Millner family has adventure they won't soon forget

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 9/8/98.

Expectations were high for the Don Millner family vacation/mission trip to Guatemala. Dr. Millner had been to the country before doing dental work at a mission. This year, he was taking his family along to see the mission and the poverty of the country. However, before they reached their destination, bandits interrupted their trip. The Millners didnít know what would happen next.

The Millners (Don, Mary, Doug, Jon, and Scott) flew out of Minneapolis on Aug. 12 and headed to Guatemala. Their destination was a mission 80 miles to the northwest of San Lucas Toliman.

Dr. Millner said San Lucas is located on a lake created by three volcanos. The lake is 10 to 15 miles across and is 1,000 feet deep. There are eight to 10 small towns built on the shores of the lake.

Enroute to San Lucas and the mission, three bandits jumped into the road and pointed guns at their vehicle. The driver stopped quickly. ďThere is no language barrier when somebody points a gun at you. You know their intentions,Ē Dr. Millner said.

For 10 minutes, the bandits drove their vehicle, with everybody inside, down a steep mountain road into a ravine.

ďWhen we reached the bottom of the mountain road, they made everybody get out and unload the vehicle. We had 400 to 500 pounds of luggage piled on top of the vehicle because we were taking extra clothing to be left at the mission,Ē Millner said.

ďThey had every intention of robbing us. What we didnít know was if they would hurt us in any way,Ē Dr. Millner said. ďWe were lucky, they didnít get our passport or tickets. As I unpacked some of the luggage for them to see what was inside, I laid our passport and airline tickets for home aside,Ē he added.

The bandits did take all their backpacks, shoes, jeans, pencils, cameras, 15 stainless steel surgical instruments, telescopes and more. They went through everything the Millners had brought along.

Dr. Millner felt lucky they didnít take any of the dental supplies he had brought.

ďOnce they were done going through everything, the bandits disappeared into the woods without a trace. I was relieved they hadnít disabled the vehicle. We still had something to get us out of there,Ē Mary said.

The Millners went about repacking everything, so they could get to the mission and report the robbery. ďWe barely made it out of the ravine and back to the main road. The trail they took us on was rocky and steep. The car wasnít made to climb out of a steep incline,Ē Doug said.

Upon their arrival at the mission, the incident with the bandits was reported and the Millners found Scottís bag was missing. They arenít sure if the bandits took his bag of clothing or if in their repacking, it wasnít secure and it fell off the car on the drive out of the ravine.

ďLocal people donít like the bandits as they are afraid they will scare away the American visitors,Ē Mary said. The people at the mission found clothing for Scott to wear during his stay in San Lucas.

After the excitement of the robbery died down, the family went to work. Dr. Millner saw 66 patients at the clinic over a period of three half days. The boys worked in the coffee bean factory besides digging a platform at the clinic for an ambulance to park. Mary painted at a new clinic which will serve dental, medical and eye doctors.

Dr. Millner said dental services there cost a person a monthís wages.

The mission is a sister parish to the New Ulm diocese. The San Lucas mission has four priests which serve the 22 parishes in the lake area.

The mission is responsible for upgrading housing, medical and dental services, running an orphanage and purchasing land for the people. ďThe parish acts as a banker for the farmers as the banks have very high interest rates. One acre of land enables a farmer to triple his income. By owning the land, he isnít making large payments to the bank,Ē Dr. Millner explained.

The parish is also responsible for building a new school system and improving the literacy rate in Guatemala. Before the mission school was built, they had 10 percent literacy. Today, the country has 85 percent literacy, Dr. Millner said.
Before they left for Guatemala, the Millner family decided to sponsor a child. While in San Lucas, they picked Carlos, 6, out of a list of applications.

ďWe just started with the program and wanted to be able to meet the child and his family. The kids picked Carlos because he did not have a father and lived with his mother and three brothers and sisters.

In their free time, the boys played soccer and basketball with the local children. ďIt was nothing to see two soccer games and a basketball game all going on at the same time on the same court,Ē Jon said.

Jon felt the people in Guatemala socialized more after supper than the people here.

When the family went to Antiqua and Chichicastengo, the mission priest, Father Greg Schaffer, hired an escort to ensure they had a safe trip to the market and didnít encounter any more bandits.

ďAccording to the local people, this was the first time a robbery had taken place in the daytime. They usually occur at night. Nobody goes outside or travels after 4 or 5 p.m., it isnít safe,Ē Millner said.

The boys were surprised to see guards at the doorways of banks and stores in Chichicastengo. ďAnyplace where there was money, there were guards,Ē they said.

The boys felt the main food staple for the people in Guatemala was black beans. ďAt every meal, they had black beans,Ē Scott said.

Dr. Millner said visitors need to be leary of drinking the water as their only water source is the lake. The sewer drains into the lake, they wash their clothes in the lake, bathe in the lake and use it for their drinking water. ďThe area has no fresh water source because of the rocks in the volcano,Ē he added.

ďOn the whole, the people of the area are very friendly. They are very appreciative of the American people, Mary said.

This was Dr. Millnerís second trip to Guatemala. The boys say they are ready for another trip, but Mary is a little hesitant, fearful of another robbery. ďMaybe someday, in a few years,Ē she added.

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