Posted by: calloftheandes | November 21, 2012

Series of Natural Disasters Adds to Dangers Faced by Missionaries in Guatemala

“Thanks for your ongoing prayers for safety in the face of whatever is ahead,” wrote John Gowan from his office in Guatemala where he works as a television producer and director of Christian TV programs.

John and Sharon Gowan serve in Guatemala under Asociación Viña

The “whatever” of Gowan’s brief message broadened a bit as a new threat—earthquake aftershocks—joined a growing list of dangers that Gowan and his wife, Sharon, face in Central America.

As recently as September, the Gowans, missionaries with HCJB Global, told of activity from a nearby volcano. John’s note calmly assured donors and friends that Volcán del Fuego (Volcano of Fire) “is one of several beautiful volcanoes that I see every time I commute to Sololá (near the capital).”

“It regularly has puffs of smoke coming out of the cone, with sporadic lava flow,” wrote Gowan, who continued that “this latest ‘burp’ was bigger than most, but it blew in the other direction so did not affect us.”

Volcán del Fuego last erupted on Thursday, Sept. 13, hurling thick clouds of ash nearly two miles high, spewing rivers of lava down its flanks and prompting evacuation orders for more than 33,000 people from surrounding communities.

John (standing, left) grew up in Ecuador in the “Avenue of the Volcanoes”

Gowan has nearly always lived with the possibility of an earthquake or volcanic activity. Before arriving in Guatemala, he and Sharon lived for some 20 years in Quito in the “Avenue of the Volcanoes” of Ecuador’s Andean highlands. Having grown up in Ecuador as the child of missionaries, he returned there after a decade living near the fault lines in southern California.

The same note described an upcoming ministry trip to Honduras which Gowan related is “plagued by even more violence from gangs and [drug traffickers] than in Guatemala by some counts, so it’s a real opportunity for the church to shine in the darkness.”

Both he and Sharon agreed that a powerful earthquake that struck on Wednesday, Nov. 7, was “the strongest” they’d endured, and John amused readers with the observation that “out here in Sololá the coffee on the table from coffee break was no longer in the cups.” However, he quickly acknowledged that area buildings had collapsed and that landslides were expected to disrupt transportation.

The 7.4-magnitude tremor hit off Guatemala’s Pacific coast, causing at least 42 fatalities with many of the victims being crushed under debris in San Marcos state, a mountainous region near the Mexican border. The quake also damaged some 10,000 homes, leaving more than 20,000 people homeless.

This was followed by a magnitude-6.5 quake in the same region Sunday, Nov. 11, sparking widespread panic and further damaging buildings and homes; however, there were no immediate reports of deaths or major damage as aftershocks continue in the 4.5 to 5 range.

While John works with the Guatemala-based Viña Association and consults with TV ministries across Latin America, Sharon teaches in a high school and ministers to at-risk youth. In addition to consulting on scripts and managing, John is the dramatic director for Deditos (Little Fingers), a video series of Bible stories that employs finger puppets.

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