Doing mission work has been on your heart for quite some time now. Every time you started talking about it, I became uneasy on the inside. You see, I'm comfortable in my world. My house. My job. My stuff. I'm happy just the way our lives are, and what you spoke of was great, really great, for other people who wanted to go to foreign, unknown places and put themselves in uncomfortable situations. But not me. I'm good just the way I am.
And for a while, it was just talk. And just talk is safe. But then the opportunity came to actually go on a mission trip. You were so excited for the chance to serve. I was scared and nervous.
We were going to Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. We barely know any Spanish. Crime and violence is widespread and is a major problem in the country. We didn't really know much at all about our schedule while there or if we would have a translator. My comfort zone was nowhere near to Guatemala. And we were going.
There were so many reasons not to go. So many excuses I conveniently made up in my head. But after spending an unforgettable week in Guatemala, I want to say... thank you.
...for taking us out of our comfort zones, so we could see how so many in the world live.
Where almost every store we drove by has top-to-bottom big steel security gates (lower right picture above) preventing people from actually going inside, a theft prevention measure. That on almost every street corner and at every gas station, there are armed police or private security carrying semi-automatic weapons with their trigger fingers at the ready.
It's easy to see really poor areas on a 30-second commercial spot (especially when the remote control can just change the channel for us when it starts to get too sad to watch). But to spend time with families in the Limón colony, within Guatemala City, one of the absolute poorest and most dangerous areas in all of Latin America, where gangs run the area and extortion is just a way of life, was at the same time heartbreaking and uplifting.
That people who live in conditions that we would deem utterly uninhabitable, in cinderblock houses the size of our tool sheds, could also be so kind and welcoming. That people who have so much hurt and worries in their heart can also have some tremendous faith. That people who barely have any stuff can also exhibit such happiness.
... that we were able to give hugs and smiles to children that never had and for many, never will, receive any sort of love or affection at home. That we were able to spend time with children and show them that they are valued, even if their own parents don't see them as the gifts they are. That we were able to love them simply by holding them and being there with them.
(in the upper right hand corner, that's Alaina from New Jersey, who was just beginning her mission trip as we were leaving).
that we were able to play games with children so that they could, even for just a moment, have no other concerns than to be a kid. They didn't have to worry about parents that have neglected them, abused them, forbade them from going to school so they could work instead, and in many cases, simply abandoned them.
because I came to realize you never know how much just one hug can change a life. How one smile can uplift someone's day. That holding a child for a moment can helped them feel loved for a lifetime.
A local volunteer for the organization we were with explained how he was once a child growing up in this area of Limón. Most days his only food for the entire day were a couple tangerines. A handful of fruit, for an entire day. His parents severely neglected him and he had to get involved with the gangs just to survive. In Limón, survival is simply the name of the game. And running with the gangs, and participating in some regretful activities, was the only way to do it.
But he always held on to the idea that he was loved and there was more to life. When he was a young boy, he remembered some missionaries that visited him and simply hugged him. Held him. It was literally the only time he was hugged as a child. And he held onto that hope and eventually changed his life around, now working with this Christian organization that brings missionaries to Limón so countless other children can get the same chance he did.
Cristo Para La Ciudad (Chris for the City) is the organization we traveled with.
That we got to spend so much time in a few of the local churches. I never would have thought the children and adults would be so genuinely happy, so grateful, that we were simply there. That they would all want to come up to us and share a welcoming handshake or hug, and that the children would come running up to us and just want to be around us. That was so powerful. So touching.
And that the people of Limón have such strong faith. When they sing, they sing. They have such passion in their hearts, and sitting there was such an uplifting experience.
because although I was shocked and nervous when we got to Guatemala and they announced to us that we were scheduled to give the message at two local churches within Limón on Sunday, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Even though we didn't speak the language and were worried that our words may not come across to the people via our translator, we were able to speak words of love and hope.
And that there was an old, beat-up trumpet that they found so I could play Amazing Grace. That as I played, I could hear a congregation powerfully sing along, was a truly moving musical experience.
that although we had no idea who we were supposed to stay with while we were there, we created such a strong and lasting friendship with Pastor Lima (a.k.a. Mike), his wife Gloria, and his two daughters Liz and Sara. The epitome of welcoming and generous, this family welcomed us into their home and went out of their way to make us feel comfortable. Mike and Gloria insisted we stay in the master bedroom (the largest room in their house), as they crammed into the other bedroom where their daughters also sleep.
That they, knowing we are from New York, went out of their way to make us feel at home the only way they could. Pizza Hut. Domino's. NY Pizza, no? 🙂
And although they didn't really speak English and we definitely don't speak Spanish, we communicated. And throughout the week, we learned a lot more Spanish, and them English. That we got to share uncontrollable laughter as I tried to pronounce some of their most confusing words (champurradas, champiñónes, and campeones!) and Pastor Lima ours (bird and beer, oatmeal!). We still laugh about those amazing memories. And as we keep in touch with them via, what else, facebook, we know they are still laughing as well.
And who knew that when they turned on the radio, we would be singing along to the same Christian artists that we love here in the U.S. In English! And when they do translate the words into their native language, it's just as powerful and amazing to sing.
Through staying with Pastor Lima and his family, I learned more about the way I want to be a husband and eventually, a father. With sincerity in his voice, he called his wife mi amor every chance he got. And aren't teenage girls supposed to hate their parents? Aren't they supposed to fight and not want to be around them? That wasn't the case at all. They truly loved each other. And even in public, even in the mall, Sara and Liz would hold hands with their parents, put their arms around them, just laughing and smiling. Even on that final night in Guatemala as we were falling asleep, after they were in the same room with each other all week long, we heard them laughing. Let's love the way they love.
above is Pastor Lima's Family along with the Duarte family, who's daughter Betty served as our translator while we spoke in the some local churches.
I didn't think this was going to be a fun experience. It's a mission trip, after all. We weren't there to have fun. But you know what, it was. A lot of fun. And in every sense of the word. You see, I've grown so accustomed to think that fun is equivalent to spending money, eating out at some new restaurant, acquiring stuff, and as we are so good at here in America, upgrading.
It's funny. We were over 3,000 miles away in a country where we knew no one. Having conversations over a language gap was extremely difficult (albeit an incredibly fun time... like one big charade puzzle game!). I didn't have my precious computer. Or my camera. Or Shared Appetite. All our luxuries of home weren't available. But none of that seemed to matter. We got to hug countless children and shake the hands of numerous adults, most of which had little to nothing in terms of worldly possessions. But through those brief connections, we tried to transfer love. We got to speak messages of hope and sing songs with passionate groups of human beings. We formed new friendships that I never thought would be possible.
Thank you. Because you know what. I realize now that we didn't bring a whole lot of change to Guatemala, but they brought it to us.