SEQUIM — Consider David Piper’s latest Guatemalan trip both a new start and an ending.
The Sequim High grad and former youth pastor at Dungeness Community Church recently completed a trip to Guatemala, traveling with a small team to distribute 50 wheelchairs and build four homes for in-need families.
Locals helped fully fund both efforts.
Piper said it was the most rewarding and healing trip he’s ever been on.
“There was so much emotion and significance to this, I don’t think will be topped,” he said in a phone interview.
Piper, who first served as a missionary for three months in Guatemala in 2007-2008, returned to the country with a few friends last July to build two houses and distribute 25 wheelchairs.
His passion for the people there inspired his late father Mike Piper, a Sequim real estate agent, Costco food samples demonstrator and touring comedian, to donate funds for a home to a widowed mother.
Piper previously said his father had never been to the country but wanted to help a single mother like his own.
Mike Piper died on Jan. 11 before the home could be built, so David reached out to Bethel Ministries International and asked to help build it.
Missionaries agreed and Piper formed a team, including David Rivers, Mitchell Kirsch, Silas Kirsch, Micah Iriye, Ayden Bailey, Carson Lujan and Phil Kemp.
Piper said he bonded with Lujan, a former student of his, as he lost his father months prior, too.
“We had some cool bonding moments, and he had just gotten married a week prior and [his wife] knew how much it meant to him,” he said.
Building for dad, family
For his dad’s donation, Piper said he was able to work on the single mom’s house.
Margarita Chuga, 40, had lost her husband less than a year ago after a fall widowing her and their three children, ages 11, 7 and 2. They were living in a scrap metal home with no water, drainage or electricity.
Lesly, their eldest, turned 11 before the team’s arrival, and Piper surprised her with chocolate he had frozen so she could enjoy it before it melted in the 95-degree heat. He also gave her a blue Teddy bear he was given on the day of his birth in 1986 from his dad.
“Her face lit up. It was so incredible,” Piper said.
He also arranged for a cake with local officials and the whole village sang “Happy Birthday,” Piper said.
Lesly’s mom pulled him aside weeping, telling him it’s been so difficult they haven’t had the money or energy to celebrate her birthday, he said.
Afterward, Piper said he went behind the house and began weeping too.
“It was one of those moments, looking over this Guatemalan countryside, really reflecting on my father’s death and this family,” he said. “It was a powerful time letting the emotions hit me.”
The roof was placed on the new home right before thunderstorms began, he said, and later a caravan with the mayor arrived. Piper said he thanked him for donating the land for the home and encouraged him to continue helping others like Chuga. They also held a ceremonial ribbon cutting on the family’s house.
The team worked in and around the city of Chiquimulilla with six members helping build a home and two members traveling to meet with locals each day to deliver food and talk. While not everyone was fluent in Spanish, Piper said he encouraged teammates that it meant a lot for someone, particularly Americans, to come and sit in their backyard and listen.
“It validates their story and struggle,” he said.
They built four homes in Chiquimulilla with each at about 280 square feet, with bunk beds, covered porches, two windows and ventilation.
On their first day in Chiquimulilla, the team arrived at a gym to a crowd of people awaiting wheelchairs and mobility devices.
There were people without limbs, deformities and other ailments that have been unable to maneuver easily or without a family member’s help for years, Piper said.
“Families were delivering people in plastic lawn chairs,” he said. “Some have never had a wheelchair. It was really heartbreaking in some cases.”
They helped missionaries provide 50 wheelchairs and about 70 other mobility devices, such as canes and walkers.
Piper said he and teammates are already planning a return trip to Guatemala next year and set up another online fundraiser for homes, mobility devices and food at gofundme.com/f/my-fathers-houses.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].