As some of you may know, I have spent the past two months in Guatemala as part of the Global Phase of the Bridge Street Mission School. We got back on Wednesday, March 2nd. My two months in Guatemala have been some of the most eye-opening and formative time in my life.
It was a trip of firsts. First time out of North America. First time getting my head shop-vacced after a haircut (Guatemalans do it right). First time away from my family for more than two weeks. First time at a professional futbol game (Guatemala vs Honduras national teams). First time putting my wallet in my front pocket for safety. First time climbing a volcano. First time seeing a sunset from above the clouds. First time witnessing the whole process a coffee bean takes from the dirt to the cafe.
While many of these firsts were adventuring and exploring Guatemala, many were also heart-wrenching and sobering. We experienced extreme poverty first hand, which is nothing compared to what we consider poverty in Michigan. I truly experienced what people desire when they ask God to “break my heart for what breaks yours”.
During our last couple days in Guatemala we had a little debrief time. We had to answer some questions to help us sort through our thoughts and everything we learned. To help express everything I experienced, and instead of sorting out all my jumbled thoughts, here are some of my answers to the questions we were asked.
1. What ways have I changed?
My heart for the nations has greatly increased, having experienced another culture fully. My eyes have been opened to many different ministry techniques. I’ve increased my knowledge of Spanish, my leadership, flexibility, and humility. Humility because I had to realize others are better at Spanish than me and therefore better equipped for certain tasks. During classes (we were working in three academies teaching art and music) I had to depend on my other team members a lot more than I’m used to.
2. What are new things I learned about God?
I learned that God can work through other people groups and cultures the same or better than my culture. I’ve learned about His heart for the nations and witnessed Him work firsthand. I witnessed the Beatitudes lived out wholistically (we taught a different Beatitude every week in the schools). I learned that God loves His children, all of them. I now understand more of what he meant when he said it is easier for the poor, not the rich, to receive the Kingdom of heaven.
3. What did I learn about the people, the church, and the Christian community in the area where I served?
I learned how truly loving and hospitable people in Guatemala are, no matter how much (or little) they have to offer. I learned that some people in La Limonada (the slum where the academies are) are extremely resilient. Many of the teachers grew up in La Limonada and defied the odds by growing up and making something with their life. I witnessed how much all the teachers and staff truly love their community (we were blessed to accompany the teachers and staff on prayer walks around La Limonada every Wednesday and on house visits during our lunch break in the schools. They are involved with every aspect of their students lives. God’s love is so extremely evident through them.). I learned how grateful many of the people in La Limonada are even though they have so little.
I learned more about the church all around the world and what heaven will look like. I experienced Jesus in different ways through another culture’s style of church. I learned different, but not bad, ways to worship God.
In La Limonada and Guatemala, the Christian community is extremely friendly, welcoming, and inclusive. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Culture and language don’t matter, God is greater. Interestingly, but in accordance with the family emphasis in Hispanic culture, for the Christian community in a church it is routine to meet more often than on Sunday morning. There is an event to go to almost every night. People don’t like it when you miss too many. 🙂 Church is a true community and fellowship, not just a meeting once a week, which leads to closer friendships, intimacy, and accountability.
4. What did I learn about how culture impacts the way people live and understand the gospel?
I realized that because we grew up in America and are very privileged, we read and understand scripture very differently than someone who grew up in La Limonada. Growing up in such poverty makes the Beatitudes become very personal and physical, not just an abstract idea. We take passages like figuratively while in most other parts of the world they are much more real and literal. Because these people have so little, hearing that God loves them and that He is a good father means so much more. They have nowhere else to turn.
5. What did I learn about justice, economics, poverty, and politics during the trip?
I learned that all of those are very tricky words. They carry a lot of baggage and misconceptions. La Limonada is right in the center of Guatemala City and in the shadow of the House of Justice, but you wouldn’t know that from spending 30 seconds there. La Limonada is completely devoid of any justice and it introduced me to a new level of poverty greater (or should I say, “worse”) than anything I had encountered or even dreamed of. I learned more about the politics and the government through the inauguration of Guatemala’s president, Jimmy Morales. He was the first democratically elected president in Guatemala in a very long time, since before the Civil War that started in the 60’s. But I also learned a lot of Guatemalan politics is behind the scenes and run by gangsters and drug-lords.
6. As a follower of Christ, what did I learn that can help me become a more fully developed disciple?
I learned a ton more about God’s heart for the nations. I witnessed effective and ineffective ministries. I met people who spend their whole adult lives as missionaries in South America but never bothered to learn Spanish (bad idea). I learned how much other cultures have to offer Christianity and to revealing who God is.
7. How might my faith be different if I had grown up where I was serving, as opposed to in my how community?
My faith would be much more practical and livable. I wouldn’t struggle with the combination of faith and deeds. In such a poverty-filled community, you can’t claim to be a Christian without caring for people’s spiritual AND physical needs. If I grew up in La Limonada, I wouldn’t dream of overseas missions because I would be focused on the many needs in my own community. My faith would be tangible with two legs.
8. What did I learn or experience that will change the way I represent Jesus in my home community and church?
The love and dedication the teachers and staff have for the community where they grew up really impacted me. There are a lot of needs in the West Side that need to be brought to light. Also, I will take back a new vigor for our prayer walks from the example of the teachers and staff of Vidas Plenas (the name of the organization that runs the academies we worked in). It can be so much more than just meaningless words.
9. What have I learned about my own Christian calling?
I’ve learned that God calls us to reach all nations, even if that isn’t a lifetime of full-time overseas missions. Even though I don’t feel called to overseas missions full-time but to the city, God can still use overseas mission in my life for His divine purpose. My eyes have been opened to the possibility of doing things similar to Vidas Plenas in GR. And to all the injustices in my own city.
Obviously, this trip was extremely eye-opening for me. We all experienced and learned so much. We met many different people and witnessed different ministry practices. We experienced the character of God in new ways. Our hearts were broken for the people of La Limonada.
Of course, I can’t share everything I learned in one blog post. If you would like to learn more about my trip and the impact it had on me, feel free to contact me. I would love to share some of what I have learned. And if you would like to learn more about the amazing ministry we were blessed to serve alongside, you can visit their website here and see how you can support the incredible work they are doing. Lemonade International is the American voice for Vidas Plenas. We were blessed to meet many of the people in the pictures on Lemonade’s website. Vidas Plenas has their own website in Spanish here. You can also find Lemonade International and Vidas Plenas on Facebook. There is also great documentary about Guatemala City and the repairing work that Vidas Plenas is doing there called Reparando that can be found on Amazon Prime. More of my thoughts on Guatemala at our half-way point can be found here.
Thank you for your time. Don’t let this go by without doing something. Take a moment and consider how you to can get out of your American, privileged bubble and reach out to those less privileged. Visit their website. Find a way to get involved. Pray. Give. Visit. Sponsor.
As our school director has often stated, “Now that you know this, the only excuse for not doing anything is that you didn’t care.”
Don’t let that be you.