Reflections & Lessons Learned in Guatemala

Below is a talk that I shared at my home church after getting back from Guatemala, in the summer of 2004. I found it the other day and it so well embodies my experience there and the valuable lessons that I learned that I wanted to post it. It is longer than most blog posts, but it is really significant to me. I was very glad to find it and read it again, and to have these reminders. I hope you enjoy:

Good morning.  The reason that I’m here this morning is I’ve just spent the most incredible 8 weeks on a mission trip in Guatemala and I want to share with you a piece of my experience.

It’s so hard to put something like this into words but I’ll try…  As background, I went on a one-week mission trip to Moscow, Russia over spring break this past March, and getting back I was feeling God calling me to do more – something more substantial than just a week.  So I prayed about it and within 2 weeks was signed up to go to Guatemala with a group of people I had never met.  I was nervous and so excited at the same time.

So, this morning I want to share a story with you all that kind of embodies much of my summer experience.  And it happened in just my second week there.  After a week of training in the capital, it was our first week going out into the little villages to do programs and evangelism.  We were separated into small groups of about 4 plus a missionary to go out to different villages for 4 days.  From the starting point, already a village in the middle of nowhere, we knew that one group was going to ride a pickup truck to their tiny village, another group was going to ride an hour and walk for about 30 minutes, and the farthest group was going to have to hike for something like 3 hours to get to their village!!

Of course, I got assigned to the third group.  And we found out that we would have to ride in the back of a pickup for some amount of time and that the hike was actually anywhere from one to three hours.  I knew that a hike would be cool, but I have to say, I was also pretty nervous about having to do it for so long, in the heat, with my heavy backpack, and yes, in a long skirt and rubber boots.

My attitude about the hike was similar to that of the whole trip before I left home.   I was eager for the opportunity, yet also a little apprehensive about how much we didn’t know what to expect and both nervous and excited about being challenged and stretched so much – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

But as soon as we started, riding in the back of the pickup, I was having the time of my life.  Here’s a paragraph from my journal that day.

“After we got out of the town, the scenery began to overwhelm me.  I was in complete awe of God’s creation!  The green mountains that went as far as we could ever see, the valleys, the sky, the trees, flowers.  So unspoiled by man.  Every turn brought more as we wound along the “road”.  I think I was just riding with my mouth hanging open.  I could feel God’s presence and majesty!  I silently prayed prayers of thanksgiving and praise as we went along.  I could have ridden there all day!”

Carrie & Javier in the pickup truck. Gorgeous views!

There were many moments this summer that I felt so enveloped in God’s presence and majesty.  Moments when the world would freeze and feel like a slow motion movie.  Moments that I will remember how it looked, sounded, and felt to be there.  Moments when I just felt completely content, like there was nothing else I could possibly wish for in the entire world.  The summer was filled with them.

The truck went as far as it possibly could on the bumpy little road.  An hour into it, it stopped and we got out.  I took a deep breath and was like “oh, here we go” as I strapped on my heavy backpack.  But before I knew it, a man came over and took my backpack from me.  He took mine and the one from another girl, put them in a burlap bag, and carried them with a strap around his forehead for a 3 hour, grueling, hot hike!! I was stunned! And I didn’t find out until we got to the village that that was actually the pastor of the village doing that for us!

That’s what we encountered everywhere we went in Guatemala and in our week in Honduras.  Time after time we thought we were going somewhere to serve the people, but we always ended up the ones being served.  They always gave us the best of everything they had, and often the people didn’t have much.  We really experienced the epitome of servants’ hearts in the people we met and worked with there.

So feeling energized and ready to go we started hiking on this crude road – too crude for a pickup truck now.  Up and down and around.  Mud.  Rocks.  More gorgeous scenery.  And a HIGH altitude!  I was out of breath quickly.  After about 40 minutes on this road, we saw a little town in the distance, and not knowing how far we were going to be hiking, we started thinking maybe we’re there already.  The road seemed to run out at this town.  This must be it, we thought.  The guide led us into the 5 or 6 building town as the kids all gathered around us and stared as we passed.  But before I knew it, we had walked through the town and out the backside.  This town wasn’t it.  So we started down this 2 foot wide path!  And we were already pretty worn out, mostly due to the altitude, and not knowing how much further we would be going.

Again, to read a paragraph from my journal that day that describes the next 2 and a half hours:

“So on we went.  The path was rockier & muddier & steeper & narrower & more windy, but on we went.  We were hot & sweaty & our feet hurt from uncomfortable rubber boots, but on we went.  I honestly didn’t know if I could physically do it.  I didn’t know when it would end.  However, through encouragement, we spurred each other on.  And just as Christians should carry each others burdens, those guys carried our backpacks.  I couldn’t have made it without their help.”  I never would have made it if I had to carry that thing the full 3 hours.

Like this example, I experienced real fellowship in the body of Christ this summer.  It’s amazing how 8 strangers can bond so quickly when you share the common bond of Christ.  We were always there to encourage each other when things got challenging or we were feeling worn out and didn’t think we could do it on our own.  We learned about submission and self-sacrifice to put others before ourselves and to carry each other’s burdens.  We wouldn’t have succeeded without each other’s help.

Back on the hike, as the way got harder and we got more and more exhausted and honestly questioning if we would make it, we silently prayed, or even out loud together a few times.  Every time it got really rough and I didn’t know if I could make it, I silently prayed to God for help and for strength.  We’d pray and soon after, clouds would roll across the sun for a time of recharging.  Another time a very small creek entered our path at just the perfect time to splash ourselves and feel refreshed.  God gave us strength.

Something I periodically wrestle with is the power of prayer, and I really learned about it this summer.  God answered prayer after prayer.  One time He gave us electricity when there was none so that we could show a movie with a Christian message to a crowd of people in the most unreached region in Guatemala.  The next day He gave us a school building in the afternoon to use for our programs that we didn’t have permission to use that morning.  Another time I truly felt God speaking through me as I had a rapid-paced theological debate with college students, in Spanish.  And I KNOW my Spanish ability is not normally that good, and did not reach that level at any other time this summer.  God answers prayers, especially where two or three are gathered in His name.

Putting on a puppet show for the children of the area

On the path, there were also really muddy areas that caused us to slip and places covered with rocks that caused us to stumble.  Other places were incredibly steep – up and down.  We had to struggle.  There were difficult times on that hike and during the summer, but we just had to stop and look around and realize where we were.  Instead of focusing on the difficulties, we had to step back and see the bigger picture.  In that literal sense of the hike, that meant stopping from looking down, focusing on each step we were taking and look up to seize the moment in God’s gorgeous creation.

It meant not focusing on our individual accomplishments, if we were “successful” in turning people to Christ immediately, and instead knowing that God uses us as part of a process that begins with planting a small seed.  If we were always the “sowers”, we would get prideful about “our work” and God knows that.  But it is His work, not because of any greatness on our part.  Along the same lines, it means not getting down when we don’t have someone accept Christ after we talk to them.  Any part that God has us play in the process is just as important.

After 2.5 hours on that path (4 hours total) we got to our village.  Sepacay.  The hike was so worth it.  That place was so special and so far removed from everything.  We tasted a bit of paradise those days.  One house, one open shed-like common room/kitchen, and an open area with a roof and benches for the church.  That was “downtown”.  No electricity or running water.  No material possessions.  Yet in reality, those people had so much.  I learned and realized a lot in those days.  Again, from my journal:

“It’s really nice to be this removed from the hustle & bustle of my world.  Removed from pessimistic or meaningless news, removed from materialism, removed from distractions.  I have all of this time with my thoughts, with friends, and with God’s creation!  It makes me wonder what is really important or necessary in life.  Not much.  A relationship with Christ, family, friends, food, and some sort of shelter.  We don’t need the rest, or the “best” of things, for that matter.  It’s nice to get this reminder every now & then.”

With the people of Sepacay

A few days later, it was time to go.  I was sad to leave but also so excited for the return hike.  It was challenging but so rewarding and worthwhile.  The physically exercise that we went through is kind of like the spiritual/personal exercise we get when we’re challenged.  It may be difficult, but we grow and get stronger as a result.  And after surviving the first time, I knew we would the second, and I wanted to do it again.

One of my hopes for the summer was that God would really stretch me and grow me.  Be careful what you pray for, because He sure did!  But I’m so glad He did!

Near the end, I also realized that God uses trips like this for three reasons.  The obvious one is to reach and serve people in the specific destination, an amazing experience in itself.  The second is personal growth – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – which I definitely experienced.  But the third is to experience these things so that we can go home and share with our friends and family that weren’t there – to share so that they can learn and grow too.  To encourage them in their Christian walks and also to share with our non-Christian friends the amazing work and power of God.  So I’m excited to be home to get to do those things.  To continue growing and to continue sharing.

But I also believe that I shouldn’t have to go on an 8-week mission trip to feel like this.  And I don’t want it to fade now that I’m back and not in that kind of environment every day.

Just like that hike that second week…  We rode in a pickup truck as far as we could on the road, then we got out and walked until the road ended.  But when the road ended we didn’t stop.  We kept going, even past the end of the road.  Now, back here at home, in my everyday life, I don’t want to give up when the road gets difficult.  I want to keep going.  As the Third Day song “Show Me the Glory” goes: “When I come down the mountain and get back to my life, I won’t settle for ordinary things.  I wanna follow you forever, for the rest of my days.  I won’t rest till I see you again.”

So I ask myself, how far will I go for Christ? on a daily basis?  Will I “settle” now that I’m back or will I continue drawing closer to God?  I witnessed to random people on university campuses and even in a mall this summer, and in Spanish.  But why do I have to go to a foreign country to witness to others?  Will I be bold enough when friends ask me “how was your summer” to give them the real scoop?  Will I talk about my faith and what God’s done in my life in daily conversation?  I hope the answers will be yes.

And so I also ask and encourage all of you to think about this – in your daily lives, how far will you go for Christ?  Will you stop when the road gets difficult or even seemingly disappears?  Or will you keep going, even after the road ends?

The hike out


3 thoughts on “Reflections & Lessons Learned in Guatemala

  1. Karen — what fun to read about what God taught you that summer. May He continue to grow/stretch/challenge you each and every day!!

  2. Wow, it’s amazing how you brought back that trip and you did it so powerfully! I remember thinking when I got home from that trip that I would not let that excitment leave me but sadlyi did let that spring dry up! This post has restored some new life in me! Thank you for posting this and I sure hope we get that reunion we all talked about 🙂

  3. Karen,
    I love this story. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. It truly inspires me and I am grateful for our first opportunity to go on a mission trip together this summer.

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