I always thought I got it. Never a doubt. It’s unfortunate that it sometimes takes experiencing true affliction to actually get it. Maybe that’s part of God’s plan though. Until you open yourself up, you only experience Him at a surface level.
A couple of months ago, Carlos Vargas, the founder of Hope of Life International (http://www.hopeoflifeintl.org), spoke at our church. This is their mission statement:
To transform the country of Guatemala and beyond, presenting a practical gospel by giving hope and reassurance that the people are important and loved by many. First and foremost we satisfy their physical needs with nutritional food, education, medical treatment for the children, elderly, babies and families. We may then watch as the doors of their hearts are opened to the truth of the Gospel and love of Jesus Christ.
After a brief video during worship, I remember leaning over to my husband and whispering, “If I ever go anywhere, that’s where I will go.”
Later that night, my husband was trying to figure out if he was supposed to go to Guatemala for the first time or return to Haiti. Out of the blue, he asked, “Unless you want to go?” That stopped me in my tracks, and I felt a huge weight on my shoulders and in my heart. So, I prayed. A peace came over me, and I made the decision to go to Guatemala in less than two days. It was an easy decision, but I never saw it coming.
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
I’ve always understood that as Christians, it’s our responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus, especially as Americans. We have the resources. The Lord has blessed us, so that we can be a blessing to others. But, I was one of those people who was waiting on the right opportunity.
I’d always thought that I wasn’t ready, that I couldn’t leave for a week, that our kids are too young, that money was an issue, that I would be uncomfortable. I don’t even like to stay in hotels! I didn’t have a passport. The language scared me. Oddly enough, I have a degree in Spanish, but it’s gone unused for a long time. There’s a lot of pressure to communicate when you speak another language. The words are locked away in your brain somewhere, all dusty.
I saw God when He provided every dime to cover the expense. I saw Him when my knee, after having surgery last summer, didn’t bother me at all while I was there. I saw Him after I opened my mouth to complete strangers and Spanish would come pouring out and then again when I saw the relief on some of the Guatemalan faces in the village when they realized I understood, not all, but a lot of what they said. Some of the children seemed a little less intimidated. God opened door after door. It was absolutely the right decision.
And, simply stated, it was just time. My girls needed to see that it isn’t only their dad’s responsibility to serve, that it’s mine, and that it is their responsibility too.
I spent six days in Guatemala last month. We accomplished an unbelievable amount of God’s work in just a few days, but it wasn’t enough. It never is. I’ve read somewhere that approximately 70% of Guatemalan children suffer from malnourishment and approximately 75% of the population there lives in poverty. And, it’s not the kind of poverty where you complete a form and receive government assistance. It changes the way you see poverty. It changes you.
On our third day, we went to a landfill. Hope of Life feeds the people that live in the dump three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Unless they manage to find something to eat in the garbage trucks as they unload, they don’t eat. And, yes, they live there. Their homes are made of whatever scraps they can find (tin, plastic, tarps, etc.). The people are filthy. They’re hungry. I’m sure they’re broken. It was amazing to see that in spite of their circumstances, some were still smiling.
As we approached the cinderblock and chain link fence structure that afternoon, we saw that the people had already formed a line inside, containers in hand. We were given brief instructions and unloaded. We knew that we had to manage the portions because they would keep coming back to the line until there was nothing left. It’s possible that my memory is cloudy, but I’m pretty sure it was mostly women and children.
I noticed one boy kept reappearing in the line with a different empty bowl each time. He might have been seven or eight. My eyes followed him to a plastic bag against a wall. It was full of bowls of food and containers of milk. He was there to get food for more than just himself or he was rationing it to last until Friday when someone else would be back to feed him again.
God showed Himself again. He showed me that we’re all the same. We all receive His love and grace equally. For whatever reason, I was born here and not in a poverty-stricken country. Like all the people we encountered, I realized how hungry I am. Not for food, but for God’s presence and guidance and grace and so many other things. I had to travel all the way to Guatemala to genuinely see it. It was an awakening.
I had to leave the luxuries of this country to really understand His love, His grace, and what it means to serve. This was my first international mission trip, but it won’t be my last. We experienced God’s presence often while we were there. We arrived home late on Saturday night, but I’m confident that most of our group of 32 made it to church the next morning. I think everyone will agree that we felt His presence during church on Sunday, like no other day. Ever. It was the greatest manifestation of encouragement.
It’s all right to admit that you don’t feel led or called to do something specific… one country versus another, one ministry versus another. But, if you aren’t doing anything at all, please reflect. Do something. We’re all called to serve. Nowhere in the Bible does it say to only serve where you’re comfortable or when it’s convenient. Step out of your comfort zone. Be selfless for His glory. Serve others. You’ll be glad you did.
Standing in the schoolyard of a small Guatemalan village in 100 degree heat, a 10-year-old girl asked me if we were missionaries. It completely caught me off-guard. I’ve never been called a missionary. She unknowingly helped me recognize that all Christians are missionaries. We just have to make the conscious decision to live it.
Now I get it.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:16