A group of Verona area volunteers has returned from Guatemala after serving the country’s residents through a Sugar River United Methodist Church mission trip.

Every January for the past ten years, Sugar River UMC has sent a group of around ten to 15 Dane County do-gooders to provide for Guatemalans via the charity Mission Guatemala. Erin Wilson, who oversees ministry and mission at Sugar River UMC, said January is the best time to send a team to the country as it allows for college students on break to go.

The national charity, founded in 2009 by a United Methodist pastor, is headquartered in Indiana, and has a base of operations near the municipalities of Panajachel and San Andrés Semetebaj, Guatemala.

This permanent facility is not only home to the charitable organization, but also provides a medical clinic, which attracts people from miles away. The cost of a clinic visit is around $2, but at the clinic, nobody is denied service for inability to pay.

Wilson said the trip is not for evangelizing. The trips focus on providing healthcare, nutrition, wellbeing, education and community development.

But, she acknowledged the mission of serving and caring for people in another country is in keeping with the spirit of John Wesley, a theologian and co-founder of Methodism.

“Do all the good you can,” Wesley famously said, “By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

Every month at Sugar River UMC, the collected offerings during church services are donated to a predetermined cause or support different outreach projects of the church.

For the six weeks of Lent around March, donations are collected to support projects on the ground in Guatemala.

The money raised during Lenten collections at Sugar River helps support the mission’s projects. Generally, the yearly fundraising effort raises between $5000 to $8000 to better support the programs they provide Guatemalans. The church does not fundraise for its volunteers to go on the service trips.

These donations have funded doctors at Mission Guatemala’s clinic, provided food for children with chronic undernourishment, funded continuing education beyond elementary school and helped build energy-efficient stoves.

For the past six years, Phil Swain, director of orthopedics at UW Health, has volunteered as the trip planning coordinator while also serving with the rest of the team.

Swain said Sugar River UMC has been partners with Mission Guatemala from the beginning of the charity.

A decade ago, members of Sugar River UMC were seeking an international mission opportunity, and a Google search turned up the fledgling charity which was just coming into being.

Sugar River fostered a relationship with Mission Guatemala and have been working side by side with them ever since.

The volunteers who choose to go pay their own way to serve in the country. Depending on how many people go, the cost per person ranges from $1600 to $1900. This is an all-inclusive cost covering lodging, transportation and food for the volunteers.

Swan said many service projects of Mission Guatemala revolve around providing modern amenities for local schools. Volunteers have helped build new classrooms and bathrooms for schools.

Donations also provide vocational training including sewing and craftwork classes and a computer lab for teaching basic computer skills.

Mission Guatemala helps install water filtration systems in homes and schools, which costs around $25 a filter, providing kids and families access to safer drinking water.

It is traditional for locals to cook over open flames inside their homes, but poor ventilation causes respiratory issues and eye problems. Their makeshift wood-burning stoves are also often inefficient.

For $125, Mission Guatemala provides locals with cinderblock stove kits, which are fuel efficient and burn less wood, helping them to cook in a better-ventilated environment.

Swain said that worldwide, Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of childhood malnutrition of any country.

“It is a simple way to improve their lives. It doesn’t seem like much to us, but these stoves in poverty-stricken Guatemala can be life changing,” Swain said.

Every January, the returning volunteers share their experience with the rest of the Sugar River congregation.

“People come back feeling excited by what they’ve done and motivated to do more,” Erin Wilson said, “It is a reciprocal feeling of giving.”

Neal Patten, Verona Community Reporter, can be contacted at neal.patten@wcinet.com.