Valma Parsons may not be a Spaniard but she does live in Spaniard’s Bay, NL. And like the Spaniards who gave their name to her hometown, she, too, makes forays into Guatemala-not to conquer in the name of a European king but to serve in the name of another king.
Parsons, 63, an Anglican and retired teacher, is living out the Marks of Mission by responding to human need with loving service. She is also seeking to transform unjust structures of society. Next week, Parsons departs for the second time in less than a year to help raise prefab houses for the hill people of this impoverished Central American country of 14 million people.
“For $2,000 you can build a family home, put in bunk beds, an armoire, a table and chairs and a complete set of dishes and pots and pans,” she says. “The people are as overjoyed as if they had a mansion.” Before occupying prefabs, people live in cornstalk cabins with dirt floors. “When it rains, they’re ankle-deep in mud in their own homes and they’re sleeping in it,” says Parsons.
The men in the group lift the heavy prefabricated concrete sheets and bolt them onto upright two-by- fours. Then they bash on corrugated metal roofs.
The women tighten all the bolts in the slabs, paint the interiors and distribute baby clothes, knitted teddy bears and homemade cloth diapers. “The houses are occupied right away,” says Parsons. “And next day everyone goes back and the pastor blesses them.”
The house raising-last year her mission group finished 10 houses in two and half days-is sponsored by the Arms of Jesus Children’s Mission, based in Pickering, Ont., and run by Pastor Sam Martin, a Baptist. Each group member is allowed to bring in two hockey bags-about 100 pounds’ worth-of clothing and medical and school supplies. “These people are very poor-they don’t even have shoes,” says Parsons. “But oh, you should see the beautiful children!”
The mission also runs a school, where kids are taught in Spanish and English to Grade 6. It recently purchased land next to the school and is adding two classrooms that will allow children to stay in school an additional year until Grade 7. “This year we’ll build only six houses and the rest of the time we’ll work on the two classrooms,” she says.
After Grade 6, the children usually go to trade school and learn hair dressing or cooking so they can get work in the cities. The alternative is to toil in the cane, corn and coffee fields for $2 a day. “The field workers are virtually slaves,’ Parsons says.
Despite their material poverty, the hill people are very rich spiritually, she emphasizes. “They are very loving and show no jealousy. When we build a house for one family, everyone gathers around with their Bibles and prays for the new house.”