WSIL -- For one week in July, three Southern Illinois churches joined together on a mission, to go to Guatemala and spread the gospel, and try to make a difference in people's lives.
"It's amazing," Cassie Ellis of the First Baptist church of Woodlawn said about her experience going to Guatemala on a mission trip.
During her time there, Cassie said, "God has just been moving so much, and I've just been completely overwhelmed at everything he's been doing."
Grace Baptist Fellowship, the First Baptist Church of Woodlawn, and one home church group took two vans, and drove from Mt. Vernon to Chicago, before taking a four hour flight to El Salvador where they had a short layover.
After that, they took a thirty minute plane ride to Guatemala city, and stayed overnight at a mission house called the House of blessings..
The next day, a five hour bus ride got the group to their destination in Coatepeque.
There, they arrived at the First Baptist Church of Coatepeque, pastored by a man named Otto Echeverria.
"Being together, sharing time together, Talking about different experiences, and different ministries and different places," Echeverria says is his mission.
It was the First Baptist Church of Coatepeque who partnered with the Southern Illinois churches, giving them the opportunity to join them in their ministry.
Echeverria says, "It's been a great blessing working with people of different places."
For many on the trip, it was their first time out of the country, as well as their first mission trip. WSIL producer Erin Frey, who attends Grace Baptist Fellowship in Benton, went on this year's trip. She says she had the opportunity to visit last year, but I got sick and couldn't serve the last few days. She says this year was redemption for her.
The group says every day they were there, their mission work centered around people.
"We do several things. We work with children, we work VBS, and we also go to schools," Otto said about their church ministry.
The group says in the mornings they would get up, get dressed, eat at the church, and head out to mission sites. Three of those sites were different schools. They say they would play games, tell bible stories, make crafts, sing well known bible songs in Spanish, and love on the children.
They say it was easy to get through the language barrier, because a smile is the same in every language.
Echeverria says, "We have a preschool ministry that has been there for one year and has been a great blessing," in regards to the church's other ministry areas.
Last year, the church ministered to about 20 children there at their church, and that this year, the number had more than doubled.
Finally, Echeverria said the last thing their church did was, "doing evangelistic visits by visiting homes."
Cassie Ellis says going on one of those home visits changed her life, because while she was visiting two women, she shared her testimony, and they decided to accept Christ as their Savior.
Ellis also says it won't be her last time coming to the country, and that she will, "definitely will be coming back to Guatemala," in the future.
The group says they did something different every evening they were there.
At the beginning of their week-long visit, they visited a children's hospital. The First Baptist Church of Coatepeque goes every week to send bread and coffee to the people there. When the church group went, they met children suffering from fevers, and dangerous illnesses like bleeding denque.
So they decided to lighten their spirits with music, finger puppets, and prayer.
Every evening after doing morning ministry with children, they would return to the church for an evening service. There, they sang songs and listened to sermons in two different languages. They say that was one of their favorite experiences while there.
After the evening church service, a couple nights a week they went to a restaurant called Voila. One of the members of the church, named Edwin Escobar, owns and operates it. There, they serve authentic Italian food like pizza and pasta.
The other evenings during the week, they say they spent doing other types of evangelism. Co-pastor of Woodlawn Dustin Hale also preached, and the Illinois group and members of the First Baptist Church of Coatepeque shared their testimonies throughout the week.
Friday, they said goodbye, and say it was hard to leave their new friends, because they weren't sure if they would ever see each other again. But Echeverria says, "Relationships are very important. We know that in the Bible it's all about relationships. When Christ came over he called 12 disciples. He had a special relationship with them. And I believe God wants us to have those relationships with brothers from different places."
He also says, "God's blessings are so abundant. That he always exceeds our expectations. "
The group hopes they can go again next year, and make it an annual tradition.