Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Adventures, misadventures all part of the joy of deacon’s work in Guatemala mission

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the April 30, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Front row, from left, are Father John Birk, Sister Immaculata Burke, Matthew Davis, Loren Franz, Deacon Gary Franz, Sister Marie Tolle, and Linda Debevec; in the back row, from left, are Patricia Franz and John Davis. (IR photo courtesy of Deacon Gary Franz)

In 2001, Father John Birk, now retired and living in Pasco, talked Deacon Gary and Pat Franz, of St. Patrick Parish in Pasco, into signing on for a trip to the Diocese of Spokane’s mission in Guatemala. Since then, the Franzes have journeyed to Guatemala a total of 16 times. The couple’s most recent pilgrimage included Father Birk, the Franzes and their son Loren, John Davis and his son Matthew, and Linda Debevec, all from Pasco. The trip lasted from March 27-April 6.

Deacon Franz said that the group divided into two smaller groups upon arrival in Guatemala. Father Birk, Loren, Pat, and Linda stayed in Novillero, where they worked with Sisters Immaculata and Marie on the convent, painting the kitchen and cupboards and varnishing the exterior of the outside doors. Deacon Franz, Father David Baronti, director of the Guatemala Mission, and John and Matthew Davis went on to Ixtahuacán.

“We were to do some wiring work in the new bakery center that Dave Dodroe, of Spokane, is building for the Family to Family program (which provides start-up financial support for families in Guatemala),” Deacon Franz said. “That bakery and training center is a beautiful thing to behold. Anyway, we were hanging some lights, and turning on breakers, making sure everything worked for the first use of electricity in the building. John Davis is an electrical contractor in Pasco. This took about one day.”

Next, Deacon Franz’s group installed a kitchen and made some repairs to the plumbing in the Marian Center in Ixtahuacán, where Father Baronti is based. “There are no restaurants of any kind in Ixtahucán,” Deacon Franz explained, “so we wanted a place where, when people come from other places, they can prepare meals. We purchased and installed a refrigerator, a gas range, a cabinet and a sink, and we put the sink plumbing in.”

The other project in Ixtahucán related to helping Father Baronti with his education efforts. “He has wanted in the worst way to have some kind of video capability,” Dean Franz continued, “for showing films, training materials, and catechesis resources. We got a video projector, and a little DVD player with speakers so you can hear what you’re playing. Father Baronti used some of his youth group moneys to buy a screen. It worked pretty well on the stucco walls of the Marian Center, but a lot of the gathering rooms are getting painted with murals, and showing a movie on a mural doesn’t work very well.”

Deacon Franz added, however, that there were some misadventures along the way. “Somehow someone had gotten into the box that the DVD player was in, before we bought it, and had taken the remote control, so when we opened the box it wasn’t in there,” he said. “There are no external controls for the DVD player, you have to have the remote. So we went back the next day and got a new one. Also, on the box it said that enclosed were all the wires needed. Well, it didn’t have all the wires you need, so we got those, too.

“When we got back and got everything hooked up, and started pushing the buttons on the remote – you know, a remote needs batteries! It required two triple-A batteries, and there are no triple-A batteries in Ixtahuacán – lots of double-A batteries, but no triple-A batteries. So the next trip we got some triple-A batteries. When we watched a DVD, it turned out that with the remote you can switch the sound track from English to Spanish, so we watched in Spanish, and everyone thought that was just wonderful.”

Another misadventure involved water and plumbing. Deacon Franz explained that the Marian Center, “who knows why,” is plumbed from two sources of water, from two ends of the building, but he didn’t know that when he started work. “Both sources go throughout the building,” he said, “but it’s anyone’s guess as to which line you’re dealing with.

“In order to do the plumbing work and to hook up the kitchen, which is upstairs, to the water, I went out and turned off the water, but I didn’t know there were two sources of water. I went back in, and they don’t put in isolation valves on toilets and sinks and things like that, so I was installing some. Then I was going to make the connection to the kitchen sink, and I started to cut the pipe, and as soon as I got into the pipe a big spray of water came out. This is inside of a tiled room.

“So I went out frantically looking for where to shut off the water, but the only guy around was Javier, and he doesn’t speak any English, not a lot of Spanish, and pretty good K’iché,” the local language, “and I don’t speak any K’iché. We went outside, and I knew there was a master valve there, but it’s in a box with a lock on it! I tried to get into it, but I couldn’t, and Javier didn’t have the key. The local water master, who lives down the street a ways, had the key, but I couldn’t get across to Javier to try to get the key from the water master. So I took out my wire snips and snipped a couple of wires that were holding the box together, and sure enough I got into the box.

“So I turned the water off on a two-inch line. Well, the Marian Center gets a half-inch line, so what’s the two-inch line about? I could tell by the glug-glug-glug sound that I had just turned off the water to a whole lot of people. So I stationed Javier by the valve and went back inside, and I was working as fast as I could, first to clean up the water because it had made a pretty good sized puddle by then, and then to make my connections. I was about half-way through making my connections when I heard ‘gurgle-gurgle-gurgle,’ and here comes the water.

“So I went back outside, and there’s the water master standing there just furious that we had snipped his wires, and opened this box, and so forth. So by making signs and gesturing I got Javier to get the water master to give us five minutes. So he did, and he went away. So I went back upstairs where I had to clean up water again. Then I was making the joint, and it wasn’t going well, when water came up through the pipe again! So Dave Dodroe was there by this time, and I got him to go back downstairs, and pretty soon here they all came upstairs where I was, and they’re all standing there watching the water pour out, and at a pretty good rate, mind you.

“So they all looked at it for a while, and talked about it for a while, and then finally they went back out and shut it off. We cleaned up water a third time, and made up the joint, and about 15 minutes later, after it had set up a bit, I went out and turned the water back on again, and the joint held. Then Dave Dodroe told me about this second valve, and I went and found it under a bunch of leaves and blocks and stuff. I started turning it to see if it would shut off the water, and it turned really, really easily, which is not good. I turned it off all the way, however, then I went back up to the kitchen, and the water was still coming through. So even if I had known about that other valve it wouldn’t have done any good to shut it off. All the same, when we left several good things had been done, even with all the challenges.”

Sunday was Palm Sunday, and it was Father John Birk’s birthday, “so,” Deacon Franz said, “Saturday night we had a big hoo-ha for him, and everybody gave him gifts and so forth. Father Birk presided at Mass for us on Palm Sunday, and then we hopped into the van to Guatemala City to begin our trip home early the next morning.”

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