I went to Guatemala with a heart full of love and hope. I was not disappointed.
My team was a group of ten people, only one whom I already knew (my friend Denise). There was a couple and their daughter who is only a year older than my own daughter, a couple and their daughter who is about my age, a young man, and a young woman- all of whom have a deep and abiding faith in God and in service. These people, who started out strangers, became a family to me this week and taught me things I needed to know and reminded me of things I had forgotten. I know they were put in my life for a purpose, and I am so grateful for each one of them.
We arrived in and drove through Guatemala City quickly and within an hour had arrived in Antigua. It is a beautiful, old city with volcanoes around it. The properties are all enclosed in walls, so the roads abruptly end at tall walls and the city is hard to see- except central, open areas for some churches and parks. We ended up staying not at the team house, but at a bed and breakfast type home. It was beautiful and cool and peaceful and I could have stayed forever!
We spend Sunday in a market, purchasing supplies for our trip down to the village, and worshipping at Iglesia del Camino (church of the road). We sang songs in Spanish and English all at once and listened to dual-pastors share the message. The song Guia Me El Cruz (Lead Me to the Cross) will always remind me of this trip and the beauty of celebrating God's love through music. I think this was the moment that I started to feel His love again. I didn't want the song to end; I wanted it to play forever and continue to fill me with joy.
We headed out Sunday evening for Hotel 6 in La Maquina, the area we would be serving in. We waved goodbye to the cool weather and comfortable housing, and headed down toward the coast. La Maquina is not quite to the coast, so we didn't go all the way to the ocean, but we did drive for about four hours. The hotel is very modest. Three of us ladies shared a room with three twin beds, three big fans and two small fans, ventilation in the tops of the wall and a window, and a bathroom with one knob in the shower with one little pipe sticking out of the wall- the cold water shower. Mind you, I did not say the words air conditioning or window unit. These things do not exist where we were. And the initial horror of no hot water ends abruptly after a day in hot and humid weather. The cold water shower was the blessed end to every day of heat. I don't know that I will ever be so grateful for a cold water shower again!
We spent Monday through Friday in a village called Linea C-6. The villages are all spread down a main road (the line), and each line is given a letter (C) and each village is given a number (6).
We built the well at the Asemblia del Dios (Assembly of God) church, so that all people would have access. The drilling team spent the week drilling the well. I, along with two other ladies and our hygiene leader (an awesome lady named Blanca), went into the school (K-6) to teach the children every morning. We taught them about washing their hands, brushing their teeth, keeping their food safe, and taking care of the well. We played with them at recess and we held their hands while we talked. We made salvation bracelets with them and acted out Bible stories. We were silly and we were honest. We were loving and we were friendly. We fell in love with these kids!
We spent our afternoons teaching the ladies of the village the same lessons we taught the children. They were sweet women and had such a sense of community.
The entire time in the village was amazing. These people that we, as Americans, look at as being poor, needy, third world, and lacking- these people, taught us about community, kindness, laughter, hope, and peace. Their lives are simple in worldly things, but their hearts are full of friendship, patience, and faith. A few scenes that stick out in my mind:
- Our first day in the village, the four of us who composed our hygiene team went walking through the village with a guide in order to invite the women to the church for the lessons. At most homes, we were invited to sit down and the hostess would not be satisfied until we did. At most homes, the outside rooms with dirt floors were swept so the lines of the broom showed that it was a well-cared for home.
- Our team went down to the river Samala one day. It is the river the entire area is named for, and we loaded up in the back of a pick up truck with a few of the men and a few of the boys, and took off. When the drivable road ended, we walked through cow fields and crossed several small rivers (I think I counted 10) to get to the big river. It was beautiful and we played in it. We sat on the bank and played with the kids in the sunshine. When we returned, we were an hour late for our meeting with the women. I ran up to them- covered in mud and water as I was- and apologized in my poor Spanish for being so late because we had been at the river. The women smiled at me, and one woman asked, "Isn't it beautiful?" I said yes, and we carried on.
- During a lesson with the women one day, I noticed a mother and daughter using sign language. After the lesson, I went to ask if they signed. It turns out that the daughter is deaf and has been educated at a school for the deaf. Her sign language is different than ASL, but we worked around that. I told her we had a young man on our team who was hard of hearing, and went over to see if he knew sign. He didn't, but another team member was sitting next to him who works with a group that provides hearing aids to people! He had a great talk with the girl, Keyla, and her family. I was able to translate between Adam (our team member) and Keyla's parents. I was able to speak Spanish and convert it into sign (which I had to translate in my head from English to Spanish) and translate back to English as Adam told them he would work on getting her hearing aids. I was then able to, the next day, stand there and translate that he was able to promise hearing aids for Keyla. Coincidence? I just happened to look at these women in a moment of signing, David (our team member who is hard of hearing) just happened to be sitting by Adam, and a hard of hearing man, a woman who signs, and a man who provides hearing aids, all just happened to be on the same mission trip? This was a God moment.
I learned so many things from the people in this village. I spent four days focused on serving these people- my brothers and sisters- and giving all that I had. My days taught me patience, humility, kindness, love, and gratitude. I learned how to see people as Christ does, and truly SEE them.
I spent four nights praying and having devotional with my team and discussing what we learned that day over dinner. My nights taught me faith, hope, forgiveness, and friendship.
We left the village Thursday afternoon amidst hugs with our friends and tears from the children. I have a family in Guatemala now, and I will hold the people of Linea C-6 in my heart forever.
We went to an orphanage, Amor del Nino (Love of Children) on Friday morning. I played with children, held sick infants, and fed two month old babies their formula. I toured the orphanage and saw a place full of love. The nineras work 7 day, 12 hour week shifts for these children. I was amazed at how many kids there were. No matter how much love these women have, it is not enough for the 50 kids they are trying to care for. I just held babies all morning. I couldn't leave. Every time I got up and put down a child, someone else would cry. It was as if their little voices were just pleading, "what about me?"... "please pick me". I loved every minute I spent there. I did not cry as we left as I thought I would, but my heart was full of love for these children and I realize that I love children. Period.
Now, to the big question. Did I find renewed faith? Did I find God through serving others?
Let me share a few more experiences:
- Liz, one of my roommates, told me, "you were put on this path for a reason. This is part of the journey God has for you."
- After my devotional, when I shared some of my life with the team and cried as I sometimes do, Ken (our team leader), pulled a chair into the center of the group, where I sat wide-eyed, as everyone formed a circle around me, put their hands on me, and several of them prayed. It was not a blessing as I am accustomed to- but there were prayers sent up from a group of people who were my family that week. There were words sent up to God from the lips of the faithful on my behalf. And I felt God's love.
- I went to Guatemala with the difficult choice of allowing my children to go live with their father every other week. I kept this pain at bay, and every time I thought of it, I just said, "God, I can't take this one. I need you to take it now." And the pain would leave immediately.
- Every night, I heard the testimony of someone in my team. I saw what we did every day, and I heard and felt how it impacted each of us every night.
- For much of the trip, the song "A Window to His Love" played in my head. I was to be a window to the pure love of Christ, and I was able to see Him because of it.
- I had scriptures I hadn't thought of in years pop into my head while having conversations with my team members.
I believe, as strongly as ever, that it is in serving others that we serve ourselves. The pathway to God is in following the example of Jesus Christ. It is not a narrow path to Heaven, but a straight and purposeful one.