I’ve had the opportunity to go to Guatemala on a mission trip as a chaperone for my church’s youth group two different times and both trips impacted me in different ways. The first trip we spent our time in Guatemala City, where there is a clear division between the “haves and have nots.” As we drove from the airport to where we were staying, we passed McDonald’s, Starbucks and a shopping mall. But as we continued driving, I was shocked to see the condition of how some people lived.
On the side of a mountain there were corregated metal lean-tos and tents. No plumbing, no electricity. It was on this side of the mountain where we learned that people cooked over open fires and breathed in the dangerous fumes. Our group had raised money for months prior to pay for and build stoves for these people during our trip.
We spent a lot of our time at a church in a poor part of town where gangs are prevalent. At this church we hosted a Vacation Bible School for families to bring their children to. The children ranged in age from toddlers to teens and we were treated like royalty. We played games, ate a hot meal together and prayed with the families. It was at this church where many of the families saw a free doctor and received clothing and supplies.
On the days we built the stoves, we loaded our truck with the supplies and headed to the side of the mountain that I had seen on our drive from the airport. My heart sunk as I recognized some of the kids from the church and realized that this was where they lived. Each time we built a stove, we asked if we could pray with the family and asked God to bless them. We prayed for the kids and hoped that they would be able to avoid getting involved in the gang life. That first trip was a very humbling experience and as I returned home I had a big culture shock as I stood in my own closet and wept.
Why do I have so much and they have so little?
Slowly the shock wore off and I returned to my normal life. I tried to remind myself of what I had experienced and how I had felt, but it wasn’t until we went for our second trip that I really remembered.
The second time we went to an rural area outside of the city at the base of a volcano called Pacaya. Our bunkhouse was separated from the locals by a chain link fence. As we emerged each morning, the children were waiting for us on the other side of the fence. They welcomed us with hugs and a game of soccer. As we got acclimated, it was apparent that the people who lived here were a lot worse off than those in the city. Each morning we made trips to see locals and deliver food baskets. The locals made money by going to town and selling eggs, coffee beans, or doing manual labor. No one had a car, so each morning a bus came and the men piled on and were gone for the day. Each afternoon we hosted a program for the children. We helped build a cinderblock building that is now used as a school and painted a building that is now a medical building. As we visited with the locals, we saw that many were cooking over open flames. We made note of the situations that were the worst and returned to build a stove.
One day as we were delivering food baskets, I took in the despair in front of us. A women with three young kids in a one room “house” made of corrugated metal siding and a tarp for the roof. As the translator explained that we were there to give her food and some dry goods, she began to weep. The translator explained that the gift was not from us, but from God. The kids came forward and started digging into see what we had brought and my heart broke. The translator asked if we could pray with her and the woman agreed. We asked if there was anything specific that we could pray for. I was prepared for her to ask that we pray that she and her family would be able to leave and find a better life, but what she said took me aback.
In sob-filled Spanish, she asked the translator to thank us. She said that she knew we were angels from God because just that morning she had run out of food and didn’t know how she was going to feed her family. She had prayed and then we came. She was crying tears of joy!
I will never forget those trips and the lasting impact the children and families had on me. The size of your house, the amount of things we have, none of them matter.
What really matters is our faith.