I learned something very important on this year’s mission trip to Guatemala: coming home on a red-eye flight while changing time zones during the “spring ahead” change to Daylight Saving Time is not very much fun at all. This past Sunday, we took off from Guatemala City at midnight Central Standard Time, and four hours later we landed in Washington, D.C., at 6am Eastern Daylight Time. That was, in a word, rough.
Of course I learned more important things on this trip, as well. In the next few posts, I would like to share some of my reflections from this week-long mission trip to Central America. My hope is that this will give you a good sense of what took place during this trip, as well as how this trip’s lessons can connect to our everyday lives back at home.
All three of my reflections have the same basic theme: God is present and active in every situation of our lives. We do not surprise him by our acts of service or compassion, nor do we accomplish anything that he must then add to his plans when we go on week-long mission trips. The work of God in this world is alive and well. This mission trip to Guatemala was simply a chance for us to observe and participate in what God is already doing.
This idea first presented itself to me on our flight to Guatemala on March 5. We first drove from Midland to Chicago and then flew from Chicago to Washington, D.C. During our brief layover in our nation’s capital, I saw several other young people on the other side of the airport gate. They were all wearing matching burnt-orange t-shirts printed with a scripture verse and an outline of the nation of Guatemala. Clearly, these people were going to Guatemala for generally the same reason that we were: to share the love of Jesus with the people of Guatemala in some kind of tangible way.
Meanwhile, I noticed a tall man dressed very simply in a plain, dark grey robe. He wore sandals on his feet, and a silver cross hung on a long necklace by his side. I did not speak with him, but he gave me the impression that he might be a Catholic monk of some particular order. He too was going to Guatemala for some kind of religious reason, I presumed; this became clearer to me when I watched him excitedly meet and greet each of the young people in the burnt-orange t-shirts. Many people, many followers of Jesus, have places like Guatemala on their minds.
On Wednesday, March 9, our team drove out of Guatemala City (where most of our work took place) to the nearby village of San Antonio La Paz, about 90 minutes northeast of Guatemala City. The purpose of this little adventure was to visit a small “feeding center” where several local children occasionally receive a healthy lunch as a gift from some local Christian leaders. We had a wonderful time helping to serve those meals and giving away gifts of toys and hygiene kits to the children.
On the way to and from this feeding center, I took some time to notice the surroundings as we drove through the Guatemalan countryside and a few urban areas. I was amazed to see how many church buildings stood right along the side of the main highway on which we were traveling. As I gazed out over the occasionally massive residential areas in the distance, I was certain that many more churches were tucked into those streets and neighborhoods as well.
I realized that our work with the small community at “the tracks” on the south side of Guatemala City is just one of many, many similar ministries that are taking place all throughout that nation.
It’s easy for us as American Christians to drive by a dozen churches on the way to the mall or the post office (or even our own church!). We do that all the time without even thinking about it. But what I learned in Guatemala is that God is alive and active in all corners of our lives, even in ways that we don’t recognize. If we will just open our eyes, we will be amazed at how the message of Jesus is being shared in all sorts of places, even apart from our best efforts.
When we flew back to the United States this past Sunday, I saw a few of the burnt-orange-t-shirt-wearing young people at our gate. I even saw the grey-robed monk on the flight to D.C., and then again at the baggage claim in Chicago. Going to Guatemala for a week-long trip seems to be pretty popular. But that reinforced for me one of the most important truths of our trip:
We may serve in this particular way for a week, but in the end we all come home, in order to continue serving as members of God’s kingdom in our everyday lives.
What if we really opened our eyes to see how God is working and moving in our own community?