Healing Guatemala through prayer, teamwork and intentionality


Missionary trips are more than just medical missions; these trips are transformative and focus on intentionality, teamwork and gratitude.

Twenty-two mission team members, many from Sumter, spent a week in Guatemala seeing approximately 750 patients and working on construction of Bethesda Hospital. The team was sponsored by the local Trinity United Methodist Church, which partnered with the local Guatemala mission, "Healing Guatemala."

Healing Guatemala is a nonprofit organization established by the Rev. Dr. Luke Rhyee, an elder in full connection with the South Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, according to the church's website.

Dr. Mitch Grunsky, a family physician and a member of Trinity United Methodist Church, said Rhyee has spent the last 10 years in Guatemala for this mission. At first, Rhyee's wife and children stayed in the country with him, but they would constantly get sick because of the altitude and differences in weather compared to their home in Georgia.

"After speaking with his family and praying to God about it, Dr. Luke felt it was his calling to be in Guatemala," Grunsky said. "So, he has been there for 10 years, and he gets to see his family a few times a year."

Since being in Guatemala, Rhyee has built Bethesda Hospital with the goal that patients can come in to receive care for little to no cost. Grunsky said he has performed cataract surgery for some for less than $50. The hospital is still being built. It currently has one operating room, an eye clinic, a dentist and a small waiting room.

"To see what he has done in this part of Guatemala has been truly inspiring. He has helped these people in more ways than one, and in a way, they have probably helped him, too," Grunsky said.

From March 2 to March 9, the 22 mission team members, made up of schoolteachers, their husbands, doctors, nurses, law enforcement, veterans and one person with a construction background, headed to the country to begin their journey. Grunsky said although they were there to help the people of Guatemala, they ended up helping him.

"The folks in Guatemala, they're just amazing people," he said. "These folks are used to like nothing, no medical care, so they have no expectations. They are just so thankful. We in America take so many things for granted, and you have these people who live off of a dollar a day with the biggest smiles on their face and always remain happy with what they have."

Two years ago, preschool teacher at Crosswell Drive Elementary School Ashley Bateman joined the mission group at the church. She said because she had no medical experience, she was nervous as to what she could do to help.

"But the group that was with me trained me in less than five minutes to be a triage nurse," Bateman said. "This year I was fortunate to be trained for the Rosani [Lens] Project. We were able to examine, refract and correct the vision of hundreds of eyes and grant them the ability to finally see with a pair of new glasses personally made for them."

She said her first year going she was full of nerves but "blessed beyond measure." She said you can never fully understand how much of an impact this trip is until you experience it for yourself.

"I never fathomed that I would find such joy in every moment of life while serving the people of Guatemala," Bateman said. "No matter what blessings we were given, obstacles that we had to overcome, how many pills we had to count, every moment was overwhelmed with joy of the Lord inside our hearts."

She said when she first went and every year since, Grunsky has told them to be intentional.

"Two years ago, Dr. Mitch told us to be intentional when we meet the people in the clinic," Bateman explained. "This is hard when 50, 60 people are lined up waiting to be helped and you want to make sure everyone gets the care that they need."

But she was always reminded to share God's love, and after every exam, no matter the line, they would pray with each patient. Although there was a language barrier, the mission team members would pray in English while the patients prayed in Spanish.

While most of the team members came from a medical background, Al Nelson, owner of Home Solutions of Sumter, came from a construction background and needed help building Bethesda Hospital. He recruited a person with a law enforcement background and a veteran to help him.

"My wife and I are friends with Dr. Mitch and told us they would need help with the nursing, but they also needed a construction side of it that may benefit or help them, which is how I got involved with Healing Guatemala," Nelson said.

He said Bethesda Hospital is not like building a hospital here in America. He said there are hospitals in Guatemala, but to receive care, to even be seen by a doctor, they expect payment immediately.

"Dr. Luke is trying to give care to people who can't afford it. Where one surgery might cost $2,000 here or at another hospital there, he is giving these surgeries for free or as low as $60," Nelson said.

Nelson said in America, you get construction plans. In Guatemala, he just had Rhyee telling him what he envisioned, and he tried matching Rhyee's vision to the best of his ability.

"It's a really nice hospital. I know this year Dr. Luke was able to perform his very first C-section, but I know he has plans to build more, and our team is ready along with other missionary teams who go," he said.

Nelson and his wife are going again in the summer but to a different area of Guatemala, and he said he is prepared and excited to help an orphanage.

"It's not for the faint of heart. I mean, you really have to be strong to go to these places. It's not like here, you can feel the struggle, but you see these people extremely happy," he said. "It's a cultural shock, but you come back wanting to do more for them, and I have learned to have more gratitude."

He said looking back on this recent trip, "you wouldn't think a carpenter, highway patrolman and an engineer" would be able to construct parts of a hospital together.

"But after day three, we stood and looked back and were shocked, like we really did this," Nelson said.

After coming back from the seven-day trip, all three - Bateman, Grunsky and Nelson - said they felt they not only helped the people of Guatemala, but they brought them love and closer to God.

"You always wish you could do more," Grunsky said.

He told the story of a female patient coming to the clinic this year, and once her exam was over, they found what could be uterine or ovarian cancer.

"Obviously if she was seen in my office here, we would go through all the steps, get her all the appointments set and start treatment," he said. "But there you run into problems and ask yourself what you can do now because they don't have the same treatment or care options."

He said they sent her to Rhyee, and hopefully she can get the care she needs.

"I think the impacts are limitless, for the community and for us," Grunsky said.

He said there are a lot of people in the Sumter community who want to help but just can't take the time off to go on these trips.

"If people are interested in helping Healing Guatemala and Luke for all of his wonderful talents and abilities, he has a Facebook page where people can reach out and donate," Grunsky said.

He said anything helps, and if anyone can go on these trips with them to reach out to a local church or Trinity United Methodist Church.

Visit the Rev. Dr. Luke Rhyee's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/luke.rhyee.