Panajachel


CONGREGATION
Our congregation consists nearly entirely of ‘need greaters’ who have moved here from a number of other countries, including Australia, Great Britain, Portugal, and the United States. Since everyone’s circumstances vary greatly, the makeup of the congregation is constantly in flux and the number of publishers may range from 20-30. Thus, unity in the congregation depends on the effort of all to work together, overlook personal differences and focus on theocratic assignments. As you may imagine with so few in the congregation, many have meeting assignments every week or two, and ministerial servants and elders typically have at least one part each week.

Being a small and fairly new congregation, some things do not always go as smoothly as they might in developed countries with established congregations that have larger servant bodies and more publishers. Again, the efforts of all to work together ensure that we remain in unison with organizational direction.

Currently our public meeting is on Saturday at 10:00am and our midweek meeting is on Tuesday at 3:00pm. Our midweek meeting time was chosen to make sure that any attending the meeting from towns across the lake would be able to make the last boat that runs to their town.

CLIMATE & MINISTRY

Panajachel is home to beautiful Lake Atitlán and has been called the ‘land of eternal spring,’ as the climate is temperate all year; most days the high is 72-78º F (22-25º C), but some days may be 66º or 82º F (19º or 28º C). The low is usually around 54-58º F (12-14º C), though it may drop to 47º F (8º C) in the windy season. You won’t find air conditioning here, and it really isn’t needed. Though it does not get that hot, the elevation is 5,300 ft (1,615 m) at lake level, so the sun can be intense. A hat and sunscreen are recommended, as is insect repellent to combat mosquitos. In the ministry, some may wear sweaters or jackets in the morning, but shed them as it warms up. There are dry and rainy seasons, and so many have rainboots, raincoats and umbrellas at the ready. In the ministry brothers wear slacks and dress shirts (long or short sleeve); ties are typically not worn.

A day in the ministry can vary from public witnessing in town or at one of the towns across the lake on a dock or town square, canvassing for English speakers, making return visits or conducting Bible studies. Since our territory is English speakers, it is good to develop the correct mentality that it is a foreign language field. Think of it like those that are serving in a French, Korean, or Spanish congregation in the United States or other country where English is the main language. Many of the English speakers in the territory have moved here to escape government, modernization and religion, and we often must develop a rapport before a formal witness is given.


Accomplishing the ministry here requires a lot of physical stamina, as we may be walking for many hours on very steep roads or tracks, with many stairs, and in hot and humid conditions. Also, conveniences such as public restrooms can be hard to find. In view of this, those wanting to serve here need to be physically strong, without health concerns that could limit their activity here.

Meetings for field ministry are held throughout the week, and most either walk, ride a tuk or drive a motorcycle or scooter to the meeting. From there, we either walk to the territory in town, or ride a public boat taxi to one of the towns across the lake. All efforts are organized and scheduled throughout the week. For more information on transportation, see the heading below.

CONVENTIONS AND ASSEMBLIES

Currently our circuit assemblies are held in Antigua, Guatemala (about 90-120 minutes by automobile) and regional conventions are held in San Salvador, El Salvador (about 8-10 hours by automobile). It is essential to make advanced plans for these trips, both financially and logistically. With safety and cost in mind, those in the congregation often make plans to travel together. 

CULTURE

The native Guatemalans in Panajachel are kind, family-centric people and largely cater to the population of expats and tourists. At the same time, and even though Guatemala is known to be somewhat relaxed on enforcing some laws, it is not appreciated when foreigners try to bend or break the rules; it is best to ‘fly under the radar,’ but more importantly, remain subject to the superior authorities and at no time cause any reproach to Jehovah or his earthly organization.

The most commonly spoken language is Spanish, but many of Mayan descent speak Kaqchikel and Tz'utujil. Though our assigned territory is English speakers all around Lake Atitlán, it is of great benefit in many aspects of life here to know some Spanish.

The Quetzal is the Guatemalan currency; 1 Quetzal (Q1) typically equals about $0.14.

PASSPORT AND VISA

To travel to Guatemala, you must first obtain a passport. Please contact your local government for more information. When you arrive in Guatemala, your passport is stamped, typically with a 90 day stamp; this is called a ‘tourist visa.’

Within 90 days of your initial stamp, you can go to the government office in Guatemala City and apply for a 90 day extension (prórroga). There is also be a cost for a required photo and certain documents. You have to leave your passport there and arrange for pick up 10 days later.

Within 180 days, you must leave, not only Guatemala, but the CA-4 (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) for 72 hours. Upon re-entry, you are given another 90 day stamp (tourist visa). This is often referred to as a ‘border run’ for visa renewal. If you wish, instead of the 90 day extension in Guatemala City, you can make a border run every 90 days. The most common destinations for these border runs are Tapachula, Mexico and San Cristóbal, Mexico.

Some have chosen to obtain residency visas, which can be costly and time consuming. It requires many official documents, trips to government offices and securing a lawyer to process your paperwork. The process can take two years or more. Once the process has begun, tourist visa renewal is not required.

TRANSPORTATION
Very few in the congregation maintain automobiles. Many choose to walk most places, or to rely on tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorized taxis) to get around. Tuk-tuk rides are about $0.67 per person, to most places in Panajachel. Many also have either motorcycles or scooters (mopeds) which are very useful in a town like Panajachel. Gasoline currently ranges from $3.25-$3.65 per gallon.

To cover the territory in towns across the lake, we take public boat taxis, which cost between $2-$4 per person, each way. Each publisher cares for the cost of their own travel in this regard. Boat rides may take 20-40 minutes depending on the destination town and how many stops are made along the way. ‘Xocomil’ (pronounced SHOCK-o-meal) is a wind that blows over the water and usually occurs in the afternoon. This can make the water more turbulent and the boat ride less enjoyable. Some that are prone to motion sickness take medication for nausea.

For long range travel (to or from Guatemala City (airport and visa renewal), El Salvador (regional convention), Tapachula (border runs for visa renewal) or Antigua (circuit assembly), there are options for public and private colectivas (passenger vans that accommodate 12-15 people). More information can be obtained by contacting travel agencies in Panajachel.

ACCOMMODATIONS

For short time visits, there are number of low-cost hotels. A popular place to stay for many is Hotel Utz Jay (pronounced OOTS HI) where prices range from $39-$54 per night. Visitors have also stayed at The Blue Mayan, which ranges $39-$60 per night. Other local hotels can be booked on www.booking.com or www.airbnb.com. Some have also rented homes from Raxha Rentals.

If you are planning on staying longer, you may wish to start out at a hotel and then explore options for long term rent. There are many postings on bulletin boards at local stores, and the local brothers and sisters can help look out for housing that would suit your needs. Smaller 1-2 bedroom homes or apartments can cost $200-$350 per month and larger homes with 3-4 bedrooms may cost $500-$700 per month (or more). There is a quite a range, and some homes include electricity and internet, but some do not. Also some homes require you procure a housekeeper and gardener.

Visitors often ask about staying with someone in the congregation during their visit. Most in the congregation are regular pioneers living here on small budgets, very simply and in small homes. Also, at any given time we may have 10 or more visitors in the congregation; as you can imagine we can’t possibly arrange accommodations for everyone. For these reasons we recommend that you secure your own accommodations during your visit.

UTILITIES

Electricity cost can vary in range greatly, depending on usage, probably between $40-$90 per month. Internet cost ranges as well, and is sometimes it is included with monthly rent. If it is not included, you can, for example, get 5mbps DSL service for about $40 per month with Claro. Propane gas is used for cooking, and cost varies depending on usage, perhaps $20-$40 per month..

Cellular phone service in Guatemala covers most areas, especially in Panajachel and the towns on Lake Atitlán. Main providers are Claro, Tigo and Movistar. Plans vary, but an example plan with Claro includes 75 minutes for calls, 75 text messages, 750mb data and unlimited WhatsApp costs about $10 per month. WhatsApp can be used for text, picture, video and voice messaging as well as voice calls. Please note that if you are bringing a phone from outside Guatemala to use with a Guatemalan service provider, your phone must be unlocked. For more information about unlocking your phone, please contact your current service provider.

WATER
Due to improper sewage treatment, the local tap water or well water is not suitable for drinking or cooking (unless boiled). Five gallon bottles of purified water are easily attainable and cost about $1.50-$2.50, depending on the company you get them from.

FOOD
Food costs can be like anywhere, ranging with either what you are wanting, or how simple/cheap you choose to make it. You can get breakfast at a restaurant for $2-$3 (or more), lunch for the same, and dinner could be $4-$12 (or more), depending on what you order.

Here are some average prices for commonly purchased food items:
Dozen Eggs = $1.50
Gallon of Milk = $3.45
Loaf of Bread = $1.99
Pound of Ground Beef = $2.78
Pound of Boneless Skinless Chicken = $2.75
Pound of Potatoes = $0.80
Pound of Apples = $1.33
Package of Bacon = $2.00
For more cost of living comparisons, visit numbeo.com.

HEALTHCARE

Most serving in our congregation are here on tourist visas, and as such have no health care benefit (insurance) that is recognized. That said, healthcare is affordable and most needs can be cared for by local clinics, there are a number of pharmacies in town. For more major medical needs, there is a small hospital in Sololá (15 minutes away), Antigua (90-120 minutes away) and a larger, more equipped hospital in Guatemala City (3-4 hours away).

SUPPORTING YOURSELF AS A NEED GREATER

Some come to serve for as long as they can live on money they have saved up, and that is fine. Please consider though, if you are wanting to serve for a period of time not limited by an amount of money in savings. Many need greaters have found sustainable income by teaching English online, doing graphic design, or other means of online work. Please note: tourists in Guatemala are not allowed to work jobs or provide services as if they were Guatemalan residents.

CAN YOU SERVE AS A NEED GREATER?

We always encourage those looking to serve where the need is greater, whether for a short period or potentially for a longer period, to follow the direction in the Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will book in chapter 10, paragraphs 7-10. Obtaining a letter from your congregation's service committee approving you to serve where the need is greater and corresponding with branch offices is in line with direction found there. Such a letter should detail privileges of service you are currently approved for, such as public witnessing. We can request this from your service committee if you send your congregation secretary’s name, email address and phone number.

Here in Panajachel and the towns on Lake Atitlán our conduct is always on display. We are being watched, and one mistake in judgment could cause a lot of damage, as we are aliens in a foreign land. There are other ‘missionary’ groups that come to Panajachel, spreading word of their efforts by day and partying at night. We definitely want to stand in contrast from any such groups and uphold Jehovah’s name with our whole heart, mind and strength. Instead of identifying ourselves as ‘missionaries,’ we proudly let all know we are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Please note the following with regard to serving in our congregation. Some publishers feel they can escape problems or circumstances by serving in a foreign land. Life here in a developing, or ‘third world’ country, has its own challenges, and these are best met without mental, emotional, physical or spiritual weakness. If you have issues in these areas, we do not encourage you to make the trip. Some have ignored this counsel and covered the truth about their issues only to find that their problems here are compounded, as they have only brought their circumstances to an area where life is not as easy, in many respects, as it is in developed countries. This, in turn, has resulted in a worse situation for them and an extra load on a small servant body that is already very busy. If you do have issues in the above-mentioned areas, perhaps you can settle them and serve where the need is greater in the future. Please prayerfully and honestly consider your situation in this regard.

We do not want to diminish or quash your zeal and enthusiasm at all, only to make sure you are well-informed. It is our hope and prayer that you are able to accomplish all that you can in service to Jehovah and to bring honor and glory to his name by your efforts.

If you have not already done so, we encourage you to carefully read the article, “Can You Step Over Into Macedonia?” in the December 15, 2009, issue of The Watchtower, pages 4-7, and the insert found in the August 2011 issue of Our Kingdom Ministry, pages 4-6, about the same matter. – Luke 14:28-30. 


Your brothers,
Lago Atitlán Inglés Congregation




PS All monetary references in this letter are in USD (United States Dollar).

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