CENTERBURG — The cliché “expect the unexpected” takes on a whole new meaning for 21-year-old Centerburg resident Kevin White. While finishing his junior year at Bluffton University, White participated in a three-week cross-cultural program in Guatemala City. He was there during the sudden eruption of the volcano Pacaya, Hurricane Agatha, and the massive sink hole.
A cross-cultural program is part of White’s educational requirements for his majors in youth ministries and recreational management. His first choice was Guatemala, with the Central American Study and Service organization located in Guatemala City.
“I don’t regret going to Guatemala,” he said. “It was a great trip. The people were unbelievably hospitable and the area was so green and colorful. And there was nothing we could do about what happened.”
The students stayed in the CASAS facility campus, learning of the Guatemala Civil War, language and culture, and visiting historical sites.
When the first of a series of natural disasters occurred, White and 19 other students had already left for the village of San Juan Chamelco, where they stayed with host families and worked on service projects with the local school and church. White knew nothing about Pacaya erupting in Antigua until the next day, when the streets and homes of Chamelco were covered in a filmy black ash.
“We didn’t think much of it because we hadn’t heard anything at that point. A lot of the people didn’t have televisions, but my host family did, so we watched the news,” he said. “There was a ton of damage from the volcano alone. One of the really big problems, and this is why our flight was canceled, the ash had settled and when the hurricane came, it turned the ash into like a thick mud.”
The hurricane caused 36 hours of drenching rain, White said, that created flooding and mudslides in many of the areas, wiping out some homes along the mountainside.
“We didn’t know it was a tropical storm, and when we asked our host family if they always get rain like this, they said this was an unusual amount of rain,” he said. “And this wasn’t even their rainy season.”
White doesn’t regret his experience, and feels his faith has grown from seeing the strong faith of his host family and watching as the community pulled together.
“[My host family’s] first reaction when we heard the news was ‘Let’s pray,’” he said. “And for some of the people who had next to nothing, yet they still came to church, still believed in God, still trusted that God will meet their needs, that was just incredible to see.”
On the group’s return to the city, White began to truly see the devastation of the disasters.
“I didn’t think about the aftereffects of mudslides and flooding, but when they told us we would be going back to the city a day late, I wondered why. But when we were driving back to the school, I saw why. Our driver slammed on the brakes; I looked out and about half of the road was gone. We drove on the left side of the road only about a foot from the edge,” said White. “It was overwhelming to see all that had happened. Everyone was pretty much speechless.”
White learned a few days later of the sinkhole in Zone 6 of Guatemala City.
“Our school facility was in Zone 11, so we were about 20 minutes away from where it happened. It was crazy to see from the pictures that the road I was just standing on a few weeks before was gone,” White said.
He did manage to bring back a souvenir of ash.
“See how thick it is? This was on everything,” he said.
After his unexpected experience, White is glad to be home and plans to intern in the Milford Church of Christ youth department.
“This will be a great story to tell to the kids,” he said.