One Summer in Guatemala

This is the 3rd in my series of posts going back and talking about how I developed my love of travel, mission trips, etc.

After my spring break mission trip to Moscow, I came home completely consumed in what was next. Within 2 weeks of my return, I found and signed up to spend that summer in Guatemala. Eight weeks of mission work – each week in a different town/village. You might say it was an epic summer for me. We did children’s programs, puppet shows, construction projects, homeless outreach, prayer visits to people in surrounding villages. We led worship & prayed in multiple languages at once (often English, Portuguese, Spanish, and whatever local Mayan dialect of the area). We lived life in a 3rd world country, often living with host families & learning so much from them. We rode in the back of countless pick-up trucks and “chicken buses”. We slept in some less than comfortable conditions, hiked for hours in long skirts & mud boots, sweated uncontrollably while trying to put on children’s programs. [I learned that you can totally do anything for a few days/week.] We ate crazy (& delicious) foods, took naps in hammocks, and learned how to make corn tortillas from scratch… Without a doubt it was the most amazing 8 weeks of my life! It is extremely hard to put this summer in to words, especially trying to keep it relatively short. Looking at my pictures right now I get all kinds of emotions running through me.

A children's program we put on in a village

So here are a few of the things I learned and experienced, in somewhat abbreviated form:

I played with the most beautiful children of God, at an orphanage in Huehuetenango. This was a heart-wrenching two days. These were children that were either truly orphaned or else had family, but the family just couldn’t care for them. They clung all over us for the hours that we spent there. They just wanted to be held and loved. The girl to my right in this picture even fell asleep in my arms for like a full hour one day. A group of girls painted our nails while we sat in the grass. These children were amazingly beautiful creations. It was one of the saddest goodbyes of the entire trip when we had to leave them.

I felt the power of the Holy Spirit speak through me. We spent a few days in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We did a program at a youth detention center and attempted to talk to students on a college campus one day. They paired us off to go walk around and find people to talk to and try to share Christ with. Jessica & I had one conversation with 2 young, intelligent, and philosophical college students. It was a tough conversation. Jessica told me later that once she realized she couldn’t keep up, she just stopped trying, and started praying that the Lord just speak through me. And I really, truly think that He did. It was the best Spanish I’ve ever spoken in my life, and so far beyond my own capabilities, that I knew it wasn’t me speaking. There were no amazing conversions, but you never know what seeds that the Lord plants.

Going to see Spiderman, all in Spanish, with our new Honduran friends & host families

I made it to the end of the earth (or what felt like it) and learned a valuable lesson. One week, while we were in a small town, we were divided up in to smaller groups to go into some far out villages. My small group of 5 rode in the back of a pick-up truck for about an hour or so until the truck could go no further, then we got out and hiked for about 40 or so minutes until the road literally ran out, then we hiked another 2.5+ hours until we arrived in the beautiful village of Sepacay. There in the middle of nowhere, the farthest I’ve ever been from electricity or the glow of a distant town, we saw more stars in the night sky than I’ve ever seen. At night, in the little house, in the pitch black, we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. We learned about the simplicity of the truly important things in life. They definitely taught us more than we were able to share with them. They killed one of their only chickens so that they could serve us, their guests, a nice dinner. People hiked in every evening from 2 hours in all directions for their nightly worship service. The church was a group of benches and a roof held up by crude pillars. No walls. No floor. They spoke a Mayan dialect there so we had to be translated from Spanish to their dialect, or even from English to Spanish to their dialect. One night, at the service, I remember the power of worship literally felt by all of us. A huge storm blew in, they lowered the tarps on all sides, and the powerful winds and rains came rushing through, but nothing stopped. They kept on singing and signing. We couldn’t understand a word, and yet we could. It was amazing. For more on the grueling hike in and out of Sepacay, I will post something later this week…

With the beautiful people of Sepacay

I sat at the table of God & worshipped like I’ve never experienced before or since. The villages around Lake Atitlan (the most beautiful place I’ve yet to see on this Earth) are all named after the apostles – San Pedro, San Juan, San Pedro, etc. One night we walked down to sit right beside the lake, with 1 or 2 guitars we broke out into worship, singing all kinds of songs which took on all new meanings for me that summer. We talked about how it was like sitting around the table of God with the disciples, worshipping. It was dark, we could hear the water lapping at the shore to our left, we’d look straight up and see amazing bright stars, and then off in the distance, behind two majestic volcanoes, there was a lightning storm going on. It was like a perfect display of God’s power – a show just for us, while we sang that night.

Lake Atitlan

I made brothers & sisters for life. Even though we don’t get to talk much these days, we will always be bonded together. For anyone who has ever been on a mission trip, especially a longer one, you know exactly what this is like. Going through such an amazing experience together, that no one else can completely relate to or understand, there is a forever bond that you share with those people. Two of the girls on the trip made the trek to my wedding two years later. I’m grateful for Facebook these days, even if just to have a glimpse in to some of their lives and feel somewhat connected.

With Carrie from Oregon, and my Guatemalan brother and sister Javier & Cris.

I learned what it really meant to be a global community of believers. I already  went in to this some, but it was a great learning experience. The 5 of us on this trip together all summer came from all denominations – catholic, one with a mennonite background, and 3 different protestant denominations. Then we had a Brazilian girl with us for several weeks. We worked with American and Guatemalan missionary families, reaching out to people that spoke Spanish and many that spoke one of 26 different Mayan dialects. On some home visits we’d all pray simultaneously in our own native language. It was a truly beautiful thing to hear.

I can’t come up with a good way to end this. Guatemala, and all of these people, will always have a piece of my heart. More later…

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2 thoughts on “One Summer in Guatemala

  1. Karen — it truly was a God-planned/blessed summer. You’ve made me reflect a lot on what God did with the STEP chicks….and in our lives, and the wonderful people we met and worked with. God is so good — and what a privilege to serve Him together in Guatemala!

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