“How was your trip?”
It’s the question everyone asks when you return from a mission trip.
The question that I want to answer so desperately, yet it’s a question that I cannot find adequate words to answer.
I can tell you how many beds were built, how many new roofs were put on, how many floors and water tanks were installed, and how many kids received donations and attended Vacation Bible School.
The physical work is easy to share with you, it’s tangible. Processing and explaining the emotional work is a lot more difficult. How can I explain something that I can’t fully grasp yet? So here it goes, my feeble attempt to answer the question, “How was your trip?”
Doing the Work
The days we spend in Guatemala are full from start to finish. We spend hours working on our projects and spending time with the families. We are often reminded that the work we do is not nearly as important as the relationships that we have the privilege of building with each family.
I was on a morning bunk bed crew and an afternoon VBS crew. So each morning as we arrived in the village, the crew I was on headed out to build four to five beds for different families. The kids would be patiently awaiting their new bed when we arrived at their house.
Now, to be completely honest with you, I am not that great at putting these beds together (big surprise, I know!) But despite all of the “oops!” and “uh-oh’s” the families are excited to welcome us into their homes. Often the kids will jump in to help us out. They will help run the drill or bring pieces of the bed closer for us. They are just so excited that we are there and that a new bed will be constructed soon.
Once the bed is finished, the kids climb in and immediately sprawl out.
Most of these kids have never slept on a bed before. Some have been sleeping on the floor, on a wood pallet, or on a hallow mattress.
I don’t know about you, but crawling in my bed at night, surrounded by a couple (more like 5) pillows, buried under layers of warm blankets, is the most comforting feeling in the world. No matter what the day brought, we all have the opportunity to rest each night in the comfort of a bed.
I wish I could be a fly on the wall the first night as each child climbed into their new bed. A luxury I know I take for granted on a daily basis.
Once the kids check out the bed, we turn to the mom or dad to see tears streaming down their faces. Most of them telling us there is no way they could ever repay us for what we have provided for them. They share with us that the kids may have been asking for a bed for a long time or they know that their family needed a bed, but they just didn’t have the money to be able to buy one because they barely had the money to feed their family.
Before we left each house we spent some time praying with the family. We would ask if there was anything we could specifically pray for. Typically they would ask us to pray for good health or for their children to do well in school. Other times they would share a deeper struggle such as a husband who is an alcoholic or for a daughter that had a severe heart condition. These families are hurting and they are struggling.
A Humbling Surprise
But what caught me by surprise the most was when they would ask us to pray that God would bless US for providing a bed for their family because they had no other way to repay us. These families have a laundry lists of needs, but rather than asking us to pray for those needs, they wanted us to thank God that we were there.
Those were the moments that humbled me. I have everything that I need and everything that I want. I live in a house that stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I have a big cozy bed that I sleep in every night. Any time I feel slightly hungry or I want to eat out of boredom, there is always food in the cupboards. I have so many clothes that they barely fit in my closet and I have clean water that I can drink whenever I want.
Yet a family who has next to nothing, including enough food to feed their family, wanted to pray for me!
When you leave for a mission trip you have this idea in your head that you are going to go into this community and make a difference in the lives of the people. That you are going to help them out of their misery.
But it doesn’t take long to realize that they help you just as much as you help them. You begin to realize that you change; you realize there is more to life than stuff. That even though these people live really hard lives, they still have joy.
They didn’t need me to put their bed together for them. They didn’t need our team to put a new roof on. They didn’t need us to pour their concrete floor. Yes, they need our resources, but they more desperately need the hope of Jesus.
Lessons from Guatemala
After the first day in the village we were asked to complete the sentence, “Today I learned…” As I sit here processing my week in Guatemala I would like to share with you what I learned from this trip.
I learned that “stuff” doesn’t bring true joy.
I learned that a smile is the same in every language.
I learned that if you try hard enough, you can put a screw in a bunk bed when the drill is in reverse (oops!)
I learned that strangers can become family in no time.
I learned that VBS with 200 kids is both pure chaos and tons of fun.
I learned that God doesn’t call the qualified, but he qualifies those he calls.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. –Ephesians 3:20