Wayne Hanson and others from Creston know how to have fun and help people at the same time.
Hanson, onwer of R.E. Lewis Refrigeration, of Creston and a group of people from Creston made a trip to Guatemala City, Guatemala, to do mission work in orphanages and poverty-stricken areas.
“I kind of started it,” said Hanson. “I wanted to go out and do some mission work, and one of the things that I was looking for was a place to take teenagers, and this was the place I found.”
The group went to the Central American city Aug. 3-10. It was the fourth time Hanson organized the trip.
Hanson said he chose Guatemala City from a few different places.
”I don’t have a reason (for choosing Guatemala City), other than to say that I prayed about it, and I found mulitple places and this is the one that seemed to fit,” Hanson said. “That’s where God led me.”
Hanson and his wife Michelle went on a trip to Guatemala two years ago, and since then have planned trips for teens.
“I don’t know that anyone wants to do mission work necessarily,” said Hanson. “You just get to a spot in your life where that’s what you should be doing, that there’s opportunity out there where you should help.”
The missionaries consisted of two people from Minnesota and 16 from Creston. They were Hanson, his wife Michelle and their four children Elizabeth, John, Olivia and Melissa Gravlin; Wayne Pantini; John and Theresa Carter; Joe, Michelle, Monica and Katie Powers; Mary Lang; Kiera Huss and Stacy Van Hall.
“I prayed about it and God told me it was time for me to go to something like this,” said Pantini, Union County Development executive director. “And, we had a local opportunity to do that.”
While in Guatemala City, Hanson and the party stayed in an orphanage. They spent time with the children there, playing with them and taking them on outings. Teen moms aged 12-15 also stayed at the orphanage, and the company spent time with the moms, as well.
Outside the orphanages, the group took food baskets to families in ghettos. In one community, they played soccer with children and took piñatas, also.
“They probably received more than they gave,” said Hanson. “Taking gifts down and giving gifts, that’s just a token to get in the door. The gift is really time, that’s the real gift.”
The troop built a small home for one family while in Guatemala. The 12- by 20-foot house had a poured concrete floor.
“The family we built the home for, they went and bought us a big bottle of Coke,” Hanson said. “And, it was probably all the money they had for their whole family of 11 people, and they went and bought us a bottle of Coke so we could have something to drink after.”
The group also spent time at a dump in Guatemala, where more than 10,000 people lived. They took supplies to some of the people there and spent time with the families.
Supplies that went to the people in Guatemala included clothes, school supplies and shoes. The company took 18 suitcases weighing 50 pounds each to distribute to people in the orphanages, ghettos and dump.
Pantini said he knew ahead of time what the poverty in the city would be like, even though he’s never experienced it before.
“I was going into it knowing there would be poverty there, and there certainly is,” said Pantini. “We don’t know what it’s like until you actually see that type of poverty. But, the people that are there are generally happy people. They don’t have much, but they are happy with what they have, and are working hard to have a better life.”
According to Hanson and Pantini, what became apparent was how appreciative the people in Guatemala were for their visit.
“It helps them to know that there are other people out there that care. You know, that we would take the time,” said Hanson. “It’s humbling for them that someone of our nature would come and visit and take time. And, for us, it’s humbling back that they would open their doors for us.”
Hanson said he was planning a trip back to Guatemala this fall.
“There’s a real problem with it,” Hanson said. “Once you go, most likely, you leave part of your heart where you’ve been and you want to go back.”
The group organized fundraisers to help pay for the trips. One was a cotton candy stall in McKinley Park during Creston’s Fourth of July celebration. They also gets donations for supplies and travel. Hanson said the troop raised more than $30,000 between January and August for this trip.
“Some of us will probably go back again this fall,” said Hanson. “(And) I will plan to take another teen trip like I did this year, next year.”
Pantini said he wanted to go back to Guatemala in a few years when he could take his children to experience what he did.
“There are a lot of people out there that are in need and are not fortunate enough to have the systems in place to help them meet just their basic needs,” said Pantini. “We are fortunate in this country to have what we have.”
For more information, visit Forever Changed International, a website with a blog about Hanson and the company’s trip to Guatemala, at www.foreverchangedinternational.org.