Last week, I had the opportunity to go with a team to Guatemala on a working mission trip. This was my first time on a construction trip and anyone who knows me might wonder what use I might be on such an endeavor. To be honest - I was wondering that as well. Still, I signed up and thanks to so many friends who believed in me (thank you! I'm not sure I believed in me that much!) I was able to fly to a country I've only heard about to try to share the good news of Christ. This is a recount of a part of what I learned. (It may be a bit long - sorry in advance for that!)
The flight to Guatemala was uneventful. As we met in the airport with people from two other churches, all of whom had had little or no sleep the night before, we all stumbled onto the flight into our adventure. I stood and looked at the behemoths of men that stood around me and wondered what in the world I was doing going on a construction mission trip. These guys were huge with muscles that bulged in their t-shirts so that even in their sleepy state, they were impressive. Watching them squeeze themselves into the middle seat of the airplane was actually a bit painful. They smiled and laughed and acted as though it was a privilege to be squashed into an area that made even me feel a bit confined. I was impressed already.
When we got to Guatemala, I was having a great time looking at all the sights and sounds. This was my first trip to Guatemala and my first time to travel on a mission trip with my daughter. I had to work hard to not treat her like "my child," and remember that she is an adult quite capable of doing this without me. (Best part of my trip was watching her minister to those around her and grow in the process! But that's for another blog.) The people I was meeting were so kind to this "little old lady" and I was excited to be there!
We boarded the bus, all of us - a very tiny bus - and they tied our luggage on top and we began our journey to the small town we where we were going to stay. Well, after we ate lunch, that is. Even the adventure to the restaurant was exciting with luggage falling off the top into oncoming traffic as we made our way up the steep roads of the city. We salvaged the suitcase thanks to a passing water truck and continued on our way. Already, the theme of water was weaving itself into my story.
We were warned weeks before the trip that we should not, under any circumstances, drink the water while we were there. Even in the restaurant, we asked for bottled water. We could not rinse our toothbrushes with water. Over and over, they reminded us - the water from the faucet here was NOT safe to drink. Even the locals don't drink it!
Once we got back onto the bus to make our way around the mountain for the 5-hour journey to the small town we'd be staying, I was fascinated by the scenery we passed. Beautiful flowering trees, buildings in bright colors next to shacks and graffiti, and all surrounded by block walls and barbed wire. I was beginning to wonder what I'd gotten myself into!
As we rode away from Guatemala City, the scenery changed - to brown. Everything was brown! Now, I realized it is the dry season there, but even in the driest winter in Mississippi, you still see lots of green! The only green I seemed to see was the occasional tree and a house or two that sported a bright mint green paint contrasting with the landscape surrounding it. The phrase, "a dry and thirsty land" kept rolling around in my head. My heart hurt as I watched even the animals trying to graze on land that was parched and hard.
We finally made it to our hotel, and unfolded our legs after our long journey. By now, we were becoming friends with those we had not known previously. The missionary greeted us with open arms and we began to learn more about our "mission" on this trip. Not only would we be working with a feeding program for children and the elderly nearby, our primary goal was to work on a partially constructed house for a family. The whole story of this family could take a while, but in a nutshell, we were to work on putting up a roof and get the home livable. Great! I had no idea what I would be able to do next to those standing around me, but I was ready, willing, and able! Okay - maybe not able, but definitely ready and willing!
The next morning we arose early, ate breakfast and after church, we made our way to the worksite. We walked about a mile to get there and I was having a great time saying "Hola!" to everyone we passed. Those who spoke Spanish quickly taught me how to say "Buenas Dias" as well. Then we got to the work site. I'm not sure what I expected, but looking at that partially constructed building made me wonder once again why I was there.
Our foreman - "Captain Cook!" as we called him on this trip, met with the foreman from the country that had been hired to help us since he knew the codes and regulations of the country and we awaited our first instructions. It was already getting warm and again I was struck by just how brown everything was. We were reminded to drink water often and then given our first task. Move a pile of dirt out of the road. Okay...I could do that. I, along with others, started shoveling while "Cook!" assessed the situation and figured out how to get all 20+ of us working in an area not much bigger than my classroom. We finished moving the pile and then reported to find out our next task.
We were going to dig a trench. What? I thought we'd be building, but it wasn't yet time for that. No worries. I knew how to work a shovel. Well, I thought I did. It soon became very evident that simply shovels would have no effect on this hard dry ground. Here's where the guys with all the muscles really came in handy! Using pick-axes, they broke through the hard "fallow" ground that had not been touched in so long and then we could shovel up that which was broken and haul it to another area. I say the guys - but honestly, every woman with us also used those pick-axes with great skill...all but me. I tried, but it was obvious to me that while I had the heart, I simply did not have the strength to do much damage with that pick-ax, except maybe to myself. So I stuck with my shovel. I had found a short one that enabled me to crawl down into the trench and get the broken ground out of the way so that the "real work" could be done. And I wasn't the only one - others grabbed shovels and as fast as they could break the ground, we were ready to get it moving. We worked till dark that first day and the trench was only about half finished. Oh, and they had us move that original pile of dirt again to a different place. Gotta love construction.
The next day, we showed up bright and early to resume our task only to discover we'd have to continue the trench down the road about another 50 yards - through concrete. I watched in amazement as each of the guys (and girls including our amazing interpreters) broke through that concrete (and a water line or two!) so that we could lay the pipes for water to the home. Then we resumed work on that trench in the front yard. It took twice as long to dig! I'd love to say that once we finally completed the trench our digging was done, but it wasn't! We had to level out the front yard so that water would not run into the house during rainy season. (They assured me they do get rain there, but I was still skeptical.) We literally dug and broke up hard ground every single day we were there. Some worked on laying block, but most of us dug out hard ground. And the people on the street watched...some by peaking out their doors, some by standing in their windows, and a few children stood down the dusty road and chanted out "gringos" and made up some sort of song. Evidently, a bunch of Americans coming and working from early morning to late afternoon each day digging up hard ground was good entertainment!
During all this, I wondered what use I was. I worked as hard as I could, but I knew my strength was nothing compared to those around me. They always let me work, but I knew they could have done it much better and faster. Still, we all laughed and encouraged each other, and I smiled and waved at the passersby with Hola, or Buenas Dias, the only Spanish I knew. Some would go to the feeding center each day, and I went as well, but I knew my "place" was somehow at the building site.
We managed to lay the lines for water and sewage to the home, level out the ground, level the floors within the home in preparation for concrete, begin the kitchen add-on (it was not a part of the original structure), and get the roof on the home. The people on the street went from peeping from their doors to watching from their windows, to sitting on the side areas watching, to joining us in the work. One lady who passed by daily started talking to me - I had to get the interpreter to figure out what she was saying. She wanted to know if I was tired. "Si!" Funny - she asked me that every time she passed. I guess I looked pretty silly out there with all those athletes!
By the day it came for us to leave, we had a crowd! We prayed over the home where we'd worked so hard, over the home of one of the workers (which was little more than a shack itself), and over the people on that street. I'm not exaggerating when I say they were crying as we prayed for them. One lady asked me was I sad to leave, and with tears in my eyes, I had to say "Si." They spoke over and over again about the unity and love they had seen among us. They had never seen a group work that way before. They could tell we cared for each other and them. Keep in mind, some of us had never even met before that week! The missionary was wonderful at letting the people know, it wasn't because we were Americans that they saw this - it was because we are children of God.
The final morning, it was my turn to share the devotion before we packed onto that tiny bus for the 5 hour trip back to Guatemala City. I knew I had to keep it brief, but one thought had been burning in my heart for days.
When we arrived, all I could see was a dry and thirsty land. We had dug and dug and dug into that fallow ground, breaking it up for the first time in a very, very long time. (There weren't even any grubs or worms in that ground! People from Mississippi can't imagine that!) We had broken up that hard ground and moved it out of the way. It was good earth, but hardened over time and circumstances. That's where the lesson came. We were only there for a week, doing manual labor - but we had done something that would allow others to come in and finish the work. We had broken through not just physical hard ground, but spiritual as well. Those who watched us are now more willing to listen to the missionary and the Good news. The hard soil is prepared for what is to come.
As for me, I'm not sure I did much good to the team as far as moving earth, but I know God allowed me to be a part of breaking up that fallow ground spiritually...and all who helped send me there have a part in that, too. We were there only a week, but perhaps now the planting and watering and weeding that follows us won't be quite as hard as before. Short term mission trips sometimes get a bad rap. Yes, it cost us quite a bit to make this journey and perhaps someone from the town could have done the same thing to the ground if we had instead simply sent them the money...but I'm not sure that just moving dirt was what we were there for. We were there to break up the fallow ground. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this and for allowing me to share it with you.
I know this blog was long...but I hope you can see how God can use even that which you think you're not very good at to make a difference long after you are gone. We can each break up the fallow ground and help bring water to a dry and thirsty land, both on the mission field and right here at home. Grab a shovel, my friends. We've got work to do!
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.