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"Fuego! For now she’s sleeping," writes minister Kevin C. Owen in a message from Guatemala | Photo by Dr. Raul Duran

‘The sky began raining ash’

In Guatemala, members of Churches of Christ and mission groups witness a volcano's fury — and launch relief efforts

‘Today the colossus woke up,” said Dr. Raul Duran, describing the volcanic eruption in his native Guatemala that claimed more than 100 lives as it smothered villages in magma and mud.

Duran, a physician who worships with a Church of Christ in the tourist town of Antigua, said that all of the members of his congregation are accounted for. One of the Christians, however, says that at least 30 members of her extended family are among the 200-plus people still missing.

The volcano (named Fuego, “fire” in Spanish) is one of 37 in Guatemala and is prone to eruptions, Duran said, but “usually of low intensity.”

On June 3, Fuego shot a plume of gas nearly six miles into the air, sending ash into the skies over Antigua and Guatemala City, nearly 30 miles away.

A rain of ash falls on a van carrying a mission team near the Fuego volcano

Roberto Alvarez Jr. was driving a van full of students from Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tenn., to Antigua as Fuego erupted.

“We were in shock when the sky began raining volcanic ash,” Alvarez told The Christian Chronicle. “At that point, we had no idea of the devastation.”

The students from Lipscomb, a K-12 school associated with Churches of Christ, had just completed a week of mission work in San Cristobal and worshiped with the Church of Christ in Pinares del Norte.

“The rain was black and smelled like soot,” said senior Lindsey Reynolds. Soon “our van was covered in ash. In order to see the road, we constantly poured water and Coke onto the windshield. The cars traveling opposite of us were completely black, every one of them.”

The Lipscomb Academy mission team, safe in Antigua.

When the team arrived in Antigua, “we stepped out of the van onto a thick layer of ash,” Reynolds said. “People were wearing masks to keep from being poisoned by the toxic fumes of the volcanic soot. It was sad to see such a beautiful city littered with black debris.”

The mission team returned safely to the U.S. June 5, said team leader Libby Barker. During the trip they worked alongside students from the Biblical Institute of Central America. The institute, known as BICA, trains evangelists in Guatemala and Honduras. Alvarez serves as director of development.

Roberto Alvarez Jr.

“Three BICA graduates work as firefighters, so they have been called into action,” Alvarez said. “They contacted us to ask for help for the people in need. So we began a campaign with the local churches to gather necessary supplies.

“Unfortunately, the churches in Guatemala are not overwhelmingly rich with money, but they want to give everything they can.”

The firefighters compiled a list of the most urgent needs, including water, first-aid supplies, milk, baby formula, diapers and tents and bed sheets for those displaced by the disaster. BICA students are delivering supplies to rescue workers and relief centers. Members of the Rural Hill Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., are scheduled to arrive next week and assist in the work.

Healing Hands International, a nonprofit associated with Churches of Christ, is collecting funds for relief and providing assistance to BICA.

“What a blessing!” Alvarez said. “We are so thankful for their generous hearts at such a great time of need!”

HOW TO HELP: Nonprofits collecting funds for Guatemala volcano relief include Healing Hands International and Health Talents International. The Biblical Institute of Central America also is collecting funds for relief. (Note “volcano relief” on donations.)

Health Talents International, another church-supported ministry, also is assisting in relief efforts. The medical mission operates a surgical facility, Clinica Ezell, in the coastal town of Montellano and Clinica Caris near the city of Chichicastenango.

“While Volcano Fuego is only 35 miles from Clinica Ezell, none of our children in the ABC program (a child sponsorship program) nor their families were lost,” said Health Talents director Rick Harper. “They were far enough away to be safe, but not far enough away not to be impacted by loss of friends.”

A team of U.S. Christians was serving at Clinica Ezell when the volcano erupted.

Since then “we have been praying for those affected each evening in our team devotionals,” said team member Kevin Owen, preaching minister for the College Hills Church of Christ in Lebanon, Tenn.

A couple working with the team, Cary and Rita Sills, lives in Antigua and returned to their home with medical supplies on June 7, Owen said.

A layer of volcanic ash coats cars and buildings in Antigua, Guatemala.

Another team member, Kay Reiboldt, “hugged them goodbye before they left and said, ‘I hope your house is OK,’” Owen told the Chronicle.

“Rita said, ‘It’s only a house.’”

Health Talents workers are giving gloves and masks to people affected by the ash and plan to distribute water filters, rice, beans and a high-protein drink mix, Incaparina.

Duran and his fellow Christians in Antigua also plan to assist in relief. Next month they will host a mission team from the Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas, which supports Duran’s ministry.

“This will be our 20th year,” said John Scott Davis, worship minister for Prestoncrest, of the upcoming mission. “We have worked several years at a school in Alotenango, which is just a few miles from the base of Fuego, and they are the community that really caught the brunt of this eruption. I’m sure we will be serving some folks from that community while we are there.

“What’s crazy is that this volcano puffs and spits all the time, but it’s the volcano that people take tours to climb while we’re there.

“I doubt we’ll have any volcano climbers this year.”

Volcán de Fuego, Guatemala


Filed under: Guatemala International Top Stories Volcán Fuego volcano

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