The mission of Faith In Practice is to improve the physical, spiritual, and economic conditions of the poor in Guatemala through short-term surgical, medical, and dental mission trips and health-related educational programs. Our mission is based on an ecumenical understanding that as people of God we are called to demonstrate the love and compassion that is an outward sign of God's presence among us. Faith In Practice's life-changing medical mission is to minister to the poor, while providing a spiritually enriching experience for our volunteers.
For years, the Franciscan brothers had been feeding and caring for the homeless in Antigua, Guatemala, but had no permanent home or sufficient space to meet the growing need. In prayer and unshaking belief in God’s providence and under the leadership of Franciscan Brother Guillermo Bonilla, they petitioned the City of Antigua to allow them to move into the abandoned national hospital that had been destroyed in the 1976 earthquake.
On September 21, 1983, their prayers were answered, and the brothers moved into the Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro’s current location in Antigua, accompanied by eight abandoned children. Supported by local Antigua families, they continued their work to provide food and shelter to those in need and to realize their dream of providing basic healthcare for the poor living in the surrounding areas. But, the operating rooms remained in disrepair with little, if any, working medical equipment.
In 1991, while studying Spanish in Antigua, Todd Collier met Brother Guillermo and began volunteering at Las Obras, identifying great needs there. When Todd asked Brother Guillermo if he would welcome a surgical team to volunteer at the Obras, Brother Guillermo responded "yes."
With that "yes" and in response to God's calling and to Jesus' admonition in Matthew 25 to minister to the least of these, Todd returned to Houston and organized the first surgical team to Antigua in 1993. Joe and Vera Wiatt and others assisted Todd in this effort to bring a team of nine to the Obras. Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church and Memorial Hermann Hospital System in Houston, Texas, provided early support and continue to be instrumental to this mission.
The Early Years
Upon their return from serving at Las Obras, inspired by the Franciscan brothers and moved by the patients and their families, these initial volunteers knew there was more to be done. They incorporated Faith In Practice as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 1994 and rolled up their sleeves. Even though Rev. Todd Collier was serving in his first call as pastor of First Presbyterian Church Bay City, Texas, he also found time to serve as Faith In Practice’s first executive director and was instrumental in developing the foundational documents of the ministry. In 1996, Todd relocated from Texas to Savannah, Georgia, and continued to spread the word about Faith In Practice. Also in 1996, Joe and Vera Wiatt sold their hardware store to dedicate 100% of their considerable energy to the development of Faith In Practice, continuing to run this new mission out of their back bedroom. Vera Wiatt took over the executive directorship in early 1997.
Growth and Structure
Under Vera and Joe’s dedicated leadership, encouraged and supported by their strong sense of call and faith, Faith In Practice grew and flourished. Over the next ten years, they developed the surgical program at Las Obras, assisting the nascent hospital in developing processes, policies, and procedures. Working closely with the Obras, they negotiated with local authorities and built the patient guest house, the Casa de Fe, in 2003, and oversaw its management. They also managed and raised funds to expand, renovate, and equip five operating rooms as Las Obras, where the first teams served in the new OR’s in 2006. In 2007, Vera and Joe also managed and renovated operating rooms at Hopitalito Corpus Christi in Patzun and organized and financed the building of a medical clinic in the isolated community of Sarstun.
Throughout this time of expansive growth, under Joe and Vera’s leadership, Faith In Practice continued to draw more volunteers from across the United States. There were nine volunteers on that first trip in 1993. In 2007, there were more than 650 volunteers that represented 33 U.S. States. These volunteers served on medical clinic teams which provided care in remote areas of Guatemala. They served on surgical teams at Las Obras and at Corpus Christi. Dentists served on both medical and surgical teams. These U.S. volunteers were joined as the years progressed by a corps of Guatemalan volunteers who served through a program also developed by Faith In Practice. Healthcare training and teaching programs were developed, most notably the cervical cancer training and prevention program designed to teach local practitioners how to identify and treat pre-cancerous cervical cells. Throughout these years of growth, Faith In Practice remained committed to working beside local Guatemalans, strengthening ties and building community.
Always thinking toward the future, Vera and Joe Wiatt were also committed to ensuring that this mission continue beyond them. As such, they increased their focus on building a committed and dynamic board of directors, with an eye toward handing over the reins of leadership and remaining involved as volunteers.
Continuing the Legacy
After an extensive search, the Board of Directors and the Wiatts welcomed Rev. Linda L. McCarty as Faith In Practice’s new leader in 2007. Also motivated by a strong sense of call, Linda, an attorney and Presbyterian minister, strives to remain true to the spirit that motivated the first Faith In Practice volunteers, while continuing to grow the mission.
Since 2007, the mission has continued to grow, deepening relationships in Guatemala and providing a more developed integrated structure, including expanded surgical services at Hilario Galindo Hospital in San Felipe, Retalhuleu. The commitment remains to journey beside patients and volunteers with compassion, humility, and faith.
In 2017, approximately 1,200 U.S. volunteers from across the United States will serve beside approximately 900 Guatemalan volunteers. There will be more than 40 teams working together in the villages of Guatemala, operating at Las Obras and Hilario Galindo Hospital, which is currently under major expansion and renovation. More than 25,000 patients will receive medical care, and patients and their families will fill more than 25,000 bed nights at the Casa de Fe guesthouse in Antigua and the Hilario Galindo Hospital Casa de Milagros guest house in Retalhuleu. For more information about Faith In Practice’s current programs, please see http://faithinpractice.org/programs.
The years have witnessed great changes in Faith In Practice, both in size and scope of outreach. The changes have been great, but the calling has remained the same. Faith In Practice shall always seek to humbly listen for God’s guidance in all things, trusting that God shall be the strength to hold us when we falter, the light that surely will lead us forward in joy, all to God’s honor, glory, and praise.
Faith In Practice is governed by Board Chair Norman F. Lewis, the Board of Directors and Corporate Officers, and President and CEO Rev. Linda L. McCarty.