Monday, November 18, 2013

Part 1: From Bible Translation to Hospital

     Helen Neuenswander and I went to Guatemala in July of 1953 to begin analysis of the Cubulco Achí language.  We had completed two summers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma, and completed the Wycliffe Jungle Training Camp in Chiapas, Mexico.  Wycliffe Bible Translators had begun work in Guatemala just the year before, and the Nazarene Mission in that section of the country asked Wycliffe if they could send someone to Cubulco to reach the Indians there.                     
      I had been an English teacher, and Helen was a registered nurse, but she did not plan to do medical work when we went.  Helen loved analytical linguistics, and her goal (as well as mine) was the eventual translation of the Scriptures into the local Mayan language. 
     We rented a room on Main Street, and began our analytical study.  Unfortunately, our landlady could not keep quiet about Helen's being a nurse, and hopeful patients were soon knocking on our door.   We couldn't refuse to help.  There was no doctor in town, no clinic... no medical help except for a small pharmacy.  We shared with patients from the few medications we'd brought for our own use, then began making trips to Guatemala City to buy more supplies.  We had no vehicle.  Those trips were made in a vintage semi-weekly bus, usually taking ten to twelve hours for the eighty-five miles... and the stops along the way.
      At first, Helen confined her medical services to four hours a day so she could have time for linguistic study, but the patient load steadily increased, and her study time shrank in proportion.
We had to rent an adjoining room to accommodate our visitors, and 'Linguist Helen' was soon spending most of her time treating patients.  In 1957 we began building our own house ... away from Main Street, opposite a nice quiet cow pasture!  By that time, Helen was training local girls as assistants, so we set up three small rooms of the new house for clinic use.
     During the 1960's, we were assigned to teach linguistics on alternating years at the University of North Dakota, so our Cubulco ministry was routinely interrupted.  In the 1970's, we requested release from that assignment, and built a new clinic just down the street from our house.  The new clinic boasted a large waiting room, two examining rooms, a simple laboratory, a maternity unit, and an x-ray!  Our source of electricity was a generator donated by The Union Church of Guatemala City, and the x-ray machine was a refurbished unit donated and delivered to us by members of Wycliffe Associates in the States.  Other volunteers from Wycliffe Associates came to do much of the labor, and many U.S. Christian friends provided funds for the building.
     When "the big earthquake" hit us in 1976, local officials asked Helen to serve on the Cubulco Reconstruction Committee, and the Lord enabled us to get good financial help from the U.S. and England.  Four years later, when the reconstruction project was complete, the project manager moved to buy some land adjacent to the clinic, so we could build the hospital Helen had long dreamed of. 
    "Cubulco people need more than just an out-patient clinic," she declared. 
    "Achí patients who need hospitalization have to decide whether to die at home...
or be hauled for two hours in the back of a truck to the hospital in Salamá, hoping they'll be received.  And even if they do get in, nobody there understands their language or their ways!" 
      That was her heart's passion... that Cubulco have a good hospital, staffed by people who cared enough to speak Achí.   
Written by Mary Shaw, September, 2013  

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