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When Ron Widbin went on a mission trip to Guatemala in 2011, he realized God had other plans for him and his wife, Sally. They traded traditional retirement from their respective jobs at KMIZ-TV and Columbia Public School District for a two-room cinder block home high up in the mountains of Chichicastenango, a Guatemalan town known for its traditional Mayan culture.
For three and a half years, the Widbins have worked with ASELSI Ministries, a Guatemala-based ministry, which serves the Mayan population. In addition to leading short-term mission teams from the United States, Ron makes videos for the ministry to use for promotional or informational purposes while Sally works with special needs children.
The Widbins have found many things to love about Guatemala — their work at the mission, the natural beauty of the land and bountiful produce in Chichicastenango’s famous markets. But there are always challenges to adapting to life in a foreign country. The Mayan population speaks 21 different dialects, so for many of the people the Widbins work with, Spanish is their second language, too. Sally misses hot baths because their home doesn’t have hot water, heating or air conditioning.
“I think the people who have the most difficulty living in a foreign country are those who try to live “American” in a place other than America,” Sally says. “We don’t live Guatemalan, but we don’t live American either. We try for a balance.”
The biggest sacrifice is being away from their three grandchildren, but God fills the void, Ron says. He and Sally were both surprised by their two children’s reaction, or lack of a reaction, when they announced their plans to move. “We expected you to do something like this,” they said.
The Widbins don’t know how long they will stay in Guatemala but know that when they do leave, they’ll go back to Columbia. “We miss everything about Columbia, but we both know when our time is up in Guatemala, we will miss the joy and adventure we’ve experienced here,” Ron says. One of the things they love the most about life in Guatemala is that there is no typical day.
A Day in the Life of the Widbins
5 a.m. – Ron and Sally Widbin begin the day with a cup of coffee, breakfast and sit down to read the Bible together and pray.
7:40 a.m. – The Widbins walk to work. The mission is a 20 minute walk from their two-room cinder block home. They don’t use their car often in Guatemala.
8 a.m.- The Widbins arrive at work and check in with the full-time Guatemalan staff. If the Internet is working that day, they check their emails. Each day is different depending on whether or not a mission team is in the country. Ron and Sally help facilitate visiting missionary groups’ work. Mission work might include setting up medical clinics in the mountains or doing construction at someone’s home. The mission has a milk program for undernourished babies, and sometimes they take visiting groups to spend time with the children there. If there isn’t a mission group “in country,” the Widbins plan everything the next group will need. They set up transportation, hotels, security and meals — the whole process can take up to two months of planning.
1 p.m.- The Widbins eat lunch at the mission or go back home for a meal. Sometimes, Ron and Sally go into town for lunch and eat fried chicken at a booth in the market. Fried chicken is a staple in Guatemala, along with eggs, beans and tortillas. The meal of chicken, rice, vegetables and tortillas costs less than $4 per person.
2 p.m.- After a hearty meal, the Widbins usually take their car to another mission in Guatemala that needs videos and educational materials. Lately, they have been working with an orphanage in San Lucas, a town about 35 miles away. The orphanage has taken in 35 children, who fit into three categories: HIV-infected, sexually abused or abandoned by teenage mothers. Ron shoots, writes and edits videos that will be used to raise funds to support the orphanage while Sally works with the Guatemalan teachers.
6 p.m.- The Widbins return to the home in Chichicastenango and eat dinner. One of the biggest perks of living in Guatemala for Sally is all the fresh produce available. Sunday is the big market day in Chichicastenango, but Ron and Sally shop on Saturday when the freshest goods are just arriving from farms around the area. Everything is fresh and very inexpensive, but they have to remember to let the produce sit in a bleach solution before eating it.
7:00 p.m. – After dinner, Ron and Sally relax after a busy day. They enjoy reading books, which they download to read on a tablet. In Guatemala there aren’t bookstores or libraries nearby since a large part of the population is illiterate. They also have a television and some Internet access — Ron is a Cardinals fan and likes to catch a game on TV. They also use that time to call their family back home.