic.
“I told him, first, Patty needed to be involved in all aspects,” Tim remembered. “She is the president of Radical Missions. Next, town leaders had to do something about the neighbor who hurt my workers.”
Both demands accepted, talks began again with the agitated neighbor, who agreed to the drainage ditch and promised he would no longer cause problems.
Although it took a crisis to foster acceptance, Clinica Colfax opened in February 2020. Miraculously, the clinic stood ready to serve the area just as coronavirus popped on the world stage.
Once again, Tim and Patty showed up, providing food and medicine for the people of Tecpan who are hit hard by stay-at-home orders. This time, with their reputation established, the villages received them with open arms.
“When you are in the middle of a problem,” Tim said, “you can never really see God’s hand in it. But you look back and see it was so obvious that He was working, even through the obstacles.”