We are currently at the halfway point of our two-month Guatemala trip and halfway through Phase 2 of Bridge Street Mission School. We (half of the BSMS gang) flew into Guatemala City around midnight on January 3rd. Since being here we have all learned and experienced many different things. Although it would take me far more than one blog post to tell you about all of them, here are a few that have stood out to me.
1. God’s Creation
On Monday morning, January 4, I woke up in Guatemala to sunlight invading our room. I walked out on the balcony that is conveniently only accessible through the guy’s room. Immediately I was dumbfounded. I could see for miles and miles. The sky was void of any clouds. The sun seemed brighter than usual. In the distance I could see two of the three volcanoes in Guatemala City. Mountains covered the expanse between the volcanoes on the horizon. It was gorgeous. I instantly was reminded of Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
As if the view of the mountains and that reminder of God’s goodness wasn’t enough, a week later we went on a weekend excursion to a lagoon. It was seven hours away from where we are staying in Guatemala City but it was so worth it. The first thing we did once we arrived at the lagoon was to climb part of one of the mountains that hem around the lagoon. The route up the mountain was almost straight up with lots of weaving back and forth. But once we reached the lookout point we knew it was well-worth it.
The view was absolutely stunning. From that point on the trek down couldn’t go fast enough. We couldn’t wait to jump in. Once we finally did we never wanted to leave. The water was sky blue and crisply cool. At one point it would be ankle deep and the next it would be 15 feet deep. There we numerous mini-waterfalls which dropped off into the deeper water. Somebody even said there was an underground waterway underneath the shallower areas. Pictures and words don’t do it justice. It was absolutely gorgeous, arguable the best swim of my short life. If you ever happen to be in Guatemala, make sure to visit Sumuc Champey. You won’t ever want to leave.
Then a couple weekends after that we went on an escapade to climb one of the volcanoes we can see from our beautiful balcony. We drove halfway up and it took about an hour walking from there to get to the highest point on the guided-tour. Along the way we saw the most stunning sunset ever from above the clouds and into the mountains. It made me want to hop on a cloud and float away to Never Land. We actually didn’t climb the volcano but the mountain right next to it. At the top of that mountain we were surrounded by dried lava rocks. We were so close to the top of the volcano but weren’t allowed to look over because we value our lives. 🙂 And it was like 100 extra Quatzales (the Guatemalan currency, $1 = 7.5 Q). Then our tour guide took us to an area where there were volcano hotspots in the rocks. Our leaders even brought marshmellows that we cooked in the hotspots and ate with Chiki’s, only the best chocolate cookies ever. It definitely surpassed any marshmellow roasting experiences I’ve experienced yet (sorry mom and dad). The atmosphere, the location, the people we were with, made for one amazing night up in the mountains.
So, yes, Guatemala has some of the most amazing scenery and God-glorifying locations I have ever experienced. Throughout all of our excursions I was reminded of how small we are in comparison to the mountains and yet God knows the number of hairs on my head. And God is so much more powerful and magnificent than even the mightiest mountains. He created all that solely for our enjoyment and to bring Him glory. All of that, and only with a few words. How great is our God!
2. Brokenness and Beauty
La Limonada is the largest slum in Central America. It encompasses a one mile radius and is home to 60,000 people living in extreme poverty.
While here, we are partnering with the Vidas Plenas schools in La Limonada. Vidas Plenas has three academies: Lima, Limon, and Mandarina. The schools originally started in 1994 because one lady named Tita witnessed all the horrible gang violence in La Limonada and wanted to put a stop to it. She realized you can’t change a systematic problem without starting with the children. So she started with one school and it eventually blossomed into three schools with ages 2-14. The schools are literally a city on a hill. They are three stories tall and are painted bright colors, in contrast to the gray asphalt jungle around them. They stand out like a tall Gringo surrounded by much shorter Guatemalan women (yep, you guessed it, that’s me). But the schools are truly amazing. Unlike in the U.S., in Guatemala you can either go to public school in the morning or afternoon. So the Vidas Plenas academies are a supplementary education to the very broken public school system. The Vidas Plenas academies start their day around 8am and the kids arrive around 8:30am for a hearty and healthy breakfast followed by a vitamin and then the kids proceed to brush their teeth. They have classes from 9-11am and then head home. Then in the afternoon a new batch of students arrive at 1:30pm for a hearty and healthy lunch, a vitamin, and clean teeth. They have class from 2-4pm. During our lunch breaks we also sometimes get to go on house visits with the teachers around the community.
We teach in the schools Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. On Wednesday morning we get to prayer walk with the school administrators and principles. Wednesdays are especially special because we get to see the admins away from the schools and out in the community they love and have invested so much of their time in. But it is also very sobering and humbling seeing the “homes” (usually a one-room house) the kids we’re teaching are going home to. There is no sense of personal hygiene and cleanliness. The streets are littered with trash, stray dogs, and reak of human and animal feces. Kids as young as two years old wander the streets alone.
Throughout our time working in the schools and prayer walking with the admins, we have personally witnessed how much these teachers truly love and care for their students. Many of the teachers grew up in La Limonada and experienced what these kids are going through. They are such an inspiration. They pour their entire lives into these students. They truly are bringing heaven to earth in such a broken and yet beautiful place. We have been blessed to be able to witness their love firsthand and to join them in teaching these kids about Jesús Cristo.
That is only a brief summary of a few of the things we have experienced while in Guatemala so far. I probably could write a book with all the new knowledge I have acquired the past five months in BSMS about missions, God’s love for the nations, the false facade of white superiority and America’s greatness, and when helping hurts (a great book that I highly recommend!). Stay tuned.