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  

Introduction: From Bible Translation to Hospital

History was a subject that I enjoyed and excelled at in school. Even today I enjoy reading history books and watching documentaries. Perhaps because of my interest in history, I have been thinking for some years now about the history of mission work in Cubulco, particularly the history of the translation of the Bible and the hospital. However, the question was who knows the history well enough to be able to write it. The work in Cubulco was started back in the 1950's by two women (Helen Neuenswander and Mary Shaw) who came down with Wycliffe to translate the New Testament into Cubulco Achi. Helen had passed away in 1990 and the last time Mary Shaw had come to Cubulco in 2002, she was already in her eighties. 10 years later I assumed that she had passed away as well. I did some searching on the internet to see if there was any contact information of Mary Shaw, but I came up empty. Months passed, but the desire to have a written history of the beginnings of mission work in Cubulco stayed with me.
Now we know that "the Lord moves in mysterious and wonderful ways", and this is what happened. (While trying to find where this is found in the Bible, I learned that it is NOT a text in the Bible, but the words of a hymn by William Cowper. Romans 11:33 comes close when it says,  "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways!" God's ways are truly fathomless.) In a post in January of this year I wrote of the passing of one of our translators Victoriano. Well, around 6 weeks after his passing, to my surprise I received an email from Mary Shaw with whom Victoriano had worked for several years translating the NT. She was very much alive and as sharp as could be. She had gotten my email address through the McRae's who had been the ones who started AMG in Guatemala after the devastating 1976 earthquake.  In order to honour Victoriano for his years of service, Mary wanted to help the family out and needed me to facilitate this process. After carrying out Mary's wishes with helping the family, I took the opportunity to ask her to give a brief history of the work in Cubulco. She agreed, but said she needed some time so I told her that there was no hurry, although I was thinking to myself...... she is 92!
Five months later, after returning from our furlough in Canada I received the first of 3 parts of the history of the hospital. The history came in handy as we had the consultant from Mexico visiting Cubulco and she was interested in how the work started. Then we had an engineering team (EMI) come down to look at the hospital and do some design work. They were also interested in the history. Again God moved and provided at the right time. He deserves all the praise and glory.
I will be posting the 3 parts of the history individually as well as some personal information on two wonderful women Helen Neuenswander (after whom the hospital was named) and Mary Shaw who served the community of Cubulco with dedications and determination for many years.