Nebraska congregations sell tamales to fund Guatemalan mission trip
Written by Emily Schappacher
September 4, 2013

Members of First Plymouth Church United Church of Christ in Lincoln, Neb., and First Congregational UCC in Crete, Neb., made and sold 300 tamales to raise funds for their upcoming mission trip to Guatemala.

Members of First Plymouth Church United Church of Christ in Lincoln, Neb., and First Congregational UCC in Crete, Neb., are working to collect $8,000 to build homes for two deserving Guatemalan families during a joint mission trip in October. What better way to raise funds – and embrace and celebrate Guatemala's culture at the same time – than making and selling one of the country's indigenous dishes: tamales.

"This tie-in with Guatemala was just great," said the Rev. Barb Smisek, associate minister of First Plymouth UCC and leader of the upcoming mission trip. "It was truly a joint effort between the two congregations, and the tamales were so good we ran out."

Crete has a large Central American immigrant population which settled there to work in the area's factories and meat packing plants, Smisek says, and First Congregational UCC has welcomed many of them. One of the congregation's Guatemalan members is known for her tamales – masa, or corn flour dough, filled with an 11-ingredient sauce, peppers, green beans and meat and rolled in wild plantain leaves. About 20 volunteers from each congregation helped make 300 tamales, which were sold for $3 each during church services last week. 

The mission trip is being coordinated through Constru Casa, an organization that provides basic, safe housing to families living in extreme poverty. Each home will cost $4,000 to build and  will be made out of 900 concrete blocks in an effort to be earthquake resistant. The homes take about two weeks to complete, so one group of 11 volunteers will arrive in Guatemala on Oct. 26 to build one home and a second group of 11 volunteers will arrive on Oct. 31 to build the other. The new homes will have three rooms, including a bathroom with a toilet and a shower, and will be a substantial upgrade to traditional Guatemalan homes, which typically have one room and a dirt floor. 

"The best part is the hands-on experience of what it feels like to literally get hot and sweaty and work alongside these folks," said Smisek, adding that the families that will live in the homes, as well as local masons, are involved with the construction process. "When you're working with them, you hear their stories and you develop a heart connection."

The congregations will host other fundraisers in addition to the tamale sale, including a dinner on Oct. 2 during which members will offer testimonials and experiences from past mission trips. First Plymouth UCC does six mission trips each year that are fully funded by member donations. Earlier this year, groups provided disaster relief in Joplin, Mo., companioned camped with developmentally disabled adults at Kamp Kaleo in Burwell, Neb., helped people in need from South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, located in the third poorest county in the U.S., and provided assistance in Honduras and Ghana. 

"Mission is my passion," Smisek said. "It's just been so much fun, and it's been great to connect with other churches and support each other."

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Ms. Emily Schappacher
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