After being stranded for two weeks, 43 students are eager to return home from serving in Guatemala.
The students are part of Canadian Mennonite University's (CMU) Outtatown Discipleship School.
The group has been in Guatemala since January as part of the program's three-month discipleship trip and were scheduled to return home in April when concerns over COVID-19 prompted the Guatemalan government to close its borders for at least two weeks.
Outtatown, as it is affectionately known, is a program that allows students to grow in their faith while part of a travelling Christian community.
Students in the program come from across Canada, including B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
CMU attempted to fly students home early nearly three weeks ago on March 12, soon after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. However, the closure of Guatemala's borders canceled the group's flight, leaving them stranded.
Julia Hall learned that her brother, Noah, an Outtatown student at CMU, would not be coming home on March 15, 2020. Hall, who is a CMU student herself, says she and her family learned the news through an online meeting with CMU President Cheryl Pauls.
"She informed us that there were no flights available to bring the group home because the Guatemalan government had chosen to close their borders. The flight they had booked for March 18th had been cancelled and we were told they would be stuck in Guatemala for the time being," Hall says.
Over the past few weeks, students have remained isolated in a gated community in San Pedro Las Huertas, Guatemala. Strict local laws over social distancing in the country have kept the group under near house arrest as they await an opportunity to return home to Canada.
Hearing the news, Hall says her family has been in constant prayer over the past few weeks with their community.
"We reached out to our community to ask for prayer for safety for the group and that they would be able to come home soon," Hall says.
Hall's family also reached out to government officials and local media to raise awareness about the student's situation.
"We are so grateful for the support of our community through this challenge," Hall shared.
Despite the stressful situation, Hall says Noah has been doing well over the past few weeks.
"CMU did a wonderful job of creating an environment in Guatemala where the students felt safe and cared for, even when confined to a single property in the midst of the pandemic," Hall shared.
An announcement by the Canadian government this week announced a repatriation flight would be sent to Guatemala to bring Canadians stranded in the country home.
The flight departed from San Pedro Las Huertas Friday afternoon and flew directly to Guatemala City and then to Montreal.
"Today, Noah is taking connecting flights to come back to Winnipeg. Our family will be self-isolating for two weeks upon his return home," Hall shared.
After nearly three months apart and two weeks of constant uncertainty, Hall is looking forward to seeing her brother home again.
"We are so excited to have Noah back home with us today! We are grateful that God has been present in the lives of all the students and their families during this uncertain time," Hall says.
Hall and her family are not alone. 42 other families are also looking forward to soon welcoming the students back home Saturday afternoon.
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"We know that God has gone before us and has protected this group of students during their time in Guatemala and their travels home. We are very much looking forward to all being together as a family again," Hall says.