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The doctors and our ward nurse, Emily went back to the hospital this morning to do their rounds one last time. They said everyone was doing great and heading home. The surgeries may have been less complicated than those in the past, but the hospital staff also played a big role in helping these patients after their operations.

We had an awesome team this year – it goes beyond the 25 folks that joined us from the US, the Hilario Galindo staff seriously crushed it this week! They turned over the operating rooms as quickly as they could, they kept us fed every day with lunch, snacks and drinks, and they worked alongside our nurses in pre-op, post-op and in the ward. The way they ran things at the hospital really helped our team feel right at home since day one.

We’re now on our final day in Guatemala, currently on our way to Antigua for a day for ourselves before flying back to our homes tomorrow. As we left our hotel this morning, Mary Stempel shared with us a reflection from one of our other team leaders, Jen Kooistra. She wasn’t able to join for this year’s trip, but even from afar, she was making us laugh with jokes, daily poems and surprises packed in our trunks. Jen’s note to us was a pretty perfect way to leave the hotel – again both physically and mentally together on this bus. Many of the longtime members of Team Stempel have been collecting jade beads from Antigua that symbolize each year they joined for this trip. When asking most people what their plans were for Antigua today, most responded with “I want to get my jade bead, but other than that, I’ll just tag along with everyone else.”

Jen’s note reminded us that the jade in Guatemalan culture symbolizes protection but also can be seen as currency to heaven. For our team members, getting another bead is more than just a chance to shop on the final day in Antigua. As Jen shared, these beads represent each year, each trip, and each individual’s experience. They remind us of hard times, confusion, discomfort, chaos or challenges – but at the same time, they remind us of camaraderie, teamwork, gratitude, and more. Despite small imperfections or differences in color and shape, each bead is perfect, pretty and smooth. It belongs to the person who carries it and to him or her alone. This experience for each of us is one of a kind, and we’ll carry it with in all of our days moving forward. We’ll take it back home, we’ll share it with others, and we all can’t wait to come back and continue this work!

Thank you to everyone who shared this life changing mission with Team Stempel this year. This trip happens because of so many – our awesome team of 25 here in county, the staff that supports us, Faith in Practice and all of our family and friends who donate and support us in taking this trip.

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