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Salem church's Guatemala mission brings blessings

Union Leader Correspondent

April 16. 2014 9:56PM

SALEM — Fresh off a weeklong mission trip to rural Guatemala, members of the Granite United Church vowed their relationship with the Third World nation would be a continuous one.

The 35-member missionary team returned from their travels in the early morning hours of March 30.

For many of them, it wasn’t their first time traveling on behalf of the Salem-based mega church, which holds worship services in Salem and Londonderry as well as in Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Trip organizer Joshua Cardin said the March trip marked the fifth mission for Granite United: teams from the church traveled to Guatemala last spring as well and previously completed missions to Trinidad, Mexico and the Bahamas.

Missionaries must cover their own travel expenses, including airfare and their room and board at a modest dormitory.

Cardin said it cost about $1,200 per person for the most recent excursion. The Guatemala team was an eclectic bunch, ranging from high school freshmen to retirees.

The church has been working closely with Manna Worldwide for the past several years. The non-profit organization, named for the Biblical story of “manna,” a bread-like substance provided to Israelites during their desert travels, is a faith-based charity aimed at tackling hunger, poverty, illiteracy and spiritual emptiness around the globe.

Manna Worldwide leads more than 50 trips each year, partnering up with veteran Christian workers to help them assist the poor in more than 50 different countries, according to the organization’s website.

The Granite United Church regularly sponsors several of Manna’s feeding stations in Guatemala and other struggling nations. During the past year, the local church has provided 1.5 million meals through Manna and it is currently in the process of sponsoring another orphanage in a country that’s so dangerous, church officials can’t share its location.

At a feeding station families and young children walk for miles to receive a daily ration of rice and beans. Most of them don’t own shoes.

During last month’s visit, missionaries from New Hampshire and Massachusetts helped build an orphanage that will eventually house 60 children, according to Cardin.

Lead pastor Anthony Milas said the situation in Guatemala is especially dire because of the country’s extremely high poverty level, combined with the recent ban on adoptions in that country

The Granite United team installed concrete foundation for the orphanage during last year’s trip, and last week spent 11 hours pouring concrete by hand to construct the facility’s roof, according to Milas.

“We had fun, but it was definitely a lot of hard work,” he said. “Our motto has always been that we’re blessed to be a blessing.”

For Lawrence, Mass. resident Julio Ramos, the most recent mission marked his third time traveling overseas for Granite United and his second visit to Guatemala.

“As far as the work we were putting in, I could definitely see the difference a year made,” Ramos said.

Salem resident Cassandra Demers said she’d also participated in previous mission trips, but the experience is always an eye-opening one.

“When you see the joy in the faces of these kids: they have so little compared to what we have,” Demers said.

Demers recalled her experience working with a woman who lived on a mountainside, her home little more than a bamboo and cornhusk shack.

After the Granite United team stopped to assist her with repairs to the structure’s dilapidated roof and walls, Demers asked her if she needed anything else.

The woman smiled at her and replied, “what else could I need? I have a beautiful home now.”

Milas said the missions represent the church’s deep commitment to helping others, at home or abroad.

“We are so blessed by God so we have a responsibility to share with others,” he said.

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