By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN A team of missionaries led by Dr. James Neff of Winsted did not let the three days of travel to reach the primitive village in Guatemala discourage them. They were determined to help establish the first Christian church in Chaxa.
Arriving in Guatemala City by plane April 2, the six member team took equipment needed for a dental clinic to treat patients, as well as recordings of the New Testament in the Ixil language (language of Chaxa), and a movie on the life of Jesus, also in Ixil.
Working with Michael and Kambria Robertson, missionaries in San Lucas, and Michael and Kirk Devenney of the Open Door Ministry International, the team set out to travel through an area where the rate of violent crime is exceptionally high.
“God takes care of you,” Neff said when asked about the warnings given to tourists who travel in Guatemala.
They drove for six hours to Nebaj, a small city of 25,000 in the Cuchumatanes Mountains. There they spent the night and the next morning they drove to Chajul.
From Chajul they rode mule for more than five hours over two mountain ranges going as high as 8,500 feet and descending to Chaxa at about 7,500 feet.
“One time we went straight down the mountain for 50 minutes, zig zagging, and those mules walked right up to the edge, would make the turn, and go down; walk out to the edge, and make the turn and go down,” Neff said.
The village of Chaxa has approximately 350 people with three families that were Christian.
“There was another man who was trying to decide if he was going to be Christian,” Neff said. “If he decides, it is not like here. It will have an impact on his family. If the man decides to be Christian, then his entire family will be Christian,” Neff said.
The women there are not like women in the US, who are more independent, Neff explained. Most of the women never leave the village and are guided by decisions their husbands make for them.
The new church had been built just three weeks before the missionaries’ arrival and was considered much nicer than most of the homes there, according to Neff.
“It was a big wooden building. All of the lumber is from there,” Neff said. “Boards didn’t come together and windows are open.”
But the church had a wooden floor, which is nicer than most of the homes that have a dirt floor.
Neff slept in a house the team would use for its kitchen. It was a small, one-room house where an entire family would normally sleep.
To keep warm, Neff slept right next to a fire that was in an open pit.
For four days, they conducted a dental clinic.
They treated 68 patients with 64 fillings, 55 extractions, six surgeries, nine cleanings, and fluoride treatments as well as oral hygiene instructions.
In addition, they treated one mule bite, one deep machete cut to the hand, and two general health checkups.
It had been necessary for Pastor Chamai to go out and get patients. Chamai was Mayan, but he could also speak Ixil and he had been making visits to the village to share his faith with them.
The people of Chaxa knew the pastor but were very cautious of the mission group when they first arrived.
A 36-year civil war which ended in 1996 saw many Mayan people masacred on both sides of the conflict and is one of the reasons for the people not trusting outsiders.
There are eight villages beyond Chaxa that are still not ready for outsiders to visit according to Chamai.
A highlight of the trip for Neff’s team was giving recordings of the entire New Testament and the movie of Jesus’s life in the Ixil language to the people of Chaxa.
The recordings brought in by the team were called Proclaimer units powered by batteries charged by solar power, as there is no electricity in Chaxa.
Pastor Chamai is only in Chaxa three days every other week so the local Christians have units to study and to hold services.
“The people were just so thankful,” Neff said.
The first movie ever was shown in the village of Chaxa on the soccer field by the mission group.
“We hung a sheet to show the movie on and pretty soon there were about 30 people,” Neff said.
The Jesus film was shown once again by Chamai at the request of those who had attended the first church service.
“There were people who did not want to come in the church so they stood outside and watched,” Neff said. “Later, the church just filled up.”
The small village of Chaxa is self-sufficient making its own money by harvesting coffee beans off of a plantation. The people pick the coffee beans which they wash, dry, and put into large bags.
Once the bags are filled, men hand-carry the bags on foot to the next town.
The Chaxa village also has honey bees and make honey to sell.
Since 2004, Neff has been working with groups traveling to the Phillipines, Honduras, and Guatemala.
“I go on one or two trips a year,” Neff said. “It is all about the people. It is about everybody using their gifts for the Lord to help other people come to know the Lord.”
Neff has plans to take another mission trip to the Phillipines in November, which will be to provide both medical and dental care.
The members of the mission group that went to Chaxa in April were: Patricia Neff Kendrick (originally from Winsted), Naomi Behrens (native of Winsted), Hannah Behrens (native of Winsted), Tracey Engelmann (Plato area), Jennifer Freng (Farmington), and James Neff of Winsted.