“¡Shhh! Tenemos un Plan!”

A letter from Richard and Debbie Welch, serving in Guatemala

May 2020

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“Hey look! A little bird…” “HELLO LITTLE BIRD!”…“Shhh!… We have a plan!”

2020 was to be our busiest year yet, and we dove into planning. We expected our first group of visitors at the end of January, culminating with the gathering of the Guatemala Partnership Network in Guatemala City. Following the gathering, we were off to meet our next group. After saying goodbye to those visitors, we hurried back to Cobán for our annual teacher’s training for the ‘Libros Abiertos’ (formerly Libros Para Niños) program.

During the training sessions, Debbie discovered her new favorite book: ¡Shhh, Tenemos un plan! (“Shhh, we have a plan!), written and illustrated by Chris Haughton. It’s about four nondescript characters that discover a beautiful bird they want to catch. They have a plan… but the youngest (shortest) inadvertently disrupts that plan. The little one has a different plan. Their “plans” didn’t work the way they thought. We thought we had a plan: back-to-back groups of visitors, lots of projects and plans through July and into the fall. In one week, everything changed.

In early March while preparing for our next visitors, there were rumors of the virus that was disrupting lives and livelihoods around the world. Then we encountered our first group that considered canceling their visit. They were concerned they might infect their partners. As a group of medical professionals, they were able to assess the risk and, in the end, went ahead with their visit, performing medical clinics in several communities. By the time we said goodbye to them the following Saturday, two more visits had been canceled, and the president of Guatemala announced that all large gatherings, all religious gatherings, and sporting events were prohibited. All schools would be closed, and as of Monday night the borders would be closed to non-citizens.

Just like the characters in Debbie’s new favorite children’s book, we had a new plan. Instead of preparing for a busy summer, our new plan was to initiate our ‘shelter in place’ protocols. A Sunday visit to the grocery store after traveling with a group is our normal practice. But this time, we experienced rationing. A limit on garbage bags? Really?!! That was crazier than the rush on toilet paper. That evening the president added more restrictive measures: work from home, stay home, and observe social distancing; restaurants could only have takeout or drive through. All international flights were suspended. We were starting to dread the daily proclamations of the president.

All public transportation was prohibited. Most, if not all crises impact the poor more than others. This pandemic has been no exception. Prohibiting the crowded buses makes sense. But for most of the people with whom we work, it’s their only means of transportation. No matter if the work is essential. If the worker can’t get to work, the worker cannot earn a living.

And thus, the community settled into a new, strange way of life. We formulated a new plan for our shelter in place reality. Between the telephone and internet, work continued. But our plans were about to change again.

Debbie said, “I never thought the title to my favorite children’s book would become our theme for the year.” But with every new announcement or news bulletin we found ourselves saying to one another, “¡Shhh! Tenemos un plan!” On Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued a STEP 4 Travel Alert calling all U.S. citizens back to the states. Friday, PC(USA) World Mission made a request for all U.S.-based mission personnel to return. Working with our regional liaison, we (you guessed it) made a new plan to connect with our colleagues, travel to Mexico, and on to the U.S.

Sunday morning, our friend and trusted driver drove to Cobán and picked us up at 5:00 a.m. and drove us across the country to the Mexico border. We walked through customs into Mexico and were then driven to Tapachula for our flights to the U.S. The news from Guatemala on Monday spoke of numerous arrests of people violating the new curfew, and reports of villages barricading the roads into their communities to isolate themselves. Our hearts ached at leaving, but we trusted God that this was the best plan for us. Our Tuesday flight was the smoothest we ever experienced. It must have been all your prayers.

We returned to our home in Deer Park, WA. Now we work remotely, thanking God for WhatsApp, Messenger and Zoom which enables us to continue working while we pray for our return. Life has become extremely difficult for our brothers and sisters with no means to earn a daily wage, no savings and no end to the virus and the restrictions in sight. We ask you keep them in your prayers.

I am reminded of the scripture Matthew 6:34… “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” And Isaiah 55:8-9… “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. So, like the characters in our story, so much for our plans, but really it doesn’t matter because we trust God is still in control just like God has had a plan for us our entire lives.

God’s blessings and peace,

Richard and Debbie Welch

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