Pachaj, Guatemala 2016

We arrive in two buses. Thirty-one travelers gather their belongings. One by one we step off the bus. Pam’s leg is in a brace after falling a week ago. Charlie, at 93 uses ski poles to steady himself. His daughter, a dancer guides him off. A recent widow and her two teens, along with Alexis, also recently widowed, decide to come in an effort to look beyond their grief. Some of us are retired; others have retired several times. College students, and professionals, homemakers and carpenters stand around awed at the beauty of the vista before us on top of the mountain in Pachaj, Guatemala.

Before we can put our things down, Juanaherlinda, a powerhouse of a woman, in both spirit and stature, runs to greet us. We will spend one week with the people of Pachaj providing dental care and a women’s clinic, distributing vitamins, pain killers, and antacids. As we stand ready to get started there’s a sense of familiarity and newness in everything we do.

My skill set isn’t useful in a clinic, so I am an extra ready to do whatever is needed. But before anyone can give me a job, I am drawn to the children. I always am. Whenever I am in a new place and feel out of place, I always look for children to welcome me. I smile and wave, I make a funny face, and soon they are smiling back. Today there is a line of children waiting to see the dentist. Their smiles are guarded. They know that a cavity may have to be filled or a tooth pulled. So I play the holy fool. “Let’s see, uno, dos, tres, quarto, cinco, what’s next?” Soon the children are teaching me numbers, colors and their names. With gestures and Spanglish I am learning their thoughts and hopes. Evelyn wants to be a banker. José is oldest in his family, Wendy the youngest.

I have nothing to offer them except to let them teach me, become my friend, and my helper. They relish the role. Wendy shows me a picture she is coloring and explains the names of the colors patiently. We take jump ropes out of a suitcase and Sybil shows me how to cross the ropes while jumping. Soon the women of the village are showing off their prowess. We laugh. I fail. We laugh some more.

Jesus’ words about welcoming children and looking to them for glimpses of the kingdom of God, will from now on have a Spanish accent to them because they will be grounded in the children of Pachaj.

About Rev. Kate Kotfila

Kate Kotfila is pastor at the United Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, NY. An important spiritual discipline for Kate is traveling in places where life is very different than in Cambridge. Kate served as Albany Presbytery's 2019 Moderator. You can reach her at and learn more about the United Presbyterian Church in Cambridge at

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