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Sharing a friend’s account of ‘first responding’ at the Vulcan Fuego eruption


Below is an article by Dr. Jose Amezquita in the Magazine of the Quetzaltenango Medical Association.  Dr. Jose uses Vine services.  He called on our help early in response to Fuego Volcano eruption.  Read and see a man’s heart.


“The Giant Awoke

The Story of a Tragedy

Dr José Amézquita

For the Magazine of the Quetzaltenango Medical Association


To begin such a sad story breaks my heart, but with each piece of my heart gathered in my hands, I tell you this. It was a normal June 3; I was on duty in the Totonicapan Hospital, we had treated two serious vehicle collision cases two hours previous, and it was time for lunch when I turned on the TV in the doctors’ lounge and all the channels transmitted the same thing: “The Fuego Volcano has erupted.” The first shocking images of a tragedy having been announced by all, the bustle of an emergency room turned into the silence of a cemetery – my shift boss sees me and says something that stops my breathing: “Amézquita, you’re not going to go help? Go! I’ve got you covered here.”

I immediately got a call, and when I looked at the screen on my phone it said “EMERGENCY/FIRE DEPARTMENT.” When I answered, I heard “Official! This is a national emergency and doctors are needed. Issue orders.” With a knot in my voice, I immediately ordered Totonicapan’s Fire Department paramedics to prepare their equipment to leave and help. Alotenango Sacatepequez was our blind fate. On the way to my mother’s house, where we have the Family of Christ Foundation free health clinic sponsored by Vine International, I called colleagues who collaborate with the Foundation. The first answer I received was that of Dr. Eddy Batz, traumatologist, who said “Hey – did you see what happened in Alotenango? I’m going with you.” I told him, “My friend, the ambulance is ready – for my two paramedics, and you and I.”

We left Totonicapan at 2:05 PM. Our company, in addition to Jesus Christ, who never left us alone, was the sorrowful sound of an ambulance siren, and that anxiety of not knowing what we were going to find.  At 4:00we arrived at the detour that would take us from Antigua to Alotenango; in the initial darkness of the afternoon, we looked up and could see only a formerly sleeping giant, now spitting fire. That orange color at the summit of the volcano, and ambulance after ambulance that passed us by.  The first thing that really impacted me was to see, inside one of the ambulances that passed us at full speed, the driver – a fireman, crying and screaming while the sirens hid his cries of pain and anguish. There was one phrase in my mind: “Dear God! Please help us to arrive soon!”

We got to the entrance of Alotenango, and soldiers stopped our ambulance. We identified ourselves as doctors and two paramedics. We arrived at the park, and the cries of the burned and battered – that smell of ash and sulfur – I just thought, “have mercy, Lord.”

The screams that a thousand words would not describe – “My daddy’s gone!”, “My mommy died!” – words that I’ll never be able to erase from my mind – “My children were left buried!”

We arrived and the first thing we did was to take care of the wounded, which I count in the dozens in the steps of the park, on the ground, in the street. We had sheets and cardboard for stretchers. The local firemen, being without supplies, came up to me and said, “Doctor. Help us – we have wounded with very serious burns, and we don’t have anything.” God touched my heart in a supernatural way, and material things became nothing. I took my medical kit with all my diagnostic equipment and I told them to please use it – it’s a gift. I felt a thousand hugs around me and my people, saying “thank you!” The firefighters and rescue workers embraced us, with their uniforms full of ash and their eyes full of held-back tears.

It was 4:00 Monday morning when I saw a scene that reminded me why God commanded us to love our neighbor as our selves. The very wounded, burned, and homeless people brought us a cup of coffee and piece of bread that was intended for them. There was never an act of love so beautiful. Meanwhile, the volcano was still rumbling.

The firefighters called us to rest for a moment and listen how, in the safety of an armchair in the Alotenango station house, firefighter after firefighter cried, and lifted their prayers to God, each according to his beliefs. Two of their companions were trapped in the volcano’s pyroclastic flow. The station chief cried disconsolately, and shouted with everything he had in heartbreaking pain. “They called me and just said, ‘Boss, the volcano came up over us,’ and the phone didn’t make another sound.”

The need to ask for help started less than 12 hours after the emergency, as by then we had nothing. And I mean nothing! I immediately wrote Dennis McCutcheon, the coordinator of Vine International in Guatemala, and his coworkers in the US – men of God that Christ moved to do the work of Vine. The first beautiful answer, which I knew came from God’s hand, was: “José, make a list of everything you need, and we’ll get it to you.” Rescue equipment and medicines were the most urgent, and to my people and I, Dennis and Vine were like angels that God sent. Since that blessed day, they answered us and here we are, in the middle of the fight, because God says and commands: “Love your neighbor as yourself and as I have loved you.” From Vine International we received rescue equipment which, because of the high cost the firefighters couldn’t afford, but the need of which still persists today: that the firefighters would find their companions.

I write these lines with my eyes full of tears because I know that God loves us and that he placed in my hands a white coat in order to serve my people for the glory and honor of my Heavenly Father. And the feeling He gave me, He will give thousands more, because there aren’t enough helping hands.  Colleagues and friends: the volcano emergency isn’t over, and it’s not yesterday’s news. On the contrary, this is the moment when we’re needed most – let’s take our teams and go to the volcano!

Tomorrow we don’t know what God has for us. But as doctors, we ought to know this: when we wake up telling God “Here I am Father – wherever you want me to go, I’ll go.”

Thank you for reading these humble lines.

Dr José Amézquita, over and out.  ”


Cindy and I recognize so many people support us and Vine International.  This particular event taught us new ways to respond.  We saw the depth of need not just from the immediate tragedy but the chronic need of the bomberos (volunteer firefighters) and the doctor’s who first respond.  Dr. Amezquita said that everything they took with them was used up in less than two hours.  Other ministries we serve responded around the base of Fuego.  We are in the midst of ‘restocking’ a relatively empty warehouse.

I checked last week and there are about five funerals a day being done.  There are ministries still going up on the mountain to families and villages that remain.  The rains started again yesterday.  Some of these villages will be isolated until the dry season.  We have two ministries that want to set up standing clinics.  More as we see their plans gel.

The US Marines have built temporary housing.  In Guatemala temporary housing will become permanent for some.  It is good to see them in the field.  Saw my first Navy Lt. Cmdr. In uniform since 1976 and almost forgot I was civilian.  Very tempting to salute the youngster!  Ha!

Speaking about young people, Peggy our daughter and friends, Jess McElreath, Nick and Corinne Slagle from New Hope Church in Swannanoa went to ‘Ground Zero’ and met the bomberos mentioned above.  This team noticed the Alotenango bomberos did not have binoculars to help look for the missing men.  Binoculars were found in Antigua and they purchased three pairs.  Nick and a friend of ours David jumped up at 5:00 next morning and delivered them to huge smiles.

Others in our circle Dr. Estrada, Dr. Castillo, our local bomberos, have served sacrificially.  Because of your material and financial support we were able to stand with these and be Hur and Aaron to Moses – that is to hold up their arms as they served.   There are others who we know who served without the need to tap into Vine at this time such as Daryl Fulp, family and teams, and Ministerio Senderos De Luz Guatemala – Hilmar Avila.  These two ministries were ALL OVER that mountain, feeding, providing water and medical care acutely.  Our friends at Orphan Resources International were burning up the highway getting into the children’s homes they serve that were under the ash cloud.

AAHHHhhhh I need to close.  There are many stories that remain to be told.  Stay tuned.  Your support helps us to serve in so many ways.  The Vine family is grateful.

In Christ, Dennis and Cindy

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