New Castle Presbytery sponsors life-changing field trip for young adults in Guatemala

The presbytery’s longstanding Guatemala Partnership funds a trip where bread is baked, broken and shared

by Carrie Saathoff | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Last November, seven Guatemalan young adults embarked on an adventure that will have a lasting impact on their lives. (All photos by Carrie Saathoff)

In November, seven Guatemalan young adults embarked on a four-day adventure that will have a lasting impact on their lives. I had the privilege of accompanying the group, alongside Pastors Emerson Morales and Mardoqueo Perez of Jesus es El Camino church in Guatemala City. The Guatemala Partnership of New Castle Presbytery funded this trip.

These young people are founding members of the Utz Pan bakery, a project recently initiated by Jesus es El Camino (Jesus is the Way) church and funded with a grant from Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, part of the PC(USA)’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries.

A year ago, travelers from eight churches in New Castle Presbytery visited the newly created Utz Pan bakery. We had just returned from seeing a well-established bakery located five hours away and the idea of an “exchange trip” was born.

The young bakers are pictured outside a bakery they visited.

These young bakers live in an area of Guatemala City known as a “red zone” due to its high levels of poverty and drug-related crime. Gangs and violence are a way of life. There is little opportunity for these youth, and many have never traveled very far from home. Utz Pan, meaning Good Bread, offers these young people a way to learn new skills and earn money to pay for their education and help support their families. This field trip was designed to give them a behind-the-scenes look at other bakeries, learn more about the business, showcase the incredible beauty and history of their country, and strengthen friendships — both old and new.

We piled into two cars and headed five hours west to Quetzaltenango (aka Xela), stopping at Iximche, a well-known Mayan archaeological site, along the way. Early the next day, we arrived at our first bakery, owned by Justa and her family. Several years ago, Justa received revolving funds from the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development to start her own bakery. With an incredible amount of perseverance and hard work she has grown it into a very impressive operation.

After several hours standing in a hot and crowded kitchen learning how to make more than a dozen kinds of breads, we ate a wonderful lunch at a nearby restaurant owned by Julia and later watched a chocolate-making demonstration by a second woman, also named Justa. Both of these strong and determined women received revolving funds to launch their small businesses. Many in New Castle Presbytery have supported this project over the years.

A sacred lagoon is nestled in Chicabal Volcano.

The third day provided us a chance to relax, have some fun, and experience the natural beauty of Guatemala. We climbed up Chicabal Volcano and had time for reflection on the shores of the sacred lagoon nestled in the crater at the top. After such an intense hike, we decided to swing over to the natural hot springs of Fuentes Georginas to soak our weary legs, and then headed into downtown Xela for a nice dinner out. We even caught a pre-game parade of a beloved national soccer team in the main square!

Day four started out with a visit to a second bakery, owned by my Spanish teacher Astrid and her family. It was very different from the first one, from the atmosphere to even the look and taste of the bread, which was quite interesting. We were able to ask a lot of questions, see how they tracked their sales, and sample delicious pastries.

Not only did the visitors see how baked goods were made, they got to sample them as well.

Alas, it was time to head back to Guatemala City. Clearly, this experience was life-changing and formative for the participants as they discern their future in the bakery business. It also afforded them a rare opportunity to explore their home country and meet people who live far away yet have similar dreams and struggles. We already have plans to offer this trip again next fall to different youth. Thank you for your ongoing support!

Watch a video the young adults made documenting their trip.

Carrie Saathoff is co-chair of New Castle Presbytery’s Guatemala Partnership.


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