Reflections from Rev. Kathy Campbell, Chaplain of Lees-McRae College
We started our mission trip as a group of eight Lees-McRae College students and four staff and we finished having experienced the Body of Christ in a much deeper and more global way. Three cultures (North American, Middle Class Guatemalan, and Indigenous), three languages (English, Spanish, and Kekchi), and three communities (Lees-McRae College, Guatemalan Presbyterian young adults, and Chinatal) were woven together into one family of faith. It was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and our shared language was one of love and respect for everyone.
Upon our arrival at Chinatal, an indigenous village in the Petén (2 1/2 hours drive one way from our hotel), we were told that the roofing project that was planned had changed. Instead of doing 20 roofs for some the families in the village, the Chinatal Presbyterian congregation decided to share the laminate with every family in the village. This made it possible for 50 families to add on a porch (and eventually a room) onto their thatched homes. There are three congregations in Chinatal–Presbyterian, Catholic, and Evangelical–and they do not usually work together. The Presbyterian congregation decided it was time to share their resources with their brothers and sisters.
During our time in Chinatal, the Lees-McRae mission team, the Guatemalan young adults, and the village families worked together in extreme heat (100-105 degrees); we worshipped in three languages; we finished 20 roofs with 80% of all the roofs near completion; we held a Vacation Bible School for over 100 children; and with the help of a Guatemalan medical team, we were able to treat around 160 infants, children, and adults–most of whom had never seen a doctor.
Our time in Chinatal ended with a combined worship service in the Presbyterian church and the whole village turned out. The Lees-McRae group and the Guatemalan young adults sang “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord” in both English and Spanish. Tears flowed down the mayor’s cheeks as he thanked us for caring and for sharing our lives with them. Jamie Petrik pulled together a last minute soccer game–Chinatal vs. Lees-McRae–and Chinatal won 1-0. We physically drove away on that last day, but our hearts and spirits remain.
The joys we experienced were countless: the laughter and smiles from young and old alike (even some of the young mothers played “pato, pato, ganza”–duck, duck, goose– with the children); the hope that a new roof/porch gave each family; the joy in the children’s eyes as they sang, played, made crafts, hugged their beanie babies, or painted hands on their T-shirts; the compassion of the Guatemalan medical team who spent two days caring for the least of these; the fellowship of builders working side by side measuring, building frames, nailing down laminate; and the children running a mile down the road each morning to welcome us.
The sorrow was also very present in the devastation of the rain forest with miles upon miles being burned down daily; the children with open sores and parasites on their little bodies; the fathers and mothers who are not able to provide a decent life for their children; and the starving animals who have to scavenge for their food.
We left feeling blessed beyond words having experienced God’s presence in some profound way and yet, filled with sadness and questions, too. We will return to Chinatal in May 2008. One of the many challenges we return with is to explore ways to share in deeper service with families in Avery County.
The following reflections are from some of the trip’s participants:
This trip taught me the definition of friendship–a relationship that has no boundaries and isn’t contingent upon circumstances. Being with both Guatemalans from UNEC and the people of Chinatal, I learned that these people are just like me–children of God. The friendships I formed on this trip go beyond any award or medal I have achieved. They overflow with love, compassion, perseverance, and trust. A heart is a powerful thing. When everyone’s hearts came together for a common purpose, the results are indescribable. Guatemala was changed, my heart was healed.
I felt God’s presence in many ways throughout the trip. From the beautiful scenery on the bus rides to the late night strolls around town, God was always there. One specific instance was during devotion one night after working in the village. In the devotion we had prayers shared in five different languages. It was amazingly powerful. God’s love really does reach out to all nations. I didn’t understand the exact words that were said but I knew my God did. He heard every prayer and understands every language. There is no boundary for my God.
I felt God’s presence when a little girl named Ida became attached to me for the day–always with a smile and so little words. Her expressions explained everything. God was also present when the women and their families remembered me at the end of the week–I had worked on their home the whole first day.
This has been a life changing experience for me. I’ve learned that one person can make a world of difference. One person can bring so much hope and happiness. It’s up to us to help make change and help each other as one world.
I felt God’s presence in the people who had close to nothing; yet, they still had happiness and lived every day to the best of their abilities. I saw God through every person in our group whether it was building roofs, playing with the kids, talking with village people, helping the sick, or loving the animals, there was love throughout it all and that was God working in us as one.
I believe that when one is put in hard unusual situations one’s true self comes out. What I saw and learned about other people is their love. In extreme heat, long hours, less food and water than normal, they still gave all they had. It seems like in today’s world, everyone is looking for the quick easy way out. They just do enough to get by. But on this trip each and every person gave and did as much as they could. People worked until their bodies gave out and everyone wished they could give more.
Where did I see God? The question should be where didn’t I? God has been in/with everyone, every moment of this trip; helping the sick get better, helping those who only speak English bond with the Guatemalan people, and keeping the drivers awake and safe, allowing us (Lees-McRae & UNEC) to connect and help the village. This trip could have and would have fallen apart many different times if we all didn’t have God with us.
Guatemala reminded me of my own culture in Argentina–the way Guatemalans interact with hugs, kisses, touches. I learned that God’s people are the same everywhere, no matter the culture, language, or age. Money is insignificant to the wonders that happened on this trip.
I believe that every Lees-McRae student would benefit from this kind of trip. The life experience is invaluable. A mission trip to Guatemala unites faiths and cultures. It shows how unity and perseverance can produce great things.
I sensed God’s presence in the Presbyterian minister in Chinatal. He was so proud to show his church and his house to his new friends. His heart was completely welcoming.