Monday, March 9, 2020

24 Hours in Mayalan

The Mighty Cessna at the Mayalan Airstrip

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s I had a relationship with the World Missions Department of the Church of God that took me to 26 countries on four continents and resulted in the production of more than 60 audio-visual programs to promote and raise funds for the Church's mission efforts.

In March, 1989, I met American missionary Frank Tyson and Guatemalan doctor Jaime Gomez at a small airfield high in the mountains of northern Guatemala. We loaded ourselves and some boxes of supplies into a small, single-engine Cessna, with Frank and Jaime sitting on the boxes because the back seats had been removed for hauling cargo and set off over some 8,000-feet-plus mountains to the highland village of Mayalan.

Our pilot, a Guatemalan "air cowboy," a spiritual kinsman of Alaskan bush pilots, was not one to waste fuel on higher altitudes. He skimmed the mountain tops so closely that I could have picked blossoms from the jacaranda trees. Nonetheless, he deposited us safely on the soccer field-cum-landing strip at Mayalan, fortunately catching it between games.

A warm welcome from the Mayalan villagers
includes water for washing hands.

After receiving a warm welcome from the villagers, we each went to our work. 
Jaime set up a clinic in the village church and Frank met with the village elders. I wandered around with my camera observing village life.

Dr. Jaime Gomez gives a mother diet
supplements for her undernourished infant.

Weaving in the traditional way.

Butchering a wild pig.

When evening came, there was a service in the church with Frank preaching. I put a Vivitar 283 flash on my camera and another on a lightweight stand and photographed the village believers at worship.

A worship service at the Mayalan Church.

After the service, it was bedtime. The church's "pews" were split logs mounted on short pegs. My bed was two of them placed side-by-side. Frank and Jaime had sleeping bags, but I, having not been forewarned, put on the warmest clothes I had, covered myself with my bathrobe, and settled in for the coldest, most miserable night of my life. (It gets very cold at night in the Guatemalan highlands!)

Sunrise at Mayalan

There was a silver lining, though. As the pre-dawn light began to filter into the church, I had absolutely no incentive to stay in bed! I was up and out with my camera as the sun rose, documenting the village as it came to life. I photographed the women cooking breakfast, the men going off to their fields, and the children beginning their school day.

The women at Mayalan cook breakfast on an open firepit.

The school at Mayalan provides nourishment for bright
young minds formerly doomed to illiteracy.

Kids and puppies are the same everywhere.

All too soon the air cowboy returned in his Cessna and it was time to leave. We had been in Mayalan for 24 hours and I had everything I needed to make one of my all-time favorite audio-visual programs.

But there was one final surprise: as we neared the end of the airstrip the engine faltered and we appeared about to drop into the very deep ravine at the end of the strip. But the little Cessna regained power and we were off. I hardly even noticed -- I was busy snapping aerial photos of the village.

Photographers are like that.

You can view the Mayalan A-V program here.

(Photographs made with Olympus OM cameras and lenses and a Vivitar 75-205 f3.8 zoom. Fujichrome 100D film.)


  1. These are all lovely! My favorite is Dr. Gomez with the mother and child. Well done.