We gathered at the ticketing gate, an unlikely crew the eight of us. A women’s minister, yoga teacher, hairdresser, construction supervisor, social entrepreneur, two nurse practitioners, and a children’s pastor.: Relationally, we were a mother and daughter, pair of friends, friends in ministry, and friends with shared passion, but as a whole the group was mostly strangers. I knew them all, and marveled at the way God had hand chosen this group for such a time as this.
It was everyone in the group’s first mission trip aside from the leader and me. Mission trip… I don’t know why that phrase makes me cringe a bit each time it comes out of my mouth. Maybe because I feel that it exalts the individual or isolates our “mission” to one singular trip. It almost feels like we can confuse mission with the necessity to travel to other countries and serve those in need, when we should truly be on mission each day. But in all honesty, I’m not sure what else I would call it. Jesus says that we are to make disciples of all the nations, and that we should love people like he loves us. So, I guess I should say, my friends and I took a trip Guatemala to love on people like Jesus.
We took a short three hour flight to Guatemala City, population 994,938. I marveled at the landscape as we descended over towering volcanoes, meandering rivers, crystal lakes, and luscious valleys as a beautifully poised rainbow arched over the land somewhat signaling that God’s favor was upon us. As our plane grew closer to the ground, I soon realized that the beautiful terrain was riddled with extreme poverty as I observed thousands of tiny houses seemingly piled on top of each other with piles of discarded garbage pouring off of steep cliffs into plunging ravines.
Once on the ground, we collected our bags, sailed through customs seamlessly, and made our way outside. As we stood in front of the airport awaiting our transport van, I remembered how much I love the energy that pulses through the air in a new location with unknown adventures to discover. The sound of foreign languages danced in my ears. Smells of exhaust and a country I had yet to discover wafted through the air, and I wondered what new lessons this land would teach me. We embarked on the “45 minute” trip to the mission house in Santo Tomas. As we traversed the city streets, I observed what appeared to be a blending of extreme poverty and extreme wealth with small dingy looking graffiti covered buildings sitting next to towering buildings with bars on the window and razor wire topped fences. We quickly realized this would be an extended journey as our van came to an abrupt halt in the midst of heavy traffic for as far as we could see. A man walked past the window in the middle of traffic carrying a long stick with multiple filled bags dangling and swinging with each step he took. As the man drew closer, I was able to make out dried plantains and realized that he was selling snacks to people sitting in traffic. This should have provided an inclination that traffic was a way of life here in Guatemala.
Two hours later, we pulled up to the walls of “My Father’s House” in Santo Tomas as the iron gates opened and we were welcomed in. It was dark at this point, but we could still make out the beautiful courtyard surrounded by tropical flowers and plants framing each window, cascading from overhangs, and outlining the pathways. Our hosts, Heidi and Alli warmly greeted us with hugs as young Guatemalan boys flanked their sides and quickly grabbed our bags showing us to our rooms. Heidi introduced herself and the boys telling us that they lived on the mission property. We were instructed to settle in to our rooms, clean up, and when we were ready, dinner would be served. I entered the room, finding the accommodations quaint and welcoming, unloaded my luggage, selected a bed, and made my way back down the pathway to the dining hall. We were all famished at this point having not eaten since that morning in Texas and were overjoyed to be met with the fragrant aroma of dinner waiting for us. Chicken with cream gravy, mashed potatoes, vegetables, salad, and a delicious hot sauce were welcomed sustenance to our empty stomachs. We settled into our seats with hot tea as we shared a devotional, got to know each other better, and discussed God’s will for the upcoming days.
As the women filed out of the dinner hall and made their way back to their individual rooms, I smiled to myself thinking about each woman that God had called to this specific mission. I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s goodness. Here I was, 40 years old, on a mission trip to serve women and children in a developing country… exactly what I had done when I was studying International Studies with a focus on socio-economic development and what my degree would have been in, had I finished college. That’s the awesome thing about God, he doesn’t need you to get it all right or take all the right steps for his plan to be fulfilled in your life. He just needs you to keep saying yes, moving your feet, and serving wherever you are.
I deeply inhaled the fragrance of the hot tea and thought about the sweet aromas of the evening.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
I prayed that Jesus would guide us as we walked the week out in love, sharing the fragrant aromas of God’s love.