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Jerry and Clara Monks Dedicate More Than 40 Years to the Guatemala Mission

By Donna Connell and Julianne Connell Sachs | July 2021

Jerry Monks Recounts Experiences in Guatemala Mission

Driving a bus and ambulance to Guatemala from Spokane, providing a remote community with electricity, taking cataract surgery to the blind; Jerry and Clara Monks, involved in the Guatemala Mission for more than forty years, recount these adventures and more. 

“Virtually every trip was an enlightening, engaging, and productive outing,” stated Jerry about their many visits to the mission. Initially, the Monkses were astonished at the beauty of the country as well as “the desperate struggle of extremely poor families who were living in abject poverty”.

Jerry related particular experiences, like the road trip of 1991. “On a cold January morning, eighteen individuals embarked from a Gonzaga University parking lot in a donated school bus and ambulance for a 4,500-mile drive to the Guatemala Highlands. Numerous individuals and organizations had donated funds, parts, medical and other supplies. It was a memorable adventure for the pilgrims and brought needed supplies to the mission.”

As directors of Family-to-Family (FTF), the Monkses participated in a celebration in an isolated, mountainous village that had been without electrical power until 1995. With the help of grants, FTF constructed a training center and equipped it with a solar power station. Jerry recalled, “We had the honor of flipping a light switch that brought the first electricity to the village. It was a joyous celebration with tamales, music, frisbees and batting a beachball overhead. The center was later used for sewing classes and the women of the village made special clothing for about sixty children who made their first communion.”

In 2004, FTF coordinated activities for a medical team from Spokane to travel to Guatemala to conduct cataract surgeries at the Novillero Medical Clinic. The team performed twenty-seven surgeries, some on patients who were previously blind. Jerry shared that “One surgery enabled a young woman to see her six-month-old daughter for the first time.” A follow-up trip planned for 2005 was postponed just days before the scheduled departure from Spokane due to Hurricane Stan which had a deadly tropical effect in the mission area. Jerry was already there, preparing for the team’s arrival when the storm hit, and he witnessed the wind and water damage it inflicted. The second cataract surgery project was held one year after initially planned. 

Among the many agricultural projects undertaken by FTF, Jerry singled out the reforestation efforts and coffee production. The reforestation program was so successful that, in 2007, the Guatemalan government selected FTF regional manager Adela Tambriz to represent the country at an international reforestation conference in Brazil. The high-quality coffee produced by FTF has garnered awards and is considered one of the best organic coffees on the market.  

In 2009, thousands of people lined roadways of four villages to greet Clara and Jerry and thirty other visitors from the Spokane diocese in celebration of their 50-year relationship. Jerry reminisced, “Some of the welcoming processions were nearly ¼-mile long, down the pine needle strewn roadways brightly decorated in flowers. Some petals spelled out ‘WELCOME SPOKANE.’  This was in appreciation of the Spokane Diocese providing nine priests over the years, plus the support of four clinics, a radio station, schools, seminary, and various economic and training programs sponsored by FTF.”

Jerry and Clara also spoke of experiences working with dedicated individuals personally devoted to the poor: 

Fr. Baronti often hosted us in Ixtahuacan. We watched his parishioners build the Marian Center, and rode partway down his historic “road to the coast,” in his patched-up 4-wheel drive vehicle that was bound together with wire and rope.  

Dave Dodroe helped design and manage the building of the new community (bakery) center in Ixtahuacan.  A talented volunteer, he had previously built a dam to provide electricity for a village, plus a school and trade center in remote Tzamjuyub.  

Natalia de Leon and Adela Tambriz managed FTF and hosted us for community gatherings where locals displayed sewing, weaving, building, agricultural, and other projects. To us they were both “gifts from God.” 

The Sisters of Charity and Dr. Jose Miguel provided us with on-site visits to clinics, schools, and health care activities.  

Visits with Bishop de Villa were especially useful for assessment and planning future activities. He was always very accommodating—and we loved seeing his dog!

More information about Jerry’s and Clara’s involvement in the Guatemala mission can be found in the June edition of the Inland Catholic. More information about Family-to-Family can be found at https://www.familytofamilyguatemala.com/.