"I first went in 2006, and there were two years I didn't go - but then, there were two years I went twice," Ennenga tallied.
Ennenga's lifelong alliance with the Presbyterian denomination is at the root of his frequent travel to Central America, and while he has no firm plans at present for another trip, the active 77-year-old Worthington resident also hasn't ruled out the possibility.
A passion for ministry and mission is what has drawn Ennenga and retired Westminster Presbyterian Church pastor Jim Krapf to and from Guatemala over the past decade.
Their most recent Guatemala journey took place from Jan. 30-Feb. 10.
Worthington's Westminster Presbyterian Church, which Krapf served from 2004-2012, is one of 56 Presbyterian churches comprising the Presbytery of Minnesota Valleys. Serving 37 counties in the western half of the state, the presbytery oversees the churches' governance system, coordinates mission efforts and Presbyterian camps - and also includes the Occidente Partnership.
"It's an international partnership committee with the Guatemalan presbytery based in the city of Quetzaltenango - more commonly referred to as Xela," explained Krapf, 70.
Xela, Guatemala's second-largest city, rests near Guatemala's western border with Mexico.
Until last year, 60 Guatemalan Presbyterian churches were part of the presbytery with which the Minnesota group was involved; growth resulted in the division of the presbytery into three groups of 20 churches each.
"Our initial contact with these Guatemalan churches dates back to the early 1980s," noted Ennenga. "A missionary there knew a pastor in our presbytery, and the trips and exchanges started in 1994."
"Our presbytery sent people there to train lay leaders and encourage women, in particular, to take on leadership positions with the church. That's really been one of our primary focuses."
A degree of success on that front has been realized, with Ennenga reporting that five years ago, a woman within the Occidente Presbytery became the first female Presbyterian pastor in Guatemala.
Because Guatemala experiences a lengthy rainy season, with hurricanes expected from May through September, January and February are the months in which the Minnesota Presbyterians have most commonly visited.
"There's pretty calm weather during February, most times," said Ennenga.
Earlier in the partnership, Krapf said the Minnesotans stayed with host families.
"That helped build deeper relationships, but we realized we were imposing on people who had very limited resources," Krapf said. "They are always very giving, and their presbytery provides all our transportation there, which is significant."
Xela is a nearly five-hour drive from the airport at Guatemala City. Besides working with churches in Xela, the Minnesota Presbyterians typically visit churches in smaller communities outside the city.
"They provide us with most of our meals," said Krapf of their hosts' generosity. "There's lots of chicken, and beans are often on the breakfast menu. Rice is also common, and we get many varieties of fruits and vegetables because Guatemala is a major producer of those."
Laughed Ennenga, "I'm not real fond of the food - I have a touchy stomach - but I can live through it."
Nevertheless, Ennenga marvels at the ingenuity employed by Guatemalan farmers.
"It's amazing that on a 45-degree angle mountain they're raising crops," he commented. "Sometimes they tie a rope around a tree and to themselves, and work a one-acre patch of ground, or pick crops that way."
With 10 trips under his belt, Ennenga has picked up some Spanish words, but he's definitely far from fluent in Spanish.
"Edith Alvarez of Brainerd always travels with us and serves as our main interpreter," said Ennenga. "She taught college Spanish for years, and her husband is Hispanic."
Thus equipped, the Minnesota Presbyterians have done their best to help their Guatemalan counterparts advance the Presbyterian Church in Central America.
Building each other up
An early effort was ensuring a ready supply of clean water for the Guatemalan churches and their members; hence, over a five-year period, the Minnesotans installed water purification systems in five separate churches.
"I went to training in Tennessee with another guy, and yes, I was part of the hands-on installation of these systems," said Ennenga. "The systems use ultraviolet light to purify the water.
We took each system down there, bought the rest of what we needed to assemble them, and put the whole thing together at the churches."
About $1,500 was required for each water purification system, and the clean water has been a boon for the Guatemalan parishioners.
"They give free, clean water to their congregations, and to schools and others in their communities," noted Ennenga. "It's a way for them to spread the Gospel and minister to others."
"Having clean water is critical for them, and for everyone," asserted Krapf. "Healthy water, without parasites, allows people to regularly go to work or school without getting sick.
Last month we were informed that all five are functioning and allowing the churches to offer clean water as an outreach ministry."
Another years-long effort of the Occidente Partnership was constructing four basic manses, at an approximate cost of $4,000 each, for Guatemalan ministers.
"Like with the water purification systems, we always respected their input and let them pick the location and make the choices," said Ennenga.
"We'd help for a week each time; houses are built a lot different there than here, mostly out of blocks and cement due to the earthquakes and hurricanes."
"They're simple homes for the pastors, and we used some Habitat for Humanity connections to make the plans," credited Krapf.
"A really heartening experience for me was talking with one of the pastors for whom we built a manse, and he said, 'You were the spark that lit our fire.'"
Noted Ennenga, "Most of the churches have congregations of anywhere from 50 to 200 people, and one of the churches in Xela has over 1,000 members.
Some of the pastors might have only fifth-grade educations and others are graduates of theological schools, so there's a wide range," he continued.
"These people are paid very little, and for most it's likely a second job. That's why they're always asking for help with more theological education."
Approximately every two years, the partnership attends network meetings in Guatemala City.
"We discuss the nature of our partnership, what we learn from each other and what the upcoming priorities need to be," listed Krapf.
Once in Xela, the Minnesota contingent divides its time between city churches and those in outlying areas. Last month's mission included daylong workshops in three different locations.
"In the mornings we offered classes in quilting, because their women members had requested that," said Krapf.
Happily, Ennenga was able to readily assist.
"My mother was a quilt maker, so I know something about that," said Ennenga.
"Many of the women there had never used sewing machines, and we brought a portable Singer that we left for them to keep using."
"They were so grateful for what we had to offer," assured Krapf, "and they had a great time.
They'll evaluate the quilting to see if it's something they might continue to do to generate more income for their families, or they might make quilts and give them to other needy people."
Afternoons were devoted to sessions on women's health issues. Two nurses in the group facilitated those informational meetings.
"They went over basic health issues and discussed symptoms of various diseases," mentioned Ennenga, while Krapf said, "I bowed out and played with the kids, but many, many questions were raised and the women showed real gratitude for getting needed and important information they hadn't previously received."
An extension of service
In addition to Ennenga and Krapf, other Westminster church members, including Chuck and Jackie Moore, Phyllis Pederson and Doris Hemp, have traveled to Guatemala as part of the Occidente Partnership in past years.
For Ennenga, involvement with the Occidente Partnership is an expansion of other service efforts. Over time, he's held many positions within his church and the Presbytery of Minnesota Valleys, and he is currently board chair of the Manna Food Pantry, but he hadn't traveled internationally until his first trip to Guatemala.
"I'd done several domestic mission trips - to Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, maybe four or five times - and I was kind of hesitant to go to Guatemala, but once I was there, I got stuck on it," admitted Ennenga.
"The people are so outgoing and friendly, and they treat you like a member of the family."
Additionally, Ennenga's work with the food pantry had introduced him to many Guatemalan immigrants who now call Worthington their home.
"That piqued my interest first, and it's kind of heartwarming," said Ennenga, admitting he's now more open-minded about Worthington's diverse populace.
"I enjoy it [the Occidente Partnership], and I think it serves a purpose. My thought is, if we can help improve people's lives there, they would have less need to try to come here, and fewer families would be separated."
Krapf emphasizes that the Occidente Partnership isn't just about Minnesotans performing mission work for Guatemalans.
"We come at their invitation to equip and empower them to perform their ministries," Krapf said.
Over the course of 10 visits to Guatemala, Ennenga has noticed certain changes.
"We're starting to see more farmers using machinery; there are more backhoes and pay loaders, where earlier most of the work appeared to be done by hand," he said.
"You'd even see people mowing the roadsides with hand scythes, so I'd say there have been dramatic improvements, at least in some areas."
Ennenga also observed that the Guatemalan Presbyterian churches are reminiscent of churches here during the 1950s.
"Youth are really active in the churches there, and when I was young, church activities were a social center for everyone," Ennenga reflected. "Technology is affecting how people interact, and that's good in some ways and bad in others."
Krapf has noticed that racial discrimination against the Mayan natives is less pronounced than in the past.
"Now, in our meetings, they'll translate information for the Mayans and let them be a part of the proceedings; it's definitely more inclusive," Krapf noted.
"I also think the indigenous Mayans relate to the Scriptures and identify with Jesus in a way that is unique and refreshing, because they believe that in His culture and time on earth, He related to people like them."
Krapf was privileged to preach in a Guatemalan Presbyterian church during his recent visit, with his words translated into Spanish.
"The power of the message that God offers grace frees us to in turn be gracious to other people," stressed Krapf. "That kind of grace can bring healing to the brokenness of our world."
Both Ennenga and Krapf feel they have gained more from their association with the Guatemalan churches than they have given.
"Personally, I've seen a strengthening of my faith in developing friendships with people who have such a joyous and trusting relationship with God in the midst of struggles like poverty, violence and natural disasters," said Krapf.
"It's a joy to worship with them."
Added Ennenga, "It's definitely made me more aware, because there was a time when I was pretty set in my ways.
I think that has changed for the better. Everybody ought to experience something like this."