Being part of a mission trip has always been on my bucket list. It was appealing to me not only because of the adventure aspects of immersing into another culture, but also getting to help others along the way while also distracting myself from my own problems. I knew visiting a place like Guatemala would humble me and change my perspectives on things. I didn’t know exactly what I’d get out of it spiritually, but I expected to help people with construction, painting, and donating necessities to them. I also didn’t know much about Faith in Action Ministries, but knew they’ve been established in Guatemala for years and are very experienced with the culture and needs of the people they serve.
Our first project was visiting the people of Pinalito, a small mountain village in Zacapa. They have very little. Most of their homes are made of twigs. A few families have cinder-block homes that were built by the missionaries. They only have an outfit or two each, and are mostly barefooted. Their families are large. They start having babies young and on average have about 8 to 10 children. Hygiene is not really a practice there. In fact, as we distributed various supplies to the families, many of them didn’t even know what shampoo was, or how to use it. It was very humbling to learn how about little they live off of. One of the homes we visited belonged to an elderly lady. Her entire twig home is probably smaller than my bathroom. She lives there with her brother and their dogs, cats, pigs, and chickens. It’s a crowded space, but she seems grateful for all she has. We soon learned that she used to be a witchdoctor and practiced all kinds of dark magic. However, the missionaries built a church just up the hill from where she lives. She could hear all of the worship, scripture, and messages right from her home. Eventually, she learned about Jesus and chose to believe in Him. Now, her faith is so strong! She began preaching to us about how God is everywhere and that He hears their prayers. She explained that even though they are the needy and we are the rich, it doesn’t matter because we can’t take any of it with us to heaven when we die. She also said we were answers to her prayers because she prayed that we’d come visit and bring her some items she needs. She then recited Psalms 91 to us. She had memorized it even though she hasn’t read it herself. These villagers don’t know how to read. I was so inspired listening to her and how thankful and faithful she is with the little she has. And, I’ve never really considered myself rich until she pointed it out to us. We really do have a lot. Other homes we visited were difficult to get to as we had to navigate on foot down steep runoffs to reach them. They were scattered at various elevations of the mountains. We began to speed up our visits to other families because it started to rain. If it rains too heavily, the mountain roads wash away and there’s a real danger of driving back down to the town. Knowing this, we had to run back to the cars as it began to pour, climbing back up the runoffs as quickly as we could. My shoes didn’t have the best traction and I was having real difficulty getting up the wet, muddy, slippery slopes. I then experienced a bad asthma attack and was without an inhaler. I felt defeated and panicked, unable to keep up with the rest of the group, and afraid of not getting to the trucks in time before the roads wash away. It was a scary moment for me, but we all eventually arrived back to the trucks. We slowly made our way down the mountain slipping, sliding, and fishtailing all over what was left of the muddy road. I had a real fear of sliding right off the mountain, wondering if this is how we were going to die. Praying the whole way down, God had other plans. We made it back to town safely.
Our next project was to help a small jungle village called Catsulo, located near Rio Dulce, right on the border of Belize. They have been getting sick and dying as they have no access to clean water. We were there to pour cement slabs for pilas and lay pipe to bring them clean water. Catsulo was a four-hour drive away from Zacapa, so we spent a day traveling there, and visited a hot spring in the afternoon for a little fun. It was a beautiful, hot waterfall that was sulfur spring fed, and flowed into a cool river. Many of the kids were climbing up this tall rock wall to get to the top of the waterfall, and they would jump off the ledge back into the river below. It looked like a lot of fun, but not for me! I also doubted my ability to successfully climb up that rock wall to get to the top. However, the team was talking about climbing to the top of the waterfall and walking to where the hot water bubbled up. There was nutrient-rich mud that you could put in your body! I so wanted to experience that, so I attempted to climb up the wall. There was hardly anything to grab onto as I attempted to get footing. I was only at the beginning of the journey up when I lost my footing and crashed back into the river. On my way down, my right foot hit a rock hard, my ankle twisted, and my knee was all scratched up. I was in pain and realized I probably won’t be attempting that wall again. The rest of the team continued successfully climbing the wall as I sat in the river alone, feeling defeated again and left behind. I was starting to doubt coming on this trip was a good idea. Will I really make a difference here? Will I even be able to do the work for the rest of the trip while my foot is in excruciating pain? After a little while, I decided I wanted to try it again and went up the rock wall with one of the other group members. Amazingly, I made it up, injured foot and all. We had to walk through a narrow, muddy path through the woods to get to where the mineral mud was, stepping over logs and tree roots. On the way back, I slipped backwards on some slick mud with my lower back landing directly on a giant root sticking out of the ground. Injured again, just a few minutes after the other injury! I cried out, “God, why am I even here?!” In that moment, I really felt like maybe I shouldn’t have come on this trip. One of the girls explained to me that I was being attacked by the enemy and we needed to pray for protection, which we did. Later that day when we were back at the mission’s base, my foot was purple and swollen. It looked like a football and I could hardly walk on it. My back had a giant bruise that looked like someone hit me with a baseball bat. I kept thinking to myself that I was on this trip by accident. After all, I’ve already had an asthma attack and two injuries with in the first two days! What am I going to be able to do for the rest of the trip?! How can I even make a difference? Needless to say, this trip was not turning out to be exactly what I expected. One of the girls I was traveling with suggested perhaps I needed to be ministered to on this trip instead of ministering to others, and just soak up the devotional time. I did some light work in the village the next day, like sweeping cement dust from the new floors in the church, preparing lunch for the teams, and painting a mural in the sanctuary. There were some local villagers hanging out at the church, so I did get to communicate with them a bit. I used my broken Spanish to learn their names and found that the girls love to get their nails painted. I spent a good amount of time painting their nails, and one of them wanted to paint mine in return. They are very friendly and are interested in everything we do. They seem to love affection. I wished I could communicate more with words, but I didn’t know the language and they didn’t understand me. The hardest thing for me to adjust to was not being able to do the same work as the rest of the team. I was actually asked to stay back the fourth day and keep my foot propped up with ice. It was still so swollen. Though I was disappointed at first, I got to spend that day resting, getting to know another missionary, and getting some bible study in. It turned out to be a beautiful day.
Things finally started to click for me by around day five. For the first time on that trip, I had a spiritual experience and felt the presence of God so strongly. One of the missionary interns was sharing her plans to get baptized later that day as she didn’t fully understand what it meant the first time she was baptized. There was no repentence. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to join her in getting re-baptized. I was baptized as a child but didn’t fully understand the commitment and had planned on getting re-baptized one of these days. I didn’t even think about doing so on this trip before that moment. I was overwhelmed with a pull in my heart to get baptized that day with nine others in a river in Guatemala. From that moment on for the rest of the trip, I felt a peace I haven’t felt in a long time. I was beginning to really soak in the devotions and the testimonies others were sharing. It’s amazing to hear how God has transformed so many lives. There were also unexplainable stories of miracles and healing, all so refreshing and inspiring to hear about. I feel like it’s easier to see God work in a place like Guatemala where they have less, because we have so many more distractions in the US. I was starting to see that these people were making a difference in my life by sharing their stories. I was being ministered to. I originally came to serve others, but ended up being served myself. The lighter tasks I was able to complete still needed to be done, and I was still part of the team that was helping to change the lives of the villagers for the better.
By the last day, I was absolutely thankful I came. Though I didn’t accomplish what I had hoped to, I learned God’s will in this for me was different. I would definitely like to come back to the same mission, and am also excited to try mission trips in other countries. I saw Christ in the faithful people we met in the villages, in the stories of miracles, in the testimonies the team shared, in our worship and devotional sessions, in the beautiful weather we were given, in the river where ten of us were baptized, in the breathtaking view of the Guatemalan mountains and volcanoes, and in so many other moments throughout this mission trip. I feel this trip has changed me. I can’t specifically explain it, but I feel different. I feel at peace and closer to God. The things in my life I was worried about before this trip no longer seem that important. I know God has everything under control, but after this trip, I feet it. I am excited to maintain this peace, to stay connected to His word, and to follow Him the best I can.