Locals help those in need via international mission trips
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By Missy Klatt
At the end of October 2022, Mike Barstad and a group from Cedar Brook Church in Menomonie travelled to Honduras where they dug a well for a local village. They did this through Living Water International. Most recently Dave and Joan Bartz ventured to Guatemala in January where they were part of a group that worked with the Casas por Cristo organization building a house for a local family.
This was not the first mission trip abroad for Mike or the Bartzs and they say it won’t be their last.
Mike’s first trip with Cedar Brook Church and Living Water International was in February of 2020 when he went to El Salvador. His wife Kristen was also on that trip as well as community members Joe and Charl Draxler. The Draxlers have done numerous mission trips to dig wells in various countries.
Kristen was unable to go this time but Amy, Aaron, and Madeline Mittlestadt who have a Boyceville connection were also on this trip.
After flying to Honduras it still took several hours to get to their destination, the village of Choluteca. Keep in mind that the road infra structure is not like it is here in the states. While in Choluteca they stayed in a nearby hotel.
When asked how the villages are chosen, Mike explained that Living Water partners with a village that is willing to create a partnership with the groups that come to work. They want the villagers to work alongside the groups that come so there is a value instilled in the villagers work and they are willing to maintain and keep the well going for many years to come. “They find communities that are willing to try and help invest some of the materials and have people that are willing to work and get the sites ready and work with us so they have an investment in it,” commented Mike.
This trip, they installed the well at a small hospital that mostly treats mothers and infants (about 1,500 a month). Without the well they had to get water trucked in once a month.
Mike gets emotional when he talks about the trip, “you go and you think you are helping them but it’s really what they do for you and they teach you humility and the fact of just caring about each other.” He continues, “we come to these villages and there’s a family of five living in a ten by ten building, no water, no electricity, and it’s just scrap sheet metal from somewhere and they come out and look as clean as you and they are grateful to God every day for what they have and they have nothing, other than a spot to sleep. It’s so humbling.”
Mike and his group were there for a full week but it only took them about four days to dig the well and pour the cement. While they are there, the men are usually working on the well and the women work with people in the community to provide classes on hygiene. However, this time the one day Mike’s pastor said why don’t you ladies stay and work on the well and us guys will go do the hygiene classes. Mike said it was amazing to see the love that the kids had for you. He feels lucky that he was actually able to spend two afternoons with the kids.
They were also able to play some games with the kids, basketball, and the last day they got a couple of piñatas for the kids. Mike was blown away that these children who had nothing, the last day were giving them gifts. “I had one young man come up to me and he’s like ‘I will always keep you in my heart’ and he gave me this little gift.” Mike recalled getting choked up.
These wells are very important in these communities because quite often the kids have to walk a mile or more to get water from a not so great source but beyond that they spend so much time just surviving, getting the basics that they don’t have time to go to school. Sadly some are even sexually assaulted on their way to get water. So having a well in a village provides safety and opportunities to be in school.
Once the wells are completed they are tested to make sure that the water is safe to drink. On this trip Mike talks about an older gentlemen who started drinking the water from the well before it was tested to the objection of the group. The man went on to tell them that he wasn’t afraid of bacteria that he was afraid of chemicals because he used to have to get his water from a river where all these chemicals from the fields ran into it.
To be able to go on these trips and to dig a well, there is some fundraising involved. The way that it’s set up is that the person going pays a third of it out of their pocket, the church pays a third of it and the last third they need to fundraise, something that Mike wasn’t too keen about, asking for money but he was told that people want to donate because they can’t go and this is their way of being part of it. He found this to be true and noted that people are wonderful about donating all the time.
Once all the money is collected, it goes to the church who in turn hand it over to Living Water. Living Water then takes care of purchasing all the flights, insurance, hotel, travel, and meals for the trip.
Mike said he loves these trips and if he could he would do two to four of them a year. But, for now he hopes to go in the spring and Kristen will hopefully be able to go with him this time.
If anyone else is interested in going or helping out you can find more information at www.Cedarbrookchurch.net or more about Living Water International at www.water.cc, and Mike is always willing to anwer questions and talk about his trips.
Joan and Dave Bartz have done several mission trips before through Habitat for Humanity but this was the first time they worked with Casas por Cristo. Joan was in El Salvador in 2011, Argentina in 2013 where she was joined by Dave, and in Romania in 2016. Habitat is currently not doing any international builds so Joan and Dave thought they would try working with Casas por Cristo which they heard about from another Thrivent representative, Jason. Joan is our local Thirvent representive here in Glenwood City.
The Bartzs flew into Guatemala City on January 15 and took about an hour drive (40 km) to the town of San Raymundo where they would spend the next week building a house for the poorest of the poor as Joan puts it.
While Joan still really likes Habitat she was very impressed with Casas por Cristo. She goes on to explain some of the differences; “They (Casas) have a different mission. Habitat you have to make enough money to be above the poverty level far enough to be able to maintain it. Because you are paying a no interest loan but you are paying for the materials and the labor is volunteered. With Casas, the cost of the house was just under $11,000 and then we bought them two beds and a water filter and Lukas (their project leader) gave them a bed too so they ended up with three beds which was nice and they don’t pay for anything, because they can’t afford anything.”
The local Pastors nominate different families to receive the houses and they work right alongside of the Casas crew building the house. The family also has to prove ownership of the property. The house consists of a concrete slab and treated lumber with a tin roof. It also has a gutter to collect rain water. Very basic but a huge improvement over what they had. Mariano and Maria and their family, the ones that received the house have never had anything but a dirt floor.
The house itself consists of one main room, two bedrooms and also has a porch that Joan said would probably serve as their kitchen.
Even though it’s nothing fancy, Joan said they tried to make it as nice as possible, like cutting the trim around the door at an angle. Dave said that after three days the house is complete. It should be noted that the family and the community help to get the site ready for the concrete to be poured before the group arrives.
Dave goes on to tell about the dedication ceremony; “All of us on the team signed a Bible and passed the Bible around and blessed it and then presented it to the family.” Joan continues, the church (Our Saviors Lutheran from Ham Lake, MN that they had partnered with through Jason) made them a quilt. Then there is a Casas plate that gets hammered on the wall. “Somebody from our team put a nail in it and then Mariano put the last nail in.” They all said a little something and then shared a Bible verse with them.
Dave also stated that Lukas, said that it wasn’t just them that were there helping out that it was a delegation from God. “People were praying for our safety and what we were doing” noted Joan.
Joan said she was amazed at all the children that were around wanting to see what they were doing and helping out, like the little girls who helped lug buckets of sand for the concrete. Dave also had an audience as he was hammering and his bigger worry became not to miss hitting the nail.
At the end of their time there they also gave all the kids in the village a toy, mainly a beanie baby or a wooden car or airplane.
While they were there the festival of Saint Raymundo was going on so they got to partake in some of the festivities which included a lot of fireworks and music. After the build was done they were also able to tour a coffee plantation and visit Antigua for the day.
Casas for Cristo started in 1993 and is headquarters is in El Paso, Texas but they have offices in several countries. When Joan and Dave were there, they stayed at the offices in San Raymundo where they have dorms with bunk beds to accommodate the workers. Joan and Dave had their own room as did all the married couples that were on the trip. Even though they stayed in San Raymundo and the house they built was still considered San Raymundo, it was about an half hour drive out to the building sight from where they stayed.
“It was physical work but you were happy to be there and be so inspired,” remarked Joan “They were so appreciative, even the little kids worked really hard.” She never got the feeling that anyone was saying I deserve this or I’m entitled, just I’m so blessed. At the end Joan relates that Mariano cried and said that he felt so bad that he couldn’t pay them but he said ‘God will pay you and bless you.’ “He was just so appreciative,” reiterates Joan
Dave said he’s sold on the whole organization and he hopes to make this an annual event.
“It was a wonderful trip and we’re planning on going back next year. It’s our hope that we can raise the money for another house,” stated Joan. They are hoping to partner with Jason, the other Thrivent rep, and his wife and co-lead with them. Joan is hoping to get a group of between 14-20 people to go with them. Other than the airfare it only cost about $250 for the week which included their lodging and all their meals.
If you would like more information, the website for Casas por Cristo is www.casasporcristo.org and Joan and Dave would love to answer any other questions you may have.