by Darla Martin Tucker

The task facing La Sierra University’s Pre-Medical Society last fall was daunting – take an annual mission trip to Guatemala that provides badly needed aid, spiritual connection and compassionate outreach and reproduce it all online.

For 16 years the society, a student club of La Sierra University led by associate biology professor Eugene Joseph, has spread the love of Christ in Guatemala each Christmas break by distributing food and shoes to those in need, bringing toys and friendship to sick children, praying with families, and providing hands-on assistance such as vaccinating farmers’ valuable livestock and helping medical and dental healthcare professionals to care for hundreds of patients in rural areas.

It was all upended this year. The global COVID-19 pandemic threw a curve ball into the plans of university missions and outreach including the annual Guatemala trip. With foreign travel suspended, the Pre-Medical Society decided to brainstorm ways of continuing their work in Central America where suffering has been compounded by the impact of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the illness named COVID-19. During an early October video conferencing call between Joseph, Pre-Medical Society President Kay Kim, and Guatemalan contacts and Adventist church members Sergio Ortiz and Manuel Argueta, it was decided the club would forge ahead with a virtual mission activity, a feat that would require significant coordination and planning. Club leaders emailed an invitational application to the campus and ended up with a team of 25 students led by nine club officers.

The group held an online fundraiser in January and together with funds from the club brought in $3,800. Ortiz, Argueta, and their contacts used the money to purchase 48 pairs of children’s shoes and 2,100 pounds of food to provide 60 food bags containing black beans, red beans, rice, sugar, corn flour, cooking oil, soups, and noodles. They also bought items for 40 gift packages for children at the Casa de San Jose AIDS hospice that included brightly-colored blankets, baby wipes, baby shampoo, soap, and other items for nursing home resident care packages.

Volunteers in Guatemala shopping for colorful blankets and other items for delivery to a children’s AIDS hospice. 

Usually La Sierra students and faculty personally deliver food and shoes to grateful families, play fun games with children at the hospice, and form friendships with Guatemalans in various communities. This year, students had to find a way to bring that experience home in spite of the 2,720-mile distance. They organized a three-session Sabbath virtual mission ‘trip’ streamed online on February 13 via Zoom video conferencing so that audiences in the United States and in Guatemala could tune in to witness in-need members of three Seventh-day Adventist churches and missionary students receive bags of needed food and boxes of shoes under pandemic safety protocol. Safety concerns required the gift packages for AIDS hospice children to be delivered separately. The virtual donation event was preceded by a morning church service with online children’s activities offered in the afternoon. All together the three online sessions, organized and presented by La Sierra students and the Pre-Medical Society, attracted a total of 179 viewers. Activities included praise songs in Spanish, presentations about the students’ lives in California, children’s songs in Spanish, a science experiment, arts and crafts, and a short lesson with games that concluded the evening.